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Tag: marijuana legalization

Why Canadians — Not Americans — Rule The Cannabis Industry

President Trump routinely waves his fist at alleged unfair trade practices, including at the hands of our good neighbor Canada. But what about playing fields that are uneven because the U.S. government makes them so? Witness the cannabis industry. It’s enjoying explosive growth worldwide, but Canadians are running away with the profits because Washington has shackled their American competitors.

It’s not that Americans are unacquainted with cannabis in all its forms. Cannabis is a family of flowering plants that includes both marijuana, which produces a high, and hemp, which does not. Most states have relaxed their marijuana laws to various extents. Ten states and the District of Columbia have made pot fully legal.

Meanwhile, nonintoxicating cannabis products — cannabidiol, or CBD, oil in particular — are flying off the shelves. Green Growth Brands of Columbus, Ohio, is about to open CBD stores in family-friendly malls.

Whether CBD extracted from hemp actually delivers relief from depression, insomnia, pain and acne has not been established. These products remain largely unregulated, so consumers may not know exactly what they’re ingesting or rubbing on their backs.

But to see who’s prospering most, look north. Canada last year totally legalized marijuana. Canadians have found gold in pot and its non-toxicant relatives.

Eight cannabis companies are currently listed on Toronto’s main exchange. Tilray Inc., the largest maker of medical marijuana, based near Vancouver, just bought Manitoba Harvest, the biggest manufacturer of hemp foods, for about $315 million.

Not only do differing state laws hamper U.S. producers but so does the enduring federal ban on marijuana. As one can imagine, this complicates Americans’ ability to build up a nationwide, not to mention international, business.

For starters, it’s illegal to ship marijuana between states. Hemp-derived CBD is OK — but Tilray plans to open processing plants in the U.S. because it’s illegal to move CBD over the border with Canada. American marijuana companies can’t deduct wages or other business costs from their taxes. The Hoban Law Group, a Denver firm specializing in the cannabis industry, says this results in some U.S. competitors paying effective tax rates of 85 percent.

As a result of these restrictions, Americans don’t have a competitive infrastructure of investment banks and law firms able to handle marijuana- or hemp-related deals, not to mention supply chains. That’s why Martha Stewart has linked up with a Canadian company to develop CBD products.

Coca-Cola is said to have explored putting CBD in drinks. They would be non-psychoactive and marketed as healthful. Stories circulate that it has talked to Aurora Cannabis as a possible Canadian partner.

Other U.S. giants, such as Altria (tobacco), have shown interest in the business. Constellation Brands (beer, wine and liquor) last year added $4 billion to its investments in the Canadian cannabis company Canopy Growth.

For decades, farmers in North Dakota looked over the border into Manitoba to see waving fields of hemp, a profitable crop they were not allowed to grow. The U.S. banned its farming not because hemp is any kind of drug but because it is a biological cousin of marijuana. Hemp still grows wild among the roadside weeds of the farm belt.

Hemp is used for making paper, oils and textiles. Car manufacturers put it in car seats for insulation. George Washington grew hemp. Oddly, while U.S. farmers were barred from growing the plant, American manufacturers remained free to import hemp fibers, oil and seeds from other countries.

This bit of insanity ended in December, when a farm bill passed by Congress and signed by Trump let U.S. farmers again produce hemp.

But the crazy quilt of American laws governing cannabis remains a hindrance to fully participating in a hot market. Canadians obviously don’t mind.

Ohio Governor Signs Bill Legalizing Medical Marijuana

Republican Ohio Governor John Kasich on Wednesday signed a bill legalizing marijuana use for medical purposes under certain circumstances, his office said.

Over the last few years, state legislatures and voters in the United States have been much more receptive to making marijuana legal for medical purposes, and to a lesser extent, recreational use.

The Ohio legislature approved the measure in May.

Some 24 states and Washington D.C. currently allow some type of medical marijuana use, and just a handful of states allow its recreational use. It remains illegal on the federal level.

Kasich, who earlier this year dropped out of the U.S. presidential race, signed the bill but provided no statement on Wednesday.

