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Every Single Marijuana And Drug Policy Ballot Measure Passing On Election Day Bolsters Federal Reform Push

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Marijuana and drug policy reform swept across the board in Tuesday’s elections, giving advocates a major boost as they push to end federal prohibition.

Five more states legalized cannabis in some form and Oregon became the first state to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapy and also more broadly decriminalize drug possession. Meanwhile, voters in Washington, D.C. also approved a measure to decriminalize psychedelics in the nation’s capital.

While the presidential and many congressional races are still being tallied, the reforms passed decisively, further demonstrating that Americans of all political ideologies are ready to abandon the country’s prohibitionist approach to drugs. With the addition of Arizona, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota as adult-use marijuana states, one-third of the country’s population will live in a state where cannabis is legal after the laws take effect.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) told Marijuana Moment on Wednesday that these victories underscore the bipartisan public support for these issues and will further send a message to legislators to advance reform in the next Congress.

Answering a question during a Zoom call his office organized to discuss the ballot results, the congressman said the pro-legalization votes, particularly in conservative states, are “not warning signs for Republican politicians to stay away from the issue,” but rather “strong indications that they ought to embrace it.”

“This is what voters want. They’re not partisan issues, it’s an opportunity for Republicans to be able to make progress in their red states and bring people together at a time of division,” he said. “I think you’re going to watch people understand what just happened last night, and it is a continuation of progress that’s been going on since 1996. I think it’s going to be much easier [to pass reform] in the new Congress, with Republicans and Democrats, both in the House and Senate.”

Advocates agree that it is time to more lawmakers to start representing the views of their constituents when it comes to marijuana.

NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said in a press release that despite widespread public support “elected officials have far too often remained unresponsive to the legalization issue.”

“This dereliction of representation has forced advocacy groups to directly place the marijuana-related ballot question before the voters,” he said. “These results once again illustrate that support for legalization extends across geographic and demographic lines.”

Here’s a breakdown of what was approved on Election Day:

Arizona

Voters passed an initiative to legalize recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older. This comes four years after voters in the state rejected a similar measure, signaling that support for the policy change continues to grow as the reform movement spreads.

Under the new legalization law, adults will be able to possess up to an ounce of marijuana at a time and cultivate up to six plants for personal use.

Mississippi

Activists overcame numerous obstacles both to qualify their now-passed medical cannabis legalization measure for the ballot and then to combat opposition and voter confusion. But they prevailed, with voters approving the reform while rejecting a more restrictive alternative placed on the ballot by the legislature—a move advocates suspected was a deliberate and bad faith attempt to undermine their version.

The proposal will allow patients with debilitating medical issues to legally obtain marijuana after getting a doctor’s recommendation. It 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.

Montana

The traditionally red state approved a measure to legalize marijuana for adult use. They also passed a separate constitutional amendment stipulating that only those 21 and older can participate in the market. The main statutory reform measure will establish a legal system of cannabis production and sales.

New Jersey

Consistent with a slew of polls, voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum to legalize recreational marijuana. The legislature will still have to pass enabling legislation to set up regulations for the program, but a top lawmaker recently said that a bill to accomplish that could be introduced as early as Thursday.

Gov. Phil Murphy (D), who campaigned strongly for the measure, also on Wednesday congratulated the other states that advanced legalization on Tuesday.

Oregon

The state became the first in the nation to pass separate initiatives to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic purposes and decriminalize possession of all currently illicit drugs.

Under the psilocybin measure, adults will be able to access the psychedelic in a medically supervised environment. There aren’t any limitations on the types of conditions that would make a patient eligible for the treatment.

The decriminalization proposal will remove criminal penalties for low-level drug possession offenses. Instead, those caught possessing a controlled substance will be subject to a $100 fine or be required to complete a health assessment within 45 days.

South Dakota

South Dakota on Tuesday became the first state in the U.S. to go from strictly prohibitionist to legalizing both medical and recreational marijuana.

The recreational measure, which is a constitutional amendment, will make it so people 21 and older will be able to possess and distribute up to one ounce of marijuana, and they will also be allowed to cultivate up to three cannabis plants.

