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Biden Weed Pardon Spurs Reaction From Cannabis Community and Beyond

President Joseph Biden’s historic announcement that he would pardon all federal marijuana possession convictions and direct administration officials to study easing restrictions on the drug sent shockwaves across the country on Thursday, with activists, cannabis industry officials, pundits, and policymakers all weighing in on the issue. Biden announced the move on Thursday, finally taking the first steps on a pledge while running for office to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level.

“As I often said during my campaign for President, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana. Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit,” Biden said in a statement on Thursday. “Criminal records for marijuana possession have also imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities. And while white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates.”

The president’s pardons will affect about 6,500 people who were convicted of marijuana possession under federal law and thousands more in the District of Columbia, according to a report from The New York Times. Biden also called on governors to take similar action at the state level, where the vast majority of cannabis possession charges are filed and prosecuted.

The president also called on the Department of Health and Human Services and the Justice Department to review the continued classification of marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance under the Controlled Substances Act. According to the statute, the Schedule 1 classification is meant for drugs with no medical value and a high propensity for abuse.

Pardons Draw Swift Reaction

Biden’s announcement caused a flurry of excitement and activity in the cannabis community and beyond, sending marijuana-related stocks surging and spurring predictions on how the move might affect next month’s midterm elections. Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, a fellow Democrat and U.S. Senate candidate, urged Biden to decriminalize cannabis when they met in Pittsburgh over Labor Day Weekend. He reiterated his stance after news of Biden’s pardons broke on Thursday.

“People’s lives should not be derailed because of minor, nonviolent marijuana-related offenses. That’s common sense. As Lt. Governor, I traveled across the commonwealth to all 67 counties for a listening tour on the legalization of marijuana,” Fetterman said in a statement. “I heard countless stories from Pennsylvanians about what this simple and just step of decriminalizing marijuana would mean to them. Too many lives—and lives of Black and brown Americans in particular—have been derailed by this criminalization of this plant.”

Pundits Ponder Pot Pardons

Political analysis of the pardons announced by the White House on Thursday suggested that the decision could have an influence on next month’s midterm elections, although opinions did not agree on which side would benefit. Some suggested that Biden’s announcement bolsters Republican claims that Democrats are soft on crime, while others believe the move will encourage Democratic and progressive voters to show up at the polls in November.

Former Democratic congressman Beto O’Rourke, who is running for governor in Texas in an effort to turn the state’s executive office blue, issued a statement saying “When I am governor, we will finally legalize marijuana in Texas and expunge the records of those arrested for marijuana possession.”

His opponent, incumbent Governor Greg Abbott, also seized on the president’s announced pardons as a political talking point, rejecting Biden’s call for governors to take similar action at the state level.

“Texas is not in the habit of taking criminal justice advice from the leader of the defund police party and someone who has overseen a criminal justice system run amuck with cashless bail and a revolving door for violent criminals,” Abbott campaign spokesperson Renae Eze said in a statement quoted by CNN.

Pardons Applauded by Cannabis Community

Mary Pryor, co-founder of Cannaclusive, a media services company built to facilitate fair representation of minority cannabis consumers through imagery and education, characterized Biden’s pardons as “a major step forward” and urged more progress on comprehensive criminal justice reform to help those harmed by nearly a century of cannabis prohibition.

“Now it’s time to truly dive into restorative harm repair and make sure that access to careers in cannabis or any field is possible for all of those who will be pardoned,” Pryor, who is also a board member of The Parent Company’s Social Equity Fund, said in a statement. “And while this milestone is indeed a major victory, we still need to educate society around the deeper harms of the War on Drugs when it comes to resources and reparative justice.”

Nancy Whiteman, CEO of cannabis edibles manufacturer Wana Brands, applauded the president’s pardons.

“It is incredible news to hear that President Biden is calling for the pardons of prisoners convicted and held on simple federal marijuana possession charges, a move that will impact over 6,500 individuals,” Whiteman said in an email statement. “This is an important step in full decriminalization and a meaningful way to begin to address the racial disparities around the arrests and convictions of BIPOC people.”

Investors viewed Biden’s plan to pardon cannabis possession convictions and reschedule marijuana as an opportunity, sending shares of legal cannabis companies soaring in Thursday’s trading, according to a report from Reuters. Two of the largest publicly traded cannabis companies posted strong gains, with Tilray shares up 22% and the stock price of Canopy Growth jumping 31%. The ETFMG Alternative Harvest ETF, which has shares of several cannabis companies, rose nearly 20%.

