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Marijuana Licensing Bill Has ‘Negligible’ Fiscal Impacts, Congressional Budget Office Says

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A marijuana research bill approved by a key U.S. House committee last month would have a “negligible” effect on direct federal spending, according a new analysis from Congress’s official fiscal analyst.

The legislation would force the Department of Justice to begin issuing more licenses to growers of cannabis to be used in scientific research, an issue that has been a contentious one between the Trump administration and members of Congress, including Republicans.

But its fiscal impact would be slim, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said in a two-page cost estimate released on Wednesday.

In the closing months of the Obama administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) created a process to expand on the sole approved cultivator that has had a monopoly on the U.S. supply of marijuana for studies for half a century. But under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Justice Department has refused to act on the more than two dozen applications filed through the new program by would-be legal growers.

The situation has led to a series of bipartisan sign-on letters and testy lines of questioning for Sessions during oversight hearings in both the House and Senate, culminating in the passage of the bill last month by the House Judiciary Committee to force the attorney general’s hand by requiring more licenses on a certain timetable.

The long-term projection is that “enacting the legislation would not increase net direct spending or on budget deficits in any of the four consecutive 10-year periods beginning in 2029,” CBO wrote in the new cost estimate about the bill.

Sponsored by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), the proposal hasn’t yet been scheduled for a floor vote. But while CBO is required to evaluate all bills approved by most congressional committees, the score’s release is a reminder that it’s being taken more seriously than most of the hundreds of other pieces of cannabis-focused legislation that have been filed on Capitol Hill over the years.

“CBO estimates that only a few new manufacturers would be registered each year,” the office reasoned, citing unspecified “information” from the Department of Justice.

Another provision of the bill would direct DEA to work with the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Food and Drug Administration to issue recommendations for good manufacturing practices for growing marijuana.

“The administrative costs associated with publishing such recommendations within 6 months of enactment would be less than $500,000 over the 2019-2023 period,” CBO found.

A third section would authorize the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to refer military veterans to participate in clinical trials on marijuana’s potential medical benefits and encourage VA itself to conduct research on cannabis, two activities for which the department currently has authority but has been reluctant to pursue without more clear direction from Congress.

“Because VA already has those authorities under current law, CBO estimates that implementing this section would have insignificant costs,” the office’s report says.

The low-cost findings are similar to a previous memo the office released after separate legislation to encourage VA to study medical cannabis became the first standalone marijuana reform bill ever approved by a congressional committee earlier this year when it was reported out favorably by the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

In that case, CBO determined that the bill would “cost less than $500,000 over the 2019-2023 period, primarily to prepare and submit the necessary reports to the Congress” regarding updates on VA’s involvement in cannabis research.

The broader Gaetz legislation on research and cultivation licensing that the Judiciary Committee approved last month is only the second cannabis-focused bill to have cleared a congressional panel.

If enacted, “DOJ would collect registration fees of about $3,000 annually from each registrant,” CBO wrote in its new analysis. “Such fees are treated in the budget as reductions in direct spending, and DOJ is authorized to spend them without further appropriation.”

As a result, CBO also found that the bill would not “would not affect revenues” appreciably.

Marijuana Bill Approved By Congressional Committee, Despite Drug Conviction Restriction Dispute

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Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 15-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (Organization citations are for identification only and do not constitute an endorsement or partnership.)

Politics

People With Marijuana Convictions Should Know About National Expungement Week

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Marijuana legalization is a solid first step, but there’s still a lot of work to be done to resolve  socioeconomic and racial inequities brought about by the war on drugs.

Hence, we now have National Expungement Week. The first-of-its-kind campaign, supported by a coalition of cannabis and social justice organizations called the Equity First Alliance, is taking place from October 20-27.

The organizations will offer “expungement and other forms of legal relief to some of the 77 million Americans with convictions on their records,” according to the campaign website. “These convictions can restrict access to housing, employment, education, public assistance, and voting rights long after sentences have been served.”

In an open letter, the alliance also said it was “largely unsupported by the cannabis industry and by the traditional funders of equity work.” While a main argument in support of legalization is that it would help to repair drug war damages, which have disproportionately affected communities of color, the laws and markets created by the successful movement haven’t necessarily lived up to its name, the alliance wrote.

