2021 is coming to a close—and seriously, how did that happen so fast? Since it’s that time of year to reflect on the year that was, these were some of the biggest stories in weed in 2021:
Sha’Carri Richardson was denied the chance to compete in the Tokyo Summer Olympics because she tested positive for THC. Richardson dominated the women’s 100-meter qualifying race at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene, Oregon. However, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) prohibited her from competing after the positive test.
“Richardson’s competitive results obtained on June 19, 2021, including her Olympic qualifying results at the Team Trials, have been disqualified, and she forfeits any medals, points, and prizes,” a statement from the USADA said.
Richardson, who had just learned about her mother’s death, consumed marijuana in Oregon, a legal cannabis state. Despite the lack of evidence that marijuana or THC enhances athletic ability and a petition signed by more than half a million people, Richardson could not compete.
Colorado’s Speaker of the House, Alec Garnett (D-Denver), introduced legislation to tighten rules for medical marijuana and marijuana concentrates. The Colorado Legislature passed HB 1317 in June, and Governor Jared Polis (D-Colorado), signed the bill into law in the same month.
A new state tracking system will monitor medical marijuana patients’ purchases to prevent them from buying more than the allowed daily limit. Additionally, the law lowered the purchase limit on concentrates for medical and recreational to 8 grams per day, down from the previous 40-gram limit. For medical marijuana patients between the ages of 18-20, the limit on concentrates was lowered to two grams per day.
Amazon, one of the largest employers in the United States, dropped drug testing for applicants and employees this year.
“We will no longer include marijuana in our comprehensive drug screening program for any positions not regulated by the Department of Transportation, and will instead treat it the same as alcohol use. We will continue to do impairment checks on the job and will test for all drugs and alcohol after any incident,” the company said in a blog post.
Going one step further, the company said that they would actively lobby Congress to pass the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which would legalize cannabis nationally.
This may be the biggest story that wasn’t. We’re at the end of 2021, and there still hasn’t been any movement on ending the prohibition on cannabis or improving access to banking.
Several marijuana legalization and banking bills were introduced in the last few years, including the MORE Act and the SAFE Banking Act. In 2020, the House passed the MORE Act, but it never received a hearing in the Senate. The House passed different versions of the SAFE Banking Act five times, but like the MORE Act, it stalled in the Senate.
One of the sponsors of the SAFE Banking Act, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), said in a statement, “[P]eople are still getting killed and businesses are still getting robbed because of a lack of action from the Senate. The SAFE Banking Act has been sitting in the Senate for three years and with every passing day their unwillingness to deal with the issue endangers and harms businesses, their employees, and communities across the country.”
In states that have legalized adult-use marijuana, youth marijuana use has not increased.
A study published in JAMA Pediatrics found that teen marijuana use decreased after legalization. Researchers analyzed data from 1.4 million high school students between 1993 and 2017 and found an 8 percent decrease in teen use after states legalized recreational marijuana.
The U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) analyzed ten years of data from students in grades 9-12 who reported marijuana use in the previous 30 days. They found that between 2009 and 2019, youth marijuana use has remained essentially unchanged.
“The overall percentage of students who reported using marijuana at least 1 time during the previous 30 days in 2019 was not measurably different from the percentage in 2009…. There was no measurable difference between 2009 and 2019 in the percentage of students who reported that illegal drugs were made available to them on school property.”
The findings are consistent with prior data concerning youth marijuana use.
Researchers could have access to retail cannabis as part of the infrastructure bill passed in the Senate last week.
What does marijuana have to do with infrastructure? Well, nothing, sort of. The provision included in the bill would require the US transportation secretary to develop a public report on the risk of cannabis-impaired driving within two years. As part of creating that report, researchers would have access to high-quality cannabis from state-approved dispensaries.
Scientists studying marijuana have been limited to notoriously poor-quality cannabis from the government-run research facility out of the University of Mississippi. The provision in the infrastructure bill would enable researchers to study the actual marijuana that people are consuming.
Additionally, the public report must include advice to lawmakers on how to set up a “national clearinghouse to collect and distribute samples and strains of marijuana for scientific research that includes marijuana and products containing marijuana lawfully available to patients or consumers in a state on a retail basis.”
In states that haven’t legalized either medical or recreational marijuana, this clearinghouse would ensure scientists’ access to high-quality cannabis from dispensaries in legal states.
