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More Than 100 Marijuana Businesses Urge Congress To Include Social Equity In Legalization

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A coalition of more than 100 marijuana businesses and industry associations sent a letter to congressional leadership on Thursday, pressing them to ensure that any cannabis reform legislation include provisions promoting social equity in the industry.

The letter describes the evolution in public opinion around marijuana policy, the mass incarceration implications of prohibition and the economic potential of legalizing and regulating cannabis. It makes the case that as Congress considers various proposals to change federal marijuana laws, the work won’t be complete with the mere end of prohibition.

Specifically, the signees say they are concerned that individuals from communities disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs are being “left behind because a previous [cannabis] conviction often is a disqualifying factor to become an owner or employee in the new legal ‘green-rush'” and also because “they are unable to come up with the capital necessary to break into the industry.”

“In 2018, combined sales of regulated medical and adult-use cannabis topped $10.4 billion, and the 7 states with active adult-use markets generated nearly $1.2 billion in tax revenue. The industry is now employing well over 200,000 people,” the letter reads. “And yet, with this rapidly growing new industry and broad popular support for legalization, many of the communities who were devastated by the decades-long War on Drugs are now being left behind.”

The coalition made a series of policy recommendations that aim to level the playing field and repair the social and racial harms of the drug war.

For example, the businesses said that, beyond federally descheduling marijuana, lawmakers should allow banks to service state-legal cannabis businesses, fund social equity programs to encourage those targeted in the drug war to participate in the legal market, clear the records of individuals with prior marijuana convictions and invest in efforts that lift up impacted communities.

Signees include the Minority Cannabis Business Association, National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), Marijuana Policy Project, Americans for Safe Access, Michigan Cannabis Industry Association, Harborside, Berkeley Patients Group, Arcview Group, MJ Freeway, Greenbridge Corporate Counsel, SPARC and 4Front Ventures, which led the letter.

“I feel the cannabis industry has a moral obligation to ensure that communities and individuals who were harmed the most by prohibition do not lose out yet again as we forge these new economic opportunities,” said Mike Liszewski, 4Front’s senior regulatory affairs counsel and the chief organizer behind the letter, said in a press release.

“There are many who would argue that Congress should not get into the business of picking winners and losers,” the businesses wrote.

“We would argue that if Congress chooses to end federal cannabis prohibition but chooses not to address these glaring racial and economic disparities in the process, it will in fact pick those who are already the most well-financed, the least likely to have suffered an arrest and conviction, and almost certainly do not come from the communities that were severely harmed by decades of prohibition to be the winners of the new economy.”

The letter comes one week after the House Judiciary Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee convened for a historic meeting on ending federal marijuana prohibition, where witnesses and members discussed how to chart the best path forward toward legalization.

“As representatives of the legal cannabis industry, we have a responsibility to help undo the harms caused by prohibition and ensure that people most impacted by failed federal policies have access to the opportunities being created every day in this market,” Aaron Smith, executive director of NCIA, said in a statement. “We are pleased to join this distinguished group of business leaders and advocates in calling on Congress to incorporate these ideas into legislation.”

“Past Congresses have played a major role in marginalizing people of color through the war on cannabis, and it is the duty of current and future lawmakers to make up for this,” Smith said.

On a related note, a separate coalition of civil rights and drug reform groups, including the ACLU, was formed last week and released a letter making similar social justice recommendations for federal cannabis legislation.

“Some in Congress may feel it is too soon to end federal cannabis prohibition or that Congress does not have a responsibility to address the harms created by how this policy has targeted certain communities,” the new letter from the businesses and industry groups states. “But if Congress declines to harmonize state and federal cannabis laws or fails to take responsibility for the consequences of disproportionate enforcement, the problems caused by prohibition will continue to persist.”

“The time to wait and see is over,” they wrote. “Now is the time for Congress to take the bold but ultimately pragmatic step to deschedule cannabis along with approving the necessary funding and programming to support the communities that incurred the most harm because of federal prohibition.”

Read the full letter from cannabis industry groups below:

Cannabis Business and Organization Sign on Letter to House Judiciary by MikeLiszewski on Scribd

This piece was updated to include comment from Liszewski.

Lawmakers And Witnesses Clash On Strategy During Congressional Hearing On Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition

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.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Sacramento-based senior editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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Arizona Marijuana Tax Revenue Exceeds $20 Million In August, State Reports

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Arizona collected more than $20 million in medical and adult-use marijuana tax revenue in August, data released by the state this week shows.

