Tag: legislation

Cannabis Act Senate Watch: A Resolved Stalemate Creates a New Sale Date

The Cannabis Act (Bill C-45) was passed in the House of Commons on November 27, 2017. It was introduced to the Senate the day after and given first reading. Second reading started on November 30. When it ends, the bill will go to committee for detailed review, including witness testimony, and then back to the Senate for a third reading and a vote. Meanwhile, politicians from opposing parties in the upper (Senate) and lower (House of Commons) houses of parliament duke it out. Here’s a recap of this week’s round.

Canadians will have to wait until at least August to buy recreational cannabis.

Senators have ended a stalemate and agreed to cast their final votes on the Cannabis Act (Bill C-45) by June 7. Because it will take at least eight weeks to get the retail system up and running after the bill is passed, Canadians will have to wait until at least August to buy recreational cannabis—a month after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s original target date.

Cannabis supporters are disappointed about the extended wait but they’re breathing a sigh of relief; until the plan was finalized Thursday, they feared the wait would be indefinite. Proceedings in the Senate had ground to a halt, and the fate of the bill hung in the balance.

On Tuesday, Peter Harder, the government-appointed senator responsible for promoting and defending the government’s bills in the Senate, said he wanted the second reading of the bill to be wrapped up by March 1, after which it would go to committee for detailed review and then return to the Senate for a third reading and final vote.


Canadian Health Insurer Announces Groundbreaking Medical Cannabis Plan

Harder warned his peers that if they didn’t agree to his plan he might invoke time allocation, a procedural tool through which the government can shut down debate and move to a vote. He noted that it might be necessary given that Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer had urged Conservative senators to use “all democratic tools” available to “block” the bill.

“While I certainly agree we need to take our time to do our job of sober second thought, any potential delay for the sake of delay would do a disservice to Canadians and to the culture here in this chamber,” he said. “My fear, quite frankly, is that March 1 [will] come and we may see the sort of procedural obstruction we have seen from senators in this Parliament on multiple items of business.”

Conflict around the recent ‘National Anthem’ bill led to speculation the Conservatives might retaliate by delaying the Cannabis Act.

Political observers saw it as a thinly veiled reference to the national anthem dust-up. For almost two years, the Conservatives delayed passage of a private member’s bill that ultimately changed the lyrics of the anthem to make them gender neutral. (The words “in all thy sons command” were replaced by “in all of us command.”) The bill finally came to a vote in January thanks to independent senator Frances Lankin, who brought a “guillotine motion” that prevented further delay. Still, Conservative senators boycotted the final vote and said they were putting the Trudeau government “on notice” that they would use all legitimate means available to restore “the right of all senators to debate in the Chamber.” That led to speculation the Conservatives might retaliate by delaying the Cannabis Act.


Canadian Cannabis Legalization: A Guide to Laws by Province

The Conservatives responded to Harder’s threat with defiance. Larry Smith, leader of the Conservative caucus in the Senate, said they needed more time to give the bill “constructive evaluation” and added that they had grave concerns over the government’s plans, including measures to reduce cannabis use among young people and ensure it doesn’t become a problem in workplaces.

In the House of Commons, Conservative members of parliament accused Trudeau of trying to rush the bill through the Senate primarily to help Liberal Party friends.

In the House of Commons, Conservative members of parliament criticized the Trudeau government, accusing it of trying to rush the bill through the Senate primarily to help Liberal Party friends, who own cannabis companies financed by anonymous individuals from offshore tax havens—havens that can be used by organized crime to launder money. (A recent report found that almost half of 86 licensed cannabis producers are financed through havens often used by organized crime.)

Trudeau insisted that the purpose of legalization is to regulate cannabis to eradicate the black market and ensure cannabis is less accessible to young people. Furthermore, he said, the proposed regulations for legalized cannabis will ensure all actions in the industry are above board. He said individuals who have key positions in any cannabis organization will be required to go through security clearances and major investors will have to go through background checks.

Almost 20 Conservatives senators plan to speak during the second reading of the bill but, so far, only one of them has.

