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D.C. Lawmakers Hold Joint Hearing On Marijuana Legalization Bill In Anticipation Of End To Federal Ban

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Washington, D.C. lawmakers on Friday held a joint hearing on a pair of bills to authorize the legal sale of recreational marijuana and significantly expand the existing medical cannabis program in the nation’s capital.

The District Council’s Committee of the Whole, along with the Judiciary and Public Safety and Business and Economic Development Committees, took testimony from about 100 people on the legislation over the course of several hours.

They heard numerous recommendations on the legalization proposal, ranging from enhancing social equity provisions to ensuring that medical cannabis patients continue to have access to their medicine to establishing regulations for hemp and CBD products.

While D.C. voters legalized the possession, home cultivation and gifting of adult-use cannabis in 2014, a congressional rider has blocked the District from using its tax dollars to implement a regulated system of sales. Advocates are hopeful that the Democratic-controlled Congress will soon remove that barrier, however, and local legislators are now taking steps to advance reform legislation as soon as they get the green light from Capitol Hill.

The bill, sponsored by Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), would “require a regulatory scheme to license the cultivation, production, and retail sale of cannabis in the District.”

It would also “require that 50 percent of tax revenues from the sale of cannabis be deposited into a Community Reinvestment Program Fund and require automatic expungement of D.C. Code cannabis-related arrests and convictions, and provide an opportunities for re-sentencing of cannabis-related convictions,” according to a summary.

At the hearing, Mendelson said the bill “seeks to create a comprehensive regulatory framework for the cultivation, production and sale of recreational cannabis while centering reinvestment and opportunities for people in the communities hit hardest by the drug war.”

The House passed Fiscal Year 2022 spending legislation that would remove the block on D.C. in July. The Senate has not yet advanced its version of the bill through the Appropriations Committee or on the floor, though panel leaders released a draft measure last month that would similarly let D.C. legalize marijuana commerce.

Democratic congressional leaders are moving to delete the rider despite the fact that President Joe Biden’s budget proposal sought to continue the Republican-led ban.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 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.

Ahead of Friday’s hearing, Mendelson and Councilwoman At-Large Christina Henderson (D) sent a letter to Senate leadership, reiterating that they do not want to see appropriations legislation continue to restrict the ability of D.C. to legalize cannabis commerce.

“Currently, the District is in the unsustainable situation of permitting recreational possession and use of small quantities of marijuana while being unable to regulate its sale or distribution,” they wrote. “As a result, a black market has evolved and is becoming substantial… It is time for us to move forward with establishing a safe and equitable recreational marijuana market here in the District.”

At Friday’s hearing, Mendelson said that while “we must wait for the congressional rider to be lifted before this act can be implemented, it’s my hope that with a Democratic majority in the Senate, the time will come soon.”

Councilman Charles Allen, who chairs the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, said that the city is entering a “weighty moment, filled with a lot of expectation.”

“As someone who looks at this issue through the lens of autonomy, public health and restorative justice, today is a really big deal for the Council,” he said. “And it’s also rare that we hopefully have an opportunity to create an entirely new regulatory structure and, to be frank, grapple with the District’s and this Council’s past complicity in the war on drugs.”

Aurelie Mathieu with the D.C. Attorney General’s office testified that the current rider blocking local marijuana sales deprives “the District of an important funding stream and from creating a cannabis market that is inclusive and remedial to communities that have been hurt the most by the war on drugs.”

“Together we can build on this important work so that when the District finally is able to set up a legalized market for cannabis, the District will be positioned to enact effective legislation that protects public safety and addresses racial inequities,” she said.

The attorney general’s office also advised the Council to add a deadline for the courts to automate expungements for prior marijuana conviction.

Fred Moosally, director of the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA), said that the “current lack of a regulatory system for adult cannabis sales in the District has proven to be both unworkable and detrimental to the public health and safety of District residents and visitors.”

But while ABRA supports the legislation, Moosally laid out a number of recommended changes.

The agency said it was important that returning citizens and people with drug convictions be permitted to own cannabis businesses, that social equity applicants are immediately eligible for loans and grants and that community reinvestment funding should be expedited, rather than waiting for marijuana tax revenue to be generated.

It further called on regulators to promulgate rules for marketing hemp and CBD products. And the director said adult-use marijuana revenue should be used to offset the tax on medical cannabis products for patients.

The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) similarly called for the elimination of the medical marijuana tax, in addition to encouraging the Council to remove proposed caps on cannabis business licenses.

