Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) is again making clear that he has no intention of advancing a bill to protect banks that work with marijuana businesses before the Senate approves his broader, newly unveiled measure to federally legalize cannabis.
The senator—who recently released a draft version of the legislation alongside Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR)—solicited feedback on the proposal on Twitter. But of the dozens of comments, he chose to respond to four for now, and most of those concerned marijuana banking legislation.
Last week, @SenSchumer, @RonWyden & I announced a historic plan to legalize marijuana federally, expunge records & help communities hurt by the failed drug war. This afternoon I’d like to answer your questions about our plan—please ask them by tagging me or use #MarijuanaJustice.
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) July 19, 2021
Booker has maintained a firm opposition to passing the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act before advancing comprehensive reform. He reiterated that point last week, saying he “will lay myself down” to block the incremental policy change before full legalization is enacted.
“I’m telling you right now, if somebody tries in the Senate to do just a banking bill,” Booker said, it would only accomplish further enriching of people in a multi-billion industry without addressing the harms of the drug war.
The senator’s stance was cheered by some social justice advocates who worry that a banking-only bill will bolster the industry while leaving equity concerns unaddressed and jeered by others who say that if only the incremental reform is achievable now it should be pursued while broader efforts continue.
Booker responded to three questions about the controversy on Monday. The senator was pressed on the fact that there may not be enough votes in the Senate to approve a federal legalization bill, but the SAFE Banking Act has bipartisan support and a clearer pathway to passage.
“How can you block #SafeBanking when Safe is desperately needed to hurt black markets & be inclusive to minority communities + usher in social justice reforms?” cannabis investor Jason Spatafora asked. “Safe has GOP sponsors & there is an urgent need to protect small business owners being robbed for cash.”
Booker didn’t directly address the question but said lawmakers “can both address the pressing need for cannabis businesses to access financial institutions and provide real restorative justice for those harmed by the War on Drugs. This is not a zero-sum game.”
We can both address the pressing need for cannabis businesses to access financial institutions and provide real restorative justice for those harmed by the War on Drugs. This is not a zero-sum game. #MarijuanaJustice https://t.co/3xl8Dh2jsu
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) July 19, 2021
Another person said, “I feel that the [legalization] bill will not have enough votes to pass” and, “I think incremental steps may be the way forward such as expunging records, SAFE, elimination of [tax restrictions].”
“How do you see a path forward if it’s all or nothing?” he asked.
“By going comprehensive & setting up a post-legalization system we believe we can build support & make progress on this issue,” the senator replied. “SAFE Banking lacks critical restorative justice provisions & we must do more to help communities unfairly impacted by the War on Drugs.”
By going comprehensive & setting up a post-legalization system we believe we can build support & make progress on this issue. SAFE Banking lacks critical restorative justice provisions & we must do more to help communities unfairly impacted by the War on Drugs. #MarijuanaJustice https://t.co/QBHXnI9Cwm
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) July 19, 2021
In a third question, a person asked: “How is the middle class/poor folk supposed to invest in cannabis in States where it is legal if you won’t pass #safebanking? How are we supposed to get funded for retail stores or grow operations? How can we collect money from sales?”
Again, Booker made the case that ending prohibition “fixes the banking issue.”
Ending the federal marijuana prohibition fixes the banking issue. Additionally, our legislation would create a grant program to help small cannabis businesses owned by socially and economically disadvantaged people. #MarijuanaJustice https://t.co/O9oHNNbYlz
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) July 19, 2021
“Additionally, our legislation would create a grant program to help small cannabis businesses owned by socially and economically disadvantaged people,” he said.
But that’s not quite the point that the three Twitter users were making. The senator declined to address the elephant in the room: it’s quite possible that the wide-ranging legalization bill will not garner the 60 votes needed to pass in the Senate, even while Democrats hold a narrow majority. The SAFE Banking Act, which has passed in some form in the House four times at this point, and enjoys bipartisan support, stands a significantly better chance at passage and could resolve certain issues while lawmakers continue to push for broader reform.
The new legalization legislation was not included as part of the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package that Senate Democrats agreed to last week. And Schumer recognized at the press conference that “we don’t have the votes necessary at this point” to pass cannabis legalization even with a reduced 50-vote threshold under the fiscal maneuver.
During Monday’s Twitter session, Booker did take a fourth, non-banking question.