Alberta’s Cannabis Plan: Private Retailers With Strict Government Oversight

In late 2017, Alberta revealed the basics of its retail cannabis plan, announcing that adult-use products would be sold in standalone private stores overseen by the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission, along with online sales through a government-run website.

This morning, at the McDougall Centre in Calgary, Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley and representatives from the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission announced further details for the province, covering everything from rules for store ownership to mandatory security guidelines. Key points:

The Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission Is King

Responsible for overseeing distribution, compliance, and enforcement of the cannabis retail system in Alberta, the AGLC has the authority to set strict regulatory guidelines and licence requirements for private cannabis retailers. Regulations will be aligned with federal rules around advertising, labeling, and promotion of cannabis, and provinces are free to strengthen regulations in the future. Beyond this, Alberta’s Act to Control and Regulate Cannabis authorizes the AGLC to carry out public online sales and establish provincial offences related to youth possession, public consumption, and consumption of cannabis in vehicles.

Marching Orders for Private Stores (and Those Who Want to Run Them)

Today brought a wealth of specific information for Alberta’s would-be cannabis retailers.

Those convicted of minor cannabis possession will not face automatic disqualification from the application process.

Licencing: To become a private cannabis retailer, one must apply for an AGLC licence, a process that involves a mandatory background check of criminal records, business history, and tax and financial information. Licences must be renewed annually; background checks will be required every one to three years; and no single person, business, or organization can have more than 15% of retail licences across the province, allowing for a level playing field for large and small businesses. Of note: Those convicted of minor cannabis possession will not face automatic disqualification from the application process. Also: Completed applications must include a $400 application fee, a $700 first-year licencing fee, and a $3,000 deposit for the mandatory background checks, billed as “cost recovery for due diligence process.” Retailers can submit applications starting on March 6, and you can view the application form here.


Canada’s Adult-Use Cannabis Legalization to Be Delayed

The AGLC will maintain a database of qualified cannabis employees.

Employment: The AGLC will maintain a database of qualified cannabis employees, each of whom must be at least 18 years old, have completed four to six hours of mandatory online training, and passed a criminal background check. Retailers will only be able to hire qualified employees, and the online training program will be launched May 1.

Store Location: Stores cannot be built within 100 metres (roughly one city block) of schools or hospitals, and municipalities can establish additional zoning regulations, including between stores.


Canadian Health Insurer Announces Groundbreaking Medical Cannabis Plan

Store Operation and Sales: Retail stores may only conduct business between 10 a.m. and 2 a.m. (the same hours as liquor stores, and municipalities may further limit hours). All stores must meet mandatory security measures, including alarms, video surveillance, and secured product storage. Product can only be displayed in a locked display case and accessed by retail workers when the store is open. For customers, there is a purchase limit of 30 grams per transaction, a restriction that applies to both retail stores and online sales, and onsite consumption is forbidden. The good news: Approved smelling/viewing containers will be permitted.

“These regulations focus on keeping our communities safe, while protecting public health and promoting safety on roads, in workplaces and in public spaces,” said Kathleen Ganley, the province’s minister of justice and solicitor general. “They’ll help keep cannabis out of the hands of youth, while ensuring consumers have access to safe products no matter where they live.”

Arizona Proposal Would Jail Cannabis Doctors Who Break Rules

PHOENIX (AP) — An Arizona House panel on Thursday approved a proposal making doctors who sidestep rules for medical marijuana recommendations guilty of a felony.

Physicians who violate any medical marijuana rule or law could get up to a year in prison.

The proposal backed by Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk was approved by the House Health Committee on a 6-3 party-line vote with Democrats opposed. It now goes to the full House after a routine constitutional review.

Physicians who violate any medical marijuana rule or law could get up to a year in prison. Currently medical boards can discipline violators, including revoking their license.

Polk said that hasn’t kept doctors from failing to follow rules requiring them to have a physician-patient relationship with each patient and to review their medical history and a year’s worth of records.


Are Extracts Illegal in Arizona? Not So Fast

Once a doctor recommends that a patient use medical marijuana, they can apply for a state-issued card allowing them to purchase and possess pot.