“It is long overdue that D.C. residents have access to safe, regulated cannabis,” MPP’s Olivia Naugle said. “This legislation will boost public health and public safety in D.C.and begin to repair the past harms cannabis prohibition has caused by reinvesting in those communities and providing opportunity in the legal cannabis industry.”

Queen Adesuyi, policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance’s (DPA) Office of National Affairs, said in her testimony that the proposed legislation “is the product of a thoughtful, inclusive process that relied on input from stakeholders, experts, and best practices from other jurisdictions.”

DPA made several recommendations as well, such as giving first-year licensing priority to social equity applicants, rather than existing medical cannabis operators. It also said that social equity licensees “should be guaranteed a minimum percentage of the market so that at least half of all the cannabis grown and sold in the District is grown and sold by a social equity business.”

Further, the group encouraged the Council to enact regulations that don’t fully ban public smoking of cannabis, but rather treat it the same as tobacco.

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), who represents the District in Congress, said on Thursday that she is “closer than ever” to removing the blockade on cannabis commerce in her district.

Meanwhile, Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) said in April that local officials are prepared to move forward with implementing a legal system of recreational marijuana sales in the nation’s capital just as soon as they can get over the final “hurdle” of congressional interference.

Bowser introduced a cannabis commerce bill in February, though her measure was not on the agenda for Friday’s hearing alongside the cannabis legalization proposal put forward by Mendelson.

Under the chairman’s bill, at least half of marijuana business licensees would issued to social equity applicants, defined as people who faced previous convictions for cannabis-related offenses or have lived in areas with high levels of poverty, unemployment or marijuana arrests for 10 of the past 20 years.

The tax rate for adult-use marijuana products would be set at 13 percent, while medical cannabis would be taxed at six percent.

Thirty percent of tax revenue from cannabis sales would go toward a Cannabis Equity and Opportunity Fund, which would “provide loans, grants and technical assistance to these applicants.

Fifty percent of tax revenue would go to a community reinvestment fund that would provide grants to “organizations addressing issues such as economic development, homeless prevention, support for returning citizens, and civil legal aid in areas with high poverty, unemployment, and gun violence.

The courts would be required to identify and expunge records for people convicted of marijuana offenses made legal under the law. People who are actively incarcerated could have their sentence “modified, vacated, or set aside.

There are also consumer protections written into the legislation, ensuring that people using cannabis in compliance with the law don’t lose benefits, employment or other social services.

Local marijuana activists also proposed an amendment to Mendelson’s legalization bill that would allow small entrepreneurs to sell cannabis at farmers markets. It’s not clear when D.C. lawmakers will convene again to vote on proposed changes and the overall legislation.

The separate medical cannabis bill that the Council considered on Friday would allow patients to obtain marijuana from any registered dispensary in the District, instead of just one that they’re registered with under current law. A summary says that dispensaries could also “operate safe use treatment facilities as well as offer tastings and demonstrations and/or classes with the proper endorsements” under the proposal.

Further, delivery and curbside pickup would be permitted. The cap on the number of plants that a cultivation center can grow would be eliminated, and the number of dispensaries permitted in the District would be increased. Additionally, the bill seeks to remove “certain prohibitions against returning citizens ability to take part in the medical marijuana industry.”

In March, a federal oversight agency determined that the congressional rider blocking marijuana sales in D.C. does not preclude local officials from taking procedural steps to prepare for the eventual reform, such as holding hearings, even if they cannot yet enact it with the blockade pending.

Weeks before this committee meeting, a provision of a separate marijuana measure that could have led to a broad crackdown on the city’s unregulated market for recreational cannabis was removed—a win for advocates who had rallied against the proposal.

Activists strongly criticized the proposed measure over a component that would have punished businesses that “gift” marijuana in a manner that effectively circumvents the local prohibition on retail cannabis sales.

The bill contains separate provisions that are meant to help patients maintain their registration for medical cannabis and allow them to shop at medical dispensaries to encourage them not to make purchases in the illicit market. The mayor instituted emergency policies last year to make it so patient registrations wouldn’t expire during the coronavirus public health crisis, but those expired in July, resulting in thousands of patients no longer being eligible for cannabis in the regulated, medical market.

Mendelson previously said that drop off from patient registration rolls means some may be going to non-regulated sources for their cannabis because of financial and logistical challenges associated with re-registering for the program. And so his proposed legislation is meant to lower barriers to accessing medical cannabis.