If the new marijuana reform rules pass, states with legal medical or recreational marijuana would be required to develop programs to “educate drivers regarding the risks associated with marijuana-impaired driving” and “to reduce injuries and deaths resulting from individuals driving motor vehicles while impaired by marijuana.”
Senator John Hickenlooper (D-CO) sponsored the marijuana reform amendment that was included in the infrastructure bill.
“Colorado led the way on marijuana legalization,” Hickenlooper said in a press release. “The federal government needs to catch up by lifting outdated restrictions on the scientific study of cannabis so we can prevent driving while high.”
The Senate approved the infrastructure bill containing the marijuana reform provision by a 69-30 vote. Next, the bill will go to the House for approval before heading to President Biden’s desk for his signature.
New hemp-derived CBD regulations in Colorado
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) has finalized state testing requirements for hemp. The new regulations take effect on October 1 and include all hemp-derived goods intended for human consumption, including hemp-infused CBD products.
“We don’t want to burden the industry,” Jeff Lawrence, CDPHE director of environmental health and sustainability, told Westword. “But what we’ve learned is that there are things in hemp products that we obviously need to be considerate of. Since the inception of hemp, Colorado has been a leader in this industry. This will provide some better guidance.”
Testing will screen for things like pesticides, heavy metals, and residual solvents.
Hemp-infused products like foods, drinks, nutritional supplements, cosmetics, and pet products will be subject to the new testing requirements. Industrial hemp products like textiles, fuel, and building materials, are excluded from the testing requirements. Hemp-derived smokable products, including those with modified cannabinoids like Delta-8 THC, are also excluded from the new regulations.
“Ultimately, this is a public-health issue. In 2018, when, statutorily, these products were allowed, we said it would be treated like every other food and dietary supplement requirement,” Lawrence said.
DEA-approved medical marijuana research facility coming to Denver
A Denver-based marijuana research and cultivation firm received approval from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to begin federally-approved medical marijuana studies.
The research license will allow MedPharm to study all of the molecules known to be made by the cannabis plant—more than 400 so far. The company will also be studying the interaction between phytocannabinoids and different brain cells.
“Access to the diversity of chemicals produced by cannabis has never been greater, and we are excited to unlock the medical potential of these compounds,” said Dr. Tyrell Towle, MedPharm’s director of chemistry and research.
Although MedPharm is licensed to grow medical marijuana for research purposes at the city and state levels, they’re still waiting on the DEA to approve federal licensing. That means that the company won’t be using its own marijuana for research. Currently, the University of Mississippi is the only federally licensed medical marijuana research supplier.
Colorado Cannabis Business Office focuses on social equity
Governor Jared Polis announced the creation of a new office aimed at supporting cannabis businesses and promoting social equity.
The Cannabis Business Office (CBO) was created as part of a bill passed earlier this year. $4 million was set aside for the program for the 2022-’23 fiscal year from the state Marijuana Tax Cash Fund.
According to the CBO, the office will:
- Provide loans to social equity licensees for seed capital and ongoing business expenses;
- Offer grants to social equity licensees to support innovation and job creation and organizations that support marijuana businesses to be used to support innovation and job creation of social equity licensees; and
- Support cannabis business owners with technical assistance, prioritizing social equity licensees who have been awarded a loan or grant through the program.
“This office will offer tools like technical help and improve access to money for businesses. Where the federal government has fallen behind, Colorado will lead. Colorado is, and always has been, the best place to live, work, grow and sell cannabis,” Polis said in a press release.
Surgeon General supports marijuana decriminalization
During an interview with CNN, US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD, said that he thinks it’s time to stop incarcerating people for marijuana.
“When it comes to decriminalization, I don’t think that there is value to individuals or to society to lock people up for marijuana use. I don’t think that serves anybody well.”
Murthy was commenting on new draft legislation to repeal federal marijuana prohibition introduced by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) last week.
“In terms of our approach to marijuana, I worry when we don’t let science guide our process and policymaking and as Surgeon General that’s my role, is to work with policymakers who work with members in the community and the general public to help people understand what science tells us and where you gaps, to help fill those gaps with research and with honest inquiry.”
MMJ patient sues Governor Polis over new medical marijuana regulations
In June, Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed House Bill 1317, which added a host of new restrictions to the state’s medical-marijuana program.
Under the new law, physicians must prescribe a THC dosage amount and method of consumption and refer the patient for medical and mental health reviews. In addition, all medical marijuana purchases must be entered into a new tracking system, and patients are limited as to the amount of medical marijuana concentrate they can purchase.
