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Georgia’s Senate Runoffs Could Decide Federal Marijuana Policy In 2021: Here’s Where The Candidates Stand

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Two Georgia runoff elections for U.S. Senate seats being held next month will decide which party controls the chamber—and that will have significant implications for marijuana policy in the 117th Congress.

Democratic wins for both positions would mean that the party would reclaim command over the Senate, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris serving as a tiebreaker. Both of the Democratic candidates vying for those seats are in favor of cannabis and drug policy reform. If Republicans keep the majority by winning at least one of the Georgia seats, meanwhile, the prospects of ending federal marijuana prohibition would be dimmed for at least the next two years.

That’s not because GOP voters oppose enacting the policy change. In fact, 51 percent of Republicans said in a recent poll that they favor a House-passed bill to federally legalize marijuana. But current leadership in the Senate has given no signal that they would take up, let alone prioritize, cannabis reform. Figures like Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who holds staunchly anti-marijuana views, would likely be reinstalled next year if the party keeps control.

What all of that means is that the January 5 runoffs will likely decide the fate of federal cannabis policy, at least until the 2022 midterm elections. For voters who care about marijuana issues in the state, which went to President-elect Joe Biden in a historic flip, there’s a lot at stake.

Here’s where each of the Georgia Senate candidates stand on cannabis, followed by some broader analysis:

Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA)

The senator, who joined Congress earlier this year after being appointed by the state’s governor to fill a vacancy, earned an F grade on her cannabis platform from the advocacy group NORML.

Loeffler said that while she understands “some of the arguments in favor of ending the federal prohibition of marijuana and am aware that there are potential medical applications,” she is “concerned about the negative effects that legalizing marijuana would have on communities, families, and our nation’s youth.”

She also pointed to an advisory from the U.S. Surgeon General cautioning against cannabis use by adolescents and pregnant women.

“Any efforts by Congress to legalize this substance must be taken seriously and with the common goal in mind to prevent Americans from becoming dependent on drugs,” she said, according to NORML.

Loeffler said in an American Family Association survey that she “strongly disagrees” with the legalization of marijuana.

The senator has also been dismissive of recent congressional efforts to reform marijuana laws. For example, she criticized House Democrats for including language in a coronavirus relief bill that would protect banks that service state-legal cannabis businesses from being penalized by federal regulators.

She also joined the chorus of Republicans who chastised Democrats for holding a vote on a bill to federally legalize marijuana this month. That legislation was approved.

Loeffler has not cosponsored any cannabis reform bills during her time in the Senate.

Democrat Rev. Raphael Warnock

The reverend has frequently discussed the failures of the war on drugs and supports marijuana reform.

“Marijuana is seen as an illegal substance,” he said in one sermon. “It’s a terrible irony and we feel it, that right now in America there are some folks who are becoming billionaires for selling the same stuff that’s got our children locked up all across America.”

“Where is the justice?” he asked “It’s not enough to decriminalize marijuana. Somebody’s gotta open up the jails and let our children go.”

Loeffler, who Warnock is running to unseat, attempted to criticize him for those remarks by falsely claiming in a debate this month that he wanted to broadly empty prisons and wouldn’t keep communities safe.

Speaking more broadly about the drug war in another sermon, Warnock pointed out that the U.S. only seemed to take a public health approach to substance misuse when it became clear that the opioid misuse epidemic was entered largely white communities.

“For 35 years we’ve had a war on drugs. Now, back then we were dealing with heroin, crack. Now we’re dealing with meth and opioids,” he said. “It’s interesting to me that now we have a public health emergency. I’m glad we’ve become so enlightened now that the bodies are suburban, rural and white.”

“In 1980, there were about 300,000 or so Americans in prison. Today there are 2.3 million Americans in prison. Most of them are there for non-violent, drug-related offenses in America’s so-called war on drugs. We warehouse in America 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. Nobody else comes close. Not even China with a billion people. We’ve got them beat. We warehouse 25 percent of the world’s prisoners in the so-called war on drugs.”

“When our children take a plea, sometimes for a marijuana charge—and we deplore drug use, to be sure.—but some children are taken down to central booking, and others are taken home,” he said. “The issue is not simply drugs. Raise your hand if you ever tried some weed. You’re in church now.”

Sen. David Perdue (R-GA)

NORML gave Perdue a B- for his cannabis record in the Senate.

