Category: Current Events

More than Just a Promise for Votes and Money: Congress Needs to to Deliver on Cannabis

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has been saying all of the right things on cannabis ever since he first introduced a bill to end federal prohibition on April 20th, 2018. Legalization has proven to be a very popular policy with supermajority support. Cannabis reform was touted widely by Schumer, newly-elected Georgia Senator Jon Ossoff, and other Democrats as they gained control of the Senate for the first time in eight years, and now is the time to deliver. I’m not politically naive to believe that ending the failed and racist war on cannabis will be at the top of any politician’s list, but Schumer has stated that reforms are a part of the party’s economic and criminal justice platforms. As Marijuana Moment reported, Sen. Schumer recently sent out a fundraising email touting cannabis policy changes after climate change and economic inequality:

“Next is criminal justice reform—and voters agree,” he wrote. “Voters in four more states this election voted to legalize adult recreational use of marijuana, and that proves once again it’s past time to work to undo the harm done by misplaced priorities, particularly in Black and brown communities. It’s time to decriminalize marijuana nationally.”

Last month, the majority leader pledged that he, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) would release a draft bill to end federal marijuana prohibition “in the early part of this year.” The three senators followed that up by holding a meeting with cannabis reform groups to discuss the plan.

While it’s not clear what the draft Senate marijuana reform proposal will entail, or when it will be released, Schumer said lawmakers are in the process of merging various pieces of existing legislation.

Politicians make a lot of promises and no one can expect that they will keep them all, but you can’t blame voters for being disillusioned when you make a promise, tout that promise, fundraise off of that promise, and then don’t deliver when you are given the power and opportunity to do so. With the Senate split 50-50 and a Democrat or two potentially being squishy on legalization, Schumer may need to reach across the aisle to Rand Paul, who has been libertarian-minded on cannabis policy (maybe not as good as his father Ron, but still) or a Republican like Lisa Murkowski who represents a state with legal cannabis to get things done. He better try. And if legalization is too big of a political lift, we best see cannabis banking services allowed via the SAFE Banking Act or put an end to the 280e IRS tax code that punished state-regulated cannabis businesses, especially small craft cannabis boutiques like Kind Leaf. With the House expected to pass a version of the MORE Act again, the Senate will be put on the spot and if Senator Schumer’s promises turn out to be smoke and mirrors, well, his term as Senate Majority Leader will likely be a short one.

California Bill Would Outlaw Most Employment Cannabis Drug Tests, Oregon Should Follow Suit

The cannabis community today occupies a unique place in our society. We can celebrate being at an apex of the legalization movement with more than a dozen states, a few territories, and our nation’s capitol with legal cannabis, along with more than 30 states allowing medicinal use. All of the success at the state level propelled the United States House of Representatives to vote to end federal cannabis prohibition with the MORE Act last year, with hopes that an even better version of the legalization bill, with important equity provisions will pass this year. New Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced that legalization is a part of the Democratic Party’s racial justice platform, President Joe Biden improved upon his pro-Drug War history announcing his support for decriminalization, and a supermajority of Americans now support sweeping cannabis prohibition into the dustbin of history where it belongs. The mainstreaming of cannabis has gone far beyond political beliefs, with the substance garnering more and more positive cultural visibility as more people are coming out of the “cannabis closet.”

Still there are still too many inequalities that exist for the industry and those that utilize cannabis. While the lack of banking access hurts state-regulated businesses and their vendors, those that choose to utilize cannabis still face discrimination in employment practices. While everyone, save for the most rabid Reefer Madness prohibitionists, understand that cannabis is one of the safest and least addictive drugs one may use, it is the most likely substance to show up on an employment drug test because the inactive metabolites of THC, the main psychoactive cannabinoid, can still be present in a urine test a full month after usage, even though the user is not impaired whatsoever. Not only do drug tests unnecessarily harm cannabis consumers, they can actually push people into using more addictive and lethal substances as most flush out of your system within a couple of days. One California legislator is hoping to change this, introducing a bill that will ban most employment drug screenings for cannabis, as The Sacramento Bee reports:

A new bill in the Legislature aims to end a still common employment practice five years after Californians voted to legalize recreational cannabis in which private companies require can workers to test for marijuana use.

