Republican U.S. Congressman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) faces universal backlash from officials and NORML leadership after making “shameful” remarks comparing the cannabisThis post contains affiliate links! industry with slavery at a House Oversight Committee hearing on November 15 in Washington, D.C.
The Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Subcommittee of the House Oversight Committee gathered for the hearing to discuss developments in state cannabis laws and bipartisan cannabisThis post contains affiliate links! reform at the federal level.
Specifically, the issues discussed involved pardoning people charged with possession and the difference between a pardon and an expungement regarding cannabis-related crimes. The topic of the day was supposed to be civil liberties, but Rep. Sessions managed to liken the cannabis industry to slavery.
“The product is being marketed. The product is being sold. The product has been advocated by people who were in it to make money,” Rep. Sessions said at the meeting. “Slavery made money also and was a terrible circumstance that this country and the world went through for many, many years.”
1819 News reports that the committee meeting—full of city, state, and federal officials—did not receive Rep. Sessions’ comments well.
Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin spoke out after hearing Rep. Sessions’ “offensive” comments earlier at the hearing. Woodfin spoke to the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties subcommittee of the House Oversight Committee to join the conversation about pardon and expungements. But he couldn’t let Rep. Sessions’ comments slide.
“Words matter,” Woodfin said with conviction following Rep. Sessions’ remarks. “While I’m on record, I would just like to say to you directly, your committee members, that putting cannabis and slavery in the same category is patently offensive and flagrant.”
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland) backed up Mayor Woodfin’s comments about the “peculiar analogy.”
“I think we can all disavow that, and we apologize that the lectern was used for that purpose at some moment today,” Raskin said.
The Cannabis Industry Reacts
The cannabisThis post contains affiliate links! industry also took note of the careless remarks. “Today a sitting member of Congress equated the regulated cannabis industry with slavery,” NORML Political Director Morgan Fox tweeted. “Shameful. Texas, when are you going to send Pete Sessions packing?”
Politico called Rep. Sessions “Washington’s most powerful anti-pot official” in 2018. His storied history with fighting cannabis reform goes back a long way. Also, it’s not the first time Rep. Pete Sessions made questionable comments about cannabisThis post contains affiliate links!, calling people in the business “merchants of addiction.”
“MarijuanaThis post contains affiliate links! is an addictive product, and the merchants of addiction make it that way,” Rep. Sessions said in 2018. “They make it to where our people, our young people, become addicted to marijuanaThis post contains affiliate links! and keep going.” Rep. Pete Session also linked traffic deaths with cannabis reform, blaming high-THC products.
Rep. Sessions’ comments linking the cannabis industry with slavery is especially ironic because there’s another thing people have likened to “modern slavery”: The U.S. prison system. The ACLU regularly reports that despite roughly equal usage rates—Black people are 3.73 times more likely than white people to be arrested for cannabis. The ACLU also reports that the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude—includes a loophole for prisoners who can be forced to work and are still forced to work.
Cannabis Industry Gives Back This Holiday Season
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 cannabisThis post contains affiliate links! 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.”
In November, Michigan-based Puff Cannabis 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 cannabis 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 cannabis. 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 cannabis businesses giving back, but non-cannabis businesses are also pitching in to help patients with access to medical cannabisThis post contains affiliate links!, 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 cannabisThis post contains affiliate links! oil to treat his condition. Like many other children throughout Europe, access to medical cannabisThis post contains affiliate links! 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.”
Study Finds Weed Cases Are Clogging Pennsylvania Courts
MarijuanaThis post contains affiliate links!-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 “marijuana 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.
A Waste Of Public Resources
Joe Welsh, the executive director at the Lehigh Valley Justice Institute, said the report illustrates how prosecuting marijuana 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 marijuana 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 marijuanaThis post contains affiliate links! 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 marijuana 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.”
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 marijuanaThis post contains affiliate links! 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 marijuanaThis post contains affiliate links! 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.”
Police in Sweden Seize Millions in Drugs Outside Capital
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.
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 Cannabis 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 cannabis 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.
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 cannabisThis post contains affiliate links!” despite what they call poor results. In the study, researchers claimed that medical cannabisThis post contains affiliate links! 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.
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.
Canada Establishes Expert Panel To Review Cannabis Act
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 cannabisThis post contains affiliate links! 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 cannabis 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.”
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 Cannabis Act,” Rosenberg said in a press release.
The Cannabis Act has been in place since cannabisThis post contains affiliate links! 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.
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 CannabisThis post contains affiliate links! 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 cannabis, 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.”
Ohio Bill Would Allow Record Sealing, Expungement for Paraphernalia Convictions
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 cannabisThis post contains affiliate links! 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.
Those who receive a cannabisThis post contains affiliate links! 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 cannabis 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!.”
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 cannabisThis post contains affiliate links!. Although Ohio borders Kentucky, patients would not be legally allowed to buy medical cannabis in Ohio because it only allows residents to purchase cannabis 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.
Virginia Officials Consider Measures To Reduce Stoned Driving
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.
“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.
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 marijuana-impaired driving,” Preiss said.
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 marijuanaThis post contains affiliate links! 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.
“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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