Canna Law Blog ™

Canna Law Blog

LEGAL SUPPORT FOR THE CANNABIS BUSINESS COMMUNITY SINCE 2010

Federal Legislative and Advocacy Roundup

Posted in Advocacy, Federal law and policy

Marijuana Lobbying

There are right now more legitimately viable pro-marijuana bills pending in Congress than at any other time in our country’s history.

The tenor of the legalization debate is decidedly shifting on Capitol Hill. What makes this shift even more remarkable is its bipartisanship, a refreshing change of pace considering the obstructionism that typically plagues the federal legislative process. Dozens of legislators are joining forces across the aisle to push the following legislative vehicles that offer hope for meaningful reforms:

I had the privilege of joining over a hundred industry leaders who descended on the hill last week to advocate for fixing tax and banking laws that thwart the marijuana industry and state regulatory efforts. Though these bills cover a wide range of issues, we focused specifically reforming 280E and expanding access to banking services for marijuana businesses.

The most interesting part about our meetings was how effectively we were able to frame the issues. It is easy for tax and banking issues to come across as wonkish and technical, but there is something in these bills that can appeal to almost anybody’s political sensibilities.

Support small business growth? Reforming 280E will reduce effective tax rates and allow marijuana businesses to reinvest the savings back into their business, creating jobs and fueling economic growth. Public safety proponent? Eliminating cash will reduce the likelihood of businesses being targeted by criminals. Favor small government? Regulating and taxing all cash businesses is more administratively difficult and resource intensive. Concerned about inequality? All these marijuana companies want is to be treated just the same as any other business. We were easily able to offer personal and relatable anecdotes about how these laws have affected various marijuana businesses in one way or another.

Everyone we met with seemed at least receptive to these bills. But, as Grover Norquist pointed out during his fireside chat with Rep. Earl Blumenauer at the NCIA Policy Symposium, otherwise unobjectionable reforms are often hamstrung by broader legislative agendas. This causes Congress to hold perfectly reasonable legislative fixes hostage for  leverage in negotiating more contentious issues.

Obviously not all of these bills will pass, and it is a little frightening to think of what political compromises might have to be struck to ultimately achieve these reforms. Nonetheless, it is remarkable how quickly the tone has started to shift in favor of cannabis at the federal level. As the famous saying goes—politics makes for interesting bedfellows. That is especially true in the politics of pot.

Changes are coming….

They Said It On Marijuana, Quotable Saturday, Part LVIII

Posted in Advocacy

 

Marijuana per Lenny Bruce

Marijuana will be legal some day because every law student I know smokes it.

Lenny Bruce

We have been a bit slow to quote Lenny Bruce on marijuana because he died of a drug overdose (not from marijuana, of course) and we were afraid some would somehow attribute that to cannabis. But so much has come out of late proving marijuana is not a gateway drug that we have decided to throw our caution to the wind in favor of this great quote.

This is a great quote not because every law student smokes cannabis (they don’t) but because an overwhelming majority of law students and lawyers favor legalization. We are not going to claim that this last statement is based on any scientific survey, but we will claim that almost without exception, every law student and lawyer with whom we have discussed the subject — and we are talking about thousands here — believes the law should treat cannabis consistent with the way it treats alcohol.

And there is a good explanation for why this is the case. It is our training. Law school teaches us to analyze court cases. We learn this so that we can demonstrate to courts the factual similarities (or dissimilarities) of previous cases. If we can show a court twenty previously decided cases ruling one way, that court will almost certainly rule that same way. This is because our legal system is based on precedent. So let’s say we show the court twenty cases where the court held that delivering fresh food 120 days after it was ordered was deemed to be a late delivery and thus a breach of contract, we almost certainly will prevail if we can also show that in our case the opposing side failed to deliver our order of fresh chicken within 120 days. We will prevail even if the other twenty cases deal with beef or pork or even vegetables. This is because a court will treat chicken no different than other foods that deteriorate in quality over time.

