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Joe Biden Endorses Marijuana Decriminalization And Rescheduling—But Not Legalization

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Former Vice President Joe Biden remains opposed to legalizing marijuana but said through a spokesperson on Thursday that he supports decriminalizing cannabis, expunging the records of individuals with prior possession convictions and letting states set their own policies.

He also would move to reclassify marijuana under federal law to Schedule II—a slightly less restrictive designation than its current Schedule I status—a move that would remove some roadblocks to research on the drug.

The 2020 Democratic presidential candidate has taken heat from drug policy reform advocates over his long-standing opposition to modernizing the country’s marijuana laws and for his role in championing legislation to ratchet up the war on drugs.

As recently as April, Biden applauded a professor who dismissed the idea that cannabis can be used as an alternative to opioid painkillers.

But in a new statement to CNN, a spokesperson for the former vice president said that he now “supports decriminalizing marijuana and automatically expunging prior criminal records for marijuana possession, so those affected don’t have to figure out how to petition for it or pay for a lawyer.”

“He would allow states to continue to make their own choices regarding legalization and would seek to make it easier to conduct research on marijuana’s positive and negative health impacts by rescheduling it as a schedule 2 drug,” the representative said.

This marks a somewhat significant development for Biden, who helped craft some of the most consequential anti-drug laws during his time as a senator and who declined to pursue decriminalization or rescheduling while serving as the de facto criminal justice portfolio manager for the Obama White House.

That said, the evolution still places Biden far behind his Democratic primary opponents, most of whom have fully embraced marijuana legalization at this point. Many fellow contenders have sponsored or cosponsored legislation to completely deschedule and remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act—a far more significant step than Biden’s proposal to slightly downgrade its scheduling status.

“It’s not enough to casually support marijuana decriminalization. That’s a 2008 position,” Michael Collins, director of national affairs for Drug Policy Action, told Marijuana Moment. “Biden should recognize that marijuana must be legalized through the lens of social justice, with expungement and industry diversity as the key planks of any position. That’s what most of the other candidates support and it’s what the base wants so there’s no excuse.”

Erik Altieri, executive director of NORML, agreed, telling Marijuana Moment that it would only be a “half measure” to move cannabis to Schedule II.

“While Biden’s latest comments on marijuana represent an evolution away from the stronger prohibitionist comments he made in the past, they are far too timid to truly address the issue at hand and still leave him lagging far behind his fellow primary competitors, many of whom are true leaders on ending our nation’s failed prohibition,” he said.

“Democratic primary voters in particular have demonstrated they want someone who will provide a progressive and bold vision for attacking the problem of mass incarceration being driven in no small part by the over 600,000 marijuana arrests made annually,” he continued. “Biden’s new comments illustrate a lack of vision and seriousness of approach that would be more at home a decade ago than in 2019. Joe: Do better.”

Biden first voiced his support for decriminalization at a campaign stop in New Hampshire on Tuesday.

“Nobody should be in jail, in my view, nobody should be in jail for a crime that’s not a crime of violence,” he said. “Nobody should be in jail for smoking marijuana. That’s why I set up the drug courts…to divert, and we put a lot of money in there for rehabilitation.”

See Biden defend his criminal justice record and discuss marijuana about 20:50 into the video below:

Prior to endorsing the policy change, the closest Biden got to backing decriminalization was saying that the government shouldn’t prioritize using its resources to prosecute low-level marijuana offenders, which became policy under the Obama administration when the Justice Department released a memo outlining its enforcement priorities with respect to state legalization laws.

Biden hasn’t come out in support of any particular legislative efforts to achieve decriminalization, but his comments raise questions about whether something resembling legislation from Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) or Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who are seeking to deschedule marijuana entirely, would make it past his desk if he was president.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who released a congressional “blueprint” to ending federal cannabis prohibition in 2019, told Marijuana Moment in an earlier interview that he doesn’t think “there will ever be another president who will be anti-cannabis.

When asked specifically about Biden, the congressman reiterated that “[n]obody is going to survive the nominating process who doesn’t have a reasonable position on cannabis.”

Where Presidential Candidate Joe Biden Stands On Marijuana

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

Top Trump Campaign Spokesman: Marijuana Must Be ‘Kept Illegal’

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Asked in a new interview about President Trump’s position on changing federal marijuana laws, a top reelection campaign aide said the administration’s policy is that cannabis and other currently illegal drugs should remain illegal.

“I think what the president is looking at is looking at this from a standpoint of a parent of a young person to make sure that we keep our kids away from drugs,” Marc Lotter, director of strategic communications for the Trump 2020 effort, said in an interview with Las Vegas CBS affiliate KLAS-TV.

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 courtesy of Gage Skidmore.

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Virginia Marijuana Decriminalization Gets Closer To Governor’s Desk With New Amendments

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One week after bills to decriminalize marijuana in Virginia were passed by both the House and Senate, they advanced again on Wednesday in committee votes, where they were revised in an effort to ease the path to the governor’s desk.

The goal was to make the language of the bills identical, with lawmakers hoping to streamline the process by avoiding sending differing pieces of decriminalization legislation to a bicameral conference committee to resolve differences.

The House of Delegates and Senate were under pressure to approve their respective versions of decriminalization ahead of a crossover deadline last week. After clearing floor votes in their respective chambers, the Senate-passed bill was sent to the House Court of Justice Committee, while the House’s legislation was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Those panels amended the bills and advanced them on Wednesday, with senators voting 10-4 to advance the revised legislation and delegates voting 8-5. However, the Senate panel also struck a part of the text of a compromise substitute version concerning a record clearing provision while the House committee accepted the substitute as offered.

