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Medical Marijuana Update

A Nebraska initiative campaign hands in signatures, no more medical marijuana sales tax in the Garden State, and more.

Nebraska

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign Turns in Signatures. Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana has handed in some 90,000 raw signatures to try to put its a pair of linked medical marijuana initiatives on the November ballot. It needs roughly 87,000 valid voter signatures to qualify, leaving the campaign with a very slim buffer to account for any invalidated signatures. But after a court ruling this week, the campaign may need to have the support of five percent of voters in 38 of the state's 93 counties. That issue is currently being litigated, but as things stand, the requirement is still in effect.

New Jersey

New Jersey Ends Sales Tax on Medical Marijuana Products. Beginning July 1, medical marijuana patients no longer have to pay a state sales tax on their purchases. New Jersey had been one of the few states that imposed the sales tax on medical marijuana but passed legislation in 2019 to begin phasing it out. Now it is gone. "Removing state sales tax on medicinal cannabis is consistent with Governor Murphy and the legislature's intent to prioritize patients and improve affordability," said Jeff Brown, Executive Director of the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission. "As the sales tax has been phased out… patients have been able to spend less on their medicine, further ensuring patients are prioritized over recreational consumers."

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Governor Signs Marijuana Banking and Insurance Reform Bill into Law. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) on Monday signed into law House Bill 311, which includes provisions to protect banks and insurers who work with state-legal medical marijuana businesses. The measure does not protect banks and insurers from any federal repercussions but sends a signal to the financial services industry that it won't face repercussions under state law. The new law says that a "financial institution authorized to engage in business in this Commonwealth may provide financial services to or for the benefit of a legitimate cannabis-related business and the business associates of a legitimate cannabis-related business." And ditto for insurance companies.

White House Drug Strategy Embraces Harm Reduction, But Prohibitionist Impulse Remains Strong [FEATURE]

The Biden White House sent its first National Drug Control Strategy to Congress on April 21. It breaks positive new ground by explicitly acknowledging harm reduction measures to prevent overdose and blood-borne diseases among drug users. At at the same time, though, it also relies heavily on the destructive and counterproductive pursuit of failed prohibitionist drug policies -- and funds more law enforcement much more heavily than harm reduction.

The strategy comes out just weeks after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that drug overdose deaths hit an all-time high of 106,000 in the year ending last November. The administration is responding with what it calls a "whole of government" approach to the crisis.

"The strategy focuses on two critical drivers of the epidemic: untreated addiction and drug trafficking," the White House said. "It instructs federal agencies to prioritize actions that will save lives, get people the care they need, go after drug traffickers' profits, and make better use of data to guide all these efforts. Saving lives is our North Star, and the 2022 National Drug Control Strategy calls for immediate actions that will save lives in the short term and outlines long-term solutions to reduce drug use and its associated harms, including overdose."

While the strategy includes long-familiar categories such as drug treatment, prevention, supply reduction, and criminal justice and public safety, it also emphasizes an evidence-based approach, "building a recovery-ready nation," and for the first time, harm reduction.

"The Biden-Harris Administration's efforts focus on meeting people where they are and building trust and engagement with them to provide care and services," the White House said. "Specifically, the strategy calls for greater access to harm reduction interventions including naloxone, drug test strips, and syringe services programs. It directs federal agencies to integrate harm reduction into the US system of care to save lives and increase access to treatment. It also calls for collaboration on harm reduction between public health and public safety officials, and changes in state laws and policies to support the expansion of harm reduction efforts across the country."

The strategy calls for "the coordinated use of federal grant funds for harm reduction," and the administration last year broke new ground with a $30 million grant program for harm reduction providers. But in a sign of continued reliance on traditional law enforcement priorities, the strategy also envisions a $300 million increase for Customs and Border Patrol and another $300 million increase for the DEA. Those figures were released as part of the White House's FY 2023 budget released last month.

"Responding effectively to the illicit production, trafficking, and distribution methods of domestic criminal organizations and Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs) is a significant challenge and remains a Biden-Harris Administration priority," the White House said.

That kind of talk suited mainstream Democrats just fine.

"Illicit drugs cause immeasurable pain and loss in our communities. As the Chairman of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, I've pressed for an updated federal plan to tackle them," said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). I've been clear that the plan must include a more coordinated approach to cracking down on drug trafficking and transnational criminal organizations, especially the ways in which they launder and protect their ill-gotten gains using US rule of law and financial networks; and more and better cooperation with our international partners to reduce the supply of precursor chemicals used to manufacture illicit drugs and to levy tougher sanctions against transnational drug syndicates. I'm pleased to see my priorities reflected in this new strategy, and I look forward to working with the Biden administration to deliver on those priorities."

Whitehouse also lauded the strategy's "tearing down barriers to treatment, including expanding access to life-saving naloxone and medication-assisted treatment; improving our data collection systems to better understand the effects of our intervention efforts."

Reform advocates offered praise -- sometimes lukewarm -- for the administration's tentative embrace of harm reduction, but blasted its reliance on tired, failed drug war paradigms.

In its analysis of the strategy, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) called it "a major step forward" and lauded the administration for "focusing on ensuring access to treatment for substance use disorders and highlighting the crucial role of harm reduction services." But WOLA also noted that, "when measured against the scale of the nation's overdose problems and the urgency of the needs, Biden's new plan appears quite timid."

WOLA also warned that the strategy's "positive innovations regarding investment in treatment and harm reduction strategies risk being undermined by a continued commitment to the kinds of policies that have exacerbated the present crisis and that continue to absorb the lion's share of resources, namely, drug criminalization at home and wildly exaggerated expectations for what can be achieved through supply control efforts abroad."

Similarly, the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute called the attention to harm reduction a "positive," but noted steps that it did not take, such as making the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone available over-the-counter and repealing the so-called Crack House Statute that stands in the way of federal approval of safe injection sites.

"On a negative note," Cato observed, "the remainder of the new report calls for doubling down on interdiction, border control, and other law enforcement measures aimed at curtailing the supply of illicit drugs -- as if repeating the same failed strategies of the past half century, only with more gusto, will somehow work."

So there it is: The Biden administration's first crack at a national drug strategy deserves kudos for its embrace of harm reduction and evidence-based approaches, but beyond that, it is pretty much more of the same old same old.

MD MJ Legalization Referendum Bill Advances, SD Senate Approves Legalization, More... (2/24/22)

A California bill would provide protections to workers for off-duty marijuana use, the New Mexico Supreme Court rules medical marijuana purchases are not subject to a state tax, and more.

(Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Bill Would Protect Marijuana Users from Employment Discrimination. Assembly Member Bill Quirk (D) has filed a bill, Assembly Bill 2188, that would bar employers from punishing workers for off-duty marijuana use. The bill would end discrimination against marijuana-using employees based on testing for metabolites, the non-psychoactive substances that can be detected in drug tests for days or weeks after marijuana use. The bill is supported by California NORML, which noted that "testing or threatening to test bodily fluids for cannabis metabolites is the most common way that employers harass and discriminate against employees who lawfully use cannabis in the privacy of their own homes."

Maryland House Gives Initial Approval to Marijuana Legalization Referendum Bill. The House on Wednesday gave initial approval to House Bill 1, which, if passed, would place before voters the following question: "Do you favor the legalization of adult -- use cannabis in the State of Maryland?" If voters approved it, the General Assembly would then be charged with writing the rules covering "use, distribution, possession, regulation, and taxation of cannabis." The House also gave initial approval to House Bill 837, which includes measures to implement legalization if voters approve it. It sets 1.5 ounces as the legal possession limit for adults and decriminalizes between 1.5 and 2.5 ounces, as well as automatic expungement for past conduct made legal by the law. Final House floor votes on the two bills could happen as soon as Friday.

South Dakota Senate Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill. The state Senate on Wednesday approved a marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 3, which would let people 21 and over possess up to an ounce purchased from licensed retailers. It does not allow for home cultivation. The bill now heads to the House. South Dakota voters approved a marijuana legalization initiative in 2020, only to have it thrown out by the state Supreme Court. The organizers of that campaign are currently in a signature gathering campaign for a 2022 initiative, which would include home cultivation.

Medical Marijuana

New Mexico Supreme Court Rules Medical Marijuana Purchases Cannot Be Taxed. The state Supreme Court on Wednesday affirmed a lower court ruling that marijuana purchases by medical marijuana patients are not subject to the state's gross receipts tax. Producers had sought tax refunds in 2014 and again in 2018, only to be denied by the state Taxation and Revenue Department. In 2020, the state Court of Appeals ruled that medical marijuana should be treated like prescription drugs, which are not taxed. The Supreme Court upheld that ruling.

Oregon Drug Decrim is Slashing Drug Arrests, Massively Funding Services [FEATURE]

In a groundbreaking move a year ago now, Oregon voters approved decriminalization for personal use amounts of all illicit drugs, with Measure 110 passing with a healthy 59 percent of the vote. That made the state the first in the US to make this dramatic break with decades of the war on drugs. Now, as other states pondering a similar move look for evidence to bolster their case, some of the initial results in Oregon are looking pretty impressive.

Oregon's Mt. Hood. (David Mark/Pixabay)
Measure 110 promised not only thousands fewer drug arrests, but also a turn from the punitive to the compassionate -- providing hundreds of millions of dollars for greatly expanded access to evidence-informed drug treatment, peer support, housing, and harm reduction services, without raising taxes to do so. Services would be funded through excess marijuana tax revenue (over $45 million) and savings from no longer arresting, incarcerating, and prosecuting people for drug possession. State analysts estimated the excess marijuana tax revenue alone should result in over $100 million in funding for services in the first year and up to $129 million by 2027.

The state analysts were off the mark. Last week, the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), whose legislative action arm, Drug Policy Action spearheaded the successful campaign, and the Oregon Health Justice Recovery Alliance, which is working to implement treatment, harm reduction, and support programs, announced they had secured funding of $302 million over the next two years. That's over $150 million a year, including $30 million lawmakers agreed to release ahead of schedule in May of this year.

That initial round of grants went to 70 organizations in 26 of the state's 36 counties, with these results:

  • 33 harm reduction and addiction recovery service providers expanded access to treatment services for indigent, uninsured individuals.
  • 52 organizations hired peer support specialists -- a role that addiction medicine experts have long heralded as essential to one's recovery journey.
  • 32 service providers added recovery, supportive and transitional housing services.
  • 30 organizations increased harm reduction services, which include life-saving interventions like overdose prevention; access to naloxone, methadone and buprenorphine; as well as drug education and outreach.

"We were about to have to close our doors in Wasco County, which would have been devastating to the people that depend on us for support there, but thanks to Measure 110 passing, we were not only able to get the funding we needed to stay open, but also to expand the services and spectrum of care we were able to provide our clients," said Monta Knudson, Executive Director of Bridges to Change, a nonprofit that offers peer recovery support, housing and treatment services in the state.

"Addiction has touched us all somehow, some more personally and heartbreakingly than others," said Tera Hurst, Executive Director of the Health Justice Recovery Alliance. "Too many of us have lost loved ones to addiction, or struggled with it ourselves. COVID-19 has made things much worse, decreasing access to care during a time when Oregonians need these services more than ever before. That's why we celebrate the great strides made when it comes to addressing Oregon's addiction crisis, while recognizing that there's still much work to be done. Our immediate focus is to ensure every Oregonian knows these critical harm reduction and recovery services are being invested in and expanded so that they will be available to anyone who wants and needs them, and that they can feel comfortable and safe accessing them."

But while the huge expansion of treatment, harm reduction, and related social services is undeniably a good thing, drug decriminalization is ultimately about getting people out of the criminal justice system by not getting them sucked into it in the first place. It's looking like Measure 110 is achieving that goal.

According to the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission, there were roughly 9,000 drug arrests a year prior to passage of Measure 110, and while it is too early to have precise numbers, thousands of Oregonians who would have been arrested for drug possession this year have instead faced only their choice of a $100 fine or a health assessment. It won't be 9,000 fewer drug arrests, though, because some felony drug possession arrests (possession of more than the specified personal use amounts) have been downgraded to still arrestable misdemeanors. Still, it will be thousands fewer people subjected to the tender mercies of the criminal justice system and all the negative consequences that brings.

"A year ago, Oregonians voted yes on Measure 110 to remove criminal penalties for possession of drugs and expand access to health services. Now, because of this measure, there are thousands of people in Oregon that will never have to experience the devastating life-long barriers of having a drug arrest on their record, which disproportionately and unjustly affected Black and Indigenous people due to targeted policing," said DPA Executive Director Kassandra Frederique. "Because of this measure, there is more than $300 million in funding that did not exist before being funneled into community organizations to provide adequate and culturally competent care that people desperately need. And while the devastation of 50 years of cruel and counterproductive policies can’t be erased overnight, by all metrics we hoped to achieve, and what voters asked for, we are going down the right path."

