Biden Debuts Application For Federal Marijuana Pardon Documentation

The Biden Administration announced last week that it’s launching a system that will allow individuals pardoned for federal cannabis possession convictions in 2022 to obtain written documentation of the pardon. In a March 3 statement, the Department of Justice wrote that a new application is available to request written documentation of the pardons, which were issued en masse by President Joseph Biden on October 6, 2022. The announcement was hailed as a step forward by advocates for cannabis policy reform, including Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, founder and co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus.

“This is another small, but critical step with the Biden Administration coming to terms with the new cannabis realities, and taking another step in the right direction,” Blumenauer said in a statement on Friday.

While campaigning for office before the 2020 elections, Biden pledged to end incarceration for federal cannabis possession convictions. The president acted on the promise late last year, announcing that he was issuing an executive order to pardon all convictions for simple marijuana possession prosecuted under federal law or Washington, D.C.’s municipal code. In a statement, the president said the move would help address the collateral damage of a federal drug conviction.

“As I often said during my campaign for president, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana,” Biden said in a statement from the White House on October 6, 2022. “Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit. Criminal records for marijuana possession have also imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities. And while white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted and convicted at disproportionate rates.”

When he announced the federal pardons in October, Biden called on governors to take similar action at the state level. The president also directed the Department of Health and Human Services and the Justice Department to review the continued classification of marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance under the federal Controlled Substances Act. According to the statute, the Schedule 1 classification is supposed to be reserved for drugs with no medical value and a high propensity for abuse.

Application Available Online

The new application form for documentation of a federal cannabis pardon requests information about the qualifying offense and demographic data about the applicant. The application can be completed online, or a hard copy can be mailed to the Justice Department, which has “committed to carefully and expeditiously reviewing the applications and issuing certificates to those pardoned under the proclamation.”

“Those who were pardoned on Oct. 6, 2022, are eligible for a certificate of pardon,” the Department of Justice wrote in a statement on March 3. “Consistent with the proclamation, to be eligible for a certificate, an applicant must have been charged or convicted of simple possession of marijuana in either a federal court or D.C. Superior Court, and the applicant must have been lawfully within the United States at the time of the offense. Similarly, an individual must have been a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident on Oct. 6, 2022.”

Natalie Papillion, chief operating officer at the cannabis justice group Last Prisoner Project, said the new pardon documentation process will ease the burden of a federal cannabis conviction. But she also noted that completing the application isn’t required to receive a pardon under the president’s executive order.

“We’re really heartened to learn that the Department of Justice has officially launched the federal cannabis pardon certification process. Having physical proof of their pardons will undoubtedly help pardon recipients as they navigate a world that’s unduly hostile to those with cannabis offenses on their criminal records,” Papillon says. “That said, it would be irresponsible not to clear up a major misconception about these pardons. President Biden’s marijuana pardons were self-effectuating, meaning eligible individuals received them on October 6, 2022—the date of President Biden’s proclamation. This recently launched application process is aimed at helping pardon recipients receive physical proof of their pardon, which may prove helpful when recipients apply for jobs, housing, educational opportunities, etc.”

Between 6,000 and 20,000 Americans will be able to apply for written proof that their federal convictions have been pardoned, according to information from the US Sentencing Commission and the Office of the Pardon Attorney cited by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). Biden’s pardons mark the first time that an American president has ever used the power of the executive to provide legal relief to the cannabis community, according to a statement from the cannabis policy reform group.

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Cal NORML Warns of Potential THC-O Acetate Risk

New data shows a potential problem with vaping THC-O acetate, and the reasons are worthy of concern. The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) branch in California, Cal NORML, issued a warning on Jan. 9 about a study that shows a significant risk for people who vape products containing THC-O acetate.

First published in the Journal of Medical Toxicology on Dec. 12, 2022, a team of researchers led by Neal L. Benowitz discovered a link between THC-O acetate and significant danger to the lungs. THC-O acetate shares structural similarities with vitamin-E acetate—an additive that becomes dangerous to the lungs when converted by heat.

