Connect with us

Politics

Congress Should Pass Marijuana Legalization Bill Amid Coronavirus, Coalition Of Justice Groups Urges

Published

on

A coalition of civil rights and drug policy reform groups—including the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, Drug Policy Alliance and NORML—is circulating a letter to members of Congress, imploring them to sign onto a comprehensive marijuana legalization bill that places an emphasis on restorative justice.

Collectively known as the Marijuana Justice Coalition (MJC), the organizations said their request is especially urgent in light of the coronavirus pandemic and national protests over police brutality. Given these problems, “marijuana reform as a modest first step at chipping away at the war on drugs is more relevant and more pressing than ever before,” they wrote.

The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act from Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) “remains the most effective and equitable way forward,” the letter states.

“In the face of COVID-19, the MORE Act is needed now more than ever before,” the coalition, which also includes the Center for American Progress, Leadership Council on Civil and Human Rights and United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, wrote.

“Looking towards long-term economic recovery, we must remove barriers to employment for those who have lost jobs, create new businesses and employment opportunities to help replace those that have disappeared and that will not be coming back, and to raise billions of dollars in new tax revenue to off-set the devastating economic losses to state and local governments,” they said.

The MJC members argued that the MORE Act would achieve that, partly through a five percent tax on cannabis sales at the manufacturer level. The bill “will ensure that the economic recovery effort is equitable and just,” they wrote.

The legislation was approved by the Judiciary Committee last year, and it’s been referred to several other committees that have yet to act on it and clear a path to the House floor. So far, it has amassed 76 cosponsors since its introduction.

Beyond the economic benefits of the reform, MJC said “federal descheduling and expungement will drastically reduce the burden of marijuana charges and arrests in the criminal justice system.”

“This would help begin the long overdue reversal of mass incarceration in the U.S.—which is more timely than ever in the times of mass mobilizations for police reform and in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic ravaging jails and prisons,” the letter states. “The MORE Act focuses on creating community infrastructure and supports that diminish contact with the criminal justice system.”

The bill would also create a pathway for resentencing for those incarcerated for marijuana offenses, as well as protect immigrants from being denied citizenship over cannabis and prevent federal agencies from denying public benefits or security clearance due to its use.

“We must take every possible action to reduce rates of arrests and incarceration in order to limit the spread of the virus and bring long overdue justice to communities plagued by marijuana overenforcement and racially biased policing,” it continues. “The seismic circumstances brought by 2020 have demonstrated the pressing need for a legal marijuana industry grounded in equity, justice, and commonsense.”

Other MJC members signing the new letter include the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, National Association of Social Workers and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) made a similar call last month for the MORE Act’s passage as part of the congressional conversation over policing reform.

He and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) also led a “Dear Colleague” letter that month, asking members to “consider another crucial issue towards criminal justice reform: eliminating the failed prohibition on cannabis.”

Read MJC’s letter to members of Congress on the MORE Act below:

MJC Letter MORE Act Statement by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

Mitch McConnell Says Legal Hemp Industry Off To A ‘Rocky Start’

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.

Politics

Sixth Minnesota House Committee Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill On Its Path To The Floor

Published

on

A bill to legalize marijuana in Minnesota is going through a thorough vetting process, with a sixth House committee on Wednesday giving the reform proposal a green light following a hearing.

House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D), Speaker Melissa Hortman (D) and other lawmakers filed the measure in February. It would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis and cultivate up to eight plants, four of which could be mature.

Days after a separate panel approved the legislation with amendments, the House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee passed it in a 9-7 vote.

“The purpose of House File 600 is to eliminate the harm that cannabis has in our society,” Winkler said of the bill at the hearing. “The primary harm that cannabis poses in Minnesota is the prohibition and criminal enforcement of cannabis.”

“The goal of House File 600 is to shift in a legal marketplace that is policed and over-policed disproportionately and instead to create a policy of repair, an opportunity for those most adversely affected by the war on drugs,” he said.

The House Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee was the last body to approve the bill, on Monday, and members there adopted a number of changes to the proposal. For example, it now stipulates that members of a cannabis advisory council established under the bill could not serve as lobbyists while on the panel and for two years after they end their service.

