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The Shady Politics of the MORE Act Vote and Cannabis Legalization [Opinion]

The Shady Politics of the MORE Act Vote and Cannabis Legalization [Opinion]

MORE Act house vote delayed

Has cannabis always been political?

While in most of our lifetimes cannabis has been illegal, it wasn’t always that way. In fact it was the complete opposite until the early 1900s.

Believe it or not, cannabis has been used for thousands of years, with traces of the plant being smoked as far back as 2,500 years. Its first use dates all the way back to 2727 BC in China where it was considered a legitimate medication. Traditional uses of cannabis for medicine might not have been as popular in the west, but that doesn’t mean the cannabis plant wasn’t just as essential.

A very brief prohibitionist history

Not only was cannabis legal prior to the 1930s, it was an essential crop. The ships that brought the colonists to America had sails made entirely from hemp fibers. Colonists were “encouraged” by law from the Queen to grow hemp as one of their staple crops.

In the 1700s and 1800s, extractions from the hemp and cannabis plant were used for medicine all over the country. In 1830, it was used to treat insomnia and migraines, and it acted as a pain reliever. From 1850 to 1942, the United States Pharmacopoeia recognized it as a legal medicine by the name “Extractum Cannabis.”

It wouldn’t be until the 1920s that the United States government would begin to lay restrictions on cannabis cultivation in the form of taxes put on farmers. After a racist, propagandized anti-cannabis movement led by Henry Anslinger, the government eventually created the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. This made it basically impossible for farmers to buy, sell or profit off of cannabis production.

The rest, as they say, is history.

The rise of the cannabis movement

Cannabis use and production certainly continued in the illicit markets across the country after prohibition in the United States. Almost 40 years after cannabis was made illegal, genetics and cultivation techniques from Europe (Holland specifically) where hydroponics was a rapidly growing industry made their way to the states.

This revolutionized how we cultivated cannabis, creating more potent cannabis with higher yields. An explosion in cannabis consumption during the 60s and 70s when the “hippy” movement took off created a perfect storm that birthed a new and booming, albeit illegal, industry in the U.S..

With a growing interest in cannabis came a renewed desire to look at why it became illegal in the first place. The reality being that the main propaganda used to make cannabis illegal was based on racist ideologies against Latinos and African Americans. A thirst for justice and the knowledge of a shameful past created a movement that continues to this day.

The movement to legalize cannabis.

The politics of cannabis legalization

The United States is a unique beast. It is the collation of 50 different states, all of which can create their own laws as long they abide the federal law put forth by the federal government. This is why half the country has legal cannabis, and the other half will still throw someone in jail for years just for having a little bit of cannabis in the car.

In a way this makes sense, as the people of the state dictate how the politicians vote. This would imply that in states where cannabis is still illegal, the people there must want it that way. But this is rarely the case. In fact, roughly two-thirds of Americans support legalization of cannabis.

So if the majority of people think cannabis should be legal, and over half the states in the country have gone ahead and just done it themselves, why hasn’t the federal government done anything?

Well that answer is easy…politics.

This article was written shortly after the news of the House of Representatives delaying their vote on the MORE Act. This bill would remove cannabis from the controlled substances list (where it is currently listed as Schedule 1 alongside heroin) and expunge criminal records of those convicted of small cannabis-related crimes.

In the United States, Democrats are considered the “progressive” party. Meaning they are the party that would normally push for something like cannabis legalization. The MORE Act itself was drafted with bipartisan efforts from Republicans and Democrats alike. Yet it was moderate democrats that voted to postpone the vote on the bill.

Why would this be? After all, the Democrats hold the majority in the House and could easily vote the bill through to the senate to begin deliberations.

But they didn’t.

Additionally the Democrats didn’t decide to postpone the vote just a few days or a couple weeks, they postponed it until at least after the election in November between now sitting President Donald Trump and Joe Biden. It might seem irrelevant, but there’s a real, shady, shitty reason that they did this.

 

The “BIG” announcement

You see, it just so happens that coincidentally, and totally by chance, that the same day that the House of Representatives (i.e. Democrats) decided to postpone the vote, Joe Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris (the Democrat nominees) pledged to decriminalize cannabis, remove it from the scheduled substances list and expunge criminal records.

Sound familiar?

It’s almost as if the Democrats postponed their House vote until after the election, so that Biden can use it to score points and gain more votes from those who want legal cannabis.

