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Connecticut Governor’s Marijuana Task Force Issues Social Equity Recommendations For Legalization

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An informal task force formed by Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D) has issued a series of recommendations on how to legalize marijuana with an eye toward social justice for communities most harmed by prohibition.

The group—which was comprised of about 20 lawmakers, advocates and community leaders—tackled two main sets of issues: those related to licensing and regulations, as well as community reinvestment. It was formed by the administration on a largely ad hoc basis in December and has stayed relatively under-the-radar in the weeks since.

“I think the overarching theme In the recommendations is the governor’s proposal needs to have strong equity provisions on the licensing side and on the back end, specifically a significant portion of the revenue going to communities hard hit by the war on drugs,” DeVaughn Ward, senior legislative counsel with the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment.

There was a recognition among task force members that there was a “lack of diversity and inclusion in the current medical market,” he said. “Without those two things, the governor’s [adult-use legalization] bill will have a really hard time gaining traction from progressive legislators, urban legislators and legislators of color, all which make up a large chunk of the Democratic majorities in both chambers.”

Here are some of the key recommendations to come out of the task force: 

-Social equity licenses should go to businesses that have at least 67 percent ownership by individuals who meet at least two criteria: 1) those who have been arrested over a cannabis-related offense, 2) those with an immediate family member who has been arrested over marijuana, 3) those with an annual income lower than 150 percent of the median wage or 4) those from communities most harmed by prohibition as dictated by an equity study.

-A capital fund for zero-interest loans should be established and made available for equity operators.

-Equity licenses should match traditional licenses in the state “at each part of the supply chain.”

-If medical cannabis dispensaries are prioritized for adult-use licenses, equity applicants should also get licensing priority for microcultivator, delivery and transportation businesses.

-Each marijuana company must “implement policies that encourage diversity in employment, contracting and other professional opportunities.”

These recommendations come as the governor is circulating a draft bill to legalize marijuana, soliciting feedback from state agencies as he prepares a push to enact the policy change this year.

Lamont reiterated his support for legalizing marijuana during his annual State of the State address last month, stating that he would be working with the legislature to advance the reform this session.

Under the governor’s draft proposal, wholesale marijuana flower would be taxed at $1.25 per gram under the proposal, while trimmed plants would be subject to a 50 cents tax per gram. The state’s 6.35 percent sales tax would be imposed on retail cannabis purchases, as well as a three percent surcharge, with revenue partly going to local jurisdictions.

It also provides for automatic expungements for people with prior low-level marijuana possession convictions from October 1, 2015 or earlier. For those convicted after that date, they will be able to petition the courts for relief.

Other provisions of the draft bill would restrict marketing to prevent appealing to youth, increasing law enforcement resources for drug recognition experts to identify impaired driving and incorporating cannabis smoking and vaping to the state’s indoor clear air laws.

It’s not clear how much the informal proposal will change in light of the task force’s recommendations and other feedback from lawmakers and stakeholders by the time Lamont formally issues his legalization plan, which could be attached to a budget he will release on Wednesday.

The legislature has considered legalization proposals on several occasions in recent years, including a bill that Democrats introduced last year on the governor’s behalf. But while those stalled, there’s increased optimism that 2021 is the year for reform.

House Speaker Matt Ritter (D) said in November that legalization in the state is “inevitable.” He added later that month that “I think it’s got a 50–50 chance of passing [in 2021], and I think you should have a vote regardless.”

Should that effort fail, Ritter said he will move to put a constitutional question on the state’s 2022 ballot that would leave the matter to voters. A poll released last year found that nearly two-thirds of voters (63.4 percent) either “strongly” or “somewhat” supported recreational legalization.

Certain lawmakers have already made clear that they will not support legalization unless is adequately supports social equity and reinvestments in communities most impacted by the war on drugs.

Sen. Douglas McCrory (D), cochair of the Education Committee, said in a recent interview that “Frosty the Snowman would have a better chance of passing summer school in hell than any piece of legislation in Connecticut if it doesn’t deal with equity, economics and the communities that have been targeted and devastated by this fake war on drugs.”

The governor has compared the need for regional coordination on marijuana policy to the coronavirus response, stating that officials have “got to think regionally when it comes to how we deal with the pandemic—and I think we have to think regionally when it comes to marijuana, as well.”