The medical cannabis initiative will make a statutory change to allow patients suffering from debilitating conditions to possess and purchase up to three ounces of marijuana from a licensed dispensary.

Washington, D.C.

Voters approved a local initiative to decriminalize possession of a wide range of psychedelics, including psilocybin, ayahuasca and ibogaine. The District joins three other cities in enacting the policy change—part of a national movement to reform laws governing entheogenic plants and fungi. Under the new law, possession and use of the psychedelics will be among the District’s lowest law enforcement priorities.

“This historic set of victories will place even greater pressure on Congress to address the glaring and untenable conflicts between state and federal laws when it comes to cannabis legalization,” Steve Hawkins, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, said. “The federal government is out of step with a clear national trend toward legalization.”

“We can put an end to the social injustices and other harms that result from the criminalization of marijuana,” he said. “While cannabis legalization is not the cure-all to end the war on drugs, it is a necessary step and would provide an opportunity for many long-oppressed communities to finally have a chance to heal.”

The country may be split on the overall direction they want the country to go, evidenced by the close presidential race and congressional contests that have yet to be called. But when it comes to drug policy reform, voters spoke clearly on Tuesday: criminalization should be replaced by regulation.

New Jersey Governor Congratulates Other States That Also Legalized Marijuana On Tuesday

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Top IRS Official Says Marijuana Banking Reform Would Help Feds ‘Get Paid’

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The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) would like to get paid—and it’d help if the marijuana industry had access to banks like companies in other legal markets, an official with the federal department said. She also talked about unique issues related to federal tax deductions for cannabis businesses.

At an event hosted by UCLA’s Annual Tax Controversy Institute on Thursday, IRS’s Cassidy Collins talked about the “special type of collection challenge” that the agency faces when it comes to working with cannabis businesses while the product remains federally illegal.

While IRS isn’t taking a stand on federal marijuana policy, Collins said that the status quo leaves many cannabis businesses operating on a cash-only basis, creating complications for the agency, in part by making it harder for banks to “pay us.”

“The reason why [the marijuana industry is] cash intensive is twofold,” she said. “Number one, a lot of customers don’t want a paper trail showing that they’re buying marijuana, and number two, the hesitancy of banks to allow marijuana businesses to even bank with them.”

Of course, the reason why many financial institutions remain hesitant to take on cannabis companies as clients is because the plant is a strictly controlled substance under federal law.

“There’s been a number of legislative bills that have been introduced—and I am definitely not expressing any opinion personally or on behalf of the IRS about any pending or proposed legislation,” Collins, who is a senior counsel in the IRS Office of Chief Counsel, said. “But it is interesting to note that, if the law changed so that the marijuana businesses could have banks, that would make the IRS’s job to collect [taxes] a lot easier. As part of collection, we want the money. That’s our end goal there.”

A major part of what makes cannabis businesses unique is that they don’t qualify for traditional tax credits under an IRS code known as 280E. That policy “prohibits them from claiming deductions for business expenses because they’re technically being involved in drug trafficking,” Collins explained at the event, from which small excerpts of her comments were reported by Bloomberg.

There are some options available to lessen the burden on marijuana firms, however. At the end of the day, “IRS will work with marijuana companies because, again, we want to get paid,” Collins said.

One of the ways the agency works with marijuana business operators is to have them visit designated IRS “tax assistance centers” that accept cash payments in excess of $50,000. But the official warned businesses to “be prepared to be there for a little while” as the center checks—and double checks—the amount of cash being submitted.

“Revenue officers will assist the marijuana companies in paying us,” she said.

IRS officials could also help cannabis firms by having officials accompany them “to the bank in order to try to help the taxpayer secure a cashier’s payment to pay the IRS, as well as using money orders,” she said, adding that “our revenue officers are are wanting to work with the marijuana companies to help assist them to pay us.”

“When the revenue officers are there in person with the taxpayer, that could potentially help increase the likelihood that the bank will cooperate and help the taxpayer transition into a cashier’s check,” she continued. “And that has been a trend since this first became legal [at the state level], that more and more banks are allowing cannabis companies to bank with them.”

In a report published earlier this year, congressional researchers examined tax policies and restrictions for the marijuana industry—and how those could change if any number of federal reform bills are enacted.

