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Policy

  • by Randy Robinson, MERRY JANE August 19, 2019
    Click here to send a message to your Representative now!

    Click here to send a message to your Representative now!

    The MORE Act, which was introduced to the US Congress last month, would completely decriminalize marijuana at the federal level. How will it work, and what will it do for cannabis consumers, pot convicts, and the burgeoning gray-market industry?

    On July 23, Rep. Jarrold Nadler (D-NY) and presidential candidate Kamala Harris (D-CA) introduced the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which is arguably the most revolutionary and socially conscious federal marijuana reform bill introduced to date. 

    Previous federal reform bills have, traditionally, died on the Congressional floors before ever getting a vote. Currently, public support for legalizing weed nationwide is at an all-time high: 62 percent of Americans favor legalizing the adult use of marijuana, while over 90 percent want access to medical cannabis. So, what’s taken Congress so damn long to make any changes? 

    The issue isn’t if marijuana will be legalized anymore. The question is how and when, but America’s elected leaders haven’t agreed on how legalization should be implemented. 

    The climate of disagreement prompted Nadler to draft his own legislation with input from marijuana organizations like NORML. The MORE Act addresses many of the issues stemming from marijuana prohibition, but it does not offer remedies for every issue. Instead, it takes a somewhat hands-off approach, leaving most regulatory questions up to the states.

    Under the MORE Act, marijuana would be completely removed from the Controlled Substances Act, which currently classifies cannabis as a Schedule I drug. Schedule I is the most restrictive category, supposedly reserved only for the most deadly and addictive drugs that have no accepted medical use. With marijuana off federal scheduling, individual states can decide for themselves how they’ll reform their weed laws, if they reform them at all.

    Additionally, the MORE Act is the first piece of federal legislation that would establish social equity programs for cannabis entrepreneurs, and it would enact wholesale expungements of prior low-level weed offenses for federal convicts. Convicts currently serving time in federal prisons for cannabis violations would receive reductions to their sentences, too.

    On the business end, the MORE Act also sets a 5 percent federal tax on all cannabis sales. That’s it. There is no overly-complex, tiered taxation system that unfairly gouges cannabis consumers and companies, like what those seen in California or Colorado. The excise taxes collected would go toward regulatory oversight, funding expungements and resentencing procedures, and researching how legal cannabis will affect the population at large.

    But does the MORE Act have a real chance of passing through Congress? What will happen at the local levels if it does become law? And, most importantly, how will it benefit those most harmed by federal marijuana prohibition, which has disproportionately targeted impoverished communities and communities of color?

    To find out the answers to these questions, MERRY JANE called up Justin Strekal, the Political Director at NORML. Strekal has met with Nadler and other members of Congress to help refine the MORE Act’s language, as well as to garner more support for a bill that could finally end America’s century-long war against weed.

    “We’re very fortunate to have, in [Rep.] Jarrod Nadler, a judiciary chairman who’s been supportive of marijuana law reform since the 1970s. He says so himself,” Strekal said. “One of the first votes he cast as an elected official in the New York Assembly was to decriminalize the state of New York.”

    “Mr. Nadler and the judiciary committee were very thoughtful as they crafted the MORE Act,” Strekal continued. “We believe this is the first comprehensive and workable legislation that has a real shot at passing in a chamber of Congress.”

    MERRY JANE: Previous legalization bills in Congress tried to reschedule cannabis, usually by bumping it down to Schedule II or III, alongside drugs like morphine or cocaine. But the MORE Act completely removes weed from federal scheduling. How did the bill’s authors decide on descheduling altogether?

    Justin Strekal: It’s important to remember that none of the states that have reformed their cannabis policies — whether medical or adult-use — were predicated on if Congress decides to move marijuana to Schedule II or III or IV. These states have been operating in clear defiance of federal policy, and the only way to protect the existing marketplaces is to outright remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and regulate it as its own substance.

    Alcohol is not in the Controlled Substances Act, tobacco is not in the Controlled Substances Act, and McDonald’s is not in the Controlled Substances Act. And the Controlled Substances Act is not a place where cannabis belongs.

    The bill contains a section that relabels marijuana and marihuana as cannabis. Is this a move to get rid of the racially-loaded term marijuana from federal legalese?