Assembly Bill 1256, introduced by Assemblyman Bill Quirk, D-Hayward, is intended to prevent employers from using past evidence of marijuana use, such as a hair or urine test, as justification for discrimination against an employee, such as denying or terminating employment, according to Dale Gieringer, director of California NORML, a sponsor of the bill.

***

The bill’s current language carries several exemptions.

Employers under a federal mandate to test for THC, or that would lose a monetary or licensing-related benefit for failing to test for THC. Also exempted would be employers in the building and construction trades.

Oregon, and every state that has legalized cannabis, should follow suit. The cannabis industry has been deemed “essential” during the COVID pandemic, creating jobs and generating revenue during a perilous economic emergency. The consumers that are fueling record-breaking sales and tax revenue numbers shouldn’t be fearful of losing their jobs and employees shouldn’t be denied a relatively safe substance that is legal under their state’s law. It’s time for states to take can important move forward in treating the cannabis community equally under the law.

Washington State Follow’s Oregon’s Lead and Decriminalizes Personal Drug Possession

As one of the chief petitioners for the Oregon Measure 110 drug decriminalization measure, I’ve often been asked about which states would be the next to follow suit and swing a big sledgehammer at the the failed and racist Drug War and I always mentioned our great friend and neighbor to the north for a number of reasons. Washington and Oregon have both been pioneers on cannabis and other progressive reforms, such as voting by mail, death with dignity, and bottle deposits. Plus, both states have the initiative process that make “controversial” policy changes possible as too many legislators and policymakers tend to be too conservative to pass Drug War reforms until overwhelming voter support forces their hand, about a decade after a majority of the population is ready for the change. If it wasn’t for the COVID pandemic, an initiative similar to M110 would have likely been on Washington’s ballot in 2020 as well.

I expected our Great Northwest neighbors to successfully pass a decriminalization initiative in 2022 or 2024 at the latest, I certainly didn’t expect for Washington to decriminalize drug possession in 2021 because of a state supreme court decision. OPB reported on the landmark case:

Five justices, led by Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud, said the state law was unconstitutional because it criminalized her passive, unknowing conduct, in violation of her due process protections. A letter carrier who unwittingly delivers a package of drugs, someone whose roommate hides drugs in a common living area, and someone who picks up the wrong bag at an airport could all be convicted under the law, she noted.

“Attaching the harsh penalties of felony conviction, lengthy imprisonment, stigma, and the many collateral consequences that accompany every felony drug conviction to entirely innocent and passive conduct exceeds the legislature’s powers,” Gordon McCloud wrote for the majority.

For more than six decades, the court had affirmed the Legislature’s power to criminalize drug possession without proof of a defendant’s intent to possess them. In a crucial decision from 1981, the court expressly noted that if lawmakers had wanted to require proof of intent, they would have made that an element of the crime.

Theshia Naidoo, managing director for the Drug Policy Alliance’s Department of Legal Affairs issued the following statement in a press release:

This decision is a perfect dovetail to the drug decriminalization bill moving through the legislature, which has already passed out of committee.  We urge legislators to immediately consider this bill and the benefits it would bring, including expanded health, harm reduction and recovery services, rather than re-enacting the harmful criminal penalties of the past that have resulted in extreme racial disparities, record drug overdoses, and countless lives ruined.
 
Oregon has already shown us in the most recent election that decriminalization is not only politically viable, but incredibly popular — as Measure 110, which decriminalized possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use and provided increased access to services — passed by a 17 point margin. Washington should follow suit and provide people with the services they need, rather than the burden of a criminal record they are forced to carry throughout their lives.

