A crossword all about stupid laws

The law is supposed to make sense but sometimes, it doesn’t. Some laws are timeless and agreeable to all, others have an expiry date. Keeping our laws current costs taxpayer money so if a law is outdated, it’s often ignored rather than struck down. As a result, there are some extremely stupid laws that are […]

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Quebec To Require COVID-19 Vaccine for Cannabis Purchase

Buying cannabis in Quebec will require a COVID-19 vaccine, according to a directive issued by the province’s government last week. Health Minister Christian Dubé announced on January 6 that customers purchasing marijuana at government-funded stores must show proof of full COVID-19 vaccination. The health minister said that an effective date for the vaccine mandate to purchase cannabis would be determined by government officials once all citizens have had a chance to receive a third shot of the vaccine. Dubé encouraged those who would be affected by the measure to roll up their sleeves and get the shot.

“If the unvaccinated aren’t happy with this situation, there is a very simple solution at your disposal,” Dubé said at a press conference covered by Fox Business. “It is to get vaccinated. It’s free. If you don’t want to get vaccinated, stay home.” 

Quebec Rolling Out Vaccine Passport System

The new directive expands a vaccine passport system that requires three shots. Currently, those aged 50 and older can access a booster shot by the government, which plans to expand eligibility for boosters to all adults as soon as next week.

The vaccine mandate for cannabis applies to government-funded or state-owned businesses known as crown corporations that sell marijuana or alcohol. According to a report from CTV Montreal, Yann Langlais Plante, a spokesperson for the Société des alcohols du Québec (SAQ), told reporters that the organization’s retailers would enforce the new vaccine requirement “as we have done with all other efforts deployed since the beginning of the pandemic.” 

Dubé’s comments were similar to those made by French President Emmanuel Macron only two days earlier. In an interview, Macron said that he wanted to make life as difficult as possible for those who still have not received the COVID-19 vaccine.

“I really want to piss them off, and we’ll carry on doing this—to the end,” Macron told the newspaper Le Parisien on January 4, as translated by the BBC.

The French president added that the government would not resort to harsher measures, such as forced vaccinations or arrests, but access to public places would be limited for the unvaccinated later this month.

“I won’t send [unvaccinated people] to prison,” he said. “So we need to tell them, from 15 January, you will no longer be able to go to the restaurant. You will no longer be able to go for a coffee, you will no longer be able to go to the theatre. You will no longer be able to go to the cinema.”

Opposition Says Quebec Government Has ‘Lost Control’

Quebec opposition leader Dominique Anglade of the Liberal Party said that the administration of the province’s premier, François Legault, was making decisions based on politics instead of science and argued that the government has “lost control.”

“All of this is creating a lot of anxiety in the population, and François Legault is nowhere to be seen this week,” Anglade said after Legault failed to attend a press conference last week.

François Vincent, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business’s vice-president for Quebec, is against expanding the vaccine passport system to include additional retail businesses. He noted that companies already facing personnel shortages and difficulties hiring would bear the brunt of enforcing the vaccine mandate.

“The strategy is to get people to get vaccinated, but you’re asking the private sector to do the job without giving them the tools,” Vincent said.

Despite the pushback, Cheryl Milne, a constitutional lawyer and executive director of the Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights at the University of Toronto, said that the vaccine requirements would likely survive any potential challenges on legal grounds. She noted that buying cannabis in Quebec would still be available to the unvaccinated from privately-owned retailers that are not required to enforce the mandate. 

“Obviously, they’re thinking they need to step up pressure on people who are refusing to be vaccinated,” Milne said. “It’s untested at this point, but so far the courts, when looking at vaccine mandates or restrictions on liberty rights such as travel, have mostly sided with the provinces, who are trying to ensure vaccine compliance or public health measures to stop the spread of the virus.”

Amir Attaran, a professor with both the faculty of law and the school of epidemiology at the University of Ottawa, agreed with Milne, noting that there are no laws preventing the Canadian government from requiring most members of the public to be vaccinated.

“The governments in Canada have yet to lose a lawsuit” about vaccine mandates, Attaran noted. “As long as they set up a mechanism whereby persons having a medical or religious reason not to vaccinate are accorded reasonable exemptions, then they’ve demonstrated fundamental justice.”

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Montana Launches Legal Recreational Marijuana Sales

Legal sales of recreational marijuana began in Montana with the new year on Saturday, less than 14 months after voters in the state legalized adult-use cannabis use and commerce.

Montana voters legalized the use of recreational marijuana and regulated sales of adult-use cannabis with the passage of Initiative 190 in the November 2020 general election, when 57% of the electorate voted in favor of the ballot measure. A companion measure to set the legal age to purchase cannabis in Montana at 21, Constitutional Initiative 118, was also passed by a margin of 58% to 42%.

Under Initiative 190, the use of recreational marijuana and possession of up to one ounce of cannabis became legal for adults 21 and older on January 1, 2021. But regulated sales of cannabis were delayed until January 1, 2022 by House Bill 701, legislation passed by lawmakers last year to implement the successful ballot measure. HB 701 also allows adults to cultivate up to two mature and two immature cannabis plants at home, with a cap of four mature plants per household.

Recreational marijuana products sold in Montana are subject to regulations under the legislation, including a 35% THC cap on cannabis flower. Edible products are limited to 100 mg of THC per package and a maximum serving size of 10 mg of THC. The Montana Department of Revenue is tasked with developing and regulating the state’s new recreational marijuana market and will be responsible for licensing adult-use cannabis cultivators, processors, distributors and retailers.

Brisk Start to Retail Cannabis Sales

In its first weekend, Montana’s recreational cannabis market pulled in $1,566,980 in sales. Chris Fanuzzi, founder and CEO of Lionheart Caregiving and Dispensaries, which currently operates five medical marijuana dispensaries in Montana, attests to the weekend’s success. 

With 2022 already marking 15 years of cannabis cultivation, extraction, infusion and retail sales for the company, the onset of recreational marijuana sales in the state made New Year’s Day a particularly memorable occasion for Lionheart this year.

