New York is on the precipice of completing a deal that would usher legal marijuana into the state. Earlier this week, Governor Cuomo (D) expressed that he and the state Legislators were “very close” to reaching an agreement.
For the third year in a row, the governor has attempted to pass marijuana reform legislation as part of his executive budget. Past efforts at reform from the gubernatorial office have largely been unsuccessful due to disagreements with the more progressive wing of Cuomo’s own party.
This time, however, negotiations will take place outside of the budget process.
Cuomo Criticized For Putting Tax Revenue Above Criminal Justice
Cuomo, who is currently facing a growing number of calls to resign amidst an onslaught of sexual harassment allegations, has been criticized in the past by drug policy reform advocates for pushing a legalization plan that prioritizes maximizing state revenue over reinvesting in the minority communities most victimized by marijuana prohibition.
In response, the governor’s office has released a proposal claiming that some funds from cannabis tax revenue may be used for minority community reinvestment purposes but doesn’t guarantee it. “The devil is in the details,” According to Melissa Moore, the New York state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. Moore says,
“The governor’s proposal has included some of the language from the MRTA about what the community grants reinvestment fund could be used for, but it hasn’t actually had the lockbox guarantee around funds going to communities.”
There have also been concerns that Cuomo’s plan, the Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act (CRTA), won’t do enough to prevent the future criminalization of cannabis users. Under the CRTA plan, possession of marijuana purchased from an unlicensed source would remain a misdemeanor offense with potential jail time. In contrast, the Marijuana Regulation and Tax Act (MRTA) proposed by state legislators would make possession of illicit cannabis up to two pounds of flower or 4.5 ounces of concentrate a violation only punishable with a fine.
While the MRTA allows for six marijuana plants to be grown per household, The CRTA prohibits residents of the state from cultivating any cannabis plants inside their own homes, severely limiting access to consumers who don’t want to purchase from state-licensed dispensaries.
Growing Support For MRTA
NORML, one of the largest cannabis advocacy lobbies in the country, rated both legalization plans at the beginning of this month. The New York NORML Chapter found that “[The] MRTA is far superior to the CRTA,” and gave the legislator’s plan an A- grade while only giving Cuomo’s a C-.
A recent poll conducted by Consensus Strategies found that New Yorkers favor marijuana reform policy that more closely resembles the MRTA. 52% of those surveyed said that they preferred legislation allowing state residents to grow a limited amount of marijuana plants at home, and 51% supported license preferences for social equity applicants.
In a Twitter statement on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D) expressed his support for the legalization efforts taking place in the Big Apple. While he didn’t mention Cuomo by name, he did explicitly show his support for the MRTA plan saying,
“We must ensure that tax dollars flow to communities harmed by over-criminalization; small entrepreneurs and directly impacted people have an opportunity to enter the market through strong social equity provisions; marijuana is not used as pretext for criminalizing Black and Brown people, especially youth; and that individuals weighed down by past criminal convictions are given an opportunity to move on as productive members of society.”
Senator Schumer went on to thank supporters of MRTA, specifically calling out legislators Crystal People-Stokes (D) and Liz Krueger (D)—the two legislators responsible for introducing the bill.
Currently, Senator People-Stokes is optimistic that the legislation will advance before April 1st.
New laws expanding the medical marijuana program in Louisiana went into effect on August 1. The state’s medical marijuana program has been criticized for being too limited and too restrictive since the program was established in 2016, but the three laws that went into effect on Saturday aim to improve the situation.
Louisiana’s medical marijuana program may have been established three years ago, but patients were not granted access to medicine until August of 2019 when the first round of the product became available. Home cultivation remains illegal for the more than 4,000 registered medical marijuana patients. Only two facilities are allowed to cultivate medical cannabis for the entire state, and only nine pharmacies are licensed to distribute it to patients.
House Bill 819
Previously, the number of physicians that were allowed to recommend medical marijuana therapy was limited and so were the conditions that would qualify a person for the program. Under the new regulations established by HB 819, any physician licensed by the state of Louisiana has the authority to recommend medical cannabis to his or her patients. Previously, only physicians registered with the program were permitted to discuss it with patients. As a result, the program struggled to recruit physicians to participate.
This legislation also expands conditions which qualify a person to apply for the program and puts more emphasis on the patient-physician relationship by opening the program’s door to any person suffering from “any condition” which is deemed to be debilitating by the physician. Under the prior regulations, only patients suffering from a certain list of conditions, like cancer, epilepsy, or HIV, could qualify for the medical marijuana program.
House Bill 418
Even though more than half of the states in America have legalized some form of cannabis use, whether medical or recreational, the plant and its derivatives remain federally illegal. House Bill 418 aims to provide extra protection for those businesses that operate within the parameters of Louisiana state law. This legislation certifies that: “Any facility that is licensed by the Louisiana Department of Health and has patients in its care using medical marijuana shall be exempt from the prohibitions provided in this Section for possession and distribution of marijuana.”
