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Minnesota Marijuana Parties May Have Helped Republicans Win Key Races, Hurting Legalization’s Chances



Paradoxically, the two cannabis parties’ success may wind up hurting the cause of legal marijuana. By siphoning votes from the DFL and helping Republicans, legal marijuana is less likely to pass, as the Senate GOP killed a legalization bill in committee in 2019.

By Max Nesterak, Minnesota Reformer

Marijuana legalization candidates may have played a decisive role in key races in Minnesota, potentially propelling U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn to reelection and helping Republicans maintain control of the state Senate.

Although the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party may end up eking out victories once more absentee ballots are counted, party officials insist the state’s two marijuana parties acted as a drag on their effort to gain control of the Legislature in one of the most pivotal elections in recent memory.

Paradoxically, the two cannabis parties’ success may wind up hurting the cause of legal marijuana. By siphoning votes from the DFL and helping Republicans, legal marijuana is less likely to pass, as the Senate GOP killed a legalization bill in committee in 2019.

The issue performed well across the country in Tuesday’s election, with four more states passing referendums legalizing marijuana—New Jersey, Arizona, Montana and South Dakota—bringing the total to 15.

The pot parties’ strong performance in Minnesota, however, had the opposite effect, helping ensure the defeat of the legalization movement in the state for at least another election cycle. Unlike other states, ballot initiatives in Minnesota must be approved by the Legislature. The GOP-controlled Senate has staunchly opposed such an effort.

The head of the Legal Marijuana Now Party Tim Davis knows this.

“Republicans are the biggest problem in Minnesota,” Davis said. “The Republicans are the only thing that has stopped it. And they will stop it again.”

The DFL needed to flip two state senate seats and they would have taken control and been able to introduce legislation to legalize marijuana.

A marijuana candidate seems to have affected at least one state senate race, with Gene Dornink edging out Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, by just over 1,500 votes. Legal Marijuana Now candidate Tyler Becvar won over 2,500 votes. Becvar posted a video for his putative opponent Dornink on his Facebook page in May, according to a screenshot obtained by the Reformer. His Facebook page was also filled with support for President Donald Trump and attacks on Democrats.

Aric Putnam, the DFL challenger to Sen. Jerry Relph, R-St. Cloud, looks to have won his race despite the marijuana candidate pulling down over 3,000 votes. Putnam is currently ahead by less than 300 votes, but that gap is likely to widen as more absentee ballots are counted.

Putnam says he supports legalizing marijuana. Activists with NORML, a marijuana legalization group, held an event in Putnam’s district to register voters and tell them not to vote for Legal Marijuana Candidate Jaden Partlow.

“They were just as disturbed as I was to see an issue they care about weaponized for partisan gain,” Putnam said.

Relph was unavailable for comment.

The Legal Marijuana Now candidate scored above 5% in the U.S. Senate race, which is one the thresholds for securing major party status for another two general elections, which would mean getting on the ballot without onerous signature gathering. Both pot parties will have major party status in 2022.

In the 1st Congressional District, cannabis candidate Bill Rood won 21,000 votes, well above the margin of victory for U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn over Dan Feehan.

While Democrats decry them as spoilers, Davis, the Legal Marijana Now Party chair, balks at the suggestion that the marijuana parties shouldn’t run candidates even if it would help their cause. He said Democrats are “sore losers” and expressed his devotion to third party politics even if it backfires.

“Most of the people in America accept the duopoly. They accept the (expletive) they’re living in as the best pile of (expletive) they can get,” Davis said. “And when somebody tries to change it, they think somebody’s thrown a wrench into the sprocket of what’s working … the system’s not working.”

Where Davis saw a place to take a stand against the system, Republicans saw an opening.

As the Reformer reported in June, several marijuana party candidates across the state have ties to the GOP.

Robyn Smith admitted she was recruited by a Republican to run for state senate against Sen. Justin Eichorn, R-Grand Rapids, and DFL challenger Rita Albrecht. Smith won 6% of the vote, but that race turned out to be far less competitive than expected with Eichorn winning reelection by a healthy margin.

