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Congressional Black Caucus Focuses On Marijuana Legalization At Conference

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Over the next two days, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Foundation will hold four panels dedicated to marijuana policy as part of the group’s Annual Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C.

The events will feature lawmakers and advocates discussing a wide range of issues related to cannabis, including a look at the future of the industry, access to banking services for marijuana businesses and legislation to end prohibition while promoting social equity.

Rep. Stacey Plaskett (D-VI) will lead the first marijuana panel on Thursday, which is titled “The Future of Cannabis-Hemp in the United States.” Neal Levine, CEO of the Cannabis Trade Federation, will also appear in that group.

“Lawmakers are increasingly recognizing the intersections between our nation’s cannabis policies and other issues, and there is a strong and growing sense that change is needed at the federal level,” Levine told Marijuana Moment. “It touches everything from public safety, to criminal and social justice, to the economy, and the environment.”

“Public attitudes have shifted strongly in favor of ending cannabis prohibition, and its seeming inevitability has inspired members of Congress to take a far more proactive approach on the subject,” he said.

Later in the day, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), who is a co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, is set to host a panel discussion on the Marijuana Justice Act—legislation that would deschedule cannabis and also penalize states that continue to carry out marijuana enforcement in a discriminatory manner.

Drug Policy Alliance Policy Coordinator Queen Adesuyi and Center for American Progress Senior Policy Analyst Maritza Perez will participate.

“We are excited about being part of such important conversations taking place around equity and the need for reforming our marijuana laws,” Perez told Marijuana Moment. “It’s clear that public sentiment is moving toward marijuana legalization and that people and lawmakers alike recognize that we must start by repairing the harm the war on drugs brought to low-income communities of color.”

“Congress has the historic opportunity to address this harm by bringing the MORE Act to a floor vote this fall,” she said, referencing a legalization bill sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY).

Adesuyi told Marijuana Moment that the volume of cannabis-focused panels is “yet another promising and historic signal of the ever increasing support for substantive cannabis reform for key members of the CBC and Congress broadly, as we work to get the most comprehensive bill [the MORE Act] ending cannabis prohibition to be introduced in Congress passed this year.”

“This year’s Annual Legislative Conference takes on special meaning as we mark the 400th anniversary of enslaved Africans arriving on our shores,” Lee said in a press release. “I’m excited to gather with my colleagues from around the country to address the most pressing issues in the African American community—ranging from the legacy of the failed War on Drugs to health disparities facing our friends and families.”

On Friday, Gia Moron, president of Women Grow, is scheduled to discuss cannabis and banking at another event.

The chair of CBC, Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), will hold a two-hour panel titled “Social Equity in Marijuana Legalization,” another indicator that as Congress takes cannabis legislation back up after returning from recess, CBC members are likely to emphasize equity and restorative justice in any legislative attempts to legalize cannabis.

CBC has been a leader in promoting marijuana reform and pushing the conversation forward as it concerns racial disparities in cannabis enforcement under prohibition. The organization’s 2018 conference included two panels that also looked at social equity issues, as well as civil engagement related to marijuana.

In a policy statement released last year, CBC called for cannabis decriminalization and automatic expungements for those with prior marijuana misdemeanor convictions, noting that people “should not have to suffer today for previously illegal behavior that is now allowable in their community.”

Ending cannabis prohibition was also included in the group’s list of “must-do” policy proposals the caucus published in advance of last year’s elections that it said the House should pursue within 100 days if Democrats reclaimed the chamber.

Here’s What Legal Marijuana Advocates Would Ask Presidential Candidates At The Debate

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Top Trump Campaign Spokesman: Marijuana Must Be ‘Kept Illegal’

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Asked in a new interview about President Trump’s position on changing federal marijuana laws, a top reelection campaign aide said the administration’s policy is that cannabis and other currently illegal drugs should remain illegal.

“I think what the president is looking at is looking at this from a standpoint of a parent of a young person to make sure that we keep our kids away from drugs,” Marc Lotter, director of strategic communications for the Trump 2020 effort, said in an interview with Las Vegas CBS affiliate KLAS-TV.

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.)

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.

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Virginia Marijuana Decriminalization Gets Closer To Governor’s Desk With New Amendments

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One week after bills to decriminalize marijuana in Virginia were passed by both the House and Senate, they advanced again on Wednesday in committee votes, where they were revised in an effort to ease the path to the governor’s desk.

The goal was to make the language of the bills identical, with lawmakers hoping to streamline the process by avoiding sending differing pieces of decriminalization legislation to a bicameral conference committee to resolve differences.

The House of Delegates and Senate were under pressure to approve their respective versions of decriminalization ahead of a crossover deadline last week. After clearing floor votes in their respective chambers, the Senate-passed bill was sent to the House Court of Justice Committee, while the House’s legislation was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Those panels amended the bills and advanced them on Wednesday, with senators voting 10-4 to advance the revised legislation and delegates voting 8-5. However, the Senate panel also struck a part of the text of a compromise substitute version concerning a record clearing provision while the House committee accepted the substitute as offered.

That means it will be up to the Finance Committees to resolve the remaining differences if lawmakers hope to skip the conference step prior to full floor votes in both chambers.

Regardless of the unexpected complication, advocates said the new committee actions represent a positive development.

“Fortunately, the patrons were able to reach a consensus and move the bills forward,” Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “Virginians have waited long enough for this important step, one that will dramatically reduce both marijuana arrests and the collateral consequences that follow such charges.”

