Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) unveiled a plan for federal marijuana reform on Sunday, calling for legalization as well as a series of policies aimed at righting the wrongs of the drug war and promoting involvement in the legal industry by communities harmed by prohibition.
In the “Just and Equitable Cannabis Industry” plan, which Warren’s campaign shared with Marijuana Moment ahead of a town hall event in Colorado, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate slams the “racist ‘War on Drugs’ policy” perpetuated during the Nixon administration and the mass incarceration that has followed.
She also introduces noteworthy ideas, such as using her executive authority to begin the federal legalization process within 100 days of taking office, respecting the sovereignty of other nations to legalize marijuana, protecting immigrants who participate in the legal industry, empowering veterans to access medical cannabis and ensuring that corporations aren’t able to monopolize the market.
Further, the Warren plan promotes unionization in the marijuana industry, protecting Indian tribes’ authority to enact their own reform programs and lifting a current ban so that Washington, D.C. can use its local monies to implement legal marijuana sales
“Even as the federal government has held fast to its outdated marijuana policy, states have led the charge in adopting thoughtful, evidenced-based marijuana policy,” the six-page document says. “And what have we learned in the eight years since the first states legalized marijuana? Legalization works.”
The senator details the progress of the legalization movement and the economic potential of the industry, and she argues that access to cannabis has been shown to play a role in mitigating the opioid epidemic. All that said, she notes that marijuana arrests have continued to increase nationally—and they continue to be carried out on racially disproportionate basis—and so comprehensive reform at the federal level is a goal she is pledging to pursue starting day one if elected president.
“It’s not justice when we lock up kids caught with an ounce of pot, while hedge fund managers make millions off of the legal sale of marijuana. My administration will put an end to that broken system.”
“Legalizing marijuana is about more than just allowing recreational use, or the potential medicinal benefit, or the money that can be made from this new market,” the Warren plan says. “It’s about undoing a century of racist policy that disproportionately targeted Black and Latinx communities. It’s about rebuilding the communities that have suffered the most harm. And it’s about ensuring that everyone has access to the opportunities that the new cannabis market provides.”
I've got a plan to legalize marijuana, rebuild communities devastated by failed anti-marijuana policies, and ensure that those communities are equally able to participate in the budding cannabis industry. Here’s how we’ll do it. https://t.co/11E2gfCHel
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) February 23, 2020
The plan for marijuana reform.
Warren’s proposal is two-pronged. The first objective is to “address the disproportionate enforcement of our drug laws.” Here’s how she plans to accomplish that:
1. Urge Congress to pass comprehensive marijuana legalization bill such as the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which cleared the House Judiciary Committee last year. “We need full legalization, as quickly as possible,” the plan states.
2. Should Congress not follow suit, Warren says she will use her executive powers to begin the process of descheduling marijuana within her first 100 days in office. The senator is promising to appoint heads of the Justice Department, Drug Enforcement Administration, Food and Drug Administration and Office of National Drug Control Policy who support legalization and says she will “direct those agencies to begin the process of delisting marijuana via the federal rule-making process.” Additionally, Warren is pledging to reinstate Obama-era guidance directing federal prosecutors to generally respect local cannabis laws.
3. Expunge prior cannabis convictions. Again the candidate cites the MORE Act as an ideal vehicle for that policy change, stating that it would also “prohibit the denial of federal benefits, such as housing, because of the use or possession of, or even a past conviction for, marijuana.”
4. Ensure that immigrants are not penalized over marijuana convictions or participation in a state-legal cannabis market. That’s “because any equitable and just cannabis economy must also include immigrant communities,” she says, slamming a Trump administration move declaring that those who use cannabis do not have the “good moral character” needed for citizenship.
5. Encourage the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to research the therapeutic potential of cannabis for service members and allow VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana to veterans. She is also pledging to end a current policy that blocks veterans from getting home loans “for no reason other than being employed in their state’s legal marijuana industry“—an issue she recently filed Senate legislation on.