Hopefully, Washington lawmakers see the writing on the wall and keep drug decriminalization in place. It is clear that we will not end drug addiction issues by arresting and jailing people. People need education, healthcare, employment, and housing. Let’s invest in people, not more prisons. A sincere thanks to the Washington State Supreme Court. Legislators and Governor Jay Inslee should follow their example, science, and the evidence on the ground from Portugal. If lawmakers rollback this decision and bring back racist drug penalties, I have no doubt that the great people of the Great Northwest will speak loudly and clearly that it is time to just say no to the Drug War. Step by step, state by state.

IRS Commissioner Agrees that Cannabis Businesses Need Banking Services

The lack of banking services for cannabis businesses is a national embarrassment at this point. The cannabis industry has been deemed essential during the COVID pandemic, supporting jobs and generating record-breaking tax revenues each and every quarter. Billions upon billions of dollars are flowing into retailers’ cash registers, but all too often, state-regulated companies are without bank accounts or are forced to jump through unnecessary regulatory hurdles and pay arbitrary fees just for the “privilege” of keeping an account.

The cannabis companies’ inability to maintain bank accounts impacts all of the other vendors and businesses that the industry must interact with, creating inefficiencies that shouldn’t exist. People associated with the cannabis industry, such as lawyers, consultants, and property managers have lost bank accounts as well. On top of the burdens and extra costs, the prohibition on banking creates a danger, including for state and federal workers who have to handle the ever-increasing mounds of cash that are used to pay local, state, and federal taxes.

Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner Charles Rettig testified before the House Appropriations Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee, detailing how his agency would prefer that state-legal cannabis businesses had access to banking services that would allow electronic deposits, as Marijuana Moment reported:

Rep. David Joyce (R-OH), who serves as a co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, said that barring marijuana companies from traditional financial services is “inefficient for business and the IRS alike, obviously, not to mention ample opportunity for fraud and abuse it creates, as well as potential for criminal acts as far as robbing and stealing from those.”

Rettig replied that “the IRS would prefer direct deposits moreso than receiving actual cash payments.”

“It’s a security issue for the IRS. It’s a security issue for our employees in our taxpayer assistance centers, [which] is actually where we receive these payments,” he said. “We created special facilities in the tax to receive the payments. Then we similarly have to transport the payments themselves.”

Reefer Madness prohibition policies have hurt too many people for far too long, even years after states have passed legalization laws and 2/3 of Americans support ending cannabis prohibition. Prohibitionists that claim they support public safety and health are actually endangering more people. Our nation claims to support entrepreneurship and small businesses, but federal prohibition is stifling hard-working Americans and strangling mom-and-pops while multinational corporations with deep pockets can ride out these regulatory obstacles while buying up the little guys. It’s a small miracle that locally-owned craft cannabis boutiques like Kind Leaf are able to survive and even thrive under these circumstances. It’s past time that Uncle Sam legalize cannabis, but let’s at least get the SAFE Banking Act signed into law on our march towards freedom and equality.

It’s Time that Oregon Treat Cannabis Equal to Alcohol

It’s been over six years since Oregon voters passed Measure 91, making the Beaver State the third to pass cannabis legalization, following Colorado and Washington by just two years. Since then, the overall cannabis industry has boomed becoming an essential business sector creating much-needed jobs and revenue during the COVID-ravaged economy. Those not familiar with the industry might think that cannabis is already treated equal to alcohol when record-breaking sales and revenue numbers make headline after headline. However, the bigger issue is federal, the cannabis businesses, especially small, locally-owned retailers like Kind Leaf, are unnecessarily stymied by local and state regulations as well. With federal banking and tax laws already hurting mom-and-pops, states should fully embrace the essential cannabis industry. As Green Light Law Group opined, the state’s cannabis and alcohol regulatory, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, doesn’t treat the two business sectors equally:

In a recently contested case concerning the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (“OLCC”) packaging and labeling rules, several OLCC employees submitted opinion testimony as to how they believed a reasonable cannabis consumer would interact with certain cannabis packaging, claimed by the OLCC to violate OLCC regulations. When asked about the basis for these beliefs, the OLCC witnesses admitted that they did not have any experience with any of the cannabis products they regulate. 

