December 12, 2019

Virginia Officials Explore Legalizing Marijuana At ‘Cannabis Summit’

State officials, lawmakers, academics and policy experts holed up in a room in Richmond on Wednesday for a day-long “cannabis summit” convened by Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring. The topic of discussion: how and when the Commonwealth could start loosening its strict marijuana laws — including moving to a system of legal and regulated sales for recreational use. “I don’t believe our current system of criminalizing possession of marijuana is working at all,” Herring said in opening remarks. “It is needlessly burdening Virginians with convictions and criminalizing them. The human and social costs of this are enormous, in addition to the millions of dollars it is costing Virginia taxpayers. And the burden of this system is falling disproportionately on African Americans and people of color.” The summit came just a month after Democrats claimed control of the General Assembly for the first time in more than a generation, giving marijuana advocates an opening to move forward on policy priorities stymied in the past by Republican legislators. It also follows polling showing that a majority of Virginians favor both decriminalization and outright legalization.
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December 12, 2019

Legalizing Marijuana Has Majority Support In Kansas, Poll Finds

A clear majority of Kansas residents say they support legalizing marijuana for adult use and allowing the state to tax it, according to a new survey. The annual Kansas Speaks survey, conducted by Fort Hays State University, includes residents’ opinions on a variety of public policy issues such as Medicaid expansion and firearms control. Buried elsewhere within the report, released last week, is the fact that more than 63 percent of respondents either “strongly support” or “somewhat support” legalizing and taxing recreational cannabis. By comparison, only about 26 percent of respondents either “somewhat oppose” or “strongly oppose” marijuana legalization efforts. Eleven percent said they were either neutral or unsure. Despite the approval among a majority of the state’s electorate, cannabis in the state of Kansas remains illegal for all purposes, including medicinal use. Three of the state’s four neighbors—Colorado, Oklahoma and Missouri—have already legalized marijuana in some form. However, there’s reason to believe the narrative around cannabis in Kansas may change in the coming years, albeit in a fairly limited fashion as compared to most other states that allow legal use. In October, lawmakers took the first steps in advancing reform. The Special Committee on Federal and State Affairs recommended that the legislature look to Ohio’s medical cannabis program, which limits patients to 90-day supplies and bans smoking, as a template. Also included in the panel’s recommendation is a proposed ban on vaping of medical marijuana.
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December 12, 2019

MLB officially removes marijuana from banned substances list for baseball players

Major League Baseball and the MLB players union announced Thursday that they have reached an agreement to remove marijuana from the list of banned substances and will begin to treat its consumption by players in the same way that alcohol use is handled. The agreement is the product of negotiations on the league’s drug policy, with both parties agreeing that steps must be taken to handle drug misuse through a treatment-focused model, rather than by simply imposing penalties. With that, the MLB will also start to test for opioids and cocaine, and players who test positive will be referred to treatment. Only those who refuse the treatment program will be penalized. The cannabis change reflects an attempt to modernize the league’s drug policy as more states move to enact legalization. “Going forward, marijuana-related conduct will be treated the same as alcohol-related conduct under the Parties’ Joint Treatment Program for Alcohol-Related and Off-Field Violent Conduct, which provides for mandatory evaluation, voluntary treatment and the possibility of discipline by a Player’s Club or the Commissioner’s Office in response to certain conduct involving Natural Cannabinoids,” the MLB wrote in a press release.
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December 12, 2019

Vaping illness death count surpasses 50 in US

The death toll in the vaping illness outbreak has topped 50, US health officials said Thursday. The 52 deaths in 26 states are among the 2,409 hospitalized cases that have been reported across the nation this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. Hospitalized cases have been most common in the Midwest, with some of the highest rates in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. The median age of the people who died is 52, but most people who suffered lung damage have been much younger, with half in their teens or early 20s. The outbreak appears to have started in March. The bulk of the cases occurred in August and September, but new cases are still being reported, including 118 in the past week, the CDC said. Some of the newly reported illnesses happened more than a month ago but were only recently reported. However, 43 percent of the latest batch of cases were people hospitalized since Nov. 17, the agency said. Most patients have said they vaped products containing THC, the ingredient that produces a high in marijuana. CDC officials have gradually come to focus their investigation on black-market THC cartridges. Last month, CDC officials said they had narrowed in on a culprit — a chemical compound called vitamin E acetate that has been commonly found in the lungs of sick patients and in the products they vaped. It's a thickening agent that's been added to illicit THC vaping liquids.
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December 12, 2019