“How can we establish a market that is equitable and allows businesses of all sizes to thrive?” the Coalition for Cannabis Policy, Education, and Regulation (CPEAR), a group backed by large alcohol and tobacco companies, asked.
“Establishing a market that is equitable is a central component of our bill,” Booker responded. “The bill would create a grant program run by the Small Business Administration to assist small marijuana businesses owned by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.”
Establishing a market that is equitable is a central component of our bill. The bill would create a grant program run by the Small Business Administration to assist small marijuana businesses owned by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals. #MarijuanaJustice https://t.co/YPFI9MElIn
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) July 19, 2021
The senator encouraged Twitter users to continue to submit questions on the proposal and said he would continue to answer some throughout the week.
Thank you to everyone who asked questions about our plan to end the federal prohibition on marijuana. I’ll answer more of them this week—please continue to send any questions you have using #MarijuanaJustice.
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) July 19, 2021
Other questions that Booker has not yet address touch on issues such as state control vs. national legalization, provisions allowing federal agencies to continue drug testing employees for marijuana and whether there is a plan to actually get the votes needed to pass the legislation.
Would you speak to why your bill allows states to continue prohibition instead of legalizing the possession of marijuana nationwide, or at least incentivizing it?
Thank you for your commitment to #MarijuanaJustice since day one and for standing up to CEOs last week, @CoryBooker! https://t.co/njocsDvQIh
— Parabola Center for Law and Policy (@ParabolaCenter) July 19, 2021
What’s your plan to eliminate employer based drug tests for marijuana? I’m a Purple Heart Recipient, with a medical marijuana card, yet, i could still be fired by my employer if they chose to drug test me. #MarijuanaJustice
— William Asquith Farnaby (@KevinMa04852547) July 19, 2021
What is the plan to get the necessary GOP votes to get this passed and end one of the worst and most embarrassing eras of US history? #MarijuanaJustice
— PA Patient Podcast (@PAPatient1) July 19, 2021
The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, an extensive, 163-page document, would federally deschedule cannabis, expunge prior convictions, allow people to petition for resentencing, maintain the authority of states to set their own marijuana policies and remove collateral consequences like immigration-related penalties for people who’ve been criminalized over the plant.
Under the senators’ legalization proposal, a gradual federal tax rate would be imposed on marijuana sales, starting at 10 percent for the first year after the bill’s enactment and the first, subsequent calendar year. It would then increase annually, rising from 15 percent to 20 percent to 25 percent. Starting in the fifth year post-enactment, the tax would be a “per-ounce or per-milligram of THC amount determined by the Secretary of the Treasury equal to 25 percent of the prevailing price of cannabis sold in the United States in the prior year.”
While that 25 percent tax rate might seem high, the legislation builds in significant federal credits for any company’s sales that are under $20 million a year.
The legislation immediately drew mixed reactions from advocates, other lawmakers and the White House.
Minutes after the senators’ press conference to unveil the bill, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked at her own daily briefing about the administration’s position on the legislation.
“Nothing has changed,” regarding President Joe Biden’s longstanding opposition to legalizing marijuana, “and there’s no new endorsements of legislation to report today,” she said.
The sponsors have made clear they are open to suggestions for how the draft proposal can be improved, and they are actively inviting public feedback. For example, they’re especially interested in hearing about measuring cannabis potency, coordinating federal and state law enforcement responsibilities and balancing efforts to reduce barriers to entry to the marijuana industry while mitigating the influence of illicit cannabis operators.
Interested parties are encouraged to submit comments on these and other issues to [email protected] by September 1.
The hope is that the public comment period will help build buy-in from stakeholders and lawmakers, getting them closer to the 60-vote threshold they need to pass the legislation in the Senate. By the looks of it, it’s going to be a tough battle that will require significant negotiations to push legalization across the finish line in the chamber.
The three senators formally started their efforts on the legalization bill by holding a meeting earlier this year with representatives from a variety of advocacy groups to gain feedback on the best approach to the reform.
Schumer made a point in March to say that it will specifically seek to restrict the ability of large alcohol and tobacco companies to overtake the industry. Instead, it will prioritize small businesses, particularly those owned by people from communities most impacted by prohibition, and focus on “justice, justice, justice—as well as freedom,” he said.
He also urged voters to reach out to their congressional representatives and tell them that “this is long overdue.”
