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House To Vote On Historic Marijuana Legalization Bill Next Month, Leadership Announces

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The House will be voting on a comprehensive marijuana legalization bill in September, congressional leadership confirmed on Friday.

While the floor vote has not yet been scheduled, Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) said in an email blast to members that the chamber is “expected” to take up the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act during the “September work period.”

Marijuana Moment first reported in July on imminent plans to hold a House vote on the cannabis descheduling bill. The legislation, introduced by Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) last year, cleared his panel and was referred to several other committees. It’s not clear whether those committees will waive jurisdiction or mark up the bill in order for it to get a full chamber vote

The MORE Act would federally deschedule cannabis, expunge the records of those with prior marijuana convictions and impose a federal five percent tax on sales, revenue from which would be reinvested in communities most impacted by the drug war.

It would also create a pathway for resentencing for those incarcerated for marijuana offenses, as well as protect immigrants from being denied citizenship over cannabis and prevent federal agencies from denying public benefits or security clearances due to its use.

Clyburn’s email asks lawmakers to report back by Monday to say whether they plan to support the bill on the floor.

“Less than two years ago, we put out our blueprint outlining a path to cannabis legalization in the 116th Congress,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), a chief advocate for reform in Congress, told Marijuana Moment. “Now, after many months of hard work and collaboration, we finally have a chance to end the failed policy of prohibition that has resulted in a long and shameful period of selective enforcement against people of color, especially Black men.”

“As people across the country protest racial injustices, there’s even greater urgency for Congress to seize this historic opportunity and finally align our cannabis laws with what the majority of Americans support, while ensuring restorative justice,” he said.

In a letter to House leadership earlier this month, a coalition of major drug policy and civil rights organizations—including the American Civil Liberties Union, NAACP, Human Rights Watch, Drug Policy Alliance (DPA)—called for a floor vote on the MORE Act by the end of September.

“We are ecstatic to see congressional leadership take the next steps to vote on the MORE Act next month,” Queen Adesuyi, policy manager for DPA, told Marijuana Moment. “Advancing this bill meets the principles of this political moment where millions of Americans are demanding changes to the status quo. House Democrats have the incredible opportunity to move a bill that enjoys bipartisan support while responding to the calls for justice reform and racial justice reverberating across the country.”

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), who, along with Blumenauer, is a co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, said it is “extremely encouraging to see our House leadership moving forward on this issue.”

“We are facing challenging times in our fight for racial equity and law enforcement reform, and passing the MORE Act is crucial to addressing our country’s history of injustice,” she said. “This is the next step in our goal of ending the harmful prohibition of cannabis in 2021.”

If the House approves the bill, there will still be an open question about whether the Republican-controlled Senate would follow suit. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is a strong advocate for hemp, but he’s maintained steadfast opposition to broader marijuana reform. That said, he did hold closed-door meetings with industry representatives last year.

It’s possible the House action could spur the Senate to take up a more dialed back piece of cannabis reform legislation such as the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, however. That bill, which is sponsored by Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), would simply allow states to set their own marijuana policies without fear of federal intervention.

Gardner could use that legislative win as he trails behind former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) in his reelection race. What’s more, President Trump has expressed support for the proposal.

The vote on the MORE Act will not be the first time the House has taken up cannabis reform on the floor this Congress.

The chamber approved a coronavirus relief package in May that includes provisions to protect banks that service state-legal marijuana businesses from being penalized by federal regulators. It also approved the standalone Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act last year.

Advocates were disappointed after lawmakers declined to include marijuana legalization as part of a recent policing reform bill the House passed. Several legislators made the case that it was an appropriate vehicle for the policy change, as ending cannabis criminalization would minimize police interactions.

“Passage of The MORE Act is essential in order to truly right the wrongs of federal marijuana criminalization, and to once and for all allow the majority of states that have legalized cannabis for either medical or adult-use to embrace these policies free from the threat of undue federal prosecution or interference,” NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said.

