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Congressional Funding Bill Restores Financial Aid For Students With Drug Convictions, And Has Other Marijuana Provisions



Students would no longer be disqualified from receiving federal financial aid over past drug convictions under a large-scale, bipartisan spending bill introduced in Congress that’s expected to receive floor votes on Monday.

While the main function of the omnibus bill is to keep the government funded through September 2021 and provide assistance amid the coronavirus pandemic, the proposal finally eliminates a question on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) that prompts students to disclose prior drug offenses.

The new appropriations and COVID relief legislation also contains a number of other cannabis-related provisions such as the extension of a longstanding rider protecting state-legal medical marijuana programs from federal interference and a ban on Washington, D.C. legalizing recreational sales. Meanwhile, despite a push from the marijuana and financial services industries, it does not contain any language to shield banks that service cannabis businesses from being penalized by regulators. Importantly, it also extends a 2014 pilot program for hemp until 2022—a win for stakeholders who have been concerned about its expiration.

Meanwhile, a series of reports attached to the legislation contain discussion of hemp and CBD regulations and adding questions about marijuana edibles and flavored vaping products as part of a federal youth drug use survey, among other topics.

For the most part, this bill represents a continuation of past marijuana statutes that have been annually renewed through the appropriations process. But the financial aid reform is a significant victory for advocates who have been working for decades to quash the drug conviction question, which they argue is racially discriminatory and unnecessarily punitive when it comes to access to education.

Buried in the 5,593-page legislation is a subtle and easily overlooked change that doesn’t explicitly reference the FAFSA language. It simply strikes the subsection of the Higher Education Act that sets that drug-related eligibility standard.

Rachel Wissner, co-interim executive director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), told Marijuana Moment that the group “was founded in 1998 in large part as a response to remove the Aid Elimination Penalty.”

“This amendment has denied federal financial aid to hundreds of thousands of students, particularly burdening students of color from communities marginalized by the War on Drugs,” she said. “Over the last two decades, we have been fighting alongside other drug policy reform and education organizations to scale back the penalty.”

“Now that the penalty has fully been repealed, SSDP looks forward to the opportunity to work with Congress and the new administration on broader drug policy reform that ensure those who have been most harmed by the war on drugs are not left behind,” she added. “We celebrate that Congress has finally accepted that a drug conviction does not mean that someone should be denied access to higher education.”

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) championed the reform in bipartisan negotiations and said in a press release that “every single person in this country should be able to access and afford a quality higher education—and today we move substantially closer to that goal.”

“I’m incredibly pleased that these students will finally be able to access aid and begin and continue their education,” the senator, who also helped secure language to restore Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated students, said.

Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, said that these reforms “represent a major victory for students who have been unfairly deterred from pursuing higher education.”

“No one should be denied access to education because of a criminal record,” he said. “For more than twenty years, these policies have punished students who rely on federal aid to attend college and disproportionately harmed Black and Brown people targeted by drug enforcement.”

Beyond the education policy change, the spending bill also retains language that prevents the Justice Department from using its funds to interfere in state-legal medical cannabis programs. The measure has been part of federal law since 2014 and the new version was updated to add South Dakota to the list of states that are protected since voters there approved a medical marijuana reform initiative last month.

However, negotiators declined to adopt broader language from House-passed appropriations legislation that would have extended those protections to all state and tribal cannabis programs, including those for adult use.

There are a few other disappointments for advocates in the new bill as well. For example, a rider that prevents D.C. from using its local tax dollars to implement retail marijuana sales was kept in the text. The proposal also maintains language stipulating that federal dollars cannot be spent on “any activity that promotes the legalization of any drug or other substance in Schedule I.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) attempted to get that provision nixed through an amendment to spending legislation last year, but the House rejected the proposed reform in a floor vote.

Another setback for reform allies concerns the COVID-19 portions of the omnibus bill. The House on two occasions included in their versions of relief legislation language that would protect banks that service state-legal cannabis businesses from being penalized by federal regulators. But despite passing both times, it was not added to the final bicameral bill. And more limited marijuana banking language that the House passed as part of its version of an annual spending bill was also not included.