According to the California Department of Public Health, the 2019-20 outbreak of EVALI lung disease sickened and hospitalized 249 Californians—five of them fatally. On Nov. 15, 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed that vitamin E acetate is the likely culprit for EVALI. Vitamin E acetate also produces carcinogens such as alkenes and benzene when heated.

When heated in a vape pen, both substances—vitamin E acetate and THC-O Acetate—produce ketene, a “highly potent lung toxicant.”  

“We put out the press release specifically because of a study showing that vaporizing vitamin E acetate was similar to THC-O acetate,” Cal NORML Director Dale Gieringer told High Times.

 “Apparently when heated up, it produces a serious lung toxin called ketene.”

As cannabis consumers, we often have to filter through anti-cannabis hysteria, but certain risks hold weight when products aren’t regulated properly. Usually vaping dangers arise when random thickeners and unvetted compounds are added.

Gieringer added, “We have a lot of concerns about some of these other new cannabinoids that are being synthesized from hemp, which are brand new and never been tested in human subjects before. Some of them are advertised as being way more potent than THC. THC-O acetate is being advertised as three times more potent than delta-9. THCP is being advertised as having 30 times the binding power to receptors as THC. That kind of reaction sets off a lot of concerns with us. 

“These compounds have never been found in nature before—being made by fairly amateurish underground hemp chemists—raise a lot of concern.”

Gieringer added that delta-8 THC isn’t his primary concern, given there is slightly more known about the compound, but it’s contaminants and other new cannabinoids he’s most worried about, mostly due to the unknowns: THCP, THCjd. THC-H, THC-B, HHC, and Delta-10 THC. 

Cal NORML reports that the sale of psychoactive hemp derivatives was recently deemed legal under federal law by a Ninth Circuit Court decision (AK Futures v. Boyd Street Distro). That’s up for debate though, given that synthetic cannabinoids can be considered illegal under the Federal Analogue Act. 

Under the 2018 federal Farm Bill, cannabis with less that 0.3% THC is legal to grow, and its products can be sold nationally, but the THC often exceeds the limit regardless.

California’s industrial hemp law, which is overseen by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), currently disallows the sale of hemp products with active cannabinoids other than CBD.

THC-O acetate begins as hemp-derived CBD and goes through a chemical process. Going beyond how cannabinoids like delta-8 THC are processed from CBD, acetic anhydride is added to the mixture, making it an acetate.

THC-O is believed to be three times as potent as delta-9 THC—the naturally occurring cannabinoid most of us are used to.

“Cal NORML strongly advises consumers to avoid hemp products with psychoactive cannabinoids, especially novel ones stronger than THC, whose safety is particularly suspect. CBD products may be safely obtained from state-registered industrial hemp product manufacturers, whose products must be tested for safety and cannabinoid content,” the release reads. “Under state law, hemp products should have a batch number and a label, website, QR code or barcode linking to the laboratory test results that state the levels of cannabinoids, total THC, and presence of contaminants, as well as the address and phone number of the manufacturer. Violations can be reported to CDPH.

Cal NORML adds that the less common cannabinoids that are deemed safe for human use are CBN, CBG, CBC, THCV, THC-A, CBD-A, and Delta-8 THC.

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Cannabis Researchers Published 4,300 Scientific Papers in 2022

NORML recently announced that according to a keyword search, there were more than 4,300 scientific research papers published about cannabis in 2022. In 2021, there were an estimated 4,200 papers published; over the last 12 years, more than 30,000 research papers have now been published; and in total, there are approximately 42,500 scientific papers exploring cannabis.

While it’s common to hear opponents of cannabis state that more research is necessary before legalization can occur, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano released a statement to counter that argument. “Despite claims by some that marijuana has yet to be subject to adequate scientific scrutiny, scientists’ interest in studying cannabis has increased exponentially in recent years, as has our understanding of the plant, its active constituents, their mechanisms of action, and their effects on both the user and upon society,” Armentano said. “It is time for politicians and others to stop assessing cannabis through the lens of ‘what we don’t know’ and instead start engaging in evidence-based discussions about marijuana and marijuana reform policies that are indicative of all that we do know.”