He also said that legalization in Connecticut could potentially reduce the spread of COVID-19 by limiting out-of-state trips to purchase legal cannabis in neighboring states such as Massachusetts and New Jersey.

Read the full list of recommendations from the governor’s informal marijuana equity task force below: 

1. Equity applicants are defined as businesses which are owned 67%or more by individuals who meet (two) of the following:

-Personally been arrested convicted or incarcerated for a cannabis crime

-Has an immediate family member(Parent or sibling) who has been arrested convicted or incarcerated for a cannabis crime

-Has an average annual income not more than 150% of median wage

-Is of a group disproportionately harmed by cannabis prohibition as determined by the equity study

2. Establish a study commission (DCP or indy) to oversee an impact study that will quantify the various negative repercussions of cannabis prohibition and submit a full report by Jan 1 2022. This report will inform the governing body that will determine the number of licenses to be awarded and the qualifications and benefits for each license type.

-Study commission will research how to create an equitable cannabis industry as it’s #1 priority, not maximizing revenue or speed of opening

-Study shall include specific recommendations on year 1, 5, and year 10 needs

-Appropriate checks and balances needed to ensure plenty of opportunities for course correction

3. The ratio of equity licenses to traditional must be at least 1 to 1 at each part of the supply chain

-Oakland and Boston model

-This will require the licensing of a significant number of equity businesses to bring the current ratio to 1 to 1 before sales can begin

4. Establish a capital fund for zero interest loans for certified equity operators

-All grantees must complete a “entrepreneurship in the cannabis industry” course/training]

5. Establish a workforce development program in cooperation with equity owners to provide owners and employees with technical support including but not limited to creation of SOPs, commercial buildout plans, legal assistance with real estate, permitting and zoning, human resources and payroll processing, and tax compliance.

6. Independence of equity commission should be encouraged as much as is possible

-Majority of votes on the commission should be non-regulatory agency appointments(?)

-Mix of stakeholders and regulators on commission

-Citizen’s ethics advisory board is an example

7. Develop a license type(s) specifically for equity applicants, if medical is given head start.

-Micro

-Delivery

-Transport

8. Require each cannabis business to include a social equity impact plan to be considered by in granting and renewal of license. Require each cannabis business to implement policies that encourage diversity in employment, contracting, and other professional opportunities and to report annually on the diversity of its workforce, management, and contracts.

-First mover advantage only able after funding given for economic uplift program

Read additional notes from the task force’s Community Economic Development Grant Revenue subgroup:

-We did not come up with a comprehensive definition of equity and instead decided to utilize the disparity study to help inform our work once its completed.

-We discussed the potential structure of an Equity Commission, including membership, oversight/responsibilities, appointments, and relationship with regulatory agency but made no final decisions.

-We determined that some independence from the state would be recommended so progress is not disrupted when new administrations are elected.

-We discussed the need to focus some funding into infrastructure projects for a community, meaning that we would attempt to create systemic change while investing into communities that have been traditionally disinvested in for many years.

-It was unanimously agreed that members of the community must have a voice in the process and that the commission needed to cultivate a space to allow those voices to be elevated.

-We discussed using indicators to determine need, an example of this could be income level, graduation rates, or arrests.

-Funding could be made available through targeted grants, but we would need to provide support systems to ensure organizations who may not have the capacity to manage/apply for the grants could still take advantage of the funding especially if they have been doing this work for years.

-Specific to funding, we agreed that after operational costs are deducted from excise tax revenue we would allocate 90% of left over revenue to community investment, 5% to the general fund, and 5% to drug education, treatment, counseling etc.

-It was also agreed that the larger group would help us determine a more specific breakdown of that 90% community investment allocation.

Judge Voids South Dakota’s Marijuana Legalization Initiative, Finding Voter-Approved Measure Was Unconstitutional

Photo courtesy of Kimberly Lawson.

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Another Poll Shows Majority Of Americans Support Marijuana Legalization And Expungements

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Another poll has found that a majority of Americans support legalizing marijuana and clearing the records of those with prior cannabis convictions.