Earlier this year, the House inserted language into its version of spending legislation that would have provided protections against universities losing funding for studying cannabis, but that did not make it into the final appropriations bill.

Additionally, the new large-scale legislation does not make any mention of extending coronavirus relief benefits to the marijuana industry through the Paycheck Protection Program, despite months of industry appeals for fair and equal access to the funds.

A couple of sections of the bill do continue protections for the hemp market, however. They prevent the Justice Department from using its funds to interfere with the hemp pilot program detailed in the 2014 Farm Bill or lawful research into the crop.

A report on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) spending provisions touches on various issues with USDA’s proposed hemp regulations that businesses have been flagging, including restrictive testing protocols and the limited THC content negligence threshold.

The bipartisan negotiators directed USDA “to ensure that any final rule is based on science, is in accordance with underlying law, and will ensure a fair and reasonable regulatory framework for commercial hemp production in the United States.”

FDA is receiving $5 million to support its regulatory activities with respect to CBD, and the report states that the agency must work with the White House to issue “policy guidance in a timely manner regarding enforcement discretion.”

“When appropriate, FDA is encouraged to ensure that any future regulatory activity does not discourage the development of new drugs,” the report says. “The agreement also encourages FDA to partner with an academic institution to expand sampling studies of CBD products currently on the market.”

USDA would have to “study the usage and impacts of energy and water in hemp cultivation” and report back with its recommendations, communicate with stakeholders about research opportunities for the crop, partner with eligible research institutions on studies into hemp germplasm and “provide access to guaranteed loans for hemp producers and businesses” through the agency’s

Further, an agreed-upon report for the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies spending legislation notes that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has developed technology capable of rapidly differentiating hemp and marijuana, and it encourages the agency to continue to work with state and local partners to makes those tools more widely available for law enforcement purposes.

DEA is also required to report “on its efforts to interdict illicit vaping cartridges containing THC” within 180 days of the enactment of this bill.

A separate report for U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources funding states that the National Institute on Drug Abuse is advised to include “questions on consumption of flavored marijuana vapes and marijuana edibles flavored to appeal to adolescents in the [annual Monitoring the Future] survey.”

Prior to the release of the bill that was negotiated by House and Senate leaders, legislators in the latter chamber released several wide-ranging spending bills and related reports for the 2021 fiscal year that include a variety of provisions related to marijuana and hemp.

The new report language seems to incorporate the Senate Appropriations Committee’s prior criticism of USDA’s proposed hemp rules as it concerned THC limits.

The House version of spending legislation that the chamber approved in July was much more far-reaching. It additionally contained provisions to loosen rules on marijuana business access to banking services, expand cannabis research, regulate the hemp and CBD industries and give D.C. the ability to legalize recreational sales.

Read the spending bill’s marijuana and hemp provisions below:

SEC. 531. None of the funds made available under this Act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to any of the States of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, or with respect to the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the United States Virgin Islands, Guam, or Puerto Rico, to prevent any of them from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.

SEC. 809. (a) None of the Federal funds contained in this Act may be used to enact or carry out any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801 et seq.) or any tetrahydrocannabinols derivative.

(b) No funds available for obligation or expenditure by the District of Columbia government under any authority may be used to enact any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801 et seq.) or any tetrahydrocannabinols derivative for recreational purposes.

SEC. 530. None of the funds made available by this Act may be used in contravention of section 7606 (‘‘Legitimacy of Industrial Hemp Research’’) of the Agricultural Act of 2014 (Public Law 113–79) by the Department of Justice or the Drug Enforcement Administration.

SEC. 744. None of the funds made available by this Act or any other Act may be used—(1) in contravention of section 7606 of the Agricultural Act of 2014 (7 U.S.C. 5940), subtitle G of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946, or section 10114 of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018; or (2) to prohibit the transportation, processing, sale, or use of hemp, or seeds of such plant, that is grown or cultivated in accordance with subsection section 7606 of the Agricultural Act of 2014 or Sub-title G of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946, within or outside the State in which the hemp is grown or cultivated.

