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  • by Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director February 13, 2019

    Imagine operating a business without a bank account. Or having to pay each of your employees and vendors in cash. Imagine being forbidden from letting your customers pay for purchases with a credit card, or being able to ask a bank for a small business loan.

    This is the reality of hundreds of small and medium-sized business owners throughout the country who are engaging in the emerging cannabis marketplace.

    To date, nine states – Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington – permit retail sales of recreational marijuana to adults. Furthermore, a total of 33 states have enacted policies to establish a regulated medical cannabis program.

    Currently, state-licensed marijuana businesses face a web of conflicting regulations. Specifically, federal prohibitions largely prohibit these businesses from partnering with financial institutions, processing credit cards, and taking standard business deductions.

    No industry can operate safely, transparently, or effectively without access to reliable banking solutions. While it is encouraging to see that a small but growing number of financial operators are beginning to provide necessary services to those engaged in state-compliant cannabis commerce, it is self-evident that this industry will remain severely hampered without better access to credit and financing.  

    In 2017, then nominee for Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin was asked about these financial hurdles. Mnuchin stated, “I will work with Congress and the President to determine which provisions of the current tax code should be retained, revised or eliminated to ensure that all individuals and businesses compete on a level playing field.”

    But while Mnuchin’s statements indicated a step in the right direction, ultimately, the responsibility is upon Congress — not upon the US Treasury Department or upon state lawmakers — to change federal policy so that these growing number of state-compliant businesses, and their consumers, may operate in a manner that is similar to other legal commercial entities. Under complete Republican control, the 115th Congress did nothing to address this issue.

    Under new management, the House Financial Services subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Financial Institutions will hold a hearing today entitled “Challenges and Solutions: Access to Banking Services for Cannabis-Related Businesses”

    This represents a significant normalization of cannabis policy reform in Congress and a big victory for Representatives Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), Denny Heck (D-WA) and the recently formed Congressional Cannabis Caucus.

    “Last fall when we introduced our blueprint for action in the 116th Congress on cannabis reform, we identified the access to banking issue as one of the first dominos that should fall. With Chairwoman Waters scheduling a hearing on the historic legislation by Congressmen Heck and Perlmutter, we are finally making progress toward addressing the irrational, unfair, and unsafe denial of regular banking services for state-legal marijuana businesses around the country,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Founder, and Co-Chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. “Congressmen Heck and Perlmutter have been tireless champions of this new and vibrant industry and this is an important step forward toward ultimately ending the failed prohibition of marijuana.”

    Legislation introduced by Rep’s Perlmutter and Heck known as the SAFE Banking Act sought to address this issue in the 115th Congress. Yet they were denied an opportunity to receive either a committee hearing or markup under previous committee leadership.

    For a rapidly growing industry that seeks legitimacy and requires transparency, the inability to obtain banking and credit access remains a primary, but unnecessary, roadblock. In order to truly bring the marijuana industry out of the shadows, actions need to be taken by Congress to amend these outdated and discriminatory practices.

    In order to best support the states that have had the good judgment to license and regulate businesses to produce, manufacture, or distribute cannabis, it is critical to address this aspect of the failed policy of federal marijuana criminalization as part of any reform package moving forward.

  • by NORML October 26, 2018

    With the marijuana midterms right around the corner, it’s imperative that you know who and what is going to be on your ballot leading up to Election Day on November 6th. To see who the Votemarijuanamost pro-cannabis reform candidates are in your district, check out our Smoke the Vote scorecard and voter guide.

    One of the biggest hurdles to expanding the legal market in California has been local municipalities banning marijuana businesses in their jurisdiction. This election, at least 82 marijuana related measures will appear on ballots before voters across the state, spanning 10 counties and 58 municipalities.

    A majority of the local initiatives are asking about business taxes, which is often the first step needed to actually open up a cannabis business.

    You can check out the full list of local ballot initiatives here. If you live in any of those cities or counties, be sure to get out to the polls and vote on the marijuana ballot questions! Make sure you know where your polling location is before the election on November 6th and get ready to #SmokeTheVote!

     

  • by NORML October 15, 2018

    Legislation permitting the possession, use, cultivation, and retail sale of cannabis takes effect this Wednesday, October 17.

    NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri is hailing the policy change. “We applaud Canada for showing legislators in the United States what can be accomplished with true leadership and dedication to sound public policy,” he said. “America’s leaders would be wise to learn from our neighbors, and similarly replace our archaic and failed marijuana prohibition laws with a regulatory scheme that is largely evidence-based and that reflects cannabis rapidly changing cultural status.”

    Canada is only the second country in the world to explicitly legalize cannabis production and sales nationwide.

    The Act, Bill C-45, permits those age 18 and older to legally possess (up to 30 grams) and grow cannabis (up to four plants of any size per household). Individual provinces possess the authority to enact additional regulations with respect to distribution, such as raising the legal age limit to purchase cannabis or by restricting home grow operations.

