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From the Archives: The Steps to Legalization (1989)

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By Ed Rosenthal

For a long time, activists have been waiting for NORML to start a political legalization drive. Years ago, California NORML had a functional organization. However, currently it’s in the hands of a Board of Directors who combine the worst qualities; uncreative amateurs who have only a marginal interest in the issue. Activists such as Dennis Peron, Jack Herer and Dr. Todd Mikuriya are consistently barred from any policy-making role. The president of the local, Dale Gerringer, complains about the Board, but for the most part appreciates their hands-off approach to his administration.

In March and April, several pieces of regressive legislation were proposed to the California State Senate and Assembly. One bill would have made it a separate criminal offense to possess any amount of marijuana in three separate packages suitable for sale. For instance, three joints or three containers of seeds. Another bill would have made it a crime to solicit to buy pot.

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The third bill, which had versions in both legislative houses, would have limited diversion to growers captured with ten plants or less. In California, diversion is a judicial process for people caught possessing or cultivating marijuana for their own use. Instead of going through the court process, the charges are waived as long as the person stays out of trouble for two years. The court decides eligibility based on a preponderance of evidence. This law has saved California’s taxpayers millions of dollars since its enactment, and has saved thousands of Californians the heartache of judicial proceedings and their aftermath.

As the Senate bills began coming up for a vote, Dale became desperate. He could not get to the capital because of medical reasons, and the Board members who were suitable for legislative duty were either busy or uninterested. As a result, Dale asked me to see what I could do.

First I called up the legislative analyst of the bill and spoke with him at length. (A legislative analyst describes a bill and guesses at its effects on government and society.)

He asked me to write a statement about the proposals and let me know how to register to speak before the legislature. He also gave me advice on procedure.

The analyst asked me to write a statement about the measure and my opinion of its effects. I sent this out to him promptly. Then, searching the back of my closet, I found a serviceable suit, tie, white shirt, and shoes, and made the drive to Sacramento.

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The bills were scheduled to come to committee at 1 P.M. I arrived in the hallowed halls at 9 A.M. and immediately started lobbying. I never got to see any legislators, but talked at length with a number of their aides. The first ones I went to see were those who I thought would be opposed to the bills. They were courteous, concerned about the issues, and very helpful in their comments.

Next I went to see the aides of legislators likely to be in favor of the bills. They too were courteous and engaged in frank discussions of the bills and the marijuana issue in general. I was surprised by their willingness to participate in give-and-take conversations.

The discussions with the aides were good practice for speaking before the Senators. First the proponent of the bill spoke. Then came representatives of the police, attorney general’s office, and the CAMP people. Representatives of the California Criminal Lawyers Association and the ACLU spoke against the bill. A concerned NORML lawyer, Bob Cogan, also opposed them.

The bills were fatally flawed and as the speakers discussed them, it became apparent that they would not make it out of committee. All were withdrawn. Three weeks later, the same thing happened in Assembly.

For the most part, I found the legislators abysmally ignorant about the subject of marijuanaThis post contains affiliate links!. Usually they’re led around by the state attorney general, the police, and “parent’s groups” because nobody else speaks up on the issue. Once legislators become more informed, their attitudes loosen up a bit. With concerted work, their votes can be changed.

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These experiences have convinced me that continual lobbying efforts in the state legislatures could change the marijuanaThis post contains affiliate links! laws very rapidly. Prohibition is a model. In the spring of 1932, Roosevelt was opposed to a “wet” plank because he thought it would lose him votes. Within a few months, public opinion had turned. The corruption, killings, and lack of liquor made the public disgusted. Roosevelt won not only on anti-Hoover depression votes, but also because of the promise to repeal the 18th Amendment. If that history is too ancient, remember that in 1980 Reagan won partly on an anti-Commie plank. Now the Russians are our best friends.

The anti-pot groups have had a field day for years. They have faced no opposition in the government and media and have been able to deal in hysterics. Now you can help cut short their non-joyride. We need thousands of people to talk until their throats are dry.

