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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.)

Politics

New York Legal Marijuana Push ‘Effectively Over’ For 2020, Governor Says

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) conceded on Saturday that it’s unlikely marijuana will be legalized in the state this year.

“Marijuana and the gig economy were two of the more complicated initiatives that we wanted to work through that we didn’t get a chance to do,” he said in response to a question about which policy issues he would’ve liked to tackle in the annual budget bill that passed this week.

“Is the session effectively over? It’s up to the legislature, but I think it’s fair to say it’s effectively over,” he added, noting that several state lawmakers have been infected with coronavirus.

Please visit Forbes to read the rest of this piece.

(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)

Photo elements courtesy of Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Carlos Gracia.

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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Congresswoman Wants Ban On DC Marijuana Sales Lifted Through Coronavirus Legislation

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A congresswoman is calling on the government to end a policy prohibiting Washington, D.C. from legal marijuana sales, arguing that the jurisdiction is in particular need of tax revenue from cannabis commerce due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) has repeatedly condemned the congressional rider barring the District of Columbia from allowing retail sales that has been extended each year since 2014, shortly after local voters approved a ballot measure to legalize low-level possession and home cultivation. But given the need for resources to combat the pandemic, she said a reversal of the provision should be included in the next COVID-related relief bill.

“At this moment of unparalleled need, D.C. should be able to collect tax revenue from all available sources, like every other jurisdiction, including from recreational marijuana, which is believed to be widely used in the District,” the congresswoman said in a press release on Friday, adding that D.C. was shorted in the last stimulus because Congress treated it as a territory rather than a state.

“While I am working for a retroactive fix in the next coronavirus bill, it is imperative that Congress also repeal the D.C. recreational marijuana commercialization rider in the next bill to help D.C. shore up its finances,” she said. “It is beyond unreasonable that congressional interference keeps only the District from commercializing recreational marijuana, while all other jurisdictions are free to do so.”

“Bringing the District in line with other jurisdictions would create a critical source of tax revenue in our time of need.”

Last year, the House approved an appropriations bill that excluded the D.C. rider, but it was included in the Senate version and ultimately made its way into the final package that the president signed. The cannabis commerce ban was also included in President Trump’s budget proposal earlier this year.

“True to form, Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton continues to be one of the best allies to the cannabis reform movement,” Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “During this unprecedented COVID-19 outbreak, it is critical that lawmakers analyze and reform any and every aspect of public policy to mitigate the health crisis and build a foundation for a strong recovery.”

“As the majority of states that regulate cannabis have deemed the industry essential to the continued functioning of their jurisdictions, the continued congressional prohibition of the District of Columbia enacting it’s own adult-use program becomes even more ridiculous,” he added.

Norton, in an interview about her push, said that the congressionally mandated prohibition on sales doesn’t prevent people from accessing cannabis but does block the city from collecting tax revenue.

“You can buy two ounces but, by the way you’ve got to do that on the black market,” she told WUSA-TV. “But there’s nobody to tax it. And I’m simply trying to get the taxes the District is due for merchandise, in this case marijuana that’s being consumed readily in the District of Columbia.”

Legislative priorities for Congress have shifted significantly as lawmakers attempt to address the outbreak, and that’s meant putting some reform efforts on hold. However, the issue isn’t being ignored entirely, and it’s possible that other members may look to attach modest marijuana proposals to additional coronavirus legislation.

For example, Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) said this week that U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs policy preventing its doctors from recommending medical cannabis in legal states puts service members at risk in Massachusetts because the state is shuttering recreational shops (but not medical dispensaries) and some veterans fear registering as patients out of concern that they could lose federal benefits.

Eleven senators wrote a letter to Appropriations Committee leadership asking that they allow small cannabis businesses to access federal loans and disaster relief programs. While the lawmakers said it should be enacted through an annual spending bill, advocates have argued that the policy change should be pursued through coronavirus legislation since these businesses are facing challenges just like those experienced by many other companies during the pandemic.

Eleven Senators Push To Let Marijuana Businesses Access Federal Loan Programs

Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

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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North Dakota Activists Say Marijuana Legalization Initiative Unlikely In 2020 Due To Coronavirus

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North Dakota activists announced on Thursday that they are suspending their campaign put marijuana legalization on the November ballot due to the coronavirus outbreak.

In a Facebook post, Legalize ND said “we are going to have to face a few hard realities going forward” as businesses are shuttering, public events are being cancelled and individuals are encouraged to shelter in place. The pandemic means in-person signature gathering can’t take place, and the state does not allow for alternative signing options such as by mail or online.

“Due to the virus all of our major avenues for signature collection have been cancelled or indefinitely postponed, and going door to door is not safe for both those knocking and those getting knocked,” the group said. “Businesses will continue to collect, but we don’t want to create another vector for the coronavirus. As a result, at this time if something major doesn’t change we will not be able to make the 2020 ballot.”

Legalize ND said there’s no way for state policies related to signature gathering to be changed ahead of the November election. They needed to collect 13,452 valid signatures from voters before July 6 in order to qualify. In all likelihood, the campaign said it would have to shift its focus to the July 2022 primary election.

“This isn’t the solution we want, but given the situation it is what will have to happen,” the post states. “Stay safe, and hopefully we can make a major push when the quarantine ends.”

The proposed initiative would allow individuals to purchase and possess up to two ounces of cannabis. Unlike a much more far-reaching measure the same group pushed in 2018 that included no possession or cultivation limits, which voters rejected, this version would prohibit home growing, impose a 10 percent excise tax and establish a regulatory body to approve licenses for marijuana businesses.

North Dakota voters approved a medical cannabis initiative in 2016.

The coronavirus outbreak has dealt several blows to drug policy reform efforts in recent weeks.

California activists for campaigns to amend the state’s legal cannabis program and legalize psilocybin mushrooms are asking for a digital signature option.

Likewise in Washington, D.C., advocates for a measure to decriminalize psychedelics asked the mayor and local lawmakers to accept online signatures for their ballot petition.

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.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) recently conceded that legalization was “not likely” going to happen through the budget, as he hoped. Coronavirus shifted legislative priorities, and comprehensive cannabis reform seems to have proved too complicated an issue in the short-term.

Idaho activists announced on Thursday that they are suspending their campaign, though they are still “focusing on distributing petitions through online download at IdahoCann.co and encouraging every volunteer who has downloaded a petition to get them turned in to their county clerk’s office by mail, regardless of how many signatures they have collected.”

Finally, in Arizona, a legalization campaign is petitioning the state Supreme Court to instruct the secretary of state to allow individuals to sign ballot petitions digitally using an existing electronic system that is reserved for individual individual candidates seeking public office.

Virginia Groups Push Governor To Amend Marijuana Decriminalization Bill On His Desk

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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