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ACLU And Other Groups Form Coalition To Push Justice-Focused Marijuana Legalization Model

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Ten leading civil rights and criminal justice reform groups announced on Tuesday the formation of a coalition to advocate that marijuana legalization legislation must be comprehensive and include wide-ranging social equity provisions.

Members of the Marijuana Justice Coalition (MJC) include the ACLU, Center for American Progress, Center for Law and Social Policy, Drug Policy Alliance, Human Rights Watch, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights, NORML and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

Noting that the congressional conversation around cannabis has shifted from whether to legalize to how to legalize, MJC said in its announcement that any reform effort should include a series of measures that focus on investing in communities disproportionately harmed by prohibition, encouraging participation in the industry by impacted individuals, expunging the records of those with prior marijuana convictions and ensuring that work in a legal market doesn’t impact citizenship applications.

“Ending prohibition on the federal level presents a unique and desperately needed opportunity to rightfully frame legalization as an issue of criminal justice reform, equity, racial justice, economic justice, and empowerment, particularly for communities most targeted by over-enforcement of marijuana laws,” MJC wrote.

“As Congress considers the end of marijuana prohibition, the Marijuana Justice Coalition believes that any legislation that moves forward in Congress should be comprehensive.”

That comprehensive approach should involve descheduling cannabis and advancing criminal justice reform provisions such as expungements and resentencing, MJC said.

The group also called for “eliminating barriers to access to public benefits (e.g. nutrition assistance, public housing, etc.) and other collateral consequences related to an individual’s marijuana use or previous arrest or conviction” and “eliminating unnecessarily discriminatory elements for marijuana use, arrests and convictions, including drug testing for public benefits or marijuana use as a reason for separating children from their biological families in the child welfare system.”

Queen Adesuyi, policy coordinator at the Drug Policy Alliance’s national affairs office, said the coalition was formed “with the goal of reforming federal marijuana laws, but doing so in a way that gives back to the communities most impacted by the war on drugs.”

“Black and brown people have been traumatized by our racist marijuana laws and, as the federal government embraces reform, our groups will make sure that any proposal will repair the damage done to those communities,” she said in a press release.

MJC said one of its legislative principles is ensuring that “marijuana use or participation in the marijuana industry does not impact the immigration status of noncitizens nor their ability to naturalize.” As it stands, federal immigration law regards employment in a state-legal market by immigrants as grounds to reject citizenship applications on the basis that such work demonstrates poor “moral character.”

The coalition also made recommendations for how to appropriate tax money derived from legal marijuana sales.

Part of that revenue should go toward “local units of government and community-based organizations to reinvest in individuals and communities most impacted by the war on drugs.” In particular, those investments should focus on “programming that helps eliminate the collateral harms of marijuana prohibition, especially for individuals with systemic and structural barriers to employment and/or living in high-poverty communities.”

Revenue should also be used to support entrepreneurs from communities disproportionately impacted by prohibition by providing them “with the requisite capital to develop cannabis businesses, and encourage emerging licensing programs to be inclusive and reflective of their communities.”

“Since the scheduling of marijuana as a Controlled Substance in 1970, over 20 million Americans have been unjustly arrested or incarcerated,” Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “Entire communities have lost generations of citizens to cyclical poverty and incarceration that resulted from the collateral consequences of having a cannabis-related conviction on their record.”

“The ongoing federal prohibition of cannabis is a disproportionate public policy response to personal behavior that is, at worst, a public health matter—not a criminal justice concern,” he said.

Tuesday’s announcement from MJC and its influential members is especially timely. On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee will hold a hearing on marijuana reform that’s expected to explore many of the social equity and racial justice issues identified in MJC’s priority list.

While the panel may well consider the bipartisan Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act among other bills, it seems unlikely MJC will be inclined to offer its support for that specific legislation because it lacks social equity provisions.

The policy statement also reflects a dialogue that’s gaining traction among some lawmakers—one that regards social equity as essential to reform instead of an optional add-on component of a legalization plan. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, said that he would no longer consider supporting legalization legislation that doesn’t address such issues.

Read MJC’s new principles memo below:

MJC marijuana principles by on Scribd

Congress Schedules Hearing To Discuss Ending Marijuana Prohibition

Photo courtesy of Rick Proctor.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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Washington, D.C. Could Allow Marijuana Sales Under Mayor’s New Bill And Democratic Control Of Congress

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The mayor of Washington, D.C. on Friday introduced a bill to create a regulated marijuana market in the District. And while similar legislation has been introduced in past years, the new proposal comes as Democrats take control of both chambers of Congress—a situation that bodes well for removing a federal spending rider that has long blocked legal cannabis sales from being implemented in the nation’s capital.

