Aussies Follow America’s Roadmap

In 1926, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) became Australia’s first jurisdiction to outlaw cannabis, following the 1925 Geneva Convention on Opium and Other Drugs. Fast forward seven war-on-drugs-soaked decades and the state began to undo the damage caused by prohibition, starting with decriminalization. 

Michael Moore, an independent member of the local Legislative Assembly, introduced the Simple Cannabis Offence Notice in 1992. This meant you’d be given a $100 fine if the police caught you with small amounts of weed, and if you paid the fine on time you would have no criminal record. So, for more than 30 years, cannabis was essentially decriminalized in Australia’s seat of power.

Next Gen Activation

The Australian capital city of Canberra is the country’s only municipality where recreational cannabis is legal.

In February 2019, the gauntlet was picked up by the next generation of progressive policymakers; this time, it was the calling of Labour MP (member of parliament), Michael Pettersson. He introduced a private member’s bill, the Personal Cannabis Use Bill. Following the state of Vermont’s model, ACT passed legalization legislation in January 2020, instead of holding a popular vote. Thanks to this “new attitude” politician, residents can now possess 50 grams of dry plant material, 150 grams of wet plant material and cultivate two plants per person and up to four plants per household.

Here’s a fun fact: Like Washington DC, recreational cannabis is legal in Canberra, the capital city of Australia. Here’s a not-so-fun fact: Because it remains federally illegal, like DC, there are no brick-and-mortar dispensaries to buy your bud. In fact, the Australian Capital Territory, where Canberra is located, is the only place in Australia to enjoy legalized recreational cannabis.

So, what’s the story? Is it merely a coincidence that cannabis is legal to consume yet unavailable to purchase in the capital cities of these two nations? Are there similar stories as the two capitals fight back against the damage the war on drugs caused?

The 30-year-old politician told me that his interest in the war on drugs came from his years as an angsty teen watching YouTube videos after school.

“I found this series of videos, I think the group’s called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition,” Pettersson says. “They had this former cop who had long black hair and a ponytail, a big buff guy. And they go on the American talk shows, and he talks about the war on drugs. He was so articulate and conveyed the failings of it. As a teenager I was really interested in politics, I thought he was the coolest dude ever. So, I’ve always kind of approached the war on drugs from a highly skeptical position.”

One is the Loneliest Number

When I ask Pettersson why no other Australian politician has been as progressive with cannabis law reform, he says, smiling, “Good question! It just hit me one day: No one else is going to do this. If no one else does this, then it’s not going to happen. So, I’m going to have to do it. A lot of people assume I have some deep personal interest or maybe some past associations with cannabis use. I’m a young guy, I’ve experimented with recreational drugs in a very limited way. But I don’t really use cannabis. I used it a handful of times when I was younger. My interest in this topic doesn’t come from my own personal use, it comes from good public policy.”

With cannabis decriminalized in the region for more than 30 years, the local community was pretty open to full legalization, Pettersson says. “Polling showed 54 percent of the community supported legalizing cannabis for personal use with only 27 percent opposed. So, the debate was pretty easy.”

Pettersson also future-proofed his policy by including a cannabis reform caveat to silence the opposition. 

“The naysayers said that when the ACT changed its laws, the Commonwealth laws would then be the laws in effect and would send people into the Commonwealth criminal justice system where they’d get harsh penalties,” he said. “The ACT amended its laws in such a way that we empowered a defense that says if your use is excused or justified by a state or territory law, then it provides a complete defense to the Commonwealth charge.”

Not content with legalizing cannabis alone, earlier this year Pettersson put forward another private member’s bill to decriminalize small amounts of certain illicit substances in the ACT. Yet another parallel with DC, where the Drug Policy Reform Act of 2021 that would decriminalize all drugs for personal use was introduced. Under Pettersson’s proposed policy, drugs would remain a crime, but the penalties for those caught with up to 2g of cocaine, heroin or methamphetamines, and 0.5g of MDMA would be reduced from jail time to a $100 fine. Police would confiscate the drugs and the person would be referred to a health program, taking the emphasis from punishment to treatment. 

Pettersson says the response from the local community has been positive and they’re ready to have this conversation. However, there has been a certain amount of top-tier pushback.

The Australian Federal Police Commissioner, Reece Kershaw, recently appeared before the Commonwealth Parliament and strongly condemned the proposed change, saying it could potentially lead to what he referred to as narco-tourism.

“The conservative elements are far more organized to argue and push back against the decriminalization of these 
substances. But for the most part, they didn’t fight too hard on cannabis legalization,” Petterson says.

Canberra, Washington, DC Twinning

When asked about the similarities with Canberra and DC regarding drug policy reform, Petterson was quick to respond. “If I had to try and distill it down, there are certain things that you can only understand when you live in a capital jurisdiction,” he says. “You have to contend with federal legislators who don’t represent your values telling you what to do. I imagine that similar politics would probably exist in Washington, DC, where residents also don’t like their central government telling them what to do.”

Pettersson maintains the well-being of his community remains his top priority. And while he contends that it’s a “balancing act,” for him, drug law reform is about harm reduction. It’s heartening to see that around the world, prohibitionists are losing the war on drugs. Progressive politicians listening to the voice of the people is what will bring about real change, keep people out of jail and end outdated legislation.

This story was originally published in the print edition of Cannabis Now.

The post Aussies Follow America’s Roadmap appeared first on Cannabis Now.

Georgia’s War on Delta-8 THC

Leigh Ann LaDuke was picking up her kids from school on the afternoon of Friday, March 4, when she heard the police had paid her business a visit while she was out. LaDuke is the sales manager of The Shoppe, a vape-supply and CBD store in Fort Oglethorpe, GA. In addition to CBD oil and tinctures, vaporizer batteries and e-juices, The Shoppe also stocked products containing Delta-8 THC.

An increasingly common and somewhat controversial cannabinoid, Delta-8 THC is derived from source material originating in the federally legal hemp plant. However, since Delta-8 produces a high similar to federally illegal cannabis’ Delta-9 THC—and since you can buy it online, at smoke shops, gas stations or anywhere else a merchant stocks it on shelves—Delta-8 products are popular in states where cannabis is still illegal, such as Georgia

This also means Delta-8 is very unpopular with law enforcement. And in at least three jurisdictions in Georgia, local sheriff’s offices and district attorneys appear to have launched an all-out assault on Delta-8 THC—despite state and federal laws allowing the drug, advocates and attorneys told Cannabis Now. 

It all adds up to what increasingly looks like a desperate, last-ditch War on Drugs battle in the final years before nationwide legalization, waged by what even a state judge worries are “rogue” law enforcement officials.

The Letter and the Law

Upon her return to work, LaDuke discovered a letter left from a detective from the local Catoosa County Sheriff’s Office. The communication, signed by Catoosa County Sheriff Gary R. Sisk, informed her that sheriff’s representatives had “purchased items from your store and had them tested,” and that they contained a “significate [sic] level of Delta 9.”

“It’s your responsibility to know what you are selling and what it contains especially when I’m telling you it’s a violation of Georgia law,” Sisk’s letter continued, adding that The Shoppe had until April 30 to remove “these illegal items” and if they didn’t, “We already have the evidence needed to move forward with prosecutions and seizures.” 

