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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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Ohio Adds New Rules to Govern the Controversial Delta-8

The regulatory body currently overseeing Ohio’s medical marijuana program has now instituted new rules governing the use of Delta-8 THC, the popular, yet controversial, compound that has been known to yield similar effects to regular weed.The rules, via the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program, are intended to provide “guidance to licensees regarding the production, distribution and sale of medical marijuana products containing Delta-8 THC,” the agency said.The new rules, which take effect immediately, include a requirement licensee notification of “the use of Delta-8 THC must include a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) that describes the process and methods with which Delta-8 THC will be used in compliance” with the state law.The rules also address THC dosage, saying that “total THC content—combination of Delta-9 THC and any other THC isomer or analog—of the manufactured product shall not exceed 70 percent.”In addition, “Delta-8 THC’ must be fully incorporated on the package and label for patient awareness,” the agency said, and abbreviations “such as ‘Delta-8’ or ‘D8,’” are not permitted.”Licensees “must maintain all supply chain records relevant to ingredients used in medical marijuana production, including records of purchases and/or production of Delta-8 THC, CBD, or any other ingredient used in the production of medical marijuana, subject to” Ohio law, according to the agency, adding that “cultivators, processors, and testing laboratories are required to test for Delta-8 THC and any other Department directed THC isomers and analogs and report the results to the Department’s inventory tracking system.”“The MMCP’s key priority is product safety, and it continues to monitor Delta-8 THC and other THC isomer developments and reserves the right to prohibit product ingredients. The MMCP will continue to provide additional guidance as necessary,” the agency said in its notice.As local television station News 5 Cleveland noted in a broadcast, the “rule changes do not have any direct impact on Delta-8 THC sales outside Ohio’s Medical Marijuana Control Program.”The station reported that the new rules “got early pushback because they don’t address products that have already been sent to dispensaries and appear to make some changes that normally require a longer rule-changing process,” and noted that a spokesperson for the Medical Marijuan Control Program said that the agency will provide additional guidance in the future.This compound has gained considerable popularity in the last year due to its similarity to marijuana—and, crucially, the fact that it is legal to buy.The latter has prompted several states to impose rules and regulations on the compound, if not ban the compound altogether.Delta-8 Across the CountryThat’s what the state of New York did last month, making cannabinoid and cannabinol products made through isomerization—the process through which Delta-8 is produced––illegal. The move frustrated CBD business owners in New York who had capitalized on the popularity of Delta-8.“There is no way I can keep it going in New York,” said Yardly Burgess, owner of Empire CBD. “Delta-8 is what helped my business grow.”State regulators in Washington, where recreational marijuana use is legal, have also grappled with how to handle Delta-8 THC products sold in licensed cannabis dispensaries. The Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board has said that it intends to regulate such products sold in those licensed dispensaries. As detailed in a helpful High Times primer last summer, Delta-8 THC is “a unique chemical compound located within the cannabis plant that delivers remarkable benefits and the psychotropic effects that enthusiasts have been craving,” defined as “an isomer of CBD and a derivative of hemp and CBD and is completely legal if the final product contains less than 0.3 perrcent Delta-9 THC.”

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Connecticut Officially Legalizes Recreational Marijuana

