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Legalization On The Ballot: Live Marijuana Election Results

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Voters in several states are deciding on far-reaching marijuana ballot measures today, and the results of a number of congressional and gubernatorial races could have big consequences for cannabis policy.

Stay tuned here with Marijuana Moment all day for live updates—in reverse chronological order, with times listed in ET—on all the latest marijuana election night news. And follow us on Twitter for even more granular updates as Election Day unfolds and votes are counted.


12:40 AM

Voters in at least 14 counties across Wisconsin have embraced various marijuana reform policies in the form of non-binding advisory questions. A total of 16 counties had questions about legalization or decriminalization on the ballot, but the results of two other questions are still being tracked.

And at last count, a total of five Ohio cities approved local marijuana decriminalization initiatives. Only one of six cities that had similar measures on the ballot rejected decriminalization.

Marijuana Moment is signing off for the night. Thank you for following! Subscribe to our newsletter and stay tuned in the coming days as we analyze all the results and what they mean.


12:25 AM

Utah voters just approved a measure to legalize cannabis for medical use, Fox 13 has projected. Read Marijuana Moment’s breaking news story for more details on the state’s new cannabis law.

Utah Voters Approve Medical Marijuana Legalization Ahead Of Compromise Deal


11:35 PM

Michigan voters just approved a ballot measure to legalize marijuana. Read Marijuana Moment’s breaking news story for more details on the state’s new cannabis law.

Michigan Voters Just Approved Full Marijuana Legalization


11:25 PM

Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM) has been elected governor of New Mexico, the Associated Press has projected. The congresswoman said she was open to signing a bill to fully legalize cannabis in the state, but that it’d be contingent on the legislation. Specifically, she wants to make sure that edibles are regulated, workplace safety is ensured and the state’s existing medical marijuana program isn’t negatively impacted.

Lujan Grisham has backed several amendments in Congress that would protect state legal marijuana programs from federal interference. Her gubernatorial campaign was also endorsed by the pro-reform Drug Policy Alliance.

And Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN) has been elected governor of Minnesota. The sitting congressman has been a decisively pro-legalization politician, and earlier this year his proposal to have the Department of Veterans Affairs study the benefits of medical marijuana for military veterans became the first-ever standalone cannabis bill to get approval from a congressional committee.

The time has come to “replace the current failed policy with one that creates tax revenue, grows jobs, builds opportunities for Minnesotans, protects Minnesota kids, and trusts adults to make personal decisions based on their personal freedoms,” Walz said.


11:20 PM

Democrat Gavin Newsom has been elected governor of California. As lieutenant governor, he became one of the first mainstream Democrats to endorse legalization when he told the New York Times in 2012 that “these laws just don’t make sense anymore” and “it’s time for politicians to come out of the closet on this.”

Newsom then empaneled a blue ribbon commission on cannabis whose report informed the drafting of the state’s successful 2016 legalization ballot measure, for which he actively campaigned. As governor, he is expected to support legislation expanding the state’s marijuana laws and to work to protect them from any moves by the federal government to interfere with them.

He is one of several gubernatorial candidates running this year on platforms that include support for marijuana legalization.


11:10 PM 

North Dakota’s marijuana legalization ballot measure has failed, the Associated Press has projected. Read Marijuana Moment’s breaking news story for more details.

North Dakota Voters Reject Marijuana Legalization Measure


11:02 PM

One of three initiatives seeking to legalize medical marijuana in Missouri has passed, the Associated Press has projected. Two other competing initiatives have failed. Read Marijuana Moment’s breaking news story for more details on the state’s new cannabis law.

Missouri Voters Approve Medical Marijuana Measure


10:48 PM

Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) has lost his senate bid to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), the Associated Press has projected. O’Rourke has been a leading voice for marijuana and drug policy reform since his days as an El Paso city councilman. He’s also cosponsored several marijuana bills in Congress. Cruz, meanwhile, has voiced support for letting states set their own marijuana laws, but he hasn’t ever cosponsored legislation to that effect.


10:37 PM

Incumbent Rep. Scott Taylor (R-VA) has lost to Democratic challenger Elaine Luria. Taylor, a former Navy SEAL, is one of a handful of House Republicans who’ve backed legislation to reform federal marijuana laws. Luria, also a Navy veteran, has challenged the Department of Veterans Affairs over its refusal to recommend medical cannabis to patients.


