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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

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

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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American Medical Association Asks Mississippi Voters To Reject Medical Marijuana Ballot Initiative

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A medical marijuana legalization initiative that will appear on Mississippi’s November ballot is being targeted by two medical associations that are pushing voters to reject the policy change.

With weeks left until the vote, the Mississippi State Medical Association (MSMA) and American Medical Association (AMA) are circulating a sample ballot that instructs voters on how to reject the activist-led measure. For supporters and opponents alike, the way the ballot is structured can be confusing—a product of the legislature approving an alternative that appears alongside Initiative 65.

“The purpose is to defeat Initiative 65. Initiative 65A will allow the legislature to enact changes to the law, which would not be possible with Initiative 65,” the opposition campaign document states. “MSMA is asking for you to join us in educating and encouraging our population to vote against Initiative 65.”

Via MSMA.

This marks the latest obstacle that reform advocates are facing as they work to inform the electorate about how to fill out the ballot to pass their proposal. Despite polls that show support for medical cannabis legalization at 81 percent in Mississippi, opponents aren’t acquiescing to public opinion.

MSMA President Mark Horne told WLBT-TV last week that the organization was asked to review the initiative and that “it was immediately clear that this is an effort focused on generating profits for an industry that has no ties to the medical or health care community in Mississippi.”

But according to Jamie Grantham, communications director for Mississippians for Compassionate Care (MCC), that talking point has only recently been aired and the campaign didn’t receive that feedback until MSMA mounted this opposition push. She told Marijuana Moment on Monday that the group’s steering committee is composed of several physicians who also had a hand in drafting the measure’s language—and that includes doctors who are part of MSMA.

“Ultimately, it boils down to patients being able to have access to this through their physician. They need to be able to have that conversation with them,” she said. “If certain physicians don’t see a benefit to that, that’s fine. But lots of other physicians do, and that’s evidenced undeniably in the 34 other states with medical marijuana programs where patients are receiving relief.”

AMA President Susan Bailey argued that “amending a state constitution to legalize an unproven drug is the wrong approach,” adding that there are concerns about youth exposure and impaired driving.

That said, a scientific journal published by AMA has printed research showing the advantages of broad marijuana legalization, however, with one recent study showing that people in states where recreational cannabis is legal were significantly less likely to experience vaping-related lung injuries than those in states where it is prohibited.

The organization has long maintained an opposition to legalization but has called for a review of marijuana’s restrictive federal Schedule I status.

Marijuana Moment reached out to AMA for comment, but a representative did not respond by the time of publication.

If the Mississippi campaign’s measure passes, it would allow patients with debilitating medical issues to legally obtain marijuana after getting a doctor’s recommendation. The proposal includes 22 qualifying conditions such as cancer, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder, and patients would be allowed to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana per 14-day period.

In June, lawmakers introduced yet another medical cannabis alternative resolution that would’ve posed an additional threat to the activist-driven reform initiative. But, to advocates’ relief, the legislation didn’t advance before lawmakers went home for the summer.

Nebraska Activists Unveil New Medical Marijuana Initiative For 2022 Following Supreme Court Defeat

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Nebraska Activists Unveil New Medical Marijuana Initiative For 2022 Following Supreme Court Defeat

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Nebraska activists on Monday announced they are filing a new medical marijuana ballot initiative after an earlier version got shot down by the state Supreme Court this month.

The previous proposal had already collected enough signatures from voters and qualified for this November’s ballot, but a local sheriff filed a challenge, arguing that it violated the state’s single-subject rule that prohibits measures that deal with multiple issues. The secretary of state’s office rejected that claim, but the case went to court and a majority of justices ultimately ruled that the proposal would be removed from the ballot.

While advocates are disappointed that the state won’t have the opportunity to enact the policy change this year, Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana didn’t waste any time putting together a new initiative that they feel will pass the single-subject test and appear on the 2022 ballot.

Language of the new proposal simply states: “Persons in the State of Nebraska shall have the right to cannabis in all its forms for medical purposes.”

Of course, that simplified text might satisfy the ballot policy, but it leaves an open questions about what—if any—regulated market would provide people with access to cannabis. It also doesn’t define eligibility, so that right to marijuana would appear to be unrestricted as long as person purports to use it for therapeutic reasons.

Those questions, if they remain unanswered by the campaign, could prove to be a sticking point for voters who would otherwise support regulated access to medical cannabis but might be uncomfortable with what could be a “free-for-all” situation that opponents have locked activists into with the single-subject challenge.

That said, the advocacy group says it plans to follow up the new simple constitutional amendment with “trailing statutory initiatives to set up a safe and secure medical cannabis system in Nebraska” if lawmakers fail to pass any medical marijuana  legislation over the next year. That’s similar to how casino gaming supporters are pursuing their issue with companion constitutional and statutory ballot measures.

Under this year’s blocked initiative, physicians would have been able to recommend cannabis to patients suffering from debilitating medical conditions, and those patients would then have been allowed to possess, purchase and “discreetly” cultivate marijuana for personal use.

Sens. Anna Wishart (D) and Adam Morfeld (D), cochairs of Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana, have tried for years to pass medical cannabis bills in the legislature only to be blocked by opposition from leadership.

Now, between the Supreme Court defeat and legislative inaction, they’re charting a new path.