A number of states -- including Washington, Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine, New York, Rhode Island, Maryland and Kansas -- the District of Columbia, and even the United States Congress have introduced bills or launched campaigns to similarly remove criminal penalties for drug possession and increase access to health services since the passage of Measure 110. These initial results should provide plenty of ammunition for advancing those campaigns.

The Push to End Federal Marijuana Prohibition This Year Is Now Underway [FEATURE]

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) took to the House floor last Friday to begin the push to end federal pot prohibition this year with the introduction of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act.

Can marijuana legalization get through Congress this year? And would Biden sign it? (Creative Commons)
"For far too long, we have treated marijuana as a criminal justice problem instead of as a matter of personal choice and public health. Whatever one's views are on the use of marijuana for recreational or medicinal use, the policy of arrests, prosecution, and incarceration at the federal level has proven unwise and unjust," Nadler said as he addressed his colleagues. "In my view, applying criminal penalties, with their attendant collateral consequences for marijuana offenses is unjust and harmful to our society. The MORE Act comprehensively addresses this injustice, and I urge all of my colleagues to support this legislation."

The bill's initial cosponsors are Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Nydia Velázquez (D-NY. A similar version of the MORE Act passed the House last year, only to die from inaction in the Republican-controlled Senate. But this year, the Democrats are in control, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has said he is preparing to file a bill in the upper chamber soon.

"Last year, we saw more progress toward cannabis legalization than ever before. This has been driven by unprecedented reforms at the state level. Now, Congress must deal with the problems created by the failed federal policy of prohibition," said Rep. Blumenauer, founder and co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus in a press release. "With a strong base of support in the House and in the Senate, the table is set. It's past time that we stop federal interference with cannabis banking and research, as well as the terrible pattern of selective enforcement that has devastated communities of color. The MORE Act will help address all of these problems and more."

The MORE Act has three main provisions:

  • It removes marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, making it legal at the federal level and clearing the way for states to legalize it at home.
  • It mandates that federal courts must expunge past marijuana convictions and allows them to hold resentencing hearings for those still behind bars or under non-custodial supervision.
  • It makes an effort to redress drug war wrongs and racially disparate enforcement by assessing a 5 percent sales tax on marijuana and pot products, which will be used fund three different grant programs for drug war victims, loans to small businesses "owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals," and to eliminate licensing and employment barriers for people "most adversely impacted" by drug prohibition.

The bill would also make legal marijuana businesses eligible for Small Business Administration funding, bar discrimination against people who use or possess marijuana (such as in federal housing) and require the Bureau of Labor Statistics to collect data on industry demographics to monitor how much poor people and minorities are actually participating in the industry.

"The MORE Act would not only decriminalize marijuana federally, but also take steps to address the harmful impacts of federal prohibition, particularly on communities of color," said Rep. Jackson Lee, Chair of the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. "We need to pass the MORE Act as an important component of a broader effort to reform our drug laws, which disproportionately harm racial minorities and fuel mass incarceration. That is why I am also working to advance additional legislation to achieve comprehensive reform of our criminal justice system."

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) is part of a broad coalition of civil rights, criminal justice, drug policy, and immigration groups (155 organizations in all) that are backing the bill. It worked closely with Rep. Nadler on the original language of the bill last year and has been closely involved ever since.

"It is clear, by the overwhelming extent to which they passed the MORE Act last session, that the House understands this for the urgent racial and social justice issue it is," DPA Director of the Office of National Affairs Maritza Perez said in a statement. "Our communities that have borne the brunt of marijuana prohibition have waited long enough for justice. We urge House leadership to move swiftly to bring the bill back to the floor this session, so that we can continue the momentum and move a marijuana justice bill in the Senate as well."

Unsurprisingly, the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) is also onboard.

"It's clear that Americans overwhelmingly support ending cannabis prohibition. Reintroducing the MORE Act is a powerful way to reorient negotiations around legalization that gives our entire nation the power to choose cannabis for medical and adult use, strengthens a blossoming industry that is creating jobs and fueling economic growth, and begins to rectify the harms of the racially motivated war on cannabis and its disproportionate impact on vulnerable communities through criminal justice reform and social equity initiatives, MPP Executive Director Steve Hawkins said in a statement. "We endorse this bill and urge Congress to pass it."

But the leader of the loudest anti-marijuana reform group in the country, Dr. Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, also unsurprisingly, thinks it's a bad idea.

"As we have said since the initial introduction of this short-sighted bill two years ago, the MORE Act is a complete non-starter and the wrong approach we need when it comes to federal drug policy," he said in a statement warning of Big Pot. "This bill would fully legalize marijuana; it will not simply decriminalize the drug -- which would only remove criminal penalties for possession. Rather, it's nothing less than the wide-scale commercialization and normalization of a drug that does not resemble the old marijuana of the 1970s."

It's pretty lonesome where Sabet is, though. The most recent Gallup poll had more than two-thirds (68 percent) favoring legalization and still trending up. Now, if somebody will just tell the Senate. And the president, who is so far standing firm not for legalization but for decriminalization. The question is: What will Biden do if he MORE Act lands on his desk?

Making Marijuana Green [FEATURE]

Your cannabis consumption has a carbon footprint, and when everybody's cannabis consumption is added up, that carbon footprint gets mighty big. But most of that climate-changing impact is coming from marijuana grown under lights indoors with extensive heating, air conditioning, and electrical requirements. Marijuana grown outdoors, or in greenhouses or hoop houses, doesn't require any of that, and has virtually no impact on greenhouse gas emissions.

It would appear that the ethical thing for marijuana consumers to do when it comes to addressing climate change is to rely on outdoor, sun-grown marijuana. But that is just for starters. Environmentally conscious consumers can get really serious and demand marijuana that is sun-grown, organic, and produced in a sustainable and regenerative fashion.

Before getting to solutions, let us first come to grips with the scope of the problem. Given that much of the marijuana grown in the United States goes into the black market, no one is quite sure just how much weed we produce. But a 2019 study from industry analysts New Frontier Data estimated that we are closing in on 35 million pounds a year, a figure that we could hit as early as 2025. (California alone accounted for more than 12 million pounds of illegal exports in 2019, according to the report.) A 2012 report from researchers at the University of California at Berkeley estimated 30 million pounds nationwide.

That is a lot of weed, and it has an environmental impact. That same UC Berkeley study found that marijuana cultivation accounts for at least 1 percent of all the electricity consumed in the country, at a cost of $6 billion a year. (Note that outdoor grows can be done without any electricity.) That translates into greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 3 million cars, the researchers estimated.

