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Legal Weed: California Lawmakers Leave Many Marijuana Policies in Suspense

California lawmakers returned from summer recess to a busy week of committee hearings. Seventeen cannabis bills had hearings in Sacramento for the week ending Friday, August 10, 2018. We’ve broken down the status of each bill and what steps are to follow.

AB 1744 — After-school Programs (Placed in suspense file)

AB 1744 would allocate cannabis tax revenues to provide grants for the After-School Education and Safety Program. Qualifying after-school programs are required to provide youth development activities that promote healthful lifestyle choices and behaviors in order to receive funding. AB 1744  was placed in the suspense file with a vote of 7-0 by the Senate Appropriations Committee Monday, Aug. 6, 2018. The suspense file is a holding placing for any bill with an annual cost to the state greater than $150,000. Bills are held in the suspense file before the fiscal deadline to offer each legislative chamber time to allocate funds. Bills that are moved out of the suspense file go to the floor for a final reading and vote, while bills held in suspense die.

AB 1793 — Resentencing for Cannabis Convictions (Placed in Suspense File)

AB 1793 would require the California Department of Justice (DOJ) to review all convictions that could potentially be eligible for resentencing under the Adult Use of Marijuana Act of 2016 (AUMA), or Proposition 64, before July 1, 2019. The bill would allow prosecutors to challenge convictions that do not fully meet the eligibility requirements. AB 1793 was also placed in the suspense file Monday, Aug. 6, 2018, with a 7-0 vote by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

AB 1863 — Personal Income Tax Deductions (Passed Committee)

AB 1863 would allow California-licensed, state-compliant cannabis businesses to deduct business expenses under the Personal Income Tax Law. If passed, the bill would go into effect immediately. The Senate Governance and Finance Committee voted 6-0 to pass AB 1863 on Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018. The bill will proceed to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

AB 1996 — California Cannabis Research Program (Placed in Suspense File)

AB 1996 would establish the California Cannabis Research Program to develop studies and conduct cannabis research. The bill proposes to allocate resources from the California Tax Fund to cultivate cannabis for research purposes. The Senate Appropriations Committee placed AB 1996 in the suspense file Monday, Aug. 6, 2018.

AB 2020 — Temporary Event Licenses for Onsite Sales (Placed in Suspense File proposes a state temporary cannabis event license to be issued to a licensee for events to be held at any venue zoned or approved by a local licensing authority for events. Additionally, the bill would authorize onsite cannabis sales and consumption for adults 21 and older, as long as all participants in the event are licensed under the Medicinal and Adult-use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MAUCRSA). AB 2020 was placed in the suspense file following a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on Monday, Aug. 6, 2018.

AB 2215 — Veterinary Cannabis Medicine Ban (Ordered for Third  Reading)

AB 2215 proposes to prohibit a veterinarian from recommending or administering cannabis to an animal patient. The bill would authorize the Veterinary Medical Board to revoke or suspend a license, or to assess a fine for violating a controlled substances law. AB 2215 was read a second time Monday, Aug. 6, 2018, before the Senate Appropriations Committee, which ordered a third reading.

AB 2255 — Transportation Limits (Ordered for Third Reading)

AB 2255 would prohibit licensed distributors from transporting cannabis that exceeds the amount stated on a shipping manifest. Violations would result in fines. Additionally, the bill would prevent law enforcement officers from seizing cannabis in transport without probable cause. AB 2255 was read a second time Monday, Aug. 6, 2018, before the Senate Appropriations Committee, which ordered a third reading.

AB 2402 — Personal Information Privacy (Ordered for Third  Reading)

AB 2402 prohibits a MAUCRSA licensee from sharing a consumer’s personal information to a third party without the consumer’s consent. The bill would also prevent a licensee from denying a consumer a product or service if they do not consent to sharing their information. AB 2402 was read a second time Monday, Aug. 6, 2018, before the Senate Appropriations Committee, which ordered a third reading.

AB 2555 — Legal Language of Cannabis (Ordered for Third Reading)

AB 2555 proposes to amend sections of the California Business and Professions code by adding definitions for the terms “immature cannabis plant,” “mature cannabis plant,” and “plant.” Additionally, instead of requiring a unique identifier to be issued for each cannabis plant, the bill would require a unique identifier for each mature cannabis plant. AB 2555 was read a second time Monday, Aug. 6, 2018, before the Senate Appropriations Committee, which ordered a third reading.

AB 2641 — Temporary Event Licenses for Sales (Ordered for Third Reading)

AB 2641 proposes for the Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC) to issue a temporary cannabis retailer license to qualified licensees for the transportation and sale of any cannabis products at a licensed temporary cannabis event. The bill would require an application be sent to the BCC, including a list of all licensed participating business. AB 2641 was read a second time, and ordered to a third reading following a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on Monday, Aug. 6, 2018.

