House Committee Approves the MORE Act to Legalize Cannabis

Members of a House of Representatives legislative committee voted on Thursday to advance a bill that would legalize marijuana at the federal level and allow states to set their own cannabis policies. The legislation, known as the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, was approved by the House Judiciary Committee by a vote of 26 to 15 following several attempts to amend the bill.

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.

In his opening remarks on Thursday, Democratic committee chair Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York said that the “long overdue and historic legislation would reverse failed federal policies criminalizing marijuana.”

“It would also take steps to address the heavy toll this policy has taken across the country, particularly among communities of color,” he continued. “I have long believed that the criminalization of marijuana has been a mistake. The racially disparate enforcement of marijuana laws has only made it worse, with serious consequences, particularly for communities of color.”

The MORE Act Includes Social Equity Provisions

To address the harms caused by marijuana prohibition, an Opportunity Trust Fund created by the MORE Act would provide job training, re-entry services for formerly incarcerated individuals, and health education programs for communities impacted by the War on Drugs. The bill also establishes an Office of Cannabis Justice to implement the social equity provisions of the bill, encourage cannabis research, and ensure that federal benefits and services are not denied cannabis users. The Small Business Association would be responsible for creating a Cannabis Restorative Opportunity Program to develop cannabis licensing programs that limit barriers to participation in the industry.

After Thursday’s vote, National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) political director Justin Strekal called on Democratic leaders to swiftly bring the MORE Act up for a vote by the full House of Representatives.

“Never before has public support from every corner of the political spectrum been so aligned as to demand that Congress take action to end the shameful experiment with marijuana prohibition,” Strekal said in a press release from the reform group. “The continued criminalization of marijuana by the federal government is an affront to our professed ideals of freedom, liberty, and justice. By advancing the MORE Act, the House will demonstrate that the majority of our political leaders are ready to correct this injustice and enact cannabis policy reform that undoes the harms that have been inflicted upon millions of otherwise law-abiding citizens.”

Bill Approved By Bipartisan Vote

The vote to advance the MORE Act in the Judiciary Committee was 26 to 15, receiving support from 2 Republicans and all 24 Democrats on the panel while the remaining 15 Republicans voted against the legislation. The vote followed several attempts to amend the proposal, including one from Republican Rep. Thomas Massie that would have removed taxation and social equity grants from the cannabis legalization proposal. Another failed amendment would have denied justice reform grants to those convicted of rioting, looting, or destruction of property.

Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, a cosponsor of the legislation, was one of the two Republicans on the Judiciary Committee to vote for the bill, although he also expressed reservations over the tax provisions in the measure.

“I am a proud co-sponsor of the MORE Act because the federal government has screwed up marijuana policy in this country for a generation,” Gaetz said. “We lied to people about the effects of marijuana. And then we used marijuana as a cudgel to incarcerate just wide swathes of communities, and particularly in African American communities.”

Gaetz, however, said that he believes the MORE Act has little chance of passage in the U.S. Senate and suggested lawmakers draft more modest cannabis legislation. A separate measure that would allow cannabis businesses in states with legal marijuana to access financial services, the SAFE Banking Act, was approved by the full House of Representatives on Sept. 23 as part of defense spending authorization bill.

But some Democratic senators including Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Oregon’s Sen. Ron Wyden have expressed reservations over passing a bill to protect the financial interests of cannabis businesses before broader reform such as the MORE Act is signed into law. In a podcast released on Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told Drug Policy Alliance founder that he had reached an agreement with his colleagues to not let banking legislation advance before wider cannabis legalization.

“Senators Booker, Wyden and I have come to agreement that if we let [the banking bill] out, it’ll make it much harder and take longer to pass comprehensive reform,” Schumer said. “We certainly want the provisions, similar to the SAFE Banking Act, in our bill. But to get more moderate people—to get some Republicans, to get the financial services industry—behind a comprehensive bill is the way to go. It’s the right thing to do.”

