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San Francisco (CNN Business)April is typically a pretty eventful month for the cannabis industry, with 4/20 celebrations bringing abundant attention -- and sales.

But things have been heating up much earlier this year. In the first four days of April, the US House of Representatives (once again and narrowly) passed a bill to decriminalize marijuana and then, days later, (overwhelmingly) approved legislation to ease barriers to cannabis research.
In addition, Maryland lawmakers voted to put an adult-use cannabis measure on their state's November ballot; New Mexico became the latest state to begin recreational sales; and this Thursday, New Jersey will start selling recreational cannabis.The full-scale legalization of cannabis in America feels like it's closer than ever: More states have passed recreational-use laws; comprehensive legislation is gaining attention -- and votes -- in Congress; and the industry continues to steamroll to maturity with a stream of mega-mergers, high value investments and steady sales.
    A worker trims leaves of young cannabis plants in a greenhouse at a Cresco Labs Inc. facility in Indiantown, Florida, on Monday, March 28, 2022. "The fact that the House of Representatives has passed [the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act] in two successive sessions of Congress really is a sign that the end of federal prohibition is drawing near," said Steven Hawkins, president and chief executive officer of the US Cannabis Council, a trade and lobbying organization.
      However, while this is an industry that has long held a "not if, but when" belief toward legalization, what's viewed as inevitable is not necessarily imminent. The MORE Act, which mustered only three Republican votes, is not expected to succeed in the Senate. Additionally, a separate legalization bill that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is expected to introduce this summer also might not garner the 60 votes needed to pass. Read More"In terms of passage of either [bill], it's still a tough path ahead in the Senate," Hawkins said. "But we're not ruling anything out."A $27 billion industry
        The absence of federal legalization has not slowed down one of the fastest-growing industries in the United States. The cannabis industry reeled in an estimated $27 billion in sales in 2021, up 35% from 2020, according to data released earlier this month by MJBiz, a cannabis trade publication and events organizer. And in the next five years, it projects sales will nearly double."Right now, over 425,000 jobs in the economy are tied to the cannabis industry. With that, we see the continued increase for public support for legalization," Hawkins said. "And we continue to see both red and blue states pass laws to legalize cannabis for either adult or medical use."As more states allow for cannabis sales, companies within the budding industry aren't waiting for federal law changes to stake their claim.Cresco Labs' Sunnyside store in Buffalo Grove, IL.In the past year, there have been a couple of multibillion-dollar mergers. The latest: Cresco's (CRLBF) $2.1 billion acquisition of Columbia Care (CCHWF). If the deal closes as expected in the fourth quarter, the combined company would have upward of 120 retail locations and dozens of facilities in 17 states and Washington, D.C."It sets us up very well if federal change happens any time soon," Cresco CEO Charlie Batchell told CNN Business in an interview.The Vana Society cannabis retail store in Clovis, New Mexico.Other paths to legal reformMore than two-thirds of US states have legalized cannabis in some capacity: Of the 37 that have medical marijuana laws, 18 of them have recreational cannabis laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. And more could be on the way. States such as Delaware, New Hampshire and Rhode Island are debating recreational cannabis legalization. Petition drives and legislative efforts for medical marijuana programs are also underway in states such as Kansas, Nebraska, North Carolina and South Carolina, said Karen O'Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, a lobbying and advocacy organization. One huge step toward broader reform is the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which would make it easier for cannabis businesses to access banking services. Because marijuana remains illegal in the eyes of the federal government, and despite 2014 guidance from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, some financial institutions have been wary of serving cannabis-related businesses for fear of violating anti-money laundering laws.The SAFE Act bill is gaining momentum in Congress and is now in a good position to become law, Hawkins said. Beyond making it easier for financial institutions to work with cannabis businesses, the SAFE Banking Act has long been touted as a public safety measure. Colorado Rep. Ed Perlmutter first introduced the legislation five years ago following deadly robberies at cash-only dispensaries. Re-upping those safety concerns after another recent stretch of criminal activity at dispensaries, Perlmutter asked Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to "put the muscle of the administration behind getting it passed." Yellen responded that she was in support of the bill, in an exchange first reported by Marijuana Moment. Pens featuring a marijuana leaf are pictured on a table at the Cannabis World Congress & Business Exposition (CWCBExpo) in New York City, November 5, 2021. Other reforms, and even full-on legalization could come via other means, however, including the Farm Bill, said Rep. David Scott, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, in a tweet last month. Scott pushed for the Farm Bill to include a provision that would "eliminate barriers for small businesses and Black entrepreneurs to start legal cannabis companies under state law."But all these piecemeal approaches to legalization could end up backfiring, said South Carolina Republican Representative Nancy Mace.Mace last year introduced the States Reform Act, a bill that seeks to decriminalize cannabis, have it federally regulated like alcohol, impose a 3% excise tax, let states determine their own approaches and programs toward cannabis, and open up the doors to banking."It's bad enough you get a multibillion-dollar industry operating in cash. That's dangerous," she said. Bills that approach a singular issue like banking or research risk not passing muster in court, she said. "That's my fear. One, we do it right, constitutionally," she said. "And, two, if we do a small piece of it, we're not going to touch it for 20 years."An equitable industryPolicymakers and industry members also should not lose sight of how individuals, especially people of color, continue to be criminalized for activities that are now legal at the state level, said Amber Littlejohn, CEO of the Minority Cannabis Business Association."First and foremost, we need to get people out of prison, and we need to stop arresting people for doing things that folks are making lots of money doing," she said.Nationwide, Black people are 3.6 times more likely than White people to be arrested for a cannabis-related reason, despite similar usage rates, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.People of color also face tremendous barriers operating within the industry. Attempts have been made to create paths into the industry for those with non-violent marijuana convictions whose communities were negatively impacted from the War on Drugs. But these efforts have largely been unsuccessful due to of state policies that limit licenses, fail to offer financial and business resources to people of color and that benefit deeper-pocketed multistate operators, Littlejohn said."I think one of the biggest problems is there seems to be an incredible disconnect between what people say they support and believe in and what [becomes law]," she said. "It's up to us, the collective us, to be holding folks accountable."Cannabis in the Land of Enchantment In New Mexico, the cannabis industry could generate more than $300 million annually in sales and $50 million in tax revenue over the next 12 months, as well as create 11,000 new jobs within the state in the next five years, according to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's office. Between April 1-3, the first weekend of legal adult-use sales in New Mexico, cannabis retailers sold more than $5.2 million worth of recreational and medical products, Grisham said.Parin Kumar, CEO and co-owner of the newly opened Vana Society cannabis store in Clovis, on the state's eastern border, said she has been seeing a steady stream of customers.A Vana Society cannabis retail store in New Mexico.
          For small towns like Clovis that have been looking to diversify their economy, the burgeoning industry is a boon, expected to bring new jobs and tax revenue."Especially in communities like Clovis, the buildings, the infrastructure, the school need help, this definitely can do a lot for the community economically, " Kumar said. "It feels like we're giving back."

