Democratic presidential front-runner Joe Biden tacked away from his drug warrior past with a new plan Tuesday. He wants to reduce mass incarceration in the US with a 10-page proposal including: decriminalization of cannabis, $20 billion in prevention funds for communities, efforts to reduce racial profiling by police, more job training in prisons, ending private prisons, and other proposals.

“I believe my criminal justice reform package is as strong or stronger than anyone else.”
Joe Biden, former vice president, Democratic presidential candidate

“Today, too many people are incarcerated in the United States–and too many of them are black and brown,” Biden’s team said in a post to his campaign website on Tuesday. “To build safe and healthy communities, we need to rethink who we’re sending to jail, how we treat those in jail, and how we help them get the health care, education, jobs, and housing they need to successfully rejoin society after they serve their time.”

According to FBI reports, cannabis is a key driver of mass incarceration—marijuana arrests are the number one type of drug arrest in the US, and drug arrests are the number one type of arrest police make. Former Vice President Biden’s cannabis decriminalization would come with automatic expungements of past marijuana records, support for federal medical legalization, and a downgrade of cannabis to Schedule II, “so researchers can study its positive and negative impacts.”

As for adult-use federal legalization, Biden echoed President Trump’s position in recent years, stating he would, “leave decisions regarding legalization for recreational use up to the states.”

Critics Pounce on Biden’s Past Votes

Facing another debate with Sen. Kamala Harris next week, Biden’s “Plan for Strengthening America’s Commitment to Justice” proposals move the vice president away from his historically tough-on-crime policies, for which he is being attacked from both the right and the left.

Biden joined with many Democrats, Republicans, and minority leaders in the ’80s and ’90s to enact harsh mandatory minimum sentences for drug use, three-strikes laws with life sentences, civil asset forfeiture, and the death penalty for drug-related murders. GOP critics note Biden once claimed George H.W. Bush’s war on drugs was “not tough enough, bold enough, or imaginative enough.”

While former President Bill Clinton has apologized for crime policies that “made the problem worse,” Biden responded by saying the 1994 crime bill he led was “another part of my long record that is being grossly misrepresented.”

He made no apologies for past votes Tuesday. “I believe my criminal justice reform package is as strong or stronger than anyone else,” Biden said in a video.

Sen. Cory Booker reacted to Biden’s Tuesday proposal with a tweet: “It’s not enough to tell us what you’re going to do for our communities, show us what you’ve done for the last 40 years. You created this system. We’ll dismantle it.”

An Important Evolution Nonetheless

Biden’s proposals amplify the reach of once-radical ideas into mainstream political thought, though. The laundry list of ideas includes ending cash bail, a proposal California enacted in 2018 but put on hold pending a 2020 referendum sponsored by the bail industry.

Biden’s campaign notes the cash bail system is “the modern day debtors’ prison. The cash bail system incarcerates people who are presumed innocent. And, it disproportionately harms low income individuals.”

Biden’s plan also would create universal pre-kindergarten for three- and four-year-olds, because “focusing on addressing [mass incarceration’s] underlying factors is not just the right thing to do, it is also good for our communities and our economy.”

Biden would also work to reduce the jailing of children through grants for diversion programs. San Francisco intends to close its juvenile hall by the end of 2021, citing high costs, low use, and incarceration’s irreparable harm to youth.

The former vice president faces off against Harris and other Democratic primary contenders in a televised debate in Detroit Wed., July 31.

