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US Medical Marijuana States Shutting Out Experienced Growers

As the United States sees regulated medical marijuana models emerge across the country, a glaring paradox has arisen – many states require applicants for producer licenses to have experience in marijuana production, yet exclude those with convictions for producing marijuana.

A Buzzfeed investigation published earlier this year drew attention to four such US states that recently legalised medical marijuana. The restrictions in Connecticut, Maryland, New York, and Minnesota effectively welcome those with backgrounds in criminal activity, specifically in marijuana production, as long as they didn’t get caught and subsequently convicted.

New York’s stipulations for producer applications, for example, hold perhaps the most alarming contradictions: The system used for scoring applicants on the “ability to manufacture approved medical marijuana products” awards a full 36 percent of the total available marks just to product manufacturing. All drug felonies for which sentencing was completed within the last decade, however, are instant disqualifiers. This includes those for selling, and, yes, growing, cannabis.

This prioritisation of growing ability, the regulations stress, is in the interest of the public health and safety.

The push historically to enforce marijuana laws, which cost the United States a combined total of $3.6 billion in 2010, has left a huge swathe of people with criminal records, and consequently reduced their prospects in terms of employment, credit, social security, and rental opportunities.

While law-enforcement led responses to marijuana responses are beginning to decrease, marijuana growers with felonies for this non-violent offense, effectively the war on drugs’ casualties, are left with a final injury: they are being denied the prospect to legally use their production acumen.

What’s more, a long history of racial disparities in drug law enforcement has culminated in significant racial bias in who has become a victim of these paradoxical regulations. Despite the fact that black people and white people use marijuana at the same rates, black people are significantly more likely to have been arrested for marijuana possession – in some states, eight times more likely, according to a 2013 report by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Partly as a result of this uneven enforcement, black people now make up only a tiny fraction of participants in the US’s legal marijuana industry, and own only 1 percent of legal marijuana dispensaries, as the Buzzfeed report highlighted.

The effects of previous marijuana enforcement, and the racial disparities that has engendered, do not have to be felt now that the industry is becoming regulated, though, both for medicinal and recreational use.

Delaware’s medicinal marijuana regulations, for example, have softened the blow somewhat: applicants convicted of felony offenses related to medical marijuana which would now be legal are welcome to apply. Illinois, too, waives felony restrictions if convictions were for the “possession, cultivation, transfer, or delivery of a reasonable amount of cannabis intended for personal use.”

However, these laws still have their drawbacks. In Illinois, applications to become a medical marijuana patient are restricted if the applicant has been convicted of a felony, for example. What’s more, in continuing to restrict applications from those with felonies related to recreational cannabis, Delaware is failing to recognise the growing trend towards regulating recreational cannabis evident in other states, and not taking advantage of the skill set on offer from potentially experience cannabis growers who have convictions for a non-violent crime.

Any state regulating marijuana, be it medicinal or recreational, should avoid these absurd contradictions and open applications to those with prior non-violent possession, cultivation, low-level sale, or delivery marijuana offenses.

In the meantime, those states continuing to apply arbitrary – and nonsensical — restrictions on those attempting to access the industry are failing to shake off the hangover of outdated prohibition.

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