Efforts to legalize marijuana in New Jersey received a high-profile endorsement on Friday, with U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) voicing support for the bill in a statement.
The senator, who is a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate and also sponsored congressional legislation to end federal cannabis prohibition, is the latest in a growing list of political leaders who’ve advocated for the bill, which was approved by state Senate and Assembly committees earlier this week and is expected to receive floor votes in both chambers on Monday.
“New Jersey is the first state in the country to couple decriminalizing marijuana with strong criminal justice reform measures to redress the decades of immense harm inflicted by an unfair system,” Booker said. “All too often, communities of color and low-income individuals are unjustly impacted by our broken drug policies, but by including measures to expunge records and reinvest in the communities most impacted, our state has the opportunity to lead in prioritizing social justice.”
NJ is set to vote on a marijuana legalization bill that has strong measures to reverse the damage of the War on Drugs.
I hope this bill passes & NJ can lead the nation on this. Marijuana legalization & social justice *must* go hand in hand. We can’t have one without the other.
— Sen. Cory Booker (@SenBooker) March 22, 2019
The bill’s focus on social equity provisions has been critical in shoring up support as the legislature gets closer to a vote. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) has been putting out calls to advocates and lawmakers to get the legislation advanced, which would fulfill a campaign promise of his.
“With this bill, New Jersey legislators can send a strong message to the country that marijuana legalization and social justice must be inextricably linked,” Booker said. “I’m hopeful our state will succeed in setting this example.”
It’s been a complicated process to form a coalition united around passing legalization in New Jersey. Disagreements between the governor and lawmakers about certain aspects of the bill such as tax rates and regulatory structures were finally resolved earlier this month when a compromise was reached. And amendments to expand expungement provisions gave the mayors of the state’s two largest cities proper assurance to back the legislation.
That said, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka (D) and Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop (D) continue to push for automatic expungements, as opposed to virtual expungements. Murphy said that automatic expungements is not a feasible policy.
“Now more than ever, we must work together,” the mayors said in a statement on Friday. “Again, we stand in unison in support of this legislation that could potentially become New Jersey’s law. We should aim to become a model state from which other states can clearly follow. We should address these issues in a manner that protects our communities and the people that live here.”
Mayors @rasjbaraka & @StevenFulop announce support of the proposed cannabis legislation after assurance from state leaders that they will continue to seek full automatic expungement. https://t.co/QN1LeDt6wl pic.twitter.com/bJFbTHOR0a
— City of Newark (@CityofNewarkNJ) March 22, 2019
On Thursday, the governor’s office also released a list of quotes from lawmakers, activists and spiritual leaders voicing support for the legalization legislation.
“If we have learned anything at all, it is that the status quo has been disproportionately unfair to minority communities,” Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D) said. “This bill is a step in the right direction to correct that inequality.”
Senate President Steve Sweeney (D) agreed, saying the legalization bill will “advance social justice, legal justice and economic justice in meaningful ways.”
“This is an opportunity for continued progress as we strive for a society that respects the rights of everyone,” he said.
Whether the legislation will be approved is yet to be seen. NJ.com is keeping track of where lawmakers currently stand on the bill, and as of Friday afternoon their online whip count shows that a majority in the Senate plan to vote against it, while votes allocated so far in the Assembly are roughly even.
Photo courtesy of Jamelle Bouie.
GOP Senator Shares Photo Of His Dad Harvesting Hemp Decades Ago
A U.S. senator appears to be taking a hit at the governor of his home state over a disagreement on hemp legalization, and he’s using a decades-old picture of his own father growing the crop to do it.
Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) shared a photo on Facebook last month showing his dad harvesting the crop in South Dakota about 80 years ago. While it might seem benign, some political observers believe the post was a subtle dig at Gov. Kristi Noem (R), who vetoed legislation earlier this year to re-legalize industrial hemp in the state.
The senator referenced the picture during a telephone town hall event, where he was asked about the potential of hemp in the textile industry. Rounds said the plant was used to make ropes for the Navy during World War II.
“It’s of my dad (Grandpa Don, left) as a young boy working in a South Dakota hemp field,” he wrote of the photo. “We believe it was taken sometime in the late 1930s/early 1940s.”
The implication seems to be that the crop has a long history in South Dakota and that generations have relied on it prior for its federal prohibition. But even after hemp and its derivatives were federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill, Noem has maintained that it should remain criminalized under state law.
The Argus Leader first connected the Facebook post with Noem’s hemp opposition.
Marijuana Moment reached out to Rounds’s office for comment, but a representative was not immediately available.
In March, the governor rejected legislation that arrived on her desk to legalize industrial hemp, arguing that the reform move would pave the path toward legalization of adult-use marijuana. The Senate didn’t have enough support to override the veto.
Lawmakers have said they plan to introduce similar legislation next year, but Noem pledged in September to veto it again.
As far as Rounds is concerned, South Dakota should be allowed to experiment with industrial hemp. He told the Sioux City Journal last month that “I personally don’t see a problem with at least trying it” and he voted in favor of the Farm Bill last year.
Despite Noem’s opposition to the non-intoxicating form of cannabis, activists in the state are moving ahead with efforts to more broadly legalize marijuana for medical and recreational purposes. Signatures on two reform initiatives were submitted to the secretary of state last month and, once verified, the issues are expected to be decided by voters during next year’s election.
