DEA States New Rules for Synthetic Cannabinoids

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recently announced at the 2023 Supply Chain Conference in Houston, Texas that it will soon unveil new rules regarding synthetic cannabinoids.

The DEA’s Section Chief of Drug and Chemical Evaluation Section, Terrance Boos, spoke on the topic of emerging trends at the conference on May 4. Boos confirmed that the DEA has received “multiple petitions” regarding synthetic cannabinoids, and that they’re currently reworking their rules to reflect recommendations from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Boos’s PowerPoint presentation covered a wide variety of topics, from modifications to drug scheduling, counterfeit pill operations, and internet drug trafficking. One section was dedicated to the “decade of responding to the harm,” which addressed the evolution of designer drugs such as spice/bath salts, synthetic opioids, designer Benzodiazepines, and synthetic cannabinoids “CBD to delta-8 THC.”

Boos noted that the “proposed rule treats synthetic CBD with <0.1% delta-9-THC same as AIA [agriculture improvement act] exempted material,” which could suggest plans to descheduling synthetic CBD.

The presentation also covered a brief history of delta-8 THC, including where it came from, how it’s made, states that have banned or regulated it, as well as data expressing the rise of the delta-8 products in 2021 and 2022. Boos explained that finding delta-8 THC only appears naturally in cannabis in very limited amounts, while most delta-8 THC products are made through a chemical process that coverts CBD into delta-8 THC. “That act of taking that substance in any synthetic step now brings it back under the [controlled substances act],” Boos said.

Boos confirmed that the new rules, which have not been publicly revealed, could change the classification of hemp-derived cannabinoids.

According to a brief analysis by Vicente LLP, the new rules could be on the way soon. “It is important that businesses remain engaged with the current federal agency scheduling activity relating to marijuana and hemp that will impact the legality of cannabis products,” Vicente LLP wrote on its website. “The FDA and DEA are currently poised to make scheduling reforms for both marijuana and hemp, and key congressional legislation such as the 2023 Farm Bill may also change the legal classification of certain cannabis products.”

“We expect DEA to review HHS’s recommendation, develop its own analysis, and eventually publish a proposed rule tracking FDA’s recommendation in the Federal Register,” Vicente LLP wrote on its website. “At that point, there will be a public comment period and an opportunity for interested parties to request on-the-record hearings. Our best guess is that the proposed rule will appear in the Federal Register this fall.”

In February, the DEA published a letter stating that delta-9-THCO and delta-8-THCO are not hemp, and instead are considered to be controlled substances. “Delta-9-THCO and delta-8-THCO do not occur naturally in the cannabis plant and can only be obtained synthetically, and therefore do not fall under the definition of hemp,” Boos wrote in the letter.

Last October, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) held a webinar called “Understanding the FDA’s approach to cannabis science, policy, & regulation.” During the discussion, FDA principal deputy commissioner Janet Woodcock explained that the FDA manages “the scientific and medical assessment” for cannabis using information provided by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). “We are working diligently on looking at the scheduling of marijuana under the Controlled Substance Act and what flexibilities we might have here,” said Woodcock. “That is a very high priority that the secretary of HHS is very interested in. We’re working closely with our partners at NIDA and also at the assistant secretary for [HHS].”

However, Woodcock confirmed that the DEA “has the final word” on decisions regarding scheduling substances. She added that this limitation makes it “very, very difficult” to study cannabis based on the currently existing protocols.

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Nate Diaz Denied Pot Exemption for Drug Test Ahead of Jake Paul Fight

Nate Diaz and Jake Paul will face off in the boxing ring on August 5 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. The eight-round pay-per-view (PPV) event on Showtime is Diaz’s professional boxing debut following his decorated career in mixed martial arts (MMA) as a UFC fighter.

Diaz was denied a request for an exemption from the Texas Department of Licensing & Regulation (TDLR). The TDLR has a zero-tolerance policy for cannabis use, but Diaz’s manager Zach Rosenfield requested an exemption. 

Questions arose whether the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA)—an organization that provides anti-doping practices and programs in boxing and mixed martial arts—may supersede the TLDR, MMA Fighting first reported. A TDLR spokesperson told Steven Marrocco of MMA Fighting that Diaz will be subject to the same rules as everyone else in combative sports.

For the time being, it looks like Diaz will still be screened for THC.

“We will be working with VADA on testing prior to the fight and will be in compliance with all VADA rules, as well as the rules and regulations set forth by TDLR,” Real Fight, Inc. President and Diaz manager Zach Rosenfield told High Times.

Many professional athletes know what they can and cannot get away with regarding drug testing for pot, and the timing involved. “We gonna be testing,” Diaz told reporters at a press conference, referring to the drug test sample. “There’s a lot of weed in [my system]. There is.”

Diaz taunted Paul on Twitter, to which the former YouTuber fired back. “You speaking to me Nathan?” Paul said, responding to Diaz’s tweet. “We haven’t forgotten that you tested positive for steroids. You and your boyfriend Connor are juice heads. Let’s do 15 rounds and see how good those cannabis corroded lungs are. VADA going to be coming to Stockton to slap you up.”

