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GOP South Carolina Lawmaker Defends Marijuana Stance Of Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate From Republican Attack

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A Republican South Carolina senator on Monday refuted his party’s position on marijuana, defending a Democratic gubernatorial candidate from GOP attacks over his support for reform.

After former U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-SC) came out with a plan to legalize cannabis for medical and recreational purposes as part of his campaign for governor, South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Drew McKissick voiced opposition and said the Democratic candidate wants to “play with fire” by embracing the policy change.

But state Rep. Tom Davis (R) said his own party’s stance, particularly as it concerns medical cannabis, is “an intellectually lazy position that doesn’t even try to present medical facts as they currently exist.”

This isn’t the first time that Davis has clashed with his party on marijuana. Case in point: he sponsored legislation this session to legalize medical cannabis—a bill cleared the Senate Medical Affairs Committee in March but has since been placed on hold. Davis went so far as to threaten to use his power to block other bills from advancing if his reform proposal was stopped. Leadership has since promised him that the measure will be the first bill taken up at the beginning of 2022.

Now the state has a Democratic gubernatorial candidate running on an even broader legalization platform, and Davis is breaking party lines to help ward off GOP attacks on the issue—though he’s not exactly endorsing Cunningham’s campaign to unseat incumbent Gov. Henry McMaster (R).

McKissick, the state Republican Party chair, argued in a statement that crime and health problems are exacerbated in states that have legalized cannabis. And he said that law enforcement and health professionals should have the final say over whether the plant should be permitted for medical use.

Cunningham, for his part, said at a press conference on Monday that “it’s time for elected officials to admit that what we are doing has not been working.”

“Although there are career politicians who would rather live in the past, I prefer that we, as South Carolinians, look to the future,” he said. “That is why I’m running for governor—to bring South Carolina out of the past and into the future. Our marijuana laws are stuck in the past. They aren’t practical, and they hurt more people than they help.”

The candidate said he “will be a governor who can admit when a policy fails, and I can tell you with absolute certainty that the prohibition of marijuana has done exactly that.”

“Our marijuana laws continue to have a disproportionate impact on communities of color,” Cunningham said. “A person of color is nearly four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana though someone who’s white, even though they use marijuana at the same rate.”

The Democrat’s plan includes a plank to expunge prior cannabis records.

“This is going to be a game changer in South Carolina,” he told The Associated Press. “There are so many reasons why we need to do this, and the time is now.”

“This is something the people want,” he said. “If our politicians aren’t reflecting the will of the people, then we have to change out the politicians, starting with Governor McMaster.”

Mia McLeod, who is running against Cunningham for the Democratic party nomination, agreed that “public perception about marijuana has changed and so must the laws that govern its use.”

But she took a hit at her opponent, saying that it’s “important to understand the difference between campaign promises and what we choose to fight for while in office.” She added that as a state lawmaker she has “actually sponsored legislation to legalize and decriminalize marijuana, unlike my Democratic opponent who had the chance to do so while in Congress…but did not.”

Cunningham did proactively cosponsor measures to remove barriers to marijuana research and allow doctors at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to issue recommendations for medical cannabis, however.

He also voted in support of marijuana law reform on several occasions on the House floor, including for passage of standalone bills to federally legalize cannabis and allow businesses in the industry to access banking services. He also backed two separate amendments to prevent the Department of Justice from spending money to interfere with state marijuana laws.

Cunningham did, however, oppose an amendment aimed at removing barriers to research on psychedelic drugs.

In any case, the former congressman is getting a helping hand from a somewhat unlikely source.

Davis described the South Carolina Republican Party’s response to Cunningham’s cannabis proposals as a “fail” and said the institution “embarrassingly cribs [singer Taylor Swift’s] lyrics in a desperate effort to sound cool/clever.”

In April, the senator said that federal prohibition was imposed under the Nixon administration in order to “punish” the president’s political enemies. That said, he stressed that he’s only interested in ending prohibition for medical cannabis and that his measure is not a “slippery slope” to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes.

Davis’s legislation would allow patients with qualifying conditions to possess and purchase up to two ounces of cannabis every two weeks.

During the committee hearing in March, Davis repeatedly made the case that his bill “is the most conservative medical cannabis bill in the country.”

South Carolina is one of a select few states without an effective medical cannabis program, though it does have a limited CBD law on the books.

A poll released in February found that South Carolina voters support legalizing medical marijuana by a ratio of five to one. But the state does not have a citizen-led initiative process that has empowered voters in other states to get the policy change enacted.

Support for medical marijuana among South Carolina residents has been notably stable, as a 2018 Benchmark Research poll similarly found 72 percent support for the reform, including nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of Republicans.

