Maryland Court: Cops Can Stop, Question Someone Who Smells of Pot

Officers in Maryland may stop and question an individual who smells of cannabis, a court ruled last week.

In a divided ruling, the state’s Court of Appeals said “the drug’s aroma provides police with ‘reasonable suspicion’ that the person may have 10 grams or more, thus permitting the officers to conduct a brief ‘investigatory’ stop,” the Daily Record reported.

But the ruling does not give law enforcement carte blanche in those circumstances. According to the outlet, those officers “must end the stop if they do not quickly obtain information that gives them probable cause to believe the person has at least 10 grams or has committed another criminal offense.”

And the Daily Record noted that, despite the ruling, “possession of less than 10 grams of the drug is not a crime in the state.”

The ruling stems from a case involving a 15-year-old who was found to have a handgun in his possession. Officers found the weapon on the juvenile’s waist after conducting a frisk that was prompted by the odor of cannabis.

Last year, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals––an intermediate appellate court––took up the case and ruled that the smell of weed does not justify a cop to conduct a search, citing the decriminalization of possessing 10 grams or less of cannabis in Maryland.

“Because possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana is no longer a crime, the suspicion required to support a stop for the crime of possession of marijuana, therefore, is that the person is in possession of more than 10 grams of marijuana,” Judge Kathryn Grill Graeff wrote in her opinion, as quoted by local news outlet WTOP. “And because the ‘odor of marijuana alone does not indicate the quantity, if any, of marijuana in someone’s possession,’ [citing a previous case], it cannot, by itself, provide reasonable suspicion that the person is in possession of a criminal amount of marijuana or otherwise involved in criminal activity.”

But last week’s ruling from the state’s Court of Appeals undoes that opinion.

In a 4-3 decision, the majority “public interest in investigating and prosecuting criminal offenses, balanced against an individual’s freedom of movement and reasonable expectation of privacy in their person, leads us to conclude that the odor of marijuana by itself justifies a brief investigatory detention,” according to the Daily Record.

“Given the important governmental interest in detecting, preventing, and prosecuting crime, the Fourth Amendment allows a brief seizure, based on reasonable suspicion, to attempt to determine if criminal activity is afoot,” Judge Jonathan Biran wrote in the majority opinion, as quoted by the Daily Record. “An officer who lacks probable cause to arrest is not required ‘to simply shrug his shoulders and allow a crime to occur or a criminal to escape.’”

Judge Michele D. Hotten, writing for the minority, said that the “smell of odor on a person, alone, makes it impossible for law enforcement to determine whether the person has engaged in a wholly innocent activity, a civil offense, or a crime.”

“While reasonable suspicion is a relatively low barrier, law enforcement may not rely on a hunch that a person may possess 10 grams of (marijuana) odor in a non-medicinal capacity to form a basis of reasonable suspicion,” Hotten wrote in the dissenting opinion, according to the Daily Record.

Another judge in the majority addressed the particulars of the stop involving the 15-year-old, saying that the “officer in this case was justified in stopping [the juvenile] because police were responding to a call that a males [sic] were smoking a controlled dangerous substance in the basement of an apartment complex, which would indicate an amount of marijuana of at least 10 grams,” according to the Daily Record.

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Oregon County Proposes Ban on Psilocybin Therapy

Local leaders in Linn County, Oregon are advancing a proposal that would ban psilocybin therapy centers authorized by a statewide ballot measure legalizing the therapeutic use of psychedelic mushrooms. Under a proposal adopted by the Linn County Board of Commissioners last week, a ballot measure banning psilocybin production, manufacturing, and therapy facilities will appear before voters in the November 2022 general election.

In 2020, Oregon voters approved Measure 109, Oregon Psilocybin Services Act, a bill that legalized the therapeutic use of psilocybin. State officials are currently drafting regulations to enact the legislation, which authorizes centers where trained facilitators dispense psilocybin for therapeutic purposes.

Under Measure 109, local jurisdictions such as counties, cities, and towns were given the authority to regulate psilocybin therapy centers or refer a decision on the issue to voters in the community. On June 21, the three-member board of commissioners voted to put a measure banning the psilocybin therapy centers in Linn County before voters in this year’s general election.

“My fear is of young people taking mushrooms and going out and doing things that may cost them their life,” Linn County Commissioner Roger Nyquist told the Albany Democrat-Herald.

“I just think it’s appropriate to refer this measure to the voters in Linn County and allow them to have a say in this, particularly because they did not vote to support this measure in the first place,” he added.

