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NAACP, ACLU And Allies Demand Congress Pass Marijuana Bill With Justice Focus

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A coalition of more than 100 organizations—including NAACP, ACLU and Human Rights Watch—is coming together to call on congressional leadership to pass far-reaching legislation that would not only federally legalize marijuana but take additional steps to repair the damage of the war on drugs, which has been waged in a racially discriminatory manner.

“We are encouraged by the progress around marijuana reform at the state and federal level,” the groups wrote, pointing to rapidly changing local cannabis laws and a growing number of pending proposals on Capitol Hill. “While this progress is promising, we insist that any marijuana reform or legalization bill considered by Congress include robust provisions addressing social justice and criminal justice reform.”

The organizations are specifically backing the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, a bill filed last month by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY).

Among other things, the legislation would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, create processes for expungement and resentencing of prior convictions and block agencies from denying access to federal benefits or citizenship status for immigrants on the basis of marijuana use.

It would also set a new a five percent federal tax on marijuana sales, with some directed toward job training and legal aid for people impacted by prohibition enforcement as well as loans for small marijuana cannabis owned and operated by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), a 2020 presidential candidate, is sponsoring companion legislation in the Senate.

Calling the bill an important step “to bolster communities ravaged by the war on drugs,” the letter pushes congressional leadership to ensure that it is “swiftly marked up and immediately scheduled for floor consideration.”

It was delivered on Thursday to the offices of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA).

Also included are Nadler and Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Doug Collins (R-GA), who is cosponsoring separate cannabis reform legislation that would allow states to implement their own legalization policies but does not contain restorative justice provisions.

“The war on drugs, which includes the war on marijuana, devastated the lives of generations of African American and Latinx Americans from low-income communities,” the groups, led by the Center for American Progress (CAP), wrote. “These individuals were disproportionately targeted and brought into the criminal justice system for engaging in marijuana activity that is increasingly lawful.”

Maritza Perez, senior policy analyst for Criminal Justice Reform at CAP, said in a press release that the bill is “the most far-ranging marijuana reform bill introduced in Congress to date.”

“Communities of color have been on the frontlines of this country’s drug war and should not have to continue waiting for a measure of justice, especially while others are generating extraordinary wealth for marijuana activity that sent Black and Latinx individuals to prison,” she added in an email.

Hilary O. Shelton, director of the NAACP Washington Bureau said that “many of the communities served and represented by the NAACP have been among the hardest hit by our nation’s outdated and misguided marijuana laws.”

“From robbing us of the talent and promise of our young people, to the breaking-up of families, to reabsorbing returning citizens who cannot take full advantage of many of the federal services offered to other Americans, our communities feel the urgency of enacting this legislation,” he said. “Thus, we have urged the Congress to act as quickly as possible to correct the flaws in the current law and move towards beginning to rectify decades of unnecessary harshness.”

Also signing on to the letter are Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Legal Aid Society, National Action Network, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, National Association of Social Workers, National Immigrant Justice Center, National Immigration Law Center and United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

“Criminal justice involvement deprives individuals from low-income communities of color equal access to economic opportunity,” the groups wrote. “Incarceration robs families and communities of breadwinners and workers. Thus, any marijuana reform bill that moves forward in Congress must first address criminal justice reform and repair the damage caused by the war on drugs in low-income communities of color.”

Cannabis industry and drug reform groups such as 4Front Ventures, Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), Harm Reduction Coalition, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, NORML and Students for Sensible Drug Policy are also signatories of the letter.

“This diverse assortment of organizations coming together to support Chairman Nadler’s bill to legalize marijuana underscores the strength of the reform movement,” said NORML Political Director Justin Strekal. “With the continued growth of support from nearly every corner of the political spectrum, comprehensive reform is closer than ever.”

Queen Adesuiyi, policy coordinator for DPA, said that “for advocates and communities most devastated by the war on marijuana, the current opportunity that Democratic leadership has to end prohibition with a racial and economic justice lens could not have come sooner.”

“From historic rates of public support for legalization to House Judiciary Chairman Nadler’s recent introduction of the most comprehensive marijuana reform bill strongly backed by civil rights and criminal justice groups – Democratic leadership have what they need to swiftly move on ending prohibition and repairing its damage,” she said.

The groups’ collective endorsement of the MORE Act comes at a time when the conversation around marijuana on Capitol Hill is increasingly shifting from whether to legalize it to how to do so.

Nadler filed the MORE Act shortly after the Judiciary Committee’s Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee held a hearing focused on ending prohibition, which surfaced support for cannabis reform from both sides of the aisle while revealing disagreements on whether racial justice and equity measures need to be included in marijuana legislation.

