In the face of threats from one of the state’s federal prosecutors, West Virginia’s top fiscal official is calling on the Trump administration to clarify its position on whether marijuana growers and sellers should be able to put their profits in banks.
“I support the rights of my fellow West Virginians, and I recognize the need for medical marijuana as an option for people who are suffering,” Treasurer John Perdue said in a press release on Friday. “I want to do everything in my power to move our state toward a lawful solution; however, I want to be clear that there are real banking challenges at the federal level that my office may not be able to resolve alone.”
Because of ongoing federal criminalization of cannabis, many banks are reluctant to work with marijuana businesses that operate legally in accordance with a growing number of state laws. As a result, those entities must often operate on a cash-only basis.
Perdue, who is announcing a series of moves to step up pressure on the federal government to resolve the issue, said last month that his office was “unwilling to accept the funds derived from medical cannabis” due to conflicts with federal law. In response to that stance, Gov. Jim Justice (R), who signed medical marijuana into law last year, line item vetoed the transfer of funds to the program in the state budget, saying that officials should hold off on implementation until a fiscal solution materializes.
Now, Perdue, a Democrat, says he will send a letter to U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin “asking for clear banking guidance dealing with medical marijuana-related transactions.”
And on Monday, his office is releasing a Request for Information in search of “banking solutions for sales, fees, licenses, taxes and other transactions related to state sanctioned medical cannabis.”
“Our hope is to find a banking alternative, similar to other states that have legalized medical marijuana, in an effort to move forward with offering this option to those who need it in West Virginia,” Perdue said. “Once we have more facts, we may be able to solicit for a workable contract on behalf of the state.”
Perdue’s push comes as the top fiscal officials in four other states requested a meeting with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to discuss cannabis businesses’ access to banks, and as members of Congress are stepping up the push for a legislative solution.
In the press release, the West Virginia treasurer said he would join at least ten top fiscal officials from other states in a separate letter to congressional leaders calling for “commonsense legislative changes to protect medical marijuana patients.”
Mike Stuart, the U.S. attorney for West Virginia’s Southern District, has repeatedly signaled he intends to enforce federal marijuana laws regardless of the state’s move to legalize medical cannabis.
Have visited many treatment facilities. Every single treatment professional – EVERY SINGLE ONE- has told me “Marijuana is a gateway drug.” My office is preparing to enforce laws against marijuana aggressively – AGGRESSIVELY.
— US Attorney Mike Stuart (@USAttyStuart) March 9, 2018
Key word in Congress’ mandate – “Implementing.” States may implement w/out enforcement but no mention of enforcement after implementing. Today’s pot not pot of old – high THC, 4x the tar as tobacco, & other poisons in pot today. Pot is not cool at all. https://t.co/szMCJA1xjW
— US Attorney Mike Stuart (@USAttyStuart) March 5, 2018
This US Attorney will enforce federal marijuana laws. Congressional mandate to be respected but if law is expanded beyond express mandate, this US Attorney will aggressively take all possible action to protect public, children, citizens and communities. https://t.co/0BKiL8UMsX
— US Attorney Mike Stuart (@USAttyStuart) February 25, 2018
Federal law with respect to marijuana is crystal clear. The Cole memo has been rescinded. Interstate commerce requires compliance with federal law. Today’s marijuana is not naturally grown plant but genetically engineered hard drug. That’s just a fact. https://t.co/rsLjM8PWcD
— US Attorney Mike Stuart (@USAttyStuart) March 30, 2018
Now, the state treasurer is requesting clarity on the issue from Stuart’s bosses in the federal government.
“The fact is that the fate of medical marijuana in West Virginia depends on how President Trump’s administration approaches the enforcement of marijuana and banking laws,” he said in the new press release. “At the very least, I want West Virginia to be treated like all other states that have implemented or started implementation of a medical marijuana program.”
But Stuart indicated that even if West Virginia officials fix banking issues, he wouldn’t hold off on enforcing federal laws, including those that bar medical cannabis patients from purchasing guns.
Even if funding scheme is found, other big conflicts remain. Federal law expressly prohibits users/sellers of all marijuana from possessing firearms. Very strong 2d Amendment supporter but Congress makes laws and I shall aggressively enforce all laws. https://t.co/Do5WUp2j6w
— US Attorney Mike Stuart (@USAttyStuart) March 17, 2018
Mnuchin, the federal treasury secretary, has indicated on a number of occasions that he sees solving cannabis businesses’ access to financial services as an important issue.
