Democratic Candidates for Florida Governor Vow to Legalize Marijuana

Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate and congressman Representative Charlie Crist announced on Thursday that he will legalize marijuana and expunge past cannabis-related convictions if he is elected governor. The statement drew a swift response from fellow Democratic candidate and state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, however, who chided Crist for his past support of cannabis prohibition.

At an appearance at the state capitol in Tallahassee, Crist, who served as Florida’s governor as a Republican from 2007 to 2011, said that he would legalize marijuana if voters elect him to the office again next year. He also vowed to expunge convictions for cannabis-related misdemeanors and third-degree felonies.

“Let me be clear: If I’m elected governor, I will legalize marijuana in the Sunshine State,” Crist said in a video posted on Twitter on Thursday. “This is the first part of the Crist contract with Florida.”

Crist also said on Thursday that under his legalization proposal, taxes from sales of regulated marijuana would be used to fund law enforcement agencies, more teachers for the state’s schools and drug diversion and treatment programs. The plan also supports allowing home cultivation of up to six cannabis plants and reforming the state’s current marijuana industry by decentralizing it and making it more accessible to farmers who are people of color. 

But Crist has been a late adopter of cannabis policy reform. While serving as Florida’s Republican governor, Crist signed legislation to make cultivation of 25 or more cannabis plants a second-degree felony, lowering the threshold from 300. In 2008, he said that he approved of Florida’s harsh drug laws and opposed efforts at reform.

After leaving the Florida governor’s mansion, Crist announced in 2012 that he had joined the Democratic Party. In 2014, he secured the Democratic nomination for governor but was defeated in the general election. He then ran for the U.S. House, where he has served as the representative for Florida’s 13th Congressional District since 2016. 

He has since voiced public support for cannabis reform and last year voted in favor of the MORE Act, a bill to decriminalize cannabis at the federal level that later died in the U.S. Senate.

“We know that people across racial and income levels use marijuana at the same rate. And yet, for decades, it’s been poor, Black and/or Hispanic folks targeted for prison on marijuana charges,” Crist said in a December statement in support of the MORE Act. “That tells me that marijuana has been legal now for a while if you had the right skin tone or the right paycheck.”

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Democratic Crist Has Changed His Mind on Cannabis

After Crist made his announcement in support of cannabis reform, Fried, his opponent for the Democratic nomination for governor, called attention to Crist’s record on marijuana as governor.

Fried has long been a supporter of cannabis legalization and announced earlier this year that she is a registered Florida medical marijuana patient. She has also worked as a lobbyist for the cannabis industry and is an investor in a licensed medical marijuana treatment center in the state, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

“Imitation is flattery, but records are records,” Fried wrote on Twitter on Thursday. “People went to jail because Republicans like @CharlieCrist supported and enforced racist marijuana crime bills. Glad he’s changed his mind, but none of those people get those years back. Legalize marijuana.”

Drew Godinich, a spokesperson for the Fried for Governor campaign, also attacked Crist’s record on cannabis reform.

“Floridians deserve a new generation of leaders who will reform our broken criminal justice system and for a consistent, just marijuana policy,” Godinich wrote in a tweet.

“That’s what Nikki Fried has done as Agricultural Commissioner, and that’s what she’ll continue to do as Governor. Charlie now says he is [in] favor of reform—but has nothing to say for his record of decades in Tallahassee where he consistently favored harsh laws to punish Floridians. We need change, now.”

In his statement on Thursday, Crist acknowledged that, like many people, his stance on marijuana has changed over time. 

“And for me, it’s personal,” Crist said. “I lost an older sister. She had brain cancer several years ago. And I think about Margaret, and I think about how it wouldn’t have been as painful for her perhaps if marijuana had been legalized and the stigma taken off of it.”

Crist’s proposal to legalize marijuana is part of his four-point “Justice for All” plan to reform the state’s justice system, which he says has disproportionately impacted non-white Floridians. He also supports a sentencing reform plan, restoring voting rights to those with nonviolent felony convictions and legislation to give inmates rehabilitation credit for taking educational and life-skills classes.

The winner of the Democratic nomination for Florida governor will face current Republican Governor Ron DeSantis in next year’s general election. DeSantis is opposed to cannabis reform and said, “Not while I’m governor” when asked about marijuana legalization in 2019.