SEC. 509. (a) None of the funds made available in this Act may be used for any activity that promotes the legalization of any drug or other substance included in schedule I of the schedules of controlled substances established under section 202 of the Controlled Substances Act except for normal and recognized executive-congressional communications.

(b) The limitation in subsection (a) shall not apply when there is significant medical evidence of a therapeutic advantage to the use of such drug or other substance or that federally sponsored clinical trials are being conducted to determine therapeutic advantage.

Read the cannabis-related report language on the spending bills below:

Hemp Testing Technology- DEA has developed field testing kits that can distinguish between hemp and marijuana on-the-spot. DEA is directed to continue to work to ensure State and local law enforcement have access to this field test technology so they can more efficiently conduct their drug interdiction efforts at the local level. DEA is further directed to report back, not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act, and not less than every 6 months thereafter, until such time as testing kits are deployed to State and local law enforcement in the field.

Illegal Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) Vaping Products- DEA is directed to report, not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act, on its efforts to interdict illicit vaping cartridges containing THC. This report shall assess how and to what extent such products are being marketed to children.
Within the increases provided for food safety activities, the agreement provides $5,000,000 for Regulatory Activities Associated with Cannabis and Cannabis Derivatives…

As previously noted, the agreement provides $5,000,000 to support regulatory activities, including developing policy, and for FDA to continue to perform its existing regulatory responsibilities, including review of product applications, inspections, enforcement, and targeted research for cannabis-derived substances, such as cannabidiol (CBD). To provide more clarity to industry and the public, FDA is directed to work with OMB on issuing policy guidance in a timely manner regarding enforcement discretion. When appropriate, FDA is encouraged to ensure that any future regulatory activity does not discourage the development of new drugs. The agreement also encourages FDA to partner with an academic institution to expand sampling studies of CBD products currently on the market.

The agreement is aware of concerns that the interim final rule entitled “Establishment of a Domestic Hemp Production Program” published by the Department in the Federal Register on October 31, 2019 (84 Fed. Reg. 58522) may create compliance challenges for the regulated community by using sampling and testing protocols that require too short a timeframe between testing and harvest, failing to provide a lack of alternative to the use of Drug Enforcement Administration registered laboratories, requiring the conversion of THCA into delta-9 THC, requiring a sampling of only flowering tops, and establishing an inflexible negligence threshold of 0.5 percent. The agreement directs USDA to ensure that any final rule is based on science, is in accordance with underlying law, and will ensure a fair and reasonable regulatory framework for commercial hemp production in the United States. In addition, the agreement encourages the Secretary to utilize the current research at the Agricultural Research Service and the Land-Grant Universities partnering with the National Institute of Food and Agriculture to guide the hemp sampling and testing protocols.

In addition, the USDA shall develop regulations, within existing authority, that protect the transportation, processing, sale, or use of hemp and in-process hemp extract, that may temporarily exceed a delta-9 THC concentration of 0.3%, including in-process hemp extract that was: (1) produced from hemp that meets the definition of hemp under 7 U.S.C. §16390; (2) cultivated in accordance with subtitle G of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 [7 U.S.C. 16390 et seq.] (as added by section 10113 of the Agriculture Improvement Act of2018) or section 7606 of the Agricultural Act of 2014 [7 U.S.C. 5940]; (3) not packaged as a finished product; and (4) not sold or offered for sale as a finished product to consumers.

The agreement encourages the Secretary to study the usage and impacts of energy and water in hemp cultivation and controlled environment agriculture and to make recommendations on best practices and standards in both sectors.

The agreement notes statements made by the Department acknowledging the eligibility of researchers participating in hemp pilot programs, as defined by Section 7606 of the Agricultural Act of 2014 (Public Law 113-79). The agreement directs the Department to work with and inform stakeholders of this eligibility and to support hemp research, as authorized by Section 7606 of the Agricultural Act of2014 (Public Law 113-79) and Subtitle G of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 (7 U.S.C. 1621-1627, 1635-1638).

The agreement provides funding increases for…hemp germplasm [and] hemp production systems…

The agreement encourages ARS and the Plant Genetics Resources Research Unit to partner with 1890 institutions that have existing institutional capacity on hemp germplasm research, education, and extension capabilities.

