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Connecticut Lawmakers Hold Hearing On Governor’s Marijuana Legalization Bill

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A key Connecticut committee held a lengthy hearing on Monday about a marijuana legalization bill that legislative leaders filed on behalf of Gov. Ned Lamont (D).

While the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee did not vote on the proposal during the meeting, the panel’s discussion is the first step in what supporters hope will be a process that ends up in the state being one of the next to end cannabis prohibition this year.

Several top state officials testified in support of the legislation.

“We can’t stick our heads in the sand. Cannabis will be increasingly available to the residents of Connecticut,” Jonathan Harris, senior advisor to the governor, told lawmakers in opening remarks at the hearing, referring to the growing number of other states in the region that are legalizing marijuana. “We need to come together on how to most effectively protect our children and public health and safety.”

If the bill is enacted, adults 21 and older could legally possess up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana. Regulators would establish a system of licensing for cannabis growers, retailers and other businesses. There would be a three percent tax on sales, and retailers and manufacturers would be taxed $1.25 per dry weight gram of cannabis flower. Part of the tax revenue would go toward communities disproportionately impacted by prohibition.

The bill contains other social equity provisions, including a mechanism for people with prior cannabis convictions to have their records expunged. A nine-member “Cannabis Equity Commission” would be directed to encourage “participation in the cannabis industry by persons from communities that have been disproportionately harmed by cannabis prohibition and enforcement.” The commission would establish micro-licenses for cannabis retail and delivery operations, and would be charged with making recommendations on further restorative justice policies by January 1 of next year.

“SB16 puts equity front and center through the creation of an equity specific commission to deep dive into crafting an effective and actionable plan to undo the damage done by the racist war on drugs” Jason Ortiz, the Connecticut-based president of the Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA), told Marijuana Moment. “Creating that plan is what MCBA is here to do, and for that reason we support SB16.”

In 2019, three separate bills containing components of a comprehensive cannabis legalization plan advanced in several committees but never received House or Senate floor votes before the session ended.

The governor, who also voiced support for legalization last year, renewed his call for cannabis legalization during his State of the State address last month and included funding in his budget proposal to support the hiring of government employees to help establish a regulatory framework for marijuana.

At a meeting in December, Lamont and governors from other neighboring states agreed to principles of a coordinated regional approach to marijuana legalization.

Miriam Delphim-Rittmon, commissioner of the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, said at the hearing that the legislation proposes a “thoughtful framework…that prioritizes public health, public safety and social justice.”

DeVaughn Ward, senior legislative counsel for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment that the state officials who testified at the hearing “are all confirming what we already know to be true—prohibition has been a failed policy and SB 16 represents a sensible, common sense approach to regulation in order to protect public health and safety and start to repair the harms caused by prohibition.”

Under the bill, localities would be allowed to prohibit marijuana retail businesses or “establish reasonable restrictions regarding the hours and signage” for those operations, but they would not be able to ban delivery services from operating in their jurisdictions.

Most employers would be prohibited from requiring a drug test for cannabis metabolites as a condition of employment, and they wouldn’t be able to otherwise discriminate against workers who use marijuana outside of the workplace.

“Cannabis is widely available in Connecticut today, and by legalizing and regulating it, we can implement stronger public health and safety standards. Any legislation legalizing cannabis must put a strong emphasis on equity and opportunity for communities that have borne a disproportionate burden of the war on drugs, and this legislation establishes a framework to do that,” Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin (D) said at a press conference ahead of the hearing. “With multiple states in New England already regulating legal cannabis, it’s time for Connecticut to move forward with a responsible regime for legalization and regulation.”

If the bill is enacted, regulators would be charged with studying and making recommendations on several additional policy areas. For example, they would weigh in on whether home cultivation of marijuana and on-site consumption areas should be allowed. They would also examine the issue of state-run marijuana retail operations.

Existing registration fees for medical cannabis patients would be eliminated under the measure.

The Judiciary Committee may vote in the coming weeks on amendments or a potential substitute version of the legislation, after which point it will move to the Senate floor—though it is possible that lawmakers will refer the bill to other panels prior to a vote by the full body.

GOP Congressman Falsely Claims Marijuana Can Be Legally Consumed In Public In ‘Many States’

This story has been updated with a revised statement from Bronin to replace an earlier version misattributed to him in a press release.