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House Committee Approves the MORE Act to Legalize Cannabis

Members of a House of Representatives legislative committee voted on Thursday to advance a bill that would legalize marijuana at the federal level and allow states to set their own cannabis policies. The legislation, known as the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, was approved by the House Judiciary Committee by a vote of 26 to 15 following several attempts to amend the bill.

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.

In his opening remarks on Thursday, Democratic committee chair Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York said that the “long overdue and historic legislation would reverse failed federal policies criminalizing marijuana.”

“It would also take steps to address the heavy toll this policy has taken across the country, particularly among communities of color,” he continued. “I have long believed that the criminalization of marijuana has been a mistake. The racially disparate enforcement of marijuana laws has only made it worse, with serious consequences, particularly for communities of color.”

The MORE Act Includes Social Equity Provisions

To address the harms caused by marijuana prohibition, an Opportunity Trust Fund created by the MORE Act would provide job training, re-entry services for formerly incarcerated individuals, and health education programs for communities impacted by the War on Drugs. The bill also establishes an Office of Cannabis Justice to implement the social equity provisions of the bill, encourage cannabis research, and ensure that federal benefits and services are not denied cannabis users. The Small Business Association would be responsible for creating a Cannabis Restorative Opportunity Program to develop cannabis licensing programs that limit barriers to participation in the industry.

After Thursday’s vote, National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) political director Justin Strekal called on Democratic leaders to swiftly bring the MORE Act up for a vote by the full House of Representatives.

“Never before has public support from every corner of the political spectrum been so aligned as to demand that Congress take action to end the shameful experiment with marijuana prohibition,” Strekal said in a press release from the reform group. “The continued criminalization of marijuana by the federal government is an affront to our professed ideals of freedom, liberty, and justice. By advancing the MORE Act, the House will demonstrate that the majority of our political leaders are ready to correct this injustice and enact cannabis policy reform that undoes the harms that have been inflicted upon millions of otherwise law-abiding citizens.”

Bill Approved By Bipartisan Vote

The vote to advance the MORE Act in the Judiciary Committee was 26 to 15, receiving support from 2 Republicans and all 24 Democrats on the panel while the remaining 15 Republicans voted against the legislation. The vote followed several attempts to amend the proposal, including one from Republican Rep. Thomas Massie that would have removed taxation and social equity grants from the cannabis legalization proposal. Another failed amendment would have denied justice reform grants to those convicted of rioting, looting, or destruction of property.

Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, a cosponsor of the legislation, was one of the two Republicans on the Judiciary Committee to vote for the bill, although he also expressed reservations over the tax provisions in the measure.

“I am a proud co-sponsor of the MORE Act because the federal government has screwed up marijuana policy in this country for a generation,” Gaetz said. “We lied to people about the effects of marijuana. And then we used marijuana as a cudgel to incarcerate just wide swathes of communities, and particularly in African American communities.”

Gaetz, however, said that he believes the MORE Act has little chance of passage in the U.S. Senate and suggested lawmakers draft more modest cannabis legislation. A separate measure that would allow cannabis businesses in states with legal marijuana to access financial services, the SAFE Banking Act, was approved by the full House of Representatives on Sept. 23 as part of defense spending authorization bill.

But some Democratic senators including Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Oregon’s Sen. Ron Wyden have expressed reservations over passing a bill to protect the financial interests of cannabis businesses before broader reform such as the MORE Act is signed into law. In a podcast released on Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told Drug Policy Alliance founder that he had reached an agreement with his colleagues to not let banking legislation advance before wider cannabis legalization.

“Senators Booker, Wyden and I have come to agreement that if we let [the banking bill] out, it’ll make it much harder and take longer to pass comprehensive reform,” Schumer said. “We certainly want the provisions, similar to the SAFE Banking Act, in our bill. But to get more moderate people—to get some Republicans, to get the financial services industry—behind a comprehensive bill is the way to go. It’s the right thing to do.”

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VA Still Punishes Veterans for Using Medical Cannabis

One of the reasons John Penley moved out to Nevada from his native North Carolina last year was for the legal cannabis, which he uses to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) related to his military service in the 1970s. 