10:35 PM

Dayton, Ohio, voters appear to have approved a citywide measure to decriminalize marijuana. The measure was leading strongly with 74-26 percent margin, with 83 percent of precincts reporting. Dayton is the sixth most populous city in Ohio. A similar measure also passed in Norwood, Local12 reported.


10:30 PM

CNN is projecting that Republicans will win enough seats to retain control of the Senate.


10:25 PM

NBC News is projecting that Democrats will win enough seats to retake control of the House.

Because Republican leadership has blocked all cannabis amendments from being voted in during the current session of Congress—more than three dozen altogether—many legalization supporters believe that a change in party control will benefit marijuana reform.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) released a step-by-step “blueprint” last month for how Democrats can legalize cannabis federally in 2019, from hearings to votes, all laid out on a timeline.

That said, party leaders haven’t been so enthusiastic when asked about the issue.

Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD), for example, said top Democrats “haven’t talked about that” when he was asked about pushing cannabis reform in next year.

And Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the minority leader who is expected to seek the speakership again, suggested that marijuana bills’ success would largely depend on support from President Trump.

“I don’t know where the president is on any of this,” she said. “So any decision about how we go forward would have to reflect where we can get the result.”


10:22 PM

Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) has been defeated by Democratic challenger Colin Allred, NBC News has projected. As chairman of the House Rules Committee, Sessions is the key reason that his colleagues haven’t been able to vote on any cannabis amendments for the past two years—he has blocked every single one from advancing to the floor for consideration. Regardless of whether the Democrats take control of the House tonight, the fact that Sessions won’t be in Congress next years means that marijuana reform already has a much greater chance of advancing.


10:15 PM

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D) lost her reelection bid to challenger Rep. Kevin Cramer (R), NBC News has projected. Both candidates had said that states should be able to implement their own marijuana laws without federal interference, but they also each voted against the legalization measure that appeared on North Dakota’s ballot today. Heitkamp’s loss makes it that much harder for Democrats to gain control of the Senate, already a questionable prospect in light of previous results in other states tonight.

And Rep. David Joyce (R-OH) has been reelected, the Associated Press has projected. This year, he championed marijuana amendments in the House Appropriations Committee—to protect state medical cannabis laws from federal interference and to protect banks that work with marijuana businesses.


10:07 PM

West Virginia State Senator Richard Ojeda (D) has lost a U.S. House race to Republican opponent Carol Miller. The former Army paratrooper campaigned heavily on a pro-legalization platform, and he was the chief sponsor of a bill to legalize medical cannabis in the conservative state. Miller, who serves on the GOP leadership team in the West Virginia House of Delegates, voted in favor of the medical cannabis bill—but she’s also peddled some dubious claims about the impact of consuming cannabis while pregnant.


10:03 PM

Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) has been defeated by Democratic challenger Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, CNN has projected. One of a handful of GOP lawmakers to have taken a leadership role on marijuana issues, Curbelo this Congress was the chief sponsor of legislation to repeal the 280E tax penalty on cannabis businesses and is a lead cosponsor of the Marijuana Data Collection Act, which would require the federal government to study the effects of legalization. His absence from Capitol Hill next year means that cannabis reform supporters will need to work to find other GOP lawmakers to take the lead Republican role on key bills.


10:00 PM

Polls just closed in Utah! We’ll bring you results on the medical marijuana ballot measure as soon as we have them.


9:45 PM

Colorado voters have elected Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) as governor, NBC News has projected. In Congress since 2009, Polis has a consistent record of sponsoring or cosponsoring legislation aimed at reforming federal marijuana laws, including a bill to regulate cannabis like alcohol.

And former Michigan lawmaker Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, has won the race for Michigan governor, Fox News has projected. She’s emphasized that, should Michigan voters also choose to fully legalize marijuana on Tuesday, it’s critical to implement the system properly. For her part, Whitmer said she’s a “yes” vote on the state’s legalization proposal.

Separately, a statewide initiative in Ohio to reduce penalties for select drug offenses from felonies to misdemeanors has been rejected, WPCO reported.


9:40 PM

The night is still young, but early returns are showing that marijuana reform measures are enjoying more support than opposition in at least two states and one city.

In Michigan, a measure to fully legalize marijuana has a strong lead, 56-44 percent, with four percent of precincts reporting.

