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Virginia Governor Announces Intention to Legalize Cannabis

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Virginia made history on November 16 when Attorney General Mark Herring and Governor Ralph Northam announced that they feel it’s time to legalize cannabis for recreational use.

“It’s time to legalize marijuana in Virginia,” Governor Northam said in a press release. “Our Commonwealth has an opportunity to be the first state in the South to take this step, and we will lead with a focus on equity, public health, and public safety. I look forward to working with the General Assembly to get this right.”

However, according to a study from the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC), there are also many considerations that must be examined in order to ensure a properly running industry. This includes predicting how much tax revenue that could be brought in by recreational legal cannabis, as well as the arrests and convictions that could be spared through legalization.

“JLARC suggested that if we go to a legalization of marijuana format, that there’s a lot of different policy considerations that the General Assembly has to consider, like what age is it appropriate, who gets to distribute it, are we going to set up some kind of market place, are we going to tax it, is there going to be some kind of a mechanism to say that if you’re driving while consuming this that it would be subject to a driving under the influence charge?,” Wise County Commonwealth Attorney Chuck Slemp told News Channel 11.

“I support smart marijuana legalization. I think that it has to be coupled with appropriate taxation, regulation, and public safety measures to ensure that we’re not having a bunch of folks driving while intoxicated, that we don’t have individuals abusing their children while high on medication, but with that being said, I think that the steps that the JLARC committee recommended are pretty smart and I’m hopeful that the General Assembly will put in place the safety precautions that JLARC recommended,” Slemp added.

Earlier this year in January, Governor Northam approved legislation to decriminalize cannabis, which took effect on July 2, 2020. This law made cannabis violation fines a maximum of $25, and now results in no arrests or criminal record convictions.

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United Nations Reclassifies Cannabis

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The United Nations Commission for Narcotic Drugs has voted to reclassify cannabis as less dangerous than other, more harmful substances.

On December 2, the commission officially voted to reclassify cannabis from its current position as a Schedule IV substance. The commission meeting was made up of 53 member states and took place in Vienna, Austria. The decision to reclassify was close, a mere two-vote difference at 27 to 25, with Ukraine declining to vote. Countries who voted in favor of reclassification included the United States, many countries in Europe, China, Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan and Russia. This decision comes over a year-and-a-half after the World Health Organization recommended cannabis reclassification in February 2019.

Nearly 60 years have passed since the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs went into effect, which originally classified cannabis as a Schedule IV substance. Other substances in this classification include heroin, among other dangerously addictive substances.

The New York Times notes that this landmark decision won’t make any immediate waves in terms of how governments decide to categorize cannabis. However, the United Nations’ decision will likely affect future decisions because of its global influence—and has the potential to help cultivate even more interest and acceptance in studying the plant and its many properties. “This is a huge, historic victory for us, we couldn’t hope for more,” Kenzi Riboulet-Zemouli, an independent substance researcher, told The New York Times.

Although cannabis’ reclassification is a welcome change, the commission did reject a proposal, referred to as Recommendation 5.5, to exempt CBD with less than 0.2 percent THC. “The establishment of the 0.2% THC limit is not supported by scientific evidence, and the proposed wording does not exclude divergent interpretations concerning the calculation of that limit,” said Germany’s UN representative, Gerhard Kuentzle, told Hemp Industry Daily. “However, we would welcome further consultation with all relevant stakeholders on the recommendation on the appropriate level of the international control for cannabis preparations with low THC content.”

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Man Serving Life in Prison for Cannabis Petitions for Compassionate Release

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A man from Saint David, Maine who is currently serving life in prison due to a cannabis-related conviction has asked to be released from prison due to testing positive for COVID-19.

At 64 years of age, Michael Pelletier, is elderly, disabled and serving a life sentence for smuggling cannabis. His conviction included running illegal cannabis across the Canadian border between January 1, 2003 and March 31, 2006. He was also convicted of money laundering, Social Security fraud and other crimes in July 2007.

Now residing at a federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, Pelletier was one of approximately 90 inmates who contracted COVID-19 in September 2020. Following his recovery, Pelletier is planning to request that he be released from his sentence to live out his days in Florida with a family member who can take care of him.

The US attorney’s office in Maine is against Pelletier’s release, but stated that he does meet the requirements for compassionate release. In order to qualify, prisoners must be age 65 or older, have served at least 10 years (or 75 percent) of their prison term and are in a state of deterioration and failing health. According to the Bangor Daily News, Pelletier is prediabetic, “nearly obese” and unable to push himself in his wheelchair, which he has been confined to since he was 11 years old.

Pelletier’s defense states that he qualifies for compassionate release from prison so that he can be safe from future COVID-19 outbreaks outside prison walls. The defense also brings up the fact that cannabis is no longer illegal in many parts of the US and Canada.

Pelletier has received an official date set for his request to be released. Outside the prison walls, his family is rooting for him. His sister launched an online petition asking President Donald Trump to pardon Pelletier. The petition currently has 114,780 signatures out of a required 150,000, as of Tuesday, December 1.

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Thailand to Allow Cannabis Compounds in Makeup and Food

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The Government of Thailand released the details of an initial proposal that would allow cannabis leaves, branches, bark, trunks, stems, fibre and roots in certain food, fiber and makeup products.

These regulations will officially be created by the country’s Food and Drug Administration, according to Narcotics Control Committee member Dr. Kiattiphum Wongrajit. These regulations will also include text specifying that hemp seeds, hemp extract, CBD and THC, as long as it does not contain more than the maximum 0.2 percent THC content.

Similar to cannabis regulations in other countries, Thailand’s cannabis industry will be government-mandated, and cannabis can only be cultivated by authorized growers. However, FDA secretary-general Paisal Dunkhum stated that they don’t plan to implement a limitation on how many plants can be grown by those who are authorized. In addition to this, the report also proposes rules for official research teams and recommendations on how doctors will also be able to prescribe cannabis products in certain cases.

While other Southeast Asian countries have not made progress on the cannabis front, Thailand was the first to legalize medical cannabis. Now, the country is poised to be a major leader in the industry. The government has already invested over $4 million into indoor growing in order to produce premium crops.

Earlier this year in January 2020, the Thailand government unveiled a cannabis leaf mascot to help educate people on the benefits of medical cannabis. The government also made its plans to deliver one million bottles of cannabis oil through its first approved indoor grow facility. “Thailand has shown itself to be a leader of legislative reform among Asian nations, in relation to medical cannabis,” said Barbara Pastori, head of cannabis market intelligence firm Prohibition Partners told Bloomberg in January 2020. “This is likely to be the case with recreational cannabis also, particularly if there remains strong political will to do so.”

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