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Illinois Lawmakers Send Marijuana Legalization Bill To Governor’s Desk

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A bill to legalize marijuana in Illinois is heading to the governor’s desk following a successful vote in the House of Representatives on Friday.

The legislation would allow individuals 21 and older to possess, consume and purchase cannabis from licensed retailers. It also contains a number of social equity provisions, while at the same time giving existing medical cannabis businesses a leg up in the licensing process.

The House passed the bill in a 66 to 47 vote.

The win for legalization supporters comes two days after the Senate approved the legislation, 38 to 17.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) said he will sign the bill into law, making Illinois the 11th state in the U.S. to legalize marijuana—but the first to regulate the adult-use cannabis industry through an act of lawmakers as opposed to via a voter-approved ballot measure.

“The state of Illinois just made history, legalizing adult-use cannabis with the most equity-centric approach in the nation,” he said in a Twitter post. “This will have a transformational impact on our state, creating opportunity in the communities that need it most and giving so many a second chance.”

“In the interest of equity and criminal justice reform, I look forward to signing this monumental legislation,” Pritzker added.

(Vermont lawmakers passed legislation legalizing marijuana possession and home cultivation last year, but commercial sales remain prohibited.)

“By passing legalization through the legislative process Illinois has taken huge steps towards repairing some of the damages that cannabis prohibition and the war on drugs have had on communities of color,” Dan Linn, executive director of Illinois NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “This legalization bill is just one step in righting those wrongs but by no means is the end of this conversation.”

Under the proposal, people with prior possession convictions for 30 grams or less of cannabis would have their records expunged by the state attorney general after consideration by the Prisoner Review Board and a gubernatorial pardon, and those convicted of possession for greater than 30 grams but fewer than 500 grams could petition the courts for expungement.

“The Illinois Legislature has set a standard of excellence with this bill that other states seeking to pass similar legislation should follow,” Steve Hawkins, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a press release. “Marijuana was at the heart of our nation’s disastrous war on drugs. This is a measure that will improve people’s lives on a level commensurate with the devastation wrought by prohibition.”

Taxes on cannabis sales would be based in part on THC concentration. Flower containing up to 35 percent THC would be taxed at 10 percent, whereas products with more than 35 percent THC would be taxed at 25 percent. Cannabis-infused products would be subject to a 20 percent tax. The state’s 6.25 percent sales tax would also apply, with local jurisdictions having the option to impose an additional 3.5 percent tax.

The tax revenue would go toward administrative costs associated with implementing the legal program as well as community grant programs, law enforcement operations, substance abuse centers and the state general fund.

Medical cannabis patients would be allowed to cultivate up to five plants for therapeutic purposes, which isn’t allowed under the state’s existing medical program. The bill initially allowed for any adult to legally grow their own marijuana at home, but it was amended to instead decriminalize cultivation of up to five plants for non-patients. Instead of jail time, the offense would be punishable by a $100-$200 fine.

Reform advocates celebrated the bill’s advancement, though some worry that giving current medical cannabis dispensaries priority to become licensed adult-use providers could undermine the legislation’s social equity provisions.

The state’s House Black Caucus remained concerned that the bill wouldn’t deliver enough for black-owned businesses in the lead up to the vote, according to Politico.

But during the floor debate, one of the caucus members, Rep. Marcus Evans (D), made his support for the bill and its social equity provisions clear.

“I am a black man from the South Side of Chicago,” he said. The war on drugs has ravaged my community and impacted my family. I’ve had trepidation, but this bill warms my heart.”

Also at the debate, Rep. Anthony DeLuca (D) said that he couldn’t support the legislation, arguing that it would send the wrong message to young people. But before yielding, the lawmaker reenacted an infamous anti-marijuana campaign advertisement.

He pulled out an egg and said “this is your brain.” Then he cracked it on a frying pan and said “this is your brain on drugs.”

The bill would allow individuals who’ve lived in an area that has been disproportionately impacted by prohibition, or who’ve been convicted of an offense that could be expunged under the legislation, to apply for business licenses as social equity applicants. That designation would give them a leg up in the licensing process and provide for fee waivers.

The legislation would also create a $30 million low-interest loan program to help disadvantaged people pay for the startup costs of launching a cannabis business.

“Illinois has put in place a set of equity provisions that should serve as a national model for other state legislatures grappling with how to redress the harm caused to communities targeted in the drug war,” Hawkins, of the Marijuana Policy Project, said. “The expungement remedy in the Illinois bill is truly historic. It will potentially clear the slate of over 750,000 cases, vastly exceeding any other state’s remedy on expungement for marijuana convictions.”