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Mississippi ‘Not Quite Ready’ to Implement Medical Cannabis

Mississippi’s governor on Tuesday said he isn’t quite ready to call a special legislative session to implement the state’s new medical cannabis law

Tate Reeves, a first-term Republican, made it clear that he believes the special session will indeed happen––but not until a few outstanding matters are ironed out.

“I am confident we will have a special session of the Legislature if we get the specifics of a couple of items that are left outstanding,” Reeves said at a press conference, as quoted by Mississippi Today. “Again, we have made great progress working with our legislative leaders.”

Reeves’ announcement on Tuesday comes nearly three weeks after lawmakers in Mississippi had apparently struck a deal on legislation to implement the medical marijuana law. 

Mississippi Today reported at the time that “legislative negotiators and leaders” had come to an agreement on a draft of legislation for the new law, and that they “anticipated to ask” Reeves to call the legislature into a special session.”

As governor, Reeves has the lone authority to call a special legislative session. 

On Tuesday, Reeves outlined several areas of concern over the medical marijuana legislation. According to Mississippi Today, those concerns include the “level of THC dosages,” the “amount of marijuana that can be provided to people” and “who would be eligible to receive medical marijuana.”

The website noted that the governor’s “office has also been back and forth with lawmakers adding language to ensure that marijuana businesses cannot receive state economic development incentives or credits.”

The legislation that was drafted late last month by state lawmakers had “THC potency limits of 30 percent on flower, [and] 60 percent on concentrates and infused products,” while requiring “any product above 30 percent THC [to] have to have a warning label.” 

The bill also would impose the state’s seven percent sales tax on medical marijuana. 

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Mississippi Experiencing Frustrating Delays

Although Reeves maintained confidence that the special session would ultimately be held, the delay is likely another source of frustration for marijuana advocates in the state who have confronted significant hurdles since Mississippi voters approved medical cannabis at the ballot.

Last year, almost seven percent of voters in the state passed Initiative 65, which legalized medical cannabis treatment for patients suffering from a number of qualifying conditions, including cancer, epilepsy or other seizures, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, cachexia (weakness and wasting due to chronic illness), post-traumatic stress disorder, HIV+, AIDS, chronic or debilitating pain, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, glaucoma, agitation from dementia, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, sickle-cell anemia and autism.

Under the passed ballot initiative, those qualifying patients could have as much as 2.5 ounces of medical pot.

But in May, the Mississippi Supreme Court struck down the initiative in a 6-3 ruling, declaring the measure unconstitutional on a technicality. 

The ruling prompted lawmakers in the state to prepare a new law to take the place of Initiative 65. Negotiations took place for much of the summer, with a draft finally being offered up to Reeves late last month.

That legislation barred personal cultivation for qualifying patients, while also including a provision permitting cities to opt out of the medical marijuana program.

“City councils or aldermen, or county boards of supervisors, within 90 days of passage of legislation, could opt out from allowing cultivation or dispensing of medical marijuana within their borders,” Mississippi Today reported at the time. Voters in those cities and counties could force a referendum to rejoin the medical marijuana program if they gathered 1,500 signatures or 20 percent of the voters, according to the report.

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Senators Call on AG Merrick Garland to Decriminalize Cannabis

Two U.S. senators recently sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland urging the Department of Justice to decriminalize cannabis at the federal level. In the letter, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts called on Garland to remove cannabis from the nation’s list of drugs regulated under the federal Controlled Substances Act.

“Decriminalizing cannabis at the federal level via this descheduling process would allow states to regulate cannabis as they see fit, begin to remedy the harm caused by decades of racial disparities in enforcement of cannabis laws and facilitate valuable medical research,” Warren and Booker wrote in their October 6 letter to Garland. “While Congress works to pass comprehensive cannabis reform, you can act now to decriminalize cannabis.”

The Democratic senators wrote that under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), Garland has the authority to “remove a substance from the CSA’s list, in consultation with the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS).” Booker and Warren said that the move would be in line with public opinion, noting that 91 percent of American adults support legalizing marijuana for medical or recreational use, according to data from the Pew Research Center.

The senators’ letter also notes that more than two-thirds of the states have initiated cannabis reform, with 36 legalizing the medicinal use of marijuana. Of them, 18 have also passed laws that legalize cannabis for adult use. The reforms have come without a spike in traffic accidents, violent crime, or use by teenagers “paving the way for much-needed action at the federal level.”

