mmj

$350,000 in cash? California marijuana taxes still make growers - and tax collectors - nervous

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On tax days, it’s not hard to spot marijuana growers waiting to exhale in downtown Eureka.
They haul cash in grocery bags and boxes, making their way to a state office where they can pay their taxes.

One grower “holds his breath as he walks into the building,” said Terra Carver, executive director of the Humboldt County Growers Alliance. The distance is “no more than 20 yards, but the fact that he was holding $350,000 (makes it) ... a public safety issue.”

California still doesn’t have a better way to collect taxes from its burgeoning, licensed marijuana industry three years after voters passed an initiative to legalize recreational cannabis and 23 years after they sanctioned medical marijuana.

That won’t change as long as marijuana is considered an illegal drug by federal authorities, which makes banks reluctant to do business with the cannabis industry.

But from Eureka to San Diego, the state is making some headway in easing obstacles that kept cannabis entrepreneurs from paying their state taxes and fees on time.

For starters, California finally has state tax collectors stationed in the heart of the so-called Emerald Triangle, which produces most of America’s marijuana. The tax collectors work out of a Humboldt County building with support from state and local law enforcement officers.

That’s a big change. Until last year, state-licensed marijuana companies from Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity counties had to drive hundreds of miles with bags full of cash to pay their taxes at the nearest state offices in Sacramento or in San Francisco.

“It has been unacceptable that legal cannabis farmers have to drive up to five hours to pay their taxes or have a face-to face with their regulatory agencies,” said Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg. “This isn’t safe for the farmer, it isn’t safe for the public and it definitely isn’t a good way to do business.”

On the opposite end of the state, California tax offices in San Diego County simply refused to accept money from cannabis companies in 2016 and 2017 after state workers worried their offices weren’t equipped for that kind of cash businesses.

Their fears persuaded elected representatives overseeing regional tax offices for what was the Board of Equalization to prohibit cannabis growers and retailers from making cash payments at state offices in their districts.

“You have to think about hostage situations,” former Board of Equalization member Diane Harkey said at a December 2016 meeting where she explained why she was reluctant to permit cannabis cash transactions at offices she oversaw without significant investments in security.

Her colleague former Board of Equalization member Jerome Horton at the same meeting suggested state workers should receive “combat pay” for working with hefty cash payments.

Russell Lowery, Harkey’s former chief of staff, said the Board of Equalization allowed alternate payment arrangements at the time, such as tax collectors meeting cannabis growers at banks and depositing funds directly into state accounts. Those visits were not promoted because of security fears, he said.

State Treasurer Fiona Ma, who was on the Board of Equalization at the time, said the state did not lose money because of the inconvenience.

“Everyone who was supposed to pay, paid,” she said. “They all knew they had to pay. They just had to hire more security or armored cars because they had to drive.”

The Board of Equalization no longer has power to allow varying tax collection policies around the state.

Its tax-collecting responsibilities have been handed to the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration, which reports to the governor instead of a board run by regional elected leaders.

Tax department Director Nicolas Maduors said cannabis companies now can make cash payments at 11 offices around the state. The department has invested security features at its offices and no one has been harmed.

“We recognized that cash acceptance is going to be a big challenge and there were certain places in the state where cash was not accepted,” he said. “We need to make sure that all taxpayers no matter where they live in the state have access to service.”

State workers are still nervous about the practice, and he asked that The Sacramento Bee not identify the locations that accept cash. Cannabis companies call ahead of time. Transactions take place in the presence of security officers.

“We’re doing all that we can with law enforcement, retrofitting facilities to make sure we can keep people safe,” he said.

Next month, several state departments plan to open a new “one stop shop” for the marijuana industry in Eureka. It’ll open in the Eureka Times Standard building with space for the Bureau of Cannabis Control, Department of Public Health and State Water Resources Control Board.

The tax department does not plan to move from its county-managed building with the other cannabis regulatory departments.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration projects the state will collect more than $500 million in marijuana-related taxes next year. It doesn’t all come in cash.

Many marijuana businesses have found ways to work with credit unions and other alternative financial institutions to pay tax. Lawmakers are working to expand those opportunities. Last week, a bill that would encourage charter banks and credit unions to work with the cannabis industry cleared a Senate committee.

Carver of from the Humboldt County Growers Alliance said the state had done a “good job” working with her industry.

“The complication doesn’t necessarily come from the state. The complication still rests on the federal level because a lot of our businesses are still unable to bank,” she said.


