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Governors Across U.S. Step Up Push To Legalize Marijuana In Their States

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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.

Colorado

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.

Connecticut

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.

Illinois

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.

New Mexico

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.

Last year, Lujan Grisham convened a working group to study cannabis. It issued a report that formed the basis of a legalization bill that is now advancing through the legislature.

New York

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.

Rhode Island

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.

South Dakota

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.

Vermont

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.

Virginia

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.

Wisconsin

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.

This piece was first published by Forbes.

Photo courtesy of Jurassic Blueberries.

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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IRS Chief Says Agency Would ‘Prefer’ If Marijuana Businesses Could Pay Taxes Electronically

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The head of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) told Congress this week that the federal 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.

During an oversight hearing before the House Appropriations Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee on Tuesday, IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig was asked about the lack of banking access for marijuana businesses and what steps could be done to normalize the market.

Rep. David Joyce (R-OH), who serves as a co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, said that barring marijuana companies from traditional financial services is “inefficient for business and the IRS alike, obviously, not to mention ample opportunity for fraud and abuse it creates, as well as potential for criminal acts as far as robbing and stealing from those.”

Rettig replied that “the IRS would prefer direct deposits moreso than receiving actual cash payments.”

“It’s a security issue for the IRS. It’s a security issue for our employees in our taxpayer assistance centers, [which] is actually where we receive these payments,” he said. “We created special facilities in the tax to receive the payments. Then we similarly have to transport the payments themselves.”

Watch the IRS commissioner talk about marijuana tax challenges below: 

“Money is fungible. We have to receive it. We don’t make a determination as to what is or is not legal, but the tax payments do come in and we would rather have direct deposits if we could,” the commissioner said.

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.

Marijuana finances also came up this week during a confirmation hearing for President Joe Biden’s pick for deputy secretary of the Treasury.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) asked the nominee, Adewale Adeyemo, whether he feels 2014 Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) guidance should be updated to “set expectations for financial institutions that provide services to cannabis-related industries” and what steps he would take to that end.

“I look forward, if confirmed, to talking to my colleagues at Treasury about this important issue and thinking through what changes may be needed and doing this in a way that’s consistent with the interagency with the president’s guidance,” Adeyemo replied. “In doing that, I look forward to consulting with you and members of this committee on our path forward.”

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.

This update appears to be responsive to a Treasury Department internal watchdog report that was released in April. 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.”

The IRS’s commissioner of the Small Business/Self Employed Division participated in a cannabis-focused event in December in which he noted the legalization movement’s continued momentum, saying that it will potentially succeed in ending prohibition in “all states.”

As far as banking is concerned, House Democrats did approve a bill in 2019 that would have protected financial institutions that service the marijuana industry from being penalized by federal regulators. Leadership also attached that measure’s language to two pieces of coronavirus relief legislation last year, but they declined to add it to their latest version, despite having reclaimed the majority in both chambers of Congress and control of the White House.

Many of these financial services issues would also be resolved if Congress passed legislation to federally deschedule cannabis—and there’s a plan in the works on the Senate side to get that done this year.

A trio of senators—Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ)—are in the process of drafting a legalization bill. And they recently held a meeting with representatives from a variety of advocacy groups and business associations to get input on the policy change.

Connecticut Governor Touts Marijuana Legalization Bill Ahead Of First Hearing

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Missouri Bill Would Add MDMA, Psilocybin Mushrooms And LSD To Right-To-Try Law

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Missouri residents with debilitating, life-threatening or terminal illnesses could gain legal access to an array of psychedelic drugs under new legislation aimed at expanding the state’s existing right-to-try law.

A bill introduced last week by Republican Rep. Michael Davis of Kansas City would allow seriously ill people to use substances such as MDMA, psilocybin mushrooms, LSD, DMT, mescaline and ibogaine with a doctor’s recommendation after exhausting all other approved treatment options. It would also remove felony penalties statewide for simple possession of the drugs, reclassifying low-level offenses as misdemeanors.

Supporters at Crossing Paths PAC, a political action committee that supports “pro-drug policy and criminal justice reform campaigns and candidates,” said the bill would allow patients to try therapies “considered promising in the treatment of a variety of mental health conditions,” including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression.

In a statement put out by the group, Davis said the bill “protects the liberty interests of Missourians who believe these drugs offer valuable options in the treatment of numerous conditions.”

“Many psychedelic drugs have decades of clinical research supporting their efficacy and safety profiles,” Davis said, “yet the FDA has been slow to act to reschedule these drugs.”

HB 1176 would build on the state’s 2014 right-to-try law, Republican-led legislation that allows patients with terminal illnesses to access “investigational drugs and devices” that are not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

President Donald Trump signed a federal “Right to Try Act” in 2018, allowing certain patients to access drugs that have not yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for broad use.

The current Missouri law specifically forbids the use of Schedule I controlled substances.

