Recreational Cannabis in Colombia – Coming Soon?

In the last few years, Colombia has been shaping up its legal cannabis policies, legalizing medical cannabis and quickly joining the global medical cannabis market. Now, new legislation climbing its way through Colombian Congress, means that recreational cannabis in Colombia is one step closer to becoming a reality.

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Colombia and drugs in general

Before getting into the specifics of cannabis law in Colombia, and whether recreational cannabis in Colombia will happen, it’s important to understand the situation that Colombia is in with its drug trade.

The first thing to know about Colombia and drugs, of course, is that Colombia is the biggest global hub for cocaine production, and has been for quite some time. It’s estimated that in 2019, approximately 70% of the cocaine consumed in the world, came from Colombia. It’s also estimated that in that year, approximately 18 million people consumed the drug worldwide. Because of the constant infiltration of law enforcement, most of the coca grown in Colombia is grown in more remote areas. Law enforcement, for its part, has been attempting to eradicate fields over the years, by enforcing crop substitutions and even spraying toxic chemicals over fields where coca plants are rumored to be grown. Despite these efforts, its estimated that in 2017, 1,379 tons of cocaine were produced in the country. Efforts of law enforcement to stop the trade cripple the 130,000 families that subsist from farming and selling coca.

To give an idea how much money is made off the cocaine industry, it takes about 125 kilos of coca to produce one kilo of cocaine. This costs a local drug lab about $137.50. Once this is converted into actual cocaine, the value is increased to $2,269. Once it gets to where its going, that same kilo can bring in approximately $60,000 in revenue in a place like the US, or even more in other locations. This is a massive trade in Colombia, and its led to massive amounts of violence.

Colombia cocaine trade

When looking for the ‘all told’ measure of this violence, it’s extremely difficult to find actual death tolls. While there are a few random and varying numbers out there, none of them are direct or verifiable, and while we are all aware of the tremendous destruction of this trade, no one seems to be able to say how destructive. In fact, when questioned about it in light of the Netflix drama Narcos, and a statement made on the show about one kilo of cocaine costing six lives each, former DEA head of intelligence in Colombia, Elizabeth Zili stated, “I really couldn’t give you a number, but it was extremely high. We never totally trusted the statistics we were getting from the [Colombian] government. One never does, no matter where you are.”

The same BBC article did some math to try to figure out if the six people per one kilo made any sense even in 1992, and found the number to be extremely high, even when looking at total global deaths. It established at that time a Colombian murder rate of approximately 80 per 100,000. Even though the murder rate has been cut in half since that time, Colombia still has one of the higher murder rates with approximately 25 murders for every 100,000 people in 2019. This can be compared to the US where the rate in 2018 was 5 per 100,000.

But the funniest part about all of it? These massive cocaine trafficking networks that have been used over the years, started as pathways for the trafficking of – you guessed it – marijuana. In fact, prior to its foray into cocaine, Colombia was providing the majority of cannabis to the US in the 70’s.

Colombia and cannabis

When it comes to cannabis, much like Uruguay, Colombia has been a bit more lax than other places, but a lot of this has been directly to combat issues of drug violence. In general, cannabis is illegal for commercial sale and use, however, unless a person is committing a major cannabis crime, the punishments aren’t that dire. In 1994, around the time of Pablo Escobar’s death, Colombia decriminalized both the personal use and possession of cannabis and other drugs. This was further expounded on in 2012 when it was established that a person could have up to 20 grams without being prosecuted. It was even expanded on further with a Constitutional Court ruling in 2015 which then allowed personal cultivation of up to 20 plants.

In 2018, this was gone back on when president Ivan Duque put forth a decree saying cops could, in fact, confiscate even small amounts of cannabis, and while this didn’t apply criminal penalties to offenders, it did institute a fine of up to 208,000 pesos. It also put a ban on people being able to carry small amounts of cannabis, something that the Constitutional Court already ruled was okay. Consequently, the following year (2019), the Constitutional Court of Colombia ruled that parts of Duque’s decree were unconstitutional. This didn’t get rid of the cops being able to search and confiscate drugs, but it did mean no consequences for up to 20 grams as related earlier by the Constitutional Court ruling.

Sale and supply crimes are most certainly illegal, and having more than 20 grams is considered possession with intent to sell. The maximum prison sentence is up to 20 years, surpassing the punishment for a rape.

Colombian drug war

If it needs to be said, being caught trafficking any drug in Colombia is going to get you in some pretty hot water. Here’s the basic breakdown for what’ll happen to you if you’re dumb enough to transport illegal substances across borders:

  • 10+ kg of cannabis, 2 kg of cocaine, 60 grams poppy-based drugs (like heroin) = 10-30 years in prison.
  • 1000+ kg cannabis, 5kg cocaine, 2 kg poppy-based drugs (like heroin) = 23-30 years in prison.

Medical marijuana and how to get in on it

At the very end of 2015, President Juan Miguel Santos signed legislation for a regulated medical cannabis market. He stated, “This decree allows licenses to be granted for the possession of seeds, cannabis plants and marijuana.” On July 6th, 2016, Colombian Congress approved law 1787 to create a regulatory framework, which was itself enacted in 2017 through Decree 613. While much is written about the investment opportunities that have been opened up through this, the ability to actually obtain cannabis medications for locals seems to be hindered by supply issues, misinformation, and limitations in development and research. The four licenses that can be applied for to enter the legal medical cannabis market are the following:

  • Manufacture of cannabis derivatives – Allows the production of cannabis-derived products for use and scientific research domestically, and for exportation. Interested parties can check details and pricing here.
  • Use of cannabis seeds – Allows sale and distribution of cannabis seeds, as well as use for scientific purposes. Check links for details and pricing.
  • Cultivation of psychoactive cannabis – Allows the cultivation of cannabis as a crop, the production of cannabis derivatives (along with the first license mentioned), use for scientific purposes, storage of cannabis, disposal of cannabis, and production of cannabis seeds. Details for this license can be found here.
  • Cultivation of non-psychoactive cannabis – Allows the production of cannabis seeds for planting, the manufacture of derivatives, industrial uses, and for scientific purposes, as well as storage and disposal. If interested, check for details here.

