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GOP Lawmaker Calls For Marijuana Reform In Fiery Senate Floor Speech

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The Senate blocked an effort to attach far-reaching marijuana reforms to bipartisan criminal justice legislation on Tuesday.

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) sought unanimous consent of the body to amend the prison and sentencing reform bill being considered by Congress this week by adding provisions to protect people who are acting in compliance with state cannabis laws from federal criminalization.

But Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) objected, stopping the measure dead in its tracks without a formal roll call vote.

Following the procedural defeat, Gardner took to the floor for a roughly 10-minute speech in which he pointed to problems caused by the gulf between ongoing federal marijuana prohibition and the growing number of states that allow cannabis for medical or recreational use.

“It’s hard to think about federal criminal justice reform without thinking about the biggest problem that federal criminal law creates for Colorado: the refusal to respect the will of Coloradans when it comes to their decision on marijuana.,” he said. “Every day, Coloradans of good faith follow Colorado law to a tee but they are still criminals in the eyes of the federal government.”

“You shouldn’t go to federal prison for following state law. That in its essence is sentencing reform.”

Grassley, for his part, said Gardner’s amendment amounted to a “backdoor to legalization” and is “inconsistent with current federal law and allows states the right to break existing law.”

The outing Judiciary Committee chairman and longtime marijuana opponent said the amendment’s effect of allowing cannabis businesses to access banks would be “inappropriate to consider in the context of a criminal justice reform bill.”

Grassley did, however, concede that Gardner “worked hard on this and he may be ahead of the time when there will be a real debate on this.”

“Maybe there will be, at that point, an opportunity to consider his approach as something lesser than the legalization of marijuana generally,” he said.

The amendment Gardner sought to attach to the criminal justice reform bill, which mirrors a standalone bill he and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) filed earlier this year, would have exempted state-legal marijuana activity from the Federal Controlled Substances Act.

President Trump gave his verbal support for the Gardner-Warren standalone bill, titled the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, in June.

Gardner said in an interview with Cheddar in advance of the floor action on his amendment that he had another conversation with Trump about the proposal on Tuesday.

“I just spoke with the president again,” he said. “He supports this effort. He would sign this bill if it were to come before him on his desk.”

Watch Gardner and Grassley debate the cannabis amendment below:

Earlier on Tuesday, Gardner all but conceded that the push to attach marijuana language to the sentencing and prison reform bill would not succeed.

“I think we’re probably going to be blocked today by people who don’t want to have this voted on,” he told Cheddar. “They can use a procedure in the Senate to block our effort to offer the amendment, which is too bad because it does have, I believe, majority support in the U.S. Senate.”

Over the past week, several advocates had expressed skepticism that Gardner would be able to successfully insert his marijuana language into the criminal justice bill, which has been advancing under an already tenuous bipartisan agreement.

But they are hopeful that 2019 will provide more opportunities to advance the STATES Act or similar cannabis reform legislation.

“The hundreds of thousands of Americans working in the state-legal cannabis industry deeply appreciate Sen. Gardner’s leadership, and we look forward to working with all of our sponsors to pass the STATES Act into law during the next Congress,” Neal Levine of the Cannabis Trade Federation told Marijuana Moment.

Here’s The Text Of The Marijuana Amendment Sen. Gardner Wants Attached To Criminal Justice Bill

This story has been updated to include video of and additional quotes from Gardner’s remarks, and to note that the senator spoke with President Trump about marijuana on Tuesday.

Photo element courtesy of Gage Skidmore.

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.

Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 15-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (Organization citations are for identification only and do not constitute an endorsement or partnership.)

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New Congressional Resolution Calls For Marijuana Legalization And Drug Expungements

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Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) released a congressional resolution on Thursday that calls for a fundamental reshaping of the criminal justice system, in part by legalizing marijuana and expunging all drug-related convictions.

The congresswoman’s “People’s Justice Guarantee” resolution outlines “a bold, new vision for justice in the American criminal legal system” that’s designed to “transform the U.S. criminal legal system to one that meets America’s foundational yet unfilled promise of justice for all.”

The ultimate goal of the measure is to reduce mass incarceration in the country through a series of reform steps that includes ending for-profit prisons, decriminalizing certain non-violent offenses, imposing caps on criminal sentences, abolishing the death penalty, expanding access to mental health services in prisons and reinvesting in communities that have been most impacted by “tough of crime” criminal policies.