Two out of three initiatives seeking to legalize medical cannabis in Missouri are ahead, as well. Amendment 2, backed by New Approach Missouri, is up 70-30 percent. Proposition C, meanwhile, is ahead 54-46 percent. Less than one percent of precincts are reporting.

But in North Dakota, a measure seeking to fully legalize marijuana is down, 29-71 percent, with about seven percent of precincts reporting.

In Dayton, Ohio—the sixth most populous city in the state—a proposal to decriminalize marijuana is up 75-25 percent, with about 20 percent reporting.

One other drug reform measure—a bid to allow former felons to vote—has been approved, NBC News projected.


9:10 PM

Incumbent New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has won another term in office, CNN projected. Cuomo’s position on marijuana policy has evolved dramatically throughout his campaign, possibly in response to his progressive primary challenger Cynthia Nixon, who offered a full-throated endorsement of legalization early on.


9:05 PM

NBC News projects that in Indiana’s U.S. Senate race, Republican Mike Braun has defeated Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly (D).

In a debate earlier this year, former state representative Braun voiced soft support for medical marijuana, saying that the issue should be seen in terms of “free markets and freedom of choice” for patients.

In a subsequent debate, Braun underscored his support for states’ rights on the medical cannabis issue, asserting that “states are a great laboratory” and “if a state wants to go to medical marijuana, it ought to be their prerogative.”

As a House member, Donnelly voted against a measure to protect state medical cannabis laws from federal interference, but this year he signed onto a Senate bill to encourage more research on the medical benefits of marijuana for military veterans. His loss makes it harder for Democrats to capture the Senate.


9:00 PM

Wisconsin polling places are now closed. Sixteen counties and two cities voted on marijuana advisory questions today. We’ll have the results when they come in…


8:45 PM

Incumbent Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY) won reelection against Democratic challenger Amy McGrath, a former Marine fighter pilot.

Barr has voted against numerous bills and amendments seeking to reform federal marijuana laws. However, he did sponsor an amendment this year that would have at least enabled hemp businesses to access banks. There’s a “proud history in America and in Kentucky [for hemp] as an agriculture product,” he said at the time.

With polls closing in Kentucky before most other states tonight, the race was seen as an early bellwether of Democrats’ chances of taking control of the House. That said, the party has already flipped several other GOP-held seats this evening.


8:40 PM 

Democrat Ben Jealous, a former NAACP president, has lost his race for governor of Maryland, NBC News is projecting. Jealous campaigned on a platform to legalize marijuana and use revenue from cannabis sales to fund a universal pre-kindergarten program. Incumbent Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has said that legalization is “worth taking a look at.


8:30 PM

Early returns show that a measure to fully legalize marijuana in Michigan is ahead 53-47 percent, with less than one percent reporting.


8:20 PM

Venture capitalist J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, has beat out incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) to become the next governor of Illinois, NBC News projected. Marijuana legalization was a primary campaign promise from Pritzker, and he’s emphasized both the economic benefits of legalization as well as the racial injustice of prohibition.

“Criminalizing marijuana hasn’t made our communities safer, but has disproportionately impacted black and brown communities,” he said. “The criminalization of cannabis never has been and never will be enforced fairly, and it’s time to bring that to an end. To right past wrongs, we also have to commute sentences of people in prison who are there for marijuana offenses.”


8:15 PM

Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX)—a staunch prohibitionist who has systematically blocked votes on marijuana-related legislation—is trailing behind Democratic challenger Colin Allred, with less than one percent of precincts reporting.


8:00 PM

Missouri polls are now closed. We’ll be watching for the results of the three separate medical marijuana ballot measures.

Polls also just closed in most of Michigan. Stay tuned to see if voters approved the marijuana legalization ballot measure. (Small portions of the state are still voting for another hour.)


7:30 PM

Polling places just closed in Ohio. We’ll be watching to see how voters in six cities decided on local marijuana decriminalization ballot measures.


7:15 PM

The Associated Press projects that Rep. James Comer (R-KY) has been reelected by a large margin. Comer is the chief sponsor of hemp legalization legislation in the U.S. House, provisions of which are likely to be included in the Farm Bill—with the support of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).


