What is the impact of marijuana legalization in states that have adopted it? That’s what the proponents of a newly filed U.S. House bill are hoping to find out.
The Marijuana Data Collection Act, introduced on Tuesday by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and a bipartisan group of cosponsors, would direct the Department of Health and Human Services to partner with other federal and state government agencies to study “the effects of State legalized marijuana programs on the economy, public health, criminal justice and employment.”
“For decades, bad data and misinformation have fueled the failed war on drugs that’s wasted billions of taxpayer dollars, incarcerating Americans for nonviolent marijuana charges,” Gabbard said in House floor speech previewing the bill on Monday evening. “Our outdated marijuana policies have turned everyday Americans into criminals, strained our criminal justice system, cost taxpayers tremendously and torn families apart.”
— Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (@TulsiPress) July 24, 2018
If the legislation is enacted, the National Academy of Sciences would carry out the research and publish initial findings within 18 months, with follow-up reports to be issued every two years after that.
So far, the bill’s backers seem to consist solely of those who support marijuana law reform, a situation that legalization advocates decried.
“This is not a marijuana bill, it is an information bill,” Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, said in an interview. “No member of Congress can intellectually justify opposition to this legislation. Our public policy needs to be based on sound data and science, not gut feelings or fear-mongering. Approving the Marijuana Data Collection Act would provide legislators with reliable and fact-based information to help them decide what direction is most beneficial to society when it comes to marijuana policy.”
In 2016 alone, nearly 600,000 people were arrested for marijuana possession. Our laws must be informed by facts — not emotion, manufactured stigma and myths.
— Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (@TulsiPress) July 24, 2018
Leading prohibitionist organization Smart Approaches to Marijuana did not respond to a request for comment about its position on the legislation.
Gabbard held a Tuesday morning press conference with other supporters, including lead GOP cosponsor Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) and former U.S. Attorneys Barry Grissom of Kansas and Bill Nettles of South Carolina.
W/ overwhelming support for state regulation of marijuana in #FL26 , federal government must stop being an obstacle to modernizing our #cannabis laws. Proud to introduce the #Marijuana Data Collection Act with @TulsiPress today to ensure state data is collected by @theNASciences. pic.twitter.com/DAgl12Vodw
— Rep. Carlos Curbelo (@RepCurbelo) July 24, 2018
Other original cosponsors of the bill include Reps. Don Young (R-AK), Darren Soto (D-FL), Beto O’Rourke (D-TX), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Dina Titus (D-NV), Charlie Crist (D-FL), Tom Garrett (R-VA), Lou Correa (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Salud Carbajal (D-CA).
Federal drug policies should be based on facts and not some reefer madness-mentality from a century ago. I am proud to introduce the Marijuana Data Collection Act along with a bipartisan group of House Members. https://t.co/ZgcnUpAvIs
— Dina Titus (@repdinatitus) July 24, 2018
Here are the specific data points the bill directs federal officials to track:
REVENUES AND STATE ALLOCATIONS
The monetary amounts generated through revenues, taxes, and any other financial benefits. The purposes and relative amounts for which these funds were used. The total impact on the State and its budget.
MEDICINAL USE OF MARIJUANA
The rates of medicinal use among different population groups, including children, the elderly, veterans, and individuals with disabilities. The purpose of such use. Which medical conditions medical marijuana is most frequently purchased and used for.
The rates of overdoses with opioids and other painkillers. The rates of admission in health care facilities, emergency rooms, and volunteer treatment facilities related to overdoses with opioids and other painkillers. The rates of opioid-related and other painkiller-related crimes to one’s self and to the community. The rates of opioid prescriptions and other pain killers.