Racial Inequality and the War on Drugs

Warren and Booker also cited data from the American Civil Liberties Union that showed that Black Americans are three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people, despite similar rates of usage among the groups. The effects of the disparate enforcement of cannabis prohibition laws include not only arrest, prosecution and incarceration, but also collateral damage such as the loss of jobs, housing, eligibility for financial aid, child custody and immigration status.

“Federal cannabis policy has disproportionately affected the ability of people of color in the United States to vote, to pursue education, and to build intergenerational wealth,” Booker and Warren maintain. “You can begin to repair the harm that the criminalization of cannabis has wrought on communities of color by using your statutory and regulatory authority to deschedule this drug.”

The senators also noted in their letter that legalization will facilitate cannabis as a treatment option for serious medical conditions including chronic pain, PTSD and terminal illnesses. Noting that federal agencies including the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institute on Drug Abuse have acknowledged that THC and CBD have proven medical applications, Warren and Booker argued that the decriminalization of “cannabis is crucial to facilitating scientific research and would be invaluable to doctors and patients across the nation.”

Summing up their rationale for marijuana policy reform, Booker and Warren urged “the DOJ to initiate the process to decriminalize cannabis.”

“Doing so would be an important first step in the broader tasks of remedying the harmful racial impact of our nation’s enforcement of cannabis laws and ensuring that states can effectively regulate the growing cannabis industry, including by assisting small business owners and those most harmed by our historical enforcement of cannabis laws,” they continued.

Keeping a Campaign Promise

Rescheduling cannabis under the CSA or removing it from the list entirely by action from Garland and the executive branch would allow the Biden administration to follow through on pledges to reform marijuana policy during the 2020 presidential campaign. While running for office, President Joe Biden promised to “decriminalize the use of cannabis and automatically expunge all prior cannabis use convictions.”

In an April press briefing, White House press secretary Jen Psaki reiterated Biden’s support for cannabis reform at the federal level. But she noted that the president prefers marijuana decriminalization over full legalization.

“The president supports leaving decisions regarding legalization for recreational use up to the states; rescheduling cannabis as a Schedule II drug so researchers can study its positive and negative impacts; and, at the federal level, he supports decriminalizing marijuana use and automatically expunging any prior criminal records,” Psaki told reporters. “He also supports legalizing medicinal marijuana.”

Critics, however, say Biden’s stance on cannabis is behind the times.

“His policy on marijuana is a very antiquated one, very out of date,” Martiza Perez, director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, told the Portland Press Herald. “I think that’s just his personal belief. If he were persuaded by science, the science tells us that marijuana does have positive therapeutic and medical effects, but he still seems very reluctant to just embrace it.”

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Petition to Legalize Adult-Use Cannabis Filed in Oklahoma

Cannabis policy reform advocates in Oklahoma filed a petition on Thursday for a ballot initiative that would legalize adult-use cannabis in the state. The group, Oklahomans for Responsible Cannabis Action, also submitted a petition for a separate initiative proposal that would modify the state’s current medical marijuana program.

“A lot of this is stuff that has been advocated for by a lot of folks in the community and industry over the last three years, and I don’t see it’s going to make it through the legislative process any time soon,” Jed Green, an organizer of the group, said about the content of two proposed ballot measures.

The recreational petition initiative, known as the Oklahoma Marijuana Regulation and Right to Use Act, would legalize cannabis for all adults 21 and older. The proposal would allow adults to possess up to eight ounces of marijuana purchased from licensed retailers. 

Purchases of adult-use cannabis would be subject to a 15 percent excise tax, with revenue dedicated to regulating the industry. The tax on medical cannabis, currently at seven percent, would be eliminated in stages over the span of one year. Excess taxes collected for either program would be used for cannabis research, water resources, and law enforcement training.

The initiative also allows for the home cultivation of up to 12 cannabis plants, which would not be subject to the eight-ounce limit on possession. The measure also includes provisions for those with past convictions for marijuana offenses to have their records expunged or apply for judicial review.

“Until we pass recreational (marijuana legalization) we will not be able to truly bring stability to our program. Legalization prevents diversion,” Green said. “Folks have been and are going to use marijuana. Have been for decades. It is in the best interest of our state to get ahead of the curve on this issue. We must put this issue to rest.”

Medical Marijuana Reform Petition also Filed

Oklahomans for Responsible Cannabis Action also filed a second petition to reform the state’s current medical marijuana program. The measure, titled the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Enforcement and Anti-Corruption Act, would amend the state constitution to create the Oklahoma State Cannabis Commission. 

