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Marijuana’s Ten Biggest Victories Of 2018

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This year was a pivotal one for marijuana.

It began with then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions sending waves of uncertainty and fear over the cannabis industry and legalization supporters on January 4, when he formally rescinded Obama-era guidelines protecting state marijuana laws.

But as 2018 went on, even more states ended up changing their laws to allow for legal recreational or medical cannabis use despite the conflict with federal law. Efforts to end national prohibition in Congress picked up steam as well. And several nations moved to significantly overhaul their marijuana laws.

Here’s a look back at marijuana’s 10 biggest victories of the year:

Lawmakers Start Passing Marijuana Legalization Bills

It didn’t take long for pro-legalization forces to get a victory on the board after Session’s anti-cannabis attack. Just hours later, on the very same day the attorney general threw the previous administration’s federal cannabis protections in the trash, Vermont lawmakers voted to approve a marijuana legalization bill. Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, went on to sign the legislation, which allows adults to grow and possess small amounts of cannabis but does not provide for a system of legal sales. That made Vermont the first state in the nation to enact legalization by an act of lawmakers instead of through a ballot initiative.

In September, lawmakers in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), a U.S. territory, also enacted a marijuana legalization bill that was later signed into law by Gov. Ralph Torres (R). Unlike the Vermont policy, CNMI’s approach does include legal cannabis commerce. The territory, which previously did not have a medical marijuana law, became the first place in the U.S. to go straight from having cannabis illegal across the board to allowing recreational use.

These two new laws—signed by Republican governors—mark an evolution in the country’s move toward legalization. Whereas the other states that had previously ended prohibition did so through acts of voters, it is now clear that politicians are comfortable enough with the issue to take matters into their own hands.

Three Red States Legalize Medical Cannabis

Support for marijuana reform transcends party lines, a political reality made clear by the fact that voters in Missouri, Oklahoma and Utah all overwhelmingly approved medical cannabis ballot measures this year while at the same time voting to elect Republicans to the U.S. Senate or nominate conservative candidates for statewide office. In Oklahoma, medical marijuana was on the primary election ballot—a situation legalization supporters have long sought to avoid because younger and more progressive voters who have been thought more likely to support cannabis reform don’t show up as reliably in non-presidential elections. But the decisive win in the red state during an off-year primary shows that medical cannabis can pass almost anywhere any time it is put before voters, whether presidential years, primaries or midterms.

First Midwestern State Legalizes Marijuana

During last month’s midterms, voters in Michigan strongly approved a ballot measure making their state the fist in the Midwest to legalize adult-use marijuana. No longer relegated to the coasts, legal markets for recreational marijuana are now an emerging nationwide trend. Separately, while not nearly as far-reaching as ending prohibition and allowing legal sales, voters in five Ohio cities also approved local cannabis decriminalization ballot measures on Election Day, signaling that a regional Midwest movement for marijuana reform is on the rise.

Pro-Legalization Candidates Win Governors’ Races

Aside from the wins at the ballot box for cannabis measures this year, voters also elected a number of new governors who campaigned on promises to legalize marijuana.

In Illinois, Democrat J.B. Pritzker sailed to victory after a campaign in which he made marijuana legalization a centerpiece of his platform. Minnesota Gov.-elect Tim Walz (D), who has worked on cannabis issues in Congress, also backs ending prohibition.

In addition to approving a legalization ballot measure, Michigan voters elected Gretchen Whitmer (D), who publicly supported the initiative and called cannabis an “exit drug” away from opioids, as governor. In New Mexico, Michelle Lujan Grisham (D), who won the governor’s race, said legalizing marijuana will bring “hundreds of millions of dollars to New Mexico’s economy.” Connecticut Gov.-elect Ned Lamont (D) said that legalizing marijuana will be among his “priorities” in 2019.

While reelected New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) previously called marijuana a “gateway drug,” in recent months he appointed a working group to draft a bill to end cannabis prohibition for lawmakers to consider in 2019, and the chances of that passing were improved as  Democrats took control of the state’s Senate in the midterms.

Members of Congress Act To Fix Federal-State Marijuana Gap

The rapid evolution of the politics of marijuana isn’t just happening on the state level. Many more members of the U.S. House and Senate became active in the fight to end federal cannabis prohibition in 2018.

More than just being ineffective in stopping states from changing their marijuana laws, Sessions’s anti-cannabis move seems to have actually spurred more federal lawmakers to view ending national prohibition as an important issue, with dozens of members of Congress quickly weighing in on the need for reform in the wake of his rescission of the Obama-era memo.

One legislator, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), went so far as to place a hold on President Trump’s Justice Department nominees over the dispute.