    It’s actually a reestablishment of the legal term [for] cannabis. Through statute, we started calling it marihuana in the 1930s. That was largely contingent on the actions of Harry Anslinger, who changed the conversation and changed the title to marihuana as a way to heavily utilize the racial animus of the time which is, unfortunately, not too dissimilar to today. He weaponized the language against those who consume, and he used marihuana to play on fears related to Mexican immigrants.

    What kind of support is the MORE Act getting in Congress right now? 

    It is a bipartisan bill in the House of Representatives. Right now, we’re in the August recess, so we’re working with who we can to continue to advance the cause. We’ve received three additional co-sponsors since the introduction of the bill, and we plan on signing on a good number more when Congress comes back to session in September.

    And it’s important to note, that since the bill is carried by the Judiciary Committee Chairman, it had four different committee chairs on board when the bill was introduced: Rep. Nadler, Chairwoman Nydia Velázquez [of the Small Business Committee], Chairman Jim McGovern of the Rules Committee — which is an incredibly important committee in the process — as well as Chairwoman Maxine Waters of the House Financial Services Committee, which is the only committee in the House, to date, that has successfully marked up a cannabis-related bill.

    The MORE Act creates a new federal office, the Cannabis Justice Office. What is this office’s purpose

    The Department of Justice has a number of existing offices in their justice programs. This creates another similar office, which would be focused on addressing cannabis-related issues. It’s only logical, since the Department of Justice is an entity that is designed to promote the cause of justice and the rule of law. And since we’re changing the law, and marijuana [possession, cultivation, sales] would no longer be a crime, we must make sure that we’re no longer discriminating against our citizens who are burdened by the criminal records they received under prohibition.

    Social equity programs, which prioritize weed business licenses and business loans to pot entrepreneurs who were convicted of cannabis crimes, are laid out in this bill. How will these actually get off the ground, considering that state and local governments are still struggling to get their social equity programs running?

    One of the sizable contributing factors to why those programs are struggling to get off the ground are the structural problems that are stemming from federal prohibition in the first place: lack of access to bank accounts, and small businesses’ inability to receive standard tax treatments as every other sector of the economy. Those barriers would no longer be in place after we remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act.

    This would provide additional revenue to incentivize experimentation and implementation of licensing regimes that acknowledge the harms done under criminalization. 

    It’s extremely frustrating that, right now, there are very well-intentioned regulators who are trying to fight with one hand tied behind their back, and their other arm is shoulder-strapped to their chest. Federal prohibition is severely hampering these folks to be able to get anything done.

    The Minority Cannabis Business Association is the only organization right now doing much in this space, and they’re primed to be in a terrific position to be a leader [for social equity if the MORE Act passes].

    The MORE Act contains a section that addresses immigration issues related to cannabis. If the bill removes cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, why do new immigration policies need to be clarified by law? 

    Right now, cannabis-related offenses are a significant contributor to deportable offenses. It’s important to make sure that we establish explicit protections for those who are already here. Even if we end federal prohibition, let’s say, hypothetically, in Idaho — which may never reform their state policies [against marijuana] — that a mere possession charge won’t turn into a deportable offense. 

    Removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act doesn’t legalize marijuana in every corner of this country. It simply ends the federal prohibition of marijuana and allows states and localities to set their own [marijuana] policies as they see fit. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure for conservatives or liberals or anyone at any point of the political spectrum to be able to come to that determination — that under our federalist society, cannabis should be locally controlled.

    While it would no longer be a federal offense, the violation of local law is something that’s still taken under consideration through federal administration, and that includes immigration.

    What kind of complications do you see arising from allowing states or cities to regulate cannabis however they want?

    [Sociologist] Max Weber said that the art of politics is the slow boring of hard boards. There is going to be an adjustment phase. As states and local governments identify what practices work best for their communities, and, collectively, as states and localities learn from each other, slowly but surely there will be a consensus that emerges when it comes to regulatory structures, consumer safety and protections, and the like. 

    Just as alcohol prohibition fell a hundred years ago, there are still dry counties dotting this nation where you cannot buy alcohol. We’ve reached a point where you can buy whiskey in a CVS in Florida, but you can’t legally buy beer at a CVS in a different state. 

    It’s going to be a process, and as long as that process ends the practice of treating individuals like second-class citizens, and threatening their freedom, simply because they choose to consume marijuana, then we’ll be in a much better position than we are today.

    Is there anything else you want people to know about the MORE Act that isn’t explicitly noted in the bill?