N.J. marijuana convictions could be forgiven as new bill moves forward

After months of delay, those with past marijuana offenses are again close to having their convictions cleared. The latest expungement bill, A5981, will go before both houses for of the Legislature for a vote Monday, as the state Assembly Appropriates Committee cleared the bill on Thursday. If passed, Gov. Phil Murphy would need to sign the bill for it to become law. In August, he conditionally vetoed an expungement bill, adding new details for a “clean slate” automated process that would clear convictions and criminal records. It also mandated creation of an e-filing system, elimination of fees and $15 million to expand the workforce needed to process expungement petitions before the automated system is ready. The automation piece is the “gold standard” of expungement law, officials have said. Only two other states, Pennsylvania and Utah, have similar practices in place. Police have arrested nearly 1 million people in New Jersey on marijuana charges since 1990, according to the state judiciary, making the state’s marijuana arrest rate one of the highest in the nation. If they seek to clear their records, they then must face one of the most burdensome expungement systems in the country, as reported earlier this year by NJ Advance Media. Rather than accept the governor’s changes, Senate Democrats introduced a new bill in September, further delaying the process. Advocates criticized the holdups, urging lawmakers to act. For those who struggle to get jobs or housing due to lingering, dated charges on the records, even a few months mattered, they said. At the time, Senate President Stephen Sweeney said the new bill largely adopted the governor’s changes, aside from a few words. He said it would go straight to the floor for a vote.
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December 12, 2019

Hemp in Virginia grows toward the future

“We do grams, eighths, quarters, half ounces, pounds, wholesale pounds — however you want it,” Jacob Stretch said, standing between crates of dried hemp in his living room that doubles as his hemp processing and drying facility. Stretch, owner of Chesapeake Blue, just finished his first season growing industrial hemp as a registered grower and processor on his family’s farm. Industrial hemp is poised to be a fast growing sector of agriculture in Virginia. Hemp advocacy group Vote Hemp estimates 2017 retail sales of hemp products neared $820 million nationally and will continue to grow. Hemp is a versatile material that can be used in foods and beverages, personal care products, nutritional supplements, fabrics and textiles, paper, construction materials and other manufactured goods, according to a report from the Congressional Research Service. In an October press release, Gov. Ralph Northam announced Virginia’s first commercial industrial hemp fiber processing facility. Appalachian Biomass Processing, in Wytheville, will create 13 new jobs and purchase more than 6,000 tons of Virginia-grown industrial hemp over the next three years, at a value of more than $1 million, the governor stated. “I am committed to pursuing every path that will attract economic prosperity to our rural communities, and hemp production opens up a wealth of opportunity to bring new jobs and new business to Virginia,” Northam wrote. The processor will mainly create hemp hurd, a woody fiber extracted from the plant stalk to be used for animal bedding. Hurd can also be used to make industrial items such as hemp-based concrete and hemp-derived plastics. In 2018, when hemp could only be grown for research purposes in Virginia, there were 135 acres of hemp planted and about 85 registered growers, according to Erin Williams, senior policy analyst with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. As of Nov. 15, VDACS had registered 1,183 industrial hemp growers, 262 processors and 117 dealers, Williams said. Nearly 2,200 acres of hemp were planted in Virginia this year. The economic impact of industrial hemp in the state has yet to be determined, Williams said. The harvest season has just finished and crops are being sold to processors.
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December 12, 2019

Mass. marijuana stores given OK to resume sales of some vaping products

Massachusetts marijuana stores will soon be able to sell vaping products again after cannabis regulators announced Thursday the retailers can sell any products that are newly manufactured and tested for specific contaminants. Any products sold must be manufactured Thursday or later, according to the order from the Cannabis Control Commission, so it’s not clear when customers will actually be able to start buying vaping products in stores again. In its announcement, the commission amended a quarantine put in place Nov. 12, which effectively banned the sale of cannabis vaping products as the commission waited for more information about which products have caused at least 93 confirmed and probable vaping illnesses in Massachusetts. Starting Thursday afternoon, marijuana stores were allowed to sell products manufactured that day or later once they have been tested for vitamin E acetate and other contaminants, including heavy metals. Vitamin E acetate has been identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a probable culprit — though not the only one — for the vaping illnesses that have killed at least 52 people nationwide. Cannabis vaping products that were manufactured before Dec. 12 will remain quarantined.
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December 11, 2019

