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  • by Jenn Michelle Pedini, NORML Development Director April 12, 2020

    Richmond, VA: Democratic Governor Ralph Northam has approved legislation (Senate Bill 2 | House Bill 972) decriminalizing marijuana possession offenses. Northam also recommended technical amendments which must be approved by the legislature before the new law takes effect July 1, 2020.

    The law reduces penalties for offenses involving the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana to a civil violation – punishable by a maximum $25 fine, no arrest, and no criminal record.

    Under current law, minor marijuana possession offenses are classified as criminal misdemeanors, punishable by up to 30 days in jail, a criminal record, and the possible loss of driving privileges. According to data from the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission, more than 15,000 people were convicted for a first or second marijuana possession offense from July 2018 to June 2019.

    “Virginians have long opposed the criminalization of personal marijuana possession, and Governor Northam’s signature turns that public opinion into public policy,” said NORML Development Director Jenn Michelle Pedini, who also serves as the executive director of the state affiliate, Virginia NORML.

    The new law also seals the criminal records of past marijuana offenders from employers and school administrators, and defines substances previously considered hashish as marijuana.

    The bipartisan, bicameral effort to amend the state’s marijuana possession penalties was led by Senator Adam Ebbin (D-30) and House Majority Leader Delegate Charniele Herring (D-46). Commenting on the bills’ final passage, Sen. Ebbin said, “This is a major step forward for criminal justice reform in Virginia. The prohibition on marijuana has clearly failed, and impacts nearly 30,000 Virginians per year. It’s well past time that we stop doing damage to people’s employment prospects, educational opportunities, and parental rights.

    Delegate Herring added: “[This] is an important step in mitigating racial disparities in the criminal justice system. While marijuana arrests across the nation have decreased, arrests in Virginia have increased. This bill will not eliminate the racial disparities surrounding marijuana, but it will prevent low-level offenders from receiving jail time for simple possession while we move toward legalization in coming years with a framework that addresses both public safety and equity in an emerging market.”

    Governor Northam had previously gone on record in support of decriminalizing marijuana violations and expunging past convictions, as has Attorney General Mark Herring. “Decriminalization is an important first step on Virginia’s path towards legal, regulated adult use, and one many thought was still years away, but we cannot stop now. We’ve shown that smart, progressive reform is possible and we must keep going,” General Herring told Virginia NORML.

    In March, the General Assembly approved multiple bills calling on officials to further study marijuana legalization and to make recommendations to lawmakers in advance of the 2021 legislative session.

    In addition to approving marijuana decriminalization, Gov. Northam also signed Senate Bill 1015, which states that no person may be arrested, prosecuted, or denied any right or privilege for participating in the state’s medical cannabis program. The program is expected to be operational and dispensing cannabis products to authorized patients by mid-year. Northam also approved Senate Bill 976 expanding and improving this program, and suggested technical amendments which must be approved by the legislature before taking effect on July 1.

    “As legislators became more comfortable with medical cannabis products, they recognized that patients and legal guardians of children and incapacitated adults need the protections of lawful possession instead of the affirmative defense. That is what SB 1015 provides — a statutory protection against prosecution, not merely an affirmative defense,” remarked Senator Dave Marsden (D-37), longtime champion of medical cannabis patients in the Commonwealth.

    Added NORML’s Jenn Michelle Pedini: “Later this year, Virginia patients will finally have access to medical cannabis products and explicit legal protections thanks to Senator Marsden’s legislation. Additional dispensing facilities, telemedicine, and program registration for nonresidents are among some of the many legislative improvements we were able to accomplish this year.”

    In total, sixteen marijuana-related bills succeeded in the 2020 Virginia General Assembly.

     

    A complete listing of marijuana-related legislation in the 2020 Virginia General Assembly is available here. For more information, contact Jenn Michelle Pedini, NORML Development Director & Virginia NORML Executive Director.

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Executive Director November 18, 2019

    We won’t lie, this is HUGE.

