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Marijuana Legislation

Life Sentence For Weed Possession? Mississippi Supreme Court Says ‘Yes’ If You’ve Got This



Hattiesburg Police Department officers had searched Russell’s home and found five bags of cannabis amounting to 79.5 grams, Russell was accused on one count of possessing more than 30 grams but less than 250 grams of cannabis and for being a violent habitual offender under Mississippi Code Section 99-19-83. He was convicted on the possession charge.

RELATED: Marijuana Reform: Free Allen Russell

State prosecutors showed evidence of his previous felony convictions — two for burglary and one for possession of a firearm while being a convicted felon.

Russell was not cooperative with police, and “chemical gas had to be deployed to obtain Russell’s surrender,” the chief justice said.

Chief Justice Michael Randolph explained that the search warrant came when Russell was investigated as a murder suspect when a medical paper with Russell’s name was discovered at the scene of the crime.

Russell tried to argue that the life sentence without the possibility of parole was a violation of the eighth amendment that prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. He also argued that his constitutional right no to be subjected to ex post facto law was violated, as his actions were being punished retroactively.

The Court of Appeals voted 5-5 on his appeal in 2019 and upheld the sentence. Then, on June 16th, the Supreme Court of Mississippi voted 6-3 to uphold the sentence under the habitual offender provisions of the Mississippi Code.

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“Because the trial judge followed the law to the letter, we affirm,” the majority opinion written by Justice Robert P. Chamberlin stated. “The trial judge did not have sentencing discretion in this case.”

Chief Justice Randolph wrote, “Russell has received a harsh punishment not because he possessed a small amount of marijuana, but because he has repeatedly refused to abide by the laws enacted to protect all the citizens of our state.”

Is Everything So Black & White? 

On the other hand, Justice Josiah Coleman, along with two other judges, stated  that Russell had not been treated fairly by the courts in this case. Coleman highlighted that “burglary was not considered a per se crime of violence until” state law made it so in 2014. This means that when Russell pled guilty to two counts of burglary in 2004, burglary was treated as a crime of violence only if actual violence happened during burglary, reported the outlet.

“We do not know whether Russell’s burglaries involved actual violence, but the fact that he was allowed the opportunity by the sentencing court to participate in the Regimented Inmate Discipline Program tends to indicate they did not,” said Coleman, who concluded he would have remanded the case to a trial hearing to review the Eighth Amendment issue and resentencing.

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Marijuana Legislation

The Uncertain State Of Cannabis Rights For Native Americans




Many lawmakers continue to say marijuana policy should be left up to individual states. Often, they then proceed to either oppose federal marijuana legalization, or deflect back to their opinion that it is a state issue. With more states legalizing marijuana, it may seem that slowly but surely the United States might fully legalize marijuana with or without federal legislation. This logic, however, overlooks a major group of people: Native Americans. 

Cannabis and its tricky legality among indigenous people and their sovereign nations continues to be a topic so unresolved that the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs launched a hearing called “Cannabis In Indian Country,” which had a listening session recently.

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Photo by Tony Anderson/Getty Images

RELATED: Is Tribal Cannabis On A Comeback Tour?

While this committee may spark some necessary dialogue and highlight major issues on the subject, there is not one universal opinion or solution. This is because nearly every Tribal Nation has its own unique views and challenges when it comes to marijuana legalization. 

A sovereign nation, by definition, should have supreme authority over how it runs, but history has shown this is not always the case with Native American Nations, and this includes marijuana laws. While many rules and governance can not be infringed upon by the federal government “Under US law, however, Congress has the authority to legislate on tribal issues. Thus, in the context of marijuana legalization efforts in Indian Country, federal laws may affect legalization implementation,” according to the CDC.

Federally recognized Native American tribes, of which there are well over 500, are often caught in limbo when it comes to marijuana legalization. “State and territorial medical marijuana markets have been protected by Congress for years. But Native American tribes were never included in those protections,” wrote Politico. The article goes even further to say that some tribes gave up part of their own sovereignty to states just to make sure their cannabis markets were protected from the federal government. These kinds of deals between states and tribal nations are only one way that borders become blurred.