AB 2899 — Cannabis Advertisement Restrictions (Ordered for Third Reading)

AB 2899 would prohibit a licensee from publishing advertisements or marketing materials for cannabis and cannabis products under a suspended license. The bill was read a second time Monday, Aug. 6, 2018, before the Senate Appropriations Committee, which ordered a third reading.

AB 2914 — Cannabis in Alcoholic Beverages (Ordered for Third Reading)

AB 2914 would prohibit a cannabis licensee from producing or selling cannabis products in alcoholic beverages. Additionally, this bill would prevent any alcoholic beverage licensee from selling, offering, or providing cannabis or cannabis products. AB 2914 would authorize the Department of Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) to suspend or revoke a license if a violation is found. The bill was read a second time Monday, Aug. 6, 2018, before the Senate Appropriations Committee, which ordered to a third reading.

AB 2980 — Common Areas Shared by Cannabis Businesses (Ordered for Third Reading)

AB 2980 would require that sections of the MAUCRSA not be misinterpreted in a manner that would prevent two or more licensed premises from sharing common-use areas, as long as all licensees comply with the requirements of the act. The bill was read a second time Monday, Aug. 6 2018, before the Senate Appropriations Committee, which ordered to a third reading.

AB 924 — Commercial Cannabis Regulation on Native American Tribal Lands (Hearing Postponed by Committee)

AB 924 would establish the Cannabis Regulatory Enforcement Act for Tribal Entities (CREATE Act). Under the CREATE Act, participating tribes would be required to enter a tribal cannabis regulatory agreement with the governor for the purpose of establishing a tribal cannabis regulatory commission or agency. All tribal cannabis regulatory agreements and subsequent tribal commissions and agencies must be approved by the Legislature. A hearing for AB 924 was rescheduled for Monday, Aug.13, 2018, before the Senate Appropriations Committee.

SB 1459 — County Agricultural Commission Reporting (Passed Committee)

SB 1459 would require county agricultural commissioners to include cannabis among reports of the condition, acreage, production, and value of agricultural products submitted to the secretary of Food and Agriculture. SB 1459 passed the Assembly Appropriations Committee 13-4 and has been ordered for a third reading on the Senate floor.

SB 829 — Compassionate-care Licenses (Placed in Suspense File)

SB 829 proposes the BCC issue and regulate compassionate-care licenses, which are issued to donors of medicinal cannabis or marijuana products to qualified patients who possess a physician’s recommendation. SB 829 was placed in following an Assembly Appropriations Committee hearing Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018.   

SB 930 — State-chartered Financial Institutions for Cannabis (Placed in Suspense File)

SB 930 would create a state charter for privately financed banks and credit unions for the purpose of offering banking services to licensed cannabis businesses. Administered by the Commissioner of Business Oversight and the Department of Business Oversight, the program would also create the Cannabis Limited Charter Bank and Credit Union Advisory Board to include the treasurer, the controller and the chief of the BCC as policy directors. SB 930 was placed in the suspense file Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018, by the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Oklahoma Legalizes Medical Marijuana

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Marijuana is now legal in Oklahoma for medical purposes.

Voters approved State Question 788 in Tuesday’s primary, which makes it legal to grow, sell and use marijuana for medicinal purposes. The law provides no outlines on qualifying conditions, giving physicians broad latitude to determine why they recommend medical marijuana to patients. Under the law, adults with a medical marijuana license would be authorized to possess up to 8 ounces of marijuana, six flowering plants and various weight of edibles and marijuana concentrates derived from the plant.

“The passage of State Question 788 highlights the strength and diversity of public support for laws allowing the medical use of marijuana,” said Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, a drug policy reform group. “Most Oklahomans agree that patients should be able to access medical marijuana safely and legally if their doctors recommend it. It is noteworthy that this measure passed in such a red state during a primary election, when voter turnout tends to be older and more conservative than during a general election.”

Oklahoma becomes the 30th state to legalize cannabis for medical use. Legal recreational marijuana has been approved in nine states and Washington, D.C., which continues to ban sales, unlike the state programs. Despite the states’ efforts to scale back on criminalizing the plant over the past few years, marijuana remains illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act.  

Former President Barack Obama’s Justice Department allowed states to forge their own way on marijuana policy with guidanceurging federal prosecutors to refrain from targeting state-legal marijuana operations. But in January, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Obama-era guidance, a move that has possibly paved the way for a federal crackdown on legal marijuana. But states that have legalized medical marijuana retain some protections from federal interference under a budget rider known as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which must be renewed every time Congress passes a government-funding bill.

