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Is That A Marijuana Vape Pen In This North Carolina Mayor’s Take-Out Dinner Pic?

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A North Carolina mayor was probably only trying to highlight best social distancing practices and support for local businesses when she posted photos of her takeout dinner on Twitter. But by failing to crop out what appears to be a marijuana vape pen, she sparked a different conversation entirely.

“Here is what we did tonight to support our local restaurants,” Raleigh Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin (D) wrote earlier this month. “Take out from Garland. And we left a 35 percent tip. Please do the same.”

As residents in more jurisdictions around the country have been encouraged to stay at home amid the spread of the coronavirus, delivery and takeout food orders have become popular ways of supporting small businesses. Baldwin’s tweet included two photos of her group’s Indian dinner spread, still in its to-go packaging.

In one photo, just north of the tandoori poussin, is what appears to be a cannabis vape pen.

The apparent slip-up immediately drew fire on Twitter.

“More like Mary-Jane Baldwin am I right,” quipped one commenter in the replies.

“So the Mayor is allowed to have weed pens??” asked another, tagging the Raleigh Police Department’s account.

“If you or I get caught w marijuana in N.C. we get thrown in jail,” replied a third, “while the mayor posts pictures telling you how much to tip with her weed pen in the picture.”

Others correctly pointed out that it’s not clear from the picture that the vape pen contained marijuana at all. Devices like the one in Baldwin’s photo can contain a number of legal or illegal substances, including nicotine, THC, CBD or even psychedelic drugs.

“Everyone is assuming that [it] is a weed pen,” Jon Lubecky, veterans and government affairs liaison for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, posted in a reply. “It very well [may] not be a weed pen. It might be DMT,” a powerful hallucinogen.

Lubecky later clarified to Marijuana Moment that he was being facetious: “It was tongue in cheek due to NC’s and Raleigh’s draconian drug laws,” he said. “Whether it was DMT, Cannabis, or some other substance, she would have anyone else arrested for it.”

To Baldwin’s credit, however, she has previously indicated that punitive policing of cannabis offenses may not be productive and called for a debate over the appropriate approach to marijuana.

Neither Baldwin nor a mayoral spokesperson replied to Marijuana Moment’s requests for comment on Wednesday. Messages left with the Raleigh Police Department also went unreturned.

Much of the critical response focused on the hypocrisy of the mayor allegedly having a marijuana product at home while others in the city face arrest and criminal punishment. Arrests for cannabis vape pens in Wake County, where Raleigh is located, climbed from six arrests in 2018 to at least 33 last year, according to a CBS 17 report in November. The county sheriff’s office also last year broke up an operation where individuals allegedly put the psychedelic DMT into vape pens, according to deputies.

Between January 31, 2017 and July 7, 2019, the Raleigh Police Department made 3,154 cannabis-related arrests, according to documents released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

If the vape pen indeed contained THC, it’s likely to be less than 0.05 ounces. Possession of that amount of cannabis concentrate in North Carolina is a misdemeanor and carries a punishment of $200 and up to 10 days in jail.

Baldwin herself has called for leniency in cannabis arrests, telling the local publication Indy Week during her mayoral campaign last year that there were likely better ways of dealing with marijuana possession than sending people to jail. Asked how she would improve police relations with the city’s black community, then-candidate Baldwin questioned Raleigh’s existing approach.

“You get kids busted for a little bit of marijuana, where we’re sending people to jail for something that is legal in other parts of the country,” she said. “Is that really how we should be policing? Are there ways that we can help kids, help young people, instead of just busting them? What are we doing to facilitate conversations in the community between the police? We have a great police department. At the same time, I know that there’s opportunity for improvement.”

Baldwin stopped short, however, of saying she would ask police to end such arrests.

“That’s where I would need feedback from the police chief,” she said.

Legalization advocates said they didn’t want to judge Baldwin for having what may have been cannabis as depicted in the tweet, which was first noted by The Daily Dot. But they hoped it would be a lesson to the mayor about the importance of treating everyone equally under the law.

