Colorado voters on Tuesday rejected a ballot measure that would have increased the state’s tax on marijuana in order to support education programs. A separate local proposal in Denver to boost cannabis sales taxes to fund pandemic research also appeared headed toward defeat in preliminary results.
The state was among the first to enact adult-use legalization. And while officials have consistently touted how cannabis tax revenue is supporting schools and other programs, some education and health advocates saw additional opportunities. Voters disagreed.
The campaign behind the statewide measure conceded the defeat around 8:30 PM local time. Preliminary results on Tuesday evening showed the measure trailing by a significant margin of 54 percent against to 46 percent in favor.
Though our support across the state was broad, Prop 119 was voted down. We vow not to give up on Colorado kids in our efforts to close the opportunity gap, especially after pandemic-fueled learning loss.
— Vote Yes on Prop 119 (@Prop119Yes) November 3, 2021
Under the statewide proposal that voters rejected—the Colorado Learning Enrichment and Academic Progress (LEAP) program—low- and middle-income families would have been eligible to receive a $1,500 stipend to have school-aged children participate in after-school programs, tutoring and summer learning activities.
The state excise tax on sales adult-use cannabis products would have been gradually increased from 15 percent to 20 percent to fund the effort. Starting January 1, there would’ve been a three percent increase in the current excise tax. That would have increased to a five percent increase beginning in January 2024.
Colorado would have collected an additional $138 million per year to fund the measure once the final tax rate was set, according to a fiscal analysis.
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Supporters said that this policy was especially needed as a response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has exacerbated income-related learning gaps for students. But some marijuana industry stakeholders—and even the state’s largest teachers union—had expressed concerns about the proposal.
Beyond imposing the extra five percent tax on cannabis, the initiative also called for a repurposing of state revenue that it generates from leases and rents for operations held on state land.
Some stakeholders and cannabis advocates came out strongly against the proposal, arguing that it would detract from social equity efforts and make marijuana more expensive for people who need it for medical use.
“We are encouraged to see Coloradans vote down a regressive tax on people’s pain, especially veterans, teachers and the elderly who need cannabis for medicine but can’t get a medical card,” Chuck Smith, CEO of BellRock Brands and board president of Colorado Leads, said in a press release. “The cannabis industry, which has generated $1.6 billion in state taxes since legalization, is an integral part of Colorado’s business community and always supports doing our fair share.”
Thank you Colorado voters for defeating Proposition 119! Hopefully, the business community will oppose any future efforts to increase taxes on us just as they would for any other industry in the state.
DId we mention we were outspent 52:1?
— Colorado Leads 🌿 (@ColoradoLeads) November 3, 2021
“However, our more than 30,000 employees and hundreds of thousands of customers have made a statement: stop unfairly taxing our industry,” he said.”We are hopeful the business community will oppose any future efforts to increase taxes on the cannabis industry just as they would for any other industry in the state.”
The measure was endorsed by Gov. Jared Polis (D) and several former governors.
But in June, the Colorado Education Association withdrew its support for the proposal over concerns about how it would be implemented.
The separate Denver measure would have increased the city’s marijuana tax by 1.5 percent to fund pandemic-related research.
The extra local funds raised by the Denver measure would have been used for research into “advanced technologies to protect the public from the spread of pandemic pathogens, including at schools, businesses, and hospitals.” The studies would have also looked into “pandemic preparedness and recovery, including urban, economic, and school planning.”
Meanwhile, Colorado officials announced over the summer the launch of a new office to provide economic support for the state’s marijuana industry.
The division, which was created as part of a bill signed into law in March, is being funded by cannabis tax revenue. It will focus on creating “new economic development opportunities, local job creation, and community growth for the diverse population across Colorado.”
The governor had initially asked lawmakers back in January to create a new cannabis advancement program as part of his budget proposal.
Beyond this program, the state has worked to achieve equity and repair the harms of prohibition in other ways.
For example, Polis signed a bill in May to double the marijuana possession limit for adults in the state—and he directed state law enforcement to identify people with prior convictions for the new limit who he may be able to pardon.
