A powerful Senate committee chairman said on Wednesday the he opposes House-passed marijuana banking legislation and laid out potential changes he would like to see to the bill before he takes it up in his panel.
Among other amendments being floated for public feedback is a 2 percent THC potency limit on products in order for cannabis businesses to qualify to access financial services as well as blocking banking services for operators that sell high-potency vaping devices or edibles that could appeal to children.
“I remain firmly opposed to efforts to legalize marijuana on the federal level, and I am opposed to legalization in the State of Idaho,” Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID), who chairs the Senate Banking Committee, said in a press release. “I also do not support the SAFE Banking Act that passed in the House of Representatives. I have significant concerns that the SAFE Banking Act does not address the high level potency of marijuana, marketing tactics to children, lack of research on marijuana’s effects, and the need to prevent bad actors and cartels from using the banks to disguise ill-gotten cash to launder money into the financial system. I welcome input from all interested parties on how to thoughtfully address these concerns.”
The Secure And Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which would shield banks from being punished by federal regulators for working with state-legal marijuana businesses, passed the House in September with strong bipartisan support.
Crapo’s committee held a hearing on cannabis businesses’ access to financial services in July, though he had previously said that he did not support taking up the legislation in his panel while marijuana remains federally illegal. He then said he wanted to bring it up by the end of 2019, though later indicated in an interview with Marijuana Moment last month that impeachment could delay things. Now, he is taking the step of floating amendments to the House-passed proposal before moving forward with a vote.
The new document from the chairman largely tracks with comments he made in another Marijuana Moment interview in October in which he said laid out some areas of concern.
“The things we’re looking at are, first of all, to make sure we improve and clarify the interstate banking application of all of this,” Crapo said at the time. “Secondly, money laundering issues with regard to legacy cash to make sure how that is managed properly. [Financial Crimes Enforcement Network] issues and other related issues. And then finally the health and safety issues about what is going to be banked.”
“Take tobacco for example, every state I think has some kind of regulatory parameters around the utilization of tobacco, even if it’s just an age limit on who can purchase it or what have you and the types of products that are going to be allowed,” he continued. “That gets into a legal issue that I think the states need to be more engaged in, but it also impacts the question on what would be banked. Those kinds of issues—health and safety, interstate commerce and money laundering.”
Crapo is also floating new federal studies on marijuana and its effects, clarifying hemp businesses’ banking access and measures to deal with legacy cash and interstate commerce, among other areas for potential amendments. He also suggested that measures requiring studies on study on diversity and inclusion in the cannabis industry be removed from the legislation.
“I appreciate Chairman Crapo’s concerns and willingness to work on this important issue. However, there is an urgent public safety risk facing the majority of communities and Americans today that needs to be resolved, and I believe our bill, which passed the House with 321 Democratic and Republican votes, responsibly addresses the conflict between state marijuana laws and federal banking laws,” said Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), who is the lead sponsor of the SAFE Banking Act in the House. “This issue requires a pragmatic approach that takes into the account the will of voters across the country. I look forward to working with Chairman Crapo and my colleagues in the Senate as we work to resolve these differences and enact legislation to protect businesses, residents and communities.”
Legalization advocates were not pleased with the proposals.
“These guidelines are essentially gutting the intention of this bill,” National Cannabis Industry Association Director of Government Relations Michael Correia told Marijuana Moment.
“While the chairman may oppose broader cannabis policy reform, he clearly recognizes the problems created by lack of access to banking services,” he said. “The SAFE Banking Act, which has already been passed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority of the House, addresses many of the chairman’s concerns, particularly public safety and transparency. We’re happy to discuss these items with the Senate Banking Committee in a markup, but every day that goes by without addressing this particular issue results in small businesses suffering and unnecessarily puts people’s lives at risk.”
Financial services industry trade associations also reacted to the news.
“We respect Chairman Crapo’s request for additional public input on the SAFE Banking Act, and we look forward to providing the Senate Banking Committee with the information it needs,” James Ballentine, the executive vice president of congressional relations for the American Bankers Association, said in a statement. “ABA, like many other stakeholders, has already provided the committee relevant information on several of the issues identified by the chairman including legacy cash, interstate commerce and ‘Operation Chokepoint.’ We continue to believe that the SAFE Banking Act responsibly addresses the current legal limbo over cannabis banking, and a strong bipartisan majority in the House shares that view. We urge the committee to gather this information in a timely manner so the Senate can follow the House’s lead and pass legislation that will help protect communities across the country from an increasing public safety threat.”