“Some mayors consume cannabis just like many of their constituents,” Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “Hopefully this tweet will represent a teachable moment and Mayor Baldwin will immediately direct law enforcement to halt marijuana related arrests and be an advocate to legalize it at the state level.”

Feds Prosecuted Even Fewer Marijuana Cases In 2019 As More States Legalize, New Data Shows

Photo courtesy of Twitter/Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Ben Adlin is a Seattle-based writer and editor. He has covered cannabis as a journalist since 2011, most recently as a senior news editor for Leafly.

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Federal Financial Regulatory Agency Head Says Marijuana Banking Among Most Challenging Issues

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The head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) said this week that marijuana business banking represents one of the most “challenging issues that I have encountered” at the agency.

“At a federal level it is still an illegal substance. And at many state levels, it’s now legal, and it’s legal to frankly bank it at a state level,” Chair Jelena McWilliams said. “And so banks find themselves caught between the federal regulatory regime and the state.”

While Congress continues to debate legislation to resolve the conflict, McWilliams told Crain’s Detroit that in the interim, she tells banks there’s “so much uncertainty in this space that as a federal regulator, I still have to say, it’s illegal to bank marijuana. But to the extent that you’re doing it because it’s legal in your state, please follow FinCEN guidance.”

“We know we have banks that are banking marijuana businesses, and you know, we can’t bless them and say ‘go ahead and do it,'” she added. “But to the extent you’re doing it because it’s legal in your state, follow FinCEN guidance.”

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued guidance in 2014 for financial institutions that service cannabis businesses.

Advocates have been encouraged that the bipartisan Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act could still advance through Congress this year. The legislation, which would protest banks that service cannabis businesses from being penalized by federal regulators, cleared the House last year and now awaits action in the Senate Banking Committee.

Separately, the bill’s language was inserted into a House-passed coronavirus relief package last month. Its chief sponsor in the chamber, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), recently said he feels there’s a 50-50 chance the legislation will make it past the Senate.

Multiple Republican lawmakers criticized the inclusion of the marijuana banking language in the House package, arguing that it is not germane and is part of a Democratic wish list. However, its Senate sponsor, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), told Marijuana Moment he disagrees and feels the SAFE Banking Act should advance through the vehicle of COVID legislation.

Beyond the bipartisan support for the standalone bill in the House last year, a coalition of 34 state and territory attorneys general—including seven Republicans—are urging Congress to pass the coronavirus legislation with the banking language.

Congressional Bill Requires Legal Marijuana States To Consider Impaired Driving Policies

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Vermont Senate Votes To Double Amount Of Marijuana That Can Be Possessed And Grown Without Jail Time

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The Vermont Senate approved a bill on Thursday that would double the amount of marijuana that can be possessed and grown without the threat of jail time

The legislation also contains provisions for automatic expungements that stand to clear the records for thousands of misdemeanor cannabis convictions.

While the state legalized possession of up to one ounce and cultivation of two plants in 2018, possession of a second ounce or third or fourth plant is currently considered a misdemeanor.

The expungement bill, which cleared the chamber in a voice vote, was amended to add language making it so possessing up to two ounces or growing that third or fourth plant would be treated as a civil infraction punishable by a $100 fine and no jail time.

Possession of more than two ounces or four plants would be treated as a misdemeanor, and individuals convicted could go through a court diversion program.

The main component of the legislation as originally introduced, however, concerns expungements. Text of the bill states that the “court shall order the expungement of criminal history records of violations of 18 V.S.A. § 4230(a)(1) that occurred prior to July 1, 2020” and the “process for expunging these records shall be completed not later than July 1, 2021.”

“Upon entry of an expungement order, the order shall be legally effective immediately and the person whose record is expunged shall be treated in all respects as if he or she had never been arrested, convicted, or sentenced for the offense,” it continues. “The court shall issue an order to expunge all records and files related to the arrest, citation, investigation, charge, adjudication of guilt, criminal proceedings, and probation related to the sentence.”

