Connect with us

Politics

Justice Department Memo Says Marijuana Investigations Were Appropriate, But Another Probe Is Ongoing

Published

on

An office within the Justice Department that investigates misconduct concluded this month that allegations about the attorney general directing improper antitrust investigations into marijuana company mergers due to personal bias were unfounded. But that doesn’t mean officials are completely off the hook, as another probe of the matter is still underway.

In a June 11 memo, which was referenced at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday that included testimony from one of two whistleblowers who made the allegations, the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) determined that no rules were violated and the Antitrust Division (ATR) did its due diligence in the multiple cannabis investigations.

The whistleblowers initially took their complaints to the executive Office of Special Counsel, which referred the case to OPR. When OPR approached the division with the allegation of impropriety, officials contended that because of their lack of experience assessing the industry, which “was rapidly expanding and consolidating,” the antitrust investigations were appropriate despite claims they were influenced by Attorney General William Barr’s animosity toward the marijuana industry. They also argued that, in contrast to the argument that there were “no competitive concerns” at issue, the federal-state marijuana policy conflict “made it impossible” for them to reach that conclusion in a timely manner.

The investigations resulted in the production of millions of documents from 10 cannabis companies, including MedMen and Pharmacann. Ultimately, across six of the 10 investigations for which data are available, 5,965,000 documents were produced by the marijuana companies under inquiry. The division ended up closing the cases.

“The cannabis industry provided a unique challenge to federal and state regulators alike, and it was reasonable for ATR to seek additional information from the industry through its Second Request process,” OPR said in the memo, which was first reported by Politico. “In addition, contrary to the whistleblowers’ allegations, the documents provided by ATR reflect significant, and successful, negotiations among ATR and the cannabis companies concerning narrowing the scope of the Second Requests.”

“Furthermore, the internal memoranda recommending the closure of the investigations reflect that ATR staff conducted a significant amount of analysis regarding the competitive impact of the proposed mergers, and often explained how the actions of state regulators offset any competitive concerns,” it added.

However, Elias said that what he found “very concerning” about the situation is that Barr reportedly ordered the antitrust investigations out of personal animus and intended to slow the industry’s growth. OPR did not directly respond to that claim, but the memo did state that it agrees the Antitrust Division has significant “latitude” when pursuing these cases.

“Accordingly, even if the whistleblowers’ allegations were true, OPR finds that ATR’s Second Requests would not have violated any relevant laws, regulations, rules, policies, or guidelines,” the document says. “Because OPR concludes that ATR acted consistent with all applicable laws, regulations, and DOJ guidelines in its review of the proposed cannabis mergers, OPR is closing its investigation.”

While OPR’s investigation into the whistleblower complaint is closed, Elias said at the hearing that the allegations are also being separately reviewed by the Justice Department’s inspector general.

Barr’s alleged personal opposition to the cannabis industry doesn’t seem consistent with statements he’s made in various congressional hearings, where he’s expressed interest in resolving the state-federal conflict over marijuana policy.  Last year, he said that while he personally opposes legalization, he would prefer for Congress to pass a bill respecting the rights of states to implement their own cannabis policies rather than maintain blanket federal prohibition.

Read the full OPR memo on Justice Department marijuana merger investigations below:

DOJ memo on cannabis mergers by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

Virginia Black Lawmakers Push To Legalize Marijuana In Special Session This Summer

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.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

Politics

Arizona Marijuana Activists Turn In 420,000 Signatures To Qualify Legalization Measure For Ballot

Published

on

Arizona activists behind an initiative to legalize marijuana have officially turned in what they say are more than enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Smart and Safe Arizona announced on Wednesday that they submitted 420,000 raw signatures to the secretary of state’s office—one day before the turn-in deadline. They need 237,645 valid signatures from registered voters to qualify.

This marks another drug policy reform success amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced campaigns in several other states to end due to social distancing and stay-at-home requirements.

Advocates joined with three separate campaigns in April to ask the state Supreme Court to order the secretary of state to allow electronic signature gathering, but the request was denied. Even so, the raw numbers signal the legalization effort is in a comfortable position to make the ballot once signatures are verified.