House Bill 211
House Bill 211 addresses another major restriction placed on state-legal cannabis businesses by the federal government. While cannabis remains illegal under the Controlled Substances Act, businesses licensed by the federal government, like those that provide banking services, are not able to work with any cannabis-related company without fear of federal prosecution.
Unlike federal regulations, the enactment of House Bill 211 is meant to motivate financial institutions to service those cannabis-related businesses that are licensed and operating legally in the state of Louisiana.
This legislation sets the expectation that the state will not: “Penalize a state bank or credit union for providing financial services to a cannabis-related legitimate business or service provider solely because the account holder is a cannabis-related legitimate business or service provider or is an employee, owner, or operator of a cannabis-related legitimate business or service provider.”
Federal Law: SAFE Banking Act
Many proponents think that federal lawmakers should take a page out of Louisiana’s playbook regarding the relationship between financial institutions and legitimate cannabis businesses. As long as cannabis remains illegal under federal law, banks that choose to work with cannabis industry businesses are at risk even though those businesses are operating legally under state law.
The United States Congress is currently considering legislation known as the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act (SAFE Banking Act) which would effectively lift the restrictions preventing banks and insurance service providers from openly working with cannabis businesses.
The House has already approved the SAFE Banking Act, and the legislation is currently being held up by the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. Some Senators may need encouragement from you, the constituents, to support the SAFE Banking Act. NORML has made it incredibly easy to contact your state’s Senators to let them know that you want them to approve the SAFE Banking Act. Click here to be redirected to NORML’s website where all you have to do is enter your information and it will automatically send your letter of support.
Earlier this week, MassRoots obtained a loan under the Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”), which has been critical to ensuring our employees are paid their regular salaries so they, in turn, have the money they need to support their families, cover medical bills, and pay rent. We believe that all cannabis-related businesses, both plant-touching and ancillary, should be able to obtain PPP loans in order to support the hundreds of thousands of employees that comprise the regulated cannabis industry.
Paycheck Protection Program Equality
We’re asking our supporters, both individuals and businesses, to take the following steps to raise awareness and help cannabis businesses obtain equal access to PPP funding:
- Tweet the reasons you support #PPPEquality to @realDonaldTrump, @PressSec and your Senators and Congressmen.
- Email the White House and President Trump’s campaign in support of #PPPEquality at [email protected] and [email protected].
- Call the White House at 202-456-1111 and your Senators and Congressmen in support of equal access to PPP funding.
- If you’re employed in the cannabis industry, please record a video testimonial on how PPP funding would impact your life. You can submit it here or Tweet it, tagging @realDonaldTrump, your Senators and Representatives, and using #PPPEquality.
- Post on Instagram, tagging the White House and your representatives, using #PPPEquality on the reasons why you support cannabis businesses having equal access to PPP loans.
Why is structural reform necessary?
When the U.S. federal government signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act into law on March 27, 2020, one of the measures included in the bill was the Paycheck Protection Program. The PPP is designed to help small businesses and their employees survive during the stay-at-home orders and trying times of the pandemic, which is affecting businesses from all markets.
The PPP website describes the initiative as:
“An SBA loan that helps businesses keep their workforce employed during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis,” and “a loan designed to provide a direct incentive for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll.”
While cannabis remains illegal at the federal level, under the Controlled Substances Act, and the new law denies money from the CARES Act to businesses that are federally illegal, these businesses are not operating illegally at the state level. They are tightly regulated by the individual states.
Law-abiding, regulated cannabis businesses, whether plant touching or ancillary, and their employees should be granted the same access to government assistance as any other legally-operating business.
Now is the time to tell the U.S. government that you think the Paycheck Protection Program should be expanded to include cannabis businesses. Stand up for #PPPEquality with us and all of the other small businesses that make-up the regulated cannabis industry in the United States.
Last month, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requested public input on the international classification of marijuana and other drugs. Well, ask and you shall receive.
More than 20,000 people submitted comments ahead of the Wednesday deadline. And about half of those were gathered and hand-delivered to FDA headquarters by NORML, which created an online tool to streamline comments.
That’s about how many comments the organization delivered in April, in response to a similar FDA open comment period on cannabis.
The organization posted a video of the new delivery on Facebook, so you can watch it for yourself below:
“In just over two weeks, we received more than 10,000 comment submissions from our supporters,” NORML Political Associate Carly Wolf told Marijuana Moment. “It’s so important for everyday American citizens to speak up and participate at every opportunity because when it comes down to it, our communities are being directly impacted by the discriminatory and destructive policies our government has unjustly implemented.”