And while congressional Republicans blocked dozens of cannabis amendments, refusing to allow any to reach the House floor for votes, more bills to end or amend federal marijuana prohibition were filed in the 115th Congress than ever before, and they garnered record numbers of cosponsors.

And with the Democratic takeover of the House in the midterms, many observers believe that the chamber will pass far-reaching marijuana reforms in the 116th Congress, a plan for which Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) laid out in a comprehensive step-by-step “blueprint” toward federally legalizing cannabis in 2019.

Longtime Prohibitionists Flip To Support Marijuana Reform

Several of the lawmakers who vocally spoke out for ending federal marijuana prohibition this year have historically been actively hostile to cannabis reform.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), long one of Congress’s most ardent legalization opponents, announced during the course of a tough primary challenge that she finally came around to the notion that her constituents who follow California cannabis laws shouldn’t be arrested by federal narcotics agents.

Feinstein’s home state colleague, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), who many believe to be preparing for a 2020 presidential run, once simply laughed in the face of a reporter who asked her about marijuana legalization. Now, the former prosecutor is all-in on ending prohibition, signing her name this year onto a far-reaching bill that would punish states with discriminatory cannabis enforcement.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who has rarely met a federal drug criminalization policy he didn’t like, changed his mind on marijuana in 2018 and filed his own bill to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act.

And one of the Democratic Party’s rising stars, Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-MA), who opposed legalization in his home state of Massachusetts and consistently voted against even limited medical cannabis amendments in Congress, also evolved and now supports legalization.

While it is likely true that some of this position flipping is at least partially motivated by genuine rethinking about the policy of prohibition, it’s hard to believe that politics doesn’t have something to do with it as well. Polling now consistently shows that a growing majority of the country supports legalizing cannabis. Gallup, for example, found in October that 66% of Americans—including a majority of Republicans—are now on board with legalization.

This new politics of marijuana is likely to become more and more apparent to politicians who are still reluctant to embrace cannabis reform as a growing number of states change their laws.

President Trump Voices Support For Marijuana Bill

In a situation that stemmed directly from his own attorney general’s anti-cannabis moves, President Trump ended up lending his support to a bill to end federal marijuana prohibition.

Following Gardner’s blocking Justice Department nominees in protest of Sessions’s rescission of the Obama-era marijuana memo, the senator spoke directly with the president and elicited a pledge for the administration to respect local legalization laws in exchange for lifting his hold. Following that, he teamed up with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) to file legislation to shield state marijuana policies from federal interference.

When asked about the proposal during an impromptu press conference outside the White House, Trump said he “really” supports the bill, a comment that made him the first sitting president to embrace legislation to end the federal prohibition of marijuana.

Hemp Is About To Become Legal

After decades of being caught up in the broader prohibition of cannabis, marijuana’s non-psychoactive cousin hemp is poised to finally become a legal crop.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), no fan of marijuana, nonetheless actively championed the legalization of hemp through this year’s Farm Bill, going so far as to take the unusual step of naming himself to the conference committee charged with reconciling the Senate version, which had his hemp language in it, with the House version, which did not.

McConnell and other congressional leaders announced recently that the negotiated bill that will be sent to President Trump’d desk includes provisions to finally and officially remove the crop from the Controlled Substances Act. The legislation, which will bolster the growing market for hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD), is expected to be enacted by year’s end.

Canada Legalizes Marijuana

In addition to having prohibition-free zones within its own borders in a growing number of states, the U.S. now has a whole country where cannabis is legal just over its northern border.

While Canada is the second nation in the world to end prohibition after Uruguay, it is the first major global economic player to do so. The move has spurred the creation and growth of several huge publicly traded cannabis companies.

As the Canadian system of legalization gets off the ground, it is likely to spur the U.S. and other nations to more seriously consider modernizing their approaches to marijuana.

Mexican Presidential Administration Backs Legalizing Cannabis

Speaking of legalization just over U.S. borders, the new administration of Mexican President AndrÊs Manuel López Obrador, which took office this month, is already making moves to end cannabis prohibition.

In late October, the nation’s Supreme Court struck down the criminalization of using, possessing and growing personal amounts of marijuana as unconstitutional. But LĂłpez Obrador’s team was already considering legalization even before the ruling. Weeks earlier, members of his incoming cabinet spoke about cannabis policy with Canadian officials during a trip to that country.

Subsequently, Sen. Olga SĂĄnchez Cordero filed a bill to legalize and regulate cannabis production and sales. She is now the nation’s interior secretary. The government hasn’t said when it plans to push the legislation, but its party and partners control the legislature, so advocates expect that the U.S. could soon be surrounded on both its northern and southern borders by countries where marijuana is legal nationwide.