A 2018 report New Frontier Data found that each gram of harvested indoor flower comes at a cost of one pound of carbon emissions, or 2.6 million tons of carbon dioxide each year. That same report found that growing indoors creates nearly 25 times more carbon and uses 18 times more electricity than outdoor grows.

More recently, researchers at Colorado State University published a March study showing how shifting grows from indoors to outdoors could almost eliminate the industry's carbon footprint. Going outdoors would reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the industry in the state by 96 percent, reducing Colorado's total emissions by 1.3 percent.

The industry is headed in that direction, but at an achingly slow pace.

That 2019 New Frontier Data study found that only 44 percent of marijuana cultivation operations were outdoor grows. A Cannabis Business Times 2020 State of the Industry Report had similar numbers. It found that 42 percent of grows were outdoor, 41 percent were greenhouse, and 60 percent were indoor. (The numbers exceed 100 percent because many operators rely on two or even all three methods.)

The good news, according to Cannabis Business Times, is that the number of indoor operations declined steadily over the past five years, dropping from 80 percent to 60 percent, while greenhouse grows increased by 7 percent and outdoor grows by 5 percent.

Dale Gieringer, the longtime head of California NORML, has been following the evolution of marijuana growing for decades, back to the 1980s, when raids on northern California pot growers helped prompt the move toward indoor cultivation. It was just easier to hide the crop from the cops, but that required artificial lights and all the other inputs for an indoor crop.

"Indoor never made any sense to us, any more than indoor wheat or any other indoor agricultural crop," Gieringer told the Chronicle. "That's the whole beauty of marijuana: Unlike pharmaceutical drugs, you can make it with pure sunlight; it's very carbon neutral and energy efficient when you do it that way."

Nowadays, said Gieringer, it is not the need to hide from law enforcement but the need to comply with stringent regulatory requirements that induces growers to go under the lights.

"All those security precautions the government puts on to protect us have driven a lot of people indoors," he said. "One of the weird things that happened in California was that authorities got real skittish about outdoor growing in a lot of places and so, early on, we had these towns out in the desert that opened up huge indoor grow facilities that have to be air conditioned. None of that makes any sense to me; it's just the way things have been regulated."

One group that encourages not just outdoor cultivation but outdoor cultivation with the best practices in Sun+Earth Certified, the leading nonprofit certification for regenerative organic cannabis.

Sun+Earth Certified was founded two years ago on Earth Day by cannabis industry leaders, experts, and advocates with a common commitment to regenerative organic agriculture, farmer and farmworker protections, and community engagement.

To earn the Sun+Earth seal, marijuana farms must be not only organic (no chemical fertilizers or toxic pesticides), but also use sustainable methods that regenerate the soil, such as using cover crops, composting, reduced soil tillage, and planting the crop alongside food crops. All of these practices suck carbon out of the atmosphere.

"The multi-billion dollar cannabis industry has an important obligation to shift away from high levels of energy consumption and chemical-intensive farming practices, and Sun+Earth has the blueprint for how to do that," said Sun+Earth Executive Director Andrew Black during an Earth Day virtual press conference marking the organization's two-year anniversary.

"In two years, we've grown to 33 cannabis farms and hope to finish the year with 60 total certifications," said Sun+Earth executive director Andrew Black. "This shows demand at both the farmer and consumer level for high-bar certifications for regenerative sustainable cannabis production."

The group is striving to set the gold standard for more-than-organic marijuana production.

"Our certification is tougher than normal USDA organic farming requirements," Black said. "Farmers must build soil fertility using natural resources from the farm itself to create living, bio-rich soil. And there are written contracts to protect farm labor and on how to engage with and uplift the local community. Those aren't part of any other organic standard."

Sun+Earth certified farmers are a world away from industrial cannabis production indoors and under lights.

"I credit the plant with bringing me into the consciousness of being in a living system on a living planet," said Tina Gordon of Moon River Farm, a Sun+Earth certified grower in southeast Humboldt County. "We do less than half an acre, in the ground in full air under the sun. The plants are exposed to the elements. You think about how the plants are grown and how they react to the natural environment, and you ask yourself what does the land around us offer? What is the responsible way to live? You have to do this in the best possible way with the best possible practices, not just for the plant, but for the people and the community. That's why Sun+Earth resonates so deeply for me. We can care for and heal the planet and ourselves with cannabis."

As Gordon and fellow Sun+Earth certified grower Chrystal Ortiz, founder of High Water Farm, demonstrate, best practices means adapting to the land, not trying to bend it to one's will.

"We're in an oak grove and we chip the oak for mulching," Gordon said. "We mulch on top of where the plants grow and also beside them, and the mycelium starts eating the wood, and we flip that back into the soil, so it's soil-building. The mycelium is also breaking down a thick layer of leaves, making humus; this is how trees grow. We start with what feeds these native plants, and then we start tuning in on the essentials. We use rainwater from the top of the property, and of course, we utilize the sun. When this plant goes indoors, the opportunity to understand how and where this plant is grown is lost."

Ortiz's High Water Farm occupies a different growing environment, and that makes for a different growing method.

"What is unique about farming here is that it is way different than Tina's experie of mulching and mycelium. I'm working in a beautiful, silty canvas in the Eel River watershed that fills with water every winter, a zen canvas that is rebuilt every year. Farming in the silt is different from forest cultivation. I'm learning new ancient traditions," the second-generation grower said.

"We do dry farming with a cover crop, and we till the cover crop, run sheep that eat the cover, till the sheep poop and composted cover crop into the ground, and then we plant our plants directly into the ground," she elaborated. "There is no water or fertilizer added whatsoever for the entire cycle. We just look at the ancient redwoods with their wide shallow root systems; they figured it out, and we follow the same process. We have wide plant spacing, the sunshine hitting this native soil and the evaporation of the water table. It's a very unique, faithful way to grow. When the plant gets the strength and resilience it needs, we're off to the races for another beautiful season."

Sun+Earth fills only a tiny niche in the massive marijuana economy, but it is a niche that is growing and one that can begin to shift practices in the industry.

"We're trying to build a truly green cannabis economy, and that means educating at the dispensary level about why Sun+Earth cannabis is important and how consumers can support farmers by buying their products," said Black. "If we want to keep these farms on the land, they have to be supported in the marketplace."

"Right now, the expansion of Sun+Earth is happening organically," Black said. "We're creating demand in California, where we have an active campaign to promote Sun+Earth at point of sale. And we're trying to create campaigns that attract more of a national audience. For instance, last fall, we had a fundraising campaign where Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps created a cannabis-scented soap made from hemp extract from a Sun+Earth certified farm in Oregon."