The legislation as amended would make possession of up to one ounce a civil penalty punishable by a $25 fine without the threat of jail time. Currently, simple possession is punishable by a maximum $500 fine and up to 30 days in jail.

A provision that would have allowed courts to sentence individuals to up to five hours of community service in lieu of the civil penalty was removed with the latest revisions. The bill also stipulates that juveniles found in possession of cannabis will be treated as delinquent, rather than go through a less punitive process for a “child in need of service.”

Language providing a means to seal prior records for marijuana convictions was successfully reinserted into the House Courts of Justice Committee-passed bill after it was previously removed and placed in a separate expungement bill. That latter legislation is stalled, so lawmakers put it back into the decriminalization measure via the substitute to ensure its enactment.

The Senate Judiciary moved to delete that section, however, creating complications for avoiding a conference committee.

Meanwhile, the House Rules Committee voted in favor of a separate Senate-passed resolution on Wednesday that calls for the establishment of a joint commission to “study and make recommendations for how Virginia should go about legalizing and regulating the growth, sale, and possession of marijuana by July 1, 2022, and address the impacts of marijuana prohibition.” That vote was 12-5.

That’s a significant step, as the legislature is generally reluctant to enact bold reform without first conducting a study on the issue.

While Gov. Ralph Northam (D) is in favor of decriminalization, including a call for the policy change in his State of the Commonwealth address last month, he’s yet to embrace adult-use legalization. That said, Attorney General Mark Herring (D), who is running to replace the term-limited governor in 2021, said he’s optimistic that Northam will come around on the issue.

Herring organized a cannabis summit late last year to hear from officials representing states that have already legalized marijuana. That’s one tool he said the governor could use as he considers broader reform.

Also on Wednesday, the House Courts of Justice Criminal Subcommittee advanced another Senate-passed bill to formally legalize possession of CBD and THC-A medial cannabis preparations that are recommended by a doctor, an expansion of the current policy simply offers patients arrested with it an affirmative defense in court.

For now, Virginia seems to be on the path to become the 27th state to decriminalize marijuana, and the first to do so in 2020. Last year, three states—New MexicoHawaii and North Dakota—also approved the policy change.

Alabama Lawmakers Approve Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill

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Alabama Lawmakers Approve Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill

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An Alabama Senate committee approved a bill on Wednesday that would legalize medical marijuana in the state.

The legislation would allow patients with qualifying conditions to purchase cannabis products from licensed dispensaries. It would be a limited system, however, prohibiting patients from smoking or vaping marijuana.

The Senate Judiciary Committee cleared the bill in a 8-1 vote, with one abstention. The next stop for the legislation will be the Senate floor.

The proposal would establish the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission, which would be responsible for overseeing a patient registry database, issuing medical cannabis cards and approving licenses for marijuana dispensaries, cultivators, transporters and testing facilities.

This vote comes two months after a panel created by the legislature, the Medical Cannabis Study Commission, issued a recommendation that Alabama implement a medical cannabis program.

The full Senate approved a medical cannabis legalization bill last year, but it was diluted in the House to only provide for the establishment of the study commission. Sen. Tim Melson (R) sponsored both versions of the legislation and served as chairman of the review panel.

The current bill has been revised from the earlier version. For example, this one does not require patients to exhaust traditional treatment options before they can access medical cannabis.

The committee also approved a series of amendments by voice vote, including several technical changes to the bill. Another one would shield physicians from liability for recommending medical cannabis. One would clarify that employees are ineligible for workers’ compensation for accidents caused by being intoxicated by medical cannabis, which is the same standard as other drugs.

Watch the Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee debate and vote on medical cannabis below:

Members also agreed to an amendment creating a restriction on who can be on the cannabis commission.

While it’s not clear how the House would approach the bill if it advances to the chamber this year, the speaker said this week that he’s “in a wait and see mode” and commended Melson for his work on the measure. The state’s attorney general, meanwhile, sent a letter to lawmakers expressing opposition to the reform move.

Under the measure, patients suffering from 15 conditions would qualify for the program. Those include anxiety, cancer, epilepsy and post-traumatic stress disorder. Patients would be able to purchase up to a 70-day supply at a time, and there would be a cap of 32 dispensaries allowed in the state.

Prior to the vote, committee heard from a series of proponents and opponents, including parents who shared anecdotes about the therapeutic benefits of cannabis for their children. Interest in the reform move was so strong that an overflow crowd has to be moved to a separate hearing room.

“Sometimes people are not able to empathize with others who have gone through something. I guarantee you if one of relatives, members of the legislature, went through something like the testimonies that we’ve heard today, they would want it,” Sen. Vivian Figures (D) said. “But they would probably have the means to fly somewhere and get it.”

There would be a number of restrictions under the bill when it comes to advertising. It would also require seed-to-sale tracking for marijuana products, set packaging and labeling requirements and impose criminal background checks for licensed facility employees.

A nine percent tax would be levied on “gross proceeds of the sales of medical cannabis” sold at a retail medical cannabis dispensary. Part of those funds would go toward creating a new Consortium for Medical Cannabis Research, which would provide grants to study the plant.

Last year, the Senate Judiciary Committee also approved a bill to decriminalize marijuana.

Kentucky Lawmakers Approve Medical Marijuana Bill In Committee Vote

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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