Bill Allowing Locals to Ban All Cannabis Deliveries Defeated in Committee

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 A bill that would have allowed local jurisdictions to ban cannabis deliveries originating outside their jurisdictional borders, was defeated in its first committee hearing today after cannabis activists and industry representatives objected to the bill.

Cal NORML wrote to the committee and testified against the bill, and promulgated an Action Alert that generated hundreds of letters to lawmakers in opposition. Thanks to all of our members and supporters who took action!

In introducing the bill, Asm. Cooley noted that he has been involved in both cannabis and local control issues for many years, citing his success as mayor of Rancho Cordova in enacting a local tax on cannabis businesses (however, that tax is overly high and was objected to by Cal NORML). Several times he referred to locals getting past a "parade of horribles" and tried to argue that passing the bill would somehow encourage locals to license cannabis businesses. He conceded that Prop. 64 allowed locals to ban adult-use cannabis businesses, not medical ones.

Unsurprisingly, the League of Cities, Rural County Representatives of California (RCRC), and California Association of Counties (CSAC) expressed support for the bill, as did the City of Santa Monica.

Amy Jenkins of the California Cannabis Industry Association testified that the CCIA must "sadly and regrettably" oppose. She gave statistics on the abysmal failure of local jurisdictions to license an adequate number of cannabis retail outlets as the reason that delivery access must be permitted.

Ellen Komp of Cal NORML and Sabrina Fendrick of Berkeley Patients' Group challenged Asm. Cooley's assertion that patients who required access would be able to grow their own, citing restrictive local cultivation ordinances, the lack of renters' rights, and the inability for disabled patients to grow their own.

Also opposing the bill were representatives from Epilepsy CA, the CA Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Weedmaps, and the city of St. Helena, as well as a score of veterans.

After the public testimony, Asm. Grayson (D-Concord) spoke first, saying that while he is in favor of local control, he wouldn't be able to support the bill because delivery is necessary for those who need cannabis. "No doubt that my mother would be alive today had she had access," he said. "I thought delivery allowed people to have access when locals banned storefronts."

Asm. Eggman (D-Stockton) then spoke up, saying, "I don’t think you can take something away from people after you have provided access." Noting she is also a veteran, she mentioned the opioid crisis as a consideration.

Asm. McCarty (D-Sacramento) then chimed in saying he could not vote for the bill, noting that while Sacramento was "killing it" bringing in tax revenue from licensed dispensaries, people were driving as much as 100 miles to those dispensaries, and many don’t have access to transportation. "By having more jurisdictions shut it down, it just means fewer tax dollars coming into California and perpetuates the illegal market," he said.

Committee chairman Evan Low (D-San Jose) announced that he would be voting in favor of the bill in order to keep the conversation going, but said he would vote against it in future if it was not amended.

The vote fell on bipartisan lines, with Republicans Bill Brough (Dana Point), Vince Fong (Bakersfield), and Jay Obernolte (Hesperia), and Democrats Jacqui Irwin (Oxnard), Jose Medina (Riverside) and Kevin Mullin (San Mateo) joining Low in voting Aye.

Voting No were Assembly members Bloom, Chen, Cunningham, Eggman, Gloria, McCarty, and Ting; Chiu, Dahle, Gipson, Grayson, Holden and Wood abstained. The final tally was 7 in favor and 7 against, with 6 members not voting.

In the meantime, 24 cities and the county of Santa Cruz have filed suit against the Bureau of Cannabis Control over its regulation allowing state-licensed delivery services to deliver cannabis statewide.

California only made half as much on 2018 marijuana taxes as expected

When California, the most populous state in America, legalized recreational marijuana last year, many had high hopes for the industry, writes Joseph Misulonas. But unfortunately, it appears initial projections for the success of the industry were a little off.

The California Department of Tax and Fee Administration announced that in 2018 the state collected $345.2 million from marijuana taxes. While that is a huge number, it's actually only slightly more than half of the state's initial projections of $643 million in tax revenue that they predicted they would receive in 2018. 

Many have argued why the state didn't make more money off of legal sales. The biggest reason seems to be the tax rate. California has some of the highest cannabis taxes in the nation, and customers can sometimes pay tax rates up to 45 percent on their marijuana purchases. These high prices are forcing many cannabis users to continue purchasing black market marijuana. This would also explain why California cannabis sales actually decreased between 2017 and 2018, despite it being legal recreationally last year.

Despite the fact that almost everyone acknowledges the tax rate is an issue, California legislators continue dragging their feet on the issue and not passing bills to lower the rate, despite several proposals to do so.