So…what’s the deal with recreational?

What should be noticed is that Colombia is not the most stringent country when it comes to cannabis laws, and has been updating at quick speeds to allow for more freedoms. So, what about the final legalization for recreational cannabis? While it’s not quite there yet, it really doesn’t seem to be far off, with legislation already starting to make its way through the channels of government. Here’s what’s going on right now in terms of recreational cannabis in Colombia:

recreational cannabis

1st initiative for recreational cannabis in Colombia – Approved on September 16th by the first committee of the Lower House by a vote of 18-17, allowing it to move forward in the Lower House. It was, unfortunately, not able to make it past the next debate in the Lower House, and is being shelved for now. This initiative was led by opposition legislator Juan Carlos Lozada, and if it passes (in the future) it would amend Colombian Constitution article 49 which currently states, “the carrying and consumption of narcotic or psychotropic substances is prohibited unless prescribed by a doctor.” The amendment would therefore have lifted this ban and legalized cannabis for recreational use, and would actually be in line with previous rulings of Colombia’s highest court, the Constitutional Court. To become law, the bill faced eight debates, four each at the Lower House and Senate. It did not make it through this time around, but I keep it here to show what has been happening, and what could come up again in the future.

2nd initiative for recreational cannabis in Colombia – This includes 38 lawmakers led by center-right and opposition parties, initiated by two senators, Gustavo Bolivar and Luis Fernando Velasco. This bill aims to regulate the production and consumption of marijuana, in essence creating a legal framework for its recreational use. The initiative does expressly ban marijuana use for minors, its promotion and advertisement, as well as establishing specific sites for adult use. In order to become law, this bill must be approved by the end of next year, but as it is a separate bill and not an amendment to an existing law, it only requires four debates to pass. The first debate had been set for end of October, moved to Mid-November, but doesn’t seem to have happened yet. While governments have been moving slower in light of the Coronoavirus pandemic, the bill is still very much alive. Those pushing this bill point out how Uruguay diverted around 40% of business from cartels, established 500 jobs, and received €100 million in investments by 2018. They have also pointed out how prohibiting consumption has never led consumers to not be able to access the drug.


Uruguay had a similar problem to Colombia, though not nearly as intense. In order to cut down on the black-market trade of cannabis, it legalized it and established a government-run system to regulate it. Colombia has already done a lot to limit drug violence, decriminalizing many drugs in an effort to thwart it, and the cartels that promote it. A recreational legalization would certainly go in line with this, and I expect that if the current bill doesn’t pass, the next one to be introduced will. It might very well be that with Uruguay, Mexico’s impending legalization, and recreational cannabis in Colombia likely following suit soon, south of the border will be the place to go for legal marijuana.

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Germany Rejected Its Recreational Cannabis Bill

The people of New Zealand just voted down a measure to legalize cannabis through a referendum. New Jersey just legalized it recreationally also through its own referendum. Germany didn’t put the question to its people, but last month the government of Germany rejected its recreational cannabis bill.

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A little about Germany and cannabis

As per the title, recreational marijuana is not legal in Germany. In fact, possessing it at all can garner a person up to five years in prison according to the German Federal Narcotics Act, though conversely, it’s not technically illegal to use it, since there is no stated law against it. If caught with small amounts, offenders are usually put in a program over anything more serious, at least for first-time offenders. The term ‘small amount’ is not very well defined, though, and can mean anywhere from about 6-15 grams depending on where in Germany the possession takes place. Plus, the amount is judged by quantity and potency over actual weight, meaning the THC content helps define the amount in the end.

Sale and supply crimes are predictably illegal, and offenders can receive up to about five years in prison. This sentence goes up from 1-15 years depending on the circumstances of the case. Cultivation on a personal level is also illegal and garners the same punishment as sale and supply crimes.

Germany rejected recreational cannabis

In terms of CBD, while Germany already had been permitting it, the recent decision of the CJEU (Court of Justice of the European Union) in the case of France vs the EU, makes it that much more clear. EU standard has now been found to trump local member state laws when it comes to the import and export of CBD between member states. As per EU standards, Germany does not allow more than .2% THC in CBD oil preparations.

Technically, the medical use of a cannabis drug has been legal since 1998 in Germany when dronabinol was rescheduled. It wasn’t until 2017, however, that Germany further legalized medicinal cannabis. As of 2017, new legislation opened the door for more disorders and sicknesses to be relevant for treatment.

What about Germany’s market?

The thing about Germany is that it already has one of the biggest cannabis markets in the EU, and even in the world, though right now it’s all a medicinal market. In 2019, for example, Germany was the biggest importer and exporter of cannabis oil in the EU. Though the country can’t compete just yet with the US in terms of imports – the US for 2019 imported approximately $893 million worth of cannabis oil making it the clear leader, Germany did get the #2 spot with $240 million worth of oil imported that year. When it comes to exports, Germany led the EU with about $230 million worth of cannabis oil exports, but that was only 4th place in the world. Topping the export list was China, sitting pretty with just under $1 billion worth of cannabis oil exports that year.

Cannabis oil is only part of it. Most of the legal cannabis world still revolves around dry flowers, and Germany just happens to have a massive cannabis flower market as well. And one that is only looking to grow and expand out more. In July, Germany released data on its medical cannabis imports for the first two quarters of the year. While Q1 showed an increase of 16%, Q2 showed a massive 32% increase, and this at the height of the Coronavirus pandemic measures being taken all over the world. To give an idea of what this means via comparison, in 2018, Germany imported about 3.1 tons of cannabis flowers, this was increased to 6.7 tons in 2019, and it looks like it will go much higher than that by the end of 2020. During this time, Germany had such an issue with supply problems that it requested extra cannabis flowers from the Netherlands to help close the gap. Part of the reason for the need for more medical cannabis is simply the increasing number of Germans receiving it as treatment. As of June 2019, about 60,000 Germans were registered with the medical marijuana program in the country, and that number is sure to be way higher by now.

parliament vote

Up until recently, Canada and the Netherlands were Germany’s two biggest and main suppliers of cannabis flowers. However, more recently, it looks like Germany has received flowers from Uruguay (through a secretive back-door move using Portugal to import), and Spain via Linneo, a Spanish cannabis producer. Canada, however, is still the main importer to Germany, with several new companies opening shop in Germany, or planning new exports to the country. To give an idea of how out-of-whack prices have gotten in Germany, consider that the current retail price of a gram of cannabis is about €20. Then consider that this is a medical price, not even a recreational price.

