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Ohio Police Plan To Ignore Marijuana Ballot Measure

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Even if voters in a Cincinnati enclave approve a local marijuana depenalization measure this fall, the city’s police chief has promised to continue arresting and charging cannabis consumers with misdemeanors under state law, which will remain unchanged.

Norwood, Ohio is a city of about 20,000 people located entirely within the city limits of much-larger Cincinnati in Hamilton County.

On Monday, the Hamilton County Board of Elections announced a ballot measure that would eliminate all criminal penalties for possession of 200 grams or less of marijuana will appear on Norwood voters’ ballots in November after activists collected a sufficient number of signatures to qualify the measure.

Simple possession of marijuana in Ohio is currently a misdemeanor, punishable by a $150 fine. Possession of between 100 and 200 grams is a misdemeanor that carries penalties of no more than 30 days in jail and a $250 fine. The ballot initiative would remove all such fines and penalties under city code.

But even if Norwood voters approve the measure, Norwood police will continue to make marijuana arrests as before, police Chief William Kramer told the Cincinnati Enquirer, and charge offenders under the harsher state law.

“This [ballot initiative] deals with Norwood’s codified ordinance and doesn’t have anything to do with state law,” Kramer told the newspaper. “We really wouldn’t change how we do things. We would simply, from the very beginning, charge them under state code.”

Kramer’s intransigence comes despite a steady march towards relaxed marijuana laws in Ohio and across the country.

State lawmakers in Ohio legalized medical cannabis in 2016. Patients are due to access cannabis in retail dispensaries in the coming months. And activists are considering pursuing a statewide 2019 ballot measure that would legalize recreational marijuana statewide

And other police forces in cities in Ohio and across the country are taking a more relaxed stance towards marijuana possession.

According to NORML, more than 50 local governments in 12 states have either fully or partially decriminalized “minor cannabis possession offenses.”

This includes the following cities in Ohio: Athens, Bellaire, Logan, Newark, Roseville and Toledo. Of these, Toledo, at about 278,000 people, is by far the largest in the state.

Meanwhile, voters in additional Ohio cities like Fremont, Nelsonville and Oregon might have the chance to vote on cannabis depenalization measures in November as well.

However, state lawmakers as well as law enforcement elsewhere in the U.S. have found ways to scotch local plans to decriminalize marijuana possession and re-prioritize police practices.

Twelve out of the 61 police jurisdictions in Harris County, Texas—where police can refer marijuana offenders to a diversion program rather than the criminal justice system—have so far declined to participate, the Houston Chronicle reported.

And in Tennessee, where city councils in both Memphis and Nashville passed decriminalization laws, Republican state lawmakers responded with their own bill, signed into law by Gov. Bill Haslam, that repealed both local decriminalization measures.

Back in Norwood, a 2016 proposal to relax enforcement of marijuana crimes was rejected by the Board of Elections, after the agency’s chairman said that proponent Sensible Norwood’s proposal went too far in prohibiting police from referring marijuana offenders to state courts.

That led to this year’s slightly watered-down proposal—which, as Chief Kramer is demonstrating, may be too weak to be obeyed.

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.

Chris Roberts is a reporter and writer based in San Francisco. He has covered the cannabis industry since 2009, with bylines in the Guardian, Deadspin, Leafly News, The Observer, The Verge, Curbed, Cannabis Now, SF Weekly and others.

Politics

Senate Schedules Second Cannabis Hearing For Next Week

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A key Senate committee will hold a hearing next week to discuss hemp production, featuring witnesses from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In the months since hemp and its derivatives were federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill, there’s been strong interest in developing USDA and FDA regulations for the crop and its compounds such as CBD, and lawmakers have repeatedly pressed the agencies to speed up the rulemaking process to unlock the industry’s potential.

While the hearing notice doesn’t go into detail about what will be discussed, the meeting’s title—”Hemp Production and the 2018 Farm Bill”—and list of witnesses indicate that the conversation will revolve around the development of federal guidelines for hemp businesses.

USDA Marketing and Regulatory Programs Under Secretary Greg Ibach, USDA General Counsel Stephen Vaden, FDA Principal Deputy Commissioner Amy Abernethy and EPA Assistant Administrator of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention Alexandra Dunn will appear before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry on July 25.

Other invited witnesses include Kentucky farmer Brian Furnish, National Hemp Association Executive Director Erica Stark and Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians Tribal Chairman Darrell Seki.

The Senate Agriculture Committee meeting will mark the chamber’s second cannabis-related hearing of the week. The Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs announced on Tuesday that it will meet to discuss marijuana banking issues on July 23.