Lawyers and law students look at cannabis and alcohol and they see more similarities than differences and they therefore — based on their training — believe those two things should be treated more or less similarly. We could even persuasively argue that alcohol is more harmful than marijuana (and we might add that virtually every lawyer we know with children is more concerned about their kids drinking and driving than smoking and driving), but the point is that on legalization they should be treated the same. They should be treated the same because you either believe in the individual right to consume alcohol or cannabis or you don’t. Similarly, you either believe that prohibiting something like alcohol or cannabis has and can work or you believe that it has not and can not. And since arguing that alcohol prohibition worked is nearly impossible and arguing that cannabis prohibition has worked is nearly as difficult, finding lawyers (except maybe prosecutors or those running for elected office) who oppose marijuana legalization in favor of prohibition is going to be a difficult thing to do.

What are your thoughts?

Marijuana Policy

Posted in Advocacy, Federal law and policy, Oregon, Washington

Marijuana Policy

I, along with Tyler Anthony from our Chicago office, attended the NCIA Policy Symposium and Member Lobby Days in Washington D.C. this week and I thought it would be good for me to post a few of my quick thoughts from that event. The event brought together a number of interesting players in the industry, and it was a good chance to take a step back and view things from a national level.

My Talk. I gave an update to attendees on the current status of Washington’s and Oregon’s marijuana laws. Oregon is generating a healthy interest from investors, who see it as the only real target for direct investment into the adult use market. Washington and Colorado have residency requirements, and Alaska may be too small for some of the bigger players and just seems too foreign to a lot of the others. People are also interested to see exactly how the coming merger of Washington’s medical and recreational markets will play out, as there continue to be heated opinions on both sides of that issue.

Trade Associations: The trade association game can be really annoying. As each state advances in marijuana policy, we continue to see a number of new marijuana industry get created, and many of these groups compete with each other for dollars and for membership. Though a few of these groups are started by hucksters and snake oil salesmen looking to make a quick buck, most of the founders have good intentions and are trying to bring people together, set standards, and move policy forward. That said, it is better for the industry  to coalesce around distinct groups. To that end, the NCIA and the Marijuana Policy Project have distanced themselves from their peers, at least on the national level, as the strongest voices for the industry. The NCIA focuses tightly on national issues, and the MPP does great work on a state-by-state basis. Here’s hoping that things continue to develop well for both of them. NORML and the Drug Policy Alliance are also major players, but because our own focus is on the legal issues confronting legalized cannabis businesses, we do not have nearly as much involvement with these two.

Industry Policy Focus: Our industry is finally honing in on strong and discrete policy goals at the national level. For far too long, it has been in vogue to say that marijuana would flip federally within a decade, but the details have been really cloudy. Now, we can point directly to specific goals that have realistic chances of passing in the immediate future: 280e tax reform so that the IRS starts treating cannabis businesses fairly; civil and criminal liability shields for banks that serve the marijuana industry; prohibition on federal enforcement against companies and individuals that comply with state marijuana regulations; and finally, full federal decriminalization. Things like placing marijuana on Schedule 2 of the Controlled Substances Act are looking more and more like red herrings that distract from the real eventual goals. By focusing on these four goals, the cannabis industry can lobby more effectively because its message will not get drowned out by 100 competing ideas.

Lobbying Strategy. Lobby days are really helpful. They allow members of Congress to see that the cannabis industry is full of strong, reasonable entrepreneurs. However, most business owners cannot spend more than a few days out of the year really fighting for legal reform on the federal level. That is one reason why we have professional lobbyists, who can be dogged on the issues throughout the year. Because of this, we need to make sure that we get the most bang for our buck on lobby days going forward. One way to do that better is to pony up more dollars for more lobbying. It is great that the NCIA has a full time lobbyist on staff, but other industries are able to descend on the capital with armies of lobbyists. And these lobbyists are not coming empty-handed — they are bringing cash to the table. If the marijuana industry is serious about achieving its federal goals on a fast timeline, it will need to pony up more dollars not only to bring on more outside lobbying, but also to contribute to political campaigns. This is by no means ideal, but it is how the system currently operates. Money buys attention. If the industry ponies up for a $2500 per plate fundraiser for a high ranking member on a committee that influences marijuana legislation, that committee member is going to listen with rapt attention to our industry’s concerns. The majority of Americans favors loosening federal marijuana restrictions, but it is still easy for Congress to ignore the industry. The more serious attention that the marijuana business community can get from Congress, the faster we will see reform.