Separately, another group of activists recently announced an effort to pressure local lawmakers enact broad drug decriminalization, with a focus on promoting harm reduction programs, in the nation’s capital. A poll released last month found that voters are strongly in favor of proposals.

Germany Set To Legalize Marijuana Nationwide After Major Parties Reach Agreement

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Credit Unions Urge Congress To Pass Marijuana Banking Reform Through Defense Bill

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Major associations representing U.S. credit unions are calling on Congress to pass marijuana banking reform through must-pass defense legislation.

It’s the latest in a series of requests from lawmakers, stakeholders and advocates to advance legislation to protect financial institutions that work with state-legal cannabis businesses from being penalized by federal regulators.

Specifically, they want to see the Senate follow the House’s lead in attaching language from the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

“We take no position on legalizing or decriminalizing medicinal or recreational cannabis at either the state or federal level,” the associations said in a letter to key committee leadership. “However, credit unions operating in states where it is legal have members and member businesses involved in the cannabis market who need access to traditional depository and lending services, the absence of which creates a significant public safety issue.”

The Credit Union National Association, Defense Credit Union Council and National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions signed the letter, which also touches on non-cannabis issues.

The groups, which wrote that they “strongly support” attaching SAFE Banking to NDAA, also stressed that “financial institutions that choose not to bank the cannabis industry still risk unknowingly serving those businesses in states where cannabis is legal.”

“Indirect connections are often difficult to identify and avoid because like any other industry, those offering cannabis-related services work with vendors and suppliers,” the letter continues. “Under the existing status quo, a credit union that does business with any one of these indirectly affiliated entities could unknowingly risk violating federal law.”

“Inclusion of the SAFE Banking Act puts in place necessary protections to bring revenue from state-sanctioned cannabis businesses into the financial services mainstream and, as a result, keeping communities safe,” it concludes.

While the Senate has yet to independently add the banking reform language to its version of NDAA, supporters want to see the provisions adopted by negotiators in conference for the final legislation sent to President Joe Biden’s desk.

Bipartisan members of the Senate Armed Services Committee recently sent their own letter urging leaders to include the SAFE Banking Act in the final NDAA. Shortly thereafter, U.S. senators representing Colorado made the same request in a separate letter.

The SAFE Banking Act has been approved in some form in the House five times now, but it’s so far languished in the Senate. Stakeholders have held out hope that the chamber would advance the legislation with a Democratic majority, but some key players like Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) have insisted on passing comprehensive legalization—like a reform bill he’s finalizing—first.

That said, Schumer has signaled that he’s open to enacting banking reform through NDAA if it contained social equity provisions.

Earlier this month, a bipartisan coalition of two dozen governors implored congressional leaders to finally enact marijuana banking reform through the large-scale defense legislation.

A group of small marijuana business owners also recently made the case that the incremental banking policy change could actually help support social equity efforts.

Rodney Hood, a board member of the National Credit Union Administration, wrote in a Marijuana Moment op-ed last month that legalization is an inevitability—and it makes the most sense for government agencies to get ahead of the policy change to resolve banking complications now.

Meanwhile, an official with the Internal Revenue Service said last month that the agency would like to “get paid,” and it’d help if the marijuana industry had access to banks like companies in other legal markets so they could more easily comply with tax laws.

Federal data shows that many financial institutions remain hesitant to take on cannabis companies as clients, however, which is likely due to the fact that the plant is a strictly controlled substance under federal law.

Read the letter from the credit union associations on marijuana banking below: 

Click to access 110421_ndaa_joint-trade.pdf

 

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Marijuana Had ‘Unprecedented’ Success In State Legislatures In 2021, NORML Report Shows

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Lawmakers across the U.S. proved again in 2021 that marijuana reform will continue to advance on the state level despite the recalcitrance of Congress to end federal prohibition.

As more eyes turn to 2022 legislative sessions, a report from NORML that was released on Monday details advocates’ progress on the cannabis front this year in more than 25 states, where over 50 pieces of marijuana reform legislation were enacted.

Most notably, legislatures and governors in five states enacted recreational legalization—a notable trend given that the reform has historically been decided by voters as ballot initiatives. But 2021 has also seen more modest policy changes related to medical cannabis, decriminalization and social equity.

“State lawmakers took unprecedented steps this year to repeal marijuana prohibition laws and to provide relief to those millions of Americans who have suffered as a result of them,” NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said in a press release.