IMPACTS ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE
The rates of marijuana-related arrests for possession, cultivation, and distribution, and of these arrests, the percentages that involved a secondary charge unrelated to marijuana possession, cultivation, or distribution, including the rates of such arrests on the Federal level, including the number of Federal prisoners so arrested, disaggregated by sex, age, race, and ethnicity of the prisoners; and the rates of such arrests on the State level, including the number of State prisoners so arrested, disaggregated by sex, age, race, and ethnicity. The rates of arrests and citations on the Federal and State levels related to teenage use of marijuana. The rates of arrests on the Federal and State levels for unlawful driving under the influence of a substance, and the rates of such arrests involving marijuana. The rates of marijuana-related prosecutions, court filings, and imprisonments. The total monetary amounts expended for marijuana-related enforcement, arrests, court filings and proceedings, and imprisonment before and after legalization, including Federal expenditures disaggregated according to whether the laws being enforced were Federal or State. The total number and rate of defendants in Federal criminal prosecutions asserting as a defense that their conduct was in compliance with applicable State law legalizing marijuana usage, and the effects of such assertions.
The amount of jobs created in each State, differentiating between direct and indirect employment. The amount of jobs expected to be created in the next 5 years, and in the next 10 years, as a result of the State’s marijuana industry.
Top Trump Campaign Spokesman: Marijuana Must Be ‘Kept Illegal’
Asked in a new interview about President Trump’s position on changing federal marijuana laws, a top reelection campaign aide said the administration’s policy is that cannabis and other currently illegal drugs should remain illegal.
“I think what the president is looking at is looking at this from a standpoint of a parent of a young person to make sure that we keep our kids away from drugs,” Marc Lotter, director of strategic communications for the Trump 2020 effort, said in an interview with Las Vegas CBS affiliate KLAS-TV.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.
Virginia Marijuana Decriminalization Gets Closer To Governor’s Desk With New Amendments
One week after bills to decriminalize marijuana in Virginia were passed by both the House and Senate, they advanced again on Wednesday in committee votes, where they were revised in an effort to ease the path to the governor’s desk.
The goal was to make the language of the bills identical, with lawmakers hoping to streamline the process by avoiding sending differing pieces of decriminalization legislation to a bicameral conference committee to resolve differences.
The House of Delegates and Senate were under pressure to approve their respective versions of decriminalization ahead of a crossover deadline last week. After clearing floor votes in their respective chambers, the Senate-passed bill was sent to the House Court of Justice Committee, while the House’s legislation was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Those panels amended the bills and advanced them on Wednesday, with senators voting 10-4 to advance the revised legislation and delegates voting 8-5. However, the Senate panel also struck a part of the text of a compromise substitute version concerning a record clearing provision while the House committee accepted the substitute as offered.
That means it will be up to the Finance Committees to resolve the remaining differences if lawmakers hope to skip the conference step prior to full floor votes in both chambers.
Regardless of the unexpected complication, advocates said the new committee actions represent a positive development.
“Fortunately, the patrons were able to reach a consensus and move the bills forward,” Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “Virginians have waited long enough for this important step, one that will dramatically reduce both marijuana arrests and the collateral consequences that follow such charges.”
The legislation as amended would make possession of up to one ounce a civil penalty punishable by a $25 fine without the threat of jail time. Currently, simple possession is punishable by a maximum $500 fine and up to 30 days in jail.
A provision that would have allowed courts to sentence individuals to up to five hours of community service in lieu of the civil penalty was removed with the latest revisions. The bill also stipulates that juveniles found in possession of cannabis will be treated as delinquent, rather than go through a less punitive process for a “child in need of service.”
Language providing a means to seal prior records for marijuana convictions was successfully reinserted into the House Courts of Justice Committee-passed bill after it was previously removed and placed in a separate expungement bill. That latter legislation is stalled, so lawmakers put it back into the decriminalization measure via the substitute to ensure its enactment.
The Senate Judiciary moved to delete that section, however, creating complications for avoiding a conference committee.
Meanwhile, the House Rules Committee voted in favor of a separate Senate-passed resolution on Wednesday that calls for the establishment of a joint commission to “study and make recommendations for how Virginia should go about legalizing and regulating the growth, sale, and possession of marijuana by July 1, 2022, and address the impacts of marijuana prohibition.” That vote was 12-5.
That’s a significant step, as the legislature is generally reluctant to enact bold reform without first conducting a study on the issue.