The new bill would remove that provision and expand eligibility to include patients with “debilitating” or “life-threatening” illnesses. A patient with a doctor’s recommendation who “has considered all other treatment options” would be exempt from the state’s laws against possessing the drugs.

Drug manufacturers could also legally produce the substances under state law, and physicians and pharmacies could lawfully distribute them.

For people who aren’t qualifying medical patients, the measure appears to reduce existing criminal penalties for possessing the listed substances. Under HB 1176, possession of up to 10 grams would be a class D misdemeanor, which carries a maximum $500 fine. Possession of between 10 and 35 grams would be a class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a maximum $2,000 fine.

Under current law, possessing any amount of the listed psychedelics is class D felony, which can mean up to seven years in prison.

The Missouri measure is similar to a bill introduced in Iowa last week that would expand that state’s right-to-try law to include psilocybin, MDMA, LSD, DMT, peyote and other currently illegal drugs. The Iowa bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jeff Shipley (R), who earlier this month introduced legislation to remove psilocybin from the state’s list of controlled substances, recently described the right-to-try legislation to Marijuana Moment as “the most conservative approach to usher in the new age of mental and emotional healthcare.”


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 700 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.

Missouri’s HB 1176 is one of more than a dozen bills related to drug policy to have been introduced in the state this year, including measures to put marijuana legalization on the 2022 ballot and allow medical marijuana consumption at hotels and Airbnb lodgings.

Other bills being considered this session, according to a summary of legislation being tracked by Crossing Paths PAC, would expunge marijuana-related offenses, prohibit the disclosure of medical marijuana patient information to unauthorized parties, reduce penalties for drug possession, protect medical marijuana patients in family court matters and adjust rules around medical marijuana licensing, taxes and banking.

“While other crises took precedence in terms of media attention,” the group said in a blog post last week, “2021 will go down in history as the year Missouri lawmakers—Republican and Democrat—began to take serious action to end the War on Drugs.”

Elsewhere across the country, lawmakers are considering similar reforms to roll back drug penalties or carve out legal access for therapeutic use.

Last week, a California lawmaker, state Sen. Scott Wiener (D) introduced legislation that would legalize the possession and social sharing of a number of drugs, including psilocybin mushrooms, LSD, ketamine, mescaline, ibogaine, DMT and MDMA. It would also provide for the expungement of past criminal records for possession or use. The state would establish a task force under the proposal to study potential future regulatory systems around psychedelics, with a report due in 2024.

Also last week, Massachusetts lawmakers introduced two drug-reform proposals, one to remove criminal penalties for all drugs and another to establish a task force to explore legalizing plant- and fungi-based psychedelics.

Earlier this month, a Texas state legislator introduced a bill to require the state to study the therapeutic potential of psilocybin, MDMA and ketamine in the treatment of certain mental health conditions.

Legislators in Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Kansas, Washington State and Virginia are also considering psychedelics and drug policy reform bills for the 2021 session.

Vermont lawmakers, meanwhile are expected to introduce a number of drug reform bills this session, including a measure to decriminalize all drugs and a separate proposal, expected Tuesday, that would remove psychedelic plants and fungi from the state’s list of regulated substances.

Biden Cabinet Pick Defends Proposal To Use Marijuana Tax Dollars To Fund Schools

Photo elements courtesy of carlosemmaskype and Apollo

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Connecticut Governor Touts Marijuana Legalization Bill Ahead Of First Hearing

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At a press conference on Wednesday to build support for his plan to legalize marijuana in Connecticut, Gov. Ned Lamont (D) and other backers described the proposal as a thoughtful, data-driven measure designed to address decades of disproportionate harm to the state’s Black and brown residents. While the bill is set for its first committee hearing on Friday, some social justice advocates have deep concerns about how the legal market would be structured.

“This has been a long time coming,” the governor said of his proposal. “We’ve been talking about this for ages, and I think now is the time to legalize adult-use recreational marijuana in a carefully regulated way with an emphasis upon equity and justice. Now is the time.”

Lamont, who began circulating a draft of the legalization bill last month, described the state’s enforcement of current laws against cannabis as “erratic with prejudice” and “fundamentally unfair” to people of color.

“I’m proud of what we’ve done in terms of justice and in terms of erasure of those convictions,” the governor said of the bill, SB 888. “We can do this in a safe way…that redresses some of the wrongs of the past and gives folks who have been hardest hit an opportunity to get back on their feet.”

Lamont introduced the legalization proposal as part of his budget plan earlier this month, after calling for the policy change earlier this year during his State of the State address.

“This is a comprehensive bill but it has three main and very logical components: decriminalization, regulation and revenue generation,” Rep. Michael D’Agostino (D), chair of the House General Laws Committee and a lead coordinator on the governor’s legalization proposal, said at Wednesday’s event. “One animating principle and theme that’s embedded through all of those components is equity.”

