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Forget the Feds: Across the Country, State Lawmakers Are Delaying Marijuana

Chris Roberts

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The existential angst that for years has been a way of life for the cannabis industry—and anyone whose economic livelihood rests on the wobbly legal footing holding up marijuana in America—remains at a low ebb following weed’s historic showing on Election Day.

What worry there is stems mostly from Jeff Sessions. During his Senate confirmation hearings last week, Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general expressly reserved his right to ramp up the drug war—including in states where retail sales of recreational marijuana are booming—at a time and date of his choosing.

But the real threat isn’t Sessions, and won’t be, even after Trump is inaugurated on Friday and the Alabama senator is given the reins of the Justice Department. Not when state legislatures across the country are doing Sessions’s dirty work for him.

Much has been made of marijuana’s victories in red states like Arkansas, Florida and North Dakota. Voters approved medical marijuana measures in all three of these states, while also going red and helping hand Trump the presidency. This is seen as positive proof that weed is a bipartisan issue—and it’s being interpreted as solid evidence that Trump wouldn’t dare risk alienating the nationwide minority that voted him in by pushing back on weed.

A Sessions DoJ may yet decide to make life difficult for America’s marijuana industry and its many billions. In the meantime, lawmakers in all three of those states and in adult-use legalized Maine—whose governor, ardent Trump supporter Paul LePage, has all but started a fake news site in his all-out quest to halt voter-approved marijuana reform in its tracks—have thrown up roadblocks delaying access to legal cannabis, as NORML pointed out on Wednesday.

This equates to “an affront to the democratic process,” NORML executive director Erik Altieri said in a blog post. “Lawmakers have a responsibility to abide by the will of the voters and to do so in a timely manner.”

Or, as lawmakers are demonstrating across the country, not.

Mainers were supposed to be able to patronize retail recreational marijuana shops on Jan. 1, 2018, four years to the day that the first legal adult-use marijuana sales began—on time—in Colorado. Instead, leading lawmakers, with LePage’s vocal approval, are pushing for a three-month delay. That follows the lead of Massachusetts, where lawmakers called a special session over the Christmas holiday to extend their deadline to put rules for legal sales together, begging for (and handing themselves) an extension even before work had begun.

In Arkansas, lawmakers unanimously approved a plan to delay creating its medical-marijuana program by two months—on top of the four-month window set out by voters. On Tuesday, North Dakota politicians did the same.

And in Florida, select sufferers of certain diseases can already access low-THC cannabis—but mostly in theory, thanks to onerous screening procedures and limited, far-flung supply.

This week, Florida officials proposed a set of rules for the “new” voter-approved expanded access to medical marijuana, rules that look just like the current rules where it’s near-impossible to access cannabis—including leaving it up to the state Board of Medicine, and not individual physicians, whether certain medical conditions not included on a state shortlist qualify a patient for medical marijuana.

Florida officials would also leave supply and distribution to the select few companies already approved to cultivate and dispense the low-THC limited supply, thereby protecting a current monopoly, critics said.

All this “basically ignor[es] the text of the constitutional amendment at almost every step of the way,” Ben Pollara, campaign manager for the successful medical marijuana ballot initiative, told reporters.

Seventy percent of voters in Florida approved Amendment 2—but there and in other states, as elected officials are demonstrating, it only takes a few dozen lawmakers to screw things up for millions of people.  

You can keep up with all of HIGH TIMES’ marijuana news right here.

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