By Dalton Rosario
Today Pennsylvania Rep. Jake Wheatley (D) filed Bill HB50 to rectify years of abuses from the war on drugs, by granting residents aged 21 and over legal access to cannabis via licensed retailers, permitting its possession and consumption, and its home cultivation of up to 6 plants per household. As stated by Wheatley in a press release, “It’s about making sure that we are righting some of the wrongs of the failed war on drugs.” What this entails is immediate release of offenders serving jail time for cannabis-related arrests made prior to this legislation being passed, criminal record expungement for prior convictions and instilling policies of equity to make sure there is equality in the communities that stand to profit from regulating cannabis trade across the 57 counties that comprise of Pennsylvania.
Most notable are Wheatley’s proposed initiatives for the incurred tax revenues from the regulated industry. As outlined he would allocate 50% to be invested in student loan forgiveness programs for in-state tuition, 40% would be reserved for funding affordable housing programs and 10% would be invested in after school care programs for children. His enthusiasm for reformation has been shared by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf (D) who agrees that legislation must be passed immediately or else nearby states that are further along swinging the pendulum of legalization will take advantage of the influx of market demand from customers commuting across state lines for cannabis tourism and adult recreational use. The Northeast Corridor has been booming with pro-cannabis legislation lately and the time to end state prohibition is now, or risk falling behind and losing a lot of tax revenues that can be used for the good of the people.
By Dalton Rosario
Based upon recommendations from the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Expert Committee on Drug Dependence, a series of cannabis-related rescheduling initiatives will be set into motion concluding beneficial collaborative research with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB). Most impacted by these status changes will be the marijuana plant itself, cannabis-derived resin, and THC which will be removed from its current Schedule IV status - the most dangerous and controlled classification - and will be added to the Schedule I status of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1961). Unlike in the U.S., Schedule I internationally is the least restricted of listings. As well, CBD containing 0.2% of THC or less will no longer fall under international control; and extracts are to be removed from Schedule I status.
In effect the WHO is officially shifting its stance on nearly 50 years of denouncing cannabis’ medical health benefits. This is symbolic of a greater global push for embracing cannabis’ holistic properties and creating meaningful legislative frameworks for ending prohibition. Even though moving forward with rescheduling procedures is its own cause for celebration, current WHO classifications will still place countries in a compromising position when lawmakers legalize the plant recreationally, because doing so places their governments in contempt of international treaties through violations of global conventions. The WHO's recommendations for rescheduling cannabis and its derivatives will be officially released at the United Nation’s Commission on Narcotic Drugs in March, when 53 of the world’s governing bodies will meet to vote on accepting or declining the international policy proposal.
By Dalton Rosario
Next week on February 7th, Hawaii’s Committee on the Judiciary will vote on cannabis legalization. This is a widely discussed topic throughout the state lately as the Democratic Party presidential nominee Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) openly advocates for cannabis reformation ranging from years of supporting bills that exempt CBD from the Controlled Substances Act, to legalizing industrial hemp and providing assurance for banks that service registered cannabis businesses. This legislation, if passed in Hawaii's Committee on the Judiciary, would allow for adults aged 21+ to cultivate, consume and possess cannabis. Also, manufacturing licenses would be issued for dispensaries and retail locations throughout the islands.
As outlined in the bill, “the legalization of marijuana for personal or recreational use is a natural, logical, and reasonable outgrowth of the current science of marijuana and attitude toward marijuana,” deducing a commercial interest in regulating and taxing the statewide cannabis market and a fundamental understanding that investing in healthy industries such as these reduce black market incentive for violent crimes related to the cultivation and distribution of cannabis. The Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii (DPFH) believes that regulatory frameworks of commerce are not enough to address the iniquities disproportionately targeted against communities of poverty thus far perpetrated by the war on drugs. They say that more needs to be done; which would likely include expungement services against prior non-violent convictions and/or on-going possession charges being dropped based on similar examples of restitution programs implemented across the country.
By Dalton Rosario
Starting this week in Baltimore all cannabis offenses short of federal possession with intent to distribute will be charged as a misdemeanor. And as restitutions are concerned, arrest rates as far back as 2011 will be given expungement, and all current cases will be dropped and dismissed into diversion programs. Top prosecutor Marilyn Mosby, Baltimore State’s Attorney said recently, “No one who is serious about public safety can honestly say that spending our resources to jail people for marijuana is a smart way to use our limited time and money.”
The motivation behind this response is recurrent from the war on drugs’ explicit history of ethnic and racial segregation and how this has affected countless communities disproportionally for decades. In Baltimore, an analysis of police data released by the Baltimore Fishbowl claims that out of the 1,514 documented cannabis-related possession cases between 2015 and 2017, 96% of these charges involved African Americans.
Statistics like this project the harsh, simple truth fueling the war on drugs for the past decade; and more purposefully, it provides a substantial framework for arranging cannabis reformation in immediate fashion. If these wrongs can be corrected in Maryland, then we can all model Baltimore's legislation as a prototype for lawmakers nationwide. Maryland homes half the population of nearby states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, yet ranks seventh highest in the country for statewide possession-related cannabis arrests. A grotesque 90% of cannabis arrests are possession based, accounting for half of all drug arrests within the state. But not anymore in the city of Baltimore, where 30% of the population was targeted for 90% of cannabis crimes.