IRS, for its part, said last month that it expects the cannabis market to continue to grow, and it offered some tips to businesses on staying compliant with taxes while the plant remains federally prohibited.

As it stands, banks and credit unions are operating under 2014 guidance from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) that lays out reporting requirements for those that choose to service the marijuana industry.

Leaders in both chambers of Congress are working on legalization bills to end federal marijuana prohibition. But stakeholders are hopeful that, in the interim, legislators will enact modest marijuana banking reform. Legislation to protect financial institutions from being penalized for working with cannabis businesses passed the House for the fifth time last month.

Rodney Hood, a board member of the National Credit Union Administration, wrote in a Marijuana Moment op-ed this month that legalization is an inevitability—and it makes the most sense for government agencies to get ahead of the policy change to resolve banking complications.

IRS separately hosted a forum in August dedicated to tax policy for marijuana businesses and cryptocurrency.

Earlier this year, IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig told Congress that the agency would “prefer” for state-legal marijuana businesses to be able to pay taxes electronically, as the current largely cash-based system under federal cannabis prohibition is onerous and presents risks to workers.

Former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in 2019 that he’d like to see Congress approve legislation resolving the cannabis banking issue and he pointed to the fact that IRS has had to build “cash rooms” to deposit taxes from those businesses as an example of the problem.

IRS released updated guidance on tax policy for the marijuana industry last year, including instructions on how cannabis businesses that don’t have access to bank accounts can pay their tax bills using large amounts of cash.

The update appears to be responsive to a Treasury Department internal watchdog report that was released earlier in the year. The department’s inspector general for tax administration had criticized IRS for failing to adequately advise taxpayers in the marijuana industry about compliance with federal tax laws. And it directed the agency to “develop and publicize guidance specific to the marijuana industry.”

Luxembourg Set To Become First European Country To Legalize Marijuana Following Government Recommendation

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Luxembourg Set To Become First European Country To Legalize Marijuana Following Government Recommendation

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Luxembourg is poised to become the first European country to legalize marijuana, with key government agencies putting forward a plan to allow the possession and cultivation of cannabis for personal use.

The ministers of justice and homeland security on Friday unveiled the proposal, which will still require a vote in the Parliament but is expected to pass. It’s part of a broader package of reform measures the agencies are recommending.

Under the marijuana measure, adults 18 and older could grow up to four plants. However, under the non-commercial model that is being proposed, possessing more than three grams in public would still be a civil offense, carrying a fine of €25-500 ($29-581). Currently, the maximum fine for possession is €2,500 ($2,908).

In terms of access, adults would be able to buy and trade cannabis seeds for their home garden.

Justice Minister Sam Tamson said the government felt it “had to act” and characterized the home cultivation policy change as a first step, The Guardian reported.

“The idea is that a consumer is not in an illegal situation if he consumes cannabis and that we don’t support the whole illegal chain from production to transportation to selling where there is a lot of misery attached,” he said. “We want to do everything we can to get more and more away from the illegal black market.”

While limited in scope, the reform would make Luxembourg the first country in Europe to legalize the production and possession of marijuana for recreational use. Cannabis has been widely decriminalized in certain countries in the continent, but it has remained criminalized by statute.

Government sources in Luxembourg told The Guardian that plans are in the works to develop a program where the state regulates the production and distribution of marijuana. Tamson said they are working to resolve “international constraints” before taking that step, however, referring to United Nations treaty obligations that multiple U.S. states and other countries like Canada and Uruguay have openly flouted.

For now, the country is focusing on legalization within a home setting. Parliament is expected to vote on the proposal in early 2022, and the ruling parties are friendly to the reform.

This has been a long time coming, as a coalition of major parties of Luxembourg agreed in 2018 to enact legislation allowing “the exemption from punishment or even legalization” of cannabis.

Meanwhile in the U.S., congressional lawmakers are working to advance legalization legislation. A key House committee recently approved a bill to end marijuana prohibition, and Senate leadership is finalizing a separate reform proposal.

In Mexico, a top Senator said this week that lawmakers could advance legislation to regulate marijuana in the coming weeks. The Supreme Court has already ruled that adults cannot be criminalized over possession or cultivation, but there’s currently no program in place to provide access.