“The sooner these supposedly ‘fact-based’ bureaucracies acknowledge the actual realities of marijuana’s effects, widespread medical uses and very low potential for abuse, the sooner we will end the criminalization of cannabis.”
Another 10,591 comments were submitted online via the federal regulations.gov portal.
Altogether, the comments are aimed at informing the United States’s position on drug scheduling requirements under international treaties that prohibit member countries from legalizing cannabis. Marijuana is currently included in the most restrictive category under international treaties, similar to its placement in Schedule I under U.S. law.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is actively reviewing the global scheduling system to see if it should be amended. In August, WHO determined that one ingredient in cannabis, CBD, was a relatively safe and therapeutic substance that doesn’t deserve to be scheduledunder international treaties.
While the comments from this round varied somewhat in terms of how each individual framed their argument, the vast majority published so far seem to be supportive of either loosening or eliminating international restrictions on marijuana.
Thousands Respond To FDA’s Marijuana Rescheduling Comment Request
See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:
The FDA Just Got A Truckload Of Marijuana Comments Delivered To Them
Since being founded in 2013, anti-legalization organization Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) has consistently presented itself as supporting a balanced middle-ground approach between incarceration for consumers and the commercialization of cannabis. But it has never clearly described what it thinks police and government agencies should do to people caught possessing marijuana instead of putting them behind bars or just ignoring them.
In a new document uploaded to SAM’s website last week, the group lays out “several key points to be addressed in model legislation” for cannabis at the state level.
Chief among them:
“Require mandatory assessment of problem drug use by a treatment professional after the first citation; those who are diagnosed with a substance use disorder can be diverted into a treatment track where they receive the appropriate level of care, those who are not problem users can be directed to social services for follow-up and addressing other life factors contributing to drug use.”
Let’s break that down.
If the police catch someone possessing a small amount of marijuana once, the person is directed to a “mandatory assessment of problem drug use.” If they are diagnosed as having a substance use disorder they are then forced to undergo treatment. If they refuse, presumably they’d be incarcerated or otherwise punished in some way.
But even if it is determined that the person is “not a problem” user, they still get directed to “social services” to dig into “other life factors” associated with their decision to consume cannabis.
“Project SAM, like U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, firmly believe that ‘good people don’t use marijuana,’” Paul Armentano, NORML’s deputy director, told Marijuana Moment after reading the prohibitionist organization’s proposal. “In SAM’s case, their overarching philosophy appears to be, ‘Only people with problems use marijuana.’”
“Clearly, SAM believes that marijuana use per se should be defined under the law as aberrant behavior requiring varying degrees of state intervention,” he said. “Such an approach perpetuates the needless stigmatization of marijuana and those who consume it, and is clearly at odds with the attitudes of the majority of the public who desire to see and end to these discriminatory and punitive public policies.”
SAM representatives did not respond to Marijuana Moment’s request for clarification about whether and how people would be punished for refusing mandatory assessments, treatment or participation in social services programs.
While the organization this year endorsed New Jersey decriminalization legislation that would require people caught with marijuana to undergo assessments, the new blog post appears to be the first time the group has made a considerable effort to articulate its favored alternative to cannabis legalization despite repeated promises over the course of years that it would “soon” release information about its policy aims beyond just impeding efforts to end prohibition.
Under the new plan, it appears that most people caught with marijuana would have to pay for treatment themselves.
But in a concession to legalization advocates who have pointed out that marijuana laws are often enforced more harshly against those from communities with lesser economic means, SAM does suggest waiving fines and treatment costs for people who don’t have the money to pay. They also say community service could be an alternative to shouldering the monetary costs for those with “severe financial hardship.”
Kevin Sabet, SAM’s president, has consistently said in interviews that he doesn’t seek to punish people for consuming or cultivating marijuana at home and is merely concerned with stopping “Big Marijuana” companies from commercializing addiction. But his organization has repeatedly opposed legislative proposals to allow possession and limited cultivation with no sales.
“You could grow a plant at home, actually. You could homegrow,” he said in a 2016 interview, for example. “You could do gifting. You could do a kind of decriminalization where basically we turn the other way.”
Nonetheless, the group opposed a 2014 ballot measure in Washington, D.C. to legalize low-level possession and homegrow, as well as legislation in Vermont this year to allow the same thing. Neither proposed to create a legal, commercialized cannabis sales market and instead allows adults to “gift” marijuana to one another in line with Sabet’s statement.
Both measures were enacted into law over SAM’s objections.
Perhaps tiring of standing on the sidelines yelling “no” to legalization to no avail, the group is finally preparing to try its hand in shaping policy. It remains to be seen if the new “model legislation” document leads to a more hands-on role in the cannabis legislative process for the prohibitionist organization.
See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:
Anti-Marijuana Group Wants ‘Mandatory Assessment’ For Consumers