By Dalton Rosario
Earlier in January President Trump’s U.S. Attorney General nominee William Barr openly addressed his stance on supporting cannabis companies that have lawfully complied with state policies and regulations legalizing recreational and/or medicinal cannabis under the Cole Memorandum. This news was well received by cannabis advocates, lawmakers and industry leaders who were reluctant on what to make of William Barr’s stance towards cannabis legalization, particularly after former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions who was vehemently opposed to any forms of cannabis legislation, to the point of rescinding the Obama-era Cole Memorandum in January 2018.
To those unfamiliar with the Cole Memo, it is an invaluable piece of legislation that catapulted the cannabis market into a viable national industry by granting the Justice Department orders to not enforce federal prohibition within states that had “legalized marijuana in some form and… implemented strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems to control the cultivation, distribution, sale and possession of marijuana.” Although full-proof for all practical purposes, the Department of Justice was also granted discretionary leeway to enforce federal prohibition within states that have legalized cannabis, as long as doing so prevents violence related to the cultivation and/or distribution of cannabis, reduces cannabis-related DWI’s, and discontinues revenues from getting into the hands of gangs or cartel networks.
Based on Barr’s written response to Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), AG nominee Barr supports “the expansion of marijuana manufacturers for scientific research consistent with the law,” increasing the number of institutions permitted to grow cannabis specifically for the purpose of medical research. This would be done by Barr overturning Sessions’ ban on the Department of Justice moving forward with any of its stalled applications for medical facility growers. Furthermore, Barr pledged to look into scientific evaluations of CBD and its rescheduling under the Controlled Substances Act, based upon federal acceptance of hemp-derived products lawfully manufactured under the 2018 Farm Bill. Given Barr’s written confirmation supporting cannabis initiatives, in the words of Don Murphy, Director of Federal Policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, “William Barr didn’t just wave the white flag, he signed a peace agreement.”
By Dalton Rosario
Washington D.C. has been barred for years by a rider blocking the city from allotting its own tax dollars towards regulating recreational cannabis for adults. Current legislation permits personal cannabis to be cultivated at home in an amount of up to 6 plants. As well, possession of up to 2 ounces by residents aged 21 or over is lawful. In addition, up to an ounce of cannabis can be “gifted” or transferred from one person to another as long as both parties are at least 21 years or older. However, no money, goods or services can be exchanged in return, and cannabis cannot be consumed on public property. Even though these laws have been enforced for half a decade, still to this day residents cannot legally purchase recreational cannabis in retail dispensaries.
This is largely due to a series of Republican-dominated Congresses extending federal legislation blocking D.C. from spending its own tax dollars to legalize recreational cannabis use for adults, but with the pending partial government shut down, this very legislation is temporarily expired and can be worked around by Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D). To do so she would have to immediately pass legislation that legalizes recreational cannabis sales, or risk waiting until the next fiscal year starting in October. As outlined in a public appearance made by Bowser two months prior, “We have an untenable situation in the District that I believe makes us unsafe… As long as we have the ability to possess marijuana, which is our law, we also need the ability to procure marijuana legally, which we don’t have now.” She sheds light upon a logical fallacy as the law stands, and derives a reasonable conclusion given the legality of cannabis possession throughout the district. With this in mind, the question remains if it is too bold a maneuver to undermine federal law by passing recreational legalization at such a time as this; despite being exactly what the green wave needs to end the war against cannabis in our Nation's Capital.
By Dalton Rosario
The partial Government shutdown has been in affect for 36 days now and hemp farmers are wondering when the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s policies will be updated so that they can access federally controlled water. The U.S. Department of the Interior has been affected by the current impasse of government funding, placing a dead halt on hemp cultivation to begin despite an abundance of farmers ready to work. Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Jon Tester (D-MT) have already reached out to the head of the Bureau of Reclamations (BOR) to update their policies, to no avail. As stated by Sen. Michael Bennet, “After legalizing hemp in the Farm Bill, we should be expanding opportunities for growers. Instead, the ‘Trump shutdown’ has halted implementations and increased uncertainty for the [hemp] Industry.”
There are a number of policy discrepancies between the Justice Department, the Department of Agriculture and the BOR. This causes doubt and mistrust in the newly established hemp industry. Both on part of farmers looking to cultivate and companies willing to invest in the most crucial stage of getting industrial hemp production off the ground. This is terrible timing for the expected market boom of manufacturing and distribution for fibers, papers, biodegradable plastics and derivatives of hemp products including car parts and concrete. The Food and Drug Administration has also been affected acutely by the government shutdown, causing a lag of policy updates relinquishing restrictive policies against CBD derived products.
Democrats have already begun flirting with similar strategies Trump is currently implementing to secure border funding - as a tactical advantage for ending federal prohibition - contingent upon a Democratic nominee winning the 2020 presidential election. But these musings have been proposed as a means of showing what an unreasonable and abrasive misappropriation of negotiation leverage Trump has incurred onto the American people. We should not be held hostage at the mercy of political trifles and contextual semantic disputes. And it will not be long before the executive powers at be learn this lesson.