That means it will be up to the Finance Committees to resolve the remaining differences if lawmakers hope to skip the conference step prior to full floor votes in both chambers.

Regardless of the unexpected complication, advocates said the new committee actions represent a positive development.

“Fortunately, the patrons were able to reach a consensus and move the bills forward,” Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “Virginians have waited long enough for this important step, one that will dramatically reduce both marijuana arrests and the collateral consequences that follow such charges.”

The legislation as amended would make possession of up to one ounce a civil penalty punishable by a $25 fine without the threat of jail time. Currently, simple possession is punishable by a maximum $500 fine and up to 30 days in jail.

A provision that would have allowed courts to sentence individuals to up to five hours of community service in lieu of the civil penalty was removed with the latest revisions. The bill also stipulates that juveniles found in possession of cannabis will be treated as delinquent, rather than go through a less punitive process for a “child in need of service.”

Language providing a means to seal prior records for marijuana convictions was successfully reinserted into the House Courts of Justice Committee-passed bill after it was previously removed and placed in a separate expungement bill. That latter legislation is stalled, so lawmakers put it back into the decriminalization measure via the substitute to ensure its enactment.

The Senate Judiciary moved to delete that section, however, creating complications for avoiding a conference committee.

Meanwhile, the House Rules Committee voted in favor of a separate Senate-passed resolution on Wednesday that calls for the establishment of a joint commission to “study and make recommendations for how Virginia should go about legalizing and regulating the growth, sale, and possession of marijuana by July 1, 2022, and address the impacts of marijuana prohibition.” That vote was 12-5.

That’s a significant step, as the legislature is generally reluctant to enact bold reform without first conducting a study on the issue.

While Gov. Ralph Northam (D) is in favor of decriminalization, including a call for the policy change in his State of the Commonwealth address last month, he’s yet to embrace adult-use legalization. That said, Attorney General Mark Herring (D), who is running to replace the term-limited governor in 2021, said he’s optimistic that Northam will come around on the issue.

Herring organized a cannabis summit late last year to hear from officials representing states that have already legalized marijuana. That’s one tool he said the governor could use as he considers broader reform.

Also on Wednesday, the House Courts of Justice Criminal Subcommittee advanced another Senate-passed bill to formally legalize possession of CBD and THC-A medial cannabis preparations that are recommended by a doctor, an expansion of the current policy simply offers patients arrested with it an affirmative defense in court.

For now, Virginia seems to be on the path to become the 27th state to decriminalize marijuana, and the first to do so in 2020. Last year, three states—New MexicoHawaii and North Dakota—also approved the policy change.

Alabama Lawmakers Approve Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill

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Alabama Lawmakers Approve Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill

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An Alabama Senate committee approved a bill on Wednesday that would legalize medical marijuana in the state.

The legislation would allow patients with qualifying conditions to purchase cannabis products from licensed dispensaries. It would be a limited system, however, prohibiting patients from smoking or vaping marijuana.

The Senate Judiciary Committee cleared the bill in a 8-1 vote, with one abstention. The next stop for the legislation will be the Senate floor.

The proposal would establish the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission, which would be responsible for overseeing a patient registry database, issuing medical cannabis cards and approving licenses for marijuana dispensaries, cultivators, transporters and testing facilities.

This vote comes two months after a panel created by the legislature, the Medical Cannabis Study Commission, issued a recommendation that Alabama implement a medical cannabis program.

The full Senate approved a medical cannabis legalization bill last year, but it was diluted in the House to only provide for the establishment of the study commission. Sen. Tim Melson (R) sponsored both versions of the legislation and served as chairman of the review panel.

The current bill has been revised from the earlier version. For example, this one does not require patients to exhaust traditional treatment options before they can access medical cannabis.

The committee also approved a series of amendments by voice vote, including several technical changes to the bill. Another one would shield physicians from liability for recommending medical cannabis. One would clarify that employees are ineligible for workers’ compensation for accidents caused by being intoxicated by medical cannabis, which is the same standard as other drugs.

Watch the Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee debate and vote on medical cannabis below:

Members also agreed to an amendment creating a restriction on who can be on the cannabis commission.

While it’s not clear how the House would approach the bill if it advances to the chamber this year, the speaker said this week that he’s “in a wait and see mode” and commended Melson for his work on the measure. The state’s attorney general, meanwhile, sent a letter to lawmakers expressing opposition to the reform move.

Under the measure, patients suffering from 15 conditions would qualify for the program. Those include anxiety, cancer, epilepsy and post-traumatic stress disorder. Patients would be able to purchase up to a 70-day supply at a time, and there would be a cap of 32 dispensaries allowed in the state.

Prior to the vote, committee heard from a series of proponents and opponents, including parents who shared anecdotes about the therapeutic benefits of cannabis for their children. Interest in the reform move was so strong that an overflow crowd has to be moved to a separate hearing room.

“Sometimes people are not able to empathize with others who have gone through something. I guarantee you if one of relatives, members of the legislature, went through something like the testimonies that we’ve heard today, they would want it,” Sen. Vivian Figures (D) said. “But they would probably have the means to fly somewhere and get it.”

There would be a number of restrictions under the bill when it comes to advertising. It would also require seed-to-sale tracking for marijuana products, set packaging and labeling requirements and impose criminal background checks for licensed facility employees.

A nine percent tax would be levied on “gross proceeds of the sales of medical cannabis” sold at a retail medical cannabis dispensary. Part of those funds would go toward creating a new Consortium for Medical Cannabis Research, which would provide grants to study the plant.

Last year, the Senate Judiciary Committee also approved a bill to decriminalize marijuana.

Kentucky Lawmakers Approve Medical Marijuana Bill In Committee Vote

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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