After years of flirting with marijuana legalization, the state of Connecticut is finally ready to make it official.Today, the state’s governor Ned Lamont signed legislation that legalized recreational pot use for adults aged 21 and older. The new law will officially take effect on July 1. However, retail sales aren’t expected to begin until 2022.Lamont added his signature to a bill that finally cleared the necessary legislative hurdles last week.Lawmakers in the state Senate last Thursday approved legislation that would legalize recreational pot use for adults. The vote marked the second time that members of the state Senate passed a legalization measure. Last week, another bill was approved in the chamber before it was amended in the state House and returned to the Senate.The bill passed the state Senate on Thursday by a vote of 16 to 11, according to local television station NBC Connecticut. The outcome sent the legislation to the desk of Lamont, a Democrat who has made no secret of his support for marijuana legalization.But state legislators have spent weeks ironing out the legislation. NBC Connecticut reported that “House members on Wednesday stripped an amendment the Senate previously added to the cannabis legalization bill that ensured that an ‘equity applicant’ for marijuana industry licenses, who would receive preferential status, could include people living in certain geographic areas who were previously arrested or convicted for the sale, use, manufacture or cultivation of cannabis.”The provision would have “also applied to individuals whose parent, spouse or child was arrested or convicted of the same charges. Lamont opposed such a provision, even threatening to veto the bill if it was included.“It’s fitting that the bill legalizing the adult use of cannabis and addressing the injustices caused by the war of drugs received final passage today, on the 50-year anniversary of President Nixon declaring the war. The war on cannabis, which was at its core a war on people in Black and Brown communities, not only caused injustices and increased disparities in our state, it did little to protect public health and safety,” Lamont said in a statement, as quoted by NBC Connecticut.He continued, “That’s why I introduced a bill and worked hard with our partners in the legislature and other stakeholders to create a comprehensive framework for a securely regulated market that prioritizes public health, public safety, social justice, and equity. It will help eliminate the dangerous unregulated market and support a new, growing sector of our economy which will create jobs.”“By allowing adults to possess cannabis, regulating its sale and content, training police officers in the latest techniques of detecting and preventing impaired driving, and expunging the criminal records of people with certain cannabis crimes, we’re not only effectively modernizing our laws and addressing inequities, we’re keeping Connecticut economically competitive with our neighboring states,” Lamont said.The governor also shared that legalization will ultimately be a benefit to Connecticut residents, because revenue from marijuana sales will go to recovery and prevention services. He told residents that the bill will ensure public safety, protect children and those in the community who are most vulnerable.Legalization Comes to Connecticut After Years of TryingLamont has advocated legalization in Connecticut for years. In 2019, he and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo discussed a cross-state legalization policy, but that effort never really materialized, and earlier this year New York charted its own path by ending prohibition in the state.In February, Lamont stressed the importance of forging ahead given the action being taken by Connecticut’s neighbors.“Now our neighboring states are offering recreational marijuana on a legal and regulated basis,” Lamont said in his “State of the State” address. “Massachusetts dispensaries are advertising extensively here in Connecticut. And, rather than surrender this market to out-of-staters, or worse, to the unregulated underground market, our budget provides for the legalization of recreational marijuana.”“Half the tax revenues should be allocated to PILOT payments, in addition to a three percent local excise tax option. And importantly, my proposed legislation authorizes the automated erasure of criminal records for those with marijuana-related drug possession, convictions, and charges,” Lamont added at the time.

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Maine Lawmakers Vote to Decriminalize All Drugs