Not Enough, or Too Much?

As can be expected, positive reaction to Biden’s pardons and move to reschedule cannabis was not universal. Many activists and cannabis industry insiders believe the president did not go far enough, while some conservative voices balked at the reforms. Andy Singh, CEO and founder of vape manufacturer Nuvata, said that “President Biden’s statement on the marijuana reform is a long-overdue step in the right direction.”

“However, we have been made these same assurances when he was running for president. At this point, only actions will really be made believable,” Singh wrote in an email to High Times. “It’s been two years since he’s been president, this was one of the very first items he should have addressed as people are unnecessarily suffering in prison daily simply from possession of a plant medicine.”

Dr. Carl Hart, a professor of psychology at Columbia University and the author of the book Drug Use for Grown-Ups, said on social media that the president’s action does not go far enough and suggested political motives are in play.

“While I’m delighted that ~7k ppl will be relieved of MJ possession charges, I’m disappointed that ⁦@JoeBiden⁩ has not taken steps to ensure that no one is arrested for possessing ANY drug. This strikes me as a weak move for votes. Legalize all drugs,” Hart tweeted on Thursday.

Senator Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas and staunch “tough-on-crime” conservative, decried the action from the White House.

“In the midst of a crime wave and on the brink of a recession, Joe Biden is giving blanket pardons to drug offenders—many of whom pled down from more serious charges,” Cotton wrote on Twitter. “This is a desperate attempt to distract from failed leadership.”

At the grassroots level, many voters are likely to support Biden’s pardons of federal marijuana convictions. Last year, a Gallup poll found that a record-high 68% of Americans are in favor of legalizing marijuana for recreational use.

The post Biden Weed Pardon Spurs Reaction From Cannabis Community and Beyond appeared first on High Times.

New York Governor: Recreational Sales On Track To Start By Year’s End

The clock may be ticking on 2022, but New York is still on track to open its first recreational marijuana dispensaries by the end of the year.

That is according to the state’s Democratic governor, Kathy Hochul, who said Wednesday that she expects the first official cannabis retailers to open their doors before 2023.

“We expect the first 20 dispensaries to be open by the end of this year,” Hochul told the Advance Media New York editorial board. “And then every month or so, another 20. So, we’re not going to just jam it out there. It’s going to work and be successful.”

The application period for the first round of adult-use cannabis dispensary licenses just ended last week after it began on August 25.

State officials said that around 500 applications had been submitted, and that hundreds of other applicants had been deemed ineligible and were rejected.

The first round of dispensary licenses will be awarded to individuals who have previously been convicted of a pot-related offense, or a family member of someone who has, a policy that was announced by Hochul back in March.

“New York State is making history, launching a first-of-its-kind approach to the cannabis industry that takes a major step forward in righting the wrongs of the past,” Hochul said in the announcement at the time. “The regulations advanced by the Cannabis Control Board today will prioritize local farmers and entrepreneurs, creating jobs and opportunity for communities that have been left out and left behind. I’m proud New York will be a national model for the safe, equitable and inclusive industry we are now building.”

In her interview with the editorial board on Wednesday, Hochul echoed those sentiments, saying that New York is striving to be “a model for the rest of the nation – especially with our desire to make sure that people who’ve been affected by the criminal justice system adversely … have the opportunity to work in this area.”

Hochul, who is heavily favored to win re-election this year, took over as governor in August 2021 following the resignation of Andrew Cuomo, who stepped down as New York governor amid allegations of sexual misconduct.

It was Cuomo who signed the bill legalizing recreational pot for adults in March 2021, but the state’s cannabis program did not begin to take shape until Hochul took office.

Within a month of taking over last year, Hochul completed two key appointments to the state’s Office of Cannabis Management, the agency charged with overseeing and regulating New York’s cannabis industry.

“New York’s cannabis industry has stalled for far too long—I am making important appointments to set the Office of Cannabis Management up for success so they can hit the ground running,” Hochul said at the time.

In her interview with the editorial board this week, Hochul touted her efforts to get the state-regulated marijuana program off the ground.

