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Major Marijuana Coalition Forms To Coordinate Legalization Push, But Some Key Advocacy Players Aren’t Involved



As Congress moves to legalize marijuana under the new Democratic majority, a large coalition of cannabis businesses and advocacy groups has formed in the hopes of advancing the issue this session.

The United States Cannabis Council (USCC), which is being headed on an interim basis by Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) Executive Director Steven Hawkins, will advocate for federal legalization and promote social equity for the industry.

The new outfit says it will present a “unified voice advocating for the descheduling and legalization of cannabis,” but the prevalence of mostly businesses among its membership—and the absence of some key advocacy and industry groups such as NORML, the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA) and National Cannabis Roundtable—has led some to wonder what specific policies USCC will be prioritizing and whether they will ultimately align with activists’ reform goals.

While USCC stressed in its announcement and on its website that legalization and social equity will be principal goals, the fact that these important players are missing from the roster has left some skeptical about the notion that it will provide uniformity in how advocates address these issues.

Some have also questioned whether there’s a need to bring another coalition into the fold—especially one that is largely represented by existing private interests—as congressional leaders move to enact a federal marijuana policy change.

“We’ve seen many organizations come and go over the years and the various efforts they’ve made to rebrand or reorganize themselves and, just as in those past cases, we wish the USCC the best,” Aaron Smith, executive director of NCIA, told Marijuana Moment.

“We were approached about joining but as the largest and broadest trade association in the country, we feel it necessary to focus on representing our membership and to remain independent and nimble,” he said. “We already collaborate closely with the organizations behind the USCC and will definitely be working with this coalition in the future.”

Hawkins told Marijuana Moment that he understands that “there will be reasons why organizations may or may not join.” For example, they “may feel that their voices are better served being independent.”

“But having four or five voices [advocating for reform independently] doesn’t necessarily undercut [the mission],” he said. “What was undercutting was having 20 to 25 voices” all putting out different messages.

“If we’ve been able to bring together three trade groups, as we have, if we have now four different advocacy organizations under this umbrella and the companies, then we have done, I think, a tremendous service in terms of what was needed to ensure that we can really have the best shot at ending federal prohibition,” Hawkins said. “There has to be greater unity. In all the coalitions I’ve ever worked in, we never got anything accomplished when everyone was splintered.”

USCC members include major cannabis-related businesses like Acreage Holdings, Canopy Growth, Columbia Care, Cronos Group, Curaleaf, Eaze, iAnthus Capital Holdings, LivWell Enlightened Health, MedMen, PAX Labs, Schwazze, Scotts Miracle-Gro Company and Vireo.

Organizations affiliated with USCC include MPP, American Trade Association of Cannabis and Hemp, Cannabis Trade Federation, Cannabis Voter Project, Global Alliance for Cannabis Commerce, Veterans Cannabis Project and Vicente Sederberg LLP.

Asked about the decision not to join the new coalition, DPA Policy Coordinator Queen Adesuyi said her group’s focus “remains on advancing comprehensive marijuana reform grounded in justice reform and equity this Congress, alongside our dedicated partners within the Marijuana Justice Coalition and other allies who share our commitment to ending federal criminalization of marijuana, addressing its collateral harms, and ensuring that the legal marketplace is inclusive of those negatively affected by prohibition.”

Other groups that were invited to be members of the new coalition but didn’t accept similarly said that they still plan to work with USCC and its members in some capacity.

NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri told Marijuana Moment that “we welcome the support from any group willing to work to bring about an end to our failed prohibition on marijuana,” but “it is important for NORML’s mission to remain independent from industry and solely focused on representing the millions of cannabis consumers across the country.”

“We were invited. We support it and look forward to working with them but declined,” MCBA’s Amber Littlejohn told Marijuana Moment. “No drama. Just a matter of current MCBA priorities.”

ASA Executive Director Debbie Churgai told Marijuana Moment that the group supports a “coordinated federal approach to medical cannabis and social equity” but recently formed its own policy advisory committee comprised of medical professionals, veterans and companies that aims to “engage Congress and the new administration on best federal approaches” to serving patients.