Now, if you haven’t gotten any hints of opinion thus far in this piece, here comes some.

I have a prediction.

Call me crazy, but I think there’s just a slim chance (that’s sarcasm) that if Biden is elected, the House will pass the bill through to the Senate the same week. But if Biden loses, the bill will sit dead in the House for eternity, while Democrats blame Republicans for not letting it pass.

That, my friends, is the true politics of cannabis legalization. It isn’t about figuring out if it’s safe, or can be taxed, or if it’s profitable. We know all of that is true already.

It’s about who gets to take credit, and the letter (D or R) next to their name. For politicians, legalization isn’t about the people. It isn’t about the hundreds of thousands of people in jail for small-time cannabis crimes.

It’s about them!

Are ALL Dispensaries Essential?

Are ALL Dispensaries Essential?

Cannabis dispensaries are being labeled “essential”. Should that also mean legal?

COVID-19, also known as Coronavirus, has completely changed the way we all live. As much as we don’t want to admit it, our everyday lifestyles are changing pretty drastically and the nation, its states, and businesses big and small are all struggling to find a solution.

With several states beginning to shut down “non-essential” businesses, the decision has to be made what businesses are essential. There’s the obvious essential businesses like grocery stores, doctors offices and pharmacies.

But one business most people probably didn’t expect to be marked essential is cannabis dispensaries.

Cannabis dispensaries are essential?

While most states are shutting down all non-essential businesses, exceptions have been made for a variety of businesses in different states. Most states are permitting restaurants to stay open for carry-out only, and in Colorado, you can now get alcohol to go from restaurants that serve beer.

Now in Los Angeles, amid an entire state-wide stay-in order, cannabis dispensaries have been deemed essential businesses that can remain open.

Unfortunately for recreational users, the rule only applies to medical dispensaries, which makes sense. People with a doctor’s prescription for medical cannabis, especially those with serious or debilitating conditions still need access to their medicine.

But if medical dispensaries are essential, and New York has even deemed liquor stores essential, then why shouldn’t recreational dispensaries be essential too?

The question that this really beckons to be answered though, is if medical cannabis dispensaries are essential businesses, why shouldn’t they be federally legal?

A sign we should legalize?

The fact that state governments across the country have deemed medical cannabis dispensaries essential and sales of recreational cannabis have skyrocketed over the past two weeks should be a sign that it is a product that is in great demand, right?

But that doesn’t mean recreational cannabis is as essential as medical cannabis, and as much as we hate to say it here at The Real Dirt, even alcohol.

The reason liquor stores are being permitted to remain open is likely due to the 15 million people across the country who suffer from alcoholism, and a smaller minority that suffers from serious addiction that could lead to serious health problems if they were to quit drinking cold-turkey.

If we continue to insist that cannabis is non-addictive (or at least not as harmfully addictive as alcohol and other pharmaceuticals), then there is no reason for recreational cannabis businesses to be deemed essential.

Nobody needs recreational cannabis to survive, unlike those with medical cards who could seriously rely on it. Where the debate lies, is in the differences between medical and recreational cannabis and how the line drawn between the two is so subtle and blurry.

Where does this lead?

A day after I started writing this, Colorado announced a stay-in-order, including the closure of liquor stores and recreational dispensaries. Not even four hours later, they were forced to walk it back.

There was so much backlash that the Governor of Colorado has now made recreational dispensaries and liquor stores essential businesses.

So while only medical dispensaries are deemed essential in California, recreational dispensaries are added to that list in Colorado. If other states follow behind Colorado and include recreational and medical dispensaries in their essential business orders, it could be a big bargaining chip in the fight for legalization.

If every state with medical and legal cannabis deems the businesses as essential — just as essential as grocery stores, doctor offices, and pharmacies — then how someone seriously argue that it should be illegal? We know the fight we’re in, however, and we know it won’t be that easy.

A more likely advancement that cannabis consumers can get excited about is the rise of cannabis delivery. Colorado is only allowing the first medical dispensary in Boulder to deliver starting this spring, with plans for recreational to follow in 2021.

But with current developments and a need to provide cannabis to thousands of consumers, more dispensaries will start to ask the government to move faster.

The fact remains that cannabis dispensaries are the only business across the country that have been deemed essential, while also being federally illegal. It’s pretty crazy when you really think about it. Read that first sentence again for maximum impact.

