Tag: cannabis community

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 a decade, 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.

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.

How Confident Are You that Cannabis Will Be Legal by 2024?

The website Fivethirtyeight.com is a go-to website for many of us political poll watchers as the site compiles polls and provides a sober analysis of the political issues of the day. For a sports fan like myself, the site throws in a few sportsballs takes as well. The site features a “Confidence Interval” segment where one or more of their analysts lays out their confidence level regarding a certain political take. Today, the site tackled whether cannabis will be legal by 2024 at the federal level, with the insight provided by senior writer Amelia Thomson-Deveaux. I agree with her analysis.

First, some of the good news, as Thomson-Deveaux lays out: cannabis legalization has grown increasingly popular across political demographics, with a supermajority among Democrats and majority support with Republicans and the House passed the MORE Act last year. But, the more sobering news: political support by the people doesn’t equate with automatic support from politicians; just because support among Republicans has hit 50%, that doesn’t mean that GOP politicians will now support legalization.

As I’ve previously blogged, Thomson-Deveaux agrees that we can expect a more piecemeal approach, with Congress passing positive legislation, such as the SAFE Banking Act, as we inch step by step closer to ending cannabis prohibition. I agree with this “hot take” and would love to be proven wrong. One one hand, it can be very discouraging that we are still having to fight for such an obvious change in federal law. On the other hand, it can be encouraged by the fact that we have come a long way over the past decade. Ten years ago, there were no states with legal cannabis. Now, we have 15 states, with more on the horizon. While we may not get the legalization bill that we want by 2024, we are making great progress and just need to keep speaking the truth and holding our elected officials accountable. Step by step, state by state, the truth and common sense are setting us free.

CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT THE VIDEO ON FIVETHIRTYEIGHT.COM

Cannabis Can Be a Big Part of an Economic and Jobs Stimulus Plan

The economic situation in the United States is extremely dire for millions of people as our nation recovers from the COVID pandemic. So many industries have been decimated and the American people across demographics need assistance. Some help appears to be on the way as Congress is debating a relief and stimulus package. While our elected officials debate the size of stimulus checks, whether to increase the minimum wage, or several other aspects of their next major economic bill, they should be making plans to assist the cannabis industry, one of our nation’s few bright spots.

As Iris Dorbian writes in Forbes, the cannabis industry is booming on one level, but beneath the surface, you can see major obstacles remain because of federal prohibition:

Unlike other industries that were badly hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting recession, hiring in the legal cannabis industry has been booming. Experts attribute the industry’s designation as “essential” at the start of the outbreak as a key reason for the surge. However, challenges still mount. For instance, the industry may be growing exponentially, it is fragmented thanks to the federal illegality.

Federal law prevents or extremely complicated cannabis businesses’ access to banking accounts and other financial services while taxing companies at a ridiculous rate as normal business expenses cannot be deducted. While legal states announce record-breaking cannabis sales and revenue generation, small businesses, the lifeblood of our country’s economy are hindered while multinational corporations flourish. While it would be great for cannabis regulations to promote smaller operators, at the very least they should provide some type of even playing field. Instead, as usual, the mom-and-pops suffer disproportionately, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Craft cannabis boutique’s like Pendleton, Oregon’s Kind Leaf, are providing jobs, generating millions for important state programs, and give back to their local communities. By embracing the cannabis industry, the United States can improve our economy and improve lives.

Congress Should Pass Cannabis Banking for Economic and Public Safety Benefits

The fight to end federal cannabis prohibition is a multi-step process that sees the cannabis community win one political and cultural battle after another. From decriminalization to medical to legalization to equity, progress across the nation takes twists and turns as each state addresses its needs, with the federal government always playing catch up. One issue where the states need Uncle Sam to step up is banking. (And yes, the 280e IRS code as well.)

State-regulated cannabis businesses are providing an essential service in states, creating jobs and generating record-breaking revenue, but they are hamstrung by a lack of banking services that force too many businesses to conduct transactions in all-cash, without the benefit of potential loans or other financial services that they may need. While some banks will take on cannabis businesses, they often put in place extra fees and restrictions on those accounts, especially hurting smaller, locally-owned companies.

American Banker reported on the potential for Congress to pass the SAFE Banking Act, as well as broader cannabis reform measures in the next two years:

A more welcoming political environment for marijuana banking also raises the odds that financial institutions will need to incorporate new compliance processes. This includes ensuring that any business they do with the legal marijuana sector complies with anti-money-laundering rules, regardless of any legislative reforms.

“The biggest undertaking for a financial institution interested in serving the cannabis industry is detailed compliance protocols and the staffing to implement them,” said Rachel Pross, chief operations officer at the Oregon-based Maps Credit Union, which already provides services to the industry. “At Maps, we maintain a ratio of one full-time employee for every 40 cannabis business accounts.”

