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Delaware Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Legalization Bill

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A Delaware House committee approved a bill to legalize marijuana for adult use in the state on Wednesday.

The legislation would allow people aged 21 and older to possess, consume and purchase certain amounts of cannabis. It also contains a number of social equity provisions, including expungements for individuals with prior possession convictions.

The House Revenue & Finance Committee signed off on the bill in a 8 to 3 vote. It now heads to the full chamber for consideration.

“Both the public and elected officials are recognizing that cannabis prohibition is a failed policy and that was reflected in the committee’s approval of HB 110 today,” Olivia Naugle, legislative coordinator with the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), told Marijuana Moment. “We hope the full House will now follow the committee’s lead and vote to replace prohibition with sensible regulation.”

A majority of lawmakers in the state’s House voted in favor of a separate legalization bill last year but, because it dealt with taxes and fees, it required votes from 60 percent of the chamber and fell short of that supermajority threshold for passage.

If the current legislation is ultimately approved and signed into law, legalization will see a gradual rollout. A state marijuana commissioner will be responsible for issuing licenses and regulating cannabis businesses. Initially, only 15 retailers will receive licenses; three years after the effective date, additional retailer licenses could be approved if there’s sufficient demand.

The commissioner will also issue licenses for five testing facilities, 50 cultivation sites and 30 product manufacturers. Applicants will be scored based on several factors, including their diversity objectives,  environmental sustainability plans and what kinds of benefits they will offer employees.

Existing medical cannabis dispensaries will also have a licensing advantage. Home cultivation would not be allowed under the bill.

Prospective marijuana businesses would have to pay a $5,000 application fee. There would also be a biennial $10,000 licensing renewal fee for retailers, testing facilities and product manufacturers. A month after the effective date, an 11-month transition period will occur, with cannabis sales taxed at 25 percent. Once the transition is over, sales would be taxed at 15 percent.

Revenue from those taxes would cover the costs of regulating the program and then the legislature would be tasked with allocating any additional revenue to programs it deems fit.

In written testimony submitted to the committee, the former chief of staff to then-Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) said that he voted against his state’s adult use legalization measure in 2012—but that he now feels that was a mistake.

“Most of our elected officials and community leaders were convinced it would lead to increased teen marijuana use, destroy our economy, and hamper the tourism industry, and I shared some of their concerns,” Douglas Friednash wrote. “I’ve now had six-and-a-half years to see the effects firsthand. And, I can can tell you none of this has come true, and my opinion has changed.”

“I urge Delaware, and other states, to follow the lead of Colorado and nine other states and replace cannabis prohibition with thoughtful regulation,” he said.

Naugle, of MPP, also testified before the panel, arguing that the legalization legislation would free up law enforcement resources, disrupt the illicit market and generate significant revenue for Delaware.

A fiscal note for the bill estimated that annual costs associated with the program would be about $1.3 million, in addition to the one-time implementation cost projection of $444,000. Those costs would be offset by revenue gained through fees and taxes, however, with the legislation projected to bring in anywhere between $9.4 million to $23.6 million each year.

The Law Enforcement Action Partnership also voiced support for the reform move. Judge Gordon McAllister, a speaker for the advocacy group, said in a press release that a “cornerstone of our democracy is acknowledging that we can always do better,” which is what the legislation does.

“We must change laws to fit the needs and best interests of our communities,” he said.

The favorable committee vote follows the passage last week of a marijuana legalization bill in Illinois, which is now being transmitted to the desk of pro-reform Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s (D). In Delaware, Gov. John Carney (D) remains skeptical about regulating cannabis sales, though, meaning the legislation may still face obstacles if the full House and Senate approve it.

But Wednesday’s development also stands in contrast to legislative happenings in New York and New Jersey, where legalization bills have stalled. Leading lawmakers in New Jersey said that the issue will be placed on the 2020 ballot, leaving it up to voters instead. In New York, just days remain in the legislative session, with advocates pushing hard to get a pending legalization proposal a vote before time runs out.

