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Illinois Governor Signs Historic Marijuana Legalization Bill

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Illinois is officially the 11th state to legalize marijuana for adult use, with Gov. J. B. Pritzker (D) signing the bill into law on Tuesday.

It’s the first state in the country to pass tax-and-regulate marijuana legislation through an act of the legislature as opposed to via a voter-approved ballot initiative.

The bill, which allows adults 21 and older to possess, consume and purchase certain amounts of cannabis, will go into effect on January 1, 2020. It also includes several provisions aimed at promoting social equity in the legal industry.

Individuals with prior convictions for possession of 30 grams or less will have their records automatically expunged. Those with convictions for more than 30 grams but less than 500 grams could petition the courts to have their records cleared.

“As the first state in the nation to fully legalize adult use cannabis through the legislative process, Illinois exemplifies the best of democracy—a bipartisan and deep commitment to better the lives of all of our people,” Pritzker said at the signing ceremony. “Legalization of adult use cannabis brings an important and overdue change to our state, and it’s the right thing to do.”

State’s Attorney Kim Foxx called the bill “revolutionary in its work to right the wrongs of a failed war on drugs.”

“The time for justice is now, especially for communities of color who have long been disproportionately impacted by low-level cannabis convictions,” she said.

“This historic law is the result of many years of activism and lobbying by many people and hopefully will repair some of the damages done by cannabis prohibition,” Dan Linn, executive director of Illinois NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “The social equity components and money that will go to communities that were disproportionately harmed are aspects I am very proud of.”

Steve Hawkins, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, also cheered the move.

“We applaud the Illinois Legislature and Gov. Pritzker on this resounding victory for personal liberty, racial justice, and common sense,” he said in a press release. “Illinois’ focus on fairness and equity in legalization should be a model for other states.”

The signing represents a fulfillment of a key campaign promise for Pritzker, who pledged to quickly legalize cannabis during his gubernatorial run last year. The process took longer than anticipated, with some lawmakers arguing that the bill didn’t go far enough to right the wrongs of prohibition, but the governor ultimately helped push it past the finish line.

Marijuana sales for flower containing up to 35 percent THC will be taxed at 10 percent. There will be a 25 percent tax on products containing more than 35 percent THC. And cannabis-infused products will be taxed at 20 percent. That’s in addition to the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax; local jurisdictions have the option to impose another 3.5 percent tax.

While Pritzker estimated in his budget proposal earlier this year that a legal marijuana market would generate $170 million in revenue for fiscal year 2020, a separate analysis projected that the state would take in more than $500 million in the first year.

The revenue will be used to cover the administrative costs of implementing the law and will also fund community grant programs, law enforcement operations and substance abuse facilities.

An earlier version of the legislation would have allowed for personal cultivation, but it was amended at the last minute. Medical cannabis patients will be permitted to grow up to five plants for personal use, which is new for the program. Non-medical cultivation of up to five plants will be decriminalized, punishable by a fine, however.

“While only patients will be able to grow their own now, I am confident that eventually all adults in Illinois will gain that right in the near future,” Linn, of Illinois NORML, said. “It isn’t perfect and may have some issues in its initial launch, but the legislative process requires compromises and in the end we have now achieved a long-sought goal of ending cannabis prohibition in Illinois.”

Existing medical cannabis dispensaries will have an advantage in the licensing process. Some advocates worry that between that and the ban on cultivation for personal use, there’s a risk that the law’s social equity provisions will be undermined.

That said, the law stands out from other legal cannabis systems in its strong focus on restorative justice and ensuring that the industry that emerges is equitable.

Individuals from areas that have been disproportionately impacted by the drug war, or who have convictions on their records for offenses made legal under the law, will be able to apply for cannabis business licenses as social equity applicants, helping them to secure the licenses and entitling them to fee waivers.

Thirty million dollars will also be set aside for a low-interest loan program designed to empower those from disadvantaged communities hoping to participate in the industry.