I envision an army of lobbyists first descending on the state governments then the federal government. And I mean YOU. Everyone can do it. Simply by reading High Times, you can be an effective citizen-lobbyist.

In order to approach the government most effectively, you have to sort of play their game. Here are some rules and pointers for talking with elected government officials and their aides.

1) Everyone at the legislature is dressed in business clothes. In most legislatures, this means suits or work dresses. Attempting to approach these people in jeans makes their eyes glaze over. I know that this is going to turn a lot of people off, but dress and grooming are important. It’s a signal to them that you are ready to talk the same language.

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On the other hand, legislators usually have office days in their local office. You can go visit them there to voice your concerns. These meetings are usually more informal than the ones in the capital. However, going up to the capital emphasizes the “importance” of the issue.

2) Rehearse your arguments so that you know them by heart, and do not have to think about them when you are talking with the representatives.

3) Listen to what they have to say and do not interrupt. Once they have made their argument or asked their question, then answer it or make your rebuttal.

4) Try to de-polarize the issue by first talking about what you agree on. When I was talking to conservatives, I started the discussion by bringing up some areas on which I knew we’d see eye to eye: “There is a tremendous drug problem that is out of control”; “Cocaine, especially crack, is the most dangerous drug around to both society and the people who use it,” or “The government has limited resources, and they should be used where they will do the most good.”

5) Talk in sound bytes. Legislators have a limited attention span. Instead of hearing the whole build-up of an argument, they would prefer a chunk, preferably no longer than 18 seconds.

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6) Don’t make an ass out of yourself by blowing up or getting mad if things don’t go your way. The marijuanaThis post contains affiliate links! laws were not made in a day, and they won’t go away in a day. Fighting marijuana laws is a long-term effort.

7) Any comments made about your style should be taken to heart if they are well-intended.

There are six major reasons why marijuana should be legalized—they are criminal, economic, sociological, constitutional, national security and health. In future issues of the magazine, we will cover each of them thoroughly. We will also make room for comments about your experiences fighting these unjust laws in the legislature.

So get ready and get your suit and tie pressed. We’re going to the capital in September and October.

One last experience. I was walking down the hall with the Special Assistant to the Attorney General. He had just given a talk about drugs. He had been talking about rehabilitating drug users and I said to him, “There is one difference between marijuanaThis post contains affiliate links! and almost any other drug, including the legal ones, alcohol and tobacco. If you ask a nicotine addict, alcoholic, junkie, crack freak, or almost any other drug user, ‘If you could wake up tomorrow unaddicted and without cravings, would you take the option?’, for the most part these people would say yes. However, if you ask a marijuana user the same question, s/he will say no thanks, because marijuana users, for the most part, do not think the substance is hurting them.”

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He said, “I never thought of that, but most of my friends who smoke it do feel the same way.” A little bit of progress was made at that moment.

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High Times Magazine, September 1989

Read the full issue here.



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Cannabis Industry Gives Back This Holiday Season

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Seasonal slogans like “holiday spirit” and “the season of giving” are an annual reminder to give back to those in need. Here are just a few great examples of how cannabis businesses continue to give back.

Ayr Wellness, which has dispensaries operating in Arizona, Florida, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, announced on Dec. 5 that it would be starting its “12 Days of Giving” campaign. While every purchase at its dispensaries will collect $1.12 per transaction to two of its partner organizations, Freedom Grow and Minorities for Medical MarijuanaThis post contains affiliate links! Project Clean Slate Initiative. Overall, Ayr Wellness aims to reach a goal of collecting more than $100,000, which will go toward supporting cannabis prisoners and their families, as well as various advocacy efforts and expungement programs. “Ayr’s ‘12 Days of Giving’ initiative aims to reinforce our commitment to being a Force for Good by activating twelve days of charitable giving across our retail footprint,” said Ayr president David Goubert. “This marks Ayr’s second year of the program, which is poised to directly benefit the families of those who have been incarcerated for cannabis offenses.”