“Arizonans are ready to legalize cannabis and this is the right policy for our state,” Arizona Dispensary Association President Steve White said in a press release. “New jobs and revenue are even more critical, today, than when we embarked on this campaign last year.”

The legalization petition would allow individuals 21 and older to possess and purchase cannabis from licensed retailers. People could possess up to an ounce of marijuana at a time and cultivate up to six plants for personal use.

The measure also contains several restorative justice provisions such as allowing individuals with prior marijuana convictions to petition the courts for expungements and establishing a social equity ownership program

Cannabis sales would be taxed at 16 percent. Tax revenue would cover implementation costs and then would be divided among funds for community colleges, infrastructure, a justice reinvestment and public services such as police and firefighters.

The Department of Health Services would be responsible for regulating the program and issuing cannabis business licenses. It would also be tasked with deciding on whether to expand the program to allow for delivery services.

If the measure does make the ballot, recent polling indicates that it will prevail. In a survey of likely voters, about two-thirds (65.5 percent) of respondents said they would support the proposed initiative.

A 2016 legalization proposal was rejected by Arizona voters. But in the four years since, more states have opted to legalize and public opinion has continued to shift in favor of reform.

Here’s a status update on other drug policy campaigns across the country:

Idaho activists behind a medical cannabis initiative are hoping that a federal judge’s recent ruling that would extend the signature turn-in deadline for a separate campaign will apply to them. The state has indicated it will appeal, but if things go in their favor, they could start collecting signatures, including electronically, next week.

The Oregon Secretary of State’s office announced on Tuesday that a campaign to decriminalize currently illicit drugs and expand substance misuse treatment has qualified for the ballot.

Another Oregon campaign to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic purposes has already turned in signatures that they feel will qualify them for the ballot, though those submissions must still be verified by the state.

Washington, D.C. activists are continuing to collect signatures for a proposed measure to make enforcement of laws against various entheogenic substances such as psilocybin, ayahuasca and ibogaine among the city’s lowest law enforcement priorities. They’re receiving assistance from activists who flew in from across the country, including leadership behind Denver’s successful psilocybin decriminalization initiative last year.

A Nebraska campaign plans to submit signatures this week that they hope will be sufficient to qualify a medical cannabis measure for the ballot.

Montana activists recently turned in more than 130,000 signatures to qualify a pair of marijuana initiatives—one to legalize the plant for adult use and another stipulating that individuals must be 21 or older to participate—for the November ballot. The state is currently validating those submissions.

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak and stay-at-home mandates, measures to legalize marijuana for medical and recreational purposes qualified for South Dakota’s November ballot.

Mississippi activists gathered enough signatures to qualify a medical cannabis legalization initiative for the ballot—though lawmakers also approved a competing (and from advocates’ standpoint, less desirable) medical marijuana proposal that will appear alongside the campaign-backed initiative.

The New Jersey legislature approved putting a cannabis legalization referendum before voters as well.

A campaign to legalize marijuana in Arkansas will not qualify for the ballot this year, a spokesperson told Marijuana Moment on Tuesday.

Activists behind an initiative to decriminalize currently illicit drugs and expand access to treatment services in Washington State said last week that they will no longer be pursuing the ballot due to the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, they are seeking to enact the policy change through the legislature during the next session starting January 2021.

A campaign to legalize cannabis in Missouri officially gave up its effort for 2020 due to signature collection being virtually impossible in the face of social distancing measures.

North Dakota activists ended their push to place a marijuana legalization measure on the 2020 ballot and will instead seek qualification for 2022.

Ohio Senate Votes To Expand Marijuana Decriminalization To Cover 200 Grams

Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

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.
Continue Reading

Politics

Ohio Senate Votes To Expand Marijuana Decriminalization To Cover 200 Grams

Published

on

The Ohio Senate has approved a bill to double the amount of marijuana that is decriminalized in the state and reduce criminal penalties for many other drug crimes.

Following months of delays due to the coronavirus pandemic, the measure cleared both a committee and the full body on Tuesday. The floor vote was 24–5.

While possession of small amounts of cannabis would still be illegal in Ohio, people caught with up to 200 grams of marijuana (about seven ounces) would face no arrest or jail time under the measure, SB 3. Instead, they’d receive a civil citation and pay a fine of $150.