This one—commissioned by CBS News and released on the unofficial marijuana holiday 4/20—shows that 55 percent of respondents said recreational cannabis should be legal in their own state, compared to 42 percent who said it should be illegal.

While still a sizable majority, that’s notably lower than several other recent surveys, including those released by Quinnipiac University and the Pew Research Center this month. Those polls found that 69 percent and 60 percent of Americans back broad legalization, respectively.

Unique to this poll, however, is that participants were also asked about related cannabis issues. For example, 59 percent of adults said that people with non-violent marijuana convictions in states that have legalized should have their records cleared, versus 37 percent who said the conviction shouldn’t be expunged.

Among those who were surveyed and live in a legal marijuana state, 60 percent said they favor the policy. And 53 percent of those living in states where prohibition is still on the books said cannabis should be legalized.

Via CBS News.

Twenty-three percent of respondents said legalizing cannabis would increase crime and 19 percent said it would decrease crime—but the majority (54 percent) said it would have “no effect.”

Via CBS News.

CBS also asked respondents whether they felt legalizing marijuana would lead people to use other drugs. Most people (45 percent) said the reform would have “not much effect” to that end, while 33 percent said they felt more people would seek out other substances and 17 percent said it would make people less likely to try other drugs.

Via CBS News.

Nearly half of Americans (48 percent) said legalization would boost local economies, while 14 percent said it would have a negative economic impact and 35 percent said it wouldn’t have much of an effect at all.

Via CBS News.

Interestingly, while most people backed legalization in the poll, 53 percent said that openly using marijuana socially is “unacceptable,” compared to 43 percent who said it was “acceptable”—perhaps more a reflection of respondents’ perception of other people’s views than their own.

The poll involved interviews with 1,004 adults from March 9-14 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

Despite this latest example of polling showing that Americans favor ending prohibition, President Joe Biden is still not on board with extending that policy to the federal level, as confirmed again by the White House press secretary on Tuesday.

While the president says he supports allowing states to set their own policies, he feels it should only be decriminalized and rescheduled federally and wants more research to be done if he’s to change his position on broader reform.

This poll comes at a time when there’s a concerted push in both chambers of Congress to seize the opportunity they have with Democratic control to pass legalization legislation.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) have been working on a bill on their side. The majority leader told Marijuana Moment on Monday that he’s working to push the president in a pro-legalization direction as they draft the measure.

Schumer said last week that the legislation will be introduced and placed on the floor “soon.”

On the House side, Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said recently that he plans to reintroduced his legalization bill, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which cleared the chamber last year but did not advance in the Senate under GOP control.

Biden Won’t Commit To Sign Marijuana Bill If Passed By Congress, Press Secretary Says

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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New House Bills Would Make Cannabis Businesses Eligible For Federal Small-Business Aid

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Lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives have introduced three new bills to make state-legal marijuana businesses eligible for federal small business services, including loans, disaster relief and grant programs.

The package of legislation is aimed at establishing parity for cannabis businesses, which are currently prohibited from receiving federal aid due to marijuana still being classified as a Schedule I controlled substance. The country’s legal cannabis industry nevertheless now supports nearly 320,000 full-time jobs in the U.S., according to industry estimates.

The measures are largely similar to legislation introduced by the lawmakers in 2019, with some small changes.

One bill, sponsored by House Small Business Committee Chairwoman Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), would allow marijuana businesses to access resources from the federal Small Business Administration (SBA). The Ensuring Safe Capital Access for All Small Businesses Act of 2021, which had not been assigned a bill number as of Tuesday afternoon, would expand access to services such as microloans, disaster assistance and the agency’s loan guaranty program.

“With more and more states pursuing legalization, including my home state of New York, there are a growing number of legitimate small businesses that are excluded from critical SBA programs,” Velázquez said in a statement, noting that much of the cannabis industry consists of small businesses.

Compared to Velázquez’s 2019 bill, the new version adds clauses meant to expand the availability of services. While the 2019 bill applied to SBA itself, provisions in the new legislation also prevent SBA intermediaries, private lenders and state and local development companies from declining to work with businesses simply because of their marijuana-related work.

Another new section deals with debentures—certain unsecured loan certificates—and clarifies that SBA may not decline to purchase or guarantee a debenture just because of a business’s involvement in cannabis. Nor can other small business investment companies decline to provide assistance to the cannabis sector.