Weeks won nearly 6% of the vote—more than the margin between Craig and Republican opponent Tyler Kistner—despite his death a month and a half earlier, which embroiled the race in a flurry of lawsuits. Since both marijuana parties earned major party status in 2018, Weeks’ death triggered a special election, which was then overturned by a federal judge.

In a voicemail leaked to the Star Tribune, Weeks is heard telling a friend he was recruited by Republicans to siphon votes away from Craig in her tough reelection bid against Kistner. Craig won her seat in 2018 from Jason Lewis after losing to him in 2016.

“They want me to run as a third-party, liberal candidate, which I’m down. I can play the liberal, you know that,” Weeks said in the message.

That people would take advantage of the legalization movement’s popularity was a foreseeable yet unavoidable outcome of the marijuana parties’ electoral successes, driven by the popular desire to legalize marijuana.

“We always said, ‘What if we get to be a major party status—then this is something we have to worry about,” said Marty Super, outgoing chair of Legal Marijuana Now Party, in an interview with the Reformer earlier this year.

Minnesota DFL Chair Ken Martin said he doesn’t blame the marijuana parties for not having the power to screen out interlopers and instead blasted Republicans for what he called a highly unethical and potentially illegal strategy.

“If you can’t win fair and square on the merits of your own ideas and the strength of your own candidates then you don’t deserve the majority.” Martin said.

Davis, the current Legal Marijuana Now Party chair, says the DFL are responsible for their own losses.

“The Democrats do not have faith in their candidates enough to beat a Republican if we are involved. But that is their problem, not ours,” Davis said.

Martin said there’s more to the DFL’s disappointing night than just the marijuana parties, but he called Davis’ response a “bull(expletive) answer.”

This story was first published by The Minnesota Reformer.

Every Single Marijuana And Drug Policy Ballot Measure Passing On Election Day Bolsters Federal Reform Push

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Top IRS Official Says Marijuana Banking Reform Would Help Feds ‘Get Paid’



The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) would like to get paid—and it’d help if the marijuana industry had access to banks like companies in other legal markets, an official with the federal department said. She also talked about unique issues related to federal tax deductions for cannabis businesses.

At an event hosted by UCLA’s Annual Tax Controversy Institute on Thursday, IRS’s Cassidy Collins talked about the “special type of collection challenge” that the agency faces when it comes to working with cannabis businesses while the product remains federally illegal.

While IRS isn’t taking a stand on federal marijuana policy, Collins said that the status quo leaves many cannabis businesses operating on a cash-only basis, creating complications for the agency, in part by making it harder for banks to “pay us.”

“The reason why [the marijuana industry is] cash intensive is twofold,” she said. “Number one, a lot of customers don’t want a paper trail showing that they’re buying marijuana, and number two, the hesitancy of banks to allow marijuana businesses to even bank with them.”

Of course, the reason why many financial institutions remain hesitant to take on cannabis companies as clients is because the plant is a strictly controlled substance under federal law.

“There’s been a number of legislative bills that have been introduced—and I am definitely not expressing any opinion personally or on behalf of the IRS about any pending or proposed legislation,” Collins, who is a senior counsel in the IRS Office of Chief Counsel, said. “But it is interesting to note that, if the law changed so that the marijuana businesses could have banks, that would make the IRS’s job to collect [taxes] a lot easier. As part of collection, we want the money. That’s our end goal there.”

A major part of what makes cannabis businesses unique is that they don’t qualify for traditional tax credits under an IRS code known as 280E. That policy “prohibits them from claiming deductions for business expenses because they’re technically being involved in drug trafficking,” Collins explained at the event, from which small excerpts of her comments were reported by Bloomberg.

There are some options available to lessen the burden on marijuana firms, however. At the end of the day, “IRS will work with marijuana companies because, again, we want to get paid,” Collins said.

One of the ways the agency works with marijuana business operators is to have them visit designated IRS “tax assistance centers” that accept cash payments in excess of $50,000. But the official warned businesses to “be prepared to be there for a little while” as the center checks—and double checks—the amount of cash being submitted.

