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Canada Defends Marijuana Legalization In Response To International Skepticism

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The Canadian government touted the benefits of its legal, regulated marijuana market in comments to the United Nations recently, saying that since legal sales began in the country a year and a half ago, “the illegal market has already lost 30% of its market share” and “rates of use have not changed among youth and young adults.”

The remarks were delivered last Monday to the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs by Michelle Boudreau, director general for Health Canada’s controlled substances department. As a whole, they portray the country’s decision to legalize cannabis as a victory for public health despite ongoing skepticism from some in the international community.

Canada passed legislation to legalize marijuana for adults in 2018, becoming the largest nation ever to do so. The move technically ran afoul of international drug treaties that still forbid marijuana legalization, but the country nevertheless proceeded with the change.

In her remarks to the UN commission, Boudreau stopped short of encouraging other countries to legalize, which may have further rankled UN officials, but she pushed back against international concerns that legalization would endanger public health and young people.

“The illegal market has already lost 30% of its market share, and we have seen no corresponding increase in the overall size of the market,” Boudreau said, according to a written copy of her remarks. “This represents nearly $2 billion in sales that did not go to criminal organizations.”

She added that “initial data suggests that rates of cannabis use have not changed among youth and young adults,” nor has the country seen an increase in movement of cannabis across international borders.

“We will continue to collect data and evaluate the impact of Canada’s new regulatory framework and will ensure that any future decisions are well informed by this data,” Boudreau said.

Canada’s comments were delivered less than a week after the UN International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) expressed skepticism around legalization, writing in an annual report that it “remains concerned at the legislative developments permitting the use of cannabis for ‘recreational’ uses.”

“Not only are these developments in contravention of the drug control conventions and the commitments made by States parties,” the UN report said, but “the consequences for health and well-being, in particular of young people, are of serious concern.”

There are signs, however, that global drug policy could be changing soon. The international prohibition on cannabis legalization is nearly 60 years old at this point, as contained in the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. And many, including the president of INCB itself, have openly wondered whether its cannabis provisions are out of date.

Discussing cannabis and synthetic drugs during a UN presentation late last month, INCB President Cornelis P. de Joncheere questioned whether blanket prohibition is still the right approach.

“We have some fundamental issues around the conventions that state parties will need to start looking at,” he said, according to Marijuana Business Daily. “We have to recognize that the conventions were drawn up 50 and 60 years ago.”

Joncheere added that 2021 is “an appropriate time to look at whether those are still fit for purpose, or whether we need new alternative instruments and approaches to deal with these problems.”

Last year, the World Health Organization recommended that marijuana be removed from the most restrictive category of controlled substances under the 1961 treaty. The proposal would shift cannabis and THC to the drug convention’s least-restricted category.

The UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs was set to vote on the WHO recommendation this month, but the vote has been pushed back until December.

In her statements to the UN, Canada’s Boudreau stressed the importance of her country’s public-health approach to drug policy. Part of that approach includes efforts to reduce stigma around drug use, she said, and to that end the nation has included “members of civil society, including people with lived and living experience with substance use, on our delegation.”

“Canada is continuing to make efforts to reflect a broader range of voices in the design of all of our domestic drug policies, including civil society organizations, and people who use drugs,” she said.

Although Canada remains in violation of international treaties on cannabis legalization, Boudreau emphasized the nation’s “strong partnership with the [United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime] to achieve the aims of the international drug conventions.”

“Our partnership includes efforts to address illegal trafficking of opioids, their precursors and other synthetic drugs, through projects such as Smart Lab and AIRCOP,” she said. “We also contribute to the Container Control Program which facilitates seizures of illegal drugs and interception of cash couriers. Since 2015 Canada has delivered considerable technical assistance and equipment via the UNODC, with disbursements totaling approximately $54 million.”

Meanwhile, some domestic lawmakers in Canada want the country to go further by decriminalizing the possession of all drugs for personal use. But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who led the country’s push to legalize cannabis, reiterated last week that he opposes the move.

“We will take a look at the proposals but as we’ve said many times, we believe in harm reduction, we believe in evidence-based policy,” Trudeau told reporters on Thursday. “Our approach is to ensure that people get the support they need. We do not believe that decriminalizing hard drugs is a solution right now.”

DEA Admits State-Level Marijuana Legalization Reduces Illegal Market Demand

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Ben Adlin is a Seattle-based writer and editor. He has covered cannabis as a journalist since 2011, most recently as a senior news editor for Leafly.

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Congressman Files New Marijuana Banking Reform Amendment To Large-Scale House Bill

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The House sponsor of a bill to protect banks that work with state-legal marijuana businesses announced on Friday that he is seeking to attach an amendment containing the reform to a broader bill dealing with research and innovation in the tech and manufacturing sectors.

Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), sponsor of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, has expressed interest in finding another vehicle to pursue his proposal after it was stripped from a separate defense bill late last year. The congressman’s legislation has cleared the House in five forms at this point, only to stall in the Senate.

His latest attempt to get the reform enacted is by filing an amendment with the SAFE Banking language to the America COMPETES Act, which does not deal specifically with cannabis issues as drafted but was introduced in the House this week.

“Cannabis-related businesses—big and small—and their employees are in desperate need of access to the banking system and access to capital in order to operate in an efficient, safe manner and compete in the growing global cannabis marketplace,” Perlmutter, who is retiring from Congress after this session and committed to passing his bill first, said in a press release.

“The SAFE Banking Act is the best opportunity to enact some type of federal cannabis reform this year and will serve as the first of many steps to help ensure cannabis businesses are treated the same as any other legal, legitimate business,” he said. “I will continue to pursue every possible avenue to get SAFE Banking over the finish line and signed into law.”

It remains to be seen whether the America COMPETES Act will serve as a more effective vehicle for the cannabis banking bill than the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), where the language was successfully attached on the House side but later removed amid bicameral negotiations. Perlmutter said at the time that Senate leadership, which is working on comprehensive legalization legislation, was to blame for the decision to remove his amendment from the proposal.

The new SAFE Banking Act amendment will still need to be made in order by the House Rules Committee in order to be formally be considered on the House floor when the body takes up the research and innovation package. The deadline to file amendments was Friday, and the panel is set to take them up starting on Tuesday.

Even some Republicans are scratching their heads about how Democrats have so far failed to pass the modest banking reform with majorities in both chambers and control of the White House. For example, Rep. Rand Paul (R-KY) criticized his Democratic colleagues over the issue last month.

In the interim, federal financial regulator Rodney Hood—a board member and former chairman of the federal National Credit Union Administration (NCUA)—recently said that marijuana legalization is not a question of “if” but “when,” and he’s again offering advice on how to navigate the federal-state conflict that has left many banks reluctant to work with cannabis businesses.

Ohio Lawmakers Will Be Forced To Consider Marijuana Legalization As State Validates Activist Signatures

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Ohio Lawmakers Will Be Forced To Consider Marijuana Legalization As State Validates Activist Signatures

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Ohio activists have collected enough signatures to force the legislature to take up the issue of marijuana legalization, the secretary of state’s office confirmed on Friday.

This comes about two weeks after the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CTRMLA) submitted a final round of signatures for the measure. The petitions’ formal validation triggers the legislative review of legalization, but it does not require lawmakers to enact the reform.

The legislature now has four months to consider the campaign’s cannabis reform proposal. Lawmakers can adopt the measure, reject it or pass an amended version. If they do not pass the measure, organizers can then collect an additional 132,887 valid signatures from registered voters to place the issue on the ballot in November.

CTRMLA previously submitted petitions for the initiative but the state said they were short some 13,000 signatures, requiring activists to go back and make up the difference.

“We are ready and eager to work with Ohio legislators over the next four months to legalize the adult use of marijuana in Ohio,” CTRMLA spokesman Tom Haren said in a press release. “We are also fully prepared to collect additional signatures and take this issue directly to voters on November 8, 2022, if legislators fail to act.”

The measure that lawmakers will be required to consider would legalize possession of up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis for adults 21 and older, and they could also have up to 15 grams of marijuana concentrates. Individuals could grow up to six plants for personal use, with a maximum 12 plants per household.

A 10 percent sales tax would be imposed on cannabis sales, with revenue being divided up to support social equity and jobs programs (36 percent), localities that allow adult-use marijuana enterprises to operate in their area (36 percent), education and substance misuse programs (25 percent) and administrative costs of implementing the system (three percent).

A Division of Cannabis Control would be established under the state Department of Commerce. It would have authority to “license, regulate, investigate, and penalize adult use cannabis operators, adult use testing laboratories, and individuals required to be licensed.”

The measure gives current medical cannabis businesses a head start in the recreational market. Regulators would need to begin issuing adult-use licenses to qualified applicants who operate existing medical operations within nine months of enactment.

The division would also be required to issue 40 recreational cultivator licenses and 50 adult-use retailer licenses “with a preference to applications who are participants under the cannabis social equity and jobs program.” And it would authorize regulators to issue additional licenses for the recreational market two years after the first operator is approved.

Individual municipalities would be able to opt out of allowing new recreational cannabis companies from opening in their area, but they could not block existing medical marijuana firms even if they want to add co-located adult-use operations. Employers could also maintain policies prohibiting workers from consuming cannabis for adult use.

