After legal weed push fails, New York goes to pot plan B

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

This story was originally published on JUNE 21, 2019 by THE CITY

Lawmakers mobilized Thursday to advance a bill to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana and expunge past low-level convictions, after discussions over legalization efforts stalled.

The Senate and Assembly approved a measure that would eliminate criminal charges for possession of small amounts of marijuana, turning them into non-criminal violations.

Under the proposal, the fine for possessing less than an ounce of marijuana would be capped at $50 and would reach $200 for up to two ounces. The measure also would automatically expunge past low-level marijuana convictions from people’s records.

The fast-moving events proved bittersweet for advocates of legalization. They’d hoped full Democratic control of both houses of the Legislature would put their goal within sight — and they despaired at what they described as a setback that leaves black and Latino users unfairly burdened.

“This measure doesn’t end criminalization. It expands the discretion of law enforcement,” said Kassandra Frederique, the New York State director for Drug Policy Alliance.

“We know that when there is a choice, law enforcement will continue to criminalize communities of color,” she told THE CITY. “The continued racial disparities show that. We can’t take a victory lap New York did 42 years ago.”

In 1977, New York reduced the penalty for small amounts of marijuana, making possession up to 25 grams (0.9 oz) a violation punishable by a fine of up to $100 for first-time offenders.

While praising expungement of criminal records for the lowest-level marijuana offenses, Frederique urged politicians not to close the door on extending relief to other pot-related criminal convictions.

“We hope that the Legislature does not use this as an excuse to not extend this to more records across the state,” Frederique said.

A Fast-Moving Fallback

Sen. Jamaal Bailey (D-Bronx) and Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D-Buffalo) introduced the decriminalization proposal Sunday night. They wanted a fallback in case lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo couldn’t come to a consensus on how to legalize marijuana before the end of the legislative session this week.

When an agreement failed to materialize over concerns about how to distribute tax proceeds and whether localities could opt out of marijuana sales, lawmakers moved to advance Plan B.

“I’m not saying this is a panacea or a utopian thing we’ve accomplished,” Bailey told reporters Thursday. “As a legislator, I have a lot more work to do. As a conference we have a lot more work to do.”

He added: “But I think this is really a step in the right direction and being able to kind of stem the tide of this failed war on drugs that has unfairly and disproportionately affected black and brown communities so much.”

Meanwhile, the fate of two separate proposals to expand the state’s highly restrictive medical marijuana program and to broaden regulations on hemp, which is used to harvest increasingly popular CBD oil, remain uncertain, Heastie said.

This story was originally published by THE CITY, an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

Albany pols firing up medical marijuana overhaul

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

This story was originally published on May 6, 2019 by THE CITY.

A long-awaited push to expand New York’s highly restrictive medical marijuana program is coming as hopes for legal, recreational weed are going up in smoke.

The same architects of the state’s 2014 law that created the medical marijuana program in New York are introducing legislation aimed at loosening restrictions on who can access the drug and how it’s sold.

More doctors would be able to prescribe pot, more patients would be able to get it – and smokable forms of medicinal marijuana would be legal.

But the legislation is a last resort if discussions over legalizing adult use of marijuana stall in the state Legislature.

“I think there’s widespread agreement that these are needed improvements in the medical program and ideally this would be part of an adult-use bill,” Assemblymember Dick Gottfried (D-Manhattan), the bill’s sponsor, told THE CITY.

“We’re putting this bill in so that people can see the language and so it will be available in the event that the adult-use bill runs aground.”

The 2019 legislative session is scheduled to end on June 19, meaning lawmakers have roughly six weeks to negotiate several thorny issues and come up with a cohesive measure to legalize recreational pot that Gov. Andrew Cuomo would be willing to sign into law.

Bringing legal weed to New York is about more than just creating a forward-looking recreational program.

Lawmakers also are discussing how to address decades worth of draconian drug laws that have overwhelmingly affected minority communities, as well as how to tax marijuana – and what to do with the revenue.

The Cuomo administration and legislators previously discussed making legalizing recreational marijuana part of the state budget. But they couldn’t come to a consensus between the start of the legislative session in January and the April 1 budget deadline.