Medical cannabis taxes were slightly higher at $6,388,816 last month, compared to $4,542,166 collected from the recreational market, according to the Department of Revenue. The state also took in an additional $9,515,016 from the marijuana excise tax.

However, these figures are preliminary and may change, as some businesses could need additional time to send in data.

July’s cannabis tax revenue was slightly higher compared to August, with the state taking in about $400,000 more in the prior month.

While medical cannabis taxes are still outpacing those from the adult-use market, that gap has been generally been narrowing in the months since recreational sales first launched in January. That’s a trend that’s been observed across numerous states after adult-use marijuana is legalized.

However, Arizona’s medical marijuana market is well-established, and some industry experts don’t necessarily expect recreational sales to overtake the medical program for some time.

Overall cannabis tax revenue from January through August totaled $115,701,426, according to the data the Department of Revenue is reporting so far.

Other states are also seeing a windfall in marijuana tax dollars as more markets mature and sales continue to increase.

For example, Maine recreational marijuana sales broke another record in August, exceeding $10 million for the first time since the adult-use market launched in October 2020.

Adult-use cannabis sales in Illinois exceeded $120 million in August, state officials recently reported. It’s the second highest sales record since the state’s recreational market launched last year and the sixth month in a row that sales surpassed $100 million.

Massachusetts marijuana sales have topped $2 billion since the state’s adult-use market launched in late 2018, the Cannabis Control Commission reported last week.

California collected about $817 million in adult-use marijuana tax revenue during the 2020-2021 fiscal year, state officials estimated last month. That’s 55 percent more cannabis earnings for state coffers than was generated in the prior fiscal year.

A recent scientific analysis of sales data in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington State found that marijuana purchases “have increased more during the COVID-19 pandemic than in the previous two years.”

In July alone, at least three states saw record-breaking sales for recreational cannabis. The same goes for Missouri’s medical marijuana program.

Michigan marijuana sales broke another record in July with more than $171 million in cannabis transactions, according to data from the state’s regulatory body. There were $128 million in adult-use sales and $43 million in medical cannabis purchases.

Throughout the pandemic, many states allowed cannabis retailers to remain open—with governors and regulators in several markets declaring marijuana businesses to be essential services—and some jurisdictions issued emergency rules allowing curbside pickup, delivery services or other more relaxed policies in order to facilitate social distancing.

California Smokable Hemp Bill Heads To Governor, While Measure On Cannabis Use In Hospitals Advances

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Maine Marijuana Sales Broke Another Record In August, Exceeding $10 Million For First Time

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Maine recreational marijuana sales broke another record in August, exceeding $10 million for the first time since the adult-use market launched in October 2020.

The state’s Office of Marijuana Policy reported that the state’s 53 adult-use cannabis shops brought in about $10.2 million in marijuana purchases last month. And that translates into about $1 million in tax revenue for the state, which has a population of just 1.3 million.

By comparison, Maine cannabis sales for recreational consumers amounted to just $1.1 million during the first month of retail sales less than a year ago. That record has been broken each subsequent month.

While August proved to be a record-breaking month for marijuana purchases—with 133,969 sales transactions—it’s only slightly higher compared to July, when the state saw about $9.4 million in adult-use purchases. Those figures don’e include medical cannabis sales, which are tracked separately.

Via Maine Office of Marijuana Policy.

According to the Portland Press Herald, regulators have credited summer tourism for the sales spike.

But in general, states across the U.S. have seen similar trends over recent years. And marijuana sales records have been consistently broken over the past year despite the coronavirus pandemic.

Adult-use cannabis sales in Illinois exceeded $120 million in August, state officials recently reported. It’s the second highest sales record since the state’s recreational market launched last year and the sixth month in a row that sales surpassed $100 million.

Arizona brought in about $21 million in medical and adult-use marijuana tax revenue in July, state officials recently reported on a new webpage that enables people to more easily track how the industry is evolving.

California collected about $817 million in adult-use marijuana tax revenue during the 2020-2021 fiscal year, state officials estimated last month. That’s 55 percent more cannabis earnings for state coffers than was generated in the prior fiscal year.

A recent scientific analysis of sales data in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington State found that marijuana purchases “have increased more during the COVID-19 pandemic than in the previous two years.”

In July alone, at least three states saw record-breaking sales for recreational cannabis. The same goes for Missouri’s medical marijuana program.

Michigan marijuana sales broke another record in July with more than $171 million in cannabis transactions, according to data from the state’s regulatory body. There were $128 million in adult-use sales and $43 million in medical cannabis purchases.

