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Former Federal Prosecutor’s Marijuana Legalization Measure Advances In South Dakota

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A measure to legalize marijuana in South Dakota—introduced by a former federal prosecutor and backed by a leading national cannabis advocacy group—was recently cleared for signature gathering.

Brendan Johnson, who served as the U.S. Attorney for the District of South Dakota and whose father represented the state in the U.S. Senate until 2015, filed the initiative in June. It received an official explanatory statement from the attorney general last month and its backers were given the green light to start collecting signatures last week.

“We are excited to move forward with these ballot initiative campaigns,” Johnson told Marijuana Moment. “South Dakota voters are ready to approve both medical marijuana and legalization at the ballot box next year.”

The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) is supporting the proposed constitutional amendment, as well as a separate statutory initiative to legalize medical cannabis in the state that was approved for signature collection last month.

The former federal prosecutor’s measure, which is being steered by the committee South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, would allow adults 21 and older to possess and distribute up to one ounce of marijuana. Individuals would also be allowed to cultivate up to three cannabis plants. The South Dakota Department of Revenue would be tasked with issuing licenses for manufacturers, testing facilities and retailers.

Sales would be taxed at 15 percent under the initiative, and revenue would be used to fund the program’s implementation, with additional monies going toward public education and the state general fund.

Beside legalizing marijuana, the amendment would also instruct the legislature to enact legislation to legalize hemp and medical cannabis. If the separate statutory medical marijuana legalization initiative, being coordinated by the group New Approach South Dakota, qualifies and passes as well, that latter requirement wouldn’t be necessary.

“The Marijuana Policy Project strongly supports the South Dakota campaign,” MPP Deputy Director Matthew Schweich, who led the organization’s efforts in support of previous legalization campaigns in Maine, Massachusetts and Michigan, told Marijuana Moment. “Across the country, and even in conservative states, voters are demanding marijuana policy reform. Our goal is simple: to effectuate the will of the people when elected officials choose to ignore it.”

Petitioners for the proposed constitutional amendment must collect 33,921 valid signatures from voters to qualify for the 2020 ballot. For statutory initiatives, 16,961 signatures are required. MPP’s involvement will likely bolster the campaign’s prospects of meeting that goal.

It’s already clear that marijuana reform measures are going to face resistance from certain quarters, with Gov. Kristi Noem (R) vetoing a hemp legalization bill in March and the state’s Republican party urging residents not to sign ballot petitions.

“Our campaign, South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, will be working from now until Election Day 2020 to earn the support of South Dakotans from every corner of the state,” Johnson said.

California Lawmakers Use Cryptocurrency To Buy Marijuana From Dispensary

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Pennsylvania Lawmakers Unveil Marijuana Legalization Bill With Focus On Social Equity

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A bill to legalize marijuana in Pennsylvania was formally introduced on Tuesday, and sponsors emphasized that the plan is to enact a policy change the prioritizes social equity for communities most harmed by the war on drugs.

Reps. Jake Wheatley (D) and Dan Frankel (D) rolled out the legislation at a press conference. This comes months after the two circulated a cosponsorship memo urging colleagues to get on board with the cannabis reform.

“We think we have the industry standard,” Wheatley said at a press conference with supporters. “You’ve heard me over and over again, year after year, talk about this important issue. For some, it’s an economic question. For others, it’s a question around access and opportunity. But the baseline of why I’ve been harping on this for as long as I have is the social and criminal justice reform aspects.”

That said, the lawmaker acknowledged that “there’s real significant opportunities within our Commonwealth to increase our revenue from an industry that we see is growing all across all of our neighbors.”

Under the proposal, adults 21 and older would be able to purchase and possess up to an ounce of cannabis. People could receive a permit for home cultivation to grow up to three mature and three immature plants.

People with marijuana convictions would have their records automatically expunged, and those currently incarcerated over cannabis offenses made legal under the measure would be released.

A 13 percent excise tax would be imposed on marijuana sales, with 15 percent of revenue going to community reinvestment, 15 percent to substance misuse treatment programs and 70 percent for the state general fund.

Those from communities most impacted by cannabis criminalization, as well as veterans, would be prioritized to receive business licenses.

The state Departments of Revenue, Agriculture, Health and the attorney general’s office would be responsible for overseeing and regulating aspects of the program.