He didn’t anticipate that his use of state-legal cannabis could result in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) cutting off the pain killers that he also needs.

“Here I don’t have to worry about getting arrested for using medical marijuana,” Penley tells Cannabis Now, “but it could cause me to lose all my veterans’ benefits.” 

Pain Killers Cut for Medical Cannabis Use

Penley’s chronic back pain started to come on about 10 years ago, and it continues to get worse. He’s been diagnosed with spinal stenosis which the VA designates as a “nonservice-connected disability.” The agency has been sending him a codeine-acetaminophen mix to control the pain.

“I’m taking one a day to make ’em last,” he says. “I won’t get any more till I stop using cannabis, test again and come back clean for THC.”

The pills arrive by mail, but Penley must check in personally at the VA hospital in Las Vegas once month to have his urine tested. He says he believed this was just to monitor levels of the blood thinner Warfarin, which he also takes now following a heart attack, and to make sure his prescription was at the appropriate levels.

But after his last test in early Sept., he received a call his VA doctor’s nurse—informing him that he had tested positive for THC and his pills were being cut off until he tested clean.

“It took me by surprise,” he says. “I’ve been open with my VA doctors about using medical marijuana.”

Penley worries that cutting off opioids could drive vets to the illegal market where they face the threat of an overdose from fentanyl. He points out that the Las Vegas area is currently witnessing an explosion of fentanyl-spiked painkillers on the illicit market. Last month, local health officials reported five overdose deaths related to street sales of the synthetic opioid over a 24-hour period.

Cannabis Eases Nuclear Nightmares

In addition to his back pain, Penley suffers from PTSD, which he says is related to his service in the Navy from 1972 to 1976. Working as an air traffic controller at the Souda Bay base on the Greek island of Crete, he was responsible for aircrafts carrying nuclear weapons. During the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, the base served as a “forward operating airfield” for U.S. operations in support of Israel. 

“I was extremely worried about a nuclear exchange between the U.S. and Russia, which were backing opposite sides in the war,” Penley recalls. “The whole area was swimming with Russian submarines, and Nixon put the U.S. on the highest nuclear alert ever. I was afraid I was gonna get nuked in that control tower.”

Nonetheless, he made petty officer second class before his honorable discharge. But Penley says he still has nightmares about being back in the control tower. And cannabis is what prevents the memories from haunting his waking life.

State-Federal Disconnect

Penley takes oral doses of THC oil to manage both the PTSD and back pain. Although he still needs the codeine-acetaminophen mix, he believes cannabis use obviates the need for the far more powerful oxycontin—or surgery. “I’m considering a back operation that I don’t really want to get, but I can’t take the pain,” he says.

Ironically, Penley had just been just re-approved for codeine earlier this year after having been cut off during the VA’s crackdown on prescriptions in response to the opioid epidemic a few years ago.

In the intervening years, he had no alternative but to take large quantities of over-the-counter acetaminophen. “I was taking too much acetaminophen, a 500-milligram pill three times day,” he says. In contrast, the combination pills he received from the VA contained just 300 milligrams of acetaminophen, and he only has to take one twice a day. Penley was recently diagnosed by the VA with kidney damage, which he attributes to overuse of acetaminophen during the last period when his codeine had been cut off.

“I don’t like the fact that they’re treating me as a criminal,” Penley says. “Why should testing positive for cannabis affect the medicine I’m getting from VA—especially in a state where it’s legal?”

And he points out another irony. “I receive a discount for veterans at the dispensaries here in Las Vegas,” he said. “You have the VA punishing veterans for using medical marijuana in the same states where vets are getting a discount.”

Illusion of Progress?

The VA has been under growing pressure on this question, but there has actually been some recent progress—at least on paper.

The Missouri Independent reported earlier this month that VA policy does not allow discrimination against veterans who enroll in state medical marijuana programs—although they must do so with their own resources, outside the purview of the VA’s Veterans Health Administration

In Dec. 2017, the VA issued Directive 1315, which states: “Veterans will not be denied VA benefits because of marijuana use.”