The Ohio legislation only allows patients with specific medical conditions to use an oil, edible, tincture or vapor form of marijuana prescribed by a physician licensed in the state, starting in 2017.

Medical marijuana users would not be allowed to smoke or grow their own marijuana under the measure, which also would create a commission responsible for regulating and licensing of all operations of the drug.

The measure was fast-tracked to head off a possible less-restrictive medical marijuana ballot initiative in November. Ohioans for Medical Marijuana suspended their campaign for the ballot measure late last month, saying that while the lawmakers’ bill had its shortcomings, it was “a moderately good piece of legislation.”

Last November, Ohio voters soundly rejected a measure that would have made it the first U.S. Midwestern state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. The proposal was criticized for allowing the main backers of the proposal cartel-like powers over the industry in the state for several years.

 

Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco and Kim Palmer in Destin, Fla.; Editing by Matthew Lewis

Photo: Marijuana plants are seen in an indoor cultivation in Montevideo December 6, 2013.  REUTERS/Andres Stapff

‘Small Government’ Republicans Want To Control D.C.’s Budget

The House passed legislation Wednesday afternoon gutting a local ballot measure that would give Washington, D.C. more control over its finances. The vote took place on partisan lines, with Republicans voting for the measure and Democrats voting against it.

“The current D.C. government needs to be reined in,” said House Majority Leader Paul Ryan in a statement highlighting Republican arguments in support of the bill. “We will not allow Congress and the Constitution to be undermined.

“Congress has ultimate authority over the District,” he said, “and efforts to undermine this authority are in violation of the Constitution. There are real consequences.”

Lawmakers had voted 240-179 in favor of a bill that would prevent the District from spending tax dollars without congressional approval. The vote is the latest in a campaign that started in 2012 to give residents of D.C. greater autonomy in how to spend the city’s money, and is part of an effort by Republican congressmen to prevent the District from using local or federal cash to fund abortions or marijuana decriminalization (pot was legalized late last year in D.C.).

While the Republican-controlled Congress says it’s only reining in unconstitutional excesses, D.C.’s non-voting Congressional representative Eleanor Holmes Norton was understandably angered by legislation that nullified the 2012 Budget Autonomy Act, a ballot initiative aimed at giving more power to local government.

“It is profoundly undemocratic for any member of Congress in the 21st century to declare that he has authority over any jurisdiction except his own,” she said during a debate on the House floor.

But House Republicans have argued that the ballot initiative was a clear violation of the District of Columbia Home Rule Act, a law passed in 1973 which devolved certain powers, like being able to elect a mayor and city council. But all laws passed by the District’s government had to be reviewed and approved by Congress before being signed into law, including yearly budget plans, hence the Republican bill aimed at overturning the Budget Autonomy Act.

President Obama has said he would veto any legislation that barred D.C. from following through on the overwhelming support the 2012 ballot initiative received from the city’s residents.

“The Administration strongly opposes House passage of H.R. 5233, which would repeal the District of Columbia’s Local Budget Autonomy Amendment Act of 2012,” read a statement of administrative policy sent out yesterday. “The Administration strongly supports home rule for the District and the President has long called for authority allowing the District to spend its own local taxes and other non-Federal funds without congressional approval … If the President were presented with H.R. 5233, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.”

Prior to the vote, city officials had said they were planning to not submit their budget to Congress, as per the stipulations of the Budget Autonomy Act. Should Paul Ryan have his way, D.C. would be forced to submit its budget for approval, possibly at the cost of programs popular with residents of the District, including providing local funding for abortion access for Medicaid-eligible women, and establishing a regulatory framework for legal marijuana sales.

Photo: Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 25, 2016.      REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Vermont Legislature On Track To Be First In U.S. To Legalize Marijuana

MONTPELIER, Vt. (Reuters) – Liberal-leaning Vermont could become the first U.S. state to legalize recreational marijuana use through legislation, rather than by voter initiative, in a move that advocates for the drug say could speed its acceptance across the nation.

State representatives this month are set to take up a bill passed by the state Senate in February that would allow adults over 21 to purchase and smoke the drug beginning in 2018.