6. Deschedule cannabis to promote “serious research into the potential benefits and drawbacks of medical marijuana [that’s been] largely blocked by outdated federal laws and policies”and allocate funds for such studies.
7. Lift the appropriations ban that prohibits Washington, D.C. from using its local tax dollars to implement a regulated cannabis market. While there’s been widespread interest in removing the congressional rider at issue, eliminating the policy hasn’t received much attention on the presidential stage until now. Warren says she will “encourage the District to develop a legal market that includes impacted communities and fulfills the racial justice goals of the original referendum” that voters approved in 2014.
8. Warren says she will “streamline and remove unnecessary administrative barriers that impede economic growth on Tribal lands, respect tribal jurisdiction over tribal businesses, and promote forward-looking efforts to ensure full access to new and emerging economic opportunities, including in the cannabis industry.“
9. Respect the sovereignty of other nations that opt to legalize marijuana. The senator promises she will “support the legalization of marijuana in any nation that wishes to do so and fully support our neighbors exercising their sovereignty when it comes to their internal drug policy.” She further says that U.S. officials need to “recognize the role our War on Drugs has had in destabilizing Latin America – a root cause of migration to the United States.”
We can't allow affluent and mostly white hedge-funders and capital investors to hoard the profits from the same behavior that led to the incarceration of generations Black and Latino youth. We must ensure equity in accessing the cannabis industry. https://t.co/4lsPQByHli pic.twitter.com/FgjLQxeJXp
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) February 23, 2020
Warren’s second broad objective as described in the plan is to “prioritize opportunities in the cannabis industry for communities of color and others who were harmed by the failed policies of the past.” That will involve:
1. Working to support unions, including those representing cannabis workers, to enhance collective bargaining rights. “As president, I will safeguard the organizing rights of working people and make it easier for unions to secure contracts and assert their rights in the cannabis industry,” Warren says. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), another 2020 candidate, also raised this issue last month, imploring employees at a major marijuana business in Illinois to vote in favor of unionization.
2. Freeing up banks and financial institutions to service cannabis businesses. Additionally, Warren says she will direct her administration “to investigate discrimination in cannabis-related capital lending that prevents many aspiring entrepreneurs of color from securing needed loans.”
3. Promoting participation in the legal industry by minorities and women—something that Warren says the MORE Act would accomplish. She also says she would “mitigate the high permitting and licensing fees that prevent many aspiring entrepreneurs of color from starting a cannabis business.”
4. Preventing large corporations from overtaking the marijuana industry and working to “protect consumers by closely regulating the safety and marketing of marijuana products.” Like Sanders, Warren points specifically at tobacco companies as examples of businesses that shouldn’t be able to enter the market. “We’ll make sure Big Tobacco can’t muscle in on the fledgling marijuana industry,” she says, adding that her administration will “use anti-trust laws and federal oversight to prevent consolidation in the cannabis industry that drives up prices, restricts new businesses from entering the markets, and lowers quality.”
5. Allowing individuals with prior drug convictions to participate in the marijuana and hemp industries. “I will remove collateral sanctions associated with federal convictions for activity that is no longer criminalized and encourage states to do the same,” the senator says.
“For four decades, we’ve subscribed to a ‘War on Drugs’ theory of crime, which has criminalized addiction, ripped apart families—and failed to curb drug use,” the plan states. “Legalizing marijuana and erasing past convictions won’t fully end the War on Drugs or address its painful legacy, but it’s a needed step in the right direction.”
My friends and colleagues @KamalaHarris and @CoryBooker have led the fight to repair the damage done by failed anti-marijuana policies. I am proud to support the MORE Act and the Marijuana Justice Act, and will continue to fight for those reforms as president.
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) February 23, 2020
“As we move to harness the economic potential of a legalized cannabis industry, we must ensure that the communities that were harmed by the War on Drugs—disproportionately communities of color—are fully included in the opportunity and prosperity that legalization will create. I support investing federal and state revenue from the cannabis industry into communities that have been disproportionately impacted by enforcement of our existing marijuana laws.