“I was extremely excited, indeed,” Fanuzzi told Cannabis Now. “It’s been super hectic, but there’s been a lot of activity. Lots of hustling, moving, shaking and getting things done.”

A selection of top-shelf Indica strains at Lionheart Caregiving in Billings, Montana. PHOTO courtesy Lionheart Caregiving

To protect Montana’s existing medical marijuana infrastructure, only dispensaries that were licensed before November 3, 2020 will be permitted to make retail sales of adult-use cannabis for a period of 18 months. Fanuzzi said that on the first day of recreational marijuana sales, Lionheart saw a mix of adult-use customers and medical marijuana patients, with approximately 30 cars parked at the company’s Billings location by 8:30 a.m. on January 1.

“There seemed to be a lot of new users,” Fanuzzi said. “Probably half and half. Most people were looking for flower and then concentrates, followed by edibles.”

According to Fanuzzi, Lionheart is already reaping the benefits of recreational marijuana legalization in Montana, including the ability to sell cannabis products to all adults 21 and older. The result is a much broader marketplace for the industry.

“It’s easier to do business not having such a small, restricted customer base,” Fanuzzi said. “One of the biggest pros is that more people have access to quality medicine that’s safe. That’s the biggest pro for everybody.”

Recreational Sales Only Allowed in ‘Green Counties’

But not all residents will have easy access to recreational marijuana, despite this week’s launch of legal adult-use cannabis in Montana. Under the terms of HB 701, cannabis possession and use are legal statewide. But retail sales of recreational marijuana are permitted only in those counties where a majority of voters supported the 2020 legalization initiative in the general election. As a result, Montana has 28 “green counties” where recreational marijuana sales are now allowed and 28 “red counties” with a ban on sales of adult-use cannabis.

Existing medical marijuana dispensaries located in red counties are protected by a grandfather clause in the legislation and will be allowed to continue operating. Recreational marijuana sales can be authorized in red counties with the passage of a countywide referendum to permit adult-use cannabis commerce.

Approximately 380 medical marijuana dispensaries were expected to begin serving adult-use customers with the launch of recreational marijuana sales, according to media reports. Leise Rosman, CEO of the new Betty’s Roadside Provisions in Big Sky, says that the company has been hard at work preparing for Montana’s new adult-use cannabis market, and plans are underway to open dispensaries in Bozeman, Butte and Livingston in the near future.

“We doubled down our efforts in the last two months to make sure it was perfect for opening day,” Rosman told Cannabis Now. “We figured on January 1, it might be a lot of people’s first time in a dispensary, so we wanted to make sure that first impression was right for them.”

Opening day cannabis purchases at Betty’s Roadside Provisions in Big Sky, Montana. PHOTO Raphael Pierson

Betty’s Roadside Provisions is a boutique dispensary where visitors can feel welcome and enjoy the shopping experience as much as the product itself. 

“When we looked at creating a curated experience, we wanted to make sure all the years we spent working with other dispensaries and talking to customers all got into Betty’s stores,” said Rosman, whose family has been in the cannabis business for the better part of a decade. 

“Cannabis isn’t behind glass or counters, or in the back,” she explained. “It’s an experience where we want you to touch and feel the product you are about to take home with you.”

Betty’s Big Sky location strategically appeals to the millions of tourists traveling to Montana each year.

“In Montana, the domestic population isn’t high, but the tourism effect is incredibly high,” Rosman said. “It felt like a great place to meet people where they are in an environment to unplug and recharge. Our product makes perfect sense for that.”

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Congressional Leaders Publish 2022 Plan for Federal Cannabis Legalization

Congressional leaders in the effort to reform U.S. cannabis policy published a plan to legalize marijuana nationwide in 2022, saying that is “time for the federal government to catch up to the rest of the country.” In a memo from Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Rep. Barbara Lee of California, the co-chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus issued a progress report on steps taken by Congress on marijuana legalization in 2021. They also outlined steps to continue the effort next year, citing several pieces of legislation pending before the nation’s lawmakers.

“The table is set and the time is right for comprehensive cannabis reform, which will make a huge difference for people around the country,” Blumenauer said in a statement on December 16. “This year, we’ve advanced the MORE Act closer to the finish line, passed the SAFE Banking Act, and made progress in terms of research. Most importantly, we’ve watched this issue gain more momentum than ever with the American people—almost 70 percent of whom, including a majority of Republicans, want to see federal reform. Let’s get it done.”

In the memo, Blumenauer and Lee write that “2021 was a transformative year for cannabis reform, in which five new states–New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Virginia, Connecticut–legalized adult-use cannabis, and Alabama became the 37th state to legalize medical cannabis. A wealth of policy ideas targeted at ending cannabis prohibition on the federal level have also been introduced on Capitol Hill. This growing bipartisan momentum for cannabis reform shows Congress is primed for progress in 2022, and we are closer than ever to bringing our cannabis policies and laws in line with the American people.”

Lawmakers List Legislative Priorities for 2022

The memo also details priorities for next year, including federal descheduling of marijuana, sentencing reform, industry equity, and support for cannabis research. The plan includes several pieces of legislation already under consideration by Congress, including the SAFE Banking Act and the MORE Act. Under the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, federal banking regulators would be prohibited from penalizing banks that choose to serve cannabis firms doing business in compliance with state law. The legislation was initially introduced in the House of Representatives in 2013 by Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter of Colorado, who has reintroduced the bill every congressional cycle since.

Under the MORE Act, cannabis would be removed from the list of drugs regulated by the Controlled Substances Act, criminal penalties for federal cannabis offenses would be eliminated, and past federal cannabis convictions would be expunged. The bill, H.R. 3617, also establishes a tax on retail cannabis sales, with revenue raised by the tax invested in communities that were harmed under federal marijuana prohibition policies. The legislation was approved by the House Judiciary Committee in September and is still pending before several other House committees in its path to approval.

Blumenauer and Lee, both Democrats, also made note of an alternative to the MORE Act introduced by Republican Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina. They wrote that Mace’s bill, the States Reform Act, “adds an additional bipartisan perspective as to how to best normalize our nation’s cannabis laws.”