Before that hearing, the House Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee, the Workforce and Business Development Finance and Policy Committee, the Labor, Industry, Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee and the Commerce Finance and Policy Committee each advanced the measure.

Its next stop is the State Government Finance and Elections Committee.

Winkler recently said that he expects the legislation to go through any remaining panels by the end of April, with a floor vote anticipated in May.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 900 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.

Still, even if the legislation does make it all the way through the House, it’s expected to face a significant challenge in the Republican-controlled Senate, where lawmakers have signaled that they’re more interested in revising the state’s existing medical cannabis program than enacting legalization of adult use.

After the New York legislature approved a recreational cannabis legalization bill—which the governor promptly signed into law—Winkler said that Minnesota is “falling behind a national movement towards progress.”

“MN has some of the worst criminal justice disparities in the country, and legalizing cannabis & expunging convictions is a first step towards fixing that,” he tweeted.

The majority leader’s bill as introduced was identical to a proposal he filed last year, with some minor technical changes. Winkler, who led a statewide listening to gather public input ahead of the measure’s introduction, called it the “best legalization bill in the country” at the time. It did not advance in that session, however.

Under the legislation, social equity would be prioritized, in part by ensuring diverse licensing and preventing the market from being monopolized by corporate players. Prior marijuana records would also be automatically expunged.

On-site consumption and cannabis delivery services would be permitted under the bill. And unlike in many legal states, local municipalities would be banned from prohibiting marijuana businesses from operating in their areas.

Retail cannabis sales would be taxed at 10 percent. Part of that revenue would fund a grant program designed to promote economic development and community stability.

The bill calls for the establishment of a seven-person Cannabis Management Board, which would be responsible for regulating the market and issuing cannabis business licenses. It was amended in committee month to add members to that board who have a social justice background.

People living in low-income neighborhoods and military veterans who lost honorable status due to a cannabis-related offense would be considered social equity applicants eligible for priority licensing.

Cannabis retails sales would launch on December 31, 2022.

Gov. Tim Walz (D) is also in favor of ending marijuana prohibition, and in January he called on lawmakers to pursue the reform as a means to boost the economy and promote racial justice. He did not include a request to legalize through his budget proposal, however.

Walz did say in 2019 that he was directing state agencies to prepare to implement reform in anticipation of legalization passing.

Winkler, meanwhile, said in December that if Senate Republicans don’t go along with the policy change legislatively, he said he hopes they will at least let voters decide on cannabis as a 2022 ballot measure.

Heading into the 2020 election, Democrats believed they had a shot of taking control of the Senate, but that didn’t happen.

The result appears to be partly due to the fact that candidates from marijuana-focused parties in the state earned a sizable share of votes that may have otherwise gone to Democrats, perhaps inadvertently hurting the chances of reform passing.

In December, the Minnesota House Select Committee On Racial Justice adopted a report that broadly details race-based disparities in criminal enforcement and recommends a series of policy changes, including marijuana decriminalization and expungements.

Alabama Medical Marijuana Bill Moves Closer To Floor Vote With House Committee Action

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.
Continue Reading

Politics

Alabama Medical Marijuana Bill Moves Closer To Floor Vote With House Committee Action

Published

on

An Alabama House committee on Wednesday amended a medical marijuana legalization bill that already passed the Senate. Members also took public testimony in advance of an expected Thursday vote to send the revised legislation to the House floor.

This hearing of the House Health Committee comes one week after a separate panel in the body amended and cleared the bill.

Sponsored by Sen. Tim Melson (R), the legislation would allow people with qualifying conditions to access cannabis for therapeutic purposes. The full Senate approved the bill last month.

“I just want to take [cannabis] to the patients that need it. I want to see people get relief,” the senator said at the meeting. He also made the case that allowing legal access can mitigate opioid overdose deaths.

Melson is the same lawmaker who sponsored similar legislation that was approved by the full Senate last year but which later died without any House votes amid the coronavirus pandemic.

This latest proposal would establish an Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission to implement regulations and oversee licensing.