“I’m not a doctor, but the only use of marijuana that I would support today would be the medical use of it,” he said in 2014. “I’ve talked to other physicians that think it’s a valuable tool to use. I’m basing this on medical thought that that is a tool to use against some treatments for cancer and so forth, and if that can be used medicinally, I would be OK with that.”

Perdue said he would protect his state’s limited medical cannabis program from potential federal interference.

“As a senator, I’m telling you that I’m going to support the law of the land in the state of Georgia, that’s first of all, second of all, that the medicinal use of it is something that I would be receptive to,” he said.

Perdue is opposed to broader legalization and has not cosponsored any marijuana reform legislation in the Senate.

Democrat Jon Ossoff

Jon Ossoff, the Democratic challenger to Perdue is in favor of cannabis legalization and said that he would push for the policy change if elected to the Senate.

“Some get rich in the legal cannabis industry while others sit in prison for nonviolent cannabis offenses. Prohibition destroys lives, wastes resources, and enriches cartels,” he wrote in July. “Federal legalization is long overdue.”

In an interview CNBC, Ossoff said “I won’t just push for decriminalization, I’ll push for nationwide legalization of cannabis.”

“The prohibition of this substance is irrational,” he said. “It’s hugely expensive. It has a terrible human toll.”

He’s also previously remarked that marijuana is safer than alcohol, while prohibition “destroys lives.”

Ossoff’s campaign website pledges that he will work to “legalize cannabis” and “end incarceration for nonviolent drug offenses.”

Analysis

Given the increasing bipartisan nature of marijuana reform—coupled with the fact that five more states voted to legalize on Election Day in some form, including several conservative states—it’s not outside the realm of possibilities that a Republican-controlled Senate could meet House Democrats in the middle and advance some kind of policy change in 2021. But it’s unlikely that such reform would be comprehensive and include the restorative justice components that advocates are pushing for.

It’s possible, for example, that GOP members would move limited bills to protect states with cannabis legalization on the books from federal intervention, or to shield banks that service state-legal marijuana businesses from being penalized by regulators.

But the distinct possibility remains that even those proposals may linger in the Senate if Democrats don’t secure the chamber, as the current Republican majority has shown no willingness to move even modest marijuana reforms. And even if GOP leadership did decide to advance cannabis legislation, Loeffler has indicated she’s not amenable to minor reforms, regardless of their bipartisan nature.

What that means is that, if advocates hope to finally end cannabis prohibition in 2021, both Ossoff and Warnock would likely need to prevail in the runoffs next month. That would get leadership in place that would be more willing to advance the policy change as well as put two more individual pro-reform lawmakers in office.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who would be expected to become majority leader if Democrats take the Senate, has said he will advance cannabis legislation if given the power to set the floor agenda.

For what it’s worth, the Democratic challengers have the advantage among most Georgia voters when it comes to marijuana. Two separate 2018 polls released by 11Alive News found that 55 percent of residents back the reform.

In January of that year, 50 percent of voters said in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution survey that they favor legalization, compared to 46 percent who said they were opposed. An overwhelming 77 percent said in that poll that they support expanding the state’s medical cannabis program.

Previously, 66 percent of Georgia Republican primary voters said in a 2015 survey that they back medical cannabis legalization.

Feds’ Post-Election Warning: Marijuana Still Banned For Federal Workers Despite State Legalization

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

Texas Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Decriminalization Bill In Committee

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A bill to decriminalize marijuana possession in Texas—as well as a separate proposal to reduce penalties for possessing cannabis concentrates—advanced out of a key House committee on Friday.

These are the latest developments that have come after a week where Texas lawmakers have considered a medley of marijuana reform measures. But arguably the most significant piece of cannabis legislation to move out of committee would make possession of up to an ounce of marijuana a class C misdemeanor that carries a fine but no threat of jail time.

The full House of Representatives approved a cannabis decriminalization bill in 2019, but it did not advance in the Senate that session.

This time around, the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee approved the decriminalization bill, which would also prevent law enforcement from making arrests over low-level possession. Other decriminalization proposals that were under consideration by the panel this week would not prohibit that enforcement action, which is key because police are currently able to incarcerate people who are arrested for class C misdemeanors even though the charge itself does not carry the risk of jail time in sentencing.

The advancing legislation, HB 441, sponsored by Rep. Erin Zwiener (D), would also prevent the loss of a driver’s license or the creation of a criminal record for possession of up to one ounce.