The new agency would serve as the regulatory body for medical cannabis patients and businesses. The State Health Department, at the discretion of the OSCC’s board, would retain oversight of food permit and safety regulations with cannabis products. 

The commission’s board would be made up of representatives of state agencies that have regulatory authority over any aspect of the cannabis industry. The commission would also allocate funding to those agencies to support their regulatory and oversight duties.

Green also campaigned to get State Question 788 to legalize medical marijuana on the 2018 ballot. Since the initiative’s passage, Oklahoma has licensed more than 375,000 cannabis patients, more than 2,300 dispensaries, 8,600 cultivators and about 1,500 cannabis processors. But he says that a lack of enforcement of the cannabis industry has made it difficult for legal businesses to operate effectively while allowing the state to become a hotbed of illicit activity.

“What we’ve seen with that not being done is a big problem,” Green said. “The efforts that the (Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control) is making right now to clean up this variety of, especially illegal grow ops we have; that does not happen overnight. That level of infrastructure does not get built overnight.”

Both petitions include language stating that the presence of THC metabolites in a person’s bodily fluids or hair is not on its own proof of cannabis impairment. Additionally, screening tests showing the presence of such metabolites can not be used to deny a person housing, health care, public assistance or other rights.

If the petitions are not challenged within 10 days, Oklahomans for Responsible Cannabis Action will have 90 days to gather at least 178,000 signatures for each proposal to qualify for the 2022 ballot.

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The Latest IRS Initiative Could Positively Impact Cannabis

The tax man is extending a helpful hand to marijuana business owners, not something we would normally see for the cannabis industry. 

In an announcement posted on its website late last month, the Internal Revenue Service unveiled its new “Cannabis/Marijuana Initiative,” billed as a “groundbreaking effort” by the agency to assist such business owners as they navigate the often confounding U.S. tax code.

The goal of the initiative, the agency said, “is to implement a strategy to increase voluntary compliance with the tax law while also identifying and addressing non-compliance,” a move the IRS believes “will positively impact filing, payment and reporting compliance on the part of all businesses involved in the growing, distribution and sales of cannabis/marijuana.”

The agency said it has a number of “strategic activities” planned as part of the initiative, which include ensuring that “training and job aids are available to IRS examiners working cases so they can conduct quality examinations (audits) consistently throughout the country,” making sure “there is coordination and a consistent approach by the IRS to the cannabis/marijuana industry,” finding “ways to identify non-compliant taxpayers,” collaborating “with external stakeholders to increase an awareness of tax responsibilities to improve compliance” and giving “taxpayers access to information on how to properly comply with the filing requirements.”

Even as dozens of states have legalized marijuana for either medical or recreational marijuana use, and even as polls consistently show that majorities of Americans support legalizing marijuana outright, there remains a stubborn elephant in the room—cannabis is still listed on the Controlled Substances Act and is thus still illegal on the federal level. That makes things very difficult when it comes to tax breaks.

De Lon Harris, a commissioner at the IRS who authored the post on the initiative last month, alluded to that discrepancy as a motivation behind the new program.

Rather than just providing information on the IRS’ website, Harris said he intends to “engage with the cannabis/marijuana industry through speaking events and other outreach.” He said that he has hosted three such outreach events in the last year.

“It’s tricky from a business perspective, because even though states are legalizing marijuana and treating its sale as a legal business enterprise, it’s still considered a Schedule 1 controlled substance under federal law,” Harris wrote. “That means a cannabis/marijuana business has additional considerations under the law, creating unique challenges for members of the industry.  Specifically, these businesses are often cash intensive since many can’t use traditional banks to deposit their earnings. It also creates unique challenges for the IRS on how to support these new business owners and still promote tax compliance.”

Harris said that although IRS Code Section 280E establishes that “all the deductions and credits aren’t allowed for an illegal business,” there is a “caveat.”

“Marijuana business owners can deduct their cost of goods sold, which is basically the cost of their inventory. What isn’t deductible are the normal overhead expenses, such as advertising expenses, wages and salaries and travel expenses, to name a few,” he said. 

“I understand this nuance can be a challenge for some business owners, and I also realize small businesses don’t always have a lot of resources available to them. That’s why I’m making sure the IRS is doing what it can to help businesses with our new Cannabis/Marijuana Initiative,” Harris continued.