Commissioner Will Tucker said that he is concerned that first responders will not be able to reach the scene quickly enough if a patient receiving psilocybin therapy in the remote county in central Oregon has a medical emergency.

“I have people who are miles and miles from a service like a grocery store,” he told Filter.

Tucker noted that if passed, the ballot measure would only apply to the unincorporated areas of Linn County. The proposal would not affect the incorporated cities and towns in the county including the largest city, Albany, although local officials there are considering a similar ban on psilocybin therapy centers. 

“I would love to see it done carefully and in controlled ways,” Tucker said. “My son suffers PTSD; an Iraq War sniper, he has 100 percent disability … If there’s a way his mental health can be affected by marijuana or other drugs including mushrooms, I’d be all for it.”

Few Counties Moving To Ban Psilocybin Therapy Centers

Evan Segura, president of the Portland Psychedelic Society, says that it does not appear that counties taking steps to ban psilocybin therapy is becoming a trend. But at least one county along the Idaho border, Malheur County, has proposed a ban. He noted that the jurisdiction is already the home to several cannabis dispensaries that draw customers from neighboring states that have not yet legalized cannabis.

“I think these counties are anticipating there will be a huge wave of interest from Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, jumping over the state border to access psilocybin services,” Segura said. “These conservative counties are just not interested in being guinea pigs for this program, and I’m sure there’s a lot of drug-war prohibitionist hysteria that’s causing fear for them.”

Statewide, Oregon voters approved Measure 109 in the 2020 general election with 56% of ballots cast in favor of the initiative and 44% against. But in rural Linn County, only 45% of the electorate voted in favor of psilocybin therapy centers while 55% opposed the ballot measure. Statewide, 21 of 36 Oregon voted against Measure 109, although the initiative’s success in more populous counties secured its passage.

Linn County Commissioner Sherrie Sprenger said she does not believe Measure 109 will achieve the stated goal of curbing the illicit market for psilocybin, an argument made for legalizing cannabis that she characterizes as “naive and ill-informed.”

“The situation many rural folks in Oregon find themselves in frequently is this idea that our voice wasn’t heard and our voice wasn’t taken into consideration,” Sprenger said. “Sometimes we feel like the metropolitan areas, i.e. Portland and Eugene, make decisions for the rest of us. Local voters need to have a say in their own community.”

Segura said that many of those opposed to psilocybin therapy centers are concerned that someone will get behind the wheel of an automobile immediately after an all-day session, particularly those who might not have the means to afford overnight accommodations. But he does not see a significant risk in the argument.

“I think that situation is extremely rare,” Segura said. “I think if people can afford the session, they can afford a hotel, if not just stay at a service center that provides lodging. I think there’s minimal risk of someone going to do psilocybin then getting in their car and driving away.”

“We don’t ever hear of stories of people eating mushrooms and then doing something dangerous,” Segura added. “We would hear more of it if it happened more often.”

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Senate Committee Passes Amendment to Loosen Restrictions for Applicants With Cannabis History

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence passed the Intelligence Authorization Act (IAA) for Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23) on June 22 which would prevent government intelligence agencies (such as Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency and more) from discriminating against job applicants because of past use of cannabis.

Senator Ron Wyden is a senior member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which also passed protections for whistleblowers and strengthened cyber security efforts. “This bipartisan legislation makes meaningful strides to improve treatment of whistleblowers and ensuring Congress can perform real oversight of intelligence agencies,” Wyden said in a press statement. “I applaud the committee for including my provisions, in particular an amendment ensuring that past cannabis use will not disqualify intelligence community applicants from serving their country. It’s a common-sense change to ensure the IC [Intelligence Committee] can recruit the most capable people possible.”

The press release describes the exact provision in relation to cannabis. “Prohibiting denial of a security clearance to IC personnel based solely on past use of cannabis. Senator Wyden will continue to fight to ensure that ongoing cannabis use is not the basis for denying or losing a clearance,” the release states.

Wyden shared on Twitter that Senator Martin Heinrich and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand were strong supporters of the amendment. “Big thanks to @MartinHeinrich and @SenGillibrand for their support of this common-sense provision, which will ensure the intelligence community can continue to recruit the most capable people possible.”

The entire committee of 16 individuals unanimously voted in approval of the amendment, however, it will require continued support from the Senate and House of Representatives, as well as a signature from President Joe Biden, before it can officially become law. According to Wall Street Journal, the amendment is not yet public.