What’s the deal with recreational?

Everything so far should give some idea of how big Germany’s cannabis market is, and how quickly it’s growing. As the biggest market in the EU, it’s not that surprising that the question of a recreational legalization would come up, since, obviously, Germany is pretty okay with use of the plant. However, this sentiment did not come through as a recreational legalization as last month Germany rejected its recreational cannabis bill.

Germany has six main political parties. The Left (holds 69 seats and is in favor of legalizing), the Social Democratic Party of Germany (about 152 seats, technically in favor of legalization, but voted with coalition partner instead – the Union, which includes the Christian Democrats led by Angela Merkel), the Union (two parties making up 264 seats, against legalization), the Greens (67 seats, and in support of legalization), the Free Democratic Party (holds 80 seats, but did not vote on the measure), and Alternative for Germany (somewhere in the neighborhood of 89-94 seats, and against legalization).

On October 29th, the proposed bill for an adult-use recreational cannabis market in Germany was firmly rejected in parliament, despite having plenty of support from different factions of Germany’s parliament. One of the big reasons for this is the coalition between the Union and the Social Democratic Party of Germany. The Union is itself is a coalition between the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (led by Angela Merkel) and the Christian Social Union in Bavaria. The Social Democratic Party of Germany, which though technically is in favor of cannabis reform, tends to vote with its coalition partner, the Union. Together they hold enough seats that any initiative will fail without at least some of their support. In this way, by having the two parties paired together, Germany rejected its recreational cannabis bill squarely.

recreational marijuana

In a way, the coalition is a strange one. The Union, is known as a center-right party associated with Christian movements. The Social Democratic party is center-left. Technically, the two groups have very different stances, and while they might overlap on some issues, they actually seem quite at odds when it comes to cannabis, making their vote together a bit of a headscratcher. Nevertheless, by being joined together, the Social Democrats voted with the Union making for an unbeatable force.

What’s next for Germany?

In the wake of the fact that Germany rejected its recreational cannabis bill, it’s hard to imagine what the next step will be. Unlike with a country like New Zealand, it was not the people of the country who voted the measure down, but rather, parliament on its own. This means the people of Germany are not necessarily on board with this decision, and that could mean new measures arising in the near future. It is, after all, already one of the biggest cannabis markets in the world. The step to legalization gets smaller and smaller as Germany gets more and more saturated with cannabis. Personally, I expect something will happen very soon that will tip the balance in the other direction.

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How to Effectively Use A Weed Filter

Rolling a joint can be an impressive art form. If done correctly, with a good cardboard filter, it can turn an ordinary experience into something more elevated and more enjoyable as the whole joint becomes better.  For health reasons, it’s important to use a filter at all times. There are more reasons, however, to incorporate […]

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Will Mexico Become Biggest Legal Cannabis Market?

Uruguay started it as the first country to go cannabis legal. Canada was the second country to fall. While the US takes its time with infighting between parties and factions, Mexico is ready to sweep in and steal the show, poised to become the biggest legal cannabis market to date.

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It’s true that US states have also gone legal, but a minority of states don’t constitute a legalized country. What is most important about American cannabis legalization, is that America holds the single biggest legal cannabis market with California. This market may very well be eclipsed by the upcoming Mexican legislation that will bring Mexico into the recreational cannabis world.

But how will it really function? And how will it compare to the other legalized countries? Legalizations, after all, are not created equally, and every location has its own set of parameters, and its own structural setup.

A look at Uruguay

Uruguay cannabis

The first thing to know about cannabis reporting is that it’s not very good, anywhere. Numbers vary greatly in nearly every publication, governments don’t seem very excited to release decent information, and writers tend to focus more on long ranging predictions for the market which are so massively variant that it almost feels like they’re not all referring to the same thing. Any specific numbers about cannabis markets, legal or not, should be taken with a grain of salt. Having said that…

Uruguay certainly isn’t the biggest legal cannabis market, and its not in the running right now. Uruguay isn’t terribly concerned with having a massive free market trade when it comes to cannabis. In fact, the Uruguayan system is government run with set places where cannabis can be dispensed, maximum sale limits, and set prices that keep it cost effective. The last time the price was adjusted, it came to $1.23 per gram of flower (which is 53 Uruguayan pesos). About 70% of this amount goes back to producers, while the rest goes mainly to the pharmacy responsible for the point of sale and regulators. As of right now, all of the cannabis sold in pharmacies comes from only two producers – part of the issue for supply problems as these companies have not produced the required amount.

Uruguay had specifically wanted to chip away at the cannabis black market, which is the basis for a system with set (and low) pricing. To anyone not fully paying attention, it means Uruguay sells top quality cannabis, at approximately $4.30 per 1/8th. This greatly breaks the standard price point which globally puts 1/8th of good cannabis at about $50, give or take $10.

Uruguay’s market doesn’t move as quickly as that of Canada or the US states, likely because it doesn’t leave room for huge profits, or corporate manipulation. On the other hand, it’s a much stricter system which makes it harder to actually obtain marijuana. Uruguay has suffered from supply issues since cultivation of marijuana for recreational use is strictly monitored, and only currently allowed by two entities.

Uruguay started its program back in July of 2017, and since its inception up until February of 2020, just under 4,000 kilograms have been sold. This according to the (IRCCA) Institute for the Regulation and Control of Cannabis. More than half of this amount was sold in the capital city of Montevideo. It’s expected that sales would’ve been higher had Uruguay not fallen prey to supply issues.

A look at Canada & the US

Canada was the second country to fully go all-in with cannabis legalization, officially legalizing it in October 2018. Canada has a completely different set-up from Uruguay, offering a free market system where individual businesses can receive licenses to sell cannabis products. Products are priced however manufacturers feel like pricing them, and then duly taxed by the government, either just federally, or locally and federally as well. Based on sales statistics from May of this year, the annual revenue for recreational cannabis in Canada is approximately $1.6 billion. In comparison, Uruguay sold about 4,000 kg over three years, with the last price of $1.23. This makes for approximately $4.9 million. This is obviously a huge difference, and highlights the discrepancy between a free market and a government run system.