Florida-based AFC Foundation, which offers financing in the cannabis industry, recently made a donation to Georgia-based Corners Outreach organization. In the past, AFC Foundation has also contributed donations to groups like Pennsylvania Court Appointed Special Advocate Association, Yo Soy Ella, and The Weldon Project. According to AFC Foundation president and co-founder Robyn Tannenbaum, it’s essential for the company to give back. “The evolution of the cannabis industry is heavily reliant on the health of the communities in which the businesses operate. As a result, it is imperative that we work to improve these communities and invest in their future endeavors,” said Tannenbaum. “We are proud to continue our efforts to enact social change. More importantly, we are excited to support an organization like Corners Outreach that works to improve education and career opportunities for families.”

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In November, Michigan-based Puff CannabisThis post contains affiliate links! gave out more than 1,700 turkeys prior to Thanksgiving. Now, the brand announced its “Jackets for Joints” event. Running between Dec. 5-18, the campaign is asking for coats and jackets that fit kids between the ages of three to 12. In exchange, Puff is giving out one jar of pre-rolls. Puff president Justin Elias expressed the need for kids in Michigan. “I recognize that due to the times we live in, many children throughout the state of Michigan need warm jackets and coats and our ‘Jackets for Joints’ program will come to the aid of many of those little ones,” Elias said. “I hope we can collect and give away thousands of warm jackets and coats this winter in order to keep our children warm.”

40 Tons, which is an organization dedicated to assisting people affected by cannabisThis post contains affiliate links! convictions, as well as their families. This past weekend, the organization held a Canna Christmas event that invited attendees to donate to a Christmas wish list created by people who have a loved one currently incarcerated for cannabisThis post contains affiliate links!. Although the event has already passed, 40 Tons is a worthwhile organization to donate to this holiday as it continues to help others.

A medical dispensary in West Virginia called Cannabist recently donated $6,473.65 to its local American Legion Post 159 last week. Cannabist has four locations in the state, and took a portion of funds from weekly sales that will go on to fund scholarship opportunities for local high schools, provide funds for state capitol trips, and more.

We’re seeing tons of cannabisThis post contains affiliate links! businesses giving back, but non-cannabis businesses are also pitching in to help patients with access to medical cannabis, too. According to Lanakshire Live, a Scottish news outlet, local businesses are stepping up to help Cole Thompson, a young boy who suffers from cortical dysplasia and uses Bedrolite cannabis oil to treat his condition. Like many other children throughout Europe, access to medical cannabis medicine is an expensive strain on their families. 

A campaign called “Cole’s Christmas Wish” is currently underway, asking for donations to help fund his family’s access to the medicine. “An amazing 15 businesses have signed up already, but for it to work we really need to get the full 36 businesses signed up, hopefully by Christmas, which would give Cole the money for his medicine for the year,” said Cole’s mom, Lisa Quarrell. “We are still looking for 21 businesses who are willing to get on board by donating a one-off payment of £500 to keep Cole seizure-free and safe.”

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Study Finds Weed Cases Are Clogging Pennsylvania Courts

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Marijuana-related criminal cases are clogging local courts in Pennsylvania and putting an unnecessary burden on scarce law enforcement resources, according to a new study from a justice reform advocacy organization.

The Lehigh Valley Justice Institute, a nonpartisan research and advocacy group based in Allentown, Pennsylvania, reviewed 27,826 criminal cases of all kinds prosecuted in Lehigh County and Northampton County between January 2018 and March 2021. The group’s analysis found that “marijuanaThis post contains affiliate links! criminalization slows our criminal justice system” and puts a strain on “understaffed public defenders” in the two jurisdictions.

According to the report, a total of 4,559 (about one in six) of the cases included a marijuana charge. Among those cases, 96% also involved an additional nonviolent offense, or co-charge. The analysis also found that marijuana-related court cases took an average of nearly five months (162 days) to reach a conclusion. The report noted that the longest-lasting marijuana-related case took 1,129 days, or more than three years, to be resolved in the courts. The case also included one additional charge of disorderly conduct that was eventually withdrawn by the district attorney’s office.