Meanwhile, a separate House bill to federally legalize marijuana and promote social equity in the industry was reintroduced in May.
The legislation, sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), was filed with a number of changes compared to the version that was approved by the chamber last year.
The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act passed the House but did not advance in the Senate under GOP control. But this time around, advocates are optimistic that the policy change could be enacted now that Democrats run both chambers and the White House, and as more states are moving to enact legalization.
President Joe Biden, however, is an outlier within the Democratic Party, maintaining an opposition to adult-use legalization despite the widespread and increasingly bipartisan public popularity of the reform. It remains to be seen whether the president—who campaigned on more modest pledges to decriminalize cannabis possession, expunge prior records and respect state legalization laws—would stand in the way of a comprehensive policy change by threatening to veto the bill that’s ultimately produced.
Wyden, who under the chamber’s new Democratic majority assumed the top spot on the Senate Finance Committee—where the new legislation is likely to be referred once formally introduced—recently said his goal will be to “end the prohibition and come up with sensible tax and regulatory oversight at the federal level.”
He said in February that “it’s not enough in my view to just end cannabis prohibition,” and “I think we need to restore the lives of people who’ve been hurt most by the failed war on drugs and especially black Americans.”
All three senators—Schumer, Wyden and Booker—have in past years introduced marijuana legalization bills that never got hearings or votes.
Separately, a proposal to federally deschedule marijuana that does not include social equity components was recently filed by a pair of Republican congressmen.
New York Marijuana Regulatory Board Is Officially Completed With Governor’s Final Appointments
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) on Wednesday announced her final two appointees to regulate the state’s adult-use marijuana market—a key step toward implementing the legalization law signed by her predecessor.
Hochul named two additional Cannabis Control Board members weeks after the Senate confirmed previous appointees earlier this month. The newly named regulators—Reuben McDaniel III of the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York and Jessica García of the UFCW labor union—do not require confirmation by lawmakers.
“New York’s cannabis industry has stalled for far too long—I am making important appointments to set the Office of Cannabis Management up for success so they can hit the ground running,” the governor said in a press release. “I am confident Mr. McDaniel and Ms. Garcia will serve the board with professionalism and experience as we lead our state forward in this new industry.”
Hochul (D), who replaced former Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) last month after he resigned amid a sexual harassment scandal, has been supportive of the legislature’s passage of the adult-use legalization bill this year. And while her predecessor faced criticism as negotiations with legislators on potential appointments stalled, Hochul has now taken the helm and is working with leaders on how to move the process forward.
Under New York’s legalization law, the independent Office of Cannabis Management within the New York State Liquor Authority was established and will be responsible for regulating the recreational cannabis market as well as the existing medical marijuana and hemp programs. It will be overseen by a five-member Cannabis Control Board.
Three members have now been appointed by the governor, and the Senate and Assembly have also appointed one member each.
As it stands, adults 21 and older can possess up to three ounces of cannabis or 24 grams of concentrates in New York—and they can also smoke marijuana in public anywhere tobacco can be smoked—but there aren’t any shops open for business yet.
The first recreational marijuana retailers in New York may actually be located on Indian territory, with one tribe officially opening applications for prospective licensees earlier this month.
In July, a New York senator filed a bill to create a provisional marijuana licensing category so that farmers could begin cultivating and selling cannabis ahead of the formal rollout of the adult-use program. The bill has been referred to the Senate Rules Committee.
Because the implementation process has been drawn out, however, one GOP senator wants to give local jurisdictions another year to decide whether they will opt out of allowing marijuana businesses to operate in their area—a proposal that advocates say is unnecessary and would create undue complications for the industry.
Under the law as enacted, municipalities must determine whether they will opt out of permitting marijuana retailers or social consumption sites by December 31, 2021. Sen. George Borrello (R) introduced legislation late last week that would push that deadline back one year.
Legalization activists aren’t buying the argument, however.
Adding pressure to get the market up and running is the fact that regulators in neighboring New Jersey recently released rules for its adult-use marijuana program, which is being implemented after voters approved a legalization referendum last year.
For the first year of cannabis sales, the state is expected to see just $20 million in tax and fee collections. That will be part of an estimated $26.7 billion in new revenues that New York is expected to generate in fiscal year 2021-2022 under a budget that the legislature passed in April.
Meanwhile, a New York lawmaker introduced a bill in June that would require the state to establish an institute to research the therapeutic potential of psychedelics.
