Cannabis Expungement Law Takes Effect in D.C.

The measure that was approved by the Council of the District of Columbia late last year mandates an “automatic sealing for non-dangerous, non-convictions as well as shorten the waiting periods before a person is eligible to seal their record,” and “would also expand the eligibility of who can seal their record.” The bill was signed by Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser in January, but its enactment was delayed due to an arcane part of lawmaking in our nation’s capital. 

Laws in D.C. are subject to congressional oversight and approval––a stipulation that has prevented the district from implementing legal marijuana sales, despite the fact that voters there legalized cannabis back in 2014.

After Bowser signed the cannabis expungement measure in January, the bill was transmitted to Congress. As NORML explained, all “legislation must undergo a 30-day Congressional review prior to becoming law,” and absent a Congressional intervention, the bill will then become law.

That moment is now––or rather, on March 10, when the law officially took effect.

NORML has more on the new law:

“The Act provides for the automatic review and expungement of any convictions or citations specific to marijuana-related offenses that have subsequently been decriminalized or legalized in the District of Columbia, as well as any ‘records related only to simple possession for any quantity of marijuana in violation of D.C. Code § 48-904.01(d)(1) before February 15, 2015.’ It requires all cannabis-specific expungements to be processed by the courts by January 1, 2025.”

Paul Armentano, the deputy director of NORML, hailed the new law.

“Thousands of DC residents unduly carry the burden and stigma of a past conviction for behavior that District lawmakers, most Americans, and a growing number of states, no longer consider to be a crime,” Armenato said. “Our sense of justice and our principles of fairness demand that the courts move swiftly to right the past wrongs of cannabis prohibition and criminalization.”

In 2021, it appeared that legal cannabis sales might finally be coming to Washington, D.C.

That’s because Senate Democrats at the time introduced a draft of an appropriations bill that did not include the so-called “Harris Rider,” a budget rider named for Republican Congressman Andy Harris of Maryland that had appeared in every such bill since 2014.

The Harris Rider has precluded Washington, D.C. from engaging in legal commercial marijuana sales. 

At the time, Bowser celebrated the rider’s apparent exclusion from the proposed bill.

“The Senate appropriations bill is a critical step in recognizing that in a democracy, D.C. residents should be governed by D.C. values,” Bowser’s office said at the time. “As we continue on the path to D.C. statehood, I want to thank Senate Appropriations Committee Chair, Senator Patrick Leahy, our good friend and Subcommittee Chair, Senator Chris Van Hollen, and, of course, our champion on the Hill, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, for recognizing and advancing the will of D.C. voters. We urge Congress to pass a final spending bill that similarly removes all anti-Home Rule riders, allowing D.C. to spend our local funds as we see fit.”

Activist groups pressured Democrats in Congress to hold firm and ditch the Harris Rider.

“In one hand, Congress continues to make strides in advancing federal marijuana reform grounded in racial justice, while simultaneously being responsible for prohibiting the very jurisdiction that led the country in legalizing marijuana through this lens from being able to regulate it. This conflict and contradiction must end now,” Queen Adesuyi, Senior National Policy Manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a statement last year.

But it was not to be.

The appropriations bill that ultimately emerged last year included the Harris Rider.

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Washington, D.C. Mayor Signs Medical Pot Bill

The recently passed bill, called the Medical Cannabis Amendment Act of 2022 (B24-0113), was sponsored by Chairman Phil Mendelson of the Washington, D.C. Council in February 2021. The Washington, D.C. Council voted unanimously to pass on Dec. 20, 2022, followed by Bowser signing the bill on Jan. 30, just two days before a response was due on Feb. 1.

The bill expands the capital’s medical cannabis program in many ways, including lifting the cap on dispensaries, creating new license types, and codifies emergency measures passed in 2021 and 2022.

Originally the amendment proposed implementing an increased cap on dispensaries, but was later revised to include no maximum number (although the Alcoholic Beverage and Cannabis Board is given the power to establish a cap one year from the passage of the bill in January 2024).

It also authorizes the creation of more cannabis license types, including cannabis delivery services, online sales, educational programs, and areas dedicated to cannabis consumption. “At least half” of all licenses given to currently unlicensed businesses will be given to social equity applicants (defined as those who are D.C. residents with low income, have spent time in prison for cannabis-related charges, or are related to someone who was affected by the War on Drugs).

Medical cannabis was legalized in Washington D.C. in 2010, and an attempt to legalize adult-use cannabis was passed by voters in 2014 through Initiative 71. While it allows possess of up to two ounces of cannabis and home cultivation, it also allows adults to gift up to one ounce of weed to another adult, which created the loophole of gifting (or a way to get around cannabis sale restrictions by selling merch or apparel with a gift of cannabis for free). The Medical Cannabis Amendment Act of 2022 seeks to target those unlicensed businesses, giving them a path to obtain a legal license.

The act also codifies emergency measures that were implemented for cannabis. This includes the emergency measure that provides support for Washington, D.C. patients with expired cards and help struggling dispensaries as well, which was passed in November 2021. In July 2022, Bowser signed a bill allowing adults to self-certify themselves as medical cannabis patients.

