New York Bill Adds Transgender Community to Social Equity Program

A New York lawmaker has proposed legislation that would extend the benefits of the state’s cannabis social equity program to members of the transgender and nonbinary communities. 

The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) passed by New York lawmakers in March includes social and economic equity provisions designed to give licensing priority for the state’s upcoming adult-use cannabis market to members of communities disproportionately harmed by the War on Drugs, minority-owned businesses, women-owned businesses and other marginalized and under-represented groups. 

The legislation does not specifically mention transgender or nonbinary individuals, guidelines that unintentionally force such individuals to choose “between their gender identity and receiving priority for a license,” according to a bill introduced recently by Democratic New York state Senator Jeremy Cooney. For example, a nonbinary or transgender person assigned the female sex at birth would have to misgender themselves to qualify for social and economic equity benefits.

“The MRTA was crafted with a focus on equity at all stages of implementation in the new recreational adult-use cannabis market. I am proud to sponsor legislation that will build upon that foundation to include members of the transgender and nonbinary communities,” Cooney said in a press release. “No New Yorker should have to choose between their identity and economic opportunity. I look forward to creating a more inclusive new cannabis market for members of the LGTBQ+ community.”

Under Cooney’s proposal, Senate Bill 7157, the MRTA would be amended to explicitly include transgender and nonbinary persons in the provisions extending licensing priority. The legislation defines a transgender or binary person as “any person who has a gender identity or expression different from the sex assigned to that individual at birth.”

“This legislation would help to prevent New Yorkers who are transgender or nonbinary from being denied this economic opportunity because they live as their authentic selves. In addition, it recognizes that these New Yorkers suffer financially due to social and systemic bias, and that steps must be taken to mitigate that harm,” Kevin Barry, president of the Greater Rochester LGBTQ+ Political Caucus, said of Cooney’s bill. “While there is a long way to go, this bill is a well thought step toward equity for persons who are transgender or nonbinary. It is critical that lawmakers consider this part of their constituency whenever they create or vote on legislation.”

Advocates Support Proposal

Rachel Leavy, the owner of Infused Events Rochester, applauded the bill from Cooney, who has been a vocal supporter of legalizing recreational marijuana and protecting the other-than-heterosexual community.

“As an activist in both the cannabis and LGBTQIA+ worlds, I’m thrilled to see legislation intersecting both,” Leavy said. “If this bill passes, I will have the chance to participate in the cannabis industry and carve out a space for the queer community, providing safe access to cannabis, career opportunities, and continued outreach. This bill is just the start of something much larger to address the long-overdue representation of trans and nonbinary folks like myself.”

Amanda Babine, executive director of the social and political advocacy group Equality New York, said that the organization “was proud to support the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act.” 

“Since the passage, we have focused on ways we can ensure the rollout of this legislation is truly equitable,” Babine added. “We commend Senator Cooney for introducing legislation that will ensure the Transgender, Gender Non-Conforming, & Non-Binary (TGNCNB) community be included in the social and economic equity plan. EQNY was proud to endorse such a strong ally like Senator Cooney.”

S. 7517 was introduced in the New York Senate by Cooney on November 12 and has been referred to the Senate Rules Committee for consideration. Senator Alessandra Biaggi, also a Democrat, has signed on as a co-sponsor of the legislation. The measure will take effect immediately if it is passed by the legislature and signed into law by New York Governor Kathy Hochul.

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3 Years Of Legal Marijuana in Canada: Pros, Cons & What The US Can Learn

So much has happened in the three years and a month since Oct. 17, 2018 that you could be forgiven for forgetting the biggest news of that day: the first day of marijuana legalization in Canada.

America’s slightly more affable and polite neighbor to the north was the second country in the world after Uruguay to allow adults to possess, use, grow, and purchase cannabis — but the first to encourage what could be called “an industry,” welcoming international investors onto to Canadian Stock Exchange, and allowing the construction of titanic greenhouses big enough to get everybody on the continent buzzed.

Though many Americans know Canadian cannabis mostly through the billion-dollar publicly traded companies, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government initially set out to accomplish three things with legalization, (none of them to do with business): Keep weed away from kids; “keep profits out of the pockets of criminals” (that’s what a Bitcoin wallet is for); and to “protect public health and safety” by allowing full-grown adults to buy legal pot, from neither kids nor criminals.