Among equity advocates, however, not everyone is impressed. Jason Ortiz, who served as chair of a cannabis licensing working group convened by the governor late last year, described the press event as “a disgusting display of naked greed,” adding that “SB 888 must be stopped if we are ever going to have a serious conversation on equity.”

“I am deeply disappointed and quite frankly insulted that the work of the equity discussion group would be used to support a bill that denies our community economic opportunities that they are handing over to the rich white men who control the Connecticut medical industry,” Ortiz, who is also the political director for advocacy group CT United for Reform and Equity, told Marijuana Moment in an email. “This is corruption plain and simple, and they are exploiting the suffering of my community in order to line their pockets.”

Under SB 888, Connecticut’s existing medical marijuana businesses would be able to begin selling to adults before the rest of the legal market is up and running, a head-start intended to begin legal sales as soon as possible. Critics warn the approach would create obstacles to smaller operators trying to enter the newly legal market.

The details of how communities most impacted by the war on drugs could gain from the legal industry would be mostly determined after officials receive a report from a new equity commission, and advocates are worried that big businesses may have cornered the market by then.

Rather than give people impacted by the war on drugs priority in licensing, as some other states have attempted to do, Connecticut’s initial plan would use a portion of cannabis tax revenue to fund local governments and programs in so-called impact zones, geographic areas that have seen disproportionate arrests and convictions under the war on drugs.

“What we heard in conversations with regulators in other states, and in talking to folks in these communities, is that this social equity plan needs to be broad-based and focus not merely on who gets these businesses and licenses at the end of the day, but what our community impact is,” Arunan Arulampalam, deputy commissioner of the Department of Consumer Regulation, said at Wednesday’s press conference.

“We’re going to use the revenues from this to get back into the community, get back to municipalities, hold down property taxes and help some of the communities that have been hardest hit get back on their feet” added Lamont. “I think that’s an important piece of the equity justice that we mean to do.”

In a Facebook post after Wednesday’s event, Ortiz called attention to recommendations he made as chair of the governor’s marijuana licensing task force that didn’t make it into the bill, including proposals to establish a capital fund to provide zero-interest loans to equity applicants and a provision to require equity applicants to control at least half of all licenses before any legal sales could begin.

“Ask the governor and everyone of the rich white men stumping for his bill to point to the specific line in SB888 where these recommendations were implemented,” he wrote. “The bill literally says only a handful of rich white men get to sell cannabis, but the office of the governor is going to claim equity advocates like myself are the BARRIER to community investment?”

In a separate post, Ortiz drew attention to a competing marijuana bill, HB 6377, which includes additional equity measures, including priority application and funding for low-interest loans among equity applicants. “The difference between these two approaches to politics and governance,” he wrote, “could not be more stark.”

HB 6377 was introduced on February 2, more than a week before SB 888, and referred to the Joint Committee on Labor and Public Employees. The panel held a February 9 public hearing but has not yet voted on the measure.

Lamont’s bill will be heard on Friday by the legislature’s Joint Judiciary Committee.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 700 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.

Mike Taylor, a professor of criminal justice at the University of New Haven, said Wednesday that more than 7,500 people were arrested and charged in Connecticut with some form of marijuana possession in 2020. “That’s a number equal to about 10 percent of the business of our criminal courts,” Taylor said.

Other speakers at Wednesday’s press event included Department of Consumer Regulation Commissioner Michelle Seagull, who discussed marijuana packaging and advertising limits meant to discourage use by minors.

A reporter for Hartford-based CBS TV affiliate WFSB asked Seagull whether the bill would allow advertising on billboards along interstates, noting that some businesses have already put up billboards in Connecticut inviting residents to buy marijuana across the border in Massachusetts.

“The restrictions here would apply just to the Connecticut businesses that we’re licensing. That’s sort of the universe we can control,” Seagull replied. “We can’t regulate what those [Massachusetts] businesses are putting up in Connecticut to attract people.”

Lamont interjected, saying he didn’t think cannabis companies from either state should be advertising their businesses on billboards.

“Let me talk to Gov. Charlie Baker about that,” he said, referring to his Massachusetts counterpart, “because that makes no sense that he can advertise in Connecticut and our guys can’t. I don’t think either should be doing billboard advertising. I think it’s the wrong way to go, and I’ll make that case.”

Despite disagreement over the details of the policy proposal, many expect legalization to happen Connecticut’s near future. House Speaker Matt Ritter (D) said in November that legalization in the state is “inevitable.” He added later that month that “I think it’s got a 50–50 chance of passing [in 2021], and I think you should have a vote regardless.”

Should this year’s effort fail, Ritter said he will move to put a constitutional question on the state’s 2022 ballot that would leave the matter to voters. A poll released last year found that nearly two-thirds of voters (63.4 percent) either “strongly” or “somewhat” supported recreational legalization.

New York Marijuana Legalization Proposals Get First Joint Legislative Hearing Of 2021

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