Canada cannabis

The US States operate like Canada, offering free markets where cannabis has been legalized, with no set price point (or max price), and the ability for massive government taxes to be added on. In the US, California is the biggest cannabis state, pulling in approximately $3.1 billion in 2019 – though some publications cite this as both medical and recreational together, with very little good information to verify. What does appear true, is that this well surpasses every other legal state (the next was Colorado with $1.6 billion), Canada, and Uruguay, to be the highest grossing single cannabis market.

Does it matter what Mexico does?

These two systems are entirely different in how they operate. One provides a steadier system that can’t be inflated or abused as easily, but comes with drawbacks including supply issues. The other has no real limit in terms of what can be charged or earned, but comes with the drawback of raised price points, and less ability to divert from black markets. So, when looking at Mexico, there are a few things to consider.

I’ve been in Guadalajara for three months now, and while I won’t consider myself an authority on weed here, I’ve certainly learned a bit about how it works. There’s a big different between 1st world and 3rd world countries when it comes to price and quality. Technically the price point for standard ‘good’ weed is about the same, although I have yet to actually buy to the standard that I have in the past. And that’s because it’s not easy to find good pot in Mexico. Most of the Mexicans I’ve encountered don’t even know that the bad smelling, seedy mess they’re smoking is a much lesser form of cannabis in general.

We know from Uruguay that it’s more than possible to provide quality cannabis at an affordable price. Maybe if Uruguay hadn’t legalized first, we might not have known that. I’ve always taken that standard $50 per 1/8th as a general benchmark, and it’s about what I paid in Mexico when I finally found something better than the standard. But Uruguay forces a new question…can the standard price of cannabis be lowered, while still maintaining quality? And if Uruguay can manage it, why is anyone paying anything else??

Mexico’s plans…

It doesn’t look like Mexico is aiming for a government run program. In July of 2020, Mexico released yet more draft legislation from the Secretary of Health regarding its progress in legislation to legalize, which is scheduled to be finalized by December 15th (after several postponements). Mexico technically legalized cannabis judicially when five supreme court rulings were made in favor of legalization. For the past two years, the country has been waiting for its legislative system to catch up, and provide the legal framework made necessary by the court rulings. When court rulings are able to effect legislation in this way, it’s called jurisprudencia.

USA cannabis

Right now, a couple of the issues causing the most concern are how accessible to make cannabis, and whether or not to protect the current 200,000 growers from competition from foreign firms. In a free market, local growers are often made illegitimate by large corporate firms, and that can have devastating effects on local citizens. As of right now, a bill waiting to clear the senate would allow for private companies to sell to the public. One of the points of activist groups is that released draft legislation has easily favored big business over small local growers. Other stipulations not included in previous draft legislation include limits for personal growing, and the need for obtaining a license from the government to smoke.


Right now, in the US, it’s being summarily discovered that if you raise the price of a good beyond a standard and appreciated price point – especially when said product is still easily available in the black market – you won’t be able to divert as much from said black market. In the US and Canada, people are used to paying more, and a certain percentage are even willing to pay inflated dispensary prices. But plenty aren’t, and that’s not even Mexico.

To give an idea, one USD is worth approximately 21 pesos. If anyone wants to wager a guess on how likely anyone in this economy is to be spending standard dispensary prices, go for it. My guess is, not so much. Which raises the question, will Mexico really be serving up high grade marijuana at prices a Mexican can afford?? After all, it raises prices to have regulation, and taxes, without even getting into company profits. How will these companies provide a better product than what’s already the norm, but without going above what the average person would pay for it? In a government run system this is way less of an issue, in a free market system, which Mexico is aiming for, it can mean totally out-of-whack prices, and the failure of a legal market.

Will Mexico Become Biggest Legal Cannabis Market? Conclusion

It’s hard to have faith in this going well. I can’t imagine the same kind of dispensary setup making it here outside of those already rich enough to buy off the menu services that populate the area. The menu services are chock full of high-quality options, geared mainly toward the Americans in Mexico, and those who pull in enough income to make the high cost worthwhile. I haven’t found a Mexican yet who uses them.

So, we’ll see. As the date comes nearer for the legislation to be turned in, I wait, along with the rest of Mexico, to see what comes next. Hopefully in the next few months, it’ll become a standard in Mexico to smoke better cannabis. Otherwise…it’ll just be business as usual. Regardless of whether actual targets are met, with a population of 128 million, Mexico is likely to become the biggest legal cannabis market once legislation is finally passed.

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Grading the Presidential Candidates on Marijuana: Michael Bloomberg

Last fall, we ran a 13-part series taking a hard look at each of the 2020 presidential candidates’ history and views related to marijuana. We assigned each candidate a letter grade corresponding with our analysis (for the final summary post, go here). In that popular series, grading criteria was as follows:

  • Current stance on marijuana: What have they recently said about marijuana legislation? When did they adopt this stance? We awarded higher grades to candidates who currently support legalizing marijuana and even better grades if they have openly supported legalization for more than just the past couple years.
  • Website and social media: Did the candidate include marijuana on their website? How often do they mention marijuana on social media? We used the candidates’ websites and social media as a litmus test of their dedication to the legalization of marijuana. While most candidates have expressed support for legalization, some only speak on the issue when prompted or have very few statements on the matter. If a candidate does not actively advocate for marijuana, we doubt their conviction.
  • Past legislative history: How many marijuana-related bills did this candidate introduce, sponsor or sign? Did this candidate legislate the War on Drugs? How much opportunity did this candidate have to legislate bills? We considered the legislative history of each candidate to determine whether they would be likely to take real action to legalize marijuana as president.
  • Past rhetoric: What has the candidate said about marijuana over the course of their political career? What about the War on Drugs? The views of most candidates have evolved over time, but we gave lower grades to candidates with a history of strong anti-marijuana remarks.

Many candidates have since dropped out of the race, but a handful remain. After we concluded the series, businessman and former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg announced his entry in to the race. Bloomberg’s summary is below.