Puzzled and upset, LaDuke and Joe King, owner of The Shoppe, went to the sheriff’s office to sort things out. They had certificates of authentication showing their products were well within state limits, which say anything derived from hemp, cannabis with 0.3% Delta-9 THC or less, is legal to sell.

They were told that the county has an ongoing problem with “people actively overdosing on cannabis.” The sheriff’s office had purchased products from The Shoppe and sent them off for their own testing, and “they tested higher than the Georgia law allowed,” said LaDuke, who didn’t believe a word of what she heard.  

“We asked for proof and what was purchased that day, and we were refused,” she said. “We also offered COAs for our products and were told that ours do not matter because they tested our products.” 

The Catoosa Sheriff’s Office didn’t  return a call for comment to Cannabis Now. But according to Ryan Ralston, the executive director of Peachtree NORML, the Georgia branch of the organization, The Shoppe is one of several stores in at least three Georgia jurisdictions to be subjected to a Delta-8 crackdown: Gwinnett County, east of Atlanta; and Madison County, in northeast Georgia, in addition to Catoosa County, in the northwest of the state on the border with Tennessee.

In these places, local law enforcement seem to be waging a sort of war of choice, a last stand of the War on Drugs.

Rogue DAs and a Rearguard Action

“The vast majority, if not 99 percent, of the DAs and sheriffs and chiefs of police have recognized that Delta-8 is, in fact, lawful,” Ralston said. What’s happening, he says, is that “a couple of rogue DAs or sheriffs have taken it upon themselves to declare Delta-8 unlawful and then [move to] take enforcement action.”

Ralston has a theory on why this is ramping up now.

“You have the reinvention of Reefer Madness here in Georgia,” he said.

Ralston noted that 2022 is an election year, and conservative sheriffs up for re-election (such as Sisk) may be trolling for a wedge issue. In several instances, law enforcement officials have claimed—so far, without showing any proof—that children have been accessing Delta-8 products. 

Others speculated that Sisk may also have encouragement from a local multi-jurisidictional drug task force. But what he doesn’t have is support from the state of Georgia itself. 

After Patsy Austin-Gatson, the district attorney in Gwinnett County, declared in January that selling Delta-8 was a felony offense and tried to enforce a county-wide ban—staging at least two raids, filing felony charges against at least one individual and seizing millions of dollars’ worth of product, according to estimates—two local vape shops sued to stop her. 

In response, a state judge imposed a monthlong restraining order, staying Austin-Gatson’s hand.

“I have concerns that this may or may not be a rogue DA,” said Judge Craig Schwall, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Austin-Gatson’s office didn’t return a telephone message to Cannabis Now seeking comment. 

Tom Church, one of the attorneys handling the cases on behalf of the offended vape shops, confirmed on April 22 that the monthlong temporary restraining orders imposed on Austin-Gatson, have been appealed by the state attorney general’s office. 

That means the legality of Delta-8 in Georgia may ultimately hinge on a judge’s order. In the meantime, Austin-Gatson has declared Delta-8 products OK if they’re not food products—meaning anyone selling Delta-8 gummies, possibly the drug’s most popular form, is still at risk, Church said.

“A lot of people are paying attention to this lawsuit, which is good—we need clarity in the law,” he said. “Of course, we think it’s unambiguous that Delta 8, Delta-10 and other cannabinoids as long as it’s not Delta-9 can be put in all types of products.”

The War on Drugs Continues in Georgia

In the meantime, The Shoppe is teetering on the brink of viability. Though the letter was the only warning LaDuke received, that was enough.

Rightly fearful of a raid, LaDuke and King pulled all their Delta-8 products, severely reducing their sales, but even that hasn’t ended their problems with the law. The Shoppe’s remaining customers “are getting pulled over” on their way in or out of the store, she said, further discouraging business. 

According to Peachtree NORML’s Ralston, the Delta-8 campaign could be a politically motivated distraction. All the areas where the crackdowns have occurred have something in common: violent crime rates “3% to 5% higher” than statewide rates, he said, plus the ever-worsening opioid overdose crisis. 

Looking decisive or tough on something easy—such as federally legal products sitting on a shelf in a store—might be a good way to direct attention elsewhere. The same week LaDuke received her letter, a neighboring county recorded five fentanyl overdoses, she said. 

“Yet, we’re the issue,” she said. “Busting several prominent businesses wouldn’t only make them look good, but fund them.”

“I feel like we’re all in a movie or a dream.”

The post Georgia’s War on Delta-8 THC appeared first on Cannabis Now.

Georgia’s War on Delta-8 THC

Leigh Ann LaDuke was picking up her kids from school on the afternoon of Friday, March 4, when she heard the police had paid her business a visit while she was out. LaDuke is the sales manager of The Shoppe, a vape-supply and CBD store in Fort Oglethorpe, GA. In addition to CBD oil and tinctures, vaporizer batteries and e-juices, The Shoppe also stocked products containing Delta-8 THC.

An increasingly common and somewhat controversial cannabinoid, Delta-8 THC is derived from source material originating in the federally legal hemp plant. However, since Delta-8 produces a high similar to federally illegal cannabis’ Delta-9 THC—and since you can buy it online, at smoke shops, gas stations or anywhere else a merchant stocks it on shelves—Delta-8 products are popular in states where cannabis is still illegal, such as Georgia

This also means Delta-8 is very unpopular with law enforcement. And in at least three jurisdictions in Georgia, local sheriff’s offices and district attorneys appear to have launched an all-out assault on Delta-8 THC—despite state and federal laws allowing the drug, advocates and attorneys told Cannabis Now. 

It all adds up to what increasingly looks like a desperate, last-ditch War on Drugs battle in the final years before nationwide legalization, waged by what even a state judge worries are “rogue” law enforcement officials.

The Letter and the Law

Upon her return to work, LaDuke discovered a letter left from a detective from the local Catoosa County Sheriff’s Office. The communication, signed by Catoosa County Sheriff Gary R. Sisk, informed her that sheriff’s representatives had “purchased items from your store and had them tested,” and that they contained a “significate [sic] level of Delta 9.”

“It’s your responsibility to know what you are selling and what it contains especially when I’m telling you it’s a violation of Georgia law,” Sisk’s letter continued, adding that The Shoppe had until April 30 to remove “these illegal items” and if they didn’t, “We already have the evidence needed to move forward with prosecutions and seizures.” 

Puzzled and upset, LaDuke and Joe King, owner of The Shoppe, went to the sheriff’s office to sort things out. They had certificates of authentication showing their products were well within state limits, which say anything derived from hemp, cannabis with 0.3% Delta-9 THC or less, is legal to sell.

They were told that the county has an ongoing problem with “people actively overdosing on cannabis.” The sheriff’s office had purchased products from The Shoppe and sent them off for their own testing, and “they tested higher than the Georgia law allowed,” said LaDuke, who didn’t believe a word of what she heard.  

“We asked for proof and what was purchased that day, and we were refused,” she said. “We also offered COAs for our products and were told that ours do not matter because they tested our products.” 