6:05 PM

Marijuana Moment asked our Twitter followers how they felt about voting on marijuana measures on their ballots today. Here are a few particularly interesting responses:


5:30 PM

Another sign that voter turnout is surging in Missouri: “The Boone County Clerk, which is home to the University of Missouri, is now saying that voter turnout in the county might reach 80 percent,” Jack Cardetti, spokesperson for the pro-legalization New Approach Missouri, told Marijuana Moment. “Unheard of in a midterm.”


5:10 PM

Josh Hovey, spokesperson for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, told Marijuana Moment that the group is “cautiously optimistic at this point” about the prospect of Michigan passing the full legalization measure, Proposal 1.

“Polling has consistently shown the percentage of support for Proposal 1 to be in the high 50s to low 60s, but it’s important that every single one of our supporters get to the polls and have their vote counted,” he said.


4:45 PM

Registering to vote is important, as this dispatch from Michigan shows:


4:10 PM

There are more signs that voter turnout in Utah, where medical cannabis is on the ballot, is especially strong this election. The state’s election office told reporter Ben Winslow that mail-in ballot turnout alone is over 50 percent at this point, which equates to about 725,000 ballots. That means mail-in turnout is higher than the total voter turnout in 2014 (557,973 ballots) and 2010 (653,274 ballots).

Long lines to vote are being observed at the Salt Lake County Government Center and at a courthouse in Utah County, where the wait time is reportedly hovering around three hours.


3:50 PM

Here’s a look at some of the pro- and anti-legalization ads that blanketed the airwaves in recent weeks in states with marijuana measures on the ballot.

Watch more marijuana campaign ads here.


3:40 PM

Former Michigan police office Howard Wooldridge, who now lobbies for cannabis and drug policy reform in Washington, D.C. with the group Citizens Opposing Prohibition, is on the ground in his former state and told Marijuana Moment that he has a good feeling about the marijuana legalization ballot measure.

“My thoughts from the streets of [Michigan]… feels much like [Colorado] in 2012,” he said in a email. “That, plus the polls hanging very steady for 9 months… I feel very good that Prop One will pass, most of the credit going to the MI activists over the past 10 years + the last 10 months.”

Detroit News reporter Jonathan Oosting is also on the ground in Michigan. He’s been asking voters which candidates or issues motivated them to hit the polls and wrote that he’s “hearing a lot about marijuana legalization Proposal 1, both from supporters and opponents.”


2:35 PM

Voter turnout is way up in North Dakota, where marijuana legalization is on the ballot.

According to the secretary of state’s office, more than 144,000 people filed their ballots early in the midterm election, a number that exceeded those for two previous presidential elections in 2012 and 2016.

Meanwhile, election day turnout seems robust as well, according to reports from local journalists. One reporter cited a Republican election observer who said the legalization measure itself is driving “strong turnout.”

And columnist Rob Port, who predicted on his blog this morning that voters will approve legal cannabis, also documented big lines at his polling place.


2:20 PM

Here’s a look at the actual ballot language of the cannabis initiatives that voters in seven states will be deciding on today.

Fun fact: Voters in Racine, Wisconsin will see six separate marijuana measures on their ballots today because the city and county each approved three nonbinding cannabis questions.


2:00 PM

Utah voter turnout is exceptionally high so far. A Salt Lake Tribune columnist predicted that, at this rate, 800,000 residents will be casting their ballot this election. That would represent a 39 percent increase from the 2014 election.

Big turnout and a surge of newly registered voters participating in the election could help give Utah’s medical cannabis measure a boost.

But a reminder: even if Proposition 2 fails, advocates and opponents reached a compromise earlier this year that effectively guarantees Utah patients will have access to medical cannabis down the line. Lawmakers are working on a bill to achieve just that, and an updated draft of the legislation was released on Monday.

While most of the language of the initial draft remained intact, the new draft strikes a provision that would have required criminal background checks for patients and increases protections for pharmacists and physicians who become involved in dispensing cannabis.


1:20 PM

Michigan residents shouldn’t be deterred from voting if they see reports about power outages due to strong winds at their polling location, a spokesperson for the Michigan Secretary of State told MLive. Tabulators have backup batteries, and poll workers should be prepared in the event of an outage.

One area that doesn’t need to be reminded of that fact is Lansing, Michigan, where several precincts are reporting strong turnout in spite of the bad weather.

That said, other precincts—particularly those around Detroit—are experiencing problems with malfunctioning voting machines that have left voters waiting in “seemingly interminable lines.”