In July 2021, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) updated its hiring guidelines to open up the pool of applicants as well. “Candidates cannot have used marijuana or cannabis in any form (natural or synthetic) and in any location (domestic or foreign) within the one (1) year preceding the date of their application for employment,” the updated website stated. It also states that any cannabis consumption before age 18 won’t disqualify the applicant.

Previously, the wording suggested that applicants can’t have used cannabis within three years “regardless of the location of use (even if marijuana usage is legal in the candidate’s home state).”

In December 2021, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines provided some guidance on the topic of cannabis consumption in a memo. “…the illegal use or misuse of controlled substances can raise security concerns about an individual’s reliability and trustworthiness to access classified information or to hold a sensitive position, as well as their ability or willingness to comply with laws, rules, and regulations,” the memo stated.

Due to the federally illegal status of cannabis, clearance applicants are still recommended to abstain from cannabis consumption. “…in light of the long-standing federal law and policy prohibiting illegal drug use while occupying a sensitive position or holding a security clearance, agencies are encouraged to advise prospective national security workforce employees that they should refrain from any future marijuana use upon initiation of the national security vetting process, which commences once the individual signs the certification contained in the Standard Form 86 (SF-86), Questionnaire for National Security Positions.”

The memo also established clarification for investment of cannabis-related companies. Employees who have access to classified information and hold a sensitive position “may be impacted negatively should that individual knowingly and directly invest in stocks or business ventures that specifically pertain to marijuana growers and retailers while the cultivation and distribution of marijuana remains illegal under the Controlled Substances Act,” the memo explained. However, should an employee not knowingly invest in a cannabis-related endeavor, it would not be held against them.

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SAFE Banking Act Dropped From China Competition Bill

Federal legislation that would permit financial institutions to provide banking services to legal cannabis businesses has been dropped from a bill designed to foster competition with China, marking the sixth time the cannabis banking provisions have failed to gain the approval of the U.S. Senate after being passed by the House of Representatives.

Known as the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, the legislation would have permitted banks and other financial institutions to serve companies in the legal cannabis industry. Under current regulations, providing traditional banking services such as loans and payroll, checking and deposit accounts is tightly regulated by the federal government, resulting in few financial institutions agreeing to work with marijuana businesses. Critics note that the current policy forces cannabis companies to operate primarily in cash, leaving the businesses vulnerable to crime.

The SAFE Banking Act was first introduced in Congress by Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter of Colorado in 2013. Since then, the House of Representatives has passed the bill six times as either a standalone bill or attached to other legislation. But the measure has failed to gain the approval of the Senate.

Most recently, the House approved provisions of the SAFE Banking Act in February as part of the America Creating Opportunities for Manufacturing, Pre-Eminence in Technology, and Economic Strength Act of 2022 (America COMPETES Act), a bill to support U.S. manufacturing and improve competitiveness with China. But on Thursday, Punchbowl News reported that the cannabis banking provisions have been dropped from the latest version of the COMPETES Act, which is currently in conference committee with House and Senate lawmakers. The report noted that the SAFE Act language had been dropped at the insistence of Republican negotiators.

“In the wake of the Senate’s inaction, people continue to be killed, businesses continue to be robbed, and employees and business owners in the cannabis industry continue to be excluded from the financial system,” Perlmutter, the lead sponsor of the SAFE Banking Act, said in a statement quoted by The Hill.

Activists and Industry React

After news that the legislation had not been included in the latest version of the COMPETES Act Morgan Fox, the political director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), said that it “is mind-boggling that this is now the sixth time that SAFE Banking has been approved by the House but stalled by the Senate.”

“This narrowly tailored, incremental, and necessary legislation has broad bipartisan support in both chambers, and it is incredibly disappointing that politics continue to get in the way of saving lives and helping struggling small businesses disrupt and ultimately replace the underground cannabis market,” Fox said in a statement from the cannabis policy reform advocacy group. “If there is a legislative version of the Twilight Zone, the SAFE Banking Act seems to be stuck in it at this point.”

Some supporters of the legislation including Michael Sassano, CEO and founder of cannabis products manufacturer Somaí Pharmaceuticals, believe that Congress is missing an opportunity to make people who work in the industry safer.

“Congress continually drops the easy play by going for an all-or-nothing strategy,” Sassano writes in an email to High Times. “Avoiding the SAFE banking act only shows that they don’t care about the cannabis industry and the safety of our employees, but rather their pet projects that get embedded in every failed law they try and pass.”