“Families with loved ones suffering from conditions like epilepsy, PTSD, Parkinson’s, and cancer have fought for years to make medical cannabis safely accessible in our state as it is in 33 other states,” Wishart said in a press release. “This year over 190,000 Nebraskans successfully petitioned our government during a pandemic for that right, and despite receiving qualification from the Secretary of State, our initiative was removed from the ballot by a 5-2 vote from Nebraska’s Supreme Court. We will not give up and intend to bring this fight to the legislature in January with a bill that I will introduce and to the ballot in 2022.”

Morfeld added that the “new petition language indisputably presents a single subject and makes medical cannabis a constitutional right.”

“Then following with several statutory initiatives, we will establish a safe and regulated medical cannabis system,” he said. “Nebraskans have a constitutional right to petition their government, and we will not stop until they can exercise their right and have their voices heard on medical cannabis.”

While the timing isn’t ideal as far as advocates are concerned, given that presidential election years are typically targeted by cannabis reform supporters because of relatively larger turnout by supporters as compared to midterm cycles, 2022 is the next option they’re left with. That said, it’s possible that the continuing momentum for reform via the ballot could spur legislators to take up the issue in the meantime.

For what it’s worth, Nebraska’s attorney general said in an opinion last year that efforts to legalize medical marijuana in the state would be preempted by federal law and “would be, therefore, unconstitutional.”

New Jersey Marijuana Campaign Launches First Ad As Poll Shows Support For Legalization Referendum

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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Top Illinois And Michigan Officials Give Marijuana Legalization Advice To Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor

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The lieutenant governors of Illinois and Michigan recently gave their counterpart in Pennsylvania some advice on how to approach marijuana legalization in his state.

At a virtual forum on Thursday, Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) put several questions to Illinois Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton (D) and Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist (D), asking for tips on how to navigate the policy change as legislators in his state consider his push to enact a legal cannabis system.

“What I hope that Pennsylvania can learn from Michigan is that you can do it right. You do not have to piecemeal this together,” Gilchrist said.

“When you do it in the right way, it sets you up to create the systems and infrastructure to truly support people as this comes online, to create opportunities for those who have been oppressed and cut out of opportunity because they’ve been incarcerated or criminalized in the system to be able to participate in the potential prosperity that adult-use cannabis can create for communities in a full and robust and inclusive way,” he said.

Fetterman said that, from his perspective, Illinois is “the gold standard of legalizing recreational cannabis” because of how it intentionally approached restorative justice and social equity through reform legislation.

Because Pennsylvania doesn’t have a process through which citizens can put initiatives on the ballot, he said he was especially interested in how Illinois crafted an effective cannabis system legislatively.


“We had looked at other states and what was happening in other states, when we did our homework, we realized that really none of the other states had really kind of approached this legislation or their efforts—I think we were the first to do it by legislation—with an intentional lens of equity,” Stratton, who purchased cannabis gummies at a dispensary on the state’s first day of legal sales, said. “As all of us know, if you’re not intentional about equity, it just doesn’t happen because of the systems and the systemic racism that we’ve talked about. It does not happen that you just end up with equity.”

“We are working towards making sure that those individuals that were from many of the communities most harmed by the war on drugs could have real opportunity. We’re working towards that,” she said. “We are repairing the harm of what generations of bad policy—including, again, the war on drugs—has done to these communities that are disproportionately black and brown.”

Stratton also emphasized that, under her state’s marijuana model, 25 percent of cannabis tax revenue goes toward restorative justice grants for disadvantaged communities. She also noted that Illinois has been consistently “breaking records with sales,” even during the coronavirus pandemic. That said, there have been some snags in implementing an equitable model of cannabis business licensing in the state, with several lawsuits filed over the results of a recent application scoring round.

Gilchrist jumped in to offer Fetterman another tip as Pennsylvania navigates through legalization legislation.

“There’s another element that I want to discuss that that perhaps is something that you should think about in Pennsylvania, and that is that kind of—I won’t call it consensus building per se—but that kind of real and robust and muscular set of community conversations and involvement in the design of implementation is really important,” he said.

He said it’s important to ensure that there’s “accessibility” to enter the industry and remove barriers that keep people from participating.

“You don’t want people to be designed out of these opportunities,” he said. “And sometimes that can happen, both unintentionally and intentionally.”

Fetterman ended the event by reflecting on the increasing bipartisan support around legalization, and both of his guests agreed that their experiences demonstrated as much.

He and Gov. Tom Wolf (D) have been regularly talking about the policy change in recent weeks. At a marijuana reform rally earlier this month, for example, both officials discussed their support for legalization and the need to stand up Pennsylvania’s market as more surrounding states pursue legal cannabis models.

Also this month, Wolf took a shot at the GOP-controlled legislature for failing to get the job done. He also floated the idea of passing a bill that would allow the state itself to sell the cannabis to consumers.

While Wolf initially opposed adult-use legalization, he came out in support of the policy change last year after Fetterman led a statewide listening tour last year to solicit public input on the issue.

Shortly after the governor announced that he was embracing the reform, a lawmaker filed a bill to legalize marijuana through a state-run model.

A majority of Senate Democrats sent Wolf a letter in July arguing that legislators should pursue the policy change in order to generate revenue to make up for losses resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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