Grade: D-

Stance on marijuana: This past December, Bloomberg’s campaign told the Wall Street Journal that he supports the decriminalization of marijuana. However, he does not mention marijuana reform on his social media nor on his campaign website. Bloomberg’s website paints the former NYC mayor as a long-time advocate for criminal justice reform, but his past rhetoric and legislative history tell a much different story.

History with marijuana legislation: In 2001, Bloomberg was elected mayor of New York City as a Republican. He won reelection in 2005 and again in 2009. In 2018, Bloomberg registered as a Democrat and in November of 2019 his announced he was running for president.

The topic of cannabis was first addressed publicly by Bloomberg in 2001, when he was asked in an interview if he had smoked marijuana. Bloomberg replied: “You bet I did. And I enjoyed it.”

Despite this lighthearted admission, Bloomberg was opposed to marijuana legalization throughout the course of his mayoral career, in the past referring to cannabis as a “narcotic”, asserting that it reduces IQ, and refusing to acknowledge the possibility of its medicinal use. His time as mayor also coincided with a spike in arrests for cannabis possession. In fact, the number of arrests for possession under Bloomberg exceeded that of the previous three mayors combined. In 2011, Bloomberg also opposed a bill proposed by state senators that reduced the penalty for possession of small amounts of cannabis.

To his credit, Bloomberg softened his stance on marijuana a bit in 2012, when he vocally supported a proposal to end arrests for possessing marijuana in public view. In 2013, the then-mayor also supported a proposal that would change marijuana possession from a misdemeanor to a violation.

Bloomberg’s presidential campaign website presents his time as mayor as successful at criminal justice reform, citing reduced murder rates and reduced incarceration during his time as mayor. Arguably the most memorable aspect of Bloomberg’s mayorship, however, was the expansion of New York City’s “stop-and-frisk” program, which allowed police officers to detain and search members of the public without probable cause. This policing strategy undoubtedly resulted in many arrests and convictions for marijuana possession.

In 2013, a judge ruled that the implementation of this program by the NYPD to be unconstitutional, as blacks and Latinos were disproportionately frisked. Despite this express finding of racial profiling, Bloomberg long maintained his support for the program, vetoing policing reform bills as mayor and claiming that stop-and-frisk was an effective method of crime reduction years after he had left office. This past November, Bloomberg finally admitted that stop-and-frisk had done more harm than good, but this apology comes far too late.

Conclusion: We award Bloomberg a “D-” grade because he does not support the legalization of marijuana and because of his history of anti-marijuana rhetoric and policies. As mayor of New York, Bloomberg actively obstructed attempts to reform the criminal justice system and fully supported a racist policing tactic, even after a judge ruled that its implementation had been unconstitutional.

Two Pending Bills Could Substantially Change Washington’s Cannabis Advertising Laws

Last month, two pieces of legislation were introduced to the legislature that could substantially alter Washington State’s advertising laws: HB 2350 and HB 2321. Each bill would tighten advertising restrictions for cannabis businesses, particularly with regard to advertising that could appeal to youth. Both bills were filed pre-session, and both already have moved into the Committee on Commerce and Gaming. The bills are summarized below.

HB 2350

This bill, “[r]elating to preventing youth marijuana consumption by updating marijuana advertising requirements,” sets forth new advertising requirements intended to reduce youth exposure to marijuana by prohibiting billboards for advertising marijuana. The legislation also seeks to “provide more flexibility for the use of signs and advertisements by marijuana licensees at their licensed premises.”

Existing regulations already prohibit licensees from placing any sign or advertisement for marijuana or marijuana products within 1,000 feet of the perimeter of a school grounds, playground, recreation center or facility, child care center, public park, library, or game arcade that does not restrict admission to persons twenty-one years or older. However, existing regulations also allow for the placement of billboards, which are currently limited to displaying text that “identifies the retail outlet by the licensee’s business or trade name, states the location of the business, and identifies the type or nature of the business.” These billboards cannot depict marijuana or any marijuana products. The purpose of these restrictions is to limit retailers to placing billboard advertisements that provide the public with directional information to the licensed retail store. However, HB 2350 would prohibit all billboards placed by marijuana licensees, regardless of content.

The one concession made in HB 2350 is that the Liquor and Cannabis Board (“Board”) would no longer be able to limit the number or size of on-premises signs or advertisements used by a marijuana licensee at their licensed location.

HB 2321

The second pending piece of legislation, HB 2321, also aims at reducing youth access to all products intended for consumption by adults over the age of 21. Although retailers would no longer be limited to two signs of limited size outside the licensed premises, the Board would be tasked with ensuring that signs are not appealing to youth or those under twenty-one, and sets forth penalty minimums for violations.

This piece of legislation also specifically targets vapor-product retailers, with vapor products not including “any product that meets the definition of marijuana, useable marijuana, marijuana concentrates, marijuana-infused products, cigarette, or tobacco products.”

Regulations around advertising have been constantly evolving since the passage of I-502. The last major regulatory changes surrounding billboard and outdoor advertising went into effect in 2017, when the following restrictions took effect:

  • Licensees are limited to two signs, at a maximum of 1,600 square inches, that are permanently affixed to a structure or building on the licensed premises;
  • Sign spinners, sandwich boards, inflatables, toys, cartoons, movie characters, people in costumes – all prohibited;
  • Signs are limited to identifying the licensee, location, and nature of the licensed business;
  • Signs and logos cannot contain images of plants or marijuana products, including images that indicate “the presence of a product, such as smoke, etc.”

But billboards in particular have long been a source of contention, since meeting the perimeter restrictions is often difficult, especially in densely populated, urban areas. We will continue following the progress of both of these bills, and will update readers if and when a rule change takes place.

Oregon Cannabis 2020: Legislative Forecast and Report

Last week, Oregon kicked off the 2020 legislative session. Because we are in an even-numbered year, this will be a 35-day session. In short sessions, we tend to see fewer pieces of introduced legislation. The prospects for a productive session may also be lower than usual in 2020, given that House and Senate Republicans are threatening to flee the Capitol again (just like in 2019, to stop a carbon cap-and-trade bill). With respect to cannabis in particular, there may be some general fatigue in Salem on both sides of the aisle.