Further, regulators would be required to “enter into an agreement with the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services” to provide “cannabis addiction services,” which would involve “education and treatment for individuals with addiction issues related to cannabis or other controlled substances including opioids.”

With respect to social equity, some advocate are concerned about the lack of specific language on automatic expungements to clear the records of people with convictions for offenses that would be made legal under the legislation. That said, it does include a provision requiring regulators to “study and fund” criminal justice reform initiatives including expungements.

Ohio voters rejected a 2015 legalization initiative that faced criticism from many reform advocates because of an oligopolistic model that would’ve granted exclusive control over cannabis production to the very funders who paid to put the measure on the ballot.

Activists suspended a campaign to place another measure on the 2020 ballot due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Aside from the new voter initiative, state lawmakers from both parties are separately working to advance marijuana reform.

legalization bill that was the first of its kind to be introduced in the Ohio legislature last year would legalize the possession, sale and cultivation of cannabis by adults. It’s being championed by Reps. Casey Weinstein (D) and Terrence Upchurch (D).

A pair of Ohio Republican lawmakers similarly filed a bill to legalize marijuana in the state in December. Reps. Jamie Callender (R) and Ron Ferguson (R) first announced their plan to push the legislative reform proposal in October and circulated a co-sponsorship memo to build support for the measure.

There are also additional local reform efforts underway in Ohio for 2022.

After voters in seven cities approved ballot measures to decriminalize marijuana possession during last November’s election—which builds on a slew of previous local reforms in the state—campaigns are now looking to enact decriminalization in Marietta, Rushville, Rutland, Shawnee, McArthur and Laurelville.

Ohio marijuana activists already successfully proved that they turned in enough valid signatures to put a local decriminalization initiative before Kent voters after having missed the 2021 ballot due to a verification error on the part of county officials. That measure is now expected to go before voters this November.

Top Federal Drug Official Says Marijuana Use ‘Stable’ Among Youth At Prohibitionist-Hosted Panel Sponsored By D.A.R.E.

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Top Federal Drug Official Says Marijuana Use ‘Stable’ Among Youth At Prohibitionist-Hosted Panel Sponsored By D.A.R.E.

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A top federal drug official participated in a panel hosted by a prohibitionist group and sponsored by D.A.R.E.—and she again reiterated that data shows youth marijuana use has remained stable “despite the legalization in many states.”

While National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow expressed concerns about certain cannabis trends related to potency, commercialization and use by pregnant women, she affirmed that surveys funded by her own federal agency have demonstrated that adolescent marijuana use is “stable,” despite repeated arguments from prohibitionists that legalization would lead more young people to experiment with cannabis.

The event was hosted by Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), an anti-legalization group. SAM President Kevin Sabet and the organization’s co-founder former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) led the discussion.

Sabet said that data on youth use has showed varying results in states that have legalized cannabis and asked Volkow to weigh in on the issue. She replied that federal data “have not been able to see large differences in terms of prevalence” of cannabis consumption among young people in legal and non-legal states.

The official made similar comments in an interview with Marijuana Moment late last year.

That said, Volkow said that they have seen some differences when it comes to consumption rates among adolescents for edible cannabis products.

“But the effects are not large, and one of the things that also certainly surprised me [is] the rate overall, the prevalence rates of marijuana use among teenagers, have been stable despite the legalization in many states,” she said, adding that there are some concerns about increased frequency of use and limitations in data collection with respect to dosages being taken.

Volkow also commented on a recent federally funded survey that found illicit drug use by young people has taken a significant plunge in the last year, though she largely attributed that to the reduced social interaction resulting from COVID-19 policies across the country.

“Interestingly what we’ve observed during the COVID pandemic is, across schools in the United States, the prevalence of drug use has gone down,” she said, “which likely very much reflects the fact that kids don’t have the opportunity to interact with others, and drug taking at that stage is a peer pressure behavior.”

The official also briefly addressed the fact that she feels criminalizing people over drugs in the first place is the wrong policy approach—a point she’s made repeatedly in interviews and blog posts.

She said that “criminalization has created a system for that allows a structural racism to be implemented, you can control people, and that’s a horrible policy. This criminalization actually opens up our eyes that well, yes, we need to change that.”

However, she said that “liberalizing and making the drugs widely available, with no counter messaging,” is not the alternative she would recommend.

While the SAM-hosted event did not touch specifically on psychedelics policy, Volkow has also recently discussed that issues, especially as data has shown an increase in use of the substances among adults.

She said people are going to keep using substances such as psilocybin—especially as the reform movement expands and there’s increased attention being drawn to the potential therapeutic benefits—and so researchers and regulators will need to keep up.

Volkow also mentioned that NIDA is “pleased” the Drug Enforcement Administration recently announced plans to significantly increase the quota of certain psychedelic drugs to be produced for use in research.

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Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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