“The MORE Act’s targeted programs will serve to empower historically underserved communities that bore this nation’s drug war,” the new letter says. “It will also reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system and protect people from unequal marijuana enforcement. Justice requires that marijuana reform policy in Congress first de-schedule and repair past harms.”

Several of the signatory groups joined together last month to form the Marijuana Justice Coalition, which issued a statement of principles arguing that “any legislation that moves forward in Congress should be comprehensive” and “frame legalization as an issue of criminal justice reform, equity, racial justice, economic justice, and empowerment, particularly for communities most targeted by over-enforcement of marijuana laws.”

This story has been updated to reflect the fact that the Minority Cannabis Business Association removed itself as a signatory of the letter because it “does not want our support of the social equity provisions of the MORE Act to be conflated with opposition to the SAFE Banking Act or any other narrowly-tailored financial services legislation which would provide relief for minority cannabis businesses that are disproportionately impacted by the lack of access to capital.”

This piece was first published by Forbes.

Coalition Endorses MORE Act by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

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 20-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.)

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Did Kamala Harris Flip-Flop On Marijuana Again To Adopt Biden’s Anti-Legalization Position?

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Does Vice President Kamala Harris still support legalizing marijuana? According to a short passage buried in a new Bloomberg report about efforts to appoint a new top White House drug policy official, the answer seems to be no.

Harris, who sponsored a comprehensive Senate bill to end federal cannabis prohibition in 2019, has now reportedly adopted the same position as President Joe Biden, who opposes legalization, the outlet reported on Monday.

There have been signs that might be the case, as Harris has stepped back her calls for broad reform in recent months, opting instead to push for cannabis decriminalization and expungements in line with the president’s agenda. She spent significant time during her own presidential campaign making the case for federally legalizing marijuana, but that specific narrative has been largely abandoned since she joined Biden’s presidential ticket in August.

Decriminalization and expungements is the favored policy of Biden, who also backs medical cannabis legalization, modestly rescheduling the plant under federal law and letting states set their own policies on the issue.

Bloomberg reported that an aide Harris’s team said her “positions are now the same as Biden’s,” though the source asked not to be named because the vice president hasn’t announced the policy shift. Marijuana Moment reached out to three press staffers in the vice president’s office for clarification, but they did not respond by the time of publication.

The lack of specificity leaves rooms for the possibility that the staffer was referring to Biden changing his position and embracing legalization as Harris has. But considering that the vice president’s rhetoric on the issue has shifted—with her reaffirming an administration commitment to simply “decriminalizing marijuana” and expunging records, rather than legalize the plant—it appears more likely that it’s Harris whose views have changed.

In September, for example, she simply said that “we will decriminalize the use of marijuana and automatically expunge all marijuana use convictions and incarceration for drug use alone.”

This wouldn’t be the first time Harris has flip-flopped on cannabis. She was staunchly opposed to legalization and actively campaigned against a California reform initiative on the 2010 ballot during her time as the state’s attorney general, co-authoring an official voter guide argument stating that the measure “seriously compromises the safety of our communities, roadways, and workplaces.”

In 2014, Harris was asked about marijuana legalization in light of her Republican opponent for attorney general supporting it, and she dismissively laughed off the question.

But in 2018, she adopted a pro-legalization stance and signed onto descheduling legislation, saying “we need to start regulating marijuana.”

What this latest reported shift means practically for marijuana reform in 2021 is unclear. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) are moving forward with plans to introduce a legalization bill this session, and they’ve already met with advocates and stakeholders to gain input on what that legislation should include.

If they were willing to push the issue despite Biden’s ongoing opposition to adult-use legalization, it stands to reason they will stay the course if reports about the vice president’s stance are true. That said, with the Senate split evenly among Democrats and Republicans, her position on the issue could come to the fore in the event that she’s needed as the tie-breaking vote on a legalization bill on the floor.

Coincidentally, it’s likely that parts of Harris’s Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act will be incorporated into their proposal, as the House version passed in that chamber last year and advocates favor its strong social equity provisions.

The news about Harris’s apparent change of heart on cannabis policy came as part of a Bloomberg report on the White House search for a “drug czar” to lead the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), a cofounder of the nation’s leading marijuana prohibitionist group, has been publicly lobbying the administration for an appointment to the position—much to the chagrin of reform advocates.

Meanwhile, an arguably more consequential nominee when it comes to federal drug policy is going through the confirmation process and said last week that he doesn’t think Justice Department resources should be wasted going after individuals acting in compliance with state marijuana laws.