“This is a piece of legislation that’s been worked on by many staff at the Democratic caucus, worked with advocates, looked at models from other states and I think it’s really a great piece of legislation that I think will hopefully galvanize a conversation to finally deal with it,” Frankel said. “Now we all know the terrible history of the criminalization of cannabis—mass incarceration for people of color, as well as harmful ramifications for people’s ability to get jobs, education or loans.”

“The most important part of this legislation seeks to repair some of the damage caused by generations of harmful policy in this area,” he said.

The introduction of HB 2050 comes as a bipartisan Senate duo is also in the process of crafting separate legislation to legalize cannabis across the commonwealth. Sens. Sharif Street (D) and Dan Laughlin (R) announced some details of the proposal earlier this year, but the bill has yet to be formally introduced.

Meanwhile, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) pointed out on Tuesday that Pennsylvania lags behind other states on cannabis reform.

“NY has legalized marijuana. NJ has legalized marijuana,” he said in a tweet. “It’s time for PA to join our neighbors, and legalize marijuana. But let me be clear: We must simultaneously expunge the records of those serving time for non-violent marijuana convictions—and that is non-negotiable.”

While broad cannabis legalization proposals have not moved forward in the GOP-controlled legislature, Pennsylvania senators heard testimony last week on a bill to protect medical marijuana patients from being prosecuted under the state’s “zero tolerance” DUI laws.


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.

Sen. Camera Bartolotta (R) first introduced an earlier version of the bill in June 2020. She said at the time that the state needs to “ensure that the legal use of this medicine does not give rise to a criminal conviction.”

Months after the standalone reform legislation was introduced, the Pennsylvania House approved a separate amendment that would enact the policy change.

Outside the legislature, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) said earlier this year that marijuana legalization was a priority as he negotiated the annual budget with lawmakers. However, his formal spending request didn’t contain legislative language to actually accomplish the cannabis policy change.

Wolf, who signed a medical cannabis expansion bill in June, has repeatedly called for legalization and pressured the Republican-controlled legislature to pursue the reform since coming out in favor of the policy in 2019. Shortly after he did that, a lawmaker filed a separate bill to legalize marijuana through a state-run model.

Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D), who is running for U.S. Senate, previously led a listening tour across the state to solicit public input on legalization. He’s credited that effort with helping to move the governor toward embracing comprehensive reform. The lieutenant governor even festooned his Capitol office with marijuana-themed decor in contravention of a state law passed by the GOP-led legislature.

Fetterman has also been actively involved in encouraging the governor to exercise his clemency power for cannabis cases while the legislature moves to advance reform.

In May, Wolf pardoned a doctor who was arrested, prosecuted and jailed for growing marijuana that he used to provide relief for his dying wife. That marked his 96th pardon for people with cannabis convictions through the Expedited Review Program for Non-Violent Marijuana-Related Offenses that’s being run by the Board of Pardons.

Overall, legalization is popular among Pennsylvania voters, with 58 percent of residents saying they favor ending cannabis prohibition in a survey released in April.

Another poll released in May found that a majority of voters in the state also support decriminalizing all currently illicit drugs.

Read the text of the new Pennsylvania marijuana legalization bill below: 

Click to access d03067.pdf

 

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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10 State Attorneys General And Multiple City Officials Tell Supreme Court To Hear Safe Injection Case For Drug Harm Reduction

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The U.S. Supreme Court is getting more pressure to take up a case on the legality of establishing safe injection sites where people can use illicit drugs in a medically supervised environment, with attorneys general from 10 states and D.C. filing an amicus brief urging the justices to take action.

Representatives from 14 cities and counties, as well as the mayor of Philadelphia, which is at the center of the current case, also  filed amici briefs in support of the case in recent days.

The attorneys general of Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia, plus Washington, D.C., told the Supreme Court in the brief last week that safe consumption facilities are “emerging as a promising measure to save lives and to fill a time-sensitive gap in medical care.”

“The Amici States are battling a nationwide opioid crisis that claims over 130 lives every day,” the top prosecutors said. “They are on the front lines of this public health emergency, fighting to save their citizens from overdose deaths. As a result, they share a strong interest in ensuring that multiple, effective interventions are available to address the epidemic, to prevent opioid use disorder, and to treat those suffering from opioid dependence.”