Despite Thursday’s setback, representatives of the regulated weed industry have not given up on the cannabis banking bill, with hopes that lawmakers will add the legislation to an upcoming spending package.

“The support and political will is there to get the SAFE Banking Act across the finish line. We are encouraged by conversations about pairing the bill with other helpful cannabis and criminal justice reforms,” Steven Hawkins, president of the U.S. Cannabis Council, said in a statement. “We look forward to working with our members and allies to help get the job done.”

But Fox noted that the opportunity to pass meaningful federal cannabis reform this year is fading as the nation and the Congress head into the 2022 midterm election season.

“There are still some pathways available to get SAFE Banking approved in the current congressional session, but time is running out,” Fox added. “The Senate should not waste this rare chance for bicameral and bipartisan cooperation that would improve safety and opportunities for hundreds of thousands of people and foster economic development in a majority of states.”

Perlmutter, who in January announced he will not seek reelection this year, vowed to continue working to get the cannabis banking measure passed before he leaves Congress.

“I will continue to push for #SAFEBanking to be included in COMPETES, other legislative vehicles, or for the Senate to finally take up the standalone version of the bill which has been sitting in the Senate for three and a half years,” Perlmutter tweeted on Thursday.

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Switzerland to Lift Ban on Medical Cannabis

The Switzerland government announced on June 22 that it will lift the ban on medical cannabis, as according to an amendment to the Swiss Narcotics Act that parliament approved in March 2021. According to Agence France Presse, the government “intends to facilitate access to cannabis for medical use for patients.”

“The decision to use a cannabis-based medicine for therapeutic purposes will rest with the doctor, in consultation with the patient,” the government said of the amendment. As of August 1, patients will no longer be required to obtain permission from the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH). However, adult-use cannabis sale and consumption will still remain illegal.

In Switzerland, medical cannabis is only allowed for patients with a doctor’s approval, or previously required approval from the FOPH. However, medical cannabis is still only allowed if the medicine contains less than 1% THC, and is licensed. Currently, only Sativex is approved for prescription to patients.

The country’s federal public law institution, Swissmedic, which is responsible for both “authorization and supervision of therapeutic products” including cocaine, methadone, and morphine could eventually be directed to manage the cannabis industry going forward.

Back in 2019, FOPH issued approximately 3,000 authorizations for cannabis patients suffering from a wide variety of medical conditions. However, the FOPH described this process as “tedious administrative procedures.” “Sick people must be able to access these medicines without excessive bureaucracy,” it stated.

In September 2021, the Switzerland government approved a recreational cannabis trial called “Zuri Can,” which is expected to begin this summer. There was one caveat, requiring that only “experienced users” should apply to participate, and this is verified by testing hair samples instead of urine or blood tests. The trial program will be held in Basel, Switzerland, and analyze results from 400 people who will be approved to buy recreational cannabis from specific pharmacies.

Also in June 2022, a new study conducted by the University of Geneva and EBP, a consulting firm, explored the benefits of full cannabis legalization. According to researcher’s findings, approximately 56 tons of cannabis is consumed every year in Switzerland. Based on this data, annual revenue for adult-use cannabis sales could collect up to $582 million Swiss francs (CHF). The industry could generate 0.06% of the country’s economy, which is roughly the same contribution as Appenzell Innerrhoden, the country’s smallest canton by population and area. Legal cannabis could also provide up to 4,400 full time jobs, in comparison to the country’s Swiss accident insurance, which has about 4,200 employees.

Ultimately, as seen in other countries, there are many benefits to establishing a regulatory framework for cannabis legalization. Study author and Research Associate at the Institute of Sociological Research of the University of Geneva Dr. Oliver Hoff explains that it’s time that Swiss cannabis laws received an update. “The simulation shows, that the current form of regulation produces [an] economically inefficient result,” Hoff said in a statement. “While artificially high profit margins enable illegal actors to generate generous profits, consumers suffer from inadequate transparency regarding products and quality. The healthcare system and preventative measures have a hard time accessing consumers with problematic consumption patterns and the state lacks access regarding regulatory, fiscal and public-health oriented initiatives.”