The Missouri Independent quoted Derek Debus, an Arizona attorney and Marine veteran who specializes in VA benefit issues. “I’ve had clients in the past that, if they admit to medical marijuana usage, won’t get any medication at all through the VA,” Debus said. “I’ve had clients that have gone to the VA for acute injuries like kidney stones, or even a broken arm, who were denied pain medication because they tested positive for cannabis and or have a state medical marijuana card.”

The VA website touts an April 2021 study from its own National Center for PTSD noting “growing interest and concern” over increased cannabis use among veterans, as more states legalize. The study states that “research to date does not support cannabis as an effective PTSD treatment, and some studies suggest cannabis can be harmful, particularly when used for long periods of time.” 

Yet there certainly seems to be plenty of countervailing research. For instance, a 2015 study of veterans in New York City, conducted by scholars at New York University, found: “Veterans’ comparisons of cannabis, alcohol, and psychopharmaceuticals tended to highlight advantages to cannabis use as more effective and less complicated by side effects. Some participants suggested that cannabis can be part of an approach-based coping strategy that aids with introspection and direct confrontation of the sources of personal trauma.”

Contacted by Cannabis Now, VA public affairs specialist Gary J. Kunich offered this explanation for how vets can still be cut off from receiving prescription meds for medical cannabis use despite Directive 1315: “Veterans will not lose access to VA financial or medical benefits because of medical marijuana use, but it may affect clinical decisions about other prescriptions, including those for pain management. These are clinical decisions that practitioners make according to a medical evaluation and are not determined by VA policy.”

In any case, Penley says he is not enrolled in the Nevada medical marijuana program because he is a relatively new arrival in the state, and cannabis is available freely on the adult-use market. If enrolling in the state program was necessary to keep his painkiller prescription from the VA, “nobody here advised me of that,” he says. “Not even in the orientation when they prescribe your opiates. You’d think they would have informed me.”

Veteran Organizations Embrace Right to Medical Cannabis

In 2009, New Mexico became the first state to make PTSD sufferers eligible for medical marijuana. The condition has since been included in most state medical marijuana programs.

The effort to get the VA to take a more tolerant stance got another boost in 2016 when the American Legion, a veterans organization of 1.8 million members known for its conservative politics, urged Congress to remove cannabis from the federal list of prohibited drugs and allow research into its medical applications. Lawrence Montreuil, the organization’s legislative director, told Stars & Stripes, “I think knowing an organization like the American Legion supports it frankly gives [lawmakers] a little bit of political cover to do something that they may have all along supported but had concerns about voter reaction.”

The organization Disabled American Veterans (DAV), which actually donated the vehicle that picks up Penley for his VA doctor appointments, has also embraced exploring “medical cannabis as an alternative to opioids for veterans.”

A Legislative Solution?

In recent years, The Veterans Equal Access Act has repeatedly introduced legislation to facilitate medical cannabis access for military veterans suffering from chronic pain, PTSD, and other serious medical conditions. This bill would allow VA doctors to recommend cannabis under state medical marijuana programs and assure that vets do not lose any benefits for enrolling.

This April, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) joined with Congressional Cannabis Caucus Co-Chairs Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Dave Joyce (R-OH) to introduce another version of the bill, the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act.

But as the cannabis advocacy group NORML notes, Congressional conservatives have repeatedly blocked such efforts despite the growing evidence of the medicinal value of cannabis for PTSD sufferers.

NORML points out that a 2014 retrospective review of patients’ symptoms published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs found a greater than 75% reduction in Clinician Administered Posttraumatic Scale (CAPS) symptom scores following cannabis therapy.

Vets Stand Up

John Penley has been a part of the activist effort around this issue.

On Veterans Day 2018, he was among a group of vets who camped out at the national offices of the VA to demand access to medical marijuana. 

He was also arrested for crossing police lines while protesting lack of action on veteran suicides at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, NC. 