The governor signed an executive order last year that granted clemency to almost 3,000 people convicted of possessing one ounce or less of marijuana.
Funding for the new office is made possible by tax revenue from a booming cannabis market in the state. In the first three months of 2021 alone, the state saw more than half a billion dollars in marijuana sales.
The lack of access to federal financial support for marijuana businesses became a pronounced issue amid the coronavirus pandemic, with the Small Business Administration saying it’s unable to offer those companies its services, as well as those that provide ancillary services such as accounting and law firms.
Polis wrote a letter to a member of the Colorado congressional delegation last year seeking a policy change to give the industry the same resources that were made available to other legal markets.
Meanwhile, the state’s attorney general in August sent a letter urging congressional leaders to ensure that small marijuana businesses are protected from being overtaken by Big Tobacco and other major industries as federal cannabis reform legislation advances.
Missouri Lawmakers Must Legalize Marijuana With Freedom In Mind, Former Prisoner Says (Op-Ed)
“It is important that our elected officials consider what path may be best and ultimately fulfill the increasing demand from voters for greater liberty and freedom in our state.”
By Jeff Mizanskey, Missouri Independent
In 1984, I was arrested for felony possession of marijuana for a half-pound of marijuana, for which I served five years of probation.
In 1991, I was arrested for possession of two ounces of marijuana, for which I served 60 days in county prison.
Finally, in 1993, I was arrested as an accessory in a deal for seven pounds of marijuana, and although I had no intention of possession or distribution, a jury convicted me and a circuit court judge sentenced me to life in prison under Missouri’s now-repealed prior and persistent offender statute.
During the next 22 years, American voters came to the realization that marijuana was a very beneficial medicine with a low risk profile, and state by state began passing medical marijuana laws or outright legalization.
Ultimately, then-Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon commuted my sentence after state Rep. Shamed Dogan, R-Ballwin, filed legislation to require parole for marijuana offenders serving life sentences. My case was also supported by a national coalition of people and organizations who were shocked by the harshness of my sentence.
In 2018, Missouri voters passed a medical marijuana proposal at the ballot, which now allows people to obtain a physician’s recommendation for marijuana and has created a legal market for production and sales. The only controversy over legal medical marijuana has been over the restrictions on commercial licensing—85 percent of the over 2,200 applicants for marijuana business licenses were rejected in a process widely seen as arbitrary and unfair.
Now, two different ballot initiative campaigns, backed by different groups claiming to represent the marijuana industry, are competing to again change the Missouri Constitution to legalize recreational marijuana. But both of these proposals have significant flaws. Most significantly, both proposals create limits on personal marijuana possession and allow civil and criminal charges, including felonies, for possession of more than twice the possession limits.
Coupled with tight restrictions on commercial marijuana licensing, Missouri might continue to see a two-tiered system of justice and economic opportunity, where a privileged wealthy few are allowed to profit from legal marijuana sales while poor and politically weak Missourians continue to be sanctioned for the proposed crime of possessing too much marijuana.
By contrast, there is no other item of legal personal property that Missouri law creates a possession limit for, and I’ll point out specifically alcohol, our most dangerous drug, for which there are over 16,000 licenses for on and off premise sales registered in our state and no possession limits for individuals.
In January, the Missouri General Assembly will reconvene, and only the elected representatives of the people have the ability and the political will to consider these issues and take in input from all stakeholders. It is important that our elected officials consider what path may be best and ultimately fulfill the increasing demand from voters for greater liberty and freedom in our state.
Jeff Mizanskey is a resident of Sedalia and veteran of the United States Air Force. In 2015, he was released from a life sentence for nonviolent marijuana charges after then-Gov. Jay Nixon commuted his sentence.
Photo courtesy of Max Pixel.
Indiana GOP Lawmaker Plans Medical Marijuana Bill As Democrats Push Full Recreational Legalization
“It polls higher than any other issue. We’ve seen 38 other states step up and do the right thing for their citizens. We know it saves lives. We know it offers a better quality of life.”