“Talk about the rollout being jammed up,” she said. “When I became governor, nothing had happened. Nothing. It was shut down because there was a battle between the administration and the legislature over who would be the executive director and the chairs of the cannabis review boards,” she said. “So, I was given a lot of credit because within one week, I named people. I got things going. So, when I speak to people about being part of this industry, the first thing they say is ‘thank you.’ Because otherwise we could still be waiting and waiting and waiting, even for the most basic steps to be taken. So we’ve been moving along quickly.”

The post New York Governor: Recreational Sales On Track To Start By Year’s End appeared first on High Times.

In Historic Move, Biden Announces He Will Pardon Thousands of Federal Cannabis Offenses

Today President Joe Biden announced that he will pardon people with federal convictions for simple possession of cannabis. Going further, he announced that he will direct the U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland and Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra to begin the process of reviewing the classification of cannabis at the federal level.

The official White House statement was published October 6, noting that under current federal law, cannabis falls under Schedule I alongside deadly drugs like fentanyl. The White House will  “review expeditiously” the plant’s current classification.

The New York Times reports that the move will affect upwards of around 6,500 people who were convicted on federal charges for simple possession of cannabis during the time period of 1992 to 2021, and thousands more convictions based in the District of Columbia.

“As I’ve said before, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana,” Biden tweeted. “Today, I’m taking steps to end our failed approach. Allow me to lay them out.”

Biden then provided three key points: pardoning all prior federal offenses of simple marijuana possession; calling on governors to pardon simple state marijuana possession offenses; and finally, asking Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra and the Attorney General Merrick B. Garland to initiate the process of reviewing how cannabis should be scheduled under federal law.

NORML leaders were cautiously optimistic, noting that efforts to get the attention of the White House for real cannabis reform at the federal level have been going on for decades.

“Many of the efforts taken and proposed by the President today are long overdue,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said in a statement provided to High Times. “For nearly two years, NORML has called upon the Administration to fulfill the President’s campaign promise to provide relief to those stigmatized with a low-level cannabis conviction. We are pleased that today President Biden is following through on this pledge and that he is also encouraging governors to take similar steps to ensure that the tens of millions of Americans with state-level convictions for past marijuana crimes can finally move forward with their lives. Since 1965, nearly 29 million Americans have been arrested for marijuana-related violations—for activities that the majority of voters no longer believe ought to be a crime.”

“Moving forward, the Administration must work collaboratively with Congressional leadership to repeal America’s failed marijuana criminalization laws. Nearly half of voters now agree that legalizing marijuana ought to be a priority for Congress, and such action can only be taken by descheduling cannabis and repealing it from the US Controlled Substances Act—thereby regulating it in a manner similar to alcohol. Congress should be inspired by the Administration’s actions today to act quickly and send legislation to the President’s desk that would help close this dark chapter of our history.”

Leaders in Congress—notably members of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus—applauded the move. The office of Congressman Earl Blumenauer, founder and co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, also sent High Times his official statement on the matter.

“Today, President Biden took an important step in the fight to end the federal government’s failed and discriminatory prohibition of cannabis,” said Congressman Blumenauer. “No president has stepped forward to pardon low-level marijuana offenders at this scale before. At a time when 99% of Americans live in a state where some form of cannabis use is legal, it is unthinkable that anyone—especially predominantly Black, Latinx, and Indigenous Americans—are imprisoned for simple, nonviolent cannabis possession.”

“This is a critical, important step forward for racial justice in the failed war on drugs that too often targeted people of color, especially Black and Latino men. While this order is welcome and long overdue, it is just the first step of many that this Administration should take,” Congressman Blumenauer continued. “We have pending legislation that deals with medical marijuana research and the ability for cannabis businesses to access banking services—both of which have gained support in the House and Senate. The President should embrace and celebrate. It is critical that we put the full force of the federal government behind them.

“There was a time when this was controversial,” Congressman Blumenauer added. “Yet for several years, the federal government has been left behind by people and states who did not wait. Not only does more than two-thirds of the public support full legalization, even half of American Republicans are also ready to end this chapter of the failed war on drugs. We welcome this action and hope it is the first of several noncontroversial critical steps to promote justice, equity, and rational policy.”

US Cannabis Council (USCC) CEO, Khadijah Tribble also chimed in, saying that Biden’s statement aligns with many of the council’s goals.

“President Biden is right: No one should be in jail just for using or possessing cannabis. This executive action will positively impact countless Americans who have been saddled with criminal histories and the unjust suffering and consequences of cannabis prohibition. This is a particularly cathartic moment for Black and brown communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the criminalization of cannabis.