That the OLCC so-called expert witnesses blithely admitted a lack of real-world experience with the very products they regulate should be a source of consternation for all licensees in the industry. But given the major differences in the way the agency treats alcohol compared to the way it treats cannabis, it is probably not surprising. And let’s be clear: we are not criticizing agency staff, who are just doing their jobs and trying to stay out of trouble – this is an institutional issue.

Anyone who has visited OLCC’s headquarters cannot help but notice the various liquors proudly on display just outside the lobby. The OLCC also regularly promotes contests giving contestants the right to purchase rare liquors or even offering liquor as a prize. In contrast, to our knowledge, no marijuana has ever been displayed at OLCC headquarters, and at the hearing an OLCC witness confirmed that OLCC staff aren’t even allowed to have any items that contain cannabis at their headquarters. While OLCC marijuana regulations impose substantial restrictions on marijuana advertising, prohibiting cartoon characters or any depictions of marijuana consumption, alcoholic beverage companies are apparently free to put comic strips on their packaging depicting anthropomorphic cartoon characters getting passed-out drunk (by the way, no shade to the brewery that put out this product, it was amazing beer). These are just a few examples of the OLCC’s differing approaches to alcohol and cannabis.

Personally, I think that the OLCC had a tough job thrown at them initially and that they have done a pretty good job overall navigating the different constituencies and political forces that they have to deal with. I’ll defend or praise the agency when they deserve it and I’ll criticize when necessary. I think that the OLCC has made some decisions based upon fear of political backlash, both locally and from the federal government. It’s time to put those fears aside.

We no longer need to kowtow to a Jeff Sessions-led Justice Department or be fearful that the Oregon Legislature or voters are gonna repeal cannabis legalization. Legal cannabis is a billion dollar industry that’s here to stay and it will only become a bigger part of Oregon’s economy and culture. We no longer have to worry about the “oversupply problem” and limit cultivator licenses. Nor do we have to worry about the stigma regarding cannabis. We are not only in the majority, we are in the supermajority, it’s high time that cannabis be treated equally with alcohol, pun intended. Maybe the name change to the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission will be the jolt the agency needs.

Merrick Garland Plans to Leave Legal Cannabis States Alone as Attorney General

The cannabis community didn’t have much information on Merrick Garland’s positions on legal cannabis states when President Joe Biden nominated the one-time Supreme Court nominee to be the next Attorney General of the United States. Thanks to questioning from New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, who represents the most recent state to end cannabis prohibition, we know that a Garland-led Justice Department will leave regulated businesses alone, so long as they are complying with their state’s laws. (On a side note, I was overjoyed to see that the official New Jersey government Twitter account celebrate legalization yesterday.)

Marijuana Moment covered Garland’s nomination questioning regarding cannabis:

“It does not seem to me useful the use of limited resources that we have to be pursuing prosecutions in states that have legalized and are regulating the use of marijuana, either medically or otherwise,” he said when asked by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I don’t think that’s a useful use.”

“I do think we need to be sure that there are no end runs around the state laws that criminal enterprises are doing. That kind of enforcement should be continued,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s a good use of our resources where states have already authorized, and it only confuses people obviously within the state.”

That view is consistent with policies put into place under Obama—known as the Cole memorandum—and then rescinded by President Donald Trump’s first attorney general, Jeff Sessions.

While Joe Biden certainly wasn’t the first choice of most drug policy reformers, the priorities of his AG nominee do follow an evolution in the thinking of Biden, who deservedly has a reputation for perpetuating harmful Drug War policies as a senator. It was great to hear that Garland, a current federal judge and former prosecutor, understands the need to let states implement their own cannabis policies while also addressing the systemic racism built into the War on Drugs. While it is great news that Merrick Garland will adhere to a states’ rights cannabis policy, it is imperative that new US Attorneys follow Garland’s lead on cannabis, and other drugs as Oregon won’t be the only state to move forward with drug decriminalization and medicinal psilocybin therapy laws. The times they are a-changin’ and even our nation’s top law enforcement officers are evolving.