Ryan Donovan, chief advocacy officer for the Credit Union National Association, said that his group “appreciate[s]” Crapo sharing his concerns.
“America’s credit unions are eager to continue engaging with the chairman as he seeks a solution that enhances community safety through access to mainstream financial services,” he said.
Crapo is asking interested parties to send feedback on the new proposals to [email protected], though his office did not list a date by which responses are requested.
Read Crapo’s full statement on marijuana banking below:
Chairman Crapo Outlines Concerns with Cannabis Banking Legislation
Requests feedback on potential changes to address public health and safety
WASHINGTON – Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) is inviting public feedback on ways to address public health and money laundering concerns with cannabis banking. Input is also requested on “Operation Choke Point,” an Obama-era initiative in which federal agencies devised and relied upon a list of politically disfavored merchant categories (e.g., firearm manufacturers, payday lenders, etc.) with the intent of “choking-off” these merchants’ access to payment systems and banking services.
“I remain firmly opposed to efforts to legalize marijuana on the federal level, and I am opposed to legalization in the State of Idaho,” said Chairman Crapo. “I also do not support the SAFE Banking Act that passed in the House of Representatives. I have significant concerns that the SAFE Banking Act does not address the high level potency of marijuana, marketing tactics to children, lack of research on marijuana’s effects, and the need to prevent bad actors and cartels from using the banks to disguise ill-gotten cash to launder money into the financial system. I welcome input from all interested parties on how to thoughtfully address these concerns.”
Currently, 33 states have some form of legal marijuana for a variety of uses. This has created challenges for businesses in those states and has resulted in increased pressure for depository and financial institutions to provide financial services to both state-sanctioned businesses and ancillary services providers that may provide services to state-sanctioned businesses. The ancillary service providers offer a variety of services to state-sanctioned businesses, such as legal services, plumbing services, fertilizers and other agricultural supplies, real estate, and leasing, among many others. As a result, Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) and Cory Gardner (R-Colorado) introduced S. 1200 on April 11, 2019. While marijuana would still be illegal at the federal level, this proposed legislation seeks to provide legal certainty for banks who wish to serve not only marijuana companies, but also the ancillary service providers, meaning that banks can accept cash from legally-operating state cannabis companies and related service providers without the fear of adverse actions being taken against them by federal financial regulators.
On July 23, 2019, the Senate Banking Committee held a hearing titled, “Challenges for Cannabis and Banking: Outside Perspectives.” At the hearing, Senator Crapo discussed his concerns with the public health and safety issues surrounding marijuana; legacy cash and money laundering; FinCEN guidance and rulemaking; interstate commerce and banking; and initiatives similar to “Operation Choke Point.”
Options for addressing these concerns include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Add public health and safety solutions as a requirement for banks to do business with legally-operating state cannabis companies. Options to consider include THC potency; clear and conspicuous disclosures on products; marketing; effects on minors, unborn children and pregnant women; and age restrictions, among other considerations.
- Prevent bad actors and cartels from using legacy cash and the financial system to disguise ill-gotten cash or launder money.
- Update 2014 FinCEN rulemaking and guidance regarding marijuana-related businesses, and ensure FinCEN has all of the necessary tools it needs to prosecute money launderers and promulgate rulemakings.
- Respect state rights in interstate commerce and banking for institutions who operate in multiple states with different state rules.
- Eliminate “Operation Choke Point” and preventing future “Operation Choke Point” Initiatives. Under fear of retribution, many banks have stopped providing financial services to members of lawful industries for no reason other than political pressure, which takes the guise of regulatory and enforcement scrutiny.
Public feedback is requested on the following issues that include potential options for addressing concerns and questions outlined below. Interested parties may submit proposals to Committee staff at [email protected]
Issue 1: Options for addressing public health and safety concerns.