Virginia Marijuana Laws Might Be Changing

Virginia Marijuana Laws Might Be Changing

When you think of cannabis friendly, Virginia definitely isn’t one of the states that comes to mind. But that could be changing.

The state House on Monday passed HB 972, a decriminalization bill, with bipartisan support. Delegates voted 64-34 for the measure, with a number of Republicans joining Democrats in favor. The state Senate is expected to pass its own version shortly.

If passed, the legislation would scrap criminal charges for possessing marijuana and replace them with small fines. Supporters have argued the measure is needed in part because African Americans are disproportionately charged with drug crimes.

Virginia Marijuana Laws

Virginia marijuana laws have always been strict, with the most minor offense having the potential of jail time for possession of a half ounce. Right now, a person who is found with half an ounce of the drug can be jailed for up to 30 days and/or be fined $500. The second time it happens, jail time is increased up to a year and the fine increases up to $2,500.

To make matters worse, the state has a proven track record of negatively impacting minority communities with Virginia marijuana laws, specifically people of color. In fact, people of color are currently three times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than white people. But the reality is that no matter their skin color, people arrested for cannabis in Virginia are less likely to find jobs and housing.

If the new bill passes through the State Senate, it will be a big step in the right direction for the state after killing a full-blown legalization bill in 2019.

What is HB972?

House Bill 972 is a very simple bill. All it would do is decriminalize possession of a half ounce of cannabis, resulting in just a $25 fine if caught. With a simple, straight forward goal, it’s easy to see why the bill was able to garner bipartisan support.

Of course there are those who are against the bill, some of whom are surprisingly pro-legalization groups. The ACLU for example claims the bill doesn’t do enough, and that more people will be incarcerated for not being able to pay the $25 fine. Frankly this is asinine. If you can afford to buy a half ounce of cannabis, you can afford a $25 fine, or you shouldn’t be buying cannabis because you don’t have your priorities straight.

So the question that is being asked now that decriminalization seems likely is, when can we expect legalization?

Virginia Cannabis Legalization

It’s probably safe to say right now that Virginia marijuana laws won’t be moving toward legalization in 2020. Right now, Virginia lawmakers sent the idea of legalization to a non-partisan committee to study, they say that the study could take a year. The results may give lawmakers guidance on whether they want to re-visit legalization in 2021.

In the meantime, Virginians trying to access cannabis medically are in for quite a struggle. Virginia technically doesn’t even have a functioning medical marijuana program. What they do offer is an Affirmative Defense clause for patients who given permission by their physician to use cannabis.

However, not many doctors are prescribing cannabis because of the legal risk and lack of incentive. Not that patients would really benefit from permission anyway.

All Virginia marijuana laws allow currently are CBD oil and THC-A oil, neither of which are psychoactive or regulated. This leaves patients who are given permission very few options, including traveling across state lines to states like Maryland to obtain medical cannabis with the risk of getting arrested upon re-entry to Virginia.

Suffice to say Virginia won’t be turning into a cannabis haven any time soon, but residents can hopefully rest easy soon knowing they’ll no longer risk jail time for half a little bit of cannabis.

Should Drug Tests Include Cannabis?

Should Drug Tests Include Cannabis?

It’s time for drug tests to change. That’s just reality.

Drug tests have probably gotten more innocent cannabis consumers knocked out of the running for a job more than any other drug on the controlled substances list. At a certain point we have to ask, “What is the point?”.

Most commonly, drug tests for employers will test for cannabis, cocaine, phencyclidine, amphetamines and opiates. Now obviously if you have a prescription from your doctor for opiates you’re off the hook, but what about people with prescriptions for cannabis? And a better question, what about those that don’t?

Drug Tests Shouldn’t Include Cannabis

At this point it’s a no brainer. In the United States currently, there are only 10 states out of 50 that haven’t decriminalized or legalized cannabis in some form. With more than half the country having medical cannabis laws on the books, how is it that people can still miss out on job opportunity for cannabis use?

People who take prescribed painkillers that are prone to abuse don’t miss out on job opportunities. Even alcoholics don’t miss out on job opportunities as long as they can cover it up on the job. Yet if you used cannabis once in the last two weeks, with a medical card granted by the state you live in, the job you are applying to can still say no if you show positive on their drug tests.

Now I may not be an expert on fairness, but I think it’s safe to say that just isn’t fair. And it’s even worse for recreational cannabis consumers.