State lawmakers in Maine passed a bill last week to decriminalize possession of all drugs. The measure, LD 967, was passed by the Maine House of Representatives on Thursday with a vote of 77 to 62 and was later cleared by the state Senate, according to media reports.Under the measure, criminal penalties would be dropped for simple possession of scheduled drugs including heroin, cocaine and prescription medications. Instead, those guilty of such offenses would be subject to a fine of $100 or be required to submit to an assessment for treatment of substance use disorder.Maine’s voters legalized cannabis for adults 21 and older in 2016, and legal recreational sales of marijuana began in the state last year. Possession of other regulated drugs is subject to a range of criminal charges and penalties from misdemeanors for most prescription drugs and felonies for possession of heroin and cocaine.The bill was introduced by Democratic state Rep. Anne Perry earlier this year. Lawmakers will continue working on the bill to reconcile differences in the legislation, including criminal charges for subsequent possession offenses contained in the Senate’s version of the bill.“We do need to treat this disorder and law enforcement will be a part of it, but law enforcement is not the gateway to recovery,” Perry said on the House floor last week. “It’s a gateway to isolation and suicide.”Maine Follows Oregon’s LeadLD 967 was modeled after an initiative passed by Oregon voters last year, which decriminalized all drugs for personal use. The approach is favored by advocates for criminal justice reform and harm reduction, who champion treating illegal drug use as a public health matter rather than a criminal offense.“For over 20 years, in my work as a nurse practitioner and living in a community that has been devastated by drug overdoses, I have seen firsthand how treating drugs like a crime has created suffering that spans the generations,” Perry said at a press conference on the bill earlier this year. “I’ve seen so many people lost to the criminal justice system instead of getting the health care that they need so desperately.”“We cannot continue to wage a ‘War on Drugs’ that has not worked,” she added.State Rep. Charlotte Warren, also a Democrat, said that several doctors who specialize in substance use disorder appeared at a legislative hearing earlier this year, testifying that the condition is treatable and preventable but incarceration is not an effective remedy. Instead, they called for treatment over punishment.“Eleven Mainers a week are dying to overdose,” Warren told reporters. “Substance use disorder is a disease. And a symptom of the disease is possessing the substance. That’s why the House voted to no longer criminalize possession. We need to treat the disease in order to save lives. What we are doing is not working. We want to save lives.”Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey, law enforcement groups, and Republican lawmakers all oppose LD 967, leaving final passage of the bill uncertain. Opponents of the bill cite its lack of possession limits and criminal charges for repeat offenders for their refusal to support the proposal.“These people need help and law enforcement is the best social worker to help these people,” said Rep. Gary Drinkwater.Drug Trafficking Reform Also Passed in MaineAlso last week, lawmakers in Maine passed LD 1675, a bill to reform the state’s harsh drug trafficking statute and eliminate the disparity in punishment for possession of crack and powder cocaine. The bill was passed in the House on Tuesday and survived a 20 to 15 vote in the Senate the following day. The measure now heads to Mills’ office for her consideration.“This bill would restore integrity, honesty, and clarity to our drug laws,” state Sen. Craig Hickman said after the vote, noting that someone who possesses two or more grams of heroin or fentanyl can be charged with drug trafficking without evidence of intent to sell. “This bill will curb a government that has gotten too comfortable playing fast and loose with the English language, a government that redefines ordinary words to curb the freedom of ordinary people.”

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People of Color Are Still Disproportionately Targeted for Cannabis Arrests in New York, Despite Legalization on the Horizon

New York legalized marijuana this year but the NYPD continued to make pot-related arrests, according to fresh data released this month.The figures show that police in America’s largest city made 163 marijuana arrests in the first quarter of 2021 across the five boroughs, with the overwhelming majority involving people of color. Seventy-eight of those arrests involved black individuals, with 70 involving Hispanics. Only six of those arrested for marijuana were white. This is problematic, considering that the rate of marijuana use between Black and white individuals is relatively equal, according to a report by the ACLU.The newly released data also found that there were 3,687 summonses issued by the NYPD for possession of marijuana in the first quarter of the year, with 2,374 involving Black individuals and 1,089 involving Hispanics.Those numbers are roughly in line with the figures from the first quarter of 2020, when the NYPD made 132 arrests and 3,623 summonses for pot-related possession. The arrest totals are, however, a steep dip from the first quarter of 2019, when there were 606 pot-related arrests.Still, the latest figures will dismay advocates, who have been celebrating the arrival of legalization in the Empire State.Recreational Pot is Coming to New YorkIn March, New York officially legalized recreational marijuana use for adults after years of failed efforts.The reform was a major priority this year for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who after signing the legalization bill into law called it ““a historic day in New York—one that rights the wrongs of the past by putting an end to harsh prison sentences, embraces an industry that will grow the Empire State’s economy, and prioritizes marginalized communities so those that have suffered the most will be the first to reap the benefits.”“This was one of my top priorities in this year’s State of the State agenda, and I’m proud these comprehensive reforms address and balance the social equity, safety and economic impacts of legal adult-use cannabis. I thank both the Leader and the Speaker, and the tireless advocacy of so many for helping make today’s historic day possible,” Cuomo said at the time.In 2019, Cuomo signed legislation decriminalizing marijuana, saying at the time that “[c]ommunities of color have been disproportionately impacted by laws governing marijuana for far too long, and today we are ending this injustice once and for all.”Moreover, in 2018, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio directed the NYPD to issue summonses for individuals caught smoking weed in public rather than make an arrest.The legalization law signed by Cuomo in March yielded some immediate effects, too. Most notably, it made smoking pot permissible wherever smoking tobacco is also allowed. The governor’s office said it also creates “automatic expungement or resentencing for anyone with a previous marijuana conviction that would now be legal under the law and provides necessary funding.”The timing of the latest arrest and summons figures is also notable given the recent action by a judge in New York City.Earlier this month, the Supervising Judge of Bronx Criminal Court granted a motion from the district attorney in the Bronx to dismiss more than 6,000 misdemeanor possession or sale of marijuana.The judge overseeing the decision, George A. Grasso, alluded to the recent legislative reforms as motivating the decision.“Our Criminal Justice System has responded swiftly to the actions and intent of the New York State Legislature with respect to over 6,000 pending and closed matters relating to Marijuana charges,” Grasso said. “This means that thousands of individuals (many who are young people of color) can now go about their business without being under the cloud of a criminal matter. I take pride in our Court’s continuing partnership with the Office of the District Attorney and the Defense Bar in our efforts to effect fair and impartial justice in Bronx County!”