Still, there are a handful of cannabis bills in the hopper and we expect to see at least one omnibus bill wend its way through between now and March 8. Below, I’ve summarized each bill that is or appears to be substantially related to cannabis on the Oregon legislature’s website. I’ve also conferred a bit with our generous contacts in the legislature, informing some of this commentary.

Senate Bills

Senate Bill 1566.  This bill authorizes the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) to create data and analysis “regarding commercial sales and commercial industries.” By and through something called the OLCC Information Technology Infrastructure Fund, the agency presumably would extrapolate and package data on both the liquor and cannabis sides. Sales of this data would be made to industry, or governmental bodies may be interested. The challenge here would be adopting standards to establish exemptions from disclosure of public records, along with the tricky interplay between “proprietary” data and public records law.

Senate Bill 1559.  This bill would prohibit “distributing, selling or allowing to be sold flavored inhalant delivery system products.” It’s a vape ban bill. If passed, SB 1559 would take effect “91 days following adjournment sine die”, which by my calculation is June 7, 2020. This bill will be met with opposition by both the tobacco and cannabis industry, who successfully have litigated (at least, so far) an attempted executive ban on sales of both tobacco and cannabis flavored vaping products.

Senate Bill 1577.  This bill is virtually identical to SB 1559 and also would take effect on or around June 7, 2020. Unlike 1559, it was filed pre-session. But both bills have been assigned to the Senate Committee on Health Care and it’s likely that just one would make it out alive. Should be fun to watch.

Senate Bill 1561. This bill requires the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) to develop an Oregon hemp plan for commercial production and sale. It’s an omnibus bill sponsored in part by Floyd Prozansky, known for crafting much of Oregon’s cannabis legislation over the past several years. SB 1561 also:

  • Directs an “Oregon Cannabis Commission” to determine a framework for future governance of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program
  • Directs the OLCC to adopt rules for registration of medical marijuana grow sites (an attempt to deal with diversion) and establishes plant production limits (same)
  • Specifies health care providers who may recommend medical marijuana use
  • Merges determinations of guilt for certain offenses related to marijuana into a single conviction, and allows the possession of certain items (this looks like clean-up related to 2017’s sprawling SB 302)

This bill is currently in the Senate Judiciary Committee and will see action this week. If there is one bill that I could single out as most likely to go somewhere, it would be SB 1561, and probably in some gut-and-stuff form. Of all its current ornaments, the hemp plan is likely to remain. And if that happens, Oregon will likely have something to submit to the US Department of Agriculture for certification this year.

House Bills

House Bill 4034. This one mirrors a small component of SB 1561: it directs the OLCC to adopt rules for registration of medical marijuana grow sites and it establishes plant production limits. This bill seems likely to die in the Senate, if it ever gets there.

House Bill 4035. This bill directs OLCC, ODA, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) and the Governor’s office to “develop a plan to address issues related to regulatory authority over marijuana.” The bill would take effect immediately and sunset in 2021. Like HB 4034, this one is probably going nowhere.

House Bill 4051. This lengthy submission establishes an Oregon Hemp Commission, similar to other commodities commissions around the state. The Commission would be responsible for developing, maintaining and expanding state, national and international markets for Oregon hemp. This bill is a wild card. Maybe it passes on its own, maybe it dies, or maybe it gets rolled into an omnibus bill. But it seems like a great idea.

House Bill 4072. This industry-supported bill is somewhat similar to HB 4051, although it amends existing statutes rather than cutting from whole cloth. HB 4072 directs ODA to administer an Oregon Hemp State Program for “studying growth, cultivation and marketing of hemp.” It also requires ODA to “conduct criminal records checks of applications for licensure related to hemp.” It’s possible that some of this leaches into HB 4051, but it would be surprising if the bills both went the distance, especially given that each creates a “fiscal impact” which triggers budget review.

HB 4078. This bill is similar to SB 1559. It prohibits “remote sales of inhalant delivery systems” which the bill also defines carefully at Section 1(5)(a). This bill was requested pre-session by Governor Brown herself and has been moving along briskly, already receiving a third reading and “do pass” recommendation. This bill contains an emergency clause and would take effect immediately.

HB 4088 – This bill directs OLCC to establish a Cannabis Social Equity Program to provide discounted licensure fees and other support to program participants. This bill seems to be moving a bit with a work session scheduled today, February 12. Beyond that it is hard to know what will happen, but a serious discussion around this issue at the statewide level is a long time coming.

HB 4156. This skeletal bill directs ODA to advance the design of a cannabis business certification program. The idea is to promote market-based approaches to incentivize low-carbon cultivation techniques that use water and energy efficiently. Seems like a good idea! A grant of $300,000 would come from the OLCC’s Marijuana Control and Regulation Fund and the bill would take effect July 1, 2020.

HB 4158.  In some respects similar to bills covered above, this one directs ODA to develop an Oregon Hemp Plan for commercial production and sale. It also requires OLCC to track commercial cannabis shipments (of all types) through an electronic tracking system and make that information readily available to law enforcement. This is an omnibus bill at present and includes clean-up of criminal offenses sprinkled throughout SB 302. HB 4158 is currently in the House Committee on Agriculture and Land Use. It saw some early action, but nothing appears to be scheduled going forward.

All in all, the next month should be eventful. Interested parties can reasonably expect Salem to produce one or two impactful pieces of legislation related to Oregon cannabis, chiefly on the hemp side. We will check back in after March 8. And if there are any major developments between now and then, we will cover those too.

California Cannabis: DCR Issues City of Los Angeles Licensing Update

On Friday, January 31, the Los Angeles Department of Cannabis Regulation (“DCR”) issued an updates bulletin to stakeholders via email that outlines some important highlights and reminders for licensees and would-be licensees in the City. Below are the key points, with analysis.

1. Round 1, Phase 3 license applicants move forward.

The initial 100 winners in Round 1, Phase 3 are moving forward in the licensing process with the DCR. On September 3, 2019 at 10 a.m., the DCR opened the flood gates to would-be Round 1 applicants. Prior to that date, the DCR verified over 800 social equity applicants (out of 1800 applicants that applied; folks had to be approved as social equity applicants by July 29, 2019). Those 800 social equity applicants vied for the first 100 coveted Type 10 retail licenses (75 of which went to Type 1 social equity applicants and 25 of which went to Type 2 social equity applicants).