Still, ASA will continue to work with “coalition partners across cannabis advocacy to realize the full breath of reforms necessary that will ensure safe, legal, affordable and equal access to patients, consumers and the industry,” she said.

Despite some initial skepticism among certain advocates, USCC says it intends to make comprehensive marijuana reform a priority.


“USCC has come together to meet this moment. And to meet it, we understand that we will need unity,” Hawkins said. “What USCC represents is a broad coalition that brings together some of the top companies in the industry, as well as several advocacy organizations, as well as several trade groups, all to have one unified voice going forward with the primary goal: to see the end of the federal prohibition and to ensure that there’s social equity provisions in place.”

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), a leading champion of congressional cannabis reform, voiced his support for USCC and said he’s “seen firsthand that our most successful cannabis wins have been secured by a team.”

“That’s why I am glad to see this first-of-its-kind alliance. We have a unique opportunity in the 117th Congress to advance cannabis reform, but we must remain united to create the change we know is possible,” he said. “I look forward to welcoming the United States Cannabis Council to Washington, D.C. and working together toward meaningful policy change in the months and years ahead.”

Christian Sederberg, USCC’s acting board chairman and a partner at the cannabis firm Vicente Sederberg, said “the cannabis industry has mobilized to make our message clear—we must deschedule and legalize cannabis, and it is critical that it is done the right way.”

“After so many years working towards meaningful reform, it’s inspiring to see the diverse group of partners who have formed this collective voice, and together, we are hopeful that true, meaningful federal cannabis reform is within reach,” he said.

Part of the reason that some have been left questioning the motives of a new, largely industry-backed advocacy outfit in congressional marijuana advocacy comes down to recent history.

When Democratic House leadership moved to hold a vote on the bipartisan Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act last year, there was significant pushback from some advocates who felt that Congress shouldn’t advance a bill that would largely benefit industry stakeholders before approving a more wide-ranging bill that addressed social equity.

That sentiment seemed to be echoed by the newly installed chair of the Senate Banking Committee, who said last week that he’s open to advancing a cannabis banking bill—but added that it must be passed in tandem with sentencing reform legislation for drug offenses.

That said, USCC’s website lists policy and advocacy priorities that include justice-focused items such as expunging prior criminal records and social equity licensing. It also says the coalition wants “complete descheduling of cannabis at the federal level”—a departure from the more limited federal legislation that some companies favored during the last Congress that would have exempted state-legal marijuana activity from the Controlled Substances Act without formally descheduling.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) are charting a path forward on major reform. The trio released a joint statement last week previewing their comprehensive legalization plan, which will involve introducing draft legislation “in the early part of this year” and soliciting feedback from activists and stakeholders.

But to that end, their first meeting with representatives from numerous reform groups on Friday did not overlap in a significant way with members of USCC. Rather, it involved conversations with organizations like DPA, NORML, NCIA, Students for Sensible Drug Policy and other justice-focused groups. Less represented were cannabis businesses and trade associations. MPP was also not part of the senators’ meeting.

Hawkins said that “there will undoubtedly be times when there are differences of opinion” among USCC’s membership. “What’s going to be different going forward is that there will still be some other voices besides ours, but Senator Schumer is not going to have 25 different people coming to his door, expressing their views on on what’s good for cannabis.”

“We are doing our best to help unify and speak with one voice,” he said.

To accomplish that will require funding, of course. The interim USCC head said that raising money will “take a variety of forms,” including membership dues. Groups like MPP that have hearty grassroots supporters could also “augment those strategies,” he said, in addition to contributions from individual companies.

For now, it remains to be seen how successful the new coalition that aims to bring stakeholders to the table to form a unified approach to cannabis advocacy will be in achieving that goal and to what extent advocates and industry will diverge from one another when it comes to setting legislative priorities and tactics.

Marijuana Banking Protections Must Come With Sentencing Reform, Key Senate Chairman Says

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.


California Senator Seeks Federal Clarification On Medical Marijuana Use In Hospitals



A California senator is asking the head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to provide clarification on whether hospitals and other healthcare facilities in legal marijuana states can allow terminally ill patients to use medical cannabis without jeopardizing federal funding.