The Catoosa Sheriff’s Office didn’t  return a call for comment to Cannabis Now. But according to Ryan Ralston, the executive director of Peachtree NORML, the Georgia branch of the organization, The Shoppe is one of several stores in at least three Georgia jurisdictions to be subjected to a Delta-8 crackdown: Gwinnett County, east of Atlanta; and Madison County, in northeast Georgia, in addition to Catoosa County, in the northwest of the state on the border with Tennessee.

In these places, local law enforcement seem to be waging a sort of war of choice, a last stand of the War on Drugs.

Rogue DAs and a Rearguard Action

“The vast majority, if not 99 percent, of the DAs and sheriffs and chiefs of police have recognized that Delta-8 is, in fact, lawful,” Ralston said. What’s happening, he says, is that “a couple of rogue DAs or sheriffs have taken it upon themselves to declare Delta-8 unlawful and then [move to] take enforcement action.”

Ralston has a theory on why this is ramping up now.

“You have the reinvention of Reefer Madness here in Georgia,” he said.

Ralston noted that 2022 is an election year, and conservative sheriffs up for re-election (such as Sisk) may be trolling for a wedge issue. In several instances, law enforcement officials have claimed—so far, without showing any proof—that children have been accessing Delta-8 products. 

Others speculated that Sisk may also have encouragement from a local multi-jurisidictional drug task force. But what he doesn’t have is support from the state of Georgia itself. 

After Patsy Austin-Gatson, the district attorney in Gwinnett County, declared in January that selling Delta-8 was a felony offense and tried to enforce a county-wide ban—staging at least two raids, filing felony charges against at least one individual and seizing millions of dollars’ worth of product, according to estimates—two local vape shops sued to stop her. 

In response, a state judge imposed a monthlong restraining order, staying Austin-Gatson’s hand.

“I have concerns that this may or may not be a rogue DA,” said Judge Craig Schwall, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Austin-Gatson’s office didn’t return a telephone message to Cannabis Now seeking comment. 

Tom Church, one of the attorneys handling the cases on behalf of the offended vape shops, confirmed on April 22 that the monthlong temporary restraining orders imposed on Austin-Gatson, have been appealed by the state attorney general’s office. 

That means the legality of Delta-8 in Georgia may ultimately hinge on a judge’s order. In the meantime, Austin-Gatson has declared Delta-8 products OK if they’re not food products—meaning anyone selling Delta-8 gummies, possibly the drug’s most popular form, is still at risk, Church said.

“A lot of people are paying attention to this lawsuit, which is good—we need clarity in the law,” he said. “Of course, we think it’s unambiguous that Delta 8, Delta-10 and other cannabinoids as long as it’s not Delta-9 can be put in all types of products.”

The War on Drugs Continues in Georgia

In the meantime, The Shoppe is teetering on the brink of viability. Though the letter was the only warning LaDuke received, that was enough.

Rightly fearful of a raid, LaDuke and King pulled all their Delta-8 products, severely reducing their sales, but even that hasn’t ended their problems with the law. The Shoppe’s remaining customers “are getting pulled over” on their way in or out of the store, she said, further discouraging business. 

According to Peachtree NORML’s Ralston, the Delta-8 campaign could be a politically motivated distraction. All the areas where the crackdowns have occurred have something in common: violent crime rates “3% to 5% higher” than statewide rates, he said, plus the ever-worsening opioid overdose crisis. 

Looking decisive or tough on something easy—such as federally legal products sitting on a shelf in a store—might be a good way to direct attention elsewhere. The same week LaDuke received her letter, a neighboring county recorded five fentanyl overdoses, she said. 

“Yet, we’re the issue,” she said. “Busting several prominent businesses wouldn’t only make them look good, but fund them.”

“I feel like we’re all in a movie or a dream.”

The post Georgia’s War on Delta-8 THC appeared first on Cannabis Now.

Killer Mike Wants to See ‘Quadruple’ the Number of Pardons for People with Non-Violent Drug Convictions

In an interview with Killer Mike, TMZ reports that the rapper expressed his desire to see more action on the part of Biden and his administration, which recently commuted 75 sentences and pardoned three people. An unnamed TMZ reporter caught Killer Mike at an airport for a brief question about his thoughts on the subject while they walked.

“I think we can always do better,” Killer Mike said. “I think as many as we are letting out, we probably should quadruple that. I think that beyond that, that should be a priority for non-violent drug offenders in terms of marijuana and things like that. They should have first bids at licensing.”

The interviewer inquired about the need for justice, and Killer Mike presented what needs to be done. “I think they should get first priority to get the state license and beyond. I think the feds owe them that. I think that that’s the way you truly repent for a drug war gone terribly wrong.

“I think the oligarchy in this country owes the people who this industry’s been built on, that’s going to bring billions to this country,” he continued. “All the people that were outlaws that paved the way.”

On April 26, President Joe Biden announced that he would be commuting the sentences of 75 people, and issuing three pardons. “Today, I am pardoning three people who have demonstrated their commitment to rehabilitation and are striving every day to give back and contribute to their communities. I am also commuting the sentences of 75 people who are serving long sentences for non-violent drug offenses, many of whom have been serving on home confinement during the COVID-pandemic—and many of whom would have received a lower sentence if they were charged with the same offense today, thanks to the bipartisan First Step Act.” Biden also stated that his administrations would continue to “…review clemency petitions and deliver reforms that advance equity and justice, provide second chances, and enhance the wellbeing and safety of all Americans.”

While it’s a welcome decision, as people of the industry have eagerly awaited Biden and his administration to make a positive move for those who were wrongfully convicted of cannabis crimes, many believe it’s not enough.

Advocates such as Leo Bridgewater, who is an army war veteran, longstanding cannabis advocate, and National Director of Heart Community Capital and Minorities for Medical Marijuana, believes that Biden’s move barely scratches the surface. “Setting them free is not the end all be all. Allowing them to be the first to market business entrepreneurs in their communities would be proper restitution,” he wrote on Instagram. Bridgewater was recently named one of the most influential people in the cannabis industry in the High Times 100.

Killer Mike has long been a vocal advocate of ending the War on Drugs. In 2016, he wrote an article in Rolling Stone explaining how the U.S. can right these wrongs. “As marijuana reform begins to de-escalate the drug war, creating new opportunities for employment and entrepreneurship in the process, it is imperative that the people most in need of a second chance actually get one,” Killer Mike wrote. “The price they have already paid for our failed drug policy is steep enough.”

In 2015, Killer Mike sat down to ask Bernie Sanders questions in a six-part video series that spanned topics such as economic freedom, social justice, free health care, and more. In part four, they discussed the War on Drugs and prison reform.

The post Killer Mike Wants to See ‘Quadruple’ the Number of Pardons for People with Non-Violent Drug Convictions appeared first on High Times.

San Francisco Gets Funding for Social Equity Cannabis Program

Leaders in San Francisco announced last week that the city has received $4.5 million in funding from the state of California to bolster its Cannabis Equity Grant Program.

The funds, part of the California Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, “will help build on the Program’s original goal to combat disparities in the cannabis industry through the establishment of equity cannabis businesses,” the city said on Friday.

“COVID-19 had a significant impact on our city’s small businesses and entrepreneurs, including those in the cannabis industry,” said San Francisco Mayor London Breed in the announcement. “With the assistance from the State and leadership at the Office of Cannabis, this funding will ensure that the Cannabis Equity Grant Program continues to achieve its goal of providing access to the industry for those who have been disproportionally affected by past policies.”