Overall, enforcement action related to these changes won’t be implemented until 315 days have passed since the signing of the bill, which would be later this year in December. It also needs congressional review before officially taking effect.

Also recently in Washington, D.C., Mendelson the Second Chance Amendment Act of 2021 (B24-0063) is under congressional review. This would implement automatic expungement through “automatic sealing for non-dangerous, non-convictions as well as shorten the waiting periods before a person is eligible to seal their record. It would also expand the eligibility of who can seal their record.” All expungements would need to be processed before Jan. 1, 2025. If congress doesn’t make a move against the bill, its projected law date is set for March 16, 2023.

Mendelson also recently introduced another bill (B25-0052) on Jan. 19, which aims to legalize adult-use cannabis sales. The proposal includes a “Reparations for Victims of the War on Cannabis Fund,” which would offer anywhere between $5,000 to $80,000 to pay those who were negatively affected by cannabis criminalization. It also includes a “Cannabis Equity and Opportunity Fund,” which would gather up 40% of revenue to go toward loans or grants for applicants affected by criminalization. Additionally, the bill details a plan to reinvest cannabis tax revenue into community services such as mental health treatments and youth development.

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Washington, D.C. Passes Bill To Expand Medical Weed Sales

Local lawmakers in Washington, D.C. last week passed legislation to expand medical marijuana sales, giving the city’s popular but unlicensed weed gifting shops a path to the regulated market. The bill, which was approved by the D.C. district council on December 20, comes after Congress included an existing prohibition on regulated adult-use cannabis sales in the nation’s capital as part of a spending bill approved last week.

The bill significantly expands Washington, D.C.’s medical marijuana program, lifting a cap on dispensaries and increasing the number of authorized cultivation facilities. The legislation also creates licenses for new types of cannabis businesses, including marijuana delivery services, online sales, educational programs such as cooking classes, and cannabis consumption areas at dispensaries. Half of the new licenses will be reserved for social equity applicants, which are defined as D.C. residents who have a low income, have spent time in prison, or are related to someone who was incarcerated for a cannabis or drug-related offense.

Bill Addresses D.C.’s Weed Gifting Shops

The legislation is designed to address the vast unregulated market for cannabis in Washington, D.C., where medical marijuana was legalized by local lawmakers in 2010. In 2014, voters approved Initiative 71, a ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana. Under the measure, adults can possess up to two ounces of marijuana, are permitted to grow cannabis at home, and may gift up to one ounce of weed to another adult. However, Congress, which has control over the Washington, D.C. budget, has refused to allow the city to spend money on regulating recreational marijuana sales.

The situation has led to dozens of businesses that take advantage of the gifting provision of I-71 to distribute cannabis openly from storefront businesses. Under the common scheme, businesses sell benign merchandise such as apparel or art, offering what is ostensibly a free gift of marijuana with the purchase. Phil Mendelson, the Chairman of the Council of the District of Columbia, estimates the unregulated marijuana market in the nation’s capital is worth as much as $600 million per year. 

“There’s always going to be an advantage to unlicensed and unregulated: they don’t have to pay taxes, they don’t have to ensure quality,” Mendelson said in an interview with DCist/WAMU. “Congress is aiding and abetting that by prohibiting us from regulating that. It’s a real public safety problem,” he said.

Patients Can Self-Certify To Use Medical Marijuana

The legislation passed last week also makes permanent an emergency measure passed earlier this year that allows adults to certify their own eligibility to use medical marijuana, eliminating a previous provision that required certification by a licensed physician. At the time, Mendelson and some members also attempted to enact prohibitions on the gifting industry but faced opposition from a group of business owners. Legalizing the shops so they could be regulated was not possible under the congressional ban, making allowing gifting businesses a path to the medical marijuana market an option popular with a majority of the district council.

“It’s going to allow the District to be a lot healthier on the cannabis side,” Terrence White, chairman of a group known as the i-71 Committee and a gifting shop owner, told the Washington Post. “It’s going to allow us to be doing it ‘right,’ as I call it.”

The bill passed by the council last week gives existing operators 90 days to apply for a medical marijuana retailer license and prevents enforcement against gifting shops for at least 315 days after the legislation goes into effect. David Grosso, a former council member and current lobbyist for the D.C. Cannabis Trade Association, a group representing licensed medical marijuana operators, said that the bill is a positive development for the industry.

“We certainly would like to see a level playing field across the board, and that hasn’t been the case for as long as the [Initiative 71] folks have been operating illegally. And so we’re hopeful that this effort will bring them into the legal market and then treat them equally with us,” said Grosso. “And that means all the regulations that come with it, the fees that you have to pay, the inspections you have to endure, all of the restrictions around where you can locate, and everything like that which the current legal market has had to deal with now for more than ten years, which is a huge burden on us.”

Norbert Pickett, the owner of Cannabliss, one of the seven licensed medical dispensaries located in the nation’s capital, agreed, saying that the legislation is an opportunity to expand Washington, D.C.’s medical marijuana market and provide new options for patients.

