Connect with us

Politics

El Paso, Texas Lawmakers Approve Measure To Reduce Arrests For Low-Level Marijuana Possession

Published

on

The El Paso City Council approved a measure on Tuesday that encourages police to issue citations for low-level marijuana cases instead of making arrests.

The cite-and-release proposal passed in a 7-0 vote, with one abstention. It directs the city manager to implement the policy change so that people who commit a Class A or B misdemeanor cannabis possession offense are not immediately sent to jail to be processed.

Advocates say that this will result in less wasted time and resources for law enforcement and reduce the jail population. Individuals cited would still have to appear before a judge at a later date, however.

Statewide legislation that passed in 2007 gives police the discretion to issue citations rather than bring people into custody for these misdemeanor offenses, but some law enforcement agencies have insisted on continuing to lock people up for minor cannabis crimes.

Meanwhile, El Paso isn’t the only city in Texas to push for marijuana reform at the local level while cannabis remains criminalized statewide. The Austin City Council approved a resolution aimed at ending arrests for low-level marijuana possession earlier this year, though the city’s police department said it would continue to make arrests regardless.

The El Paso City Council first took up the cite-and-release proposal in November but, after some disagreement among representatives, initially voted instead to consult with law enforcement and the district attorney’s office to develop recommendations for implementation.

Now that the proposal has been approved this week it is up to the City Manager to come up with an implementation plan and put the policy into effect by September 1.

“Since 2007, all law enforcement officers in Texas have the legal authority and discretion to issue citations, rather than arresting people for small amounts of marijuana,” Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, told Marijuana Moment. “They usually don’t use this discretion because of political pressure.”

The text of the El Paso measure states that “arrests for misdemeanor possession of marijuana result in a significant drain on the police department, requiring countless man hours and tax dollars to arrest, transport and book each alleged offender.”

The “City Council still seeks to further the goals of reducing jail population for non-violent offenders and reducing the time offices spend on jail processing procedures, a cite and release program for Class A and Class B misdemeanor possession of marijuana is in the best interest of the City of El Paso and its citizens,” the resolution continues.

Police will have to receive training on how the process will work, and the local government will incur an estimated annual cost of about $2,600 to cover citation books.

El Paso first enacted marijuana prohibition in 1915, well before the federal drug war ramped up.

But in the decades since, the City Council in the Texas border town has seen some interesting leadership on the drug policy reform front. One of the clearest examples is former Councilman Beto O’Rourke (D), who said in 2009 that the violence of the drug war demanded that legislators have a conversation about the possibility of legalizing marijuana and “ending the prohibition of narcotics.”

He was attacked over an amendment he filed to that effect which passed the Council but was later vetoed by the mayor, though the exposure inadvertently helped launch him into the national spotlight, paving the path for his successful run for Congress and eventual 2020 Democratic presidential bid.

The city also currently has a separate policy called the First Chance program. Under that initiative, individuals with no prior convictions who are guilty of low-level cannabis possession can pay a $100 to avoid jail and maintain a clean record.

The Texas House of Representatives approved a marijuana decriminalization bill about a year ago, but it did not advance in the Senate before the end of the 2019 session. Lawmakers are not scheduled to meet in 2020.

“Advocates have to keep working at every level of government to push politicians to do the right thing, including a statewide policy change, banning arrests for marijuana possession,” Fazio said. “Our next shot begins in January 2021.”

Cannabis possession cases have been declining in Texas—but not because marijuana laws have formally changed. Instead, law enforcement are reporting fewer possession cases, and advocates attribute that to the legalization of hemp, which has created complications for police when attempting to determine whether a person is lawfully possessing the non-intoxicating crop or the still-illicit cousin.

Meanwhile, officers with the Texas Department of Public Safety were directed last year not to arrest people for possessing four ounces or less of marijuana and instead issue a citation. Again, this policy change was connected to hemp legalization.

The state’s proposed hemp regulations were approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in January.

Most People In Recreational Marijuana States Believe Legalization Is A Success, Poll Finds

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

USDA Approves Hemp Plans For Six Additional States And Three Indian Tribes

Published

on

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has signed off on hemp plans for six additional states and three Indian tribes this month, with a new batch of approvals coming on Friday.

Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New Mexico, Oklahoma and South Dakota each had their regulatory proposals accepted within the past two weeks, as did the Comanche Nation, the San Carlos Apache Tribe of Arizona and the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma.

That raises the total number of approved plans to 69.

USDA has been signing off on hemp proposals on a rolling basis over the past year. Last month, it accepted plans from Utah and the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians.