By Margaret Menge, The Center Square
Democrats in Indiana have launched a campaign to legalize marijuana in the state and appealed to business-friendly Republicans to join to help the state’s economy.
There is some support from Republicans.
“I have a medical cannabis bill ready to go,” Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, said.
He said the bill will be similar to the one he introduced in the last session of the Indiana General Assembly, which would permit the use of medical marijuana by people with “serious medical conditions” as determined by a doctor, and would permit the “cultivation, testing, processing, transportation and dispensing” of medical marijuana by people who hold a valid permit issued by the state.
It also would put the Indiana Department of Health in charge of implementing and enforcing the medical marijuana program.
Indiana is one of just a handful of states that has not legalized medical marijuana.
“It polls higher than any other issue,” Lucas said. “We’ve seen 38 other states step up and do the right thing for their citizens. We know it saves lives. We know it offers a better quality of life.”
In 2016, the national American Legion, which is based in Indianapolis, called on Congress to remove marijuana from Schedule I of the federal Controlled Substances Act and reclassify it to “recognize cannabis as a drug with potential medical value.”
The Legion has also pushed for more research to be done on marijuana related to its potential in treating post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury among veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in particular.
The Indiana American Legion, however, has not taken a position on the issue, and did not discuss the bill Lucas introduced in the last session, spokesperson Josh Marshall said.
He said the issue would have to be reviewed by the organization’s executive committee before any action were taken on the issue in the upcoming session of the legislature, which begins January 3.
Meanwhile, Indiana Democrats are pushing to get the issue on the table.
Rep. Sue Errington, D-Muncie, is set to lead a “community talking circle” at a pizza place in Muncie today to hear from the public about legalizing medical marijuana.
“The reality is that medical cannabis is becoming an accepted and preferred method of treatment throughout the country,” Errington said in a statement from the Indiana House Democratic Caucus on November 29. “Medical cannabis is a safe, non-addictive alternative to opioids that could benefit Hoosiers who live with chronic pain and anxiety disorders, including our brave veterans who struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder. Those who have sacrificed so much for our state deserve an effective treatment for their pain, rather than a potential criminal record.”
Republicans hold a supermajority in both houses of the legislature and hold every statewide office. But legislative leaders—some of them—have appeared more open on the issue in recent years.
In 2018, the Republican floor leader in the Indiana House of Representatives, Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, authored a resolution calling for an interim study committee to research medical marijuana.
“Hoosiers rightfully want to know what direction Indiana will take,” he said at the time. “I believe it is wise of policymakers to carefully gather public and professional input.”
Lehman told Fox59 last month that he thinks there’s “always room for discussion” about medical marijuana, but that he thought the federal government would have to act first, before Indiana takes action.
DEA Backs White House Plan To Streamline Research On Marijuana, Psychedelics And Other Schedule I Drugs
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and National Institute On Drug Abuse (NIDA) say they are in favor of a White House proposal to streamline the process of researching Schedule I drugs like marijuana and certain psychedelics.
The agencies testified at a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on Thursday, expressing support for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) research plan. While the focus of the meeting was mostly on a controversial move to strictly classify fentanyl-related substances, the Biden administration proposal’s research components would also help address concerns within the scientific community about the difficulty of studying other Schedule I drugs.
DEA said in written testimony that “expanding access to Schedule I research is a critical part of DEA’s mission to protect public safety and health.”
“It is critical that the scientific and medical community study Schedule I substances, as some may turn out to have therapeutic value,” DEA Principal Deputy Administrator Louis Milione said. “DEA supports the administration’s legislative proposal’s expansion of access to Schedule I research. DEA looks forward to continuing to work with the research community and our interagency partners to facilitate Schedule I research.”
In general, what the administration is proposing is to align the research requirements for Schedule I drugs with those of less-restricted Schedule II drugs. Scientists and lawmakers have consistently pointed out that the existing rules for studying Schedule I controlled substances are excessively burdensome, limiting vital research.