Photo courtesy of Max Pixel.

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.

Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 20-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (Organization citations are for identification only and do not constitute an endorsement or partnership.)

Politics

DEA Seeks Contractor Capable Of Burning Four Tons of Marijuana Per Day

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The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recently reached out for help burning “at least” 1,000 pounds of marijuana per hour for eight hours straight.

Every year, DEA seizes millions of marijuana plants and literal tons of raw cannabis, which eventually end up being destroyed. The successful contractor in Arizona would be responsible for burning marijuana and other controlled substances seized as evidence in drug cases “to a point where there are no detectable levels, as measured by standard analytical methods, of byproduct from the destruction process.”

“DEA shall inspect the incinerator to ensure no drug residue remains,” the agency said.

DEA posted the work description earlier this month in what’s called a “sources sought notice,” an initial step before a formal request for proposals is sent.

“This is not a request for proposals and does not obligate the Government to award a contract,” the post says. “The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is conducting market research, and is encouraging all businesses, including small businesses, to respond to this notice.”

An accompanying statement of work gives a behind-the-scenes look at the DEA’s process of destroying seized drugs. Typical boxes weigh between 40 and 60 pounds, for example, but can weigh up to 200 pounds. Contraband might come in on “semi-trucks, tractor trailers, cargo vans, fork lifts, etc.,” the work description says.

“The drugs are usually tightly compressed ‘bricks’ or ‘bales,’” it continues, and are packaged in all sorts of materials: cardboard, wrapping paper, plastic wrap, aluminum foil, packing tape, “duct tape and derivatives,” plastic evidence bags, “grease/oil” and others. Contractors will be expected to burn that stuff, too.

To avoid potential contact highs, there must be ”proper ventilation” and “no smoke buildup” will be allowed. Other mandates include closed-circuit cameras that capture the entire process, which DEA reserves the right to access, as well as background checks and regular drug tests of all personnel.

Armed DEA agents and contractors will be present during scheduled burns.

The work is also very hush-hush, so whoever gets the job shouldn’t expect to regale friends with stories of the latest large-scale federal weed burning sesh.

“The contractor and its personnel shall hold all information obtained under the DEA contract in the strictest confidence,” the work description says. “All information obtained shall be used only for performing this contract and shall not be divulged nor made known in any manner except as necessary to perform this contract.”

The work would start January 1 of next year and the contract would expire in 2026 unless terminated sooner. The deadline to send information for would-be contractors was Friday.

DEA Seized More Marijuana Plants In 2019, But Arrests Fell

Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images

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Harris Will Give Biden ‘Honest’ Input On Legalizing Marijuana And Other Issues As Part Of ‘Deal’

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Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris says she has a “deal” with Joe Biden to candidly share her perspective on a range of progressive policies he currently opposes, including legalizing marijuana. Separately, she also recently discussed cannabis reform in a private meeting with rapper Killer Mike.

During an interview on 60 Minutes that aired on Sunday, the senator was pressed on marijuana and numerous other issues where she and Biden disagree. In response, while she didn’t specifically commit to proactively advocating for comprehensive cannabis reform, she pledged in general that she would always share her views with the would-be president if the pair are elected next week.

“What I will do—and I promise you this and this is what Joe wants me to do, this was part of our deal—I will always share with him my lived experience as it relates to any issue that we confront,” she said after the interviewer listed cannabis legalization among a handful of issues on which she and Biden depart. “I promised Joe that I will give him that perspective and always be honest with him.”

Asked whether that perspective will be “socialist” and “progressive,” Harris laughed and said “no.”

“It is the perspective of a woman who grew up a black child in America, who was also a prosecutor, who also has a mother who arrived here at the age of 19 from India, who also, you know, likes hip hop,” she said.

The senator’s taste in music also came up during her own 2020 presidential bid, when she said in an interview that she listened to Snoop Dogg and Tupac while smoking marijuana during college despite graduating before those artists released their debut albums.

Music culture has played a key role in this election cycle, and one of the strongest voices for criminal justice reform in the industry is Killer Mike, who worked as a surrogate for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) when he was running for the Democratic presidential nomination. The artist said he met with Harris on Friday and the two discussed cannabis business opportunities for communities of color.