By Dalton Rosario
A new cannabis bill proposed this week by the Senate requires the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to actively study the medical benefits of cannabis for prescription use in the treatments for our veterans. According to statistics from Military Benefit’s PTSD Awareness Day: an estimated 44 million veterans develop PTSD symptoms and suffer from a number of ailments revolving around traumatic brain injury and chronic pain. Within the U.S. half of all mental health patients have been diagnosed with PTSD.
The VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act is a bipartisan piece of legislation filed by Representative Lou Correa (D-CA) and Clay Higgins (R-LA), which follows the first Senate cannabis bill of the 116th Congress filed just the week prior. Said legislation was authored by bi-partisan partners Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK). As remarked in a press release by Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA), “Rather than risk becoming dependent on opioids, these veterans find relief in medical cannabis… With the opioid crisis raging across America, it is imperative to the health and safety of our veterans that we find alternative treatments for chronic pain and service-related injuries.” As stated these efforts attempt to target the severity of opioid abuse for our veterans and the rates of addiction exhibited within our country. Many states have begun mobilizing lawmakers and passing legislation that places precedence upon medical clinics, physicians and certified practitioners utilizing cannabis as a healthy alternative for pain-relieving opioids. Most recently earlier this week in New Jersey, the state Department of Health declared that physicians may immediately begin recommending medical cannabis for opioid addiction. Similar treatment plans have been written into law in New York and Pennsylvania. Our veterans deserve the very best methods available on the market. If that includes cannabis as their preference of choice - so be it.
By Dalton Rosario
Former New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, openly refuted countrywide efforts for cannabis reformation and personally sponsoring legislation geared towards recreational use in a speech this past Tuesday at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. In his words, “To make it easier for people to engage in a behavior that has a significant possibility of damaging people’s health—is just nonsensical… And today incidentally, we are trying to legalize another addictive narcotic [cannabis] which is perhaps the stupidest thing anybody has ever done. We’ve got to fight that!” This is certainly unnerving to hear - let alone from a potential candidate in the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
The wave of green states gaining momentum across our country is supported by 75% of voters within the Democratic party, putting Bloomberg at odds with the vast majority of his constituents. The current list of Democratic nominees in favor of cannabis reformation, regulation and taxation are: California state Senator Kamala Harris, New York state Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Massachusetts state Senator Elizabeth Warren and Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) proposed a plan last week for adult cannabis legalization within the state of New York that was included in his annual budget request to lawmakers. As outlined he would like to instill a 20% state tax and 2% county tax on cannabis distribution between wholesalers and retailers. Also there would be a $1/gram tax for dry herb cultivation in addition to a $0.25/gram tax on trimmings. In total, this plan could generate up to $300 Million in annual tax revenue depending on the number of contributing cities and counties.
Although on the surface there seems to be a unified consensus within the Democratic Party regarding the central role state lawmakers play in ending federal prohibition, the topic is still highly debatable, requiring a cultural shift in ideology to perform. The likelihood of which occurring can neither be confirmed nor denied, despite an overwhelming majority of Democrats agreeing that abundant opportunities will be allotted to our nation for investing in the cannabis industry.
By Dalton Rosario
As it stands, our continued partial government shutdown is contingent upon a national security threat necessitating a wall spanning our souther border to keep illegal drugs from being smuggled into our country. The problem with this narrative lies in the fact that roughly 90% of all illicit drugs enter our country through legal ports. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in 2017 almost 1.6 million pounds of cannabis was seized from our souther border. This sounds like a large amount without proper context; however, licensed cultivators within the state of Oregon alone grew 2.6 million pounds of cannabis that same year. Certainly this does not negate the fact that at least 10% of illegal drugs entering our country comes from our southern border. But the 1.6 million pounds of cannabis confiscated by the DHS in 2017 - although a sizable amount - totals half of illegally imported drugs seized four years prior in 2013.
This denotes progress due to state legislation supporting the cannabis industry and its commercial viability to generate income and tax revenues from medical programs and recreational use. Not from buffing up Border Patrol with an already finite amount of resources at the federal government’s disposal. According to a marijuana supply chain analysis at the Cato Institute, an American Libertarian Think Tank, boarder patrol seizures dropped 78% over a span of five years due to a clear correlation that cannabis was the predominant drug being smuggled into our borders. As Cato analyst David Bier wrote, “State marijuana legalization starting in 2014 did more to reduce marijuana smuggling than the doubling of Border Patrol agents or the construction of hundreds of miles of border fencing did from 2003 to 2009.”
For years now advocates have been calling on state lawmakers to introduce quality control measures into legislation for cannabis to be treated as any other consumer good that is regulated for consistency, potency and purity of product. With this now-pending “state of emergency” comes a sense of urgency to act. Including this excuse for a wall to strengthen our border security - countering illicit drugs smuggled into our country - and the inevitable catalyst of backlash from those who harbor reason within our Congress; leading to the continued stalemate of this governmental shutdown.