Round 1 licensing was first come, first served with an online application via the City’s Accela licensing portal. One of the hallmark criteria for Round 1, in addition to meeting the social equity qualification, was proof of right to real property the intended license type. The real property had to meet all sensitive use buffers and zoning requirements, too. And applicants had to file a slew of other paperwork while racing against the clock (against other applicants) in the City’s online system.

There was immense scrutiny of the Round 1 application process by stakeholders. On October 28, 2019, Council member Herb Wesson alleged in a letter to DCR that:

Over the last couple of weeks, including at the Cannabis Regulation Commission meeting last Thursday, allegations have been made that multiple applicants had access to the application portal prior to the announced start time of 10 am on Tuesday September 3rd. Unfortunately these allegations have been substantiated by the Department at the Commission meeting and the Phase 3 Retail Round 1 process was compromised. While it was always understood that not every applicant would get a license, it is paramount that the application process have the utmost integrity, be transparent, and fair. There appears to be no scenario in which the Retail Round 1 process can meet those three principles currently.

Wesson went on to write that:

I am recommending that the Department: 1) suspend all Retail Round 1 applications; 2) refund all monies paid by Retail Round 1 applicants and cancel all invoices; and 3) prepare a full audit and report by an independent third party not involved in the process – unless there are other options like processing every application that would provide the necessary assurances that the process was not compromised. These are the only options that will provide the clarity and time we need to ensure that the Phase 3 Retail process is fair, transparent, and has integrity .

In the City’s update on January 31, the DCR let everyone know that the first 100 selected applicants are still moving forward and that “the Phase 3 Retail Round One application process is currently under review by an independent third-party auditor. That audit is being managed by the office of the City Administrative Officer (CAO). Once final, the audit will help to inform our approach to the application process.”

As far as when Round 2 of the Phase 3 licensing process will open, the DCR hasn’t said yet. ICYMI, the Round 2 window will be 30 calendar days for 150 licenses that will also go to pre-verified Tier 1 and 2 social equity applicants. In Round 2 though, at the time of filing, applicants only have to submit to the DCR “a financial information form; a labor peace agreement attestation form; and an indemnification agreement.” Those 150 applicants will then have 90 days to supplement their applications with the more robust information required by the DCR. There’s also no update regarding when the Phase 3 general public application window will open.

2. Phase 1s.

There are only 188 Phase 1 EMMDs in the City. Their license renewals are due by the end of March or they forfeit their EMMD status. Simple.

3. Phase 2 pre-licensing inspection has a new deadline.

There are currently 158 Phase 2 applications that received temporary approval from the DCR. However, in order to operate, Phase 2 applicants have to pass a pre-licensing inspection with the DCR and the L.A. Fire Department (and have a state license). The new deadline for Phase 2 applicants to pass pre-licensing inspections is extended to March 31, and Phase 2 applicants must request their pre-licensing inspection by or before March 1.

4. Undue concentration update.

There are currently 10 community plan areas that have reached undue concentration limits. Recall, undue concentration basically stands for soft licensing caps within the City. The areas affected by undue concentration now include Boyle Heights, Central City, Central City North, Harbor-Gateway, Hollywood, North Hollywood-Valley Village, Sherman Oaks – Studio City-Toluca Lake-Cahuenga Pass, Sun Valley – La Tuna Canyon, Venice, and West LA. Folks can still apply for licensure in these areas, but they have to request a finding for Public Convenience or Necessity (PCN) from the local City Council. To date, “the [DCR] has received 75 PCN applications since the opening of Retail Round 1 on September 3, 2019.” It’s important to note that the PCN process is only available right now to social equity applicants.

5. Amendments to applications are now available.

The DCR released some pretty helpful guidance on how to make amendments to your licensing application (including change of entity and/or ownership). See here for instructions on how to fill out the specific form.

We’ll be sure to give a full analysis of the City’s progress towards Round 2, Phase 3 licensing, which is the next big licensing milestone in L.A. So, stay tuned!

State of the State: Washington Regulators Turning a New Leaf (Part 2)

In Part 1  of this two-part series we discussed the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board’s (“LCB”) new rules stemming from SB 5318, which passed last year and forced the LCB to transition from an enforcement-first policy to a compliance-first policy when handling violations. We covered how the LCB will handle Notices of Correction (“NOC”) and Administrative Violation Notice (“AVN”). Today we’ll look at the LCB’s revamped structure for penalties.

The new section at issue is WAC 314-55-509 (“Penalty Structure”).  This replaces WAC 314-55-515, the previous penalties section, and establishes the categories outlined below. I’ll summarize each category and offer some analysis as needed.

Category I.  Violations of a severity that would make a license eligible for cancellation on the first offence.

These violations include purchasing or selling marijuana outside of the licensed marketplace, failing to follow a suspension restriction while a license is suspended, transporting or storing marijuana to or from an unlicensed source, diverting products outside of Washington, allowing a person to become a true party of interest (“TPI”) or receiving funds from a person who would not qualify to hold a marijuana based on affiliation with criminal enterprises or criminal history. These violations are all pretty straightforward.

Category II. Violations that create a direct or immediate threat to public health, safety, or both.

These penalties do not allow the LCB to cancel a license on a first offense but do threaten public safety. Penalties include: selling to minors, engaging in criminal or disorderly conduct, operating an unapproved CO2 or hydrocarbon extraction system, intentional use of unauthorized pesticides, soil amendments, fertilizers, or other crop production aids, adulterated usable marijuana, transportation of marijuana without a manifest, obstruction, failure to use and maintain traceability, pickup, unload, or delivery at an unauthorized location. Some of these penalties can end in license cancellation even without four offenses. This is likely to face scrutiny under SB 5138.

Category III. Violations that create a potential threat to public health, safety, or both.