Last year, San Francisco and a number of California cities such as Los Angeles and Oakland created their own Cannabis Equity Grant Programs with the help of funding from the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development.

Since then, San Francisco says that its Office of Cannabis (OOC) has “distributed over $5.5 million in flexible grant funding to more than 50 equity businesses, with awards ranging from about $50,000 to $150,000.”

“Of the grant recipients, 65% identify as people of color, strengthening access to communities that have historically been harmed by past policies and the War on Drugs. OOC has worked diligently to ensure that all available funding is used for the benefit of applicants, with 100% of the grants being awarded before the expiration of the grant term,” the city said in its announcement of the new funding on Friday. 

“From a historical lens, the Equity Grant Program represents government proactively addressing drug policies that have harmed our communities,”Nikesh Patel, director of the San Francisco Office of Cannabis said in the announcement. “We hear from social equity applicants just how powerful these grants are to advance their businesses. We take pride in continuing to develop a program that includes community input, meets applicants’ needs, and ultimately reduces barriers to entering the cannabis industry.”

The city says that the program “is structured to allow grantees the ability to determine the best use of their award.”

Those grantees “may seek grant reimbursements and/or grant advancements for 13 eligible expense categories including, accounting services, capital improvements, legal assistance, regulatory compliance, and rent, among others,” and additionally, they “may leverage free technical assistance to better support them through this process.”

The announcement on Friday included testimonials from some of those grant recipients.

“The Office of Cannabis Grant Program provides vital support and opportunity to social equity applicants to start their own businesses in the regulated cannabis industry. As a San Francisco native from the Fillmore District, and a woman of color, my community has disproportionately been affected by the War on Drugs. I would like to thank the Office of Cannabis for this unprecedented opportunity to reach my dreams, and I couldn’t be more grateful,” said Joyce Hicks, CEO, Neicey Pieces LLC.

Rudy Corpuz, CEO, SGI Brannan LLC, said that the grant program “provided me with an opportunity to open my own retail store.”

“It’s helped me tremendously, not only as a social equity partner, but also as a long-standing member of the San Francisco community who seeks to uplift those who’ve also been hurt by the War on Drugs,” said Corpuz.

Meanwhile, Perry Jones, CEO, Cali Heals, says that “not all money is good money” when it comes to building a business.

“However, when it comes to the San Francisco Equity Program, cannabis grants provided me with an opportunity to not only establish my own cannabis company, but to potentially realize generational wealth for me and my family,” Jones said.

The post San Francisco Gets Funding for Social Equity Cannabis Program appeared first on High Times.

Washington Lawmakers Delete the Word ‘Marijuana’ from State Statutes

The word “marijuana” will be stricken from all legislation in the state of Washington under a bill recently passed by state lawmakers. The measure, House Bill 1210, will replace the term “marijuana” with the word “cannabis” in all state statutes after being signed into law by Democratic Governor Jay Inslee last month. 

Democratic state Representative Melanie Morgan, the sponsor of the legislation, told her colleagues in the House last year that the word “marijuana” has racial undertones that go back nearly a century.

“The term ‘marijuana’ itself is pejorative and racist,” Morgan said. “As recreational marijuana use became more popular, it was negatively associated with Mexican immigrants.”

“Even though it seems simple because it’s just one word, the reality is, we’re healing the wrongs that were committed against Black and Brown people around cannabis,” she added.

Racist Language in Legislation

Morgan said that the word’s racist connotation was initiated by Harry Anslinger, the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, which later became the Drug Enforcement Administration. Anslinger was an instrumental force in the passage of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which began the U.S. prohibition of cannabis.

“It was … Anslinger that said, and I quote, ‘Marijuana is the most violent causing drug in the history of mankind. And most marijuana users are Negroes, Hispanic, Caribbean, and entertainers. Their satanic music, jazz, and swing results from marijuana usage,’” Morgan said during a legislative hearing.

State Representative Emily Wicks said the bill can help change how conversations about cannabis are framed.

“Although we call it a technical fix, I think it does a lot to undo, or at least correct in some effort, some of the serious harms around this language,” Wicks said.

Joy Hollingsworth, who owns Hollingsworth Cannabis Company with her family, told KIRO television news that the word “marijuana” is an unwelcome term for many people in communities of color.

“It had been talked about for a long time in our community about how that word demonizes the cannabis plant,” said Hollingsworth, who learned about the negative association of the word from her mother.

“She was the one who educated us on the term and how it was derogatory, and we shouldn’t use it anymore,” Hollingsworth said. “We have a lot of people, especially in the Black community, that went to prison over cannabis for years, that were locked up, separated from their nuclear family, which is huge.”

Hollingsworth said that House Bill 1210 is a step in the right direction. But she would also like to see more action on social equity in cannabis from state lawmakers.

“We’ll take any win, right? But we don’t want to get caught up on the performative equity piece where we’re just talking about words and not actual legislation and policy,” Hollingsworth said.

One possibility would be to invest cannabis taxes in communities disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs.

“We will feel like the industry has paid off when we see those funds get put into college scholarships,” Hollingsworth said. “Maybe a family wanted to buy a home, and they were from the Central District of Seattle, and they wanted to go back there because they were priced out. They could get a loan from those funds. Thinking about creative ways to make impactful scalable solutions in our community is what I’m looking for.” 

Cannabis Industry and Advocates Support Bill

House Bill 1210 was supported by state and national cannabis reform advocacy groups and industry representatives, including the Craft Cannabis Coalition (CCC), a Tacoma-based retail trade group.

“Our association is supportive of social equity in the cannabis industry and strongly recognize the harm the war on drugs caused,” CCC Executive Director Adán Espino Jr. told The Center Square in an email. “We do not feel as strongly about the term ‘marijuana’ as others seem to, but we do appreciate the transition to the term ‘cannabis’ as the industry continues to develop and professionalize. If the term ‘marijuana’ has fallen out of practice, that is just the reality of it.”

Tiffany Watkins, a member of the National Cannabis Industry Association’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee, said that Washington needs to make more substantive efforts at social equity in the cannabis industry.

“While it’s definitely time to steer permanently away from terms based in racism, replacing marijuana with cannabis is merely a drop in the ocean when it comes to correcting the wrong done by the war on drugs,” she said via email. “Much more attention needs to be brought to how a state with over 10 years of legal cannabis operations still has no social equity program in place to acknowledge the barriers to entry for its BIPOC [Black, indigenous, people of color] individuals.”

In 2020, the Washington legislature established the Washington Task Force on Social Equity in Cannabis to develop policies and recommendations to support social equity in the state’s cannabis industry. The panel is currently working on proposals to provide grants to social equity applicants to help fund the launch and licensing of new cannabis businesses. House Bill 1210 goes into effect in June.

The post Washington Lawmakers Delete the Word ‘Marijuana’ from State Statutes appeared first on High Times.

New York and Montana: Contrasts in Cannabis Equity

New York and Montana, two states to have recently legalized cannabis, provide a study in contrasts in the question of equity.

