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Barbara Lee Files Three Pieces Of Social Justice Marijuana Legislation In One Day

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Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced three wide-ranging marijuana bills in Congress on Thursday.

The congresswoman, who was named as a co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus last month, re-filed legislation to end federal cannabis prohibition, bar the federal government from using funds to interfere in state-legal marijuana programs and encourage reform policies to help communities of color participate in the legal market.

“For far too long, our federal cannabis policies have been rooted in the past. As the public‚Äôs views toward marijuana have evolved, Congress has a responsibility to ensure that our policies are fair, equitable and inclusive,” Lee said in a press release. “Sadly, while some have benefited from recent reforms to state and local cannabis laws, people of color, veterans and other underrepresented communities have been locked out of this progress.”

“Today, I will be introducing three bills to modernize our federal cannabis policies and ensure that everyone can participate in this emerging industry.”

The text of the latest versions of these pieces of legislation are not yet available online, but here’s a summary of what they would accomplish based on the text of earlier versions filed last Congress:

‚ÄĒThe Marijuana Justice Act would remove cannabis from the list of federally controlled substances and penalize states where marijuana enforcement is carried out in a racially disproportionate manner. It has 30 initial cosponsors. (A new version was filed in the Senate as well on Thursday, with several competing Democratic presidential candidates teaming up to cosponsor the legislation.)

‚ÄĒThe¬†Restraining Excessive Federal Enforcement & Regulations of Cannabis (REFER) Act “prohibits the use of funds made available by Congress to a federal department or agency” to intervene in state-legal marijuana programs or penalize financial institutions that service the cannabis industry.¬†It has six initial cosponsors.

‚ÄĒThe¬†Realizing Equitable & Sustainable Participation in Emerging Cannabis Trades (RESPECT) Resolution encourages¬†“states and localities to adopt best practices and take bold steps to address disparities in the cannabis marketplace and to address, reverse, and repair the effects of the war on drugs on communities of color.” It has five initial cosponsors.

In the prior 115th Congress, the Marijuana Justice Act collected 43 House cosponsors.

“The prohibition of marijuana has had a devastating effect on communities of color,” Lee said in an email to NORML members promoting the new version of the legislation. “The Marijuana Justice Act would deschedule marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and seek to correct these racial disparities in arrests and sentencing.”

Lee has been a strong advocate for cannabis reform over her tenure in Congress.

Last month, she responded to people who consider marijuana a silly issue and said “the work is very important and those who know what I‚Äôm doing, they really understand that this is cutting edge‚ÄĒthat we‚Äôre going to build support and we‚Äôre going to win this because the American people want it, states have passed it and you want to do it in a way that makes sense and that‚Äôs lawful and will help everybody.”

But the congresswoman disappointed some reform advocates after she gave Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), a former prosecutor who only relatively recently backed legalizing marijuana, an early endorsement of her bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

Legalization Supporters Slam Kamala Harris Endorsement From Marijuana Reform Champion Barbara Lee

Photo element 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.

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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Cory Booker Endorses Bill To Legalize Marijuana In New Jersey

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Efforts to legalize marijuana in New Jersey received a high-profile endorsement on Friday, with U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) voicing support for the bill in a statement.

The senator, who is a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate and also sponsored congressional legislation to end federal cannabis prohibition, is the latest in a growing list of political leaders who’ve advocated for the bill, which was approved by state Senate and Assembly committees earlier this week and is expected to receive floor votes in both chambers on Monday.

“New Jersey is the first¬†state¬†in the country to couple¬†decriminalizing¬†marijuana with strong criminal justice reform measures to redress the decades of¬†immense¬†harm inflicted¬†by an unfair¬†system,” Booker said. “All too often,¬†communities of color and low-income individuals are unjustly impacted by¬†our¬†broken drug policies, but¬†by including measures to expunge records¬†and reinvest¬†in the communities most impacted, our state has the opportunity to lead¬†in prioritizing social justice.”

The bill’s focus on social equity provisions has been critical in shoring up support as the legislature gets closer to a vote. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) has been putting out calls to advocates and lawmakers to get the legislation advanced, which would fulfill a campaign promise of his.

“With this bill,¬†New Jersey legislators¬†can¬†send a strong message¬†to the country¬†that marijuana legalization and social justice¬†must¬†be¬†inextricably linked,” Booker said. “I‚Äôm hopeful our state will succeed in setting this example.”

It’s been a complicated process to form a coalition united around passing legalization in New Jersey. Disagreements between the governor and lawmakers about certain aspects of the bill such as tax rates and regulatory structures were finally resolved earlier this month when a compromise was reached. And amendments to expand expungement provisions gave the mayors of the state’s two largest cities proper assurance to back the legislation.