State Sen. Ben Hueso (D) on Thursday sent a letter to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure inquiring about the policy. Confusion about possible implications for permitting marijuana consumption in health facilities led pro-legalization Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) to veto a bill meant to address the issue in 2019.

Hueso refiled a nearly identical version of the legislation for this session, and it’s already passed the full Senate and one Assembly committee. It’s now awaiting action on the Assembly floor before potentially being sent to Newsom’s desk.

“Ryan’s Law would require that hospitals and certain types of healthcare facilities in the State of California allow a terminally-ill patient to use medical cannabis for treatment and/or pain relief,” the senator wrote in the letter to the federal officials, with whom he is asking to meet to discuss the issue. “Currently, whether or not medical cannabis is permitted is left up to hospital policy, and this creates issues for patients and their families who seek alternative, more natural medication options in their final days.”

Hospitals that receive CMS accreditation are generally expected to comply with local, state and federal laws in order to qualify for certain reimbursements. And so because marijuana remains federally illegal, “many healthcare facilities have adopted policies prohibiting cannabis on their grounds out of a perceived risk of losing federal funding if they were to allow it.”

But Hueso said that his office received a letter from CMS several months ago stating that there are no specific federal regulations in place that specifically address this issue and that it isn’t aware of any cases where funding has been pulled because a hospital allows patients to use medical cannabis.

Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

Additionally, because the Justice Department has been barred under annually renewed spending legislation from using its funds to interfere in the implementation of state-level medical marijuana programs, the senator said, “we believe the risk of federal intervention is little to none.”

“This confirmation from CMS been quite a breakthrough and we are optimistic it will alleviate the Governor’s concerns,” the letter continues. “However, I want to underscore that, prior to receiving this response, even the Governor of California was under the impression that CMS rules prohibited hospitals and healthcare facilities from allowing medical cannabis use.”

“Undoubtedly other states are struggling with this issue, too,” it says. “As more states decriminalize cannabis and even create recreational markets, we must not forget to also update the books for the most important consumers of all—patients.”

“While ideally the federal government will remove cannabis from its Schedule I designation, I appreciate that this is a lengthy and complex process. In the interim, it would be extremely helpful if you could provide clarification that assures Medicare/Medicaid providers that they will not lose reimbursements for allowing medical cannabis use on their premises. This clarification would go a long way to help hospital staff, security, above all, patients.”

Becerra, while previously serving as California attorney general and as a member of Congress, demonstrated a track record of supporting marijuana law reform.

Meanwhile, there are efforts in both chambers of Congress to end federal marijuana prohibition.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) are currently soliciting feedback on draft legalization legislation they introduced this month.

Meanwhile, a separate House bill to federally legalize marijuana and promote social equity in the industry was reintroduced in May.

The legislation, sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), was filed with a number of changes compared to the version that was approved by the chamber last year.

Read the letter from the California senator to Becerra below: 

Marijuana hospital letter t… by Marijuana Moment

Rhode Island House Speaker Says ‘No Consensus’ On Marijuana Legalization, But It’s ‘Workable’

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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Rhode Island House Speaker Says ‘No Consensus’ On Marijuana Legalization, But It’s ‘Workable’



A top Rhode Island lawmaker says that while there’s not yet a consensus among legislators and the governor on a bill to legalize marijuana, it’s still a “workable” issue and would be prioritized if a special session is convened this fall.

House Speaker Joe Shekarchi (D) told The Public’s Radio that it’s “possible” that a special session will be held later in the year after lawmakers failed to reach a deal on competing reform proposals.

“It really depends if we can come to some kind of resolution of consensus on a couple of major bills,” he said, referring to cannabis and a handful of other issues. “If we can, we certainly would come back.” But if not, members will continue to discuss the proposals and prepare to take them up at the start of the next session in January.

“Unfairly, sometimes I have or the House gets blamed for stopping the legalization of recreational use of marijuana, when in reality there is no consensus,” he said. “If we can come to some closeness, in the several different proposals, then we’ll move some kind of legislation. But if not, it just needs more work—and it’s very workable, so it’s very much something that can happen, we just have to put the effort in and make it happen.”