There is a lack of federal research evaluating marijuana and its effects. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has found that marijuana use significantly impairs a user’s judgment, motor skills and reaction time. Other studies have found a direct relationship between blood THC concentration and impaired driving ability. Additionally, the Surgeon General released an advisory on Marijuana’s Damaging Effects on the Developing Brain, noting that THC binds to receptors in the brain, producing a euphoria and a variety of harmful effects, including intoxication, and memory and motor impairments. The Surgeon General also noted the harmful effects of THC use during pregnancy and on young developing brains. Surgeon General Adams also released an Advisory on e-cigarette use among youth, and the recent surge in the market, which he states is a cause for great concern.
The appropriate federal agencies shall conduct a national study on the effects of marijuana and publicly report on considerations related to public health and safety of cannabis, cannabis products and their delivery mechanisms, including as it pertains to the marketing and varying potency of cannabis and cannabis products, particularly, but not limited to, minors, pregnant women and effects on unborn children. The federal government agencies, within the study, should also make recommendations on the manufacturing and marketing practices of the cannabis industry to minimize their appeal to minors and harm to minors, pregnant women and unborn children.
The studies shall include the following:
a. The types and delivery mechanisms (e.g., smoking, vaping, edibles, drinking, etc.) for all cannabis and cannabis products currently available or under development in the marketplace;
b. The potency of the cannabis and cannabis products, available in their final form, and how the potency has changed over time, including how it impacts addiction;
c. How various potencies and serving sizes may impact individuals’ health and safety, and whether different potencies and serving sizes are harmful to individuals’ health and safety, including how human physiology affects impairment, particularly as it relates to minors and pregnant women;
d. How different types of products and delivery mechanisms have affected minors’ access to cannabis and cannabis products, and how it impacts purchasing decisions over an individual’s lifetime;
e. The degree to which different levels of potency, serving sizes or consumption impair individuals’ judgment or cognitive reasoning, and trends of the prevalence of individuals operating a vehicle or machinery under the influence of cannabis; and
f. The extent to which other jurisdictions with various levels of cannabis legalization have made determinations, as reflected in law or public policy, on the health and safety effects of cannabis or cannabis products, require disclosure of potency or serving sizes, and have restricted or otherwise limited the potency of cannabis cultivated, sold, or purchased in their respective jurisdictions.
Question: Are there any other additional health considerations, other than those explicitly stated in the outline, that should be considered, and which federal agencies are most appropriate to be involved in the aforementioned study?
Considerations for addressing health and safety concerns associated with financial institutions who provide financial services to cannabis-related legitimate businesses:
a. Each state must implement clear and conspicuous disclosure of THC potency of cannabis and cannabis products (on a percentage and milligram basis in final products) through a label on the final packaged products at the point of sale. Among the contents of any state labeling requirements should be proper warnings, contaminants, potency and serving sizes, and ingredients;
b. A potency threshold of 2 percent THC content on a percentage and milligram basis in the final product;
c. The 2 percent threshold will apply until each state legislature affirmatively determines the appropriate level of THC potency for cannabis and cannabis products (on a percentage and milligram basis in final products) that appropriately addresses the health and safety risks to its citizens;
d. Preventing distribution to anyone under the age of 21;
e. Preventing the banking of edibles that are in many kid-friendly forms like candies and gummies; and
f. Preventing the banking of high potency THC vape and e-cigarette products.
Question: Are there any other additional health considerations that should be attached to the safe harbor?
Issues 2, 3: Options for addressing legacy cash and money laundering.
FinCEN Rulemaking and Guidance: Amend the Act to direct FinCEN to promulgate a rulemaking within a specified period of time, after enactment of this Act, to address issues pertaining to the provision of financial services to the marijuana industry and ancillary businesses, including Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) and dealing with legacy cash.
FinCEN will retain meaningful oversight authority of the activities between cannabis-related legitimate businesses (CRLBs) and their financial institutions. FinCEN will be required to promulgate rulemakings and update their guidance pertaining to Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) expectations for marijuana-related businesses to address the following:
a. Requiring thorough customer due diligence standards;
b. Thorough processes and procedures to ensure funds from cannabis-related businesses and service providers are not associated with illicit activities;
c. Clearly delineating the BSA obligations of financial institutions when engaging in business with cannabis-related businesses or individuals who engage with cannabis-related businesses, including for indirect relationships such as ancillary businesses;
d. Requiring the filing of SARs in a manner that preserves FinCEN’s ability to address illicit activity; and
e. Clarifying the treatment of hemp.