Both measures are being backed by national advocacy groups, and the adult-use legalization proposal is being sponsored by a former federal prosecutor.
Killer Mike Credits Bernie Sanders For Inspiring Marijuana Legalization Movement
Rapper Killer Mike says that the national push to reform marijuana laws in recent years can be largely attributed to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
Sanders, who became the first major presidential candidate to call for cannabis legalization during his 2016 run, has continued to raise the issue as he campaigns for the 2020 Democratic nomination. In the years since he first proposed the policy change, numerous states have pursued reform and pro-legalization stances are increasingly commonplace, especially among Democratic lawmakers.
“Marijuana decriminalization was something I never thought I’d see in my lifetime,” Killer Mike said in an interview on MSNBC on Sunday. “Yet within four years, I’ve seen a nationwide push for it, in big part to his campaign.”
Watch Killer Mike’s marijuana comments, starting around 1:25 into the video below:
“How does that affect me as the father of a 17-year-old boy? If my son gets caught with marijuana, it could ruin his life for the rest of his life,” he said. “Now we have an environment where he literally will get scolded as a child and get a chance to be a fruitful adult without a felony on his record. I think that that resonates in our community.”
The rapper, who serves as a surrogate on Sanders’s campaign, also talked about the economic potential of legalization and the importance of social equity policies during a town hall event with the candidate in North Carolina in September.
“We have an opportunity this time to take the people that are exiting jail, have expunged records and creating a pathway as wide as this aisle directly to legal marijuana and creating economic sustainability in the same communities that were robbed of that opportunity,” he said at the time.
It’s not just Sanders who deserves credit for contributing to the cannabis reform movement, Killer Mike said at a panel on free speech in June. Rap artists have also played a key role, featuring the plant in music stretching back decades.
“We know that with national decriminalization of marijuana now, a lot of people are going to get credit for it—a lot of activists, a lot of workers,” he said. “But I can show you a line that leads straight back to Cyprus Hill, that leads straight back to Snoop Dogg, that leads straight back to people like Rick James.”
Some of the most impactful work that rappers have produced are songs inspired by social issues like the drug war, he and several other artists argued in a brief submitted to the Supreme Court earlier this year in defense of a rapper who was convicted for threatening Pittsburgh police officers in a song.
Photo courtesy of MSNBC.
Vermont Should Legalize Marijuana Sales, Top Health Department Official Says
A top Vermont health official is endorsing the legalization of recreational marijuana sales.
During a radio interview on Monday, Cynthia Seivwright, director of the state Department of Health’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Programs, said that regulating cannabis commerce in the state would better protect public health than current policy does.
Monday’s discussion on WDEV’s Dave Gram Show included the relationship between marijuana-related health consequences and the state’s failure to regulate cannabis after lawmakers there became the nation’s first to legalize marijuana by an act of legislators in January 2018. Gov. Phil Scott (R) signed the bill, which allows low-level possession and home cultivation but continues to prohibit sales, later that month.
“Without the regulation, we don’t know what’s in it,” Seivwright said when asked whether a regulatory model that is similar to that for alcohol makes sense for cannabis. “We can’t control the potency of it. We can’t control the access, and we definitely don’t want children and adolescents to have access to it.”
“Even regulating how it’s tested,” she said, “should be done by an independent lab. Even the packaging. How do we regulate the packaging so that it isn’t desirable for children, to look like candy if it’s going to be edible? We at the Health Department support a regulated system.”
Listen to Seivwright’s marijuana legalization comments at about 1:07:00 into the audio below:
The Department of Health’s support—a first for the state agency—was welcomed by Dave Silberman, an attorney and pro bono drug policy reform advocate from Middlebury.
“Vermonters of all political stripes are eager to enact a strong regulatory system that puts consumer safety at the forefront, and generates significant revenues for the Department’s broader addiction prevention and treatment efforts,” he told Marijuana Moment. “Rather than burying their heads in the sand and wishing for a drug-free America, the Department seems to finally be taking a facts-based approach to cannabis, rooted in harm reduction instead of stigma. That is a very good thing.”
Seivwright’s support also comes on the heels of renewed attention to the question of regulating marijuana commerce among Vermont legislators. In January, the state Senate approved a cannabis sales legalization bill. But as the legislative session came to a close in the spring, it became clear that the legislation would not reach the House floor for a vote despite having advanced at the committee level.
Although other Democratic leaders have insisted that a marijuana marketplace legalization bill will advance in 2020, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D) said there is no guarantee, VT Digger reports.
In particular, Johnson noted that if the bill is to see a floor consideration in the new year, it will need the 76 votes required for passage in the House—indicating that she doesn’t intend to put any muscle into rounding up the support needed to pass it. Concerns such as roadside safety, youth usage and the marijuana production’s impact on the environment must also be addressed, she said.
The speaker’s stance is in contrast to the Vermont Democratic Party, which adopted support for a legal marijuana marketplace as part of its platform last year.
And last year, when the legal marijuana marketplace bill failed to reach the House floor for a vote, Majority Leader Jill Krowinski (D) reaffirmed her party’s commitment to the legislation’s eventual passage, promising that lawmakers would “finish it early” in 2020.
Over the weekend, Krowinski doubled down on her prediction that the House will vote on the legislation in the upcoming session.
“A version of that will get to the floor,” Krowinski said, according to VT Digger.
Photo courtesy of Carlos Gracia.