“It gives patients more access to safe and tested cannabis,” he said. “It unifies unregulated market and the legal market. For me, that’s a win.”

Mackenzie Mann, project manager for the gifting industry trade group Generational Equity Movement, said that the legislation from the district council is a drastic change for Washington, D.C.’s cannabis landscape.

“It’s surreal,” Mann said. “A year ago, they were trying to shut us down.”

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Biden Signs Bill To Expand Medical Cannabis Research

President Joe Biden added his signature last week to a bipartisan bill that seeks to broaden and streamline research into medical cannabis. 

Dubbed the “Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act,” the law “establishes a new registration process for conducting research on marijuana and for manufacturing marijuana products for research purposes and drug development,” according to a release on Friday from the White House

Despite medical marijuana’s ubiquity throughout the country, cannabis remains illegal on the federal level, which has hamstrung the potential for research into the area. The newly signed bill aims to change that. 

It passed the United States Senate last month with bipartisan support after it won approval in the U.S. House of Representatives with the Democratic and Republican votes in July. 

It is the byproduct of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, which celebrated Biden’s signing of the bill on Friday.

The group of lawmakers touted the measure as “the first standalone federal marijuana reform law enacted since the adoption of the Controlled Substances Act in 1971.”

The law aims to “facilitate research on marijuana and its potential health benefit…by streamlining the application process for scientific marijuana studies and removing existing barriers for researchers that frequently slow the research process.” 

“For decades, the federal government has stood in the way of science and progress—peddling a misguided and discriminatory approach to cannabis. Today marks a monumental step in remedying our federal cannabis laws. The Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act will make it easier to study the impacts and potential of cannabis,” Cannabis Caucus Co-Chairs Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Dave Joyce (R-OH), and Brian Mast (R-FL) said in a joint statement following Biden’s signing. “Research is foundational for the path forward on cannabis policy. Research is essential to better understand the therapeutic benefits of cannabis that have the potential to help millions of Americans struggling with chronic pain, PTSD, multiple sclerosis, anxiety disorders and more.”

“We celebrate the enactment of this critical and long-overdue legislation, and we know there is much more to do to remedy the ongoing harms of the failed war on drugs,” the chairs added. 

In the other chamber, Democratic Sen. Diane Feinstein of California said that there is “substantial evidence that marijuana-derived medications can and are providing major health benefits,” and that the bill “will make it easier to study how these medications can treat various conditions, resulting in more patients being able to easily access safe medications.”

“We know that cannabidiol-derived medications can be effective for conditions like epilepsy. This bill will help refine current medical CBD practices and develop important new applications. After years of negotiation, I’m delighted that we’re finally enacting this bill that will result in critical research that could help millions,” Feinstein said. 

The group of lawmakers said that the caucus “will continue working to reimagine the federal government’s approach to cannabis and enact further reforms,” including “the SAFE Banking package, the Veterans Equal Access Act, the PREPARE Act, and the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act.”

It marks the second action that Biden has taken on federal marijuana policy in the last two months. In October, the president announced pardons for those who have previously been convicted of simple pot-related offenses under federal law. 

In addition, Biden also signaled his desire to move toward federal decriminalization, saying he has directed cabinet officials to reclassify marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act, which enshrines federal prohibition on pot.

“As I often said during my campaign for President, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana,” Biden said in his announcement. “Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit. Criminal records for marijuana possession have also imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities. And while white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates.”

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Cannabis Legalization Hearing Held by Congressional Committee

The House Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties announced on Nov. 8 that on Nov. 15 it would be holding a hearing to discuss cannabis legalization. The hearing’s official title was “Developments in State Cannabis Laws and Bipartisan Cannabis Reforms at the Federal Level,” and a joint memo was published on Nov. 12 to lay out the talking points of the discussion.

The hearing was led by Rep. Jamie Raskin (Chairman of the Subcommittee) and Rep. Nancy Mace (Ranking Member of the Subcommittee), and accompanied by questions from Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Rep. Peter Anderson Sessions of Texas, Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York, Rep. Brian Higgins of New York, Rep. Alexandria Occasion Cortez of New York, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives representing the District of Columbia), Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, and Rep. Robin Kelly of Illinois.

Witness speakers included Randal Woodfin (Mayor of Birmingham, Alabama), Paul Armentano (Deputy Director of NORML), Andrew Freedman (Executive Director of Coalition for Cannabis Policy, Education, and Regulation [CPEAR]), Eric Goepel (Founder and CEO of Veterans Cannabis Coalition), Keeda Haynes (Senior Legal Advisor of Free Hearts, who connected remotely), Amber Littlejohn (Senior Policy Advisor of Global Alliance for Cannabis Commerce, and Jillian Snider (Policy Director of Criminal Justice & Civil Liberties).

The discussion covered a wide variety of facts revolving around cannabis legalization, the failed War on Drugs, how Biden’s October announcement to pardon federal cannabis convictions requires state action to help people, the treatment of veterans who seek relief with cannabis, the potential of hemp as a building material (and the legal challenges connected to this).