Unlike the previous two sections, all of these penalties do not result in license cancellation at the first offense. These violations include transporting marijuana while the driver does not hold a valid driver’s license, exceeding the maximum serving requirements for a marijuana-infused product, exceeding transaction limits, failure to follow and maintain food processing safety requirements, failure to maintain required surveillance system, retail sale of unauthorized marijuana-infused products, TPI violations, Financier violations, obstruction, failure to furnish records, failure to use or maintain traceability, and noncompliance with marijuana processor extraction requirements.

Category IV. Significant regulatory violations.

These violations include failure to keep records, marijuana being given away or sold below cost of acquisition, use of an unauthorized money transmitter for retail sales, misuse or unauthorized use of license, selling or purchasing marijuana on credit, engaging in nonretail conditional sales or prohibited sales, unapproved operating or floor plan, failure to maintain insurance, unauthorized sale by a processor to a retailer, packaging and labeling violations, and unauthorized storage or transportation of marijuana.

Category V. Procedural and operational violations.

These violations include operating outside of the approved hours of service (8:00 AM-12:00 AM), general advertising violations, engaging in conditional sales, failing to display identification badge, failure to post requires signage, unauthorized change of business name, transporting marijuana in an unauthorized vehicle, exceeding delivery timeframe, failure to maintain standard scale requirements, unauthorized driver or passenger in transport vehicle, load exceeding maximum delivery amount, violations relating to the return of marijuana at retail, failure to use or maintain traceability,  true party of interest or financier violations. Again, it’s hard to overstate the significance of the inclusion of true party of interest and financier violations here as in the past these offenses would carry a recommended penalty of license cancellation.

Category VI. Statutory violations.

These violations include allowing a minor to frequent a retail store or licensed premises, employee under legal age, opening or consuming marijuana at a retail premises, and retail outlet selling unauthorized product. Unlike the other sections, Category VI does not provide for escalating penalties. Each violation carries a $1,000 fine. This leads me to infer that these penalties do not increase over time.

Stay tuned for more coverage of Washington marijuana as we continue to track the LCB’s moves in implementing SB 5318. Also, don’t forget to check Cannabis Observer, a great resource for documentation of each and every LCB meeting.

Is Tribal Cannabis on a Comeback Tour?

For people in the know, the cannabis industry is an unpredictable roller coaster for a number of reasons having to do with federal illegality, evolving state regulations, and market volatility. One faction of the industry that many thought would immediately take off is cannabis being grown and sold in Indian Country by Native American Tribes. And with good reason–in December 2014, the federal government announced that when it came to cannabis, it would not essentially treat Native American Tribes as it treats the states. Meaning, cannabis in Indian Country would not be a major enforcement priority similar to the states pursuant to the August 29, 2013 Cole Memo.

Since that announcement, a number of tribes indicated an interest in tribal cannabis, and our law firm ended up putting on the first national Tribal Marijuana Conference, attended by more than 400 people, from more than 75 tribes and more than 35 states. Tribes began to move ahead.

The momentum behind tribal cannabis came from the Wilkinson Statement in which the Department of Justice (DOJ) stated it would not focus its resources on prosecuting growing or selling medical or adult-use cannabis on tribal lands, even when state law prohibits it, and the eight enforcement priorities previously outlined in the 2013 Cole Memo were supposed to guide federal enforcement of cannabis laws on tribal lands . It is important to note that none of this changed federal drug laws or the federal government’s ability to enforce those laws. Therefore, any tribe that considered setting up a legalized cannabis regime would have been wise to enact and enforce “robust regulations” so as to comply with the Cole and tribal cannabis memos and to increase its odds of avoiding unwanted federal intervention.

As a result of the excitement on the back of the Wilkinson Statement, several tribes considered regulating, cultivating, and selling cannabis on their sovereign lands. However, very few and perhaps none of those enterprising tribes have experienced much success. Federal intervention was a roadblock in some instances; and even for tribes that entered into state compacts for commercial cannabis production and sales–see, for example, the Suquamish tribe and Warm Springs tribes, in Washington and Oregon–things have been slow to materialize.  Tribes have been beset by internal political and organizational issues, as well as shady consultants and the general chaos that comes with the “gold rush” mentality. In all, the energy behind tribal cannabis slowly fizzled as it became clear that state compacts were pretty much the only way to avoid the Feds when it came to cannabis — and that even those compacts were no guaranty of success.

In early 2018, then acting U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded all DOJ guidance on cannabis, including the Wilkinson Statement. Even before then though, the reality of tribal cannabis hadn’t really materialized. As of today, U.S. Attorneys no longer have any uniform enforcement priorities when it comes to cannabis, and they’re free to address federal cannabis law enforcement as they see fit according to their districts’ priorities and resources. To date, we’re not aware of any U.S. Attorneys taking any action against state-licensed cannabis operators just because they’re in operation in violation of the federal controlled substances act (CSA). And the current U.S. Attorney General, Bill Barr, testified before Congress that he would basically operate according to 2013 Cole Memo principles, which has been accurate to date.

What this means, in all reality, is that tribes can still consider legalizing medicinal and adult-use cannabis on their lands. Whether they should or not will depend on the state in which the tribal lands are located and how and whether the U.S. Attorney in that district is going to treat this tribal experiment. There’s also still the question of whether state cannabis compacts make sense for tribes and how the U.S. Attorneys (now with no Cole Memo in place) will react to tribes that forego compacts.

Perhaps more than any of this, the question of whether legalization on tribal lands makes any business sense still reigns supreme. Is it legally, culturally, and practically better (and cost effective) for the tribe to act as a licensing regulator, a landlord to a licensee, or to be the cannabis licensee itself? Is it better for the tribe to be able to access legalized markets through state licensing systems through a compact that may at the same time eliminate other important tribal cannabis business choices and waive certain tribal sovereign immunity powers? Or is it better for the tribe to treat cannabis like gaming by providing a unique cannabis experience strictly contained within tribal lands but managed by a third party operator?

Tribes likely still have a variety of choices in the cannabis game (including around hemp under the 2018 Farm Bill), but many ambiguities still exist, and no tribal gold standard has emerged. I will say that our firm has seen an uptick of tribal cannabis requests lately (especially in California, which is relatively cannabis-business friendly). This tells me that tribes continue to mull what could still be a very lucrative business opportunity in the years to come. Someone just needs to break the mold.