Additionally, Section 7 of S. 1200 should be amended to ensure that the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC) must consult with FinCEN on its development of uniform guidance and examination procedures for depository institutions as they relate to CRLBs and service providers.
Suspicious Activity Reports: Amend Section 6 of the Act regarding FinCEN’s guidance to ensure the guidance does not impair the ability of FinCEN to deter illicit activity, consistent with the rulemaking described above.
Question: In such a rulemaking, what additional requirements are needed for financial services firms to ensure that bad actors are not accessing the financial system, the sources of cash entering the financial system are fully understood and validated, Suspicious Activity Reports continue to be appropriately filed, and expectations for indirect relationships are clear commensurate with their risk?
Issue 4: Options for addressing interstate commerce and banking.
Interstate Commerce: Amend the Act to clarify that financial institutions must comply with all applicable laws related to cannabis and cannabis products in each respective state in which they operate, and ensure that nothing in the Act would facilitate interstate commerce of cannabis.
Additionally, given the tension between the state legality of cannabis and federal illegality, it should be made clear that the federal banking regulators should consult with state regulators ahead of any implementation, or give some notice.
Question: Does the bill, as drafted, facilitate interstate commerce? Should there be an explicit statement in the bill clarifying that the bill does not permit interstate commerce of marijuana?
Issue 5: Options for addressing hemp provisions and “Operation Choke Point.”
Add the following new provisions:
a. House hemp provision; and
b. The Financial Institution Customer Protection Act language included in the House-passed version of H.R. 1595, but with the following additional amendments: (1) change the term “may” to “shall”; and amend to reflect and add the following:
(1)An appropriate Federal banking agency shall not formally or informally request or order a depository institution to terminate a specific account or group of customer accounts or to otherwise restrict or discourage a depository institution from entering into or maintaining a banking relationship with a specific customer or group of customers unless –
(A) the institution is engaging in unsafe or unsound practices or violating a rule, law, regulation or other condition imposed in writing due to its relationship with the specific customer.
(B) an appropriate Federal banking agency shall not take any action under (A) with respect to a group or category of customers and shall only take action under (A) after it has made a determination in writing with respect to specific customer that the conditions set forth under (A) are satisfied.
(C) for purposes of (A), reputational risk shall constitute neither an unsafe or unsound practice nor a violation of rule, law, regulation or other condition imposed in writing.
Under (b) Notice Requirement, amend (2) to reflect the following: (2) Justification Requirement – A justification described under paragraph 1(A) should only be based on if the institution engaged in an unsafe or unsound practice or violated a rule, law, regulation or other condition imposed in writing.
Under (c) Customer Notice, add the following: (2) In the written notice and determination, the depository institution shall also provide the determination and justification for why the termination is needed, including any specific laws or regulations, or unsafe and unsound practices, the depository institution believes are being violated by the customer or group of customers.
Question: Do the proposed amendments to the Financial Institution Customer Protection Act, as passed in the House, adequately curb potential future choke point scenarios?
Additional amendments for consideration:
Studies: Strike Sections 8, 9 and 10 directing studies. Section 8 of S. 1200 requires the Federal banking regulators to issue an annual report to congress on diversity and inclusion; Section 9 of S. 1200 requires the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a study on diversity and inclusion; and Section 10 requires the GAO to conduct a study on the effectiveness of reports on suspicious transactions filed.
Preserving Regulatory Actions: Amend the Act to clarify that federal banking regulators can still take certain actions, including enforcement actions, against depository institutions, such as those actions related to poor underwriting and engaging in unsafe or unsound practices.
This story was updated to include reaction from advocates.
Austin City Council Approves Measure To End Most Marijuana Arrests
The decision to back away from pursuing criminal charges against people with small amounts of pot comes after state lawmakers last year legalized hemp in a way that threw marijuana prosecution into chaos.
