Another election, and another historic night for marijuana reform.
Michigan has passed legalization! MPP played a central role in this campaign from start to finish. From coordinating the initiative drafting to overseeing the production of TV ads, MPP staffers worked alongside a excellent campaign team for two years to make Michigan the first state in the Midwest to adopt legalization. This is a huge win that will maintain our momentum in Washington, D.C. to pass a landmark federal reform bill through Congress in the near future.
Utah passed medical marijuana! MPP led the drafting process and played an important supporting role throughout the campaign. We are so proud of the Utah Patients Coalition team on this historic win that will end the heartless policy of criminalizing patients. If we can pass medical marijuana in Utah, then we can pass it in any state in the country…and we will.
In Missouri, voters approved medical marijuana, and they chose the best of the three possible initiatives. We congratulate our allies in the marijuana reform movement for this important win that will help patients access the medicine they need.
Sadly, North Dakota did not pass its legalization initiative. In such a conservative state, it was always an uphill battle. The proponents ran a strong campaign, but in a midterm year, the electorate was always going to be a challenge. North Dakota passed medical marijuana in 2016. It’s only a matter of time before the state adopts legalization, either via ballot initiative or legislative action.
As a movement, we won three out of four states. And for MPP, we’ve now played a leading role in seven of the 10 states that have legalized marijuana for adults (Colorado, Alaska, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Vermont, and Michigan).
We couldn’t do this work without the support of voters, allies, activists, and donors. We would like to express our heartfelt thanks to everyone who made these crucial victories last night possible.
In other great news, voters elected at least seven governors who support ending marijuana prohibition — Ned Lamont in Connecticut, JB Pritzker in Illinois, Michelle Lujan Grisham in New Mexico, Tim Walz in Minnesota, Gavin Newsom in California, Jared Polis in Colorado, and Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan. For more details, check out our elections page.
Legislation was introduced in the Senate and House of Representatives on Thursday that would end marijuana prohibition at the federal level and replace it with a system in which marijuana is regulated and taxed similarly to alcohol.
Bills filed by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, leaving states to determine their own marijuana policies, and impose federal regulations on marijuana businesses in states that choose to regulate marijuana for adult use. Wyden’s bill would also enact a federal excise tax on marijuana products. In the House, the tax is being proposed in a separate bill introduced by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).
Wyden and Blumenauer also filed marijuana policy “gap” bills that would eliminate many of the collateral consequences associated with federal marijuana convictions without removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act.
An additional bill filed by Wyden with Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Michael Bennett (D-CO) would reform section 280E of the U.S. Tax Code to allow state-legal marijuana businesses to deduct ordinary and necessary business expenses from their federal taxes. A companion bill was filed in the House by Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) and Rep. Blumenauer.
MPP Director of Federal Policies Robert Capecchi issued the following statement in a press release:
“This is commonsense legislation that will eliminate the growing tension between federal and state marijuana laws. Voters and legislatures are rolling back antiquated state marijuana prohibition policies, and it’s time for Congress to step up at the federal level. States are adopting laws designed to improve public safety by replacing the illegal marijuana market with a tightly regulated system of production and sales. The federal government should be working to facilitate that transition, not hinder it. It’s time for Congress to come to grips with the fact that marijuana is safer than alcohol, and most Americans think it should be treated that way.
“We commend Sen. Wyden and Reps. Polis and Blumenauer for proposing a sensible path forward. We hope their colleagues will take an objective look at the benefits of replacing prohibition with a system of regulation. There will surely be some members on the fence about this legislation, but consider it unthinkable that we would return to alcohol prohibition. They need to ask themselves why they are still clinging to the prohibition of a less harmful substance.”
Representatives Tom McClintock (R-CA) and Jared Polis (D-CO) are introducing an amendment to a Department of Justice spending bill intended to prevent the federal government from enforcing federal marijuana laws against individuals and companies who are operating in compliance with the state laws regulating marijuana.
This amendment will not only protect critically ill medical marijuana patients from federal prosecution but, unlike previous versions, will also apply to adult use of marijuana in states where it is legal, like Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon.
U.S. Reps. Jared Polis (D-CO) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced separate bills Friday that would regulate marijuana like alcohol and tax it at the federal level, respectively.
Rep. Polis’s bill would replace the federal government’s current marijuana prohibition model with a regulatory model similar to the one in place for alcohol. States would decide their own marijuana laws, and a federal regulatory process would be created for states that choose to regulate the cultivation and sale of marijuana for adult use. Rep. Blumenauer’s bill would tax marijuana at the federal level.
The U.S. House of Representatives approved a revised version of the highly contested Farm Bill yesterday. Although representatives re-crafted the bill to remove provisions for food stamp funding, they left a hemp amendment intact.
The amendment would change federal law to allow for colleges and universities to grow hemp for research purposes in states where hemp cultivation and production is permitted by state law. The bill must still pass the Senate before final approval.
Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado and Agriculture Commissioner James Comer of Kentucky expressed their support for the amendment. Comer said, “Without a doubt, this was an historic day for industrial hemp in America.”
The bill narrowly passed on a 216-208 vote.
For medical marijuana dispensary owners and the patients who rely on them for access to their medicine, Colorado Congressman Ed Perlmutter’s (D) bill is common sense.
Perlmutter introduced legislation yesterday that would allow legal marijuana-related businesses to have access to traditional banking services. The Marijuana Business Access to Banking Act aims to accomplish this by updating federal banking laws to account for discrepancies with state laws: Currently, financial institutions are barred from working with any organization that sells a controlled substance, regardless of whether the state it resides in permits marijuana sales. Banks that violate this law risk losing their deposit insurance or their federal charter. If the bill is enacted, medical marijuana dispensaries – and the businesses getting ready to open for recreational marijuana sales in Colorado and Washington – will finally have access to bank accounts, credit cards, and loans.
Under the current system, medical marijuana dispensaries are forced to operate on a cash-only basis. For many businesses, this means storing hundreds of thousands of dollars in personal safes, carrying sacks full of hundreds to the state Department of Revenue in order to pay taxes, and looking for unusual sources of start-up revenue. For some businesses, the added burdens have forced them to close shop.
Jamie Lewis, a board member of the National Cannabis Industry Association and owner of two Denver-based medical marijuana companies, said, “Each year, my companies contribute to the five million dollars in tax revenue Colorado collects from the sales of medical marijuana. Making those tax payments is unnecessarily challenging because we do not have access to banking services other local businesses take for granted. Regulators, business owners, and medical marijuana patients alike all deserve the accountability, safety, and efficiency offered by this legislation.”
The bill has been backed by a bipartisan group of 16 Republicans and Democrats, including co-sponsors Jared Polis of Colorado and Denny Heck of Washington.
Breaking news out of Congress! Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) is leading a new bipartisan bill that would modify the federal Controlled Substances Act, so that anyone acting in compliance with a state marijuana law would be immune from federal prosecution.
The Respect for State Marijuana Laws Act would protect marijuana users, dispensary operators, and other individuals who have been courageous enough to help take production and sales above ground into state-regulated markets.
Three Republicans and three Democrats have currently co-signed the bipartisan bill: Reps. Rohrabacher, Justin Amash (R-MI), Don Young (R-AK), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Jared Polis (D-CO).
If you don’t see your member of Congress on that list, please use our online action center to urge them to co-sponsor the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act and then urge your friends to do the same!
In 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Department of Justice would no longer spend scarce resources going after medical marijuana patients or providers. The “Ogden memo” clearly established that federal enforcement actions would not be taken against individuals or groups that act in clear and unambiguous compliance with state laws regarding medical marijuana. For the most part, the DOJ has followed this policy.
Now, after a series of letters to various state officials from U.S. Attorneys throughout the country that has led to confusion about what the Department of Justice will allow in terms of medical marijuana providers and cultivators, Holder will supposedly clarify where the federal government stands on state marijuana laws. This has many reformers worried that the Department of Justice will remove any protections that marijuana providers have had up to this point. This would force many patients back into the criminal market, as well as destroy the well-regulated medical marijuana industry in places like Colorado, Maine, and New Mexico, and prevent other states from enacting sensible dispensary regulation.
MPP has been working with Representatives Barney Frank and Jared Polis to put pressure on the DOJ to reaffirm the “Ogden memo” and let states regulate their medical marijuana programs as they see fit, free from federal interference. Yesterday, they sent this letter to Holder asking the same thing.
We need you to tell him, too.
You can also call the Office of the Attorney General at (202)353-1555.
National Cannabis Industry Association, Rep. Jared Polis Lobby Congress On Behalf of Medical Marijuana Industry
From today's press release:
The National Cannabis Industry Association, the first national organization dedicated to advancing the interests of cannabis-related businesses, today discussed the federal legislative needs of the industry at an event at National Press Club. Prominent leaders in the industry joined Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO), as well as the manager of See Change Strategy, an independent firm that, on March 23, released the first-ever financial analysis of the legal medical cannabis industry in the U.S. This report, based on interviews with more than 300 individuals involved in the industry, projected the total legal medical cannabis market at $1.7 billion in 2011.
"Coloradans have known the positive economic benefit of the cannabis industry for quite some time," said Congressman Polis. "Thanks to the voters of Colorado and the regulations established by the General Assembly, we have a vibrant new legal industry. Colorado's entrepreneurial spirit is strong and our local and state governments are enjoying both the increased revenues from the taxation of the sale and production of medical marijuana as well as the reduced human and financial cost of fighting crime. This report should serve as an important signal to all states considering reforming marijuana laws as well as to the federal government that in a comprehensive regulatory environment, the cannabis industry — like any other industry — can provide jobs, revenue for government and most importantly keep this substance out of the hands of children and vulnerable populations."