The statute “has no teeth,” Polk told the committee. “There are no consequences for not adhering to the statute. And of course the physicians under this statute are the gatekeepers as to who is getting these cards.”

Republicans hailed the proposal, with Rep. Jay Lawrence of Scottsdale repeatedly praising Polk for championing the legislation. But Democrats lashed out at the notion that Arizona would be slapping heavy penalties on doctors who can already face penalties from their licensing boards.

“To me this bill seems to be a solution seeking a problem, because if we already have sanctions on doctors who break the law I’m not sure why we’re adding more regulation onto the medical marijuana industry,” said Democratic Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley of Tucson. “This is a plant that never killed anybody, so I’m not seeing the harm.”


The Biology of Cannabis vs. Opioids for Pain Relief

A lobbyist for the medical marijuana dispensary industry, Kevin DeMenna, testified that adding felony penalties is unneeded because the medical boards have the ability to discipline doctors who stray from the rules. He also noted that the nation as a whole is moving toward marijuana legalization.

“We’re trying to criminalize something that is moving in exactly the opposite direction,” DeMenna said, “We are decriminalizing this. It is now effectively legal on three of our four corners — Canada, California and Mexico.”

Polk and many other top prosecutors in Arizona vehemently oppose marijuana legalization. She led an effort to defeat legalization of recreational marijuana in 2016.

She cited statistics from 2013 that showed just 25 physicians were responsible for 70 percent of the marijuana recommendations in 2013. She also said the most recent state medical marijuana report showed 85 percent of the medical marijuana cards issued were for chronic pain and most went to young people.


What Makes a Medical Cannabis Program Succeed?

“What I see from my perspective as county attorney is a culture of young folks who get their green card and then they’re going out and they’re smoking pot, and they’re not sick,” Polk said. “For me it’s a problem for the state because this becomes kids who are not going anywhere.”

— The legislation is House Bill 2067 .

Rick Steves Tells Us What He’s About to Tell Congress

Rick Steves is the internationally renowned travel writer and TV personality known for his PBS travel shows, his “Europe Through the Back Door” book series, and his passionate cannabis activism. This afternoon, Steves joins the Congressional Cannabis Caucus to brief Congress on US marijuana policy. In advance of the briefing, Steves fielded a few questions.

DAVID SCHMADER: You’ve mentioned that you’ve been inspired by Europe’s pragmatic approach to drug abuse. Can you tell me a little about what’s impressed you?

“America locks up 10 times as many people as they do in Europe, and we are either inherently a more criminal people or there’s something screwed about our laws.”

RICK STEVES: The line I love that my European friends use is that society has to make a choice—tolerate alternative lifestyles, or build more prisons. And Europeans are really into toleration, they’re into civil liberties, and they’re into not incarcerating people. They always remind me that America locks up 10 times as many people as they do in Europe, and we are either inherently a more criminal people or there’s something screwed about our laws.

You don’t need to lock up so many people for smoking pot and Europeans have showed us that. You can take the crime out of the equation, save a lot of money, and have more credibility when it comes to teachers, parents, and law enforcement teaching young people about the dangers of hard drugs.


In LA, Legal Cannabis Stores Call for Crackdown on Illegal Pop-Ups

Part of your congressional briefing will involve highlighting the benefits that come with moving towards legalization—can you tell me about some of those?

Well, I live in Washington State, and we’re enjoying the benefits that come with legalizing and regulation since we did just that in 2012.

Back then, we passed this bill on a hunch that youth use would not go up, that crime would not go up, that DUIs would not go up. Now we have a track record and it’s really clear—the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board has studied it, and use is the same among adults, use has clearly not gone up among youth, DUIs have not been a concern, and crime has not gone up.

“I always stress that this is not pro-marijuana—this is anti-prohibition and pro-smart law.”

What’s gone up is the civil liberty to enjoy marijuana responsibly in your home as an adult. What’s also gone up is tax revenue. Our state has $310 million in tax revenue a year because of legal marijuana.

It’s not because more people are smoking pot, but because we’ve taken a thriving black-market industry that rivaled apples—in Washington, that’s a big deal—and we have turned it into a highly taxed and regulated legal market, which employs tens of thousands of people in our state legally.