“It does not seem to me useful the use of limited resources that we have to be pursuing prosecutions in states that have legalized and are regulating the use of marijuana, either medically or otherwise,” Judge Merrick Garland told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Separately, the Biden administration is instituting a new policy of granting waivers to some White House staff who’ve used cannabis. The Office of Personnel Management has also distributed a memo last week to federal agencies stipulating that admitting to past marijuana use should not automatically disqualify people from being employed in the federal government.

New Mexico Lawmakers Will Work To Unify Conflicting Marijuana Proposals This Week Following House Passage

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New Mexico Lawmakers Will Work To Unify Conflicting Marijuana Proposals This Week Following House Passage

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One day after New Mexico’s House of Representatives passed legislation to legalize marijuana for adults 21 and older, a Senate panel held a Saturday hearing to take initial testimony on three competing legalization bills introduced in that chamber.

The committee did not vote on any of the measures, instead using the hearing to compare the various Senate proposals to one another as well as to the House-passed legislation, HB 12. “I think we’re just trying to get a feel for these four bills,” said Senate Tax, Business and Transportation Committee Chairman Benny Shendo Jr. (D), who led the hearing.

The bills’ sponsors will now work to combine elements of the various Senate proposals before returning to the committee for a possible vote next Saturday. Despite overlap on some issues, major disagreements remain over the structure of the commercial cannabis market, how tax revenue will be allocated and the makeup of a state oversight board that would regulate the new industry.

“In the next week, basically, the sponsors of these four bills need to see if we can get to one bill,” Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth (D) said at the hearing, “and make a decision in this committee so that we don’t end up in a situation where there’s just multiple moving pieces.”

If backers can’t do that, Wirth added, “there’s a good chance we end up with nothing” by the time the legislative session ends on March 20.

Sen. Jacob Candelaria’s (D) SB 363 is the most closely aligned with the House measure, although Republican members of the Senate panel said they prefer SB 288, introduced by GOP Sen. Cliff Pirtle, who said he brought the measure “because I felt like something as important as legalizing the sale of recreational cannabis really needed to have a bipartisan approach.”

Sen. Craig Brandt (R), a member of the Senate panel, indicated he’s open to legalization depending on how it’s done.

“I think I can support this issue with the right pieces,” he said at the end of Saturday’s hearing, adding that SB 288 is “very close” to what he’d like to see in marijuana legislation. “There are certain things that I cannot and will not support in the House bill.”

The third bill in the Senate, SB 13, is a pared-down version of the other legalization proposals and is seen as a comparative outlier. The industry-backed bill’s House companion, HB 17, sponsored by Rep. Tara Lujan (D), was defeated in a House committee earlier this month as lawmakers proceeded with HB 12.

Lujan spoke in favor of SB 13 at the Senate hearing on behalf of the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto (D), warning the panel against adopting an overly complex bill.

“There is a lot of stuff going on here,” Lujan said, “and I’ve seen cannabis legislation fail because it’s too complicated.”

But Rep. Javier Martínez (D), lead sponsor for HB 12, seemed to dismiss that criticism later in the hearing, stressing that it’s important the new law be comprehensive.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 700 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.

“This is a big deal,” he said. “This is a big industry that we’re about to create, and we get a chance to design what the industry will look like ahead of time. That hasn’t happened with the other big industries in New Mexico.”

Martínez’s bill, passed Friday by House lawmakers in a 39–21 vote, would set up an extensive system of licensing and regulation for the cannabis industry. Rules for the new market would need to be implemented by January 2022. Small businesses and existing medical marijuana companies could begin selling products that same month, with other businesses set to open in September 2022.

The bill would allow adults to possess “at least” two ounces of cannabis (regulators could set limits beyond that) and grow up to six mature and six immature plants for personal use.

Martínez said SB 363 was the most similar to the House bill of all the Senate measures, calling it “very, very aligned to what we’re doing.”

Much of Saturday’s committee hearing focused on proposed limits on business licenses and how many plants licensed producers could grow. Not only will those rules determine how easily people can enter the new market, but they’ll also likely affect available supply—a big determinant of product prices.

Both HB 12 and SB 363 would allow businesses with cultivation licenses to grow an unlimited number of plants and create a separate category of small, so-called microbusinesses that could grow a small number of plants and then process and sell marijuana products directly. Those businesses would have a lower barrier to entry in terms of licensing and fees, aimed at ensuring wider access to the industry.

SB 288, meanwhile, wouldn’t create separate license categories but would set a per-plant fee on licensing in an effort to allow a lower point of entry for small growers.

