The growing number of countries that are moving to repeal harsh penalties against marijuana use are helping to reduce religious discrimination against Rastafarians and other groups, the U.S. State Department noted in an annual report released on Wednesday.
But while the federal government is again making it a point to outline ongoing cannabis-related discrimination in some foreign countries and territories, the latest edition of the Report on International Religious Freedom declines to recognize the inherent discrimination that exists in the U.S., where marijuana remains federally illegal.
“Religious freedom is a human right; in fact, it goes to the heart of what it means to be human—to think freely, to follow our conscience, to change our beliefs if our hearts and minds lead us to do so, to express those beliefs in public and in private,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a briefing about the report. “For many people around the world this right is still out of reach.”
The new State Department document discusses cannabis policies in more than a dozen nations and how they intersect with religious liberties, including by noting that a growing movement toward legalization and decriminalization is helping to reduce discrimination that has been prevalent in the past.
Here’s a breakdown of what the report found:
This country is one that is enacting reforms that are leading to a reduction in feelings of religious discrimination connected to cannabis.
It decriminalized marijuana “for any use” and the new law “recognizes the government’s responsibility to uphold the religious rights of persons of the Hindu and Rastafarian faiths,” the State Department said.
Further, members of these faith groups are allowed to “apply for a special religious license to cultivate the plant within their private dwelling, use the plant for religious purposes within their private dwelling or within their approved place of worship, and transport the plant between their private dwelling and approved place of worship.”
The special license does not provide for commercialization or legal sales, however.
“Some Rastafarians continued to state the government violated their constitutional right to religious freedom by prohibiting the legal use of marijuana in ceremonial rituals,” the report states. “Rastafarians said police continued to arrest them for possessing small quantities of marijuana used in ceremonial rituals.”
Members of this group said law enforcement has been “disrespectful and intimidated them during detention.”
But change could be coming, with Prime Minister Hubert Minnis backing a policy change that would enable “Rastafarians and other religious groups who use cannabis for sacramental purposes be allowed to possess, cultivate, and use it for that reason.”
The prime minister said that, beginning this year, people with prior marijuana possession convictions could have their records expunged. However, that would require legislative action.
Meanwhile, the State Department notes that the Bahamas Christian Council opposes legalization, quoting the group as saying it “can see no societal or national advantage” to the reform.
This is another nation that is seeing moves to reform cannabis laws.
The government last year announced its intention to decriminalize marijuana, which would be a welcome reform to the Rastafarian community, the report notes. Still, members of that group said they “hoped eventually further measures would enable them to cultivate marijuana on their farms for personal as well as commercial use.”
“Based on media reports, there appeared to be minimal opposition from mainstream religious organizations to the government’s marijuana decriminalization decision,” the department said.
Rastafarians the State Department spoke to noted that the “commercial and medicinal benefits of marijuana cultivation were well established, and the community was optimistic about further liberalization.”
This nation has seen cannabis reforms that are seen as not going far enough by some.
Last year, the government decriminalized the possession of up to 28 grams of marijuana for adults for personal religious use.
But “Rastafarians continued to press the government for complete legalization of marijuana use, stating they considered decriminalization to be a commercially focused half-measure,” the report says. “Representatives of the Rastafarian community said authorities did not enforce the law against using marijuana when the community used it in its religious rites.”
The report briefly notes that the Evangelical community discussed the possibility of cannabis legalization in talks with Rastafarian leaders.
Rastafarians “continued to state a law criminalizing the possession of 15 grams or more of marijuana infringed on their religious practices” and late last year the government’s cabinet responded by approving a decision to amend the law to remove custodial sentencing for small amounts of cannabis.
“Rastafarians continued to report wider societal acceptance despite continued negative stereotyping and stigma associated with their wearing locs and smoking marijuana,” the report says, adding that there was significant media attention paid to the 75th birthday of the late cannabis icon Bob Marley, “a Rastafarian advocate whose music and rhetoric helped popularize the religion in the 1970s.”
