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National News - September 2019

Florida And Texas Discussing Decriminalizing Cannabis Possession

When Congress passed the farm bill last year, legalizing hemp on a national level, there was one unforeseen consequence that was not taken into account; the inability of law enforcement to reliably discern the difference between hemp (which does not get you high) and cannabis (which does get you high). The two look exactly the same, with no reliable field test there is no way for them to know which is which. A state attorney in Florida has recently voiced that he will no longer be pursuing prosecution of low level cannabis possessions, until a reliable field test has been made readily available, nor will search warrants in cases where officers and canines detect the smell of cannabis be authorized.

In a letter to his local law enforcement jurisdictions which include Leon, Franklin, Gadsden, Jefferson, Liberty, and Wakulla counties in the Florida Panhandle, State Attorney Jack Campbell stated “Much of the search and seizure law hinges on either the officer’s or K-9’s ability to smell, This seems to now be in significant doubt.” He is not alone in this either, law enforcement in Palm Beach County have stopped performing what’s called sniff and searches, where an officer could perform a search without a warrant based on the smell of cannabis.

Similarly in Texas, law enforcement officials have been writing up misdemeanor charges for possession of less than 4 ounces rather than arresting them. A memo released to officers in Texas stated that legalized hemp does not  “negate probable cause for marijuana-related offenses,” however with no reliable testing equipment, the issue has become a chaotic situation. 

DEA To Support Expanding Cannabis Research

The U.S Drug Enforcement Agency recently announced that they intend to expand scientific and medical research of cannabis, though no official timeline was given it was stated that they intend to propose new regulations to govern cannabis research first. The announcement came in response to a court order to answer to allegations that the DEA has illegally failed to respond to 33 pending applications for cannabis research. Despite pressure on the DEA from congress to act, only the University of Mississippi has been granted federal permission to grow research cannabis.  

Cannabis research is crucial for understanding the potential health and scientific benefits of cannabis, which in turn may help the medical case for legalization of cannabis. In a news release, the DEA stated they anticipate that registering additional qualified cannabis growers will increase the variety that are available for research. The new rules will help ensure that the agency is processing applications under applicable legal standards, the process will also provide the general public and applicants the opportunity to comment on the regulations. U.S. Attorney General William Barr said in a statement “I am pleased that the DEA is moving forward with its review of applications for those who seek to grow marijuana legally to support research, the Department of Justice will continue to work with our colleagues at the Department of Health and Human Services and across the administration to improve research opportunities wherever we can.”

FBI To Investigate Corruption Within The U.S. Cannabis Industry

The FBI has announced that they intend to investigate possible corruption within the cannabis industry across the U.S. and is seeking tips. In a recently released podcast FBI spokeswoman Mollie Halpern stated “As an increasing number of states change their marijuana legislation, the FBI is seeing a public corruption threat emerge in the expanding cannabis industry, states require licenses to grow and sell the drug – opening the possibility for public officials to become susceptible to bribes in exchange for those licenses.”

She asked that listeners contact their local FBI field office if they suspect that a dispensary is operating outside of legal guidelines, or public corruption within the cannabis industry. Supervisory Special Agent Regino Chavez added that they have been made aware of some cannabis business licenses being sold for up to $50,000, which is an indicator as to just how much corrupting influence license caps can have on the market.  

Secure And Fair Enforcement Banking Act Gaining Traction

At CannaGather, a cannabis industry event held in New York City, New York Representative Carolyn Maloney expressed her optimism that the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) act will be approved by the house. The SAFE Act aims to provide banking access to the rapidly increasing cannabis business market. As it stands, any federally insured financial institution is forbidden by federal law to allow cannabis businesses to bank with their establishment. In August the National Credit Union Administration announced that federally insured credit unions will be able to offer certain financial services to legally operated hemp companies, following the passing of the farm bill which legalized hemp federally. 

Florida To Become First Southern State To Pass Recreational Cannabis Laws?

There are currently eleven states within the United States that have passed recreational cannabis laws; well over half of them are located along the west coast, 2 of them are located in the midwest, and 3 are located in the Northeast. To date there is not a single southern state with recreational cannabis, that may be set to change soon however. Marijuana advocacy group Regulate Florida is heading the initiative to place an amendment on the Florida 2020 ballot to legalize cannabis in the state for residents 21 and over. The state of Florida requires that proponents gather valid signatures equal to 8% of the total votes cast in the state, which translates to approximately 76,000 signatures. The signatures must come from at least 14 of the 27 Florida counties, the group has already collected more than 83,000 signatures. 

The process of gathering these signatures is lengthy, as well as costly. Campaign manager for Regulate Florida, Michael Minardi estimates that by the end they will have spent over $5 million dollars to get the necessary amount of signatures needed to get the initiative on the ballot. Some supporters, with rather deep pockets, have already promised to assist. John Morgan, the founding partner of the Morgan & Morgan law firm hinted in a Twitter post that he plans to help, Morgan already spent close to 7 million dollars to help the 2016 Medical Marijuana initiative in the state. 

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