In New York, concrete steps are being taken to shape a market model that corrects the social injustices of prohibition and the War on Drugs. However, advocates are watching with a critical eye to assure that these programs will be implemented in a meaningful way. In Montana, the challenges appear to be greater. Those most excluded from the state’s economy—Native Americans—are having to fight their way into the cannabis market.

Gov. Hochul Talks the Talk 

It’s now a year since New York passed the Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act (MRTA), perhaps the most progressive and far-reaching state-wide cannabis legalization statute in the country. Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul—who faces a challenge from a field full of progressive candidates in the June primaries ahead of the November election—is building on MRTA’s measures for restorative justice.

On March 10, Gov. Hochul announced that the first 100 retail licenses to sell cannabis will go to those with marijuana convictions as part of the MRTA-envisioned Social & Economic Equity program.

Chris Alexander, executive director of the state’s Office of Cannabis Management, told the New York Times that by focusing early on “those who otherwise would’ve been left behind,” New York is in a “position to do something that hasn’t been done before.”  

Alexander said he expected between 100 and 200 licenses to go to people who were convicted of a marijuana-related offense pre-legalization, or who have “a parent, guardian, child, spouse or dependent” with a marijuana conviction.

Hochul is asking the state Legislature for $200 million in this year’s budget to be spent on finding, securing and renovating storefronts for cannabis retailers. These initial dispensaries should be up and running by the end of the year, or in early 2023, if the proposed regulations are approved by the Cannabis Control Board.

The New York Times spoke to one hopeful applicant—Baron Fajardo of Harlem, who was first arrested for cannabis when he was 16. Six more such arrests followed as he moved from smoker to dealer. “As a person you feel down, a little bit defeated, like ‘Oh, I got a stain on my name,’” said Fajardo, now 34. “Now, that stain is actually the same thing that can help you.”

Hochul made her announcement of the program two days after New York state’s Cannabis Social Equity Coalition held a rally outside the state capitol building in Albany to press the governor on the question.

The coalition is concerned that Black and other minority entrepreneurs are already being overlooked in an industry model supposedly “designed to redress what Black people have been made to endure” under cannabis prohibition, Mika’il DeVeaux, the group’s chairman, told the Albany Times-Union.

“We’ve been asking for provisional licenses since early 2021,” DeVeaux said.

The first step toward provisional licenses was taken on Feb. 22, when Hochul signed a “conditional cultivation bill” that will allow hemp farmers to grow marijuana for the legal market this year.

“I’m proud to sign this bill, which positions New York’s farmers to be the first to grow cannabis and jumpstart the safe, equitable and inclusive new industry we are building,” Hochul stated then.

Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes added: “We’re beginning to undo the devastating impacts more than 90 years of unequal enforcement of marijuana prohibition had on too many lives and communities,” Peoples-Stokes said. “MRTA ensures that the legal adult-use market will be centered on equity and economic justice for communities of color and individuals that have been harmed most by the War on Drugs in the State of New York.”

She stressed that the new legislation calls for a Social Equity Mentorship Program, to bring prohibition-impacted communities into the cultivation sector. “The temporary conditional licenses authorized by this bill will ultimately help realize the vision and goals of the MRTA.”

But Will She Walk the Walk? 

Despite such verbiage, the advocates for an equity model in the Empire State have reason to be concerned. Big Bud is certainly poised to assume a dominant role in the market.  

Cresco Labs, a Chicago-based cannabis company, announced March 23 that it’s acquiring New York-based Columbia Care to form what will be the largest company in the US cannabis industry by revenue and the second largest in terms of retail footprint. As New York’s Gothamist notes in its coverage of the announcement, Florida-based Trulieve has 158 dispensaries, giving it the No.1 title for retail space.

The $2 billion deal will give Cresco a foothold in 17 states.

“This is how you turn brands like High Supply, Cresco and FloraCal into Miller High Life, Coca-Cola and Johnnie Walker Blue Label,” Charlie Bachtell, Cresco’s CEO, crowed to Bloomberg.

Cresco and Columbia Care, both publicly traded, already hold medical marijuana licenses in New York, and each has four dispensaries across the state. The two companies have already gobbled up valuable real estate in New York City ahead of the opening of what will certainly be the state’s most lucrative adult-use market. Cresco, operating under the brand Sunnyside in New York, plans to open its first adult-use retail outlet in Brooklyn’s hipster-haunted neighborhood of Williamsburg, while Columbia Care has its flagship shop near Union Square and a second in Downtown Brooklyn. Columbia Care also holds a medical license in New Jersey, another state on the countdown to the first legal adult-use sales. 

A slew of other industry giants already have operations in New York state, and Gothamist reports that “big names like the DIY-maven Martha Stewart, the Rockefeller family and Constellation Brands (the liquor giant that owns Corona and Svedka) will likely have a stake.”

Meanwhile, a long-anticipated crackdown seems to be imminent for the unregulated “gray market” that has been thriving in New York City—often Black and Latin legacy operators that have been setting up shop in storefronts or on tables set up in parks.

Washington Square, in the heart of Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, has been the city’s premier location. Sales of pre-rolls and edibles—just barely disguised as promotional giveaways with a purchase of other merchandise, such as baseball caps with a cannabis-leaf logo—have been tolerated there since last spring. 

But Captain Stephen Spataro, commander of the NYPD’s local Sixth Precinct, now tells The Village Sun that his officers are now taking a “zero tolerance” approach to cannabis vending. Pointing to some unfortunate instances of violence around the tables in the park, Spataro warned of the dangers of an unregulated market. 

Another story in The Village Sun foresees an imminent end to the storefront “cannabis clubs” that are operating on a similar basis at a few locations around the city. 

“Initially, there’ll be very heavy civil fines—$25,000 to $250,000,” predicted East Village attorney Stanley Cohen. “Then forfeiture of cars, houses and other licenses. You need licenses to open a store in New York. It might not be for six months or a year, but it’s going to happen. They’re serious about this shit,” Cohen said.

And it isn’t just in the big city. Such stores are starting to proliferate in Upstate locales, too. In the college town of Ithaca, in the scenic Finger Lakes region, they’re called “sticker stores”—because they ostensibly give away cannabis with purchase of a (very overpriced) decal sticker. But in February 2022, the city administration issued a “clarification that unlicensed cannabis sales remain illegal in New York.”

And in February, the state Office of Cannabis Management announced that it had “sent letters ordering businesses suspected of illegally selling cannabis, including the practice of ‘gifting,’ to cease and desist those operations or risk the opportunity to get a license in the legal market as well as substantial fines and possible criminal penalties.”

Challenges for Cannabis on Native American Lands 

Then there’s the dispute over the legality of cannabis operations on New York state’s Native American lands. About a dozen cannabis retail outlets have opened on the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation, also known as Akwesasne, along the St. Lawrence River in the far north of the state. They’re operating without any “sticker” subterfuge—but asserting their rights on grounds of indigenous sovereignty.

“I think this is a relief valve for our visitors, our friends, our families,” William Roger Jock, a partner in the reservation’s Good Leaf Dispensary, enthused to the Associated Press in March. “We’ve been stepped on for so long and to have something like this happen, it’s almost liberating.” 