"This is not an industry looking for special treatment but an industry looking to be treated on par with other small businesses,” said Polis. “We in Congress need to ensure that this industry can access banking, be treated like any other business under the tax code and has regulations to ensure the safety and efficiency of the market."
Industry leaders highlighted the unique problems they confront as businesspeople. In particular, they described the looming challenge presented by Section 280E of the Internal Revenue Code, which, according to the IRS, prevents them from deducting legitimate business expenses.
“We do not believe 280E, which was intended to apply to individuals who were clearly engaged in illegal behavior, should be applied to legal, licensed organizations like Harborside Health Center,” offered Steve DeAngelo, the executive director of the dispensary by that name in Oakland, California. “Harborside is not a drug trafficking organization, we are a community service organization. Standards that were intended for street dealers of harmful drugs should not be applied to those easing the suffering of seriously ill patients.”
Another member shared the ongoing ordeal many organizations face as they attempt to secure and maintain accounts at financial institutions fearful of violating federal law.
“To say that it is frustrating having one bank account after another shut down is an understatement,” said Jill Lamoureux, managing member of Colorado Dispensary Services. “Access to banking is crucial for this emerging alternative healthcare industry. The capital-intensive nature of start-ups calls for traditional banking services, including credit facilities and equipment leasing options. And as the State of Colorado implements the first statewide regulatory system for medical marijuana, electronic banking and recordkeeping is essential for audit and tracking purposes.”
Meanwhile, Aaron Smith, the executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, touted the economic benefits of the industry and conveyed the mission of the organization.
“The nation's legal medical cannabis market is now worth nearly $2 billion annually and supports hundreds of small businesses and thousands of jobs,” said Smith. “All indications point to significant expansion of this sector of the U.S. economy in the years to come and the National Cannabis Industry Association was formed to provide the industry with a voice on the national stage along side other legitimate business interests.”
Other members of the National Cannabis Industry Association present at the event were Brian Cook, founder and president of Altitude Organic Corporation; Tripp Keber, managing director and sole owner of Dixie Elixirs & Edibles, LLC in Colorado; and Michael Backes, a member of the board of directors of Cornerstone Research Collective in Los Angeles, California.
The mission of the National Cannabis Industry Association is to defend, promote, and advance the interests of the cannabis industry and its members. NCIA publicly advocates for the unique needs of the emerging cannabis industry and defends against those aiming to eliminate the legal market for cannabis and cannabis-related products. For more information, please visit www.TheCannabisIndustry.org.
The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to pass a resolution today declaring illegal marijuana cultivation on federal lands to be an “unacceptable threat to the safety of law enforcement and the public,” and calling upon the nation’s drug czar “to work in conjunction with Federal and State agencies to develop a comprehensive and coordinated strategy to permanently dismantle Mexican drug trafficking organizations operating on Federal lands.”
Speaking on the House floor yesterday, Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) agreed with the goals of H. Res. 1540, but said the only way to accomplish such objectives would be to eliminate “the failed policy of prohibition with regard to marijuana and replac[e] it with regulation.”
“I have no doubt that marijuana plantations, as the resolution states, pose a threat to the environmental health of Federal lands, that drug traffickers spray unregulated chemicals, pesticides, and fertilizers, but I submit that the best way to address that is to incorporate this into a meaningful and enforceable agricultural policy for the country with regard to the regulatory structure for the production of marijuana,” said Polis, whose home state of Colorado has emerged as a national leader in the regulation of medical marijuana. “… As long as [marijuana] remains illegal and as long as there is a market demand, the production will be driven underground. No matter how much we throw at enforcement, it will continue to be a threat not only to our Federal lands, but to our border security and to our safety within our country.”
Steve Fox, director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project, today joined Rep. Polis in endorsing the underlying rationale of the resolution and suggesting that accomplishing the goals detailed in legislation will require an entirely new strategy by the federal government.
“Passage of this resolution will send a clear message to the drug czar and others that our current strategies for combating illegal marijuana production are not working and that a new direction is needed,” Fox said. “There are two choices here: continue the failed prohibitionist policies that encourage Mexican drug cartels to keep growing marijuana on federal lands, or embrace a new path that would acknowledge the reality that marijuana is not going away, but its production and sale can be sensibly regulated in order to reduce the harm caused by its illicit production on federal lands.”
UPDATE: The bill passed overwhelmingly yesterday, with the only "no" votes being cast by Reps. Polis, Barney Frank, Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul.
Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko -- who, as we've discussed in a previous post, receives hundreds of thousands of federal dollars annually to pursue eradication efforts -- told the Redding Record-Searchlight that the vote "sends a very clear message that Congress recognizes the impact and the problems with illegal marijuana growing and dangers on public lands."
But unless Congress and the drug czar's office agree to consider regulating marijuana in order to shut down its illicit production, there's little chance all this chest-thumping will lead to any new, more effective strategies. In the perceptive words of Scott Morgan, "If you don't want Mexican gangsters growing marijuana in the woods, then it's time to allow people who aren't Mexican gangsters to grow marijuana somewhere that isn’t the woods."