“A House floor vote will put our federal lawmakers on record,” he added. “We will know who stands with the majority of Americans in supporting an end to the failed federal policy of marijuana prohibition, and equally importantly, we will know in Congress wishes to continue to threaten the freedom and liberty of the millions of Americans who reside in states that have enacted common-sense alternatives to cannabis criminalization.”

A Democratic senator recently said that legalization would be a 2021 priority if Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his running mate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) are elected.

That said, legalization is decidedly not a Biden priority, as the former vice president has maintained an opposition to the broad reform despite supermajority support among Democrats. He’s drawn the line at cannabis possession decriminalization, medical marijuana legalization, expungements and modest rescheduling.

Harris, meanwhile, is the lead Senate sponsor of the MORE Act.

The Democratic National Committee’s platform committee recently rejected an amendment that would’ve added legalization as a 2020 party plank. Some advocates suspect that’s because the party didn’t want to adopt a policy at odds with the agenda of their presidential nominee.

Lee voted against that DNC amendment but she recently said that Biden needs to evolve and support legalization.

Read Clyburn’s full email below:

The House will be voting soon on H.R. 3884, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (MORE Act); and H.R. 7856, the Fiscal Year 2021 Intelligence Authorization Act

H.R. 3884, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (MORE Act)

During the September work period, the House is expected to consider H.R. 3884, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (MORE Act). The MORE Act decriminalizes marijuana at the federal level by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act. This would allow state law to determine the status of marijuana legality for each state.

The bill also requires federal courts to expunge prior marijuana-related convictions and arrests and authorizes the assessment of a 5% sales tax on marijuana and marijuana products to create an Opportunity Trust Fund. This fund would include grant programs administered by the Department of Justice and the Small Business Administration to support individuals who have been adversely affected by the War on Drugs, provide assistance to socially and economically disadvantaged small business owners, and minimize barriers to marijuana licensing and employment.

Click here for the bill text, as reported from the Judiciary Committee.

Click here for a one-pager from the Judiciary Committee.

Click here for a section-by-section from the Judiciary Committee.

Response Deadline Sep 03, 2020 at 12:00 PM

Will you SUPPORT H.R. 3884, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (MORE Act)?

Submit Your Response

This story has been updated to include comment from Blumenauer, Lee, DPA and NORML.

Marijuana Legalization Will Be A 2021 Priority If Biden Is Elected, Senator Says

Image element courtesy of Tim Evanson.

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Retired South Dakota Police Officer Endorses Marijuana Legalization Initiative In New TV Ad

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The campaign to legalize marijuana in South Dakota recently released an ad featuring a retired police officer speaking about why he endorses two reform initiatives that appear on the state’s November ballot.

South Dakota is one of five states that will be voting on cannabis measures next month. But it’s the only state where both medical and recreational legalization will be on the ballot. Bill Stocker, a former Sioux Falls police officer, said he’s backing both.

“I can tell you, our harsh marijuana laws aren’t working,” he said in the ad, which was published on social media last week and is airing on television.

“In 2018, 4,000 people were arrested for marijuana possession in South Dakota. That’s one in 10 arrests,” Stocker said, referencing a report that South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws published last month. “Each arrest costs $4,000. It doesn’t make us any safer. We’re wasting law enforcement time and resources that should be fighting serious crimes. So I’m voting ‘yes’ on A and 26.”

The data from that report also shows that—as is the case across the country—marijuana enforcement has had a disparate impact on people of color, despite comparable rates of consumption among white people.

On average, black residents and Native Americans in South Dakota have been more than five times as likely to be arrested for cannabis compared to white people over the 10-year period the report examines.

The new ad comes just weeks before South Dakota voters will get to decide on separate ballot measures to legalize cannabis for adult use and for medical use. And according to a poll recently released last month by opponents of the policy change, about 60 percent of voters support the broader reform proposal and more than 70 percent back the narrower medical-focused initiative.

Under the adult-use constitutional amendment, people 21 and older could possess and distribute up to one ounce, and they would also be allowed to cultivate up to three cannabis plants.

The separate medical cannabis legalization measure that voters will decide on would make a statutory change to allow patients suffering from debilitating medical conditions to possess and purchase up to three ounces of marijuana from a licensed dispensary.

