CannaBeat: Reform! 

Cannabis legalization took a big step forward last week.

When the House Judiciary Committee approved a "landmark" and "historic" cannabis reform bill last week, Memphis was there pushing it right along.

The committee approved the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act. The legislation would decriminalize cannabis at the federal level, reassess and expunge past cannabis convictions, and fund a series of programs to help those unduly affected by the War on Drugs.

Memphis Rep. Steve Cohen, a senior member of the Judiciary Committee and a longtime cannabis advocate, voted to advance the MORE Act to the House floor. The committee vote was 24 to 10.

click to enlarge An enormous bag of CBD biomass - at last week’s International Hemp Auction and Market - TOBY SELLS
  • Toby Sells
  • An enormous bag of CBD biomass at last week’s International Hemp Auction and Market

"These failed and racist policies disproportionately affected communities of color," Cohen said in a statement after the vote. "The effects extend well beyond arrest and prosecution. This bill's expungement provisions help those convicted of nonviolent marijuana offenses fully reintegrate into society and pursue their potential. Without a criminal record, they will be better able to find good jobs, access housing, and vote. I'm proud to advance this measure to the House floor and look forward to voting for it there."

In January, Cohen introduced the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act. It will allow access to medical marijuana for patients in states where marijuana is legal without fear of federal prosecution. He also introduced the Fresh Start Act, which would expunge criminal records for nonviolent offenders with seven years of good behavior.

On the MORE Act, Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance applauded its passage but said, "This legislation won't make up for the full scale of harm that prohibition has caused to its victims. It's not going to return anyone their lost dreams, time lost at the mercy of the criminal justice system, or the years spent away from their families.

"But this legislation is the closest we've come yet to not only ending those harms at the federal level, but also beginning to repair them," she added.

Hemp Auction, Market

Last week, Tennessee hemp growers, buyers, and industry professionals gathered in Franklin (south of Nashville) for the state's first International Hemp Auction and Market (IHAM).

Down on the hard-packed dirt floor of the Williamson County Ag Expo Park arena, three days of auctions were focused on hemp biomass, smokeable flower, and CBD oil.

In the ringed concourse above the auction, hemp growers sold pre-rolled CBD joints, CBD-infused lip balms, smokeable flower, and more. Hemp-industry companies were there, too, pushing their hemp-testing services, soil additives, hemp buckers, dryers, trimmers, and harvesters.

Farmers mostly talked of their hemp plots this year as "experiments," growing smaller test plots. But many said they'd grow the crop again next year. Nearly all of those farmers said growing hemp had largely lost its outlaw appeal over the course of the growing season. They also said hemp was a labor-intensive crop. One farmer's shirt summed this up: "Hempin' ain't easy," it read.

Pick up next week's Memphis Flyer for full coverage of the auction and market.

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