The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Council adopted an adult-use ordinance in June 2021 that allows issuance of cannabis business licenses to tribal members. The council openly said in a prepared statement to the AP that “there’s a short window of time for tribally licensed cannabis businesses to open ahead of other areas in New York state.” 

But some shops have opened without licenses from the tribal government. Jock and others say their operations are approved by the Longhouse, a traditional leadership structure on the reservation that serves as a kind of parallel government. 

The smaller operations approved by the Longhouse will soon face competition from a new “superstore” called Budders, which is on track to open along the reservation’s main strip, with a license from the “official” tribal government.  

The Cayuga Nation, in New York’s bucolic Finger Lakes region, also operates several retail shops along Cayuga Lake, and is now planning to branch out into cultivation. 

As Syracuse.com reports, the Cayugas say they’ll begin indoor grow operations in a 15,000-square-foot building under development on their Gakwiyo Garden property, south of the village of Seneca Falls.  

But the Cayugas are at present bitterly divided between the “official” and “traditional” tribal governments. And on New Year’s Day this year, a retail cannabis outlet in Seneca Falls that had approval of the “traditional” government was shut down in a raid by the “official” government’s Cayuga Nation Police Department. 

Further west, the Seneca Nation of Indians has established its own Cannabis Department, and is running retail outlets in and around its reservations at Allegany and Cattaraugus, with names like Good Leaf and 420 Rez Bud.

The good news is that it looks like the state government is staying out of it. Last September, The New York Times wrote a profile of the operations at Akwesasne stating the following: “For their part, the New York State authorities seem to be taking a hands-off approach to the early entrepreneurs on the St. Regis reservation, noting that such businesses are legal on federally recognized, sovereign tribal land.” 

Bottlenecks in Big Sky Country 

In a February 2022 opinion piece for amNY, Stacey Webb, co-founder and chief equity officer of The Pantheon Collective, an LGBTQiA+ majority-owned cannabis start-up in the Adirondack Mountains, took stock of New York’s responsibilities as an example for the nation: “According to the 2021 Census, a little more than 42 percent of the US population are members of the BIPOC [Black, indigenous and people of color] community, yet less than 3 percent of legal cannabis businesses reflect ownership by BIPOC individuals. This gap is far too wide and makes it glaringly obvious that existing plans for inclusion are currently insufficient.” 

Webb pointed out that “of the 37 states who have some form of a legalized cannabis program (medical and/or adult-use), only 13 of these states have rolled out some form of a social and economic equity program. This represents a mere 27 percent. Of those, only New York and Massachusetts have developed programs which specifically name the BIPOC community as a benefactor of these programs for inclusivity.”

Voters in Montana approved a cannabis legalization initiative in 2020, but there have been no provisions for equity. Of course, these two states are a study in contrasts. The US Census says that New York has a population of some 20 million, of which a combined 37% are Black or Latin—the two communities most impacted by the oppressions of prohibition. Native Americans, another traditionally marginalized group, constitute but 1%.

According to the US Census, Montana has just a little more than one million residents, of which some 4% are Latin and less than 1% Black. But Native Americans constitute 6.7% of Montana’s population—a far more significant share.

And in Montana, the law does include provisions that limit the participation of Indian tribes in the legal cannabis economy. One indigenous nation that wants to get in on cultivation is currently lobbying the statehouse to change the law.

The Crow Tribe, who have a large reservation just south of Billings, voted to enter the cannabis industry with its own tribal ordinance in April 2021. “We’re moving forward. We’re diversifying our economy throughout the tribe. Coal was the name of the game for the tribe for a while, but for good business we have to diversify within the reservation,” tribal chairman Frank White Clay told the Billings Gazette.

The state regulations then being drawn up by the Legislature granted one cannabis business license to each tribal government, but the state’s eight recognized tribes have been slow to respond. This is because, in the words of the Helena Independent Record, “hurdles emerged from the law’s fine print.” 

Adult-use cannabis sales topped $12.8 million just in their first month, January 2022. The following month, Crow Nation representatives testified before the state Economic Affairs Interim Committee in Helena.

“The intention is there to help the tribes, but the follow-through failed,” White Clay told the committee.

While other cannabis businesses are free to expand their footprint throughout the state, licenses for tribal enterprises are far more restricted. Such enterprises are allowed to operate a single combined cultivation and retail site within 150 miles of the borders of the reservation in question.

Operating off-reservation is a means of dodging potential problems with the federal government, which still considers cannabis an illegal drug and asserts jurisdiction on the reservations of federally recognized tribes. The 150-mile limit also allows tribes to enter the market in more populous areas of the state. But it’s still a limit not faced by other businesses. And it isn’t the only one.

Some have already been addressed. House Bill 701, the legalization enabling law passed by the statehouse in April 2021 and signed by Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte the following month, only allowed issuance of “Tier 1” licenses to tribes—the smallest cultivation capacity level. The law allowed general license holders—not tribal ones—to start at Tier 1 and scale up to expand capacity. In December 2021, the Economic Affairs Committee, with approval of the Department of Revenue’s Cannabis Control Division, voted to reject that rule, and later approved a revised rule allowing tribes to similarly expand their capacity.

But Crow officials in their February 2022 testimony asked lawmakers to further revise the rules—allowing tribal businesses to operate on the same terms as any other cannabis business. They also called for a provision allowing the state to enter into “compacts” with tribal governments, allowing indigenous nations to operate a cannabis business on their own terms—not the state rules. Such “compacts” are already in place for tribal tobacco and alcohol businesses.

In his testimony, Crow Tribe secretary Levi Black Eagle noted that Interstate 90 and Highway 212 intersect at the heart of the reservation, and that most of traffic passes through in the summer tourist season.

“If we’re unable to take advantage of an economic opportunity such as that, it’d be wrong,” he told lawmakers, according to the Independent Record.

New York and Montana alike can take timely action to assure that cannabis legalization lives up to its promises, for a more just post-prohibition world.

The post New York and Montana: Contrasts in Cannabis Equity appeared first on Cannabis Now.

The 4/20 Holiday: Who’s It Actually For?

Cannabis’ journey toward legalization in the US is helpful in understanding the shift taking place around the 4/20 holiday. Although legal marijuana in the US owes an unpayable debt to San Francisco—to the struggles and the activists living in the city, those affected by AIDS and the counterculture warriors who laid the groundwork for the first legal cannabis in the nation—the historic relationship between cannabis and the “official” San Francisco, the civic leaders and the electeds, is at best uneasy and erratic. 

Here’s a data point. Back in 2010, when California had the chance to be the first state in the country to legalize adult-use cannabis, it was San Francisco elected officials—then-Mayor Gavin Newsom, then-District Attorney Kamala Harris and Senator Dianne Feinstein—who led the charge against legalization. Voters listened, and Prop. 19 lost that fall by seven percentage points. 

Here’s another: Now, in 2022, in California’s fifth year of adult-use legalization, with the local tourism economy in the toilet post-COVID-19 pandemic and civic leaders desperate for a boost, San Francisco City Hall and local business boosters have launched a 4/20-themed “cannabis festival.” Official weed-themed scavenger hunts, historic walking tours and dispensary visits, all predicated on the hope that cannabis can help bail the ailing city out. 