FOPH Head of Policy and Implementation, Adrian Gschwend, also provided a statement about the timing of this study. “The study comes precisely at the right time as the commission for social and healthcare issues of the national assembly has recently started a legislative proposal regarding the legalisation of cannabis,” Gschwend said. “The results show that both the current illicit market as well as a liberal commercial market inflicts costs on the public while individuals generate big profits. We thus need a well-regulated market that ensures both protection for children and adolescents as well as health protection measure.”

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Mississippi Supreme Court Upholds Life Sentence for Weed Possession

The Mississippi Supreme Court voted last week to uphold a life sentence without the possibility of parole for a man who was convicted of possessing less than three ounces of weed. The court voted 6-3 to confirm the penalty for the defendant, Allen Russell, who was sentenced under Mississippi’s habitual offender statute.

“Because the trial judge followed the law to the letter, we affirm,” Justice Robert P. Chamberlin wrote in the majority opinion quoted by the Epoch Times. “The trial judge did not have sentencing discretion in this case.”

Russell was arrested in 2017 for possessing five bags of cannabis weighing a combined total of 79.5 grams (just over 2.5 ounces) that police discovered while executing a search warrant. Lab analysis of two of the bags determined they contained 43.71 grams (about 1.54 ounces) of cannabis, and Russell was indicted on one charge of possessing more than 30 grams but less than 250 grams of cannabis.

Normally, a conviction on such a charge would carry a sentence of up to three years in prison. But Russell was also charged with being a violent habitual offender, subjecting him to a mandatory life sentence without parole upon conviction.

Sentenced Under Mississippi Habitual Offender Law

During his trial, prosecutors presented evidence that Russell had three prior felony convictions, two for burglary and one for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Under Mississippi state law, a burglary is considered a violent offense, even if no evidence of actual violence against a person is presented in a case.

Russell had pleaded guilty to the burglary charges in 2004 and was given two concurrent 15-year sentences. He spent a little more than 8.5 years in prison and was released in 2014, the same year that Mississippi law was changed to classify burglary as a violent crime, even if no evidence of violence is presented in court.

A jury found Russell guilty of the possession charge in 2019 and the court found that he was a violent habitual offender under the law, sentencing him to life behind bars. Russell then sued to overturn the sentence, arguing it violated his right to be protected from cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and his constitutional right not to be subjected to ex post facto laws.

Chief Justice Michael Randolph wrote in a separate concurring opinion that Russell’s life sentence was not solely for cannabis possession and that he had been treated leniently by the courts in previous criminal cases, noting that the defendant “is no stranger to the criminal justice system.”

“Russell has received a harsh punishment not because he possessed a small amount of marijuana, but because he has repeatedly refused to abide by the laws enacted to protect all the citizens of our state,” Randolph wrote.

The chief justice added that it is “pertinent to note that the arrest came while law enforcement was attempting to serve another drug-related warrant on Russell as well as execute a search warrant on his premises.”

Justice Josiah Coleman wrote in a dissenting opinion that Russell has been poorly treated by the courts. He noted that there is uncertainty regarding Russell’s criminal history, writing that “burglary was not considered a per se crime of violence until” state law was changed in 2014. The defendant “pled guilty to two counts of burglary in 2004,” 10 years after the change. But “burglary was only considered a crime of violence if actual violence took place during the burglary” before the law was changed. The dissenting judges questioned if Russell actually had a violent criminal history.

“Prior to July 1, 2014, burglary was only considered a crime of violence if actual violence took place during the burglary,” reads the dissenting opinion. “We do not know whether Russell’s burglaries involved actual violence, but the fact that he was allowed the opportunity by the sentencing court to participate in the Regimented Inmate Discipline Program tends to indicate they did not.”

Appeals Court Confirmed Sentence Last Year

Last year, an appeals court voted 5-5 in Russell’s case, with the tie vote not enough to overturn the sentence. In an opinion upholding the penalty, the judges wrote that the sentence is in accordance with state law. But several dissenting judges wrote that courts can and should make exceptions when warranted.

“The purpose of the criminal justice system is to punish those who break the law, deter them from making similar mistakes, and give them the opportunity to become productive members of society,” appeals court Judge Latrice Westbrooks wrote in the 2021 dissenting opinion. “The fact that judges are not routinely given the ability to exercise discretion in sentencing all habitual offenders is completely at odds with this goal.”

The case was then appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court, which upheld the sentence in last week’s decision.

A petition on organized by the group Check Your Privilege is calling on Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves to commute Russell’s life sentence. As of Tuesday, the petition had garnered more than 100,000 signatures.