With less than two weeks to go until Election Day, a variety of drug policy reform campaigns in states across the U.S. are airing ads on TV and online.

A campaign working to pass a marijuana legalization referendum in New Jersey released a series of English- and Spanish-language ads touting the measure last week.

Also this month, an Oregon campaign behind a ballot initiative to decriminalize drug possession and expanding funding for substance misuse treatment rolled out a series of TV and online ads promoting the measure.

The campaign behind a separate initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes in Oregon is reaching voters through a TV ad that was released earlier this month that features a state lawmaker who is also a medical doctor. Activists are also using billboards to highlight the medical potential of the psychedelic. A nonprofit veterans group recently released a separate TV ad touting the benefits of psilocybin therapy. It doesn’t explicitly mention the psychedelic reform measure, but it could help further inform how voters approach that question nonetheless.

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Trump Campaign Orders Mississippi Medical Marijuana Activists To Cease Using President’s Name

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President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign has issued a cease and desist order against a Mississippi medical marijuana legalization campaign, claiming “unauthorized and misleading representation” of the president’s position on the reform initiative in one of its mailers—even though he has on multiple occasions spoken favorably on camera about medical cannabis.

Michael Glassner, chief operating officer of Donald J. Trump for President Inc., sent a letter to Mississippians for Compassionate Care (MCC), demanding that they stop distributing campaign materials touting the president’s past remarks.

While the mailer and the envelope it’s being sent in don’t at any point state that Trump has specifically endorsed Initiative 65, they encourage voters to “join President Trump and 3 out of 4 Mississippi Republicans who support medical marijuana” and point out that he’s voiced “complete support for medical marijuana.”

It is indeed the case that the president has, on several occasions, stated that he’s in favor of medical cannabis reform.

For example, while he said in 2015 that Colorado has “a lot of problems going on right now” with its recreational marijuana program, medical cannabis “is another thing.”

“I think medical marijuana, 100 percent,” he said.

Beyond stating his personal support for medical cannabis, Trump has said multiple times that he personally knows people who have benefited from using it.

“I think medical should happen, right? Don’t we agree? I mean I think so,” he said at a 2015 rally in Nevada. “I know people that are very, very sick and for whatever reason, the marijuana really helps them.”

“I know people that have serious problems and they did that and it really does help them,” he said In a 2016 interview on Fox News.

But the president’s reelection campaign evidently takes issue with the state cannabis effort using his on-camera quotes.

“President Trump has never expressed support for Initiative 65, and his campaign demands that you immediately cease and desist all activities using the President’s name, image or likeness in support of the legalization of medical marijuana in Mississippi,” Glassner wrote in the October 12 letter, which was first reported by Y’all Politics.

“The President’s campaign strongly believes in and encourages your organization’s fundamental right to engage in speech on issues of public importance, but this is not about that,” he said. “You are misleadingly using the President’s name in support of your own agenda without authorization or justification.”

But MCC is defending the mailers, which also feature endorsements from multiple Republican legislators in the state.

“President Trump has clearly stated on multiple occasions that he supports medical marijuana. That is all that we’ve shared—the truth,” MCC Communications Director Jamie Grantham said in a press release. “The politicians and bureaucrats behind Mississippi Horizon clearly orchestrated this letter from the Trump campaign. It’s just the latest example of the lengths to which they will go to prevent any form of medical marijuana in Mississippi.”

“President Trump himself has said he supports medical marijuana and is letting the states decide,” she said. “Initiative 65 is the only plan on the ballot that will create an actual medical marijuana program in Mississippi.”

While Trump has made his views on medical cannabis clear—and he’s expressed support for a states’ right approach to marijuana policy—he’s also on several occasions released signing statements on spending legislation stipulating that he reserves the right to ignore a long-standing rider that prohibits the Justice Department from using its funds to interfere with state-legal medical marijuana programs.

He also proposed deleting the rider altogether in multiple annual budget proposals to Congress, though President Obama did the same thing when he was in office.