NORML compiled numerous scientific studies involving cannabis between 2000-2021, exploring findings from studies on a wide variety of medical conditions such as chronic pain, Huntington Disease, insomnia, Multiple Sclerosis, post-traumatic stress disorder, and so much more. The review analyzes the evolution of researcher’s scope of cannabis. “As clinical research into the therapeutic value of cannabinoids has proliferated so too has investigators’ understanding of cannabis’ remarkable capacity to combat disease,” NORML wrote. “Whereas researchers in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s primarily assessed marijuana’s ability to temporarily alleviate various disease symptoms—such as the nausea associated with cancer chemotherapy—scientists today are exploring the potential role of cannabinoids to modulate disease.”

Even recently, the scientific community has released many intriguing cannabis studies in recent months. One recent study published in the Journal of Sleep Research found that cannabis was an effective treatment for insomnia, with researchers stating that participants experienced an 80% increase in sleep quality, and 60% were no longer classified as clinical insomnias following the end of the two-week study. Another study found evidence that cannabis has “uniquely beneficial effects” on those with bipolar disorder, while one found a link between cannabis consumption and physical activity in HIV+ patients. And there are many more studies underway, such as King’s College London which recently launched a massive 6,000-person study in September, with a goal of publishing early results in 2023 or 2024.

Cannabis is more mainstream than it has ever been before. President Joe Biden’s recent monumental signing of the Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act which “establishes a new registration process for conducting research on marijuana and for manufacturing marijuana products for research purposes and drug development.” Biden also signed an infrastructure bill in 2021, which contained provisions for cannabis. It states that in two years, the Attorney General and Secretary of Health and Human Services must submit a report that addresses how researchers can receive increased samples of various strains, establishing a “national clearinghouse” that will help researchers better distribute cannabis products for research, and an increased amount of samples for researchers who don’t live in states with medical or adult-use cannabis legalization. 

On the side, studies exploring the benefits of other psychedelic substances are also rising. One study in the journal Psychopharmacology found evidence that psilocybin can treat those with autism spectrum disorder. The University College of London released the results of a recent study as well, which analyzed brain imaging of consumers who attended psychedelic retreats. Another from the University of Melbourne explored how ayahuasca benefits outweigh the risks.

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Study Finds Link Between Cannabis Use, Greater Physical Activity in HIV+ Patients

Marijuana use is associated with heightened physical activity among individuals who are HIV+ positive, according to a study published last month.

The findings, which come via a team of researchers from Brown University, Boston University and the University of Minnesota, showed that “those who reported consuming cannabis were significantly more likely to be physically active than those patients who did not,” according to NORML’s summary of the study, which was published in the journal AIDS Care.

“Chronic pain, depression, and substance use are common among people living with HIV (PLWH). Physical activity can improve pain and mental health. Some substances such as cannabis may alleviate pain, which may allow PLWH to participate in more physical activity,” the authors wrote in the abstract. “However, risks of substance use include poorer mental health and HIV clinical outcomes.”

They said that their “cross-sectional analysis examined the relationships of self-reported substance use (alcohol, cannabis, and nicotine use), gender, and age with self-reports of walking, moderate physical activity, and vigorous physical activity, converted to Metabolic Equivalent of Task Units (METs), among 187 adults living with HIV, chronic pain, and depressive symptoms in the United States.”

According to NORML, the authors reported that the “estimated mean rate of vigorous METs [Metabolic Equivalent of Task Units] was … 6.25 times higher for people who used cannabis than non-users.”

“Women reported less walking, vigorous activity, and total physical activity compared to men. Individuals who used cannabis reported more vigorous physical activity relative to those who did not use cannabis,” the researchers wrote. “These findings were partially accounted for by substance use*gender interactions: men using cannabis reported more vigorous activity than all other groups, and women with alcohol use reported less walking than men with and without alcohol use. Research is needed to increase physical activity among women who use substances and to evaluate reasons for the relationship between substance use and physical activity among men.”

