Government expected ‘a bit of a run on supply,’ MP says
Government expected ‘a bit of a run on supply,’ MP says
‘Cannabis is no longer illegal,’ police force tweets. ‘Do not call police for this’
DELTA, British Columbia — Mat Beren and his friends used to drive by the vast greenhouses of southern British Columbia and joke about how much weed they could grow there.
Years later, it’s no joke. The tomato and pepper plants that once filled some of those greenhouses have been replaced with a new cash crop: marijuana. Beren and other formerly illicit growers are helping cultivate it. The buyers no longer are unlawful dealers or dubious medical dispensaries; it’s the Canadian government.
On Oct. 17, Canada becomes the second and largest country with a legal national marijuana marketplace. Uruguay launched legal sales last year, after several years of planning.
It’s a profound social shift promised by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and fueled by a desire to bring the black market into a regulated, taxed system after nearly a century of prohibition.
It also stands in contrast to the United States, where the federal government outlaws marijuana while most states allow medical or recreational use for people 21 and older. Canada’s national approach has allowed for unfettered industry banking, inter-province shipments of cannabis, online ordering, postal delivery and billions of dollars in investment; national prohibition in the U.S. has stifled greater industry expansion there.
Hannah Hetzer, who tracks international marijuana policy for the New York-based Drug Policy Alliance, called Canada’s move “extremely significant,” given that about 25 countries have already legalized the medical use of marijuana or decriminalized possession of small amounts of the drug. A few, including Mexico, have expressed an interest in regulating recreational use.
“It’s going to change the global debate on drug policy,” she said. “There’s no other country immediately considering legalizing the nonmedical use of cannabis, but I think Canada will provide almost the permission for other countries to move forward.”
At least 109 legal pot shops are expected to open across the nation of 37 million people next Wednesday, with many more to come, according to an Associated Press survey of the provinces. For now, they’ll offer dried flower, capsules, tinctures and seeds, with sales of marijuana-infused foods and concentrates expected to begin next year.
The provinces are tasked with overseeing marijuana distribution. For some, including British Columbia and Alberta, that means buying cannabis from licensed producers, storing it in warehouses and then shipping it to retail shops and online customers. Others, like Newfoundland, are having growers ship directly to stores or through the mail.
Federal taxes will total $1 per gram or 10 percent, whichever is more. The feds will keep one-fourth of that and return the rest to the provinces, which can add their own markups. Consumers also will pay local sales taxes.
Some provinces have chosen to operate their own stores, like state-run liquor stores in the U.S., while others have OK’d private outlets. Most are letting residents grow up to four plants at home.
Canada’s most populous province, Ontario, won’t have any stores open until next April, after the new conservative government scrapped a plan for state-owned stores in favor of privately run shops. Until then, the only legal option for Ontario residents will be mail delivery — a prospect that didn’t sit well with longtime pot fan Ryan Bose, 48, a Lyft driver.
“Potheads are notoriously very impatient. When they want their weed, they want their weed,” he said after buying a half-ounce at an illicit medical marijuana dispensary in Toronto. “Waiting one or two three days for it by mail, I’m not sure how many will want to do that.”
British Columbia, home of the “B.C. Bud” long cherished by American pot connoisseurs, has had a prevalent marijuana culture since the 1970s, after U.S. draft-dodgers from the Vietnam War settled on Vancouver Island and in the province’s southeastern mountains. But a change in government last year slowed cannabis distribution plans there, too, and it will have just one store ready next Wednesday: a state-run shop in Kamloops, a few hours’ drive northeast of Vancouver. By contrast, Alberta expects to open 17 next week and 250 within a year.
There is no immediate crackdown expected for the dozens of illicit-but-tolerated medical marijuana dispensaries operating in British Columbia, though officials eventually plan to close any without a license. Many are expected to apply for private retail licenses, and some have sued, saying they have a right to remain open.