Those campaigns are getting the word out beyond California, Black added, pointing to four farms in Oregon, two in Washington, a hemp farm in Wisconsin, and an urban medical marijuana grow in Detroit.

"We're working on expanding to the Eastern Seaboard, too, maybe soon in Massachusetts, where local ordinances allow for outdoor grows, In some jurisdictions, they don't allow outdoor production, which is crazy."

What's really crazy, though, is contributing to the global climate crisis by smoking indoor-grown, high carbon footprint weed. As the example of Sun+Earth shows, conscious consumers can make a difference by supporting conscientious producers.

These Five States Are Well-Placed to Legalize Marijuana This Year [FEATURE]

Last year, the number of states that have ended marijuana prohibition reached 15 plus the District of Columbia, as voters in four states -- Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota -- legalized it via the initiative process. This isn't an election year, so any states that attempt to legalize in 2021 will have to do so through the much more cumbersome legislative process, but at least a handful are poised to do so.

It is no coincidence that the early progress toward state-level legalization has been led by states that allow for voter initiatives. State legislatures badly trail public opinion on the issue, and beyond that, the legislative process itself is messy, beset with horse-trading, and progress of a bill is beholden to key legislative gatekeepers -- the committee chairs and majority leaders. And because crafting legislation is a complex process, getting a legalization bill through both chambers and signed by a governor is a process that generally takes not one, but two or three or even more years.

Legalization bills are likely to appear in nearly every state that has not already freed the weed, but it's likely to be an uphill struggle this year for most of them. The five states listed below have already been grappling with marijuana reform for years though, they have governors who are backing legalization, and they will only be emboldened by the Democrats' majorities in the US House and Senate (which could pass federal legalization this year) and by budgetary pressures related to the pandemic to push forward. If all goes well, by years' end, the number of legal marijuana states could top 20.

Here are the five best state marijuana legalization prospects for 2020:

Connecticut

Marijuana legalization has been fermenting in the legislature for several years now, but in November, Democrats added to their legislative majorities, increasing the odds that the issue will move this year. Governor Ned Lamont (D) just reiterated his call for legalization in his State of the State address, saying: "I am working with our neighboring states and look forward to working with our tribal partners on a path forward to modernize gaming in our state, as well as the legislature on legalization of marijuana. Sports betting, internet gaming, and legalized marijuana are happening all around us. Let's not surrender these opportunities to out-of-state markets or even worse, underground markets." And House Speaker Matthew Ritter (D) is vowing to take the issue to the voters if the legislature doesn't act. "I think it'll be a very, very close vote in the House," he said at a pre-session press conference. "But if we do not have the votes -- and I'm not raising the white flag -- I want to be very clear: We will put something on the board to put to the voters of the state of Connecticut to amend the state constitution to legalize marijuana."

New Mexico

The Land of Enchantment saw a marijuana legalization bill get through one Senate committee last year only to be killed in another, but with the support of Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham (D), who formed a working group on legalization in 2019, and the ousting of some anti-reform legislators in the November elections, this could be the year it gets over the finish line. Lujan Grisham has argued that if the state had legalized it last year, it could have helped reduce revenue shortfalls because of the coronavirus. And earlier this month, she emailed supporters to jab at legislative legalization foes: "Unfortunately, the Legislature couldn't come to an agreement, even though the economic impact would have created thousands of new jobs and sustainable state revenue sources to invest in New Mexico's future," she wrote. The Senate had been the biggest obstacle to moving a legalization bill, but now the Democratic senators who voted with Republicans to kill it last year are out. The state has a 60-day "short session" that begins January 19. It could be the first out of the gate this year.

New York

Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) has been calling for years for marijuana legalization, but measures in the legislature have always stalled because of disputes over taxes, social equity provisions, and pure legislative power plays. Now, like Connecticut, the Empire State is feeling the pressure of neighboring states having already legalized it, as well as increased budgetary pressure because of the pandemic, and Cuomo is once again calling for legalization. In his State of the State address this week, Cuomo again proposed legalization: "I think this should have been passed years ago," he said in a briefing. "This is a year where we do need the funding, and a lot of New Yorkers are struggling. This year will give us the momentum to get it over the goal line." Democrats now have a supermajority in both chambers, which both makes it easier to pass legislation despite Republican objections and makes it easier for the legislature to override any Cuomo's veto of a legalization bill over provisions he may not like. A legalization bill, SB 854, has already been filed in the Senate. For New York, the fifth time may be the charm.

Rhode Island

Governor Gina Raimundo (D) and legislative leaders are all on board with moving forward on legalization, although the governor wants a state-run model and some legislators favor a private model. "The time has come to legalize adult cannabis use," Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey (D) said in November. "We have studied this issue extensively, and we can incorporate the practices we've learned from other states." He and Senator Joshua Miller (D), who spearheaded past efforts to get legalization passed, have been tasked by Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (D) with coming up with workable legislation this session. And the House is on board, too, with new Speaker Joseph Shekarchi (D) saying he is "absolutely" open to legalization and that the House is already "very close" to having enough votes to pass it. There are a couple of complicating factors for Rhode Island now, though: The division over state vs. private sales and the fact that Raimundo will likely soon be leaving office after being nominated as commerce secretary in the new Biden administration.

Virginia

Two legalization bills, HB 269 from Delegate Steve Heretick (D), and Delegate Lee Carter's (D) HB 87, have already been filed this year, and Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has said he supports marijuana legalization: "Legalizing marijuana will happen in Virginia," he said recently. At the time, Northam laid out his requirements for such a bill -- social, racial, and economic equity; public health; protections for youth; upholding the state Clean Air Act; and data collection -- and said it could take up to two years, but growing public and political support and financial pressures related to the pandemic could well speed up that timeline.

Drugs and the Year from Hell: The Top Ten Domestic Drug Policy Stories of 2020 [FEATURE]

What a year! Pandemic, civic unrest, national elections -- 2020 has been a year of tumult that can't be done with soon enough. But when it comes to drug policy, it wasn't all bad; in fact, a lot of it was pretty darned good. Some of it however was quite tragic Here's our year-end round up of the biggest drug policy stories of the year.

Update: The 2020 top ten list now goes to eleven, with Congress removing the drug conviction question from the federal financial aid for college form. See below.

The Pandemic

Just as it has infiltrated just about every aspect of American life, the coronavirus pandemic has been felt in the world of drugs and drug policy. Social distancing requirements early in the pandemic, precisely at the time drug reform initiative campaigns were typically in the midst of signature-gathering drives proved particularly lethal to marijuana legalization efforts in the Heartland as initiative campaigns in Arkansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Oklahoma all succumbed. It also helped fell a Washington state drug decriminalization campaign, with organizers there opting instead to go the legislative route.