Creating an Equitable Cannabis Industry

The memorandum released by Lee and Blumenauer also calls for progress on sentencing reform for those convicted of federal cannabis offenses, arguing that “we must expunge cannabis-related convictions and allocate more resources to communities most impacted by the racist War on Drugs” once cannabis is legalized nationally. The lawmakers also called for support for research into the therapeutic effects of cannabis, including for veterans, as well as provisions to ensure equity in the cannabis industry once legalization is achieved.

“For states making progress on cannabis reform, we must ensure access to the growing cannabis industry is equitable,” the memo reads. “In addition to investing in the communities most impacted by the war on drugs, it’s crucial that states incentivize equal opportunity to participate in the cannabis industry, especially for people of color.”

In total, the memo cites nearly two dozen pieces of legislation that have been introduced to advance cannabis policy reform at the national level. Lee said that it is “time for the federal government to catch up to the rest of the country and start leading on cannabis reform.”

“The solutions for comprehensive reform are there, and this year we made progress. We’ve passed the MORE Act in the House, the SAFE Banking Act, and several Appropriations provisions,” Lee said in last week’s joint statement. “It’s far past time Congress move to finally get this across the finish line. Ending the war on drugs is an issue of racial equity and a moral imperative.”

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Malta Becomes First European Country to Legalize Cannabis

Malta’s parliament on Dec. 14 voted 36-to-27 to approve a measure legalizing possession, cultivation and regulated sale of cannabis. Malta has been a European Union in 2004, which puts this deeply conservative archipelago ahead of continental leaders like the Netherlands as the first in the EU to legalize. 

The law allows people to hold up to seven grams on their person, and to grow up to four plants and keep up to 50 grams of dried cannabis at home. It also establishes a framework for regulated sales, and for expungement of past convictions.

“It’s groundbreaking,” Equality Minister Owen Bonnici, who introduced the bill, told the New York Times. “Malta can be a model for harm reduction.” 

Conservative Opposition Outmaneuvered

This is indeed a counterintuitive development. The overwhelmingly Catholic archipelago had notoriously been under the rule of a Crusader military order, the Knights of Malta, for more than two-and-a-half centuries starting in the late Middle Ages, and this cultural stamp is still very much in evidence. Divorce was only legalized in Malta in 2011.

The cannabis legalization bill was carefully crafted to reassure the conservative opposition, and portrayed as strategy to undercut criminal networks. “We are going to curb drug trafficking by making sure that people who make use of cannabis now have a safe and regularized way from where they can obtain cannabis,” Bonnici told Reuters

Retail outlets will be confined to nonprofit associations, to be registered with an Authority on the Responsible Use of Cannabis. These association will be able to sell no more than seven grams a day to their members, for a maximum of 50 grams a month. Public smoking will remain illegal, and fines of up to €500 are imposed for smoking in the presence of a minor. Those found to be holding in excess of the modest seven grams but still below 28 grams (about an ounce) are slapped with a fine of €100. Above 28 grams, the criminal penalties remain intact.

But Malta’s conservative bloc was not appeased. The bill was the work of the leftist Labor Party, which has ruled since 2013.  And the vote was on party lines, with the opposition Nationalist Party voting against. Nationalist leader Bernard Grech charged that the bill would “only lead to the strengthening of the illegal market, with organized crime taking advantage,” BBC News notes.

President George Vella signed the bill into law on Dec. 18, which was a mere formality—under the Maltese system, the presidency is a largely ceremonial post. Real power lies with parliament and the prime minister. Nonetheless, Vella had to resist demands from the opposition that he not sign the bill, Malta Today reports. He forthrightly refused this demand, saying he had no power to withhold his signature from legislation passed by parliament. He even went on TV to scold the opposition: “The head of state cannot capriciously create a constitutional crisis.”

As the law took effect, the Nationalist Party issued a statement pledging to “take the necessary measures in the parliament to repeal it,” and accusing Prime Minister Robert Abela of “normalizing drug use.” However, as Malta Today notes, if they didn’t have enough votes to block the legislation, they probably don’t have enough to repeal it.

A Changing Malta

Malta has been opening up considerably over the past years of Labor Party rule. In March 2018, the government legalized medical marijuana, allowing doctors to prescribe cannabis for chronic pain, multiple sclerosis and side effects of chemotherapy. This replaced an earlier law that only recognized prescriptions from medical specialists, and was so restrictive that not a single Maltese had yet been treated legally with any cannabis-based product. 

Today there are 40,000 enrolled members in the medical marijuana program, and the list of qualifying ailments has greatly increased. However, with domestic cultivation barred, supply was dependent on imports from companies such as Bedrocan of the Netherlands. Given the global supply-chain crisis, this has led to severe shortages in the archipelago, as LovinMalta website reported last year.

This is set to change now. And Malta’s loosening up is in part a response to the global crisis. The Ministry for Equality, Research & Innovation, Bonnici’s post, was just created this year to coordinate post-COVID strategy, as the Times of Malta reported in July. 

On the day the legalization measure was passed, Malta Today ran an angry opinion piece by Andrew Bonello, president of the reform lobby Releaf Malta, and Robert Fenech of the progressive youth organization Moviment Graffitt. Noting the continued high level of cannabis arrests on the island, the editorial accused the opposition of “exhibiting arguments borne out of a medieval mindset.” 

Wrote Bonello and Fenech: “Calls for zero-tolerance and witch-hunts…are reflective of a society rooted in vindictive moralistic stances, instead of a society geared towards education and sound scientific and empirical research on social and health issues, such as the widespread consumption of cannabis.”

The First Domino of European Prohibition? 

Malta is on the very fringe of Europe—it is south of Sicily and much closer to Tunisia than to Rome. And it is a relative new-comer to the EU. But while several European countries—most notoriously the Netherlands—have adopted very tolerant cannabis policies, Malta is now the first to actually legalize.  

“Malta has formally legislated what exists in other European countries in a weird gray area,” Steve Rolles of the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, an advocacy group in the UK, told the New York Times.