The Austin City Council approved a resolution Thursday that will largely end arrests and fines for low-level marijuana possession. This comes after Texas’ legalization of hemp last June threw marijuana prosecution into chaos since the plants look and smell identical.
The resolution directing Austin police not to spend city resources on newly necessary lab tests to distinguish marijuana from now-legal hemp passed unanimously with nine votes. Council member Jimmy Flannigan and Mayor Steve Adler were absent. Debate on the measure lasted just under an hour and a half. Of about 20 people who spoke on the resolution, only Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday was against it.
The council’s resolution states that it stems directly from Texas’ new law legalizing hemp. Last summer, following a federal hemp bill, state lawmakers approved a measure to create an agricultural industry for the crop in Texas. But the law also complicated marijuana prosecutions by narrowing the legal definition of the drug from cannabis to cannabis that contains more than 0.3% THC, the psychoactive ingredient in the plant.
Joint Effort: #ATXCouncil takes steps to eliminate the use of arrest or other enforcement action for low-level cannabis-related possession offenses + ensure City resources are focused on citizens’ public safety priorities. View the draft resolution: https://t.co/qNJ6L2ZPjJ. pic.twitter.com/rdwiLjx0w8
— City of Austin (@austintexasgov) January 23, 2020
All of a sudden, some district attorneys were dropping hundreds of low-level pot possession cases and not accepting new ones, arguing they couldn’t tell without lab testing if something was marijuana anymore. New misdemeanor marijuana cases filed by Texas prosecutors have dropped by more than half. And numerous Texas prosecutors, including those in Austin’s Travis County, require police to submit lab reports on a substance’s THC concentration before they will pursue misdemeanor marijuana charges. They argue circumstantial evidence like smell can no longer be used to authoritatively say something is marijuana.
Part of what prompted the Austin resolution — which prohibits spending city funds on such testing except in felony cases — is that public state labs are still working on establishing a way to test for that THC concentration. Right now they can only tell if something is cannabis. For some counties and cities, that has meant putting more money into shipping seized cannabis to private labs that can tell if it’s hemp or marijuana.
Even in places where police don’t have or aren’t spending funds on such testing and new cases aren’t being accepted by prosecutors, people are still being cited or arrested. They are sometimes taken to jail but then released with no charges being pursued. Austin police said this month that they still arrest or cite people who are suspected of possessing marijuana.
This resolution changes that, directing the city to get as close as possible to eliminating enforcement action for low-level cannabis possession.
The measure prohibits spending city funds on testing in low-level possession cases, and it directs police not to arrest or cite people in such cases — unless there is a safety concern — if they know the district attorney will automatically reject the charges or testing won’t be approved. It clarifies that lab testing can be used for suspected felonies or when the cannabis is not for personal use, like trafficking cases. A revised version also specifies that the measure will not affect toxicology testing.
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Virginia Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Decriminalization Bill
Virginia senators advanced a bill to decriminalize marijuana in the state on Thursday, voting in favor of a measure to remove the threat of incarceration for simple possession.
The Senate Judiciary Criminal Law Subcommittee passed the legislation in a voice vote. The panel also took up separate bills concerning expungements as well as a separate decriminalization proposal that was adopted into the approved cannabis measure.
The subcommittee’s action came in spite of opposition from the state chapter of the ACLU, which has complained that the reform move doesn’t go far enough and said that it’d prefer the status quo of prohibition until comprehensive legalization is accomplished.
HAPPENING NOW: Packed room at the Senate Judiciary Criminal Law subcommittee where SB 2 to decriminalize marijuana will be heard.
— ACLU of Virginia (@ACLUVA) January 23, 2020
Other reform advocates said that they share concerns about the limitations of SB 2, but they are still in favor of advancing it with certain changes. The bill would make simple possession a civil penalty punishable by a maximum $50 fine, whereas current policy stipulates that a first offense is punishable by a maximum $500 fine and up to 30 days in jail.
It would also raise the possession threshold for what can be considered “intent to distribute” from a half ounce to one ounce, and it would remove a separate definition of hashish from state law, meaning that it would be treated the same as cannabis flower.
Before approving the bill, lawmakers removed its expungements language, as the issue is already being tackled by other legislation they advanced. It also reduced proposed penalties against juvenile offenders.