    This week, we will very likely have the first vote to outright end federal marijuana prohibition. The House Judiciary Committee has posted a markup for HR 3884, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act on Wednesday, November 20th and they will likely hold a vote on the same day.

    This has never happened in the history of our country and it is thanks to all the time and effort folks have put in for DECADES. The MORE Act isn’t just some half measure either. It contains many of the important reforms we have always wanted to see at the federal level. Not only will it remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act entirely, but it will also require federal courts to expunge prior marijuana-related convictions, provide grants and funding to communities most harmed by our failed war on cannabis consumers, and finally allow physicians affiliated with the Veterans Administration to recommend medical cannabis to veterans.

    The American people are overwhelmingly on our side and ready to end our failed prohibitionist policies and lately more and more elected officials are joining them. However, we NEED your help to get this legislation approved. We cannot allow this opportunity to pass us by, we need to show members of Congress that their constituents are demanding real change.

    CLICK HERE TO SEND A MESSAGE TO YOUR REPRESENTATIVE URGING THEIR SUPPORT FOR THE MORE ACT

    Even if you have already contacted your elected officials, now is the time to do it again.

    Then share the link with your family and friends and encourage them to join you.

    Click here to share this alert on Facebook

    Click here to share this alert on Twitter

    The light at the end of the dark tunnel of prohibition is getting closer, let’s unite and make real marijuana law reform at the federal level a reality.

  • by Randy Robinson, MERRY JANE for NORML August 26, 2019

    Virginia has been one of the most reluctant states to consider marijuana law reform, though it recently began allowing some forms of cannabis oil for approved patients. MERRY JANE spoke with NORML’s Development Director, Jenn Michelle Pedini, to find out how they got the state’s conservative lawmakers to finally bring medical cannabis to its residents.

    The American South has been one of the toughest (weed) cookies to crack when it comes to marijuana reform, despite legalization’s wildfire spread over the past half-decade. Southern states have largely been dominated by the Republican Party since the mid-’60s, a party that has historically been staunchly opposed to any kind of marijuana law reform. (To be fair, Democrats didn’t mention weed legalization on their party’s official platform until 2016.)

    So, it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that Virginia didn’t launch a medical marijuana program until 2015, nearly two decades after California. And it took extensive, concerted efforts from marijuana law reform organizations like NORML to negotiate with Virginia’s Republican Party to get the program finally running.

    The program has evolved significantly over the last four years; here’s where it’s at today. HB 1445/SB 1235, passed in 2015, didn’t legalize medical marijuana per se but rather provided patients with an affirmative defense in court for the possession of certain medical cannabis products (just as long as they have an “affirmative defense” certificate from their doctor). HB1445/SB1235, unfortunately, didn’t provide a framework for cultivating or distributing medicines, so patients had to get their cannabis from another state (a no-no under the US Department of Justice’s now-rescinded guidelines).

    Then, in 2017 and 2018, Virginia finally made some moves to establish its own medical marijuana industry. The passage of SB 701 directed the Virginia Board of Pharmacy to regulate and monitor the state’s CBD- and THC-A-rich oils. SB 1027 authorized the Board of Pharmacy to issue permits for marijuana cultivation and processing. There are currently five “pharmaceutical processor” permit holders in Virginia, and they’re about to open for business.

    Furthermore, Virginia’s consumption/product regulations are smoke-free. While patients won’t be rolling up joints full of pungent flower, they can still access oils, tinctures, lozenges, inhalers, topicals, and pills packed with non-intoxicating CBD or THC-A, the acidic precursor  of THC. And, 2019’s SB 1557 makes it possible for patients to get as much as 10mg of THC in each dosethe same limit as one serving size for edibles in adult-use states.

    For comparison, other Southern states such as Texas and Georgia only allow CBD oils (with pretty much zero THC-A) for marijuana patients.