“Legalizing marijuana gives us an opportunity to repair some of the damage caused by our current criminal justice system, to invest in the communities that have suffered the most harm, and to ensure that everyone can participate in the growing cannabis industry. We have an opportunity now to get this right, and I’ll fight to make that happen.”
Warren also calls out former House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) in her proposal, stating that the country “cannot allow affluent and predominantly white hedge-funders and capital investors to hoard the profits from the same behavior that led to the incarceration of generations of Black and Latino youth.”
“Boehner, who declared that he was ‘unalterably opposed’ to legalization while in Congress, now profits handsomely as a lobbyist for legalization even as others continue to live with the consequences of a prohibition he defended,” she points out, referencing the former speaker’s role as a board member at the cannabis firm Acreage Holdings.
Legalizing marijuana is about more than just allowing its use. It’s about undoing a century of racist policy that disproportionately targeted Black and Latino communities and rebuilding the communities that have suffered the most harm. https://t.co/11E2gfl5PL
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) February 23, 2020
While Warren’s plan repeatedly cites the need to broadly address the harms of the broader drug war, her proposals are exclusively focused on cannabis policy changes. While she and Sanders have been strong champions of marijuana reform, drug policy advocates have emphasized the need to expand reform to other illicit substances, as former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) have by proposing decriminalization and legalization of all illegal drugs, respectively.
In terms of her marijuana reform agenda, however, experts who spoke to Marijuana Moment recently have indicated that Warren’s 100-day plan would probably be legally and practically more realistic that Sanders’s most recent proposal to use an executive order to legalize marijuana in all 50 states on day one of his presidency.
While Sanders initially proposed something similar to Warren—appointing key officials within his administration who would pursue legalization during his first 100 days in office—he shifted gears last month and pledged to deschedule cannabis on his first day in the White House.
Last year, Warren laid out a criminal justice reform plan that called for marijuana reform, as well as the legalization of safe injection sites where individuals could use illicit substances under medical supervision—a move also backed by Sanders.
Warren and Sanders might have differing approaches to marijuana legalization, but what’s clear is they stand in stark contrast to former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg and former Vice President Joe Biden, both of whom are the only contenders in the Democratic race who remain opposed to ending cannabis prohibition.
Read Warren’s full marijuana plan below:
Photo element courtesy of Gage Skidmore.
Idaho Medical Marijuana Activists ‘Likely’ To Seek Signature Gathering Relief After Court Ruling
A campaign to legalize medical marijuana in Idaho is preparing to potentially collect signatures again, as they are likely to seek the same relief that a federal court recently granted a separate campaign that found its petitioning efforts crippled by the coronavirus pandemic.
The judge said activists behind Reclaim Idaho, which is pushing an initiative on school funding, can start collecting signatures in-person and electronically for 48 days starting July 9. While the Idaho Cannabis Coalition wasn’t involved in that case, they feel the ruling will apply to them and they’re actively monitoring the situation.
“We are in the process of working with the local medical marijuana campaign to assess whether Judge Winmill’s order provides a route for the medical marijuana initiative to still qualify for the November ballot,” Tamar Todd, legal director for the New Approach PAC, which is lending support to the state cannabis effort, told Marijuana Moment.
“The medical marijuana campaign is similarly situated to the Reclaim Idaho campaign and will likely ask for a similar extension of time and permission to collect signatures electronically from the Secretary of State, and if necessary, from the District Court,” she said. “I don’t know the exact timeline as there are a number of moving pieces but it will be quick.”
On June 23, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill gave the state two options: either allow electronic signature gathering for 48 days or simply place the Reclaim Idaho initiative on the ballot regardless of the signature requirement. The state chose neither and proceeded to request that the ruling be stayed.
The judge denied the state’s request to stay the order, so the signature gathering for the school funding campaign can proceed on July 9. The state has since filed an emergency motion with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to challenge the lower court’s ruling.
