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GOP Congressman Knocks His Party For Failing To Pass Marijuana Reform

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A Republican congressman says that whichever party is responsible for passing federal marijuana reform will “instantly” shoot up in the polls, while lamenting the fact that the GOP failed to do so when they controlled the House.

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), a vocal advocate for hemp, was asked by Fox Business host Kennedy on Wednesday whether cannabis should be rescheduled under federal law.

“Absolutely,” he said. “The first party that does this—and I don’t understand why either party won’t do it—is going instantly gain 10 points in the general poll on which party versus the other.”

“We should have done it when we were in the majority,” he added. “The liberals should be asking Pelosi why she hasn’t put it on the floor yet.”

The House Judiciary Committee approved legislation last month to end federal marijuana prohibition, but it hasn’t yet been scheduled for floor action.

Massie made similar points during an interview with Marijuana Moment earlier this year, stating that if Republicans had advanced states’ rights-focused marijuana legislation, “I think we might still be in the majority.”

Of course, while Massie has supported legislation to allow states to set their own cannabis policies without federal intervention, as well as other more modest reform measures such as protecting banks that service marijuana businesses, he’s so far declined to cosponsor any bills that seek to deschedule cannabis.

The congressman has also expressed interest in changing federal gun control laws to allow cannabis consumers to purchase firearms.

Though it’s not clear exactly how much of a boost either party would get by passing a marijuana reform bill, a Pew poll released last month does show that there’s majority support for legalization among those who lean Republican (55 percent) as well those who lean Democratic (78 percent).

Senators Demand Update From DEA On Marijuana Growing Applications

Photo courtesy of YouTube/Rep. Massie.

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

Austin City Council Approves Measure To End Most Marijuana Arrests

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The decision to back away from pursuing criminal charges against people with small amounts of pot comes after state lawmakers last year legalized hemp in a way that threw marijuana prosecution into chaos.

By , The Texas Tribune

The Austin City Council approved a resolution Thursday that will largely end arrests and fines for low-level marijuana possession. This comes after Texas’ legalization of hemp last June threw marijuana prosecution into chaos since the plants look and smell identical.

The resolution directing Austin police not to spend city resources on newly necessary lab tests to distinguish marijuana from now-legal hemp passed unanimously with nine votes. Council member Jimmy Flannigan and Mayor Steve Adler were absent. Debate on the measure lasted just under an hour and a half. Of about 20 people who spoke on the resolution, only Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday was against it.

The council’s resolution states that it stems directly from Texas’ new law legalizing hemp. Last summer, following a federal hemp bill, state lawmakers approved a measure to create an agricultural industry for the crop in Texas. But the law also complicated marijuana prosecutions by narrowing the legal definition of the drug from cannabis to cannabis that contains more than 0.3% THC, the psychoactive ingredient in the plant.

All of a sudden, some district attorneys were dropping hundreds of low-level pot possession cases and not accepting new ones, arguing they couldn’t tell without lab testing if something was marijuana anymore. New misdemeanor marijuana cases filed by Texas prosecutors have dropped by more than half. And numerous Texas prosecutors, including those in Austin’s Travis County, require police to submit lab reports on a substance’s THC concentration before they will pursue misdemeanor marijuana charges. They argue circumstantial evidence like smell can no longer be used to authoritatively say something is marijuana.

Part of what prompted the Austin resolution — which prohibits spending city funds on such testing except in felony cases — is that public state labs are still working on establishing a way to test for that THC concentration. Right now they can only tell if something is cannabis. For some counties and cities, that has meant putting more money into shipping seized cannabis to private labs that can tell if it’s hemp or marijuana.

Even in places where police don’t have or aren’t spending funds on such testing and new cases aren’t being accepted by prosecutors, people are still being cited or arrested. They are sometimes taken to jail but then released with no charges being pursued. Austin police said this month that they still arrest or cite people who are suspected of possessing marijuana.

This resolution changes that, directing the city to get as close as possible to eliminating enforcement action for low-level cannabis possession.

The measure prohibits spending city funds on testing in low-level possession cases, and it directs police not to arrest or cite people in such cases — unless there is a safety concern — if they know the district attorney will automatically reject the charges or testing won’t be approved. It clarifies that lab testing can be used for suspected felonies or when the cannabis is not for personal use, like trafficking cases. A revised version also specifies that the measure will not affect toxicology testing.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Texas Marijuana Prosecutions Have Dropped By More Than Half Following Hemp’s Legalization

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Virginia Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Decriminalization Bill

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Virginia senators advanced a bill to decriminalize marijuana in the state on Thursday, voting in favor of a measure to remove the threat of incarceration for simple possession.

The Senate Judiciary Criminal Law Subcommittee passed the legislation in a voice vote. The panel also took up separate bills concerning expungements as well as a separate decriminalization proposal that was adopted into the approved cannabis measure.

The subcommittee’s action came in spite of opposition from the state chapter of the ACLU, which has complained that the reform move doesn’t go far enough and said that it’d prefer the status quo of prohibition until comprehensive legalization is accomplished.