    JM Pedini

    JM Pedini | Photo by Adam Ewing

    To find out how NORML convinced Old Dominion’s conservative legislature to greenlight a medical cannabis program, MERRY JANE reached out to Jenn Michelle Pedini by phone. Pedini is the Development Director at NORML and serves as the Executive Director for Virginia NORML, and they’ve spent years coordinating with the state’s lawmakers, medical professionals, attorneys, patients, and patient activist groups to craft one of the American South’s most comprehensive medical marijuana bills to date. Pedini’s legislative strategy relied on two approaches: (1) carefully crafting the language around Virginia’s medical marijuana laws to protect patients, and (2) letting doctors, not bureaucrats, determine who gets to access medical marijuana.

    This interview has been edited for clarity and space.

    MERRY JANE: Where was Virginia previously, and where is it now in terms of marijuana reforms

    Jenn Michelle Pedini: Virginia passed one of the nation’s first medical marijuana laws way back in 1979. Unfortunately, it used the word “prescription,” so the law was sort of self-defeating ever since day one. Not much happened between 1979 and 2015, aside from preventing the repeal of the wonky 1979 law. They managed to hold on to that.

    Now, in 2015 — like in many other states throughout the country — we saw some fresh faces in the marijuana policy conversation. These were moms and dads and grandparents of children [with intractable epilepsy] who were using medical cannabis oils. In Virginia, these families were simply asking to be able to possess the medicines they were able to access in other states. And Virginia, like many other states, said yes to these families in 2015, but meanwhile, they said no to everyone else. [As in, no to anyone who wasn’t an epilepsy patient.]

    The 2015 Virginia law is an affirmative defense law. It does not specifically legalize the possession of medical cannabis, but it does provide a reasonable defense from prosecution if the person is a registered patient. 

    The 2017 expansion of Virginia’s medical marijuana law got rid of qualifying conditions. How did getting rid of qualifying conditions make things easier for Virginia’s patients and the legislature?

    After the 2015 high-five, we came back to the table and said, We’re not done. We need to do more. We needed to do two things: We need to allow more people to have access [to medical cannabis] and we need to create in-state access, because federal interstate drug trafficking is not an acceptable solution. 

    Virginia Senator Siobhan Dunnavant

    Senator Siobhan Dunnavant, MD

    So, we set about these two objectives, one being to add additional conditions. Ultimately, in 2017, with the help of a state senator — Siobhan Dunnavant, who is a Republican and a physician — we were able to convince the legislature to expand the medical program. And instead of having the government arbitrarily select [qualifying] conditions, it would probably be a better public policy approach to let doctors decide. 

    We had the Joint Commission on Health Care introduce that legislation for the 2018 session; it passed unanimously. It removed qualifying conditions altogether. This is now a public policy that NORML uses as its standard. 

    Is that solely determined between the patient and the doctor now, or can a patient alone claim their own justified medical use?

    There is a state medical program with which patients must register. Virginians must first visit an authorized practitioner, meaning a practitioner registered with the state to issue written certifications to patients. This last year, we added nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants to the definition of “practitioner,” too. 

    After the patient receives their certification from the practitioner, they then register with the state, and receive a piece of paper in the mail, which is what we call your affirmative defense certificate

    We don’t have operating medical cannabis facilities yet, so patients may be bringing in their medicine from out-of-state. The certificate provides an affirmative defense for possession of those medicines. Eventually, patients will use this certificate to access Virginia’s medical dispensaries.

    Was this no-qualifying-conditions strategy specifically designed to get a medical marijuana bill passed through an incredibly conservative legislature?

    Pedini & Dunnavant celebrate the passage of Let Doctors Decide in 2018

    Pedini & Dunnavant celebrate the passage of Let Doctors Decide in 2018

    Yes. We tried numerous approaches. We had lawmakers who were just proposing lists of diseases that they felt were deserving, and we tried very narrow approaches, proposing two diseases, cancer and Crohn’s disease specifically, and we were being met with questions like, “Where are the data on that?” and “We only want to see data from an American source.” 