NORML’s Armentano provided many powerful facts and statements regarding legalization and how the cannabis industry has affected black and brown people. “By descheduling cannabis, tens of millions of Americans who reside in states where cannabis is legal in some form, as well as the hundreds of thousands of people who work for the state-licensed industry that services them, will no longer face needless hurdles and discrimination—such as a lack of access to financial services, loans, insurance, 2nd Amendment rights, tax deductions, certain professional security clearances, and other privileges,” Armentano said.

R Street Institute’s Snider added that the country’s approach to legalization is messy due to the varied levels of regulation. “Proposed federal legislation indicates increased support for alternatives to federal cannabis prohibition, and this increased support is critical to provide clarity on the overall legal status of cannabis, as the current situation presents inconsistency and a quasi-legal conundrum,” Snider said. “The substance may be legal in one state and decriminalized in another, but because it is still prohibited at the federal level, users or possessors of the substance are subject to criminal penalty.”

Toward the later portion of the hearing, Raskin asked Armentano about his hope that Congress can come together to make legalization a reality. “So Mr. Armentano, do you think Congress can catch up with where a majority of the states are now in terms of medical marijuana and decriminalization and legalization, as [Mayor Woodfin] said. Do you think Congress will actually be able to do it? I know this hearing is a promising sign, but what do you think are the chances of actually doing this, in this session of congress or the next?”

Armentano replied, explaining that historically prohibition has never worked, whether you examine the history of alcohol prohibition, or that of cannabis. “Well my business card doesn’t say prognosticator, but one would hope that members of congress see the need to act swiftly,” Armentano explained. “Look, to use your analogy with alcohol prohibition, the federal government got out of the alcohol prohibition business when 10 states chose to go down a different path. The majority of U.S. states have now chosen to go down a different path with cannabis and is untenable to keep this chasm going between where the states are on this policy and where the federal government is. At the end of the day the federal government needs to come to a way to comport federal policy with state policy, and that’s by descheduling.”

Mace and Raskin provided conclusory statements based on what they heard during the hearing, and what they hope it will lead to in the very near future.

Mace condemned an earlier reference comparing cannabis to slavery. She addressed data that shows how black and brown people are four times more likely to be arrested for cannabis, and that its up to congress on both sides to address this issue. “I’m from South Carolina where the difference between rich and poor is often black and white, and cannabis is an area where we can work together on both sides of the aisle to prohibit more of those inequities from happening across our country and right the wrongs that have been going on for decades now,” Mace said. “And I would encourage my colleagues, Republican and Democrat on both sides of the aisle, to get on board with this issue. The American people are asking for it. Seventy percent of Americans support medical cannabis. Half, or more than half, support adult or recreational use across the country, whether they come from the red state of South Carolina to the blue state of California. East coast to west coast. Americans from all communities, all colors, all ages, support this issue. The only place it is controversial is here in the halls of the capital, and it’s wrong.”

Chairman Raskin concluded the hearing with his own statement, addressing the need for action from Congress. “Congress needs to catch up, and that’s what this hearing is about and that’s what I’ve learned today. If we knew our history better, if we all took the time to read into prohibition, we would see that America has been through this before. And it’s not that alcohol is like birthday cake, it’s not. We lose more than 100,000 people a year to alcohol-related illnesses, to alcohol-related fatalities on the highways, that needs to be regulated,” Raskin said.

“But the country had its experience with trying to criminalize alcohol. It didn’t work, and it caused much more severe problems and we know that is precisely the history we’re living through today, again, with marijuana, it needs to be regulated, it needs to be carefully controlled, but we should not be throwing people into prison for any period of time for one day because they smoke marijuana. It makes no sense. We should not be ruining people’s lives over this. I think the country has made its judgment, it’s time for Congress to catch up.”

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Activists To Demonstrate For Cannabis Clemency in D.C.

Hip hop icons Redman and M1 of Dead Prez will join cannabis activists in Washington, D.C. on Monday to protest the Biden administration’s failure to release people imprisoned on federal marijuana convictions. The rally, which is being billed as an act of civil disobedience, will bring together cannabis policy reform groups including Students for Sensible Drug Policy, D.C. Marijuana Justice, the Last Prisoner Project and Maryland Marijuana Justice as members protest in front of the White House on October 24.

Steve DeAngelo, a cannabis policy reform leader and co-founder of the Last Prisoner Project, said that he has helped organize Monday’s demonstration to bring attention to the plight of those imprisoned on nonviolent marijuana charges, often for decades. Activists hope the protest will spur the White House to take action on cannabis clemency before the November general election.

“As the nation heads into the midterms, I am calling for one simple thing— that President Biden keep the promise he made during the last election cycle, to release those people still serving prison sentences for cannabis convictions,” DeAngelo wrote in an email to High Times. “As the White House itself has admitted, the recently announced pardons will not free one single person.”

On October 6, President Joseph Biden announced that he had issued an executive order pardoning all people who have been convicted on federal charges of simple marijuana possession. An analysis of Biden’s executive order conducted by the New York Times estimated that the pardons will apply to about 6,500 people convicted of federal weed possession charges between 1992 and 2021 and thousands more with similar convictions in Washington, D.C. But the action provides no relief for cannabis prisoners currently behind bars, most on marijuana distribution and related charges. 