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A Waste Of Public Resources 

Joe Welsh, the executive director at the Lehigh Valley Justice Institute, said the report illustrates how prosecuting marijuanaThis post contains affiliate links! cases is expanding scarce public resources that could instead fund efforts to address “real crime.” Welsh also noted that nearby states including neighboring New Jersey have legalized adult-use cannabis, further illustrating the futility of continued prohibition. Regulated sales of adult-use cannabis began in New Jersey in April after Governor Phil Murphy signed recreational marijuana legislation into law in February 2021.

“Police are spending time charging people with marijuanaThis post contains affiliate links! offenses. That’s time taken away from serious crimes like rapes, murders and assaults,” Welsh said. “Particularly, considering that you can walk across the Northampton Street Bridge between Easton and Phillipsburg and purchase marijuana.”

Under Pennsylvania state law, marijuana possession is classified as a misdemeanor offense carrying penalties of up to $500 and a jail sentence of up to 30 days. However, local laws passed in Allentown and Bethlehem in 2018 reduced such charges to summary offenses, which do not require a suspect to be arrested. Instead, those convicted of a summary offense can avoid jail time and pay a fine as low as $25 for a first offense.

The local reforms were designed to give law enforcement officers more discretion when enforcing marijuana prohibition laws. But Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin has circumvented the local reforms by requiring police officers in the county to file state charges for marijuanaThis post contains affiliate links! offenses.

“Local city councils do not have the power or authority to deviate from state law,” Martin told lehighvalleylive.com in an email. “The state law preempts the field. I took an oath to uphold the U.S. and Commonwealth constitutions; therefore, I don’t decide to enforce only the laws I choose to enforce. I enforce the law as written.”

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Pennsylvania Governor To Pardon Marijuana Convictions

The report from Lehigh Valley Justice Institute comes at a time of increased focus on the impact of marijuana-related convictions in the Keystone State. In September, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf announced that he would pardon convictions for eligible marijuana offenses, including some cases that include a nonviolent co-charge. 

“Pennsylvanians convicted of simple marijuana charges are automatically disqualified for so many life opportunities: jobs, education, housing, special moments with family. This is wrong,” Wolf said in a statement from the governor’s office. “In Pennsylvania, we believe in second chances – I’m urging those eligible to apply now, don’t miss your chance to forge a new path.”

At a recent appearance in Monroe County, Wolf reiterated his support for legalizing marijuana despite a lack of attention on the matter from lawmakers, noting the good that comprehensive cannabis policy reform can foster in the state of Pennsylvania.

“To date, there has been no movement to advance legislation,” Wolf said last month. “So, I’m here today to ask again, and to focus on two particular benefits of legalization – potential economic growth and much-needed restorative justice.”

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Police in Sweden Seize Millions in Drugs Outside Capital

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In one of Europe’s most intolerant countries when it comes to drug laws, a massive drug operation was dismantled Thursday. It’s the latest move in a series of efforts to curb drug traffic and organized crime in the country.

Swedish police say that on December 1, forces seized around 500 kilograms (1,102 pounds) of drugs in a city near Stockholm, with a total street value of about 80 million kronor or $7.6 million USD.

Police say that 260 kilograms (573 pounds)—the largest portion of drugs—was amphetamine, and the rest of the types of drugs were not specified.

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In Tyreso, south of the Swedish capital Stockholm, three men were arrested on suspicion of serious drug offenses. Police also searched another house at a location in Tyreso where a massive trove of drugs was found in a storage room in an apartment building.

“This is a very large seizure,” Susanne Wikland, deputy chief in the Stockholm city police area, told The Associated Press. Wikland added that it was the result of “aggressive work over a longer period of time,” adding that drug traffic is “large and [expensive] serious organized crime.”

It follows a similar operation last month, when police in Stockholm detained 21 people and seized cocaine and cannabisThis post contains affiliate links! with an estimated street value of between 50 and 100 million kronor, or $4.8 to $9.6 million USD.