“We commend the President for making good on his campaign promise to grant pardons to non-violent cannabis offenders. This announcement comes on the heels of the Biden administration appointing the first advisor on cannabis research and regulation at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and further reinforces the fact that it’s just a question of when—not if—cannabis is decriminalized altogether.

“As the nation reckons with the wrongs of the past, it’s also time to look to the future. The Senate should pass the SAFE Banking Act, to help ensure that the communities most impacted by cannabis prohibition can safely and gainfully participate in the burgeoning cannabis industry,” Tribble said.

The Justice Department will begin the process of providing certificates of pardons to people who are eligible, USA Today reports.

The post In Historic Move, Biden Announces He Will Pardon Thousands of Federal Cannabis Offenses appeared first on High Times.

Morocco Issues First Cannabis Production Permits

The northern African nation of Morocco formally launched its legal cannabis industry this week with the issuance of the country’s first 10 permits to produce cannabis. The Moroccan government legalized the regulated production and commercialization of cannabis for medicinal and industrial purposes in March of last year, giving its limited stamp of approval to an industry that has thrived in the country for hundreds of years.

Under the law, farmers in Morocco’s northern mountainous areas who organize into collectives will gradually be permitted to cultivate cannabis to fill the needs of the legal market. Abdeluafi Laftit, the Interior Minister of the Alaouite kingdom, Morocco’s reigning monarchy, said the legalization of cannabis is part of the government’s plan to create new “development opportunities,” according to a report from regional media.

On Tuesday, the National Agency for the Regulation of Cannabis Activities (ANRAC), the agency formed to regulate the newly legal industry, issued the first 10 permits for cannabis cultivation and production. The agency also granted permission for authorized companies to market and export cannabis and cannabis derivatives for pharmaceutical, medical, and industrial purposes. According to a statement issued by ANRAC, the move is part of the implementation of last year’s Law 13-21 on the legal uses of cannabis.

Under the plan, ANRAC will authorize farmers to cultivate and process cannabis through a network of closely regulated agricultural collectives. The authorizations will be issued at the provincial level in the provinces of Al Hoceima, Chefchaouen, and Taounate, in a gradual fashion as the needs of the legal market for cannabis dictate. ANRAC noted that it is still studying the prospects of the legal cannabis market in order to foster growth throughout the sector and make the transition to the regulated market easier for farmers who have been producing hashish for Europe’s illicit market for generations.

Will Traditional Farmers in Morocco See the Benefits?

But farmers in Morocco’s Rif Mountains, where large-scale production of hashish has occurred since at least the 18th century, fear the government’s crackdown on unlicensed production and the slow pace of issuing permits will result in missed opportunities. Historically, the region has supplied about 70% of the hashish in Europe’s illicit market. But legalization efforts and domestic production on the European continent are likely to cut into that market significantly.

Souad, a cannabis farmer in the village of Azila, said that Morocco’s cannabis farmers are uncertain about their future and believe that the government’s plan to legalize cannabis has not yet delivered any benefits.

“We’re still attached to this plant, but it has stopped giving us anything,” Souad told WION news.

“Nobody wants it anymore,” she added. “Our lives are hard now.”

Although she is in her 60s, Souad still cultivates cannabis with her sons. She hopes that legalization will help bring prosperity to her family and the marginalized Rif Mountains region, but she is unsure of the prospects for success.

“If it’s serious, it’s a good thing,” said Souad.

As cannabis reform efforts in Europe take hold, the market for Moroccan hashish has dropped significantly. Income from cannabis for farmers in Morocco fell from 500 million euros (about $490 million) a year in the early part of the 21st century to less than 325 million euros (about $319 million) in 2020, according to a 2021 interior ministry study.

“The market has fallen drastically,” said Karim, another grower in Azila.

This year Karim faced additional challenges caused by the worst drought the region has seen in decades. Because of the water shortages, he was only able to farm a portion of his family’s land this year. Farmers are also seeing increased efforts by the government to stem illicit production as they begin to regulate Morocco’s cannabis market.

“Farmers are the weak link in the supply chain—we’re the ones who pay the price,” Karim complained.

“The only option we have left is prison,” he added.

The post Morocco Issues First Cannabis Production Permits appeared first on High Times.

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