“At a minimum, if President Biden really wants the support of cannabis voters, as a show of good faith, he should immediately release at least 100 of the 2800 federal prisoners currently serving time on non-violent cannabis charges,” DeAngelo said. “If President Biden refuses to act, I will gather at the White House on October 24 along with hip hop legends M1 and Redman, and hundreds of other cannabis activists, to hold the President’s feet to the fire.”

M1 said, “I decided to participate in this action because of the inaction of this government to step on the right side of his/herstory. My cannabis community deserves freedom and justice. And with my cultural activist comrades, we will keep our finger on the pulse of the People. Free ‘em ALL!”

Biden Administration Exploring Rescheduling Cannabis

Biden’s announcement earlier this month also included a call for governors to take similar action on cannabis clemency at the state level. The president also directed Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra and Attorney General Merrick B. Garland to review cannabis’ status as a Schedule 1 drug. Despite the historic nature of Biden’s pardons, activists argue that the president did not go far enough.

“I’m outraged that the President would make an executive action on cannabis but release zero of our incarcerated friends and family,” Kat Ebert, board chair of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, said in a statement from the group. “He’s forcing us to raise our voices to be heard in order for the wider public to understand cannabis prisoners are still not free. On October 24th we plan to make it clear to the Democratic leadership that we won’t accept mostly symbolic actions. We demand clemency for all cannabis prisoners.”

DeAngelo is the co-founder of the Last Prisoner Project, a group working to free those imprisoned on cannabis charges. In addition to the activist groups involved, formerly incarcerated individuals and local cannabis freedom fighters will also take part in the protest.

“If President Biden truly wants to repair the harms of our nation’s unjust policy of prohibition, this initial progress must be followed up with bolder action—action that would actually lead to freedom for cannabis prisoners,” said Sarah Gersten, LPP executive director and general counsel.

Monday’s demonstration is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. local time at the gates of the White House, with Redman and M1 slated to appear to join the call for cannabis clemency. The crowd will gather at the Andrew Jackson statue in Lafayette Square before engaging in expected civil disobedience nearby, with the goal of drawing attention to the lack of people released from federal prison as a result of Biden’s executive order.

“DCMJ is joining protests to free all cannabis prisoners because we’ve simply waited too long,” said Adam Eidinger, co-founder of D.C. Marijuana Justice, a group that has spearheaded cannabis policy reform efforts in the nation’s capital. “We are excited that students are leading this effort to make tangible gains on freeing cannabis prisoners whose continued confinement is immoral and unjustified.”

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Washington, D.C. Cannabis Company Sues City, Demands Return of $750,000

A Washington, D.C. cannabis company called Mr. Nice Guys DC recently sued the city for seizing more than $750,000 in cash during raids that occurred in 2021.

Mr. Nice Guys DC co-owners Damion West and Gregory Wimsatt seek justice for the money the police seized. “I’m going to be a voice for the people who don’t have a voice,” West told News4. “I’m not going to stand for it. We have done nothing wrong. We’re operating in a gray space that they created, and the only thing we want is our money back.”

“Like, where is the justice? They come in, kick in our door, raid us, you know take our money,” Wimsatt said.

In August 2021, police raided two Mr. Nice Guys DC dispensaries. The lawsuit describes the raid in greater detail, showing how the police took “$67,000 and destroyed two ATMs at the shop while searching the Ninth Street location. A spokesperson for DC’s Metropolitan Police Dept. (MPD) said three people were arrested at the store and charged with possession with intent to distribute marijuana and possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance. The U.S. attorney’s office for the District of Columbia chose not to prosecute those who were arrested,” the lawsuit reads.

The case against Mr. Nice Guys DC was dropped, but the co-owners never got their cash back. “Defendant District of Columbia’s D.C. police (MPD) routinely and unlawfully holds cash seized from individuals who have been arrested—many of whom are never charged with a crime—for months or even years past the point where the government might have any continuing legitimate interest in retaining said cash while providing no process to challenge that retention,” the lawsuit states.

“It’s been close to about $800,000 in product and cash. What we specifically asked for in this case was just the cash. That’s not including loss of damages in product. We’ve had other situations where they’ve actually banned us from our location,” Wimsatt explained.

The co-owners’ attorney, Charles Walton, told The Washington Post that the main goal of the lawsuit is to retrieve the seized cash. “D.C. police failed to return the seized money after investigations concluded and related criminal charges were withdrawn or dismissed,” Walton said. “Our goal is to have them produce the information associated with the chain of custody of that money, and to just return it.”

Cannabis dispensaries operate in a gray area in Washington D.C. Adult-use cannabis is legal, as voters approved it back in 2014, and possession, home cultivation, and gifting is allowed. Due to the “Harris rider,” (named in reference to Rep. Andy Harris) a Congressional rider that has been included in the 2014 omnibus bill prevents sales from being legal. To work around this, local dispensaries like Mr. Nice Guys DC sell non-cannabis items and customers receive cannabis as a “gift” with purchase.

