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Rhode Island Senate Approves Legal Cannabis

Rhode Island just made history by approving a legal cannabis bill. The proposed legislation passed 29-9 earlier this week. The bill is sponsored by Michael McCaffrey, Democrat and the Senate Majority Leader and Health & Human Services Chairman Joshua Miller, another Democrat. It was introduced back in March, and another legal cannabis proposal was brought up in the state by Governor Dan McKee. “It is a historic day, as it is the first time a bill to legalize and regulate cannabis has reached the floor of either legislative chamber in Rhode Island,” Miller said regarding the bill. “It is important that we act expeditiously to enact a regulatory framework. “Cannabis legalization is as much about reconciliation as it is revenue,” McCaffrey added regarding the reasons behind introducing this bill. “[P]olicies of prohibition have disproportionately impacted communities of color, and I believe we must ensure any effort to legalize cannabis recognizes and rectifies those wrongs. Low barriers to entry, expungement reform, and broad access to programs designed to increase access for individuals and communities impacted by the failed War on Drugs are an important and necessary component.”Not only do the Senate and governor have bills introduced, the House does, too. Rhode Island’s House of Representatives also has a bill backed by Scott Slater, a Democrat. However, the House will not be considering the bill until summer or all, while the Senate is moving forward. Dominick Ruggerio, president of the Rhode Island Senate, claims he wants both the House and Senate to work together with the governor in order to ensure that legal cannabis passes. “Under the status quo, with cannabis readily available, Rhode Island must address all the societal costs, but we have no regulatory framework and no associated revenue stream. The longer we wait to open a cannabis marketplace, the further behind we fall from a competitive standpoint,” he said about the groups coming together and making change. “I encourage our partners in government to continue to work with us to bring this needed legislation over the goal line.”Rhode Island Cannabis ProgressMckee admits that, although he supports legalization, it’s “not like one of my highest priorities, and also said that “we’re not in a race with Connecticut or Massachusetts on this issue.” “I think we need to get it right,” he explained about the potential plan moving forward. The House Finance Committee talked about the governor’s prohibition plan back in April, discussing what action Rhode Island should take. If this bill becomes law, adults 21 and older would be able to purchase up to an ounce of cannabis, as well as possess an ounce at a time. Like in other states, legal adults could also grow up to 6 plants at a time for their own use. The new market would be regulated by the Cannabis Control Commission to keep track of legal cannabis and give out licenses to potential sellers in the industry. There would be a 7 percent sales tax on recreational cannabis, and a 10 percent special tax and 3 percent local tax in areas that allowed legal cannabis. The bill also makes it clear in a special amendment passed by the Judiciary Committee that there “shall be no new cannabis cultivators’ licenses issued prior to July 1, 2023.” Data and the industry would be examined annually to  “determine the maximum number of licenses that shall be issued to meet the production demands.”Labor peace agreements will also be required for businesses, a move that cannabis advocates help will gain support from those who are pro-union. It remains to be seen if Rhode Island will move forward, but it is clear that there is a lot of support for the bill and other legalization plans in the state. 

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Medical Cannabis Patients Demand Essential Gun Rights in Minnesota

In Minnesota, There are strange bedfellows, and then there is the political coalition currently being forged.It is a convergence of Second Amendment champions and marijuana advocates in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, with the two sides coming together to push for medical cannabis patients to be permitted to own guns. As reported by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, some “gun-rights supporters and pro-legalization groups and legislators are lobbying during the special session to allow the Minnesota Department of Health to petition the federal government to exempt marijuana from its Schedule I classification for patients on the medical program, meaning the government recognizes it has medicinal qualities.”The reason why patients in Minnesota aren’t allowed to buy a firearm stems from the federal government’s long standing prohibition on marijuana, a discrepancy that has brought all sorts of frustrations and roadblocks to states and cities that have legalized pot either for medicinal use or recreational use. The Minnesota Department of Health has the breakdown: “Cannabis is a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law. Federal law prohibits anyone who uses an ‘unlawful’ substance, including medical cannabis, from purchasing a firearm. In 2011, the federal US Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Division (ATFE) stated medical cannabis users were not entitled to exercise their right to bear arms because of the federal government’s prohibition of cannabis.“Citing cannabis’ status as a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law, the agency said: ‘[T]here are no exceptions in federal law for marijuana purportedly used for medicinal purposes, even if such use is sanctioned by state law.’ The Minnesota Department of Health does not regulate the possession or purchase of firearms and therefore cannot say how the federal prohibition will be enforced. Specific questions about these federal firearm restrictions should be directed to your attorney or the appropriate law enforcement agency.”Minnesota and Federal LegalizaionOf course, major changes could be afoot on the federal level. Late last month saw the introduction of the MORE Act in the U.S. House of Representatives, legislation that seeks to “decriminalize and deschedule cannabis, to provide for reinvestment in certain persons adversely impacted by the War on Drugs, to provide for expungement of certain cannabis offenses and for other purposes.”The bill has serious momentum on Capitol Hill, where Democrats control chambers of Congress, and party leaders appear motivated to end prohibition. In April, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said that Democrats are prepared to move ahead on marijuana legalization, even if President Joe Biden––who has been reluctant to embrace outright legalization––isn’t fully on board.“We will move forward,” Schumer said then. “[Biden] said he’s studying the issue, so [I] obviously want to give him a little time to study it. I want to make my arguments to him, as many other advocates will. But at some point, we’re going to move forward, period.”But advocates in Minnesota could make some history of their own. As the Minneapolis Star-Tribune: “If their effort is successful, Minnesota would be the first of 36 states that allow medical marijuana in some form to appeal directly to the federal government on behalf of its enrollees, a number that’s expected to expand three to four times over the next few years with the addition of the dried flower for adults.”Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz last month signed legislation that finally gave medical cannabis patients in the state access to marijuana flower. Previously, cannabis patients in the state could only access marijuana products such as oils and topicals. Walz, a Democrat, has indicated that he supports legalizing marijuana for recreational use in Minnesota, saying in 2018 that he backed “legalizing marijuana for adult recreational use by developing a system of taxation, guaranteeing that it is Minnesota-grown and expunging the records of Minnesotans convicted of marijuana crimes.”

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Cat Packer, LA’s Acclaimed Director of the Department of Cannabis

In 2017, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti appointed Cat Packer as the city’s first executive director of the Department of Cannabis Regulation. In the years since, Packer, an ardent advocate for equality and inclusivity, believes the city has made strides to establish a regulatory infrastructure with pathways for equitable ownership. Still, the fight for the ideal market remains ongoing, as does the need for L.A. and other major markets to address numerous effects of the drug war, from the illicit market to social equity. As incremental progress takes form in the city, Cat Packer said the fight for an equitable market continues both here and across America. Cannabis Comes Into The Picture While Cat Packer Attended CollegeCannabis wasn’t Cat Packer’s original focus while attending Ohio State University as an undergrad, master’s student or even when entering law school. Initially, she intended to be a civil rights attorney focusing on LGBT rights. Cannabis would first appear on her radar in 2012 when Colorado and Washington legalized adult use. While aware of the issue, she said she didn’t think critically about the topic for a few more years. In 2015, her final year in law school, Cat Packer began taking courses on how the law impacted people daily. Her eyes were opened when introduced to The New Jim Crow by civil rights lawyer Michelle Alexander, a professor at the university. She was particularly struck by Alexander’s point, stating that nothing had contributed more to the systematic mass incarceration of people of color in the United States than the war on drugs. “My eyes were just open to the legacy, policy and the history of prohibition as it related to cannabis and just how impactful those policies had been particularly against Black and brown communities,” Packer recalled. Packer would immediately go from graduation to cannabis reform, working with The Drug Policy Alliance and the 2016 Ohio campaign for adult use legalization. While still in school, she recalls getting into a “heated discussion” with bill organizers over its lack of acknowledgment of the drug war, its effects or measures to address the issue. A professor convinced her to join the campaign to understand better the tools used to advance cannabis policy. The bill would eventually fail. Still, Cat Packer came away with a better understanding of the importance of due diligence and creating legislation that benefits communities. Going Across The Country For Cannabis ReformAfter the Ohio campaign, Cat Packer looked across the country to find the people leading in cannabis reform. Around the same time, she learned ways to utilize cannabis reform to advance social and racial equity. In 2016, she became aware of a one-day strategy session the DPA was putting on before the United Nations would discuss its drug policy. After learning the event would tie race and drug policy, Packer was compelled to attend. “It felt like a calling,” she recalled. Soon after, she caught a Mega Bus from Ohio to New York City with the hopes of meeting the advocates that aligned with her goals. She’d be the first to arrive at the event. She got to meet Lynne Lyman, then-California DPA director. After she shared her passion for cannabis reform, Lyman told her about DPA’s legalization efforts in California and Prop 64. From there, Packer’s journey would accelerate. “I’d say within three or four months of us having that initial meeting in New York, I was in Los Angeles working on the Prop 64 campaign,” said Packer, who served as the campaign coordinator. The experience in Ohio prepared her for the political process out West. Like any other state, the California effort would include considerable financial interests engaging in the process. She said the combination could create a level of ease where the political process and public policy disconnect over core issues ranging from public safety to social equity. “I think a lot of those lessons and experiences translated into some of the work I do now,” she remarked.  Cat Packer: Creating The City’s Cannabis Infrastructure With L.A. as America’s second-largest city and an epicenter for California cannabis, Cat Packer said her team had to be intentional with its work while addressing an array of pressing matters, from licensing to the illicit market. She noted that an early effort included creating a regulatory framework for the medical space that was first legalized in 1996. Packer said many outside of LA who criticize the market might overlook the thousands of cannabis operators in the city. “We’ve spent a lot of our capacity as a department over the course of the last couple of years building infrastructure to transition our existing market,” said Packer. She added, “We had to transition our existing operators first and go through different cycles of budget requests to get the resources that we have today.”She said that while L.A. has its issues with the illicit market, the city isn’t alone in such an effort. “There are many different states and local jurisdictions that are trying to be increasingly intentional about their power, and we’re trying to share best practices and strategies,” said Packer. She added that the work is an ongoing effort.The workload continues to be immense, but signs of progress are underway. “It took a considerable amount of time for us to get the resources, whether it be staff or otherwise, to put our licensing program forward,” she said. However, Packer’s team has grown in recent years, going from a five- to 15-person staff who helped coordinate between local agencies and the city’s council members. Efforts led the department to secure tens of millions in resources to continue to program’s evolution, including ongoing efforts to address equity. Recently, the first wave of equity operators began opening in the city. While a milestone, Packer notes that hundreds of applicants remain in the pipeline. The goal is to efficiently process those still waiting while leveraging department resources to ensure applicants succeed after receiving a license. Additional efforts are underway. This past 4/20, the city rolled out its Social Equity Entrepreneurial Development (SEED) grant program, which would provide millions to equity applicants. The program follows in the path of other cities, including Portland, Oregon. Both Packer and Portland Civic Life leader Dasheeda Dawson are members of the Cannabis Regulators of Color Coalitio (CRCC) a coalition of elected and appointed minority cannabis regulators and lawmakers. Packer also serves as a member of DPA’s federal cannabis policy working group. Both groups have released equity-centered principles for the industry, with hopes of conceptualizing a market that establishes best practices for a competent cannabis industry. 

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