Congressional Report Raises Questions About Whether Marijuana Impairs Driving

Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

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.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

Politics

New York And Connecticut Governors Talk Marijuana Legalization On Fishing Trip

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The governors of New York and Connecticut went fishing and talked about marijuana legalization on Tuesday.

The conversation comes after lawmakers in both states were unable to pass legalization legislation before their respective sessions’ ends this year, despite having the support of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D).

“We talked about policy issues like the marijuana issue, which is obviously also relevant to contiguous states,” Cuomo said at a press conference following the fishing trip. “What Connecticut does on marijuana is relevant to New York, what New York does is relevant to Connecticut so we talked about that and a lot of issues. So we had fun.”

Watch Cuomo’s marijuana comments at about 5:00 into the video below:

Cuomo had described legalization as a top legislative priority for 2019 and included it in his state budget proposal. But after months of negotiations with lawmakers, the plan fell through, due in part to disagreements about how to allocate tax revenue and whether to allow individual jurisdictions to opt out of allowing cannabis businesses.

The governor did sign legislation in July that expands the state’s marijuana decriminalization policy and provides a pathway for expungements of past marijuana convictions.

Over in Connecticut, Lamont campaigned on legalization during his election bid last year and described it as one of his administration’s “priorities” after he took office. But as with neighboring New York, the legislature failed to advance a legalization bill beside multiple successful committee votes and hearings throughout the year.

The specifics of what the governors talked about during their fishing expedition on Lake Ontario aren’t clear, but both are presumably gearing up for another round of legislative efforts marijuana over the coming year and could take lessons from each other as reform talks continue.

Another East Coast state, New Jersey, has also struggled to move legalization legislation forward, with lawmakers saying that the issue should be taken up by voters in 2020 rather than pushed through the legislature, though there has been discussion lately about another try at moving a bill before year’s end. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) did sign a decriminalization and expungements bill in May, however.

Federal Data Shows Youth Marijuana Use Isn’t Increasing Under Legalization

Photo courtesy of CBS 6.

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GOP Congressman Will Meet Attorney General To Discuss Expanding Marijuana Research

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Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) said on Monday that he will soon be speaking with the U.S. attorney general about expanding marijuana research.

The congressman, a close ally of President Trump, is a vocal proponent of medical cannabis and has argued that the federal drug scheduling system is hampering research into the plant’s therapeutic potential.

“I will be meeting with Attorney General Bill Barr in the coming weeks to discuss the Department of Justice’s approach to unlocking more research grants so that we can have American innovation applied to our health care in a way that can get people off of some of these devastating opioids and painkillers, and on to a more natural product,” he said following a radio town hall event.

Even under the framework of prohibition, the Justice Department is able to promote research by, for example, approving additional marijuana manufacturers—something the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said it would do three years ago.

Barr has voiced support for expanding the number of federally authorized cannabis manufacturers.

“I think we’re going to move forward on it,” the attorney general said in April. “I think it’s very important to get those additional suppliers.”

Earlier this year, Gaetz joined congressional colleagues in leading a letter addressed to Barr and the head of DEA expressing frustration that the Justice Department has declined to take action despite its pledges. The lawmakers implored DEA to “do whatever you can to speed up and improve the research application process.

Gaetz also introduced legislation that would force DEA to approve additional facilities to produce research-grade cannabis. A version filed last year cleared the Judiciary Committee in a voice vote, and he reintroduced the bill in January but it has not yet been acted upon.

Listen to Gaetz’s new cannabis comments, about 1:20 into the audio below:

DEA is facing two lawsuits regarding its approach to marijuana, including one that concerns the lack of diversity of research-grade cannabis since only one manufacture is currently authorized. The agency was ordered to respond to the suit by August 28.

Separately, a group of patients and advocates sued DEA over marijuana’s Schedule I status under the Controlled Substances Act, with a federal court directing the agency to “promptly” consider reclassifying cannabis.