If it were a UFC fight, the request might have resulted in a different outcome. The U.S Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) adopted guidelines to no longer punish UFC fighters when THC is detected in a drug test in 2021.

In addition to mandatory drug tests from TDLR, Diaz and Paul will likely provide samples to the VADA both before and after their boxing match in Dallas.

Everything is on the line, at least for Paul’s boxing career. A surprise knockout by Tommy “The Truth” Fury on February 26 in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia, cost a lot of bettors money. That makes Paul 6-1 in the boxing ring, beating AnEsonGib, Nate Robinson, Ben Askren, and Tyron Woodley twice.

Paul has been subject to drug tests multiple times since his transformation from a YouTube star (along with his brother Logan) to boxing. Paul did not like a question during an interview ahead of the Diaz fight by a reporter who suggested he is not destined for the Hall of Fame.

“See, I’ve done more for the sport than any boxer in current history,” Paul said. “What has Floyd Mayweather done for women’s boxing? The list goes on. I’ve changed the whole entire game, brought a new 70 million followers to the sport and put on bigger pay-per-views than some of these Hall of Fame guys. Ryan Garcia-Gervonta ‘Tank’ Davis, 800,000 pay-per-views. Me vs. Tommy, 830,000. So, you wanna talk about Hall of Famers? You wanna talk about resume? Yeah, I’m building it up, buddy. I just got started in this game. This is my eighth fight and I’m fighting Nate Diaz, one of the biggest MMA fighters in history. So, yeah, that’s my resume.”

Diaz and his brother Nick have spoken out regarding pot reform for years. The two eventually launched Game Up® Nutrition, a plant-based wellness company providing products loaded with cannabinoids, adaptogens, and superfoods.

Over a decade ago Nick told the Los Angeles Times his cleansing method before a drug test. This followed a technical knockout (TKO) win over Frank Shamrock back in 2009, who is also an outspoken cannabis advocate.

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Week in Review: Guitar Legend Carlos Santana Expands Cannabis Brand; Texas Inches Closer to Decriminalization

In this week’s cannabis round-up, Carlos Santana’s Mirayo by Santana adds to its product offering; Texas inches closer to decimalization; federally funded twin study finds lower rates of alcohol use disorder in legal cannabis states and a new report reveals that 42% of adults in the US have used cannabis and are likely to continue doing so.

Photo courtesy of Mirayo by Santana

Guitar Legend Carlos Santana’s Mirayo Brand Debuts New Line of Gummies

Californian cannabis brand powerhouse, The Parent Company, has unveiled an expansion of Mirayo by Santana, the brand developed in collaboration with the iconic musician Carlos Santana. The new line of gummies each contains 10mg solventless rosin in three enticing flavors that draw inspiration from Latin culture: Prickly Pear, Guava and Raspberry. 

Mirayo gummies are made using natural ingredients, delivering a potent and delightful experience for consumers. The new gummies are shaped as a tribute to the sacred heart, a symbol representing the profound connection between human and divine love—a concept that holds immense significance for Santana. The bond between human and divine love is a profound idea that carries great importance for Santana. The name “Mirayo” pays tribute to Santana’s heritage and carries the intention of empowering individuals to “pursue their own radiance.” It is derived from the merging of “my” and “ray” in Spanish, symbolizing a personal connection and embracing the light within each person.

“Mirayo is a celebration of the human spirit,” Santana said in a press release. “An invitation to embrace unity, harmony, and oneness. Through cannabis, I’ve found a tool that enhances spiritual connection and brings awareness to the divine light within. With the help of our friends at The Parent Company, we hope to inspire evolution and empower people to manifest their highest potential. Together, we can elevate our minds and transform pain into joy.”

Mirayo by Santana is available at all of The Parent Company’s retail locations.

PHOTO Summer Woods

Cannabis Penalty Reduction Bill Passes Texas House of Representatives

Texas is potentially edging closer to the decriminalization of cannabis. The Texas House Bill 218, currently progressing through the state legislature, aims to alleviate the penalties associated with cannabis possession in the Lone Star state.

This bill, already approved in the Texas House of Representatives, is projected to significantly and immediately impact the justice system. It specifically reduces the penalties for possessing one ounce or less of cannabis. Notably, the bill directs law enforcement officers to refrain from making arrests for possession and establishes a procedure for expunging prior cannabis charges. Under HB 218, if an individual is found with up to one ounce of cannabis in Texas, it’d be considered a citable offense rather than an arrestable one. Additionally, a fine of up to $500 could be imposed. 

“Spend money where it needs to be spent,” attorney Thad Davidson said. “Utilize resources where they need to be utilized, and skip the rest. And this is one of those things that can be skipped.”

Data from NORML reveals that in 2021 alone, more than 20,000 arrests were made in Texas for cannabis possession. The bill’s journey to becoming a law necessitates approval in the senate as well as Gov. Greg Abbott’s signature.


Federally Funded Twin Study Finds Lower Rates Of Alcohol Use Disorder in Legal Cannabis States

If you live in an adult-use state, chances are you’re less likely to experience alcohol use disorder (AUD), according to a new federally funded study from researchers at the University of Colorado and the University of Minnesota which was The peer-reviewed study published last week in the journal Psychological Medicine.