 

New York Cannabis Licensing: The Basics*

Posted in Licensing, Medical Cannabis, New York

New York Medical Marijuana ApplicationHere in New York, it feels like we are (finally) off to the races. The New York State Department of Health recently posted the application for medical marijuana manufacturers and dispensaries, with two very important deadlines. The first is a May 5 at 4:00pm EST deadline to submit any questions to the Department regarding the application. The Department will respond to questions by May 14 by listing all questions and answers online. The second and most important deadline is May 29 at 4:00pm EST. That is the deadline by which the Department of Health must to receive any application.

If you are planning to apply for one of the up to five licenses being issued here are some of the things you will need:

  • Money: There is a $10,000 non-refundable application fee, plus a $200,000 registration fee, which will be refunded if you are not selected.
  • Ability: To be considered, you must demonstrate your ability to manufacture approved medical marijuana products consistently and in sufficient quantities. There are a number of specifics with which you will need to comply, many of which are outlined in 10 NYCRR 1004.11.
  • Security: What is your plan for maintaining the security of your premises and controlling against diversion of your products? At minimum you will likely need a good fence, a perimeter alarm, motion detectors, constantly recording video cameras at all points of entry and exit and on your safes and on anywhere you have product, a panic alarm,  and all of the other things necessary to meet the requirements outlined in 10 NYCRR 1004.13.
  • Knowledge: Be sure you are aware of all of the applicable rules and regulations, including everything listed in 10 NYCRR 1004.
  • Property: Do you have sufficient real estate and equipment to perform all of the activities you will list in your operating plan? Your four proposed dispensing facilities should be geographically distributed throughout New York. Having all of your operations in New York City, for example, will likely not be deemed enough to serve the needs of New York State as a whole and could well lead to your application winding up in the rejection pile. The Department of Health will review your proposed manufacturing and dispensing facilities not only for their location, but for their architectural and engineering designs as well. Note that if you do not have all of your equipment and locations locked in, you can post a $2,000,000 bond instead.
  • Public Interest: Your application should explain why it is in the public interest for the Department of Health to approve your application.
  • No Criminals: You, your board members, managers, partners, directors, and the like should all be of good moral character and be competent to manage the business you outline in your application.
  • Labor Agreement: The Department of Health will review whether you have entered into a labor peace agreement as outlined in PHL 3360(14) which will represent or attempt to represent your employees. A Labor Peace Agreement means “An agreement between an entity and a labor organization that, at a minimum, protects the state’s proprietary interests in prohibiting labor organizations and members from engaging in picketing, work stoppages, boycotts, and any other economic interference with the registered organization’s business.”

In addition to the above requirements for the application itself, you will also need to include a number of attachments to your application, perhaps the most important of which is your Operating Plan. This is where you will need to outline your entire planned operation to the Department of Health. Among other things, you will in this attachment be expected to outline your plans for: (i) manufacturing; (ii) transportation and distribution; (iii) dispensing and sales; (iv) security and control of the product; (v) quality assurance; and (vi) record-keeping.

All of your board members, officers, managers, owners, partners, principal stakeholders, directors or members must also complete Appendix A and you are also required to provide an organizational chart outlining the structure of your organization. In Appendix B, you will need to outline your architectural program, with details of each site where you plan to operate. There are a number of rules and regulations with which you will be required to comply should you be granted your application. We strongly suggest that you familiarize yourself with all of those now and be sure that you will indeed be willing to follow them. If you determine that you are not willing to follow those rules and regulations, then you should not bother spending the immense time and money required to complete and submit an application.

If despite all that you see above you still wish to move forward with an application, we strongly urge you to start now both on the application and in garnering the legal and accounting and any other assistance you think you will need to complete it. This sort of application will take a long time and the people best equipped to assist you on it will be snared early in the process and so likely will not even be available towards the end of it.

Now for just a bit of good news: the Department of Health is expected to rule on the licenses in July, which is a exceedingly fast turnaround for something like this.

* This post is by Ryan Malkin. We asked Ryan to write this post because he is one of the country’s preeminent regulated substance lawyers and because we have worked with him on a number of East Coast cannabis licensing matters already. Ryan is licensed in New York, New Jersey and Florida, where he represents alcohol distillers, brewers, suppliers, distributors and retailers and where he is finding himself more and more often called on to handle cannabis business law and regulatory matters, including licensing applications.