Other reform advocates said that they share concerns about the limitations of SB 2, but they are still in favor of advancing it with certain changes. The bill would make simple possession a civil penalty punishable by a maximum $50 fine, whereas current policy stipulates that a first offense is punishable by a maximum $500 fine and up to 30 days in jail.

It would also raise the possession threshold for what can be considered “intent to distribute” from a half ounce to one ounce, and it would remove a separate definition of hashish from state law, meaning that it would be treated the same as cannabis flower.

Before approving the bill, lawmakers removed its expungements language, as the issue is already being tackled by other legislation they advanced. It also reduced proposed penalties against juvenile offenders.

The subcommittee agreed to technically integrate the separate decriminalization bill—which included a tiered fine scheme for first, second and third offenses that are being dropped—into SB 2. Under the proposal that is advancing next to the full Senate Judiciary Committee, the $50 fine would be imposed, regardless of the number of offenses.

NORML, Virginia NORML and Attorney General Mark Herring’s (D) office testified in support of the bill.

“Today’s vote is a historic step in the right direction,” Virginia NORML Executive Director Jenn Michelle Pedini told Marijuana Moment. “Virginia marijuana laws have long lagged behind public opinion, and the legislature’s new found appetite for advancing such a measure is a welcome change.”

“Decriminalization, however, is not a solution to marijuana criminalization,” Pedini said. “It does nothing to impact the disparate enforcement of marijuana laws. The Commonwealth must move swiftly to legalize and regulate the responsible adult use of cannabis and begin undoing the harms prohibition.”

Gov. Ralph Northam (D) campaigned on decriminalization, and he included the policy change proposal in his annual State of the Commonwealth speech earlier this month, stating that the state needs “to take an honest look at our criminal justice system to make sure we’re treating people fairly and using taxpayer dollars wisely.”

Herring, who is running for governor in 2021 to replace the term-limited Northam, is in favor of enacting decriminalization as a step on the path toward eventual full legalization. He organized a summit last month where lawmakers heard from officials in legal cannabis states about regulatory challenges and opportunities.

Prior to the event, a Virginia lawmaker filed a legalization bill. Herring said his summit would provide the governor with the resources he needs to embrace comprehensive reform.

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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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New Hampshire Lawmakers Debate Non-Commercial Marijuana Legalization Bill

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A New Hampshire House committee held a hearing on Thursday to discuss a bill that would legalize the possession and cultivation of marijuana for adults.

While broader recreational legalization legislation that included a legal sales component has advanced in prior sessions, no such bill has reached the governor’s desk yet. And so lawmakers are taking a different approach this time, pushing a cannabis reform proposal that excludes any commercialization model.

That bill, filed earlier this month, would simply allow adults 21 and older to possess and gift up to three-fourths an ounce of cannabis and grow up to six plants. Supporters are taking a page from neighboring Vermont, which approved non-commercial legalization in 2018.

The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee heard testimony from advocates, stakeholders and opponents—though opposition was limited. Just two individuals, including one representative, testified against the bill, and just two individuals signed a committee report expressing opposition—a lobbyist for the state police chiefs’ association and another lawmaker.

Rep. Carol McGuire (R), sponsor of the legislation, said at a press conference ahead of the hearing that it’s a “very simple bill” that specifically does not include a commercial element to bolster its chances of passage.

“This takes it out of the commercial realm and lets people grow their own and use it in the privacy of their own home,” she said. “I would rather have people who want to use it be able to grow it in the privacy of their own backyards and not have to travel to other states.”

Non-commercial legalization is not the end game, as advocates are hopeful that retail sales will eventually come. But with Gov. Chris Sununu (R) having voiced opposition to commercialization and vetoing a bill last year that would’ve allowed medical cannabis patients to cultivate for personal use, it’s about as far as lawmakers expect to get this year. (Sununu did sign a modest decriminalization bill in 2017, however.)

“The time has come to end our outdated policy of punishing adults for possessing cannabis,” McGuire said in a press release. “It does not make sense for New Hampshire to remain an island of prohibition.”

A vote on the bill within the panel that held the hearing is expected to come as early as next week.

“It’s absurd that the ‘Live Free or Die’ state remains so far behind its neighbors on cannabis policy,” Matt Simon, New England political director of the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment. “Now that Granite Staters can easily obtain cannabis from retail stores in Massachusetts, New Hampshire should definitely stop fining adults for possession and prosecuting them for home cultivation.”

New Hampshire is one of several states where cannabis reform is being considered as legislative sessions across the country come online.

Just in the Northeast region, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) included legalization in his budget this week, as did Rhode Island’s governor, who pitched a state-run cannabis model in her plan. In New Jersey, the legislature approved a referendum to put the question of recreational legalization before voters during the November election. Top lawmakers in Connecticut have also expressed confidence that marijuana reform will advance this year.

Marijuana Legalization Will Advance In Connecticut This Year, Top Lawmakers Say

Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

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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