While Gov. Ralph Northam (D) is in favor of decriminalization, including a call for the policy change in his State of the Commonwealth address last month, he’s yet to embrace adult-use legalization. That said, Attorney General Mark Herring (D), who is running to replace the term-limited governor in 2021, said he’s optimistic that Northam will come around on the issue.
Herring organized a cannabis summit late last year to hear from officials representing states that have already legalized marijuana. That’s one tool he said the governor could use as he considers broader reform.
Also on Wednesday, the House Courts of Justice Criminal Subcommittee advanced another Senate-passed bill to formally legalize possession of CBD and THC-A medial cannabis preparations that are recommended by a doctor, an expansion of the current policy simply offers patients arrested with it an affirmative defense in court.
For now, Virginia seems to be on the path to become the 27th state to decriminalize marijuana, and the first to do so in 2020. Last year, three states—New Mexico, Hawaii and North Dakota—also approved the policy change.
Alabama Lawmakers Approve Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill
An Alabama Senate committee approved a bill on Wednesday that would legalize medical marijuana in the state.
The legislation would allow patients with qualifying conditions to purchase cannabis products from licensed dispensaries. It would be a limited system, however, prohibiting patients from smoking or vaping marijuana.
The Senate Judiciary Committee cleared the bill in a 8-1 vote, with one abstention. The next stop for the legislation will be the Senate floor.
The proposal would establish the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission, which would be responsible for overseeing a patient registry database, issuing medical cannabis cards and approving licenses for marijuana dispensaries, cultivators, transporters and testing facilities.
This vote comes two months after a panel created by the legislature, the Medical Cannabis Study Commission, issued a recommendation that Alabama implement a medical cannabis program.
The full Senate approved a medical cannabis legalization bill last year, but it was diluted in the House to only provide for the establishment of the study commission. Sen. Tim Melson (R) sponsored both versions of the legislation and served as chairman of the review panel.
The current bill has been revised from the earlier version. For example, this one does not require patients to exhaust traditional treatment options before they can access medical cannabis.
The committee also approved a series of amendments by voice vote, including several technical changes to the bill. Another one would shield physicians from liability for recommending medical cannabis. One would clarify that employees are ineligible for workers’ compensation for accidents caused by being intoxicated by medical cannabis, which is the same standard as other drugs.
Watch the Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee debate and vote on medical cannabis below:
Members also agreed to an amendment creating a restriction on who can be on the cannabis commission.
While it’s not clear how the House would approach the bill if it advances to the chamber this year, the speaker said this week that he’s “in a wait and see mode” and commended Melson for his work on the measure. The state’s attorney general, meanwhile, sent a letter to lawmakers expressing opposition to the reform move.
Under the measure, patients suffering from 15 conditions would qualify for the program. Those include anxiety, cancer, epilepsy and post-traumatic stress disorder. Patients would be able to purchase up to a 70-day supply at a time, and there would be a cap of 32 dispensaries allowed in the state.
Prior to the vote, committee heard from a series of proponents and opponents, including parents who shared anecdotes about the therapeutic benefits of cannabis for their children. Interest in the reform move was so strong that an overflow crowd has to be moved to a separate hearing room.
“Sometimes people are not able to empathize with others who have gone through something. I guarantee you if one of relatives, members of the legislature, went through something like the testimonies that we’ve heard today, they would want it,” Sen. Vivian Figures (D) said. “But they would probably have the means to fly somewhere and get it.”
One thing we're watching on Goat Hill today is the medical marijuana bill. Alabama is one of only 17 states where medical cannabis remains illegal. https://t.co/V8CK8nm6mm
— Alabama Democrats (@aldemocrats) February 19, 2020
There would be a number of restrictions under the bill when it comes to advertising. It would also require seed-to-sale tracking for marijuana products, set packaging and labeling requirements and impose criminal background checks for licensed facility employees.
A nine percent tax would be levied on “gross proceeds of the sales of medical cannabis” sold at a retail medical cannabis dispensary. Part of those funds would go toward creating a new Consortium for Medical Cannabis Research, which would provide grants to study the plant.
Last year, the Senate Judiciary Committee also approved a bill to decriminalize marijuana.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.