Three years on, with top Senate Democrats pitching federal marijuana legalization in the United States to their colleagues and more U.S. states legalizing cannabis themselves, how’s all that going? Cannabis Now consulted with experts and crunched the numbers. Here’s what we found: a project still in motion, with some appreciable results in some areas, that still badly fails to deliver in others.

Public Health: A Win-Win-Win

Buying weed on the “traditional market” is usually fine. Over the past 50 or so years of cannabis prohibition, the drug remained one of the safest ways to catch a buzz, with no recorded deaths — but can be sometimes dangerous, as the vape-lung crisis of late 2019 in the United States demonstrated. Sixty-eight people died and thousands were hospitalized after using vaporizer products purchased on the illicit market, cut with a food additive that coated lungs in a viscous goo.

Notably, that did not happen in Canada. And that terrible pesticide scandal — one of several — happened in the old medical cannabis days, when Health Canada was in charge of a few giant medical growers. Since then, Canadians are able to purchase legal cannabis online or in person. They can go to a store or get cannabis delivered to them.

True, it did take some time for dispensaries to offer vapes and edibles, and access can depend on where you live, but that did all eventually happen, and with the online option—what’s the problem?

“From a public health perspective, things are working great,” said Daniel Bear, a professor of criminal justice at Humber College in Toronto, who has studied the cannabis legalization movement extensively. “You’ve got tested, safe, regulated products, and you’ve got methods other than combustion that people can access easily.

Profits: Strangled By Regulation, Or True Pipe Dreams?

In at least one way, Canada like Pennsylvania, or New Hampshire — if not Florida.

If you want to buy liquor in the Granite or Keystone states, you have to go to a state-owned liquor store. Initially, cannabis sales in Ontario, Canada’s biggest province, were also all going to be through a state-owned merchant, though a changeover in political parties running the province in 2018 altered the formula somewhat. But for years there were strict regulations in place limiting how many private businesses can sell cannabis, and where — meaning Canadian cannabis resembled the tightly controlled markets in U.S. cannabis states including Florida and New Jersey.

More recently, Ontario lifted the cap and a “significant retail sprawl ensued,” as business professors Joseph Aversa, Jenna Jacobson and Tony Hernandez, writing in the Conversation put it, with the number of retail stores expanding from 25 to 1,000.

The saga is significant as a case study for Americans for a few reasons: Under a federalist system, the reality is going to be different from province to province, or state to state — cannabis in Kentucky won’t be the same as in Colorado — but the common thread is almost certainly going to be strict control determining what the market can and can’t do, and the market chafing at the bit.

But while government may have constricted retail capacity, government encouraged a supply explosion. Those massive greenhouses and grow operations are producing more cannabis than anyone has demonstrated they need or want. Many have gone bust, laying off hundreds of people and creating massive losses for publicly traded companies and their shareholders, red ink that may only be balanced in some uncertain future, when Canadian weed stones the world.

If that ever happens.

“A mix of greed and naiveté led this industry to great heights – and has left it on its knees,” as cannabis consultant Alastair Moore told the Guardian last year. While some made lots of money, others lost their investments and now many others have lost their jobs.”

Then again, that’s not government’s fault, per se. Government is allowing private enterprise to do this after all. They didn’t say everyone would get rich. And the country is richer overall.

“There’s a billion dollars added to the GDP, there’s tens of thousands of people employed. From a commercial perspective, things are working,” said Humber College’s Bear. “The market’s working fairly well despite the regulations and large corporations doing their best to get in the way of that, almost.”

Though there are the usual hiccups, disruptions, and growing pains — as well as the complaints about overregulation, or big business taking over — the fact that cannabis in Canada after legalization is behaving like any other strictly regulated industry is sign that something’s working.

But not everything. The biggest shortcoming in Canada is also one of marijuana legalization’s biggest promises: Justice.

Criminal and Social Justice: Fail

It’s worthwhile remembering who it was that pushed hardest for legalization in Canada, and what they did before they were policymakers. Trudeau’s point man for legalization, the politician credited with making it happen, was Bill Blair, a former Toronto chief of police.