In so many cases, politicians find themselves in states that have legalized marijuana because of the will of the people. These politicians who were ambivalent about it or against it, have come to realize, “Hey, this is smart policy.”

And I always stress that this is not pro-marijuana—this is anti-prohibition and pro-smart law, along with tackling the racism that is part of our prohibition against marijuana.


Jeff Sessions Is Steamed Over Senator’s Cannabis Blockade

Another item on your congressional to-do list: highlighting the pending legislative remedies available to correct the wrong if cannabis prohibition. Can you tell me about those?

Right now there are all sorts of issues. I’m visiting Capitol Hill for the federal government and I’m visiting a number of state houses.

We’ve pretty much exhausted the states that are likely to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana through the initiative process, and we’re moving into the state houses of the more progressive states, along the eastern seaboard.

“The pot prohibition profiteers—interests that make a lot of money by keeping marijuana illegal—are confusing legislators, and I just think it’s fun to come and share the actual results of what’s happened in (legalized) states.”

A couple years ago, we legalized, taxed, and regulated marijuana in Maine and Massachusetts, and now all the states nearby are realizing “Hey, these other states are getting all the economic benefits of legalizing marijuana,” and people are realizing they better get on board they’re going to be left in the dust.

The question is: How do they do it? I’m not a policy wonk, I don’t know all the banking issues, and DUI issues, but I just can share my general feeling that prohibition is wrong-minded, it’s expensive, it’s counterproductive, and it’s not working.

I really like the sentiment New York Mayor LaGuardia shared back when his state was trying to fight alcohol prohibition: “When a society has a law on the books that it does not intend to enforce consistently across the board, the very existence of that law erodes respect for law enforcement in general.” That’s what we’ve got in the US right now.

Colorado’s tourism is thriving, they’ve got a hot job market, a housing market that’s doing great, and it’s not because of marijuana, but it proves that marijuana doesn’t get in the way of that. People are learning.

Our opponents are really good at cherry-picking statistics generated by organizations whose mission is to discredit the legalization moment with misinformation. Opponents funded by what I call the PPP—the Pot Prohibition Profiteers, interests that make a lot of money by keeping marijuana illegal—are confusing legislators and decision-makers, and I just think it’s fun to come and share the actual results of what happened in the states when they decided to take the crime out of the equation and recognize the civil liberty to enjoy marijuana responsibly in a recreational way.


Sessions Advisor Ramping up Drug War, Profiting From Drug Tests

Final question: Is today’s briefing the most high-profile cannabis activism you’ve yet undertaken?

“(Cannabis) is an issue that I can speak comfortably and openly about because I can’t be fired and nobody needs to vote for me.”

Not really, I go all around the country giving these talks, and I’ve been coming to congress before on this issue. I work it into all my talks, by sharing the perspective I’ve gained from traveling.

Every two years I go on the road to raise awareness—sometimes I talk to the public, other times to legislators. It’s just something I feel is a good contribution from me as a citizen. This is an issue I care about, it’s an issue where I can share a European sensibility, and it’s an issue that I can speak comfortably and openly about because I can’t be fired and nobody needs to vote for me.

Bipartisan Proposal Would Put Cannabis Legalization on Arizona Ballot

PHOENIX (AP) — Voters would have another chance to weigh in on legalizing marijuana in Arizona under a proposal in the state House.

The proposal from Republican Rep. Todd Clodfelter of Tucson and Democratic Rep. Mark Cardenas of Phoenix was announced Thursday. If approved by the House and Senate, it would be on November’s ballot.

Opposition among Republican lawmakers to legalizing marijuana is strong, so its success remains in doubt.


Arizona May Finally Begin Lab Testing Medical Cannabis for Contaminants

The proposal allows those 21 and older to possess an ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants. Smoking in public would be banned and cities and towns could bar marijuana businesses. Current medical marijuana laws remain intact.

The proposal would tax sales and allow employers to bar workers from using marijuana.

Arizona voters narrowly rejected a legalization effort in 2016.