In other words, there’s renewed hope among advocates that 2021 will finally be the year that a commercial cannabis industry can be established in D.C., where voters approved an initiative legalizing marijuana possession and home cultivation in 2014. Congressional appropriations legislation has since prevented the District from authorizing sales, with Republicans in the majority in at least one chamber on Capitol Hill.

Mayor Muriel Bowser’s (D) bill largely reflects past proposals, though it does include new licensing provisions and funding mechanisms that are meant to bolster social equity in the industry.

“This is about safety, equity, and justice,” Bowser said in a press release. “Through this legislation, we can fulfill the will of D.C. voters, reduce barriers for entering the cannabis industry, and invest in programs that serve residents and neighborhoods hardest hit by the criminalization of marijuana.”

Under the Safe Cannabis Sales Act, adults 21 and older would be allowed to purchase marijuana from licensed dispensaries starting October 1, 2022. A 17 percent tax would be imposed on cannabis sales.

The bill would provide for automatic expungements of prior marijuana convictions and use part of the tax revenue from cannabis sales to support reinvestments in communities most impacted by prohibition. It would also create a new licensing category for delivery services, with a stipulation that eligibility is continent on residency and income factors, such as requiring owners to have lived in certain low-income wards for at least five years.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 700 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

The proposal calls for some tax revenue to be used for grants to be awarded to “locally disadvantaged certified business enterprises to open/expand sit-down restaurants in Wards 7/8. Additional monies would be used to support small grocery stores in those areas. Starting in fiscal year 2023, revenue would fund “school supplies, equipment, and afterschool sports and activities for students attending public schools” in those wards.

With respect to licensing, the legislation would also provide “preference points for certain cannabis business applications for returning citizens or D.C. residents arrested or convicted of a cannabis offense or to a cannabis certified business enterprise or veteran owned business enterprises.”

The activist group D.C. Marijuana Justice expressed concerns with several provisions of Bowser’s bill, including that it could limit the amount of cannabis that people could possess after growing the plant at home under the city’s current law.

Last year, the mayor released a budget plan for the 2021 fiscal year that contained a signal that the local government was preparing to implement regulations for retail marijuana sales just as soon as Congress allowed it by shifting the city’s current medical cannabis program to the jurisdiction of the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA).

Bowser also unveiled a legalization bill in 2019, and part of it called for ABRA to regulate the legal industry and for the agency to be renamed the Alcoholic Beverage and Cannabis Administration, a change that is also included in the mayor’s latest legislation.

Meanwhile, next door to the District, lawmakers in Virginia sent a marijuana legalization bill to the desk of Gov. Ralph Northam (D) on Saturday. On the other side of the city, legislators in Maryland are also considering legalizing cannabis this year.

In D.C., Bowser approved legislation in December to decriminalize possession of drug paraphernalia for personal use and promote harm reduction.

Activists filed a proposed ballot initiative to legalize marijuana sales in August, but it did not advance.

Separately, a local councilman introduced a bill in October that would expand opportunities for formerly incarcerated people to participate in the city’s existing medical cannabis market. The new legislation from Bowser would specifically make it so “returning citizens and D.C. residents with a criminal background” could work or manage a marijuana businesses. And those with past cannabis convictions could own a marijuana business.

Read the mayor’s marijuana sales bill below: 

Safe Cannabis Sales Act of … by Marijuana Moment

Marijuana Use Won’t Automatically Block People From Federal Jobs, Biden Administration Memo Says

Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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Virginia Lawmakers Send Marijuana Legalization Bill To Governor’s Desk Just Hours Before Deadline

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Virginia lawmakers approved a bill to legalize marijuana with just hours left before the deadline to get legislation to the governor this session.

The Senate and House of Delegates approved differing reform proposals earlier this month, and negotiators have since been working to reconcile the bills in conference committee—a contentious process that at times appeared as if it would end without a deal.

But on Saturday, lawmakers agreed to the bicameral compromise plan.

The Senate voted 20-19 to approve the conference committee report on its bill as well as the identical version for the House legislation. The House voted to approve the conference report on its bill, 48-43, with two abstentions. When considering the Senate version, the House voted 47-44, with one abstention.

“It’s been a lot of work to get here,” Sen. Adam Ebbin (D), the lead sponsor of the Senate version of the legislation, said prior to the Senate vote. “But I would say that we’re on the path to an equitable law allowing for responsible adults to use cannabis.”