Zero Tolerance for Drugs and Medical CannabisThis post contains affiliate links! in Sweden

This is bad news for the men involved, given Sweden’s particularly harsh stance on drugs: Transform Drug Policy Foundation reported that while cannabisThis post contains affiliate links! and drug laws loosen in Europe—pretty much all around Sweden—the country maintains its zero tolerance policies

“… The degree to which Sweden’s low prevalence of drug use can be attributed to its repressive approach is highly questionable, as research consistently shows that wider social, economic and cultural factors are the key drivers of drug prevalence—not the harshness of enforcement,” Transform Drug Policy Foundation writes.

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Some organizations believe Sweden’s zero tolerance policy increases harm. Traveling performers like Drake learned this the hard way. It’s a stark difference from neighboring Denmark, which has experimented in the past with innovations like drug consumption rooms.

The country also isn’t too keen on medical cannabisThis post contains affiliate links!. A recent study conducted by researchers from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden attacked “positive coverage of cannabis” despite what they call poor results. In the study, researchers claimed that medical cannabis was no better for pain relief than a placebo, and suggested that medical cannabis is a myth.

Sweden’s Zero Policy on Drugs Doesn’t Work

But is Sweden’s strict approach to drug use even working? That’s debatable. And moreover, blow is especially popular in the Nordic country.

A study released by national broadcaster SVT found that cocaine in Sweden, over the years, has become more common, cheaper, and more pure. Forbes reports that the number of drug busts in general has increased by almost 300 percent since 2012, mirroring a rise in the number of drug busts by customs. In 2018, Swedish customs seized 485 kg of cocaine, mostly via two major seizures of 298 kg and 98 kg.

The report also reveals the drug has led to more deaths. According to data from the Swedish National Board of Forensic Medicine, cocaine was said to be the cause of death in 20 cases compared to just one a few years ago.

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Sweden’s zero tolerance approach on drugs might affect alcohol consumption as well. College students in Sweden also report heavier drinking than U.S. college students, where drug laws have been loosened often.

  • Benjamin M. Adams

    Benjamin M. Adams is Staff Writer at High Times, and has written for Vice, Forbes, HuffPost, The Advocate, Culture, and many other publications. He holds a Bachelor of Communication from Southern New Hampshire University.

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Canada Establishes Expert Panel To Review Cannabis Act

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Canada Minister of Health Jean-Yves Duclos announced the panel members on Nov. 24. “The Expert Panel will provide us with an independent, inclusive and evidence-informed review of the Cannabis Act and its economic, social, and environmental impacts, as well as the progress that’s been made displacing the illicit cannabis market,” Duclos said. “We welcome the Expert Panel members and look forward to reviewing their findings to help address the ongoing and emerging needs of Canadians while protecting their health and safety.”

There are a total of five members of the panel who will begin work on the report, with a goal to “engage with the public, governments, Indigenous peoples, youth, marginalized and racialized communities, cannabis industry representatives, and people who access cannabisThis post contains affiliate links! for medical purposes” regarding the current successes and failures of the current law.

The first panel member is Dr. Oyedeji Ayonrinde, Associate Professor at Queen’s University and consultant psychiatrist and clinical director at Providence Care, which provides mental health care. In the realm of cannabis, Ayonrinde’s peer-reviewed publications explore “gestational cannabis use, cannabis and psychosis, and safety issues with cannabinoid-based medicines.”

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The second is Dr. Patricia J. Conrod, a Full Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Addiction at University of Montreal and researcher at Sainte-Justine Mother and Child University Hospital Centre. Conrod co-leads multiple research efforts, including the Canadian Institutes of Health Research’s Canadian CannabisThis post contains affiliate links! and Psychosis Research Team.

The third is Lynda L. Levesque, a criminal lawyer and member of the Fisher River Cree Nation in Manitoba. Levesque has been serving the communities of Calgary and Toronto since 2015. “Throughout her legal career, she has maintained a passion for Indigenous justice issues and an interest in better ensuring access to justice for marginalized persons,” the government describes.