While the law goes into effect at the start of next year, licenses for new cannabis shops will be issued by May 1; licenses for processors, craft growers and distributors will be issued by July 1.

Hawaii Marijuana Decriminalization Will Take Effect, Governor Says

Photo by Sam Doucette on Unsplash.

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.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

Politics

New Hampshire Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Legalization Bill

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A New Hampshire House committee approved a bill on Tuesday that would legalize marijuana for adult use in the state.

While the legislation doesn’t provide for retail sales, it would allow individuals 21 and older to possess and gift up to three-fourths an ounce of cannabis and grow up to six plants. The model would be similar to neighboring Vermont’s non-commercial cannabis system.

The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee advanced the bill in a 13-7 vote.

“I think that the legalization of cannabis is more popular than the legislature itself or the governor or any other political entity in the state of New Hampshire,” Chairman Renny Cushing (D) said prior to the vote. “This is something that the people of the state of New Hampshire want. They don’t want to be treated like they’re criminals if they have a plant.”

Watch New Hampshire lawmakers discuss the marijuana legalization bill below:

This vote comes a week after the panel held a hearing on the proposal, with advocates and stakeholders testifying in favor of the reform move.

“Like most Granite Staters, this committee understands that it’s time for New Hampshire to stop prohibiting cannabis,” Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a press release. “Adults in the ‘Live Free or Die’ state should not be punished for their choice to use a substance that is objectively less harmful than alcohol.”

“Now that New Hampshire is literally surrounded by jurisdictions where cannabis is legal for adults, our current policies can no longer be justified in any way,” he said. “It’s time for the House, Senate and Gov. Chris Sununu to work together and move cannabis policies into the 21st century.”

A floor vote by the full House of Representatives is expected on February 6.

Tax-and-regulate marijuana legislation has advanced in the legislature in prior sessions, but it never arrived on the governor’s desk.

Even if it did make it that far, however, it’s unclear if Sununu, a Republican, would sign it. He’s voiced opposition to commercial legalization, and he vetoed a bill last year that would’ve allowed medical cannabis patients to cultivate their own marijuana, raising questions about whether he’d be willing to support this latest measure extending that right to all adults over 21.

In any case, the New Hampshire development comes amid a flurry of legislative activity around cannabis in the Northeast.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) included legalization in his budget last week, as did Rhode Island’s governor, who pitched a state-run cannabis model in her plan. In New Jersey, the legislature approved a referendum to put the question of recreational legalization before voters during the November election. Top lawmakers in Connecticut are also confident  that marijuana reform will advance this year. In Vermont, advocates are hopeful that lawmakers will add a legal sales component to the state’s current noncommercial cannabis law.

Vermont Governor ‘At The Table’ On Marijuana Legalization Talks, Top Lawmaker Says

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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AOC Says Colorado Is Doing A ‘Great Job’ With Marijuana Legalization

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Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) says Colorado is an example of a state that’s effectively taxing and regulating marijuana.

At a town hall event in Iowa on Saturday, the congresswoman, who serves as a surrogate for Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-VT) presidential campaign, was asked if revenue from legal sales of cannabis and other drugs would be used to fund the senator’s Medicare for All proposal.

While she said the economic benefits of legalization are secondary concerns, she acknowledged that “Colorado is doing a great job of taxing it to fund schools.”

That said, funding large programs such as universal health care would require a diverse financing strategy, Ocasio-Cortez said.

“In terms of financing, I think the financing for our health care program would potentially come from different sources,” she said. “Senator Sanders has outlined how he would pay for Medicare for All.”

“I would just say the financing is a different question,” she said. “But when it comes to decriminalization and legalization, I know that the senator believes in the legalization of marijuana and, frankly, having that part of a decarceral approach” to the criminal justice system.

Listen to the conversation below, starting around 1:45:

“We need to not only have a conversation about decriminalization and a conversation about legalization, but we need to have a conversation about the harm done during the war on drugs,” she said in comments that were first flagged by The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel.