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          Jan. 6 committee considering criminal referrals as panel wraps up investigation

          Members of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol are set to meet Friday to discuss the details of its final report and to decide on whether to make criminal referrals, possibly for fellow lawmakers.

          Committee members will meet with one of the panel’s subcommittees, led by Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), to discuss its recommendations for any criminal referrals and how to present evidence of obstruction, possible witness tampering, or perjury, according to CNN.


          Lawmakers will also discuss what to do with five Republican lawmakers who refused to comply with the committee’s subpoenas. That list includes several top GOP lawmakers, including Reps. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Jim Jordan (R-OH), Mo Brooks (R-AL), Scott Perry (R-PA), and Andy Biggs (R-AZ).

          Congress is limited in its power to make criminal referrals to the Department of Justice, although that capability is expanded in cases where lawmakers have held witnesses in contempt for refusing to supply testimony or documents. The committee has held a number of witnesses in contempt for refusing to comply with the panel’s subpoenas, including former Trump advisers Peter Navarro and Dan Scavino.

          Lawmakers could also make criminal referrals for witnesses who have been accused of committing perjury or witness tampering, but only if investigators can make a compelling argument. Members of the committee are set to discuss whether evidence exists of such acts being committed, sources told the outlet.

          Members of the committee have been tight-lipped about updates to their investigation. When asked whether any witnesses are believed to have committed perjury, Committee Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) simply told Politico, “Stay tuned.”

          Should criminal referrals be made, they will be directed to the attorney general, who then decides whether to hand them over to special counsel Jack Smith, according to Thompson. Smith recently took over the DOJ’s investigation into former President Donald Trump’s actions on Jan. 6.

          Attorney General Merrick Garland expressed interest in obtaining the committee’s evidence during a press conference on Wednesday, noting his office has asked for “access to all of the transcripts.”


          The Jan. 6 committee is done with all of its witness interviews after questioning Wisconsin State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos on Wednesday, wrapping up its yearlong investigation into the Capitol attack, Thompson said. The panel must now sprint to finish its final report by the end of the year, with lawmakers hoping to release their findings before Republicans take control of the House in January.

          The committee’s report is expected to be released in one massive dump as opposed to a gradual rollout, according to Thompson. Its release will depend on how quickly the Government Publishing Office can produce a physical copy, the committee chairman told Politico. However, some of the report’s contents will be exclusively digital.

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