The research echoes previous findings that also showed a link between cannabis use and greater physical activity. A study published last year in the journal Preventive Medicine found that “the commonly held perception that marijuana users are largely sedentary is not supported by these data on young and middle-aged adults.” 

That study, the authors said, “represents one of the first studies to rigorously analyze the relationships between marijuana use and exercise.”

“Results show that, particularly for fixed-effects models, marijuana use is not significantly related to exercise, counter to conventional wisdom that marijuana users are less likely to be active. Indeed, the only significant estimates suggest a positive relationship, even among heavier users during the past 30 days. These findings are at odds with much of the existing literature, which generally shows a negative relationship between marijuana use and exercise. As additional states legalize the medicinal and recreational use of marijuana, perhaps its impact on exercise, one of the leading social determinants of health, is not necessarily a primary concern,” the authors wrote in the abstract of that study, which was published in June 2021. 

Those authors also noted that “positive relationships between marijuana use and exercise have also been found” in other research, including one study that showed individuals “who reported using cannabis either shortly before or after exercise engaged in 43.4 more minutes of weekly aerobic exercise on average than individuals who did not use cannabis shortly before/after exercising.” 

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Cannabis Legalization Hearing Held by Congressional Committee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Breaking: Maryland and Missouri Vote to Legalize Cannabis

Voters in Maryland and Missouri voted to legalize recreational marijuana in Tuesday’s midterm elections, bringing the total number of states that have legalized cannabis for use by adults to 21. Ballot measures to legalize marijuana failed to win a majority of votes in Arkansas, North Dakota and South Dakota, however, with voters in those states instead opting to maintain nearly a century of cannabis prohibition. 

Maryland Approves Question 4

In Maryland, voters approved Question 4, a referendum that amends the state constitution to legalize marijuana and directs the state legislature to pass legislation to regulate commercial cannabis activity. With 82% of the votes counted on Wednesday afternoon, Question 4 was on its way to approval with nearly two-thirds (65.5%) of the vote, according to data from The New York Times. Troy Datcher, the CEO of California-based The Parent Company (TPCO), said that he is encouraged by the passage of Question 4 in Maryland, noting that the measure mandates expungement for eligible cannabis convictions and includes resentencing provisions for other offenses. He also noted the high level of support for legalization in the state. In July, TPCO, the home of Jay-Z’s luxury cannabis brand Monogram, announced that it would be entering Maryland’s medical marijuana market through a partnership with Curio Wellness. 

“The fact that Question 4 garnered more support than any adult-use cannabis ballot measure in the country’s history speaks to the shared support that Americans of all political stripes have for moving past the unjust cannabis laws that have criminalized Americans for nearly a century,” Datcher said in an email to Cannabis Now. “Tuesday’s vote also reflects the massive potential of adult-use legalization to stimulate Maryland’s economy, creating tens of thousands of new jobs for its residents and generating considerable tax revenue for the state.”

Missouri Voters Say Yes To Legalization

In Missouri, Amendment 3 was projected to be approved by voters, tallying more than 53% of the votes on Wednesday afternoon with 89% of ballots counted. The successful amendment to the state’s constitution legalizes the possession, use, sale and delivery of marijuana for personal use and sets a 6% tax on commercial cannabis sales. Additionally, the amendment includes provisions for the expungement of certain marijuana-related convictions. Jeffrey M. Zucker, vice chair of the Marijuana Policy Project board of directors and president of the consulting company Green Lion Partners, praised the work of activists who campaigned to make legal recreational marijuana part of the state’s constitution.

“It is an exciting time for the people of Missouri as their state legalizes adult-use cannabis,” Zucker said in an emailed statement. “I am in awe of the hard work that cannabis activists have done in Missouri, and I look forward to seeing how both established medical marijuana dispensaries and new players in Missouri’s regulated cannabis industry grow and begin to thrive over the coming months.”