The brief cites research showing that the harm reduction services can mitigate overdose deaths and help people enter into treatment.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the opioid crisis, taking the lives of far too many Americans, including District residents who continue to overdose,” D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine (D), who led the brief, said in a press release.

Many of the attorney general who are now calling on the Supreme Court to take up the supervised consumption case also joined a brief earlier this year in a separate federal case involving access to psilocybin for cancer patients.

The harm reduction case at hand, meanwhile, concerns the nonprofit organization Safehouse, which was set to launch a safe consumption site in Philadelphia before being blocked by a legal challenge from the Trump administration. It filed a petition with the nation’s highest court last month to hear the case.

Beyond the states’ brief, local officials in cities and counties across the U.S. are also imploring the Supreme Court to take up a review of the matter.

Signatories include counsel for Albuquerque, New Mexico; Austin, Texas; Chicago, Illinois; New York City, New York; Oakland, California; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; San Diego, California; San Francisco, California; Seattle, Washington; Somerville, Massachusetts; King County, Washington; Los Angeles County, California; Multnomah County, Oregon; and Washtenaw County, Michigan.

“There is ever-stronger evidence that overdose-prevention sites can reduce the mortality caused by this epidemic and produce significant community benefits in public health and safety,” the local officials wrote. “Sites like the one Safehouse proposes also further federal public health policy, as they advance the objectives and methods recommended by multiple federal agencies.”

“The promise of overdose-prevention sites is not an empty one, nor a hypothetical one. It is based on facts, research, and real-world precedent,” they continued. “Overdose-prevention sites would help stop—or at the least, slow—the loss of lives in amici’s communities.”

Local officials from Somerville separately participated in a hearing on Monday before the Massachusetts state legislature’s Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery on bills to decriminalize drug possession and legalize safe consumption sites. The official said there are plans in the work to launch a safe injection facility in the jurisdiction. And they want to see the statewide bill pass to provide additional protections against being federally penalized.

Another recent amicus brief came from Philadelphia Mayor James Kenney (D), who argued that the “benefits of overdose prevention sites are well studied and well documented: they save lives, provide a valuable gateway to treatment, and reduce other harms associated with opioid use.”

A coalition of 80 current and former prosecutors and law enforcement officials—including one who is President Joe Biden’s pick for U.S. attorney of Massachusetts—previously filed a brief urging the Supreme Court to take up Safehouse’s safe injection case.

Fair and Justice Prosecution, the group that coordinated the amicus brief, also organized a tour of Portugal for 20 top prosecutors in 2019 so they could learn about the successful implementation of the country’s drug decriminalization law.

If the Supreme Court were to take up the case and rule in favor of Safehouse, it could embolden advocates and lawmakers across the country to pursue the harm reduction policy.

The governor of Rhode Island signed a bill in July to establish a safe consumption site pilot program where people could test and use currently illicit drugs in a medically supervised environment. It became the first state in the country to legalize the harm reduction centers. It’s not clear whether the Department of Justice will seek to intervene to prevent the opening of such facilities in that state.

Massachusetts lawmakers advanced similar legislation last year, but it was not ultimately enacted.

A similar harm reduction bill in California, sponsored by Sen. Scott Wiener (D), was approved in the state Senate in April, but further action has been delayed until 2022.

At the same time that Safehouse is turning to the Supreme Court, it also announced recently that it will be returning the the federal district court that gave it an initial 2019 victory in support of establishing a safe injection facility before it was overturned in the appeals court.

The organization is making the unique argument that the federal government’s decision to block it from providing the service violates religious freedom by subjecting participants “to criminal penalties for exercising their sincerely held religious beliefs that they have an obligation to do everything possible to preserve life and to provide shelter and care to the vulnerable, including those suffering from addiction.”

In 2018, a congressional subcommittee approved legislation to specifically prohibit Washington D.C. from using local tax dollars to help open safe consumption facilities. But that provision was not enacted and has not been reintroduced since.

A 2020 study found that people “who reported using supervised injection facilities on an at least weekly basis had a reduced risk of dying compared to those who reported less than weekly or no use of this health service.”

IRS Official Offers Tax Advice To Marijuana Businesses And Says Feds Expect Industry To Keep Growing

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Federal Grants For Hemp Farmers Should Be Expanded, State Agriculture Departments Demand At Annual Meeting

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The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) is urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to give hemp two different classifications depending on its intended use in order to expand access to federal grant programs.