The subcommittee agreed to technically integrate the separate decriminalization bill—which included a tiered fine scheme for first, second and third offenses that are being dropped—into SB 2. Under the proposal that is advancing next to the full Senate Judiciary Committee, the $50 fine would be imposed, regardless of the number of offenses.
NORML, Virginia NORML and Attorney General Mark Herring’s (D) office testified in support of the bill.
“Today’s vote is a historic step in the right direction,” Virginia NORML Executive Director Jenn Michelle Pedini told Marijuana Moment. “Virginia marijuana laws have long lagged behind public opinion, and the legislature’s new found appetite for advancing such a measure is a welcome change.”
“Decriminalization, however, is not a solution to marijuana criminalization,” Pedini said. “It does nothing to impact the disparate enforcement of marijuana laws. The Commonwealth must move swiftly to legalize and regulate the responsible adult use of cannabis and begin undoing the harms prohibition.”
Gov. Ralph Northam (D) campaigned on decriminalization, and he included the policy change proposal in his annual State of the Commonwealth speech earlier this month, stating that the state needs “to take an honest look at our criminal justice system to make sure we’re treating people fairly and using taxpayer dollars wisely.”
Herring, who is running for governor in 2021 to replace the term-limited Northam, is in favor of enacting decriminalization as a step on the path toward eventual full legalization. He organized a summit last month where lawmakers heard from officials in legal cannabis states about regulatory challenges and opportunities.
Prior to the event, a Virginia lawmaker filed a legalization bill. Herring said his summit would provide the governor with the resources he needs to embrace comprehensive reform.
New Hampshire Lawmakers Debate Non-Commercial Marijuana Legalization Bill
A New Hampshire House committee held a hearing on Thursday to discuss a bill that would legalize the possession and cultivation of marijuana for adults.
While broader recreational legalization legislation that included a legal sales component has advanced in prior sessions, no such bill has reached the governor’s desk yet. And so lawmakers are taking a different approach this time, pushing a cannabis reform proposal that excludes any commercialization model.
That bill, filed earlier this month, would simply allow adults 21 and older to possess and gift up to three-fourths an ounce of cannabis and grow up to six plants. Supporters are taking a page from neighboring Vermont, which approved non-commercial legalization in 2018.
The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee heard testimony from advocates, stakeholders and opponents—though opposition was limited. Just two individuals, including one representative, testified against the bill, and just two individuals signed a committee report expressing opposition—a lobbyist for the state police chiefs’ association and another lawmaker.
Rep. Carol McGuire (R), sponsor of the legislation, said at a press conference ahead of the hearing that it’s a “very simple bill” that specifically does not include a commercial element to bolster its chances of passage.
“This takes it out of the commercial realm and lets people grow their own and use it in the privacy of their own home,” she said. “I would rather have people who want to use it be able to grow it in the privacy of their own backyards and not have to travel to other states.”
Non-commercial legalization is not the end game, as advocates are hopeful that retail sales will eventually come. But with Gov. Chris Sununu (R) having voiced opposition to commercialization and vetoing a bill last year that would’ve allowed medical cannabis patients to cultivate for personal use, it’s about as far as lawmakers expect to get this year. (Sununu did sign a modest decriminalization bill in 2017, however.)
“The time has come to end our outdated policy of punishing adults for possessing cannabis,” McGuire said in a press release. “It does not make sense for New Hampshire to remain an island of prohibition.”
A vote on the bill within the panel that held the hearing is expected to come as early as next week.
“It’s absurd that the ‘Live Free or Die’ state remains so far behind its neighbors on cannabis policy,” Matt Simon, New England political director of the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment. “Now that Granite Staters can easily obtain cannabis from retail stores in Massachusetts, New Hampshire should definitely stop fining adults for possession and prosecuting them for home cultivation.”
New Hampshire is one of several states where cannabis reform is being considered as legislative sessions across the country come online.
Just in the Northeast region, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) included legalization in his budget this week, as did Rhode Island’s governor, who pitched a state-run cannabis model in her plan. In New Jersey, the legislature approved a referendum to put the question of recreational legalization before voters during the November election. Top lawmakers in Connecticut have also expressed confidence that marijuana reform will advance this year.
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.