In order to more fully protect marijuana states from the policies of federal prohibition, Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) introduced a bill earlier this month that would allow businesses and individuals working in the burgeoning legal marijuana industry in states around the nation to operate without fear of Department of Justice prosecution. The bill would also protect banks that work with state-legal marijuana businesses. President Donald Trump has said he will “probably” support the bill.

Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit substance in the United States, and the trend of states bucking prohibition in favor of legal regulation of the plant reflects a broad cultural shift toward greater acceptance of marijuana. National support for the legalization of the drug has risen dramatically in recent years, reaching historic highsin multiple polls. And states like Colorado, the first to establish a regulated adult-use marijuana marketplace, have seen successes that have debunked some lawmakers’ and law enforcers’ predictions that such policies would reap disaster.

France Opens First Coffee Shops Selling CBD Products

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Among European Union nations, France has some of the toughest laws against cannabis. Yet the country of nearly 67 million people has one of the highest rates of cannabis consumption in Europe. Recognizing the demand, some French companies have figured out a way to satisfy customers’ desire for cannabis, in a way that doesn’t break the law.

Across France, “coffee shops” selling cannabis and hemp products are springing up. But customers won’t find any products with THC in them. Instead, these coffee shops are exclusively selling CBD products.

Paris Is The Latest City To Open CBD Coffee Shops

Tucked away in Paris’ chic 11th arrondissement, curious shoppers are lining up outside CofyShop, a cannabis store selling CBD products.

Everything on the shelves, from tinctures and syrups to vape juice, edibles, topicals and even herbs, contains a negligible amount of THC. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the cannabinoid that produces the euphoric sensations users commonly call a high.

But shoppers won’t find anything containing more than 0.2 percent THC in CofyShop. What they will find is a wide assortment of CBD products, mostly produced from hemp.

Still, the fact that France’s cannabis coffee shops aren’t selling anything that would get users high seems to be lost on some first-time customers.

“I want to find out if the stuff they’re selling gets you stoned,” Marc, a 21-year-old lined up outside the shop told the Telegraph. “In theory, it has less than 0.2 percent THC, but I’ve heard it contains more CBD and that should have an effect, at least to make you feel relaxed.”

Cannabidiol, or CBD, is one of the key therapeutic compounds in cannabis. The wide range of medicinal applications of CBD include its relaxing, anti-anxiety effects.

Researchers around the world are investigating how CBD can treat neurological diseases, reduce seizures, fight cancer and reduce inflammation. Their findings continue to corroborate anecdotal evidence about CBD’s effectiveness as a remedy for a number of ailments.

The availability of CBD products throughout France comes from a loosening of some cannabis laws. A growing awareness of the legality of CBD has also contributed to the coffee shop phenomenon.

French Health Minister Says CBD Products Are Legal

In May 2017, newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron appointed Agnès Buzyn to Minister of Solidarity and Health. And in November of that year, Buzyn made a statement regarding the legality of cannabis and hemp-derived CBD products.

Buzyn supports the use of medical cannabis and has re-opened debate about how to expand access to it. France legalized cannabis for medical use in 2013, but the program’s restrictions make it a non-starter for most patients.

But in November, Buzyn announced that CBD was legal for public consumption under two conditions. First, products had to adhere to the 0.2 percent THC limit. And second, producers and retailers had to refrain from making any health claims about the products.

French authorities are also keeping a close eye on the activity of these shops, to make sure no illegal products end up on their shelves.

CBD products are undeniably increasing in popularity across France, drawing criticism from some and support from others. For the most part, however, the public seems to think CBD products are simply “low strength” versions of cannabis containing THC.

Critics are deploying gateway theory to suggest legal CBD will lead people to consuming illicit THC products. Supporters are excited to have access to high quality, potentially therapeutic products.

French cannabis coffee shops import all their CBD products from neighboring Switzerland. On average, shops are selling CBD for about US$15 per gram.

 

 

 

Marijuana Sales: Strong in Nevada, Disappointing in California

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© ThinkstockLegal sales of marijuana for recreational use began last July in Nevada and in January in California. Although California sells a lot more legal weed than Nevada, California sales are much lower than projected while Nevada's are much higher.

First the good news. From July 2017 through March 2018 (the first nine months of Nevada's fiscal year), combined taxable sales of marijuana totaled $386 million, of which nearly $305 million represents sales for recreational use. Sales in March posted a record total of just over $41 million. Through March, the state has collected almost $49 million in taxes, about 97% of its estimated full-year take of $50.32 million.