Photo courtesy of Max Pixel.
USDA Wants To Help Hemp Farmers Weed Out Weeds (But Not The Marijuana Kind)
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is teaming up with university researchers to figure out the best ways to keep weeds out of hemp.
To clarify, they want to develop strategies to stop invasive weeds from disrupting hemp cultivation. Not the marijuana kind of weed, but actual weeds.
USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) has granted Cornell University $325,000 to support the weed management study for hemp, which was federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill.
It will be a three-year, “multi-institution, multistate” initiative designed to “provide growers with evidence-based, location-specific recommendations to suppress weeds and maximize yields,” according to a press release.
.@Cornell AgriTech researcher aim to cultivate new methods for managing #weeds to benefit organic #apple and #grape growers, and #hemp producers in New York state and around the country. @USDA_NIFA funded. Read more: https://t.co/kTUrLrAP6A pic.twitter.com/tdpp8MpRWs
— NIFA (@USDA_NIFA) September 22, 2021
Lynn Sosnoskie, assistant professor in the School of Integrative Plant Science at Cornell, will lead the research project.
“The prohibitions on hemp production meant prohibitions on hemp research,” she said. “I get a lot of questions about weed control in hemp, and we don’t have a lot of answers other than generalities. What we’re hoping to do is fill in those details.”
Researchers will investigate potential factors related weed infestations such as planting different varieties, growing the crop at different times and weather impacts. As it stands, farmers have largely relied on trial and error for weed management, Dan Dolgin, co-owner of New York’s first licensed hemp production business, said.
“We’ve kind of been our own R&D,” Dolgin said. “Our big challenge as an organic grower is how to prevent weeds. That’s where we need more experience with growing hemp.”
Virginia Tech, Southern Illinois University, North Dakota State University and Clemson University will also be involved in the hemp study.
USDA also announced last month that it is moving forward with a large-scale survey to gain insight into the hemp market.
After requesting permission from the White House earlier this year to conduct the survey of about 20,000 hemp farmers, the agency’s National Agricultural Statistics Service recently said that the forms are being finalized to be filled out via mail or online.
USDA is asking questions about plans for outdoor hemp production, acreage for operations, primary and secondary uses for the crop and what kinds of prices producers are able to bring in. The questionnaire lists preparations such as smokeable hemp, extracts like CBD, grain for human consumption, fiber and seeds as areas the department is interested in learning about.
Last year, USDA announced plans to distribute a separate national survey to gain insights from thousands of hemp businesses that could inform its approach to regulating the industry.
That survey is being completed in partnership with National Association of State Departments of Agriculture and the University of Kentucky. The department said it wanted to learn about “current production costs, production practices, and marketing practices” for hemp.
There’s still much to learn about the burgeoning market, even as USDA continues to approve state regulatory plans for the crop. Most recently, the agency approved a hemp plan submitted by Colorado, where officials have consistently insisted that the state intends to be a leader in the space.
While USDA’s final rule for hemp took effect on March 22, the agency is evidently still interested in gathering information to further inform its regulatory approach going forward. Industry stakeholders say the release of the final rule is a positive step forward that will provide businesses with needed guidance, but they’ve also pointed to a number of policies that they hope to revise as the market matures such as USDA’s hemp testing requirements.
The federal Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy expressed a similar sentiment in a blog post in February, writing that it is “pleased with some of the changes that [USDA] has made to the rule, as they offer more certainty and are less burdensome to small farmers,” but “some concerns remained unaddressed in the final rule.”
USDA announced in April that it is teaming up with a chemical manufacturing company on a two-year project that could significantly expand the hemp-based cosmetics market.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced last month that it is sponsoring a project to develop hemp fiber insulation that’s designed to be better for the environment and public health than conventional preparations are.
Photo courtesy of Brendan Cleak.
Oklahoma Activists Finalize Language For Two 2022 Marijuana Ballot Initiatives
Oklahoma marijuana activists have finalized the language of initiatives to legalize adult-use marijuana and remodel the state’s existing medical cannabis program that they hope to place on the 2022 ballot.
Oklahomans for Responsible Cannabis Action (ORCA) released draft versions of the proposals earlier this summer, and the group has been soliciting feedback on how best to refine the measures. The group announced on Tuesday that after taking that input into account, they’ve arrived at final text.