To qualify for the program, patients would have to be diagnosed with one of about 20 conditions, including anxiety, sleep disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and intractable pain. Regulators would not be able to independently add additional conditions, leaving that decision up to lawmakers.

The House Judiciary Committee approved 10 amendments to the legislation during last week’s hearing. For example, members agreed to scrap provisions providing reciprocity for out-of-state patients and reducing the percentage of marijuana tax revenue that would go to cannabis research from 30 to 15 percent.

Those amendments were integrated into a new substitute version of the bill adopted by the Health panel, with additional revisions such as removing anxiety and adding depression and Parkinson’s disease as qualifying conditions for medical cannabis. The committee voted to accept the substitute version for consideration before going into testimony.

Time was evenly divided between supporters and opponents. By and large, the conversation revolved around personal anecdotes about the medical benefits and risks of marijuana.

More amendments were added following the testimony. One change would add an annual registration fee for physicians who recommend cannabis. Another would give the state attorney general’s office access to a patient registry database.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 900 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.

Members further approved an amendment to remove fibromyalgia and menopause from the list of qualifying conditions and another to expand the number of institutions that are eligible for grants to research marijuana. A revision to develop a uniform flavor for all cannabis products was also accepted.

Additionally, an amendment was approved to require dispensaries to have 24-hour security cameras operating in their facilities. These changes are all being added to a new substitute that the panel will take up and vote on Thursday.

Because the proposal has been amended, it would go back to the Senate for final consideration if it’s passed in the House before being sent to the governor’s desk.

Advocates say they’re encouraged that medical cannabis reform is advancing in Alabama, but they’ve raised concerns about a number of aspects of the bill.

One problematic provision, advocates say, is that patients with chronic or intractable pain could only be recommended medical marijuana in cases where “conventional therapeutic intervention and opiate therapy is contraindicated or has proved ineffective.”

The bill also prohibits raw cannabis, smoking, vaping and candy or baked good products. Patients would instead be allowed to purchase capsules, lozenges, oils, suppositories and topical patches.

Patients would be allowed to purchase and possess up to “70 daily dosages of medical cannabis.” Under an amendment approved on the Senate floor, the maximum daily dose was reduced from 75 to 50 milligrams. However, the amendment’s sponsor said it could be increased to 75 milligrams in some circumstances.

The revision also calls for a label on marijuana products to indicate that cannabis can cause drowsiness.

It also calls for a nine percent gross proceeds tax on medical marijuana sales.

Patients, caregivers and and medical cannabis businesses would receive legal protections under the proposal, preventing them from being penalized for activities authorized by the state.

For physicians to be able to recommend cannabis to patients, they would have to complete a four-hour continuing education course and pass an exam. The course would cost upwards of $500 and doctors would also be required to take refresher classes every two years.

Under the bill, regulators would be tasked with developing restrictions on advertising and setting quality control standards. Seed-to-sale tracking and laboratory testing would be mandated.

Other changes approved in the Senate would add language to stipulate that gelatinous cannabis products cannot be sugar coated and insert provisions promoting good manufacturing practices and tamper-evident packaging.

Applications for cannabis business licenses would have to be accepted starting September 1, 2022 and then proceeded within 60 days.

The commission would be required to approve at least four cultivators, up to four processors, up to four dispensaries for the first year of implementation (more could be approved after that point depending on demand) and as many as five vertically integrated operators.

This bill’s reintroduction has been greatly anticipated by advocates. The Senate approved a separate medical cannabis bill in 2019, but the House later severely compromised it. The legislation as enacted would not have legalized patient access; rather, it set up a study commission to explore the issue and make recommendations.

The commission came back with its report in December 2019, with members recommending that medical marijuana be legalized.

There could be additional pressure on the legislature to enact legalization given that voters in neighboring Mississippi approved a medical cannabis reform initiative during the November election.

Separately, the Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill last month to decriminalize possession of up to two ounces of cannabis, making it punishable by a $250 fine without the threat of jail time.