House Majority Leader Charniele Herring (D), the chief sponsor of the her chamber’s legalization bill, said that “racial justice is about more than addressing penalties for simple possession.”

“It is about reformative justice that provides equitable and social economic opportunity for individuals and communities which have been harmed by disproportionate policing and prosecution of cannabis,” she said. “Legalizing cannabis does not end systematic racism but it does remove one of the tools used in advancing systematic racism.”

The compromise legislation now goes to the desk of Gov. Ralph Northam (D), who supports ending cannabis prohibition.

Among the most pressing issues for lawmakers to negotiate in recent weeks was the timeline for crafting regulations for the cannabis market. The Senate has pushed for a reenactment clause to be included which would extend the process into next session, whereas the House side wanted to complete legislative work during the current session, arguing that enough research has already been done to effectively decide the issue. But Senate negotiators won out, meaning that the legislature will revisit cannabis regulations and post-legalization penalty structures next session.

Another major area of contention dealt with how the state would approach cannabis possession in the time between the bill’s signing and implementation of legal sales going into effect. Under both versions, the adult-use market wouldn’t launch until January 1, 2024 to give the state time to establish a regulatory agency to oversee the program. While the Senate had wanted to make the legalization of simple possession and home cultivation take effect starting on July 1 of this year, negotiators ultimately agreed to delay it to coincide with commercialization in 2024.

In the meantime, under the deal, a new Virginia Cannabis Control Authority will begin work this July to lay the ground for a legal marijuana industry.

Here are some of the other major provisions that were resolved in conference: 

Referendum—The Senate version of the bill would have asked voters to weigh in on legalization through a nonbinding referendum on this November’s ballot. But the issue became increasingly contentious in recent days and conference negotiators decided to drop the idea.

Local control—Whereas the Senate measure called for individual cities to be able to ban marijuana businesses from operating in their area, the House version did not include an opt-out provision. Conferees decided to allow municipalities to elect to ban cannabis commercialization, but they must do so by December 31, 2022.

Penalties for youth—Under the House bill, minors caught possessing cannabis would be subject to a $25 fine with a referral to substance misuse treatment. The Senate, meanwhile, proposed a $250 fine for youth possession for the first offense and then criminal charges and even jail time for subsequent convictions. The agreed-upon final legislation would continue the current approach of treating youth possession as a delinquency, subject to a civil penalty of up to $25, but add a mandatory substance misuse treatment or education program or both. There would be no interaction with courts for such youths. For people between the ages of 18 and 20, the conference deal would continue the existing $25 fee that exists under the state’s decriminalization law and add that they may be ordered to enter a treatment or education program or both.

Social equity—Both versions of the legislation called for licensing priorities for social equity businesses, but there were differences in how each chamber defined what constitutes a social equity applicant. The final legislation defines an equity business as one that has at least 66 percent ownership by people who have been convicted of misdemeanor marijuana offenses (or have family members with such convictions) or people who live in a geographic area that is economically distressed or has a disproportionate rate of cannabis policing. People who graduated from a historically black college or university located in the state would also qualify. Also, beginning on July 1, the state would establish Cannabis Equity Reinvestment Fund and a Cannabis Equity Business Loan Fund.

Vertical integration—The House’s measure would ban vertical integration, a process that would allow a single company could control aspects of growing, processing and selling marijuana products. The Senate, meanwhile, wanted to allow vertical integration only if a cannabis business paid a $1 million fee into a state equity fund. Under the final legislation, vertical integration will be generally limited but will allow existing medical cannabis and hemp businesses to partially vertically integrate. Micro-businesses will also be able to vertically integrate.

In general under the legislation, adults 21 and older would be able to purchase and possess up to one ounce of cannabis and cultivate up to four plants for personal use. It also allows people to petition for suspended or modified sentences for marijuana convictions and establishes criteria for sealing past records.

The bill would set a cannabis excise tax of 21 percent and allow localities to add an additional 3 percent tax on top of the state’s existing 6 percent retail sales tax. Revenue would partly fund pre-K education programs for at-risk youth and would support the new equity funds as well as addiction prevention and treatment services and public health initiatives.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 700 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

The proposal would create a new cannabis-focused state agency to regulate the legal market as opposed to having it fall under the existing alcoholic beverage authority as was the case under the governor’s original plan.