Marijuana will be legal in Illinois soon — but immigrants warned to think before they partake

With much of Illinois anticipating the state’s legalization of marijuana in January, activists are urging immigrants not to use or buy cannabis or work in the new industry, as it could lead to drastic measures like deportation. Immigration attorneys and advocate groups gathered Wednesday morning in Chicago’s Loop to get word out that any noncitizen — including legal residents — could be adversely affected by admitting to federal immigration agents that they’ve used marijuana or work in the industry. One advocate held a sign stating, “Know your rights before January 1st.” Starting Jan. 1, marijuana will be legal to purchase in Illinois for those 21 and older. But marijuana remains illegal under federal law, meaning even working at a local dispensary could be viewed by federal agents as a form of drug trafficking, advocates say. "Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t know about these consequences,” said Mony Ruiz-Velasco, executive director of PASO West Suburban Action Project, a social justice organization, underscoring that the warning applies to green card holders and others who have legal status to be in the U.S. “... Just admitting use makes you a potential target for deportation. So you don’t have to have a criminal arrest or conviction, you just have to admit to use.”
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December 11, 2019

At summit, Va. lawmakers, attorney general weigh marijuana decriminalization

Virginia Democratic leaders will push next year for decriminalizing marijuana possession and wiping clean the records of thousands of people convicted of using the drug — proposals they expect to succeed with their party in control of the statehouse. During an all-day summit convened by Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D) on Wednesday, members of a new General Assembly “Cannabis Caucus” explored the best approaches to eliminating criminal penalties of as much as 30 days in jail for pot possession. They also consulted with officials from states that have legalized recreational marijuana about doing the same thing in Virginia, though several of the lawmakers said that might take a few years. Herring, a potential Democratic candidate for governor next year, organized the summit to build momentum for getting rid of punitive marijuana laws that he argued have led to unnecessary criminal convictions, blocking tens of thousands of Virginians from finding good jobs, qualifying for loans or receiving other kinds of assistance. “I don’t believe that Virginia’s current system of criminalizing cannabis is working,” Herring told a group of about 100 summit participants, citing statistics that show the number of marijuana-related arrests have tripled since 1999 to nearly 30,000 last year, with people of color disproportionately affected. “Even if someone is able to avoid jail time for marijuana possession, they’re still stuck with a criminal record,” Herring said. “It is clear to me that it is time for a new, smarter approach to cannabis in Virginia. And, the question we’re here to answer today is: What does that look like?”
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December 11, 2019

Vermont should legalize marijuana sales, top health department official says

A top Vermont health official is endorsing the legalization of recreational marijuana sales. During a radio interview Monday, Cynthia Seivwright, director of the state Department of Health’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Programs, said regulating cannabis commerce in the state would better protect public health than current policy does. Monday’s discussion on WDEV’s Dave Gram Show included the relationship between marijuana-related health consequences and the state’s failure to regulate cannabis after lawmakers there became the nation’s first to legalize marijuana by an act of legislators in January 2018. Governor Phil Scott signed the bill, which allows low-level possession and home cultivation but continues to prohibit sales, later that month. “Without the regulation, we don’t know what’s in it,” Seivwright said when asked whether a regulatory model that is similar to that for alcohol makes sense for cannabis. “We can’t control the potency of it. We can’t control the access, and we definitely don’t want children and adolescents to have access to it.” “Even regulating how it’s tested,” she said, “should be done by an independent lab. Even the packaging. How do we regulate the packaging so that it isn’t desirable for children, to look like candy if it’s going to be edible? We at the Health Department support a regulated system.” The Department of Health’s support — a first for the state agency — was welcomed by Dave Silberman, an attorney and pro bono drug policy reform advocate from Middlebury. “Vermonters of all political stripes are eager to enact a strong regulatory system that puts consumer safety at the forefront, and generates significant revenues for the Department’s broader addiction prevention and treatment efforts,” he told Marijuana Moment. “Rather than burying their heads in the sand and wishing for a drug-free America, the Department seems to finally be taking a facts-based approach to cannabis, rooted in harm reduction instead of stigma. That is a very good thing.”
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