 

The less-good news about recreational pot sales comes from California, where the latest projections based on sales to date estimate sales will be about half the original estimates.

According cannabis industry analyst firm New Frontier Data, sales in California this year will total $1.9 billion, exactly half the original estimate of $3.8 billion. Giadha Aguirre De Carcer, CEO of New Frontier, told the Los Angeles Times that strict rules on growers, distributors, and retailers combined with low governmental authorization in California cities are to blame.

Only about 30% of California's 540 cities have have so far permitted commercial cannabis activity. The effect has been to send consumers to the black market where they pay no taxes and illegal sellers easily undercut legal prices.

In February the Los Angeles Police Department shut down 8 illegal pot stores but the deputy chief told the Los Angeles times that another 200 to 300 illegal stores were still operating in the city.

Marijuana tax collections in California totaled $33.6 million in the first quarter of 2018, virtually guaranteeing that the state would not reach its estimated 6-month total of $175 million in tax collections.

California's estimated legal and illegal marijuana market totals around $7.8 billion. About $2.3 billion comes from sales of medical marijuana. If the legal market is only taking about $1.9 billion of the total, the rest ($3.6 billion) is going to the illegal market.

And that illegal market is only for sales inside the state. California also exports (illegally, of course) tons of marijuana. State residents consumed about 2.5 million pounds of marijuana (most of it illegally) in 2016 and produced about 13.5 million pounds. Those 11 million pounds are sold, illegally, to out-of-state buyers.

NYPD Sergeants Union Criticizes Mayor’s Orders Against Cannabis Arrests

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New York City has been relatively slow to change when it comes to cannabis laws, but recent activity from the mayor’s office could be shaking things up. Last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio promised to make potentially significant alterations to how the city enforces weed laws — and, unsurprisingly, not everyone is happy about it. In particular, the NYPD Sergeants Union is criticizing the mayor’s orders against cannabis arrests.

NYPD Pushes Back Against Mayor

The back-and-forth between de Blasio and NYPD leaders arises out of recent developments in NYC’s gradually-evolving approach to cannabis laws.

Last week, Mayor de Blasio announced that the city will create a new task force to prepare it for legalization. According to NY Daily News, the task force will have 30 days to review the NYC’s current practices regarding cannabis law enforcement. It will then make recommendations for ways to improve those practices.

But that’s not all. Mayor de Blasio went a step further. He directed the NYPD to stop arresting people caught smoking weed in public.

 

This change is the one that seems to be generating the most controversy. So far, the most outspoken critic is Ed Mullins, President of the NYPD Sergeants Benevolent Association.

Yesterday, he told the Wall Street Journal that the new change could put officers “in positions of conflict.” Mullins argued that such conflicts could arise if residents called cops to crack down on public weed-smoking, but then were not allowed to arrest offenders.

“You can’t just circumvent the law,” Mullins said. “If you want to not have enforcement of arrests, then you need to change the law.”

This isn’t the first time Mayor de Blasio has tried to change New York City’s approach to cannabis law. In previous years, he instructed NYPD to stop arresting people caught with small amounts of marijuana. In response, officers began writing simple summonses instead of issuing arrests.

 

Since going into effect, that change has led to a 40 percent drop in marijuana arrests. But data from recent years reveal ongoing problems. In particular, the city has seen persistent racial disparities in the marijuana-related arrests that are still being made. NYPD reportedly arrested 17,500 people for marijuana last year. A full 86 percent of those arrested were black and Latinx.

“The racial disparities have not changed one bit, and arrests are still too common in communities of color,” Councilman Donovan Richards said earlier this year. “If the administration is serious about changing this disparity, we’re not seeing it.”

Now, it seems that Mayor de Blasio may be taking Richards up on his challenge. The mayor’s office indicated that his latest order to stop arresting people for smoking weed is in large part intended to address these racial disparities.

Additionally, de Blasio has indicated that the change is part of a larger effort to prepare the city for legalization. Although de Blasio has voiced opposition to legalization, he now believes it will happen sooner or later.

In any case, the newest change will not go into effect until the end of the summer. It remains to be seen if the tensions between de Blasio and NYPD leaders like Mullins will intensify in the meantime.

Philadelphia Hospital To Study Medical Marijuana Patients with MS

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Philadelphia is quickly becoming a focal point in the nation’s fight for marijuana reform, with most of the attention on the city directed at Philadelphia’s new district attorney, Larry Krasner, who is championing a radical reform agenda aimed at transforming criminal justice. But Philly is also home to the Lambert Center for the Study of Medicinal Cannabis and Hemp, one of the country’s leading medical cannabis research centers.

