April 6, 2022

Covering COVID-19 is a daily Poynter briefing of story ideas about the coronavirus and other timely topics for journalists, written by senior faculty Al Tompkins. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.

Despite the fact that the U.S. House of Representatives just passed it, there is little chance that the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act — or MORE Act — will become law anytime soon.

It is not the first time the House has voted to decriminalize weed. The last time, in 2020, the Senate never even considered the bill. It probably won’t this time, either.

President Joe Biden promised that he would support changing the classification of marijuana to make it less regulated than other narcotics like heroin, but he has remained unmoved by state after state allowing recreational marijuana. Biden’s marijuana stance may be best illustrated by the fact that his administration fired five staffers who admitted to past cannabis use.

Marijuana Moment tracks laws and noted this after the House vote Friday: “White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said hours after the House vote in favor of the MORE Act that the president agrees that ‘our current marijuana laws are not working,’ but she declined to say whether he supports the specific legislation.”

For the MORE Act to pass the Senate, supporters would need 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. Mother Jones describes the political battlelines:

Sure, there were a few defectors on either side. Two Democrats—Reps. Henry Cuellar (Texas) and Chris Pappas (N.H.)—voted against the bill. Three Republicans voted for it: Reps. Matt Gaetz (Fla.), Brian Mast (Fla.) and Tom McClintock (Calif.). And advocates for drug reform now face a Senate that’s at least somewhat sympathetic, with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer planning to introduce his own legislation. But Democrats are unlikely to win many Republican votes with their current proposal, which includes social equity programs to redress the harm done to communities of color by the war on drugs.

In addition to Republicans’ general tough-on-crime opposition to weed, this is another major factor plaguing the prospect of legal pot. A Pew study notes that just 32 percent of Americans aged 75 and older support legalizing recreational and medical weed—far lower than any other age group. That could be a problem in Congress’ upper chamber, which has 11 senators over the age of 75.

Barrons explains that the MORE Act would:

… remove marijuana from the list of scheduled substances and establish a process to expunge prior cannabis convictions. It also will impose a federal tax on marijuana products — a 5% excise tax for the first two years, increasing by 1% incrementally each year in the next three years.

More importantly, it would eliminate the existing conflict between federal and state laws, allowing states to set their own regulations without forcing them to do so.

Federal legalization could have far-reaching ramifications for the cannabis industry. It could unlock access to traditional banking and basic financing options, such as raising capital on U.S. exchanges and applying for loans. Currently, cannabis companies and dispensaries are forced to either pay high fees to cannabis-friendly banks or deal solely in cash, as credit card companies and other financial services won’t process their payments, Adam Horowitz, a cannabis attorney at Cole Schotz said.

A recent Pew Research poll shows 91% of Americans say it is time to legalize at least some uses of marijuana. Gallup polling says two-thirds of Americans favor outright legalization of pot.

(Pew Research Center)



States are doing what Congress refuses to do. Vox points out:

Cannabis is one of the fastest-growing industries in the US; sales of adult-use and medical marijuana products hit $25 billion in 2021 and, by one Wall Street estimate, could reach $100 billion by 2030. Eighteen states have legalized cannabis for adult use, and another 19 currently have at least a comprehensive medical marijuana program. As of 2020, one in three Americans lived in a state with access to legal marijuana, according to Politico, and that number is quickly growing as the East Coast catches up with the West — last year, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and Virginia all passed adult-use cannabis laws, joining Maine, Massachusetts, and Vermont. Rhode Island lawmakers are expected to approve a legalization bill this month.

Just this week, state lawmakers in South Carolina heard new testimony about medical marijuana and the New Hampshire House passed a pot bill. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham made cannabis legislation such a priority that she called the legislature into special session to legalize its recreational use. Sales began a few days ago. The governor says while she has never used marijuana, she might purchase some at some point.

It is lost on nobody that New Mexico’s new marijuana law means that just across the border from Texas, it is now legal to buy up to 2 ounces of marijuana — enough to roll about 60 joints. The Associated Press reports that Texas intends to keep arresting people who are holding marijuana.

The recreational sales will be steps away from neighboring El Paso, where local law enforcement officials are warning, it’s still not legal to bring cannabis across state borders.

“Any person caught with any usable amount of marijuana here will be charged accordingly,” El Paso Police Sgt. Enrique Carrillo told Nexstar affiliate KTSM.

New Mexico is the first state bordering Texas to fully legalize marijuana. Neighboring states Oklahoma and Louisiana have fully legalized medical marijuana usage. Texas remains the largest prohibition state in the country.

Because of that, local El Paso officials said they expect to see more possession arrests in the coming months.

“Do whatever you will with it in New Mexico, but just don’t bring it back into Texas. Because if you are stopped by an El Paso Police officer, you will be charged accordingly,” Carrillo said.

Vox summarizes the sides this way:

Critics of legal marijuana cite the potential for confusion among law enforcement agencies keeping up with evolving regulations, concern about minors gaining access to the drug, a potential drop in property values, and more for maintaining marijuana’s status as an illicit drug. (Though it looks like legal cannabis can actually increase property values.)

Legal cannabis, however, also presents a tremendous financial opportunity, and despite federal inaction, the industry is growing fast; a report from the cannabis website Leafly shows there are more than 428,000 full-time jobs in the cannabis industry, with a 33 percent increase in jobs just last year. Even so, the fallout from the lack of federal legalization is felt by many sectors of society: Medical research is stalled, prisoners are languishing in jails, small businesses are going under without access to federal banking, and big cannabis companies face stiff challenges in raising money to stay afloat as long as marijuana is illegal under federal law.