Blair was concerned about a market, concerned about the kids, and concerned about product safety. As Bear observed, Blair was not concerned too much about the people he used to put in jail for weed, who do not enjoy what fruits legalization offer.

“No one said, ‘Oh, and by the way, we screwed over people for the better part of a century, and they were disproportionately nonwhite, let’s make sure they’re empowered or have the harm done to them reduced,’” he said.

What Blair did do was add more crime. Handing a joint to someone under 18 can lead to a years-long prison term — a punishment much stricter than handing them a beer. Though possibly as many as 250,000 people have cannabis offenses on their records for which they’re eligible to be pardoned, getting a pardon is so expensive and time consuming that only about 400 people have secured one, as CTV reported in March.

As a review from two University of Toronto researchers found last year, Black, Latino, and First Nation people are still arrested for cannabis at rates much higher than whites. And this is after legalization. One problem is that the size of the problem is still something Canada has yet to fully assess.

“Canadian cannabis legalization lacks measures to redress the racialized harms caused by the war on drugs because the full extent of these harms remains largely unknown,” as researchers Akwasi Owusu-Bempah and Alex Luscombe wrote.

Three years on in Canada, people are buying safe product from big companies at prices some feel are too high, partially due to taxes, while people who suffered to continue to suffer and don’t enjoy equal access to the opportunity presented. If this sounds like legalization in some states in the U.S., it should. And absent some major reform at Congress and in state capitols, this is probably what legalization in the U.S. will look like, too.

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Harry Aslinger and the War on Drugs: A History of Politicking and Racism

For decades, cannabis users have struggled with criminalization and stigma. However, not all of us know about Harry Aslinger, the War on Drugs, and how his politicking and racism are at the root of anti-drug policies globally. Harry Aslinger was a United States government official who served under one of the most repressive regimes in […]

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Los Angeles County to Dismiss 60,000 Cannabis Convictions

It was recently announced that 60,000 cannabis convictions will be dismissed in Los Angeles, California. Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón and The Social Impact Center, which is a nonprofit organization with ties to government, grassroots organizations and people in underserved communities, are behind the dismissals. 

The decision follows the passing of Assembly Bill 1793, which dismissed around 66,000 cannabis convictions in 2020. The latest dismissals were announced during “Week of Action and Awareness (WOAA),” once known as National Expungement Week. Now, around 125,000 dismissals in total have been granted. 

In 2016, Gascón co-authored Proposition 64, known as The Adult Use of Marijuana Act. It legalized the possession, transport, purchase, consumption and sharing of up to one ounce of marijuana and up to eight grams of marijuana concentrates for adults aged 21 and older. 

“Dismissing these convictions means the possibility of a better future to thousands of disenfranchised people who are receiving this long-needed relief,” Gascón said. “It clears the path for them to find jobs, housing and other services that previously were denied to them because of unjust cannabis laws.”

Gascón made the announcement with Felicia Carbajal, who’s the executive director and community leader of The Social Impact Center. “I have made it my life mission to help and support people who have been impacted by the ‘war on drugs,’” Carbajal said. “Giving people with cannabis convictions a new lease on life by expunging the records is something I have worked on for years, and I am grateful that we can now make it happen.”

Cannabis prohibition largely affects the Black and Latino communities, notably in Los Angeles. It remained a problem after the passing of Proposition 64. Lynne Lyman, who’s the former director of the Drug Policy Alliance, believes past mistakes are now being corrected. 

“This is the unfinished work of Proposition 64,” Lyman said. “We created the opportunity for old cannabis convictions to be cleared, but it was up to local district attorneys to actually make it happen. Proposition 64 was always about more than legal weed; it was an intentional effort to repair the past harms of the war on drugs and cannabis prohibition, which disproportionately targeted people of color.”

Assembly Bill 1739 led to prosecutors reviewing past convictions. Unfortunately, the review only focused on cases from state Department of Justice data. Once the Los Angeles County court records were read, three decades worth of misdemeanor cases were discovered. There were 58,000 felony and misdemeanor cases remaining after 2020. Prisoners were unaware they were eligible for dismissal or resentencing. Now, their records have been sealed, as well, in hopes it won’t affect their immigrant status, educational and job opportunities. 