Separately, the committee advanced legislation to make possession of up to two ounces of cannabis concentrates a class B misdemeanor.

Both bills were among the subjects a lengthy hearing the panel held on Tuesday.

“Marijuana bills are moving through the committee process at record speed this session,” Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, told Marijuana Moment. “There’s good reason to be optimistic about the upcoming votes and the House and advocates will be doubling down their efforts to influence senators.”

This action comes one day after the House Public Health Committee unanimously approved a bill to significantly expand the state’s medical marijuana program.

Sponsored by Chairwoman Stephanie Klick (R), the bill would add cancer, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder (for veterans only) as conditions that could qualify people for the state’s limited medical cannabis program.

It would further allow the Department of State Health Services to add more qualifying conditions via administrative rulemaking. And it would also raise the THC cap for medical marijuana products from 0.5 percent to five percent.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 900 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.

On Thursday, the House Agriculture and Livestock Committee also discussed legislation that would make certain changes to the state’s hemp program, including imposing rules related to the transportation and testing of consumable hemp products.

While the Texas legislature has historically resisted most cannabis reforms, there are signs that this session may be different.

House Speaker Dade Phelan (R) said during a Texas Young Republicans event last month that while he wouldn’t be able to distinguish marijuana from oregano, he said, “I understand the issue.”

The speaker said that he voted for a limited medical cannabis legalization bill during his freshman year in the legislature, and his support for the reform is partly based on the fact that he has a “sister with severe epilepsy, and small amounts of CBD oil makes a big difference in people’s lives.”

Phelan also noted that he was a “joint author—no pun intended” of cannabis decriminalization legislation last session.

“I was able to go back home and explain it, and it wasn’t a big deal,” he said. “To me, it’s a reasonable criminal justice reform issue.”

Texans’ support for legalizing marijuana has grown significantly over the past decade, according to a poll released last month.

Sixty percent of state voters now back making cannabis legal “for any use,” the University of Texas and Texas Tribune survey found. That compares to just 42 percent who said the same back in 2010.

Leaders in both chambers of the legislature have recently indicated that they anticipate more modest proposals to be taken up and potentially approved this session, particularly as it concerns expanding the state’s limited medical cannabis program.

Phelan said he thinks “the House will look at” reform measures this year, including bills to legalize for adult use. He said the lawmakers will likely “review those again, and some will get traction, some will not.” However, the Senate remains an obstacle for comprehensive reform.

Legislators in the state prefiled more than a dozen pieces of cannabis legislation ahead of the new session. That includes bills that would legalize recreational marijuana, allow high-THC cannabis for medical use and decriminalize low-level possession of marijuana.

That said, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), who presides over the Senate, has killed prior efforts to enact reform in the state, raising questions about the prospects of far-reaching changes advancing in the chamber.

Nevada Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Bill To Allow On-Site Consumption Lounges

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Nevada Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Bill To Allow On-Site Consumption Lounges

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A bill to allow on-site marijuana consumption lounges advanced through a Nevada Assembly committee on Friday. The panel separately passed a measure making it so the concentration of THC in a person’s blood cannot be singularly used to determine impairment while driving.

The social use legislation, sponsored by Speaker Pro Tempore Steve Yeager (D), would create two new licensing categories for cannabis businesses in the state. One would be for “retail cannabis consumption lounges” and the other would be an “independent cannabis consumption lounge.”

Existing retailers could apply for the former license and sell products that could be consumed on-site by adults 21 and older. Independent lounges would not be permitted to sell cannabis on their own, but would need to have marijuana products delivered to consumers from another source.

That said, independent licensees could submit a request to regulators to sell cannabis that they produce or to enter into a contract with an adult-use retailer to sell their products.

The state’s Cannabis Compliance Board would also be responsible for creating regulations for on-site facilities and setting fees for license applicants. Businesses that qualify as social equity applicants would have a reduced fee.

Under the legislation, a person “who has been adversely affected by provisions of previous laws which criminalized activity relating to cannabis, including, without limitation, adverse effects on an owner, officer or board member of the applicant or on the geographic area in which the applicant will operate” is considered a social equity applicant.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 900 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.

Yeager proposed a large-scale amendment to the proposal before it was approved by the Assembly Judiciary Committee. It builds on the definition and scoring system for social equity applicants, revises public safety requirements for lounges and ensures that products purchased at lounges cannot be removed from the facility, among other changes.