12:20 PM

Good morning, California! Time to vote. Statewide, there are 78 jurisdictions—10 counties and 68 cities—voting on a total of 94 ballot measures concerning marijuana tax rates and the licensing of cannabis businesses.


12:00 PM

Cannabis enthusiast celebs are urging their supporters to get out to the polls.


11:50 AM

Marijuana Moment took a final pre-election look at campaign finance reports for and against cannabis ballot measures. We found that the opposition outraised marijuana reform supporters almost everywhere.

Read our full report here.


11:40 AM

Missouri voters are hitting the polls in seemingly record numbers this morning—but not without a few hitches. One voting machine went down at Lee’s Summit City Hall, others were on the fritz at the Don Bosco Senior Center. And election monitors have reportedly received complaints that poll workers at locations across the state are “wrongly telling voters they need to present photo ID.”

What’s more, at least five polling locations in St. Louis “are inaccessible to people with disabilities,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Blyth Bernhard wrote. That could prove especially onerous for patients with disabilities who want to vote on one of the cannabis measures on the ballot.

The good news is that, by all accounts, voters are turning out in high numbers.


11:00 AM

Kevin Sabet, president of the prohibitionist group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, has already signaled that he anticipates at least some defeats after the group spent millions funding anti-legalization campaigns in states with marijuana on the ballot. In a tweet, he wrote that success “doesn’t hang on a ballot measure, a vote, a fleeting day.”

Similarly, Sabet downplayed the significance of a “yes” vote for California’s 2016 adult-use legalization measure—four days before Election Day.


9:00 AM

Polling places just opened in Utah, where voters will see a medical marijuana measure on their ballots.


8:45 AM

Local journalists are reporting that electricity is out in parts of Michigan as a result of high winds, with a restoration of power not estimated until later this afternoon.

For what it’s worth, executives for the local power company, DTE Energy, as well as its affiliates, have donated significant funds against the state’s marijuana legalization ballot measure.


8:05 AM

Jack Cardetti, spokesman for New Approach Missouri, released an Election Day statement urging voters to support his group’s medical cannabis measure over that of another competing campaign, which he called “self-centered and nonsensical.”

“Today is a big day for Missouri patients and veterans. Voters finally have the opportunity to decide whether Missouri will become the 31st state to allow doctors to recommend medical marijuana to patients and veterans with serious and debilitating illnesses.

We believe Missouri voters are ready to have this safe, compassionate option available to suffering patients through Amendment 2.

We also believe Missourians will reject Amendment 3, Brad Bradshaw’s self-centered and nonsensical attempt to become Missouri’s medical marijuana czar. Missouri patients and veterans deserve a common-sense medical marijuana law designed for them, not to benefit one individual.

We feel confident Missourians today will pass Amendment 2 to help patients and veterans, and also give it more votes than Amendment 3.”


8:00 AM

Polls just opened in much of North Dakota, where voters will have a chance to enact a marijuana legalization measure.

People in Wisconsin can now head to their voting booths as well, where counties and cities representing roughly half the state’s population will have nonbinding cannabis questions on the ballot.


7:00 AM

Polls are now open in most of Michigan, where voters will decide whether to make the state the next to legalize marijuana.

Election day also just began in Missouri, where there are three separate medical cannabis measures on the ballot.


6:30 AM

Marijuana election day has officially begun! Voters in Ohio can now head to the polls, with those in six cities having the chance to approve cannabis decriminalization measures.


Photo courtesy of Jurassic Blueberries.

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.

Politics

IRS Official Offers Tax Advice To Marijuana Businesses And Says Feds Expect Industry To Keep Growing

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The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) says it expects the marijuana industry to continue to grow, and it’s offering some tips to cannabis businesses on staying compliant with taxes while the plant remains federally prohibited.

In a blog post on Monday, IRS’s De Lon Harris said that the “evolving and complex issue my organization has been focused on is the tax implications for the rapidly growing cannabis/marijuana industry.”

“The specific rules and regulations regarding how [marijuana] is taxed at the federal level provides the IRS an opportunity to promote voluntary compliance, not only through audits, but also through outreach and education,” he said, noting the rapid expansion of state-legal cannabis markets. “And while there are 14 states that still ban cannabis use, we expect both unlicensed and licensed marijuana businesses to grow.”