Under the proposed timeline for the rollout of the program, its provisions would take effect on January 1, 2020. Existing medical cannabis shops would have the advantage when it comes to securing licenses, and licenses for new dispensaries would have to be issued by May 1. Processors, craft growers and transporters would be licensed by July 1.

Pritzker made cannabis legalization a central tenet of his gubernatorial campaign last year. He said shortly after the election that passing legislation to end prohibition was something he wanted to do “right away,” but crafting and negotiating over the bill ultimately took several months.

He worked with lawmakers throughout the legislative process, finally revealing early details about the plan in early May.

Pritzker also included revenue from legalization in his budget proposal, arguing that creating a regulated market would stimulate job growth and bolster the economy. A separate analysis of the potential windfall from legalization estimated that Illinois would bring in over $500 million in tax revenue in the first year.

Colorado Governor Signs Bills To Allow Marijuana Home Delivery And Tasting Rooms

This story was updated to include comments from Pritzker.

Photo element courtesy of J.B. Pritzker.

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

Where Presidential Candidate Joe Sestak Stands On Marijuana

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Joe Sestak, a former congressman from Pennsylvania and three-star vice admiral in the Navy, announced on Sunday that he is launching a relatively late run for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

Though his record in Congress doesn’t offer many insights into where Sestak stands on marijuana policy, he took one vote in support of shielding state medical cannabis laws from federal interference, and his current campaign site proposes reforming federal laws to facilitate research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics.

Legislation And Policy Actions

Sestak served in Congress from 2007 to 2011. In that time, he did not proactively sponsor or cosponsor any cannabis-related legislation.

The congressman was present for a vote on just one marijuana amendment attached to a spending bill—one to protect states that have legalized medical cannabis from Justice Department intervention—and he voted in favor of the proposal, even though his state had not yet enacted its own medical marijuana law.

Quotes And Social Media Posts

It’s difficult to assess exactly where the candidate stands on marijuana in part because a scan for relevant terms on his social media posts turns up nil.

Adding to the confusion is the apparent lack of public comments about cannabis policy from Sestak—at least any comments that have been reported by media.

The Philadelphia Inquirer did publish an article in 2016 that described Sestak, a former U.S. Navy admiral, as a “longtime supporter of medical access [to marijuana]—especially for vets” but it did not quote the congressman directly. That piece also noted that his position on cannabis decriminalization is unclear.

Statements on his campaign site do provide a small window into his views on the drug war more broadly.

Sestak argued that President Donald Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border would be ineffective because “most illicit trafficking of drugs, humans, and weapons, actually happens right under the noses of our border security agents” at legal ports of entry.

He also partially blamed “misguided US policies and the high demand for illegal drugs in the United States” for creating crises that leave many to flee their home countries to seek asylum in the U.S.

“Our country, which sends hundreds of millions in foreign aid to these countries, must do a better job of holding Central American officials accountable for seeing that our funds are spent effectively—and that they do not become fuel for the fires of corruption and instability,” he said.

One of the most revealing positions on drug policy that Sestak has offered also comes from his campaign site: he said that he supports efforts to combat mental health conditions and addiction, and one part of that plan involves changing “federal law to allow doctors and scientists to expand research into the potential of certain psychedelic drugs to complement traditional substance abuse and other mental health treatment.”

“Anti-drug laws should never be an impediment to sound scientific research, but especially not during a public health crisis such as this one,” he said.

Discussing veterans issues, Sestak said that the country “must learn from innovative approaches taken to reduce chronic veteran homelessness like Phoenix’s ‘housing first’ strategy in which homeless veterans are given housing before being required to prove sobriety or pass a drug test,” which also seems to indicate an openness to alternative approaches to drug policy.

Personal Experience With Marijuana

It does not appear that Sestak has publicly commented on any personal experience he’s had with marijuana.

Marijuana Under A Sestak Presidency

Though some reports indicate that Sestak supports medical cannabis reform, and he took one step to protect states that have implemented such programs during his time in Congress, there are more questions than answers when it comes to the candidate’s position on marijuana.

At the very least, his willingness to vote in favor of medical cannabis protections ahead of his state enacting a medical marijuana law should give patients in legal states some sense of comfort, although his limited record on the issue raises questions about whether he’d be willing to extend those protections to adult-use states—and whether cannabis reform would be a priority of his administration at all.

That said, the fact that he included a position on psychedelics reform on his campaign website signals that he’s cognizant of the issue and that his views on broader drug policy reform may have simply flown under the radar.

Where Presidential Candidate Bill de Blasio Stands On Marijuana

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Hawaii Marijuana Decriminalization Will Take Effect, Governor Says

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Hawaii Gov. David Ige (D), who has at times expressed serious concerns about marijuana policy reform, announced that he will allow a legislature-passed bill to decriminalize small amounts of cannabis to go into effect.