Majority Of Connecticut Residents Back Marijuana Legalization And Expungements, Poll Finds As Reform Bills Advance

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.
Continue Reading

Politics

Former Gov. Rick Perry Urges Texas Lawmakers To Pass Psychedelics Study Bill

Published

on

“All of that properly done in the right type of clinical setting will save a multitude of lives,” Perry said. “I’m convinced of it. I have seen it enough of these young men.”

By Patrick Svitek, The Texas Tribune

Rick Perry, in a rare return to policy debates in Austin, is teaming up with a Democratic state lawmaker to push for psychedelic drug therapy for veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The former Republican governor is throwing his support behind a bill by state Rep. Alex Dominguez, D-Brownsville, that calls for a clinical study of psilocybin—the active ingredient in “magic mushrooms”—to treat PTSD in veterans.

“To me, this may be one of the most hopeful pieces of legislation that the members of the Legislature have the opportunity to consider this session,” Perry said in an interview Tuesday.

Some studies have suggested that psilocybin could be safe and effective in treating mental health disorders like depression, while calling for larger studies with more thorough methods.

Perry said he has “historically been a very anti-drug person” and still firmly opposes legalization for recreational uses. However, he said he has seen through his longtime advocacy for veterans how psychedelic drugs can provide relief to former service members who have exhausted other options — and are traveling to other countries, like Mexico, to receive treatment.

“All of that properly done in the right type of clinical setting will save a multitude of lives,” Perry said. “I’m convinced of it. I have seen it enough of these young men.”

Perry is set to join Dominguez for a news conference on his proposal Wednesday morning at the state Capitol. The news conference will also be attended by veterans that Perry has gotten close to over the years, including retired Navy SEAL Morgan Luttrell and Dakota Meyer, a Marine veteran and Medal of Honor recipient.

Dominguez’s House Bill 1802 would direct the Health and Human Services Commission to conduct the clinical study of psilocybin in partnership with a health sciences university and a Veterans Affairs hospital. The proposal would also ask HHSC to do a literature review—a survey of prior studies—of using not just psilocybin but also MDMA and ketamine to treat PTSD in veterans.

HHSC would have to submit quarterly progress reports on its study, and it would have a deadline of Dec. 1, 2024, to deliver final findings to the the so-called “Big Three”—the governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker—as well as members in both chambers.

The bill was referred to the House Public Health Committee last month but has not received a hearing yet.

Texas has largely avoided loosening its drug laws in recent years as a growing number of states have legalized marijuana for recreational use. The state has legalized marijuana with limited levels of THC—the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that makes people feel high—for people with certain debilitating illnesses, but eligibility is limited and relatively few people have signed up.

Noting the influence that the Big Three could have if they get behind a proposal, Perry said he’s talked with the offices of Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and that the speaker’s office has been briefed on it. He added that he is hoping that Republicans can “get comfortable [that], ‘Hey, this is not some recreational drug thing,'” but a life-changing treatment for veterans when handled carefully.

Dominguez said in an interview that he has found that colleagues on both sides of the aisle are “very supportive” of studying the issue.

“I think in general we’re supportive of veterans issues and certainly there’s maybe a generational discussion to be had… But I found most members want to hear the science,” Dominguez said, emphasizing the study would go through a “controlled process” and that there would be “a number of safeguards in place to make sure that nobody abuses this and we learn the efficacy.”

The lawmaker said his interest in the issue comes from his time as a prosecutor in Cameron County, which set up a veterans treatment court in 2014.

Perry has largely stayed out of state legislative matters since leaving office in 2015, unsuccessfully running for president in 2016 and then joining former President Donald Trump’s Cabinet as energy secretary. He stepped down as energy secretary in late 2019.

But Perry is not unfamiliar with the Legislature, though, and particularly the House. He served there from 1985 to 1991—first as a Democrat and then as a Republican.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune.

With State Law Against Drug Possession Overturned, Washington Governor Frees 15 People From Prison

Photo elements courtesy of carlosemmaskype and Apollo.

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.
Continue Reading
Advertisement

Marijuana News In Your Inbox

Support Marijuana Moment

Marijuana News In Your Inbox

Marijuana Moment