Legal States and Drug Tests

This has been an even hotter topic than medical cannabis users and drug tests as of late. Cannabis is now fully legal in 11 states. A lot of these states passed laws that are meant to regulate cannabis just like alcohol.

So, if cannabis is supposed to be regulated like alcohol, why do cannabis users lose out on job opportunities even in these states, while alcohol consumers have nothing to worry about? People who choose to use cannabis over alcohol, which by all standards is the safer option of the two, are now suffering because of it.

Some states like Nevada have passed laws that prohibit employers from firing employees or not hiring potential employees for testing positive for cannabis on drug tests, and that’s a great start. But it only starts to address the problem. If cannabis is still on the drug test, and potential hire tests positive, the employer legally can’t reject them for that reason. But that doesn’t mean the employer can’t see that information and just decide that the potential hire isn’t right for the position for “some other reason”.

This is why cannabis needs to be removed from cannabis completely, at least in legal and medical cannabis states.

It’s Time for Change

Here’s the bottom line. Nobody should be excluded from job opportunity for the medicine they choose to use legally. Nobody should be excluded from job opportunity based on what they decide to do in their free time in a legal cannabis state.

It’s that simple. If it were any other pharmaceutical drug that was FDA approved and legal on the state level, it wouldn’t be a question. It wouldn’t be on a drug test. Yet cannabis still is. I understand there’s still states that have cannabis completely illegal and states that only have it decriminalized, and people who work in those states need to be aware of their laws.

But if you live in a medical cannabis state or a legal cannabis state, and you lose out on a job because you tested positive for cannabis, that’s just not right, and you should consider taking action.

Colorado Cannabis Delivery and Social Consumption Makes Big Moves

Colorado Cannabis Delivery and Social Consumption Makes Big Moves

Cannabis has been legal in Colorado since 2012. But it’s been hard to figure out where it’s safe to consume it.

Unless you owned a home or had a cool landlord, you would be at a loss trying to find a safe place to consume the cannabis you just bought. Since legalization, it has been illegal to consume cannabis in a public setting in Colorado. 

The only place that was legal to consume was a private residence. As mentioned before, if you’re renting and your landlord puts a “no cannabis” rule in the lease, you’re out of luck (as someone in that situation I can vouch for the inconvenience).

But finally, that’s all about the change.

House Bill 1230

Under this new bill, dispensaries will be able to apply for a tasting room license similar to the one used for breweries in this state, while businesses such as hotels, restaurants, music venues, art galleries and yoga studios can apply for private consumption licenses and limited cannabis sales.

Mobile cannabis lounges such as tour buses and limousines would also be licensed but could not sell cannabis. Social consumption businesses would have to apply for a license through the state Marijuana Enforcement Division, and would be exempt from the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act, a state law that bans public indoor smoking.

“In expanding access to regulated spaces for adults to consume cannabis, we are taking the responsible approach to cannabis consumption in a safe environment,” says Senator Vicki Marble, one of the bill’s prime sponsors, in a statement about the bill. “HB 1230 protects the will of voters who asked for the freedom to choose marijuana as an alternative and to curb dealing and use in parks and on the street.”

Nothing is Final

There are still some hurdles before cannabis cafes can open in your town. Governor Jared Polis still needs to sign the bill into law, which appears to be pretty likely at this point.

However, even if Polis signs the bill, local governments would have to opt in to the new licensing program, and could modify it to ban certain forms of consumption, such as indoor smoking. And the City of Denver’s social marijuana consumption licensing program, which already has its own location qualifications and bans indoor smoking, would remain unaffected by new stipulations in the bill, unless Denver City Council or the mayoral administration decide to alter it.

Baby Steps are Still Steps

If there’s anything the members of the cannabis community have learned through the years, it is that cannabis regulation moves slow. While counties in Colorado will be able to begin the application process in January of 2020, should Polis sign the bill, counties can still make their own regulations.

It’s likely that many places will still ban indoor smoking even with the new law permitting this with the proper licensing. However a big driving force behind this bill specifically was the cannabis tourism industry in the state. With current laws, out-of-state visitors who legally purchase cannabis cannot consume it in hotels.

With House Bill 1230, hotels and other local businesses could gain additional tourism revenue by getting on board and applying for a public consumption license.

cannabis delivery in colorado could soon be legal

Dispensaries in Colorado could start using free delivery as a sell point if the new cannabis delivery bill passes.