“It’s tricky from a business perspective, because even though states are legalizing marijuana and treating its sale as a legal business enterprise, it’s still considered a Schedule 1 controlled substance under federal law,” Harris wrote. “That means a cannabis/marijuana business has additional considerations under the law, creating unique challenges for members of the industry.”

The official, who serves as commissioner of IRS’s Small Business/Self Employed (SB/SE) Examination division, recognized that the status quo means that marijuana businesses are forced to operate on a largely cash-only basis, and federal prohibition also means that companies in the sector are precluded to taking key tax deductions.

However, while the tax statute known as 280E means the industry is ineligible for most federal tax deductions and credits, he noted that marijuana firms “can deduct their cost of goods sold, which is basically the cost of their inventory.”

“What isn’t deductible are the normal overhead expenses, such as advertising expenses, wages and salaries, and travel expenses, to name a few,” Harris said. “I understand this nuance can be a challenge for some business owners, and I also realize small businesses don’t always have a lot of resources available to them.

The official previewed a new “Cannabis/Marijuana Initiative” the agency is launching that will provide specific job training to tax officials to effectively carry out audits within the industry, ensure that there’s consistency in the IRS’s policy for cannabis, work with stakeholders to ensure tax compliance and help to identify non-compliant businesses.

“I’m very focused on the success of this strategy because it’s very important for business owners to understand that under our nation’s tax laws, and specifically Internal Revenue Code 61, all income is taxable, even if someone is running a business that’s considered illegal under federal law,” he said. “This is a truly groundbreaking effort for our agency.”

“Our strategy is not limited to pushing information out via our website in the hope that business owners will find it. I’ve made it a priority for my SB/SE organization to engage with the cannabis/marijuana industry through speaking events and other outreach. I have done three of these types of events over the last year, and what I have heard is a genuine desire to comply with the tax laws regarding the industry. Through this extended outreach, we hope to help small business owners and others fully understand the unique tax rules before there are any compliance issues.”

“Since the unique circumstances of the cannabis industry can make tax preparation challenging, I hope that new and experienced business owners take my advice in this post and use our resources to ensure they understand their tax obligations and avoid penalties associated with non-compliance,” the blog post concludes. “We’re always here to help with tools, information and guidance.”

This is yet another signal that while marijuana remains federally illegal, agencies are increasingly recognizing that a policy shift is happening in states and may well be on the horizon at the congressional level.

As leadership in the House and Senate work to advance legislation to deschedule cannabis, lawmakers have also pushed to enact clear, statutory protections for financial institutions that work with state-legal marijuana businesses. And that would be accomplished through House-passed standalone legislationor an amendment that was attached to a defense spending bill this week.

In the interim, banks and credit unions are operating under 2014 guidance from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) that lays out reporting requirements for those that choose to service the marijuana industry. FinCEN released a report last week showing that there were 706 financial institutions that said they were actively serving cannabis clients as of the last quarter.

IRS separately hosted a forum last month dedicated to tax policy for marijuana businesses and cryptocurrency.

The seminar, which was presented by a representative of the National Association of Tax Professionals (NATP), examined issues such as allowable tax deductions while cannabis remains federally illegal and how different states approach taxing marijuana. It also covered issues related to paying taxes on earnings in Bitcoin and other forms of digital currency.

Earlier this year, IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig told Congress that the agency would “prefer” for state-legal marijuana businesses to be able to pay taxes electronically, as the current largely cash-based system under federal cannabis prohibition is onerous and presents risks to workers.

Former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in 2019 that he’d like to see Congress approve legislation resolving the cannabis banking issue and he pointed to the fact that IRS has had to build “cash rooms” to deposit taxes from those businesses as an example of the problem.

IRS released updated guidance on tax policy for the marijuana industry last year, including instructions on how cannabis businesses that don’t have access to bank accounts can pay their tax bills using large amounts of cash.

The update appears to be responsive to a Treasury Department internal watchdog report that was released earlier in the year. The department’s inspector general for tax administration had criticized IRS for failing to adequately advise taxpayers in the marijuana industry about compliance with federal tax laws. And it directed the agency to “develop and publicize guidance specific to the marijuana industry.”

Harris’s predecessor at IRS SB/SE also participated in an informational webinar in December, offering candid insights on a variety of cannabis industry issues from the federal perspective.