Post-legalization penalties set to go into effect in 2024, which are subject to renewal by the legislature next session, would include a $25 fine for possessing between one ounce and one pound in public. For public consumption, there would be a civil penalty of no more than $25 for first offense. A second offense would come with a $25 civil penalty and an order to enter a substance misuse treatment or education program, or both. Third or subsequent offenses would constitute a Class 4 misdemeanor with no possibility of jail time. Meanwhile, bringing marijuana across state lines would be a Class 1 misdemeanor.

Now that the final bill is headed to Northam’s desk, the governor will have the opportunity to suggest amendments to lawmakers, who can then adopt the suggestions as is or change or reject them, at which point the bill would go back to the governor for final action.

Northam’s spokesperson indicated on Saturday that the governor intends to make some changes to the bill, saying that while its passage is a “major step,” he “looks forward to continuing to improve this legislation.”

Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML, said the bill’s passage “is another historic step for cannabis justice” that will “replace the failed policy of cannabis prohibition with one that promotes Virginia’s economy as well as Virginians’ public health and safety.”

“This effort remains a work in progress and our efforts in Virginia are far from over,” Pedini, who also serves as NORML’s national development director, said. “NORML is dedicated to continuing our work with lawmakers and regulators to advance legislative reforms that are most closely aligned with the views of the majority of Virginians who desire a safe, legal cannabis market. In particular, we hope to expedite the timeline with which Virginia adults will no longer face either criminal or civil penalties for the personal possession and cultivation of cannabis.”

Matt Simon, senior legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, said it’s “exciting that Virginia is on track to end cannabis prohibition and replace it with sensible regulation.”

“Lawmakers in other states are already taking notice and seeking to learn from Virginia’s example,” he said.

Earlier on Saturday, the ACLU of Virginia and other groups had urged lawmakers to defeat the final proposal prior to the release of its actual text, saying that the provisions as described in media reports showed it to be a “symbolic marijuana legalization bill made behind closed doors that does not advance the cause of equal justice and racial justice.”

The Virginia NAACP argued that the bill, based on press accounts, “includes Systemically Racist probable cause provisions” and pledged that its members “will not stand by while Jim Crow’s sister Jane tries to creep her way into Virginia law.”

But after the bill’s text came out, NAACP issued an updated statement saying that while the final legislation “is not perfect, it’s a step in the right direction.”

The ACLU, for its part, maintained its opposition, saying that lawmakers “failed to legalize marijuana for racial justice” and “paid lip service to the communities that have suffered decades of harm caused by the racist War on Drugs with legislation that falls short of equitable reform and delays justice.”

All of this legislative action comes a little over a month after Northam and top lawmakers initially unveiled their legalization proposal.

The cannabis legislation’s structure was informed by separate studies conducted by a legislative research body and a working group made up of state cabinet officials.

Support for legalizing marijuana is strong in Virginia, according to a poll released this month. It found that a majority of adults in the Commonwealth (68 percent) favor adult-use legalization, and that includes most Republicans (51 percent).

The legislature has also taken up a number of other more modest cannabis reform proposals this session.

Bills to allow medical patients to access whole-flower cannabis in addition to oils, facilitate automatic expungements for certain marijuana convictions, protect employment rights of medical cannabis patients and allow those in hospice and nursing facilities to access medical marijuana have also advanced this session.

Virginia lawmakers passed separate legislation last year that decriminalized possession of up to an ounce of marijuana, replacing existing penalties with a $25 civil fine and no threat of jail time. The law took effect last July.

Read a summary of the provisions of the Virginia marijuana legalization conference report below:

Virginia Marijuana Legalization Conference Details by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

New Mexico House Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill, With Senate Action Imminent

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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New Mexico House Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill, With Senate Action Imminent

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The New Mexico House of Representatives on Friday approved a bill to legalize marijuana in the state, one day ahead of a scheduled Senate committee hearing on that chamber’s separate proposals to end cannabis prohibition.

The legislation that cleared the House—which would allow adults 21 and older to possess “at least” two ounces of cannabis and grow up to six mature and six immature plants for personal use—recently sailed through two committees before moving to the floor, where it was approved in a 39-31 vote.

The measure is favored by reform advocates because—unlike other House and Senate reform measures that have been introduced this session—it would prioritize using tax revenue from marijuana sales to support reinvestments in communities most impacted by the war on drugs. It also stands out for including provisions to automatically expunge prior cannabis convictions.

Meanwhile, the Senate Tax, Business & Transportation Committee will take up three separate legalization bills on Saturday.

Rep. Javier Martinez (D) introduced the House legislation, which would establish a system of regulated marijuana sales. It would require rules for the market to be implemented by January 2022.

