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Week in Review: Vice President Harris Criticizes Cannabis Classification

Marijuana Flag in front of White House
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Current Events

Week in Review: Vice President Harris Criticizes Cannabis Classification

ICYMI: Catch up on the week’s latest news from across the cannabis spectrum.

In this week’s cannabis news round-up, Vice President Kamala Harris criticizes cannabis classification; Germany passes landmark cannabis legalization bill; and New York governor orders review of adult-use cannabis licensing program.

Harris Criticizes Cannabis Classification
PHOTO @kamalaharris

Vice President Kamala Harris Criticizes Cannabis Classification, Anticipates DEA Decision

US Vice President Kamala Harris criticized the current federal classification of cannabis as “absurd” during a recent White House event, expressing eagerness to await the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) decision on potential reclassification. She emphasized the anticipation surrounding the DEA’s upcoming determination regarding the rescheduling of cannabis, or cannabis with THC levels exceeding 0.3%, within the Controlled Substances Act.

“I’m sure DEA is working as quickly as possible and will continue to do so and we look forward to the product of their work,” Harris said at the start of the discussion, which included Gov. Andy Beshear (D-KY), along with individuals pardoned for minor cannabis offenses by President Joe Biden and rapper Fat Joe.

This event is the Biden administration’s latest show of highlighting its efforts to reform federal cannabis policies in the lead-up to the presidential election. President Biden referenced his pardoning of federal cannabis offenders and relaxation of federal cannabis regulations during his recent State of the Union address, aligning with the overwhelming support for cannabis legalization among 70% of Americans, especially prominent among younger voters, a key demographic Biden aims to retain support from.

In October 2022, Biden issued two executive orders pardoning individuals convicted of certain nonviolent federal cannabis offenses and directed the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to assess cannabis’s potential reclassification within the federal controlled substances list. Although HHS recommended moving cannabis to a less restrictive category by late 2023, the final decision from the Department of Justice (DOJ) remains pending. Biden’s subsequent expansion of the pardon declaration in December aimed to provide relief to a broader population, estimated by Harris to be in the “tens of thousands.”

PHOTO bukhta79

Germany Passes Landmark Cannabis Legalization Bill, Implementation Set for April 1

Germany’s Bundesrat has approved a national adult-use cannabis legalization measure, known as CanG, following its prior approval by the Bundestag in February. Despite facing opposition within the Bundesrat, representing the sixteen Länder of Germany, the measure passed without delay and is slated to take effect on April 1.

The decision not to appeal to the Mediation Committee means that Germany’s transition towards a more liberal cannabis policy will proceed as scheduled.

From April 1, 2024, German adults will enjoy the right to cultivate cannabis plants in their homes and possess personal amounts of cannabis. The legislation also permits the establishment of noncommercial cannabis clubs as part of the initial phase of legalization.

German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach’s proactive measures, including a protocol declaration to the Bundesrat, were crucial in averting potential delays in the bill’s approval. With the avoidance of referral to a mediation committee, which could have postponed implementation by up to six months, Germany remains on course for legalization on Easter Monday. Lauterbach welcomed the development in a social media post.

“The fight was worth it, legalization of cannabis is coming on Easter Monday!” Lauterbach said. “Please use the new opportunity responsibly and help protect children and young people. Hopefully this is the beginning of the end for the black market today.”

Gov. Kathy Hochul 
PHOTO Marc A. Hermann

New York Governor Orders Review of Adult-Use Cannabis Licensing Program

In response to the challenges faced by New York’s adult-use cannabis licensing program, Governor Kathy Hochul has initiated a comprehensive evaluation to address issues that have hindered the legal market and allowed illicit sellers to thrive. The review aims to streamline license processing times, facilitate faster business openings and thoroughly assess the Office of Cannabis Management’s organizational structure and processes.

Gov. Hochul has openly acknowledged the shortcomings of the state’s cannabis rollout, labeling it a “disaster.” Despite the legalization law’s provisions to prioritize nonprofits and individuals with prior cannabis convictions for retail licenses, only a modest number of legal shops—a little more than 80—have opened since sales commenced in late 2022. Furthermore, the establishment of a $200 million social equity fund aimed at supporting applicants from communities disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs has not fully addressed the challenges faced by aspiring entrepreneurs.

The proliferation of unlicensed storefronts across New York, particularly in New York City, has exacerbated the situation. Gov. Hochul recently called for online platforms such as Google and Yelp to stop listing these illegal operations.

The decision to evaluate the program follows the suspension of a high-ranking official at the cannabis agency amid allegations of selective enforcement against a cannabis processor. As part of the review, Commissioner Jeanette Moy from the state’s Office of General Services, alongside other government officials, will be embedded within the cannabis management agency for a minimum of 30 days. Their objective is to devise strategies for enhancing operational efficiency and establishing performance benchmarks for future progress.

“We have built a cannabis market based on equity and there is a lot to be proud of,” said Chris Alexander, executive director of the Office of Cannabis Management. “At the same time, there is more we can do to improve OCM’s operations and we know Commissioner Moy, a proven leader in government, will help us get where we need to be.”

Meanwhile, the Office of Cannabis Management has been overwhelmed by the sheer volume of license applications, with just 32 personnel tasked with reviewing approximately 7,000 applications received since last fall.

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