[Editor’s Note: Social justice is mandatory as legalization continues across the Country. Not just expungement, but tax revenues must be set aside for grants to support communities that have been disproportionately effected by prohibition. The inequities must be addressed.]
In an op-ed for NBC, Rev. Al Sharpton shared his views on marijuana legalization.
With New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo setting the legalization of recreational cannabis as a goal for his new term, civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton is calling for justice, rather than profit, to guide the effort. In an op-ed published by NBC on Friday, Sharpton said that cannabis legalization is a civil rights issue.
“Legalizing marijuana is a civil rights cause that the National Action Network has championed for years because of the potential economic benefit for low-income communities across the country, and thus we commend the governor for taking the lead on this issue,” Sharpton wrote.
On Monday, Cuomo announced that legalizing cannabis would be a priority for his second term in office, which begins next month. Sharpton believes that the benefits of legal cannabis should be shared by the communities hardest hit by the War on Drugs.
“As we prepare to join states like California, Washington, and Oregon in embracing legal use and the economic future that will follow, we cannot forget those haunted by the ghosts of marijuana law’s (hopefully soon) past: People of color and the formerly incarcerated,” he wrote.
Sharpton noted that despite similar rates of cannabis use among races, minorities face legal consequences far more often.
“Data from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services shows that 93 percent of the people arrested for marijuana possession in New York City from January to March of this year were non-white,” he said. “That’s up compared to all of 2017, when 86 percent of arrests were of people of color.”
The impact of this racial injustice continues long after arrest and punishment. Convictions for marijuana offenses are often used as the basis for the denial of rights and social services.
“For decades, New York’s dark history of racist and classist drug enforcement policies deprived countless black and brown residents across the state of access to education, employment, federal housing and the right to vote, ruining the livelihoods of individuals and families,” Sharpton continued.
Social Equity in Legalization
To address the issue, Sharpton said that “any marijuana legalization bill should create an easy and expedited process to expunge non-violent marijuana convictions from criminal records, expand re-entry programs to people affected by pre-legalization marijuana arrests and give priority for licensure to women and minority-run businesses, as well as nonviolent offenders who had been convicted on past marijuana charges.”
Sharpton hailed the work of We Rise to Legalize, a coalition of social justice advocates working to legalize cannabis in New York State in a framework with provisions for social equity programs.
“When the profits from legal sales do come, ‘We Rise to Legalize’ will work to reinvest profits from pot businesses into minority communities most harmed by the current drug laws and create sustainable jobs in the marijuana industry for those who need them most,” Sharpton said.
He added that while progress on cannabis policy reform has been made, New York could see more benefit with full legalization.
“Some progress has been made over the past 20 years, as the New York City Police Department and district attorneys across New York City have adopted less archaic policies around policing, prosecution, and sentencing for marijuana crimes,” said Sharpton. “A legal adult use program will continue to generate savings for state law enforcement, decreasing police time, court fees and prison and administrative costs.”
Sharpton concluded the editorial by calling for the benefits of cannabis legalization to be shared by all communities.
“As we race towards a bright future of legalized marijuana in New York, we cannot continue to leave the most vulnerable in the dark.”
Rev. Al Sharpton Says Marijuana Legalization Should be About Justice Not Money was posted on High Times.
[Editor’s Note: This probably won’t pass right now because all it takes is one dissent from a Senator to kill the amendment. And some terrible Senator will say “No”. Almost guaranteed. But if it does happen to pass…WOW! What a sea change.]
The United States Senate could vote to legalize cannabis at the federal level on Tuesday if Republican Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado can successfully amend a prison reform bill now under consideration. Gardner said in a statement that he planned to attach provisions of the STATES Act to the First Step Act, a prison and sentencing reform bill that advanced with an 81-12 vote from senators on Monday. President Trump indicated he would support Gardner’s legalization bill when it was introduced in the Senate in June.
Senator Invokes Bill of Rights
Gardner said that the legalization of cannabis by states is protected by the Bill of Rights.
“Saturday marked the 227th anniversary of the ratification of the 10th Amendment to the Constitution,” Gardner said on Monday. “It says that ‘[t]he powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.’ I can think of no better way to honor that milestone than to pass the bipartisan STATES Act, and I can think of no better legislation to attach the STATES Act to than the First Step Act.”
Gardner said he believed the legalization of marijuana should be included with the First Step Act to protect people in states like his that have a legal cannabis industry.
“While we are debating criminal justice reform, we need to address the threat of prosecution by the federal government for people in Colorado that are operating legal businesses under state law,” he said.