Last week, the Lambert Center made major medical cannabis news when it announced a new initiative for patients suffering from chronic diseases — and, if the initiative succeeds, it will produce the largest database of medical marijuana health outcomes to date.

Pioneering Medical Cannabis Research Center Launches Trailblazing Patient Initiative

On Thursday, Thomas Jefferson University issued a press release announcing that the university’s Lambert Center for the Study of Medicinal Cannabis and Hemp had partnered with ioVita, a digital health startup, to launch a new initiative called mmj.org.

The mmj.org initiative is the first of its kind: its goals are to further the scientific understanding of medical cannabis by collecting information directly from patients and caregivers. To do so, it’s establishing a voluntary medical cannabis patient registry; once enrolled, patients who use medical cannabis can self-report on their health outcomes.

 

The Lambert center hopes to enroll at least 100,000 patients in the mmj.org registry. That would make it the largest single database of patient health outcomes in the United States.

The registry will be an indispensable resource not just for patients and caregivers, but also for researchers, since longitudinal studies gather data about individuals or groups over a long period of time — and in the field of medical cannabis research, they are scarce.

“We are launching the mmj.org patient registry to fill significant gaps in the science,” Steven K. Klasko, TJU president and CEO, said in a press release. “The Lambert Center’s leadership in this emerging area of medicine exemplifies Jefferson’s commitment to advance the leading edge of medicine and transform the status quo in US healthcare.”

The Lambert Center, Medical Marijuana, and MS

The Lambert Center’s mmj.org registry will collect health outcome data from anyone who uses cannabis for medical reasons. Most of the data will likely come from patients who use cannabis for pain relief, which, according to Harvard University, is the most common use of medical marijuana in the U.S.

 

But other patient groups will also provide crucial data for researchers: those who use cannabis to treat neurological diseases like Parkinson’s, epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis (MS). For these patient communities, medical cannabis represents an area of emerging interest. Studies show 95 percent of patients with MS believe medical marijuana could be a viable course of treatment. Furthermore, a 2017 survey found that roughly 52 percent of MS patients who used medical cannabis found the drug beneficial.

Currently, however, patients suffering from chronic diseases and their caregivers have little knowledge about which forms of cannabis are the most effective for treating a particular disease or symptom. The mmj.org registry would allow patients to share their experiences and spread knowledge about the best treatment options.

“Millions of patients with chronic diseases are seeking health benefits from marijuana and various cannabinoids, and many are left to experiment with cannabis products on their own,” Charles Pollack Jr., MD and director of the Lambert Center, said in the release. “These patients and their caregivers not only deserve our support, but they can help advance scientific understanding by sharing their experiences in a research registry designed with rigor and scale.”

When Patients Share Their Experiences with Medical Cannabis, Everyone Wins

By aiming to enroll 100,000 patients, the Lambert Center is setting a high bar for itself, but if it hits that mark, it will have established the largest and most comprehensive clinical database in the growing field of medical cannabis studies.

Once mmj.org is live this summer, medical cannabis patients will be able to enroll and share health outcomes through the website’s online portal, and The Lambert Center is also establishing partnerships with patient and healthcare organizations nationwide, including medical cannabis dispensaries. The idea is to cast a wide net to collect as much data as possible.

 

“Current evidence indicates that cannabinoids can be useful in the management of certain types of chronic pain, side effects of chemotherapy, and some symptoms of MS,” Pollack added. “But there is much we still need to learn.”

Marijuana News: A Senate Bill To Decriminalize Marijuana At The Federal Level Is On Its Way

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ut plainly, the cannabis industry is budding worldwide. Cannabis research firm ArcView Group has estimated that North American legal marijuana sales could explode from $9.7 billion in 2017 (which represented 33% sales growth from 2016) to more than $47 billion by 2027. Meanwhile, Cowen Group recently raised its global legal cannabis sales forecast from $50 billion by 2026 to $75 billion by 2030.

This article originally appeared in the Motley Fool. 

At the heart of these lofty sales estimates is a major shift in consumer opinion toward pot. What had once been considered a taboo topic is no more. Five national polls over the trailing one-year period -- CBS News, Gallup, Fox News, Pew Research Center, and the independent Quinnipiac University -- found support ranging from 59% to 64% for nationwide legalization. Furthermore, support for medical marijuana in the aforementioned Quinnipiac University poll from August hit an overwhelming 94%. 

Despite Changing Opinions On Cannabis, The U.S. Is Stuck In The Mud

Yet in the United States, the cannabis industry remains stuck in neutral. Despite the fact that 29 states have broad medical marijuana laws and nine states have OK'd the use of recreational weed, the federal government has entrenched its stance on cannabis being a Schedule I drug. This places weed on par with drugs like LSD and heroin, suggests it's highly prone to abuse, and means it has no recognized medical benefits.