The move follows a year of hearings in the Senate that lawmakers say allowed them to closely consider appropriate limits to place on the drug’s use. The current proposal would prohibit users from growing plants at home and ban the sale of edible products containing marijuana extracts.

But lawmakers must act before the end of May, when the current session ends, a deadline that may prove difficult to meet. It is uncertain whether it has enough support in the Democratic-controlled House to pass.

The law would impose a 25 percent tax on sales of the drug, which would fund drug law enforcement and drug education programs.

“It makes for a much more thoughtful and measured approach,” said State Senator Jeanette White, a sponsor of the senate bill. “We got to work out the details, we got to ask the questions first and put the whole infrastructure in place before it happens.”

Four states, Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska, as well as the District of Columbia, have legalized marijuana through ballot initiatives, and voters in four more states, including neighboring Massachusetts, are to vote on legalization in November. The drug remains illegal under federal law.

Advocates contend the push for marijuana legalization across the nation will be boosted if the legislation is passed by the Democratic-controlled legislature of Vermont, the home of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Bills have been submitted in 16 other states, according to advocates, but none have advanced as far.

“It sends an important message that legislatures don’t have to be afraid of this, it’s not a third rail anymore,” said Jeff Laughlin, a 37-year-old software programmer from Barre, who supports the measure.

Laughlin is far from alone. A February poll of 895 state residents by Vermont Public Radio found that 55 percent of Vermonters supported legalization, with 32 percent opposed.

More telling, a 2015 Rand Corp study commissioned by the state found that one in eight residents already use the drug illegally, with one in three people aged 18 to 25 doing so. The report estimated that users spent between $125 million and $225 million on the drug in 2014.

Reality Check

The high prevalence of marijuana use in the state has some lawmakers and even law-enforcement officials contending it’s time for the rules to catch up with reality.

“If it’s one in eight, to me that tells me that we need to change, that society for the most part is accepting it,” said Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark. “If 12 or 13 percent of the population is not being open with law enforcement when we’re out trying to investigate serious crimes, then that is holding us back from working with our communities.”

Supporters acknowledge that the bill will have a harder path to approval in the state’s House of Representatives, where many Republicans are wary of legalizing the drug.

“Many of our members are opposed to this proposal and I don’t know that it can be changed enough for them to change their minds,” said Representative Donald Turner, the House Republican leader. “I don’t feel there is a good argument for legalizing it at this point.”

Governor Peter Shumlin, a Democrat in his final year in office, asked lawmakers to pass the measure during this year’s legislative session, which ends in May.

Debby Haskins, executive director of opposition group Smart Alternatives for Marijuana-Vermont, noted that Vermont, like many U.S. states, is coping with a surge in addiction to opioid drugs, ranging from prescription painkillers to heroin.

She said she believed health officials needed to solve that problem before legalizing a new drug.

“The questions that keep coming up for me is, how will this make Vermont healthier and how will this improve the quality of life? I don’t think this bill does it,” Haskins said. “It’s the wrong direction for us to be heading.”

 

(Editing by Frank McGurty and Phil Berlowitz)

Photo: Marijuana enthusiasts walk by a 5 foot plant at the “Weed the People” event to celebrate the legalization of the recreational use of marijuana in Portland, Oregon July 3, 2015. REUTERS/Steve Dipaola

Massachusetts Is Set To Legalize Marijuana

By this time next year, marijuana will likely be legal in the Bay State for adults 21 and older. Last December, Marijuana Policy Project backed the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol, and they turned in a sufficient number of signatures to send their indirect initiative to the Massachusetts statehouse. This week, the legislature officially began discussing the measure, which would legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana. If approved individuals would be able to possess up to an ounce outside their home, or 10 ounces in their home.

By law, the legislature has the option of simply approving the initiative now. Alternatively, they could let it go on the general election ballot for the voters to decide its fate directly.

Some of the most prominent politicians in the state have made it very clear they don’t support the measure currently before the statehouse. In a bipartisan op-ed published just last week, Governor Charlie Baker (R), Attorney General Maura Healey (D) and Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh (D) wrote, “Our emergency departments and drug treatment centers are beyond capacity, and our first responders are stretched to their limits. We should not be expanding access to a drug that will further drain our health and safety resources.”