Gaetz also spoke about the need to more broadly reform cannabis laws during the Monday remarks.

“The federal government listing marijuana as a Schedule I drug impairs financial transactions, it impairs research and it stops us from being able to unlock cures for some of America’s most vulnerable people,” the congressman said, adding that he’s a cosponsor of legislation that would deschedule marijuana that was introduced by Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY).

Gaetz, who is also a member of the Judiciary Committee, said he is requesting that the panel hold a hearing on cannabis legislation. That’d mark the second such meeting after a Judiciary subcommittee convened last month to discuss paths to ending federal prohibition.

The congressman’s staff wasn’t able to provide Marijuana Moment with additional details regarding the meeting with Barr.

Congressman Says Marijuana Could Be Legal Sooner If Trump Stops Tweeting

Photo courtesy of Meredith Geddings.

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Elizabeth Warren’s Criminal Justice Plan Involves Legalizing Marijuana And Safe Injection Sites

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Legalizing marijuana, granting clemency to people convicted of drug offenses and investing in harm reduction programs such as safe injection sites are part of a criminal justice reform plan that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) released on Tuesday.

The 2020 Democratic presidential candidate stressed that the war on drugs has been carried out in a racially discriminatory manner, writing that it’s unfair that “a kid with an ounce of pot can get thrown in jail, while a bank executive who launders money for a drug cartel can get a bonus. It’s long past time for us to reform our system.”

“This failure [of the drug war] has been particularly harmful for communities of color, and we need a new approach,” she said. “It starts with legalizing marijuana and erasing past convictions, and then eliminating the remaining disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentencing.”

What’s more, the drug war “has criminalized addiction, ripped apart families—and largely failed to curb drug use” when a more effective system would treat addiction as a public health issue.

That includes diverting people who’ve been convicted of non-violent drug offenses to treatment programs and providing evidence-based resources for people suffering from addiction. For example, Warren’s plan calls for safe injection sites where people can use illicit drugs under the supervision of medical professionals who can help prevent fatal overdoses and get people into treatment. She also said needle exchange programs and expanding access to buprenorphine would reduce the opioid crisis.

“Instead of locking up people for nonviolent marijuana crimes, I’ve proposed putting pharmaceutical executives on the hook to report suspicious orders for controlled substances that damage the lives of millions.”

She also called for the abolition of certain mandatory minimum sentences and said that “people who struggle with addiction should not be incarcerated because of their disease.”

“Mass incarceration has not reduced addiction rates or overdose deaths, because substance abuse disorder is a public health problem — and it’s long past time to treat it that way,” the plan says. “We know that diversion programs are both more humane and a better investment than incarceration — for every dollar we invest in treatment programs, we can save $12 in future crime and health care costs.”

“And rather than incarcerating individuals with substance abuse disorders, we should expand options that divert them into programs that provide real treatment.”

Like Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Warren’s criminal justice reform proposal also mentions executive actions she could unilaterally take.

Specifically, she wrote that the Justice Department should not hold authority to make clemency recommendations and it should instead be left up to an independent clemency board so that those eligible for a pardons and commutations are more quickly identified.

“I’ll direct the board to identify broad classes of potentially-deserving individuals for review, including those who would have benefited from retroactivity under the First Step Act, individuals who are jailed under outdated or discriminatory drug laws, or those serving mandatory minimums that should be abolished,” she said.

The plan’s unveiling comes two days after Sanders released his criminal justice reform proposal, which also called for marijuana legalization and the implementation of harm reduction policies such as safe consumption facilities.

Buttigieg’s plan stands out from his fellow Democratic candidates in at least one regard: the mayor said drug possession should broadly be decriminalized.

Warren also released a separate plan for Indian tribes last week that involves protecting tribal cannabis programs from federal intervention.

Bernie Sanders Calls For Legalization Of Marijuana And Safe Injection Sites

Photo courtesy of Edward Kimmel.

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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