“USDA continues to receive and review hemp production plans from states and Indian tribes,” the agency said in two notices.

Illinois and Oklahoma were among a group of states that USDA had asked to revise and resubmit their initial proposals in August.

While the agency released an interim final rule for a domestic hemp production program last year, industry stakeholders and lawmakers have expressed concerns about certain policies it views as excessively restrictive.

USDA closed an extended public comment period on its proposed hemp regulations earlier this month. Its initial round saw more than 4,600 submissions, but it said last month that it was reopening the feedback period in response to intense pushback from stakeholders on its original proposal.

The federal Small Business Administration (SBA) said last month that the new 30-day comment window is too short and asked USDA to push it back, and it also issued a series of recommended changes to the interim final rule on hemp, which it says threaten to “stifle” the industry and benefit big firms over smaller companies.

All told, it appears that USDA is taking seriously the feedback it’s received and may be willing to make certain accommodations on these particular policies. The department’s rule for hemp is set to take effect on October 31, 2021.

In July, two senators representing Oregon sent a letter to Perdue, expressing concern that hemp testing requirements that were temporarily lifted will be reinstated in the agency’s final rule. They made a series of requests for policy changes.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) wrote to Perdue in August, asking that USDA delay issuing final regulations for the crop until 2022 and allow states to continue operating under the 2014 Farm Bill hemp pilot program in the meantime.

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) also called on USDA to delay the implementation of proposed hemp rules, citing concerns about certain restrictive policies the federal agency has put forward in the interim proposal.

The earlier pilot program was initially set to expire on October 31, but it was extended to September 2021 through a congressional continuing resolution that the president signed late last month.

The senators weren’t alone in requesting an extension, as state agriculture departments and a major hemp industry group made a similar request to both Congress and USDA in August.

Perdue has said on several occasions that DEA influenced certain rules, adding that the narcotics agency wasn’t pleased with the overall legalization of hemp.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, hemp industry associations pushed for farmers to be able to access to certain COVID-19 relief loans—a request that Congress granted in the most recent round of coronavirus legislation.

While USDA previously said that hemp farmers are specifically ineligible for its Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, that decision was reversed last month. While the department initially said it would not even reevaluate the crop’s eligibility based on new evidence, it removed that language shortly after Marijuana Moment reported on the exclusion.

Two members of Congress representing New York also wrote a letter to Perdue in June, asking that the agency extend access to that program to hemp farmers.

Hemp farmers approved to produce the crop do stand to benefit from other federal loan programs, however. The department released guidelines for processing loans for the industry in May.

Meanwhile, USDA announced last week that it is planning to distribute a national survey to gain insights from thousands of hemp businesses that could inform its approach to regulating the industry.

New York Will Legalize Marijuana By April And Regulate CBD-Infused Drinks, Governor’s Advisor Says

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.
Continue Reading

Politics

AOC Wants To Work With Republicans To Legalize Marijuana And End War On Drugs

Published

on

Democrats and Republicans might be divided on a number of major policy issues, but Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) said on Thursday that ending the drug war and legalizing marijuana are increasingly standing out as exceptions to hyper-partisanship in Congress.

The congresswoman made the point during a virtual town hall alongside cannabis reform ally Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), stating that since she took office, it’s been encouraging to see members on both sides of the aisle come together on issues concerning “civil rights policy and civil liberties,” including ending “drug prohibition laws.”

“We’ve been able to propose solutions on a wide spectrum towards decriminalization, towards legalization, and that is increasingly becoming a position that more Republicans are amenable to,” she said.

For example, her spending bill amendment to divert $5 million in funding from the Drug Enforcement Administration to an opioid treatment program was approved without opposition in the House last year, Ocasio-Cortez said.

“That’s defund before defund became a widespread demand that we heard this year—and Republicans supported it,” she said, referencing progressive calls to defund law enforcement amid protests over police killings of black Americans. “So there are some areas where you can find common ground.”

Blumenauer also said at the event that “part of why we are fighting so hard to eliminate the failed prohibition on cannabis is because that’s been a tool that’s been used against people of color in particular that has horrific consequences and helps fuel that prison pipeline that has wreaked such havoc on our communities.”

To that end, Ocasio-Cortez said that, beyond federally legalizing cannabis, it’s important for lawmakers to ensure that any regulated markets that emerge are structured in a way that encourages participation by communities most hurt under prohibition.