Andrew Yang Contrasts Rampant Opioid Prescribing With Marijuana Criminalization
Andrew Yang contrasted the widespread prescribing of opioids with the ongoing criminalization of marijuana on Wednesday.
In a tweet, the entrepreneur and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate said there were “more opiate prescriptions in the state of Ohio than people in Ohio,” yet “marijuana is still classified as a schedule 1 drug” under the federal Controlled Substances Act.
#DidYouKnow – There were more opiate prescriptions in the state of Ohio than people in Ohio. But marijuana is still classified as a schedule 1 drug.
— Andrew Yang🧢 (@AndrewYang) December 11, 2019
He’s brought that point up before, at a presidential debate in October. Asked about his proposed to decriminalize possession of opioids to combat the drug overdose crisis, Yang brought up the statistic and criticized the government for failing to take action against pharmaceutic companies that aggressively marketed addictive painkillers.
“If the government turned a blind eye to this company, spreading a plague among its people, then the least we can do is put a resource into work in our communities so that people have a fighting chance to get well, even though this is not a money problem,” he said at the time.
— Andrew Yang🧢 (@AndrewYang) October 16, 2019
NBC News confirmed that, in 2010, federal data shows there were 102.4 opioid prescriptions in Ohio for every 100 persons. That’s decreased since then, with 2017 data showing 63.5 opioid prescriptions for every 100 persons in the state.
Yang, who supports comprehensive marijuana legalization, has also embraced other harm reduction policies. Beyond decriminalizing opioids, he said in an interview published last week that he’s in favor of providing federal funding for the establishment of safe injection facilities, where individuals can use illicit drugs under medical supervision and receive assistance getting into treatment.
Yang has not yet called for decriminalization of substances beyond opioids and cannabis, however. That policy is backed by rival contenders South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI).
Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, also presidential candidates, have called for the establishment of safe injection sites.
Photo courtesy of ABC News.
Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed In Virginia Ahead Of Attorney General’s Cannabis Summit
The attorney general of Virginia held a cannabis summit on Wednesday, with representatives of states that have legalized marijuana sharing their insights as lawmakers in the Commonwealth prepare to push reform legislation in the coming session.
This event came one day after a lawmaker prefiled a bill to legalize marijuana for adult use and expand the state’s existing limited medical cannabis program.
The event featured panels on marijuana decriminalization, social equity, public health, hemp, CBD and creating a pathway for eventual legalization. The goal was to answer policy questions and inform legislation, which Attorney General Mark Herring (D) hopes will start with decriminalization and expungements and later adult-use legalization.
Herring: “I don’t believe Virginia’s current system of needlessly criminalizing cannabis is working. The negative consequences of the current approach fall disproprtionately on African Americans and other people of color.”
— Martin Austermuhle (@maustermuhle) December 11, 2019
“I don’t believe that Virginia’s current approach of criminalizing cannabis is working,” Herring said in his opening remarks. “It is needlessly creating criminals and burdening Virginians with convictions.”
Today we're bringing together legislators, stakeholders, and policy experts to plot a course for a smarter, fairer, more just cannabis policy in VA. For me, that means decriminalizing now, resolving past convictions, & moving to legal, regulated adult use.https://t.co/aqWxQCVPIg
— Mark Herring (@MarkHerringVA) December 11, 2019
“The human and social costs are enormous, in addition to the millions of dollars it costs Virginia taxpayers. And the negative consequences of the current approach fall disproportionately on African Americans and people of color,” he said. “It’s clear to me that the time for cannabis reform has come. Justice demands it. Virginians are demanding it. And I’m going to help make sure we get this right.”
Watch video of the Virginia Cannabis Summit below:
Representatives from Colorado and Illinois discussed law enforcement and equity in regulated marijuana markets.
The prospects of passing reform measures greatly increased in Virginia after November’s election, which saw Democrats reclaim control of both chambers of the General Assembly for the first time in decades. Herring said the timing is right to “plot a course for a smarter, fairer, more just cannabis policy” in the state.
Sen. Dave Marsden (D), co-founder of the legislature’s recently established Cannabis Caucus, said at the summit that ensuring that the legal market is equitable is paramount.
.@SenDaveMarsden, who co-founded the new Cannabis Caucus, says focusing on equity will be important. “We can’t substitute a civil process for a criminal one and not expect it to lead to disparities,” he says of decriminalization, noting how people of color still impacted most.