Of course, one of the primary objectives of reform advocates is to comprehensively end prohibition. To that end, the legislatures of Connecticut, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Virginia each legalized marijuana for adult use this year. (New Jersey’s action came months after voters approved a referendum on the issue during last November’s election.)

In Rhode Island, the Senate approved a marijuana legalization bill in June. While legislative leaders discussed holding a special session to send a final measure to the governor’s desk, it now appears more likely that the issue will be taken up again in 2022.

North Dakota’s House also passed a recreational legalization bill, but it was later rejected in the Senate.

Louisiana lawmakers, meanwhile, passed legislation this year that decriminalizes possession of up to 14 grams of cannabis.

With respect to expungements for prior marijuana convictions, reform measures meant to help provide people with relief were approved in Colorado, Delaware, New Mexico and Virginia, NORML reported.

As an example, the governor of Colorado signed a bill in May to double the marijuana possession limit for adults in the state—and he also directed state law enforcement to identify people with prior convictions for the new limit who he may be able to pardon.

Separately, Alabama’s governor signed legislation that same month to legalize medical cannabis in the state.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 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.

At least 15 states took steps to expand existing medical marijuana programs. They range from California, where hospitals will now be required to permit medical cannabis use by certain patients, to Texas, where patients can now qualify for low-THC marijuana products if they suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or cancer.

As state markets have continued to evolve, some lawmakers have turned their attention to enhancing social equity in the industry. And to that end, five state legislatures advanced reform this year.

For example, Illinois passed a bill to create additional marijuana licensing lotteries to expand business opportunities. And in Michigan, the governor signed a bill this month that makes it so people with cannabis-related felony or misdemeanor convictions on their record are no longer disqualified from obtaining a medical cannabis business license.

NORML also documented other reform bills related to the business industry, driving/DUI policies, juvenile justice and more. One miscellaneous measure that was enacted in California, for example, makes it so non-intoxicating cannabinoids, including CBD, can be sold as dietary supplements and as ingredients in food and beverages.

“As we approach the 2022 legislative session and the elections next November, it is important for lawmakers of all political persuasions to recognize that advocating for marijuana policy reforms is a political opportunity, not a political liability,” NORML’s Armentano said. “These policies are popular among voters, regardless of political party.”

Activists and lawmakers have made clear that the cannabis reform momentum will continue through the new year.

On Monday, for instance, a Kentucky lawmaker announced that she is pre-filing bills to legalize possession, limited sales and home cultivation of marijuana in the state for the 2022 session.

In the South Dakota legislature, a cannabis reform bill has been formally recommended by a leadership panel for the upcoming session. And activists will also continue collecting signatures for a 2022 ballot initiative—though they hope to work with lawmakers to advance reform legislatively ahead of next year’s election.

The Indiana Democratic party is mounting a push for marijuana legalization and calling on state lawmakers to enact the reform in 2022.

Arkansas activists are also hoping to place marijuana legalization on the state’s 2022 ballot.

Last month, Oklahoma activists filed a pair of 2022 ballot initiatives to legalize adult-use marijuana and remodel the state’s existing medical cannabis program.

In Nebraska, advocates unveiled the language of a pair of initiatives to legalize medical marijuana in the state last month.

This summer, New Hampshire lawmakers discussed a new strategy to legalize marijuana in the state that involves putting a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot for voters to decide on in 2022.

Wyoming activists, meanwhile, are working to collect signatures for 2022 ballot initiatives to legalize medical marijuana and decriminalize cannabis possession.

A Maryland House working group has been tasked with studying marijuana and preparing a legalization referendum that the speaker wants to put on next year’s ballot.

Just months ago, Ohio activists were cleared to begin collecting signatures for a 2022 ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in the state. And the campaign says it expects to have enough valid signatures by the end of this month.

Idaho advocates are also pursuing a 2022 cannabis legalization ballot initiative as well as a separate proposal focused on medical marijuana.

Kentucky Lawmaker Pre-Files Marijuana Legalization Bills For 2022 Session

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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Kentucky Lawmaker Pre-Files Marijuana Legalization Bills For 2022 Session

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A Kentucky lawmaker announced on Monday that she is pre-filing bills to legalize possession, limited sales and home cultivation of marijuana in the state for the 2022 session, with endorsements from several leading advocacy groups.

Rep. Nima Kulkarni (D) is taking a dual-track approach to the reform, with one bill to have the legislature adopt the policy as a statutory measure and another to enact legalization through a constitutional amendment that would go before voters.