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Florida Supreme Court Pulls the Plug on Recreational Cannabis Initiative

The Florida Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that a proposed initiative to legalize the recreational use of marijuana for adults is misleading and can not appear on next year’s ballot. The decision marks the second time in three months that Florida’s highest court has struck down proposed ballot measures to legalize cannabis in the state.The proposed constitutional amendment initiative, titled “Regulate Marijuana in a Manner Similar to Alcohol to Establish Age, Licensing, and Other Restrictions,” was sponsored by the group Sensible Florida, which filed in 2016 to have the measure placed on the state ballot. If successful, the constitutional amendment would have legalized marijuana use and home cultivation for adults and established a regulated cannabis economy.After the campaign collected enough signatures to qualify for a constitutional review, Florida Attorney General asked the state Supreme Court in September 2019 to determine if the ballot measure’s language was legal. The court heard oral arguments in the case in February 2020 but did not issue a ruling until Thursday, more than two years later.A majority of the court consisting of Justices Charles Canady, Ricky Polston, Carlos Muñiz, John Courie,l and Jamie Grosshans ruled that the summary for the ballot measure was unconstitutionally misleading and can not appear on the 2022 ballot. The court based its decision on the inclusion of the phrase “limited use” in the 75-word ballot summary.The initiative states that it would legalize cannabis “for limited use and growing by persons twenty-one years of age or older.” The court ruled that the summary’s language could cause a voter to erroneously assume that the initiative limits the amount of cannabis an individual can consume. However, no such language appears in the initiative.“The Sponsor’s inability to point to anything in the text of the measure that could credibly support the ‘limited use’ language in the summary leaves no doubt that the summary is affirmatively misleading,” the justices wrote in the majority opinion.Florida Supreme Court Decision Spurs Swift ReactionAfter the court’s decision was released, Lauren Cassidy, a spokesperson for Moody, thanked the court in a statement.“Floridians must fully understand what they are voting on when they go to the ballot box,” Cassidy said.Attorney Michael Minardi, a backer of the initiative, told local medial that he is disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision. He said that Sensible Florida will prepare a new draft of the initiative and still has hope that they can qualify the measure for the 2022 ballot.“We have already rewritten some alternate versions,” Minardi said. “It’s really a welcome thing just to finally have the opinion.”U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, who represents Florida’s 13th Congressional District and hopes to be the Democratic challenger to Gov. Ros DeSantis in next year’s election, criticized the court’s decision in a social media post.“The Florida Supreme Court that @GovRonDeSantis packed with partisan judges just denied another ballot initiative to let Floridians vote on legalizing marijuana. This is wrong. Legalization should be up to the people of Florida,” Crist tweeted.Court Nixed Separate Initiative In AprilThursday’s decision is the second time in three months that the Florida Supreme Court has struck down a proposed marijuana legalization measure from the group Make It Legal Florida. In April, the court ruled that a separate ballot proposal was misleading because the summary failed to inform voters that cannabis would still be illegal under federal law.“A constitutional amendment cannot unequivocally ‘permit’ or authorize conduct that is criminalized under federal law,” Canady wrote in that decision. “A ballot summary suggesting otherwise is affirmatively misleading.”After the ballot measure was struck down, the Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and another Democratic vying for the party’s nomination to challenge DeSantis, said that state lawmakers are failing their constituents.“Florida voters have taken this into their own hands because the Florida Legislature failed to do right by the people in taking legislative action on legalization,” said Fried. “My advice is that they listen to the will of the people or they’ll be out of a job soon.”