When the city is in need, weed is there, a handier ATM than casinos or parking tickets, and 4/20 is the shill. But how about the flip side? Every legal cannabis business says they desperately need tax relief to stay alive, to ensure legalization doesn’t fail and box out the much more affordable illicit market. All that’s up to someone else, say Newsom, Harris or Feinstein. So far, nobody’s pledged to reciprocate.

This history is relevant because it illuminates something, about cannabis broadly, and 4/20 in particular. 

The Slow Capture of 4/20

After decades of shunning and scorn, weed’s sudden embrace as a point of civic pride is part of the slow but unmistakable tectonic shift we’ve witnessed in our lifetimes—from when a nub of a burnt-out joint, a scale or more than two baggies was casus belli for millions of people to become victims of the War on Drugs. Fast forward to present day, and there are almost enough billion-dollar cannabis companies to field a baseball team. 

There’s progress and that’s good. But something else is happening. 4/20 itself, instead of a renegade act of mass defiance—shamed in the media for being too messy—is now an official permitted event, complete with vendors, on-site sales…and rules. Officially at least, you can’t bring your own stash into Golden Gate Park this year. You can smoke all you want, provided you buy from the right people who paid for the privilege.

The slow capture of the 4/20 holiday begs a question: Just who’s all of this for? 

Caryn York smokes weed. She smokes even after she was arrested for petty possession in 2003, the summer after her freshman year in college, and spent the night in jail for three grams of cannabis. She got probation but, as the judge warned her, her life was very nearly derailed—for three grams of weed

Today, a professional and the executive director of the Women’s Prison Association, which advocates for women formerly and currently incarcerated, she still smokes. But for York, a Black woman from Baltimore, 4/20 hits different than it does for some of the rest of us.

“4/20 was never really a holiday in the Black community,” she said in an April 15 interview. With the episodes like the night when a city police officer swooped on York and her friends smoking in a park, bringing them to jail, “We’d celebrate 4/20 in secret,” she said. “I didn’t really learn about 4/20 until I was in college.” 

While at university, she discovered her white friends engaging in what looked a little like a goofy sorority ritual: speaking in code words, arranging a rendezvous on a special day, at a specific time. And for what, exactly? They weren’t at the same risk. This was just a game. And what if you smoked every day—for pain or for pleasure, physical or mental?

York lives in New York City now, as I do. In NYC, where Rudy Giuliani’s lasting legacy is ramping up marijuana arrests from a few thousand a year in the early 1990s, to more than 50,000 by the year 2000, legalization is still fresh and new. It doesn’t hurt you can smoke cannabis wherever you can smoke tobacco without the risk of copping a ticket, a right still denied to cannabis users in California, Colorado, Oregon and every other state that legalized cannabis a decade ago. 

In New York, in only the second 4/20 of the state’s adult-use legalization, it’s a massive party, a free-for-all. Rooftop parties, VIP smoke-outs, an enormous crowd in Washington Square Park, where plugs set up card tables and trap all day without fear of police who can only write a $250 violation for petty sales. 

This is all great. In New York, the 4/20 holiday is not corporatized, monetized or captured yet by the same establishment that spent decades trying to quash, discourage or shame it. But something’s still missing.

“When I think of 4/20 today, I actually don’t connect it to any of the current efforts to legalize marijuana,” York told me. “We have to go deeper.”

For example: New legalization laws automatically expunge old criminal records of marijuana offenses that are now legal. That’s nice—but marijuana arrests weren’t designed to simply snare someone for smoking weed. The smell of marijuana was probable cause to search your pockets or your car, to check your probation status. Legalization doesn’t clear other charges racked up after the smell of pot drew in police like moths to a lightbulb.

“It’s personal for me,” York said. “It’s triggering a bit, where it’s like, I went to jail for this shit. I had a criminal record that I had to actively have expunged.” 

One may say 4/20 is a holiday and not the time to think about the work. That might land if it weren’t for the fact that most of us don’t think about it much on the other 364 days, either.

Is 4/20 The Next Hallmark Holiday?

It was somewhere between the billboards making dusty stoner puns in order to pimp pizza rolls; the ads featuring red-eyed, droopy-lidded anthropomorphic food containers—whether it was Buffalo Wild Wings or someone else, I can’t remember and I don’t care. It was somewhere between the smarmy best junk-food to eat on 4/20 listicles and Carl’s Jr stuffing CBD in its hamburgers for whatever reason, when the 20th day of April started to feel a little old, a little played-out. 

All this was inevitable. Complaining about America doing an America is 21st-century tilting at windmills. In the same way the cannabis legalization movement gave way to a capitalized industry, “tax and regulate” means 4/20 completes its long and predictable journey from teen-aged inside joke, to counterculture milestone, to crass marketing opportunity. A Hallmark card can’t be far behind, when what we really could use is a federal holiday for the millions and millions of drug-war victims.

Because that’s the thing. The War on Drugs isn’t over. Weed was the easiest catch—everyone uses it, it stinks up the room—but cannabis prohibition was just the most obvious symptom of an overall malady that’s still plaguing us. We’re still sick, but here we are, releasing ourselves from the hospital, shaking society’s hand—a hand that, until just a little while ago, held a knife stuck into our backs. Let’s wipe the blood off before we have a party.

It’s nice that the 4/20 holiday is bigger than ever and people are having fun. I genuinely hope more people smoke weed. But 4/20 should also have at least some acknowledgment of the unfinished business at hand. Instead, it’s business as usual. 

The post The 4/20 Holiday: Who’s It Actually For? appeared first on Cannabis Now.

Arizona Awards Cannabis Social Equity Licenses

Arizona state regulators awarded cannabis social equity business licenses last week, selecting 26 lucky winners out of a lottery pool of nearly 1,200 applicants. The Arizona Department of Health Services Offices selected the winners at its office on Friday after a judge ended a challenge to the state’s program to award licenses for recreational cannabis dispensaries to applicants negatively impacted by the War on Drugs.

State officials and applicants crowded the health department’s Phoenix office on Friday as the winning applicants were randomly selected using Smartplay International state lottery software. The process was operated and audited by Henry & Horne LLP to ensure the security of the selection lottery. The selected applicants will now begin the process to open licensed adult-use cannabis dispensaries.

Legalization with Equity

Proposition 207, the historic voter initiative to legalize recreational cannabis passed by Arizona voters in 2020, included provisions to “promote the ownership and operation of marijuana establishments and marijuana testing facilities by individuals from communities disproportionately impacted by the enforcement of previous marijuana laws.” Applicant Arianna Munoz told reporters before the lottery that the social equity program has the potential to change her life.

“It would create generational wealth for me and my family. It would give me more opportunities to create other business ventures,” said Munoz, who was not selected in Friday’s lottery. “I’ve always wanted to be a brand owner and dispensary owner and it was the perfect time.”

Arizona’s legalization initiative included provisions to grant recreational cannabis business licenses to the state’s existing medical dispensaries, which began selling cannabis products to adults in January 2021. But social equity retailers will not be able to sell cannabis for medicinal purposes.

“Prop. 207 didn’t amend the Arizona Medical Marijuana act at all, so the reason why the currently established medical licenses can be kind of co-located is because they already existed,” explained Sam Richard, executive director of the Arizona Dispensary Association. “The only new licenses Prop. 207 created were adult-use, recreational licenses.”