“Among other criminal justice changes, SB 3 would reduce the sentences for several marijuana offenses, including by doubling the amount of marijuana that is decriminalized,” Karen O’Keefe, the Marijuana Policy Project’s director of state policies, told Marijuana Moment.

Existing Ohio law already classifies possession of up to 100 grams (about 3.5 ounces) of marijuana as a “minor misdemeanor.” Offenses are penalized with citations and civil fines of $150. By law, officers are only supposed to arrest people for cannabis if they refuse to provide identification, won’t sign the citation or pose a health and safety risk, but critics note that those exceptions open the door to discriminatory police enforcement.

Under SB 3, simple possession would remain a minor misdemeanor, but the qualifying limits would increase. In addition to the new 200 gram cap for marijuana flower, the limit on hash would rise from 5 grams to 10 grams.

The bill states that citations for those offenses would not constitute a criminal record or need to be reported on “any inquiries contained in any application for employment, license, or other right or privilege.”

Anything over the decriminalized amount limits would still incur criminal penalties, such as arrest, possible jail time and a criminal record. SB 3 would, however, downgrade the criminal designations for greater amounts of cannabis.

For flower, 200 grams to 400 grams would be a fourth-degree misdemeanor under the bill, while 400 to 1,000 grams would be a first-degree misdemeanor. For hash, 10 grams to 20 grams would qualify as a fourth-degree misdemeanor, and 20 grams to 50 grams would be a first-degree misdemeanor.

Possession of other drugs would see downgrades under the bill, too, lessening many felony charges to misdemeanors. Judges in some circumstances would be able to pause criminal cases or even dismiss them entirely for defendants who complete drug treatment programs.

“We believe that we have found the appropriate mark in the sand,” one of the bill’s co-sponsors, state Sen. Sean O’Brien (D), told The Columbus Dispatch a day before the vote.

“I think the overarching goal of the bill is to take small amounts of possession that are clearly for personal use and make that a misdemeanor,” Senate President Larry Obhof (R) said. “That’s really been one of the bigger sticking points over the last year as we’ve considered this. What is really the right amount for personal use versus at what number do we then say, ‘You’re not really using this. You’re a trafficker.’ We’re trying to work that out.”

O’Keefe at Marijuana Policy Project applauded the Senate’s passage of the bill Tuesday but lamented that lawmakers still see cannabis as a police matter at all.

“While these are welcome reforms, Ohio lawmakers should listen to their constituents and legalize marijuana,” she told Marijuana Moment. “There is no need for any police-civilian interaction around simple possession of marijuana. Issuing fines for cannabis possession wastes governmental resources and opens the door to unequal policing and abusive encounters. Ohio should follow Michigan’s lead and legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana for adults.”

Advocates at the beginning of the year intended to put legalization on Ohio’s ballot this November, filing a formal initiative proposal in early March. The effort stalled, however, as the COVID-19 outbreak and resulting social distancing measures made signature gathering all but impossible.

Another group of activists, working to put marijuana decriminalization measures on 14 municipal ballots in Ohio, asked the U.S. Supreme Court to force state officials to allow electronic signature gathering during the pandemic, but the justices did not take up the case.

Ohio voters in 2015 roundly rejected a push to legalize marijuana for adult use, but some think that’s a poor indicator of the state’s interest in legalizing commercial cannabis. The 2015 measure drew criticism at the time even from traditional allies of reform, many of whom criticized the proposal’s licensing provisions that would give a near monopoly on cultivation to the same investors who had funded the ballot initiative.

Despite the slow progress on cannabis reform represented by Senate Bill 3, criminal justice reform advocates praised the bill’s passage by the Senate as a timely response to the issues facing American communities today. Holly Harris, executive director of the Justice Action Network, said the measure “was not written in this moment, but it is the rare bill that is truly meeting the moment.”

“It will help reduce the prison population, leaving far fewer people at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Harris said. “It will save up to $75 million in critical taxpayer dollars as the state deals with a fiscal crisis, and it will eliminate unnecessary interactions with the criminal justice system for minor drug offenses as we work to improve relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve.”