The Las Vegas City Council in 2019 approved an ordinance allowing for social consumption sites within city limits.

That year, Alaska became the first state to enact regulations that provide for the on-site use option at dispensaries. Colorado followed suit with legislation approved that legalized cannabis “tasting rooms” and “marijuana hospitality establishments” where adults could freely use cannabis. Social consumption sites are also provided for in New York’s recently enacted marijuana legalization law.

In Nevada, adding new license types and giving consumers this option—especially in the tourist-centric state—could further boost marijuana and other tax revenues. And Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) has had a particular interest in ensuring that those tax dollars support public education, which he talked about during a State of the State address in January.

Sisolak has also committed to promoting equity and justice in the state’s marijuana law. Last year, for example, he pardoned more than 15,000 people who were convicted for low-level cannabis possession.

That action was made possible under a resolution the governor introduced that was unanimously approved by the state’s Board of Pardons Commissioners.

Under the impaired driving bill that separately cleared the committee on Friday, the per se blood test for THC would no longer be used in determining impairment.

Advocates have argued that the limit is arbitrary and there’s a lack of scientific evidence demonstrating a link between the amount of THC metabolites present in the blood and active impairment.

New Mexico Governor Sends Marijuana Bill Sponsors A ‘Save The Date’ For Expected Legalization Bill Signing

Photo courtesy of Martin Alonso.

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Biden Gets Yet Another Congressional Letter Blasting Marijuana-Related White House Firings

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President Joe Biden has received yet another letter from a lawmaker demanding answers about his administration’s practice of firing or otherwise punishing staffers for prior marijuana use.

Rep. Angie Craig (D-MN) noted the national push to end prohibition and how the White House’s actions reveal a troubling disconnect.

“Cannabis is legal for either medical or adult use in 36 states, with numerous states pursuing efforts to further legalize for adult use,” the congresswoman wrote. “In Minnesota, our state legislature is expected to vote on measures to legalize cannabis in the coming months following years of political and community organizing by activists throughout the state.”

“Minnesotans and the American people are demanding change to our harsh and unequally applied cannabis laws,” she wrote. “I look forward to seeing your Administration reverse course on this harmful and unnecessary hurdle to hiring diverse and talented public servants.”

Craig also mentioned efforts to legalize marijuana at the federal level and commented on Biden’s prior statements on more modest reforms.

“I stand ready to work with you as we revisit our country’s drug laws, including the descheduling of cannabis as a Class 1 drug at the federal level,” she said. “You have previously expressed your commitment to decriminalizing cannabis in acknowledgement that a cannabis conviction or even the stigma of cannabis use can ruin lives and prevent people from voting, gaining employment and contributing to society.”

This is the third letter from lawmakers that Biden has been sent regarding the federal marijuana employment controversy.

A coalition of 30 members of Congress sent a letter last month that sharply criticizes the administration for terminating or punishing multiple White House staffers who disclosed their prior cannabis use. They pointed out that Vice President Kamala Harris and at least one one other Cabinet member are on record about their own marijuana use experiences.

Prior to that, Rep. David Joyce (R-OH) sent a similar message to the president condemning news of the marijuana-related firings for people who were honest about their history with cannabis on a federal form that’s required as part of the background check process.

“Simply put, in a nation where the truth is considered malleable, we need to demonstrate to our young public servants that telling the truth is an honorable trait, not one to be punished,” the congressman wrote. “I respectfully request that your administration discontinue punishment of staff for being honest about their prior cannabis use and reinstate otherwise qualified individuals to their posts.”

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki addressed the controversy last month, saying during a press briefing that while Biden could theoretically end the policy of firing staff over prior marijuana use himself, that’s not happening as long as cannabis is federally illegal.

She later said that the president’s stance on marijuana legalization “has not changed,” meaning he’s still opposed to the comprehensive reform.

Psaki has previously attempted to minimize the fallout over the cannabis firings, with not much success, and so her office released a statement last month stipulating that nobody was fired for “marijuana usage from years ago,” nor has anyone been terminated “due to casual or infrequent use during the prior 12 months.”

Read the new letter to Biden on White House marijuana employment policy below: 

Letter to Biden Regarding C… by Marijuana Moment

New Mexico Governor Sends Marijuana Bill Sponsors A ‘Save The Date’ For Expected Legalization Bill Signing

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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