    There were really high hurdles to meet, just to get a condition or two added. Despite us meeting whatever obstacles they set before us, legislators were still saying, “Oh, we don’t know” or “I’m not a doctor. I can’t read this.” And they were right: Maybe we should be letting doctors make these decisions. Having a senator who is a physician working alongside us was probably the best thing to happen to Virginia’s medical cannabis program. 

    Senator Dunnavant provided that voice of clarity that we needed, and from the political party that is the controlling majority of our legislature. 

    How would you describe Virginia’s medical marijuana program? Is it a CBD program? A low-THC program?

    You’ll see Virginia’s medical program called all kinds of things. You’ll see it called a CBD-only program, or you’ll see it called a low-THC program. It’s neither of these things. Virginia has an “extraction-based” model; it’s not unique. We’ve seen other states do the same thing, or, at least, start there.

    There are some minimum and maximum cannabinoid contents with the program. The terms CBD oil and THC-A oil speak to a codified minimum cannabinoid content that the product must have, in this section of the state criminal code, to allow for the affirmative defense. 

    What people really want to know now is what they’re actually able to get. The retail side of these facilities are technically pharmacies — also not novel in medical cannabis regulation — and these pharmacies only dispense medical cannabis products. And, as they’re operating under pharmacy regulations, they’re going to be able to dispense things that pharmacies can already dispense: gels, capsules, tinctures, tablets, lozenges, lollipops. 

    But, pharmacies don’t dispense cookies, and they don’t dispense — at least in Virginia — flowers. So, those two things are not available under Virginia’s model as it’s currently written. 

    Everyone who was involved in the legislative process was aware that THC-A is one chemical step away from becoming psychoactive THC, right? They were all fine with that?

    [chuckles] Way, way back in the day, in 2015, this was originally being drafted to only serve patients with intractable epilepsy. Families of the patients involved in this conversation were primarily using preparations that contained CBD and THC-A. 

    But to your point about THC-A, that it’s the precursor of THC: Yes, certainly, they knew. If patients were to decarboxylate their THC-A products, then technically, that would nullify their affirmative defense. And that was the argument we used when they asked, “What’s to stop them from taking this home, heating this up, and getting high?”

    We said, “Well, pharmacies dispense entire bottles of Oxycontin. And you’re not supposed to take those home, crush them up, and snort them. It’s the same thing here [with THC-A products].”

    We later lowered the minimum cannabinoid requirement. In other words, each dose, which means one “unit” — one dropperful, one lollipop, one spray — must have either 5mg CBD or 5mg THC-A. 

    These minimums exist because we were originally concerned about “snake oil,” so we needed the cannabinoid threshold so they couldn’t sell snake oil to patients. Initially, the minimum was 50mg, but we were concerned about pediatric dosing. So, we settled on 5mg for the affirmative defense amount.

    In addition, each dose can contain up to 10mg THC which, of course, is the same as an adult-use serving size. So, if grandma finds a caplet on the floor and decides to eat it, she’s not going to experience any particularly adverse effect

    [Note: There’s no maximum limit for how much CBD or THC-A that a medical cannabis product can contain in Virginia.]

    Between Virginia’s lawmakers and cannabis activists, where did you see intersection between these two groups? What sorts of things did they agree on?

    Up until 2015, there were a lot of conversations about marijuana policies that focused specifically on criminal justice reform. The controlling members of the committees that clear criminal justice legislation in Virginia are primarily prosecutors and former prosecutors. And they’re not interested in writing laws that limit their prosecutorial discretion. Which, by and large, is fairly unrestricted in the commonwealth. 

    Now, when they were confronted with families with sick children, that was something that everyone could emotionally identify with. And that, like in many other states, moved the needle, that emotional connection, the ability to sympathize or empathize with these patients. That same connection does not yet exist on the criminal justice side for those lawmakers. 