Yet there is little they can do to stop marijuana legalization from coming to Massachusetts. Voters in the state have repeatedly used the ballot initiative process to embrace marijuana reform over the objections of their political leaders.

In 2008, roughly two-thirds of the public voted to decriminalize possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, and in 2012 they approved an initiative legalizing the use of medical marijuana by a similarly lopsided margin. It now appears the voters are ready to move forward on their own again.

A recent UMass Amherst/WBZ poll found that 53 percent of registered voters plan on supporting the legalization initiative, while only 40 percent plan to vote no.

By historic standards, those are very strong numbers for a marijuana legalization ballot measure. At this point in the election cycle, it’s polling better than several other past successful legalization initiatives.

Last cycle a SurveyUSA poll of Oregon from June 2014 found that state’s legalization initiative polling at 51 percent “yes” to 41 percent “no” — it ended up winning with a margin of 56-44. Similarly, a PPP poll from May 2014 found Alaska voters48 to 45 in support of marijuana legalization. That November, Measure 2 was approved with just over 53 percent voting for it.

As it stands, the Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act in Massachusetts is strongly favored to win. It would mark another landmark moment for the legalization effort.

Photo: Pro-legalization activists march in Boston in 2010. Flickr user Josh McGinn.

With Medical Marijuana Laws Murky, U.S. Prosecutors Pursue California Cases

By Evan Halper, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — When Congress in effect lifted the federal ban on medical marijuana just over a year ago, Californians drove the change, which was tucked into a spending package by a liberal congressman and a conservative colleague.

A year later, marijuana legalization advocates are conflicted over how big a victory the congressional vote, which was repeated last month, has turned out to be.

“The number of raids has dropped substantially, though not completely,” across the country, said Mike Liszewski, government affairs director for Americans for Safe Access, a medical-marijuana advocacy group. A federal court ruling this past fall, if it is upheld, would limit federal agents from targeting all but operations that are clearly flouting state law, he said.

But in California, in particular, federal prosecutors continue to pursue cases, in large part because of flaws in the existing state medical marijuana law, which all sides agree is long overdue for changes. Gov. Jerry Brown has signed three measures to clarify the state law, but they won’t take effect until 2018.

So for now, the state that was the birthplace for legal medical marijuana in the U.S. remains at the center of legal disputes as federal prosecutors navigate a murky landscape in which the line between healers and drug dealers is not always clear.

The two House members who championed the new approach say prosecutors are not following the intent of Congress.

“The will of the people is clear: The majority of the states have enacted medical marijuana laws, Congress has voted twice now to protect those patients, and a federal judge has upheld” the measure, Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.) wrote in an email. “How many times does the Justice Department need to be told to back off before it finally sinks in?”

Farr and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) teamed up in 2014 to write the measure that said anyone legally selling medical marijuana under a state law cannot be prosecuted.

Officials from the Justice Department declined to comment, citing litigation.

Congress has put the department in a pickle, however. Federal law still classifies marijuana in the most dangerous category of narcotics, alongside heroin and LSD, substances that the law declares lacking any accepted medical use. Congress has declined to change that even as it has approved the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, as the provision is known.

The city of Oakland is invoking that amendment in demanding federal prosecutors drop their bid to seize marijuana and other assets from Harborside Health Center, the nation’s largest dispensary, which has generated a tax windfall for the cash-strapped city.

Across San Francisco Bay, in Marin County, local officials praised a decision by a a federal judge, who ruled in October that the continued prosecution of a dispensary was an affront to the new law — only to learn last month that prosecutors plan to continue the fight through an appeal.

Complicating matters are the several states that permit the sale of marijuana for recreational use. The Obama administration has chosen to allow that experiment to continue unabated. So operations in California , like Harborside, that target patients seeking the drug to treat illnesses can still be prosecuted while shops in Denver that cater to college students operate freely.