As she’s done repeatedly since joining Biden’s campaign, Harris also reiterated at a rally in Pontiac, Michigan on Sunday that the administration would pursue marijuana decriminalization and expunging prior cannabis convictions.

She made similar comments during a campaign event in Atlanta last week, stating that the “war on drugs was, by every measure, a failure, and black men were hit the hardest.” That said, while the senator has come to embrace broad cannabis reform, she’s faced criticism over her past opposition to legalization and role in prosecuting people for marijuana offenses as a California prosecutor.

In another interview released last week, Harris said she and Biden “have a commitment to decriminalizing marijuana and expunging the records of people who have been convicted of marijuana offenses.”

“When you look at the awful war on drugs and the disproportionate impact it had on black men and creating then criminal records that have deprived people of access to jobs and housing and basic benefits,” she said.

There’s been some frustration among cannabis reform advocates that Harris has scaled back her reform push since joining the Democratic ticket as Biden’s running mate. During her own run for the presidential nomination, she called for comprehensive marijuana legalization but has in recent weeks focused her comments on the more modest reforms of decriminalization and expungement.

Harris, who is the lead Senate sponsor of a bill to federally deschedule marijuana, said last month that a Biden administration would not be “half-steppin’” cannabis reform or pursuing “incrementalism,” but that’s exactly how advocates would define simple decriminalization.

In any case, the senator has repeatedly discussed cannabis decriminalization on the trail. She similarly said during a vice presidential debate earlier this month that she and Biden “will decriminalize marijuana and we will expunge the records of those who have been convicted of marijuana.”

In addition to those policies, Biden backs modestly rescheduling the drug under federal law, letting states set their own policies and legalizing medical cannabis.

Musician John Legend Endorses Drug Decriminalization Ballot Measure In Oregon

Photo element courtesy of California Attorney General’s Office.

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.
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GOP Tennessee Senator Calls For Medical Marijuana Legalization In New Campaign Ad

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A Tennessee senator touted his support for legalizing medical marijuana in a campaign ad released on Friday.

In the 30-second spot, which has notably high production value for this kind of local race, state Sen. Steve Dickerson (R) talks about both the therapeutic benefits of cannabis and the consequences of broader marijuana criminalization.

“As your state senator, I’ve led the fight to legalize medical marijuana so our veterans and sickest Tennesseans can deal with chronic pain,” he said. “But this same life-saving plant has led to mass incarceration, with nonviolent marijuana possession resulting in lengthy prison sentences.”

“I think that’s wrong. That’s why I’ve been pushing for criminal justice reform,” the senator added.

Dickerson, who sponsored a medical cannabis legalization bill that cleared a Senate committee in March, said in a Q&A published earlier this month that the policy change would be among his top three legislative priorities if he’s reelected.

His Democratic opponent, former Oak Hill Mayor Heidi Campbell, is in favor of “fully legalizing marijuana,” with her campaign site stating that cannabis crimes “disproportionately impact people of color and it’s time to end marijuana prohibition.”

But while Dickerson has earned a reputation as a moderate Republican given his positions on issues like cannabis reform, he’s faced backlash after declining to denounce an independent ad taken out on his behalf that some, including the LGBTQ rights organization Tennessee Equality Project (TEP), called racist.

The ad, which was paid for by Lt. Gov. Randy McNally’s (R) political action committee MCPAC, hits Campbell over her support for a nonprofit organization that is designed to keep young people out of prison, and it frames the group as “radical” and “extremist.” TEP rescinded their endorsement of Dickerson over his refusal to condemn the ad.

In the Tennessee legislature, marijuana reform has yet to pass—but there’s growing recognition that voters are in favor of the policy change. For example, former House Speaker Glen Casada (R) released the results of a constituent survey last year that showed 73 percent of those in his district back medical cannabis legalization.

Another former GOP House speaker, Beth Harwell, highlighted her support for the reform proposal during her unsuccessful bid for governor in 2018, and she referenced President Trump’s stated support for medical marijuana on the campaign trail.

In other Tennessee drug policy politics, a lawmaker in June blocked a resolution to honor murdered teen Ashanti Posey because she was allegedly involved in a low-level cannabis sale the day she was killed.

New York Will Legalize Marijuana ‘Soon’ To Aid Economic Recovery From COVID, Governor Cuomo Says

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.
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