It has also infiltrated jails and prisons. One in five prisoners in the US has had COVID-19, according to The Marshall Project. 1,700 of them have died from it. Prison wardens have worsened the situation by blocking congressionally legislated compassionate releases for prisoners. Second waves are now hitting the nation's penal institutions. And most vaccinations in the prisons have been for staff, not prisoners. With drugs directly accounting for about one-in-four prisoners, COVID-19 in the prisons is partly a drug war story.

Amidst the layoffs, shutdowns, and social distancing imposed by the pandemic, drug use jumped. In July, the specialty laboratory Millennium Health reported that its analysis of more than half a million urine drug test results and found large increases in the use of four illicit drugs during the coronavirus pandemic. The lab found a 32.0% increase for non-prescribed fentanyl over the same period last year, a 20.0% increase for methamphetamine, a 10.1% increase for cocaine, and a 12.5% increase for heroin.

In September, a study published in the American Medical Association's JAMA Network found that drug test positivity rates for cocaine, fentanyl, heroin and methamphetamine ha increased nationwide during the pandemic. That same month, in a new study, Millennium Health reported that urine samples from across the US came back positive at a rate 20% higher in the early weeks of the pandemic compared to the same period before the pandemic began ratcheting up in early March. The pandemic almost certainly also has had an impact on fatal drug overdoses (see below).

One of the most striking impacts of the pandemic has been on policing. Early on, big cities began to forego drug arrests and prosecutions as a discretionary luxury they could no longer afford as they struggled with the coronavirus. In Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Chicago, police or prosecutors announced they would not arrest or would not prosecute small-time drug possession cases. In March, prosecutors from more than 30 cities, including Baltimore, New York, San Francisco, and St. Louis signed on to an open letter urging local governments to make change in the face of COVID-19. They called for police to adopt "cite and release policies for offenses which pose no immediate physical threat to the community, including simple possession of controlled substances." They also called for the release of people being held solely because they can't come up with cash bail and for reducing jail and prison populations "to promote the health safety, staff, those incarcerated, and visitors." These were not intended as permanent moves, but perhaps politicians, police and prosecutors will take the opportunity to break their addiction to punishing drug users and sellers by going cold turkey amidst the pandemic. That would be a silver lining to the current crisis.

Advocates for marijuana legalization folded the pandemic into their arguments for ending federal marijuana prohibition. More than 30 state attorneys general cited the pandemic in calling for Congress to pass the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which would allow state-legal marijuana businesses to gain access to banking and financial services. The House HEROES Act coronavirus relief bill, passed in May, included a handful of criminal justice and drug policy reforms, mostly aimed at reducing the prison population during the pandemic, but also included that marijuana banking language.

COVID was also cited as making it even more imperative to pass the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (H.R. 3884). Over the summer, as the pandemic simmered, a coalition of justice and drug reform groups called on Congress to pass the bill, arguing that legalization was especially urgent in the context of the coronavirus pandemic and nationwide protests over police brutality. Given the current situation, "marijuana reform as a modest first step at chipping away at the war on drugs is more relevant and more pressing than ever before," they wrote in a letter to Congress.

That was followed by an even broader assemblage of 125 religious, human rights, and drug reform groups calling for passage of the bill. "[T]he circumstances of 2020 have made the failed War on Drugs even more untenable and amplified the voices of those demanding transformation in our criminal legal system. In the face of the evolving COVID-19 pandemic and a growing national dialogue on unjust law enforcement practices, marijuana reform as a modest first step at chipping away at the War on Drugs is more relevant and more pressing than ever before. The MORE Act remains the most effective and equitable way forward," the groups said. The MORE Act passed in December.

The Long, Hot Summer Uprising Against Police Violence and Racism

It all started with that horrid video of George Floyd dying under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer over an alleged miniscule offense, but as people took to the streets all over the country, the name Breonna Taylor also loomed large. The totally innocent 26-year-old black EMT was gunned down by Louisville police in a misbegotten "no-knock" drug raid (it might be more accurate to call them "home invasion raids") in March, and her killing not only powered months of street demonstrations in her hometown, it also engendered howls of outrage and promises of reform from politicians around the land. And it brought heightened scrutiny to business as usual in the war on drugs.

As the streets overflowed in May, nearly four dozen members of Congress called for an independent investigation of the raid, calling Taylor's death "an unspeakable tragedy that requires immediate answers and accountability." That was followed by a bevy of bills in Congress, including the Justice in Policing Act, which would ban no-knock warrants in federal drug cases. House Democrats pushed the bill through in three weeks in June. Republicans in the Senate responded with Sen. Tim Scott's Justice Act, which wouldn't ban no-knock raids, but would increase federal reporting requirements for no-knock raids and use of force. But the GOP bill never moved in Sen. Mitch McConnell's Senate. As with so many measures passed by the House, McConnell's domain was where a congressional response to the crisis went to die.

But some states and localities actually enacted laws or ordinances aimed at reining in no-knocks. The Louisville Metro Council banned no-knock search warrants by unanimously passing "Breonna's Law" in June. Other cities, including Indianapolis, Memphis, Minneapolis, San Antonio and Santa Fe moved to either restrict or ban no-knocks. And while several states saw efforts to ban no-knocks, the only state where it's come to fruition so far is Virginia, where Gov. Ralph Northam (D) signed into law House Bill 5099, which bars police from breaking into a home or business to conduct a raid without first announcing their presence.

In Historic Move, House Votes to End Federal Marijuana Prohibition

Breaking almost but not entirely along party lines, the House voted on December 4 to approve the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act of 2019 (HR 3884). The MORE Act would effectively end federal pot prohibition by removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act's list of scheduled substances and eliminating federal criminal penalties for its possession, cultivation and sale.

The bill would not affect state laws that criminalize marijuana, but it would end the conflict between states that have already legalized marijuana and federal law. The bill also includes strong social equity provisions, including the creation of a fund to support programs and services for communities devastated by the war on drugs, a provision for expungement of past federal marijuana offenses, and a provision that bars the federal government from discriminating against people for marijuana use. The latter would protect immigrants from being deported for past marijuana convictions and would ensure that earned benefits are not denied to marijuana users.

The historic vote marks the first time either chamber of Congress has voted for legalization. But there is virtually no chance that the Republican-led Senate will take up -- let alone approve -- the measure in the remaining days of this session, meaning this is a battle that will continue in the next Congress.