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1 week ago

The Grass is Greener where it’s Sun Grown

There is something special happening in Northern California’s cannabis community. In one of the most unique growing regions in the world, farmers have been living off the land and growing this country’s cannabis for decades. Now, this inherently sustainable, craft cannabis movement is rising to the forefront of California and the United State’s cannabis industry, setting the landscape that promises to set the standard of sustainable, ethical, and natural agricultural practices. Cannabis is rooted deep in human culture: its earliest written reference stems from Western China about 500BC. Traditionally grown outdoors in the lush environment where the plant naturally thrives, growing indoors is a relatively new, energy intensive method of cultivation. As Michael Steinmetz, CEO of FlowKana, states: “Indoor is simply a relic of prohibition and a cultural phenomenon that emerges when farmers have to go into hiding to protect their livelihoods while they cultivate this amazing plant. Indoor cultivation produces 25 times more CO2 than outdoor grows, and are 70 times more energy intensive than commercial office buildings. To produce just one kilo of cannabis indoors is equivalent to driving across the country five times!” Even though outdoor grows are clearly more energy efficient, the divide between sustainably cultivating cannabis in California’s ubiquitous Emerald Triangle and industrial farming practices (think massive, industrial indoor grows, sucking energy and water out of the desert in Southern California) is growing ever deeper. This is at odds with consumer behavior: trends are showing that consumers want to invest in sustainable, authentic, and local businesses, leading us to question whether hefty investments in these desert grows harkens the impending doom this burgeoning industry. Why go vast and vacuous when consumers crave niche and nostalgia? The California cannabis industry is like no other. Though there’s millennia of history behind the plant, the process, and the people whose livelihoods depend on it, the corporatization of cannabis is still very much in its infancy. This is equally thrilling and daunting. There’s promise and potential to correct social stigmas and injustices, to negate environmentally harmful agriculture practices, and to promote a plant with universal healing qualities. There’s also ample opportunity for big companies to elbow in: corporations are oozing in, focused on the bottom line with little regard for honoring the plant’s history, purpose, and potential. Surprising no one, the California cannabis industry is picking up steam to become a race to the quickest buck, abandoning the rich history, potent healing potential and complex social realities of the plant to dry up in the desert dust.   It is time to get back to the roots of this industry.    I had the privilege of spending a hot August day with the Humboldt County Grower’s Alliance (HCGA). My goal was to absorb all that Humboldt County and its cannabis community had to offer — to talk to farmers, to smell their flowering plants, to indulge in the abundance of natural beauty that is their every day. As it goes, we started the day at the HCGA office in Eureka. Walking out the offices’ white wooden door, we readied ourselves to tour cannabis country. Driving down the 101 past Ferndale, we made our way towards the coast on Mattole road. There, we were treated to some of the most spectacular views along the Lost Trails of the Pacific Ocean. It felt like we had been transported to another world. From there, we cut back inland towards Petrolia. The grandeur of the Mattole Valley became more apparent with every sharp turn and steep hill we climbed in the Subaru. This valley has been the epicenter of California’s cannabis industry since it’s community fled north from San Francisco in the 1960s and 1970s to live off the land. It was incredible to witness it for the first time with my own eyes. “This wasn’t a profiteering machine, it was getting back to the land, being self sufficient, and growing some cannabis to help promote and fund a vision of community.” — Terra Carter, Executive Director of HCGA says.  During one of the loudest and most volatile times in this country’s history, Humboldt County cannabis flourished in a community built on a back-to-the-earth ethos. Cannabis, among seasonal vegetables, herbs, and animals provided these communities and families the resources to live in such remote locations.  What transpired over the next few decades in this valley sounds like it was ripped from a summer blockbuster. With the ineptly named War on Drugs came military aircraft humming over the valley. The US government flew two U2s[1] over Humboldt to build their battle plan against farmers. This is the same spy plane they flew over the USSR. Helicopters buzzed through the valley searching for plants. Sometimes, they came so low that their noise and resulting vibrations would break windows and knock down houses. Humboldt was like a war zone, complete with a few farmers holding their ground by gun. Others hid in the woods or fled from their property with their families- some temporarily, and others permanently.  