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18 Aug 2016

Cannabis in the CV: While States Continue to Open Doors for Marijuana, the Feds Just Keep Saying 'No'

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The pro-cannabis movement has had quite a few recent state-level victories—both here in California and elsewhere—but the anti-prohibition movement and the development of the cannabis industry continue to be crippled at the federal level by the Drug Enforcement Administration, as the agency desperately tries to retain relevancy by preserving the failed War on Drugs—and the revenue that goes with fighting it.

But before we talk about that, let’s look at the good news happening at the state level.

Here in California, the State Assembly passed civil-asset-forfeiture reform legislation by a 69-7 vote on Aug. 15. The legislation—which has gone through numerous amendments, including a previous version which was passed in the Senate—is expected to glide through when it returns to the Senate.

Information from the U.S. Department of Justice and California’s Attorney General’s Office shows that most asset-forfeiture cases involve cash and property valued less than $40,000. Currently, assets can be seized before any criminal conviction. Supported by the ACLU, the Drug Policy Alliance, the Institute for Justice, the Ella Baker Center, and the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, Senate Bill 443 would require that a conviction be gained in the underlying criminal case before seized cash and money with a value of less than $40,000 can go to bolster law-enforcement coffers.

“If Gov. Brown signs this bill, it will be one of the most far-reaching civil-asset forfeiture reforms in the country and will once again demonstrate that states are taking the lead to protect people’s due process and property rights,” said Lynne Lyman, California state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, in a news release. “This important legislation will drastically reduce the opportunity for police to take money from and otherwise harass poor people, immigrants, people of color, and small businesses that work primarily in cash.”

The bill was delayed last year by law-enforcement lobbyists who claimed the loss of revenue would result in lower standards of crime prevention. The revised bill, now on the way to becoming law, is the result of extensive negotiations between proponents and law-enforcement representatives. Republican Assemblyman Donald Wagner called the effort and resulting bill “the model of lawmaking.”


Excise Tax Shelved by Senate Appropriations Committee

In another cannabis victory here in California, a bill to put a 15 percent excise tax on medical marijuana has been killed by a Senate panel following claims by patient advocates that its passage it would put an undue financial burden on medi-pot patients.

AB 2243 was shelved by the Senate Appropriations Committee, in part because a 15 percent tax on cannabis is part of Proposition 64, to be voted on by Californians on Nov. 8; the ballot question would legalize the recreational use of cannabis in the state if passed.

Authored by Assemblyman Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg), the bill would have charged up to $9.25 per ounce of flower product, $2.75 per ounce of leaf and $1.25 per ounce of immature plants.

Wood says the excise tax is needed to cover the costs of enforcing new licensing for the cultivation, transportation and sale of medical cannabis. This seems like a fairly hollow justification for a huge tax burden to fall on patients—in light of how much money law enforcement stands to save by not enforcing draconian cannabis-prohibition laws.

California NORML and Americans for Safe Access were among the opponents to the bill.

These are just a couple California examples of the marijuana progress being made on the state level. Medical cannabis has been legalized in 25 states. Recreational use is now legal in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and our nation’s capitol, Washington D.C. (Well, it’s sort of legal. Residents have voted for legalization, though Congress—which controls Washington, D.C.’s budget—prohibits retail sale for recreational use there). California, Nevada, Arizona, Massachusetts and Maine will all vote on recreational use this November, and medicinal use will be on the ballot in Arkansas, Florida and Missouri.


Then There Are the Feds …

Back in May, the DEA indicated it would again consider moving cannabis from Schedule 1 to Schedule 2. The move would lead to wider access to marijuana by researchers, and would open traditional banking avenues to cannabis businesses that are now off limits due to federal prohibition.

After months of anticipation, the Drug Enforcement Agency—following (sarcasm alert) what was surely careful and balanced analysis, and consideration of the will of the people—decided to leave Cannabis on Schedule 1, alongside heroin, GHB, bath salts, mescaline and Ecstasy.

The classification indicates the drug has no medicinal purpose, and the DEA stands by this assertion—in spite of hundreds of credible studies and tests proving the plant’s medicinal benefits.

Who cares if marijuana can increase revenues in state coffers, reduce the prison population (We’re No. 1!), increase funding for school construction and budgets, and help with back pain/cerebral palsy/arthritis/social anxiety/PTSD/cancer/insomnia/eating disorder/etc./etc.? So what if state after state is following the will of the people and embracing cannabis?

When will the DEA give up the ghost on cannabis? The time for the agency to take any kind of leadership on the issue has long since passed, and it’s time for the feds to follow the findings of science and the will of the American people—or at least get out of the way.

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