Throughout the pandemic, many states allowed cannabis retailers to remain open—with governors and regulators in several markets declaring marijuana businesses to be essential services—and some jurisdictions issued emergency rules allowing curbside pickup, delivery services or other more relaxed policies in order to facilitate social distancing.

Marijuana Legalization Doesn’t Lead To Increased Youth Use, American Medical Association Study Finds

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Firm Led By Formerly Anti-Drug GOP Senator Will Lobby For Marijuana Businesses In New York

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A New York-based lobbying firm that’s headed by a former Republican U.S. senator announced on Tuesday that it is entering the marijuana space after the newly inaugurated governor took key steps toward implementing legalization in the state.

Former Sen. Alfonse D’Amato (R-NY) founded Park Strategies in 1999, just after leaving the Senate with an established record of supporting the war on drugs. Now, his firm is getting into the cannabis business, offering services to influence regulations for both marijuana companies and ancillary markets.

“With Governor Kathy Hochul’s prioritizing the cannabis law by making appointments to the cannabis office and governing board so quickly after having taken office tells us New York is serious about growing the cannabis industry in the state, and we are happy to be making our own investment to assure that success,” D’Amato said in a press release.

Joseph Rossi, who is heading the firm’s Cannabis Practice Group, said Park Strategies “has deep roots in the cannabis space,” noting work on state cannabis legislation over the years.

Hochul’s move to make the marijuana regulatory appointments so quickly after replacing former Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has been welcome news for advocates and industry stakeholders. Cuomo, who resigned amid a sexual harassment scandal, faced criticism for slow-walking the appointments after signing legalization into law this year.

And evidently, excitement about the cannabis developments in New York isn’t reserved to traditional advocates.

D’Amato wasn’t particularly bullish about marijuana reform during his time in Congress. For example, he introduced a bill and amendment in 1990 that would’ve allowed taxpayers to designate overpayments to fund drug war enforcement.

He also cosponsored an array of anti-drug legislation, including resolutions condemning Mexico over its “failure” to cooperate with the U.S. in “controlling the transport of illegal drugs and controlled substances” and promoting the Reagan-era Red Ribbon Week.

D’Amato also signed onto Sen. Strom Thurmond’s (R-SC) Violent Crime and Drug Enforcement Improvements Act, which would have expanded federal asset forfeiture authorities, made it so juveniles could be transferred to adult court for certain violent or drug-related crimes and established a new office to “plan and coordinate drug enforcement efforts” for the federal government.

At one point in 1986, D’Amato teamed up with then-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani for a stunt where they went “undercover” and posed as people attempting to purchase crack cocaine to illustrate the ease of the transaction in the city.

Notably, however, D’Amato was not one of the 35 senators who signed onto a 1998 resolution that expressed support for the federal system of determining “the safety and efficacy of drugs” and criticized “efforts to circumvent this process by legalizing marijuana, and other Schedule I drugs, for medicinal use without valid scientific evidence and the approval of the Food and Drug Administration.”

And his position on cannabis policy has shifted significantly in the years since he left the Senate.

In 2017, D’Amato actually became a senior policy advisor for the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project’s New York affiliate.

“Nobody was more anti-drugs than I was,” the former senator wrote in an op-ed for The New York Daily News at the time. “However, as I have learned more about marijuana, particularly medical marijuana, over the last several years, my views—like the views of most Americans—have changed.”

He explained his evolution on the topic in an earlier piece for The Long Island Herald in 2014.

“I know it’s a tough pill to swallow, and if you asked me five years ago if I would ever consider supporting legalizing medical marijuana, I would’ve say, ‘Not a chance,'” he wrote. “But times are changing, and marijuana has become a viable form of alternative medicine for those suffering from many debilitating diseases such as ALS, multiple sclerosis, cancer and others. When traditional medicines fail to offer relief, why not give patients alternatives?”

The overlap between the marijuana industry and politics has become pronounced in recent years as more states have moved to end prohibition.

President Joe Biden’s pick to head up federal drug policy worked for a major marijuana business last year, according to his financial disclosure reports.

Tom Price, the former U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) head under President Trump is also serving as a member of the board of directors for a medical marijuana business in Georgia. Like D’Amato, he similarly resisted reform during his time in Congress.

Perhaps the most well-known GOP lawmaker-turned-marijuana executive is former House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), who has faced criticism from activists over his previous opposition to legalization while in office before joining the board of marijuana company Acreage Holdings.

Marijuana Legalization Doesn’t Lead To Increased Youth Use, American Medical Association Study Finds

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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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