Now pressed up against another deadline, State Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island) — who’s often referred to as the “mother of marijuana” in New York — and Gottfried are setting up a contingency plan if the Legislature can’t meet the June 19 cutoff.

“As of today, I do not have any degree of confidence that a standalone adult-use marijuana (bill) will pass the Legislature. Medical marijuana is completely independent of it,” Savino told THE CITY last week.

In the Weeds

Savino and Gottfried blamed the strict regulations outlined in the Compassionate Care Act for creating too many barriers to access.

“Our goal is to expand and strengthen the medical cannabis program. I think there’s widespread agreement that the program works but needs to be expanded,” Gottfried said. “What we’re proposing will help make medical cannabis more easily available to patients, bring down costs and help support the medical cannabis providers.”

Gottfried and Savino’s bill — which was shared exclusively with THE CITY and includes provisions endorsed by Cuomo — would do away with the list of 17 severe and debilitating illnesses that allow patients to qualify for medical marijuana and broaden it to include any condition certified by a doctor.

It would also expand the limited list of medical practitioners who can certify a patient to any doctor who can already prescribe controlled substances, including dentists and podiatrists.

“We’re looking at lifting the conditions as a requirement for becoming a patient and allowing health care providers and their patients to make that decision,” Savino told THE CITY.

Smokable forms of medicinal marijuana also would become legal — which Cuomo disallowed in the original bill in attempt to prevent excessive use.

While registered organizations would still need to document price changes, Gottfried and Savino’s bill proposes removing the requirement for the companies to receive prior approval from the state Department of Health. The agency’s commissioner would still be able to modify prices.

Advocates for medical marijuana told THE CITY that pricing has been particularly challenging for patients.

There are “still really significant challenges,” said Melissa Moore, deputy state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, a nonprofit that advocates for drug decriminalization. “Just the cost being prohibitively high for so many people or forcing people to make really gut-wrenching decisions if they can afford this medication or pay for housing or food.”

Treks for Prescriptions

There are 40 dispensaries authorized to operate in New York state, but five have yet to open.

As of the end of April, 98,701 patients were certified to purchase medical marijuana and 2,311 practitioners were registered to serve them.

The bulk of these patients — nearly 8,000 — reside in Manhattan, where there are four dispensaries, from a busy stretch near Union Square to a prominent location right across from Bryant Park.

Other boroughs are more poorly served. The Bronx counts just one dispensary, in the Hunts Point neighborhood, and Brooklyn only just got its two dispensaries in the past three months. Queens has three.

Staten Island, with roughly 2,500 patients — the largest share of any borough’s population — so far has none, though a dispensary has been authorized.

A spokesperson for Citiva Medical, the company tasked with opening the dispensary, told THE CITY that the team is “gearing up for a June launch” but did not divulge a location.

“Hopefully we’ll gain the trust and confidence of Staten Islanders,” said Amy Holdener, Citiva’s vice president of operations.

Patients say that the city’s inconsistent dispensary distribution has meant they must drive out of their boroughs to purchase medical marijuana. Up until recently, Joe Cimino, 69, of Greenpoint, said that he had to make regular trips to Elmhurst in order to quell his neuropathy pain.

“I don’t drive when it’s dark out when it’s rainy, or snowing…. The parking was crazy,” Cimino said, adding that the cost and lack of insurance coverage were also steep obstacles.

“All this marijuana stuff is keeping me healthy, I guess, it’s keeping me going,” he added. “I don’t have as much pain at night as I used to. I’m from the ’60s so it makes you feel good, you know?”

This story was originally published by THE CITY, an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

Marijuana legalization is a rare issue where women are more conservative than men

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Surveys show that on issue after issue, women are more liberal than men, save for one: Men are more likely than women to support the legalization of marijuana.

Americans are becoming more supportive of marijuana legalization each year but the gender gap remains a constant: While 68 percent of men now support marijuana legalization, only 56 percent of women do.

What’s behind this gender gap?

We suspected mothers might be a key driver. In our book “The Politics of Parenthood,” we were able to show that mothers support policies that help children, whether it’s subsidized health care or public assistance for needy kids. So we naturally assumed that mothers – out of concern for children’s health – were driving the gender divide on the issue.