In July 2014, when the Veterans for Peace national convention was held in his hometown of Asheville, NC, he pushed for a resolution which was adopted, stating that “it is the right of any Veteran to discuss with his/her health care provider any and all possible treatment options…including the use of medical cannabis, without the threat to the Veteran or provider of disciplinary action, regulatory loss of privilege and/or benefits, or criminal sanctions.”

As for the response to his own cut-off of painkillers, Penley affirms: “They say it’s federal policy and they don’t have a choice in the matter, but the feds shouldn’t be punishing people for using medical marijuana.” 

“I should be able to get medical marijuana from the VA,” he said. “I think the vet suicide rate would go down if they supplied it.”

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Surge of Advocacy Groups Weigh In on Federal Cannabis Reform Bill

Yesterday was the deadline for the comment period on the draft version of the federal cannabis reform bill, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA), and cannabis advocacy groups did not disappoint—with an avalanche of commentary rolling in before the time was up.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) signed on as lead sponsors for a sweeping bill to end the prohibition of cannabis at the federal level.

The draft version of the measure was released in July, which led to an open public comment period giving people time to weigh in on what will be the revised measure.

Several well-known cannabis advocacy organizations such as the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) and the Marijuana Policy Project (MMP) released their comments.

The Marijuana Justice Coalition opted to send a joint letter on the legalization proposal. The Marijuana Justice Coalition is made up of members including the ACLU, Center for American Progress, Drug Policy Alliance, Human Rights Watch, Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights, MoveOn, Students for Sensible Drug Policy and United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

In a 30-page comment document, NORML called for strengthening civic protections to provide justice to those previously wronged by federal marijuana criminalization and revising outdated employment policies. The organization also called for ensuring that small and local businesses can compete both with larger corporations and the illicit market by reducing regulatory and tax burdens. NORML also asked to narrow the scope of the proposed excise tax to exempt medical cannabis consumer markets and balance the roles of the FDA, TTB, ATF and antitrust regulators.

“We appreciate the leadership by Senators Schumer, Booker, and Wyden in their efforts to end America’s failed, unjust, and racially biased experiment with cannabis prohibition. The CAOA draft represents a thoughtful path forward toward ending federal marijuana criminalization. We are confident that similar language, once finalized and formally introduced in the US Senate, will possess bipartisan appeal — as we know that voters of all political parties strongly support repealing the federal government’s failed marijuana policies,” said NORML Political Director Justin Strekal. 

The summary of NORML’s discussion draft can be read here.

MPP also stressed the importance of easing restrictions on medical cannabis patients. MPP outlined two major areas of concern: the possible upending of state licensing and regulatory systems, which does nothing but drive sales underground, and the impact on medical cannabis access, including for those under the age of 21.

“We are grateful for the leadership of Sens. Booker, Schumer, and Wyden to end an eight-decades long policy failure and appreciate the opportunity to provide feedback as the sponsoring offices refine the bill,” said Karen O’Keefe, state policies director at MPP. Federal prohibition urgently needs to end. It has wasted billions of dollars while upending tens of thousands of lives—disproportionately those of Black and Brown Americans—over a plant that is safer than alcohol.

The NCIA stated that the CAOA presents a “thoughtful foundation for comprehensive cannabis policy reform that clearly illustrates the authors’ engagement with stakeholders during the drafting process.” Read the NCIA’s full draft of recommendations here.

“Ending nearly a century of disastrous prohibition policies is a monumental effort and one which should not be taken lightly,” said Aaron Smith, co-founder and chief executive officer of NCIA. “We appreciate Senate leadership for taking a big step toward that goal which a significant majority of Americans support. There is a lot of work left to be done and it is vital to include those most impacted by both prohibition and the proposed legislation in this process.”

The wave of commentary represents the importance of the bill and how the industry hinges upon those fine details.

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Episode 61 – How New York and New Jersey Are Legalizing Marijuana with Evan Nison

Activist and entrepreneur Evan Nison speaks with hosts Jordan Wellington and Andrew Livingston about how their home state of New Jersey as well as New York as legalizing marijuana, as well as some of the work he’s done and is doing through his PR company NisonCo. Produced by Shea Gunther.