As the raids continued farmers developed innovative ways to keep their community and livelihoods going: some started to grow their plants on platforms high in the trees, others constantly scanned the skies, ready to pull their plants back from the fields and under the cover of the forest at a moment’s notice. As we drove deeper into the valley, I began to see the lengths to which farmers went to set their roots, both familial and agricultural, as far out of reach as possible. Seclusion protected these families from the National Guard and from the bad players in the area taking plants, money, and whatever else they fancied by force. Though I met with people who were ostensibly breaking the law, I did not get the sense I was surrounded by criminals — because I wasn’t. Humboldt (like the rest of California, the USA, and the world) definitely has had their fair share of criminals in the industry, but for the most part this is a community of outlaws. They were never criminals. They simply did not have the legal infrastructure in place to run their business. It’s important to remember this distinction, especially since every person in the cannabis industry today is a federal outlaw. After driving for miles on dirt roads wrapped tightly around the mountain, we came across a signless intersection. We turned left up a steep one-lane road that we followed for a mile. At the peak we found cleared land and a single structure atop. “Welcome to DewPoint,” crowed the fearless, smiling Andelain. She and her husband are second and third generation farmers. They grew up overlooking the Mattole Valley and now live on a sustainable mountain property they built themselves. Nestled amid the mountains for a decade, their property relies entirely on solar energy for all of their electrical needs. Andelain likes to boast that her cannabis is fully sun-grown. Meaning, not only do they grow without any artificial lights, but even the water irrigation pump is powered by the sun. Andelain and her husband remember this mountain as a thriving community since their earliest days in the area. “It wasn’t just your parents raising you, but your neighbors, and the people at the school and fire department. This was the community our parents started building with their cannabis businesses, and the one we continue to invest in today.”- Andelain During the years of quasi warfare in the Mattole Valley, Andelain remembers the fear she felt helping in her family’s garden, where they grew vegetables, fruits, and cannabis. “My earliest memory was being in the garden and hearing the ‘copter coming down the valley and my dad running through the garden thinking ‘That’s weird I never heard my dad move like that’. I remember my dads arm swooping around my body and pulling me up and running into the bushes with his hand around my mouth. Men in armor with rifles repelled down, cut our plants, and flew away. After that, my family moved into town. We lost everything we had on that mountain” Now, Andelain has the opportunity to carry out her life’s long purpose and passion: to bring high quality medicine and peace to those who need it, legally. Pure as her mission is, it is accompanied with bureaucratic side effects.   Unsurprisingly, California has some of the most extensive environmental laws in the country. To touch the land costs thousands of dollars in permitting and licensing. This is for good reason. California produces 17% of the country’s food and is constantly on the verge of drought. A state that is already reeling from the planet’s warming and is responsible for feeding nearly 1/5 of the country, it’s a sobering reality to consider placing an added burden on a state that’s already stretched thin on agricultural resources. Thankfully, California is taking some small but meaningful steps to abate this disaster. “Regulation has now given us the opportunity to be the most sustainably grown agriculture product in the world” says Carver. Most farms we saw in Humboldt have set up rain capture and storage containers to have water available throughout the dry months without needing to suck it out of aquifers.  The special sauce of Humboldt County Cannabis that can’t be replicated or matched is it’s heritage. This growing region not only sprouted on off-the-grid farms- where all energy had to be produced on site and trash had to be at a minimum, with the closest garbage drop is sometimes 45 minutes away. But, it has also survived and evolved through military raids and environmentally disastrous moments.  Humboldt has suffered. Their Redwood forests were indiscriminately leveled by industrial logging companies, while their rivers were overfished by commercial fishing companies. The community that lived off these lands did not stand for it. Several organizations, inside and outside the cannabis industry, banded together to protest these industries and their actions- one of which being the infamous 738-day tree-sit by Julia Butterfly. These industries decimated the environment- pushing the river’s salmon population close to extinction and polluting its waters with industrial runoff.  After years of fighting for and implementing corrective policies and regulations, we were able to take a break in the heat of the day to go swimming in the now clear, crisp, and cool Mattole river. While the river and surrounding environment is healing itself, so to speak, this time around, there are no guarantees that nature can continually bounce back from the impact of big industry. I could see it in the way everyone talked about being able to swim in the river, that being able to dunk our heads into its crisp water, is a luxury that should never be taken for granted. To me, it was a sign that with dedicated advocates, smart policy, and responsible farming and business practices, supporting a cannabis industry in the region without impacting the environment is possible. With the California cannabis industry blooming in a world where the Amazon is burning, communities experience systemic water shortages, and corporations prioritize profit over people, there has never been a time where being an educated and active consumer is more important.  Being a conscious consumer does make a difference: we are sowing the seeds from which the cannabis industry will continue to grow.