The fourth is Dr. Peter Selby, Vice Chair of Research and Head of the Mental Health and Addictions Division in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Toronto. Selby’s research often focuses on understanding and treating addictive behaviors, which has led him to receive over $100 million in grants from numerous institutes. In total, he has held more than 145 grants as a Principal or Co-Principal Investigator and has taken part in over 150 peer-reviewed publications.

Finally, the panel will be led by Chair Morris Rosenberg, a lawyer and former Deputy of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Minister of Health, and Deputy Minister of Justice and Deputy Attorney General of Canada, among other government roles. “It’s my great pleasure to begin working with the members of the Expert Panel. Each member brings a wealth of experience and knowledge, which will be essential as we conduct a thorough, independent review of the CannabisThis post contains affiliate links! Act,” Rosenberg said in a press release.

The Cannabis Act has been in place since cannabis sales officially began in Canada in 2018, and requires that the government create a report with recommendations for changes. Now that the panel has been selected, the report can begin to take form through two phases. First, the panel will assess the impacts of the Cannabis Act through online public engagement and analyze trends and evidence. The second phase will include compiling advice to improve or reform the legislative framework. The report does not currently have a deadline, but when it is completed, it will be presented to Parliament of Canada.

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According to Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health, this panel will help prepare necessary information for the country to evolve as one of just a few countries that have legalized adult-use cannabis. “The Cannabis Act has been instrumental in our efforts to protect youth from accessing cannabis, displacing the illegal market, and providing adult consumers with access to a safe supply of cannabisThis post contains affiliate links!, but there’s more work to do,” Bennett said in a statement. “We congratulate the new members of the Expert Panel, and look forward to their work assessing our progress in meeting the goals of the Act and guiding our next steps.”



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Ohio Bill Would Allow Record Sealing, Expungement for Paraphernalia Convictions

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The Ohio Senate passed Senate Bill 288 on Nov. 30 with a 27-2 vote. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Nathan Manning, spoke to the Senate about his goals for this 975-page measure. “We have done a lot of work on this bill. And, really, the goal of this—we talk about criminal justice reform, we talk about tough-on-crime, soft-on-crime—really what we want to do is improve our criminal justice system and lower crime in our society and make our society a safer place,” said Manning. “And to do that, we did a lot of work here.”

Manning explained that “a lot of this bill is long-term, making sure that people that have entered our judicial system exit the judicial system as better people, and to lower recidivism rates, to improve their quality of life and to make sure that we have less victims in the future.”

Among many proposed changes, SB-288 would consider possession of cannabis paraphernalia a minor misdemeanor. “Arrest or conviction for a minor misdemeanor violation of this section does not constitute a criminal record and need not be reported by the person so arrested or convicted in response to any inquiries about the person’s criminal record, including any inquiries contained in any application for employment, license, or other right or privilege, or made in connection with the person’s appearance as a witness,” the current bill text states.

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Those who receive a cannabis paraphernalia possession conviction would be allowed to seal their record from the public after six months have passed, and records would be eligible to be expunged after three years. The current draft notes that the application fee would cost “not more than $50.”

SB-288 now heads to the House of Representatives for further consideration. The 134th congressional assembly will end on Dec. 21, and if the bill is not passed in the House and then signed by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine then it will need to be reintroduced in the next legislative session.

Earlier this year in May, Ohio advocates decided to delay a ballot proposal for adult-use cannabis legalization to 2023. At the time, Republican state officials refused to consider the ballot proposal, so the Coalition to Regulate MarijuanaThis post contains affiliate links! Like Alcohol sued them. The organization had already collected 140,000 signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot, but the lawsuit settlement will allow them to keep those signatures going into next year.

“We expect that we’ll be able to do it,” Attorney Tom Haren said about the adult-use cannabis effort. “We’ll have staff get ready. Our intention is to give Ohio voters an opportunity to weigh in if the General Assembly continues to ignore them.”

It’s been two years since Ohio legalized medical cannabis, and as of March 2022 the state has collected $725 million in sales revenue. The state allows resident patients to use medical cannabisThis post contains affiliate links! as a treatment for 22 conditions, but this number may change if the general assembly passes a current proposal if “the patient’s symptoms may reasonably be expected to be relieved from medical marijuanaThis post contains affiliate links!.”