Jon Udell, the director of politics for the Arizona branch of the National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said that a bill to fix the issue has died in the state legislature.

“Right now there just isn’t really a realistic path forward” for a legislative solution,” Udell said.

On Wednesday, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge James Smith ruled against three social applicants who filed a legal action to delay Friday’s lottery. Paul Conant, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said that the social equity licenses should not be awarded before the health department conducted background checks on the applicants. He argued that the process could lead to the selection of unqualified applicants.

“This is a one-time deal in Arizona,” Conant argued at a hearing on Wednesday. Awarding licenses to unqualified applicants only to revoke them later “would be unfair to all the other people who have submitted applications, paid their $4,000 application fee, and otherwise have gone through the process of trying to qualify.”

But the judge rejected the argument and declined to issue an injunction to block Friday’s lottery.

“The Court finds that the Department properly exercised power that Proposition 207 expressly gave it, used proper procedures, and used its discretion when deciding whether to hold the drawing before or after completing the checks,” Smith wrote in a ruling quoted by the Phoenix New Times.

Other challenges to Arizona’s cannabis social equity program focused on the details of business ownership. Under the regulations, qualified individuals must own 51% of a social equity business, allowing large corporations and multi-state operators an avenue to partner with applicants to operate under the program. Business owners are also permitted to sell their licenses to companies that are not owned by social equity applicants. Critics charge the rules for the program fail to live up to its social equity objectives.

Because Arizona’s recreational cannabis regulations include a cap on the number of adult-use dispensaries that can be licensed by the state, the social equity licenses awarded last week will be the last to be awarded for the foreseeable future. The selected applicants have 18 months to open their dispensaries. A list of the lottery winners is available online.

The post Arizona Awards Cannabis Social Equity Licenses appeared first on High Times.

U.S. House Passes MORE Act To Decriminalize Cannabis at the Federal Level

Cannabis advocates have a reason to rejoice this Friday with federal legislation moving forward to decriminalize cannabis at the federal level, which would change everything. The U.S. House of Representatives approved the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act, or H.R. 3617, in a floor vote Friday. It’s the second time the House approved the bill as the historic piece of legislation makes its way to the Senate.

The MORE Act was approved April 1 on a mostly party-line 220-204 vote. A previous version of the bill was approved in December 2020—also on a mostly party-line vote—which was the first comprehensive cannabis policy reform legislation to receive a floor vote or be approved by either chamber of Congress.

The MORE Act would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, allowing states to legalize cannabis markets without fear of federal interference. It would include provisions for the expungement or resentencing of people with nonviolent federal cannabis convictions.

It would also promote diversity in the cannabis industry at the state level, and help repair the disproportionate harms caused by America’s War on Drugs. According to a recent Congressional Budget Office analysis, the Act, if passed, would increase tax revenues by over $8 billion over a 10-year period and would also drastically reduce federal prison costs.

High Times obtained several statements from leadership of national cannabis organizations.

“At a time when the majority of states regulate marijuana use and when the majority of voters of all political ideologies support legalization, it makes no sense from a political, fiscal, or cultural perspective for federal lawmakers to continue to support the ‘flat Earth’ failed federal prohibitionist policies of the past,” NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano told High TImes. “It is time for members of the Senate to follow the House’s lead and take appropriate actions to comport federal law with majority public opinion and with the plant’s rapidly changing legal and cultural status.”

“It is time for the Senate to have the courage to do what the House of Representatives has now done twice, vote to end our failed and racist war on marijuana consumers,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri told High Times. “The American public, no matter their political persuasion, overwhelmingly support legalization and the federal government should acknowledge the will of the people and promptly send the MORE Act to the president’s desk.”

“This vote is a clear indicator that Congress is finally listening to the vast majority of voters who are sick and tired of our failed marijuana criminalization policies and the damage they continue to inflict in communities across the nation every day,” said NORML’s Political Director Morgan Fox. “It is long overdue that we stop punishing adults for using a substance that is objectively safer than alcohol, and that we work to address the disparate negative impacts that prohibition has inflicted on our most vulnerable individuals and marginalized communities for nearly a century.”

Fox replaced outgoing NORML staffer Justin Strekal last January when he assumed the role as political director, and already, federal legislation is moving forward quickly.

“The time has come for federal lawmakers to put aside partisan differences and recognize that state-level legalization policies are publicly popular, successful, and are in the best interests of our country,” Fox added. “Now that the House has once again supported sensible and comprehensive cannabis policy reform, we strongly urge the Senate to move forward on this issue without delay.”

Other organizations agreed about the urgency of the legislation. The US Cannabis Council (USCC) is a leading force for ending federal prohibition—particularly creating an equitable and values-driven cannabis industry, which is one of the defining factors between the MORE Act and similar legislation.

“Descheduling of cannabis is on the march across the United States, and the House has now passed the MORE Act in two successive sessions of Congress,” USCC CEO Steven Hawkins said in a statement sent to High Times. “Today’s historic vote comes as the Senate prepares for the formal introduction of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act. Taken together, Congress is strongly signaling that the end of federal cannabis prohibition is nearing.”

Hawkins also acknowledges the uphill battle the bill will face.

“There is much more work to be done before any bill reaches the President’s desk, but we are approaching the end of the cannabis prohibition era,” Hawkins said. “As more states launch medical and adult-use cannabis programs, as the majority of Americans who support reform continues to grow, and as more Americans have jobs in an industry that already employs over 400,000 people, the pressure will build on Congress to act.

“Despite the April 1 timing, cannabis reform is serious business. USCC broadly supports descheduling alongside specific reforms such as banking reform, expungement and tax relief.”

The bill now heads to the Senate where it needs 60 votes to advance. There is currently no companion bill in the Senate, however Majority Leader Schumer along with Senators Booker and Wyden are expected to introduce a comprehensive cannabis reform bill in the next month.

“With voter support for legal cannabis at an all-time high and more and more states moving away from prohibition, we commend the House for once again taking this step to modernize our federal marijuana policies,” stated NCIA Chief Executive Officer and co-founder Aaron Smith. “Now is the time for the Senate to act on sensible reform legislation so that we can finally end the failure of prohibition and foster a well regulated marketplace for cannabis.”

The MORE Act is certainly not the only federal bill moving forward. Meanwhile, on March 24, 2022, the Senate unanimously passed the Cannabidiol and Marihuana Research Expansion (CMRE) Act. The current version of the CMRE Act would streamline the application process for researchers, allowing them to study cannabis and push the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to promote and develop cannabis-based pharmaceuticals.

In addition, Sen. Nancy Mace introduced the States Reform Act, which some advocates believe has better chances in the Senate, while others disagree.

Because 10 Republican Senators are needed to pass the MORE Act in the Senate, some worry about its chances of crossing the finish line. George Macheril, CEO of cannabis industry lender Bespoke Financial, is one of those people. “While the House vote on the MORE Act is expected to pass again, we see this as more of a symbolic gesture which will have very little chance of surviving the Senate,” Macheril told High Times on March 25.

The post U.S. House Passes MORE Act To Decriminalize Cannabis at the Federal Level appeared first on High Times.