It may not be long before legalization goes federal. Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill like Senator Chuck Schumer have signaled that they are ready to press ahead with the reform. Earlier this year, Democratic members of the House introduced legislation that would both decriminalize and deschedule cannabis. 

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Flower to be Permitted Following First Regulatory Meeting in New York

Medical marijuana patients in New York state will soon be able to do something for the first time in the five-year history of the program: purchase smokable marijuana.

The state’s newly formed regulatory board approved the sale of marijuana flower on Tuesday, broadening the offerings of a medicinal pot marketplace that had only featured the likes of vaping products and oils. 

It was the first meeting for the so-called Cannabis Control Board, which is comprised of five board members and is “charged with implementing the Marihuana Regulation & Taxation Act and advancing the cannabis industry in New York State.”

The meeting came two weeks after New York Gov. Kathy Hochul made her final two appointments to the panel. 

The Cannabis Control Board operates under the Office of Cannabis Management, which was created by the law passed earlier this year that legalized recreational pot use in the state of New York. 

As defined under the law, the Office of Cannabis Management is “a first in the nation comprehensive regulatory structure to oversee the licensure, cultivation, production, distribution, sale and taxation of medical, adult-use and cannabinoid hemp within New York State.”

New York Makes a Change

But while recreational marijuana sales are still roughly 18 months away from taking effect in the Empire State, Democrats in Albany have pushed the new regulatory agency to forge ahead with changes to the medical marijuana program, which officially launched in 2016.

Hochul, too, has called for greater urgency in rolling out the new marijuana reforms in the state.

“New York’s cannabis industry has stalled for far too long,” Hochul said in announcing her appointments to the board last month. “I am making important appointments to set the Office of Cannabis Management up for success so they can hit the ground running.”

Hochul, who assumed office in August following the resignation of Andrew Cuomo, has said that one of her “top priorities is to finally get New York’s cannabis industry up and running.”

According to the Buffalo News, the Cannabis Control Board approved other reforms on Tuesday, announcing that it was “immediately loosening rules governing the state’s medical marijuana program, including greatly expanding who can prescribe medical marijuana—to include everyone from dentists to midwives.”

The newspaper noted that expanding the group of officials who can prescribe marijuana “will sharply broaden the list of health care participants to include anyone licensed to dispense a controlled substance, which besides dentists can include podiatrists and other fields of medical care.” 

Currently, according to the Buffalo News, there are currently “nearly 3,400 health care practitioners, who are mostly physicians, nurse practitioners and some physician assistants, [who] have been approved to certify patients as eligible for the drug.”

Moreover, the newspaper reported that the board “also doubled to 60 days the supply of marijuana that can be dispensed, abolishing the patient and caregiver $50 registration fee and making it easier for facilities, including hospitals, to dispense medical marijuana to patients.”

But the biggest headline out of Tuesday’s meeting was the addition of smokable flower to the state’s medical marijuana supplies, offering a more economical option for patients who thus far have only been able to acquire pills, vapes and oils. Now they will also be able to obtain smokable cannabis if that’s their choice of medication. 

Sales of marijuana flower at the state’s medical marijuana dispensaries will not begin “until certain quality control measures are conducted by the state,” according to the Buffalo News.

The board did, however, reject one proposal. According to the newspaper, “cultivation of marijuana by people approved for medical reasons was not approved Tuesday because of a six-month delay in appointing the new board.” 

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Czech Government Triples Limit Allowed in Industrial Hemp

In a move that is further expected to shore up new calls for comprehensive cannabis reform at a European level, Czech President Miloš Zeman signed a law in the last week of September that allows industrial hemp grown in the country to have a THC level of 1.0 percent. 

This exceeds the current limit set by the European Parliament last fall as a regional guide (up from 0.2 percent to 0.3 percent), but that change will not take effect at the EU level until 2023.

Regardless, such a change comes at a very interesting time for the entire cannabis, if not hemp, discussion across Europe. Other provisions in the new Czech law are also going to shake up the discussion when it comes to access to cannabinoid drugs. Licensed, private groups will be allowed to manufacture medical cannabis products. 

This in turn will potentially affect not only the Czech Republic, but every country across the EU now in search of lower priced cannabis products (starting but not limited to flos and extract). Indeed, with this move, the CR may well position itself as the main competitor to North Macedonia in terms of pricing—and certainly whatever is on the way in Portugal. It will also create an alternative and much lower cost labour market than Denmark.