There is a sense that the European tide may finally be turning, however. Continental leader Germany is said to be considering legalization since a new coalition government including the Greens took over this month. A legalization bill introduced in October is currently pending before parliament in Luxembourg—like Malta a mini-state, but in the very heart of Europe. 

Malta may seem a paradoxical vanguard for cannabis reform, but there is a sense that if it can happen there, Europe’s leading powers may be feeling the pressure to catch up.

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New Mexico Cannabis Raid Spotlights Native American Jurisdictional Dilemma

A federal raid on a household cannabis plot on tribal land in northern New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo Mountains is sparking controversy over who has how much enforcement authority on Native American reservations. As more states embrace legal adult-use cannabis, a lack of clarity persists on the question of how much power the state, federal and tribal governments have on these lands.

On Sept. 9, agents from the US Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) confiscated nine plants from a garden at the Picuris Pueblo home of Charles Farden, 54, a life-long reservation resident who is not actually Native American. Farden is enrolled in the New Mexico medical marijuana program, to treat post-traumatic stress and anxiety.

Farden told the Associated Press he was shocked to be put in handcuffs as federal agents uprooted his plants, which were then thick with buds—about a year’s personal supply, by his estimate. 

“I was just open with the officer, straightforward. When he asked what I was growing, I said, ‘My vegetables, my medical cannabis,’” Farden told the AP. “And he was like, ‘That can be a problem.’”

Federal Law Comes First?

New Mexico’s legislature approved a medical marijuana program in 2007, while Picuris Pueblo instated its own parallel program for tribal members in 2015. 

As Picuris Gov. Craig Quanchello told Albuquerque’s The Paper: “We’re exercising our sovereignty. We went through our community and said, OK, this is what’s going on. This is what we want to do. How does the community feel about cannabis from the medical side? …We wanted to provide an alternate medicine for our community people, and we wanted options… We wanted to have an affordable medicine.”

And this is going to become a more pressing question as the Land of Enchantment gets a legal adult-use market. This April, New Mexico’s Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a general cannabis legalization bill, which took effect in June—permitting up to six plants per individual or 12 per household for personal use, with no weight limit. Commercial sales are set to begin next April. At least two of New Mexico’s 23 federally recognized tribes are seeking an agreement with the state allowing them to operate cannabis businesses—Picuris and Acoma Pueblo.

But the feds, of course, do not recognize any state legalization law. And it is the feds that share law enforcement responsibilities with the governments of federally recognized tribes. This is especially an issue for Picuris, a small pueblo that does not maintain its own police force, relying on BIA officers to enforce tribal laws. The specter of BIA raids could put the kibosh on plans for retail outlets on the pueblos.

In a recent letter to Gov. Quanchello obtained by the Associated Press, a BIA special agent in charge said the agency won’t instruct its officers to relax enforcement on the reservations—and that cannabis cultivation remains a federal crime, notwithstanding any changes to state or tribal law. 

“Prior notification of law enforcement operations is generally not appropriate,” the letter stated. “The BIA Office of Justice Services is obligated to enforce federal law and does not instruct its officers to disregard violations of federal law in Indian Country.”

Officials with the BIA and Interior Department, which oversees the agency, did not respond to the AP’s request for comment on the matter. Farden has not been hit with any criminal charges. 

Prelude at Picuris

The September bust at Picuris also had a prelude about four years earlier. On Nov. 30, 2017, agents from the BIA’s Division of Drug Enforcement arrived at the pueblo to uproot and confiscate a medical marijuana “test plot” of 36 plants that had been established on land under the control of the tribal government. 

News gets out slowly in this rugged and remote part of the state, even today, and it wasn’t until the following November that the raid was written up by the Albuquerque Journal. “They took the plants and threatened to prosecute us,” Gov. Quanchello told the newspaper.

A year later, there had still been no arrests or prosecutions. But the test plot was not replanted. 

Gov. Quanchello emphasized that the pueblo had been totally open with state and federal authorities about what they were doing.  “We even told them if they ever want to raid us, here’s where you need to go,” he told the Journal.

Contacted by the Journal for comment about the raid, the US Attorney’s Office in Albuquerque sent this terse reply via email: “The matter about which you inquire was investigative in nature and, as a matter of policy, Justice Department agencies, including the US Attorney’s Office, do not comment on investigative matters.” 

Negotiating a Solution

This September’s second raid at Picuris has dampened hopes that the situation would improve under the new administration of Joe Biden. 

In its account of the new raid, the Associated Press quoted Portland-based criminal defense attorney Leland Berger, who last year advised the Oglala Sioux Tribe of South Dakota after it instated a cannabis program. Berger implicitly noted the 2014 Wilkinson Memo, which instructed federal prosecutors not to interfere with cannabis sales or cultivation on tribal lands. “It’s remarkable for me to hear that the BIA is enforcing the federal Controlled Substances Act on tribal land where the tribe has enacted an ordinance that protects the activity,” he said. 

As the AP noted, other Native American nations around the country have successfully reached accommodations with state and federal authorities—if informally in the case of the latter. 

In Washington, the Suquamish Tribe in 2015 reached a “compact” with the state to open a retail cannabis outlet just across Puget Sound from Seattle on their Port Madison Reservation.

In Nevada, several reservations now operate dispensaries, bringing their own tribal laws into conformity with the state medical marijuana program and adult-use regulations.

In South Dakota, the Oglala Sioux last year became the only tribe to establish a cannabis market without parallel state regulations, approving both medical and adult use in a March referendum at the Pine Ridge Reservation. That November, a statewide referendum legalized adult-use cannabis in South Dakota, although the state supreme court this November barred it from taking effect.

Sometimes the federal presence on tribal lands is welcomed by reservation governments. President Biden this November ordered several federal agencies to coordinate a new effort to combat human trafficking and crime in Indian Country, where rates of violence are more than twice the national average. But the boundaries between tribal and federal power have long been contested. As Berger told AP: “The tribes are sovereign nations, and they have treaties with the United States, and in some cases there is concurrent jurisdiction… It’s sort of this hybrid.”

‘We Are Being Discriminated Against’

Cannabis Now reached Gov. Craig Quanchello by phone at Picuris Pueblo. He fills in some details on the two raids at the reservation.