The cannabis industry has long been seen as a golden opportunity for financial institutions, particularly community banks and credit unions, to expand revenue via a growing sector. But regulatory concerns about the federal marijuana ban have made many depository institutions nervous, despite continued efforts by states to legalize pot.

While big, multinational corporations can easily handle spending extra and hiring more people to deal with the additional workload, mom-and-pops just get extra hurdles placed in front of their American Dream. When you’re shares are being traded on the stock market, you have the cash reserves to easily hire extra security and oversight staff. If elected officials support small businesses and public safety, then they need to step up. Thankfully, help may be on the horizon.

Idaho Cannabis Community Needs to Rise Up to Stop Constitutional Ban

Now, it’s getting serious. What seemed like a desperate ploy from a bygone era, a constitutional amendment to prohibit cannabis legalization in Idaho is gaining legislative steam. Republican State Senator C. Scott Grow’s Reefer Madness-inspired bill passed out of Idaho Senate State Affairs Committee on a party line vote and will now go before the full committee. If passed by the House and Idaho voters, all psychoactive drugs would forever be illegal in the Gem State unless approved by the FDA. To signify how ridiculous this constitutional amendment is, even if the federal government repealed federal prohibition by removing cannabis from the list of controlled substances, cannabis would still remain constitutionally prohibited in Idaho.

While proponents like Senator Grow spouted debunked lies like cannabis legalization leading to crime, opponents wisely pushed back with science and common sense, as ABC News reported:

Those opposed said medical marijuana is needed for Idaho residents suffering from chronic or terminal illnesses. Dan Zuckerman, medical director of St. Luke’s Cancer Institute, said dealing with over a thousand cancer patients over more than a decade convinced him of the efficacy of medical marijuana in helping with pain and nausea.

“I’ve seen it myself with my own eyes,” he said. “The data is clear that patients benefit from this.”

Sen. Michelle Stennett, a Democrat from Ketchum, also noted that the amendment would prohibit doctors from providing terminally ill patients access to experimental or investigational drugs that are normally illegal but can still be prescribed in certain circumstances when other treatments have failed.

While a constitutional ban on cannabis will keep Idahoans coming to Oregon (the road trip to Pendleton to visit Kind Leaf IS worth the trek), helping create jobs and generate revenue for the Beaver State, this proposed constitutional ban is just wrong and sets a dangerous precedent for other states to follow. If Senator Grow gets his way, then other Reefer Madness prohibitionists will consider similar constitutional bans in other states, leading to more unnecessary arrests and the continuation of a domestic war that has already harmed too many nonviolent Americans.

Senate Majority Leader Says Cannabis Reform is a Top Priority

When New York Senator Chuck Schumer, then Senate Minority Leader, started touting cannabis legalization by introducing a descheduling bill on 4/20 back in 2018, it could simultaneously be seen as a great step forward for the cannabis community and a political ploy to gain votes. It can be easy for members of the minority party to tout popular policies to earn votes, it’s another thing to actually fight for those policies when you are in the majority and have the power to bring legislation to the floor. Now that Sen. Schumer is officially majority leader, it’s time for him to put up and on us to force him to follow through with his promise. While you can’t take anything for granted in politics, it’s a good sign that the Senate Majority Leader mentioned cannabis when discussing his top priorities on the Rachel Maddow Show.

Marijuana Moment reported:

In his first public comments on cannabis policy since Democrats reclaimed the majority and put him in the top leadership position, Schumer said federal marijuana reform will be part of a racial justice agenda that lawmakers will pursue in the 117th Congress. It’s a signal to advocates that the senator’s pre-election commitments to advancing legalization were not simply political bluster.

Schumer said that when it comes to marijuana reform, the issue intersects with both racial and economic justice.

“A young man is arrested with a small amount of marijuana in his pocket. He has a criminal record the rest of his life, can’t become a productive citizen—this one won’t hire him, that won’t hire him. Change that,” he told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. “There’s lots to do, and we have to succeed.”

Removing cannabis from the list of controlled substances, as Sen. Schumer has introduced in the past, is the best path forward for the cannabis community and industry, much better than rescheduling. Congress obviously has a lot of important issues to tackle as our nation tries to emerge from the consequences of a raging pandemic, but ending cannabis prohibition should be a priority as it intersects a lot of issues. As Schumer noted to Rachel Maddow, the war on cannabis harms both racial and economic equality. Ending arrests and imprisonments while also generating jobs and revenue is a serious win-win-win for the United States of America. It’s time for our elected officials to catch up with the will of the people.

Amsterdam May Ban Cannabis Tourism, Oregon Should Step Up

I have been so fortunate to travel to Amsterdam a few times and the great city has never disappointed. The Van Gogh museum, the 120-acre Vondelpark, walking around the Jordaan neighborhood to check out the many houseboats on the canals that wind through the city, are must-see attractions along with historical sites like the Anne Frank House and the Old Church, built in 1306. The city is amazingly clean, public transportation is easy to use, the food is great, and I found the locals to be extremely friendly. And yes, of course, the city is known for its cannabis coffeeshops, making Amsterdam a cannabis tourist destination soon after Mellow Yellow was opened by Wernard Bruinin back in 1972. Cannabis tourism will take a serious hit if Mayor Femke Halsema has her way.