Marijuana Arrests Dropped Sharply In 2020 As Both COVID And Legalization Spread, FBI Data Shows

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Massachusetts Lawmakers Discuss Drug Decriminalization And Safe Injection Sites At Hearing

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Massachusetts lawmakers on Monday heard testimony on separate proposals to decriminalize drug possession and establish a pilot program for safe injection facilities where people could use illicit substances in a medically supervised environment to prevent overdose deaths and facilitate treatment.

The state legislature’s Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery held a hearing on the harm reduction proposals, with experts and people personally impacted by substance misuse advocating for new approaches to drugs that destigmatize addiction and offer people resources outside of a criminal justice context.

The decriminalization bill would replace criminal penalties for the possession of any controlled substance with a civil fine of up to $50. To avoid the fine, individuals could enroll in a “needs screening to identify health and other service needs, including but not limited to services that may address any problematic substance use and mental health conditions, lack of employment, housing, or food, and any need for civil legal services.”

For the safe injection site legislation, the state would establish a 10-year pilot program where at least two facilities would “utilize harm reduction tools, including clinical monitoring of the consumption of pre-obtained controlled substances in the presence of trained staff, for the purpose of reducing the risks of disease transmission and preventing overdose deaths.”

A separate, less far-reaching bill that was added to the agenda in a late addition would direct the Department of Public Health to simply “evaluate the feasibility” of safe consumption sites and then report back to lawmakers by July 31, 2022..

The joint committee listened to academics, health professionals, lawmakers discuss the reform proposals but did not take immediate action on any of the legislation. It’s unclear when the bills will be taken up again for further consideration.

“By every metric, the war on drugs has been a catastrophic failure,” Rep. Mike Connolly (D) said. “In the United States and here in Massachusetts, the criminalization of drug possession is a major driver of mass incarceration. We know that black people have been incarcerated at a rate eight times higher than white people, and there’s no question that the criminalization of substance use issues has contributed to these terrible disparities.”

Connolly is also the sponsor of legislation that received a Joint Judiciary Committee hearing in July on  studying the implications of legalizing psychedelics like psilocybin and ayahuasca.

Officials with at least one Massachusetts city, Somerville, said that there are plans in the work to launch a safe injection facility in the jurisdiction. And they want to see the statewide bill pass to provide additional protections against being federally penalized.

“State legislation, wielding its constitutionally granted powers to enact laws for public health and safety, has the ability to greatly minimize these risks through legislation authorizing a pilot of safe consumption sites,” Hannah Pappenheim, assistant city solicitor at the City of Somerville, said. “In addition, state legislation would also minimize the risk of costly—but more importantly, lengthy—litigation.”

The official noted that a separate, Pennsylvania-based case on the legality of safe injection sites has been ongoing in federal courts for years at this point.

A coalition of 80 current and former prosecutors and law enforcement officials—including one who is President Joe Biden’s pick for U.S. attorney of Massachusetts—recently filed a brief urging the Supreme Court to take up the case.

Xavier Bacerra, the Biden administration’s secretary of health and human services, was among eight top state law enforcement officials who filed an earlier amicus brief in support of the Philadelphia-based Safehouse’s safe injection site plan when he served as California’s attorney general.

“State legislation paves the way for a more expedient process in Somerville, and of course elsewhere in the Commonwealth,” Pappenheim said.

Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone (D) said at Monday’s hearing that “it’s important for Massachusetts to finally lead—not just compiling, but implementing a strategy that reduces harm and save lives.” He conceded that he previously opposed the concept of allowing safe consumption sites; but his personal experience knowing people in his immediate family who suffered from addiction—as well as his own review of the scientific literature on harm reduction alternatives to criminalization—led him to embrace the reforms.

Massachusetts lawmakers advanced similar legislation last year, but it was not ultimately enacted.

The governor of neighboring Rhode Island signed a bill in July to establish a safe consumption site pilot program where people could test and use currently illicit drugs in a medically supervised environment. It became the first state in the country to legalize the harm reduction centers. It’s not clear whether the Department of Justice will seek to intervene to prevent the opening of such facilities in that state.

Oamshri Amarasingham, deputy legislative director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, voiced support for both reform proposals at Monday’s hearing and told WGBH that establishing a safe injection site pilot program “is one piece of that puzzle” that is “critically important and that’s had great success in other countries.”

Shaleen Title, a former Massachusetts cannabis commissioner who now heads the Parabola Center, juxtaposed how laws handle substances like caffeine, alcohol and nicotine differently from currently illegal drugs.

“What separates that from when we have these illicit drugs, where handcuffs and cages are involved, and what led that to be? The reason has nothing to do with science, or evidence or the relative dangers of those drugs,” she said. “The reason is because—and this is well-documented—those drugs could be scapegoated and blamed on their association with indigenous and Indian and Mexican and Chinese and other cultures, and then used to target communities of color, particularly black and Latino people nationally and here in Massachusetts.”

At the same time that Massachusetts legislators are looking into harm reduction and broad drug decriminalization, local activists in the state have also been pursuing psychedelics reform.

Three Massachusetts cities—NorthamptonSomerville and Cambridge—have each passed resolutions to deprioritize enforcement of laws against the possession, use and distribution of a wide range of psychedelics and other drugs. The Easthampton City Council is also exploring a resolution to decriminalize a wide range of entheogenic substances, with a meeting set for Friday.

Marijuana Arrests Dropped Sharply In 2020 As Both COVID And Legalization Spread, FBI Data Shows

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Marijuana Arrests Dropped Sharply In 2020 As Both COVID And Legalization Spread, FBI Data Shows

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Marijuana arrests declined significantly in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic, newly released FBI data shows.

There were 1,155,610 drug-related arrests overall last year, with cannabis sales and possession busts accounting for just over 30 percent (or 350,150) of those cases. The vast majority were for marijuana possession alone.

The agency’s data shows that there was a cannabis arrest every 90 seconds in the country in 2020, and there was a drug-related arrest every 27 seconds.

While these figures still highlight the rampant, ongoing criminalization of cannabis in states across the U.S., it’s a substantial deescalation compared to 2019, when FBI reported a total of 545,601 marijuana arrests. That amounted to a cannabis bust every 58 seconds.

Put another way, there was a 36 percent decrease in cannabis cases from 2019 to 2020. And while the federal agency doesn’t attempt to explain the statistical shift, there are a number of factors that could help explain it.

One of the more obvious societal changes during that timeframe is the COVID-19 health crisis, which involved social distancing requirements and generally discouraged people from being out in public where they might be at higher risk of being arrested for simple possession.

But advocates have also pointed out that the marijuana reform movement could be playing a role. Illinois’s adult-use cannabis law took effect at the beginning of 2020, for example. Hawaii, New Mexico and North Dakota also enacted decriminalization of marijuana possession in 2019, and Virginia followed suit the next year.

In Arizona, limited cannabis possession was legalized for adults starting on November 30, 2020 following voter approval of a reform initiative earlier that month.

“As more states move toward the sensible policy of legalizing and regulating cannabis, we are seeing a decline in the arrest of non-violent marijuana consumers nationwide,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri told Marijuana Moment. “The fight for legalization is a fight for justice. While these numbers represent a historic decline in arrests, even one person being put into handcuffs for the simple possession of marijuana is too many.”

Despite the decline in cannabis busts, the new data shows that American law enforcement still carried out more arrests for marijuana alone last year than for murder, rape, robbery, burglary, fraud and embezzlement combined.

It should be noted that not all local police participate in FBI’s reporting program, so these figures are not holistic and are estimates the agency makes based on those that do submit data.

The country had seen a consistent decline in cannabis arrests for roughly a decade prior to 2016, when those cases started to rise up until 2019.

Observers expect to see the downward trend in cannabis busts continue as more states move to end prohibition and law enforcement deprioritizes marijuana-relate cases. In New York, for example, police received new guidance this year stipulating that adults 21 and older can possess certain amounts of marijuana and consume it in places where tobacco use is permitted.

That directive alone seems to have led to a dramatic decrease in cannabis arrests in New York City.

Federal marijuana trafficking cases also continued to decline in 2020 as more states have moved to legalize, an analysis from the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC) that was released in June found.

Federal prosecutions of drug-related crimes overall increased in 2019, but cases involving marijuana dropped by more than a quarter, according to an end-of-year report released by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts in December.

A study released by the Cato Institute in 2018 found that “state-level marijuana legalization has significantly undercut marijuana smuggling.

New York Governor Says Marijuana Legalization Will Create ‘Thousands’ Of Jobs And Touts Regulatory Appointments

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