Here Comes Psychedelic Drug Law Reform

Denver made history in May 2019 by becoming the first locality in the US to effectively decriminalize a psychedelic drug -- psilocybin-bearing magic mushrooms -- and as a psychedelic reform movement has spread across the land, this year saw more important advances. As the year went on, three more cities -- Ann Arbor, Oakland, and Santa Cruz -- passed similar ordinances.

Then on Election Day, voters in Oregon approved the groundbreaking Measure 109, the Psilocybin Services Act, with 56 percent of the vote. It will create a program to allow the administration of psilocybin products, such as magic mushrooms, to adults 21 and over for therapeutic purposes. People will be allowed to buy, possess, and consume psilocybin at a psilocybin services center, but only after undergoing a preparation session and under the supervision of a psilocybin service facilitator.

On the East Coast, Washington, DC, voters approved Initiative 81, the Entheogenic Plant and Fungi Policy Act of 2020, with 74 percent of the vote. The measure will have police treat natural plant medicines (entheogens) as their lowest law enforcement priority. The measure also asks the city's top prosecutor and its US Attorney to not prosecute such cases.

This string of psychedelic reform victories has generated momentum that is likely to result in more pushes in more places next year and beyond. Since Election Day, activists in San Francisco and Washington state have announced plans for decriminalization, a New Jersey state senator has filed a bill to downgrade the offense of magic mushroom possession, and a California state senator has announced he plans to file a bill. that would decriminalize the possession of psilocybin mushrooms and other psychedelics. And that's before the new year even begins.

Oregon Decriminalizes Drugs

With the passage by voters of Measure 110, the Drug Decriminalization and Addiction Treatment Initiative, Oregon broke new ground by becoming the first state to decriminalize the possession of personal use amounts of all drugs, including cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine. The quantities decriminalized are up to one gram of heroin, up to one gram of or five pills of MDMA, up to two gram of meth, up to 40 units of LSD, up to 12 grams of psilocybin, up to 40 units of methadone, up to 40 pills of oxycodone, and up to two grams of cocaine. That's thousands of drug arrests that now will not occur in Oregon -- and now Oregon can set an example for other states to follow.

Red State or Blue State, Voters Choose Legal Marijuana When Given the Chance

The November election saw marijuana legalization on the ballot in four states and medical marijuana on the ballot in two states. They all won. Evenly-divided Arizona saw Proposition 207: The Smart & Safe Arizona Act, cruise to victory with 60 percent of the vote, while in blue New Jersey, Public Question 1 garnered a resounding 67 percent.

The really surprising results were in two red states: In Montana, Constitutional Initiative 118 and its companion Initiative 190 won with 58 percent and 57 percent of the vote, respectively, while in South Dakota, Constitutional Amendment A won with 54 percent of the vote. Both those states are Trump country, with the president taking 57 percent in the former and 62 percent in the latter.

It was the same story with medical marijuana too, as Mississippi approved Initiative 65 with 74 percent of the vote, while South Dakota's Measure 26 won with 70 percent. Marijuana for adult use in now legal in 15 states and medical marijuana is now legal in 38.

Attack of the Progressive Prosecutors

The November elections didn't just end the reign of Donald Trump and bring drug reform victories at the state level, they also ushered in a new crop of progressive prosecutors who will have the ability to affect the conduct of the war on drugs at the local level. Led by George Gascon, who was elected prosecutor of the nation's most populous county, Los Angeles, and running on progressive platforms that included confronting police misconduct, ramping down the war on drugs, and shrinking prison populations, progressives won prosecutor races in Detroit (Oakland County), Orlando, and two large Colorado districts that had been held for decades by Republicans. Progressives didn't win everywhere they ran, but the shift from "law and order" district attorneys toward progressives that began with Kim Foxx in Chicago and Larry Krasner in Philadelphia really gathered momentum this year.

A Tough Year for Safe Injection Sites

Safe injection sites -- or supervised injection sites or safe consumption sites, take your pick -- are a proven harm reduction intervention with 120 in operation in 10 countries around the world, but no legal ones operating in the US. It looked like that would change in 2020, but it didn't. A proposed site in Philadelphia got the final go-ahead from a federal judge in February, but the local US Attorney then won a stay blocking it, with a hearing on that stay held in October and the decision from the bench still pending. Things were also looking good in San Francisco after the Board of Supervisors okayed a three-site pilot program in June, but the state-level bill that would have allowed the city to proceed, Assembly Bill 362, died in the Senate after passing the Assembly. A similar fate befell a Massachusetts safe injection site bill, House Bill 4723, which managed to win a committee vote but then stalled. Maybe next year.

Asset Forfeiture Reforms

Asset forfeiture, especially civil asset forfeiture (without a criminal conviction), is increasingly unpopular, with 35 states and the District of Columbia approving reforms between 2014 and 2019. A November poll found that only 26% support allowing police to seize cash or property from someone without a criminal conviction. Some 59% of respondents oppose "allowing law enforcement agencies to use forfeited property or its proceeds for their own use." Opposition to equitable sharing, a federal program that allows state and local police to evade state laws against civil asset forfeiture, was even higher, with 70% against the program.

Here are some reasons why: In March, in Georgia,the Department of Revenue got caught spending millions of dollars in seized cash on "engraved firearms, pricey gym equipment, clothing, personal items, even $130 sunglasses." That same month, in Michigan, the Macomb County prosecutor was hit with a slew of criminal charges for allegedly taking funds seized from drug and other suspects for his own personal use, including a personal security system for his house, country club parties, campaign expenses and to buy flowers and make-up for his secretaries. In July, in Chicago, the city agreed to a $5 million payout to settle a class action lawsuit filed by two people whose vehicle was seized after a passenger was arrested for marijuana possession. The settlement will apply to hundreds of other cases where drivers had their vehicles impounded as part of drug cases. Also in Michigan, the Wayne County Sheriff's Office faces a similar lawsuit for seizing thousands of cars and other property belonging to residents without criminal convictions.

Such abuses helped New Jersey become the 36th asset forfeiture reform state when Gov. Phil Murphy on Tuesday (D) signed into law a bill mandating comprehensive disclosure and transparency requirements for the system of civil asset forfeiture. Unfortunately, the few remaining non-reform states are tough nuts to crack, as we saw with reform bills killed in Arizona, Georgia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. But, hey, at least Tyson Timbs, the Indiana man whose seized Land Rover resulted in a 2019 Supreme Court decision scaling back civil asset forfeiture, finally got his Land Rover back -- six years after it was seized over a drug bust.