Louisiana Medical Marijuana Program Expands

Louisiana’s path to a medical marijuana program has been a tortuous and frustrating one. State lawmakers passed a law instating a limited program in 2015, but cannabis products did not begin to reach patients at the nine approved pharmacies until August of last year. There are still fewer than 4,500 patients registered to access cannabis products under the law.

After what has been an agonizing delay for many patients, Louisiana’s legislature has finally taken moves to expand the program. 

The program will still allow only extracts, tinctures and other such preparations — not actual herbaceous cannabis, either smoked or vaped. And only two “agricultural centers” are permitted to cultivate and process — one at Louisiana State University and one at Southern University, both in Baton Rouge and the latter a historically Black university. LSU, partnering with the private Wellcana Group, finally produced enough cannabis to begin supplying the approved pharmacies a year ago, Associated Press notes. The Advocate, the state’s biggest newspaper, reported the happy news that Southern University, partnering with Ilera Holistic Healthcare, finally shipped out its first tinctures and other products last month.

And now, under a trio of new laws that were passed in June and went into effect Aug. 1, the ability of patients to access these products will be expanded. At last, the program seems poised for growth.

A Trio of New Bills 

The most significant of the new measures, House Bill 819, expands the discretion of physicians to recommend cannabis. Rather than having to conform to the list of conditions named in the 2015 law, doctors can now approve cannabis products for “any condition” that they consider “debilitating to an individual patient,” providing that the condition is one the doctor “is qualified through his [or her] medical education and training to treat.” 

The 2015 law, known as Therapeutic Marijuana A, lists the standard conditions, including HIV/AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder, Parkinson’s disease, and epilepsy and other seizure disorders.

According to the national advocacy group NORML, Louisiana joins a handful of other states — including California, Virginia and Maine — that have enacted similar measures giving physicians the ability to recommend cannabis preparations to any patient they believe may benefit from them. 

When Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the bill in June, NORML hailed it as meaningful progress. 

“This is common sense legislation that provides physicians, not lawmakers, the ability and discretion to decide what treatment options are best for their patients,” NORML deputy director Paul Armentano said in a statement. Continuuin, he said, “Just as doctors are entrusted to make decisions with regard to the supervised use of opioids and other medicines — many of which pose far greater risks to patients than cannabis — the law should provide doctors with similar flexibility when it comes to recommending cannabis therapy to a bona fide patient.”

Another of the new measures to take effect addresses the question of cannabis use in hospitals and other healthcare facilities. HB 418 provides immunity from prosecution to “any facility that is licensed by the Louisiana Department of Health that has patients in its care using medical marijuana.” HB 211 similarly provides immunity for banks and other financial institutions that provide services to state-licensed cannabis businesses. 

Slowly Moving Towards Social Justice 

As an AP account observes, these three bills were part of a modest wave of progressive legislation passed by Louisiana lawmakers this year. Other measures limit the use of solitary confinement on pregnant prisoners and increase the ways those sent to prison as juveniles can seek parole. 

Local activists feel that progress is long overdue in the Pelican State. In 2016, a “JustSouth” index produced by the Jesuit Social Research Institute at Loyola University sought to measure social justice across the Southern states. It ranked Louisiana dead last on measures of poverty, racial disparity and exclusion. The Research Institute’s Jeanie Donovan called it a “a grim picture” in comments to NOLA.com

Low-income families, immigrants and workers of color are worse off in Louisiana than anywhere else in the United States, the report found. The average low-income household in Louisiana earned only $11,156 in 2014. The Research Institute calculated that a two-person family needs to earn “$45,840 a year to afford basic necessities,” Donovan said.

These conditions reflect the region’s history of “slavery, Jim Crow segregation and continuing inequality,” added the Rev. Fred Kammer, director of the Research Institute. 