New Bipartisan Marijuana Research Bill In Congress Would Let Scientists Study Dispensary Products

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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New Bipartisan Marijuana Research Bill In Congress Would Let Scientists Study Dispensary Products

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A bipartisan group of federal lawmakers introduced a bill on Thursday to remove barriers to conducting research on marijuana, including by allowing scientists to access cannabis from state-legal dispensaries.

The Medical Marijuana Research Act, filed by the unlikely duo of pro-legalization Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and prohibitionist Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), would streamline the process for researchers to apply and get approved to study cannabis and set clear deadlines on federal agencies to act on their applications.

“Congress is hopelessly behind the American people on cannabis, and the quality of our research shows why that is an urgent problem,” Blumenauer told Marijuana Moment. “Despite the fact that 99 percent of Americans live in a state that has legalized some form of cannabis, federal law is still hamstringing researchers’ ability to study the full range of health benefits offered by cannabis, and to learn more about the products readily available to consumers.”

“It’s outrageous that we are outsourcing leadership in that research to Israel, the United Kingdom, Canada, and others. It’s time to change the system,” he said.

Late last year, the House approved an identical version of the cannabis science legislation. Days later, the Senate passed a similar bill but nothing ended up getting to the president’s desk by the end of the last Congress. Earlier this year, a bipartisan group of senators refiled their marijuana research measure for the current 117th Congress.

Meanwhile, lawmakers are also advancing a separate strategy to open up dispensary cannabis to researchers. Large-scale infrastructure legislation that has passed both chambers in differing forms and which is pending final action contains provisions aimed at allowing researchers to study the actual marijuana that consumers are purchasing from state-legal businesses instead of having to use only government-grown cannabis.

The new bill filed this week by Blumenauer and Harris, along with six other original cosponsors, would also make it easier for scientists to modify their research protocols without having to seek federal approval.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

It would additionally mandate that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) license more growers and make it so there would be no limit on the number of additional entities that can be registered to cultivate marijuana for research purposes. It would also require the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to submit a report to Congress within five years after enactment to overview the results of federal cannabis studies and recommend whether they warrant marijuana’s rescheduling under federal law.

“The cannabis laws in this country are broken, including our laws that govern cannabis research,” Blumenauer said in remarks in the Congressional Record. “Because cannabis is a Schedule I substance, researchers must jump through hoops and comply with onerous requirements just to do basic research on the medical potential of the plant.”

The new legislation will “both streamline the often-duplicative licensure process for researchers seeking to conduct cannabis research and facilitate access to an increased supply of higher quality medical grade cannabis for research purposes,” he said, adding that expanded studies will help make sure “Americans have adequate access to potentially transformative medicines and treatments.”

For half a century, researchers have only been able to study marijuana grown at a single federally approved facility at the University of Mississippi, but they have complained that it is difficult to obtain the product and that it is of low quality. Indeed, one study showed that the government cannabis is more similar to hemp than to the marijuana that consumers actually use in the real world.

There’s been bipartisan agreement that DEA has inhibited cannabis research by being slow to follow through on approving additional marijuana manufacturers beyond the Mississippi operation, despite earlier pledges to do so.

In May, the agency finally said it was ready to begin licensing new cannabis cultivators. Last week, DEA proposed a large increase in the amount of marijuana—and psychedelics such as psilocybin, LSD, MDMA and mescaline—that it wants produced in the U.S. for research purposes next year.

Under the new House bill, the agency would be forced to start approving additional cultivation applications for study purposes within one year of the legislation’s enactment.

HHS and the attorney general would be required under the bill to create a process for marijuana manufacturers and distributors to supply researchers with cannabis from dispensaries. They would have one year after enactment to develop that procedure, and would have to start meeting to work on it within 60 days of the bill’s passage.

In general, the legislation would also establish a simplified registration process for researchers interested in studying cannabis, in part by reducing approval wait times, minimizing costly security requirements and eliminating additional layers of protocol review.

Read the full text of the new marijuana research bill below:

Click to access medical-marijuana-research-act-hr-5657-text.pdf

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