240 pairs of twins were observed, one in a legal market state and one in another. Researchers discovered that overall alcohol consumption wasn’t significantly different; the twins living in legal cannabis states were “less likely to risk harm while under the influence of alcohol” than their twin residing in a state where cannabis remained prohibited.

“Recreational legalization was associated with increased cannabis use and decreased AUD symptoms but wasn’t associated with other maladaptations,” the researchers wrote. “We established evidence that suggests cannabis legalization causes a 0.11 standard deviation increase in cannabis frequency, whereas AUD symptoms decreased by 0.11 standard deviations driven by reductions in use of alcohol when physically hazardous.”

Photo courtesy of New Frontier Data

The Power of Medical Cannabis in Changing Public Perceptions

New Frontier Data has released a comprehensive report summarizing the results of a recent survey involving more than 4,300 adult cannabis consumers. The survey explored various aspects such as consumption patterns, purchasing behavior, product preferences, expenditures and beliefs about cannabis. Additionally, the survey also gathered insights from more than 1,100 non-consumers regarding their potential use and perceptions of cannabis. 

Titled Cannabis Consumers In America 2023 Part 1: An Overview of Consumers Today, the report reveals that 42% of adults in the US have used cannabis and are likely to continue doing so. Furthermore, it highlights that 37% of adults in the US qualify as “current consumers,” meaning they consume cannabis at least once a year and plan to use it in the future.

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Still Trill

Bernard “Bun B” Freeman was whipping through Los Angeles traffic to make his LAX flight after a whirlwind trip from his home in Houston, Texas. The UGK legend had vowed to fit in as many business meetings and lunches as possible prior to celebrating his wife Queenie’s birthday in Turks and Caicos. Just days earlier, Bun traveled to New York City to unveil his latest collaborative project with producer Statik Selektah, TrillStatik 2, before bouncing back to Houston to announce his first Trill Burgers brick-and-mortar restaurant. Cross-country treks have become the norm for the buzzing entrepreneur and famed Southern lyricist. Since the pandemic restrictions have lifted, he’s been back on the road, promoting his Trill Burgers venture and doing television.

At 49, Bun B has grown accustomed to constant change. Since launching UGK in the late ’80s/early ’90s, he’s been navigating the rise to rap infamy and its inevitable pitfalls with the focus of a trained sniper. Subsequently, he’s still here to talk about it all these years later. His UGK partner-in-rhyme, Chad “Pimp C” Butler, wasn’t so lucky. In 2007, he was found dead of a suspected drug overdose in a West Hollywood hotel room. A coroner later attributed his death to a combination of codeine and promethazine (commonly referred to “purple drank” or “lean”) and a pre-existing condition of sleep apnea. While Bun B was forced to continue his career without Pimp C, he carries his legacy like it’s his religion. In December 2022, Bun B and Pimp C’s widow, Chinara Butler, honored the late rap luminary with a 10th anniversary celebration of UGK Day, an event designed to provide public health resources to the Port Arthur, Texas community.

“That’s always been a part of honoring Pimp C,” Bun B explains to High Times. “His wife in the very early years of him passing away was doing a lot of work in that area. And every time she would honor Pimp C, she wanted to make sure that health resources were available in the community. And I know that was something they wanted to do as a part of UGK Day in Port Arthur [their hometown] as well, especially coming from a community where we come from where we know everyone doesn’t have proper health insurance. We know everyone doesn’t have a balanced diet, and we know there’s a lot of fried food that people eat and things like that. So we want to make sure that people at least have access.

High Times Magazine March 2023, Photo by Todd Spoth

“We all collectively sacrifice for the greater good of all. But everyone is also still responsible for their personal health, too. As I get older, I realize how much more responsible I should have been and could have been. And knowing that kind of stuff now, you’re almost obligated to do better at this point.”

That awareness has translated to Bun B taking better care of himself, too. The day of the interview, the news that fellow hip-hop artist Grand Daddy I.U. had passed away hit social media. It was yet another sobering reminder of our fragility.

“These are my contemporaries, give or take three, four years,” Bun B says, audibly bothered by the revelation. “And we all lived similar lifestyles, I would imagine. And I’m sure we didn’t foresee how foreboding it could have been to be partaking in some of this stuff. And now that we see people our age we know dying from things like that, it’s like, ’Well, damn, if he had a bad heart, what do I have?’ That kind of a thing.

“This is just a part of getting older—not getting old necessarily but just getting older. As you move into different parts of life, you realize, ‘Hey man, I can’t …’ You got to try not to fall down because you don’t bounce back up as quickly as you used to. You’ve got to take care of yourself. And it’s always good to be very self aware. The only way you know how to be fully aware is to constantly get checkups and keep going in for those yearly checkups. And if you’re on medicine, take your medicine and just do everything you’re supposed to do. Because I mean, what’s the alternative? At some point, we all got to grow up.”