“There is no amount of cannabis that should land someone a life sentence,” reads the petition. “Allen Russel was found guilty of possession in 2019 over just an ounce of weed, meanwhile laws around recreational use are softening all across the US.”

Mason Tvert, a longtime cannabis activist and partner at cannabis policy firm VS Strategies, criticized the sentence, suggesting it should be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“It is tragically ironic that this man’s life is being taken away from him for possessing a substance which, used alone, has never taken a life,” Tvert wrote in an email to High Times. “This case certainly warrants further review and ought to be reversed.”

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Athens, Georgia on Cusp of Major Decriminalization Ordinance

The city of Athens, Georgia is on the brink of a significant drug reform, with the Athens-Clarke County Legislative Review Committee passing a measure that is being hailed as “Georgia’s most comprehensive marijuana decriminalization ordinance.”

The ordinance, which was approved unanimously by the committee last week, “would reduce the penalties for possession of misdemeanor amounts of marijuana (defined as less than 28 grams) by making such infractions a 1$ fine,” according to Students for Sensible Drug Policy, which highlighted some of its advocacy efforts in Athens-Clarkes County in a blog post on Thursday.

The group says it has been “lobbying Athens Clarke county to reduce penalties for cannabis possession” since 2017, and that it was ultimately “able to bring together community stakeholders and local officials before the legislative review committee to hatch out a plan of attack.”

Once implemented, the ordinance would make “possessing under 28 grams of any marijuana product a civil infraction,” according to Students for Sensible Drug Policy, while also enshrining the “already common practices by the District Attorney and Athens Clarke County Police not to prosecute or arrest citizens; 19 other municipalities across Georgia have already passed similar ordinances.

The ordinance will help Athens, the home of the University of Georgia, stand apart in a state that has been slow to embrace cannabis reform.

After the vote by the committee last week, Raiden Washington, the University of Georgia Students for Sensible Drug Policy chapter president said, that drug policy “that provides equitable access and harm reduction resources is a non-partisan issue.”

“The Drug War has affected all communities across identity and political lines, whether that’s due to losing loved ones to overdoses or incarceration. It’s time we stand together for our entire community’s betterment,” Washington said. “The tools of the masters have been used by those who are oppressed.”

Students for Sensible Drug Policy noted that Georgia is “one of only 19 states that still imposes jail time for simple possession of marijuana, and one of only 13 that lacks a compassionate medical cannabis law.”

“The criminalization of drug possession fuels the US and Georgian mass criminalization system. GA has 183 jails in 159 counties. Georgia’’s total county jail population in 2019 was 45,340. There were 420,000 people on probation in the state,” Jeremy Sharp, SSDP’s South Eastern Regional Director, wrote in the blog post on Thursday. “There were 54,113 people under the jurisdiction of the GA Dept of Corrections in 34 state and private detention centers. The GA Department of Corrections had a staff of 9,169 employees and a budget of $1,205,012,739. 1 in 20 Georgians are on probation, parole, in Jail, or under some sort of supervision. The national average is 1 and 99. Private probation is an offender-funded system. Private companies with state or local contracts are allowed to charge individuals on probation with all kinds of extra fees and surcharges that far exceed their court fines. Failure to pay these fees can represent a violation of probation and risk re-entry into incarceration. Georgia has a long history of oppressive legal mechanisms used to disenfranchise.”

The lack of access to medicinal cannabis in the state has been particularly frustrating for advocates.

Lawmakers in Georgia legalized the treatment back in 2015 by passing the Haleigh’s Hope Act, which permitted qualifying patients to receive cannabis oil containing no more than 5% THC. But seven years after the bill’s passage, those patients still are unable to legally access the oil.

A bill that sought to change that failed in the Georgia state senate this spring.

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Superior Court in Brazil Affirms Right to Cannabis Home Grow

On Tuesday, Brazil became the newest country to decide that sick people can cultivate cannabis and extract its components into oil to treat chronic pain.

The case is significant domestically. Currently the law prevents domestic cultivation of all kinds. Cannabis-based medicines that are dispensed legally must all be imported, although Brazil is currently wrestling with how to proceed with further domestic reform.

As a result of this decision, the Brazilian Health Ministry must now set up regulations to guide the same. This is exactly what the judges intended. Judge Rogério Schietti said that the court acted because of the failure of the government to take a scientific position on the issue. “The discourse against this possibility is moralistic. It often has a religious nature, based on dogmas, on false truths, stigmas,” he said. “Let us stop this prejudice, this moralism that delays the development of this issue at the legislative, and many times clouds the minds of Brazilian judges.”