Employers May Lose Cases for Firing Medical Marijuana Users

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 Health-care worker Katelin Noffsinger told a potential employer that she took medical cannabis to deal with the effects of a car crash, but when a drug test came back positive, the nursing home rescinded her job offer anyway.

A federal judge ruled in September 2018 that the nursing home, which had cited federal laws against cannabis use, violated an anti-discrimination provision of Connecticut‘s medical marijuana law.

It was the latest in a series of clashes between U.S. and state laws around the country that came out in favor of medical cannabis users trying to keep or obtain jobs with drug-testing employers.

The Connecticut decision was the first ruling of its kind in a federal case and followed similar recent rulings against employers by state courts in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Earlier rulings had gone against medical cannabis users in employment cases by state supreme courts, including those in California, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, over the past few years.

Advocates hope new the new decisions are a signal of growing acceptance of cannabis’ medicinal value.

“This decision reflects the rapidly changing cultural and legal status of cannabis, and affirms that employers should not be able to discriminate against those who use marijuana responsibly while off the job, in compliance with the laws of their state,” said Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

Medical marijuana, like the cannabis cuttings growing in a Sira Naturals cultivation facility in Milford Massachusetts, is reshaping employment law. A U.S. District judge in New Haven, Connecticut, ruled in favor of a woman who alleged a prospective employer discriminated against her when she sought a health-care job and informed the company she used medical marijuana to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) resulting from a car crash. The judge found that the nursing home violated Connecticut’s anti-discrimination law protecting medical cannabis users despite marijuana remaining illegal at the federal level. (Associated Press File Photo/Steven Senne)

 

Noffsinger sued Bride Brook Health and Rehabilitation Center in Niantic in 2016. She had been offered, and accepted, a job as recreation therapy director at the nursing home, contingent on her passing a drug test.

She told the nursing home that she took synthetic marijuana pills — legally under state law and only at night — to treat the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) she developed after the 2012 car accident. But the company rescinded the job offer after the drug test came back positive for THC, the chemical in marijuana that gets people high.

As a federal contractor, the nursing home worried that it could be cut off from that revenue if it employed somebody who tested positive for drugs.

On Sept. 5, 2018, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Meyer in New Haven ruled Bride Brook discriminated against Noffsinger based solely on her medical cannabis use in violation of state law. He denied her request for punitive damages. The case is now heading to a trial on whether Noffsinger should receive compensatory damages for lost wages from not getting the job.

A lawyer for the nursing home, Thomas Blatchley, declined to comment.

Noffsinger’s attorney, Henry Murray, said his client would not comment on the lawsuit. He said Noffsinger has taken another job in the health-care industry that doesn’t pay as much as the Bride Brook job.

In his ruling, Meyer said the federal Drug Free Workplace Act, which many employers including federal contractors rely on for policies on drug testing, does not actually require drug testing and does not prohibit federal contractors from employing people who use medical cannabis outside the workplace in accordance with state law.

The decision will likely be used in arguments in similar cases elsewhere, said Fiona Ong, an employment attorney with the Baltimore firm of Shawe Rosenthal.

“This is a very significant case that throws the issue in doubt for many of these federal contractors,” Ong said. “It’s certainly interesting and may be indicative of where the courts are going with this.”

Thirty-one states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and Guam now allow medical marijuana, while 15 others have approved low-THC products for medical reasons in certain cases, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Nine states and Washington, D.C., have legalized recreational marijuana.

Only nine states including Connecticut, however, specifically ban employment discrimination against medical marijuana users, who could continue to face difficulties in obtaining or keeping jobs in the 41 other states, employment lawyers say.

In Massachusetts, the state’s highest court ruled in 2017 that a sales and marketing company wrongly fired a worker after her first day on the job after she tested positive for cannabis, which she used under the state’s medical marijuana law to treat her Crohn’s disease. Also in 2017, the Rhode Island state Supreme Court said a college student was wrongly denied an internship at a fabric company where officials refused to hire her after she acknowledged she could not pass a drug test because she used medical marijuana.

In both cases, the two women told the companies during the hiring process that they used medical marijuana, but would not consume it while on the job.

The American Bar Association called the Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island cases “an emerging trend in employment litigation” and cautioned employers to consider state medical cannabis laws when analyzing their drug use and testing policies.

Several bills are pending before Congress that would undo marijuana’s Schedule I classification as a controlled substance with no medicinal value. But Armentano of NORML said it is unlikely they will go anywhere while Republicans control Congress.

Some employers, though, have dropped marijuana from the drug tests they require of employees, saying the testing excludes too many potential workers in a challenging hiring environment.

Report Shows Teen Marijuana Use in California Has Declined

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A statewide study in California has found that cannabis use by teens in the state has declined. Results of the California Healthy Kids Survey were released by the California Department of Education on Monday. The study is funded by the state’s health and education departments and is conducted every two years.

According to the research, 4.2 percent of 7th graders reported that they had used cannabis at any time between 2015 and 2017. That figure represents a 47 percent drop from the last survey when 7.9 percent of 7th graders reported using marijuana from 2013 to 2015.

Among 9th graders, 17.4 percent reported that they had used cannabis at some time during 2015 to 2017. That is a 25 percent decline from the 23.1 percent who reported using marijuana in the previous study.

Eleventh graders also showed a reduction in marijuana use. In the last survey, 37.9 percent of high school juniors said they had used cannabis between 2013 and 2015 while this year’s result for 2015 to 2017 recorded a 16 percent decline with 31.9 percent claiming cannabis use.

 

The percentage of teens who had used cannabis in the 30 days prior to the survey also declined. For 7th graders, the figure dropped from 5.0 percent in the last survey to 2.3 percent for the latest one. For 9th graders, the drop was from 13.4 percent to 9.5 percent, and for 11th graders, the number declined from 20.1 percent to 16.7 percent.

Will Legalization Affect Future Results?

The study’s authors noted that the survey was conducted prior to the legalization of recreational marijuana sales, which began in California at the beginning of 2018.

“How the recent legalization of marijuana use for adults in California [affects] the declining trend among youth warrants attention,” they wrote.

 

“The next biennial survey will be of particular interest to shed light on whether the change in state marijuana laws [affects] these findings,” researchers added.

Tom Torlakson, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, said in a press release that educators have a role in making sure that cannabis legalization does not lead to increased use by young people.

“We must continue to be diligent in our efforts to prevent, or at least limit, marijuana use in light of the potential effect of the legalization for adults as a result of the passage of Proposition 64 two years ago,” Torlakson said.

 

Cannabis Activist Responds

Ellen Komp, deputy director of California NORML, said in a blog post from the advocacy group that the legalization of recreational cannabis is actually a factor in the decline of use by teens.

“These initial reports confirm that legalizing and regulating cannabis doesn’t increase youth marijuana use, but rather it has the opposite effect,” said Komp. “The fact that the biggest drop in reported use came from younger age groups is a particularly encouraging indicator of the success of regulation.”

Komp also said that sound cannabis policy reforms are the best way to keep California residents and their communities safe.

“It’s time to stop trying to ‘send a message’ to young people about drugs and instead implement sound, science-based policies that best protect our children and public safety, along with our privacy and human rights,” Komp said.

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.

Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Votes to Legalize Marijuana

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5,871 miles of open Pacific Ocean waters separate the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) from the coast of California. But the 15-island chain that makes up the United States’ westernmost territory is poised to do something no U.S. state has ever done.

On Wednesday, 18 of CNMI’s 20 legislators voted to approve a bill to legalize cannabis for adult use. The bill would also legalize medical cannabis and industrial hemp. And if CNMI Governor Ralph Torres enacts the bill, the territory will make legalization history—twice.

CNMI Would Be First U.S. Jurisdiction to Go From Total Prohibition to Full Legalization

This isn’t the first time CNMI lawmakers attempted to legalize cannabis. As recently as May, the CNMI Senate approved a piece of legislation nearly identical to the House-approved bill. Procedural issues, however, stymied the bill’s progress.

After another false start in the Senate, the House opted to file its own bill. It took less than a week for the full chamber to vote to approve the proposal.

 

That act alone makes CNMI unique among the 9 U.S. states that have legalized adult-use marijuana. Vermont comes closest, having legalized marijuana through a legislative process rather than a ballot initiative. But unlike CNMI’s proposed legislation, Vermont’s law doesn’t establish a retail market. The Mariana Islands’ legislation would.

There’s a second way CNMI would make legalization history if the bill becomes law. Every U.S. state that has legalized adult-use marijuana did so only after establishing a medical cannabis program. But in CNMI, there is no medical marijuana. The territory would be the first U.S. jurisdiction to go from total prohibition to full legalization.

What’s Next for Legal Cannabis in U.S. Territories?

Despite the tremendous distance between the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and the continental United States, the territory has been closely watching legal cannabis unfold there. Indeed, the overwhelming support for the proposal in the House is due to lawmakers’ recognizing the significant benefits of legal weed.

 

The full text of the legislation, SB 20-62, cites how states with regulated markets for marijuana “have observed real and significant benefits to public health, safety and quality of life for all residents,” and goes on to list medical benefits like treatments for pain, epilepsy and PTSD, social benefits like a reduction in overdose deaths and lowered crime and economic benefits like tax revenue and job growth.

But the bill still has a couple more hurdles to clear before it becomes law. The CNMI Cannabis Act of 2018 is currently on its way back to the Senate for approval. After that, it will head to the desk of Gov. Ralph Torres, a Republican who has expressed concerns about legalization.

In response to House passage of the bill, Torres stressed the importance of taking “a look at both sides of the coin.” Torres wondered about the crime statistics in states with legal weed and other public safety issues.

 

Whether those reservations would ultimately lead Gov. Torres to veto the legislative effort and oppose the will of CNMI residents, however, remains to be seen. Public hearings about the act had higher attendance than any hearings senators could remember. Initially, legislators had designed the bill as a voter referendum before adopting it in the Senate.

Marijuana festivals, and businesses that benefit from them, are hurting now that cannabis is legal in California

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Marijuana festivals, and businesses that benefit from them, are hurting now that cannabis is legal in California

July 5, 2018 

Marijuana festival organizers were banking on this to be their biggest year yet, now that recreational cannabis is legal in California and the state is legitimizing such events by licensing them for the first time.

Promoters say they planned to stop operating under the loose protections of the state’s medical marijuana laws, where they’d force attendees to get doctor’s recommendations for cannabis before entering the gates. Instead, they hoped to have licenses that would allow anyone 21 and older to buy and smoke cannabis, just like they can buy and drink beer at other festivals.

But with local authorities now able to block such festivals even from the limited venues where they’re permitted by new state rules, there weren’t any state-sanctioned events in Southern California during the first half of the year. And none are on the horizon for the rest of 2018.

The picture is a bit brighter in Northern California. The state licensed marijuana festivals this spring in Sacramento and in Santa Rosa, where the massive Emerald Cup is also expected to go off in December without a hitch.

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.

Police Dog Sniffs Out $10 Million Worth of Marijuana in One Night

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You know what they say—a dog is a man’s best friend, unless it’s a police dog that just sniffed out $10 Million worth of his marijuana.

Ok, that might not be exactly how the catchphrase goes, but it does pertain to at least one Chicago man who attempted to traffic that amount of marijuana cross-country until he crossed paths with Jayda, a dog with quite the impressive schnoz.

Police Dog Sniffs Out $10 Million Worth of Marijuana in One Night

So much for police dogs being trained to ignore the smell of marijuana. Although, it’s pretty hard to ignore the smell of $10 million worth of the stuff.

On Thursday, Jayda helped Chicago PD confirm their suspicions that a driver from Midlothian, Texas was trafficking drugs from California. According to CBS Chicago, the stop and search was part of a long-standing organized crime investigation.

 

After a quick sniff job, Jayda uncovered over 1,500 lbs of cannabis in the vehicle and attached trailer, as well as a variety of pot products and paraphernalia. The vehicle had just touched down in Chicago before police conducted the search.

The man behind the wheel was 42-year-old Jason Tanner of Lakehead, California. According to the local news site, he was charged with possession of more than 5,000 grams of marijuana. The pot had a street value of approximately $10 million.

As of Tuesday Morning, the Chicago PD’s Facebook post has gone viral. As it stands, the post has received over 8,000 shares and counting.

 

The department’s Facebook post read:

“Chicago Police Officers assigned to the Narcotics Unit conducted a narcotics investigation which led to a traffic stop of a vehicle suspected in narcotics trafficking. A Police canine alerted to the scent of narcotics and a subsequent search of the vehicle resulted in over 1500 pounds of cannabis products with a street value of over $10,000,000 being recovered.

Officers learned that the narcotics were en route to Chicago from California. The driver of the vehicle was placed in custody and charged with Cannabis – Possess more than 5000 grams.

 

Thank you to Officers for your hard work in this large narcotics seizure.”

On Friday, Tanner’s bail was set at $50,000 for the incident. After being held at Cook County Jail on Monday, Tanner is due back in court on July 10.

Chicago Police are currently working alongside Drug Enforcement Administration agents in California to further investigate the ongoing case.

However, it’s unclear if Jayda still has her “paws” on this case.