Last Week in Weed Issue 32

In this issue of Last Week in Weed, Latest draft bill revealed in US, Borat star sues cannabis company, and Illinois activists fight for reparations.

Last Week in Weed

(19/7/21)

Last Week in Weed: A weekly blog from The Simpa Life

In this week’s Last Week in Weed, we’ll be looking at the draft Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act in the US, Borat star Sacha Baron Cohen suing over cannabis billboard, and finally an activist group in Illinois who are fighting for reparations for people with previous cannabis convictions.

Click to read the draft bill

The US releases draft of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act

The first story that we’ll look at this week is the release of the first draft of the new Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act by US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. The new draft was made public last Wednesday by US Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Ron Wyden (D-Or).

The days of federal prohibition are numbered. It is time for legislators to comport federal law with the laws of the growing number of states that have legalized the plant, and it is time for lawmakers to facilitate a federal structure that allows for cannabis commerce so that responsible consumers can obtain high-quality, low-cost cannabis grown right here in America without fear of arrest and incarceration.” – Erik Altieri, Executive Director at NORML

This discussion-draft bill comes seven months after the MORE Act (Marijuana Opportunities and Reinvestment Expungement Act) was approved by the US Congress, but sadly died in the Senate. This new bill borrows much from its predecessor and even goes further on some crucial points. 

If passed the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act would end the federal prohibition of cannabis by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act and subsequent scheduling system. It would automatically expunge all non-violent convictions handed down in federal courts and allow those currently incarcerated to petition for a new sentence based on current legislation.

The draft bill would currently protect states-rights to prohibit cannabis possession, cultivation, and sale. It would also give individual states the right to decide how they would ‘legalise’ cannabis if they choose to do so. 

It would include three major grant programs designed to help those most disproportionately affected by the failed war on drugs, those living in socio-economically disadvantaged areas, and a fund for the expungement of all federal non-violent cannabis convictions.

Grant programs would also be created to fund NGOs to provide access to services for individuals most adversely impacted by the government’s previous drug policies. Aid programs would also be established to pushing for equitable licensing and to give small businesses access to loan schemes. 

It is time for Congress to end the federal marijuana prohibition and reinvest in communities most impacted by the failed War on Drugs” – Senator Booker

These programs will be funded by a new federal excise tax of 10% rising to 25% by year five of adoption. Smaller companies with a turnover of less than $20m would be able to apply for a tax credit that would effectively half the rate, nevertheless, it would remain a hefty price to pay to play.

If adopted the new bill would allow sales to anyone over the age of 21, however, retail sales would be capped at 10 oz of flower or the equivalent in extracts, oils, edibles, etc. This would be a vast increase on even the most liberal of states ‘legalisation’ models.

Should the US finally end federal prohibition it would cease the arbitrary persecution of cannabis consumers in housing, financial aid, and employment. It could also lead to a golden era of academic research and scientific discovery in the public arena as the archaic laws preventing it would be repealed. 

So what happens now? The draft discussion bill will go through a kind of consultation process between the senators, lawmakers, and the general public. This process will last until September 1st, at which point and modifications and adjustments will be made before it is formally submitted to congress. 

This comes at the same time the US Surgeon General is quoted as saying that there is ‘no value to locking people up for marijuana’ Ultimately, I feel that this is the best shot yet that the US has at ending federal cannabis prohibition. It is far from perfect and the fight will need to continue for ubiquitous and equitable justice to be served to the American people.

You can read the full draft bill here

Image: NY Post

Sacha Baron Cohen sues overuse of Borat on cannabis billboard

Our second story this week is the news that British actor, writer, and comedian Sacha Baron Cohen is suing Massachusetts-based Solar Sustainable Cannabis over its use of his Borat Sagdiyev character and his infamous catchphrase, “it’s nice!” 

The company who markets itself as ‘America’s first energy-independent cannabis cultivation facility with retail dispensaries’ found itself in hot water last week when representatives of the actor who played the fictional Kazakh journalist filed a lawsuit against them.

Borat’s ‘subsequent moviefilm’ was released last year to much fanfare and critical acclaim recently appeared towering over motorists on the interstate in Somerset, Massachusetts. 

Last week papers were filed in the US by attorneys representing the Ali G star seeking damages of at least $9m (£6.5m) for alleged copyright infringement and false advertising. In the documents filed last Monday, Cohen’s legal counsel claim that Solar Sustainable Cannabis ‘took a gamble’ by using the star’s likeness ‘thinking that he would never see it’

By use of the Billboard, the Defendants falsely have conveyed to the public that Mr. Baron Cohen has endorsed their products and is affiliated with their business. To the contrary, Mr. Baron Cohen never has used cannabis in his life. He never would participate in an advertising campaign for cannabis, for any amount of money.” – Attorney for Sacha Baron Cohen, David Condon

The statement goes on to say that ‘In fact, Baron Cohen notes he’s never taken any corporate brand deal despite receiving “countless opportunities” because he thinks it would undermine his credibility as an actor and social activist’ 

Baron Cohen is also a practicing Orthodox Jew and “doesn’t wish to be involved in the heated controversy among the Orthodox Jewish community about whether cannabis can be used under Jewish traditions, customs, and rules.” This puts him at odds with a growing number of Jewish leaders who are backing Israel’s bid to become a world leader in the ‘medical cannabis industrial complex’.

The Golden Globe-winning actor has however allowed the Kazakhstan tourism board to use his likeness and catchphrase to help promote and entice tourists to come and visit the world’s largest landlocked nation. Perhaps a way of defusing tensions between Cohen and the Kazakh government surrounding pending legal action against the Bruno star.

I am aware of the allegations made against Solar Therapeutics, Inc. (Solar). Upon receipt of the cease and desist letter from Mr. Cohen’s legal counsel Solar immediately requested that the sign company remove the billboard in question. As there is an active case before the court, we have no further comment at this time” – Nicholas J. Hemond, an attorney for Solar Therapeutics 

It has been apparent for some time that Cohen is anti-cannabis having openly mocked cannabis culture and cliched ‘stoner’ stereotypes through one of his most infamous characters Ali G. Cohen donated $500,000 to Save The Children and The International Rescue Committee to support victims of the conflict in Syria in 2015. So I guess his compassion for the victims of civil conflicts doesn’t extend to the victims of the disastrous, draconian, and deadly war on drugs.

I find it rather ridiculous that Sasha Baron Cohen, a man with such a high level of intellect and education ‘does not believe cannabis is a healthy choice’ especially given his championing of various social justice and equity campaigns. 

Image: ECCSC protesting outside of CuraLeaf in Chicago, Illinois

Cannabis activists in Illinois stage sit-in To highlight the inequities and injustice of the cannabis industry

The final story we’re going to cover this week involves a group of activists from the US state of Illinois staging a sit-in outside of a cannabis dispensary. The group hopes to raise the issue of reparations for historic cannabis convictions, that despite expungement still prevent black and ethnic minorities from entering the newly ‘legalised’ cannabis industry.

The group Ex-Cons for Community and Social Change (ECCSC) are staging a week-long sit-in outside a franchise of CuraLeaf in Chicago. CuraLeaf is the perfect location for this protest given that they currently operate 107 dispensaries in 23 US states. The group is protesting the disparities in their state’s‘ legal’ model which means that there are still no minority/black-owned dispensaries in the state, despite there now being over 100 individual dispensaries.

The group’s founder Tyrone Muhammed said ahead of the planned protest that “Although weed is legal now, ex-cons still cannot work in the cannabis industry or dispensary; can’t apply for a license, although we paid our debt to society” It has been 26 months since ‘legal’ sales began and the industry is booming in Illinois, yet individuals like Tyrone Muhammed are still left with the burden and legacy of prohibition in Illinois. 

There are no automatic barriers to people with convictions from owning or working in the cannabis industry in Illinois. Licensure may be denied under certain grounds detailed in the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act.” – Statement from The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation

There is an amendment currently sitting on the desk of Governor JB Pritzker that was approved by the state’s House and Senate. It would create an additional 100 licenses and level the playing field for black and minority businesses. At the time of writing this, it remains unsigned. 

Expungement alone doesn’t deal with 20, 30, 50 years of incarceration and destruction to our communities by taking black men off the streets. Ex-cons who were taken away for marijuana need to see our fair share of profit after all we and our families have been through. It’s an injustice we must stand [against] right now. If we don’t fight, who will?” – Tyrone Muhammad, founder of ECSC 

The group ECCSC wants more than just token social equity through licensing programs and grant schemes. They want financial restitution in the form of reparations paid depending on the length of incarceration or inconvenience caused by the state’s historic cannabis prohibition. This is something that I agree with wholeheartedly. Those most affected by the war on weed should be the first to profit from its peacetime. 

Written by Simpa for TheSimpaLife.com

 

Simpa Carter
Simpa Carter

Simpa is a passionate drug law reform activist, mental health advocate, blogger, freelance writer, and host of The Simpa Life podcast.

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