“As I dove into this work years ago, I realized that, to me, legalizing recreational cannabis is not about the money,” Martinez said on the floor prior to the vote. “It’s a great revenue source for the state, but that’s not why I’m doing it.”

“Legalizing adult use of cannabis is probably going to be good for tourism. Legalizing is probably going to be good in terms of creating jobs and a new homegrown industry,” he said. “But really when you get to the core of why I’m doing this and why I’ve worked on this for so long, it’s because I have seen the faces of the people who have most been impacted by this terrible and unwinnable war on drugs. It’s one that we cannot win.”

The Taxation & Revenue Committee approved a substitute version of the measure on Wednesday that includes a number of changes, including moving the start of legal sales back to January 1, 2022 from October 1 of this year. That would apply to existing medical cannabis dispensaries and microbusinesses, with sales for other retailers set to start September 2022.

Language was also removed in committee that earmarked tax revenue for a community reinvestment fund and a low-income patient subsidy program. The fund accounts will still be created, but it would be up to lawmakers to steer money to them in future sessions once cannabis revenue starts coming in.

Other modifications include language on regulatory authority for the cannabis market, allowing health and safety inspections of businesses, addressing workplace and employment issues, replacing fines and fees for youth who violate the law with a civil infraction penalty, stipulating that people can petition for resentencing for offenses made legal and adjusting the state excise tax on marijuana from nine percent to eight percent while giving local jurisdictions the option to levy an additional four percent tax.

On the floor on Friday, members additionally accepted a technical amendment to add back in a section of the bill that had been inadvertently deleted by committee staff.

Rep. Randal Crowder (R) offered an amendment to allow local jurisdictions to opt out of allowing marijuana businesses. But after it was pointed out to him that its broad language would have unintentionally impacted medical cannabis operations as well as recreational ones, he withdrew it. A second, revised version, was more narrowly drafted to focus only on adult-use operations, but it was blocked by a successful motion to table it.

“Cannabis legalization in New Mexico is one step closer to the finish line,” Emily Kaltenbach, senior director of resident States and New Mexico for the Drug Policy Alliance, said after the vote. “After tonight’s debate, we’re even more optimistic that this bill has a path to the governor’s desk.”

She argued that the House bill is superior to the three measures the Senate panel will take on Saturday.

“Given HB 12 puts the lives of New Mexicans ahead of solely business interests, it is critical it be the vehicle for legalization as the issue moves forward,” she said. “HB 12 legalizes cannabis in an equitable way that begins to repair the harms that have disproportionately impacted Hispanic/Latinx, Black, Native and Indigenous people in New Mexico. New Mexicans are absolutely ready to see marijuana legalization become a reality in the state, but they have made it clear that repairing the damage done by the drug war is non-negotiable.”

For her part, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) has repeatedly talked about the need to legalize as a means to boost the economy, especially amid the coronavirus pandemic. She said during a State of the State address last month that “a crisis like the one we’ve experienced last year can be viewed as a loss or as an invitation to rethink the status quo—to be ambitious and creative and bold.”

The governor also included cannabis legalization as part of her 2021 legislative agenda that she released last month and said in a recent interview that she’s “still really optimistic about cannabis” this session.

That optimism is bolstered by the fact that several anti-legalization Democrats, including the Senate president pro tem and the Finance Committee chair, were ousted by progressive primary challengers last year.

Additional pressure to end cannabis prohibition this year is coming from neighboring Arizona, where voters approved legalization in November and where sales officially launched earlier this month.

New Mexico shares another border with Colorado, one of the first states to legalize for adult use. Cannabis is also expected to be legalized across the southern border in Mexico, with lawmakers facing a Supreme Court mandate to end prohibition by April.

Last year, a bill to legalize cannabis for adult use passed one New Mexico Senate committee only to be rejected in another before the end of the 30-day session.

Earlier, in 2019, the House approved a legalization bill that included provisions to put marijuana sales mostly in state-run stores, but it died in the Senate. Later that year, Lujan Grisham created a working group to study cannabis legalization and issue recommendations.

Polling indicates that voters are ready for the policy change. A survey released in October found that a strong majority of New Mexico residents are in favor of legalization with social equity provisions in place, and about half support decriminalizing drug possession more broadly.

Last May, the governor signaled that she was considering actively campaigning against lawmakers who blocked her legalization bill in 2020. She also said that she’s open to letting voters decide on the policy change via a ballot referendum if lawmakers can’t send a legalization bill to her desk.

Washington Supreme Court Strikes Down Criminalization Of Drug Possession

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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