The Mississippi mailer neglected to acknowledge those nuances, however.

“For the last two years, he has signed legislation offered by Republican Senators to prevent his Department of Justice from prosecuting medical marijuana businesses in states that have legalized its use,” it states.

“The Trump campaign’s decision in this matter is a further indication that this administration is unwilling to either embrace or act upon marijuana policy reform,’ Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “For four years, this administration has been silent at best and hostile at worst when it comes to marijuana policy, and there is no indication that they would change going forward if given the opportunity.”

“At the end of the day, this is just bad politics,” he said.

A Quinnipiac poll found last year that 93 percent of Americans support medical marijuana, including 86 percent of Republicans, 96 percent of Democrats and 96 percent of independents—raising questions about why the president’s reelection campaign chose to take the proactive step of distancing their candidate from such an overwhelmingly popular issue that enjoys supermajority backing across partisan lines.

Meanwhile, the Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden, favors legalizing medical marijuana, decriminalizing cannabis possession more broadly, expunging prior convictions, modestly rescheduling the drug under federal law and letting states set their own policies. That said, he helped craft some of the nation’s most infamously punitive anti-drug laws during his time in the Senate—a record that the Trump campaign has seized on.

“More than 81 percent of Mississippians agree with President Trump in supporting medical marijuana for people who are suffering,” Grantham said, referencing a poll released last month. “Voters see through the actions of politicians who failed to act on this issue and who are now trying to block this initiative. 65A lets politicians decide. More than 228,000 Mississippians signed petitions for Initiative 65 which lets doctors and patients decide.”

The medical cannabis reform campaign has faced a series of obstacles before and after qualifying for the state’s November ballot.

The primary complication for advocates is the fact that two competing initiatives will appear alongside each other on the ballot. After MCC qualified their measure, the legislature approved an alternative that is viewed as more restrictive. The result is a muddled ballot that requires voters to answer a two-step series of questions—and that potential confusion threatens to jeopardize the activist-led proposal.

More recently, the Mississippi State Medical Association and American Medical Association have also contributed to the opposition, circulating a sample ballot that instructs voters on how to reject Initiative 65.

Last week, Gov. Tate Reeves (R) signed legislation that amends state law to allow people to obtain marijuana-derived medications that are approved by the Food and Drug Administration. He also reiterated his opposition to broader medical cannabis reform, stating that he’s “against efforts to make marijuana mainstream.”

If the campaign’s measure passes, it would allow patients with debilitating medical issues to legally obtain marijuana after getting a doctor’s recommendation. The proposal includes 22 qualifying conditions such as cancer, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder, and patients would be allowed to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana per 14-day period.

In June, lawmakers introduced yet another medical cannabis alternative resolution that would’ve similarly posed a threat to the activist-driven reform initiative. But, to advocates’ relief, the legislation didn’t advance before lawmakers went home for the summer.

Read the Trump campaign’s cease and desist letter below: 

Trump Cease and Desist To M… by Marijuana Moment

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New Jersey Voters Strongly Back Marijuana Legalization And Cannabis Pardons, New Poll Finds

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Support for a referendum to legalize marijuana in New Jersey remains strong, according to a new poll released on Tuesday. And what’s more, voters want Gov. Phil Murphy (D) to go a step further by pardoning people with low-level cannabis convictions.

The survey, which is the fourth and final from the law firm Brach Eichler LLC this election cycle, shows that 65 percent of New Jersey voters are in favor of the reform proposal that will appear on the state’s November ballot. Just 29 percent are opposed to the policy change and six percent remain undecided.

These results are statistically consistent with the prior three polls from the firm as well as one from Fairleigh Dickinson University, which similarly found roughly two to one support for the measure. A separate survey released last week by Stockton University showed three to one support for legalizing cannabis among New Jersey voters.

As has historically been the case, Democrats are most likely to back legalization (70 percent), followed by independents (62 percent) and Republicans (52 percent).