That said, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka (D) and Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop (D) continue to push for automatic expungements, as opposed to virtual expungements. Murphy said that automatic expungements is not a feasible policy.

“Now more than ever, we must work together,” the mayors said in a statement on Friday. “Again, we stand in unison in support of this legislation that could potentially become New Jersey‚Äôs law. We should aim to become a model state from which other states can clearly follow. We should address these issues in a manner that protects our communities and the people that live here.”

On Thursday, the governor’s office also released a list of quotes from lawmakers, activists and spiritual leaders voicing support for the legalization legislation.

“If we have learned anything at all, it is that the status quo has been disproportionately unfair to minority communities,”¬†Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D) said. “This bill is a step in the right direction to correct that inequality.”

Senate President¬†Steve Sweeney¬†(D) agreed, saying the legalization bill will “advance social justice, legal justice and economic justice in meaningful ways.”

“This is an opportunity for continued progress as we strive for a society that respects the rights of everyone,” he said.

Whether the legislation will be approved is yet to be seen. NJ.com is keeping track of where lawmakers currently stand on the bill, and as of Friday afternoon their online whip count shows that a majority in the Senate plan to vote against it, while votes allocated so far in the Assembly are roughly even.

New Jersey Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Legalization Bill

Photo courtesy of Jamelle Bouie.

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Connecticut Lawmakers Hold Two Simultaneous Hearings On Marijuana Legalization Bills

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Two Connecticut committees held hearings on bills to legalize marijuana and expand the state’s medical cannabis program on Friday.

The proposed legislation would permit adults 21 and older to possess, purchase and consume certain amounts of marijuana for personal use. The House bill also includes a number of social equity provisions that are meant to encourage people from communities that were disproportionately impacted by prohibition to participate in the legal industry.

While reform advocates generally support the bills, they’ve also made a series of recommendation to increase the focus on restorative justice and to include policies such as allowing home cultivation.

In the legislature’s General Law Committee, witnesses including a commissioner for the state’s medical cannabis program and social equity advocates testified about HB 7371. That bill would establish a governor-appointed commission to regulate the industry, give licensing priority to individuals from communities most impacted by the drug war and require the commission to conduct a study on permitting a home grow option and microbusinesses.

“The time has come to move this forward. We think this is a fantastic start [and] there is definitely some amazing language in here,” Jason Ortiz, president of Connecticut United for Reform and Equity (CURE), said at the hearing. “There‚Äôs just some other pieces that we think undermine the really good parts that we can strike out and maybe amend and move the basic ideas forward.”

Advocates want to change the legislation so that home cultivation and microbusinesses are allowed from the outset, for example.

“Marijuana prohibition was borne of misinformation and racism and it continues to be enforced unequally to this day,” Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies at the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), testified.

Over in the Judiciary Committee, experts dedicated significant time to testimony about the public health and safety impacts of cannabis legalization. Lawmakers pressed the witnesses on issues such as labeling requirements, what kinds of edibles should be allowed, impaired driving and the mental health affects of consuming high-THC marijuana varieties.

The bill before that panel, SB 1085, would also legalize cannabis for adult use. But the legislation has a focus on expungements for individuals with prior marijuana convictions for possession of 1.5 ounces or less.

As with the House bill, advocates are supportive of the spirit of the legislation but feel certain provisions fall short. For example, MPP said that expungements should apply to convictions for any kind of cannabis conviction. The organization also called for a home grow option, which is not included in either legalization bill under consideration.

Two other pieces of cannabis legislation were discussed at the Judiciary committee hearing. One would create a misdemeanor penalty for driving while consuming marijuana and provide $500,000 in funding for law enforcement to train officers as drug recognition experts. The other bill specifies that employers don’t have to provide special accommodations for employees who use cannabis while working.

As one of the states considered most likely to legalize cannabis in 2019, the hearings offer another example of how the conversation around reform has shifted from “should it be legal” to “how should it be legal,” with the hearings largely concentrated on defining and promoting social equity provisions.

If either bill makes it through the legislature, Gov. Ned Lamont (D) is expected to sign.

He’s called the issue one of his “priorities” for the current legislative session and spoke about the issue during a budget speech last month.

Committee votes are expected on Monday.

Military Veterans Organizations Press Congress On Medical Marijuana Research

Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

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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GOP Lawmakers Want Marijuana Banking Vote Delayed In Congress

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A key congressional committee¬†is scheduled to vote on far-reaching legislation that would¬†expand marijuana businesses’ ability to store their profits in banks¬†on Tuesday.

But key Republican lawmakers on the panel are now asking Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) to delay the vote.

Please visit Forbes to read the rest of this piece.

(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)

Read the full letter seeking a delay in the marijuana banking vote below:

GOP seeks delay on marijuan… by on Scribd

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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