Budget Deal Extends Medical Marijuana Protections, but Only Temporarily

After a brief government shutdown—and another moment of angst for the nation’s legal cannabis industry—federal lawmakers struck a two-year budget deal that preserves a key protection for state-legal cannabis.

Every time the government shuts down—which has now happened twice in 2018—the Rohrabacher–Blumenauer amendment, which prevents the Justice Department from using resources to prosecute state-legal medical cannabis, is thrown into jeopardy. Until Congress passes another spending measure—hopefully with the amendment intact—its protections disappear, removing one of the only formal protections from federal interference.


What the Federal Shutdown Means for Medical Marijuana

With the Cole memo gone, the situation has grown even more uncertain. Without the DOJ guidelines admonishing US attorneys from going after state-legal cannabis, any freeze on Rohrabacher–Blumenauer opens the door for federal prosecutors to crack down on the medical cannabis industry, shutting down dispensaries and seizing businesses’ assets.

“This cycle of uncertainty has to end. We need permanent protections for state-legal medical marijuana programs, as well as adult-use.”

US Rep. Earl Blumenauer

This time, after delays over a proposed amendment from Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), the Senate failed to pass a budget before the Thursday’s midnight deadline. After a brief shutdown, the chamber eventually passed a two-year budget deal and sent it to the House, which quickly approved it. President Trump signed the bill Friday morning.

Another omnibus spending bill is slated for a congressional vote on March 23.

The upshot? Rohrabacher–Blumenauer is once again safe as part of a continuing resolution. But, as it’s been with the past four appropriations bills—the amendment’s survival is only temporary.

The congressmen behind the amendment, US Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) have pledged to work diligently on the amendment between now and March 23. Their goal is that the amendment will be considered by the full House and eventually move to a floor vote, something that has been repeatedly denied by House Republican leadership.


House Committee Blocks Medical Marijuana Protections

“This cycle of uncertainty has to end,” Blumenauer said in a statement to Leafly. “We need permanent protections for state-legal medical marijuana programs, as well as adult-use.”

The amendment’s supporters believe they have the Republican votes to pass the amendment in the House and potentially make it part of a Department of Justice appropriations package instead of the vulnerable rider it is today.

“Hopefully we will come up with an omnibus bill that will include an appropriations bill for the Department of Justice,” Rohrabacher told Leafly. “At that point, if we can get that amendment into the DOJ appropriations bill, we will be safe until September. Then we will pass a regular piece of legislation that will prevent us from jumping through all of these hoops every year.”


54 Bipartisan Members of Congress Urge Trump to Revive Cole Memo

Both representatives are also interested in expanding the amendment to include protections not only for medical cannabis programs but also adult-use laws.

“There is a lot of support on the amendment that wasn’t there before, ironically coming after the Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescindment announcement, for expanding Rohrabacher–Blumenauer to all adult use,” said Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association. “We tried to do it with our congressional allies last year, and have been and continue to try to do it into the 2018 fiscal year budget to expand it.”

But while support is growing among federal lawmakers, it could still be an uphill battle, Smith said. “My prediction is that it’s probably procedurally pretty difficult to expand that to include adult use, even into the next year.”

Cash-Strapped Greece Sees Growth in Medical Cannabis

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece’s government says it’s fast-tracking plans to legalize growth of medical cannabis, arguing that growing interest from investors could help efforts to pull the country out of years of crisis.

Legislation to legalize cannabis production was submitted to parliament Wednesday and is due to be voted on later this month.

Greece allowed the use of medical cannabis products last year, but currently relies solely on imports until the legal framework for domestic growers was prepared. Government officials, presenting details of the bill, said they hoped domestic production and processing could attract investments worth 1.5 billion euros (1.85 billion) over three years.


Greece Will Legalize Medical Cannabis

According to the draft legislation, growers must be age 21 or over, have no drug-related convictions, and have more at least 1 acre of land available.

BC Cannabis Regulations: What You Need to Know

The BC government has put an end to speculation that recreational cannabis will be sold alongside booze at government-run liquor stores.

Recreational cannabis will be sold in standalone retail stores, some privately owned, others run by the government.