Advocates say that thousands of Vermonters could see their records automatically cleared because of the revised possession language.

However, the bill must still advance through the House before going to the governor’s desk, and there may be logistical and procedural challenges related to the coronavirus pandemic.

This development comes as legislators and activists continue to push for the legalization of marijuana sales in the state.

Both the House and Senate approved legislation to create such a tax-and-regulate model for cannabis. A bicameral conference committee, which as been appointed to merge the differences between the chambers’ bills but has not met yet, is one of the last steps needed to allow for legal cannabis commerce. The Senate approved S. 54 with a veto-proof majority last year during the first half of the two-year legislative session. The House voted in favor of its version of the legislation in February.

House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D) said last month that the legislature will reconsider the legislation to legalize marijuana sales later this year, though she feels lawmakers and the administration are appropriately focused on responding to the health crisis for now.

Gov. Phil Scott (R), who reluctantly signed the earlier noncommercial legalization bill into law, has voiced concerns with adding legal sales to the mix. In particular, he is worried about road safety issues. That said, top lawmakers and an administration official indicated earlier this year that the governor is “at the table” in discussions about the current legislation and would be open to using cannabis tax revenue to fund an after-school program he’s pushing.

New Mexico Marijuana Legalization Effort Gets Boost From Ouster Of Anti-Reform Senators

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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New Mexico Marijuana Legalization Effort Gets Boost From Ouster Of Anti-Reform Senators

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Several key New Mexico state senators who have helped to block marijuana legalization legislation are on their way out after Tuesday’s primary election.

The secretary of state has called at least major four races where progressive challengers in districts across the state have won their contests against conservative-leaning incumbents. The Senate president pro tem, Finance Committee chair and several other lawmakers who remain opposed to adult-use legalization were rejected by Democratic voters.

While marijuana reform wasn’t the only thing on voters’ minds, with other major issues such as reproductive rights being at issue in the election, cannabis legislation has been one area where candidates have been pressed during the course of their campaigns.

The results bode well for the prospects of enacting legalization within the next year—a policy supported by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D). In recent interviews, the candidates replacing the incumbents have broadly embraced comprehensive reform.

Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen (D) lost on Tuesday. The leader was asked in a recent survey about her views on cannabis reform and said that “[a]t this time I will not support the legalization of recreational marijuana in New Mexico” and simply committed to “look at all Legislation that comes before the Senate and evaluate it on its merits.”

She also voted against cannabis reform on several occasions, including for a proposed 2016 constitutional amendment to establish a legal marijuana market in the state.

Meanwhile, her challenger, Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce President Carrie Hamblen, said, “I support the legalization of recreational marijuana as it can provide much needed jobs, can be regulated, and communities can benefit from the taxation.”

“Plus, by legalizing it, we can stop criminalizing people of color and focus more on incarcerating those with legitimate crimes,” she said.

Senate Finance Chairman John Arthur Smith (D) lost his race against retired special education teacher Neomi Martinez-Parra. Smith’s panel declined to act on a House-passed legalization bill last year, ending its prospects. He also voted against the 2016 measure on the floor.

“I do not support legalizing the use until the federal government steps to the plate,” he said recently. “I have over 600 Border Patrol stationed in my district and they will enforce the federal law.”

Martinez-Parra, meanwhile, said the state “needs to diversify its revenue” and legalization represents an opportunity to that end.

“We cannot rely on oil as the major source of revenue,” she said. “I support legalizing and taxing the sale of marijuana, as long as we have the right regulation in place to protect our children.”

Given the opening for Smith’s chairmanship, advocates say the prospects of enacting broader drug policy reform, even beyond marijuana legalization, will be significantly increased since he lost.

Another opponent to comprehensive cannabis reform, Sen. Clemente Sanchez (D), was also shown the door. The senator said that while he supports the state’s medical cannabis program, he felt “we need to ensure that the recreational sales do not hurt it and we are not there yet.”

“We need to make sure that law enforcement can test for impairment and we don’t have that yet. And most importantly we need to keep out of our youth,” he said.