Photo by Todd Spoth

While marijuana is still illegal on the federal level, the use of medicinal marijuana is on the rise and 21 states have legalized cannabis for adults. Subsequently, Bun B (who started smoking at 16 years old) finds it preposterous to quit now. He does have one challenge though—everyone wants to get him high.

“I spent a lot of years smoking weed when it was illegal in most places, and it was not cool,” he says with a laugh. “Back then, it was a big counterculture. So now that weed is accepted in most modern societies and it’s available legally in more places than it has ever been in America, why give up on weed now? But I have to be careful when I go to certain places. When you go to New York, you’re bombarded with weed. When I go to Washington, D.C., I’m bombarded with weed. And when I go to Illinois, same thing. I mean, God forbid I go to San Francisco! There’s no way these people could expect me to smoke all the weed that they’re trying to give me. That’s insane. But I do my best. I try not to let them down.”

The TrillStatik 2 album listening party was a perfect example. VIP guests were greeted at the door with a blunt, courtesy of one of the many blunt rollers on site. The Astor Club donated a half pound of RS-11 to the cause, while Puffco hosted a giveaway and Trichadelics and Pressure Labz handed out complimentary globs. Of course, Bun B had all the weed he could handle. 

He also continues to fight for legalization in Texas, something he’s been vocal about for years. While the victory has yet to be won, there have been signs of progress. Recently, residents in Denton, San Marcos, Killeen, Elgin, and Harker Heights approved ballot measures that sought to ban arrests and citations for carrying less than four ounces of marijuana in most cases. They also approved new rules blocking cities from funding THC concentration tests and plan to remove marijuana smell as a probable cause for search and seizure. Now, they just have to convince city officials—not an easy task. 

Photo by Todd Spoth

In the meantime, Bun B is looking forward to LL Cool J’s Rock The Bells Cruise. He found success last summer at the inaugural Rock The Bells Festival with his Trill Mealz Food Court, which boasted culinary creations from Nas, E-40, Jadakiss, Styles P, Ghostface Killah, Mia X and, of course, Bun B’s Trill Burgers. He’s hoping to take the concept to the open seas.

“I think that’s what we’re talking about,” he says. “I’ve already signed on to bring Trill Burgers to the cruise, so Trill Burgers will definitely be there. With it being Rock The Bells, we would definitely like to present the Trill Mealz Food Court again. And we couldn’t think of a better place to have that available for people than on this cruise. We’re going to be talking to different vendors and, obviously, there’s so many different people in that space that we wanted to get for the first food court that we just simply could not coordinate in time. So hopefully with us having so much lead up time into this, we can try to get on people’s calendars earlier. We just have to manifest it.”

This article was originally published in the March 2023 issue of High Times Magazine.

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Elon Musk Plans To Launch SpaceX Starship Rocket on 4/20

The test flight of SpaceX’s highly anticipated Starship rocket—eventually en route to the moon and Mars—was delayed from its original launch date on Monday and rescheduled for a new day: April 20.

The rocket remains on the launchpad located in Cameron County, Texas, approximately 17 miles east of Brownsville, while engineers get the rocket’s pressurized system ready again, which unexpectedly froze. “A pressurant valve appears to be frozen, so unless it starts operating soon, no launch today,” Musk initially tweeted Monday.

“SpaceX is targeting as soon as Thursday, April 20 for the first flight test of a fully integrated Starship and Super Heavy rocket from Starbase in Texas,” the company posted. “The 62 minute launch window opens at 8:28 a.m. CT and closes at 9:30 a.m. CT.” The fact that it will launch on April 20 is “perhaps inevitable,” Musk tweeted in reply to the announcement.

What makes Starship unique is its fully reusable transportation system designed to carry both crew and cargo to Earth orbit. Musk and the SpaceX team believe that humanity will return to the Moon and travel to Mars. This particular test will help SpaceX improve the probability of success in the future. 

“To date, the SpaceX team has completed multiple sub-orbital flight tests of Starship’s upper stage from Starbase, successfully demonstrating an unprecedented approach to controlled flight,” SpaceX wrote. “These flight tests helped validate the vehicle’s design, proving Starship can fly through the subsonic phase of entry before re-lighting its engines and flipping itself to a vertical configuration for landing.”

SpaceX explained why there are so many factors that can delay a space flight.

“In addition to the testing of Starship’s upper stage, the team has conducted numerous tests of the Super Heavy rocket, which include the increasingly complex static fires that led to a full-duration 31 Raptor engine test—the largest number of simultaneous rocket engine ignitions in history. The team has also constructed the world’s tallest rocket launch and catch tower. At 146 meters, or nearly 500 feet tall, the launch and catch tower is designed to support vehicle integration, launch, and catch of the Super Heavy rocket booster. For the first flight test, the team will not attempt a vertical landing of Starship or a catch of the Super Heavy booster.”

A live webcast of the flight test will begin about 45 minutes before liftoff. As is the case with many space-related launches, this schedule is dynamic and likely to change.

“During the next attempt on Thursday, the Super Heavy booster will detach and then make a hard splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico about eight minutes after liftoff. Starship’s upper-stage spacecraft will make a partial lap around Earth, coming down in the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii around 90 minutes after launch,” the report said.