1 week ago

Gronk Gets into the CBD Business

Retired NFL player Rob Gronkowski, a star of the New England Patriots, has inked a deal with Abacus Health Products in Woonsocket, Rhode Island that includes buying a stake in the company and agreeing to promote its products. His decision reflects his belief that CBD products made by the company under the brand CBDMEDIC can help others manage pain the way it has helped him. At a news conference announcing the deal, Gronkowski - known as “Gronk” to legions of Patriots fans - said he used CBDMEDIC and was “blown away with how well it worked. I am pain free, and that is a big deal.” Related: New Study: Adult-Use Cannabis Availability Reduces Opioid Deaths Cannabis is effective in dealing with pain. Although just 30 years old, Gronkowski retired from football in March 2019. Both he and Andrew Luck, the Indianapolis Colts quarterback who decided to retire in August at age 29, are seen as a potential new trend of players leaving the NFL early because of injury. “I needed to recover. I was not in a good place.” the former tight-end said at the news conference, according to video from CBS Boston. “Football was bringing me down, and I didn’t  like it.” Gronkowski said a series of injuries made him decide to retire while still young. He also said CBD would have helped him deal with injuries during his career. The use of any marijuana-related products, including CBD, is banned by the NFL. That ban extends to CBD even though most of the products, including the ones from CBDMEDIC advocated by Gronkowski, are made from hemp and do not contain THC, the chemical in marijuana that gets you high.   Athletes are turning into advocates. Gronkowski is the latest in a string of athletes and celebrities who advocate the use of CBD after trying it themselves. It’s an industry that already has attracted all-time greats such as Joe Montana, who has invested in a medical marijuana company. Even the typically conservative NFL has considered lifting its ban on the use of medical marijuana by players for pain management when they craft a new collective bargaining agreement for the 2021 season. Dr. Murdoc Khaleghi, a senior medical advisor for Elevate CBD, said that decision is partially being driven by ex-athletes like Gronkowski. “Gronk's testimony is just another in the growing list of elite athletes who have found CBD to be helpful in pain, inflammation, and recovery,” Khaleghi said. “The inflammation of stressed muscles and joints can significantly limit the capabilities of athletes by increasing pain and prolonging recovery. Khaleghi said that CBD has demonstrated anti-inflammatory properties. He said that for athletes, one of the primary attractions is that CBD has proven effective in “reducing pain and improving recovery.” Gronkowski said part of his efforts will be lobbying professional sports leagues to change their policies. “I am here today to appeal to the sports governing bodies of the world to update their positions on CBD,” he said. He later added, “It’s just time.”

1 week ago

Massachusetts Mayor Arrested for Extorting Cannabis Companies

Mayor Jasiel Correia of Fall River, Massachusetts was arrested Friday morning for allegedly attempting to extort cannabis companies for hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, according to a CBS Boston report. Specifically, Correia — who is 27 years old — is accused of extorting at least four cannabis business operators by soliciting $250,000 each from them in exchange for “non-opposition” letters from his office. He is said to have illegally generated some $600,000 doing so, as well as alleged arrangements for a future cut in some of the companies’ cannabis sales. It’s the embattled mayor’s second arrest in less than a year: Correia was arrested in October on 13 federal fraud charges, which ultimately led to his recall — though the young Democratic mayor was re-elected shortly thereafter. Four other individuals have been charged as the mayor’s co-conspirators, authorities said. “Despite Mayor Correia’s public assurances to the city of Fall River, based on today’s indictment, he has essentially run that town as a pay-to-play institution. If the allegations in today’s indictment are true, Mayor Correia has engaged in a outrageous, brazen campaign of corruption which turned his job into a personal ATM.” — U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling, during a press conference Correia appeared in federal court today where he pleaded not guilty; he was released in the afternoon after posting bail. “I’m not guilty of these charges,” he told reporters after leaving the federal court in Boston. “I’ve done nothing but good for the city of Fall River.” Correia is up for re-election this fall and intends to run. The primary vote is scheduled for September 17.   Last month, the FBI announced it was seeking information about bribery in the cannabis industry.

1 week ago

The mysterious spate of vape-related deaths and illnesses continues to grow, confounding experts.