We were wrong.

Parenthood is political

Becoming a parent and raising a child is a profound life-altering experience. It changes how you spend your time, the way you think about your finances, whom you socialize with, and what you worry about.

But until recently, political scientists had ignored the ways being a parent might shape political attitudes.

In previous research, we drew from a range of national data sets to show that parenthood is, indeed, political. We showed that parents have distinct views on a range of policies, from government spending on education and child care, to the role the government should play in helping others.

Dads today are more likely to take on child care duties than in the past. But we found that parenthood remains a highly gendered experience. Mothers still spend more time parenting than men. Mothers also engage in more of the day-to-day work of parenting such as scheduling play dates and making doctor appointments.

Given the greater amount of time women spend caring for and worrying about their children, it’s perhaps not surprising that women’s political views are more affected than men’s by the experience of being a parent.

Across time and across demographic groups, motherhood consistently pushes women to embrace more liberal views on the role of government, which they see as a source of support for their kids.

Testing the motherhood hypothesis

All of this previous research fortified our belief that motherhood would be a major driver behind the gender gap on marijuana legalization. After all, so many of the anti-drug messages in the media focus on the dangers drugs hold for children.

It makes sense that mothers – worried about the safety of their children – might not want a mind altering drug to become freely available. Some earlier research even hinted that this might be the case.

To put our motherhood hypothesis to the test, we drew on a distinctive data set from the Pew Research Center that included a series of questions on attitudes towards marijuana, including self-reported marijuana usage.

Unexpectedly, we discovered that mothers and fathers were no more likely to oppose marijuana legalization than women and men without kids.

The real drivers of the divide

So if a lack of support among women for legalization has nothing to do with motherhood, what’s behind their tepid support?

We identified three key drivers.

First, women are more likely to be religious than men. Earlier work has found that, unsurprisingly, religious people are more disapproving of marijuana use and less likely to try drugs.

Second, men have a higher tolerance for risk than women. Legalizing marijuana involves some risks to society, and it appears that men are more comfortable with these risks than women.

But what best explains the gender gap in support is the gender gap in marijuana use. Men simply use marijuana more than women, and this seems to make them more likely to support legalization.

We were curious about which other demographic and political factors might predict marijuana use and support for legalization. Some results were surprising, while others weren’t.

Married people and older people were less likely to report using marijuana – no surprise there. But we found that despite Republicans’ lower level of support for marijuana legalization, Republicans were just as likely as Democrats to report using marijuana.

The other surprise was that mothers and fathers who had children 18 or younger in the home were just as likely to report using marijuana as non-parents.

The fact that mothers use marijuana as much as other women certainly helps explain why there’s no motherhood gap for marijuana attitudes. When it comes to marijuana, the perception that mothers are distinctively moral – or make more wholesome choices than the rest of society in order to protect their children – isn’t really supported by the data.The Conversation

Laurel Elder is a professor of Political Science at Hartwick College, and Steven Greene is a professor of Political Science at the North Carolina State University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Does legalizing marijuana help or harm Americans?

marijuana legalization

The legalization of marijuana has been a topic of contention and confusion for both sides of the debate.

The federal government still deems it illegal. But marijuana has been legalized for recreational use in 10 states and the District of Columbia, and a further 21 broadly legalize medical marijuana.

Researchers like myself finally have some data to assess claims made on both sides. Let’s take a closer look at three major arguments around marijuana legalization – and how the statistics stack up against them.

How much money will states earn from marijuana taxes?

One of the biggest pro-legalization arguments was that states would be able to bring in a new source of tax revenue.

Colorado, for example, imposes a 15 percent excise tax from cultivator to retailer and a further 15 percent sales tax on the end customer.

In 2018, Colorado legal pot sales topped US$1.2 billion, with the state pulling in about $270 million in taxes. Compare that to the approximately $45 million that the state collected in tax on alcohol that same year.

A study from Georgia State University found that alcohol sales fell by 15 percent in states where only medical marijuana had been legalized and by 20 percent in counties where recreational marijuana is sold legally. However, the states made more than enough back from marijuana sales, since marijuana taxes are typically greater than alcohol taxes.