One important difference between HB 12 and SB 363, Candelaria pointed out to the panel, is that his Senate bill would allow standalone businesses to establish cannabis consumption areas, designated zones where marijuana could be used openly. The areas would be regulated by the same board that would oversee the commercial industry.

The House-passed bill would allow social consumption, too, but would limit consumption licenses to businesses engaged in other elements of the industry, such as retail marijuana stores.

Pirtle, the sponsor of SB 288, said his bill approaches legalization with the aim of ending underground sales, not necessarily raising revenue. “The first goal when legalizing cannabis,” he said at the beginning of his testimony, “is to put the illicit market out of business.”

While there’s some disagreement over how to model tax projections, estimates of how much revenue the market could raise range between $13 million and $25 million for the first year of legal sales and as much as $150 million by year five.

SB 288 would raise less money due to its comparatively lower taxes, which Pirtle said would help make legal sales more competitive with the illicit market. His measure would route virtually all of the money back to municipal governments where the cannabis transactions take place. “Those are the communities that are going to be impacted,” Pirtle said, “so they can add more police officers or cop cars.”

Candelaria, for his part, said taxes rates aren’t the way to ensure legal businesses are competitive with the illicit market. Ensuring adequate supply, such as through allowing unlimited cultivation under SB 363 and HB 12, would do far more to ensure legal products can compete on price.

“As the result of New Mexico’s plant cap” on existing medical marijuana businesses, he said, “one gram of medical cannabis costs approximately on average $10 in New Mexico. It costs $8.15 a gram in Arizona and $5.96 in Colorado.”

Those prices in Arizona and Colorado, he added, include tax.

The three Senate bills also differ on how they would address social equity and racial justice. While those issues were raised only in passing at Friday’s hearing, drug reform advocates have said they prefer HB 12’s equity provisions over any of the Senate bills.

“HB 12 legalizes cannabis in an equitable way that begins to repair the harms that have disproportionately impacted Hispanic/Latinx, Black, Native and Indigenous people in New Mexico,” Emily Kaltenbach, senior director of resident States and New Mexico for the Drug Policy Alliance, told Marijuana Moment after Friday’s vote in the House. “New Mexicans are absolutely ready to see marijuana legalization become a reality in the state, but they have made it clear that repairing the damage done by the drug war is non-negotiable.”

The House measure would establish a fund to reinvest in communities most impacted by the war on drugs, especially Black and brown communities, and includes provisions to automatically expunge prior convictions.

SB 363 includes expungement and release provisions that “mimic” those in HB 12, Candelaria told the committee, noting that his bill would also criminal reduce penalties for possession all controlled substances, not just marijuana. Simple possession of a controlled substance would become a misdemeanor under SB 363 rather than a fourth-degree felony.

Candelaria proposed that his bill, SB 363, be the main vehicle to reconcile with the House measure. “What I think makes the most sense,” he told the committee chairman, “is because the House bill has already gone through the process, is that…my bill is basically merged into House Bill 12. I think they are the most similar, both in values and their approach.”

He added that he and Pirtle “already have plans to have lunch on Monday,” to discuss how to incorporate SB 288.

If all goes well, lawmakers will have whittled down the number of bills by the committee’s scheduled meeting on the measures this coming Saturday.

“I think the message was pretty loud and clear to the sponsors,” Shendo, the panel’s chairman, said at the end of this weekend’s hearing. “They’ve got a lot of work ahead of them, and I hope I get invited to one of those lunches.”

Meanwhile, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) has repeatedly described legalization as a means to boost the economy, especially amid the coronavirus pandemic. She said during a State of the State address in January that “a crisis like the one we’ve experienced last year can be viewed as a loss or as an invitation to rethink the status quo—to be ambitious and creative and bold.”

The governor also included cannabis legalization as part of her 2021 legislative agenda and said in a recent interview that she’s “still really optimistic about cannabis” this session.

Additional pressure to end cannabis prohibition this year is coming from neighboring Arizona, where voters approved legalization in November and where sales officially launched in January. New Mexico shares another border with Colorado, one of the first states to legalize for adult use.

Cannabis is also expected to be legalized across the southern border, in Mexico, with lawmakers facing a Supreme Court mandate to end prohibition by April.

Last year in New Mexico, a Senate panel passed a bill to legalize cannabis for adult use passed one New Mexico Senate committee —a measure promptly rejected in another committee before the end of the 30-day legislative session.

In 2019, the House approved a legalization bill that included provisions to put marijuana sales mostly in state-run stores, but it died in the Senate. Later that year, Gov. Lujan Grisham created a working group to study cannabis legalization and issue recommendations.