Over the summer, Farr and Rohrabacher accused the Justice Department of illegally misappropriating federal money to continue those prosecutions, calling on for its inspector general to investigate. The department has yet to respond.

Federal officials have argued in court that their prosecutions don’t violate the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment because the occasional bust doesn’t impede the state from allowing the use of medical marijuana. After the judge in the Marin County case rejected that argument as “tortured,” prosecutors are left with the argument that the sales in question are not clearly in compliance with California law, which was written very broadly.

“The early medical marijuana laws were Trojan horses designed to allow effective legalization for anyone who could fake an ache,” said Jonathan Caulkins, a professor of public policy at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. “California is in that category.”

Even in the case of Harborside, which state and local officials often hold up as a gold standard for the medical-marijuana business, California’s loose rules about who is permitted to buy medical marijuana have left the operations a natural target for prosecutors, Caulkins said.

“Harborside is gigantic, and the Justice Department thinks it is not providing marijuana just for kids with epilepsy or people with cancer or people with HIV,” Caulkins said.

In states that have more recently adopted medical marijuana provisions, legitimate medical-marijuana businesses are not targeted because they serve a much narrower group of clients, he said.

But the Justice Department’s continued pursuit of Harborside angers officials in Oakland. The business pays the city about $1.4 million annually in taxes.

Advocates hope it is only be a matter of time before the prosecutions subside. California is among several states poised to decide this year whether to legalize marijuana for any adult who chooses to purchase it, whether to treat an illness or to just get high. If the state adopts rules to regulate a legalized market that satisfy the Justice Department — as Colorado and Washington state have done — prosecutors will probably move on to other business.

©2016 Tribune Co. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Coaster420 via Wikimedia Commons

 

Marijuana: From Demonization To Legalization To Celebration

Earlier this year, music legends Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard teamed up to make a pro-marijuana video titled “It’s All Going to Pot.”

And, apparently they were right, for I’ve now learned that even the state fair is going to pot — literally. A press release from the organizers of the D.C. State Fair exclaims: “It’s true! For the first time ever, we’re hosting a new contest for local cannabis growers to show off their plants’ finest buds.” They’re not just blowing smoke, for it turns out that Washington, D.C., voters passed a referendum in November to legalize marijuana — even to allow locals to grow up to six plants at their residences.

With the nationwide renaissance in urban agriculture, why not invite the proud cultivators of the happy weed to show off the finest produce from their pot plots? After all, state fairs already have contests for the best ice cream, pickles, home brew, compost, flower arrangements, crafts, and such — so it’s not a stretch to see who can win the Marijuana Bud Blue Ribbon. The buds are to be judged on characteristics such as appearance, smell, and stickiness, but not such consumer-satisfaction qualities as “duration of high” or “development of mellowness.” In fact, contrary to the judging of the Tastiest Tomato category, the entry form for the Best Bud Contest specifies rather sternly that judges “will not sample or consume your submission.” That’s probably smart, since the whole panel of judges could dissolve into uncontrollable giggles halfway through the sampling.

From the demonization of marijuana to legalization and now to celebration — it’s a trajectory of progress that reflects some mellowing in society itself. As the D.C. State Fair people put it, “Now that it’s legal, we wanted a way to highlight this new freedom while also showing off the agricultural talents of the District’s people.”

And with marijuana prohibition finally ending in states and cities across the land — including full legalization and/or commercialization not just in Washington, D.C., but also Alaska, Colorado, Washington State, and Oregon — who better than our friend Willie Nelson to lead the way for weed quality and social responsibility?

The iconic musician and intrepid fighter for justice has announced that he will market his own marijuana brand, “Willie’s Reserve,” and open a group of stores selling top-quality pot and paraphernalia. “I feel like I was buying so much of it, it’s time to start selling it back!” Willie excitedly said of his new weed venture. “I am looking forward to working with the best growers in Colorado and Washington to make sure our product is the best on the market.” A tireless champion of small farmers, civil liberties, the environment, common sense and the common good, he plans to start rolling out his stores and products (including hemp goods) this year, and he’ll expand further as states’ laws allow. In the typical Willie way, the stores will be “the anti-Walmart model,” with a core purpose of helping expand the market for small, energy-efficient, environmentally sound growers.