Mark Your Calendars: Celebrate Charlotte Figi on April 7th

The cannabis community has made tremendous strides both politically and culturally in recent years, with 15 states passing legalization laws, along with Washington, D.C., Guam and the the Commonwealth of the North Marina Island. Medical cannabis laws have been passed in 36 states, our nation’s capital, and three territories. And now, ending federal cannabis prohibition has passed the United States House and is now a mainstream position, with strong majority support among voters. There are so many activists that have helped paved the way for our success. We literally stand on the shoulders of giants and one of those giants was a young girl named Charlotte Figi, whose brave fight against epilepsy helped change our culture almost overnight. The cannabis community mourned the passing of Charlotte last year and now we can all take a day to honor the late medical cannabis patient on April 7th, as Colorado has officially declared the date Charlotte Figi Day.

The Denver Post reports:

On April 7 — officially dubbed Charlotte Figi Day in Colorado — family, friends and fans are invited to join a virtual celebration of life called Rock the RoC. Hosted by Realm of Caring, a nonprofit organization dedicated to medical marijuana research, education and advocacy, the two-hour event will feature live performances by the Avett Brothers, the War and Treaty, and Ruthie Foster, plus guest appearances from Gov. Jared Polis, CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta and more.

***

Charlotte was one of Colorado’s many medical marijuana refugees, her family having moved to the state following cannabis legalization. From the time she was an infant, she suffered from frequent and severe seizures because of Dravet syndrome, a rare and potentially life-threatening genetic disease that causes unrelenting epilepsy in children and adults. The Figis tried numerous medications to quell Charlotte’s seizures, but none worked.

Then, at age 5, (her mother Paige) Figi gave her cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive compound in cannabis, and Charlotte’s condition changed overnight. Her seizures became less frequent. She began speaking again after months of silence.

It’s hard to overstate the impact that Charlotte and her family had on our nation’s debate around cannabis legalization. It’s still baffling to me how important television is to Americans, but it certainly is. The Figi family sharing Charlotte’s health struggles and success with medical cannabis with Dr. Sanjay Gupta was a seminal moment in cannabis activism, bringing the medicinal benefits of cannabis further into the mainstream than ever before. Thanks to Charlotte and her family, Dr. Gupta went from being a prohibitionist to becoming a prominent ally. A sincere thanks to Charlotte (may she rest in peace) and her family for their strength and courage. Let’s all remember to honor Charlotte on April 7th. Her namesake strain, Charlotte’s Web, and her immense impact lives on.

Oregon’s Earl Blumenauer Helps Lead Effort to Expunge Federal Cannabis Convictions

President Joe Biden’s legislative history as a Drug War supporter caused consternation for those supporting cannabis legalization and other drug policy reforms, but he softened his stance as a candidate, pledging to support decriminalization and the expungement of cannabis offenses from folks’ criminal records. While stopping short of ending federal prohibition, Biden’s cannabis policies would be a step in the right direction. Stepping up like he always does when it comes to cannabis policy reform, Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer, along with Congressional Cannabis Caucus Co-chair, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, is leading an effort to urge President Biden to expunge harmful cannabis convictions from people’s records.

From the press release of Representatives Blumenauer and Lee, announcing how they led 35 lawmakers in urging President Joe Biden to use executive clemency to pardon individuals convicted of federal cannabis crimes:

“Until the day that Congress sends you a marijuana reform bill to sign, you have a unique ability to lead on criminal justice reform and provide immediate relief to thousands of Americans,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter sent to the president. “We urge you to grant executive clemency for all non-violent cannabis offenders.”

The lawmakers stressed that discriminatory cannabis policies have perpetuated systemic racism in America for decades, citing a 2020 report issued by the ACLU that found that Black people are 3.64 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession, despite comparable usage rates.

“During your previous tenure at the White House, President Obama understood that decades of harsh and discriminatory federal drug laws unfairly trapped minority individuals and communities in cycles of despair. That is why he used the tools of justice to grant clemency for 1,927 individuals convicted of federal crimes,” the lawmakers continued. “Your Administration has the power to expand on end this legacy and issue a general pardon to all former federal, non-violent cannabis offenders in the U.S and trigger resentencing for all those who remain federally incarcerated on non-violent, cannabis-only offenses for activity now legal under state laws.”