“There are different ways that we can go about legalizing cannabis in the United States, and you can go about it in a way that concentrates power in a [Big Agriculture] way that concentrates power in big banks and that cuts out small mom and pops,” she said. “And then there’s another path towards legalization where everyday people and especially the black and brown communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs can be at the front of the line of enjoying the economic benefits of legalization.”

“I think we’re just so past due to make sure that we’re legalizing cannabis in the United States and that we’re expunging people’s records from the absolutely unjust war on drugs,” the congresswoman said. “It is an incredible priority.”

Another New Jersey Poll Shows Marijuana Legalization Passing By A Huge Margin

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.
Continue Reading

Politics

New York Will Legalize Marijuana By April And Regulate CBD-Infused Drinks, Governor’s Advisor Says

Published

on

The top marijuana advisor to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) says cannabis legalization legislation will again be introduced through the state budget in January, with the goal being to enact the reform by April. He also previewed state regulations for hemp-derived CBD products, including allowing infused drinks and food items.

During an interview with Canopy Growth Corp.’s David Culver on the company’s recently launched video series, “Under The Canopy,” Assistant Counsel Axel Bernabe talked about how efforts to legalize marijuana in surrounding states underscore the need for reform in New York. And he said the legislation the governor will be introducing will serve as a “model” for other states, prioritizing social equity and economic development.

But he also recognized that neighboring New Jersey may beat the Empire State to the punch, as voters are positioned to approve a legalization referendum next month.

“We’re watching New Jersey closely. We’ve always been confident that we get to this before New Jersey, so if they pass the referendum they still have to have agreement between the governor the Senate over there,” he said, referring to necessary implementing legislation that will need to be approved if voters pass the ballot question. “We’re working on this. We’re going to reintroduce this in our budget in January. We think we can get it done by April 1.”

That said, a top New Jersey senator recently indicated that lawmakers in the Garden State could pass the enacting bill as soon as the first week of November.

Over in New York, Cuomo has included legalization in his budget proposal for the last two years, but negotiations have consistently stalled out in the legislature, with sticking points such as how cannabis tax revenue will be allocated preventing a deal from being reached.

“If Jersey can beat us to it, then they’ll get the gold star—but I still think we’re going to set the model here.”

Bernabe said he’s especially excited about the public safety and economic development components of the administration’s forthcoming legalization proposal. And he spoke about the need to ensure social equity for communities historically targeted by the war on drugs, adding that there will be some changes from this year’s version in light of other states’ experiences.

“I would say equity pervades the entirety of the bill. It pervades it on the licensing front, it’s on the revenue side and the use of funds and providing capital and loans,” he said.

Also in the interview, Bernabe talked about pending regulations for hemp-derived cannabinoids. While those who grow the crop for fiber, seeds and other agricultural purposes are covered under existing rules, he said the administration is “literally putting the final tweaks” on policies for consumer CBD products that will take effect at the beginning of 2021.

“We’re excited because we’ve taken the bull by the horns so to speak. I think people recognize that there are a lot of sectors or product lines that haven’t really had some thorough regulation attached to them,” he said. “You can pick a number of them but probably the most high-profile or obvious ones are something like vapes—so CBD or other cannabinoid extract vapes. Flower, even some tinctures, and foods and beverages.”

“How do you regulate that? What are the parameters around it? What’s permissible? What’s not?” he said. “We dug deep. I don’t know that we’ll get everything right. We had to make some calls.”

The administration official offered an example of a regulation they’re likely to pursue that other states have avoided: creating rules for cannabinoid-infused drinks and food items.

“We think of this in terms of consumer protection. Those products are already out there. There’s no sense in trying to pretend they’re not,” he said, adding that one way they’re planning to ensure those protections is to set a maximum 25 milligram CBD dose per serving.

“We’re really doing it across the board on this,” Bernabe said. “We’re really looking at every product class and trying to strike a balance between consumer protection and letting people have what they’re obviously using extensively for health and wellness.”

As the administration finalizes those rules, the state’s hemp industry also recently got some news about broader regulations. Since a congressional continuing rider signed by the president last month extends the 2014 Farm Bill pilot program for the crop until next September, the New York Agriculture Department said it will similarly allow hemp businesses to continue to operate under the existing program until September 30, 2021.

“With so much uncertainty right now, we applaud [the department’s] move to extend these rules,” Allan Gandelman, president of the New York Cannabis Growers and Processors Association, said in a press release on Wednesday.

Another New Jersey Poll Shows Marijuana Legalization Passing By A Huge Margin

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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.
Continue Reading
Advertisement

Marijuana News In Your Inbox

Support Marijuana Moment

Marijuana News In Your Inbox

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!