America Keeps ODing

Amidst all the death in the pandemic, the ongoing epidemic of drug overdose deaths got short shrift this shift, but Americans are continuing to die by the tens of thousands. In July, the CDC reported preliminary data showing that after declining for the first time in decades in 2018, fatal ODs rose 4.6% in 2019. There's a lag in data for this year, but initial reports suggest bad news ahead. In July, the specialty laboratory Millennium Health reported that its analysis of more than half a million urine drug found large increases in the use fentanyl, heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine. That same month, the Washington Post reportedthat fatal ODs have jumped and keep jumping during the pandemic. The Post's data showed overdose deaths up 18% in March, 29% in April, and 42% in May. The Post pointed to continued isolation, economic devastation, and disruptions in the drug trade as contributing factors.

Update 12/22: This year the top ten domestic stories goes to eleven, with the infamous "Aid Elimination Penalty" of the Higher Education Act set for repeal, as part of the massive spending bill sent to the president on the night of Monday the 21st. The provision barred students with drug convictions from receiving federal financial aid for college, for varying lengths of time. The spending bill also restores Pell Grant eligibility to prisoners.

Our own organization campaigned for many years for the law's repeal, through the Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform and the John W. Perry scholarship fund. Extensive media coverage made the law controversial, and in 2006 it was scaled back to be limited to drug offenses committed while a student was in school and receiving federal aid. In 2010 legislation to limit its reach further passed the House of Representatives.The provision stayed on the radar for members of Congress and their staffs, and yesterday it got done.

Congress Restores Financial Aid for Students with Drug Convictions, CA Fentanyl Task Force Bill Filed, More... (12/22/20)

Cook County's new State's Attorney is talking the progressive talk.
Heroin and Prescription Opioids

California Bill to Create Law Enforcement Fentanyl Task Force Filed. State Senator Pat Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) has reintroduced a bill, Senate Bill 75, that would establish a "Southern California Fentanyl Task Force" chaired by the attorney general to heighten law enforcement agency coordination, recommend changes to state laws and bring a state-wide caliber of expertise to the issue. The task force would focus on Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties. Cosponsors include one Democrat and two Republicans. The bill is also supported by Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes.

Psychedelics

Sheri Eckert, Co-Petitioner for Oregon Psilocybin Therapy Initiative, Dies Suddenly. One of the architects of the pioneering Oregon psilocybin therapy initiative, Measure 109, which was approved by voters last month, has died. Sheri Eckert and her husband Tom were the impetus behind the measure. She died last Thursday night of an apparent heart attack. She was 59.

Drug Policy

Illinois' Cook County State's Attorney Wants to Expunge Marijuana Dealing, Heroin & Cocaine Possession Convictions. In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, Cook County (Chicago) State's Attorney Kim Foxx advocated for the automatic expungement of pot dealing convictions and, going a step further, for expunging heroin and cocaine possession convictions, too. Her office has already automatically wiped out the records of more than 2,200 pot possession convictions, and she said she wants to use that bureaucratic infrastructure to find and expunge pot dealing convictions. "No, they didn't have a license. And no, it wasn't legal. But it was the only economy that they had," she said, noting that legal marijuana firms are now "doing the exact same thing and making a ton of money." She also said she would advocate for expunging heroin and cocaine possession convictions as part of a progressive approach to handling problematic drug use. "If we recognize substance abuse disorder as a health condition, then we must modify our justice system to treat it as such," Foxx said. "Criminalizing health is not in the interest of public safety."

Higher Education

Congressional Spending Bill Restores Financial Aid for Students with Drug Convictions. The massive spending bill approved by both the House and Senate Monday would eliminate the provision that disqualifies some students from obtaining federal financial aid because of past drug convictions. It does so not with any new language, but simply by eliminating the clause in the law that created the drug provision and accompanying question on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The bill also restores Pell Grant eligibility to prisoners.

NJ Governor, Lawmakers Reach Agreement on Marijuana Bill, Mexico Strikes Back at DEA, More... (12/7/20)

South Dakota's attorney general's office intervenes against a challenge to the state's voter-approved marijuana legalization, New Jersey's governor and lawmakers reach an agreement on their marijuana bill, and more.

No random marijuana tests for NBA players next year -- and maybe ever.
Marijuana Policy

NBA Won't Test Players for Marijuana Next Year. In a continuation of a policy adopted this year, the National Basketball Association (NBA) will not drug test players for the presence of marijuana -- and it could be moving toward a permanent suspension of such testing. "Due to the unusual circumstances in conjunction with the pandemic, we have agreed with the NBPA [NBA Players Association] to suspend random testing for marijuana for the 2020-21 season and focus our random testing program on performance-enhancing products and drugs of abuse," an NBA spokesperson said. The pause only applies to random drug tests; a player could be tested for marijuana for cause.

New Jersey Governor, Lawmakers Approve Framework for Recreational Marijuana Bill. "We're proud to announce today that we've reached an agreement on legislation providing the framework for legalization, which is a critical step in reducing racial disparities and social inequities that have long plagued our criminal justice system," the office of Gov. Phil Murphy (D) said in a statement last Friday. Among the areas of agreement are that 70% of marijuana sales tax revenues will go to social justice programs and that licenses will be issued to 37 growers for the first two years. An amendment to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms will be removed and considered separately.

South Dakota Attorney General's Office Asks Judge to Dismiss Lawsuit Challenging Victorious Legal Marijuana Initiative. State Assistant Attorney General Grant Flynn last Thursday filed a request with a district judge to throw out a lawsuit challenging the legality of the voter-approved initiative that legalizes marijuana in the state. "The State respectfully requests that Contestants' Election Contest be denied in all respects and that Contestants' Complaint be dismissed with prejudice, in its entirety, and judgement be entered in favor of the state," says the filing authored by Flynn. The plaintiffs are arguing that the measure violates the state constitution because it deals with "a multitude" of topics, not just legalizing marijuana. Those include medical marijuana and hemp. "The State denies that Amendment A includes a 'multitude' of different subjects," Flynn wrote. Attorneys representing the initiative campaign have also joined the case. All sides have until January 8 to file motions and briefs.

Foreign Policy

Mexican President Proposes Stripping Diplomatic Immunity for DEA Agents. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has proposed removing diplomatic immunity for DEA agents working in Mexico. Under the proposal, DEA agents would have to submit all the information they collect in the country to the Mexican government. Also, any Mexican government officials contacted by the DEA would have to report on that contact to the Foreign Relations Department. A DEA spokesman said, however, that sharing information with Mexico "is not going to happen," citing corruption in the Mexican government. The proposal after former Mexican Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos was arrested on drug and corruption charges in Los Angeles, only to see the charges dropped weeks later by US prosecutors who cited "sensitive and important foreign policy considerations."

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