With the approval of the cannabis legalization measures, Maryland and Missouri have become the 20th and 21st states to legalize recreational marijuana for adults. Mason Tvert, communications adviser for the cannabis and psychedelics law firm Vicente Sederberg LLC, noted that in addition to ending the criminalization of cannabis, the successful ballot measures in Maryland and Missouri will spur economic development and create new jobs.

“With legal cannabis in these two states comes new economic opportunity. Expansion of the regulated cannabis market will result in new businesses, more jobs, and significant tax revenue,” Tvert wrote in an email. “There is still plenty of work to be done when it comes to implementing the new law and ironing out all the rules. Marijuana-related policy discussions will become the new norm in state and local governments, much like we see with alcohol. Ending prohibition is just the beginning.”

Three States Decline To Legalize Weed

Despite the strong showing for cannabis policy reform in Maryland and Missouri, voters in Arkansas, North Dakota and South Dakota rejected ballot measures to legalize recreational marijuana. Arkansas voters said no to Issue 4, with more than 56% of the electorate voting against the measure. In South Dakota, cannabis legalization initiative Measure 27 only garnered 47% of votes, with 53% voting against it. And in North Dakota, where voters approved a 2020 ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana that was invalidated by the state Supreme Court, voters declined to repeat their previous approval of reform. Measure 2, which would have legalized the possession and use of cannabis for adults, received the approval of 45% of voters, with nearly 55% voting against the measure.

Other Races Bode Well For Continued Reform

Although marijuana legalization measures were only on the ballot in five states on Tuesday, other races in this week’s midterm elections are likely to foster progress on cannabis policy reform efforts. In Minnesota, control of the state Senate was won by Democrats, giving the party control of both houses of the legislature and the governor’s office. With the new majority in the Senate, lawmakers are likely to advance legislation to legalize adult-use cannabis, according to a report from Marijuana Moment.

“We are excited about the prospects for full legalization, but Minnesotans who want to see legalization will still have work to do,” said Maren Schroeder, coalition director for the MNisReady Coalition. “We’re optimistic that we’ll get it across the finish line in 2023.”

In Pennsylvania, voters elevated Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, an outspoken advocate of cannabis policy reform, to the US Senate, where he will be a new voice for progress on the issue at the federal level. Voters also selected fellow Democrat Josh Shapiro as governor over Republican Douglas Mastriano, who characterized recreational marijuana legalization as a “stupid idea,” according to a report from Marijuana Moment. Tracey Kauffman, founder and chairperson of cannabis consulting firm Cannaspire, says that the results in her home state of Pennsylvania indicate a willingness among voters to support candidates who are in favor of cannabis policy reform.

“Yesterday was a huge victory for cannabis in Pennsylvania. Both John Fetterman and Josh Shapiro support legalizing adult-use cannabis and expungement, so hopefully we will see swift changes in our state,” Kauffman wrote in an email. “I would like to see a cannabis task force organized so we can analyze key learnings from how our neighbors in New York and New Jersey have approached legalization and translate them into what will be successful in Pennsylvania.”

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) lauded the approval of cannabis legalization measures in Tuesday’s election, noting in a statement on Wednesday that in addition to the successes in Maryland and Missouri, marijuana decriminalization measures were passed by voters in several cities located in states that maintain prohibitions on adult-use cannabis, including Texas and Ohio.

“While this year’s mid-term elections may not have been a ‘clean sweep’ for reform advocates, our momentum continues unabated,” NORML deputy director Paul Armentano said in a statement from the advocacy group. “Are we in a stronger place today than we were yesterday? Of course we are. Two more states, Maryland and Missouri, have wisely elected to legalize and regulate cannabis — policies that will expand the freedoms and civil liberties of over 7 million Americans. In addition, voters in cities across this country — including over 400,000 Texans — acted to end the senseless and counterproductive policy of arresting and prosecuting those who possess and use cannabis.”

The post Breaking: Maryland and Missouri Vote to Legalize Cannabis appeared first on Cannabis Now.