Some have characterized the resolution as the “Green New Deal” of criminal justice reform, comparable in scope and ambition to the climate change plan championed by fellow “Squad” member Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).

Drug policy reform isn’t the main feature of the resolution, but it does call for “decriminalizing addiction, homelessness, poverty, HIV status, and disabilities, including mental health diagnosis, by legalizing marijuana and overdose prevention sites, declining to criminally prosecute low-level offenses such as loitering and theft of necessity goods, and expunging the records of individuals for all drug-related offenses.”

Interestingly, an earlier draft of the measure reportedly contained language specifying that law enforcement should “use civil citations instead of arrests for drug possession,” according to a paraphrase by a reporter with The Appeal who reviewed the document but later updated her story to reflect the version that was actually filed. A call for an 80 percent reduction in the prison population was also removed from the text.

It’s not clear if the provision on “decriminalizing addiction” in the final resolution would involve all drug possession offenses, or why Pressley apparently decided to scale back the scope of the measure from the draft her staff circulated to reporters. Marijuana Moment reached out to the congresswoman’s office for clarification but a representative was not immediately available.

The ACLU, Color of Change and National Immigrant Law Center are among several civil rights groups that have endorsed the resolution, which was created in concert with advocates from the National Immigration Law Center, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Immigrant Defense Project, UndocuBlack Network and others.

“You cannot have a government for and by the people if it is not represented by all of the people,” Pressley said in a press release. “For far too long, those closest to the pain have not been closest to the power, resulting in a racist, xenophobic, rogue, and fundamentally flawed criminal legal system.”

“The People’s Justice Guarantee is the product of a symbiotic partnership with over 20 grassroots organizations and people impacted by the discriminatory policies of our legal system,” she said. “Our resolution calls for a bold transformation of the status quo—devoted to dismantling injustices so that the system is smaller, safer, less punitive, and more humane.”

While the freshman congresswoman declined to endorse a 2016 marijuana legalization measure that was ultimately approved by Massachusetts voters, she’s since positioned herself as a champion for reform, including by voting against an amendment barring people with drug convictions from working in child care services with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

She also voted in favor of amendments to protect all state marijuana programs from federal intervention and another introduced by Ocasio-Cortez to remove a budget rider that she argued inhibited research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics.

In addition, Pressley has cosponsored bills concerning marijuana descheduling, research on the benefits of medical cannabis for military veterans and banking access by state-legal businesses.

Read the full text of Pressley’s justice reform resolution below: 

Pressley_The People’s J… by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

Kamala Harris Jokes About CBD Body Rubs To Make A Serious Point On The Marijuana Industry

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Support For Marijuana Legalization Increased Again In 2019, Pew Poll Finds

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Support for legalizing marijuana grew again this year, with just over two-thirds of Americans in favor of the policy, according to a Pew Research Center poll that was released on Thursday.

The survey, which involved phone interviews with about 9,900 adults from September 3-15, found that 67 percent of respondents think cannabis should be legal. That’s five percentage points higher than Pew’s last poll on the issue in 2018, and it closely reflects the percent support for legalization that Gallup reported (66 percent) in a survey released last month.

According to the results of a new question Pew asked for the first time that gave respondents multiple policy options to choose from, 91 percent of Americans said that marijuana should be legal for either medical or recreational purposes: Fifty nine percent said both forms should be legal and 32 percent said it should only be legal for medical use.

Just 8 percent want cannabis to remain illegal across the board.

That’s a notable finding, as some prohibitionists have argued that polls showing growing support for broad legalization are misleading because people would be less inclined to voice support for outright legalization if given more options. In fact, a sizable majority remains in favor of full legalization, according to Pew.

The poll also affirms that marijuana reform is an increasingly bipartisan issue, with a majority of Republicans and those who lean toward the GOP (55 percent) saying cannabis should be legal, compared to 78 percent of Democrats and those who lean toward the party.

Last year, the survey showed that only 45 percent of Republicans favored legalization, versus 69 percent of Democrats. Unlike the prior Pew poll, however, this latest version combines responses from party members and individuals who said they lean toward one party or the other. The previous survey distinguished those two groups and reported support separately.