In a letter to Amsterdam’s City Council, Mayor Halsema proposed her intention to enforce Netherland’s ban on foreign tourists purchasing cannabis at the city’s famed coffeeshops. DutchNews reported:

In recent months, calls have increased from politicians, businesses, tourist bodies and residents of the Dutch capital to enforce a national law which means only residents can buy from the coffeeshops. It was never enforced in Amsterdam because of concerns that it would drive the trade on to the street.

‘We are absolutely not heading for a cannabis-free Amsterdam because coffeeshops belong to the city,’ Halsema said, according to the Parool. ‘But there is a huge desire to change the tourism. Our freedom should not be a license for large groups of young people to throw up in the canals because they have smoked and drunk too much.’

The mayor also intends to limit the number of coffeeshops in any chain and regulate the supply with a new ‘quality mark’. Although coffeeshops fall under the mayor’s responsibilities, the new proposal will be discussed by Amsterdam council to draw up definitive plans, and there will also be a transition period before any ruling is enforced.

While I certainly defer to the judgment of those living in Amsterdam, I imagine that such a ban on cannabis tourism will be a huge mistake for a number of reasons. First of all, the economy will suffer and second of all, this move won’t end cannabis sales to foreigners, it will just push cannabis sales to tourists underground, unnecessarily turning more people into criminals.

While Amsterdam’s ban on cannatourism will have negative consequences for the international tourist destination, it could open up opportunities for other cities and states, and Oregon should be chomping at the bit (when we can get back to freely traveling and congregating in crowds again, of course). During the COVID pandemic, the cannabis industry has been one of the few bright spots in Oregon and the state should be looking at ways to fully unleash the power of the cannabis community.

It will take a long time for the state to recovery from the pandemic as well as last summer’s wildfires. Unfortunately, fires are likely to be a recurring occurrence, so the state needs to do what it can to maximize its business sectors. Just as Oregon has embraced the local wine and microbrewery industries, it needs to do the same with cannabis.

With a supermajority of Americans now embracing legalization and federal reforms coming soon, Oregon officials need to be bold on a variety of fronts to help the remaining local craft cannabis businesses thrive, and legalizing cannabis cafes and promoting the industry are starting points. Federal legalization is coming relatively soon, (probably not soon enough, but soon) and Oregon should be at the forefront of the industry. However, if the state doesn’t start helping mom and pops and small businesses, there won’t be many Oregonian-owned cannabis businesses prospering. I’ll continue detailing other needed reforms, but step by step, Oregon needs to capitalize on cannabis before it’s too late.

After the Shakeout in Washington, D.C., How Likely Is Cannabis Legalization?

Well, our nation has had a very eventful 2021 thus far, huh? With federal elections finally decided, and a new president set to take office on January 20th, there is one burning question that the cannabis community wants answered: Will cannabis be legalized in the next two years? This is pure speculation on my part, but I would put the chances that federal cannabis legalization is signed into law within the next two years at about 33%, up to a coin flip at best. I do think that we have good odds of seeing much-needed reforms, such as opening up all banking services to state-legal cannabis laws and fixing the 280e IRS tax code that arbitrarily taxes regulated cannabis businesses at an exorbitant rate.

After the United States House passed the historic Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act late last year, most cannabis law reform advocates celebrated the victory as a great step in the right direction, but noted that passage in the Senate was unlikely with Republican Mitch McConnell in charge. After the Georgia special elections in favor of Reverend Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, Democrat Chuck Schumer will soon be the Senate Majority Leader, and Schumer has pledged to make cannabis legalization a priority. Now, we know that we can’t always expect politicians to follow through on their promises, so it’ll be imperative that we continue to pressure our representatives and let them know that they need to do the right thing and follow the will of the voters, by ending federal cannabis prohibition.

While cannabis legalization should be a no-brainer with strong majority support from voters across the nation, the Senate filibuster rule that can force most bills to need 60 votes to pass will stand as a huge obstacle to passing. The 60 votes could be overcome with some compromises and political horse trading, but Democratic leadership will need to really fight for legalization, and my hunch is that our elected officials will be busy with other issues regarding our health and economy, to place too much political capital in pushing through a legalization bill.

The cannabis community should be emboldened by our political position and strength and work hard to celebrate some major victories around banking, taxes, and other issues that will benefit us, and the nation at large. If we want local craft cannabis businesses like Kind Leaf to fully thrive, we need common sense reforms to pass. Success then begets success, and step by step, we’ll see legalization bills get closer and closer to passage, and if all things go right, we can see federal legalization pass in the near future. I hope that I’m too pessimistic about passage within the next two years, but I’m certainly optimistic about continuing to make good progress, step by step.