Other states are reaping the benefits of marijuana taxes as well. California pulled in $345 million in 2018 and Washington $376 million. New Frontier Data, a cannabis data website, predicts the legalized cannabis market will grow to US$25 billion by 2025.

However, there are a lot of questions about how much tax revenue states will actually earn, especially considering that some states have missed their projections by a long shot.

For example, the governor of California predicted a much larger $643 million in revenue. Meanwhile, projections for Washington suggested that the state would earn only $160 million.

While projections for other types of goods are typically more reliable, this is an entirely new market and therefore prone to error. Why? Well, the jury is still out. Some researchers and pundits have guessed that in California taxes are too high, that the black market is too strong or that the red tape of bureaucracy is just too much.

Regardless, it’s clear that marijuana tax revenue has increased year over year for every state that has legalized recreational marijuana. While naysayers are touting California’s missed projections, Colorado, while struggling to meet its projections in the first three years after legalization, eventually exceeded its projection.

Is legalized marijuana hurting youth?

A well-trodden argument against legalization is that it could lead youth to use it more. For example, anti-drug group DARE has blamed marijuana for a rise in school suspensions and youth suicide, among other things.

Here is the problem: Researchers simply don’t have enough data yet.

Studies have shown that youth marijuana use actually decreases in states where medical marijuana has been legalized. Researchers guess that this may be due to kids viewing marijuana as medicinal instead of recreational.

While other studies have suggested that legalizing marijuana can lead to increased use, this could simply be reporting bias. In other words, if it is legalized, people are more willing to be honest about use.

Other studies show quite the opposite. For example, Colorado teens had a statistically significant drop in marijuana use over the past three years since recreational legalization.

While there are strong indicators that the legalization of recreational marijuana leads to decreased use in youth, only time will give the final verdict.

Does marijuana increase crime?

Many who are against legal marijuana claim that it could lead to an increase in violent crime.

Even in Colorado last year, there were rumblings from Gov. Hickenlooper about banning marijuana, since crime in Colorado has been rising since 2014, the same year marijuana was legalized.

There is really no doubt that states which allow medical marijuana show absolutely no increase in their violent and nonviolent crime statistics. In fact, crime might actually decrease.

However, crime has increased in many of the cities where recreational marijuana is legal. Homicides in Seattle, D.C. and Denver – all major cities with legal marijuana – have increased over the past few years. But homicides have also increased in cities without recreational marijuana, such as Chicago, St. Louis, Baltimore, New Orleans and Kansas City.

A homicide increase over four years alone in cities where marijuana is legalized reveals absolutely nothing. This is a classic case for the statistical saying “correlation does not necessarily mean causation.” Take California, for instance. Murders in Oakland are down, but murders in Fresno are up. How can that be recreational marijuana’s fault?

However, legalized marijuana does seem to have an effect on the justice system. According to FBI crime data, in 2017, there were 659,000 marijuana arrests in the U.S. There were also 1.2 million violent crimes with victims, but only 518,617 arrests for these same violent crimes. This means that there are more than 700,000 victims who have suffered without justice.

In states with legalized recreational marijuana, police now no longer spend time on marijuana arrests and can spend more time on solving these types of crime. FBI data from Colorado and Washington show that crime clearance rates – the number of times that the police solved a crime – increased for both violent and property crimes after legalization.

While there are still many unknowns surrounding the legalization of recreational marijuana, I believe that this shows that it will be a positive influence.The Conversation

Liberty Vittert is a visiting assistant professor in statistics at Washington University in St Louis.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Decades after the ‘Summer of Love,’ Canada will finally legalize weed

Columbia Pictures

The legalization of marijuana in Canada comes almost a century after the drug was first declared an illegal substance in 1923, but pot didn’t explode in popularity until the 1960s when a group of rebellious people began promoting it a shortcut to peace and enlightenment.

Concerned about the new use of this drug, in 1969, the Royal Commission on the Non-Medical Use of Drugs visited coffee shops and universities to talk to young people about marijuana use.

