An independent think tank funded by and named for a former prime minister of New Zealand released a report on Tuesday calling on the country’s voters to support a planned 2020 referendum to legalize and regulate marijuana.
The 28-page publication from the Helen Clark Foundation outlines how prohibition has failed to eliminate the use or supply of cannabis and argues that the status quo has wasted law enforcement resources while putting non-violent offenders, including many young people, in jail.
Interested in the case for legalising & regulating #cannabis? Check out @HelenClarkFound report below, released tonight on @theprojecttv. Around 80% of NZers will use cannabis: let’s put rules around it & stop blighting lives through criminalisation: https://t.co/RyybIwB6nX pic.twitter.com/XcxqKADz05
— Helen Clark (@HelenClarkNZ) September 3, 2019
The report comes four months after the government’s three-party minority coalition released details about the legalization referendum, which came about as a compromise with the Green Party and is slated to go before voters in November of next year. The measure, which will be binding and require the legislature to act if approved at the ballot box, will aim to prevent underage consumption, disrupt the illicit market and reduce the prison population.
Authors of the new report said they weren’t endorsing marijuana consumption and that legalization should be coupled with public education campaigns to inform people about the risks and benefits of using cannabis. They added that measures should be taken to deter or prevent the emergence of large, for-profit marijuana businesses from dominating the market.
“The basic principle is that there are so many things in a society that have a potential for harm. Tobacco—we regulate and tax it but don’t prohibit it. Same with alcohol,” Clark, who is also a member of the Global Commission On Drug Policy alongside other former heads of state, told The New Zealand Herald.
In 2020,#newzealand 🇳🇿 holds a referendum on legalising and regulating #cannabis. The #helenclarkfoundation is publishing a paper on the case for voting “YES”. I will be discussing this on #theprojecttv in NZ on… https://t.co/70PUFmJa8j
— Helen Clark (@HelenClarkNZ) September 2, 2019
“Let’s talk upfront about this, rather than pretending that we can ban it,” she said. “You’re not promoting this. You’re saying this is a reality in our society.”
The report states that New Zealand should study different regulatory models, including Colorado’s marijuana program and those of Canada and Uruguay. But maintaining prohibition, it says, impedes research into the plant, enables the illicit market to thrive and contributes to discrimination in the criminal justice system.
“Our analysis argues that the disproportionately adverse effects of current policies justify putting in place legislation and effective regulation,” report co-author Kathy Errington said. “Cannabis should be treated as a health and social issue, not a criminal one. The status quo is exacerbating its harm.”
While some have argued that noncommercial decriminalization of possession represents a superior alternative to broad legalization, the report argues that such a policy would be insufficient because it “doesn’t address the illicit markets and criminal networks of drug selling.”
“Many of the benefits of an increasingly regulated market can only come about if the whole supply chain is above board,” the report states. “That also applies for collection of government revenue—the government can only collect tax on cannabis sales if they are legal.”
Report authors argued that prohibition fails to deter cannabis consumption, encourages the use of “riskier, higher potency products,” doesn’t provide “just and proportionate consequences” in terms of criminal penalties, wastes government resources and decreases the effectiveness of fact-based public health education campaigns.
A legal cannabis model would ameliorate these problems, they said. The report also makes recommendations for what a regulated marijuana market should look like. That includes ensuring that there’s sufficient access to cannabis in order to offset the illicit market, imposing robust regulations such as restrictions on advertising, expunging prior marijuana convictions and investing in public education campaigns.
“We believe that the evidence backs a ‘Yes’ vote in 2020 for legalising and regulating the cannabis market in New Zealand,” the foundation concluded. “Doing so will advance public health objectives and support greater social equity. Prohibition-based policy approaches have not eradicated and cannot eradicate cannabis consumption and supply in New Zealand.”
“New Zealand needs to treat cannabis use as a public health and social issue rather than a criminal one,” the report states.
Photo courtesy of Tākuta.
Trade Associations And Civil Rights Groups Send Mixed Messages On Marijuana Banking To Senate
A coalition of trade associations sent a letter to Senate Banking Committee leadership on Thursday, urging a vote on legislation to protect financial institutions that service state-legal marijuana businesses.
But those senators are also feeling pressure from leading civil rights groups like the ACLU and Human Rights Watch, which sent an earlier letter insisting that they not allow cannabis banking to detract from more comprehensive reform that addresses social equity.
The organizations involved in the latest letter—including the American Bankers Association and Credit Union National Association—said that advancing the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act or similar legislation is pivotal to ensuring that stakeholders receive needed clarity and are shielded from being penalized by federal regulators.
The letter, addressed to Banking Chair Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Ranking Member Sherrod Brown (D-OH), emphasized the bipartisan nature of the House passage of the bill in September and the growing movement at the state level to legalize cannabis for medical or recreational purposes.
“Our organizations support an initial legislative step that allows the legal cannabis industry into the banking system,” the groups, which also include the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers, International Council of Shopping Centers and National Association of REALTORS, wrote. “Ultimately, protecting law-abiding financial institutions and ancillary businesses from their currently untenable position and addressing increasing public safety concerns.”
As more states reform their marijuana laws, however, “distribution, sale, possession, research, transaction, housing, employment, and a broader landscape of cannabis is becoming increasingly problematic” for stakeholders under federal prohibition.
