South Dakota’s cannabis setbacks • Movement in Guyana • How illegal grows affect forests • & more…

The Cannabis Wire Daily newsletter is sent to C-Wire Plus subscribers every weekday morning at 7 a.m. Excerpts are published here later in the day. Don’t miss the full picture. Subscribe now.

Next up for cannabis reform in the Caribbean: Guyana.

As the cannabis industry in the Caribbean continues to take shape, Guyana is set to become the next country in the region to join the trend.

On February 4, lawmakers agreed to formally establish a parliamentary committee to consider a bill that would amend the country’s Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Control Act to remove penalties for the possession of up to 30 grams (just over an ounce) of cannabis and replace it with “community service,” or a fine after conviction. The amendments also seek to remove the fine and term of imprisonment for smoking cannabis, while keeping bans on cannabis smoking in certain places.

The move to establish a parliamentary committee is seen as an effort to find a middle ground between cannabis reform proposals from the People’s Progressive Party/Civic-led government and the opposition coalition led by the Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and Alliance for Change. After an election stalemate last year, each group has been left without the required votes to advance its own version of cannabis reform.

Last month, the country’s opposition proposed legislation for the removal of custodial sentences for the possession of up to 500 grams of cannabis and the legalization of use. That bill was defeated in a vote two weeks ago.

That proposal was branded as “irresponsible” by Charles Ramson Jr, the country’s Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports, since it proposed “a dramatic shift,” which didn’t “represent the majority of views in the National Assembly and doesn’t represent the majority of positions of the people in this country.”

In recent years, the Caribbean has been a hotspot for legislative reform relating to cannabis with nations moving to decriminalize or legalize medical use.

Guyana, according to the final report delivered by the CARICOM Regional Commission on Marijuana, is expected to receive one of the highest economic windfalls from a legal cannabis industry due to its large and well-established agricultural sector, which currently accounts for 33 percent of Guyana’s gross domestic product.

— Clydeen McDonald

South Dakota’s cannabis setbacks.

On Monday, a South Dakota judge ruled against a ballot measure passed by voters in November to legalize cannabis for adult use.

As Cannabis Wire reported last month, Governor Kristi Noem revealed that she, in fact, pushed for the lawsuit, which was brought forth by Highway Patrol Superintendent Rick Miller and Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom. 

South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws released a brief statement: “We disagree with the ruling and we are preparing our appeal to the South Dakota Supreme Court.”

Then, on Wednesday, Noem began to pump the brakes on implementing a separate voter-approved medical cannabis measure. 

In Noem’s announcement, both Senate Majority Leader Gary Cammack and House Majority Leader Kent Peterson emphasized that they will honor the will of the voters, while agreeing with Noem that doing so will take additional time. Specifically, they are calling for an additional year to get it done.

“We are working diligently to get IM 26 implemented safely and correctly,” Noem said in a statement. “The feasibility of getting this program up and running well will take additional time. I am thankful to our legislative leaders for helping make sure that we do this right.”

Specifically, according to Noem’s announcement, a firm called Cannabis Public Policy Consulting said that it “has not seen a successful implementation of a medicinal marijuana program in just 8 months, the timeframe IM 26 currently requires,” adding that it could take more than two years. This extra time, Noem continues, “will allow the of South Dakota to address several policy concerns and additional rules regarding IM 26.”

(CPPC includes on its team Andrew Freedman, who oversaw cannabis regulation in Colorado for years under former Gov. John Hickenlooper, and John Hudak, who is a fellow at Brookings, among others.)

Noem also referenced the ongoing battle over adult use, adding that “CPPC advises that no state in the country has ever implemented both a medicinal and a recreational marijuana program simultaneously. While the circuit court has ruled that  is unconstitutional, the state is still anticipating that the Supreme Court will have the opportunity to weigh in on this constitutional matter.”

How illegal cannabis grows affect forests.

The USDA’s Forest Service Law Enforcement and Investigations program counts cannabis cultivation as one of its top three drug enforcement priorities, along with amphetamine production and cross border smuggling (international). 

In a recently published performance summary of FY 2020, the program broke down how many cannabis plants it has eradicated, and how many sites it has dismantled. 

Up high, the report flags an “alarming trend” of banned pesticides getting smuggled in for these illegal sites. 

The explanation in the report for why the plant eradication “target” wasn’t met, and the role of legalization, is a bit muddled, but generally, they say that “some marijuana growers have moved from National Forest System land to private lands due to increased law enforcement pressure over the past several years and ‘legalization’ has created a situation where can be advantageous to grow on private lands due to lack of regulatory enforcement, easy access to domestic or municipal water sources in drought prone California, and ease of ‘farm’ to market access.”

(In short, suggesting that there are bad actors hiding in plain sight in legal programs.)

They continue by noting that there is “a reduction” in the program’s “ability to effectively utilize State and local cooperators” that is “due to the need for State and local resources to address regulatory concerns related to ‘legal’ growing activities on private lands.” (So, in short, less local cooperation.) 

But then there’s a twist, in which they suggest that when localities “begin to regulate ‘legalized’ marijuana,” then “production of this illicit crop will in turn increase on National Forest System lands.”

(There is little evidence laid out to support this, though the report points to that fact that more cannabis was eradicated in southern California, “where counties are stepping up regulatory enforcement of marijuana growing on private lands,” than northern California, where there is “less regulatory enforcement.”)

On the flip side, the “target” for the number of sites eradicated was met. 

That figure, though, is less interesting than what the program found during clean up: 

• 45 tons of trash

• 460 miles of irrigation pipe

• 12 tons of chemical fertilizers 

• 20 gallons of “restricted or banned use poisons” (most often Carbofuran, aka Furadan)

• 192 “man-made dams/reservoirs”

• 254 propane tanks 

• 47 car batteries

“These poisons indiscriminately kill wildlife,” the report notes, adding that, at some sites, “contamination levels were so extensive that LEI ceased eradication and rehabilitation efforts to reassess and consult hazardous materials professionals. In a few instances, there were a number of LEI personnel exposed to these chemicals, resulting in referrals for medical treatment.”

More South Dakota’s cannabis setbacks • Movement in Guyana • How illegal grows affect forests • & more…