For countries starting with Poland, this may also be a boon to the entire discussion of access where patients just cannot access medicine they can afford.

It may also move the conversation in countries like Italy, which are also undergoing a new discussion about decriminalizing cannabis and other medical plants like psilocybin—and have already allowed home growing.

Medical cannabis cultivation has been legal in the country since 2013, but only a few, larger-scale growers have so far been licensed. Czechs are also allowed to grow up to five plants at home—it is technically decriminalized even though it can be punished with a fine—but many are hoping that the Pirate Party, currently polling third in the run up to the country’s national election in October, will be able to not only win but, as promised, embrace a sea of change in the country’s cannabis policy.

Whether the Pirates win is one thing. Regardless of more changes in the country’s cannabis policy after the election, the Czech Republic is again taking a first stand on a major issue in the industry that is bound to stimulate if not encourage more reform elsewhere.

Given the renewed call for “recreational trials” that are beginning to sprout up around Europe (and will be given even more of a push by the recent German elections last weekend), it is also not out of the question to see a similar trial in the CR in the next couple of years.

The Export Discussion

Currently, the medical cannabis produced in the country is for domestic consumption. This is a unique situation in Europe, since most of the cultivation underway post 2017 has been largely for export (and to Germany). As a result, within the country, medical cannabis does not have to meet a GMP certification, making it much less expensive to cultivate than in other parts of the EU. 

The dispensation of medical cannabis has grown exponentially over the last several years. Last year, patients were given close to 70 kgs—a dramatic increase over 2019 where the official dispensation figures showed just 17 kgs were distributed.

The Czech GMP discussion is also one of the most intriguing in the EU. As it stands, unless the cannabis it cultivates domestically is GMP rated, farmers will not be able to export it to other European medical markets. However, there is likely to be a massive uptick in domestic production and medical consumption. 

As a result of this, the CR may become one of the countries in the EU, like Portugal, where the entire “GMP vs GACP” discussion, and even for medical cannabis, is re-examined. This in turn, particularly set against a rising tide of calls for, at minimum, recreational trials in multiple countries, may confuse the issue even further rather than clarifying it.

So far, this certification has been the highest barrier companies have had to cross and face—starting with raising the financing to cultivate or extract at this level in the first place. 

With an exclusively medical market in the region, nobody challenged the same—at least directly—although all the larger Canadian companies in the room have repeatedly stubbed their toes on this issue.

Now, with recreational trials also looming, the certification question that has seemed to be so uniform may also be challenged—albeit on a country-by-country basis.

Reform and of the most interesting, varied and potentially market moving kind, has absolutely landed in the EU, if not Europe, this summer—and the new developments in the Czech Republic will undoubtedly ripple far beyond the country’s borders as the discussion begins to broaden if not finally flower and bloom.

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Pennsylvania Lawmakers Unveil Adult-Use Cannabis Legalization Bill

Two Pennsylvania state lawmakers introduced legislation on Tuesday that would legalize recreational cannabis for adults and create a regulated market for adult-use marijuana. The legislation from Democratic state Reps. Jake Wheatley and Dan Frankel, House Bill 2050, also includes social equity provisions to encourage participation in the legal cannabis industry by members of communities disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs.

“I’m once again championing the effort to legalize adult-use recreational marijuana in Pennsylvania. We’ve heard from residents across the state, and the overwhelming majority agree it’s time to pass this initiative,” Wheatley said in a joint statement on Tuesday. “Not only would it create jobs and generate much-needed revenue, but it contains important social justice provisions that would eliminate the aggressive enforcement of simple marijuana possession laws in marginalized communities.”

House Bill 2050, which shares the designator of a 2020 cannabis legalization bill that failed to gain the support of the GOP-led legislature, would decriminalize, regulate and tax adult-use, recreational marijuana, making it legal for purchase for those 21 and older. The legislation would also establish multiple grant programs funded by cannabis tax revenue that would benefit small, minority and women-owned businesses in Pennsylvania. Frankel said such measures were necessary to address the harm caused by decades of cannabis prohibition.

“Failed cannabis policies of the past have resulted in the worst of all possible worlds: insufficient protection of the public health, aggressive enforcement that disproportionately harms communities of color and zero revenue for this commonwealth,” said Frankel, who serves as the Democratic chair of the House Health Committee. “With this legislation, Pennsylvania can begin to repair the historical harms and reap the benefits of a fact-based approach to regulating the cultivation, commerce and use of cannabis for adults over 21 years old.”