In newly unveiled rules related to the legalization of recreational cannabis, British Columbia stipulates that individuals aged 19 and up will be allowed to buy recreational cannabis in standalone retail stores, some of which will be privately owned and operated, others of which will be run by the government.

The Liquor Control and Licensing Branch, the government body that issues liquor licenses and enforces BC’s Liquor Control and Licensing Act, will be responsible for granting licenses to private cannabis retailers and for monitoring the retail sector.


Canadian Cannabis Legalization: A Guide to Laws by Province

Residents of legal age will also be able to buy cannabis directly from the government through a website.

The province will launch an early registration process for individuals and businesses seeking retail licenses. Such licenses will be granted only with the approval of local governments.

Having operated an illegal dispensary in the past won’t make an individual ineligible to become a licensed retailer.

Of particular interest to supporters of BC’s many dispensaries, the province says that having operated an illegal dispensary in the past won’t make an individual ineligible to become a licensed retailer.

Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth says the new regulations were developed with aim of “protecting youth, promoting health and safety, keeping the criminal element out of cannabis and keeping [the province’s] roads safe.”

Kirk Tousaw, a Vancouver-based lawyer who specializes in the cannabis space, gave a lukewarm response on Twitter. “Overall my sense is that we will have a pretty decent system but some additional work needs to be done to support local craft producers and consumption locations.”


Vancouver Crackdown: Cops Bust Open-Air Cannabis Market Outside Vancouver Art Gallery

Aside from retail, what do the government’s new regulations cover? Here are some basic Qs with some knowledgeable As.

How much cannabis will I be able to have on me in public?

Those 19 and older will be allowed to possess up to 30 grams of recreational cannabis in public. Adults may have cannabis in their vehicles, but only if the cannabis in a sealed package or somewhere inaccessible to you and other occupants of the vehicle.

Where in public will I be able to enjoy recreational cannabis?

Consumption of recreational cannabis will be banned in beaches, parks, playgrounds and other places where children gather. It will also be banned in vehicles. Local governments will be able to set additional restrictions just as they can for tobacco use. Also, landlords and strata councils will be able to restrict or prohibit recreational cannabis use on their properties. The province won’t license consumption lounges right away. And, according to Tousaw, it is still unclear whether local government can authorize a consumption lounge that does not sell cannabis on-site.

How much will I be able grow at home?

Cannabis can’t be grown in homes used as daycares.

Adults will be allowed to grow as many as four cannabis plants per household as long as they are not visible from public spaces. Home-grows also must be approved by landlords or, in some cases, strata councils. Cannabis can’t be grown in homes used as daycares.

What will the rules around drug-impaired driving look like?

Drug-impaired driving will continue to be illegal and the province is going to increase training for police in this area. It will also toughen regulations to prevent drug-impaired driving and remove impaired drivers from the road. The province is creating a 90-day administrative driving prohibition. Zero-tolerance restrictions that apply to alcohol in drivers in the Graduated Licensing Program, a system that eases new drivers onto roadways in two stages, will also apply to THC.

Read the full BC Cannabis Private Retail Licensing Guide here.

Indiana Poised to Legalize CBD Sales for All

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indiana Legislature is poised to allow anyone to use cannabidiol, a cannabis-derived extract believed to have therapeutic benefits.

A law passed last year allowed those with a severe form of epilepsy to use the substance. Now lawmakers are going further.

The Indiana Senate voted 35-13 on Monday to allow cannabidiol to be sold without restriction. The Indiana House previously approved similar legislation.

Cannabidiol, commonly referred to as CBD oil, is derived from marijuana and hemp, but lacks the stuff that will get you high.

A law passed last year allowed those with a severe form of epilepsy to use the substance. Now lawmakers are going further, following an unexpected crackdown on CBD sales and widespread confusion over whether the product was actually legal.


Indiana AG Says Cops Can Seize CBD Oil—Unless It’s for Epilepsy

It marks a major shift in policy over a short period of time when it comes to marijuana, or marijuana-derived medicine. Similar efforts failed in years past.