Proponents of House Bill 1317 said the legislation was aimed at curbing youth use of marijuana concentrates.
“The reality is that it’s too easy for Colorado’s youth to access high-potency marijuana when they shouldn’t be able to, and we don’t have the full picture of how these products impact the developing brain,” Garnett said at the bill signing. “This law will help educate consumers about high-potency cannabis, and it will advance critical research that will give us a better understanding of how high-potency products impact developing brains,” said House Speaker Alec Garnett, who introduced the legislation.
However, medical marijuana advocates feel that the new law adds unnecessary hurdles for patients and physicians.
Benjamin Wann, a nineteen-year-old medical marijuana patient who uses cannabis to treat seizures, is suing the governor over the new restrictions. Wann and his parents, Amber and Brad, say that the governor and legislators failed to include the medical marijuana community in their policymaking.
“Polis didn’t have a conversation with us. We reached out, and had a rally in front of his office after it passed. I don’t know of anyone in the community who he had a conversation with, especially those of us who just passed that other bill,” Brad told Westword.
The Wann family was with the governor on May 6 as he signed a bill into law that expanded medical marijuana access to underage patients in public schools.
“We’ve seen a roller-coaster effect over the years with Benjamin having seizures. People keep saying [marijuana] is so bad for the developing brain, and here’s Benjamin, and we’ve literally seen him flourish and grow from it,” Amber said.
Denver receives first marijuana delivery application
In April, the Denver City Council passed a bill to (finally) allow marijuana delivery and consumption lounges in the city. Now, the City of Denver has received its first application for a marijuana delivery permit.
“We are kind of accustomed to getting everything delivered. Our groceries, our medicine, our clothing, our basic needs. So now this is just one thing we can deliver and provide that type of service,” said Dooba owner Karina Cohen.
The same restrictions that apply to purchasing cannabis in a dispensary will apply to the new delivery service. Cannabis delivery will only be available to a residential address to a person with a valid ID. Purchases will be limited to one ounce of flower, 8 grams of concentrate, or edibles containing 800 milligrams of THC.
The New Mexico Legislature ended their 60-day legislative session Saturday without hearing a bill to legalize marijuana. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) announced that she would call a special session on the issue before the end of March.
“We’re going to have a special session in a week or so. We’re going to get cannabis because I am not going to wait another year,” the Governor said. “We’re going to win it, and it’s going to have the social justice aspects that we know have to be in the package.”
HB 12 passed the state House of Representatives in February, and the Senate was scheduled to hear the legislation on their last full day in session. However, as the legislative session ended on Saturday, it was clear that the Senate didn’t have time to hear the bill.
In a joint statement issued by the bill’s sponsors, Reps. Javier Martínez (D-Albuquerque) and Andrea Romero (D-Santa Fe) supported the Governor’s announcement of a special session.
“We need to legalize adult-use cannabis tonight or in a special session. It’s now up to the Senate to have a vote. House Bill 12 puts forward New Mexico’s best opportunity to establish a multi-million-dollar industry with a framework that prioritizes social justice and equal opportunity for our communities. The Governor has made a commitment to sign a bill that represents our shared principles, and we welcome any avenue to do so. New Mexico is ready.”
If the Senate passes HB 12, it will allow the sale of recreational cannabis to adults 21 and older starting in April 2022.
“I believe legalization will be one of the largest job-creation programs in state history, driving entrepreneurial opportunities statewide for decades to come,” Gov. Lujan Grisham said. “I look forward to continuing to work with lawmakers to get the job done right.”
If the Senate passes HB 12 during a special session, it will head back to the House for final changes before going to the Governor for her signature.
Democrats announced earlier this month that they plan to introduce legislation to legalize cannabis federally.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Ron Wyden (D-Or) said that they would push not only to end marijuana prohibition but will also focus on social equity and restorative justice.
“The War on Drugs has been a war on people—particularly people of color. Ending the federal marijuana prohibition is necessary to right the wrongs of this failed war and end decades of harm inflicted on communities of color across the country. But that alone is not enough. As states continue to legalize marijuana, we must also enact measures that will lift up people who were unfairly targeted in the War on Drugs,” said Sens. Chuck Schumer, Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Ron Wyden (D-Or) in a joint statement.
The senators said that they expect to unveil the legislation “in the early part of this year” that is a “unified discussion draft on comprehensive reform to ensure restorative justice, protect public health and implement responsible taxes and regulations.”