British Columbia’s ministry of public safety is forming a team of 44 inspectors to root out unlawful operations, seize product and issue fines. They’ll have responsibility for a province of 4.7 million people and an area twice as large as California, where the black market still dwarfs the legal market that arrived in January.
Chris Clay, a longtime Canadian medical marijuana activist, runs Warmland Centre dispensary in an old shopping mall in Mill Bay, on Vancouver Island. He is closing the store Monday until he gets a license; he feared continuing to operate post-legalization would jeopardize his chances. Some of his eight staff members will likely have to file for unemployment benefits in the meantime.
“That will be frustrating, but overall I’m thrilled,” Clay said. “I’ve been waiting decades for this.”
The federal government has licensed 120 growers, some of them enormous. Canopy Growth, which recently received an investment of $4 billion from Constellation Brands, whose holdings include Corona beer, Robert Mondavi wines and Black Velvet whiskey, is approved for 5.6 million square feet (520,000 square meters) of production space across Canada. Its two biggest greenhouses are near the U.S. border in British Columbia.
Beren, a 23-year cannabis grower, is a Canopy consultant.
“We used to joke around all the time when we’d go to Vancouver and drive by the big greenhouses on the highway,” he said. “Like, ‘Oh man, someday. It’d be so awesome if we could grow cannabis in one of these greenhouses.’ We drive by now and we’re like, ‘Oh, we’re here.’”
Next to Canopy’s greenhouse in Delta is another huge facility, Pure Sunfarms, a joint venture between a longtime tomato grower, Village Farms International, and a licensed medical marijuana producer, Emerald Health Therapeutics. Workers pulled out the remaining tomato plants last winter and got to work renovating the greenhouse as a marijuana farm, installing equipment that includes lights and accordion-shaped charcoal vents to control the plant’s odor. By 2020, the venture expects to move more than 165,000 pounds (75,000 kg) of bud per year.
Some longtime illegal growers who operate on a much smaller scale worry they won’t get licensed or will get steamrolled by much larger producers. Provinces can issue “micro-producer” licenses, but in British Columbia, where small-time pot growers helped sustain rural economies as the mining and forestry industries cratered, the application period hasn’t opened yet.
Sarah Campbell of the Craft Cannabis Association of BC said many small operators envision a day when they can host visitors who can tour their operations and sample the product, as wineries do.
Officials say they intend to accommodate craft growers but first need to ensure there is enough cannabis to meet demand when legalization arrives. Hiccups are inevitable, they say, and tweaks will be needed.
“Leaving it to each province to decide what’s best for their communities and their citizens is something that’s good,” said Gene Makowsky, the Saskatchewan minister who oversees the province’s Liquor and Gaming Authority. “We’ll be able to see if each law is successful or where we can do better in certain areas.”
British Columbia safety minister Mike Farnworth said he learned two primary lessons by visiting Oregon and Washington, U.S. states with recreational marijuana. One was not to look at the industry as an immediate cash cow, as it will take time to displace the black market. The other was to start with relatively strict regulations and then loosen them as needed, because it’s much harder to tighten them after the fact.
Legalization will be a process more than a date, Farnworth said.
“Oct. 17th is actually not going to look much different than it does today,” he said.
Rob Gillies reported from Toronto. Gene Johnson is a member of AP’s marijuana beat team. Follow him at https://twitter.com/GeneAPseattle. Find complete AP marijuana coverage at http://apnews.com/tag/LegalMarijuana.
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According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, police made 659,700 arrests for marijuana-related violations last year. That total is more than 21 percent higher than the total number of persons arrests for the commission of violent crimes (518,617) in 2017.
Of those arrested for marijuana crimes, just under 91 percent (599,000) were arrested for marijuana possession offenses, a slight increase over last year’s annual totals. Total marijuana arrests in 2017 increased for the second straight year, after having fallen for nearly a decade. The uptick comes at a time when ten states, including California, have legalized the adult use of cannabis – leading to a significant decline in marijuana-related arrests in those jurisdictions.