Ige didn’t include the decrim proposal in a list of legislation he intends to veto by Monday’s deadline.

Lawmakers sent the bill, which punishes possession of three grams of marijuana with a $130 fine instead of jail time, to the governor’s desk in April. As originally introduced, it covered greater amounts of marijuana in line with decriminalization policies in other states, but was watered down as it advanced through the legislative process.

Under current law, possessing cannabis is a petty misdemeanor that carries up to a $1,000 fine.

In a press conference to discuss his veto list, Ige called the marijuana legislation “a very tough call” and said went “go back and forth” on the issue before deciding to let the bill take effect.

The governor said he would have preferred if the decriminalization proposal included provisions aimed at “young people who we would want to get into substance abuse or other kinds of programs to help them deal with drug use.”

In the end, he said, he decided “it would be best not to veto that.”

Watch Ige discuss his decision not to veto marijuana decriminalization, about 23:35 into the video below:

Some legislative leaders have expressed interest in considering legislation to legalize and regulate marijuana.

Asked by a reporter about the possibility of broader cannabis reforms in Hawaii, Ige said that the state “can benefit from not being at the head of the table.”

“We continue to learn from other states about the problems that they see with recreational marijuana,” he said, echoing concerns he has about legalization and noting that he’s been discussing the possible reform with governors from some western states that have already enacted it. “We would be smart to engage and recognize what’s happening in other states, acknowledge the challenges and problems it has raised.”

Nikos Leverenz, board president for the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, told Marijuana Moment that Ige should be “commended” for not vetoing the bill.

“It’s also encouraging that he’s having ongoing conversations with other governors from states that have legalized adult-use cannabis,” he said. “Hawai’i can indeed learn a great deal from other states, including the enactment of social equity measures to ensure broad local participation by women, underrepresented minorities, and those harmed by the drug war.”

Also on Monday, Ige announced that he intends to veto a bill allowing medical cannabis patients to transport their medicine between islands.

“Marijuana, including medical cannabis, remains illegal under federal law. Both the airspace and certain areas of water fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal government,” he wrote. “This bill may lead travelers, acting in reliance on this provision, to erroneously believe they are immune from federal prosecution.”

Another proposal on the governor’s veto list would establish a hemp licensing program.

“There are concerns that this bill creates a licensing structure that cannot be enforced, will not meet USDA requirements for an approved industrial hemp program, and creates practical problems in the enforcement of existing medical cannabis,” he reasoned.

Finally, Ige plans to veto a bill to scale back the use of asset forfeiture, which is often used against people accused of drug crimes, with the governor calling the practice “an effective and critical law enforcement tool that prevents the economic benefits of committing a crime from outweighing consequential criminal penalties and punishment.”

Texas Governor Signs Bill To Expand State’s Medical Marijuana Program

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USDA Sets Target Deadline To Release Hemp Regulations

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) offered new insights into its rulemaking process for hemp regulations in a notice published in the Federal Register on Monday.

Of particular note is the deadline by which USDA is aiming to release its interim final rule for the newly legal crop: August. Previously, the department simply said it would have the rules in place in time for the 2020 planting season.

“This action will initiate a new part 990 establishing rules and regulations for the domestic production of hemp,” the new notice states. “This action is required to implement provisions of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (Farm Bill).”

The hemp update update is part of a larger regulatory agenda for various agencies that’s being released by the Trump administration.

“It is great to see that USDA is on track to complete federal hemp farming regulations this year,” Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp, told Marijuana Moment.

A USDA spokesperson told Marijuana Moment in an email that the August projection is the department’s “best estimate” for when the regulations will be released. It remains USDA’s intention “to have the regulations in place by this fall to allow for a 2020 planting season.”

“However, the clearance process will dictate the actual timing of the publication,” the spokesperson said.

While USDA officials have said the department didn’t plan to expedite the regulatory process despite strong interest among stakeholders, it seems to be making steady progress so far. The department said in March that it has “begun the process to gather information for rulemaking.”

USDA has also outlined the basic elements that will be required when states or tribes are eventually able to submit regulatory plans for federal approval. Those proposals will have to include information about the land that will be used to cultivate hemp, testing standards, disposal procedures, law enforcement compliance, annual inspections and certification for products and personnel.

The new update comes about six months after hemp and its derivatives were federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill. But until USDA releases its guidelines, hemp farmers must adhere to the earlier rules established under a narrower research-focused provision of the 2014 version of the agriculture legislation.

While the rules are yet to be published and there are therefore some restrictions on what hemp farmers can lawfully do, USDA has clarified several policies that have already gone into effect in recent months.

The department is accepting intellectual property applications for hemp products, for example. It also explained that hemp seeds can be lawfully imported from other countries and that the crop can be transported across state lines since it’s been federally descheduled.

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