The other Gulf states ranked almost as poorly. Alabama placed 48th, Texas 49th and Mississippi 50th. Florida had the highest ranking in the region, at 41st place. 

Hardly coincidentally, Louisiana has some of the harshest marijuana laws in the nation.

TELL US, does your state have medical cannabis?

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Lester Grinspoon Pioneer of Cannabis Normalization Dies at 92

Dr. Lester Grinspoon, the renowned Harvard scholar whose works boldly challenged the cannabis stigma in an era when it was deeply entrenched in American culture, died June 25 at his home in the Boston area. His passing came unexpectedly, one day after he had celebrated his 92nd birthday. 

His most pioneering work, Marihuana Reconsidered, was published in 1971 and was the fruit of years of research with Harvard Medical School. In addition to a review of the scientific literature and historical material, it included actual first-hand interviews with cannabis users, portrayed without prejudice—a ground-breaking notion for its time. With multiple chapters dispassionately dedicated to deconstructing the propaganda of fear, it concluded with an open call for legalization.

This was given greater legitimacy by the fact that Grinspoon came to the question not as an already-convinced advocate but an objective scholar. As he would admit in a new introduction for the 1994 reprint edition: “I first became interested in cannabis when its use increased explosively in the 1960s. At that time I had no doubt it was a very harmful drug that was unfortunately being used by more and more foolish young people… But as I reviewed the scientific, medical, and lay literature, my views began to change. I came to understand that I, like so many other people in this country, had been misinformed and misled.”

Over the following decades, as the marijuana legalization movement burgeoned, Grinspoon emerged as its top intellectual authority and most respected representative.

He was among the very first to speak out for legalization on Capitol Hill. In 1977, he provided lengthy written testimony to the House Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse & Control, concluding optimistically: “Whatever the cultural conditions that have made it possible, there is no doubt that the discussion about marihuana has become increasingly sensible. We are gradually becoming conscious of the irrationality of classifying this drug as one with a high abuse potential and no medical value. If the trend continues, it is likely that within a decade marihuana will be sold in the United States as a legal intoxicant.”

Of course the backlash in Reagan revolution upset the timeline of Grinspoon’s prediction. But he did live to see a legal market became a reality in several states—and could claim a good share of the credit for helping to bring this about.

Bringing Science to Advocacy Work 

Massachusetts native Grinspoon would be compelled by the conclusions emerging from his research to take an advocacy position, eventually joining the board of directors of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). 

Years after the release of Marihuana Reconsidered, Grinspoon would reveal that one of the cannabis users quoted at length in the book—identified only as “Mr. X”—was in fact Carl Sagan, the Cornell astrophysicist who a decade later would become a celebrity popularizer of science. Sagan’s closing remarks as Mr. X in the book have often been quoted: “The illegality of cannabis is outrageous, an impediment to full utilization of a drug which helps produce the serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world.”

Grinspoon credited Sagan as the key personality that opened his mind on the cannabis question. 

Dr. Carl Sagan poses with a model of the Viking lander in Death Valley, Calif.
PHOTO Druyan-Sagan Associates, Inc.

Grinspoon also testified on behalf of John Lennon at his 1973 deportation hearing—a proceeding initiated by the US government based on his prior hashish arrest in England. As Grinspoon related to an amused audience at the 2011 NORML conference in Denver, the Nixon administration really “wanted to get Lennon out of the country because he was effectively protesting the Vietnam War.” The immigration officers overseeing the hearing weren’t even clear on whether hashish was a form of marijuana, Grinspoon wryly recalled. The ex-Beatle was ultimately allowed to stay.

 The cannabis question became poignantly personal for Grinspoon and his wife Betsy when their son Danny succumbed to cancer when he was still a young teenager. Cannabis helped him to endure the ill effects from high doses of chemotherapy. This experience propelled Dr. Grinspoon’s interest in the medicinal potential of the cannabis plant. In 1993, he joined with James B. Bakalar to author Marihuana: The Forbidden MedicineThree years later, California would become the first state to legalize medical use of cannabis.