Cannabis Delivery in Colorado

The day before the passing of House Bill 1230, House Bill 2019-1234 passed the state Senate with a vote of 20-14, and the state House with a vote of 38-27. The bill allows for “marijuana delivery permits” for licensed medical marijuana dispensaries and “transporters” to deliver their products to private residences once a day only.

Should the bill get the final signature from Polis, medical cannabis delivery would start in 2020, with recreational delivery following soon after in 2021. A $1 surcharge would be tacked on to each delivery made and would then be funneled back into local law enforcement for the sole purpose of administering local marijuana laws. 

Those licensed to make such deliveries would also be protected from criminal prosecution while on the job. Similarly to the other bill, local county governments and city councils could still restrict deliveries.

Proponents of cannabis delivery in Colorado site those medical patients that cannot make it to a dispensary due to immobility or other issues and a desire to eliminate the illegal delivery market currently operating in the state, while opponents worry that cannabis delivery could damage in-person dispensary sales and even open the opportunity for big players like Amazon to eventually take over.

Nevertheless it looks like a bright future lies ahead for cannabis consumption in Colorado, and it’s about time. For over 6 years cannabis consumers in the state have had to hide or find somewhere secluded enough that they wouldn’t get caught.

Hopefully these bills will get the final signature from Polis and we can begin to move forward into the next phase of legal cannabis in Colorado.

Oklahoma Hemp Bust (Update)

Oklahoma Hemp Bust (Update)

Four men were arrest during an Oklahoma hemp bust back in January. Now two men are finally free, with the other two with unsure futures.

The Real Dirt reported on a story back in January that involved a company transporting hemp through Oklahoma. The hemp was poorly stored, resulting in odor that could be smelled 2 miles down the road, by police.

What happened next cause quite some controversy in the new legal Oklahoma hemp industry.

The Original Oklahoma Hemp Bust

In early January Andrew Ross from Aurora, CO was providing security for the transport of several thousand pounds of what he claimed to be industrial hemp from Oklahoma to Colorado. Ross and the semi-truck he was assisting was pulled over in Pawhuska, Oklahoma after running a red light. 

The officer smelled what he claimed to be cannabis as he approached Ross’ van, at which point Ross told him that they were the security for the semi-truck transporting hemp. Ross was then instructed to open the semi-truck, revealing over 9,000 pounds of hemp or cannabis.

After conducting a field test, which tests for any amount of THC, the officer believed the plants to be cannabis and not hemp. However, legal hemp can have up to .3% THC. This led to a lengthy delay in the case as the local police had to send the plants to be lab-tested, which was additionally delayed by the government shutdown in January.

During this time, two of the four who were arrested — Ross, one other in the van and another two in the semi-truck were arrested in total — have remained in prison since they couldn’t afford bail. They most likely won’t be released until the conclusive results of the tests come back.

The Update

While four men were arrested back in January, only the two truck drivers who couldn’t afford bail have remained in prison, until about a month ago. In late March, all charges were dropped against the truck drivers Tadesse Deneke and Farah Warsame.

But for Andrew Ross and his partner that provided security for the transport, the legal battle is not over. While a local man from Tulsa actually offered to pay the bond for Deneke and Warsame to get them out of jail, setting them free, The DA is still pursuing charges aginst the security company.

Of the seized material that was tested, eight of the eleven tests conducted came back “hot”. In other words, the THC levels of the samples tested above the legal amount of .3%, with the hot samples testing between .38% and .5% THC. That is no longer considered legal hemp under federal law.

According the DA’s ongoing investigation, the security drivers for the truck may have had more knowledge about what they were transporting compared to the truck drivers. Implicating that they could have know they were transporting illegal hemp, and let the drivers, who had no experience with hemp, transport it anyway.

What Comes Next?

While the security guards are not being held in jail since they posted bail, their charges have still not been dropped. If convicted, they could face up to 20 years in prison for transportation of illegal cannabis.

And this is case is still far from over. The next court appearance for the security guards is not until August 8th, 2019. The evidence is starting to point toward foul play. If the security guards knew they were transporting illegal material, they will be held responsible, along with the company that grew the hemp to begin with.

If it really is true that almost none of the hemp on the truck was .3%, then this is a case of someone trying to skirt the law, but not getting close enough to do it. This is a weeding out process, and people will try to take advantage of a new, infantile industry with little regulation or state oversight currently.

The Real Dirt will continue coverage of this case as it develops.

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