“Revenue officers will assist the marijuana companies in paying us,” she said.

IRS officials could also help cannabis firms by having officials accompany them “to the bank in order to try to help the taxpayer secure a cashier’s payment to pay the IRS, as well as using money orders,” she said, adding that “our revenue officers are are wanting to work with the marijuana companies to help assist them to pay us.”

“When the revenue officers are there in person with the taxpayer, that could potentially help increase the likelihood that the bank will cooperate and help the taxpayer transition into a cashier’s check,” she continued. “And that has been a trend since this first became legal [at the state level], that more and more banks are allowing cannabis companies to bank with them.”

In a report published earlier this year, congressional researchers examined tax policies and restrictions for the marijuana industry—and how those could change if any number of federal reform bills are enacted.

IRS, for its part, said last month that it expects the cannabis market to continue to grow, and it offered some tips to businesses on staying compliant with taxes while the plant remains federally prohibited.

As it stands, 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.

Leaders in both chambers of Congress are working on legalization bills to end federal marijuana prohibition. But stakeholders are hopeful that, in the interim, legislators will enact modest marijuana banking reform. Legislation to protect financial institutions from being penalized for working with cannabis businesses passed the House for the fifth time last month.

Rodney Hood, a board member of the National Credit Union Administration, wrote in a Marijuana Moment op-ed this month that legalization is an inevitability—and it makes the most sense for government agencies to get ahead of the policy change to resolve banking complications.

IRS separately hosted a forum in August dedicated to tax policy for marijuana businesses and cryptocurrency.

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.”

Luxembourg Set To Become First European Country To Legalize Marijuana Following Government Recommendation

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Luxembourg Set To Become First European Country To Legalize Marijuana Following Government Recommendation



Luxembourg is poised to become the first European country to legalize marijuana, with key government agencies putting forward a plan to allow the possession and cultivation of cannabis for personal use.

The ministers of justice and homeland security on Friday unveiled the proposal, which will still require a vote in the Parliament but is expected to pass. It’s part of a broader package of reform measures the agencies are recommending.

Under the marijuana measure, adults 18 and older could grow up to four plants. However, under the non-commercial model that is being proposed, possessing more than three grams in public would still be a civil offense, carrying a fine of €25-500 ($29-581). Currently, the maximum fine for possession is €2,500 ($2,908).

In terms of access, adults would be able to buy and trade cannabis seeds for their home garden.

Justice Minister Sam Tamson said the government felt it “had to act” and characterized the home cultivation policy change as a first step, The Guardian reported.

“The idea is that a consumer is not in an illegal situation if he consumes cannabis and that we don’t support the whole illegal chain from production to transportation to selling where there is a lot of misery attached,” he said. “We want to do everything we can to get more and more away from the illegal black market.”

While limited in scope, the reform would make Luxembourg the first country in Europe to legalize the production and possession of marijuana for recreational use. Cannabis has been widely decriminalized in certain countries in the continent, but it has remained criminalized by statute.

Government sources in Luxembourg told The Guardian that plans are in the works to develop a program where the state regulates the production and distribution of marijuana. Tamson said they are working to resolve “international constraints” before taking that step, however, referring to United Nations treaty obligations that multiple U.S. states and other countries like Canada and Uruguay have openly flouted.

For now, the country is focusing on legalization within a home setting. Parliament is expected to vote on the proposal in early 2022, and the ruling parties are friendly to the reform.

This has been a long time coming, as a coalition of major parties of Luxembourg agreed in 2018 to enact legislation allowing “the exemption from punishment or even legalization” of cannabis.

Meanwhile in the U.S., congressional lawmakers are working to advance legalization legislation. A key House committee recently approved a bill to end marijuana prohibition, and Senate leadership is finalizing a separate reform proposal.

In Mexico, a top Senator said this week that lawmakers could advance legislation to regulate marijuana in the coming weeks. The Supreme Court has already ruled that adults cannot be criminalized over possession or cultivation, but there’s currently no program in place to provide access.