One student told them marijuana reveals “a greater sense of the universe.” He enthused that “things you never noticed… now jump out… and every event becomes suddenly deep.” Another touted that cannabis could be the “catalyst to the great Epiphany.”

One participant promised “fantastic benefits” from smoking marijuana and said that it could lead to “a much better way of living.”

In short, many baby boomers believed marijuana use could usher in a new era of experience, enlightenment and joy. Half a century ago, this was utterly new to most Canadians.

Cannabis convictions soar

Convictions for cannabis went from 60 in 1965 to 6,292 in 1970. By the spring of 1970, the Royal Commission on the Non-Medical Use of Drugs suggested that somewhere between 1.3 and 1.5 million Canadians had used marijuana.

A survey of Toronto adults in 1971 showed that 8.4 per cent had used cannabis in the previous year, with higher rates among young people. Thirty per cent of people between the ages of 18 and 25 said they had tried the drug, while only 10 per cent of people aged 25 to 35 had smoked marijuana. From 1968 to 1972, marijuana use at Toronto high schools tripled.

What made this new generation of young people reject the hard-drinking ways of their elders in favour of a new drug? Part of marijuana’s appeal was its illicit status — it allowed baby boomers to reject the rules of the “establishment” and the habits of their parents.

Timothy Leary addresses a crowd of hippies at the ‘Human Be-In’ that he helped organize in 1967. Leary told the crowd to ‘Turn on, Tune in and Drop out.’ (AP Photo/Bob Klein)

It was believed marijuana would open them to new experiences, while alcohol diminished awareness. As the LSD guru, Timothy Leary, put it in his Politics of Ecstasy, alcohol consumption brought about the “State of Emotional Stupor” while marijuana would lead to “The State of Sensory Awareness.”

Marijuana users were well aware that their parents already took a wide array of legal and prescription drugs. They were often highly critical of prescription drugs like barbiturates and tranquillizers. They believed these drugs numbed people to the injustices and inadequacies of North American society.

Promises of enlightenment

By contrast, marijuana promised to open a path to enlightenment. Many baby boomers were interested in Eastern religions and transcendent experiences. As Charles Reich put it in his Greening of America, an ode to the new generation, “using marijuana is more like what happens when a person with fuzzy vision puts on glasses.”

Reich explained that marijuana enabled people to hear new sounds in music and to visualize the world in new ways. It would allow them to understand time differently, thereby releasing them from the unrelenting demands of a capitalist society.

Other marijuana users were influenced by the popular culture of the day to try the drug. The Beatles were getting “high with a little help” from their friends. Janis Joplin spent all her money on drugs in “Mary Jane.” Bob Dylan intoned: “Everybody must get stoned.”

The Beatles psychedelic animated movie ‘Yellow Submarine’ from 1968.

Drug use was also glorified in movies. The Beatles psychedelic cartoon Yellow Submarine premiered in 1968, while the countercultural classic Easy Rider came out the following year. It featured Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper driving their motorcycles from Los Angeles to New Orleans, smoking dope, taking LSD, visiting a commune and raising the ire of the establishment.

Finding a ‘groove’

From the Mariposa music festival to the coffee shops of Toronto’s Yorkville neighbourhood, marijuana wafted through the air of the late 1960s. Headshops were a vital part of the street life in countercultural communities like Vancouver’s Kitsilano. Stores like the Polevault in Vancouver featured coloured lights beaming through parachutes on the ceiling, while chairs, cushions and ashtrays invited people to stay and “groove.” Countercultural newspapers like the Georgia Straight (Vancouver), Harbinger (Toronto) and Octopus (Ottawa) glamorized marijuana in their pages.

Marijuana proponents did not persuade the Royal Commission that marijuana would usher in a new era of enlightenment. But the Commissioners were persuaded that the costs of marijuana prohibition were too high, both for individuals and the state. They recommended the laws against the prohibition of marijuana be repealed.

This did not happen, as Marcel Martel explains in his book Not this Time. Jean Chretien’s attempt to decriminalize marijuana in 2003 also failed.

The ConversationFinally, more than 50 years after the “Summer of Love”, cannabis will be legalized in Canada, although the dream of marijuana’s potential to create a new society has largely passed.