Is the 4/20 date significant? Probably, given Musk’s past five years in the spotlight: On August 7, 2018, Musk tweeted he was mulling over taking Tesla private, quoting a price of $420 per share for the buyout.

He told the New York Times that he’s aware of how popular weed is, but he’s not sure how it could help productivity, to be candid. “It seemed like better karma at $420 than at $419,” Musk said. “But I was not on weed, to be clear.” That all changed a month later on a podcast appearance on The Joe Rogan Experience.

On September 6, 2018, Musk smoked a blunt on episode #1169 of The Joe Rogan Experience. Rogan himself became embroiled in the topic of free speech due to his Spotify fiasco, over concerns the podcaster was sharing information that wasn’t medically sound.

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Texas Bill Approved in House, Would Expand Medical MJ Eligibility, Replace THC Cap

Texas has some major changes surrounding cannabis on the horizon.

The state’s House of Representatives has given initial approval to a bill allowing doctors to recommend medical cannabis to patients as an alternative to opioids for chronic pain treatment. The bill would specifically expand eligibility for low-THC cannabis products, granting legal access to patients with “a condition that causes chronic pain, for which a physician would otherwise prescribe an opioid.”

According to the Center for Disease Control, one in five Americans live with chronic pain. In 2021, more than 106,000 people in the U.S. died from a drug-involved overdose, including illicit drugs and prescription opioids, according to the National Institutes of Health. In Texas specifically, there was an 80% increase in reported synthetic opioid-related deaths in 2021 compared to 2020, according to the Texas Workforce Commission.

Conversely, even the DEA admits that no deaths from cannabis overdose have ever occurred.

A New Chapter for the Texas Cannabis Industry?

The legislation, House Bill 1805, would also replace the THC cap established under Texas’s existing medical cannabis law. Texas’s medical cannabis law is currently CBD-only, with a cap of 1% THC for cannabis oil. Should the bill be enacted, the THC limit would shift to the volumetric dose of 10 mg. The bill further stipulates that Department of State Health Services (DSHS) regulators could approve additional debilitating medical conditions to qualify new patients for the cannabis program through rulemaking.

The bill from Rep. Stephanie Klick (R) cleared the chamber after a 121-23 vote on Tuesday, and it needs one more round of approval in the House before it can move to the Senate. If enacted, the bill would take effect on Sept. 1, 2023.

Texas NORML has also encouraged supporters in the state to reach out to lawmakers and voice their support of the reform, encouraging lawmakers to approve it. Jax James, executive director of Texas NORML, said in a news release that he is “thrilled” to see the advancement of the proposed legislation.

“Passage of this legislation will provide qualified patients with a state-sanctioned option to access a therapy that has proven to offer significant benefits,” Jones said. “Medical cannabis is an objectively safer alternative to the array of pharmaceutical drugs that it could potentially replace. I urge my fellow Texans to voice their support for this important legislation and to reach out to their Senators to encourage their backing as it moves through the legislative process.”

One of Many Recent Shifts

Of course, this move could be seen as a small step compared to other states that have enacted more wide-reaching medical cannabis legislation, or ended prohibition as a whole, though it still represents significant expansion for Texas. It’s also one of several recent moves that show Texas may be broadening its horizons when it comes to cannabis.

Texas lawmakers recently held a hearing on House Bill 218 that, if passed, would lower the penalties for possession of cannabis and cannabis concentrates. Last month, the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee also voted 9-0 to pass a bill that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of cannabis.

On Election Day 2022, five Texas cities also voted to decriminalize low-level cannabis possession: Denton, San Marcos, Killeen, Elgin and Harker Heights. In the weeks since, some cities clashed with lawmakers, who argued that the decriminalization effort violates state law and hinders police officers.

Recently, a Texas Federal Court also ruled that the federal ban on cannabis users owning firearms is unconstitutional. The judge on the case, Kathleen Cardone, said, “It strains credulity to believe that taking part in such a widespread practice can render an individual so dangerous or untrustworthy that they must be stripped of their Second Amendment rights.”

Texas Residents Favor Updated Cannabis Policies

And while Texas still has very restrictive cannabis laws, they don’t align with views the state’s citizens hold.

According to a University of Houston study released earlier this year, out of 1,200 Texan adults 18 and older, four out of five adults said they would support an expanded medical cannabis program. The survey also found that the majority of respondents supported decriminalizing cannabis possession, lessening the penalty of possessing small amounts of cannabis to a citation, and two-thirds of surveyed individuals support legalizing cannabis for adult use.

Another poll, conducted by the University of Texas and the Texas Politics Project in 2022, similarly found that a strong majority (72%) back decriminalizing cannabis by making the offense punishable by a citation and fine with no threat of jail time. Only 17% said they would support a complete prohibition on cannabis usage, including medicinal cannabis.

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Texas Federal Court Rules Firearm Ban on MJ Users Unconstitutional

The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas has ruled that banning cannabis users from possessing firearms is unconstitutional. The court also said the legal principle applies to the sale and transfer of guns. The win was delivered through Paola Connelly, an El Paso resident convicted of separate charges for possessing and transferring a firearm in 2021 while admitting to consuming cannabis.