“Actions by law enforcement run counter to both public support and basic morality,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said. “In a day and age where twenty percent of the population lives in states which have legalized and nearly every state has some legal protections for medical cannabis or its extract, the time for lawmakers to end this senseless and cruel prohibition that ruins lives.”
As in previous years, marijuana possession arrests were least likely to occur in the western region of the United States, where possessing the plant has largely been either legalized or decriminalized. By contrast, in Midwestern states, marijuana-related arrests comprised over 53 percent of all drug arrests.
The 2017 FBI report, “Crime in the United States,” is available online here.
Welcome to the latest edition of NORML’s Weekly Legislative Roundup!
The U.S. House Judiciary Committee approved legislation (HR 5634: The Medical Cannabis Research Act of 2018) to facilitate federally-approved clinical trials assessing the efficacy of whole-plant cannabis. The vote marks the first time that lawmakers have ever decided in favor of easing existing federal restrictions which limit investigators ability to clinically study marijuana in a manner similar to other controlled substances.
On the other hand, a congressional conference committee opted not to include a Senate-passed provision in a bill to fund the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The measure is known as the Veterans Equal Access Amendment, which sought to facilitate veterans’ access to medical cannabis in jurisdictions that regulate it.
Also, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), one of Congress’s more ardent drug warriors—signed on as a cosponsor of the STATES Act, to remove the threat of federal intervention and prosecution in states that regulate marijuana use and sales.
At the state level, New Mexico’s health secretary approved adding obstructive sleep apnea as a medical cannabis qualifying condition, but rejected adding opioid addiction, muscular dystrophy, Tourette’s syndrome, eczema and psoriasis. Separately, regulators are holding a series of public meeting next month to receive feedback on proposed hemp rules.
Vermont’s marijuana legalization study committee held a meeting. And California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a bill prohibiting the marketing of cannabis products on websites used by minors.
At a more local level, Brooklyn, New York’s district attorney is moving to expunge thousands of marijuana convictions. And Manhattan’s district attorney is moving to vacate misdemeanor marijuana warrants. He appeared in court to move to dismiss 3,000 marijuana cases dating back to 1978.
The Lancaster, Pennsylvania City Council amended a proposed marijuana penalty reduction ordinance, with a final vote expected later this month. The Green Bay, Wisconsin Common Council is considering lowering fines for marijuana possession. And Oklahoma City, Oklahoma’s City Council heard testimony on a proposed marijuana decriminalization ordinance.
Following are the bills we’ve tracked this week pending before California Governor Jerry Brown, and as always, check http://norml.org/act for legislation pending in your state.
Don’t forget to sign up for our email list and we will keep you posted as these bills and more move through your home state legislature and at the federal level.
Decriminalize Cannabis: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is sponsoring the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act, to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and to provide funding for the expungement of criminal records for those with past marijuana convictions.
Assembly Bill 1793 seeks to allow automatic expungement or reduction of a prior cannabis conviction for an act that is not a crime as of January 1, 2017, or for a crime that as of that date subject to a lesser sentence. The bill was approved by the Senate last week.
Update: AB 1793 awaits action from Governor Brown.
Senate Bill 1127 would help students with severe medical disabilities attend school by allowing a parent or guardian to come on school grounds to administer medical cannabis to them in non-smoking and non-vaping forms. The bill was already approved by the Senate earlier this year.
Update: After failing to gain enough votes for passage in the Assembly on 8/23, a motion to reconsider was granted and on 8/27, SB 1127 was approved by the Assembly with a 42-29 vote. The bill now awaits action from Governor Brown.
Senate Bill 829 would exempt compassionate care programs from paying state cannabis taxes when they are providing free medical cannabis to financially disadvantaged people living with serious health conditions.
Update: SB 829 was approved by the full Assembly with a 65-2 vote on 8/29. The bill now goes back to the Senate for concurrence since it was amended in the Assembly. SB 829 is being heard by the Senate Governance and Finance Committee on Friday 8/31, and then will go to the Senate floor for a vote.