The agreement recognizes the growing interest for U.S. hemp and hemp-based products for a variety of uses and directs FCA to work with the institutions under its jurisdiction to provide access to guaranteed loans for hemp producers and businesses.

Flavored THC-The agreement appreciates the important data collected in the annual NIDA-funded Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey. The agreement recommends the inclusion of questions on consumption of flavored marijuana vapes and marijuana edibles flavored to appeal to adolescents in the MTF survey.

This story has been updated to include additional details about the cannabis provisions of the new bill and related reports. 

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New Hampshire Marijuana Legalization Effort Runs Up Against New Republican Legislature



“Eventually it will get passed. But I don’t think it will happen until we get a new governor.”

By Christian Wade | The Center Square

Marijuana advocates are continuing a push to legalize the drug for recreational use in New Hampshire, but the effort faces an unlikely path in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

A bipartisan bill filed in the state House of Representatives this month would, if approved, legalize recreational cannabis for adults over 21 and set up a system of regulation and taxation for the drug that would allow retail sales. It’s similar to proposals filed in previous legislative sessions, all of which have failed to win approval.

“The battle continues,” said Rep. Rebecca McWilliams, D-Concord, a primary sponsor of the bill. “We keep refining it and negotiating and trying to come up with something that could potentially get to the two-thirds vote needed to override the governor’s veto.”

The proposal would allow adults 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of weed and would authorize regulated cultivation and retail sales. Adults would be allowed to grow up to six marijuana plants at home. A state-run cannabis commission would set regulations and oversee the new industry. The proposal calls for a 9% tax on recreational pot sales.

But the measure faces a steep climb in the state legislature—which swung back to the GOP in the November 3 elections—not to mention the threat of a veto by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who opposes legalization.

McWilliams acknowledges the measure faces long odds in the biennial legislative session and said lawmakers who support the effort lack the votes to override a Sununu veto. But she said the effort is building more support with every passing year.

“Eventually it will get passed,” she said. “But I don’t think it will happen until we get a new governor.”

While marijuana remains an illegal drug under federal law, she said there’s a chance the new Democrat-controlled Congress and White House could lift the federal prohibition on pot.

Nationally, 68 percent of Americans back the legalization of marijuana, according to a recent Gallup poll, which noted that support has been inching up steadily over the years.

To date, 15 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. territory of Guam have legalized recreational marijuana. Thirty-six states have medical marijuana programs.

New Hampshire has often been described as a “cannabis island” with neighboring states and Canada allowing recreational marijuana cultivation and retail sales.

While the Granite State decriminalized marijuana possession in 2017, recreational growing and sales are not authorized.

In 2014, the Democrat-controlled House approved a legalization bill but it failed to pass the Senate. Similar proposals have been refiled every session, but have failed to gain traction.

The state has also allowed medical marijuana dispensaries since 2013, but cultivating the drug for personal use is still a felony.

Lawmakers approved a bill in 2019 that would have allowed medical pot patients to grow their own supply, but Sununu vetoed it, citing public safety concerns.

This piece was first published by The Center Square.

New York Governor Releases More Details On Marijuana Legalization Proposal

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American Medical Association Asks Court To Overturn Medical Marijuana Vote In Mississippi



Two medical associations are throwing their support behind a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the medical marijuana ballot initiative that Mississippi voters overwhelmingly approved in November, arguing that it creates “risks to public health” and places a “burden” on physicians.

The American Medical Association (AMA) and its state affiliate, the Mississippi State Medical Association (MSMA), recently filed an amicus brief backing the legal challenge being considered by the state Supreme Court, which was brought by the city of Madison just days before the election.

The lawsuit argues that legalization proposal is invalid because of a state law that dictates the percentage of signatures required per district to qualify a ballot initiative.

While Mississippi’s secretary of state and attorney general have strongly criticized the suit, calling it “woefully untimely” and contesting the merits, AMA and MSMA are backing the challenge nonetheless.