Catherine Carstairs is the professor and chair of the Department of History at the University of Guelph

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Marijuana use is increasing among older demographics


When most people think of cannabis users, they probably think mainly of the younger generations. But it’s actually the 45 to 64 age group who show the highest proportion of household spending on cannabis.

Recent figures on cannabis use in Canada found nearly 5m people aged between 15 and 64 spent an estimated $5.7 billion on cannabis during 2017. That’s one in five people in this age group. Most of this was spent on the drug for recreational rather than medical, which is currently illegal in Canada.

No surprise then that the cannabis industry in Canada is now bigger than the beer and tobacco industry.

Well, that’s just Canada, you might think, but you would be wrong. In Australia, lifetime cannabis use more than doubled between 2004 and 2013 in the over 50s. The UK has seen similar trends, with lifetime use of cannabis in the 65 to 74 age group rising more than sevenfold between 2000 and 2014. In the US, the rate of self-reported cannabis use over the previous 12 months in people aged 65 and above also jumped massively between 2003 and 2014.

The need for weed

This age group have grown up in the decades that witnessed the rising popularity of recreational cannabis use. So they are familiar with the drug and maybe less inhibited about using it as they develop age-related health problems.

It may not be totally surprising then that recent research has highlighted how older people are turning to cannabis for pain relief as they develop age-related health problems – and for end-of-life care. In the UK, lower back and neck pain is the most common cause of disability, particularly in Baby Boomers.

With the growing potential for the misuse of painkillers such as opioids and gabapentinoids, it is quite possible that cannabis use in older people will grow. This is because easing the everyday wear and tear of the neck, hips and knees of a population that is expected to double in size across developed countries, will be challenging.

High time for change?

Barely a month goes by without a country or state announcing plans to change their policy on cannabis. Some 30 US states now permit access to cannabis in one way or another. But the array of regulatory models shows it is not simply a case of just “legalising” cannabis – as some jurisdictions will only allow access to cannabis for medicinal reasons.

There are also restrictions on the types of health problems that are approved or who can prescribe and dispense medical cannabis. At present, drugs that contain cannabis are only licensed for a limited number of health problems. One of these is pain from nerve damage, but only in multiple scelorosis.

But the evidence for the treatment of such pain across a range of painful medical disorders remains weak. Then there is also the issue of additional health risks that come with the use of cannabis – which can make it a risky choice as a painkiller – particularly in older people.

No comfort in cannabis

Cannabis is associated with a range of both mental and physical health problems from intoxication, withdrawal and long-term use. Older people are also more likely to be taking a range of medications – how these interact with cannabis is still unknown. Likewise, the risk of developing cardiovascular problems may be increased by using cannabis.

The ConversationCombined with a number of other long-term conditions in older people, the risks from using cannabis as a painkiller appear to outweigh the limited and currently weak evidence for any real benefits. What is needed then is credible evidence based information on the benefits as well as risks of using cannabis for older people. Because until then, how it’s going to affect someone can simply be a matter of pot luck.

Tony Rao is a visiting lecturer in Old Age Psychiatry at King’s College London, and Ian Hamilton is a lecturer in mental health and addiction at University of York.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

4 major marijuana bills on Capitol Hill

Senate Democrats

Since last February, when a bipartisan group of legislators launched the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, lawmakers have filed a flurry of bills aimed at reforming federal drug laws. Here’s a look at some of that legislation:

Marijuana Justice Act of 2017

Introduced by Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) in August, the Marijuana Justice Act is the most buzzed-about cannabis legislation announced this year. It would remove cannabis completely from the Controlled Substances Act, which now has it in Schedule I, prohibiting any medical use. The bill’s criminal-justice reform measures include expunging marijuana-possession convictions and restricting federal funds for states that have disproportionate arrest rates for cannabis offenses. It would also establish a “Community Reinvestment Fund” that would provide grants for job training, expunging criminal records, and community centers. Several other bills, including the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act and the Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act, would also deschedule cannabis, but none go as far as Booker’s to remedy the injustices caused by the War on Drugs.