After the passing of Proposition 64, communities of color continued to face injustice over cannabis in California’s most populated county. In 2021 alone, Black and Latino people accounted for over 75 percent of cannabis arrests in Los Angeles. Marijuana prohibition didn’t stop in Los Angeles County after legalization, although it didn’t largely affect white people. In 2019, whites only accounted for 10 percent of cannabis arrests. From 2004 to 2008 in Los Angeles, black people were arrested for cannabis at a rate seven times greater than white people. 

Roadblocks were still in place after Proposition 64 and Assembly Bill 1793, which Alternate Public Defender Erika Anzoategui believes are now being taken down. 

“The dismissal of 60,000 marijuana-related cases by DA Gascón is a pivotal step in reforming our criminal justice system,” Anzoategui said. “This sends the right signal to the community that the nation was wrong in its ‘war on marijuana’ and that criminal convictions for marijuana offenses have a disproportionately negative impact on communities of color. We join DA Gascón in removing roadblocks to employment, housing and education through the dismissal and sealing of these convictions.” 

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Maryland Legislative Panel Begins Work On Cannabis Legalization

A legislative panel assembled to study the legalization of recreational marijuana in Maryland began work last Wednesday, laying out plans to draft a referendum ballot measure for next year’s general election. The working group of 10 members of the Maryland House of Delegates is tasked with creating a plan to legalize cannabis for use by adults while addressing the harms created and perpetuated by the failed War on Drugs.

“This work group will establish the legal framework necessary to fully implement the legalization of marijuana and learn from the mistakes that other states have made before us,” Delegate Luke H. Clippinger, the chair of the  House Cannabis Workgroup, said at Wednesday’s virtual meeting of the panel.

The bipartisan legislative group was appointed by House Speaker Adrienne Jones in July. She said then that she would like to see a cannabis legalization referendum on the ballot for the November 2022 election.

“While I have personal concerns about encouraging marijuana use, particularly among children and young adults, the disparate criminal justice impact leads me to believe that the voters should have a say in the future of legalization,” Jones said at the time. “The House will pass legislation early next year to put this question before the voters, but we need to start looking at changes needed to State law now.”

The group will study issues related to cannabis legalization including the licensing and oversight of businesses cultivating, processing and retailing recreational marijuana. The panel also plans to discuss the expungement of previous marijuana convictions, social equity measures to address the harms caused by prohibition and ways to encourage equitable representation in the cannabis industry.

“The speaker has been clear with me that we will do this with an eye towards equity and in consideration to Black and Brown neighborhoods and businesses that have been historically impacted by cannabis use,” Clippinger said.

Ensuring Racial Equity in Legalization

The work group heard from John Hudak, deputy director of the Center for Effective Public Management and a senior fellow on governance studies at the Brookings Institution, who has researched cannabis policy. He said that fully addressing the harms of marijuana prohibition is a complex issue, noting that cannabis policy has always been discriminatory.

“That wasn’t accidental; it was by design,” Hudak said.

Hudak cited data from the ACLU that shows that Black folks in Maryland are more than twice as likely as white people to be arrested for a cannabis-related crime, despite similar rates of use among the two groups.

“The war on drugs, and, and really the war on cannabis, specifically, sits at the heart of the ability of a system to persecute by prosecuting, particularly people of color, in creating the types of racial inequities that we see institutionalized throughout the United States,” he said.

Pointing to Illinois, New York and New Jersey as examples of cannabis legalization plans that were created with racial equity in mind, Hudak recommended what he characterized as a three-pronged approach to reform. In addition to expungement of low-level cannabis offenses and ensuring inclusive ownership in the industry, Hudak noted that those states also included investment in social infrastructure including education, childcare and job training as part of their legalization plans.

“That’s an important step again to reverse the effects of the war on drugs, and to recognize that the laws that were in place for decades were not just discriminatory, but they were devastating for many individuals and the communities from which they hail,” said Hudak.

But Hudak also noted that cannabis legalization by itself is not enough to end arrests for marijuana offenses, saying that broader reforms are also needed.

“Part of that conversation… also has to include work within law enforcement agencies, work on policing, work on community policing—work on issues that I know this legislature is taking up in the context of police reform in a variety of areas beyond drug policy,” he said. “But there’s no better place to have that conversation than in the conversation around marijuana legalization.”