“This legislation will spark growth by extending affordable capital to small firms in the cannabis space,” she continued. “Simultaneously, the bill acknowledges the structural disadvantages facing entrepreneurs of color and seeks to level the playing field.”

Another newly refiled measure, H.R. 2649, sponsored by Rep. Dwight Evans (D-PA), would establish a U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) grant program to provide funding to state and local governments to help them navigate the licensing process for cannabis businesses. The bill, which also removes marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, specifies that the grant money should be used to benefit communities disproportionately impacted by the drug war.

“My bill would act as a poverty-buster and help homegrown small businesses, which are the backbone of our economy and our neighborhoods. We need to make sure that the booming legal cannabis industry does not become consolidated in the hands of a few big companies,” Evans said.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,000 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.

A third bill, H.R. 2649, from Rep. Jared Golden (D-ME), would prohibit SBA partners that provide guidance and training services from denying help to businesses solely because of involvement in cannabis. The changes would affect providers such as SBA’s Small Business Development Centers, Women’s Business Centers and the Veterans Business Outreach Centers, among others.

“Our continued economic recovery depends on the health of American small businesses of all kinds. Especially in this environment, no Maine small business owner should be turned away from crucial SBA programs that could help them create jobs and lift up the economy,” said Rep. Golden. “My bill would help address this problem by providing small business owners directly or indirectly associated with the cannabis industry with access to the services and resources they need to get their small businesses off the ground and grow.”

Meanwhile, federal lawmakers have been making headway on other cannabis-related proposals. The House passed a cannabis banking bill on Monday, and broader legislation to legalize cannabis at the federal level is expected to be introduced soon.

The banking legislation would ensure that financial institutions can take on cannabis business clients without facing federal penalties. Fear of sanctions has kept many banks and credit unions from working with the industry, forcing marijuana firms to operate on a cash basis that makes them targets of crime and creates complications for financial regulators. The full House passed the bill on a 321–101 vote.

“Even if you are opposed to the legalization of cannabis, you should support this bill,” sponsor Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) said on the House floor. “The fact is that people in states and localities across the country are voting to approve some level of cannabis use, and we need these cannabis businesses and employees to have access to checking accounts, payroll accounts, lines of credit, credit cards and more.

Other Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) are working on legislation that would end federal cannabis prohibition completely.

Schumer said last week that the long-awaited proposal would be introduced “shortly” and placed on the floor “soon.” Schumer has so far declined to discuss the bill’s specifics, though he’s stressed that it will prioritize small businesses and people most historically impacted by the drug war.

In an interview with Marijuana Moment this week, Schumer worried that passage of the House banking bill could actually undermine broader congressional cannabis reform this year.

On the House side, Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said recently that he plans to reintroduced his own legalization bill, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which cleared the House in a landmark vote last year but did not advance in GOP-controlled the Senate.

Meanwhile, support for legalization among U.S. voters continues to grow. More than 9 in 10 Americans (91 percent) now support legalizing cannabis for either medical or adult use, according to a Pew Research Center poll released on Friday. Sixty percent of respondents said that cannabis should be legal for both medical and adult use. Thirty-one percent said it should be legalized for therapeutic purposes only, while just eight percent said it should continue to be criminalized across the board.

A majority of those in every age, race and political demographic included in the poll said they feel marijuana should be legal in some form, although many Republicans remain wary of adult-use legalization. Seventy-two percent of Democrats favored both medical and adult-use legalization compared to only 47 percent of Republicans.

Among the minority in opposition to federal legalization: President Joe Biden (D). White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said last month that the president’s position on the issue “has not changed,” meaning he still opposes the reform. on Tuesday, Psaki refused to say whether Biden would sign or veto a cannabis legalization bill if passed by Congress.

The president instead backs modestly rescheduling the plant, decriminalizing possession, legalizing medical cannabis, expunging prior marijuana records and letting states set their own policies.