Colorado Governor Signs Marijuana Social Equity Bill Letting Him Expedite Possession Pardons

Photo courtesy of Max Pixel

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.
Continue Reading

Politics

Oregon Drug Decriminalization And Treatment Measure Qualifies For November Ballot

Published

on

It’s official: Oregon voters will decide in November whether to pass a measure to decriminalize drug possession while using marijuana tax revenue to fund expanded substance misuse treatment services.

The secretary of state’s office announced on Tuesday that activists behind the Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act have collected enough valid signatures from registered voters to place the measure on the ballot.

The news comes one day after organizers of a separate Oregon measure to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic use announced that their petitioning drive earned enough support for ballot access, though the state has yet to formally verify those submissions.

Officials said that out of the 163,473 total signatures the drug decriminalization campaign turned in, 116,622 were valid —putting them just over the 112,020 needed to qualify.

“This initiative will save lives, and we urgently need it right now because the pandemic has exacerbated Oregon’s addiction epidemic,” Janie Gullickson, who is a chief petitioner for the measure and is the executive director of the Mental Health and Addiction Association of Oregon, said in a press release.

The proposal places an emphasis on expanding drug treatment programs through the use of funds derived from existing cannabis tax revenues. It would also reframe drug addiction as a health issue by decriminalizing illegal substances. Low-level possession would instead be considered a civil infraction punishable by a maximum $100 fine and no jail time.

There were 8,903 drug simple drug possession arrests in the state in fiscal year 2018, according to the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission—or more than one every hour.

“Oregon law enforcement need to stop making these kinds of arrests, targeting our communities, and ruining lives by giving people criminal records,” Kayse Jama, executive director of Unite Oregon, which is endorsing the measure, said. “The need for this measure is more urgent right now more than ever, because jails and prisons have turned into contagion hotspots during the pandemic.”

The initiative has also been endorsed by more than 50 other organizations, including ACLU Oregon, United Seniors of Oregon, Oregon Latino Health Coalition, Oregon State Council For Retired Citizens, the NAACP of Eugene, the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde, Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, Human Rights Watch and Drug Policy Action. Two currently serving district attorneys and two former U.S. attorneys have also backed the measure.

Here’s a status update on other drug policy reform campaigns across the country: 

Washington State activists had planned to pursue a similar drug decriminalization and treatment measure through the ballot, but citing concerns about the COVID-19 outbreak, they announced last week that they will be targeting the legislature instead.

In Washington, D.C., a campaign to decriminalize a broad range of psychedelic substances is nearing the end of its signature drive.

Idaho activists behind a medical marijuana legalization initiative could get a second wind after a federal judge said last week that the state must make accommodations for a separate ballot campaign due to signature gathering complications due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Montana activists recently turned in more than 130,000 signatures to qualify a pair of marijuana legalization initiatives for the November ballot.

Nebraska activists are approaching a deadline this month to submit signatures for a proposed medical cannabis initiative.

In Arizona, the organizers of a legalization effort asked the state Supreme Court to instruct the secretary of state to allow people to sign cannabis petitions digitally using an existing electronic system that is currently reserved for individual candidates seeking public office. That request was denied, but advocates are still optimistic about the chances of making the ballot.

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak and stay-at-home mandates, measures to legalize marijuana for medical and recreational purposes qualified for South Dakota’s November ballot.

The New Jersey legislature approved putting a cannabis legalization referendum before voters as well.

And in Mississippi, activists gathered enough signatures to qualify a medical cannabis legalization initiative for the ballot—though lawmakers also approved a competing (and from advocates’ standpoint, less desirable) medical marijuana proposal that will appear alongside the campaign-backed initiative.

A campaign to legalize cannabis in Missouri officially gave up its effort for 2020 due to signature collection being virtually impossible in the face of social distancing measures.

North Dakota activists said they plan to continue campaign activities for a marijuana legalization initiative, but it’s more likely that they will seek qualification for the 2022 ballot.

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.
Continue Reading
Advertisement

Marijuana News In Your Inbox

Support Marijuana Moment

Marijuana News In Your Inbox

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!