Certainly, it is an issue journalists should ask about during the midterm races. Vox says:

“Gallup poll numbers indicate that half of Republican voters now also support legal marijuana. Support among younger Republicans is especially high, says Morgan Fox, political director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML): “It’s difficult to find any issue right now that enjoys as much public support as ending prohibition for cannabis.” It seems increasingly likely that a bipartisan effort to legalize cannabis at a federal level will pass in the next few years.”

Time to revamp the CDC?

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky admits that the organization may need to be reconsidered. She has hired an outside adviser to start the review process that she says will take a month.

The CDC has come under intense scrutiny for its COVID-19 response, which Walensky said in a memo to her staff often necessitated the CDC to move quickly without all of the research it would normally require to make decisions.

A poll earlier this year conducted by NBC News found 44% of Americans trusted the CDC’s statements about COVID-19 while about the same number said they did not. Two-thirds of Democrats said they trusted the CDC’s COVID-19 response but only one in five Republicans said the same. Gallup polling found similar doubts about the CDC.

Last week, the CDC quietly changed the number of COVID-19 deaths in America, adjusting the figure downward by 72,000 deaths because of a “coding error.” While the number of COVID-19 deaths still stands at well above 968,000 — and even that number may be an undercount — the error adds to the chatter that the CDC’s data cannot be trusted. Of course, part of the problem is that the data that the CDC is attempting to assemble comes to them from a firehose of sources, including state and local agencies. The latest change came after The Guardian’s reporting:

Last week, after reporting from the Guardian on mortality rates among children, the CDC corrected a “coding logic error” that had inadvertently added more than 72,000 Covid deaths of all ages to the data tracker, one of the most publicly accessible sources for Covid data.

The agency briefly noted the change in a footnote, although the note did not explain how the error occurred or how long it was in effect.

A total of 72,277 deaths in all age groups reported across 26 states were removed from the tracker “because CDC’s algorithm was accidentally counting deaths that were not Covid-19-related”, Jasmine Reed, a spokesperson for the agency, told the Guardian.

It is worth noting that there is an agency called the National Center for Health Statistics within the CDC that uses actual death certificates in its calculations. But that data is much slower to compile, and we want both speed and accuracy during a pandemic.

The Hill explains that this review follows a sort of warning that came from the Government Accountability Office:

On Jan. 27, the GAO delivered a rare “high risk” rating to the Department of Health and Human Services, specifically citing the CDC’s poor data management and ineffective messaging. These findings added fuel to congressional proposals to set up an independent COVID commission to examine the CDC’s performance.

The CDC’s antiquated information system, designed in 1925, could not support modeling to show how a pandemic might spread, or a real-time picture of how the COVID crisis was developing. This information would have been useful to developing an effective containment strategy. Yet, the CDC’s estimates were always days old.

The Hill also adds this spirited commentary on how a reformed CDC might emerge stronger. It starts, the piece says, with narrowing the CDC’s focus:

Over the last three decades, the CDC has de-emphasized its principal mission of protecting Americans from novel microbes and viruses that, if uncontrolled, can kill millions. Instead of modernizing its information systems, to choose but one example, the agency has sought a role in solving more high-profile social problems. Shamefully, it has encouraged a promiscuous use of the term “epidemic” to describe conditions that its methodologies are powerless to affect, including racism, gun violence, child abuse, sex trafficking, opioid abuse, obesity and loneliness. The CDC won’t be the agency that ends those crises and trying to do so only distracts from its critical core mission.

MLB approves electronic device to replace hand signals from catchers to pitchers

The electronic pitch-calling system approved by Major League Baseball, sits on display, Tuesday, April 5, 2022 in New York. In an effort to eliminate sign stealing, Major League Baseball says catchers may use a new electronic signal system to call pitches this season. (AP Photo/Ron Blum)

Major League Baseball on Tuesday told teams they may use PitchCom, an electronic device that lets a catcher communicate with a pitcher and even some fielders through a signal that will be transmitted in the players’ caps. The goal is to reduce “pitch sign stealing.” Some teams tried it in spring training and will use it on opening day this week.

Biden to delay student loan repayment again

The AP, Politico and others are reporting that the Biden administration plans to extend the pause on student loan debt repayment until at least the end of August. Debtors were facing an end-of-May deadline. Some Democrats are still pushing the president to not just extend the grace period but to forgive some portion of student debt.

New list of billionaires, most of the top dozen are Americans

Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are all in Forbes’ top five billionaires, which you can search by country and gender. There are a fair number of people in their 20s and 30s on the list; 86 people on it are under age 40 and a dozen are under age 30. 735 people on the 2022 billionaires list are from the United States. 327 billionaires are women.

The 2,668 billionaires on Forbes’ list are worth $12.7 trillion. Forbes says:

In all, 329 people fell off the billionaires list this year–the most since the 2009 financial crisis. That includes 169 “one-year wonders”, newcomers to the 2021 ranking, including Bumble’s Whitney Wolfe Herd and Peloton’s John Foley, who debuted a year ago and have already dropped from the list.

Still, 236 newcomers joined the ranks this year, including pop star Rihanna, Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson and venture capitalist Josh Kushner. Barbados, Bulgaria, Estonia and Uruguay each gained their first billionaires ever. And, despite the volatile year, 1,050 billionaires are wealthier than they were a year ago.

Incidentally, if you are on the list and want to support journalism, drop me a note.

We’ll be back tomorrow with a new edition of Covering COVID-19. Are you subscribed? Sign up here to get it delivered right to your inbox.

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
Al Tompkins is one of America's most requested broadcast journalism and multimedia teachers and coaches. After nearly 30 years working as a reporter, photojournalist, producer,…
Al Tompkins

More News

Back to News