“The district court order severely and unquestionably disrupts Idaho’s election,” the state deputy attorney general wrote in the motion.
The deadline to submit 55,057 signatures to qualify the cannabis initiative passed on May 1, shortly after the group announced it was suspending petitioning activities because of the health crisis and the stay-at-home social distancing measures the state enacted. The cannabis campaign said it has about 45,000 raw signatures on hand at this point, and they’re confident that can fill the gap if they get the deadline extension and electronic petitioning option.
Under the proposed measure, patients with qualifying conditions could receive medical cannabis recommendations from physicians and then possess up to four ounces of marijuana and grow up to six plants.
While advocates say passing medical marijuana in one of the remaining states without such policies on the books would be a victory for patients in its own right, it could also have outsized federal implications. A House-passed bill to protect banks that service state-legal cannabis businesses from being penalized by federal regulators is currently sitting in limbo in a Senate committee chaired by a senator who represents the state.
Creating a medical marijuana program in Idaho, which is one of small handful of states that don’t yet even have limited CBD laws, could put additional pressure on Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) to move the financial services legislation in Congress.
Summer Dreams Of Marijuana-Infused Slushies Are Melted By Oklahoma Regulators
Bad news for Oklahoma medical marijuana patients trying to beat the summer heat with a marijuana-infused slushy: State regulators say the icy beverages “are unlikely to meet requirements set forth in Oklahoma statutes and rules” for cannabis products.
As the weather heats up, THC-infused slushy machines have been popping up at more and more Oklahoma dispensaries. Made by companies such as Glazees, which offers flavors such as watermelon and blue raspberry, the THC-infused drinks sell for about $12-$15.
But despite their popularity with some patients, regulators say the slushies fail to comply with a number of state rules, such as a requirement that products be packaged in child-resistant containers. Dispensaries themselves also “are not allowed to alter, package, or label products,” regulators said.
State rules further require that all medical marijuana products be tested in their final form. “In this instance, the finished product is the slushy mixture to be dispensed to patients/caregivers, not the syrup,” regulators said. “If water, ice, or any other substance is added to the product, additional testing is required to ensure the product is safe for consumption and final-product labeling is accurate.”
The OMMA has received multiple inquiries regarding the processing and dispensing of marijuana-infused slushies on-site at medical marijuana dispensaries. Learn more here: https://t.co/3b6XFzYe2f pic.twitter.com/MPq4Z3PWft
— Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority (@OMMAOK) July 2, 2020
Regulators didn’t specify how adding water or ice to cannabis products could affect consumer safety, however.
The Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority (OMMA) issued the update on Thursday in what it called a “slushy-machine guidance” memo. The office said it had received “multiple inquiries regarding the processing and dispensing of marijuana-infused slushies on-site at medical marijuana dispensaries.”
It’s not the first obstacle encountered by Oklahoma marijuana businesses, which began popping up across the state voters passed a medical marijuana law in 2018.
Earlier this year, lawmakers passed a wide-ranging medical cannabis expansion bill, which would have allowed out-of-state residents to obtain temporary licenses, permitted licensed businesses to deliver marijuana to customers and eliminated jail time for for first-time possession convictions. But Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) then vetoed the bill, and lawmakers didn’t hold a vote to override the action.
Oklahoma activists also filed a proposed marijuana legalization ballot measure in December, but it’s unlikely the campaign can gather enough signatures to put the measure before voters this November. Their signature-gathering was largely delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, and only last week did the state Supreme Court rule that the campaign could initiate petitioning. Supporters now have about 90 days to gather nearly 178,000 signatures from registered voters.
Photo courtesy of Max Pixel
Virginia Lawmakers Announce Plans To Legalize Marijuana, One Day After Decriminalization Takes Effect
Only a day after a new marijuana decriminalization law took effect in Virginia, top state lawmakers are announcing that they’re already looking ahead to full legalization.