Arizonans Benefitting From Biden’s Weed Pardons

More Arizonans with federal convictions for marijuana possession will benefit from the pardons recently announced by President Joseph Biden than past offenders from nearly every other state, according to a report from azcentral. 

An analysis from the United States Sentencing Commission found that more than 1,450 people from Arizona were convicted of federal marijuana possession charges between 1992 and 2021, representing more than 20% of the estimated 6,500 such convictions affected by the pardons. California is the only state with more people who will be pardoned under the executive action, with about 1,550 federal convictions for low-level cannabis possession. The only other state with more than 1,000 such convictions was Texas, with 1,015.

It is not clear how many of those with federal marijuana possession convictions also had other convictions that were not covered by the pardons. However, Arizona had the highest number of convictions for simple marijuana possession than any other state since 2015, according to Sentencing Commission information. Approximately 93% of the 500 convictions during that time resulted in prison sentences, the data show.

“For a lot of people out there, I imagine this is a really welcome relief,” said Jonathan Udell, an attorney with the Rose Law Group and acting co-director of Arizona NORML.

“I think there’s a lot of people out there that really feel the sting of being branded a non-law-abiding citizen,” he continued. “And this sends a very big message to those people that you’re not a bad person because you smoked a plant one time that grew out of the ground or possessed some grass in your pocket.”

Biden’s Pardons Affect 6,500 Convictions

On October 6, Biden announced that he had issued an executive order to pardon all federal convictions for simple marijuana possession. The pardons will affect about 6,500 people who were convicted of marijuana possession under federal law and thousands more with similar charges in the District of Columbia, according to an analysis by The New York Times.

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

Biden also called on state governors to take similar action in their jurisdictions, where the vast majority of cannabis possession charges are filed and prosecuted as state offenses. Additionally, the president directed Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Justice Department to review the continued classification of marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance under the Controlled Substances Act. According to the legislation, the Schedule 1 classification is meant for drugs with no medical value and a high risk of abuse.

Activists Demonstrate at White House for Cannabis Clemency

Although many marijuana policy reform activists and representatives of the cannabis industry hailed Biden’s pardons as a historic step, others were unsatisfied with the limited scope of the action, which offers no relief for other federal marijuana-related convictions and resulted in no federal prisoners being released from prison. On Monday, activist groups including Students for Sensible Drug Policy, D.C. Marijuana Justice, the Last Prisoner Project and Maryland Marijuana Justice demonstrated outside the White House, calling on Biden to take more significant action on cannabis clemency.

“It was a failed opportunity to make real change. The president could have done so much more than he did,” Steve DeAngelo, co-founder of the Last Prisoner Project, told the Washington Post. “He really only did the bare minimum thing that he could do to generate a positive-sounding press release.”

Featuring speakers including hip hop icons Redman and M1 of Dead Prez, a 50-foot inflatable joint and the arrest of at least one protester for passing through a security gate without authorization, the demonstrators urged Biden to release all federal prisoners with nonviolent marijuana-related convictions. Cannabis activist Adam Eidinger, co-founder of D.C. Marijuana Justice, said the protestors’ demands include releasing 100 prisoners immediately and all 2,800 by Christmas.

“The greatest civil rights tragedy of the modern era is putting people behind bars for cannabis,” said Eidinger. “If we get any kind of interest from the White House, and they are willing to schedule meetings with representatives of those protests, then I imagine that we’ll call off civil disobedience and declare victory.”

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We Don’t Have To Agree, But You Can’t Tell Me This Isn’t a Good Thing

People who love cannabis are chill AF! Everyone who smokes weed is suuuper laid back. And if you work in the weed industry, you’re lucky to be following your passion surrounded by like-minded, easy-going folks. Mellow, tolerant, inclusive, live-and-let-live, that’s the vibe of our stoney, happy world, right?