    The Act also federally licenses commercial producers of cannabis and certain cannabis-infused products, while permitting provinces to regulate retail sales in public (government operated) and private stores, subject to local rules. Online cannabis sales will also be permitted in certain provinces.

    While fewer than 200 total retailers are anticipated to be operational on day one of the new law, additional facilities are anticipated to be operational in the near future. Cannabis-infused edible products are anticipated to be regulated and available at retail stores early next summer. The new social use regulations do not amend Canada’s existing medical marijuana access laws, which have been in place since 2001.

    The enactment of the new law fulfills a campaign pledge by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who promised shortly after taking office to legalize and regulate the marijuana market. Prime Minister Trudeau, who formerly opposed legalization, cites a 2012 meeting with NORML members as the impetus for changing his position on the issue.

    In anticipation of the law change, the US Department of Homeland Security, US Customs and Border Protection Agency published a memorandum in September affirming that those Canadians either involved or invested in the legal cannabis industry may be barred admission into the United States. The agency later updated their policy directive on October 9, 2018, acknowledging: “A Canadian citizen working in … the legal marijuana industry in Canada, coming to the US for reasons unrelated to the marijuana industry will generally be admissible to the United States. However, if a traveler is found to be coming to the US for reason related to the marijuana industry, they may be deemed inadmissible.”

    NORML criticized the agency for its stance. NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said, “Those thousands of Canadians participating in the legal cannabis industry pose no threat to the US and should not face discrimination or additional scrutiny,” he said. “At a time when public opinion and the culture surrounding marijuana is rapidly shifting, not just in the United States but around the world, it is inane for US border officials to maintain such a backward-looking policy.”

  • by Kevin Mahmalji, NORML Outreach Director October 3, 2018

    With 47 states and the District of Columbia permitting the use of marijuana or its extracts in some form, new questions concerning employers’ rights, lawful marijuana use by employees, and maintaining a safe workplace have been raised. The biggest issue? While it’s legal to possess and consume marijuana in several states, it’s still illegal under federal law, an inconsistency that has created some confusion for employers who are unsure how to address marijuana in the workplace from a policy perspective. This untenable situation puts millions of law-abiding and responsible adults at risk of losing their employment simply because of a THC-positive drug test.

    Workplace Drug Testing

    Urinalysis testing is the most common form of pre-employment and workplace drug testing, but because it only detects trace metabolites (inert waste-products) of past use of a wide range of substances, they fail to prove either impairment or how recently marijuana was consumed. This activity is particularly discriminatory in the case of marijuana, where such metabolites may be detectable for weeks or even months after consumption.

    Surprisingly, there is no requirement for most private employers to have a drug-free workplace policy of any kind. However, there are a few exceptions such as federal contractors and safety-sensitive positions (e.g. airline pilots, truck and bus drivers, train conductors, etc.). Even employers who are required to maintain a drug-free workplace are not required to use drug testing as a means to enforce company policies.

    Impairment Detection

    New technology developed in recent years provides an extraordinary opportunity to change the way we discuss the issue of workplace drug testing. By embracing a new strategy that emphasizes the importance of impairment detection and workplace safety, we can reframe the conversation to focus on creating a 21st century workplace that’s free of dangerous impairment levels, not just from illegal substances, but also alcohol, prescription drugs, stress, and fatigue.  

    That’s why we’re stressing the importance of impairment detection. One example of such a technology is from Predictive Safety, a company based in Centennial, Colorado that created AlertMeter, which measures a person’s cognitive abilities with a 60 second test and can easily be used on most smart devices.

    “The road to normalization is about detecting impairment, not past marijuana use. The only thing that should matter is, ‘Are you fit for work?,’ not, ‘Have you ingested marijuana?,’” said Carol Setters of Predictive Safety.

    Vforge, an aluminum fabrication company has been using this new technology for several years. As a result, they’ve seen a 90% decrease in drug testing costs and a 70% reduction in worker compensation claims – further proof that a new strategy focused on impairment detection is not only beneficial for employees, but more profitable for companies as well. This changes the dynamic of the conversation all together.

    AlertMeter: https://vimeo.com/253068230

    Unlike drug tests that do not measure impairment, implementing reasonable impairment testing contributes to safe workplaces while protecting individual rights.

    What’s Being Done?

    NORML chapters from around the country are shifting their attention to protecting honest, hardworking marijuana consumers from antiquated, discriminatory workplace drug-testing practices, in particular the use of random, suspicionless urine testing. Earlier this year NORML chapters in Colorado and California worked diligently to address the issue legislatively, but experienced push back from conservative lawmakers and pro-business organizations, respectively.

    Several states including Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine*, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania Massachusetts and Rhode Island currently prohibit employers from discriminating against workers based on their status as a medical marijuana patient. Laws in Arizona, Delaware, and Minnesota specify that a positive drug test alone does not indicate impairment. Similar protections have long applied to medical use of opiates and other prescription drugs.

    Looking ahead, NORML chapters in California, Colorado, Oregon, Nevada, and Washington are planning their legislative strategies and educating lawmakers on the issue in advance of their 2019 state legislative sessions. We’ll likely see legislation to address workplace drug testing introduced in California, Oregon and Colorado while chapters in other states will focus their time and energy on educational efforts.