This recent case in Texas is one of at least four active federal cases surrounding the government’s policy on cannabis and gun ownership.

Under current federal law, cannabis consumers are prohibited from owning or purchasing firearms because they are “an unlawful user or addicted to” a controlled substance. It’s a ban that applies to all cannabis users, including those in states with legal medical and/or recreational cannabis laws.

Another Federal Ruling Against the Ban

Judge Kathleen Cardone granted a motion to reconsider the case, and charges were ultimately dismissed last week. The court had previously issued a conviction, though it said a more recent ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit merited another look. That case, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, found that any firearm restrictions must be consistent with the Second Amendment’s original 1791 ratification.

“Quite simply, there is no historical tradition of denying individuals their Second Amendment rights based solely (or even partially) on the use of marijuana,” the case filing states.

Judge Cardone often disputed the Justice Department’s attempts to fall back on its typical arguments around cannabis consumption and gun ownership, like comparing the ban to laws against operating a firearm under the influence of alcohol or gun possession by “unvirtuous” people. She also cited President Biden’s 2022 decision to mass pardon people with federal cannabis possession charges.

“…Even if Connelly were convicted of simple marijuana possession, that conviction would be expunged by the blanket presidential pardon of all such marijuana possessions that, like Connelly’s, took place before October 6, 2022,” the ruling states, even though Biden’s clemency action didn’t actually expunge records.

Dismantling the DOJ’s Argument in Texas

The court added that, since cannabis possession would only rise to a misdemeanor under federal law, “any historical tradition of disarming ‘unlawful’ individuals does not support disarming Connelly for her alleged marijuana use.” The court challenged the Justice Department’s argument in favor of the ban given that the defendant wasn’t ever convicted of a cannabis offense. Rather, she just admitted to using cannabis.

“In short, the historical tradition of disarming ‘unlawful’ individuals appears to mainly involve disarming those convicted of serious crimes after they have been afforded criminal process,” the ruling reads. “Section 922(g)(3), in contrast, disarms those who engage in criminal conduct that would give rise to misdemeanor charges, without affording them the procedural protections enshrined in our criminal justice system. The law thus deviates from our Nation’s history of firearm regulation.”

The court also challenged the assertion that cannabis users are inherently dangerous, citing the fact that more than 20 states now have legal adult-use cannabis and it’s now a regularly used substance by millions of Americans.

“It strains credulity to believe that taking part in such a widespread practice can render an individual so dangerous or untrustworthy that they must be stripped of their Second Amendment rights,” Cardone said.

Similar Ruling From a Neighboring State

The case follows another recent Oklahoma City ruling in February, where a federal judge similarly ruled that the firearm ban on cannabis users is unconstitutional and must not be enforced by prosecutors.

That case involved Jared Michael Harrison, who was arrested by police in Lawton, Oklahoma after officers found cannabis and a loaded revolver in his car during a traffic stop. Harrison told police he was heading to work at a legal medical cannabis business but did not have a state-issued ID card showing he was authorized to use medicinal cannabis.

Harrison’s attorneys challenged the charge, similarly arguing that the firearm ban is not consistent with the country’s tradition of regulating firearms, also citing New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen.

U.S. District Judge Patrick Wyrick similarly rejected the argument that Harrison’s status as a cannabis user “justifies stripping him of his fundamental right to possess a firearm” and ruled that the federal ban on gun ownership “is not a constitutionally permissible means of disarming Harrison.” Wyrick added that cannabis use “not in and of itself a violent, forceful or threatening act.”

The federal court’s full ruling in the Texas case is available here.

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Texas Expands Restrictive Medical Pot Program To Combat Opioid Epidemic

Texas is broadening its restrictive medical cannabis program to include patients fighting chronic pain, the Houston Chronicle reports, in addition to expanding approved THC dosing limits from one percent to 10mg. While that may seem shockingly low to medical patients in states with more liberal cannabis laws, currently, Texas’s medical marijuana law is CBD-only, as it allows for only one percent of THC. The new law, which goes into effect on September 1, 2023, might not win the Lone Star state stoner points, but at the least, it’s a step in the right direction. The original bill tried to cap the prescribed THC dose to 5mg but then amended the bill to a volumetric dose limit of 10 milligrams.

Legal adult-use cannabis in Texas is non-existent, so forget about strolling into a dispensary to grab some dabs anytime soon. The state’s Compassionate-Use Program, or CUP, was initially passed in 2015, limiting medical use of less-than-one-percent cannabis to intractable epilepsy. The list of qualifying conditions was expanded in 2019 and again in 2021 by the Texas Legislature to include autism, cancer, multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress disorder, multiple sclerosis, and several others

Now, Texas lawmakers drafted a bill that adds “a condition that causes chronic pain, for which a physician would otherwise prescribe an opioid” to the list. According to the CDC, 1 in 5 Americans lives with chronic pain. Per the newly passed Texas bill, the Department of State Health Services will be allowed to specify which “debilitating medical conditions” qualify for the program.