“Ultimately, this creates more legal and security concerns that impact the operations and safety of businesses and consumers,” they said. “Finally, the lack of an available safe harbor for cannabis will continue to challenge the full adoption and deployment of the legal hemp and CBD products market in the U.S. due to the inextricable link between hemp and cannabis.”
“To resolve this, we urge the Committee to vote on the SAFE Banking Act or similar measures. Such measures are meant to create a safe harbor for depository institutions that provide a financial product or service to businesses in a state permitting the use of cannabis. A safe harbor will enable law enforcement and states to effectively monitor and regulate businesses while simultaneously bringing billions into the regulated banking sector.”
12 groups including ABA just wrote @MikeCrapo @SenSherrodBrown @senatemajldr @SenSchumer urging a vote on the #SAFEBanking Act. It's time to end the legal limbo over banking cannabis in the growing number of states where it's legal. Read the letter: https://t.co/1529vIHawq
— American Bankers Association (@ABABankers) December 12, 2019
The letter, also signed by Americans for Prosperity and R Street, recognizes that creating a federal regulatory scheme for marijuana will take time but says that the SAFE Banking Act represents “a critical first step to ensure that legal cannabis marketplaces are safe, legal, and transparent.”
Crapo has said that he’s interested in holding a vote on resolving the cannabis banking issue in his panel before the year’s end, but so far nothing has been scheduled. The chairman told Marijuana Moment in earlier interviews that there are several changes to the House-passed bill that he’d like to see but that he’s worried impeachment proceedings against the president will interfere with plans to hold a vote.
All that said, pressure from civil rights advocacy groups could complicate congressional efforts to get the banking bill approved. In October, several organizations including the ACLU, Drug Policy Alliance, Human Rights Watch and Center for American Progress sent a letter to Senate leadership, as well as Crapo and Brown, demanding that “marijuana legislation considered in the Senate include provisions that will guarantee equity in the industry.”
The letter, which doesn’t appear to have been previously reported and was obtained by Marijuana Moment, states that while the coalition agrees the SAFE Banking Act “is an incremental step toward rolling back the federal prohibition of marijuana, it fails to help communities that have been historically and disproportionately devastated by United States’ punitive drug laws.”
“As the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs considers similar legislation, we insist that the legislation include provisions that ensure equity in the marijuana industry by creating opportunities for individuals who have been prohibited from this growing business either by legal or financial means,” the letter, which was also signed by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and National Association of Social Workers, states.
“Indeed, this Congress has shown it understands the economic impact of legalization. But while progress on the business side of legalization is promising, it is not sufficient. Federal marijuana legislation must be comprehensive and lead with equity, addressing past and current harms to communities of color and low-income communities who bore the brunt of the failed war on drugs. We demand that any marijuana reform or legalization bill considered by the Senate] include robust provisions addressing equity. More than simply adding equity provisions to bills that address industry concerns, we need comprehensive reform that deschedules marijuana and addresses the inequities and harms continually inflicted by the failed war on drugs.”
In other words, the groups are insisting on broad reform prior to a vote on a bill viewed as largely beneficial to the cannabis industry—similar to a request they made of House members prior to the legislation’s passage in the chamber.
Read the marijuana banking letters from the trade associations and civil rights groups below:
GOP Congressman Knocks His Party For Failing To Pass Marijuana Reform
A Republican congressman says that whichever party is responsible for passing federal marijuana reform will “instantly” shoot up in the polls, while lamenting the fact that the GOP failed to do so when they controlled the House.
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), a vocal advocate for hemp, was asked by Fox Business host Kennedy on Wednesday whether cannabis should be rescheduled under federal law.
“Absolutely,” he said. “The first party that does this—and I don’t understand why either party won’t do it—is going instantly gain 10 points in the general poll on which party versus the other.”
“We should have done it when we were in the majority,” he added. “The liberals should be asking Pelosi why she hasn’t put it on the floor yet.”
The House Judiciary Committee approved legislation last month to end federal marijuana prohibition, but it hasn’t yet been scheduled for floor action.
Massie made similar points during an interview with Marijuana Moment earlier this year, stating that if Republicans had advanced states’ rights-focused marijuana legislation, “I think we might still be in the majority.”
Of course, while Massie has supported legislation to allow states to set their own cannabis policies without federal intervention, as well as other more modest reform measures such as protecting banks that service marijuana businesses, he’s so far declined to cosponsor any bills that seek to deschedule cannabis.
The congressman has also expressed interest in changing federal gun control laws to allow cannabis consumers to purchase firearms.
Though it’s not clear exactly how much of a boost either party would get by passing a marijuana reform bill, a Pew poll released last month does show that there’s majority support for legalization among those who lean Republican (55 percent) as well those who lean Democratic (78 percent).
Photo courtesy of YouTube/Rep. Massie.
State Department Warns Travelers About Flying With Cannabis Oil Internationally
The U.S. State Department is warning international holiday travelers that while hemp-derived CBD might be legal in the U.S., it can land you in trouble if you take it certain places abroad.
“Make sure your gift isn’t a fa la la la la la la la la fail,” the department said in a tweet on Thursday. “Bringing along gifts like drones, CBD oils, and firearms can land you in trouble in foreign countries. Research what is and isn’t allowed before you travel.”
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo courtesy of Flickr/DHS.