Marijuana Industry Residency Requirements

Posted in Legal Issues

Imagine you just moved to Colorado. You see opportunity in the legalized marijuana industry. You decide to apply for a license to sell recreational marijuana in hopes of opening a small retail store. As you prepare your application materials you come across the following language in the Colorado Revised Statutes: “a license shall not be issued to or held by an owner who has not been a resident of Colorado for at least two years prior to the date of the owner’s application.” Your application is now on hold until you have lived in state long enough to satisfy Colorado’s residency requirement.

Marijuana Sale Residency RequirementsResidency requirements are used to award rights or privileges to residents of a state in favor of non-residents. They are often used by state universities to offer scholarships, or discounted tuition, to in-state residents only. Residency requirements are becoming commonplace in marijuana legislation.

The hypothetical from the first paragraph demonstrates the advantage Colorado residents have over residents of other states in their access to the marijuana industry. Colorado’s regulatory scheme allows residents to own a marijuana business while prohibiting non-residents from doing the same. The restrictions extend to would-be consumers of recreational marijuana as well. Visitors may not purchase more than ¼ ounce at one time, while residents can purchase up to a full ounce at a time.

Washington state has taken a different approach to its residency requirement. Like in Colorado, licenses are only issued to applicants who can satisfy a temporal residency requirement, which will be extended from 90 days to 6 months if HB 2136 and SB 5052 are successful in establishing a single marijuana market. Unlike in Colorado, Washington’s residency requirement extends beyond buyers and sellers to all members of any partnership, employee cooperative, association, nonprofit corporation, or corporation, all agents and managers — basically anyone involved in a Washington state marijuana business must be a Washington resident.

The status of recreational marijuana residency requirements in Alaska and Oregon is not as clear. Alaska will require applicants to live in the state for at least one year before submitting an application. Oregon’s Measure 91 originally did not contain a residency requirement, but that could always change once all of its regulations are in place.

These requirements are in place for a variety of reasons. They ensure a licensee has some connection to the local community and that the profits from marijuana businesses will stay within the local economy. They also allow states to protect the small businesses that currently compose the marijuana industry because large corporations are often unable to satisfy residency requirements. This has allowed states to control the market without facing pressure from large corporations in the vein of “Big Tobacco” and “Big Pharma.” Residency requirements have helped prevent “Big Marijuana” from becoming a reality. Finally, these requirements are used to show compliance with the Cole Memo, which outlines the U.S. Attorney General’s enforcement priorities in dealing with states that have legalized marijuana. One such priority is preventing the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal to other states. A licensee is theoretically less likely to transport marijuana across state-lines when he lives in the same state in which his business operates.

Residency requirements also have downsides — most simply, they oppress business growth. We previously reported on how residency requirements depress investing in marijuana businesses. When marijuana business owners are prohibited from looking beyond state lines to raise capital, they must consider a smaller pool of investors. On the other end, potential investors may be discouraged from entering the industry. These requirements can effectively stifle competition, which can in turn reduce options available to consumers. Finally, with so many residency requirements, it is difficult to imagine a large marijuana market with participation from multiple states coming to fruition any time soon. These residency requirements may also violate our Constitution’s interstate commerce clause.

For better or for worse, residency requirements undeniably influence the marijuana market.

What are your thoughts on them?

*This post was written by Daniel Shortt, a law student at the University of Washington School of Law and a summer associate at our firm.

Washington State Overhauls Its Medical Marijuana System

Posted in Medical Cannabis, Washington

As we predicted, last week, Governor Jay Inslee inked revised SB 5052 into law. Though Governor Inslee made some minor line item vetoes to the bill before he signed it, revised SB 5052 remains in substantially the same form as when it left the Senate and the House. The signing of this bill merges twenty years of medical cannabis with Washington’s Initiative 502. This makes Washington the first state to significantly pare down its medical marijuana program and roll it into adult use cannabis; Colorado simply combines its two very robust marijuana systems, but allows each one to stand alone under its own regulations and laws. Now, Washington’s medical cannabis industry will be mostly dominated by the rules and laws that make up I-502.

Given that SB 5052 will imminently become the law, medical marijuana stakeholders need to prepare themselves now so as to be able to enter into the I-502 marketplace. This post is intended to help existing medical and recreational cannabis businesses in Washington State prepare for doing exactly that.

What should you do now that SB 5052 has passed? Read the law. And then read it again. And then if you still want to stay in the marijuana business, prepare yourself and your company to have to start complying with a whole host of state and local government regulations. Recognize that your failing to comply with applicable rules could lead to a rejection of your state license application or a serious regulatory violation.

What happens with the Washington Liquor Control Board? The Liquor Control Board has a new name, the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB). The LCB will now oversee both adult use and medical cannabis. This means that the LCB (in concert with the Departments of Health and Agriculture) will be tasked with creating any additional rules necessary to execute the directives set forth in SB 5052 and it will specifically oversee the medical marijuana businesses it licenses. So, for all of the new rules and emergency rules that have caused the I-502 industry multiple headaches, medical marijuana businesses can now expect much of the same. MMJ businesses will now need to stay abreast of ever-changing regulations that apply to them.

How does SB 5052 affect my current collective garden grow under RCW 69.51A? Collective gardens as we know them under RCW 69.51A will all be gone by July 1, 2016. Only “collective gardens” limited to up to four patients (with a maximum of 60 plants) will be allowed to remain, and then only if they are at least fifteen miles from an I-502 retail outlet and if everyone participating in the collective garden has put their name into the State’s voluntary patient registry. Only one cooperative garden is allowed per tax parcel.

If I have an MMJ business, how can I get a state license to continue under I-502? Keep in mind that existing I-502 retailers and cultivators will get first dibs on MMJ by applying to hold “medical marijuana endorsements” to sell or cultivate cannabis for medical use to qualifying patients and designated providers. The LCB must also develop “a competitive, merit-based application process that includes, at minimum, the opportunity for an applicant to demonstrate experience and qualifications in the marijuana industry.” Operating a collective garden before you apply for a state cannabis license with a business license and a history of paying sales taxes to the Department of Revenue likely will be factors used to establish the experience and qualifications of the applicant.” In other words, if you can show that your MMJ business complied with various state and local laws, you will be favored for a state MMJ license. Still, if your current collective garden location does not meet the footage and distance requirements mandated by SB 5052, your locale will be a no-go.

What this really means is that if you are an MMJ business interested in securing a state license, you should start now to determine whether you are complying with applicable laws and you should do everything you possibly can to get into compliance as quickly as possible. You probably will want to start with a legal compliance audit.

What happens to me now as a qualifying patient? Patients that register with the state via its “voluntary” patient registry will enjoy tax breaks and higher possession limits as compared to patients who do not register. Registered patients with a state-issued patient authorization card “may purchase at a retail outlet holding a medical marijuana endorsement a combination of the following: Forty-eight ounces of marijuana-infused product in solid form; three ounces of useable marijuana; two hundred sixteen ounces of marijuana-infused product in liquid form; or twenty-one grams of marijuana concentrates.” Registered patients may also “grow, in his or her domicile, up to six plants . . . and possess up to eight ounces of useable marijuana produced from his or her plants.” Patients that do not register will be legally entitled to only the same single ounce of useable marijuana as all other adults 21 and older can possess under I-502 and will be taxed the same way as well.

If I’m currently operating under I-502, what can I do under SB 5052? If you’re an existing retailer, you will be able to apply for a “medical marijuana endorsement” to serve qualifying patients and designated providers. If you’re an existing grower, you will be able apply to the LCB to dedicate a portion of your grow to the cultivation of cannabis for medical use. SB 5052 pretty directs the LCB to increase the plant canopy again to allow existing marijuana businesses to plan ahead for MMJ. As a result, the LCB is imminently going to allow I-502 cultivators to expand their plant canopies to 100% operative capacity in order to accommodate MMJ users.

Will more MMJ rules be developed, or is SB 5052 it? Undoubtedly, the LCB is going to create more rules around MMJ. In fact, some of the rules from I-502 will very likely bleed over into the state’s governance of MMJ. Again, regulations (as opposed to statutes) can be in constant flux, so it’s extremely important to remain vigilant over any changes if you’re a stakeholder.

Besides overhauling medical marijuana, does SB 5052 do anything to change I-502? The short answer is no. The longer answer is that HB 2136, the bill that contains a significant amount of changes and fixes to I-502, now has a much greater chance of passing because SB 5052 was signed into law by the Governor.

When does the law take effect? SB 5052 becomes effective on July 24, 2015.

Disband The DEA

Posted in Advocacy

Let’s start with a debatable premise: marijuana should be legal, but hard drugs like heroin and meth should remain illegal. Reasonable people can and do disagree with this position, it is probably where a majority of Americans stand on drug policy. Is it possible to have a Drug Enforcement Agency that limits itself to combatting what most people consider to be the “dangerous” drugs?

This issue has been brought into focus because Michelle Leonhart, the administrator of the DEA, resigned this week. The DEA has not been having a good time lately, especially when it was revealed that DEA agents had been having sex parties sponsored by drug cartels in a brazen example of hypocrisy, corruption, and a dash of treason. Leonhart punished the agents caught in this scandal with 7-10 day suspensions and told Congress that she could not fire them. Congress did not believe her and gave her a lashing during hearings, and the White House refused to offer her its support, so Leonhart stepped down.

This is not the first time Leonhart has been in the public eye for negative reasons. She pointed at heartbreaking levels of violence in Mexico as indicating success in the war on drugs. She openly and insubordinately criticized President Obama for making objectively true statements about the safety of marijuana and alcohol. Last but not least, we have this fantastic video:

So, is our soon-to-be former DEA administrator incredibly clueless about the substances that her agency regulates, or is she the dishonest, immoral epitome of self-serving bureaucracy? Most definitely the latter.

We know exactly why someone like Michelle Leonhart would be willing to mislead Congress and be willing to cover up for agent misdeeds. The DEA exists because of the war on drugs. The more drugs that are illegal, the more funding the DEA can command, the more agents it can employ, and the broader its reach can be. The thing that is not always clear to those outside government is that executive agencies really are little fiefdoms, and their administrators often rum them with seemingly no other purpose than to increase the size, power, and legitimacy of their institutions. Leonhart’s comments and actions are indicative of the head of an agency interested in its self preservation above all else.

The DEA is a bit of an odd duck. It is a law enforcement agency like the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. It also licenses physicians to prescribe controlled substances, and it is responsible for approving requests by research institutions to study drugs. It even publishes its own propaganda. This all came to pass when Richard Nixon  created the DEA to unify federal (anti) drug policy in 1973. Based on the DEA’s sordid history, it does not seem like we will ever see much good come out of this agency. Dan Riffle of the Marijuana Policy Project has suggested either not replacing Leonhart or bringing on an administrator with a public health background to begin reforming the DEA into a public health and science oriented agency. The problem is that the DEA’s original mandate, though drafted by President Nixon, was approved by Congress. The smarter policy would be to disband the DEA, putting all drug research and licensing into the hands of the FDA, and giving drug law enforcement to the FBI. Maybe then the propaganda would stop, as those agencies have reasons to exist beyond the drug war.

Illinois Cannabis Update

Posted in Illinois, Medical Cannabis, Recreational Marijuana

The Illinois General Assembly’s spring session is gathering steam before its late May adjournment. We wrote last month about several bills pending in the legislature and we are happy to report that some are making progress and could soon reach Governor Rauner’s desk.

Illinois CannabisFirst, HB218, which just passed the House, would essentially treat possession of small amounts of marijuana (up to 15 grams) similarly to speeding tickets, making it a civil offense. Offenders would face a fine of up to $125, with the record of such a fine subject to automatic expungement. The bill also provides for uniform enforcement throughout the state and creates the framework for DUID enforcement (a much-needed update). Hopes for HB218 are high: its proponents laud it as helping to alleviate racial and geographic disparities in drug enforcement; the Illinois state’s attorneys support it as allowing them to focus on violent crime; passage would help align state law with that of many municipalities that have de-criminalized small amounts of marijuana in recent years; and HB218 is projected to save the state millions. HB218 passed with bi-partisan support in the House (62-53) and is already under consideration in the Senate, where it is expected to be approved. Governor Rauner has spoken favorably of prison reform and cost-savings; we will see if he puts his money (or signature) where his mouth is.

Illinois’ fledgling medical cannabis industry is being thrown a lifeline in the form of HB3299, which would extend the pilot program’s sunset from December 31, 2017 to four years from the date of the opening of the first medical cannabis dispensary (so, roughly, Summer 2019). HB3299 passed the House with strong support (81-28) and is now in the Senate. The Governor has expressed some opposition, but it passed with more than enough votes to override any veto. Republican support probably means that the Governor will not want to use much-needed political capital to fight against cannabis when he has more pressing items on his legislative agenda.