The senator noted that most of the country has already approved cannabis in some form and that public opinion is firmly behind further legalization.
“This year Oklahoma, Utah, and Missouri changed their laws to join 30 other states that allow medical marijuana,” Gardner said. “Recent polls show around 65% of the country support legalization and 93% support medical marijuana. The people are speaking. The states are leading. It’s time for Congress to act to protect states’ rights.”
Amendment Exempts Pot from CSA
If Gardner’s amendment is approved, the reform bill would exempt cannabis activities compliant with state or tribal law from the Controlled Substances Act. The amendment also clearly states that compliant transactions are not drug trafficking and do not result in proceeds of an unlawful transaction.
The success of Gardner’s amendment to the First Step Act is far from guaranteed. Under Senate procedural rules, opposition from just one Senator would prevent the amendment from coming to a vote, according to David Popp, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
“It will take unanimous consent — not Leader consent — for a vote to occur on this amendment,” said Popp.
STATES Act Unveiled in June
After the STATES Act was introduced by Gardner and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in June, President Trump expressed support for the measure in a conversation with reporters outside the White House.
“I probably will end up supporting it,” Trump told reporters, according to The Denver Post.
Since then, however, Congress has shown little interest in the bill.
Senate Could Vote on Trump-Backed Federal Cannabis Legalization Tuesday was posted on High Times.
[Editor’s Note: Where there is money, scam artists follow. Be careful out there, and know your pot sources. Male sure you’re following a verified account.]
Ngaio Bealum (@ngaio420), writer, comedian, and resident cannaseur on the Netflix show Cooking on High, told High Times that he makes his connection to California’s legal pot industry obvious in his Instagram posts. Little did he know that by doing so, it made his social media identity vulnerable to imposters attempting to scam people.
“I got a lot of pictures of me, sitting out there holding giant bags of weed, or sitting on a farm or whatnot because that’s what I do,” Bealum says. “I love hanging out at the farm.”
But last week, a friend sent Bealum a screenshot of an Instagram profile that had an image of Bealum and a group of his friends as the main photo. The account had 12 of images lifted off of Bealum’s real account—and the bio offered pot for sale, with shipping available to any location.
“Whoever that person was had just stolen all those shots and posted them up like I was out here selling weed across state lines to all kind of people, which we cannot have,” Bealum says. “I don’t sell weed. I love marijuana, but I don’t sell it.”
Bealum is just one example of thousands, however. From A-list celebrities to popular figures in the cannabis industry, social media has become a means through which low-level identity theft and scams are regularly taking place. Particularly on Instagram, the faces of cannabis influencers are being used to facilitate scams. And the people often left suffering are the those just trying to score some weed.
After being made aware of the imposter account, Bealum notified Instagram and posted a screenshot of the fake profile, asking his 57,000 followers to report it as well. Bealum believes that the added pressure spurred Instagram to act quickly—the bogus profile was removed from the platform within a couple of hours.
“Top Cali packs on deck,” the fake Instagram bio said. “We do discrete delivery within and out of state. Wikr for price and menu…”
(In this case, the way to determine the Instagram account is a scam is because they don’t use the right “discreet” in a sentence. But more on that later.)
Lynn Thomas (@greengoldfarms) of Green Gold Farms in San Diego has seen dozens of Instagram users purporting to be him and offering weed for sale. And what’s worse, he’s heard from people who have been scammed by them.
On several occasions, Thomas says he’s received Instagram direct messages from people who have wired money to one of the imposters for weed they never received. He hates having to be the one to let people know they’ve been scammed.
Thomas says the social media imposters have devised themselves a good racket: victims aren’t likely to seek a refund from a payment service or complain to the police. “I see how it works,” he says, “and there’s [almost] no way to get caught.”
There was one scam victim in particular who contacted Thomas after sending an imposter $2,600 for two pounds of pot that never arrived. Thomas said that even if the scammer is only successful a couple of times a month, at that rate, it’s not a bad take.
Like Bealum, when Thomas gets wind of imposter accounts he notifies Instagram immediately. He then shares a post calling out the scammer and asks his followers to spread the word and report the account. More than anything, Thomas says he doesn’t want more people to have their money stolen, and he also doesn’t want to run into anyone angry about being victimized.
“At the end of the day, they’re using my face to rip people off,” said Thomas.
Courtesy of Jerry Krecicki
Photographer Jerry Krecicki (@jerrykrecicki), whose work has graced the pages of High Times, is another cannabis influencer who’s been impersonated on Instagram and other social media platforms. “I grew up in Everglade City and Naples, Florida—the hub of where all the marijuana came into the country back in the ’80s,” he says. “I started taking pictures of cannabis and growing cannabis at 14-years-old.”