The legislation would also establish a regulatory process for cannabis growers, processors, and retailers and levy a 10 percent tax on wholesale transactions. License fees for cannabis businesses will be based on gross revenue, with larger companies paying higher fees. Consumers will pay a retail tax of six percent for the first two years, increasing to 12 percent and then 19 percent over the following two years.

Democratic Leaders Signal Support for Legalization

House Bill 2050 is already gaining the support of Pennsylvania Democratic leaders including the state’s lieutenant governor and attorney general, who called for the records of those with past marijuana convictions to be cleared through “Cannabis Clean Slate” provisions of the bill.

“NY has legalized marijuana. NJ has legalized marijuana. It’s time for PA to join our neighbors, and legalize marijuana,” Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro tweeted on Tuesday morning. “But let me be clear: We must simultaneously expunge the records of those serving time for nonviolent marijuana convictions—and that is non-negotiable.”

In February, Pennsylvania Democratic state Senator Sharif Street of Philadelphia and Senator Dan Laughlin, a Republican from Erie, announced that they would be sponsoring bipartisan legislation to legalize adult-use cannabis in the state. However, they have yet to actually introduce a bill in the legislature. 

Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, who for years has been a vocal supporter of cannabis reform and is now running to represent the Keystone State in the U.S. Senate, says that it is time for more Republican lawmakers to support cannabis legalization.

“Pennsylvania wants this; Pennsylvania needs this, for any number of reasons. I always tell people that the key takeaway is that prohibition is so much more work than just admitting that you’ve evolved on marijuana,” Fetterman said in a telephone interview with High Times. “And let’s just make this legal in a bipartisan way, because a majority of their constituents want this, too.”

“I love to see any time another bill comes up,” he added, referring to House Bill 2050. “Right now, we still have one Republican sponsor in the Senate, and it all comes down to when the Republicans acknowledge that the time for legal weed in Pennsylvania is right.”

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Curbside Recreational Weed Pickups End in Massachusetts

Cannabis dispensaries in Massachusetts will no longer be permitted to offer curbside pickup of recreational marijuana purchases to their customers after state regulators allowed an emergency rule permitting the practice to expire. 

At a meeting of the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission on September 17, regulators voted to extend some emergency regulations put in place at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, including a rule that allows medical marijuana patients to receive recommendations from their physician via a telemedicine appointment. The commission also voted to continue curbside cannabis purchase pickups for medical marijuana patients but declined to extend a similar authorization for adult-use cannabis customers.

Decision Ends Pandemic-Era Rule

Cannabis dispensaries in Massachusetts were barred from making sales of recreational marijuana for two months under an executive order issued in March 2020 by Governor Charlie Baker that directed nonessential businesses to close to help stem the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. 

Medical marijuana dispensaries were deemed essential businesses, however, and allowed to remain open with special safety precautions including social distancing and curbside pickup put in place. Shops supplying both medical marijuana and recreational cannabis were directed to serve registered patients only. Sales of recreational marijuana resumed the following May with similar restrictions in place, including social distancing and curbside pickup for most transactions.

“The Cannabis Control Commission, with the cooperation of licensees, municipalities, and most importantly, registered qualifying patients, has demonstrated that we are effectively able to preserve public health and safety through curbside operations and other emergency protocols,” CCC executive director Shawn Collins said at the time. “I am confident that our adult-use licensees and their customers will adapt just the same when they reopen under similar protocols next week.”

Leave the Kids at Home

Only a week after curbside pickup of adult-use cannabis began, however, the commission clarified that customers picking up recreational marijuana orders could not have children with them in the car. At a June 2020 CCC meeting, commissioner Britte McBride said that state law forbids people younger than 21 from being on the premises of cannabis retailers and argued that vehicles used for pickup transactions are included in the restriction.

“It states really explicitly in the statute what our obligation is,” McBride said. “For me, that’s the beginning and the end.”

Commissioner Jen Flanagan also opposed allowing children in vehicles making pickups at cannabis dispensaries and said that recreational marijuana is not an essential service.

“While I understand that parents may be having difficulty accessing this product, given the circumstances that we’re currently in… I don’t believe that anyone under 21 should be in the car,” Flanagan said. “I’m sorry, this is not something that is absolutely necessary. This is not food… we’re talking about a choice a parent is making.”