Hearing from marijuana advocacy groups and stakeholders in the cannabis industry will be part of drafting the legislation. Last week, the senators held a virtual roundtable with representatives from NORML, Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), Veterans Cannabis Coalition, and Students from Sensible Drug Policy, as well as the National Cannabis Industry Association and the Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA).
“We are committed to working together to put forward and advance comprehensive cannabis reform legislation that will not only turn the page on this sad chapter in American history, but also undo the devastating consequences of these discriminatory policies. The Senate will make consideration of these reforms a priority,” the senators said.
In 2020, the House passed the MORE Act, which sought to deschedule cannabis, expunge marijuana convictions, and create reinvestment programs in communities most impacted by the war on drugs. Unfortunately, the bill never received a hearing in the Senate.
“Last year, we moved heaven and earth to get a bill passed through the House with key criminal justice and restorative justice provisions, but Mitch McConnell blocked consideration,” said Earl Blumenauer (D-Or) in a statement. “Now, new Senate leadership is prepared to pick up the mantle.”
Support for ending cannabis prohibition has come a long way since Colorado and Washington voted to legalize marijuana in their states in 2012. As of this year, 15 states plus the District of Columbia have legalized weed. According to a Gallup poll conducted last November, 68% of Americans support marijuana legalization.
On December 4, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to end federal marijuana prohibition.
Under the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, cannabis would be decriminalized and removed as a scheduled substance.
The MORE Act would expunge federal marijuana convictions and create a reinvestment program to support individuals most impacted by the War on Drugs. A 5% federal tax on cannabis would go toward services such as job training, legal aid, and literacy and health education programs.
Rep. Ed Blumenauer (D-OR), who has long advocated for marijuana legalization, said that the bill is “going to make a huge difference for people all across America as Congress starts to catch up to where the American public is.”
“There’s a whole range of things that the MORE Act fixes,” Blumenauer said. “But most important is it stops this failed war on drugs that is so unfair to Americans of color, particularly black and brown. It will stop the federal interference with research. It’ll allow this emerging market to thrive, make it possible for more people to participate and be able to get on with their lives.”
The bill passed by a vote of 228 to 164, with 222 Democrats, five Republicans, and one Independent voting in support.
At a press event following the bill’s passage, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) said that this “really is a moment for racial justice. We know that this year has put inequality and systemic racism to the forefront of our attention, and there’s no better way to close out this year than to really begin to atone for the destructive policies brought on by the failed war on drugs.”
The House might be as far as legalizing marijuana goes for now, however. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the Senate Majority Leader, is against ending cannabis prohibition. McConnell, also known as the Grim Reaper when it comes to killing legislation, is expected to block any marijuana bills from getting a vote in the Senate. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris (D-CA) is the lead sponsor of the Senate version of the bill.
Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed a bill into law that will allow him to pardon marijuana convictions that occurred before the state legalized marijuana in 2012.
>House Bill 1424, passed by lawmakers on June 15, is aimed at increasing social equity in the cannabis industry. The bill allows Colorado residents who have been arrested or convicted of a marijuana offense, been subject to civil asset forfeiture related to a marijuana offense, or applicants living in economically disadvantaged areas toFor decades now, the Black community has been disproportionately criminalized because of marijuana while others have profited,” state Rep. James Coleman (D-Denver), one of the bill’s sponsors, toldThe Denver Post, “We have needed to act on this injustice for decades.”
A last-minute amendment to the bill gave the governor the ability to issue mass pardons for marijuana convictions of 2 ounces or less without approval from judges or district attorneys.
“There’s too many people that have a prior conviction for personal amounts of cannabis fully legal today that prevent them from getting loans, from getting leases, from raising capital, from getting licenses, from getting jobs, from getting mortgages, and that’s wrong,” Polis said during the bill signing. “We hope that this measure will be a first step for new opportunities for thousands of Coloradans who should not be living with a cloud over their head simply because they were a little bit ahead of their time.”
While the governor will have the ability to issue a mass pardon, the process isn’t automatic. People with marijuana convictions will still have to apply to clear their records.
While the new law is a step towards social equity in the cannabis industry, the Black Cannabis Equity Initiative and the Colorado Black Round Table urged Polis in a letter to immediately release low-level cannabis offenders and expunge their records.
This Pardon and Expungement are not the face of social equity in Colorado, however, they are important action steps in recognizing and acknowledging systemic and institutional racism as well as the past barriers and significant omissions in the evolution and history of the Colorado cannabis industry.”