Merp. If you work in cannabis or you’re involved in any advocacy or activism around the plant, you know the deal: it’s a total shitshow. The cannabis community is splintering as legalization leaves many communities behind while falling prices and an overabundance of legally-grown cannabis have triggered an industry-wide scramble for companies to stay afloat. People are mad as hell in every sector of the weed world — and as Jon Cappetta pointed out in his recent WEIRDOS entry, there’s a hater around every corner. (I riled a bunch of ’em up when I wrote about sexism in the weed industry. Just look at some of the comments on the IG post — so, so mad. Ahahaha.)

I wrote two stories about the announcement — an explainer of Biden’s policies for Vox and a timeline of his evolution from “Drug War Joe” to “Dank Brandon” for Rolling Stone. And, wow, guess what? People were mad. Sigh. The timeline article was “lame-ass,” according to someone who was incensed that I highlighted that Biden was the architect of some of the most harmful drug war policies of the last 40 years. Somehow, I was “trying to get Democrats to not vote in a month,” they complained. What?! I just… ugh.

Everyone’s tired and furious about everything right now, I get it. And people on Twitter really love to bitch. But what struck me as I was reporting those two stories was that just about everyone I interviewed, from activists to industry leaders, said that Biden’s action was a good thing. Even if it was an attempt to drum up support for Democrats ahead of the midterms, it’s a leap forward in federal cannabis policy. As Kris Krane wrote in Forbes, “For the first time ever, a sitting United States President has acknowledged the failure of cannabis criminalization and pledged to take bold action to address it.”

Attorney David Holland, a partner with Prince Lobel Tye LLP and executive director of Empire State NORML, thinks Biden’s move is a paradigm shift: “He’s setting the stage for future action,” Holland said. Stephanie Shepard, who was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison as a first-time, non-violent offender and now works as partnerships manager with the non-profit Last Prisoner Project, also had a positive take on the news, even though her record won’t be affected. “Any time someone receives any type of relief from the collateral consequences of the war on the plant, I’m happy,” Shepard said.

Shepard added that Biden’s next step should be pardoning people like her who have been convicted of other non-violent cannabis offenses, including conspiracy to distribute: “He has the power with the stroke of a pen to bring home thousands who are prisoners of this war.” There’s no doubt that Biden needs to do a lot more to get people out of prison and decriminalize cannabis under federal law; his announcement was “a drop in the ocean of injustice,” said Udi Ofer, the former deputy national political director of the American Civil Liberties Union, speaking to The New York Times.

But it is a step forward. Even if you think it’s lip service, a calculated move to drum up votes, anemic, useless, toothless — can you honestly say that it’s not a move in the right direction? So here’s my plea: let’s all celebrate this win together, no matter how far apart many of us are on so many things. There’s plenty of time to fight over the price of weed, whether or not the marijuana movement has lost its way, how we’re failing the communities most impacted by the drug war, why Biden is terrible; the list goes on and on.

When you’re living in crisis, and everything feels like shit, it’s exceedingly important to celebrate the good stuff. Maybe you’re struggling and feeling angry and hopeless; I know I feel that way a lot of the time right now. And perhaps you and I think differently about politics, religion, and economics. But I bet we both want the same basic things when it comes to cannabis: we want it removed from the Controlled Substances Act, decriminalized at a federal level, and available without criminal penalty to anyone who wants to benefit from it. Those are the fundamentals that you and I agree on. We can fight about the rest later.

Biden moved us forward a square on the big ol’ government chess board, and I’m counting it as a win for weed. Spark one if you agree! Then, come November 8, make sure you vote for the folks who will keep pushing the conversation forward. You can check to make sure you’re registered to vote at And, hey — you’re doing a great fucking job.

The post We Don’t Have To Agree, But You Can’t Tell Me This Isn’t a Good Thing appeared first on High Times.

FDA Hires New Cannabis Policy Advisor

The US Food and Drug Administration could be signaling a new direction in the regulation of cannabis with the recent hiring of Norman Birenbaum as senior public health advisor at the agency’s Center for Regulatory Programs. In the position, a first for the FDA, he will advise the agency on cannabis research and regulatory policy. The FDA appointed Birenbaum, who formerly led cannabis regulation efforts in two states, on September 26.