Members of NASDA agreed last week to amend its organizational policy on USDA’s Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. They are now calling for two distinct categories for hemp, requesting that the federal agency allow businesses to designate the crop as either a specialty crop or agronomic commodity.

That’s consistent with a request that was included in a spending bill report from the Senate Appropriations Committee that was approved last month.

While the requested change may seem largely technical, it would make it so hemp farmers could have greater access to grants that stakeholders say would provide them with valuable resources as the industry continues to evolve. It’s not clear if USDA will follow through, but NASDA is an influential body that represents agriculture departments in all 50 states and four U.S. territories.

The new policy that the organization adopted during its annual meeting states that “NASDA supports the dual designation for hemp as a specialty crop based on the manner and purpose for which it is grown,” and it also “supports expanding the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program funding eligibility to hemp crops with horticultural uses.”

Jonathan Miller, general counsel for the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, told Marijuana Moment that the group is “really excited that NASDA is so working so closely with our industry to help identify solutions to support hemp farmers, and this is a technical issue, but it could open the door for funding and other support that hemp farmers so desperately need right now.”

What NASDA seems to be doing with this latest action is aligning its policy with the Senate appropriations report for fiscal year 2022, Herrick Fox, co-chair of the government relations committee at the National Industrial Hemp Council (NIHC) who previously spent 15 years working in USDA, told Marijuana Moment.

He said that the “only reason” hemp didn’t receive the dual designation from USDA in the first place is because “I think all the federal agencies are still trying to get used to the idea of hemp as a legal agricultural product—and in the first years following legalization, there was some unspoken reticence.”

NASDA CEO Barb Glenn said in a press release that “allowing hemp to be designated as both a specialty crop and a traditional commodity recognizes the crop’s up-and-coming nature and assures new farmers will be supported in their decisions to grow the crop for either food, fiber or horticultural use.”

“As the regulators and stewards of healthy agricultural industries in their states, NASDA members have been the leading voice for supporting the hemp industry since hemp’s inclusion in the 2014 Farm Bill,” she said. “This action would be another important step in helping hemp achieve long-term sustainability.”

USDA has made clear its intent to support the burgeoning industry.

For example, the agency recently announced that it is teaming up with university researchers to figure out the best ways to keep weeds (not the marijuana kind) out of hemp.

USDA also announced last month that it is moving forward with a large-scale survey to gain insight into the hemp market.

After requesting permission from the White House earlier this year to conduct the survey of about 20,000 hemp farmers, the agency’s National Agricultural Statistics Service recently said that the forms are being finalized to be filled out via mail or online.

USDA is asking questions about plans for outdoor hemp production, acreage for operations, primary and secondary uses for the crop and what kinds of prices producers are able to bring in. The questionnaire lists preparations such as smokeable hemp, extracts like CBD, grain for human consumption, fiber and seeds as areas the department is interested in learning about.

Last year, USDA announced plans to distribute a separate national survey to gain insights from thousands of hemp businesses that could inform its approach to regulating the industry.

That survey is being completed in partnership with National Association of State Departments of Agriculture and the University of Kentucky. The department said it wanted to learn about “current production costs, production practices, and marketing practices” for hemp.

There’s still much to learn about the burgeoning market, even as USDA continues to approve state regulatory plans for the crop. Most recently, the agency approved a hemp plan submitted by Colorado, where officials have consistently insisted that the state intends to be a leader in the space.

While USDA’s final rule for hemp took effect on March 22, the agency is evidently still interested in gathering information to further inform its regulatory approach going forward. Industry stakeholders say the release of the final rule is a positive step forward that will provide businesses with needed guidance, but they’ve also pointed to a number of policies that they hope to revise as the market matures such as USDA’s hemp testing requirements.

The federal Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy expressed a similar sentiment in a blog post in February, writing that it is “pleased with some of the changes that [USDA] has made to the rule, as they offer more certainty and are less burdensome to small farmers,” but “some concerns remained unaddressed in the final rule.”

USDA announced in April that it is teaming up with a chemical manufacturing company on a two-year project that could significantly expand the hemp-based cosmetics market.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced last month that it is sponsoring a project to develop hemp fiber insulation that’s designed to be better for the environment and public health than conventional preparations are.

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