What he did not add is that this is an issue which has clouded the minds of both legislators and judges, not only in Brazil but other countries too. The issue of patient home grow is controversial everywhere. Yet it is this right that has moved cannabis reform of a federal kind forward in multiple countries, starting with Canada.

In Germany, for example, the right to grow your own cannabis was removed from patients in 2017 almost as soon as it was granted via court decision after the legalization of medical use by the legislature. The subsequent failure of the insurers to cover sick people—with a refusal rate that some analysts are putting at about 50% of all claims—makes such legislative changes vital as the country considers further reform.

Yet Germany is far from the only country where similar legal challenges are bubbling.

Why Home Grow is Seen as Seditious

One of the largest opponents to home grow is often the burgeoning “legal” cannabis industry. There are many on the commercial side of the discussion, including those in the strictly medical vertical, who stand adamantly opposed to home grow. Their arguments range from lack of standards to the trickle of such product into the black market and or the “children.”

While none of these situations are ideal, the abrogation of rights of particularly chronically ill people has so far been the answer to the same in too many jurisdictions.

That said, as countries in Europe, in particular, wrestle with how to implement recreational reform, this is now becoming a relatively safe half step. See Malta, Italy, and Luxembourg. It is also a burning question that so far, at least, has not been answered by the recreational reform debate now underway in Germany.

From an industry point of view, however, human rights too often take a back seat to profits. This is why commercial “rights” are trumping constitutional ones. This is why the right of individuals to grow their own—for either medical or recreational use—remains directly opposed by what is termed “the industry lobby.” This is also why home cultivation of plants, even for medical use, remains a criminal offense in many otherwise legalizing countries.

It is also why it is patients, not the industry, who are having to challenge such laws on a case-by-case basis. That process is not a fun experience. Most people do not want to go down in history as “cannabis Gandi” for trying to address the dire consequences of being both sick and poor. Yet this is precisely the situation every country which refuses patient home grow now puts their chronically ill populace in.

Changing this often brutal reality is overdue—and on an international level.

Perhaps Germany, the next country to face this on a federal basis, will apply the same philosophy, finally, to the topic. After all, as the last government said to then-President Donald Trump when he tried to corner the market on a German-made vaccine for COVID, “There are limits to capitalism.”

In Brazil, the Superior Court of Justice has just reaffirmed that principle.

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German Government to Hold Hearings on Recreational Cannabis Reform

There is certainly something to be said about German cannabis reform that the rest of the world—and in particular, the U.S.—can learn from. The issue may have dragged excruciatingly slowly forward since 2017, but now that they have decided to actually do it, the government is moving forward quite fast to implement a new policy.

Last week, the government announced that ten new federal positions would be funded to oversee the new market. Two will be at BfArM, the medicines and medical devices agency where the current Cannabis Agency is located, and eight more will be directly under the Ministry of Health. The distinction is one of bureaucratic semantics as BfArM is an independent agency under the rubric of the health ministry. Yet this is Germany, land of bureaucratic hair splitting.

Yesterday, the Health Ministry also announced that it would start the first of five hearings today with the process lasting for the duration of June. More than 200 people are expected to take part—drawn from medical, legal, and business verticals, along with government officials and “international experts.”

The Ministry was told in a typically German and blunt fashion by the Bundestag budget committee last month that it was tasked with introduction of a bill that would be passable by the end of the year—or they would lose a million euros allocated for their PR budget.

The Impact of German Recreational Reform in Europe

While nothing is ever definite except death and taxes, it is highly likely that German recreational reform will pass by the end of this year. When the actual market starts is another question. Like Canada, or on a state level, Colorado and Washington State, sales could be delayed until the start of 2024. 

There are also other critical elements of legalization to be decided, such as decriminalization. Sales will be a large topic and range from how brick and mortar dispensaries will be set up to the ever-thorny issue of online sales. Clearing both previous convictions as well as pending legal cases is also a priority. There are about 200 criminal cases pending against legitimate CBD businesses, and over 185,000 against individuals, mostly for non-violent and personal cultivation and possession.