The bill, HB 1805l, was written by Republican Rep. Stephanie Klick and was approved by the House Public Health Committee with a 10-0 vote Monday, March 20. The passage of HB 1805l comes after further momentum from lawmakers in the state. Earlier in March, Texas lawmakers held a hearing on House Bill 218 from Democrat Rep. Joe Moody that, if passed, would lower the penalties for possession of cannabis and cannabis concentrates.

While Texas cannabis laws, in accordance with their other social policies, such as reproductive rights, are still highly regressive, this new bill does show that Texas is aware of the grave issue of opioid addiction and seeks to tackle it from a harm reduction perspective, by allowing chronic pain patients cannabis. According to the National Institutes of Health, more than 106,000 persons in the U.S. died from a drug-involved overdose in 2021, including illicit drugs and prescription opioids. According to The Texas Workforce Commission, there was an 80% increase in synthetic opioid-related deaths reported in Texas in 2021 compared to 2020. In addition, as Benzinga points out, a recent study shows that direct payments from opioid manufacturers to physicians have significantly decreased following the legalization of medical cannabis. And, as a reminder, even the DEA states that no deaths from cannabis overdose have occurred. While recreational cannabis is illegal in Texas, you can pick up some nasty (and fatal) synthetic THC options if you need a deadly reminder of the hypocrisy of strict marijuana laws. 

While the cannabis laws in Texas are highly restricted, they do not necessarily match the state’s citizens’ views on the plant. According to a study at the University of Houston, which conducted an online survey of 1,200 Texan adults 18 and older, 4 out of 5 adults said they would support an expanded medical marijuana program. Those surveyed also said they favor decriminalizing marijuana possession, and additionally, two-thirds of them said they would support legalizing recreational adult use. So, while the newly passed bill is a win for chronic pain patients, the state’s lawmakers have much work ahead of them if they wish to address their voter’s needs accurately.   

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Texas Committee Unanimously Votes to Pass Decriminalization Bill

Last week, the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee voted 9-0 to pass a bill that would decriminalize small amounts of cannabis. This was the first hearing for House Bill 218, which is sponsored by Rep. Joseph Moody (who is also chair of the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee) as well as Rep. Harold Dutton, Rep. Charlie Geren, Rep. Rafael Anchia, and Rep. Briscoe Cain.

“I’ve been on a journey with this one. The essence of this bill is really simple even though the language may be a little bit confusing,” Moody said at the hearing on March 7, according to the Dallas Observer. “There are tens of thousands of arrests for personal use possession in Texas annually and those cost our state hundreds of millions of dollars every single year, not to mention countless hours of law enforcement and prosecutor time. They also tag people, mostly young people, with criminal records that create life-long obstacles to jobs, education, housing and other opportunities. That’s an awful investment and an awful outcome any way you slice it.”

If passed into law, HB-281 would lessen penalties for cannabis possession. According to the bill text, a Class C misdemeanor applies to possession of one ounce or less (and wouldn’t lead to arrest), a Class B misdemeanor applies to possession of two ounces or less, but more than one ounce, and a Class A misdemeanor covers the possession of four ounces of cannabis, but more than one ounce. Moody explains that these changes will help prevent people from getting arrested for small amounts of cannabis. “House Bill 218 changes that system to right-size the penalty,” he said.

Additionally, an individual convicted of one of these misdemeanors will be required to be placed on deferred adjudication community supervision. After completing the requirements of that, their record can be expunged of the conviction.

“Basically, the person [who] is given a ticket goes to court, they’re assessed a fine, then the court tells them, ‘You’ve got six months to pay and you need to stay out of trouble during that time,’” Moody explained. “If the person does their part, the court dismisses the charges, and on a request of the individual, deletes the entire record of it.”

“The person walks away lighter in the wallet, but without any criminal record whatsoever,” Moody continued. “The only difference between this and previous versions of this bill is that it incorporates another effort that we’ve been working on side by side to create parity between leaf cannabis and concentrates. In other words, when someone has a joint or a vape pen we’re going to treat them the same, which isn’t the case under the current law.”

Advocates are optimistic that the bill will continue to progress, but it still needs to be scheduled for a hearing in the full Texas House of Representatives, followed by the Senate. Previously, similar bills such as HB-63 in 2019 and HB-441 in 2021 passed in the House but were not passed in the Senate.

There’s a lot of hope for Texas on the cannabis front. A 2022 summertime poll showed that 55% Texans support cannabis legalization, and 72% support medical cannabis. Last November, residents in five Texas cities, including Denton, San Marcos, Killeen, Elgin, and Harker Heights, voted to approve decriminalization efforts. Recently in January, the Texas Department of Public Safety announced that it is taking applications to possibly expand the number of medical cannabis dispensaries in the state. Only three medical cannabis dispensaries have been licensed over the past three years.

At the end of February, there were reports of law enforcement officers ignoring a cannabis decriminalization ordinance in the city of Denton.

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M-1 of dead prez Discusses Criminal Justice Reform, Last Prisoner Project Benefit Concert

People remain behind bars for cannabis-related convictions despite the abundance of legalization and decriminalization measures that roll out in the U.S. Rather than be apathetic about cannabis prisoners, it’s time to do something about it.

Keep Austin Weed is partnering with cannabis criminal justice reform nonprofit Last Prisoner Project (LPP) and pioneering hip-hop group dead prez. LPP focuses on three key criminal justice reform initiatives: prisoner release, cannabis record clearance, and reentry support. 

Dead prez will be performing at a benefit concert for LPP on March 13 from 6-10 p.m. at the Far Out Lounge & Stage during the South by Southwest (SXSW) tech, film, music, education, and culture festival in Austin, Texas. The Far Out Lounge & Stage provides more information about the event Let’s Get Free on the website.

The event marks the appointment of Mutulu Olugbala, aka M-1, of dead prez, to LPP’s Board of Directors. He’ll be joining cannabis industry leaders, executives, and activists who are committed to supporting LPP’s mission to free cannabis prisoners who still remain behind bars.

There will be a performance by dead prez along with special guests, including Blindspotting creators Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs (Hamilton), both of whom appear in the original 2018 film.

Arrests Continue

According to the FBI’s Crime Data Explorer, state and local law enforcement agencies reported 170,856 arrests for cannabis possession in 2021, slightly down from over 226,000 in 2020. And Texas was home to the highest number of arrests, with over 60,000 arrests.

Despite all of the decriminalization measures, including Texas’s city-level decriminalization measures, the arrests continue, and people remain behind bars for outdated laws. LPP estimates at least 40,000 remain incarcerated in the U.S. for crimes involving cannabis. 

“Indeed this is fundamentally wrong,” M-1 tells High Times. “It’s plain to see that the U.S. agenda of mass incarceration is still their priority. This is glaring due to the changed public perception and recent decriminalization of cannabis. These contradictions expose the depth of injustice in this country as the undeniable power of plant medicine continues to grow.”

The mixed messages we get from the government aren’t going to work. 

That’s one of the reasons M-1 agreed to join Last Prisoner Project’s Board of Directors.

“The Last Prisoner Project has done tremendous work fighting for the justice and freedom of cannabis prisoners which completely aligns with work I have been doing as a revolutionary cultural worker. I’m excited to be seated on this board and bring my years of experience and resources to this mission,” M-1 says. “LPP is the counterbalance to a growing cannabis industry which should be celebrating this legacy and people who paid the price to push our culture forward.”

Courtesy Last Prisoner Project

Get Political with dead prez

Check out LPP’s latest Pardons To Progress campaign that puts pressure on local governors to use their clemency power to release those incarcerated for cannabis offenses on the state level if you want to get involved, M-1 says.

If you’ve been listening to dead prez for the past two decades, the group has adopted a strong political tone since day one. 

“Since everything is political in my opinion, we have to hold this government and present administration to their promise to release cannabis prisoners,” M-1 says. “It’s imperative that we engage in this fight in every circle we may find ourselves in as most of us have been affected by the unfair imprisonment of so many of our family and community. I have been fortunate to use music and culture and tools to spread our word and raise our platforms.” 

Let’s Get Free Concert hosted by Keep Austin Weed takes place in Austin where voters decriminalized cannabis, along with a handful of other cities in Texas. The next step is anyone’s best guess.

“Abolishing prohibition in Texas (and nationally) would be a tremendous victory for our populace. The economic benefit alone would literally be reparations to all of us who have been impacted negatively by this outdated legal system,” M-1 says. “Dead prez will be shouting this message from the stage along with some special guests at the Far Out Lounge in Austin. With a global spotlight on Texas during that time, LPP will have a great opportunity to gain more support.”

Cannabis Prisoners

Richard DeLisi served 32 years of a 99-year sentence for a nonviolent crime. He was released from prison on Dec. 8, 2020. But during his time in prison, DeLisi’s wife and other family members passed away. His daughter was paralyzed, and he missed many memories. At age 71, he was released from prison in Florida, making him the longest-serving, nonviolent cannabis prisoner in the U.S. People like DeLisi deserve to have an early hand in legal cannabis, probably more than anyone.

“First of all—free all cannabis prisoners!” M-1 says. “Welcome home to Mr. DeLisi and I’m so happy to be sharing a space with him to call for more people like him to get what they deserve… Justice!! The Legacy Operators should be the fashioners of what the transition to legal cannabis should look like in order to avoid the bureaucracy that has happened in other states that are attempting to build competent weed policies. Richard DeLisi has a legal cannabis brand named DeLisioso and they are actually the presenting sponsor of the concert.”

Police brutality and general overreach continues to overlap with outdated cannabis laws. In Denton, Texas, for instance, cannabis was decriminalized, but city management and police chose to arrest people anyways.

“I have endured the traumatic experience of law enforcement harassment many times,” M-1 says. “Part of what must be done is to deal with mental health challenges that have arisen around our colonial relationship to the police. I represent a generation of people who have been persecuted for recognizing cannabis as a wellness.”

Join dead prez March 13 at the Far Out Lounge & Stage during SXSW in Austin.

“We will right these wrongs, M-1 says. “Free ‘em All!!

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