In August 2022, Washington, D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration announced that it would be inspecting unlicensed cannabis businesses. By September, the inspections were delayed, creating more uncertainty about the future of these businesses.

Luckily, medical cannabis patients have remained a focus for Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who signed a bill in July to allow patients to self-certify themselves for a cannabis prescription, rather than waiting for a doctor’s recommendation. “We have made it a priority over the years to build a more patient-centric medical marijuana program and this legislation builds on those efforts,” Bowser said. “We know that by bringing more medical marijuana patients into the legal marketplace in a timely manner and doing more to level the playing field for licensed medical marijuana providers, we can protect residents, support local businesses, and provide clarity to the community.”

On October 20, Bowser also signed a bill that allows tourists to self-certify for medical cannabis as well. With this new law, tourists may obtain a 30-day registration to purchase from dispensaries when they visit the nation’s capital.

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Biden Weed Pardon Spurs Reaction From Cannabis Community and Beyond

President Joseph Biden’s historic announcement that he would pardon all federal marijuana possession convictions and direct administration officials to study easing restrictions on the drug sent shockwaves across the country on Thursday, with activists, cannabis industry officials, pundits, and policymakers all weighing in on the issue. Biden announced the move on Thursday, finally taking the first steps on a pledge while running for office to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level.

“As I often said during my campaign for President, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana. Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit,” Biden said in a statement on Thursday. “Criminal records for marijuana possession have also imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities. And while white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates.”

The president’s pardons will affect about 6,500 people who were convicted of marijuana possession under federal law and thousands more in the District of Columbia, according to a report from The New York Times. Biden also called on governors to take similar action at the state level, where the vast majority of cannabis possession charges are filed and prosecuted.

The president also called on the Department of Health and Human Services and the Justice Department to review the continued classification of marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance under the Controlled Substances Act. According to the statute, the Schedule 1 classification is meant for drugs with no medical value and a high propensity for abuse.

Pardons Draw Swift Reaction

Biden’s announcement caused a flurry of excitement and activity in the cannabis community and beyond, sending marijuana-related stocks surging and spurring predictions on how the move might affect next month’s midterm elections. Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, a fellow Democrat and U.S. Senate candidate, urged Biden to decriminalize cannabis when they met in Pittsburgh over Labor Day Weekend. He reiterated his stance after news of Biden’s pardons broke on Thursday.

“People’s lives should not be derailed because of minor, nonviolent marijuana-related offenses. That’s common sense. As Lt. Governor, I traveled across the commonwealth to all 67 counties for a listening tour on the legalization of marijuana,” Fetterman said in a statement. “I heard countless stories from Pennsylvanians about what this simple and just step of decriminalizing marijuana would mean to them. Too many lives—and lives of Black and brown Americans in particular—have been derailed by this criminalization of this plant.”

Pundits Ponder Pot Pardons

Political analysis of the pardons announced by the White House on Thursday suggested that the decision could have an influence on next month’s midterm elections, although opinions did not agree on which side would benefit. Some suggested that Biden’s announcement bolsters Republican claims that Democrats are soft on crime, while others believe the move will encourage Democratic and progressive voters to show up at the polls in November.

Former Democratic congressman Beto O’Rourke, who is running for governor in Texas in an effort to turn the state’s executive office blue, issued a statement saying “When I am governor, we will finally legalize marijuana in Texas and expunge the records of those arrested for marijuana possession.”

His opponent, incumbent Governor Greg Abbott, also seized on the president’s announced pardons as a political talking point, rejecting Biden’s call for governors to take similar action at the state level.

“Texas is not in the habit of taking criminal justice advice from the leader of the defund police party and someone who has overseen a criminal justice system run amuck with cashless bail and a revolving door for violent criminals,” Abbott campaign spokesperson Renae Eze said in a statement quoted by CNN.

Pardons Applauded by Cannabis Community

Mary Pryor, co-founder of Cannaclusive, a media services company built to facilitate fair representation of minority cannabis consumers through imagery and education, characterized Biden’s pardons as “a major step forward” and urged more progress on comprehensive criminal justice reform to help those harmed by nearly a century of cannabis prohibition.

“Now it’s time to truly dive into restorative harm repair and make sure that access to careers in cannabis or any field is possible for all of those who will be pardoned,” Pryor, who is also a board member of The Parent Company’s Social Equity Fund, said in a statement. “And while this milestone is indeed a major victory, we still need to educate society around the deeper harms of the War on Drugs when it comes to resources and reparative justice.”

Nancy Whiteman, CEO of cannabis edibles manufacturer Wana Brands, applauded the president’s pardons.

“It is incredible news to hear that President Biden is calling for the pardons of prisoners convicted and held on simple federal marijuana possession charges, a move that will impact over 6,500 individuals,” Whiteman said in an email statement. “This is an important step in full decriminalization and a meaningful way to begin to address the racial disparities around the arrests and convictions of BIPOC people.”