There May Still Be More Marijuana Wins By The End Of The Year

Aside from the seeming inevitability that more states will legalize marijuana and federal reform efforts will progress in 2019, it is possible that there are still more huge cannabis wins yet to come before 2018 is over.

For example, lawmakers in New Jersey advanced a marijuana legalization bill out of committee last month. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) supports ending prohibition, and the legislation could still end up on his desk for signing by the end of the year.

In any case, 2018 has already been a year that saw marijuana policy reform significantly advance on the state, federal and international levels, a scenario that bodes extremely well for the legalization movement heading into 2019.

This piece was first published by Forbes.

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.

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.)

Culture

Lots Of Politicians And Companies Are Tweeting About Marijuana On 4/20

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It’s 4/20 again, and that means another slew of tweets from politicians and mainstream brands looking to use the marijuana holiday as a hook to get their message out.

Here’s a roundup of some of the best, funniest, most important or otherwise notable cannabis-related tweets of the day…

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), a presidential candidate:

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), a presidential candidate:

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), a presidential candidate:

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), a presidential candidate:

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), a presidential candidate:

Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA), a presidential candidate:

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX), a presidential candidate:

Former Sen. Mike Gravel (D-AK), a presidential candidate:

Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee (D), a presidential candidate:

Former San Antonio, Texas Mayor Juliån Castro (D), a presidential candidate:

Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang:

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY):

House Committee on Small Business:

Congressional Black Caucus:

Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV):

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR):

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN):

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA):

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA):

Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL):

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN):

Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM):

Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D):

Los Angeles, California City Council President Herb Wesson (D):

Cook County, Illinois State’s Attorney Kim Foxx (D):

The American Civil Liberties Union:

Ben & Jerry’s:

Denny’s:

Hidden Valley Ranch:

Carl’s Jr.:

Boston Market:

George Washington’s Mount Vernon:

Bill Maher:

Miley Cyrus:

311:

The Onion:

Ben & Jerry’s Stands Out From Companies Just Trying To Make Money From 4/20

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.
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Politics

State-Legal Marijuana Use Makes Immigrants Morally Unfit for Citizenship, Trump Administration Warns

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A federal immigration agency clarified on Friday that using marijuana or engaging in cannabis-related “activities” such as working for a dispensary—even in states where it’s legal—is an immoral offense that makes immigrants ineligible for citizenship.

When applying for naturalization, the process of gaining citizenship, individuals must have established “good moral character” in the five years preceding the application. Good moral character is a vague requirement that has been criticized by scholars and civil rights advocates, as assessing morality is arguably subjective.

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), state-legal marijuana consumption renders individuals morally unfit for citizenship. The new policy clarification reflects a sentiment once expressed by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who said that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”

The USCIS memo says that “violation of federal controlled substance law, including for marijuana, established by a conviction or admission, is generally a bar to establishing [good moral character] for naturalization even where the conduct would not be a violation of state law.”

Further, an applicant “who is involved in certain marijuana related activities may lack GMC if found to have violated federal law, even if such activity is not unlawful under applicable state or foreign laws,” the document says. The policy also applies to individuals who worked in the state-legal cannabis industry.

There have already been reports of people being denied citizenship due to their proximity to state-legal marijuana businesses. Earlier this month, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock hosted a group of immigrants who said their work in the state’s cannabis industry was being used as justification by federal officials to deny them citizenship.

“In Colorado, cannabis has been legal for 5 years. For work in a legal industry to be used against an individual trying to gain citizenship is a prime example of why we need to harmonize our state and federal laws to ensure that states like Colorado that have moved to legalize cannabis can act in our own authority to expand and regulate our cannabis industry,” Rep. Joe Neguse (D-CO), told Marijuana Moment in reaction to the Trump administration memo.

Legalization activists also criticized the move.

“The cruel treatment of immigrants for offenses related to something as minor as marijuana is illustrative of the way this administration has used the war on drugs to pursue communities of color,” Michael Collins, director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, told Marijuana Moment. “It also shows that pursuing a state by state approach to federal policy doesn’t work for these communities. Federal descheduling is essential.”

While the federal policy deeming marijuana use a violation of “good moral character” standards for immigration purposes was already on the books, it seems the spread of state-level cannabis legalization has prompted the agency, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, to issue the clarification.

“A number of states and the District of Columbia (D.C.) have enacted laws permitting ‘medical’ or ‘recreational’ use of marijuana. Marijuana, however, remains classified as a ‘Schedule I’ controlled substance under the federal CSA,” the updated USCIS policy manual now reads. “Schedule I substances have no accepted medical use pursuant to the CSA. Classification of marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law means that certain conduct involving marijuana, which is in violation of the CSA, continues to constitute a conditional bar to GMC for naturalization eligibility, even where such activity is not a criminal offense under state law.”