“Making sure the constitutional amendment map is followed is always important, but given the nature of the initiative at issue and the substantial ramifications it poses for Mississippi’s public health and the medical community, particular care is warranted here,” the brief states, according to a blog post published by AMA on Friday.

The groups further argue that, outside of the statutory concerns outlined in the suit, the medical cannabis legalization initiative “poses significant risks to public health and puts a burden on Mississippi physicians.”

“While it is possible there may be beneficial medicinal uses of marijuana, numerous evidence-based studies demonstrate that significant deleterious effects abound,” the brief states, adding “without question, the public health risks are immense.”

Additionally, because marijuana remains federally illegal, the voter-approved measure would put physicians in “quite the pinch,” it says. “Yet physicians will be expected by their patients (though perhaps not required by Initiative 65) to sign off on certifications to receive their supply. Perhaps no liability will lie under state law, but what about federal law?”

In fact, federal courts have ruled that doctors have a First Amendment right to discuss medical cannabis with their patients without risking federal sanction.

“As everyone knows, all it takes to file a lawsuit is a piece of paper and a filing fee, so even if a physician is judged correctly and immunity is appropriate, the matter will still have to be litigated,” the AMA and MSMA brief continues. “And with increased exposure and litigation comes increased costs, not least of which is rising professional liability insurance premiums.”

The legal challenge brought by Madison cites a state law stipulating that “signatures of the qualified electors from any congressional district shall not exceed one-fifth (1/5) of the total number of signatures required to qualify an initiative petition for placement upon the ballot.” But that policy went into effect when Mississippi had five congressional districts, and that’s since been reduced to four, making it mathematically impossible to adhere to.

Advocates see desperation in the court filing, with the medical associations now making a last-ditch effort to overturn the will of voters.

“These are cynical attempts to undermine the democratic process,” Carly Wolf, state policies coordinator for NORML, said. “Legalization opponents have shown time and time again that they cannot succeed in either the court of public opinion or at the ballot box.”

“Thus, they are now asking judges to set aside the votes of over a million Americans in a desperate effort to override undisputed election outcomes,” she said. “Whether or not one supports marijuana legalization, Americans should be outraged at these overtly undemocratic tactics.”

Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML, said “AMA’s position is woefully out of step with both public opinion and scientific consensus, as well as with the opinions of the majority of physicians.”

“It is regrettable that this organization would go on record in attempting to nullify the vote of a supermajority of Mississippi voters,” he said.

It’s also not especially surprising that these particular groups would join in this legal challenge given their earlier attempts to get voters to reject the reform initiative.

Weeks before the vote, AMA and MSMA circulated a sample ballot that instructed voters on how to reject the activist-led cannabis measure. The mailers said the associations were “asking for you to join us in educating and encouraging our population to vote against Initiative 65.”

Ultimately, however, nearly 74 percent of Mississippi voters approved the legalization initiative.

It will allow patients with debilitating medical issues to legally obtain marijuana after getting a doctor’s recommendation. It includes 22 qualifying conditions such as cancer, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder, and patients would be allowed to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana per 14-day period.

Marijuana Moment reached out to AMA and MSMA for additional information about the brief, which has not yet been posted on the state court’s public docket, but representative did not immediately respond.

The Mississippi case is just one example of legalization opponents asking the courts to overturn the will of voters who approve marijuana reform.

In South Dakota, another legal challenge against the constitutionality of a legalization initiative is playing out. In this case, plaintiffs—with the backing of Gov. Kristi Noem (R)—are claiming that the recreational marijuana measure violates a state statute requiring that proposals that appear on the ballot on deal with a single subject.

Over in Montana, opponents of a voter-approved initiative to legalize cannabis for adult use attempted to get the state Supreme Court to invalidate the proposal ahead of the vote, but the justices rejected that request, arguing that they failed to establish the urgency needed to skip the lower court adjudication process. They didn’t rule on the merits, however.

The plaintiffs then announced they were pursuing action in a lower court, arguing that the statutory proposal unlawfully appropriates funds, violating a portion of the state Constitution that prohibits such allocations from being included in a citizen initiative.

Separately, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled in September that a medical marijuana legalization initiative could not appear on the state’s November ballot following a legal challenge, even though activists collected enough signatures to qualify.