— Martin Austermuhle (@maustermuhle) December 11, 2019
“We can’t substitute a civil process for a criminal one and not expect it to lead to disparities,” he said.
“Following several years of forming consensus around medical cannabis products, we have to be ready to take action in the upcoming legislative session to further reform our laws in this arena,” he said in a press release. “This effort will include a more robust medical cannabis program and Attorney General Herring’s summit is a big step in ensuring we are knowledgeable on the issue and prepared to do this right.”
“Virginia is ready for evidence-based reform and that is what we will provide.”
Del. Stephen Heretick (D) said the summit “is a great opportunity for me and my fellow legislators to learn from the experiences of other states as we consider how to create more fair, just, equitable, and effective cannabis laws here in Virginia.”
Decriminalization is the first proposal on the agenda when the next session starts, the attorney general said. That would fulfill a campaign promise of Gov. Ralph Northam (D), who ran on the issue in 2017 and talked about in his State of the Commonwealth address this year.
“It’s time for public policy to catch up with public opinion, and NORML applauds Attorney General Herring for his efforts to foster and advance evidence-based cannabis laws,” Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML said. “We look forward to supporting the attorney general and the Virginia Cannabis Caucus in their work reforming marijuana laws for a safer Commonwealth.”
While Northam hasn’t voiced support for recreational legalization, Herring said last week that Wednesday’s summit is one resource that will help the state move toward comprehensive reform.
“Criminalizing marijuana possession is not working.” Attorney General @MarkHerringVA said he will host a #cannabis summit to advance decriminalization in Virginia. #CheddarLive pic.twitter.com/ecB4BSQo5w
— Cheddar (@cheddar) December 3, 2019
“Based on my conversations, he supports decriminalization,” Herring, who is also running for governor in 2021, said. “Like a lot of people, I think they’d like to get more information about what legalization and what regulated, adult-use would look like.”
A bill to decriminalize marijuana and make possession of up to one ounce punishable by a maximum $50 civil penalty was prefiled in the legislature last month.
This latest legalization bill, introduced by Del. Lee Carter (D), will likely be a heavier lift. It would allow adults 21 and older to possess and purchase cannabis from licensed retailers, and it would impose a 10 percent tax, revenue from which would go toward a veterans fund, transportation and local municipalities that allow marijuana businesses to operate.
“While a majority of Virginians agree with Attorney General Herring that marijuana should be legal for responsible use by adults, it may take a bit more work to convince the Virginia General Assembly to send such a bill to the governor’s desk,” Michelle Pedini told Marijuana Moment. “Todays summit is an important, and historic, step toward that goal, and NORML is proud to be a part of it.”
Photo courtesy of Nicholas C. Morton.
Thailand Prime Minister Uses Medical Marijuana At Event With Ganja Mascot
Top officials in Thailand are getting the word out about medical marijuana—in part by distributing cartoon cannabis dolls and publicly using marijuana oils.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha announced the launch of the government’s medical cannabis education site on Wednesday and appeared at an event alongside a person wearing a spectacled marijuana leaf costume called Dr. Ganja. Children were also present, carrying their own Dr. Ganja dolls.
The Thai government officially launches its medical cannabis "educational" website today.https://t.co/zhzZU61q3c
The Prime Minister gets a ganja doll, kids get a ganja doll, everybody gets a ganja doll!
Photo credit: Bhumjaithai Party pic.twitter.com/lVf1WTguqQ
— Prim Chuwiruch (@prim_chuwiruch) December 11, 2019
Prayut argued in favor of the therapeutic use of cannabis, stating that it represents a potential treatment option for low-income people in particular. According to The Nation Thailand, he also demonstrated marijuana products, inhaling an oil and applying some to the back of his ears. The prime minister also said he plans to purchase some oils himself.
The government’s education site features information about where to find cannabis clinics, what kinds of products are available and infographics laying out basic research into marijuana.
Thai lawmakers have made clear their excitement about medical cannabis, with several filmed participating in a ritual dance in August to celebrate the first batch of marijuana oil.
— Reuters Latam (@ReutersLatam) August 8, 2019
Months after Thailand opted to legalize medical marijuana, the ruling party unveiled draft legislation in September that allows individuals to cultivate up to six cannabis plants for personal use.
Photo courtesy of Bhumjaithai Party.