If there was any question whether Illinois (or at least its politicians) was ready to consider legalization for recreational use, that question has now been answered with a resounding “no.” HB2750, which would have tasked the Illinois Sentencing Policy Advisory Council with studying the effects of taxing and regulating marijuana similarly to alcohol on a variety of other state laws and policies, recently failed. Though the measure passed the House’s judiciary committee, the full House rejected it by a 29-78 vote. Legalization proponents have their work cut out for them.

Another noteworthy development came last week from the Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez. The State’s Attorney’s office announced (coincidentally?) on April 20 that it would no longer prosecute misdemeanor marijuana possession cases and would implement further reforms in drug cases. A spokeswoman stated that treatment may be sought in lieu of imprisonment in some cases, in the hopes of keeping non-violent offenders out of the system. Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart supports Alvarez’s changes, calling it a “productive approach.” A Chicago Police Department spokesman noted that the measure would allow police to focus on more dangerous gun crimes. Seems like an all-around win.

As always, stay tuned for more.

They Said It On Marijuana, Quotable Saturday, Part LVII

Posted in Advocacy
Want to improve police-citizen relations and reduce crime? Stop arresting people for marijuana.

Want to improve police-citizen relations and reduce crime? Stop arresting people for marijuana.

Want to improve police-citizen relations? Stop arresting people for marijuana. Want to stop wasting taxpayer dollars and diverting the police from more important things? Stop arresting people for marijuana. This too only makes sense. Yet few police forces seem to realize these things and even fewer have the guts to come out and say it. Cathy Lanier, the police chief for Washington DC does, as she recently made this clear to the American News Women’s Club:

“All those [marijuana] arrests do is make people hate us. Marijuana smokers are not going to attack and kill a cop. They just want to get a bag of chips and relax. Alcohol is a much bigger problem. But I’m not policing the city as a mom, I’m policing it as the police chief — and 70 percent of the public supported this.

In other words, she is saying that though marijuana may not always be healthy for its users, arresting people for it will not improve public safety. She is also saying that because so many people use or support the use of marijuana that arresting people will not only not have a positive impact, it will have a negative one by hurting relations between the police and the community.

We agree. If more police forces would focus on crimes and not on marijuana consumption, the world would be a safer and better place.

What do you think?

Changing Marijuana Perceptions Through Stock Images

Posted in Advocacy

Marijuana Stock PhotosWhen the average person thinks about those who consume marijuana, they often conjure up images of stereotypical “stoners” in alternative clothing, scarfing through bags of chips. Though these stereotypes have been propagandized for years, they neither accurately reflect who uses marijuana nor who supports its legalization. Marijuana users and advocates for legalization pretty much range across every age, social, economic, racial, religious, political spectrum there is. And it is important that our country understands this.

For decades “reefer madness” worked very well at scaring people about both marijuana and those who consumed it–it is a natural human tendency to like our neighbors who we see to be like us and to share our values; it is easy to hate on the person who dresses differently from us and “puts lives at risk by smoking weed all day and neglecting their families.” Though most now laugh at both the movie and the concept, many of its precepts still live on, just more subtly.

Ridding our country of pot stereotypes, or at least reducing their impact, will go a long way towards aiding the drive to legalize.

The Drug Policy Alliance recently started an initiative to address the pot perception problem through the use of stock images. Under this initiative, the Alliance is dissementating  brightly colored stock photographs featuring marijuana users of different ages and races, all using marijuana in their everyday lives. The men and women are shown on yoga mats, in the tub, or in brightly lit rooms. Sharda Sekaran, deputy manager of communications for the Alliance explained that they “wanted more accurate, more humanizing images of people using marijuana.” The hope is that media outlets will begin using realistic images for their articles on marijuana, not stereotypical ones.

A realistic portrayal by the media of those who consume is bound to bring about positive consequences. People viewing the stock images next to news articles are going to get a more accurate sense of how marijuana is actually used and who uses it. The images will help normalize marijuana and make it more familiar to those whose perception of marijuana users still fits the “stoner” stereotype. Not to criticize “stoners” who have and always will be an element of marijuana culture, but the world should be made aware that marijuana culture consists of more than just stoners.

Revamping stock images is just a small step towards changing society’s perceptions regarding marijuana. The big step would be for more of us who consume or who advocate for legalization to step out of the shadows and proudly announce that is the case. And marijuana businesses also realize the power of “re-branding” their image. For more on that, be sure to read Cannabis Branding: Because It Is Important.

What are your thoughts?