Birenbaum is an experienced cannabis regulator, serving for four years as the head of the hemp and medical marijuana programs in Rhode Island, where he created the state’s Office of Cannabis Regulation. At the end of 2019, he was appointed New York’s first Director of Cannabis Programs, leading efforts to develop policy and regulate the state’s hemp and medicinal cannabis programs for more than two years. 

While still at the helm of New York’s cannabis oversight efforts, Birenbaum joined with cannabis regulators from 18 additional states to form the Cannabis Regulators Association (CANNRA), serving as the inaugural president of the group. As more states opted into the legalization of cannabis, the group was formed to facilitate collaboration between regulators and help stakeholders find objective data and evidence-based approaches to policymaking and implementation of regulation.

“The Cannabis Regulators Association will provide a much needed forum for regulators to engage with each other to identify and develop best practices, create model policies that safeguard public health and safety, and promote regulatory certainty for industry participants,” Birenbaum said in a statement from CANNRA when the group launched two years ago.

In his new position with the federal government, Birenbaum will be tasked with “advancing [the FDA’s] efforts related to research and regulation of cannabis,” according to an agency announcement cited by Stat

Dr. Douglas Throckmorton, FDA deputy director for regulatory programs, said that Birenbaum’s wealth of experience in cannabis policy analysis and legislative outreach will help the agency form partnerships and collaborate with policymakers and stakeholders including the healthcare community, patients and patient advocacy groups, according to a report from Financial Assets.

Birenbaum’s Appointment Widely Praised by Cannabis Community

Birenbaum’s appointment as an FDA cannabis policy advisor has been well-received by hemp and cannabis policy reform advocates. Shawn Hauser, a partner at Vicente Sederberg LLP and co-chair of the law firm’s Hemp and Cannabinoids Department, wrote in an email to Cannabis Now that his hiring and subsequent efforts could lead to further action on both marijuana and hemp policy reform.

“Given Mr. Birenbaum’s significant experience and leadership in the regulated cannabis industry, especially overseeing NY’s robust medical marijuana and hemp programs and founding CANRA, I’m optimistic that this is a very positive step forward for responsible and sensible regulation of cannabis and hemp at the federal level, including for long overdue federal oversight over CBD and other hemp-derived cannabinoids.” Hauser wrote.

Jonathan Miller, general counsel for the US Hemp Roundtable, said that the move to hire Birenbaum could signal a new willingness by the FDA to regulate CBD. Despite the legalization of hemp agriculture by Congress with the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, the agency has still not issued regulations to allow for the legal use of the cannabinoid.

“After four years of inaction, we are hopeful that the appointment of Norman Birenbaum by the FDA signals a positive step forward for the regulation of hemp-derived cannabinoids such as CBD,” Miller said in a statement from the hemp industry trade group. “We appreciated working with Birenbaum on the development on New York’s landmark regulatory regime for hemp, and we look forward to working closely with him on the development of a regulatory framework for CBD products to ensure consumer safety and product quality across the country.”

And Morgan Fox, the political director for the National Association for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), also applauded the move by the FDA.

“Given the agency’s relatively ineffective approach to this issue over the years, it is good to see them being more proactive and bringing on people with actual cannabis experience,” Fox told L.A. Weekly. “The FDA’s work related to cannabis is likely going to increase and become more complicated in the not-too-distant future, and it should be preparing for this now by continuing to bring on additional staff with a wide array of expertise in the space.”

Birenbaum’s hiring by the FDA continues its measured pace of action on cannabis regulation. In May, the agency announced that Principal Deputy Commissioner Janet Woodcock would chair the agency’s Cannabis Products Council, an intra-agency group tasked with working on cannabis product policy, enforcement and outreach issues, as well as helping the FDA implement a data collection plan for cannabis products.

The post FDA Hires New Cannabis Policy Advisor appeared first on Cannabis Now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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