In addition to being wholly illegal at the federal level, marijuana's Schedule I status can wreak havoc on businesses operating in the pot industry, as well as patients hoping to receive medical cannabis or cannabis-derived medicines.

For instance, marijuana companies often have little to no access to basic banking services, which constrains their ability to expand and hire. Also, the three-decade-old tax rule known as 280E disallows businesses that sell a federally illegal substance from taking normal corporate income-tax deductions. This means that profitable pot companies could pay an effective tax rate of as high as 90%! And, as noted, patients can suffer given the lengthy amount of red tape surrounding medical cannabis trials and research.

The industry is also challenged by Attorney General Jeff Sessions leading the Justice Department. Sessions is perhaps the most ardent opponent of cannabis in Washington, and he's tried on more than one occasion to upend state-level expansion. In May 2017, Sessions (unsuccessfully) requested that a few of his congressional colleagues repeal the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, which is responsible for protecting medical marijuana businesses from federal prosecution.

However, Sessions was successful in rescinding the Cole memo in January. The Cole memo provided a loose set of guidelines that states would follow in order to keep the federal government at bay. These guidelines included keeping grown cannabis within legal states and ensuring that adolescents didn't have access to marijuana. Its rescinding opened the door for state-level prosecutors to use their discretion in bringing charges against individuals or businesses that violate the Controlled Substances Act.

This Influential Congressional Leader Is Set To Introduce A Decriminalization Bill

But big changes could be on the way. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced a little over a week ago his intention to introduce a bill to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level -- i.e., remove it from the controlled substances list.

In an interview with Vice News Tonight, Schumer had this to say:

The time has come to decriminalize marijuana. My thinking -- as well as the general population's views -- on the issue has evolved, and so I believe there's no better time than the present to get this done. It's simply the right thing to do. 

If this sounds somewhat familiar, it's because former House Speaker John Boehner, who once described himself as "unalterably opposed" to the idea of decriminalizing marijuana, announced his change of heart just days before Schumer made his own announcement about proposing a decriminalization bill. Said Boehner in a statement to CNBC on why he was joining a cannabis company's board of advisors:

Like that of millions of other Americans, [my thinking on cannabis] has evolved as I've learned more about the issue. I decided to get involved because of the struggles of our country's veterans and the opioid epidemic, after learning how descheduling the drug can potentially help with both crises. Descheduling will reduce the conflict between federal policy and state programs. 

However, Schumer's proposal wouldn't completely wipe out the ability of the federal government to enforce certain controls. Federal regulators would still be able to penalize instances of drug trafficking between legalized states and states that have not chosen to OK the use of legal weed. In addition, the federal government would retain authority over marijuana advertising so as to ensure that children aren't targeted. Ultimately, though, states would have the final say on whether or not cannabis is legal and how it's regulated.

Is Decriminalization A Real Possibility?

Of course, the $64,000 question is this: Does Schumer's decriminalization bill have a chance of passage in the Senate and/or House?

Based on the current make-up of Congress, I'd suggest it wouldn't pass. In Gallup's October 2017 survey, 51% of respondents who identified as Republican favored legalization, albeit this "majority" was still within the margin of error for the poll. Though this represented the first time in history a majority of the GOP was in support of legalization, Republicans still have a decidedly more negative view of weed relative to Democrats and Independents. With numerous big-ticket issues expected to be on the table in Congress this year, including healthcare reform and an infrastructure bill, the chance of a decriminalization bill gaining majority support seems unlikely. 

But things could change after the midterm elections in November. If Republicans lose their majority in the House and/or Senate, it may be possible to garner enough support to reschedule or decriminalize marijuana at the federal level.

Should the U.S. alter its stance on cannabis through decriminalization, it's probable that Canadian growers would rush in to stake their claims. For example,  Aphria (NASDAQOTH:APHQF) , which is expected to be a top-three grower by annual production in Canada (approximately 230,000 kilograms a year), announced its intention to sell off its passive U.S. assets in the wake of Sessions' repeal of the Cole memo. Aphria made good on this promise in February when it announced a divestiture of more than 26.7 million shares of medical cannabis company Liberty Health Sciences. If the U.S. reverses its anti-cannabis stance, Aphria would likely reenter the U.S. market, along with most of its peers. 

More importantly, decriminalizing marijuana in what could arguably be described as the most lucrative weed market in the world would likely remove any concerns about a marijuana glut in Canada. With some estimates suggesting that supply in Canada could outweigh domestic demand by over 1 million kilograms of dried cannabis, the ability to export to legalized countries will be paramount to supporting the margins of Canadian growers.