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Recently, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear signed an executive order to allow medical cannabis if it has been purchased in a state that has legalized medical cannabis. Although Ohio borders Kentucky, patients would not be legally allowed to buy medical cannabisThis post contains affiliate links! in Ohio because it only allows residents to purchase cannabisThis post contains affiliate links! as medicine. Currently, this only leaves Illinois as an option, with Missouri and Virginia to possibly open up later on when their medical cannabisThis post contains affiliate links! programs take effect.



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Virginia Officials Consider Measures To Reduce Stoned Driving

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Officials in Virginia are exploring ways to deter drivers from getting behind the wheel after getting stoned, the latest effort by the commonwealth to smooth out its new adult-use cannabis law.

The Virginian-Pilot reports that the “the Virginia Crime Commission — an arm of the General Assembly tasked with studying issues of criminal law and making recommendations — [has] discussed some potential steps police and sheriff’s offices can use to crack down on driving while high,” and that the “commission is expected to meet Dec. 5 to draft their proposals for the legislative session that begins in January.”

“One thing under consideration at the commission’s Nov. 16 meeting: changing state law to allow roadside screening devices in which officers and deputies can have a driver swab his or her cheek in order to gather saliva to test for marijuanaThis post contains affiliate links! and other drugs,” the outlet reported this week. 

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“Virginia officials said the ‘oral fluid tests’ under consideration to detect marijuanaThis post contains affiliate links! intoxication are similar to a ‘preliminary breath test’ — a roadside test for alcohol. The test results, while not admissible in court, can help determine when the cannabis was consumed, and can be combined with other factors to get probable cause for extensive blood testing,” the publication continued. 

Kristen Howard, the executive director of the Virginia Crime Commission, told the Virginian-Pilot that officers can “swab the inside of someone’s mouth, and you get a positive or negative and it just gives you some indicators.”

“It’s designed to hone in on the recentness of use — how many hours ago you used this drug,” Howard explained.

The moves come within a month of a survey from the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority (CCA), which showed that a high number of Virginians are comfortable toking and driving. 

According to the survey, roughly 23% reported consuming pot in the past three months and about 14% of drivers in the state said that they have driven high several times in the past year. 

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The survey also showed that a third believe marijuanaThis post contains affiliate links! improves their ability to drive safely. 

Virginia officials sounded the alarm on the survey results.

“These results are worrying and underscore the General Assembly was right to direct the CCA to undertake a safe driving campaign,” said John Keohane, a board chair of the Cannabis Control Authority.

Jeremy Preiss, the CCA’s Acting Head and Chief Officer for Regulatory, Policy, and External Affairs, said that the agency must make the issue a priority.

“As a public safety and public health agency, the CCA currently has no greater priority than creating a well-funded, aggressive, and sustained campaign aimed at reducing the incidence of marijuanaThis post contains affiliate links!-impaired driving,” Preiss said. 

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Virginia legalized recreational cannabis last year, becoming the first state in the south to do so

But that came under a Democratic governor, Ralph Northam. Republicans took back the governor’s mansion last year when Glenn Youngkin was elected. 

Youngkin said from the start that he has no interest in rolling back the marijuana law, but his election––as well as Republicans winning back control of the state House of Delegates––has stymied its implementation.

The Democratic-controlled state Senate passed a bill earlier this year to fast-track the launch of recreational pot sales, but the legislation was rejected in the House.  

Prior to taking office earlier this year, Youngkin spoke about his vision for the new cannabis program.

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“When it comes to commercialization, I think there is a lot of work to be done. I’m not against it, but there’s a lot of work to be done,” Youngkin said. “There are some nonstarters, including the forced unionization that’s in the current bill. There have been concerns expressed by law enforcement in how the gap in the laws can actually be enforced. Finally, there’s a real need to make sure that we aren’t promoting an anti-competitive industry. I do understand that there are preferences to make sure that all participants in the industry are qualified to do the industry well.”



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