Krecicki said that he was first impersonated by a scammer on social media a couple of years ago.
“I got a message from a friend of mine, complaining to me that he couldn’t believe I was selling cannabis online. I asked him what he was talking about and he pulled the page up. The original page was using pictures of me and my family members for pushing cannabis. So I reported it to Instagram, and I got it deleted.”
He said that with decades in the industry, criminals find his identity attractive to assume. It happens continuously, and Krecicki believes that a repeat offender is to blame.
“I get an average of three to five a week,” Krecicki says. “They’re all from the same guy, normally, that’s doing them. Over the last two years, it’s been a chronic pattern of the same crew doing these fake pages.”
When contacted for this story, an Instagram spokesperson noted that claiming to be another person violates the platform’s Community Guidelines. The company uses automated tools to detect fake accounts and has more than 20,000 employees working on safety and security—twice as many as last year. Every day, millions of fake accounts are blocked at registration.
“We care deeply about the quality of content on Instagram. And we take spam, inauthentic and other abusive behavior very seriously. When we find inauthentic activity, we work to counter and prevent it, including blocking accounts and removing violating content all at once. We review suspicious activity closely and take the time to understand how to help prevent similar activity in the future,” the spokesperson said via email.
So, how can you determine if a profile you’re following is the real deal? Jonathan Lepow, owner and co-founder of Top Tree (@toptree), a social media digital advertising agency, said that influencers can complete a verification process to assure their followers the profile is legitimate.
“Ultimately, being verified is a great way to know if the person that you’re talking to is legitimately that person,” Lepow says. “But not everybody can be verified,”
There are requirements to meet for an account to attain a verified status. And the existence of imposter profiles could expedite the process.
“When you show a need to Instagram to have your page verified because people are copying you, that can sometimes be a motivator to get an account verified,” said Lepow.
He added that it should be obvious that social media should not be considered a safe way to find your next pot connection.
“If you’re putting yourself in the position to where you’re purchasing cannabis online, you gotta be ready to be scammed,” Lepow said. “Paypal isn’t going to return your money because the drugs weren’t delivered.”
In Bealum’s case, the bio of the fake account had misspellings, which is sacrilege for a writer and a massive indicator that something’s off. Bealum did, however, offer a generous solution for anyone having a hard time finding weed: “People can follow me on Instagram,” he says, “and if they want weed from me, they just gotta come over and we can just smoke.”
Weed Scams are Trending on Instagram—and People are Falling for Them was posted on High Times.
Editor’s Note: Texas! We love it when States decriminalize small amounts of cannabis. Let Texans take the charge.
State Rep. Joe Moody, a Democrat from El Paso, introduced a bill on Monday to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana in the Texas House of Representatives. The measure, House Bill 63, was submitted by Moody on the first day of the pre-filing period for the 2019 legislative session.
If passed, “a person who knowingly or intentionally possesses a usable quantity of marihuana [sic] in an amount that is one ounce or less does not commit an offense but is liable to the state for a civil penalty not to exceed $250,” according to the text of the bill.
It appears the bill might have a chance at success. Both Moody’s own Democratic Party and that of state Republicans call for cannabis reform. And in September, Gov. Greg Abbott, long an obstacle to marijuana reform, indicated that he was “open” to reducing the penalties for possession of small quantities of pot.
Texas Republicans Support Reform
In June, at the convention for the Republican Party of Texas, delegates approved a platform that included several planks in favor of cannabis reform.
“We support a change in the law to make it a civil, and not a criminal, offense for legal adults only to possess one ounce or less of marijuana for personal use, punishable by a fine of up to $100, but without jail time,” reads the official party stance on cannabis.
Another plank called for a change in marijuana regulation at the federal level.
“Congress should remove cannabis from the list of Schedule 1.”
Heather Fazio, coalition coordinator for Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, said the party’s positions reflected the opinions of most Americans.
“Texas Republicans, like the majority of Americans, are ready to see more sensible marijuana policies enacted,” Fazio said. “Our state wastes valuable criminal justice resources arresting between 60,000-70,000 Texans annually. Delegates took a stand this week for a better approach.”
“While it would be preferable for cannabis to be de-scheduled entirely, this call by the Texas GOP signifies a very positive shift in opinion,” Fazio added. “Outright prohibition is not working and Texas Republicans want to see Congress take action to make cannabis more accessible.”
Will the Governor Be Onboard?
Since taking office as governor at the beginning of 2015, Abbott has been seen as an impediment to cannabis reform in Texas. And while his position hasn’t evolved as much as his party’s, in an election debate with challenger Lupe Valdez in September, he indicated that he would consider a bill that would reduce possession of less than two ounces of pot from a Class B to a Class C misdemeanor.
“One thing I don’t want to see is jails stockpiled with people who have possession of small amounts of marijuana,” Abbott said.
But even though Abbot said he believed that veterans and others lobbying for change made a “compelling” argument, he still did not support an expansion of the state’s restrictive medical marijuana program.
“I’m still not convinced yet,” he said.
Fazio said that Abbott indicating a willingness to consider reform is a major development, but the approach he favors doesn’t go far enough.
“Setting aside the details of what the governor said, the fact that he’s moving on this is itself huge,” said Fazio. “But that still wouldn’t remove all the collateral consequences for possessing a plant that many other states have decriminalized.”
Texas Representative Introduces Bill to Decriminalize Marijuana was posted on High Times.
Editor’s Note: The Democrats swept the top three State seats (Gov, Sec of State, & AG). Two of the three support the new law, with Whitmer considering forgiving cannabis crimes.
Voters in Michigan legalized the recreational use and sale of cannabis in one of three statewide victories for marijuana policy reform in the midterm elections. Medical marijuana initiatives in Missouri and Utah were also successful on Tuesday, while a measure to legalize recreational pot in North Dakota failed to pass.
Michigan’s Proposal 1 passed by a margin of 55 percent to 45 percent, state election officials reported on Wednesday morning. The measure allows adults 21 and older to use, possess, buy, and grow recreational marijuana and establishes a regulatory framework for commercial sales.
Josh Hovey of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, the group that spearheaded Proposal 1, said that voters were able to see beyond the propaganda against legal pot.
“The Proposal 1 campaign boiled down into one of fact versus fear,” said Hovey. “The data from the nine other states to have legalized marijuana made clear that regulation and taxation are a better solution. Legalization of marijuana will end the unnecessary waste of law enforcement resources used to enforce the failed policy of prohibition while generating hundreds of millions of dollars each year for Michigan’s most important needs.”
National Trend Continues
The approval of Proposal 1 makes Michigan the tenth state to legalize recreational pot. Steve Hawkins, the executive director of the reform group Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), said in a press release on Tuesday night that the approval of Proposal 1 is a milestone in the effort to legalize cannabis in the United States.
“This is yet another historic election for the movement to end marijuana prohibition. Voters have once again sent a message loud and clear that it is time to legalize and regulate marijuana. The victory in Michigan highlights just how widespread support is for marijuana policy reform. This issue does not only enjoy strong support on the coasts, but also in the Midwest and all throughout the country,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins also said that it was time for lawmakers in Washington to follow suit.
“Marijuana has now been legalized for adult use in one out of every five states, so I think it’s safe to say federal laws are in need of an update. We hope the results of this election will inspire Congress to finally start addressing the tension that exists between state and federal marijuana laws in our nation,” he said.
Matthew Schweich, deputy director of MPP, led the campaign to pass Proposal 1. He noted that Michigan is the first Midwestern state to approve recreational pot.
“The passage of Proposal 1 is a major milestone for marijuana policy reform in the U.S. Michigan will be the first state in the Midwest to end marijuana prohibition and replace it with a system in which marijuana is regulated for adult use,” Schweich said. “Adults will no longer be punished for consuming a substance less harmful than alcohol, and rather than having to resort to the illegal market, they will be able to access it safely and legally from licensed businesses.
Schweich said that a regulated recreational cannabis market will provide additional resources for the state.
“In addition to the public health and safety benefits associated with regulating marijuana, the state will have a significant new stream of tax revenue. Michigan is going to demonstrate that regulating marijuana works, and it will set a strong example for other states in the region and around the country.”
More Reform Needed?
While welcoming the passage of Proposal 1, some cannabis policy reform advocates believe that the initiative does not go far enough. Matthew Abel, an attorney with the Cannabis Counsel in Detroit, said that criminal records should be cleared of convictions for acts that are no longer against the law.
“We need to go back and add expungement for marijuana offenses; there’s nothing automatic about it,” Abel said.
State Senator Coleman Young II agreed.
“Now I’m very hopeful that we can now work on getting these brothers and sisters out of jail and getting them into jobs, and that’s what I’m all about,” Young said.
Voters Make Michigan First Midwestern State to Legalize Adult Use Cannabis was posted on High Times.