Investors viewed Biden’s plan to pardon cannabis possession convictions and reschedule marijuana as an opportunity, sending shares of legal cannabis companies soaring in Thursday’s trading, according to a report from Reuters. Two of the largest publicly traded cannabis companies posted strong gains, with Tilray shares up 22% and the stock price of Canopy Growth jumping 31%. The ETFMG Alternative Harvest ETF, which has shares of several cannabis companies, rose nearly 20%.

Not Enough, or Too Much?

As can be expected, positive reaction to Biden’s pardons and move to reschedule cannabis was not universal. Many activists and cannabis industry insiders believe the president did not go far enough, while some conservative voices balked at the reforms. Andy Singh, CEO and founder of vape manufacturer Nuvata, said that “President Biden’s statement on the marijuana reform is a long-overdue step in the right direction.”

“However, we have been made these same assurances when he was running for president. At this point, only actions will really be made believable,” Singh wrote in an email to High Times. “It’s been two years since he’s been president, this was one of the very first items he should have addressed as people are unnecessarily suffering in prison daily simply from possession of a plant medicine.”

Dr. Carl Hart, a professor of psychology at Columbia University and the author of the book Drug Use for Grown-Ups, said on social media that the president’s action does not go far enough and suggested political motives are in play.

“While I’m delighted that ~7k ppl will be relieved of MJ possession charges, I’m disappointed that ⁦@JoeBiden⁩ has not taken steps to ensure that no one is arrested for possessing ANY drug. This strikes me as a weak move for votes. Legalize all drugs,” Hart tweeted on Thursday.

Senator Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas and staunch “tough-on-crime” conservative, decried the action from the White House.

“In the midst of a crime wave and on the brink of a recession, Joe Biden is giving blanket pardons to drug offenders—many of whom pled down from more serious charges,” Cotton wrote on Twitter. “This is a desperate attempt to distract from failed leadership.”

At the grassroots level, many voters are likely to support Biden’s pardons of federal marijuana convictions. Last year, a Gallup poll found that a record-high 68% of Americans are in favor of legalizing marijuana for recreational use.

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In Historic Move, Biden Announces He Will Pardon Thousands of Federal Cannabis Offenses

Today President Joe Biden announced that he will pardon people with federal convictions for simple possession of cannabis. Going further, he announced that he will direct the U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland and Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra to begin the process of reviewing the classification of cannabis at the federal level.

The official White House statement was published October 6, noting that under current federal law, cannabis falls under Schedule I alongside deadly drugs like fentanyl. The White House will  “review expeditiously” the plant’s current classification.

The New York Times reports that the move will affect upwards of around 6,500 people who were convicted on federal charges for simple possession of cannabis during the time period of 1992 to 2021, and thousands more convictions based in the District of Columbia.

“As I’ve said before, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana,” Biden tweeted. “Today, I’m taking steps to end our failed approach. Allow me to lay them out.”

Biden then provided three key points: pardoning all prior federal offenses of simple marijuana possession; calling on governors to pardon simple state marijuana possession offenses; and finally, asking Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra and the Attorney General Merrick B. Garland to initiate the process of reviewing how cannabis should be scheduled under federal law.

NORML leaders were cautiously optimistic, noting that efforts to get the attention of the White House for real cannabis reform at the federal level have been going on for decades.

“Many of the efforts taken and proposed by the President today are long overdue,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said in a statement provided to High Times. “For nearly two years, NORML has called upon the Administration to fulfill the President’s campaign promise to provide relief to those stigmatized with a low-level cannabis conviction. We are pleased that today President Biden is following through on this pledge and that he is also encouraging governors to take similar steps to ensure that the tens of millions of Americans with state-level convictions for past marijuana crimes can finally move forward with their lives. Since 1965, nearly 29 million Americans have been arrested for marijuana-related violations—for activities that the majority of voters no longer believe ought to be a crime.”

“Moving forward, the Administration must work collaboratively with Congressional leadership to repeal America’s failed marijuana criminalization laws. Nearly half of voters now agree that legalizing marijuana ought to be a priority for Congress, and such action can only be taken by descheduling cannabis and repealing it from the US Controlled Substances Act—thereby regulating it in a manner similar to alcohol. Congress should be inspired by the Administration’s actions today to act quickly and send legislation to the President’s desk that would help close this dark chapter of our history.”

Leaders in Congress—notably members of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus—applauded the move. The office of Congressman Earl Blumenauer, founder and co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, also sent High Times his official statement on the matter.

“Today, President Biden took an important step in the fight to end the federal government’s failed and discriminatory prohibition of cannabis,” said Congressman Blumenauer. “No president has stepped forward to pardon low-level marijuana offenders at this scale before. At a time when 99% of Americans live in a state where some form of cannabis use is legal, it is unthinkable that anyone—especially predominantly Black, Latinx, and Indigenous Americans—are imprisoned for simple, nonviolent cannabis possession.”