Status: Referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Veterans Equal Access Act

The Veterans Administration prohibits its doctors from talking to patients about medical marijuana, even in states where it’s legal . The Veterans Equal Access Act, introduced by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) in March, directs the VA to allow its doctors to recommend cannabis to veterans in those states.

Status: Referred to the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee’s health subcommittee.

Small Business Tax Equity Act of 2017

Long before any state legalized marijuana, a Minneapolis drug dealer tried to deduct business expenses on his 1974 tax return. (He was somewhat successful.) The result: Section 280E, a tax-code amendment enacted in 1982 that prohibits illegal-drug dealers from taking business deductions—which denies companies in the cannabis industry the ability to take basic business deductions. The Small Business Tax Equity Act of 2017, sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) I March, would exempt marijuana businesses from this ban, as long as they’re complying with state laws.

Status: Referred to the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee.

Marijuana Effective Drug Studies Act of 2017

Also known as the MEDS Act, this bill is notable because its sponsor is Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who reiterated his opposition to recreational marijuana when he introduced it Sept. 13. But Hatch also said he worried “that in our zeal to enforce the law, we too often blind ourselves to the medicinal benefits of natural substances like cannabis.” The MEDS Act would remove barriers associated with researching a Schedule I substance.

Status: Referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

There Are a Few Others…

The Second Chance for Students Act would allow those who’ve been convicted of marijuana possession to receive federal student aid. The States’ Medical Marijuana Property Rights Protection Act would prevent property involved in state-legal medical-marijuana activity from being seized through civil asset forfeiture. Other bills seek to amend the Controlled Substances Act so states could set their own marijuana laws without conflicting with federal law.

What Are the Chances of These Bills Passing?

If history is any indication, the answer is “slim to none.” While many have bipartisan support, the only federal legislation loosening marijuana laws passed since 2014 has been the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which prohibits the Department of Justice from spending money to prosecute medical-marijuana patients and businesses in compliance with their state’s laws. On Sept. 6, the leadership of the House Rules Committee blocked a vote on renewing the amendment. For more, see “Congress Endangers Critical Medical-Marijuana Protection.”

This post was originally published at

House GOP leaders block medical marijuana protections


For a few days in early September, marijuana policy reformers fitfully watched as Republican leaders in the House blocked a vote on the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment. The legislation, which is co-sponsored by Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), has been passed in some form since 2014 and protects state-legal medical-marijuana programs from federal interference.

Thirty states (plus Washington, D.C.) have comprehensive medical-marijuana laws, and another 16 have limited CBD oil laws. That means 46 states could potentially be affected by such legislation.

“By blocking our amendment, Committee leadership is putting at risk the millions of patients who rely on medical marijuana for treatment, as well as the clinics and businesses that support them,” Rohrabacher and Blumenauer commented in a joint statement about the House Rules Committee’s decision on Sept. 6. “If a vote were allowed, our amendment would pass on the House floor, as it has several times before.”

Just two days later, Congress approved a debt limit deal that extends the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment through Dec. 8, a victory that was celebrated by pro-cannabis members of Congress. Rohrabacher and Blumenauer, however, called for a more lasting solution: “We need permanent protections for state-legal medical-marijuana programs, as well as adult-use. Prohibition is a failed policy resulting in nothing more than wasted resources and lives.”

The blocked vote could signal a more alarming development. In May, Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent a letter to Congressional leadership asking them to oppose the amendment. He cited the usual prohibitionist talking points about violent crime, the opioid epidemic and the “significant negative health effects” of smoking marijuana.

“I should not need to remind our chief law enforcement officer nor my fellow Republicans that our system of federalism, also known as states’ rights, was designed to resolve just such a fractious issue,” Rohrabacher wrote in an op-ed for the Washington Post on Sept. 5 “Unfortunately, my longtime friend Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, has urged Congress to drop the amendment.”

While the House version of the appropriations bill doesn’t include the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment thanks to the blocked vote, the Senate version does. It’s still possible that the amendment will make it into the final legislation.

This post was originally published at Subscribe to Freedom Leaf magazine to read this editor’s Word on the Tree column.