Lands within the Cherokee Nation, for example, became the first area in North Carolina where medical cannabis was legalized, making marijuana policy a bit foggy in that Western region of the state. In New York, where marijuana was recently legalized, a strange twist of fate in the form of a legal ordinance is currently allowing the Mohawk Tribal Council in Upstate New York to sell marijuana legally in dispensaries months before it was legal off the reservation.

William Roger Jock, a partner in Good Leaf Dispensary on Mohawk lands, explained this change in fate to ABC News: “We have been stepped on for so long and to have something like this happen, it’s almost liberating.” While this change of fortune is a short lived one, it is a welcome opportunity for those who often seem to get the short end of the legal loophole.

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Cannabis in Native American Nations is a complicated matter. There is no single answer or solution for how to improve the current state of cannabis in indigenous Sovereign nations because the issue is complicated, and opinions and challenges vary from tribe to tribe throughout the land.

There is one simple thing that can be done, however, in order to improve these conflicting and confusing legalities. And that thing is for lawmakers to remember and carefully consider Native Americans when making future marijuana laws, and how these laws will impact their lands and the lands bordering their nations.

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Beto O'Rourke

How Will Cannabis Legalization Factor Into An Uncertain Texas Election Cycle?




By Andrew Ward

Depending on how you perceive the past few months, Texas may be heading towards a minor liberal reform, or the conservatives could be doubling down on its dominance.

The past few months, ranging from gun tragedies to legal decisions to special elections, highlight a busy and somewhat unclear Texas political landscape heading into November.

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Photo by Ruben Reyes from Pexels

RELATED: Weed Prohibition Still Official Stance Of Texas GOP As Marijuana Popularity Grows Among Residents

The recent back-and-forth momentum leaves most sources uncertain where Texas will stand post-Election Day. However, many appear firm on two points: Texans are frustrated, and most support legalizing cannabis.

Much Messing With Texas

No matter the outcome this Fall, Texas will remain an overwhelmingly conservative-held Congress. The state has deep GOP ties, with Republican Presidential nominees taking the state in every election since 1980.

Still, with frustrations running high across the board, changes of some kind could be on the horizon.

February data from the Texas Politics Project listed border security (19%), immigration (12%), COVID-19 (11%), political corruption (9%) and the economy (6%) as its top five voter issues.

March results from the 2022 Texas Lyceum Poll cited border security (14%) as the top trouble spot. Inflation, political corruption/leadership and energy prices are all tied at 9%. Cannabis legalization was not mentioned in the list of 25 concerns.

“From the shaky electric grid to health care access, the economy, endemic corruption, and gun violence, issues are swamping the Texas election cycle,” said Susan Hays, a Democratic candidate for Agriculture Department Commissioner.

Hays said the typical voter likely places cannabis somewhere in the middle of their priorities this voting cycle.

“But voters consistently raise cannabis reform as an important issue for them,” she said.

Jax James, NORML state policy manager said cannabis legalization “definitely” falls behind gun and abortion rights, adding that property taxes could also be considered a higher priority to most Texans.

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Photo by PromesaArtStudio/Getty Images

RELATED: Cannabis Boom In Oklahoma, Will Texas Follow Suit?

James said the state’s current surplus may make legalization less of a concern to those outside of advocates. In July 2021, state Comptroller Glenn Hegar projected Texas would have a $7.85 billion surplus for the 2022-2023 biennium.

“The desire to have legal market revenue is not as big as it could, perhaps,” said James.

How Cannabis Policy Fits Into The Discussion

Texans have come around on legalization and now seem to be waiting on key lawmakers to do the same. Across the aisle, voters have supported a legal market expansion for some time.

“Overarchingly, cannabis is truly a fairly bipartisan issue here in Texas,” said James.

June 2021 results from the Texas Politics Projects saw 60% of those polled supporting a small or large quantity possession. Just 13% opposed legalization in any form.

A May 2022 poll from The Dallas Morning News and The University of Texas at Tyler found similar results. 60% of those polled supported adult use legalization, with 83% favoring medical. 42% of identified Republicans supported adult use.

Public support hasn’t done much to sway Gov. Abbott from previous stances. He prefers to see cannabis remain a Class C misdemeanor.

James blamed Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who has been linked to squashing reform momentum for several years.

“The Governor has actually negotiated with activists to get quite a bit more done than has passed,” James said.