Of the medical marijuana test plot that was destroyed in November 2017, he stresses the tribal government’s effort to be transparent. “We met with the US Attorney’s office, and the [Taos] county and state officials, to let them know what we were doing. Our program mirrored the state’s, but we added PTSD and opioid abuse as treatable conditions.” 

Nonetheless, in the 2017 raid, “They brought in dogs and surveillance airplanes—basically shutting down our world. At that point we were hesitant to go forward.”

With new administrations in both Washington and Santa Fe, the tribe was just beginning to get over this hesitancy this year. House Bill 2, the legalization measure signed by Gov. Lujan Grisham on April 12, includes a provision for “intergovernmental agreements with Indian nations, tribes and pueblos.”

Then came this November’s raid on Charles Farden, a non-Native who is married to a tribal member and is enrolled in the state medical marijuana program. “The pueblo recognizes the state card,” Quanchello says.

Quenchello sees cannabis as an obvious option for the mountain-locked pueblo, where the already meager economy has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.  

“We’re farmers by nature,” he says. “We’ve always grown our traditional crops—corn, hay, alfalfa. We don’t have much population, but we have land. We see this as a means of economic development.”

And he portrays the willingness to work with the state government as a matter of good faith. “We don’t have to,” he asserts. “We are sovereign. But we want to do it, in a spirit of teamwork.”

Yet he’s open about his frustration at two federal raids, even as other reservations around the U.S. have been given some breathing room.

“Why is the BIA picking on us, the smallest pueblo in New Mexico, with no gaming and not on a traffic route? The money is not going to go into anyone’s pocket, it’s going back to the community—to provide healthcare for our kids, our elders. We don’t get enough federal funds to operate, and the funds are dwindling every year. We’re being discriminated against here.”

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South Dakota Supreme Court Squelches Legalization Initiative

Cannabis advocates in South Dakota saw a real victory in last year’s elections, as voters approved an amendment to the state constitution legalizing adult use. But it was immediately met with legal challenge. And now the state’s top court has definitively squelched it.

The South Dakota Supreme Court on Nov. 24 ruled that the process by which the amendment passed was itself unconstitutional. It was clear, however, that the real motivations behind the legal challenge were related to cultural conservatism and the cannabis stigma.

Legalism Against Legalization 

Understanding the stratagem used here requires getting into the legal weeds a little. In the 2020 election, voters in the Mount Rushmore State passed both a ballot measure and constitutional amendment

The first, Initiated Measure 26, sought to legalize medical marijuana for qualifying patients. The second, Constitutional Amendment A, would have legalized cannabis for all state residents 21 years or older. Personal possession was set at one ounce, with provisions for retail sales to be taxed at 15% and regulated by the state Department of Revenue. Amendment A also required the Legislature to pass laws regulating medical marijuana and the sale of hemp products. 

Measure 26 passed with 70% of the vote, while Amendment A received 54%—despite a vigorous campaign against both by the state’s political and medical establishments.

Immediately following the election, a case challenging Amendment A was brought by two law enforcement figures—state Highway Patrol superintendent Rick Miller and Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom. The case argued that the means by which Amendment A was approved violated the requirements for amendments to the South Dakota constitution

There was no doubt that the pair brought the suit as proxies for Gov. Kristi Noem, who had vocally opposed Amendment A. Noem stated explicitly in a January 2021 executive order that she opted to “delegate” Miller to bring the litigation on her “behalf.”

 In February, a state circuit court in Pierre struck down the amendment.  

The amendment was found to have violated the “single subject” requirement of Article 23, section 1 of the state constitution, because it dealt with three “subjects”—adult-use cannabis, medical marijuana, and hemp. Ironically, that provision of the constitution was itself approved by the voters in 2018’s Amendment Z, intended to prevent voters from being confused or conflicted by multiple provisions to the same amendment.

The ruling further found that the amendment violated Article 23, section 2, requiring a constitutional convention for “revisions” of the charter. Judge Christina Klinger found that the amendment was significant enough for this provision to kick in, writing: “Amendment A is a revision as it has far-reaching effects on the basic nature of South Dakota’s governmental system.”

The circuit court ruling has now been upheld by the state Supreme Court in a 4-1 decision—although, as the Sioux Falls Argus Leader notes, the high court only ruled on the “single subject” argument. It did not address the argument that the amendment should have been approved by a constitutional convention.

“It is clear that Amendment A contains provisions embracing at least three separate subjects, each with distinct objects or purposes,” Chief Justice Steven Jensen wrote in the majority opinion.

Upon issuance of the high court ruling, Gov. Noem tweeted: “South Dakota is a place where the rule of law and our Constitution matter, and that’s what today’s decision on Amendment A is about. We do things right–and how we do things matters just as much as what we are doing. We are still governed by the rule of law.”

The Fight Goes On

While the decision nullifies Amendment A, the ballot measure mandating a medical marijuana program is not affected—as Noem made clear in a tweet. Noem campaigned against both Amendment A and Measure 26, but now says she is OK with medical marijuana assuming it is “approved by the FDA”—something not likely to happen soon, needless to say. Despite this supposed support, she’s attempted to bottleneck the medical marijuana program with harshly restrictive regulations; the matter is now being contended between her office and the Legislature.

Matthew Schweich, campaign director for South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, characterized the high court ruling as “extremely flawed,” and based on “a disrespectful assumption that South Dakota voters were intellectually incapable of understanding the initiative.”

“The court has rejected common sense and instead used a far-fetched legal theory to overturn a law passed by over 225,000 South Dakota voters based on no logical or evidentiary support,” Schweich said in a statement quoted by the Associated Press.

This is not the end of legalization efforts in South Dakota. Advocates are now attempting to bring adult-use cannabis back to voters next year through a ballot measure that would instruct the Legislature to legalize it (bypassing the constitutional dilemmas). A signature-gathering campaign for the new ballot initiative was launched in October, after the Secretary of State approved the text for circulation. 

And state lawmakers are already considering passage of a legalization measure in the upcoming legislative session. The Adult-Use Marijuana Study Subcommittee, which was established to examine the question in June, voted in October to recommend a bill allowing those over 21 to purchase up to an ounce—essentially the same provisions that were in Amendment A.

