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Cities Across Ohio Will Vote On Marijuana Decriminalization In November

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Voters in at least six municipalities across Ohio will have an opportunity to vote on local initiatives to decriminalize marijuana in November.

The decriminalization of misdemeanor cannabis offenses will appear on the ballot in Dayton, Fremont, Garrettsville, Norwood, Oregon and Windham.

Possession of up to 200 grams of marijuana is currently a misdemeanor in Ohio, punishable by a $150 to $250 fine and up to 30 days in jail, depending on the exact amount.

The proposed ballot measures won’t change state law, but if approved they will alter local policies and likely protect at least some cannabis consumers from criminal sanctions. The ultimate impact will depend on whether municipal police choose to abide by the will of local voters or instead use their authority to continue enforcing state policy.

Here’s the text of each local measure:

Dayton: “Shall the Dayton Revised Code of General Ordinances be amended to decriminalize specific misdemeanor marijuana and hashish offenses?”

Fremont: “Shall the proposed Sensible Marihuana Ordinance which lowers the penalty for misdemeanor marijuana offenses to the lowest penalty allowed by state law be adopted?”

Garrettsville: “Shall the proposed ordinance to lower the penalties for misdemeanor marihuana offenses to the lowest penalties allowed by state law be adopted?”

Norwood: “Shall the proposed ordinance adding Section 513.15 Marijuana Laws and Penalties to the City of Norwood Municipal Code, which would lower the penalty for misdemeanor marijuana offenses to the lowest penalty allowed by state law, be adopted?”

Oregon: “Shall the proposed Sensible Marihuana Ordinance which lowers the penalty for misdemeanor marijuana offenses to the lowest penalty allowed by state law be adopted?”

Windham: “Shall the proposed ordinance to lower the penalties for misdemeanor marihuana offenses to the lowest penalties allowed by state law be adopted?”

“Voters in these six municipalities have the ability to send a resounding message to the state legislature of Ohio in advance of their next legislative session,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said in an interview. “That message would simply be, ‘stop arresting our friends and loved ones.'”

An attempt to get decriminalization on the ballot in Nelsonville was derailed earlier this year after a city attorney found “fatal flaws” with petitions that were initially submitted, The Athens News reported. The group behind the proposed ordinance, Grassroots Ohioans, resubmitted amended petitions, but the deadline for inclusion on the 2018 ballot had passed.

Last month, a federal judge ordered the Garrettsville and Windham measures onto their respective ballots after local officials initially tried to keep them off.

Norwood Police Chief William Kramer has already said that his department would continue to prosecute people for misdemeanor marijuana offenses according to state law, regardless of the election outcome.

Via Mapsof.

Six other Ohio cities—Toledo, Logan, Roseville, Bellaire, Newark and Athens—have approved similar decriminalization initiatives over the past three years.

In 2015, Ohio voters resoundingly defeated a statewide marijuana legalization measure that was opposed even by many longtime cannabis policy reformers who were concerned about the manner in which it proposed a lock on cultivation licenses by the people who paid for the effort to put it on the ballot.

While much of the country’s attention has focused on cannabis reform developments at the state level, a growing number of cities and counties throughout the U.S. are also participating in the movement.

“These ballots initiatives did not magically appear, but rather were earned by the commitment and dedication of citizens from around Ohio,” Strekal, of NORML, said of the local measures in the Buckeye State. “In recent years, the tireless work of individuals around the country have resulted in over 50 cities and localities reducing fines and penalties for simple possession.”

In Wisconsin, advisory referendums in 16 counties will ask voters to weigh in on cannabis legalization for either medical or recreational use this November. Nearly half of the state’s population lives in those counties. Advisory questions cropped up throughout Massachusetts in election cycles preceding the state’s 2016 vote to legalize marijuana for adult use.

Unlike advisory questions, the local ordinances in Ohio aren’t just designed to gauge public sentiment toward cannabis reform; they’re binding policies that will take effect immediately if a majority of voters approve them.

It’s difficult to say on a city-by-city level how voters will react to the decriminalization ordinances, but in general, Ohioans seem increasingly supportive of marijuana reform. A June poll of 500 likely midterm election voters in the state found that 55 percent are OK with medical cannabis dispensaries in their neighborhoods, for example.

Almost Half of Wisconsin Voters Will See Marijuana Ballot Questions In November

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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Politics

Senate Votes To Send Hemp Legalization To President Trump’s Desk

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The Senate approved a far-reaching agriculture bill that includes a provision to legalize industrial hemp on Tuesday.

The vote gets the U.S. one step closer to ending its decades-long prohibition of a non-psychoactive plant in the cannabis family, empowering farmers to cultivate and sell a lucrative crop that can be used to create an exceptional range of products—from cosmetics to concrete.

The Senate and House Agriculture Committees had reconciled their respective versions of the 2018 Farm Bill last month, and lawmakers said they hoped to get it passed before the year’s end.

It seems Congress is positioned to meet that projection. The bill passed 87-13 in the Senate, and the House is expected to take it up soon. If the House approves the bill, it will be sent to President Donald Trump’s desk to be signed into law.

While debate on the legislation extended over several months, it quickly became apparent that the hemp legalization provision had bipartisan support. Separately, a compromise was reached over a provision that would ban people with felony convictions from participating in the hemp industry. The ban would be lifted after 10 years under the current legislation.