In their letter to President Biden Thursday, the lawmakers also noted that their request is not a partisan issue. Every president since George H.W. Bush has exercised their pardoning power for cannabis offenses.

This push from lawmakers comes after Americans in five more states voted overwhelmingly to liberalize their cannabis policies during the November elections and the U.S. House of Representatives took the historic step of passing the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act in December.

“President Biden’s leadership on issuing pardons to nonviolent federal marijuana offenders would demonstrate a down payment on his campaign promise to prioritize criminal justice reform and similarly inspire similar justice-oriented actions in a non-partisan fashion around the country,” said NORML Political Director Justin Strekal. “Shortly after President Biden’s election, the House of Representatives voted to end the federal prohibition of marijuana. Now in a new legislative session, President Biden should follow their lead and move to immediately provide relief to those who continue to suffer from a criminal record for a nonviolent federal marijuana offense. We are tremendously grateful for the leadership of the Cannabis Caucus, particularly Representatives Barbara Lee and Earl Blumenauer, as they tirelessly lead this ongoing but hopefully soon to be finished fight for marijuana justice nationwide.” 

In addition to Blumenauer and Lee, the letter was signed by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler and Reps. Nydia Velázquez, Adriano Espaillat, Bonnie Watson Coleman, James McGovern, Jan Schakowsky, Jesús “Chuy” García, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Rashida Tlaib, Danny K. Davis, Alan Lowenthal, Alcee Hastings, David Trone, Mark Pocan, Carolyn Maloney, Peter Welch, Dwight Evans, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, Jared Huffman, Pramila Jayapal, Ed Perlmutter, Mondaire Jones, Zoe Lofgren, Ro Khanna, J. Luis Correa, Brenda Lawrence, Charlie Crist, Dean Phillips, Jamaal Bowman, Steven Horsford, Henry “Hank” Johnson, Jake Auchincloss, Raúl Grijalva, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Whether President Biden fulfills his campaign promises on cannabis policy remain to be seen, but it’s great to know that there are public servants like Representatives Blumenauer and Lee that are working to hold him accountable, regardless of partisanship or politics. Ending cannabis prohibition has become a mainstream issue with 2/3 support of all Americans. It’s time that the federal government do the right thing and erase these harmful convictions that have denied too many people employment, housing, and educational opportunities.  

Washington, California, and Vermont Are Following Oregon’s Lead on Drug Policy

Oregon has been a pioneer on cannabis and drug policy ever since the Beaver State became the first to decriminalize the personal possession of cannabis back in 1973. One of the first states to legalize both medical and adult use cannabis, Oregon really took a sledgehammer to the failed and harmful Drug War by passing Measure 110 last November with over 58% of the vote. Measure 110 decriminalized the personal possession of drugs while setting aside millions of dollars in excess cannabis tax revenue to fund drug treatment, harm reduction, and recovery services. As we’ve seen with cannabis policy, other states are greatly influenced by advancements of previous states, and Washington, California, and Vermont have all taken steps, following Oregon’s lead.

First up was Oregon’s Great Northwest neighbor, as Marijuana Moment reported:

A landmark drug decriminalization and treatment bill in Washington State cleared its first legislative hurdle on Monday, with a panel of lawmakers voting to advance the measure just hours before a key deadline.

The House Public Safety Committee voted 7–6 to approve the Pathways to Recovery Act, HB 1499, which would remove penalties for “personal use” amounts of illegal substances and expand outreach and recovery services. The vote is the first time a panel of lawmakers in any U.S. state has voted to remove criminal penalties for possession of all drugs.

“This bill is an assertion that substance use disorder is treatable brain disease from which people recover,” lead sponsor Rep. Lauren Davis (D) said before the vote. “This bill is about reaching each and every person living with substance use disorder, before they ever touch the criminal legal system.”