New Bipartisan Marijuana Research Bill In Congress Would Let Scientists Study Dispensary Products

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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New Bipartisan Marijuana Research Bill In Congress Would Let Scientists Study Dispensary Products



A bipartisan group of federal lawmakers introduced a bill on Thursday to remove barriers to conducting research on marijuana, including by allowing scientists to access cannabis from state-legal dispensaries.

The Medical Marijuana Research Act, filed by the unlikely duo of pro-legalization Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and prohibitionist Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), would streamline the process for researchers to apply and get approved to study cannabis and set clear deadlines on federal agencies to act on their applications.

“Congress is hopelessly behind the American people on cannabis, and the quality of our research shows why that is an urgent problem,” Blumenauer told Marijuana Moment. “Despite the fact that 99 percent of Americans live in a state that has legalized some form of cannabis, federal law is still hamstringing researchers’ ability to study the full range of health benefits offered by cannabis, and to learn more about the products readily available to consumers.”

“It’s outrageous that we are outsourcing leadership in that research to Israel, the United Kingdom, Canada, and others. It’s time to change the system,” he said.

Late last year, the House approved an identical version of the cannabis science legislation. Days later, the Senate passed a similar bill but nothing ended up getting to the president’s desk by the end of the last Congress. Earlier this year, a bipartisan group of senators refiled their marijuana research measure for the current 117th Congress.

Meanwhile, lawmakers are also advancing a separate strategy to open up dispensary cannabis to researchers. Large-scale infrastructure legislation that has passed both chambers in differing forms and which is pending final action contains provisions aimed at allowing researchers to study the actual marijuana that consumers are purchasing from state-legal businesses instead of having to use only government-grown cannabis.

The new bill filed this week by Blumenauer and Harris, along with six other original cosponsors, would also make it easier for scientists to modify their research protocols without having to seek federal approval.

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.

It would additionally mandate that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) license more growers and make it so there would be no limit on the number of additional entities that can be registered to cultivate marijuana for research purposes. It would also require the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to submit a report to Congress within five years after enactment to overview the results of federal cannabis studies and recommend whether they warrant marijuana’s rescheduling under federal law.

“The cannabis laws in this country are broken, including our laws that govern cannabis research,” Blumenauer said in remarks in the Congressional Record. “Because cannabis is a Schedule I substance, researchers must jump through hoops and comply with onerous requirements just to do basic research on the medical potential of the plant.”

The new legislation will “both streamline the often-duplicative licensure process for researchers seeking to conduct cannabis research and facilitate access to an increased supply of higher quality medical grade cannabis for research purposes,” he said, adding that expanded studies will help make sure “Americans have adequate access to potentially transformative medicines and treatments.”

For half a century, researchers have only been able to study marijuana grown at a single federally approved facility at the University of Mississippi, but they have complained that it is difficult to obtain the product and that it is of low quality. Indeed, one study showed that the government cannabis is more similar to hemp than to the marijuana that consumers actually use in the real world.

There’s been bipartisan agreement that DEA has inhibited cannabis research by being slow to follow through on approving additional marijuana manufacturers beyond the Mississippi operation, despite earlier pledges to do so.

In May, the agency finally said it was ready to begin licensing new cannabis cultivators. Last week, DEA proposed a large increase in the amount of marijuana—and psychedelics such as psilocybin, LSD, MDMA and mescaline—that it wants produced in the U.S. for research purposes next year.

Under the new House bill, the agency would be forced to start approving additional cultivation applications for study purposes within one year of the legislation’s enactment.

HHS and the attorney general would be required under the bill to create a process for marijuana manufacturers and distributors to supply researchers with cannabis from dispensaries. They would have one year after enactment to develop that procedure, and would have to start meeting to work on it within 60 days of the bill’s passage.

In general, the legislation would also establish a simplified registration process for researchers interested in studying cannabis, in part by reducing approval wait times, minimizing costly security requirements and eliminating additional layers of protocol review.

Read the full text of the new marijuana research bill below:

Click to access medical-marijuana-research-act-hr-5657-text.pdf

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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