Now that we’ve got a wide-angle snapshot of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, let’s get to the meat and potatoes, shall we?
In my last two posts, we examined the bulk of what the MORE Act seeks to accomplish and why it matters to Kentuckians. This week, to wrap things up, we’ll delve into the proposals within the legislation that seek to facilitate expansion of the cannabis industry, ensure equity in the marketplace, and address the carnage that half a century of abominable drug policy has left in its wake.
The MORE Act begins with the creation of the Opportunity Trust Fund, financed through the imposition of a 5% tax on the sale of products containing or made from cannabis. The tax levy will increase annually by 1% until a maximum of 8% is reached. Additionally, the bill would authorize the creation of the Cannabis Justice Office (CJO) within the U.S. Department of Justice. The primary responsibilities of the CJO are to establish, implement and oversee the Community Reinvestment Grant program. Under this program, grants would become available to organizations that provide services to people who have suffered due to the tyranny of prohibitionist lunacy. Specifically, the bill lists job training, re-entry services, legal aid (including cannabis conviction expungement), literacy programs, youth recreation or mentoring programs, and health education programs as focal points. The CJO, in concert with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), would also be directed to provide grants aimed at providing substance abuse treatment services to those adversely affected by the costly, failed drug war.
As I alluded to in part one of this series, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act contains a number of provisions and programs essential for the cannabis industry to thrive on a national scale. Additionally, the legislation includes funding and oversight for said programs. More information on those programs is forthcoming, but before addressing the framework, I feel it is necessary to touch upon the legislation’s foundation. First and foremost, the MORE Act removes cannabis from the Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA) list of controlled substances which, in and of itself, has the potential to benefit Kentucky citizens in a variety of ways.
At the top of the list of the MORE Act’s legalization benefits are those within the judicial system. Under the proposed new cannabis policy, manufacture, distribution, use, and possession of cannabis would cease to be a crime at the federal level. Furthermore, this change to current policy is retroactive, establishing a process for expungement of prior convictions as well as sentencing reviews for those currently incarcerated due to the unjust policy of prohibition.
In December 2020, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act became first major cannabis reform to be passed in the US at the federal level when it was approved by the House of Representatives 228-164. Unfortunately, under the leadership of Mitch McConnell, it was never taken up by the Senate. On May 28 of this year, it was reintroduced by House Judiciary Chairman and sponsor of the bill, Jerry Nadler (D-NY-10). Due to a voter-imposed change in management, it seems likely that the legislation will make the Senate floor during this session. While proponents of the bill still face an uphill battle due to the continued orthodoxy of partisan obstructionism, the fact that nearly 70% of Americans support legalization provides a modicum of hope that the Senate can find a way to overcome the gridlock has become the defining characteristic of the American legislative process. If ever there was an issue with more potential for coalition building, I haven’t seen it in my lifetime.
"We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily…[w]e could…vilify them night after night on the evening news.
Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did." --Nixon advisor John Ehrlichman
It was on June 17, 1971 that Richard Nixon officially declared war, a War on Drugs, ostensibly something we could and should all be able to get behind. History has shown, however, that reality doesn’t jive with the huckster’s pitch we were spoon fed. The war, in fact, was never on drugs. The war was, and is, a racist, politically motivated strategy to silence and disenfranchise dissenters by circumventing laws that protect their civil rights. Add in a dash of class warfare and a boatload of funding during the Reagan regime and what you have is a cynical assault on the very foundations of the American Experiment that has raged for half a century.
by Jason Conder
Amazon’s recent announcement that the company will be scaling back its drug screening policy is making news and making waves nationally. Being one of the most valuable brands on the planet and the second largest employer in the US gives Amazon a tremendous amount of leverage in the fight for fairer and more inclusive hiring practices. Their position in the market affords them the ability to influence not only public policy on a national scale, but also the business practices within the private sector. At face value, Amazon’s announcement is a big step toward eliminating what amounts to an unnecessary and discriminatory barrier to employment and opportunity.
Amazon’s new policy has the potential to greatly affect us here in the Bluegrass State. According to the Cabinet for Economic Development, as of 2017, Amazon ranked “…fifth in the state with 7,232 full-time jobs in its list of Kentucky’s largest manufacturing, service and technology firms...” Already one of the largest employers in the state, Amazon is continually expanding. A new fulfillment center in Fayette County, for example, is currently in the works. The retail giant’s relaxation of their pre-employment screening policy will expand the opportunity to earn above average wages to Kentuckians who would have previously been needlessly excluded from the labor pool.
For the last decade, Kentucky cannabis advocates have been fighting hard during the legislative session to give Kentuckians safe, legal access to medicinal cannabis. Every year, our hopes get dashed upon the wall when someone in a leadership position sits on the bill, not allowing it to be heard or voted on by their peers.
Last session, finally, history was made when the House Judiciary Committee voted to pass HB136 - a bill that would have established a medical cannabis industry - out of committee and let it be heard and voted on by the House. We celebrated a victory that day, but our hopes were staunched once again when the bill was passed from the House floor into the Senate Judiciary committee, because state Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, who serves as committee chairman, dragged his feet, telling advocates he had many concerns and he was thinking on it, while making it obvious he would not put the bill on the committee agenda until his concerns were assuaged.
A recent article from the Messenger-Inquirer highlighted Representative Jason Nemes reintroducing HB136 this coming legislative session. We look forward to once again supporting this bill. However, like any bill, it has its controversies as is discussed below.