That’s all for this week!
As the summer months come to a close and as political campaigns around the country ramp up outreach efforts, NORML chapters are working to make sure that supporters of marijuana law reform efforts are registered to vote. Through our partnership with Rock the Vote, we’ve made it quick and easy for our members and supporters to make sure their voices are heard this November. This is especially important in states like Missouri, Michigan, North Dakota and Utah — where marijuana law reform initiatives will appear on ballot this November.
From hosting voter registration drives, and voting parties, to providing education about voting laws and the benefits of ending marijuana prohibition, NORML Chapters will be busy engaging voters and mobilizing supporters in advance of this November’s election.
“With Missouri’s voter registration deadline quickly approaching, it’s important for supporters of Amendment 2 to make sure they’re registered to vote. Historically, marijuana ballot initiatives perform better when younger people vote. Voter turnout will absolutely be a factor in the outcome of this November’s election,” said Jamie Kacz, Secretary of Missouri NORML.
Also, to help educate our members and supporters about candidates who are supportive of marijuana law reform efforts, NORML is working with “Smoke the Vote” to create state-level and congressional scorecards, similar to our Governor Scorecard, that outlines each candidate’s marijuana policy positions. The final version will be available within the next few days. Furthermore, several NORML chapters, like Arizona NORML and Texas NORML, have created their own regional voter guides for the 2018 midterm elections!
“Texans rely on elected officials to change marijuana laws,” added Jax Finkle, executive director of Texas NORML. “This is why registering to vote and getting to the ballot box is so important. With several key races polling only points apart, it is integral you know where legislators stand on the issue. Stay tuned for our General Election Voter Guide coming out at the beginning of August.”
Below are a few more resources that should come in handy over the next couple of months.
Resources and Tools for Voter Registration:
For over 45 years NORML chapters have been leading marijuana law reform conversations and continue to be the driving force behind policy decisions on the local and state level. Have you connected with your local NORML chapter? If there isn’t one in your community, please reach out to KevinM@NORML.org for help starting your own!
Ready to start a NORML chapter in your hometown? Click here to find out how!
The decision to strip out the Veterans Equal Access Amendment flies in the face of the horrific medical realities that our nation’s heroes who are desperate to mitigate. This move thwarts the will of the majority of Americans who support medical marijuana and 81% of veterans who believe that the federal government should protect its therapeutic access. Further, by not creating protections for veterans, the Congress continues to view 22% of those who have worn the uniform as criminals.
Under existing federal regulations, physicians affiliated with the US Department of Veterans Affairs are prohibited from filling out the necessary paperwork required in legal medical marijuana states. A budgetary amendment included in the Senate’s version the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations bill sought to end this prohibition. However, Congressional leaders this week elected to eliminate the provision during hearings to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the appropriations bill.
Congressman Earl Blumenauer, the author of similar legislative language now pending in the House of Representatives, said “Denying veterans the care they need by the doctors they trust is shameful. The Senate passed this amendment. It has broad bipartisan support in the House. This should have been a no brainer. Yet, Republican leadership has once again stymied progress toward fair and equal treatment for our veterans. Their continued neglect of commonsense and the will of the American people is a disgrace.”
Veteran and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard said, “Our veterans put their lives on the line for our country, and many come home dealing with visible and invisible wounds. To continue limiting their access to quality healthcare through the VA is a disservice to them and the sacrifices they’ve made.”
“This move by Congressional leadership is egregious and constitutes a slap in the face to the heroes who put their lives on the line to defend our country,” said NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri. “Continuing to treat veterans who risked it all as criminals when they opt to utilize a safe and effective treatment option like cannabis is immoral and un-American.”
Similar language was included by both chambers in the 2016 version of the funding bill, but was similarly stripped from the text in conference committee.
Last week, Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) for the first time introduced stand-alone Senate legislation to expand medical cannabis access to military veterans. A recent American Legion poll found that nearly one in four veterans use marijuana to alleviate a medical condition.