Bill to Reduce Iowa Cannabis Penalties Faces Uncertain Future

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A proposal in the Iowa Legislature to lessen penalties for people who possess small amounts of marijuana for the first time would save the state money and reduce the disproportionate number of African-Americans in its criminal justice system, yet its chances of advancing this session are unclear.


Iowa Man Faces Deportation for a Single Gram of Cannabis

The bill would make first offense possession of marijuana that’s 5 grams or less a simple misdemeanor instead of a serious misdemeanor, reducing jail time and court fees for those convicted of the charge.

A black person in Iowa is eight times more likely to be charged with marijuana possession than a white person.

“This would be a step in the right direction in addressing one of the very big racial disparity problems in Iowa,” said Daniel Zeno with the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa.

A 2013 report from the national ACLU shows a black person in Iowa is eight times more likely to be charged with marijuana possession than a white person. That’s even though white people uses marijuana at about the same rate as black people. The report, based on federal data, ranks Iowa the worst among all states.

Half of the 3,399 cases of marijuana possession convictions in Iowa during the budget year that ended in 2016 involved 5 grams or less, according to data from the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency. That’s a little less one-quarter ounce of marijuana. In the same period, 18 percent of people convicted for first offense marijuana possession were African Americans. Yet African Americans make up just 3.5 percent of the state’s population.


California Is Still Arresting Too Many People of Color for Cannabis

The proposal has been debated several times over the years but it hasn’t reached both chambers for a vote. The Iowa Peace Officers Association and the Iowa State Police Association registered against the bill. The Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy is registered undecided.

The lack of legislative movement comes amid a shift in the national conversation over marijuana use. San Francisco highlighted that point recently when officials there announced they’ll toss or reduce thousands of criminal convictions for marijuana dating back decades.

San Francisco’s move came after California legalized recreational use of marijuana with a 2016 ballot initiative. Iowa has not taken such action and smoking marijuana remains prohibited in the state.


California Prosecutors Dropping, Reducing Cannabis Convictions

Sen. Amy Sinclair, a Republican from Allerton, signed off on the marijuana possession bill during a subcommittee vote last month. She said then the measure isn’t aimed at advocating marijuana use.

“This is not about us legalizing marijuana at all. It is not,” she said. “It is about the fact that people make errors and addiction happens, and the fact that we would reduce this charge is more about allowing for that second chance and that rehabilitation.”

Still, state lawmakers have eased restrictions on medical marijuana in the form of oil, and the Republican-controlled Legislature passed a bill last year to manufacture and distribute the oil. Former Gov. Terry Branstad signed it into law.

“I would like it to be based on drug policy science and research instead of emotional fear.”

Jason Karimi, Republican activist

Nine states and the District of Columbia have approved recreational marijuana use. Separately, 29 states, Washington, D.C., Guam and Puerto Rico allow public medical marijuana and cannabis programs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

It’s unclear how these policies will be impacted by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision recently to rescind an Obama-era policy on non-interference with legal state marijuana operations.

At the Iowa statehouse, the Senate judiciary committee advanced the marijuana possession measure last week. While that means it’s eligible for a floor vote, there’s no indication it’s a priority. The same committee passed the bill last session without further action.


Court Sides With Students in Iowa State NORML T-Shirt Case

Sen. Brad Zaun, an Urbandale Republican who chairs the Senate judiciary committee and drafted the bill, said he doesn’t support recreational marijuana and just wants to make sure small drug use doesn’t ruin school and career opportunities.

“It’s become somewhat of an epidemic with younger people and adults who make poor decisions,” he said.

An analysis by LSA on the bill notes it would result in fewer people in prison, community-based corrections facilities and jail. The full estimate of cost savings is incomplete, but Iowa and local governments would see reductions to their daily expenses of housing individuals caught with small amounts of cannabis.


Washington Sees Declines in Teen Use, Treatment Admissions Since Legalization

That could alleviate Iowa’s constrained budget, which has translated to reductions in Iowa’s corrections and judicial budgets.

Jason Karimi is a Republican activist in Iowa who supports decriminalizing marijuana. He said the legislation is a first step but he hopes the discussion over marijuana in the future removes stigma around its use.

“I would like it to be based on drug policy science and research instead of emotional fear,” he said.