Under the recreational legalization measure, adults 21 and older would be able to possess up to eight ounces of marijuana that they purchase from retailers, as well as whatever cannabis they yield from growing up to 12 plants for personal use.
Marijuana sales would be subject to a 15 percent excise tax, and the initiative outlines a number of programs that would receive partial revenue from those taxes. The money would first cover implementation costs and then would be divided to support water-related infrastructure, people with disabilities, substance misuse treatment, law enforcement training, cannabis research and more.
The measure also lays out pathways for resentencing and expungements for those with marijuana convictions.
Oklahoma voters approved medical cannabis legalization at the ballot in 2018. Unlike many state medical marijuana programs, it does not require patients have any specific qualifying conditions; doctors can recommend cannabis for any condition they see fit.
Activists with ORCA want to revamp the program, however. The separate initiative would establish the Oklahoma State Cannabis Commission (OSCC) to oversee all areas of the medical marijuana system. It would also set a seven percent excise tax on medical cannabis sales, with revenue supporting marijuana research, rural impact and urban waste remediation, agriculture development, mental health response programs, substance misuse treatment and more.
But while the measures would appear separately on the ballot if they qualify, activists view them as complementary.
A key example of that is how the adult-use measure calls for a gradual decrease of medical marijuana tax, which would reach zero percent within one year of its enactment. Also, within 60 days of enactment, the state’s existing medical cannabis dispensaries would be permitted to sell to the recreational market.
Oklahoma activists had previously attempted to qualify a legalization measure for the 2020 ballot. They filed a petition to legalize cannabis for adult use in December 2019, but signature gathering fell short due in part to procedural delays and the coronavirus pandemic.
Both of the newly finalized initiatives would be constitutional amendments, meaning activists will need to collect at least 177,958 valid signatures from registered voters on each to qualify them for the ballot.
Oklahoma is one of a growing number of states where activists are working to place drug policy reform before voters next year.
Florida marijuana activists are making another push to place adult-use legalization before voters in 2022, recently filing a new petition with the state after previous versions of the reform were rejected by the state Supreme Court earlier this year.
South Dakota cannabis advocates are now ramping up for a signature gathering effort to put legalization on the 2022 ballot as the state Supreme Court continues to consider a case on the fate of the legal cannabis measure that voters approved last year.
New Hampshire lawmakers are pursuing a new strategy to legalize marijuana in the state that involves putting a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot for voters to decide on in 2022.
Lawmakers in Maryland are also crafting legislation to place a marijuana legalization referendum on the 2022 ballot after the House speaker called for the move.
Nebraska marijuana activists announced recently that they have turned in a pair of complementary initiatives to legalize medical cannabis that they hope to place on the state’s 2022 ballot.
Ohio activists recently cleared a final hurdle to begin collecting signatures for a 2022 ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in the state.
Missouri voters may see a multiple marijuana initiatives on the state’s ballot next year, with a new group filing an adult-use legalization proposal that could compete with separate reform measures that are already in the works.
Arkansas advocates are collecting signatures to place adult-use marijuana legalization on the ballot.
Activists in Idaho are working to advance separate measures to legalize possession of recreational marijuana and to create a system of legal medical cannabis sales. State officials recently cleared activists to begin collecting signatures for a revised initiative to legalize possession of marijuana that they hope to place before voters on the 2022 ballot. Meanwhile, a separate campaign to legalize medical cannabis in the state is also underway, with advocates actively collecting signatures to qualify that measure for next year’s ballot.
After a House-passed bill to legalize marijuana in North Dakota was rejected by the Senate in March, some senators hatched a plan to advance the issue by referring it to voters on the 2022 ballot. While their resolution advanced through a key committee, the full Senate blocked it. However, activists with the group North Dakota Cannabis Caucus are collecting signatures to qualify a constitutional amendment to legalize cannabis for the 2022 ballot.
Wyoming’s attorney general recently issued ballot summaries for proposed initiatives to legalize medical marijuana and decriminalize cannabis possession, freeing up activists to collect signatures to qualify for the 2022 ballot.
And it’s not just marijuana measures that reform activists are seeking to qualify for state ballots next year. A California campaign was recently cleared to begin collecting signatures for an initiative to legalize psilocybin. And advocates in Washington State have announced plans to put a proposal to decriminalize all drug before voters.
Read the text of the Oklahoma adult-use and medical marijuana initiatives below:
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.