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Federal Drug Official Admits Legalization Doesn’t Increase Teen Use

A top U.S. federal drug policy official recently admitted that her prior fears that cannabis legalization would lead to an increase in teen marijuana use failed to materialize, saying that reform advocates were “right” about the impact cannabis policy change would have on young people. Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), also said that she supports continued drug policy reform at the federal level.

Appearing on the podcast “Psychoactive” with Ethan Nadelmann, founder of the Drug Policy Alliance, Volkow said that she was “expecting the use of marijuana among adolescents would go up” with the legalization of cannabis at the state level, but admitted that “overall, it hasn’t.”

Volkow, who has led NIDA since 2003, said that the impact of cannabis policy reform has varied, noting that some “states that have legalized actually have better outcomes” while “the adverse effects of marijuana use are much worse in some states.”

“Understanding what policies basically protect from negative effects and may actually lead to better outcomes is crucial,” she said. “And we’re funding it.”

But Volkow also acknowledged that research into the benefits and potential dangers of cannabis has been hampered by federal drug policy that makes obtaining marijuana for scientific studies “extraordinary cumbersome, and as a result of that, researchers don’t want to get into the field.”

The NIDA director also indicated that the agency, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, would continue funding research into the therapeutic use of psychedelics.

“We have been funding research that is ongoing—on ketamine for opiate treatment and also ketamine for pain,” she said. “For PCP, if you look at the data, actually, the evidence is strongest for showing potential benefits for depression.”

“We need to learn from what the evidence is showing us,” she continued. “If we can use ketamine for the treatment of severe depression in a way that is safe, this is an example of really that we can use drugs that we thought were dangerous and use them in ways that are therapeutic.”

NDIA Director Calls for Continued Drug Policy Reform

Volkow indicated her support for further drug policy reform including decriminalization, saying that “hopefully science will serve to change policies and reduce the stigma [around addiction] and basically change the notion of criminalizing people to that of treating and helping people and preventing them from relapsing.”

Nadelmann noted that Volkow’s comments were apparently inconsistent with the agency’s history, saying that NIDA has been “operating in a political context in which punitive prohibitionist policies, mass arrests [and] the heavily racial biases that go with all of that has been pervasive.” The host also suggested that Volkow and NIDA should focus more on the impact of harmful policy rather than the potential dangers associated with drug use.

“From day one, I’ve been against criminalization of people because they have a problem with substance use disorders. I’ve been very, very vocal,” Volkow replied. “One of the reasons why I took this position was because, I say, we can develop the science in such a way that policy changes.”

Volkow has also taken to other platforms in her role as NIDA director to call for further drug policy reform. In an opinion piece published by the health news website STAT last month, she wrote that ending stiff penalties for drug use would reduce harm and result in improved outcomes for the treatment of substance abuse disorders.

“Many people intersect with the criminal justice system as a direct or indirect result of their substance use disorders, and the experience may worsen their addiction and their physical and mental health,” Volkow wrote. “Imprisonment itself not only increases the likelihood of dying prematurely but also negatively impacts mental health and social adjustment via the stigma of having been incarcerated. And it has radiating effects: Incarceration of a parent increases their children’s risk of drug use, for example.”

And in an interview with the blog On Health, she commented on the pervasive disproportionate enforcement of drug prohibition, particularly among communities of color.

“It is clear that the United States is currently reckoning with a long history of discriminatory and racist policies, many of which still continue today,” said Volkow. “The War on Drugs was no exception, and by incarcerating Black people at disproportionately high rates, it has had radiating effects into health, economic security and mobility, education, housing, families – areas intrinsically connected with the well-being and success of so many Black and other people of color.”

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Cannabis Decriminalized in New Orleans, Pardons 10,000 Cannabis Convictions

Cannabis Decriminalized in New Orleans On Thursday, August 5, New Orleans took a historic step. The New Orleans City Council passed a series of articles to pardon cannabis-related charges and any future charges. Effectively aiming to decriminalize cannabis, the city is making an effort to work with the NOPD to end the war on weed. […]

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“Weed isn’t a drug” — A brief history of the war on drugs

“Weed isn’t a drug, it’s a plant.” It’s something many of us have heard or even said at some point in our relationship with cannabis. Usually, following an epiphany that everything politicians and the media told us about cannabis is wrong. A few natural conclusions follow: if they lied to us about cannabis, what other […]

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New Marijuana Legalization Proposal Unveiled

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and fellow Democrats in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday unveiled a much-anticipated draft proposal to legalize cannabis at the federal level. The proposal, which is a discussion draft of a bill titled the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, was introduced by Schumer and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden of Oregon and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker at a Capitol Hill press conference.