    Because of the way the tax regime is structured [in the MORE Act], we’re going to be able to provide relief to those who’ve suffered from minor cannabis convictions through expungement. We’re going to be able to grow a new community-centered small-business economy, and we’re going to be able to do it all without spending a nickel of taxpayers’ money

    The chairman [Nadler] was incredibly thoughtful at setting the tax structure up in a way that minimizes the burden on the industry and completely has this all paid for, which is unlike a lot of other proposals that are floating around in Congress. So, if we want to be thoughtful, and if we want to be fiscally responsible, then the MORE Act is the way to go.

    Follow Randy Robinson on Twitter and read more of their work at MERRY JANE here

  • by Carly Wolf, NORML State Policies Coordinator August 13, 2019

    Medical marijuanaIllinois Governor J.B. Pritzker (D) has signed two separate medical cannabis expansion bills into law.

    Senate Bill 2023 expands the state’s medical cannabis program by adding several new qualifying conditions, allowing physicians assistants and advanced practice registered nurses to recommend medical cannabis to their patients, allowing minor patients to have up to three caregivers instead of two, among other changes.

    The new law went into effect on August 9, 2019.

    Senate Bill 455 permits children with serious conditions for which medical marijuana has been recommended to have medical cannabis infused products administered to them while on school property. The measure also requires the State Board of Education to develop a training program for school nurses and administrators on administering medical cannabis infused products to patients at school.

    The new law will take effect on January 1,  2020.

     

  • by Josh Kasoff, Nevada NORML

    Las Vegas NORML has once again found themselves busy with many types of advocacy for patient and consumer rights, both statewide and federally. Following a rapidly successful Nevada legislative session where the historic AB 132 and AB 192 were passed, Las Vegas NORML has kept the legislative momentum moving. Seeing the sheer willpower of the advocates and people themselves to become politically involved and speaking with their representatives directly, the local NORML chapter has been collecting signatures for a significantly more monumental federal bill that could result in drastic criminal justice reform and further legalization and access to financial services for legal cannabis businesses.   

    Introduced by New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler and California Senator and presidential candidate Kamala Harris, The MORE Act (Marijuana, Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement Act) would directly address and provide a remedy to the many troubles and difficulties still associated with cannabis, everything short of stopping Taco Bell from sounding appetizing. 

    For starters, cannabis would be decriminalized on the federal level and therefore removed from the entirety of the Controlled Substances Act. Furthermore, those convicted of cannabis charges on the federal level could apply for expungement of records and apply for re-sentencing if needed. For those who desire to work in the industry, yet have a federal felony record, and are therefore unable to in many states due to felonies being instantly prohibited, this reform may allow that desire to become a reality.  

    Any issues related to receiving public benefits due to cannabis usage will be stopped and a five percent federal tax will be implemented, the revenue of which will be directed to a program called the “Opportunity Trust Fund”. This fund would establish financial services such as grants and loans to “socially and economically-disadvantaged” communities most affected by the life-wrecking failures of the War on Drugs.

    Last Saturday at NuLeaf, Las Vegas NORML collected dozens of signatures from consumers who support such a comprehensively reformative bill. With the consumer’s information, the team will hand-deliver the pre-written letters of support to their respective representative in both Congress and the Senate during our trip to Washington, DC, and show irrefutable evidence of this bill’s popularity and need.

    Our packed August meeting went excellently and we were so thrilled with the number of fresh faces we got to see. Being able to hear Representative Neal and McCurdy’s testimonies about how they championed for the need for AB 132 and 192 spoke volumes to advocates, and Ashley Ciliberti of MA Analytics showed the absolute importance and interest in cannabis lab testing. Countless more signatures were collected in support of the MORE Act, and a good amount of funds were raised for Las Vegas NORML’s Washington DC national convention and lobbying efforts.

    “Our volunteers look forward to our annual trip to DC each year because it provides the one-on-one opportunity to interact with policy makers.” said Nevada NORML Executive Director Madisen Saglibene. “Traveling to the nation’s capital for these meetings sends a strong message to our leaders that constituents care about these developing cannabis policies.”