The law will take effect in 90 days.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced last week that they would not be making changes to the allowable THC limit for legal hemp. While the 2018 Farm Bill passed by Congress legalized hemp, it came with the requirement that THC content must be under 0.3%, and any hemp found to exceed that amount must be destroyed. The USDA says that it’s up to Congress to make changes.
“The Farm Bill set forth these requirements,” Bruce Summers, acting administrator of USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service, said on a call with reporters. “Any changes to these requirements require legislative action.”
“To go from 0.3 to one percent would have to be a statutory change,” he said. “In other words, Congress would have to take action. We couldn’t do that by regulation.”
While the THC limit will remain the same for hemp, the USDA is open to other changes to their rules. The USDA says it will use the 2020 growing season as a chance to “test drive the interim rule to help guide any adjustments that are made in the final rule.” After the 2020 harvest, the USDA will open a second public comment period before final regulations are set. The interim final rule will expire Nov. 1, 2021, after which the USDA will then deliver the final regulations.
One potential change could involve the disposal practices for “hot hemp.” Hemp that tests above regulated THC levels cannot be sold and must be destroyed. According to Summers, “there’s probably some flexibility there, and we hope to get some additional guidance on that out shortly.”
“Hot hemp” is ineligible for federal crop insurance programs, including the two new federal hemp insurance programs the USDA announced earlier this month.
Summers also said that there could be changes to the requirement that testing facilities must be certified by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Hemp farmers have been concerned that there are too few certified labs, which will cause backlogs and delays in hemp testing.
“It’s something we’ve heard loud and clear. It’s something we’re dealing with and something we’re hoping to have more information out about shortly,” Summers said about the lab shortages.
The Farm Bill gives states the right to submit their own proposed hemp regulations. The Colorado Senate has urged the USDA to loosen some of its hemp regulations.
“As presented by the U.S. Department of Agriculture…members, there will not be a hemp industry in Colorado,” said Colorado Sen. Don Coram (R-Montrose). “The rules and regulations are so onerous that we as farmers cannot comply, and the state cannot afford to comply.”
The state Senate adopted a resolution in January, pledging their support for regulatory revisions.
“Colorado has been a national leader in developing public policies that support hemp production, protect farmers and consumers, and treat hemp as an important agricultural product and not a controlled substance,” the resolution reads. “The State’s written comments on the interim rule present thoughtful and compelling recommendations on how the USDA’s rules could be improved to allow for greater flexibility and equity in state regulation of hemp production in a manner that protects farmers and consumers and promotes growth of the industry.”
Colorado may have regulated marijuana like alcohol, but since marijuana was legalized, there’s been a double standard when it comes to cannabis and booze. State law prohibits employers from firing employees for “lawful off-duty activities,” like drinking alcohol. Employees who over-indulge during the Superbowl, for example, can go into work the next day and talk about their bender without losing their jobs. Not the case when it comes to marijuana.
House Bill 20-1098, introduced to the Colorado legislature by Rep. Jovan Melton (D-Aurora), would explicitly include marijuana use as a “lawful off-duty activity.”
“I can’t believe we’ve had this much oversight and lack of protection for someone who’s using medical marijuana, or recreational, which is something that is legal in Colorado,” Melton told Westword. “Especially since we’re supposed to regulate marijuana just like alcohol. But [alcohol users] are not in the same type of jeopardy as someone who’s using marijuana. I feel like it’s kind of almost discriminatory to say someone can drink alcohol but not smoke here.”
At many companies in Colorado, an employer can fire an employee for testing positive for marijuana, even if they’re not high at work. After recreational marijuana hit retail stores in 2014, the issue came up in 2015, when the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that the Dish Network was within their rights to fire an employee who tested positive for pot. The employee, Brandon Coats, a paralyzed medical marijuana patient, was fired for marijuana use off the job.
“We’ve revised the language a little, and it’s now about employee protection for lawful activity,” said Ashley Weber, the director of Colorado NORML. “We’re not really looking for any special treatment just for cannabis users…We offer these protections for alcohol, so we’re not asking for any special treatment.”
The bill would likely not apply to federal employees who work in the state, at least as long as marijuana remains illegal federally.
“Our hope with this bill is that Colorado will set an example in rewriting employee handbooks about how they’re going to treat the firing of their employees, and what is grounds for being able to be fired,” Weber said. “We can’t go back and undo what has already been done, but we can move forward in how we’re creating this language.”
The House Business Affairs and Labor Committee will have their first hearing on the bill on February 5.