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New German Government Plans to Legalize Cannabis

Politicians forming Germany’s new government have agreed to a plan to legalize cannabis use by adults and provide for regulated marijuana sales, according to media reports last week. The plan for the legalization of cannabis in Germany comes following September’s election for the Bundestag, the nation’s federal parliament.

The election brought down the Christian Democratic Union, which had led the government under Chancellor Angela Merkle for 16 years. Representatives of the center-left Social Democrats Party (SPD), which garnered the most votes in the federal election, are now negotiating with leaders of the environmentalist Green Party and the Free Democrats (FDP) to form a ruling coalition and establish a new government.

Last week, newspaper publisher Funke Mediengruppe reported that negotiators for the three parties had agreed to a plan to legalize cannabis in Germany that includes regulated retail sales to adults.

“We’re introducing the controlled distribution of cannabis to adults for consumption in licensed stores,” an unidentified spokesperson for the coalition said. “This will control the quality, prevent the transfer of contaminated substances and guarantee the protection of minors. We will evaluate the law after four years for social impact.”

The announcement seems to confirm a report earlier this month that representatives of the parties were including cannabis legalization in their discussions to establish the ruling coalition.

“Negotiators for the Social Democrats, Greens and pro-business Free Democrats are hammering out the details, including conditions under which the sale and use of recreational cannabis would be allowed and regulated, according to people familiar with the talks, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private,” Bloomberg wrote on Nov. 10.

Both the Green party and the FDP have called for cannabis to be legalized in Germany for recreational purposes for years. And in its party platform for this year’s election, the SPD characterized cannabis as a “social reality,” according to a report by the Independent, and advocated for an “appropriate political way of dealing with this.” The coalition government still must be formalized and a new chancellor to replace Merkle, who declined to run for reelection to the Bundestag, must be named before reforms can be put into place, however.

Medical Cannabis Legalized in Germany in 1998

Germany legalized cannabis for medical purposes in 1998, and in 2017 expanded the program to cover more patients, permit domestic production, and relax rules on the importation and exportation of cannabis products to and from other countries. But a bill to legalize recreational marijuana failed last year after the ruling coalition failed to support it.

Avihu Tamir, CEO and founder U.K.-based medical cannabis company Kanabo Group, said that cannabis legalization in Germany, Europe’s most populated country, could energize efforts at reform throughout the continent. Although the Netherlands has a long-held policy of tolerating cannabis use and sales and Luxembourg passed legislation allowing personal cultivation and use of cannabis last month, most of the European Union continues to maintain prohibitionist policies toward non-medical uses of marijuana.

“Germany’s decision to legalize cannabis is not just a game-changer for Germany, but a gamechanger for all of Europe,” Tamir told Cannabis Now in an email. “Even before the deal is finalized, countries across the EU will begin their own process toward legalization as they race to catch up and reap the financial rewards that legalization will offer.”

With only medicinal uses of cannabis legalized so far, Germany is already Europe’s largest market for legal cannabis. And if the country expands reform to include recreational use, the economic impact could be a tempting reason for other nations to follow suit.

“Some reports predict the cannabis market in Germany could add around 3.4 billion euros in tax revenue to the nation’s economy every year,” said Tamir. “The legal cannabis market in Europe is predicted to be worth 3.2 billion euros by 2025 – but this move by Germany could see that increase. At that level of revenue, and at a time when countries edge closer to more lockdowns and the hit to economies that will follow, this is a no brainer for governments and leaders.”

But not all Germans are ready to take the step of cannabis legalization. When news broke last month that the incoming coalition was considering legalizing cannabis, Oliver Malchow, the head of the GdP German police union (GdP), told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung that he could not support the plan.

“There must finally be an end to trivializing the joint,” said Malchow, adding that the country already sees enough trouble from “legal but dangerous” alcohol. It does not make sense, he argued, to “open the door to another dangerous and often trivialized drug” such as cannabis.

And Rainer Wendt, the chairman of Germany’s second police officer’s union DPolG, said that legalizing cannabis will lead to an increase in traffic collisions.

“It would be the beginning of a stoned future instead of the launch of a modern Germany,” he said.

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The Death Penalty for Cannabis: Which Countries Are Enforcing Right Now

The case of a man sentenced to death for smuggling two pounds of cannabis into the Southeast Asian city-state of Singapore has focused global attention on the disturbing reality that there are still countries on Earth where you can get sent to the gallows for a substance that legal fortunes are now being made from. The news from Singapore, alas, is not the first such case in recent years. And despite an international outcry each time, nothing seems to change in these intransigent regimes. 

Hanged for Two Pounds in Singapore?

The case of Omar Yacob Bamadhaj percolated into the international news on Oct. 12, when the Apex Court of Singapore turned down his appeal — which means that the 41-year-old man faces death by hanging. The sentence was handed down this February, after he was convicted of bringing 1 kilogram (about two pounds) of cannabis into the city-state in 2018. 

As Channel News Asia reports, Omar and his father crossed from Singapore into Malaysia on July 11, 2018 to buy groceries and attend evening prayers at a mosque. While at a car wash, he met two acquaintances, who offered to pay him to bring three bundles wrapped in newspapers into Singapore. In a statement to the police after his arrest, he reportedly said the deal was for S$500 per bundle (about US$370). He said he knew the “green” was marijuana and wrestled with it for 20 minutes before accepting the deal—because he was “desperate for money.” 

At trial, he pleaded innocent, and said he didn’t know what was inside the packages. But this contradicted his initial reported statement to the police, and he was convicted.

Amnesty International’s death penalty adviser, Chiara Sangiorgio, told the media after the Apex Court decision, “By dismissing Omar Yacob Bamadhaj’s appeal, the Singapore authorities have violated international safeguards and sentenced yet another person convicted of drug trafficking to death by hanging.”

Others have taken note as well.

Reggae superstar Ziggy Marley took to social media to blast the Apex Court decision. As DanceHallMag notes, Marley wrote on Instagram, “So the government of #singapore is going to kill a human being for two pounds of cannabis. Is that just or moral?”