Emergency Rules Expired this Month

The emergency regulations for cannabis dispensaries were based on a state of emergency declared by Baker’s 2020 executive order. When the governor rescinded the state of emergency declaration in May of this year, the CCC voted to extend the authorizations for curbside pickups and telemedicine appointments until September 1, a deadline that passed without action from the commission until the meeting on September 17.

Members of the commission noted that as the COVID-19 pandemic continues with the Delta variant raging across the country, it may still be unsafe for some medical marijuana patients to pick up their purchases in person.

“Patients may not be comfortable just yet entering a dispensary,” Collins said at this month’s meeting.

Although he acknowledged that adult-use cannabis customers may also still be wary about making in-store purchases, Collins noted that lawmakers passed legislation authorizing home delivery of recreational marijuana late last year. 

In June, the CCC began accepting applications for home delivery of recreational marijuana under a program that prioritizes social equity applicants who want to enter the regulated cannabis industry. While delivery is not yet available in all areas of Massachusetts, Collins said that new delivery operators are being approved every month.

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Los Angeles County to Dismiss 60,000 Cannabis Convictions

It was recently announced that 60,000 cannabis convictions will be dismissed in Los Angeles, California. Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón and The Social Impact Center, which is a nonprofit organization with ties to government, grassroots organizations and people in underserved communities, are behind the dismissals. 

The decision follows the passing of Assembly Bill 1793, which dismissed around 66,000 cannabis convictions in 2020. The latest dismissals were announced during “Week of Action and Awareness (WOAA),” once known as National Expungement Week. Now, around 125,000 dismissals in total have been granted. 

In 2016, Gascón co-authored Proposition 64, known as The Adult Use of Marijuana Act. It legalized the possession, transport, purchase, consumption and sharing of up to one ounce of marijuana and up to eight grams of marijuana concentrates for adults aged 21 and older. 

“Dismissing these convictions means the possibility of a better future to thousands of disenfranchised people who are receiving this long-needed relief,” Gascón said. “It clears the path for them to find jobs, housing and other services that previously were denied to them because of unjust cannabis laws.”

Gascón made the announcement with Felicia Carbajal, who’s the executive director and community leader of The Social Impact Center. “I have made it my life mission to help and support people who have been impacted by the ‘war on drugs,’” Carbajal said. “Giving people with cannabis convictions a new lease on life by expunging the records is something I have worked on for years, and I am grateful that we can now make it happen.”

Cannabis prohibition largely affects the Black and Latino communities, notably in Los Angeles. It remained a problem after the passing of Proposition 64. Lynne Lyman, who’s the former director of the Drug Policy Alliance, believes past mistakes are now being corrected. 

“This is the unfinished work of Proposition 64,” Lyman said. “We created the opportunity for old cannabis convictions to be cleared, but it was up to local district attorneys to actually make it happen. Proposition 64 was always about more than legal weed; it was an intentional effort to repair the past harms of the war on drugs and cannabis prohibition, which disproportionately targeted people of color.”

Assembly Bill 1739 led to prosecutors reviewing past convictions. Unfortunately, the review only focused on cases from state Department of Justice data. Once the Los Angeles County court records were read, three decades worth of misdemeanor cases were discovered. There were 58,000 felony and misdemeanor cases remaining after 2020. Prisoners were unaware they were eligible for dismissal or resentencing. Now, their records have been sealed, as well, in hopes it won’t affect their immigrant status, educational and job opportunities. 

After the passing of Proposition 64, communities of color continued to face injustice over cannabis in California’s most populated county. In 2021 alone, Black and Latino people accounted for over 75 percent of cannabis arrests in Los Angeles. Marijuana prohibition didn’t stop in Los Angeles County after legalization, although it didn’t largely affect white people. In 2019, whites only accounted for 10 percent of cannabis arrests. From 2004 to 2008 in Los Angeles, black people were arrested for cannabis at a rate seven times greater than white people. 

Roadblocks were still in place after Proposition 64 and Assembly Bill 1793, which Alternate Public Defender Erika Anzoategui believes are now being taken down. 

“The dismissal of 60,000 marijuana-related cases by DA Gascón is a pivotal step in reforming our criminal justice system,” Anzoategui said. “This sends the right signal to the community that the nation was wrong in its ‘war on marijuana’ and that criminal convictions for marijuana offenses have a disproportionately negative impact on communities of color. We join DA Gascón in removing roadblocks to employment, housing and education through the dismissal and sealing of these convictions.” 

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