    Learn more at www.lvnorml.org
    Contributions being accepted at paypal.me/lasvegasnorml
  • by Tanya Thompson, NORML Junior Associate August 5, 2019

    Working at NORML is kind of like going on a Tinder date; you have no idea what you’re getting into until it’s much too late. When I landed my job with NORML, I had pretty “high” expectations and, luckily, I was not let down (unlike ALL of my online dating experiences). I guess you could say that NORML was a love match for me… Here’s why– 

    My first big project involved lobbying for the Blumenauer-McClintock-Norton amendment to the House CJS Appropriations Bill. Essentially, the amendment defunds the ability of the Department of Justice to enforce the federal prohibition of marijuana in states where it has been legalized, be it for medical or adult-use. While it doesn’t resolve the federally illegal problem, it does give confidence to those in state-legal marijuana businesses that the Department of Justice won’t seize product, seize money, or make arrests. Currently, state-legal adult-use marijuana businesses are at constant risk of federal prosecution. This looming fear functioned to have a negative effect on marijuana business growth and the appetite for state legislatures to enact reforms. 

    The amendment was suddenly announced to be up for a vote only a few days in advance. Evidently, this is a normal practice on Capitol Hill. We had to work fast to ensure the amendment had broad support in the House. First, the Cannabis Caucus met, which is a group of Congressional members who support marijuana reform. The group planned “whip campaigns” to ensure that all members of Congress are notified of the upcoming vote and keeps a record of how members will vote. Second, NORML contacted hundreds of thousands of its members with an action alert to urge their member of Congress to vote “yes.” Next, NORML teamed with other marijuana advocacy groups to assemble 500 packets that we hand-delivered to every member of the House. Finally, we hit Capitol Hill and the real magic happened.

    The short window of time before votes leaves legislators with very little time to conduct their own research and determine their position. That’s where the staffers (the aides to members of Congress) come in, as they review the proposed amendment then give the member of Congress a briefing and issue a recommendation on how to vote. It is so important to present the amendment to the staffer in a manner that will appeal to their boss so that they have the right talking points (and are motivated, of course) to convince the member of Congress that voting “yes” is the best option. 

    Our spell must have worked because on Thursday, June 20, 2019, the House voted to approve the amendment. Making this not only my first lobbying experience but my first success at doing so! The victory announcement is a moment in my life that I will never forget. The level of pride and excitement I felt is unmatchable. I still can’t believe that I was a part of this historic change. It fuels me to devote myself to moving the legalization ball further across the court and taught me not to be afraid of the unknown- even if the last few Bumble matches were a flop. While I’ve given up online dating, I am now in a committed relationship with marijuana reform.

    With your continued support of NORML, nationwide legalization CAN and WILL happen. Please keep contacting your member of Congress urging them to support marijuana reform because, without your help, none of these marijuana victories would be possible.

  • by Kevin Mahmalji, NORML Outreach Director July 30, 2019

    Working to reform marijuana laws

    In an attempt to address one of several collateral consequences associated with a marijuana-related charge, Representative Bill Foster (D-IL) has introduced the Second Chance for Students Act. If passed by Congress, the bill will allow students convicted of simple marijuana possession to maintain access to financial aid for six months while they complete an approved drug rehabilitation program.

    “One mistake shouldn’t mean the end of a student’s education,” Congressman Foster said. “For many students, financial aid can mean the difference between staying in school and dropping out. This legislation would ensure that students stay in school while they complete the required rehabilitation program. No student should have their future determined by one bad choice.”

    Congresswoman Gwen Moore (D-WI), Congressman Hank Johnson (D-GA), Congressman Seth Moulton (D-MA), and Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) have signed on as cosponsors.

    “Currently, students who are convicted of possessing marijuana risk losing their federal aid, no matter the quantity,” Congresswoman Moore said. “Losing financial aid can be devastating and often determines whether one can remain in school. This policy harms students of color, who are often targeted for low-level offenses like marijuana possession. It’s why I am thrilled to support this bill because a marijuana conviction shouldn’t jeopardize a students’ future or access to educational opportunity.”

    Regardless of efforts to ease criminal penalties for marijuana possession in more than 60 municipalities around the country, and legalizing and regulating adult-use marijuana in 11 states, marijuana’s status as a Schedule 1 controlled substance continues to prevent honest and hardworking individuals from securing gainful employment, housing, access to student loans and other basic services. It’s time to end the broken and discriminatory policies of marijuana prohibition. Passage of the Second Chance for Students Act is a step in the right direction.

    Marijuana policy should be evidence based. Dispel the myths with the NORML Fact Sheets. Follow NORML on FacebookInstagram and Twitter and become a member today!

     

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