Read the full text of the new legislation below:

Ensuring Safe Capital Access for All Small Businesses Act of 2021 by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

Ensuring Access to Counseli… by Marijuana Moment

Homegrown Act by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

Schumer Worries Senate Marijuana Banking Vote Could Undermine Broader Legalization Push

 

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Biden Won’t Commit To Sign Marijuana Bill If Passed By Congress, Press Secretary Says

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White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday declined to say whether President Joe Biden would sign or veto a bill to federally legalize marijuana if it arrives on his desk, noting that his cannabis policy position is at odds with broader proposals that congressional Democratic leaders are working on.

She was also asked about his stance on marijuana banking reform, the disconnect between public opinion favoring legalization and the president’s opposition and whether Biden plans to revisit clemency applications for those facing federal sentences over cannabis.

The noncommittal response to the legalization question comes on the unofficial cannabis holiday 4/20—a day that has seen a wide range of politicians, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), voice support for comprehensive marijuana reform.

Psaki was pressed on the Senate leader’s remarks and asked whether Biden would support legislation to end federal cannabis prohibition if Congress approved it.

“The president supports leaving decisions regarding legalization for recreational use up to the states, rescheduling cannabis as a Schedule II drug so researchers can study its positive and negative impacts and, at the federal level, he supports decriminalizing marijuana use and automatically expunging any prior criminal records,” she said. “He also supports legalizing medicinal marijuana so that’s his point of view on the issue.”

Biden’s positions to that end are well known, but an outstanding question has been whether his opposition to adult-use legalization is so strong that he would reject a reform proposal such as those currently being drafted in the House and Senate.

Asked directly what action the president would take if a federal legalization bill was sent to his desk, Psaki signaled that he wouldn’t be inclined to sign it, stating “I just have outlined what his position is, which isn’t the same as what the House and Senate have proposed, but they have not yet passed a bill.”

The reporter followed up to ask about a separate cannabis pledge Biden made as a presidential candidate, when he said people incarcerated in federal prisons over non-violent marijuana offenses should be released.

Psaki said that would be addressed if cannabis was rescheduled to Schedule II—a dubious claim given that there are still serious penalties for offenses involving substances in that category as well. She also didn’t provide any insight into whether the president is proactively pushing for the modest scheduling change.

Later in the briefing, the press secretary was asked where Biden stands on legislation to protect banks that service state-legal marijuana businesses from being penalized by federal regulators. The House approved the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act along bipartisan lines on Monday.

She said it was a “good question,” but she wasn’t sure and told the reporter she would follow up with a response later.

When pushed on Biden’s opposition to the legalization in the face of mounting, majority support among Americans, Psaki said that while he’s in favor of decriminalization and legalizing medical marijuana, he wants more research on the “positive and negative effects” of adult-use legalization.

“He’ll look at the research once that’s concluded,” she said. “Of course we understand the movement that’s happening toward it. I’m speaking for what his position is and what long, consistently has been his position. He wants to decriminalize, but again, he’ll look at the research of the positive and negative impacts.”

The press conference ended with a final question about cannabis policy—specifically whether the Biden administration plans to revisit requests for clemency for federal cannabis convictions. The reporter cited the case of Luke Scarmazzo, who was sentenced to 22 years in federal prison for operating a state-legal medical cannabis business in California, as an example.

“Given, as you’ve noted in the briefing, the president’s support for decriminalization, support for expunging exactly these types of offenses, are there any plans to revisit some of those bids for clemency?” the reporter asked.

“Well, I would just take it as an opportunity to reiterate that the president supports legalizing medicinal marijuana,” Psaki said. “It sounds like this would have been applicable in this case, and of course decriminalizing marijuana use and automatically expunging any prior criminal records. In terms of individual cases, I can’t get ahead of those obviously.”

These question come, of course, on 4/20. But they also come at a time when there’s a concerted push in both chambers of Congress to seize the opportunity they have with Democratic control to pass legalization legislation.

Schumer, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) have been working on a bill on their side. The majority leader told Marijuana Moment on Monday that he’s working to push the president in a pro-legalization direction as they draft the measure.

Schumer said last week that the legislation will be introduced and placed on the floor “soon.”

On the House side, Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said recently that he plans to reintroduced his legalization bill, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which cleared the chamber last year but did not advance in the Senate under GOP control.

Schumer Worries Senate Marijuana Banking Vote Could Undermine Broader Legalization Push

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