    Virginia’s legislature is currently controlled by Republicans, but Democrats have steadily gained traction in recent years. In 2008, Virginia’s voters, for the first time in 44 years, elected a Democrat for the US presidency. That trend persisted through the following two presidential races, as well. Do you anticipate any new marijuana reforms in Virginia after the 2020 elections? 

    What happens with marijuana legislation during the 2020 General Assembly depends entirely on the outcome of the 2020 election. Every single seat in our state’s legislature — both the Senate and the House of Delegates — is up for reelection. So, what is feasible in 2020 depends entirely upon who the controlling party is.

    Your state’s Attorney General, Mark Herring, sounds like he’s down for decriminalization if not outright legalization. 

    If the Republican Party maintains control of the legislature, we can expect to have very limited and incremental reform. If Democrats control the legislature, that would likely open the door for the criminal justice reforms that we just really have not seen in Virginia — yet. Which is what our Attorney General [Mark Herring] is talking about

    He understands that decriminalization — fines, not crimes — is an easy step that Virginia can and should take, but that it doesn’t provide the real solution. It’s essentially a Band-Aid on a femoral artery bleed. 

    Decriminalization will reduce arrests, but it won’t address the disparities with which these arrests are made. And he has been very clear in recognizing that the end-goal should be to regulate the responsible, adult-use of marijuana so we can take it off the street corner and put it behind an age-verified counter, prevent youth access, and better provide for consumer safety.

    We’ve been fortunate to have an Attorney General who has worked so closely with Virginia NORML, and who has been advocating a better public policy, one that serves Virginians. 

    Is there anything else you think people should know about Virginia’s marijuana reforms?

    You’ll see “5 percent” mentioned in reference to our program. 5 percent by dry weight means something entirely different than 5 percent in a liquid pharmaceutical measurement. I think this is how people got the notion that our program is “low-THC.” “5 percent” translates into 50mg/mL. So, you can tell me how that equals low THC. [laughs]

    We have been very thoughtful in the language that’s been used, so that we can get to where we need to be: Let doctors decide; full therapeutic strength; pharmaceutical processors (that’s what we call our cannabis facilities), and, if it makes people feel better to call it CBD or THC-A oil, then go ahead.

    This is what works to get it into the legislature. On the flip side, after these laws are passed, we’re left with an opportunity to talk about this — with the media and in public spaces — to use terms that consumers understand. They don’t necessarily understand what CBD or THC-A oil means; they just know that they want access to medical cannabis now. The language is on us at this point, and while we may have used that language to get this into the legislature, now we need to leave that language at that door. 

    Learn more about Virginia’s medical cannabis program here.

    Become a member of NORML and Virginia NORML and join the fight to reform marijuana laws.

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

  • by Randy Robinson, MERRY JANE for NORML 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 Tyler McFadden, NORML NE Political Associate March 25, 2019

    Big news out of Connecticut today, as a bill to legalize the adult-use and retail sale of marijuana has passed through a critical vote in the General Law Committee with a 10-8 majority. In addition to legalizing adult-use and establishing a regulated retail market, the bill also includes strong social justice language that incentivizes minority participation in the state’s marijuana market. It also establishes a commission that would be tasked with studying the impacts of provisions not already included in the legislation, such as homegrow and microbusinesses.

    Next up for the bill is a vote in the state legislature’s Judiciary Committee on Thursday, March 28th. Should it pass through committee and successfully pass a floor vote, the bill will go to the governor’s desk. Governor Lamont has been very vocal about his support for marijuana legalization in the state, frequently referring to reform as one of his administration’s top legislative priorities.

    If Connecticut successfully passes and enacts marijuana legalization into law, it would become the first state to pass a regulatory framework for the retail sale of marijuana through the state legislature, rather than as a ballot measure for popular vote.

    Major reform is within reach in Connecticut. If you’re a Connecticut resident, click here to send a message to your state lawmakers in urgent support of legalization!

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