Polling indicates that voters are ready for the policy change. A survey released in October found that a strong majority of New Mexico residents are in favor of legalization with social equity provisions in place, and about half support decriminalizing drug possession more broadly.

Last May, the governor signaled that she was considering actively campaigning against lawmakers who blocked her legalization bill in 2020. She also said that she’s open to letting voters decide on the policy change via a ballot referendum if lawmakers can’t send a legalization bill to her desk.

Washington, D.C. Could Allow Marijuana Sales Under Mayor’s New Bill And Democratic Control Of Congress

Photo courtesy of Kimberly Lawson

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Washington, D.C. Could Allow Marijuana Sales Under Mayor’s New Bill And Democratic Control Of Congress

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The mayor of Washington, D.C. on Friday introduced a bill to create a regulated marijuana market in the District. And while similar legislation has been introduced in past years, the new proposal comes as Democrats take control of both chambers of Congress—a situation that bodes well for removing a federal spending rider that has long blocked legal cannabis sales from being implemented in the nation’s capital.

In other words, there’s renewed hope among advocates that 2021 will finally be the year that a commercial cannabis industry can be established in D.C., where voters approved an initiative legalizing marijuana possession and home cultivation in 2014. Congressional appropriations legislation has since prevented the District from authorizing sales, with Republicans in the majority in at least one chamber on Capitol Hill.

Mayor Muriel Bowser’s (D) bill largely reflects past proposals, though it does include new licensing provisions and funding mechanisms that are meant to bolster social equity in the industry.

“This is about safety, equity, and justice,” Bowser said in a press release. “Through this legislation, we can fulfill the will of D.C. voters, reduce barriers for entering the cannabis industry, and invest in programs that serve residents and neighborhoods hardest hit by the criminalization of marijuana.”

Under the Safe Cannabis Sales Act, adults 21 and older would be allowed to purchase marijuana from licensed dispensaries starting October 1, 2022. A 17 percent tax would be imposed on cannabis sales.

The bill would provide for automatic expungements of prior marijuana convictions and use part of the tax revenue from cannabis sales to support reinvestments in communities most impacted by prohibition. It would also create a new licensing category for delivery services, with a stipulation that eligibility is continent on residency and income factors, such as requiring owners to have lived in certain low-income wards for at least five years.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 700 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.

The proposal calls for some tax revenue to be used for grants to be awarded to “locally disadvantaged certified business enterprises to open/expand sit-down restaurants in Wards 7/8. Additional monies would be used to support small grocery stores in those areas. Starting in fiscal year 2023, revenue would fund “school supplies, equipment, and afterschool sports and activities for students attending public schools” in those wards.

With respect to licensing, the legislation would also provide “preference points for certain cannabis business applications for returning citizens or D.C. residents arrested or convicted of a cannabis offense or to a cannabis certified business enterprise or veteran owned business enterprises.”

The activist group D.C. Marijuana Justice expressed concerns with several provisions of Bowser’s bill, including that it could limit the amount of cannabis that people could possess after growing the plant at home under the city’s current law.

Last year, the mayor released a budget plan for the 2021 fiscal year that contained a signal that the local government was preparing to implement regulations for retail marijuana sales just as soon as Congress allowed it by shifting the city’s current medical cannabis program to the jurisdiction of the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA).

Bowser also unveiled a legalization bill in 2019, and part of it called for ABRA to regulate the legal industry and for the agency to be renamed the Alcoholic Beverage and Cannabis Administration, a change that is also included in the mayor’s latest legislation.

Meanwhile, next door to the District, lawmakers in Virginia sent a marijuana legalization bill to the desk of Gov. Ralph Northam (D) on Saturday. On the other side of the city, legislators in Maryland are also considering legalizing cannabis this year.

In D.C., Bowser approved legislation in December to decriminalize possession of drug paraphernalia for personal use and promote harm reduction.

Activists filed a proposed ballot initiative to legalize marijuana sales in August, but it did not advance.

Separately, a local councilman introduced a bill in October that would expand opportunities for formerly incarcerated people to participate in the city’s existing medical cannabis market. The new legislation from Bowser would specifically make it so “returning citizens and D.C. residents with a criminal background” could work or manage a marijuana businesses. And those with past cannabis convictions could own a marijuana business.

Read the mayor’s marijuana sales bill below: 

Safe Cannabis Sales Act of … by Marijuana Moment

Marijuana Use Won’t Automatically Block People From Federal Jobs, Biden Administration Memo Says

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