During his time as chair of the Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee, he made a floor motion to specifically request that a legalization bill be referred to his panel in order to kill it. He also voted against legal cannabis on the floor.

Pamela Cordova, a retired educator, beat the incumbent, and she has embraced comprehensive cannabis reform.

“I support legalizing recreational marijuana, with strong regulation and taxation,” she said. “I believe our limited law enforcement resources can be better spent addressing more serious criminal behavior. New Mexico will benefit from the millions of dollars in tax revenue to our general fund at a time we most need it.”

Sen. Richard Martinez (D) appears to have lost his race to Leo Jaramillo, though the secretary of state hasn’t called the race yet. The senator voted to kill a legalization bill in the Judiciary Committee this year, though his record also involves introducing legislation to establish safe injection facilities in the state and voting for the 2016 legalization measure. Even so, advocates say he’s become increasingly conservative in his votes.

Jaramillo, on the other hand, stated clearly that marijuana “should be legal for both medical and recreational purposes.”

“It will attract new industries to the state and trim New Mexico’s heavy economic independence on oil production,” he said. “The legalization of recreational cannabis will generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. The legalization of marijuana would be one step in a new direction.”

Sen. Gabe Ramos (D), who was appointed to the office last year, is out after losing to school psychologist Siah Correa Hemphill. He hasn’t cast a vote on legalization during his time in the seat, though advocates expected that he would align himself closer to the conservative faction of the party. When discussing the issue, he’s stressed that he would have to see the final product before making a decision, though he anticipated passage.

“I really want to see the actual bill before it gets on the floor,” he said in January. “I have a feeling that it’s going to pass, with restrictions.”

“We’ll have to look closely at those restrictions, what they’re going to be,” he added. “I know there’s a lot of concern from the legislators that I’ve talked to, but if we got a good bill with restrictions, I think it could pass. The proof will be in the pudding, he said, when it goes through the committees and then to the floor.”

Hemphill said “I support legalizing recreational marijuana in New Mexico as a way to free up law enforcement to address more pressing criminal activity.”

“With proper regulation and taxation, marijuana sales could bring in hundreds of millions of dollars of new tax revenue for schools, roads, and healthcare,” she said.

While Tuesday night’s election results generally favored cannabis reform advocates, there were a couple examples of opponents holding on to their seats.

Incumbent Sen. George Muñoz (D) defeated a progressive challenger, and he’s previously voted against legalization. Likewise, Judiciary Chair Joe Cervantes (D) won his reelection race. His panel voted to table a legalization bill during the short session at the beginning of the year.

During that hearing, the chair raised concerns with provisions around labor union influence on the marijuana industry and directing the state to subsidize medical cannabis purchases for low-income patients. He also took issue with the specifics of language allowing people with past drug convictions to obtain licenses.

Emily Kaltenbach, New Mexico state director for Drug Policy Action, told Marijuana Moment that, overall, the election results mean that “New Mexico takes one step closer to legalizing cannabis.”

“As a result of last night’s primary, a handful of powerful Senate Democrats who supported the drug war status quo and blocked cannabis legalization year after year have lost their elections,” she said. “The Democratic candidates, if they win in November, are likely to vote in favor of cannabis and other drug policy reform measures.”

The vote “signals that New Mexico can become the next state to legalize cannabis for the right reasons: protecting consumers, keeping cannabis out of the hands of our children, putting medical cannabis patients first, reinvesting back into communities most harmed by prohibition and diversifying our economy.”

It remains to be seen whether legislators will again make an attempt to pass legalization legislation when they convene for a special session on June 18, but what’s clear is that voters sent a message by ousting these key senators: they’re ready for progressive change. When the new legislature is seated for the 2021 session, several Democratic opponents of legal cannabis will be gone, and they will likely have been replaced by supporters.

In December, a cannabis working group established by the governor released a poll showing overwhelming public support for cannabis legalization.

New York Senator Pushes To Legalize Marijuana As Part Of Criminal Justice Package Amid Protests

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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