Hemp would no longer be controlled by the Justice Department if it’s ultimately approved. Instead, the U.S. Department of Agriculture would lightly regulate the crop.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and others cheered the inclusion of legal hemp in the Farm Bill.

You can read the full text of the hemp legalization provisions in the Farm Bill here.

Next House Agriculture Committee Chair Might Grow Hemp On His Farm

Photo courtesy of Brendan Cleak.

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Trump Threatens Government Shutdown, Raising Concern For Legal Marijuana Industry

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President Donald Trump is threatening to shut down the government if Democrats refuse billions of dollars in funding for a border wall—but the consequences of that action would extend far beyond border security.

If the president makes good on his promise to withhold his signature from essential appropriations bills this time, that could inadvertently leave the legal marijuana industry vulnerable to federal drug enforcement actions. A spending bill rider that has protected state medical cannabis programs from federal intervention since 2014 would expire, while the Justice Department and prosecutors would generally remain operational.

That’s because the Department of Justice has a contingency plan in place in the event of a government shutdown, and it exempts many employees, including U.S. attorneys and those who work for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), from furlough.

“Criminal litigation will continue without interruption as an activity essential to the safety of human life and the protection of property,” the Justice Department explains in its contingency plan. U.S. attorneys are protected because they’re presidentially appointed and “are needed to address ongoing criminal matters and civil matters of urgency throughout the nation.”

“All agents in DEA field organizations are excepted from furlough because they support active counternarcotics investigations,” the document says.

The so-called Rohrabacher-Farr amendment would not be exempted, though. The legislation—which bars the Justice Department from using federal funds to interfere with state medical cannabis laws—is part of the the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) appropriations bill. While five out of the 12 annual appropriation bills for Fiscal Year 2019 have already been signed into law by the president, the CJS bill is yet to receive House of Senate floor votes.

Typically, the deadline to get appropriations passed is the end of the preceding fiscal year, September 30. But rather than hold a vote or allow federal departments to lose funding, lawmakers have passed a series of continuing resolutions this year, providing temporary funding and pushing back the deadline. The most recent two-week continuing resolution passed on December 7, so the new deadline is December 21.

It lawmakers don’t pass, or President Trump doesn’t sign, either a full-year or temporary extension of funding by then, the medical cannabis rider will expire, but federal drug enforcement capabilities will not. And that would leave medical marijuana patients and the businesses that serve them in a dicey position.

Similar concerns about the prospect of federal marijuana enforcement have been repeatedly raised under the Trump administration. In January, things seemed especially precarious, as the president’s threat of a government shutdown came weeks after then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded an Obama-era memo that provided guidance on federal cannabis enforcement practices.

That decision stoked fears that a shutdown would empower the Justice Department to act on the attorney general’s vehement opposition to marijuana reform. But after fewer than three days, a continuing resolution passed and state-legal marijuana activities continued unimpeded.

This time around, as the deadline approaches, the Justice Department head is Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who had served as Sessions’s chief of staff. Whitaker has said he sympathizes with medical cannabis patients, but he’s also criticized the Obama administration for its marijuana enforcement policies.

There’s no telling at this point whether Whitaker, the DEA or federal prosecutors would take advantage of broad exemptions from furlough and crack down on legal medical marijuana states in the event of a shutdown. But as always, the possibility puts the cannabis industry is an uncomfortable position.

Bipartisan Lawmakers Push For Marijuana Protections In Funding Bill

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.

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Lawmakers From Both Parties Celebrate Hemp Legalization In The Farm Bill

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Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle are celebrating a hemp legalization provision that made it into the final version of the 2018 Farm Bill.

Perhaps no one is more pleased than Senate Majority Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who fought for the provision over months of debate on the wide-ranging agriculture legislation. He even signed the conference report finalizing the bill language with a hemp pen on Monday.

In opening remarks from the Senate floor on Tuesday, McConnell said the inclusion of hemp legalization is “a victory for farmers and consumers throughout our country.” It builds on the progress of the hemp pilot program he helped put in the 2014 Farm Bill, the results of which he said “have been nothing short of extraordinary.”

“Now American-grown hemp can be found in your food, in your clothes and even in your car dashboard,” he said. “The results mean jobs, economic growth and new opportunity.”

“At a time when farm income is down and growers are struggling, industrial hemp is a bright spot of agriculture’s future.”

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) helped McConnell secure hemp legalization in the agriculture legislation and said “the outrageous and outdated ban on growing hemp has hamstrung farmers in Oregon and across the country” in a press release Tuesday.

“Hemp products are made in America, sold in America, and consumed in America,” Wyden said. “Now, hemp will be able to be legally grown in America, to the economic benefit of consumers and farmers in Oregon and nationwide.”

Fellow Oregon lawmaker Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) also cheered the “good news” that the provision made the cut.

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) touted hemp legalization in a tweet Tuesday.

“The finish line is in sight,” Bennet wrote. “Now Congress needs to do what’s right for Colorado & send this bill to [President Trump’s] desk by the end of the year.”

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) celebrated the hemp provisions as well.

As did Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO).

Lawmakers are hoping to put the Farm Bill to a full House and Senate vote and deliver the legislation to the president this week. McConnell said on Tuesday that members of Congress should be prepared to work through the holiday break to make sure this and other bills, including criminal justice reform and legislation to fund parts of the federal government for Fiscal Year 2019, are seen all the way through.

Next House Agriculture Committee Chair Might Grow Hemp On His Farm

Via YouTube/Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

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