Personally, I don't believe this is an issue that'll be resolved anytime soon. Chances are that we're going to need to wait until a few months after the midterm elections before we get any clarity on whether a decriminalization bill has any chance of passage in the U.S.

Sean Williams has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Bernie Sanders Announces He Will Co-Sponsor Marijuana Justice Act

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Bernie Sanders supported marijuana policy reform way before it became popularBack when he was running for president in 2016, the Vermont senator made history by supporting marijuana legalization. Since then, Sanders has continued to advocate for ending the War on Drugs. Furthermore, he has petitioned the federal government for policy changes and worked to reevaluate marijuana’s Schedule I classification. In his latest pro-marijuana move, Bernie Sanders announces he will co-sponsor Marijuana Justice Act. Here’s a closer look at the proposed marijuana policy and its growing political support.

The Marijuana Justice Act

New Jersey Senator Cory Booker introduced the bill back in August. Since then, Representatives Barbara Lee and Ro Khanna have co-sponsored the House version of the Marijuana Justice Act. According to Marijuana Majority leader Tom Angell, “This is the single most far-reaching marijuana bill that’s ever been filed in either chamber of Congress.”

The act has four major components: It would legalize marijuana on the federal level, retroactively clear all marijuana-related federal convictions, allocate $500 million for job training in communities affected by the War on Drugs and cut law enforcement funding for states that arrest a disproportionate number of people of color.

The Act’s Co-Sponsors

Many other Democrats have stepped up to support the Marijuana Justice Act. To date, twenty-seven legislators are co-sponsoring the bill. Senior Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon was the first senator to co-sponsor the act after Senator Booker introduced it.

In February, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand also announced her support. Senator Gillibrand has repeatedly spoken out against Sessions’ marijuana crackdown, tweeting that [Sessions] is “either willfully ignorant or cowing to corporate greed on behalf of pharma special interest profits.”

Advocates for marijuana legalization are hoping that the Democratic Party will work together to make lasting policy reform. NORML political director Justin Strekal told Forbes, “With Senator Sanders co-sponsoring the Marijuana Justice Act alongside Senators Booker and Gillibrand, it’s time for the party to speak with one voice that they will legalize marijuana and expunge the criminal convictions of the millions who are being held back from achieving both employment and the American dream.”

Senator Sanders Has A History of Supporting Legalization

Bernie Sanders announces he will co-sponsor Marijuana Justice Act after years of work on marijuana policy. Years ago, Sen. Sanders introduced the first Senate bill to reschedule marijuana. This legislation also would have stopped private companies from running jails.

Sanders has been a longtime advocate for prison reform, and through it, marijuana policy change. When he ran for President, the Senator became the first serious candidate who said he would vote in favor of legalization.

Sanders has continued to champion legalization in 2018. Earlier this year, the Senator asked those who supported him in his presidential run to petition Congress. Sanders wrote in his mass email: “Marijuana prohibition is part of a larger failed war on drugs that has led to the great national crisis of mass incarceration.”

Final Hit: Bernie Sanders Announces He Will Co-Sponsor Marijuana Justice Act

Sanders has a long record of advocating for prison reform. Thus, the Senator’s co-sponsorship of the Marijuana Justice Act comes as no surprise to his loyal constituents. This does not make the bill’s growing support any less significant. Not only would the Marijuana Justice Act legalize marijuana nationally, but it would help undo decades of racial policing.

20 Massachusetts Weed Businesses in Running for Recreational Licenses

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Massachusetts’ Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) agreed to expedite the application process for the 20 Massachusetts weed businesses in running for recreational licenses. Details about the identities of the businesses that received prioritized review status were disclosed Tuesday night in a document available on the CCC website.

No conflicts of interest were reported in the spreadsheet. Several of the dispensaries are based in Boston, but other businesses are located in remote cities throughout the state, including Holliston, Fall River and Nantucket.

Massachusetts voters opted to legalize recreational marijuana statewide during the November 2016 election. But the implementation of the law has been delayed, as lawmakers continue to debate regulatory provisions such as taxation, which were included in the voter-approved initiative sponsored by the advocacy group, Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CRMLA).

The Future of Massachusetts’ Recreational Marijuana Market.

Recreational marijuana dispensaries are scheduled to open on July 1, 2018. But as local radio station WBUR reported, there’s uncertainty as to whether the state will be prepared to meet that deadline—in large part due to ongoing disputes over the regulatory policies governing Massachusetts’ recreational cannabis program.