“This is a critical, important step forward for racial justice in the failed war on drugs that too often targeted people of color, especially Black and Latino men. While this order is welcome and long overdue, it is just the first step of many that this Administration should take,” Congressman Blumenauer continued. “We have pending legislation that deals with medical marijuana research and the ability for cannabis businesses to access banking services—both of which have gained support in the House and Senate. The President should embrace and celebrate. It is critical that we put the full force of the federal government behind them.

“There was a time when this was controversial,” Congressman Blumenauer added. “Yet for several years, the federal government has been left behind by people and states who did not wait. Not only does more than two-thirds of the public support full legalization, even half of American Republicans are also ready to end this chapter of the failed war on drugs. We welcome this action and hope it is the first of several noncontroversial critical steps to promote justice, equity, and rational policy.”

US Cannabis Council (USCC) CEO, Khadijah Tribble also chimed in, saying that Biden’s statement aligns with many of the council’s goals.

“President Biden is right: No one should be in jail just for using or possessing cannabis. This executive action will positively impact countless Americans who have been saddled with criminal histories and the unjust suffering and consequences of cannabis prohibition. This is a particularly cathartic moment for Black and brown communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the criminalization of cannabis.

“We commend the President for making good on his campaign promise to grant pardons to non-violent cannabis offenders. This announcement comes on the heels of the Biden administration appointing the first advisor on cannabis research and regulation at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and further reinforces the fact that it’s just a question of when—not if—cannabis is decriminalized altogether.

“As the nation reckons with the wrongs of the past, it’s also time to look to the future. The Senate should pass the SAFE Banking Act, to help ensure that the communities most impacted by cannabis prohibition can safely and gainfully participate in the burgeoning cannabis industry,” Tribble said.

The Justice Department will begin the process of providing certificates of pardons to people who are eligible, USA Today reports.

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House Committee Approves Two Bills To Expunge, Seal Pot Records

The U.S. House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday advanced two pieces of legislation aimed at providing relief to individuals with marijuana convictions on their records.

NORML reported that the Democratic-led committee “voted in a bipartisan manner to advance the Clean Slate Act and the Fresh Start Act,” both of which seek to redress prior pot busts and arrests.

The Clean Slate Act “establishes a framework for sealing records related to certain federal criminal offenses,” according to the bill’s summary, while requiring the courts to “automatically seal records related to (1) a conviction for simple possession of a controlled substance or for any nonviolent offense involving marijuana, or (2) an arrest for an offense that does not result in a conviction.”

It also states that “an individual who meets certain criteria may petition to seal records related to a conviction for other nonviolent offenses.”

The Fresh Start Act, meanwhile, would authorize “the Department of Justice to award grants for states to implement automatic expungement laws (i.e., laws that provide for the automatic expungement or sealing of an individual’s criminal records).”

According to NORML, the grants would amount to “tens of millions of dollars in federal funding to help states facilitate the automatic expungement of convictions for marijuana violations among other offenses.”

The measures drew support from both Democrats and Republicans on the committee, underscoring the growing bipartisan support for cannabis reform in the United States.

Republican Rep. Guy Reschenthaler of Pennsylvania joined his Democratic colleague, Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester of Delaware, in sponsoring the Clean Slate Act.

“We need to pass this legislation so those individuals have a chance to fully partake in the economy and also reduce recidivism rates,” Reschenthaler told Pittsburgh public radio station WESA earlier this month.

Reschenthaler’s colleague on the Judiciary Committee, Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee, applauded the panel’s approval of the Fresh Start Act.

“Even those who commit non-violent offenses can face a life sentence. That’s because the stigma of a conviction can be permanent, following you around for the rest of your life. Employment, housing, education — the very things necessary to get a ‘fresh start’ — can all be denied on the basis of a conviction in your past. The collateral consequences of conviction in our criminal justice system are far reaching and fall disproportionately on people of color,” Cohen said in a statement on Wednesday.

“Allowing people who have made a mistake, and have paid their debt to society, to wipe the slate clean is essential if we want a more just criminal legal system,” Cohen added.

The two bills are strongly backed by cannabis reform groups like NORML, whose political director, Morgan Fox, said the “need for this kind of legislative assistance is even more pressing considering the racially and economically disparate nature of enforcement over the past half a century.”

“Beyond the actual penalties incurred under law, a simple marijuana possession conviction can also carry with it a host of lifetime collateral consequences. In many cases, it is the modern-day equivalent of the ‘Scarlet Letter’ and it can negatively impact a person’s ability to function and thrive in society,” Fox said in a statement. “At a time when most Americans want to end marijuana prohibition and nearly a majority of people now reside states where cannabis is legal, it makes no sense to continue punishing adults and robbing them of the opportunity to fulfill their potential for behavior that in many cases is no longer a crime.”

“Members of the House have shown a commitment this term to advancing cannabis reform,” added Fox. “They have repeatedly affirmed that the time has come to start repairing the harms caused by prohibition and enact modern, sensible cannabis policies that are supported by a supermajority of voters. The Senate has the opportunity to follow suit by passing substantive legislation that can change peoples’ lives for the better and facilitate immeasurable opportunities — especially in marginalized and unfairly targeted communities — but the time for them to act is quickly running out.”

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