“Such an offense under federal law may include, but is not limited to, possession, manufacture or production, or distribution or dispensing of marijuana. For example, possession of marijuana for recreational or medical purposes or employment in the marijuana industry may constitute conduct that violates federal controlled substance laws. Depending on the specific facts of the case, these activities, whether established by a conviction or an admission by the applicant, may preclude a finding of GMC for the applicant during the statutory period. An admission must meet the long held requirements for a valid ‘admission’ of an offense. Note that even if an applicant does not have a conviction or make a valid admission to a marijuana-related offense, he or she may be unable to meet the burden of proof to show that he or she has not committed such an offense.”

The underlying policy does provide an exception for “a single offense of simple possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana.”

An additional update to the policy manual stipulates that the exception “is also applicable to paraphernalia offenses involving controlled substances as long as the paraphernalia offense is ‘related to’ simple possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana.”

That detail wasn’t included in an earlier 2014 version of the USCIS policy manual.

The policy alert is similar to an update the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) issued in 2017 when the federal gun purchase application form was revised to include a warning that the “use or possession of marijuana remains unlawful under Federal law regardless of whether it has been legalized or decriminalized for medicinal or recreational purposes in the state where you reside” and therefore disqualifies applicants.

But the USCIS clarification also reflects a recent ratcheting up of anti-immigration policy moves under the Trump administration.

Jason Ortiz, vice president of the Minority Cannabis Business Association, told Marijuana Moment that the new memo reflects a “callous and irrational decision” by the administration and “is a reminder that without comprehensive cannabis reform our communities of color will continue to be prosecuted and subject to deportation for activity that is legal for affluent communities around the country.”

“Proposals such as the STATES act which seek to simply ease the risk on business do not address these deeper issues related to federal prohibition,” he said. “Considering the devastating effects our war on drugs had on Latin America, immigration reform must be a necessary component of any comprehensive cannabis legalization policy.”

People Could Use Marijuana In Public Housing Under New Congressional Bill

This story has been updated to include comment from Neguse.

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.
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Politics

USDA Clarifies That Farmers Can Import Hemp Seeds From Other Countries

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) clarified on Friday that hemp seeds can be imported into the U.S., and that the Justice Department no longer has a role in that process.

While USDA is still developing regulations for hemp cultivation under the 2018 Farm Bill, which federally legalized the crop and its derivatives, farmers can still obtain seeds in the meantime.

The agriculture legislation “removed hemp and hemp seeds from DEA authority for products containing THC levels not greater than 0.3 percent” and “DEA no longer has authority to require hemp seed permits for import purposes.”

“U.S. producers and hemp seed exporters have requested assistance from USDA to provide an avenue for hemp seed exports to the United States,” the department wrote in a bulletin. “The U.S. Department of Agriculture regulates the importation of all seeds for planting to ensure safe agricultural trade. Under this authority, USDA is providing an alternative way for the safe importation of hemp seeds into the United States.”

Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) is among those who’ve requested assistance related to hemp importations. Earlier this month, he told Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue that the DEA was blocking Montana farmers from importing hemp seeds.

Perdue said during the hearing that the matter was “news to me” and explained that farmers can import and cultivate hemp under the research-focused provisions in the prior 2014 version of the legislation while the USDA worked to enact new regulations.

In a letter sent to the acting administrator of Customs and Border Protect (CBP) on Tuesday, Tester and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) raised the concern again, imploring CBP to update its policy to reflect that hemp seeds can be lawfully imported. The letter was obtained by the industry advocacy group Vote Hemp.

The USDA bulletin specified how the process works for imports from Canada and other countries.

Importation of Hemp Seed from Canada

“Hemp seeds can be imported into the United States from Canada if accompanied by either: 1) a phytosanitary certification from Canada’s national plant protection organization to verify the origin of the seed and confirm that no plant pests are detected; or 2) a Federal Seed Analysis Certificate (SAC, PPQ Form 925) for hemp seeds grown in Canada.”

Importation of Hemp Seed from Countries other than Canada

“Hemp seeds may be imported into the United States from countries other than Canada if accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate from the exporting country’s national plant protection organization to verify the origin of the seed and confirm that no plant pests are detected.

Hemp seed shipments may be inspected upon arrival at the first port of entry by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to ensure USDA regulations are met, including certification and freedom from plant pests.”

The rulemaking process for hemp may take some time, as Perdue said the department would not expedite the regulations and will be “taking this slow.” Once the USDA has a regulatory framework in place, it will begin approving state plans, and those states will be the primary regulators.

For the time being, however, there’s nothing stopping farmers from collecting certified hemp seeds. Not even the DEA.

Trump Agriculture Secretary Accepts Invitation To Tour Hemp Farms

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.
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