Despite his achievements, Grinspoon was twice turned down for a full professor position at Harvard—something he attributed to the lingering cannabis stigma. According to a 2018 profile on Grinspoon in the Boston Globe, he believed “an undercurrent of unscientific prejudice against cannabis among [Harvard] faculty and school leaders doomed his chances.”

But whatever status he sacrificed for his beliefs among the academic establishment was made up for in the esteem he won from the advocacy community. In 1990 he received the Alfred R. Lindesmith Award for Achievement in the Field of Scholarship & Writing from the Drug Policy Foundation. In 1999, NORML established the Lester Grinspoon Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Marijuana Law Reform, the organization’s highest honor—with Grinspoon, of course, the first recipient. Dr. Grinspoon served as a member of the NORML advisory board until his death. 

As NORML wrote in a farewell statement upon the passing the courageous scholar: “Dr. Lester Grinspoon led the way to insist that our marijuana policies be based on legitimate science. He made it possible for us to have an informed public policy debate leading to the growing list of states legalizing the responsible use of marijuana.” 

TELL US, did you know about Dr. Lester Grinspoon’s legacy?

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California’s response to the cannabis industry during COVID-19

California’s response to the Cannabis industry, through this COVID-19 crisis, has been the right approach. As a result, the industry is thriving. In March, cannabis was deemed to be an essential service. But, it didn’t start out this way. The people spoke, the Government listened and it worked out well… Here is what happened down […]

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Thousands of Constituents Urge Governors To Deprioritize Marijuana Enforcement Amid Coronavirus

The marijuana reform group NORML is leading an effort to encourage states to deprioritize the enforcement of cannabis criminalization amid the coronavirus pandemic.

So far, more than 4,000 constituents across the country have participated in the organization’s action campaign launched on Wednesday by sending messages to their governors, urging them to take steps to minimize the spread of the virus by avoiding unnecessary marijuana arrests.

NORML created customized email blasts to supporters in all 39 states that have yet to legalize marijuana for adult use. Each one contains a link to a suggested prewritten letter asking the governor to abide by the group’s public health recommendations during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Beyond deprioritizing marijuana enforcement, the organization said states should also drop existing charges for nonviolent cannabis violations “in order to reduce non-essential interactions,” review and release those currently incarcerated for marijuana convictions and waive pending probation requirements for cannabis-related cases.

“Enforcing marijuana prohibition is in itself unfair and unnecessary. Enforcing marijuana prohibition during a global public health crisis, even more so,” Carly Wolf, state policies coordinator at NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “At a time when stress, anxiety, and uncertainty is at an all time high, no one should have the added fear of arrest or expensive fines as a result of low-level possession of a plant during a time when many are experiencing extreme economic hardship.”

“Law enforcement and other correctional personnel are being forced to make physical contact with members of the public solely to enforce an ineffective policy, requiring them to violate social distancing guidelines and in turn detrimentally affect the health and wellbeing of many vulnerable communities. Instead, more common sense, evidence based policies should be put in place to protect the health of everyone, not just some. It’s absolutely essential that state officials deprioritize marijuana enforcement, release those currently serving time for minor possession, and waive and withdraw all pending charges and probation requirements for those solely convicted of nonviolent marijuana offenses.”

A memo that the group put out in late March made similar points, and it also made recommendations for legal states on how cannabis businesses can safely operate. It also stressed the need to provide the industry with access to federal coronavirus relief funds and banking services. That memo came after NORML issued advice to consumers about best practices amid the pandemic.

In terms of deprioritization, so far no states where cannabis remains illegal or where only medical cannabis is allowed have taken the measure of formally instructing law enforcement to avoid pursuing marijuana offenses.

“I strongly encourage governors and other state officials to work alongside law enforcement agencies to ensure that these emergency actions are taken immediately to protect public health during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond,” Wolf said.

NORML’s online action page has links to the state-based opportunities to contact governors about reduced cannabis enforcement.

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This article has been republished from Marijuana Moment under a content-sharing agreement. Read the original article here.

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