But beyond legalizing cannabis for adult use, New Jersey voters are also strongly in favor of having the governor use his clemency powers for those previously convicted over low-level marijuana offenses. Sixty-eight percent of respondents said Murphy should grant those individuals pardons, compared to 21 percent who are against it and 11 percent who are unsure.

For the first time since the firm starting polling on cannabis issues this year, a majority of voters (51 percent) also said that prior marijuana records of all levels of convictions, rather than just simple possession, should be expunged.

“The Brach Eichler Cannabis Poll, which has consistently reported overwhelming support for legalizing cannabis, today again confirms that New Jersey voters support this long overdue change by a significant margin,” Charles Gormally, co-chair of the firm’s cannabis practice, said in a press release. “After election day it is imperative that our legislature move to create the most efficient, safe and regulated marketplace to capture the tri-state cannabis business.”

The survey, which involved interviews with 500 registered voters from October 5-13 and has a margin of error of +/- 4.4 percentage points, also asked about the policy of local control for the marijuana market. Forty-seven percent said that individual jurisdictions should be allowed to ban cannabis businesses from operating in their area, compared to 39 percent who are opposed to the proposal and 14 percent who are undecided.

“It is clear that home rule is a topic that needs to be more fully addressed,” Gormally said. “Cannabis businesses are going to need an immediate understanding of local politics and community issues before embarking on plans for certain parts of New Jersey.”

Five states have recreational or medical marijuana legalization on the ballot this election, and polling broadly indicates that the measures will be successful.

Two recent surveys of Arizona voters show growing majority support for an initiative to legalize adult-use cannabis.

Montana voters seem poised to approve a pair of marijuana legalization initiatives next month, according to a poll released last week.

In South Dakota, polling signals that voters will approve separate initiatives to allow both medical and recreational cannabis.

A survey of Mississippi voters that was released in September found that an activist-led measure to legalize medical marijuana “stands a strong chance of passage.”

Meanwhile, in New Jersey, putting legalization to voters as a referendum question was the result of the legislature’s failure to pass reform legislation last session.

Murphy, the governor, has been a vocal advocate for approving the measure.

He said during a virtual fundraiser with the pro-legalization NJ CAN 2020 earlier this month that the state “can’t fail” at enacting the policy change this round. A top lawmaker also spoke at the event and said an enabling and regulatory bill was being prepared in anticipation of a favorable vote, and that it could be voted on by the legislature as soon as the first week of November.

The governor also recently recorded a video ad that was released by the reform group, outlining why he’s embraced the policy change. Murphy said that the ongoing criminalization of cannabis in New Jersey wastes taxpayer dollars, and he emphasized that prohibition is enforced in a racially disproportionate manner.

Murphy similarly said in a recent interview that the marijuana reform proposal prioritizes social justice.

“I wish we could have gotten it done through a legislative process,” he said at the time, referencing lawmakers’ inability to advance a legalization bill last session. “We just couldn’t find the last few votes, so it’s on the referendum. I’m strongly supporting it—first and foremost for social justice reasons.”

Last month, Murphy also called on voters to support the proposal in an email blast that was circulated by the New Jersey Democratic State Committee.

“Legalization would right those wrongs while also spurring massive economic development opportunities, job creation, and new tax revenue,” the governor wrote. “Now, we have the opportunity to get this done and finally legalize adult-use marijuana here in the Garden State, and I need your help to make it happen.”

He said in July that legalizing cannabis is “an incredibly smart thing to do” both from an economic and social justice perspective.

The governor isn’t alone in his attempts to get out the vote for cannabis reform. Filmmaker Kevin Smith earlier this month urged his Twitter followers to “VOTE YES when you see State Public Question Number 1: Constitutional Amendment to Legalize Marijuana.”

NJ CAN 2020, one of two campaign committees working to pass the cannabis referendum, released a series of English- and Spanish-language video ads last week, after having published one prior ad. Meanwhile, campaign finance records compiled  show that legal marijuana supporters are out-raising opponents by a ratio of nearly 130:1.

In June, the state Assembly passed a cannabis decriminalization bill that would make possession of up to two ounces a civil penalty without the threat of jail time, though it hasn’t advance in the Senate.

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Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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