The CDC is investigating at least 450 possible cases of vape-related illnesses in 33 states across the US. The illnesses have claimed at least five lives already. Business Insider put together a timeline of the spate of vape-related illnesses. Read more stories like this on Business Insider's homepage.   The mysterious spate of vaping-related illnesses and deathscontinues to grow. On Friday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that at least 450 possible cases of vape-related illnesses have been reported in 33 states across the US. The illnesses have reportedly claimed at least five lives already, and doctors and other health experts fear their could be more on the way. "While the investigation is ongoing, CDC has advised that individuals consider not using e-cigarettes, because as of now, this is the primary means of preventing the severe lung disease," Dr. Dana Meaney-Delman of the CDC said on a Friday press call, reports Business Insider's Hilary Brueck. While it's not yet clear what exactly is causing these illnesses, it seems to affect younger people — mostly men — who are vaporizing cannabinoids like THC. The culprit, according to some experts, may be chemicals like vitamin-E acetate that are used to emulsify THC and CBD in illegal, unregulated vaporizers. "Even if most lung-injury cases are traced to chemicals used to emulsify THC or CBD into illegal vaping "juices," it doesn't let legally sold, nicotine-based e-cigs off the hook. They must do more to ensure safety of their products by engaging review process and ending youth use," Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former FDA commissioner, said on Friday. "Legitimate e-liquids are generally based on chemicals that are water-soluble, not oils that can cause acute lung injury. High levels of vitamin E acetate were found in nearly all cannabis-containing vapes tested by NYS Department of Health. Nobody should use illegal vape products," Gottlieb said. Here's what officials knew when. We'll update this as more information comes to light: August 17: In this Monday, June 17, 2019, photo, Joshua Ni, 24, and Fritz Ramirez, 23, vape from electronic cigarettes in San Francisco. Associated Press CDC officials say they are actively investigating almost 94 cases of vape-related illnesses in 14 states. That number would grow to 200 cases in 22 states. Officials haven't yet determined the specific causes of the illness, but it is thought that oils and chemicals used to emulsify THC, CBD, and nicotine in illicit vapes is to blame. August 23: FILE PHOTO: A man holds an electronic cigarette as he vapes at a Vape Shop in Monterrey Reuters The first vape-related death is reported in Illinois. The person, who has remained unnamed, was hospitalized with severe breathing difficulties, according to officials. He was reportedly using e-cigarettes to consume nicotine.   September 3: Facebook/selectstrains Oregon's Health Authority says it is actively investigating the death of an individual with a severe respiratory illness following the use of an e-cigarette. While officials have not yet determined the root cause of the middle-aged person's illness, he had reportedly fallen ill after vaporizing marijuana oil purchased at a legal cannabis dispensary, reports The Associated Press. September 4: Enthusiast Brandy Tseu uses an electronic cigarette at The Vapor Spot vapor bar in Los Angeles, California March 4, 2014. Mario Anzuoni/Reuters Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former FDA commissioner, writes an editorial in The Washington Post urging federal officials to take action in investigating the causes of these illnesses and deaths. "Bright lines must be drawn between less-harmful ingredients and those that cause undue risk. That would arm regulators with the information to crack down on illegal and dangerous vape juices. It's also time to end the political ambivalence that allows THC and CBD to evade oversight," Gottlieb wrote.   September 6: Ben Gilbert/Business Insider Indiana health officials confirm a third vape-related death. Shortly afterward, officials in Minnesota confirm a fourth, and then a fifth in California. Like the other deaths, officials have yet to determine a root cause. However, the 65-year old Minnesota man had a history of lung disease. He fell ill after vaping an "illicit" THC product, The New York Times reports. September 6: National Cancer Institute director Dr. Norman Sharpless. Wikimedia Commons Acting FDA Chief Ned Sharpless says "Our investigation into the concerning reports of respiratory illness and deaths associated w/ vaping is a top priority for FDA and our federal, state, local health partners. We're working tirelessly to gather and analyze information about these incidents," on Twitter. Sen. Minority Whip Dick Durbin pushed Sharpless to act quicker in a letter addressed to Sharpless on Friday.