Escaping the Gallows in Malaysia

There is, unfortunately, as sense of déjà vu to all this. There was a similar global outcry in Oct. 2018 over a man sentenced to death in Malaysia for providing medical cannabis oil to epileptics and cancer patients. Malaysia’s government actually responded to the international protests by pledging to abolish the death penalty.

But the brief media spotlight moved on, and three years later—nothing has happened. It was only this Feb. that the hash oil producer, Muhammad Lukman, formally escaped the gallows after the Federal Court allowed his appeal of the death sentence, Free Malaysia Today reported. However, the court confirmed his guilt under Malaysia’s harsh Dangerous Drugs Act, and sentenced him to five years on each of two counts of possession. The terms are to run concurrently, meaning he will serve five years. 

And the death penalty is still on the books—including for drug offenses. This month, a 55-year-old single mother of nine was given a death sentence on a methamphetamine charge. Free Malaysia Today reports that Hairun Jalmani, a fishmonger in the rainforest province of Sabah, was convicted of possessing 113.9 grams—or four ounces—of methamphetamine in 2018.

And the political opposition is still pressuring the government to, at least, lift the legal pressure on medicinal cannabis. In Sept., lawmaker Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman of the Malaysian United Democratic Alliance (MUDA), stated on the floor of parliament, amid budgetary debates, that the country may get left behind in the global cannabis boom if it doesn’t lighten up. 

“I hope the government can table a working paper that is transparent, sincere, which is driven by data and science concerning the pros and cons of sanctioning the hemp and medical marijuana industry,” Saddiq stated, according to the Malay Mail. “I say this because there are more than 40 countries today where approval for hemp or medical marijuana has been given… We do not want Malaysia to lag behind anymore.” 

Flight From Burma

Southeast Asia has some of the worst laws in this regard, and a case from another country in the region also won brief attention from the international press two years ago—partially because an American was involved. 

In April 2019, US citizen John Fredric Todoroki was among a trio arrested in Burma for running a 20-acre cannabis plantation in a Mandalay industrial park—and potentially faced the death penalty. 

In March 2020, Todoroki, 63, fled the country while out on bail and is now back in the United States, Burmese news site The Irrawaddy reported. Todoroki spent nearly four months in Myingyan prison until he was granted medical bail, set at 325 million kyats (about US$230,000), in light of respiratory problems he’d developed behind bars. When he jumped bail, a court had just turned down his appeal of the charge, rejecting his claim that he had a permit for the plantation from local authorities.  

Things did not work out so well for Todoroki’s Burmese partner and co-defendant. The same month that Todoroki fled the country, U Shein Latt was sentenced to 20 years in prison, The Associated Press reported. Charges were dropped against the third person arrested in the raid, Shunlei Myat Noe, a young Burmese woman who served as a hired worker at the plantation. A photo in Myanmar Now showed her being led by police to a court hearing in Jan. 2020, seemingly in tears.

Political Games in China

China—the world’s biggest executioner, by far—has ambitions to get in on the cannabis boom, providing hemp for the global CBD market. But cannabis is more harshly proscribed in China than just about any other country in the world, and the People’s Republic continues to execute thousands every year for drug crimes. And some recent cases concerning foreigners have become clearly politicized.

Recently in the news was the very blatant case of Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, a Canadian who was initially sentenced to 15 years in prison for methamphetamine trafficking by a court in the northeast city of Dalian, Liaoning province, in December 2018. But the following month he was ordered to stand retrial as prosecutors said that his sentencing had been too light. In a one-day retrial, he was given a death sentence.  

Schellenberg’s retrial was widely seen as retribution for Canada’s arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of the Chinese technology company Huawei. Meng had been arrested in Vancouver that same December at the request of US authorities, who accused her of helping the company evade sanctions against Iran. Shortly after Meng’s arrest, China had also detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and Canadian business owner Michael Spavor on spurious and secretive grounds of “endangering state security.”

More such cases followed. In April 2019, Canadian citizen Fan Wei was sentenced to death for meth trafficking by the Jiangmen Intermediate People’s Court in Guangdong province. In August 2020, the Guangzhou Intermediate People’s Court sentenced Canadian citizen Xu Weihong to death for methamphetamine trafficking. That same month, the Foshan Intermediate People’s Court, also in Guangdong province, sentenced Canadian citizen Ye Jianhui to death on charges of bringing 217 kilograms of MDMA into the country. 

China dismissed Canadian appeals for clemency in these cases, with the Foreign Affairs Ministry saying in a statement: “Drug-related crimes are considered serious crimes worldwide. Chinese law retains the death sentence and controls its application strictly.”  

In August 2021, the Liaoning Higher People’s Court upheld Schellenberg’s death sentence. 

The very next month, the US Justice Department reached an agreement clearing the way for Meng Wanzhou to return to China after admitting some wrongdoing in the sanctions violation case. (Meng had spent the past nearly three years out on bail of about $8 million at her two luxurious homes in Vancouver.) 

Within hours of the deal’s announcement, China reciprocated, releasing Kovrig and Spavor.  

But there has been no clemency for Robert Schellenberg, Xu Weihong, Ye Jianhui and Fan Wei, who still face the firing squad (that’s how it’s done in China). Whether they will receive a reprieve has been a subject of much speculation in the Canadian media. And they are among 115 Canadians detained in China, mostly on drug charges.

Amnesty International’s most recent report on global executions found that they actually declined in 2020, continuing a trend in recent years. But China was not even included in the groups’ worldwide tally of some 475 executions carried out last year, because the People’s Republic makes no statistics available. As the Al-Jazeera report on Amnesty’s findings notes, China is believed to carry out thousands of executions every year—many for drug offenses. And while meth, sadly, seems to be more widely available in China than cannabis, we may assume that some of those thousands of annual executions are for the herb. 

25 years for CBD in UAE

Nearly all of the executions that Amnesty recorded last year were in the Middle East, and this region vies with East and Southeast Asia for the world’s harshest drug laws.

