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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 20-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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DC Activists Have A New Plan To Get Psychedelics Decriminalization On The Ballot Despite Coronavirus

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Activists in Washington, D.C. are considering a new strategy to get a measure to decriminalize psychedelics on the November ballot, with the coronavirus outbreak having forced them to suspend in-person signature gathering.

While Decriminalize Nature D.C. hoped that officials would pass emergency legislation allowing the digital collection of signatures, they aren’t actively considering that option. And the District Council’s chairman said he would not simply place the initiative on the ballot for voters to decide regardless of the signature count.

That’s left the group in a challenging position. But they’re not out of ideas yet.

Now the campaign is exploring the possibility of conducting “micro-scale petition signature collection” to make the ballot. The plan would involve having petitions mailed to supporters, who would circulate it and collect signatures from “registered DC voters in their immediate vicinity, such as family, roommates, friends and close-by neighbors” and then return the signed petitions to the campaign headquarters.

They’ve launched an online survey to determine the feasibility of the option. It asks prospective volunteers to estimate how many signatures they could theoretically collect under that limited scope and provide their mailing information should the campaign decide to move forward with the plan.

This is one of the last remaining options for the 2020 effort, which is working to make a wide range of psychedelics among the district’s lowest law enforcement priorities.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) said during a press conference on Friday that he “would not say that we’re looking for legislative action to put [the initiative] on the ballot” outside of the conventional process.

Board of Elections Chairman Michael Bennett also took a question about the prospect of allow electronic signature collection. He said his panel is not considering the possibility “at this point.”

Watch the comments below, starting around 22:15:

Decriminalize Nature D.C. is one of numerous groups working to change local and state drug policy laws. And it’s not alone in its struggle amid the current pandemic.

A California campaign to legalize psilocybin mushrooms is struggling and asking for electronic signature gathering to qualify for the ballot.

In Oregon, advocates for a measure to decriminalize drug possession and a separate initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes have suspended in-person campaign events amid the pandemic.

Activists in California recently released a video asking California officials to allow digital signatures for a petition to revise the state’s adult-use marijuana program. An effort to legalize medical cannabis in Nebraska is facing similar signature gathering challenges. A campaign to legalize cannabis in Missouri is also in jeopardy.

Arizona activists shared some more positive news last week, however, announcing that they have collected more than enough signatures to qualify for the state’s November ballot—though they have not yet been submitted to or verified by the state.

Marijuana Legalization Left Out Of New York Budget, According To Draft Summary Document

Photo elements courtesy of carlosemmaskype and Apollo.

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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Marijuana Legalization Left Out Of New York Budget, According To Draft Summary Document

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The New York legislature seems poised to eliminate a proposal to legalize marijuana through the budget this year, according to an unverified document outlining the policies included in the spending legislation currently under final negotiations ahead of a vote this week.

The draft budget report, which was shared with Marijuana Moment, includes a line stating that the “Adopted Budget omits the Executive proposal to legalize adult use cannabis.”

It also “eliminates $34.31 million in funding for the Office for Cannabis Management,” a government body that would have been responsible for regulating the marijuana market.

The apparent exclusion of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) legalization proposal, while disappointing to reform advocates, is not entirely surprising in the context of the coronavirus outbreak. While the governor repeatedly stressed that the policy change should be enacted through the budget, he and top lawmakers have tried to temper expectations in recent weeks as legislative priorities have shifted during the pandemic.

But to some, the draft adopted budget report isn’t necessarily a death knell for the reform move, and they hope lawmakers can still accomplish legalization this year through separate legislation.

“We are disappointed adult use is not in the budget since it would have been a huge economic benefit to New York farmers and small businesses,” Allan Gandelman, president of the NY Cannabis Growers & Processors Association, told Marijuana Moment. “We hope to continue working with the governor and the legislature to get this done as soon as possible.”

The legislature must still vote on the final budget, but there’s little time left to hash out a deal on comprehensive reform ahead of a Wednesday deadline. Sen. Liz Krueger (D) filed a revised standalone legalization bill earlier this month, language of which could have theoretically been inserted into the budget, but it’s not clear that option remains on the table.

Marijuana Moment reached out to Senate and Assembly leadership for comment about the draft budget summary, but representatives were not immediately available. The document, which according to its metadata was last modified on Sunday afternoon, contains highlighted sections for issues that are “still open” for negotiation, but that is not the case for the cannabis items.

This is the second year in a row that Cuomo has pitched legalization as part of his spending plan. Last year, months of negotiation between his office and lawmakers failed to produce a passable bill—with disagreements centering on issues such as how tax revenue would be allocated—and so the effort carried over to this year.

The governor seemed confident that 2020 would be the year for legal cannabis in New York, and he included the proposal in his State of the State address in January. As recently as last week, he indicated the effort was still alive, though he also recognized that it may prove too complicated an issue to ultimately deliver through the budget this round.

“We will pass a budget and address the policy items that we laid out and we discussed because it’s not just about passing a budget and the numbers,” he said. “There are many policy initiatives that I laid out back in January, and we’re going to pursue all of them.”

“The only caveat was if you have a really complex issue that normally would require weeks of nuanced, detailed negotiation to do it right, that we won’t do. Because I don’t want to pass any bills that are not really intelligent that I then have to come back and deal with again next year,” he continued. “If it’s a highly complex issue, I get it and then let’s put it off because we don’t want to do something sloppy.”

Another part of the governor’s legalization plan originally involved visiting legal cannabis states to learn from their experiences and take lessons back home. However, Cuomo said that trip was also impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Meanwhile, drug policy reform efforts across the country are struggling amid the pandemic.

Activists in California recently released a video asking California officials to allow digital signatures for a petition to revise the state’s adult-use marijuana program. In Washington, D.C., advocates for a measure to decriminalize psychedelics similarly wrote to the mayor and local lawmakers, imploring them to accept online signatures for their ballot petition.

Another California campaign to legalize psilocybin mushrooms is struggling and asking for electronic signature gathering to qualify for the ballot. An effort to legalize medical cannabis in Nebraska is facing similar signature gathering challenges. A campaign to legalize cannabis in Missouri is also in jeopardy.

In Oregon, advocates for a measure to decriminalize drug possession and a separate initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes have suspended in-person campaign events amid the pandemic.

Arizona activists shared some more positive news last week, however, announcing that they have collected more than enough signatures to qualify for the state’s November ballot—though they have not yet been submitted to or verified by the state.

Senate Housing Bill Would Prevent Evictions For State-Legal Marijuana Extraction

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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Senate Housing Bill Would Prevent Evictions For State-Legal Marijuana Extraction

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A new congressional bill designed to promote affordable housing in the U.S. includes a provision that would prevent landlords from evicting people over manufacturing marijuana extracts if they have a license to do so.

Under the legislation, filed earlier this month by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), there’s a list of “just causes for eviction” such as failure to pay rent or causing significant damage to a property.

The “manufacture of a cannabinoid extract” is another cause for eviction, “unless the tenant holds a license to manufacture the cannabinoid extract under Federal, State, or Tribal law.”

Curiously, however, the bill lacks any additional protections for other state-legal cannabis activities, including simple possession. It’s possible that a drafting error is to blame, but Merkley’s office did not respond to Marijuana Moment’s request for comment.

Just above the manufacturing provision is another that states that “the unlawful manufacture, delivery, or possession of a controlled substance” is ground for eviction, though it contains no caveat exempting state-legal activity as cause for eviction.

Despite the growing number of states moving to allow cannabis for medical or recreational use, it remains “unlawful” under the federal Controlled Substances Act.

While advocates would likely applaud the inclusion of state-legal protection language, it’s also the case that eviction proceedings are handled at the state level, and so some courts would presumably defer to state law when it comes to cannabis-related eviction cases.

Also, when it comes to the manufacturing provision, states generally do not provide licenses that would specifically allow individuals to produce marijuana extracts in their residences, so it’s unclear how impactful that policy would be in practice if enacted into law.

Of course, the cannabis provision is just one notable part of a comprehensive housing bill, which aims to “address the shortcomings of our current housing policies and funding levels by holistically addressing disparities and systematic obstacles and ensuring an equitable outcome for the most vulnerable Americans.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) rolled out a different kind of housing reform bill last year that would protect people with low-level drug convictions from being denied access to or being evicted from public housing.

Letting VA Doctors Recommend Medical Marijuana To Veterans Won’t Cost Anything, Congressional Analysts Say

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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