Generally speaking, the measures would accomplish the same central objective of ending prohibition, but Kulkarni said they’re meant to complement each other by giving lawmakers an opportunity to pass legalization in the short-term while allowing voters to constitutionally enact the reform as a “more permanent fix that gives cannabis use the constitutional protection it deserves.”

“I am sponsoring these bills for several reasons, any one of which should be enough for them to become law,” the sponsor said in a press release.

“First, current cannabis statutes have needlessly and tragically ruined many lives, especially people of color who have suffered because of unequal enforcement,” she said. “Second, thousands of citizens, from cancer patients to veterans suffering from PTSD, should have the right to use something that gives them the mental and physical relief they deserve without relying on stronger, potentially addictive medicine. Third, cannabis decriminalization would give the state a much-needed source of reliable revenue without raising current taxes a single cent.”

Kulkarni further noted that polls “have repeatedly shown a majority of Kentuckians backs decriminalization and allowing cannabis to be used responsibly by adults.”

Under one of the lawmaker’s pre-filed bills, a constitutional amendment would be placed on the ballot if three-fifths of the House and Senate approve it during next year’s legislative session. If passed by voters, adults 21 and older would be able to possess, purchase and sell up to one ounce of cannabis. They could also grow up to five plants for personal use.

The measure would task the General Assembly with coming up with regulations on matters such as licensing and taxes.

The separate statutory proposal would similarly remove criminal penalties for low-level possession, cultivation and sale of cannabis. It would also amend state statute so that marijuana paraphernalia would no longer be criminalized and create a pathway for people to have their cannabis convictions expunged.

Neither measure creates a regulatory structure for commercial marijuana sales, something that would be subject to separate legislation.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 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.

“Because of outdated and ill-enforced laws, thousands of Kentuckians have lost time and opportunities due to criminal convictions, and thousands more have suffered needlessly because Kentucky blocks cannabis’ medicinal use,” ACLU of Kentucky said. “It is past time for the commonwealth to join the 36 other states that have removed most if not all of these barriers, which is why we are proud to add our name to those supporting Rep. Nima Kulkarni’s legislation.”

While Kentucky is well-known for its hemp industry, broader reform has consistently stalled.

The Republican sponsor of a bill to legalize medical marijuana in Kentucky said last month that he made multiple revisions to the legislation to scale it back and add restrictions to garner more support from colleagues—and he said he’s confident it would pass if legislative leaders had the “courage” to simply allow a vote on it.

Rep. Jason Nemes (R) filed a medical legalization bill that soundly passed the House last year but later died in the Senate without a vote amid the early part of the coronavirus pandemic. He reintroduced the legislation in January for the 2021 session but it did not advance this year. Now he’s working to build support for a new version for 2022.

Gov. Andy Beshear (D) is in favor of medical marijuana legalization and called on lawmakers to pass the reform during a State of the Commonwealth address in January.

Passing an adult-use marijuana legalization bill would presumably be a much larger challenge in the conservative legislature, but the proposal has the backing of several prominent groups.

Mike Conway, state director for Americans for Prosperity-Kentucky, said the pre-filed bills “would move Kentucky away from the harmful policies that have criminalized the use and possession of marijuana.”

“Criminal enforcement of marijuana possession has unnecessarily brought thousands of Kentuckians into the criminal justice system while diverting law enforcement resources away from public safety priorities such as violent crime reduction,” he said.

Matthew Bratcher, executive director for Kentucky NORML, said the group “commends Representative Kulkarni in her efforts to reform the cannabis possession laws in our commonwealth, and we encourage other legislators from both sides of the aisle to join her in making a difference in the lives of many of Kentuckians.”

“We’re at the precipice of the opening of the cannabis industry here in Kentucky,” C.J. Carter, Kentucky state director for Minorities for Medical Marijuana, said. “This is indeed a dangerous moment in time for Black and Brown people. There’s a new multi-billion dollar industry that will soon open on both the Federal and State level while simultaneously, people who look like me remain criminalized behind bars and are once again being left out of the conversation.”

“We now have the opportunity to write a different narrative in Kentucky that would benefit us first and foremost,” he said. “The State of Kentucky and its history as it relates to cannabis owes a tremendous debt to the Black Community and that starts with this legislation that is being introduced by Rep. Kulkarni.”

Read the text of the pre-filed Kentucky marijuana legalization bills below: 

Click to access kentucky-cannabis-bills.pdf

Florida Lawmaker Files Bill To Decriminalize All Currently Illicit Drugs

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