Listen to the speaker discuss the marijuana legalization plan, about 1:00 into the audio  below: 

Shekarchi similarly told Marijuana Moment in an email earlier this week that he’s “not opposed to the legalization of recreational marijuana,” but “there have been very divergent proposals offered by Representative Scott Slater, the Senate, the governor and various advocacy groups.”

“As I have done with other issues, my role will be to bring the parties together and see if we can reach a consensus,” he said. “I will be working on the issue this summer and fall, and if an agreement can be reached, it is possible that one piece of legislation will be brought before the legislature for future consideration. But there is a lot of work to be done to reach consensus.”

Shekarchi and other top lawmakers have previously said they will work this summer to try to reach a compromise on the differing provisions of the competing legalization plans.

Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (D) said earlier this month that he’s not disappointed the House hasn’t advanced legalization legislation yet and that “what we really wanted to do was send it over and have them take a look at it” when his chamber passed a cannabis reform measure last month.

Shekarchi previously said that he feels reform is “inevitable.”

Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

A key disagreement between the House, Senate and governor’s office concerns who should have regulatory authority over marijuana. Ruggerio was pressed on the issue during the recent interview and said members of his chamber agree that “a separate commission is the way to go with respect to this.”

The House and Gov. Dan McKee (D), on the other hand, want the program to be managed by the state Department of Business Regulation (DBR). Ruggerio noted that “it was difficult to negotiate on a bill when the House bill really didn’t come until late in the session.”

Asked whether he felt the legislature and governor could come to an agreement despite the differences, Senate Majority Leader Mike McCaffrey (D) said this month that “that’s what our goal is.”

“Obviously there’s some issues that different people have relative to different categories of licenses and things like that and how we’re rolling them out,” he said. “Are we going to limit them? what type of equity are you going to give to the different people in different communities so that they can get into the business? And social equity and things of that nature.”

McCaffrey was also asked about provisions related to allowing local municipalities to opt out of allowing marijuana businesses to operate in their area. He said “once the legislation is passed and whatever form is passed in, the communities have an opportunity to opt out.”

“They have an opportunity to opt out if the community doesn’t want to participate in it,” he said. “That’s their decision—however, they don’t get the funds that would come from the sales in that community.”

The majority leader also noted that neighboring states like Connecticut and Massachusetts have enacted legalization, and that adds impetus for the legislature to pursue reform in the state. .

Shekarchi, meanwhile, said this month that he doesn’t intend to let regional pressure dictate the timeline for when Rhode Island enacts a policy change. But it is the case that legalization has now gone in effect in in surrounding states like Connecticut and Massachusetts.

“I’m not in any hurry to legalize marijuana for the sake of legalizing it. I want to do it right,” he said. “It doesn’t matter to me if we’re the last state in the union to legalize it or we never legalize it, but I need to do it right.”

Social equity, licensing fees, labor agreements and home grow provisions are among the outstanding matters that need to be addressed, Shekarchi said.

These latest comment come weeks after the state Senate approved a legalization bill from McCaffrey and Health & Human Services Chairman Joshua Miller (D), which was introduced in March. The governor also came out with his own legalization proposal shortly thereafter.

A third Rhode Island legalization measure was later filed on the House side by Rep. Scott Slater (D) and several cosponsors. The House Finance Committee held a hearing on the measure last month.

The governor, for his part, told reporters that while he backs legalization it is “not like one of my highest priorities,” adding that “we’re not in a race with Connecticut or Massachusetts on this issue.”

“I think we need to get it right,” he said, pointing to ongoing discussions with the House and Senate.

The House Finance Committee discussed the governor’s proposal to end prohibition at an earlier hearing in April.

Both the governor and the leaders’ legalization plans are notably different than the proposal that former Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) had included in her budget last year. Prior to leaving office to join the Biden administration as commerce secretary, she called for legalization through a state-run model.

McKee gave initial insights into his perspective on the reform in January, saying that “it’s time that [legalization] happens” and that he’s “more leaning towards an entrepreneurial strategy there to let that roll that way.”

Shekarchi, meanwhile, has said he’s “absolutely” open to the idea of cannabis legalization and also leans toward privatization.