The court determined that the measure violated Nebraska’s single-subject rule that limits the scope of what can be placed on the ballot before voters. Activists have already introduced a new initiative that they say will satisfy the court’s interpretation of state law—and their also working on a broader adult-use legalization measure.

New York Governor Releases More Details On Marijuana Legalization Proposal

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New York Governor Releases More Details On Marijuana Legalization Proposal



New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has released more details of his marijuana legalization proposal, including plans to reinvest in communities most impacted by the war on drugs.

Following his State of the State address last week, in which the governor said enacting the reform could boost the economy while promoting social equity, he unveiled an outline of his agenda that provides more insights into what the state’s legal cannabis market could look like. Next, he’s expected to release the full budget proposal on Tuesday, which will contain much more detailed legislative language.

The State of the State Book released on Friday says Cuomo’s upcoming proposal would create an Office of Cannabis Management to regulate the program, establish national standards and best practices to encourage responsible marijuana consumption and provide for “robust social and economic equity benefits to ensure New York’s law will create an egalitarian adult-use market structure that does not just facilitate market entry but ensures sustained market share for entrepreneurs in communities that have been most harmed by cannabis prohibition.”

Notably, it also states that the plan will “correct past harms by investing in areas that have disproportionally been impacted by the war on drugs, understanding that expunging past cannabis convictions helps to correct the injustice faced on the day that someone was arrested, but fails to correct the lasting harms that arrest has had on citizens, families, and communities.”

That’s important, as the governor in past years has pushed for marijuana tax revenue to be put into the state’s general fund, rather than specifically allocating resources for community reinvestment, as some lawmakers and advocates have urged.

That said, it remains to be seen exactly how the governor’s forthcoming budget will go about “investing” in communities that have been harmed by past prohibition enforcement and whether it will be deemed adequate by legislators and activists who have balked at his past proposals.

Cuomo has included legalization in his last two annual budget plans, but the issue has consistently stalled over details in negotiations.

That said, the legislature will have more influence this year after Senate Democrats secured a supermajority in the November election. If Cuomo were to veto any bill over details he didn’t like, they could potentially have enough votes to override him.

The governor’s new outline also talks about making investments in research into harm reduction and education campaigns to deter youth use and impaired driving.

“Cannabis legalization will create more than 60,000 new jobs, spurring $3.5 billion in economic activity and generating an estimated $300 million in tax revenue when fully implemented,” the document says.

A separate section describes plans to bolster the state’s hemp industry.

To accomplish that, Cuomo will call together a workgroup “composed of hemp growers, researchers, producers, processors, manufacturers, and trade associations to make recommendations for the further development of hemp as a multi-use agricultural commodity and a mature cannabinoid wellness market.”

“The hemp workgroup will explore ways to provide more opportunities for New York growers and manufacturers and work to help facilitate the development of safe New York products that will meet the needs of informed consumers,” the plan says. The group’s recommendations could build upon regulations for hemp and CBD that were developed last year.

But for many advocates, it’s recreational legalization that has the spotlight this session. And to that end, New York lawmakers have made comments in recent months that indicate they feel the reform is inevitable, despite differing opinions on the specifics.

The top Republican in the New York Assembly said last month that he expects the legislature to legalize cannabis this coming session.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D) said in November that she also anticipates that the reform will advance next year, though she noted that lawmakers will still have to decide on how tax revenue from marijuana sales is distributed.

Cuomo also said that month that the “pressure will be on” to legalize cannabis in the state and lawmakers will approve it “this year” to boost the economy amid the health crisis.

The push to legalize in New York could also be bolstered by the fact that voters in neighboring New Jersey approved a legalization referendum in November.

Legislators prefiled a bill to legalize cannabis in New York earlier this month. The legislation, introduced in the Senate by Sen. Liz Krueger (D) and 18 other lawmakers, is identical to a version she filed last year that did not advance.

Separately, several other bills that focus on medical marijuana were recently prefiled in New York, and they touch on a wide range of topics—from tenants’ rights for medical cannabis patients to health insurance coverage for marijuana products.

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