“The percentage of the public who favors adult-use marijuana legalization has skyrocketed over the past three decades and shows no signs of abating,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said. “As more and more states have moved forward with their own marijuana liberalization policies in recent years, public support has only grown stronger. At a time when the political divide is larger than ever, the issue of marijuana legalization is one of the few policy issues upon which most Americans agree.”

There is majority support in the new survey for ending cannabis prohibition among both men and women, and across racial demographics.

Expect the upward trend in support to continue. The only age group where there isn’t majority support for legalizing marijuana is the Silent Generation (35 percent). Boomers and Generation X support the policy, 63 percent and 65 percent, respectively. But an overwhelming majority of Millennials (76 percent) back legalization.

The partisan gap for that generation is significantly narrower than the overall divide, with 71 percent of Millennial Republicans and 78 percent of Millennial Democrats saying cannabis should be legal.

 

“Two-thirds of Americans say the use of marijuana should be legal, reflecting a steady increase over the past decade,” Pew said. “The share of U.S. adults who oppose legalization has fallen from 52 percent in 2010 to 32 percent today.”

“The growth in public support for legal marijuana has come as a growing number of jurisdictions have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational purposes,” the report states.

As Pew noted, numerous Democratic presidential candidates are in favor of cannabis legalization—with the notable exception of former Vice President Joe Biden—and the survey results suggest it’s a valuable policy position to have both in primaries and general elections.

Vaping Injury Outbreak Hasn’t Hurt Marijuana Legalization Support, Gallup Poll Shows

This story was updated to include comment from NORML.

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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 Mexico Committee Gets Head Start On Marijuana Legalization For 2020 Session

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New Mexico lawmakers discussed the potential economic impact of legalizing marijuana in the state during a committee hearing on Wednesday.

The meeting of the legislature’s interim Economic and Rural Development Committee, which featured testimony from the chair of a governor-appointed cannabis working group, focused on issues such as a tax scheme for legal marijuana sales and the allocation of resulting revenue.

While Pat Davis, the working group chair, touted the economic potential of the industry, he also recognized that “getting a business in marijuana is expensive—it costs about half a million to $1 million to open.” Given that, he said it was important to use revenue from cannabis sales to start a venture capital fund that could provide low-interest loans to disadvantaged communities to launch marijuana operations.

The committee convened one month after the Cannabis Working Group, formed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D), released recommendations for a legal marijuana market. The governor aims to have a reform plan in place for the short 30-day legislative session starting in January 2020, meaning that New Mexico is positioned to potentially become the next state in the U.S. to legalize.

The working group’s report said New Mexico would gain 11,000 jobs and sales would reach $620 million annually within five years of implementation. Combined tax revenue from adult-use and medical cannabis sales would earn the state $100 million a year, they estimated.

Other recommendations included ensuring that prior marijuana convictions are expunged and prohibiting or restricting home cultivation.

Davis, who also serves as a member of the Albuquerque City Council, touched on a variety of these recommendations and emphasized that the working group wanted to incorporate law enforcement into conversations about legalization as legislative efforts move forward. He also said that marijuana would be “larger than most agricultural industries” once it’s legal in the state.

“New Mexico is ready for this,” he said. “We found that New Mexico has been doing this for 10 years already [with medical cannabis], and this is just a multiplier in terms of regulation and infrastructure. This is a real opportunity.”

Lawmakers also heard from Public Safety Department Secretary Mark Shea and University of New Mexico economics professor Sarah Stith.

Shea discussed the need to fund efforts to train officers as drug recognition experts and said agencies are looking forward to having field testing options to detect impaired driving.

In March, the House approved a bill that would legalize marijuana and provide for sales to be conducted primarily through state-run stores. A Senate committee advanced that bill, but it later stalled before reaching a floor vote in the chamber. The Cannabis Working Group said in September that it opposed a government-run marijuana model.

Senate President Mary Kay Papen (D) said this week that she is “not really enthusiastic” about legalization legislation but remains open to the possibility, the Associated Press reported.

Also this year, the legislature passed a bill decriminalizing cannabis possession, which was signed into law by the governor in April and officially took effect on July 1.

Groups Push Congress To Let D.C. Legalize Marijuana Sales

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.
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