Representative Jason Nemes is correct in the defense of his bill not being for revenue generation. Patients, many of whom are on disability or fixed income, should not be seen by lawmakers as a viable source of new tax revenue. This will ensure legal cannabis products do not remain out of reach from the patients who need them most. However, this bill falls short on a few major points and not for Rep. Nemes’ lack of effort. Over the last couple of years, he has been forced to negotiate out important aspects of a patient-centric medicinal cannabis program to appease many members of his chamber and party.
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There are approximately 700,000 senior citizens in our state. The Kentucky State Data Center at the University of Louisville found people age 65 have grown 23 percent since the 2010 census, while the number of people younger than 65 has declined and they account for over 15 percent of our population, and growing.
In the past few years researchers have been looking into how cannabis therapy is both safe and effective among elderly patients diagnosed with chronic pain, according to clinical data published online ahead of print in the European Journal of Internal Medicine, “[a]fter six months of treatment, 93.7% of the respondents reported improvement in their condition and the reported pain level was reduced from a median of 8 on a scale of 0-10 to a median of 4.”
Here at KY NORML one of the major pillars of our organization is education. We try to stay on top of as much information as possible to bring the people of Kentucky information regarding cannabis that is relevant to them, and there are none more relevant in our Commonwealth than our veterans. Kentucky has a long and proud history of sending men and women to serve this country with distinction and honor.
But serving sometimes comes at a cost, some more visible than others but always there. Many vets coming home have experienced high-stress situations those who haven’t served can scarcely comprehend. A retrospective review of PTSD patients' symptoms published in 2014 in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs reported a greater than 75 percent reduction CAPS (Clinician Administered Post-traumatic Scale) symptom scores following cannabis therapy.
KY NORML is passionate about education. And with the opioid epidemic consuming our state, we feel that it is our duty to share valuable information regarding the relationship between cannabis and opioids. Cannabis access is associated with reduced rates of opioid use and abuse, opioid-related hospitalizations, traffic fatalities, drug treatment admissions, and overdose deaths. We strongly believe, based on research, first-hand accounts, and testimonials that cannabis is truly the answer to combating this crisis that is killing thousands of Kentuckians each year.
Green Flower Media, one of the leaders in Cannabis Education Certifications, has joined forces with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) in creating an Advocacy Certificate meant to help individuals affect change in their states and communities.
The program will be comprised of several sections and will cover such topics as: why advocacy matters; how to build alliances; nonprofit management; working with the media; as well as so much more. The Advocacy Program is designed to make people more effective cannabis law reform advocates. Individuals will be able to use what they learn in this program to effect change at all levels of government.
We’re so excited to be sharing NORML’s new Advocacy Certificate program, powered by Green Flower (@greenflowermedia)! In this online program, you’ll hear from 3 prominent NORML members with tips on forming your own chapter, resources to advocate effectively in your area and learn from real case studies that resulted in positive cannabis reform. Click the link to learn more about this exciting new program, and enroll today to start advocating!
#LearnGreenFlower #CannabisAdvocate #WhatLegalizationLooksLike
Recent events have made it clear that we are at a national crossroads. We also reach this crossroads locally as Louisville has been catapulted to the national spotlight alongside Minneapolis in the recent protests calling for justice for Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Kentucky NORML stands in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and against systemic racism, discrimination, and intolerance. Cannabis prohibition is just one of a number of issues that have perpetuated injustice disproportionately upon black communities across generations.
To borrow from Eric Altieri, Executive Director for National NORML, “Will legalizing marijuana reform alone solve the problem of racial injustice? No. Is ending cannabis prohibition going to fix all of America’s social ills? No. After we legalize adult-cannabis use, will we see an end to discriminatory policing against communities of color and other marginalized groups? No. Will the end of marijuana prohibition be a small step toward the greater goal of promoting justice? Without a doubt, yes.”
Newly elected Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear scored the second-highest grade among governors in the southeastern United States on the 2020 Gubernatorial Scorecard issued by a national cannabis reform group.
Beshear, a Democrat, received a B- on a scorecard released last week by NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws). Beshear’s grade was second in the southeast to Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s B+ mark.
Beshear received a high score from the cannabis advocacy group, who cited comments the former state Attorney General made during his successful candidacy in 2019.
“I support placing medical marijuana legalization on the ballot as a constitutional amendment and would vote in its favor. I would vote for it because I’ve seen the impact opioids have had on every Kentucky community,” Beshear said. “So many Kentucky families have seen a loved one fall into addiction, and their lives have been devastated. If medical marijuana is an alternative and gives people the chance to get pain relief without being subjected to opioids, I think it’s something we’ve got to explore.”
If you’ve ever been charged with Possession of Marijuana in Kentucky, it is very likely to show up on a criminal background check. But, if you’ve completed your sentence, there is a relatively easy way to have the possession charge removed from your record.
What’s a Void and Seal?
Kentucky law KRS 218A.276(8) states:
In the case of any person who has been convicted of possession of marijuana, synthetic drugs, or salvia, the court may set aside and void the conviction upon satisfactory completion of treatment, probation, or other sentence, and issue to the person a certificate to that effect. A conviction voided under this subsection shall not be deemed a first offense for purposes of this chapter or deemed a conviction for purposes of disqualifications or disabilities imposed by law upon conviction of a crime.