Rather than having each scientist involved in a Schedule I drug study obtain DEA registration, ONDCP wants to make it so multiple researchers at a given institution would be allowed to participate under a single registration. The administration also proposed a policy change where a research institute with studies taking place over multiple locations would only require one overall registration instead of needing to have a specific one for each site.
Another change would allow certain researchers to move ahead with conducting their studies after submitting a notification to the Department of Justice instead of waiting for officials to affirmatively sign off on their proposals. ONDCP’s plan would also waive the requirement for additional inspections at research sites in some circumstances and allow researchers to manufacture small amounts of drugs without obtaining separate registrations. The latter component would not allow cultivation of marijuana, however.
“Even experienced researchers have reported that obtaining a new Schedule I registration, adding new substances to an existing registration, or getting approval for research protocol changes is time consuming,” NIDA Director Nora Volkow said in her testimony. “Unlike for Schedule II through V substances, new and amended Schedule I applications are referred by the DEA to the HHS for a review of the protocol and a determination of the qualifications and competency of the investigator.”
“Researchers have reported that sometimes these challenges impact Schedule I research and deter or prevent scientists from pursuing this critical work,” she said.
In an interview last week, Vokow said that even she—the top federal official overseeing drug research—is personally reluctant to conduct studies on Schedule I substances like marijuana because of the “cumbersome” rules that scientists face when investigating them.
When ONDCP first announced its proposed Schedule I policy changes in September, some experts tempered expectations about the practical effects of aligning Schedule I and Schedule II applications. The difference is largely a matter of extra paperwork for the more restrictive category, they contend.
Regardless, several lawmakers who attended Thursday’s subcommittee hearing expressed enthusiasm about the prospects of these policy changes.
“I’m particularly interested in eroding existing barriers of federal law that limit researchers at academic medical centers from studying Schedule I substances,” Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA) said. “So I’m grateful that our research agencies are working to find effective solutions.”
Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-CA) also weighed in, saying that “we all agree that the current scheduling classification system has made it very difficult for scientists to research the effects of scheduled compounds, which may have medicinal properties.”
“For example, we know that compounds in marijuana have legitimate and beneficial medical uses, despite it being Schedule I,” he said. “So I’m encouraged to see that efforts are being made to allow researchers to study the effects of various compounds. In this proposal.”
ONDCP’s intent to streamline research into Schedule I drugs has been notable and seems to be part of a theme that developed within the administration.
For example, DEA has repeatedly proposed significant increases in the production of marijuana, psilocybin and other psychedelics for research purposes, with the intent of aiding in the development of new federally approved therapeutic medications.
NIDA’s Volkow told Marijuana Moment in a recent interview that she was encouraged by DEA’s prior proposed increase in drug production quota. She also said that studies demonstrating the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics could be leading more people to experiment with substances like psilocybin.
But while the production developments are promising, advocates are still frustrated that these plants and fungi remain in the strictest drug category in the first place, especially considering the existing research that shows their medical value for certain conditions.
There has been at least one recent development in the fight to modernize marijuana research. President Joe Biden signed a massive infrastructure bill last month that includes provisions aimed at allowing researchers to study the actual cannabis that consumers are purchasing from state-legal dispensaries instead of having to use only government-grown cannabis.
But that’s just one of numerous research barriers that scientists have identified. A report that NIDA recently submitted to Congress stressed that the Schedule I status of controlled substances like marijuana is preventing or discouraging research into their potential risks and benefits.
A federal appeals court recently dismissed a petition to require the DEA to reevaluate cannabis’s scheduling under the Controlled Substances Act. However, one judge did say in a concurring opinion that the agency may soon be forced to consider a policy change anyway based on a misinterpretation of the therapeutic value of marijuana.
Meanwhile, DEA has given hemp businesses that sell delta-8 THC products a boost, with representatives making comments recently signaling that, at the federal level at least, it’s not a controlled substance at this time.
Separately, the Washington State attorney general’s office and lawyers representing cancer patients recently urged a federal appeals panel to push for a DEA policy change to allow people in end-of-life care to access psilocybin under state and federal right-to-try laws.
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.