Over the years I have cited Willie’s work in calling for legalization and restoration of hemp farming in America. I’ve also called repeatedly for an end to the Orwellian, Kafkaesque drug war that has criminalized the cannabis equivalent of cocktail hour — 750,000 people are arrested each year for marijuana-related offenses.

And now, I salute the innumerable grassroots activists who’ve steadily pushed America from the darkness of marijuana madness to being able to light up a “Willie” without getting busted! So to Willie, Merle, the D.C. State Fair and all the longtime champions of this struggle for normality, “This bud’s for you!” Find out more about marijuana legalization at the Marijuana Policy Project (mpp.org) and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (norml.org).

To find out more about Jim Hightower, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.

Photo: Nina J. G. via Flickr

The Marijuana Economy Comes Out of the Shadows

The convention floor at Denver Airport’s Crowne Plaza on a recent afternoon could have been the trade show for any well-established industry — gray-haired execs in conservative suits mingling with office park dads in polos and fresh-out-of-college types in brand-emblazoned T-shirts. Only this is a new kind of business conference with a special Colorado theme: legal weed.

After Colorado voters legalized marijuana in 2012, more states and cities are considering a similar path for themselves. At the same time, the cannabis market is looking less like a music festival and more like a Silicon Valley confab — upscale, data-driven, and focused on investors.

Vendors and potential financiers at last month’s Marijuana Investor Summit here in the Mile High City say the current market for legal cannabis is more than $3 billion in the 23 states that have already legalized the drug for medicinal or recreational use. Expanding that market, they say, will require not just drug reform legislation, but also a consistent infusion of capital at a time when the marijuana economy still exists in a legal gray area — one where the drug is permitted in some states, but still outlawed at the federal level.

“It’s going to take time, but it’s a great opportunity,” said Chris Rentner of Akouba Credit, a Chicago small-business lender exploring the possibility of working with marijuana businesses. “For people that think everyone is a stoner lying on the sidewalk passed out, it’s going to take time for them to get comfortable with it. But there’s too much money in it. We just need to figure out the risk associated with it, but if we can find a way where it makes sense legally, then why wouldn’t we try to be in this market?”

If Akouba jumps into the marijuana market, the company would be trying to address one of the biggest obstacles to the industry’s growth: access to financial services. Because marijuana is still prohibited under federal law, cannabis grow houses and dispensaries have trouble finding traditional banking partners, leaving much of their business to be conducted in cash.

That not only presents a risk of robbery, it also can limit the industry’s access to the kinds of lending and accounting services that are typically involved in small business development.

Like Akouba, many of the 78 exhibitors and nearly 1,000 attendees at the conference are not in the business of actually harvesting cannabis. Instead, they aim to provide support services for cultivators and distributors.

“The majority of these companies aren’t actually touching the plant,” said John Downs of the Marijuana Investment Company. “There’s a green line: You are either in the ancillary and tertiary services, or you are digging in and growing.”

That term — “touching the plant” — is a term of art that distinguishes businesses that provide support services from those that actually grow cannabis. It’s not a minor semantic difference. “Touching the plant” can bring greater regulatory scrutiny and threats of federal action, thereby putting investors’ capital at risk.

That, though, may start to change. In January, the SEC for the first time allowed a company that deals with marijuana cultivation to sell shares of stock. Meanwhile, the legal situation is becoming clearer in Colorado.

Andreas Nilsson of iComply — a firm that helps marijuana business follow the law — says that while there remains political opposition to weed from leaders like Colorado Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, the state’s officials put together “very well-developed and clear” regulations and “decided to go in and create a system that is not designed to fail.”

Is it a perfect system? Hardly. But has the sky fallen, as drug warriors once predicted? No — and it probably will not in other states that follow Colorado’s lead.

David Sirota is a senior writer at the International Business Times and the best-selling author of the books Hostile Takeover, The Uprising, and Back to Our Future. Email him at ds@davidsirota.com, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at www.davidsirota.com. 

Photo: Brett Levin via Flickr