Marijuana lounges could be coming to Denver and Alaska as Nevada lags behind

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Despite the legalization of marijuana in a number of states, one stubborn obstacle remains: There is no equivalent of bars where people can use it socially. While Colorado and Oregon have become destinations for cannabis consumers, no state allows marijuana lounges. The situation leaves tourists, who eagerly visit pot shops but have no place to light up, in a bit of a bind. It’s also problematic for state residents who live in public housing or don’t have 420-friendly landlords.

That may be starting to change. Denver voters approved a ballot initiative last November that creates a cannabis-consumption pilot program, the first of its kind in the nation. City officials began accepting applications from businesses for social-use licenses in August.

The regulations exclude cannabis dispensaries and any business that has a liquor license. That leaves locations like cafés and art galleries, but only those that are not within 1,000 feet of a school, child-care facility or drug-treatment center.

That 1,000-foot rule is a particular sticking point among advocates, who are considering suing the city over its restrictions. “Distance restrictions make it such that these social-use businesses can only establish themselves in the very neighborhoods that the City Council deemed too concentrated with cannabis businesses last year,” Kayvan Khaltabari, one of the drafters of the initiative, said in a letter to city officials in August.

Meanwhile, Alaska could become the first state to implement social-use regulations. The state Marijuana Control Board drafted a proposal that would let cannabis stores have on-site consumption areas. The proposed rules, unlike Denver’s, would allow consumers to buy and smoke in the same establishment. Regulators are seeking public comment on them until Oct. 27.

Nevada just rolled out recreational sales on July 1, and social use has already become a prominent topic of debate. With more than 40 million tourists visiting the state each year, the lack of cannabis consumption areas is a particular headache for visitors.

“We’re saying, ‘Come to Las Vegas, because you can buy recreational marijuana,’ but you can’t use it in your hotel room, on the Strip or at a concert,” state Senator Tick Segerblom (D-Las Vegas) at a cannabis-law event in Denver in July. “But they do.”

Segerblom’s Senate Bill 236, which would allow cities to authorize cannabis consumption at special events, was passed by the Senate earlier this year, but it died in the Assembly.

On Aug. 24, the Nevada Gaming Commission voted to discourage casinos from hosting cannabis trade shows, such as the MJ Biz Conference that’s scheduled for Nov. 15 to 17. The event, previously held at the Rio Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, has been moved to the Las Vegas Convention Center.

This post was originally published at Subscribe to Freedom Leaf magazine to read this editor’s Word on the Tree column.

Anti-pot group says cannabis industry violates Cole Memo

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In 2013, former deputy attorney general James Cole sent marijuana enforcement guidance to U.S. attorneys. Known as the Cole Memo, the guidance instructed federal prosecutors not to go after state-legal cannabis activities. This Justice Department policy has allowed state-legal marijuana markets to flourish.

On Aug. 30, the nation’s most prominent anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) sent a report to attorney general Jeff Sessions, “The Cole Memo: Four Years Later,” urging him to use limited federal resources to “target the big players in the marijuana industry… Large-scale marijuana businesses, several of which now boast of having raised over $100 million in capital, and their financial backers, should be a priority. These large businesses are pocketing millions by flouting federal law.

While the report stays away from recommending prosecuting individual consumers, it point-by-point argues that cannabis-legal states have failed to comply with the eight priorities set forth in the Cole memo, including preventing marijuana sales to minors and out-of-state diversion. The report claims that youth use of marijuana in Colorado “increased significantly” after stores there started selling cannabis to adults.

This followed letters Sessions sent to officials in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington on July 24 complaining about their legal cannabis programs (see “Sessions Gets Snubbed Prohibition Push” and “Freedom Leaf Interview: James Cole” in Issue 27).

“SAM’s frivolous claims are just another prohibitionist attempt to halt the positive strides of an industry that’s been proven to be an economic force in states where marijuana is legal,” stated Kevin Gallagher, executive director of the Cannabis Business Alliance.

SAM co-founder Kevin Sabet appears to have the attorney general’s ear. On the same day Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation  (March 2), he took a phone from Sabet, reported The Daily Beast.

This post was originally published at Subscribe to Freedom Leaf magazine to read this editor’s Word on the Tree column.