Late last year, the Senate Finance Committee began preliminary consideration of legalization in preparation for the 2021 session, with lawmakers generally accepting the reform as an inevitability. “I certainly do think we’ll act on the issue, whether it’s more private or more state,” Sen. Ryan Pearson (D), who now serves as the panel’s chairman, said at the time.

Meanwhile, the governor this month signed a historic bill to allow safe consumption sites where people could use illicit drugs under medical supervision and receive resources to enter treatment. Harm reduction advocates say this would prevent overdose deaths and help de-stigmatize substance misuse. Rhode Island is the first state to allow the facilities.

The Senate Judiciary Committee also held a hearing in March on legislation that would end criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of drugs and replace them with a $100 fine.

Ohio Lawmakers Officially File Marijuana Legalization Bill In Historic First For The State

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Ohio Lawmakers Officially File Marijuana Legalization Bill In Historic First For The State



Ohio lawmakers on Friday formally introduced a bill to legalize marijuana possession, production and sales—the first effort of its kind in the state legislature. This comes as activists are pursuing a separate ballot initiative that would effectively force the legislature to consider similar cannabis reforms.

Reps. Casey Weinstein (D) and Terrence Upchurch (D) filed the legislation, weeks after circulating a co-sponsorship memo to colleagues to build support for the measure.

The 180-page bill would legalize possession of up to five ounces of cannabis for adults 21 and older and allow them to cultivate up to 12 plants for personal use. It also includes provisions to expunge prior convictions for possession and cultivation activities that are being made legal under the measure.

A 10 percent excise tax would be imposed on marijuana sales, with revenue first going toward the cost of implementation and then being divided among municipalities with at least one cannabis shop (15 percent), counties with at least one shop (15 percent), K-12 education (35 percent) and infrastructure (35 percent).

“It’s time to lead Ohio forward,” Weinstein said in a press release. “This is a big step for criminal justice reform, for our veterans, for economic opportunity, and for our individual liberties.”

The state Department of Commerce would be responsible for overseeing the program and issuing cannabis business licenses.

Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

Individual municipalities could restrict the type and number of marijuana that operate in their area. The bill specifically states that the state’s existing medical marijuana program would not be impacted by the establishment of an adult-use market.

“This bill is much needed in Ohio, and it’s time for Ohio to become a national leader in marijuana decriminalization and legalization,” Upchurch said. “This bill is more than just about legalization, it’s about economic and workforce development, it’s about decriminalization, and it’s about healthcare! The time is now, and I look forward to getting this done in a bipartisan fashion.”

Gov. Mike DeWine (R) is likely to oppose the effort given his record, but activists have effectively demonstrated through local initiatives that voters in the state broadly support enacting a cannabis policy change.

A newly formed organization called the the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CTRMLA) is also actively collecting signatures for a statewide ballot measure that would separately force lawmakers to consider taking up legalization legislation once a certain signature gathering threshold is met.

“I’m glad to see it! It’s added momentum toward legalization,” Weinstein told Marijuana Moment earlier this week of the ballot effort. “And hopefully a looming ballot initiative will add some incentive for my Republican colleagues to work with me on my bill.”

Meanwhile, 22 jurisdictions have adopted local statues so far that reduce the penalty for low-level cannabis possession from a misdemeanor punishable by jail time and a fine to the “lowest penalty allowed by state law.” And activists are pursuing similar policy changes in dozens of cities this year.

Don Keeney, executive director of NORML Appalachia, told Marijuana Moment that local officials have so far certified decriminalization initiatives in five cities they were targeting this year: Laurelville, McArthur, Murray City, New Lexington and New Straitsville.

Ohio activists had hoped to place a cannabis legalization initiative on the statewide ballot last year, but that effort stalled as the COVID-19 outbreak and resulting public health restrictions made signature gathering all but impossible.

Local advocates sought relief through the court system to make it so they could collect signatures electronically for 2020 ballot initiatives, but the lawsuit was repeatedly rejected—most recently by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which ruled on Wednesday that the challenge was no longer relevant because last year’s election has passed and the case was therefore moot.

Read the text of the Ohio marijuana legalization bill below: 

Ohio marijuana legalization… by Marijuana Moment

GOP Senator Sponsoring Marijuana Banking Bill Proposes Controversial Welfare Restrictions For Cannabis Purchases

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