Beyond domestic impact—which also includes the creation of a regulatory structure for commercial cultivation, processing, packaging, and distribution beyond sales—there is another issue now front and center in this discussion and impacts the conversation across Europe. Namely where the richest country in the E.U. will source its recreational product—particularly until domestic cultivation is harvested. No matter how much new cultivation is initiated by all three medical bid winners, they will not be able to produce enough to supply the domestic market (nor should they be allowed to try). This also seems to indicate that feeder markets, including those cultivators now sourcing medical grade flower from countries including Portugal and Greece, are primed to step into the breach.

This in turn is also likely to drive further reform in most, if not all, other E.U. countries—especially those now on the brink of reform anyway. Portugal and Luxembourg have already announced progress on recreational reform since Germany announced an expedited schedule this spring. They are unlikely to be the only countries in Europe who will act. This is a valuable export crop not only for developing world countries, but many in Europe as well. Spain is one of them.

What Will Be the International Impact?

Beyond the immediate states of Europe, the impact of Germany going full Monty recreational will be massive. Its population is twice the size of Canada.

Apart from the domestic market and the inevitable topic of exports, it is also inevitable that political reform here will drive the issue in other places—starting with the U.S. (at minimum). 

If the Germans can do it, and within five years of federal reform of the medical kind (which also has not happened yet in the U.S.), there is little to hold this conversation back anywhere else.

What this also may well presage is further talks at the UN level, where reform has been punted for several years now. Removing cannabis from a Schedule I drug is now closer than it has been since before international prohibition which began to be implemented globally after WWI.

Quite ironically, the country which lost both of the global conflicts of the last century may well go down in history as the revolutionary force on the winning as well as the right side of history when it comes to cannabis.

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Malaysia Ends Mandatory Death Penalty for Nonviolent Drug Crimes

Malaysia’s cabinet agreed on Friday to end mandatory death penalty sentences for 12 different kind of “crimes” including those involving non-violent drug offenses. The move comes four years after the government imposed a stay on executions. The reason this is so significant is that most people on death row in Malaysia have been convicted on narcotics charges.

According to information provided by the government as of February of this year, 1,341 people were on the Malaysian death row—and 905 of those people were convicted of “drug trafficking.”

Human Rights advocates in the region are cautiously optimistic. However according to Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, there should be no celebrating until this is codified in legislation. “The Malaysian government loves to float trial balloons about human rights initiatives because it knows the international community has a short attention span.”

Amnesty International called the government’s decision a “welcome step in the right direction.”

According to the most recent reports, the government expects to introduce the bill in Parliament in October and have it go into effect no later than January 2023.

The move is even more significant given the trends on capital punishment in the region. Singapore, Myanmar, and Vietnam are, in stark contrast, increasing the use of the death penalty.

Cannabis Appears to be the Driving Force of Reform

What makes this sudden prioritization of changing a major piece of policy even more interesting is that the Malaysian government may have decided to change its stance on mandatory sentencing, beyond legal cases, because of its recent and growing interest in medical cannabis.

Medical cannabis reform was discussed by the Malaysian cabinet in April this year during a meeting which the country’s Prime Minister, Ismail Sabri Yaakob also attended. Subsequently the government issued a written statement that said “More than 40 countries have legalised consumption of cannabis for medicinal purposes. The caucus believes that Malaysia has the space and a huge opportunity in this industry for medicinal and research purposes which could deliver a lot of benefits for the country.”

As of now, a mandatory capital punishment sentence is imposed on those caught with more than 200 grams of cannabis. Lesser offenses are punished by up to a life sentence in prison.

The most recent discussion at a cabinet level about legalization of at least medical use also came on the heels of charges of drug cultivation and trafficking being made against a popular local singer named Yasin Sulaiman who performs Islamic devotional songs.

Currently no legal cannabis is grown in the country. As of last November, the government began allowing the import of medical cannabis of pharmaceutical quality specifically for medical purposes.

It is also highly likely that the change in policy has been prompted by an enthusiastic embrace of the plant in next door Thailand which has recently moved forward not only with cannabis reform but just announced a giveaway of a million cannabis plants.

History of Cannabis in Malaysia

Cannabis has been cultivated in the country for centuries. There is scant evidence that it was used as medicine; archaeological evidence has revealed that hemp has long been used for fabric production and for food. Arab traders were selling it in the country as early as the 8th century B.C.

The local cannabis trade entered its last golden age in the late 19th century when the British East India Company began trading it across the region. During the last century, the Vietnam War and Western backpackers also fuelled the nascent market.

The War on Drugs is indeed coming to an end, globally. What makes this development even more exciting is that cannabis reform is now driving a much larger revision of government policy in every part of the world.

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