Then, a great bill has been introduced by a legislator in Oregon’s southern neighbor, as the Guardian covered:

California lawmaker has introduced legislation that would decriminalize psychedelics in the state, the latest bold step in a movement to end America’s war on drugs.

Scott Wiener, the state senator who authored the bill, hopes that in following the lead of places such as Oakland, Santa Cruz and the District of Columbia – all cities which have decriminalized psychedelics – California will move one step closer to decriminalizing the use and possession of all drugs, something that Oregon passed by voter initiative in November.

“People should not be going to jail for possessing or using drugs,” Wiener told the Guardian. “It’s a health issue, not a criminal issue, and I hope that we get all the way there.”

And there’s positive news out of Vermont as well:

It’s time for Vermont to decriminalize all drugs, said several left-leaning lawmakers and Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George on Wednesday. The push for decriminalization came during a press conference during which lawmakers unveiled a number of new bills to address the state’s overdose crisis.

By November of 2020, 134 overdose deaths had been reported that year in Vermont, compared to 99 deaths in 2019, according to the state Department of Health. Lawmakers said the pandemic has made life harder for Vermonters struggling with substance use — a population they said has been overlooked by the state’s Covid response efforts. 

“Drugs are not illegal because they are dangerous, but they are certainly more dangerous because they’re illegal,” said George, a longtime proponent of progressive drug policies. “Everything is safer when it’s legalized and regulated, and legal drugs are safer than illegal drugs.”

All of the statewide reforms, including Oregon, followed in the footsteps of local measures in Colorado and California, and everyone is following the lead of Portugal, who demonstrated that drug use should be treated as a health issue instead of a criminal one over two decades ago. Everyone can see that the Drug War has failed on virtually every level. Whether you are a compassionate progressive or a conservative that cares about wasteful spending, the War on Drugs is a disaster. It has fueled mass incarceration, the New Jim Crow, as Oregon-born Professor Michelle Alexander has written about, resulting in a “monstrous, incoherent mess” as neuroscientist Dr. Carl Hart recently opined in his new book. Drugs used to be a “third rail” in American politics, something that people, especially elected officials wouldn’t touch. It’s great to see that the times are a-changin’ as more and more people are saying “no” to the Drug War, step by step, state by state.

The U.S. Cannabis Industry Now Employs More than 320,000 People

As too many of us are all-too familiar, the job market is extremely tough these days. One of the few bright spots has been the cannabis industry which now employs more than 320,000 people across the United States, outpacing many other professions. On one hand, it’s rather remarkable that the industry has been able to accelerate hiring during the COVID pandemic while some states irrationally cling to prohibition and the many regulatory roadblocks placed in front of cannabis businesses. On the other hand, it isn’t surprising that more employees are needed to keep up with record-breaking sales across the country as more states and localities move towards legalizing regulated cannabis commerce.

From Leafly which just issued its 2021 jobs report, a collaboration with Whitney Economics:

Cannabis job growth in 2020 represents a doubling of the previous year’s US job growth. In 2019, the cannabis industry added 33,700 new US jobs for a total of 243,700.

Despite a year marked by a global pandemic, spiking unemployment, and economic recession, the legal cannabis industry added 77,300 full-time jobs in the United States in 2020. That represents 32% year-over-year job growth, an astonishing figure in the worst year for US economic growth since World War II.

***

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States in March, many in the cannabis industry worried about a potential industry-wide shutdown. Instead, governors in most states declared cannabis an essential product. Dispensaries and retail stores responded by offering online ordering, curbside pickup, and delivery as COVID-safe options for their customers.

I am so proud of relient cannabis entrepreneurs, especially craft cannabis boutiques like Kind Leaf, that give back to the community and provide quality jobs. While those on the outside see the big sales and revenue numbers making headlines, those without an intricate knowledge of the industry aren’t aware of the many headaches that cannabis businesses face. It’s amazing that mom-and-pops and other small to medium retailers are finding ways to overcome a lack of banking services, an exorbitant tax rate, and other regulatory hurdles to compete with multinational companies with shareholders and deep pocketbooks.