If the legislation is passed into law, marijuana would be removed from the nation’s list of regulated drugs under the Controlled Substances Act, and instead be regulated and taxed like alcohol and tobacco. The measure also includes social equity provisions that will expunge low-level marijuana convictions and dedicate cannabis taxes to communities negatively impacted by the War on Drugs.

“For decades, young men and young women, disproportionately young Black and Hispanic men and women, have been arrested and jailed for carrying even a small amount of marijuana in their pocket, a charge that often came with exorbitant penalties and a serious criminal record because of the overcriminalization of marijuana, and it followed them for the remainder of their lives,” Schumer told reporters.

Key Provisions of the Legislation

  • Under the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, the U.S. Attorney General would be directed to remove marijuana from the list of drugs regulated under Controlled Substances Act within 60 days of the legislation’s effective date. Government regulators would also create a new definition of “cannabis” under the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act and develop a regulatory requirement for cannabis, similar to rules that govern other substances such as tobacco. The definition of cannabis would exclude hemp, which was legalized by the 2018 Farm Bill.
  • The authority to regulate cannabis would be transferred from the Drug Enforcement Administration to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). The FDA would be “recognized as the primary federal regulatory authority with respect to the manufacture and marketing of cannabis products, including requirements related to minimum national good manufacturing practice, product standards, registration and listing, and labeling information related to ingredients and directions for use,” according to a 30-page summary of the draft bill, which totals 163 pages. 
  • The bill also assesses a federal excise tax on cannabis products, with rates beginning at 10% and increasing to 25% five years after the measure is signed into law. Collecting taxes would be the responsibility of the TTB, with a portion of the revenue raised dedicated to supporting communities impacted by the War on Drugs. Federal judicial districts would be required to expunge the records of nonviolent federal cannabis offenders and those currently serving sentences for marijuana crimes would be eligible for a resentencing review hearing.
  • The legislation establishes three grant programs, including one that would fund nonprofits to provide services including job training, reentry services, and legal aid to individuals impacted by cannabis prohibition. The second grant program provides funding to state and local governments to make Small Business Administration loans to cannabis businesses owned by socially and economically disadvantaged entrepreneurs. The final grant program would provide funding for state and local governments to establish cannabis business licensing programs that minimize barriers for those impacted by the War on Drugs.

“For decades, our federal government has waged a War on Drugs that has unfairly impacted low-income communities and communities of color,” Booker said in a statement. “While red and blue states across the country continue to legalize marijuana, the federal government continues to lag woefully behind. It is time for Congress to end the federal marijuana prohibition and reinvest in communities most impacted by the failed War on Drugs.”

Although the bill would legalize cannabis at the federal level, states would make the decision on marijuana policy for their jurisdictions. Currently, 18 states and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis for use by adults, and 37 have laws permitting the use of medical marijuana. 

Proposal Receives Swift Response

Following the release of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act draft, which has been promised by Schumer for months, cannabis policy reform groups and representatives of the legal cannabis industry were quick to weigh in on the proposal. Erik Altieri, the executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said that the “days of federal prohibition are numbered.” 

“These actions by Senate Majority Leader Schumer and Senators Booker and Wyden reflect the fact that the supermajority of Americans are demanding that Congress take action to end the cruel and senseless policy of federal prohibition,” Altieri said in a statement from the group. “It is time for legislators to comport federal law with the laws of the growing number of states that have legalized the plant, and it is time for lawmakers to facilitate a federal structure that allows for cannabis commerce so that responsible consumers can obtain high-quality, low-cost cannabis grown right here in America without fear of arrest and incarceration.”

Ben Kovler, CEO of cannabis multistate operator Green Thumb Industries, noted that the cannabis legalization bill recognizes cannabis as a legitimate business sector and would allow cannabis companies long-sought access to capital markets and banking services.

“Cannabis continues to be disproportionately weaponized against communities of color, and we are thrilled that the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act has proposed expungement and community reinvestment measures to address the damage perpetuated by the failed War on Drugs,” Kovler said in an email. “While the bill leaves some questions unanswered, we believe it provides a tangible pathway to true federal legalization.”

Schumer acknowledged to reporters that he does not yet have the support necessary for the bill to gain approval in the Senate, saying the proposal is intended to begin the conversation on marijuana legalization. In May, a new version of a separate cannabis legalization bill that was approved by the House of Representatives last year was reintroduced in the lower chamber of Congress.

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The MORE Act Aims to Legalize Cannabis

The drive to legalize cannabis at the federal level continues with the reintroduction of a bill to remove marijuana from the nation’s list of controlled substances and invest in communities disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs. The measure, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2021 (MORE Act), was introduced on May 28 by Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York and five of his Democratic colleagues.

Nadler, who serves as the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, originally introduced the bill last year. The measure was passed with overwhelming support in the House in December but failed to receive action in the Senate under the leadership of then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

“Since I introduced the MORE Act last Congress, numerous states across the nation, including my home state of New York, have moved to legalize marijuana. Our federal laws must keep up with this pace,” Nadler said in a statement. “I’m proud to reintroduce the MORE Act to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, remove the needless burden of marijuana convictions on so many Americans, and invest in communities that have been disproportionately harmed by the War on Drugs.”

Social Equity Key to Bill

Under the MORE Act, cannabis would be removed from the list of drugs regulated by the Controlled Substances Act, criminal penalties for federal cannabis offenses would be eliminated, and past federal cannabis convictions would be expunged. The bill also establishes a 5% percent tax on retail cannabis sales, which would climb to 8% over three years. Revenue raised by the tax would be invested in communities that were harmed under federal marijuana prohibition policies that lasted decades.

“This bill will not only put an end to harmful federal cannabis policies that have ruined countless lives, it will seek to reverse the damage by providing true equity and opportunity for those looking to access this booming industry. We are on our way toward true justice,” said Rep. Barbara Lee of California, a co-sponsor of the legislation and co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus.

An Opportunity Trust Fund created by the MORE Act would provide job training, re-entry services for formerly incarcerated individuals, and health education programs for communities impacted by the War on Drugs. In a change to the previous version of the bill called for by social equity advocates, those with prior felony convictions would no longer be barred from participation in the cannabis industry.

Democratic Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York said that the “failed war on drugs began almost fifty years ago when Richard Nixon declared drug abuse public enemy number one. Since then, marijuana use has been socially accepted behavior in some neighborhoods and criminal conduct in others. Too often, the dividing line between these neighborhoods has been race. The MORE Act will help right these wrongs and bring to life the principle of liberty and justice for all.”

Additionally, an Office of Cannabis Justice would be established to implement the social equity provisions of the bill, encourage cannabis research, and ensure that federal benefits and services are not denied cannabis users. The Small Business Association would be tasked with creating a Cannabis Restorative Opportunity Program to develop cannabis licensing programs that limit barriers to participation in the industry.

Amazon on Board 

Following the reintroduction of the MORE Act, Amazon, the nation’s second-largest private employer, announced that it was eliminating cannabis drug testing for applicants for most of its U.S. jobs. Amazon CEO Dave Clark said in a blog post that the company would also lobby for passage of legislation to end the federal prohibition of cannabis.

“And because we know that this issue is bigger than Amazon, our public policy team will be actively supporting The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2021 (MORE Act) — federal legislation that would legalize marijuana at the federal level, expunge criminal records, and invest in impacted communities,” Clark wrote. “We hope that other employers will join us, and that policymakers will act swiftly to pass this law.”

Nadler’s bill also has the support of cannabis policy reform advocacy organizations, including the Marijuana Policy Project. Tahir Johnson, the group’s director of social equity and inclusion, commented on the impact that cannabis prohibition has had on communities of color.

“Cannabis prohibition and its ensuing over-policing, unequal enforcement, and criminalization stripped millions of Black and Latinx people of their vote, access to education, employment, and housing, creating cycles of poverty and marginalization in their communities,” Johnson said. “The MORE Act promises to address many of the harms caused by prohibition using an equity and justice-centered framework that allows the communities most harmed to access the health and economic benefits of the cannabis industry. This is the approach to legalization that our country needs.”

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