“It is likely that the 17 existing medical marijuana establishments will be allowed to convert to retail sales,” WBUR reported in December 2017. “One problem facing the industry could be supply. Cultivators might not have enough time to grow an adequate amount of cannabis to meet demand. That could spell shortages and initially high prices soon after the doors open to retail sales.”

 

For business applicants that have met requirements for prioritized certification—including the 20 dispensaries recently approved—the commission is able to certify recreational licenses as early as June 1, 2018, according to the news site WickedLocal.

Steven Hoffman, chairman of the Cannabis Control Commission, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. In earlier interviews, however, he insisted that transparency and efficiency represented key components of the recreational marijuana business approval process.

Final Hit: 20 Massachusetts Weed Businesses in Running for Recreational Licenses

Though it remains to be seen why the 20 dispensaries selected for an expedited review process were given such an advantage, Massachusetts has also put in place a separate process for “economic empowerment” candidates. That designation refers to cannabis dispensaries and businesses “connected to communities with high rates of drug-related arrests,” according to Boston Magazine.

Research demonstrates that people of color in low-income communities are at far greater risk of being arrested for marijuana-related offenses such as possession, and so the state’s “economic empowerment” program is one of several launched around the U.S. that aim to assist communities that have been adversely affected by racially biased marijuana enforcement practices, empowering community members to enter the legal industry.

Even so, none of the 20 marijuana dispensaries granted prioritized approval processes qualify under the “economic empowerment” program, as WickedLocal reported. Hoffman argued that his commission’s goal is to facilitate licensing approvals responsibly. Businesses that failed to provide the required information in their applications would be given five business days to amend their applications.

 

“Our philosophy and intent is to help people get those applications completed,” Hoffman told WickedLocal. “We’re not rejecting applications because they’re not complete, we’re going back and saying, ‘you need to provide this information.'”

Data Shows The Demand For Legal Cannabis Is Increasing

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Demand for legal cannabis continues to show a steady increase, according to new data from Anderson Economic Group (AEG). In particular, the data reveals a significant jump since the 2016 elections, when a number of states passed new legalization laws.

Digging Into the Data

According to AEG’s AndCan Index, which tracks trends in the marijuana industry, the first part of 2018 showed a small uptick in the demand for legal cannabis products. In particular, the report found a 0.1 percent increase in the U.S. demand for legal weed in January of this year.

On its own, that figure is obviously not impressive. But the relatively slow start to 2018 is an anomaly in the context of larger trends, more dramatic trends.

“While 2018 has gotten off to a slow start, the demand for legal cannabis products is poised for even further growth in the coming months,” AEG consultant Traci Giroux said in a press release. “The recreational market in California will start to settle, and the market in Massachusetts is expected to come online this July.”

Despite the tiny uptick in January, the cannabis market has been showing steady growth for years. Since the beginning of 2015, the demand for legal weed in the U.S. has grown by 25.8 percent. Similarly, demand is up almost 11 percent since this time last year.

 

In the timeline of legal cannabis, 2016 was a standout year. That’s because a number of states voted to legalize new marijuana bills during that year’s elections.

More specifically, Nevada, California, Massachusetts, and Maine voted to legalize recreational weed. Additionally, Florida, Arkansas, Montana, and North Dakota all managed to pass new medical marijuana laws.

As a result of all those legislative changes, 1 in 5 Americans now has access to some form of legal cannabis, whether recreational or medical.

Not surprisingly, these new markets have contributed to the rise in demand for legal weed. And the experts at AEG expect that demand to keep rising. That’s especially true as more and more states continue to loosen their cannabis laws.

 

Final Hit: Data Shows The Demand For Legal Cannabis Is Increasing

One of the biggest changes to the national weed scene this year was the rollout of legal recreational cannabis in California. Retail sales began at the beginning of 2018. Close on California’s heels, Massachusetts is also expected to get its retail program up and running this year.

Earlier in 2018, Vermont lawmakers voted to legalize recreational weed. There are also at least 12 other states that could see marijuana bills on the ballot this year.

All of these changes could add to the spiking demand for legal weed. But at the same time, the Trump administration continues to generate uncertainty. A lot of the confusion and concern coming from industry players has to do with Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Sessions has long been an outspoken opponent of cannabis. He once said that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.” Earlier this year, he suggested that cannabis is one of the primary causes of the ongoing opioid epidemic.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Sessions rescinded the Cole Memo at the very beginning of January. The Cole Memo is an Obama-era policy that directs federal agencies to take a “hands-off” approach to dealing with states where weed is legal. By rescinding the Cole Memo, Sessions may have opened the door to a federal crackdown on weed-legal states.