A group of Democratic legislators on Thursday announced plans to introduce a bill to legalize and regulate a commercial cannabis market in the state. While the measure isn’t set to be filed until next year, lawmakers framed legalization as necessary in the fight for social and racial justice.
“Decriminalizing marijuana is an important step in mitigating racial disparities in the criminal justice system, but there is still much work to do,” House Majority Leader Charniele Herring (D) said in a press release. “While marijuana arrests across the nation have decreased, arrests in Virginia have increased.”
Other lawmakers backing the broader legalization push include Sens. Adam Ebbin (D) and Jennifer McClellan (D), as well as Del. Steve Heretick (D).
On Wednesday, the state’s new marijuana decriminalization policy took effect. The law, approved by lawmakers earlier this year and signed by Gov. Ralph Northam (D), removes criminal penalties for low-level marijuana possession. Under the change, having up to an ounce of cannabis is now punishable by a $25 fine and no threat of jail time or a criminal record.
Prior Virginia law punished simple marijuana possession with up to 30 days in jail, a $500 fine and a long-term criminal record.
“This bill will prevent low-level offenders from receiving jail time for simple possession while we move toward legalization with a framework that addresses both public safety and racial equity in an emerging market,” Herring said of the new law, which she sponsored in the House of Delegates and Ebbin led in the Senate.
The decriminalization measure also contains a provision to study future legalization. It requires a bevy of executive agencies, including “the Secretaries of Agriculture and Forestry, Finance, Health and Human Resources, and Public Safety and Homeland Security,” to convene an expert working group to study the matter. That panel’s report is due in November.
A separate legislative agency, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee (JLARC), is also studying the impacts of possible legalization as the result of yet another resolution approved by lawmakers this year.
Lawmakers said on Thursday that the JLARC report, which is due in December, would inform how they shape legalization legislation they expect to file in 2021.
“Elements of the JLARC study include review of best practices from states such as Illinois that have developed a legal framework, testing and labelling recommendations, and measures to reduce illicit sales,” according to a press release from Ebbin’s office. “The study will also examine how best to provide redress and economic opportunity for communities disproportionately impacted by marijuana prohibition, and recommend programs and policies to reinvest in affected communities.”
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus doesn’t want to wait for the results of the two reviews, however, and is pushing fellow lawmakers to take up cannabis legalization during a special session in August. In addition, the caucus has said its members intend to file bills to implement automatic expungement, ban no-knock warrants, require courts to publish racial date on people charged with low-level offenses and enact other sweeping criminal justice reforms.
Jenn Michelle Pedini, development director for the legalization advocacy group NORML and executive director of the group’s Virginia chapter, said the organization, which has worked with lawmakers on past reforms, looks forward to continuing to bring evidence-based cannabis policy to Virginia.
“For far too long, young people, poor people, and people of color have been disproportionately impacted by cannabis criminalization, and Virginia must take immediate steps to right these past wrongs and undo the damage that prohibition has waged upon hundreds of thousands of Virginians,” Pedini said. “It is time to legalize and regulate the responsible use of cannabis by adults in the Commonwealth.”
Ebbin said that despite the meaningful step of decriminalization, the state still has a long way to go.
“Today Virginia is taking an important first step in reducing the harm caused by the criminalization of cannabis,” he said in a statement. “The prohibition of marijuana has failed and the consequence of this failure has been felt overwhelmingly by Virginians of color, but it has not ended. It will only end when it is replaced by a regulated adult-use market that emphasizes equity—making whole those who have been burdened most by making sure they have a seat at the table and access to the marketplace. We are looking forward to doing the hard work needed to get this right.”
In the meantime, the Senate Democratic Caucus has announced it will pursue a bill during the special session next month to end law enforcement searches of people or vehicles based solely on the smell of marijuana, which critics say is a recipe for discriminatory enforcement. The group also noted that the chamber approved legislation during the regular legislative session that would have expunged certain marijuana charges and convictions, but that those bills didn’t make it to the governor’s desk.