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Cannabis Legalization

Cook County Partners with Code For America to Expunge Cannabis Convictions

Jordan Webber

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Expunge Marijuana Convictions

Law enforcement officials from Illinois’ Cook County announced last  August 27, they would be collaborating with non-profit tech company Code For America to expunge the criminal records of people convicted of marijuana charges.

In a report from Chicago Tribune, under the said partnership, Code for America will help automate expungement proceedings for Cook County cannabis convictions involving amounts smaller than 30 grams. This includes misdemeanors and Class 4 felonies.

“The technology and innovation made possible through our partnership with Code for America will help us provide broad and equitable conviction relief for tens of thousands of people while ensuring that more of our time and resources can be used to combat violent crime,” said Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx on Tuesday.

“This partnership is one of many steps Cook County is taking to leverage technology in order to better serve our community and bring our criminal justice system into the 21st century,” she added.

In June this year, Illinois became the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana. On the same date, Democratic Governor J.B. Pritzker signed a bill that will automatically expunge and pardon the records of about 800,000 state residents with low-level cannabis convictions.

The law is set to take effect on January 1, 2020, and officials are currently working to ensure a definitive and organized legal system for that date.

“It is prosecutors who were part of the war on drugs, we were part of a larger ecosystem that believed that in the interest of public safety, that these were convictions that were necessary to gain,” continued Attorney Fox.

“In the benefit of hindsight and looking at the impact of the war on drugs, it is also prosecutors who have to be at the table to ensure that we are righting the wrongs of the past.”

Code for America serves as a network which builds digital services to enhance government capabilities. Earlier this year, it had assumed a critical role in expediting cannabis expungements in San Francisco with over 9,000 cases

“Code for America’s partnership with Cook County expands our Clear My Record program to a second state and further proves that justice can happen at the scale and speed we know is possible in the digital age,” said Code of America Founder and Executive Director, Jennifer Pahlka.

“Thanks to the leadership of State’s Attorney Foxx, we’ll provide conviction relief expeditiously, at reduced cost, and in bulk in Illinois, and help tens of thousands of individuals get a fresh start.  And we’ll continue to show that government can work as it should for all people when we bring government into the 21st century,” she added.

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Cannabis Legalization

Washington State Legislators OKs Cannabis Social Equity Bill

Jordan Webber

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Washington’s cannabis industry is poised to welcome diversity among licensees after state legislators approved a bill last week that would introduce the state’s first Marijuana Social Equity Program. The measure, named House Bill 2870 (HB 2870), now awaits on Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk for final approval.

If signed into law, the bill will enable the Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) to issue forfeited, canceled and revoked retail licenses to applicants that are members of communities excessively impacted by the War on Drugs.

As written in the bill, the measure’s main objective is to benefit “individuals who have been arrested or incarcerated due to drug laws, and those who have resided in areas of high poverty, suffer long-lasting adverse consequences, including impacts to employment, business ownership, housing, health, and long term financial well-being.”

The program is set to last for eight years, spanning from December 1, 2020 to July 1, 2028, and will cost applicants a total of $1,480 for new social equity licenses.

Prior to the approval, The House originally passed an earlier version of the bill in February this year, with the intention to address racial inequity within the cannabis industry.

Democratic Rep. Eric Pettigrew, the one who sponsored the bill, described the road towards the final bill as a long yet worthwhile struggle.

“I had a chance to meet with some proponents and opponents a little more … and really came to understand that this is beyond the issue of licenses,” Pettigrew said. “This is potentially a different distribution of wealth as we move forward in this industry.”

He, along with the help of stakeholders including Paula Sardinas of the Commission on African American Affairs drafted the proposal.

“We believe we need an LCB that is more reflective of the community it serves,” she said. “It should also have a culture that mirrors the Department of Financial Institutions where education, compliance, and training are priorities along with enforcement,” Sardinas commented.

In 2012, Washington became the first U.S. state to legalized recreational use of marijuana. However, eight years after, the state’s cannabis industry is still struggling with diversity. In a report from the Washington State Commission on African American Affairs, less than 1% of the state’s over 500 recreational cannabis licenses were owned by African Americans.

“Initiative 502 missed an opportunity to incorporate a focus on social equity,” said Rick Garza, the director of the LCB, at the time the bill made its way through the legislature. “The history of cannabis prohibition shows abundant evidence there was disproportionate harm in communities of color, and that those harmful effects remain with us today.”