That said, the Jamaican Defense Force generally does not accept Rastafarians into its ranks, with the “strict codes of conduct regarding hair length and the prohibition of marijuana use among its members [being] obstacles to Rastafarian participation in the force.”
The report says that “Rastafarians continued to object to laws making the use and possession of cannabis a criminal offense in the country, stating its use was a part of their religious doctrine.”
This is another country where recent legal changes related to cannabis are helping to address aspects of discrimination against certain faithers.
Saint Kitts and Nevis legislators approved a bill last year that establishes a medical cannabis program, “aligning the law with a 2019 High Court ruling that the country’s prohibition of the cultivation and possession of cannabis was unconstitutional and an infringement on the freedom of conscience and religion of the Rastafarian community.”
“The law permits the private use of marijuana, including for religious activities,” the report says. “Under the legislation, the newly created Medicinal Cannabis Authority is responsible for issuing cultivator’s licenses exclusively for citizens of the island to grow cannabis for use in private residences and registered places of worship.”
The report notes that representatives of the Rastafarian community say “continued government enforcement of marijuana laws discouraged Rastafarians from using marijuana for religious purposes,” noting that “police increased enforcement of marijuana laws, including raids on marijuana plantations during the COVID-19 lockdown period.
But Rastafarians say they have had “constructive dialogue” with community leaders and local governments, and the “primary issue discussed was encouraging the government to legalize marijuana for religious purposes.”
A government commission was created to create recommendations on potential cannabis reforms. Rastafarians said “they were awaiting the public release of the report and were encouraged by the general trend towards decriminalization and legalization of marijuana in the Caribbean.”
“They said this trend could eventually lead to legal reforms that would allow Rastafarians to legally use marijuana for religious purposes,” the State Department notes.
“Marijuana use is permitted for medical purposes and scientific research,” the report says. “According to government statements, the use of marijuana is also permitted for religious sacraments, but this policy is not enshrined in law.”
The State Department also noted that “officials continued to support Rastafarians and all other religious groups’ use of cannabis for sacramental purposes.”
Lawmakers are considering broader marijuana reform legislation, with government officials noting to U.S. personnel that Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves’s position is that “Rastafarians and all other religious groups were permitted to use cannabis for sacramental purposes.”
“The government continued to enforce a law prohibiting the production, sale, and consumption of marijuana, which Rastafarians said infringed on their freedom to access cannabis,” the report says, noting that marijuana use is “a core component of their religious practices.”
Possession of to 30 grams of cannabis is lawful, but public consumption remains prohibited, the report says.
“The law also provides a pathway for the expungement of prior marijuana convictions, including for those using marijuana for religious rituals, and it allows individuals to cultivate plants for personal use,” it continues.
The State Department report again does not discuss domestic cannabis policy or its discriminatory effects on marijuana consumers, even as U.S. courts have continually rejected cases arguing that religious exceptions should be made to the country’s cannabis criminalization laws that result in hundreds of thousands of arrests every year.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
Top IRS Official Says Marijuana Banking Reform Would Help Feds ‘Get Paid’
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
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.
👉🏻élaboration du projet de loi usage privé du #cannabis : jusqu’à 4 plantes à domicile & décorrectionnalisation <3g
👉🏻renforcement de la prévention & de l’accompagnement
👉🏻⬆️des moyens de la police
👉🏻élaboration d’un projet de production/vente #Luxembourg pic.twitter.com/8yre0Udt8J
— Sam Tanson (@SamTanson) October 22, 2021
“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.
The measures include:
🟢 Regulation of cannabis use and cultivation: adults will be able to legally cultivate up to four cannabis plants for their own use, provided the cultivation is happening at their place of residence.
— European Greens (@europeangreens) October 22, 2021
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.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
New Bipartisan Marijuana Research Bill In Congress Would Let Scientists Study Dispensary Products
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: