State legislatures across the U.S. have convened for new sessions over the past month, and a growing number of governors are taking steps to push lawmakers to include legalizing marijuana as part of their 2020 agendas.
At least 10 governors have gone so far as to put language ending marijuana prohibition in their annual budget requests, or used their State of the State speeches to pressure legislators to act on cannabis reform.
Some are proactively addressing the issue, while others appear to be mostly reacting to support that has already built up among lawmakers. But altogether, it’s clear that top state executives are now taking marijuana more seriously than ever before.
Here’s a look at how governors are taking action on marijuana as 2020 legislative sessions get underway.
Gov. Jared Polis (D), who consistently led the fight for federal marijuana reform during his time in Congress, is continuing to champion cannabis now that he’s running his state.
This month, his administration rolled out a “roadmap” aimed at increasing the number of banks that serve legal cannabis businesses. He also announced an energy efficiency partnership between beer and marijuana companies that involves using carbon captured during the alcohol brewing process to grow cannabis plants.
And during his State of the State address last month Polis emphasized that “keeping Colorado the number one state in the nation for industrial hemp” is among his priorities for boosting the economy.
Gov. Ned Lamont (D) and leading lawmakers are pushing to make 2020 the year that Connecticut legalizes cannabis.
During his State of the State address, the governor spoke about how marijuana legalization in nearby states makes it illogical to continue prohibition. “Like it or not, legalized marijuana is a short drive away in Massachusetts and New York is soon to follow,” he said. “Right now do you realize that what you can buy legally in Massachusetts right across the border can land you in prison here in Connecticut for up to a year?”
To that end, Lamont has partnered with governors from neighboring states to develop a regional approach to cannabis.
On the governor’s behalf, the Senate president and House speaker have filed a bill to legalize marijuana in Connecticut, and Lamont’s budget proposal includes funding for new state employees to craft and implement a regulatory system for cannabis.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D), who signed a marijuana legalization bill into law last year, has championed its implementation in 2020. His State of the State address included a line touting how the new policy’s out-of-state appeal “gives us a chance to collect tax revenue from the residents of Wisconsin, Missouri, Iowa and Indiana,” all of which continue to prohibit recreational cannabis.
Pritzker’s lieutenant governor was among the first people to purchase cannabis products when legal sales began on January 1. The day before, Pritzker pardoned more than 11,000 people with prior marijuana convictions. Nearly $40 million worth of adult-use cannabis products were purchased in the first month, an economic boost that the governor’s administration prominently touted.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) formally put marijuana legalization on the legislature’s agenda for the short, 30-day session ending later this month.
“It’s high time we stopped holding ourselves and our economy back: Let’s get it done this year and give New Mexicans yet another reason, yet another opportunity, to stay here and work and build a fulfilling 21st century career,” she said during her State of the State speech.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) unsuccessfully pushed lawmakers to send him a marijuana legalization bill in 2019, but he’s trying again this year.
“For decades, communities of color were disproportionately affected by the unequal enforcement of marijuana laws,” he said in his 2020 State of the State address. “Let’s work with our neighbors New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania to coordinate a safe and fair system, and let’s legalize adult use of marijuana.”
The governor’s budget includes language to accomplish the end of cannabis prohibition, and he is also proposing to create a new Global Cannabis and Hemp Center for Science, Research and Education in the SUNY system.
For the second year in a row, Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) put measures to legalize cannabis in her budget proposal.
Unlike the version that lawmakers rejected in 2019, the new language would create a system of state-owned stores to sell marijuana.
House and Senate leaders have thus far expressed reservations about Raimondo’s plan, but it remains to be seen if they will become more open to legalization as a growing number of nearby states—including Connecticut—move to end prohibition.
Gov. Kristi Noem (R) is no big fan of hemp, having vetoed a bill to legalize the crop that lawmakers sent to her desk last year. But in 2020, recognizing that the plant is incredibly popular and that other states are enacting new laws regulating hemp in light of its recent federal legalization, the governor is working with lawmakers to pass new compromise legislation.
Noem laid out what she called “guardrails” that need to be included in any hemp bill that could get her signature, and she also discussed the issue in her State of the State address.
“Federal guidelines have been put in place, a South Dakota tribe has been given the green light on production, and other states’ actions mean we need to address hemp transportation through our state,” she said.
New hemp legislation has already advanced through one legislative committee, and the governor seems poised to sign it into law this year as long as her concerns are addressed.
Gov. Phil Scott (R) reluctantly signed a 2018 bill into law that legalizes low-level marijuana possession and home cultivation. Now, lawmakers are pushing to add legal cannabis sales to that, and the governor doesn’t appear as opposed as he once did.
A top lawmaker said that Scott is “at the table” in ongoing talks about legislative language. Although he still has concerns about impaired driving, the governor reportedly has his eye on using legal marijuana sales revenue to fund an after-school program he is proposing.
A cannabis commercialization bill cleared the Senate in 2019 and has already been amended and approved by a number of House committees this year, with a floor vote expected in the coming weeks.
While Scott hasn’t committed to signing it into law, advocates have become more hopeful that he won’t block it because of the tax money it can generate to support his other priorities.
U.S. Virgin Islands
Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. (D) called lawmakers into a special session in December to begin considering a marijuana legalization proposal that he says is needed to generate revenue to support a retirement fund for government employees.
“We must acknowledge the opportunities that regulated expansion of this industry can bring to the territory and the potential benefits” to the retirement program, he said during his State of the Territory address last month.
Gov. Ralph Northam (D) campaigned on decriminalizing marijuana in 2017 and has continually pushed lawmakers to send him a bill on the topic. Now that the governor’s party won control of both chambers of the legislature in November’s elections, it might actually get done, and he put marijuana decriminalization at the top of his 2020 criminal justice agenda.
“We need to take an honest look at our criminal justice system to make sure we’re treating people fairly and using taxpayer dollars wisely,” he said in his State of the Commonwealth speech. “This means decriminalizing marijuana possession—and clearing the records of people who’ve gotten in trouble for it.”
Cannabis decriminalization legislation has advanced through several House of Delegates and Senate committees in recent weeks, and cleared the full House this week. A Senate floor vote is expected soon.
Gov. Tony Evers (D) included language to legalize medical cannabis and decriminalize marijuana possession in his budget last year, but lawmakers removed those provisions.
But the governor is still pushing the issue, calling out the legislature in his 2020 State of the State speech for ignoring the will of the voters.
“When more than 80 percent of our state supports medical marijuana…and elected officials can ignore those numbers without consequence, folks, something’s wrong,” he said.
The GOP House speaker has expressed some openness to allowing medical cannabis in some form, but Senate leadership is more hostile to the idea. It remains to be seen if gubernatorial pressure can convince lawmakers to advance the issue.
Photo courtesy of Jurassic Blueberries.
Top IRS Official Says Marijuana Banking Reform Would Help Feds ‘Get Paid’
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) would like to get paid—and it’d help if the marijuana industry had access to banks like companies in other legal markets, an official with the federal department said. She also talked about unique issues related to federal tax deductions for cannabis businesses.
At an event hosted by UCLA’s Annual Tax Controversy Institute on Thursday, IRS’s Cassidy Collins talked about the “special type of collection challenge” that the agency faces when it comes to working with cannabis businesses while the product remains federally illegal.
While IRS isn’t taking a stand on federal marijuana policy, Collins said that the status quo leaves many cannabis businesses operating on a cash-only basis, creating complications for the agency, in part by making it harder for banks to “pay us.”
“The reason why [the marijuana industry is] cash intensive is twofold,” she said. “Number one, a lot of customers don’t want a paper trail showing that they’re buying marijuana, and number two, the hesitancy of banks to allow marijuana businesses to even bank with them.”
Of course, the reason why many financial institutions remain hesitant to take on cannabis companies as clients is because the plant is a strictly controlled substance under federal law.
“There’s been a number of legislative bills that have been introduced—and I am definitely not expressing any opinion personally or on behalf of the IRS about any pending or proposed legislation,” Collins, who is a senior counsel in the IRS Office of Chief Counsel, said. “But it is interesting to note that, if the law changed so that the marijuana businesses could have banks, that would make the IRS’s job to collect [taxes] a lot easier. As part of collection, we want the money. That’s our end goal there.”
A major part of what makes cannabis businesses unique is that they don’t qualify for traditional tax credits under an IRS code known as 280E. That policy “prohibits them from claiming deductions for business expenses because they’re technically being involved in drug trafficking,” Collins explained at the event, from which small excerpts of her comments were reported by Bloomberg.
There are some options available to lessen the burden on marijuana firms, however. At the end of the day, “IRS will work with marijuana companies because, again, we want to get paid,” Collins said.
One of the ways the agency works with marijuana business operators is to have them visit designated IRS “tax assistance centers” that accept cash payments in excess of $50,000. But the official warned businesses to “be prepared to be there for a little while” as the center checks—and double checks—the amount of cash being submitted.
“Revenue officers will assist the marijuana companies in paying us,” she said.