Others offered similar opinions. “Texans do seem to want a more robust medicinal program, similar to Oklahoma, but the current Lieutenant Governor will not allow cannabis legislation to be brought to the Senate floor,” said Matt Hawkins, founder and managing principal at Entourage Effect Capital.

Tristan Seikel is executive director of the nonpartisan group Decriminalize Denton, one of the cities taking up decriminalization in November. He feels that the rise of local-level policy and ballot questions is a response to stalled state-level efforts.

“People are organizing more and providing support for each other, I think, as a necessary reaction,” Seikel said.

Medical advocates have also continued to push for changes to its restrictive market. In 2021, the Texas Compassionate Use Program expanded its coverage to people with cancer and PTSD. Efforts to include chronic pain were removed in the Senate.

Conservatives Gaining Recent Ground

While Beto O’Rourke and cannabis reforms could win out in November, the state’s conservative grip still appears strong.

“I can’t even begin to speculate on how our election is going to go this year, especially with the recent news of a Republican flipping a historically Democratic district in the Rio Grande Valley,” said Shayda Torabi, CEO of Restart CBD and host of the To Be Blunt podcast.

In mid-June, GOP candidate Mayra Flores flipped the typically Democratic seat during a special election.

Is Texas Ready To Become The Stoned Star State In 2021?
Photo by Bo Zaunders/Getty Images

RELATED: Texas Gov. Says Nobody Should Be Jailed For Weed Possession, Though Confuses Current Law

The state GOP also made waves in June when its new party platform included claims against the 2020 election results, condemned gay marriage and called to repeal the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The platform also opposes cannabis legalization but does support rescheduling.

With results not coming for several months, we’re left to wait and see what will unfold. While waiting, NORML’s James reports knowing of several companies waiting to capitalize on what could be a lucrative Texas market.

Rather than just waiting, she urges those companies to get involved. “The activists are here on the ground doing the work, and we need to make sure that the businesses and the people in positions of power are supporting that work.”

This article originally appeared on Benzinga and has been reposted with permission.

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Department of Justice

House Committee Approves Protections For State Marijuana Programs From Fed Interference




By Nicolás Jose Rodriguez

A House Appropriations subcommittee approved an amendment on Tuesday afternoon that would prevent the Department of Justice (DOJ) from interfering with legal adult-use marijuana programs as part of the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies appropriations legislation for the Fiscal Year 2023, NORML reported in a press release.

The bipartisan amendment, introduced by Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA) David Joyce (R-OH) along with Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Tom McClintock (R-CA) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) would bar the DOJ from using resources to interfere with the ability of states, territories, tribal governments or the District of Columbia to implement cannabis laws or to target people acting in compliance with those laws.

legal marijuana
Photo by Olena Ruban/Getty Images

RELATED: Department Of Justice No Longer Interested In Marijuana Crimes In America?

Morgan Fox, political director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) said the amendment brings peace of mind to individuals, businesses and institutions.

“As federal lawmakers steadily work to determine the best way to finally end marijuana prohibition and undo the damage it has caused, the people involved in regulated cannabis programs in the growing number of states that are leading the way on this issue deserve to know whether the federal government will actively get in the way of their continued successes,” Fox said.

“Including these protections in the federal budget will go a long way toward giving individuals, businesses, and state governments some peace of mind while signaling to the vast majority of Americans who support legalizing and regulating cannabis that their elected representatives are actually listening to them.”

Congressman Earl Blumenauer added: “Congress must honor the will of the voters and prevent wasteful Department of Justice prosecution of those complying with their respective state’s or tribe’s cannabis regulations. I appreciate the partnership and leadership of my colleagues, Representatives McClintock, Lee, Joyce, and Norton to move this important language forward today.”

RELATED: The Uncertain State Of Cannabis Rights For Native Americans

Since 2014, members of Congress have passed annual spending bills that have included a provision protecting those in compliance with state medical cannabis programs from undue prosecution by the DOJ. However, such guidance has not been officially renewed under the current Administration and “does not carry the force of law,” NORML stressed. Meanwhile, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland recently said the DOJ was examining cannabis policy and would address the issue “in the days ahead.”

This article originally appeared on Benzinga and has been reposted with permission.

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