“It exacerbated the racial wealth gap in America as well,” she said. “But not only that, it tore apart communities, it tore apart families and it was an explicit targeting of black and brown communities that dates back to the Nixon administration.”

“On one hand it’s an economic issue, but much deeper, it’s a justice issue. This is an issue of justice, this is an issue of mass incarceration. The United States has historically incarcerated more people per capita than any other country in the world. We need to live up to our values about what ‘Land of the Free’ means and transitioning to that means dismantling the system of mass incarceration. That’s an incredibly important part of this agenda.”

While Sanders has been a long-standing champion of cannabis reform, his views on broader drug policy proposals diverge from those of his surrogate, who believes that possession of all currently illicit drugs should be decriminalized and federal laws around psychedelics should be loosened to promote research.

Despite being widely regarded as the most progressive candidates in the race, both Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) have so far declined to back comprehensive decriminalization for simple drug possession, a policy changed favored by former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), another 2020 contender, recently said that she’s in favor of legalizing and regulating controlled substances.

Entrepreneurs Andrew Yang and Tom Steyer, also candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination, back decriminalizing opioids.

Andrew Yang Wants To Legalize Psychedelic Mushrooms For Military Veterans

Photo courtesy of C-SPAN.

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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USDA Approves Hemp Plans For Texas, Nebraska And Delaware

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced on Monday that it has approved hemp regulatory plans for three more states and four additional Indian tribes.

This is the latest in a series of approvals that USDA has doled out since the crop and its derivatives were federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill. Texas, Nebraska and Delaware—in addition to the Colorado River Indian Tribes, the Fort Belknap Indian Community, the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska and the Yurok Tribe—each had their regulatory plans cleared.

“USDA continues to receive and review hemp production plans from states and Indian tribes on an ongoing basis,” the department said in a notice. “Plans previously approved include those for the states of Louisiana, New Jersey, and Ohio, and the Flandreau Santee Sioux, Santa Rosa Cahuilla, and La Jolla Band of Luiseno Indian Tribes.”

While hemp is no longer a federally controlled substance, farmers interested in cultivating and selling the crop must live in a jurisdiction where USDA has approved a proposed regulatory scheme. The process was outlined in an interim final rule USDA published late last year. If a state or tribe does not have, or plan to propose, regulations for hemp, cultivators can apply for a USDA license instead.

“This is a victory for Texas farmers,” Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller said in a statement. “We are one step closer to giving our ag producers access to this exciting new crop opportunity.”

“We’ve got to get our rules approved and get our licensing program up and running, but the dominoes are dropping pretty quick,” he said. “We’re almost there.”

Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, told Marijuana Moment that “Texas has the potential to be the largest supplier of hemp in the U.S., providing farmers with an unprecedented opportunity.”

“With approval from the USDA and the Texas Department of Agriculture already moving forward with establishing licensing standards, it’s refreshing to see our government paving the way for legal cannabis cultivation in Texas,” Fazio said.

While lawmakers and industry stakeholders have widely celebrated USDA’s commitment to implementing hemp legalization, it has also received a significant amount of pushback over proposed rules such as THC limits and laboratory testing requirements. A public comment period for the department’s interim rule ends on Wednesday.

USDA maintains a website that tracks the status of state and tribal hemp plans.

Monday’s announcement sends another signal to the hemp industry that the federal government is committed to supporting the market and ensuring that farmers have the resources they need to see their businesses thrive since the crop was legalized.

That said, one of the most lucrative market opportunities that hemp farmers are hoping to take advantage of is the widespread interest in hemp-derived CBD products. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has jurisdiction over rules for marketing CBD, and the agency has made clear that the process may take several years without congressional action.

Earlier this month, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers set out to do just that, filing a bill that would require FDA to allow CBD products to be sold as dietary supplements.

U.S. Military Reiterates That CBD Is Off Limits To Service Members

Photo courtesy of Brendan Cleak.

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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