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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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Texas Governor Signs Bill Expanding State Medical Marijuana Program

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill on Tuesday that expands the state’s medical marijuana program, although cannabis activists say the legislation does not go far enough. The measure, House Bill 1535 (HB 1535), was signed by the Republican governor after lawmakers in the Texas Senate made significant changes to the legislation last month.Under the bill, patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and all types of cancer will be eligible to use approved medical cannabis products under the Texas Compassionate Use Program. Under current regulations, only intractable epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, ALS, terminal cancer, autism and many seizure disorders are listed as qualifying medical conditions for participation in the program.HB 1535 also raises the cap on THC in approved medical marijuana formulations to 1 percent by dry weight. Currently, only cannabis medications with a maximum of 0.5 percent THC are permitted under the rules of the program.An earlier version of the bill that increased the THC limit to 5 percent and also added chronic pain as a qualifying condition was passed by the Texas House of Representatives in April. But when the measure was taken up in the Senate last month, Republican Senator Charles Schwertner introduced a substitute version of the legislation that removed chronic pain as a qualifying condition and rolled back the potency increase to 1 percent.“As a pharmacist and as a physician, I feel strongly that our limited medical program, with appropriate rules and oversight, is the right path for patients in Texas seeking symptom relief,” Schwertner said when he introduced the changes to the legislation. “I believe the evidence is starting to show that. I believe there needs to be further work, but certainly, the testimony is very strong by patients who are suffering from some of these conditions.”Activists Say Texas Bill Doesn’t Go Far EnoughMedical marijuana patient advocates, however, say that HB 1535 does not go far enough. A February poll from the University of Texas at Austin and the Texas Tribune found that 60 percent of Texans believe that small or large amounts of marijuana for any purpose should be legalized. Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, said that the final version of the bill is “unreasonably restrictive.” “While we are glad to see the Compassionate Use Program being expanded, it’s disappointing to see Texas inching forward while other states, like Alabama, for example, are moving forward with real medical cannabis programs,” Fazio said. “It’s doing so little, and we wish [lawmakers] were doing more.”Medicinal cannabis patient and U.S. Army veteran Viridiana Edwards said she tried numerous pharmaceutical medications to treat the PTSD, chronic pain and migraines she endured after being injured while on duty in Afghanistan. The medications provided only partial relief, and many caused unacceptable side effects, leaving Edwards with seemingly nowhere to turn.“You kind of just lose hope that you’re going to find something that’s going to help you,” Edwards told the Texas Observer.When she tried medical marijuana, however, she found relief.“I remember just this kind of silence within my body,” Edwards said of the experience. “The pain, the anxiety, just so many things that I was going through on a daily basis, were just gone.”Since that time, she has been an active advocate for increasing access to medicinal cannabis in Texas, which has one of the most restrictive medical marijuana programs in the nation. And while she is happy that PTSD was added to the state’s list of qualifying conditions, she is frustrated by the restrictions and the slow pace of reform.“When I raised my hand in Fort Bliss, Texas, saying that I would serve my country, I don’t remember picking and choosing who I would serve and protect,” she said.Although she was unhappy with the changes made to the bill in the Senate, HB 1535 sponsor Representative Stephanie Klick asked her colleagues in the House to accept the version passed in the upper house to avoid sending the measure to a conference committee. The Senate’s version was passed in the House on May 28, leading to Abbott’s approval of the measure on Tuesday. HB 1535 goes into effect on September 1.

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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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A Peek Into Bo Burnham’s New Netflix Special Inside

I find myself compelled to write this, because apparently not everyone knows the comedian and musician Bo Burnham as the absolute sensation I do. For those who do, in case you don’t know yet, Burnham’s got a new special out on Netflix, Bo Burnham: Inside. Go watch it; it’s a masterpiece. However, for those who aren’t familiar with Bo Burnham’s body of work, the rest of this is for you.Meet Bo BurnhamSeemingly forever ago in the early “new millennium,” back when YouTube was new and “Weird Al” Yankovic still seemed hilarious—Bo Burnham was a tween writing funny and eminently offensive songs, recording videos of his performances and releasing them online. Although maybe not the first to go mainstream, Burnham was one of the first YouTubers to get major attention, eventually becoming the youngest person to do a half-hour special for Comedy Central and spawning a ton of other hilarious specials, albums and the accolades that come with doing it the best.Now, it’s important to remember that things were very different back when Burnham was coming up. As the internet began snowballing and social media started taking off, being offensive seemed much more like a great way to attract attention than the socially unacceptable practice of today. There were no “PC police”—in fact, people were still being outwardly hateful without the slightest understanding or consideration that one outrageous outburst could ruin your life, so comedy was, frankly, a lot edgier.Photo Courtesy NetflixWhile of course all of this was clearly in jest, many of the songs Burnham drafted up simply wouldn’t work today. For example, a white guy singing about white supremacy in 2021 is going to get a much more critical look—even if it’s a parody. However, unlike most other shock comics, there’s always been a certain insightfulness about Burnham’s productions that add an allure, even if you’re absolutely disgusted at what he’s saying. Not to mention he makes all these terrible topics so hook-y, you often can’t help but sing along.Now, for those of you reading this still holding onto that Weird Al reference, it’s probably important for you to watch this: New Math. [embedded content][embedded content]As you can see, clearly offensive but damn is it catchy! And intelligent! His ability to turn jokes upside-down, giving the crowd a punchline to expect and then swerving at the last minute to another, equally hilarious, yet unexpected, destination is masterful. Experimenting with quick cuts and pitch changes since the beginning, the way he plays with his subject matter, and the different perspectives that could be had on the same thing, is a joy to watch.Although Burnham has always provided an insightfulness past his years, he’s developed a maturity and emotional awareness throughout his career that has seriously elevated his work from fun puns to jokes that actually make you think. He plays with the serious in a way that reminds you of your childhood perspectives—an almost whimsical interpretation of what’s before you. He never lost that perspective, but the way he relates them to today’s world is where the magic really happens.Inside JokeA return to the stage of sorts, the comedian took a break from performing a few years back to get a better handle on his anxiety. It’s clear that while Burnham’s break provided the well-deserved mental reset he needed, he hasn’t lost that keen sense of humor about modern society and his own shortcomings. An exploration into the depressive lull we were all forced into last year, Inside offers a bright take on the familiar and frustrating experience of the pandemic, with his special ability to tap into the details you might not have realized were communal feelings.You’ll probably laugh out loud, you might even cry at times, but you’ll definitely feel what he’s saying. Burnham once again turned his depression into something beautiful, and an agent of growth for the rest of us. From the start he’s been self-recording his work, so his latest project Inside isn’t as much a feat of new skills as an insanely on-brand masterclass in what’s possible for one guy to do alone in a room with some equipment over the course of a year. I don’t want to give away too many specifics about the actual special as it will likely ruin the moments, but be forewarned it’s laced with little easter eggs you’ll need to pause to fully observe. It’s probably clear by now that I loved this special, and think very highly of its creator, so if this has been too much praise from your typical shit-talker, I get it, but you should trust me on this one. If nothing else, watching Inside will inspire you. It will motivate you to create.What Bo Burnham was able to do in one room, by himself, during the closest thing to the apocalypse we’ve experienced in our lifetime, should go to show that you can do nearly anything you put your mind to. The past few days, I’ve caught myself listening to the soundtrack on Spotify on repeat, and using it as fuel. Even without the visuals, Inside will motivate you to be your best self, and to find ways to share that with those you love.

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