Currently making news in England is the case of a British man sentenced to 25 years for bringing CBD oil into the United Arab Emirates. As BBC News reports, 24-year-old West London football coach Billy Hood was arrested this February in Dubai after four bottles of vape liquid containing CBD oil were found in his car. He claims he was forced to sign a false confession to trafficking the cannabinoid, which is legal to vape in the UK. The “confession” he signed was in Arabic, a language he cannot read.

UAE’s The National reports that the General Directorate for Drug Control (GDDC) received a tipoff that Hood possessed quantities of synthetic cannabis oil with the intention of selling. He is currently appealing his conviction.

Death Penalty in the USA?

No global survey of the death penalty should overlook the United States, which carried out 17 executions last year. And while none of these were for drug offenses, the country once known as the “leader of the free world” actually does have a death penalty for cannabis on the books—in sufficient quantities. Large-scale cannabis cultivators and traffickers—meaning at least 60,000 plants or kilos—may indeed be sentenced to death under the “Kingpin” provision of the Federal Death Penalty Act, which was an amendment to the 1994 Violent Crime Control & Law Enforcement Act.

After then US Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo in March 2018 urging prosecutors to seek the death penalty for those “dealing in extremely large quantities of drugs,” even mainstream media outlets began raising the alarm that this could actually be used against large-scale state-legal cannabis cultivators in places like California.

President Joe Biden calls his strategy for restoring US global leadership after the Trump era “The Power of America’s Example,” and it has much to say both about respecting human rights and challenging China’s appalling violations. But the United States clearly has work to do getting its own house in order before it can challenge others on rights abuses related to the war on drugs.

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Washington DC Council Passes MMJ Measure, Drops Gifting Crackdown

The Washington, D.C. District Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a measure designed to support medical marijuana dispensaries still struggling with the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic. The emergency measure, which extends the expiration date for medical marijuana patient identification cards, was approved without language that had appeared in earlier versions of the legislation which would have cracked down on so called marijuana gifting businesses and delivery services.

Under the bill introduced by District Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, patients with medical marijuana identification cards that have expired since March 2020 may continue to use them to purchase cannabis through the end of Jan. 2022. The measure also replaces the current one-year identification card with one that expires two years after being issued and increases the amount of medical cannabis a patient can buy at one time from four ounces to eight ounces.

Mendelson introduced the measure to help medical marijuana dispensaries deal with the continuing economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. In July, a public health emergency order that included a provision to extend the valid date of medical marijuana identification cards expired. Since that time, more than 6,000 of the 12,000 registered patients in the city have lost access regulated medical marijuana, according to information from the chairman’s staff.

“We had a wonderful increase during the COVID period where cannabis went from illegal to essential and patients were able to use their cannabis cards with expired date. Definitely our patient base dropped as a result of the emergency rule coming to a close,” Dr. Chanda Macias, owner of the National Holistic Healing Center, a medical marijuana dispensary in Washington’s Dupont Circle, told The DCist. “It’s just nice when you see all the stars align and you see that patient access is continuing to expand, so definitely on my high note right now, no pun intended.”

Proposed Crackdown on Marijuana Gifting and Delivery Dropped

The emergency measure passed by the district council did not include language to crack down on the cannabis delivery services and marijuana gifting businesses, which include cannabis as a “free gift” with purchases of a separate item. The items purchased to receive the gift of marijuana generally have little value and have included goods such as stickers and cookies. Under a version of the bill released last week, city agencies would have been empowered to pursue the “revocation of licenses, sealing of premises, and fines for businesses purchasing, selling or exchanging marijuana.”

The provision was designed to help regulated medical marijuana dispensaries, which have faced competition from marijuana gifting schemes and delivery services since the passage of Initiative 71, the 2014 ballot measure that legalized possession, use, and home cultivation of small amounts of cannabis. Joe Tierney, a Washington, D.C. cannabis advocate and founder and editor-in-chief of Gentleman Toker.com, applauded the council for dropping the proposed crackdown on marijuana gifting and delivery services.

“The DC Council wisely voted to help the city’s struggling medical marijuana market by extending an emergency bill that allows any patient whose card expired any time after March 2020 continued access to the dispensaries,” Tierney wrote in an email. “Chairman Mendelson’s attempt to end access to the Initiative 71 market for all recreational users was ultimately misguided and would have had far-reaching consequences for the city’s residents and businesses that depend on it during this time of economic uncertainty, especially people of color.”

City Leaders Ready To Regulate Adult-Use Cannabis

Although the federal government has allowed Washington, D.C.’s medical marijuana dispensaries to operate, Congress has used budget legislation to block the city government from regulating recreational cannabis sales ever since the passage of Initiative 71 by voters in 2014. Known as the Harris Rider for its author, Maryland Republican Rep. Andy Harris, the attachment to congressional spending bills prevents the District of Columbia from taking action to further legalize recreational cannabis or regulate commerce in adult-use marijuana.

“The Harris rider has been a real disservice to the District,” Mendelson told The Washington Post last month. “What Congress has done is create a wild wild West where there is no ability to have meaningful, constructive regulation.”

The rider has been approved each year since its debut in 2014, empowering Congress to exercise its oversight of district affairs and prevent local leaders from regulating recreational marijuana. However, the Senate Appropriations Committee omitted the Harris Rider from the appropriations bill for the 2022 fiscal year, which was released by the legislative panel in October. The House of Representatives also approved appropriations legislation without the Harris Rider this summer, although President Biden’s budget proposal released in May retained the restriction on legal recreational pot in D.C.

If Democratic leaders successfully prevent Republicans from reinserting the Harris Rider in future budget negotiations, Washington D.C.’s city leaders are prepared to move ahead with adult-use cannabis regulation. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser has introduced legislation to legalize recreational cannabis as well as a separate proposal to expand the current medical marijuana infrastructure.

Another plan advanced by Mendelson earlier this year would prioritize local business owners over large corporations from outside the nation’s capital, with taxes raised by cannabis businesses allocated to areas of Washington disproportionately impacted by poverty and the War on Drugs. A public hearing to explore Mendelson’s recreational weed measure and Bowser’s medical marijuana proposal is scheduled for later this month.

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