FDA and USDA have both recently signaled that they were cognizant of widespread interest in creating regulatory pathways for hemp and its derivatives, with USDA stating that it planned to release an interim final rule on the products in August and FDA’s Abernethy writing that the agency is “expediting” its rulemaking process. FDA added that it hoped to release a report on its progress by early fall.

That said, heads of the departments have also tried to temper expectations. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said that USDA wouldn’t be expediting regulatory developments but that he expected them to be issued ahead of the 2020 planting seasons.

Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, meanwhile, cited policy complications that would make it difficult for the agency to create an alternative regulatory pathway for hemp-derived CBD products to be lawfully marketed as food items or dietary supplements. He said that without congressional action, it may take FDA years to establish those rules.

Separately, officials from both FDA and USDA will participate in hemp conferences in August, where they’re also expected to update stakeholders on their progress.

Senate Schedules Hearing On Marijuana Business Banking Access

Photo courtesy of Brendan Cleak.

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As More States Legalize, DEA Chops Down Fewer Marijuana Plants, Federal Data Shows

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The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) seized far fewer marijuana plants in 2018 compared to the previous year but made significantly more cannabis-related arrests, according to federal data released this month.

More than 2.8 million indoor and outdoor marijuana plants were seized last year as part of the DEA’s Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program. That marks a 17 percent decline from 2017 levels.

NORML first noted the DEA report, which also shows that marijuana-related arrests the agency was involved with increased by about 20 percent in a year. And while the overall number of plants that were seized dropped, DEA said that the value of the assets totaled about $52 million—more than twice as much as it reported the previous year.

State-level legalization efforts appear to have played a role in the declining number of plant seizures, particularly those cultivated outdoors. In the same year that retail cannabis sales started in California, DEA confiscated almost 40 percent fewer outdoor plants in the state compared to 2017.

That data point is consistent with recent research showing that legalization is associated with a decrease in the number of illicit cannabis grows in national forests, which are often targets for DEA enforcement action.

It’s not clear why there was a significant uptick in marijuana-related arrests, but those increases generally did not occur in states where legal cannabis systems were recently implemented.

For example, arrests in Kansas, where marijuana is strictly prohibited, increased by more than 3,500 percent—from 15 to 544—from 2017 to 2018. Louisiana likewise experienced a 168 percent increase in cannabis arrests.

The data covers federal law enforcement actions and does not include those of local police agencies that did not partner with the agency.

Year-over-year decreases in cannabis seizures through DEA’s eradication program have been viewed by advocates as evidence that state-level legalization systems effectively displace the illicit market, removing the incentive to illegally cultivate cannabis.

Similarly, a separate recent report from the U.S. Sentencing Commission showed that federal prosecutions for marijuana trafficking dropped precipitously in 2018—another sign demonstrating that state-level legalization is disrupting the illicit market, advocates argue.

NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano told Marijuana Moment that “federal eradication programs are a holdover from a bygone era.”

“At a time when roughly one-quarter of the country resides in a jurisdiction where adult marijuana use is legal, and when members of Congress are openly discussing removing cannabis from the federal Controlled Substances Act, it is time for these federal anti-marijuana efforts to be put out to pasture and for federal agencies to take positions that more closely comport with cannabis’ rapidly changing cultural status in America,” he said.

DEA has also faced criticism of its cannabis eradication efforts from a non-partisan federal watchdog agency last year for failing to adequately collect documentation from state and local law enforcement partners funded through the program.

The Government Accountability Office said in a report that DEA “has not clearly documented all of its program goals or developed performance measures to assess progress toward those goals.”

At the same time that DEA is seizing fewer plants grown illicitly, it’s also setting higher goals for federally authorized cannabis cultivation for research purposes. In 2019, the agency said it hoped to grow approximately 5,400 pounds of marijuana to meet research demand, which is more than double its quota for 2018.

Legalizing Marijuana Leads To Fewer Illegal Grow Sites In National Forests, Study Finds

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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Senate Schedules Hearing On Marijuana Business Banking Access

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In one of the clearest signs of marijuana reform’s growing momentum on Capitol Hill, a Republican-controlled Senate committee has scheduled a hearing for next week that will examine cannabis businesses’ lack of access to banking services.

The formal discussion in the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs on Tuesday comes as legislation aimed at resolving the marijuana industry’s financial services problems is gaining momentum. A House cannabis banking bill that cleared that chamber’s Financial Services Committee with a bipartisan vote in March now has 206 cosponsors—nearly half the body—while companion Senate legislation has 32 out of 100 senators signed on.

Please visit Forbes to read the rest of this piece.

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

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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