Also that year, 82 percent of voters in the state’s Democratic primary election voted in favor of medical cannabis legalization in a nonbinding ballot advisory vote. Lawmakers prefiled four marijuana measures for the 2019 session, but they did not advance.

Davis said earlier this year that if the legislature doesn’t advance the reform, he’d propose a bill to put the question of medical marijuana legalization to voters through a referendum.

A coalition of advocates for health care and criminal justice reform, as well as veterans groups, have recently stepped up their push to get medical cannabis legalized in South Carolina.

Schumer To Unveil Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill On Wednesday

Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

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Bipartisan Lawmakers Push VA To Allow Medical Marijuana Access For Veterans ‘As Soon As Possible’

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The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) must urgently institute a policy change to ensure that military veterans can access cannabis for therapeutic use, a bipartisan coalition of congressional lawmakers said in a new letter.

Writing to VA Secretary Denis McDonough on Wednesday, the co-chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus urged the official to consider “a change in policy to allow access to medical cannabis fro VA patients” and to “act swiftly and implement this change as soon as possible.”

The lawmakers pointed to surveys showing high rates of opioid addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among the veteran community.

“Research has shown that cannabis can be safe and effective in targeted pain-management. Additionally, cannabis has proven benefits in managing PTSD and other health issues, including multiple sclerosis (MS) and seizure disorders,” the letter states. “Despite its efficacy, antiquated bureaucratic red-tape continues to deny veterans these life-altering treatments.”

“Congress and several administrations have enacted various well-intentioned intervention attempts, however, over twenty veterans continue to die by suicide each day—it is past time we stop barring access from these innovative therapies. We therefore respectfully urge you to ensure no veteran can be denied medically prescribed cannabis treatments.”

The letter comes weeks after McDonough participated in a Veterans Day Q&A where he said that VA officials are “looking at” the possibility of an internal policy change and have discussed it with the White House and Department of Justice. The secretary also talked about being personally moved by stories from veterans who’ve found relief using medical marijuana.

“We’re trying to explore what more we can do,” he said at the time. “And I’ve talked to our friends in the rest of the federal government, including the Department of Justice, on what we can do on this, and with the White House.”

The Congressional Cannabis Caucus co-chairs—Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), David Joyce (R-OH), Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Don Young (R-AK)—want McDonough to speed up the policy change process.

“America’s veterans have risked life and limb to preserve our freedoms, so we must not allow the unnecessary politicization of medical cannabis to hinder their lifesaving therapies,” they wrote. “We stand ready to work with you and your administration in advancing these necessary treatments.”

While congressional lawmakers are working to advance legislation to end marijuana prohibition, McDonough’s department has resisted even modest proposals meant to promote veteran access and clinical research into the medical value of cannabis.

One such research bill was approved by the House Veterans Affairs Committee earlier this month, despite testimony from the department opposing the reform. VA’s David Carroll told lawmakers that the legislation was overly prescriptive and argued that the department is already conducting robust research into marijuana.

Some had held out hope that VA would back the reform this session after the sponsor, Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA), said that he’d had a conversation with McDonough about the issue of marijuana and veterans.

On the Senate side, a coalition of lawmakers recently filed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would federally legalize medical cannabis for military veterans who comply with a state program where they live. VA doctors would also be explicitly allowed to issue marijuana recommendations.

Read the letter to the VA secretary on marijuana access below: 

Click to access caucus-letter-to-va-secretary-december-2021.pdf

Biden Treasury Secretary Says ‘Of Course’ Marijuana Banking Would Make IRS’s Job Easier

Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

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Biden Treasury Secretary Says ‘Of Course’ Marijuana Banking Would Make IRS’s Job Easier

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The secretary of the U.S. Treasury Department said on Wednesday that freeing up banks to work with state-legal marijuana businesses would “of course” make the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) job of collecting taxes easier.

At a hearing before the House Financial Services Committee, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) referenced recent comments from an IRS official about the “special type of collection challenge the IRS undertakes regarding tax collection from cannabis-related businesses forced to operate in cash only.”

“Do you agree if these business were simply allowed to access the banking system and didn’t have to transact business only in cash it would make the IRS job easier?” Perlmutter asked Secretary Janet Yellen.

“Yes, of course it would,” she replied matter-of-factly.

The congressman also talked about his bill—the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act—which has passed the House in some form five times now and would resolve the issue by protecting financial institutions that service state-legal cannabis businesses.

Numerous financial, labor and insurance associations, as well as key lawmakers, are pushing the Senate to attach the measure to must-pass defense spending legislation, as the House already has. Bipartisan members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, as well as senators representing Colorado, made the same request in recent letters.

While Yellen’s response was quick, it’s yet another example of a federal official recognizing the untenability of the status quo.

Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary under the Trump administration, repeatedly addressed the issue, saying the current policy conflict creates “significant problems” for IRS and financial regulators. It “creates significant risk in the communities for collecting this amount of cash. It’s problematic,” he said last year.

IRS, for its part, said in September 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.

With respect to the SAFE Banking Act, a bipartisan coalition of two dozen governors recently implored congressional leaders to finally enact marijuana banking reform through the large-scale defense legislation.

A group of small marijuana business owners also recently made the case that the incremental banking policy change could actually help support social equity efforts.

Rodney Hood, a board member of the National Credit Union Administration, wrote in a recent Marijuana Moment op-ed 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 now.

Federal data shows that many financial institutions remain hesitant to take on cannabis companies as clients, however, which is likely due to the fact that the plant is a strictly controlled substance under federal law.

Texas Activists Turn In Signatures To Put Marijuana Decriminalization On Austin’s 2022 Ballot

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Texas Activists Turn In Signatures To Put Marijuana Decriminalization On Austin’s 2022 Ballot

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Texas activists on Wednesday turned in signatures to place a marijuana decriminalization initiative on Austin’s 2022 ballot.

Ground Game Texas, a progressive organization that was established earlier this year, submitted more than 30,000 signatures to qualify the local measure to go before voters in the May 7 election next year.

While Austin, as well as other Texas cities like Dallas, have already independently enacted law enforcement policy changes aimed at reducing arrests for cannabis-related offenses by issuing citations and summons, the Austin Freedom Act of 2021 would take the reform a step further.

The initiative seeks to end arrests and citations for misdemeanor marijuana possession within Texas’s capital city. Also, it says police cannot issue citations for residue or paraphernalia in lieu of a possession charge.

“Thanks to the tireless efforts of on-the-ground organizers from Ground Game Texas and partner organizations, Austin residents will soon have the ability to make lasting change to our antiquated and racist criminal justice laws,” Mike Siegel, political director of Ground Game Texas, said in a press release. “With successful campaigns like these, Ground Game Texas will continue to empower and excite communities around progressive change—and deliver for the marginalized communities that too often get left behind.”

The measure would further prohibit the use of city funds to request or test cannabis to determine whether it meets the state’s definition of a lawful product. Hemp is legal in the state, creating complications for law enforcement, as they are now tasked with determining if seized cannabis products are in compliance with state statute.

Under the initiative, the execution of no-knock warrants would also be prohibited in the city—a policy that generated significant national attention last year after it led to Kentucky officers entering Breonna Taylor’s apartment and fatally shooting her in a botched drug raid.

Activists were joined by Austin City Council members Greg Casar and Vanessa Fuentes for Wednesday’s signature turn in.

Game Ground Texas previously attempted to place the measure on this year’s ballot, but they did not meet the signature turn-in deadline and shifted their attention to 2022.

While the measure is now set to appear on the May ballot, it’s also possible that the Austin City Council could independently move to adopt the ordinance prior to the election.

“Austinites continue to work towards reducing the decades of negative impacts prohibition has caused by any means available,” Jax Finkel, executive director of Texas NORML, told Marijuana Moment.  “During the interim, local actions like this create pressure for more action during the next legislative session. With a majority of Texans supporting the creation of a regulated cannabis market, it is important to continue pushing this conversation forward.”

Elsewhere in the state, activists in San Marcos launched a campaign in September to put marijuana decriminalization on the November ballot next year.

Ground Game Texas told Marijuana Moment on Wednesday that it is also planning to place a cannabis decriminalization measure before voters in Killeen next fall.

There is no statewide, citizen-led initiative process that would enable advocates to put an issue like decriminalization or legalization on the Texas ballot. But at the local level, there are limited cases where activists can leverage home rule laws that allow for policy changes.

A recent poll found that a strong majority of Texans—including most Republicans—support even broader reform to legalize marijuana for adult use.

The survey from the University of Houston and Texas Southern University found that 67 percent of Texas residents back the broad reform. Fifty-one percent of participants who identified as Republican said they back legalization.

In Texas, drug policy reform did advance in the legislature in the latest session, but not necessarily at the pace that advocates had hoped to see.

A bill to expand the state’s medical cannabis program and another to require a study into the therapeutic potential of certain psychedelics for military veterans were enacted.

Advocates remain disappointed, however, that lawmakers were unable to pass more expansive cannabis bills—including a decriminalization proposal that cleared the House but saw no action in the Senate.

The House approved a cannabis decriminalization bill in 2019, but it did not advance in the Senate that session.

The Texas Republican Party adopted a platform plank endorsing decriminalization of marijuana possession in 2018.

Another Texas poll that was released over the summer found that 60 percent of voters in the state support making cannabis legal “for any use.”

Jamaican Government Launches ‘Good Ganja Sense’ Campaign To Debunk Marijuana Myths

Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

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