To that end, the campaign has organized events across the country—from Los Angeles to Boston—to provide legal services to those whose criminal records are able to be reduced or expunged. You can check out the full list of events here.

The alliance’s agenda touches on numerous reform policies, including using marijuana tax revenue to fund communities that have been impacted by prohibition, implementing social equity programs, ensuring corporate responsibility for businesses that profit off cannabis and providing affordable medical cannabis for low-income patients, among other policies.

“We believe that we have a short but vital window of opportunity to change the course of the cannabis industry—and by doing so, we can prevent further harms to the most impacted communities and create a model of reparative economic and criminal justice.”

Adam Vine, co-founder of Cafe-Free Cannabis and an organizer with the campaign, told Marijuana Moment that the campaign is necessary “because millions of Americans have been harmed by the war on drugs and continue to face collateral consequences for convictions that may have happened years ago.”

“These consequences restrict people’s access to employment, housing, education, and social services, so our coalition decided to do something about it,” he said. “We are coordinating these events to provide free legal relief and to say that as states move towards cannabis legalization, expungement needs to be the first priority.”

Marijuana Use Will No Longer Be Prosecuted In Manhattan

Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

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Politics

Chris Christie Finally Recognizes Marijuana Legalization As States’ Rights Issue

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Famously anti-marijuana former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) isn’t jumping on the pro-legalization train any time soon—but new comments suggest he might be softening his opposition a smidge, recognizing marijuana reform as a states’ rights issue.

Speaking at Politicon on Saturday, Christie took a question about his cannabis stance from YouTuber Kyle Kulinski, who asked him to weigh in on studies showing that states with legal marijuana programs experience lower rates of opioid addiction and overdoses compared to non-legal states. He was quick to dismiss the research, contending that other studies show the “exact opposite.”

“I just don’t believe when we’re in the midst of a drug addiction crisis that we need to legalize another drug,” Christie said, echoing comments he’s made as chair of President Donald Trump’s opioids committee.

Then he pivoted, acknowledging that some will push back on his anti-legalization position by pointing out that alcohol is legal. “I get that,” he said, “but I wasn’t here when we legalized alcohol.”

Kulinski seized on that point and asked the former governor if he’d vote to ban alcohol.

“No, I wouldn’t ban it. You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube, and that’s a big, important argument about marijuana because once you legalize this, that toothpaste never goes back in the tube.”

Christie stood out among other Republican and Democratic contenders during his 2016 presidential run by maintaining that in addition to personally opposing legalization, he’d crack down on legal cannabis states and enforce federal laws nationwide if elected.

“If you’re getting high in Colorado today, enjoy it,” Christie said in 2015. “As of January 2017, I will enforce the federal laws.

So it came as something of a surprise when the former governor went on to say in the Politicon appearance that “states have the right to do what they want to do on this,” signaling a modest shift in his anti-marijuana rhetoric. States should have that right even though, as Christie put it, “broad legalization of marijuana won’t, in my view, alleviate or even minimize the opioid crisis.”

It’s unclear what’s behind the apparent shift from hardline prohibitionist to wary federalist, but who knows… maybe Christie experienced an epiphany at a Melissa Etheridge concert he attended earlier this month.

Etheridge, who recently spoke with Marijuana Moment about her cannabis advocacy and use of the drug for medicinal purposes, reacted to a tweet showing Christie at one of her recent performances, where he reportedly knew every word of her songs and sang along.

Christie, for his part, replied that he “enjoyed every minute of a great performance and a truly wonderful group of fans.”

Hm…

GIF by #ActionAliens

Melissa Etheridge Talks Art, Culture and Marijuana Advocacy In The Legalization Era

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.

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Politics

Marijuana Support Grows: Two Out Of Three Americans Back Legalization, Gallup Says

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Two-thirds of Americans now support legalizing marijuana, the highest percentage ever in Gallup’s ongoing decades-long series of national polls on the topic.

The new survey released on Monday shows that U.S. adults back ending cannabis prohibition by a supermajority margin of 66 percent to 32 percent. That’s more than a two-to-one ratio.

Please visit Forbes to read the rest of this piece.

(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)

Photo courtesy of Jurassic Blueberries.

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