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Is it legal yet? I mean, we're 50-something days into a new Democratic administration with Democrats in control of both houses, so what's the holdup?

For years, the lack of any real movement toward federal cannabis legalization — or at least decriminalization — has been blamed (rightfully, in many respects) on recalcitrant Republicans, most notably former Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who never allowed a cannabis-friendly bill to see a floor debate in his tenure. But times have changed. Haven't they?

New Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and some of his Democrat colleagues have pledged to bring forward sweeping legislation this year to end federal cannabis prohibition and offer some form of restorative justice to those with prior convictions for weed-related crimes on their records.

But exactly how high a priority this is remains to be seen, especially amid a pandemic, struggling Main Street economies, a push for meaningful racial equity legislation and a neglected and worsening climate crisis. Oh, and don't forget the fight for a $15 minimum wage that got nixed from the stimulus bill but President Joe Biden and Democrats have continued to push.

Biden, it should be noted, has also never seemed to fully embrace legalization, though it's hard to tell whether that's a moral stance or simply not wanting to deal with all the political smoke. He's called for decriminalizing possession, expunging past records and legalizing medicinal use — but was by far the most tepid of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates on the subject.

For the time being, there's also the Senate's filibuster, which means the majority needs 60 votes to move most meaningful legislation, and the fact that Democrats only have 50 votes.

All that would seem to imply it's still an uphill battle, at least at the moment.

But then came a March 11 report from Politico, breaking news that a host of national corporations — including large tobacco and alcohol companies — are joining forces to launch a cannabis coalition to influence federal policy and shape federal regulations.

"The group is operating under the premise that federal legalization is inevitable and is enlisting a group of cannabis policy experts to help guide their efforts," the report states.

So just who is in this coalition? According to Politico, the tobacco company Altria, Constellation Brands (which owns Corona and Modelo), Molson Coors Beverage Co., two national convenience store associations, the Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers and the Brink's Co.

And lest you think these titans of industry are simply prohibitionists in tie dye, consider this: Constellation owns 39 percent of Canadian cannabis giant Canopy Growth Corp., Molson Coors produces CBD-infused drinks and Altria dropped $1.8 billion on a cannabis company in 2018.

Dubbed the Coalition for Cannabis Policy, Education and Regulation, the group is convening hosts of policy experts to weigh public safety concerns, youth prevention, equity issues and national standards on product testing, with the goal of compiling the research into white papers that will be used to inform — and lobby — lawmakers.

So, yeah, still might be a while.

Cannabis employees in Humboldt County are now eligible to receive their COVID-19 vaccinations, qualifying as food and agricultural workers under guidance release by the California Department of Public Health.

Humboldt County is home to more than 800 cannabis farms, to say nothing of the dozen or so dispensaries and scores of manufacturing and processing facilities locally. The Humboldt County Joint Information Center was unable to say how many people are said to be employed in the sector and thus newly eligible for vaccines, but said Public Health has been working with large employers, trade associations and professional networks across the food and agricultural sectors to determine how many employees are eligible to be vaccinated and "to plan targeted clinics for those at greatest risk of outbreak," adding that it continues to focus on residents 65 and older.

And as we've reported repeatedly in these pages, the single largest impediment to widespread vaccination in Humboldt County is supply. As the Journal went to press, the county had administered 35,828 vaccine doses to date, fully vaccinating more than 12,000 residents and partially vaccinating another nearly 11,000. But the county reported it was slated to receive only 5,000 doses this week — which would fully vaccinate about 2,500 residents — so limited availability continues to create a situation where the line of eligible people remains long and supply remains short.

Thadeus Greenson (he/him) is the Journal's news editor. Reach him at 442-1400, extension 321, or thad@northcoastjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @thadeusgreenson.

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Thadeus Greenson

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Thadeus Greenson is the news editor of the North Coast Journal.

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