    At the federal level, Representative Charlie Crist recently introduced H.R. 6589: The Fairness in Federal Drug Testing Under State Laws Act, bipartisan legislation that would explicitly prohibit federal agencies from discriminating against workers solely because of their status as a marijuana consumer, or testing positive for marijuana use on a workplace drug test.

    Marijuana Legalization and Workplace Safety

    Mounting evidence continues to prove there is no logical reason why adult marijuana consumers should be treated with any less respect, restricted more severely, and denied the same privileges we extend to responsible adults who enjoy a cocktail after a long day at the office. As a matter of fact, researchers with Colorado State University, Montana State University, and American University came to the conclusion that the legalization and regulation of medical marijuana is associated with a 19.5% reduction in the expected number of workplace fatalities.

    “Our results suggest that legalizing medical marijuana leads to a reduction in workplace fatalities among workers aged 25–44. This reduction may be the result of workers substituting marijuana in place of alcohol and other substances that can impair cognitive function and motor skills.”

    Read more here: http://blog.norml.org/2018/08/10/study-medical-cannabis-access-laws-associated-with-fewer-workplace-fatalities/

    Additionally, researchers with Quest Diagnostics recently found that the rate of positive drug tests in Colorado, where medical and adult-use marijuana is legal, increased by 1% between 2016 and 2017 while the national average increased by 4% during the same timeframe.

    “When Colorado and Washington state legalized recreational marijuana, a short-lived spike occurred in the rate of positive drug tests, but it has since tapered off,” said Barry Sample, Quest’s senior director for science and technology.

    Read more here: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/legal-marijuana-hasnt-led-to-epidemic-of-high-workers/

    The following factsheet highlights several recent peer-reviewed studies assessing the potential impact of marijuana regulation on workplace safety and performance: http://norml.org/aboutmarijuana/item/marijuana-legalization-and-impact-on-the-workplace

    Considering marijuana’s increasingly legal status and availability in states across the country, consumers should no longer be forced to choose between a job and consuming a legal substance that doesn’t impair the facilities because of outdated employment practices.

  • by Kevin Mahmalji, NORML Outreach Director September 28, 2018

    We as advocates of marijuana law reforms have never been in a better position than we are today to further our cause. Prior to states like Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, and others, legalizing and regulating marijuana, there was very little data to support our arguments to end marijuana prohibition. But, things have changed.

    So, is the legalization and regulation of marijuana working? Of course it is, but we must be able to articulate why it’s working to be successful in our efforts. We can start by looking at some of the data regarding the impact marijuana legalization is having on public health and safety. Study after study published by the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, the National Academies of Sciences, the Centers for Disease Control, the Journal of Adolescent Health and the American Journal of Public Health are providing us with all the information we need to make fact-based, data-driven arguments in support of ending marijuana prohibition.

    Regardless if you’re looking at state-level data related to crime, teen access and use or the decline in opioid use, hospitalizations and overdose, the legalization and regulation of marijuana is having a positive impact. And this is no longer our opinion; it’s fact, backed by legitimate research and data. The information is there. We no longer have to speculate about the potential impacts marijuana legalization will have on public health and safety, and other areas of concern. We can now depend on facts and data to further our efforts to end marijuana prohibition.

    Touting the economic benefits of legalization such as tax revenues and job creation can also be helpful in our push to end marijuana prohibition. To date, there have been between 125,000 and 160,000 full-time jobs created as a result of the legalization and regulation of marijuana. This includes those who work directly with the plant (e.g., cultivation, bud tenders, infused products) as well as ancillary businesses such as packaging, gardening supplies and lighting companies. Regarding tax revenues, Nevada’s regulated adult-use program generated over $55 million within the first ten months of its roll out. While Colorado’s pulled in more than $245 million in tax revenue for 2017.

    If you’re working to advance marijuana law reform efforts on the local, state or federal level, these studies can be used to persuade opponents of legalization that ending marijuana prohibition is a step in the right direction, or at the very least, neutralize their prohibitionist rhetoric. Am I suggesting there’s no need to continue to closely monitor the impact marijuana legalization is having on public health and safety? Absolutely not.

    With only a handful of states enacting laws to legalize and regulate adult-use marijuana, the jury is certainly still out on whether or not marijuana can be regulated in a way that’s safe and productive for society, so I expect a healthy and thoughtful debate around the issue for years to come. However, since Congress approved the Marihuana Tax Act in 1937, we as advocates of marijuana law reforms have never had access to more fact-based evidence supporting our longstanding argument that ending marijuana prohibition is not only good public policy, it’s the right thing to do.

    For more than 45 years NORML chapters have been the driving force behind policy decisions on the local and state level. Have you connected with your local NORML chapter? If there isn’t one in your community, please email NORML Outreach Director Kevin Mahmalji at KevinM@NORML.org for help with starting your own!

    Ready to start a NORML chapter in your hometown? Click here to find out how!

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