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.
By Dalton Rosario
Cannabis headlines across the internet cheered for the newly appointed U.S. Attorney General William Barr, when he candidly responded to Senator Cory Booker’s (D-NJ) remark of whether or not he would seek out cannabis companies in compliance with state laws. In his confirmation hearing today he made a point of repeatedly stating that he is not interested in using the federal government’s limited resources to track down businesses that have lawfully followed state guidelines and regulations for growing, distributing and selling cannabis within their state. As Barr comments, “My approach to this would be, not to upset settled expectations and the reliance interest that have arisen as a result of the Cole memoranda. Investments have been made and so there has been reliance on it. So I don’t think its appropriate to upset those interests.”
Barr’s mentality towards protecting state dealings with working businesses portrays a position of reason. It is not the cannabis boom per se that he is interested in, but fulfilling a promise for honest business. Commendable by measure, but this doesn’t deny the fact that if given the binary option, Barr would admittedly prohibit cannabis nationwide punishable by federal law. What we observed from the seat today is a firm step forward from former U.S. AG Jeff Sessions’ anti-cannabis rhetoric - as once infamously slandered - good people don’t smoke marijuana. We know this not to be the case. But for Barr to showcase a firm and fair stance towards cannabis legalization at such critical timing for combating prohibition ought to be recognized with regard. Although not an outright victory for allies and advocates alike, it is neither a win for those who would oppose the forward momentum of cannabis reformation throughout our country.
By Dalton Rosario
Illinois has officially joined the green list of states sweeping the nation with governors pledging to work alongside legislature and pass cannabis reformation bills that create lucrative institutions for taxation and regulation throughout our country. As it stands New York’s Reelected Governor Andrew Cuomo (D), Colorado’s newly elected Governor and co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus Jared Polis, and Virginia’s Governor Ralph Northam have all openly promoted motions for legalization ranging from decriminalization to state regulated programs for recreational and medicinal adult use.
To add onto this list are states such as West Virginia, Rhode Island, Vermont, Kentucky, Indiana, Missouri and Texas. Each proof of how the tides of conservatism are changing as mainstream culture continues to increasingly accept and embrace adult cannabis use. For some of these state governors, up to a generation ago public discussions of cannabis legalization would have been political suicide as marijuana had been deemed entirely outside the realm of acceptable discourse. But now there is room for reason to shed light upon antiquated laws stigmatized with biases that no longer match the needs and resounding beliefs of the people.
In the case of Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker (D), he is determined to make due on his campaign promise and has pledged in his inaugural address to promptly address cannabis legalization, opening the state budget to projections upward of $500 million in tax revenue and a billion dollars of economic surplus by next year. Not to mention the 24,000+ jobs that would be created in Illinois based on necessity for cultivation expertise, distribution/fulfillment, storage, retail sales, licensing and peripheral services from lawyers, bankers and medical practitioners. Illinois illustrates just one framework for how several states across our country have developed practical and valuable infrastructure for introducing cannabis legislation safely and effectively throughout our communities. The consensus is universal. Yes weed can ladies and gentlemen.
Yes Weed Can.
By Dalton Rosario
Yesterday lawmakers on both sides of the aisle put aside party differences to file the Sensible Enforcement of Cannabis Act, which has been promptly referred to the House Judiciary Committee. This bill sponsored by Representative Lou Correa (D-CA) seeks to protect state cannabis rights by not allowing the U.S. Attorney General to prosecute “any conduct that concerns marijuana for medicinal or recreational use… authorized by the laws of the State involved.” Within this proposed legislation are federal laws that remain enforceable by the Justice Department, including but not limited to: selling cannabis to minors, distribution to states where cannabis has not been legalized, violence and firearms used in the cultivation and distribution of cannabis, impaired driving, growing cannabis on pubic lands where it can be hazardous to public safety and possession or use on federal property.
This marks the fourth official cannabis bill filed by the 116th Congress furthering the power of states’ autonomy; proving particularly necessary for conflict resolution when the federal government intervenes against lawful state sponsorship for fair adult use of medicinal and recreational cannabis. As observed from last year's momentum continuing into the first weeks of 2019, our country is at a turning point in federal prohibition fueled by the demands of the people supported by lawmakers and legislation. Without hesitation the Congressional Cannabis Caucus is steadfast on rectifying racial injustices in cannabis related arrests, implementing common ground policies that support federal reformation and healthy cannabis use furthering research for its medical benefits.
By Dalton Rosario
In a bold move this past Wednesday, the 116th Congress made nationwide headlines filing bill H.R. 420, titled the “Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act.” This legislation intends to combat federal prohibition by removing cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, effectively streamlining statewide efforts for pro-cannabis regulation by transferring authority of cannabis oversight within our country from the Drug Enforcement Administration to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Marijuana, Firearms and Explosives.
Leading H.R. 420 author and Co-Chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), commented in a press release following the filing of this bill, “Congress cannot continue to be out of touch with a movement that a growing majority of Americans support. It’s time to end this senseless prohibition.” This bill marks the third piece of pro-cannabis legislation filed this year, showcasing Congress’ progressive stance towards ending federal prohibition favored by popular public opinion.
As outlined in this legislation, licensing would be permitted and issued federally for cultivation, distribution and fulfillments by the Department of Treasury under the Alcohol, Tobacco and Marijuana Tax and Trade Bureau coupled with oversights from the Food and Drug Administration. Despite the increase of nationwide transparency delineated in bill H.R. 420, pro-cannabis states are still federally prohibited from supplying the demand of neighboring regions that have yet to regulate cannabis both recreationally and medicinally.