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Cannabis Legalization

ACT Legalizes the Adult-Use of Recreational Cannabis

Stacey Wellington

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Adult-Use of Recreational Cannabis

After months of waiting, residents of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) now have access to legal adult-use cannabis, said SBS News. This legalization came after the ACT Legislative Assembly voted for the then-proposed bill back in September 2019, according to a report by The Guardian.

Last  January 31, 2020, residents of legal age will be able to carry a maximum of 50 grams. This new law will also allow them to grow up to two cannabis plants. Adults will also be able to carry up to 150 grams of “wet” cannabis. As the law legalizes marijuana for private and adult-use only, users are urged to keep the plant away from the public eye and children.

ACT citizens have expressed optimism about this development. One resident was pleased with this development and is hopeful about the benefits of the plant.

‘Opposed to the legalization of Recreational Cannabis in ACT’

This development was frowned upon by the Federal Government, which issued a warning to ACT residents. According to SBS News, the government said that residents “would still be breaking Commonwealth law” when they consume recreational cannabis, despite its legalization in the Australian capital.

During a speech to the National Press Club, Prime Minister Scott Morrison states that “states will make their own decisions according to priorities and complexions of their own government.” However, he emphasized that he “would expect the federal law enforcement agencies to press the law.”

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr noted that this development is progress when it comes to drug reform. Barr said that state law enforcement would be focusing on organized crime and large-scale production of illegal drugs. Moreover, this action seeks to make it clear that the state government does not want to penalize or stigmatize users.

Meanwhile, Dr. Nicole Lee from the National Drug Research Institute is optimistic about this decision. She criticized the stigma created by the war on drugs, saying that this campaign has pegged marijuana issues as a criminal justice matter.

By legalizing the plant, Lee said that cannabis will become a health and human rights issue. She emphasized that the negative effects of long-term excessive use will still persist even without legalization. According to her, legalization will make it easier for users to get the help they need.

In light of this move by the capital, New Zealand is also mulling on the legalization of the plant. It will hold a referendum in September.

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Cannabis Legalization

Cleveland City Council Oks Decriminalization of Low-Level Marijuana

Jordan Webber

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Low-Level Cannabis Decriminalization

Citizens of Cleveland are set to welcome a new ordinance that may be beneficial to medical marijuana patients after the City Council approved legislation on Monday eliminating penalties over possession of low-level marijuana.

According to reports, the Cleveland City Council had voted 15-2 in favor of a new ordinance that would eliminate penalties, including fines and jail time, for individuals who are to be caught with up to 200 grams or about 7 ounces of marijuana.

Under the legislation, called Ordinance No. 902-2019, individuals who have been previously convicted of marijuana possession would not be required to report the conviction during their pre-employment screening. Moreover, as part of the measure, the conviction will also set to not appear on the individual’s criminal record.

What we’re proposing is zero fines, zero jail time for anyone who has up to 200 grams of marijuana,” explained Councilman Blaine A. Griffin, the sponsor of the ordinance.

Let this be a bold first step in how we look at 21st Century policing,” he added.

Under the existing state law, individuals who are to be caught in possession of up to 100 grams of cannabis will be subjected to a $150 fine, while those with up to 200 grams will face a fine of $250 and up to 30 days of jail time.

To date, while Cleveland won’t be able to outdo the existing state laws, the city has the ability to regulate and implement local penalties for minor misdemeanor and misdemeanor crimes.

Prior to the voting, Mayor Frank George Jackson of Cleveland, along with including Police Chief Calvin Williams and chief City Prosecutor Karrie Howard, expressed their support for the legislation.

The ordinance, effective upon the mayor’s signature, will make Cleveland the latest addition to the ranks of other cities in Ohio that had decriminalized low-level cannabis possession. Among those cities include Cincinnati, Columbus, Dayton, and Toledo.

According to Griffin, the new legislation would help end the racial disparity commonly found in the enforcement of cannabis laws.

We have always known that African-Americans are sometimes seven times more likely to be charged with marijuana possession,” the Mayor expressed.

“In addition to good government, this is really trying to create an equitable policy, as well as moving to the 21st century and away from the ’70s, when it comes to marijuana and cannabis use,” he added.

The ordinance comes only a week after the city of Austin in Texas approved a similar legislation that will decriminalize possession of low-level cannabis in the city.

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