IRS officials could also help cannabis firms by having officials accompany them “to the bank in order to try to help the taxpayer secure a cashier’s payment to pay the IRS, as well as using money orders,” she said, adding that “our revenue officers are are wanting to work with the marijuana companies to help assist them to pay us.”
“When the revenue officers are there in person with the taxpayer, that could potentially help increase the likelihood that the bank will cooperate and help the taxpayer transition into a cashier’s check,” she continued. “And that has been a trend since this first became legal [at the state level], that more and more banks are allowing cannabis companies to bank with them.”
In a report published earlier this year, congressional researchers examined tax policies and restrictions for the marijuana industry—and how those could change if any number of federal reform bills are enacted.
IRS, for its part, said last month that it expects the cannabis market to continue to grow, and it offered some tips to businesses on staying compliant with taxes while the plant remains federally prohibited.
As it stands, banks and credit unions are operating under 2014 guidance from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) that lays out reporting requirements for those that choose to service the marijuana industry.
Leaders in both chambers of Congress are working on legalization bills to end federal marijuana prohibition. But stakeholders are hopeful that, in the interim, legislators will enact modest marijuana banking reform. Legislation to protect financial institutions from being penalized for working with cannabis businesses passed the House for the fifth time last month.
Rodney Hood, a board member of the National Credit Union Administration, wrote in a Marijuana Moment op-ed this month that legalization is an inevitability—and it makes the most sense for government agencies to get ahead of the policy change to resolve banking complications.
IRS separately hosted a forum in August dedicated to tax policy for marijuana businesses and cryptocurrency.
Earlier this year, IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig told Congress that the agency would “prefer” for state-legal marijuana businesses to be able to pay taxes electronically, as the current largely cash-based system under federal cannabis prohibition is onerous and presents risks to workers.
Former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in 2019 that he’d like to see Congress approve legislation resolving the cannabis banking issue and he pointed to the fact that IRS has had to build “cash rooms” to deposit taxes from those businesses as an example of the problem.
IRS released updated guidance on tax policy for the marijuana industry last year, including instructions on how cannabis businesses that don’t have access to bank accounts can pay their tax bills using large amounts of cash.
The update appears to be responsive to a Treasury Department internal watchdog report that was released earlier in the year. The department’s inspector general for tax administration had criticized IRS for failing to adequately advise taxpayers in the marijuana industry about compliance with federal tax laws. And it directed the agency to “develop and publicize guidance specific to the marijuana industry.”
Luxembourg Set To Become First European Country To Legalize Marijuana Following Government Recommendation
Luxembourg is poised to become the first European country to legalize marijuana, with key government agencies putting forward a plan to allow the possession and cultivation of cannabis for personal use.
The ministers of justice and homeland security on Friday unveiled the proposal, which will still require a vote in the Parliament but is expected to pass. It’s part of a broader package of reform measures the agencies are recommending.
Under the marijuana measure, adults 18 and older could grow up to four plants. However, under the non-commercial model that is being proposed, possessing more than three grams in public would still be a civil offense, carrying a fine of €25-500 ($29-581). Currently, the maximum fine for possession is €2,500 ($2,908).
In terms of access, adults would be able to buy and trade cannabis seeds for their home garden.
Justice Minister Sam Tamson said the government felt it “had to act” and characterized the home cultivation policy change as a first step, The Guardian reported.
👉🏻élaboration du projet de loi usage privé du #cannabis : jusqu’à 4 plantes à domicile & décorrectionnalisation <3g
👉🏻renforcement de la prévention & de l’accompagnement
👉🏻⬆️des moyens de la police
👉🏻élaboration d’un projet de production/vente #Luxembourg pic.twitter.com/8yre0Udt8J
— Sam Tanson (@SamTanson) October 22, 2021
“The idea is that a consumer is not in an illegal situation if he consumes cannabis and that we don’t support the whole illegal chain from production to transportation to selling where there is a lot of misery attached,” he said. “We want to do everything we can to get more and more away from the illegal black market.”
While limited in scope, the reform would make Luxembourg the first country in Europe to legalize the production and possession of marijuana for recreational use. Cannabis has been widely decriminalized in certain countries in the continent, but it has remained criminalized by statute.
Government sources in Luxembourg told The Guardian that plans are in the works to develop a program where the state regulates the production and distribution of marijuana. Tamson said they are working to resolve “international constraints” before taking that step, however, referring to United Nations treaty obligations that multiple U.S. states and other countries like Canada and Uruguay have openly flouted.
The measures include:
🟢 Regulation of cannabis use and cultivation: adults will be able to legally cultivate up to four cannabis plants for their own use, provided the cultivation is happening at their place of residence.
— European Greens (@europeangreens) October 22, 2021
For now, the country is focusing on legalization within a home setting. Parliament is expected to vote on the proposal in early 2022, and the ruling parties are friendly to the reform.
This has been a long time coming, as a coalition of major parties of Luxembourg agreed in 2018 to enact legislation allowing “the exemption from punishment or even legalization” of cannabis.
Meanwhile in the U.S., congressional lawmakers are working to advance legalization legislation. A key House committee recently approved a bill to end marijuana prohibition, and Senate leadership is finalizing a separate reform proposal.
In Mexico, a top Senator said this week that lawmakers could advance legislation to regulate marijuana in the coming weeks. The Supreme Court has already ruled that adults cannot be criminalized over possession or cultivation, but there’s currently no program in place to provide access.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
New Bipartisan Marijuana Research Bill In Congress Would Let Scientists Study Dispensary Products
A bipartisan group of federal lawmakers introduced a bill on Thursday to remove barriers to conducting research on marijuana, including by allowing scientists to access cannabis from state-legal dispensaries.
The Medical Marijuana Research Act, filed by the unlikely duo of pro-legalization Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and prohibitionist Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), would streamline the process for researchers to apply and get approved to study cannabis and set clear deadlines on federal agencies to act on their applications.
“Congress is hopelessly behind the American people on cannabis, and the quality of our research shows why that is an urgent problem,” Blumenauer told Marijuana Moment. “Despite the fact that 99 percent of Americans live in a state that has legalized some form of cannabis, federal law is still hamstringing researchers’ ability to study the full range of health benefits offered by cannabis, and to learn more about the products readily available to consumers.”
“It’s outrageous that we are outsourcing leadership in that research to Israel, the United Kingdom, Canada, and others. It’s time to change the system,” he said.
Late last year, the House approved an identical version of the cannabis science legislation. Days later, the Senate passed a similar bill but nothing ended up getting to the president’s desk by the end of the last Congress. Earlier this year, a bipartisan group of senators refiled their marijuana research measure for the current 117th Congress.
Meanwhile, lawmakers are also advancing a separate strategy to open up dispensary cannabis to researchers. Large-scale infrastructure legislation that has passed both chambers in differing forms and which is pending final action contains provisions aimed at allowing researchers to study the actual marijuana that consumers are purchasing from state-legal businesses instead of having to use only government-grown cannabis.
The new bill filed this week by Blumenauer and Harris, along with six other original cosponsors, would also make it easier for scientists to modify their research protocols without having to seek federal approval.
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.
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It would additionally mandate that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) license more growers and make it so there would be no limit on the number of additional entities that can be registered to cultivate marijuana for research purposes. It would also require the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to submit a report to Congress within five years after enactment to overview the results of federal cannabis studies and recommend whether they warrant marijuana’s rescheduling under federal law.
“The cannabis laws in this country are broken, including our laws that govern cannabis research,” Blumenauer said in remarks in the Congressional Record. “Because cannabis is a Schedule I substance, researchers must jump through hoops and comply with onerous requirements just to do basic research on the medical potential of the plant.”
The new legislation will “both streamline the often-duplicative licensure process for researchers seeking to conduct cannabis research and facilitate access to an increased supply of higher quality medical grade cannabis for research purposes,” he said, adding that expanded studies will help make sure “Americans have adequate access to potentially transformative medicines and treatments.”
For half a century, researchers have only been able to study marijuana grown at a single federally approved facility at the University of Mississippi, but they have complained that it is difficult to obtain the product and that it is of low quality. Indeed, one study showed that the government cannabis is more similar to hemp than to the marijuana that consumers actually use in the real world.
There’s been bipartisan agreement that DEA has inhibited cannabis research by being slow to follow through on approving additional marijuana manufacturers beyond the Mississippi operation, despite earlier pledges to do so.
In May, the agency finally said it was ready to begin licensing new cannabis cultivators. Last week, DEA proposed a large increase in the amount of marijuana—and psychedelics such as psilocybin, LSD, MDMA and mescaline—that it wants produced in the U.S. for research purposes next year.
Under the new House bill, the agency would be forced to start approving additional cultivation applications for study purposes within one year of the legislation’s enactment.
HHS and the attorney general would be required under the bill to create a process for marijuana manufacturers and distributors to supply researchers with cannabis from dispensaries. They would have one year after enactment to develop that procedure, and would have to start meeting to work on it within 60 days of the bill’s passage.
In general, the legislation would also establish a simplified registration process for researchers interested in studying cannabis, in part by reducing approval wait times, minimizing costly security requirements and eliminating additional layers of protocol review.
Read the full text of the new marijuana research bill below: