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Kamala Harris Says Biden Admin Won’t Half-Step Marijuana Reform But Pledges Mere Decrim

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Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) said on Monday that a Biden administration would not be taking incremental half-steps toward criminal justice reform if elected—but she also touted marijuana policies they would pursue that advocates argue fit that exact description.

The senator said during a virtual town hall event that, under a Biden-Harris administration, “we will decriminalize the use of marijuana and automatically expunge all marijuana use convictions and incarceration for drug use alone.”

“This is no time—from, I think, our collective perspective—this is no time for half-steppin’,” she added. “This is no time for incrementalism. We need to deal with the system, and there needs to be significant change in the design of the system so that we can support working people, so that we can fight for the dignity of people, so that we can make sure that all people have equal access to opportunity and to justice.”

Of course, when it comes to cannabis reform, simply removing criminal penalties for marijuana consumption and expunging prior records is widely considered by advocates as a half-step. Actually legalizing cannabis at the federal level would be closer to a full step, and it’s a policy change that Harris advocated for prior to joining the Biden campaign.

“While I applaud Kamala Harris’s focus on criminal justice reform, and in particular expungement and decriminalization of cannabis offenses at the federal level, true reform will require more,” Steve Hawkins, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment.

“Removing criminal penalties for marijuana possession is an important first step. But as we have seen in states around the U.S., decriminalization alone will not stop the arrest and persecution of people of color—or so many others touched by the war on cannabis,” he said. “It is only when we take a comprehensive approach through the framework of legalization that can we move away from the cycle of abuse.”

Harris has evolved significantly on marijuana policy over the past couple of years. During her time as San Francisco’s district attorney, she oversaw thousands of misdemeanor and felony marijuana cases prosecuted by her office. It’s a history that both Democrats like Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and Republicans like White House counselor Kellyanne Conway have criticized.

In any case, the senator today is the lead Senate sponsor of a bill to federally legalize cannabis. House Democratic leadership recently announced that the chamber will vote on its version of that legislation next week, setting the stage for a potential conflict with Biden if he’s asked to respond.

In the weeks since she was announced as Biden’s vice presidential running mate, Harris has made an effort to highlight marijuana policy reform, but she’s so far declined to voice additional support for legalization—a policy at odds with that of the former vice president. Biden instead supports decriminalizing cannabis possession, legalizing medical marijuana, expunging prior convictions and letting states set their own policies.

Harris last week cited racial disparities in cannabis enforcement as an example of how there are effectively two separate systems of justice in the country for people of color and white people. However, she neglected to discuss her own role in enforcing marijuana’s criminalization and campaigning against legalization as a California prosecutor.

Advocates had hoped that a pro-legalization VP selection for Biden would push him in that direction, but Harris indicated that she’s not going to proactively attempt to get him on board with legalization.

She recently reiterated in a separate interview that simple cannabis decriminalization would be part of the administration’s focus if they’re elected.

A senior adviser to Biden also said recently that his administration would pursue decriminalization and automatic expungements for prior marijuana convictions if he is elected.

Earlier this year, Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) established a criminal justice task force that issued various recommendations on policies they feel should be adopted. Advocates hoped the panel would push the former vice president to back legalization, but that didn’t materialize.

Meanwhile, the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) platform committee rejected an amendment to make legalization a 2020 party plank. Some suspect this was because the panel didn’t want to endorse a policy that’s at odds with that of the nominee.

Democratic lawmakers have expressed confidence that Congress will deliver on legalization regardless of the Biden administration position on the issue.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), who recently won his primary battle against Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-MA), said last month that legalization will be at the forefront of the congressional agenda in 2021 if Biden and Harris are elected. He also said during a separate interview in July that Congress will advance marijuana reform regardless of Biden’s stance.

Congressional Cannabis Caucus cochair Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), who was among the DNC platform committee members who surprisingly voted against the legalization amendment, said last month that the former vice president is going to need to evolve on marijuana policy and support legalization.

On the Republican end of the election, President Trump’s reelection campaign has been consistently attacking Biden over his record authoring punitive anti-drug laws in the Senate. They’ve cast him as an “architect” of the drug war while attempting to frame Trump as the criminal justice reform candidate. That’s despite the fact that the president’s administration has taken several hostile actions on the marijuana front that stop short of a full-scale crackdown on businesses in legalized states.

Last month, the president also urged Republicans not to place marijuana legalization initiatives on state ballots out of concern that it will increase Democratic turnout in elections.

IRS Releases Tax Guidance For Marijuana Industry

Photo element courtesy of California Attorney General’s Office.

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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Washington, D.C. Could Allow Marijuana Sales Under Mayor’s New Bill And Democratic Control Of Congress

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The mayor of Washington, D.C. on Friday introduced a bill to create a regulated marijuana market in the District. And while similar legislation has been introduced in past years, the new proposal comes as Democrats take control of both chambers of Congress—a situation that bodes well for removing a federal spending rider that has long blocked legal cannabis sales from being implemented in the nation’s capital.

In other words, there’s renewed hope among advocates that 2021 will finally be the year that a commercial cannabis industry can be established in D.C., where voters approved an initiative legalizing marijuana possession and home cultivation in 2014. Congressional appropriations legislation has since prevented the District from authorizing sales, with Republicans in the majority in at least one chamber on Capitol Hill.

Mayor Muriel Bowser’s (D) bill largely reflects past proposals, though it does include new licensing provisions and funding mechanisms that are meant to bolster social equity in the industry.

“This is about safety, equity, and justice,” Bowser said in a press release. “Through this legislation, we can fulfill the will of D.C. voters, reduce barriers for entering the cannabis industry, and invest in programs that serve residents and neighborhoods hardest hit by the criminalization of marijuana.”

Under the Safe Cannabis Sales Act, adults 21 and older would be allowed to purchase marijuana from licensed dispensaries starting October 1, 2022. A 17 percent tax would be imposed on cannabis sales.

The bill would provide for automatic expungements of prior marijuana convictions and use part of the tax revenue from cannabis sales to support reinvestments in communities most impacted by prohibition. It would also create a new licensing category for delivery services, with a stipulation that eligibility is continent on residency and income factors, such as requiring owners to have lived in certain low-income wards for at least five years.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 700 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

The proposal calls for some tax revenue to be used for grants to be awarded to “locally disadvantaged certified business enterprises to open/expand sit-down restaurants in Wards 7/8. Additional monies would be used to support small grocery stores in those areas. Starting in fiscal year 2023, revenue would fund “school supplies, equipment, and afterschool sports and activities for students attending public schools” in those wards.

With respect to licensing, the legislation would also provide “preference points for certain cannabis business applications for returning citizens or D.C. residents arrested or convicted of a cannabis offense or to a cannabis certified business enterprise or veteran owned business enterprises.”

The activist group D.C. Marijuana Justice expressed concerns with several provisions of Bowser’s bill, including that it could limit the amount of cannabis that people could possess after growing the plant at home under the city’s current law.

Last year, the mayor released a budget plan for the 2021 fiscal year that contained a signal that the local government was preparing to implement regulations for retail marijuana sales just as soon as Congress allowed it by shifting the city’s current medical cannabis program to the jurisdiction of the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA).

Bowser also unveiled a legalization bill in 2019, and part of it called for ABRA to regulate the legal industry and for the agency to be renamed the Alcoholic Beverage and Cannabis Administration, a change that is also included in the mayor’s latest legislation.

Meanwhile, next door to the District, lawmakers in Virginia sent a marijuana legalization bill to the desk of Gov. Ralph Northam (D) on Saturday. On the other side of the city, legislators in Maryland are also considering legalizing cannabis this year.

In D.C., Bowser approved legislation in December to decriminalize possession of drug paraphernalia for personal use and promote harm reduction.

Activists filed a proposed ballot initiative to legalize marijuana sales in August, but it did not advance.

Separately, a local councilman introduced a bill in October that would expand opportunities for formerly incarcerated people to participate in the city’s existing medical cannabis market. The new legislation from Bowser would specifically make it so “returning citizens and D.C. residents with a criminal background” could work or manage a marijuana businesses. And those with past cannabis convictions could own a marijuana business.

Read the mayor’s marijuana sales bill below: 

Safe Cannabis Sales Act of … by Marijuana Moment

Marijuana Use Won’t Automatically Block People From Federal Jobs, Biden Administration Memo Says

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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Virginia Lawmakers Send Marijuana Legalization Bill To Governor’s Desk Just Hours Before Deadline

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Virginia lawmakers approved a bill to legalize marijuana with just hours left before the deadline to get legislation to the governor this session.

The Senate and House of Delegates approved differing reform proposals earlier this month, and negotiators have since been working to reconcile the bills in conference committee—a contentious process that at times appeared as if it would end without a deal.

But on Saturday, lawmakers agreed to the bicameral compromise plan.

The Senate voted 20-19 to approve the conference committee report on its bill as well as the identical version for the House legislation. The House voted to approve the conference report on its bill, 48-43, with two abstentions. When considering the Senate version, the House voted 47-44, with one abstention.

“It’s been a lot of work to get here,” Sen. Adam Ebbin (D), the lead sponsor of the Senate version of the legislation, said prior to the Senate vote. “But I would say that we’re on the path to an equitable law allowing for responsible adults to use cannabis.”

House Majority Leader Charniele Herring (D), the chief sponsor of the her chamber’s legalization bill, said that “racial justice is about more than addressing penalties for simple possession.”

“It is about reformative justice that provides equitable and social economic opportunity for individuals and communities which have been harmed by disproportionate policing and prosecution of cannabis,” she said. “Legalizing cannabis does not end systematic racism but it does remove one of the tools used in advancing systematic racism.”

The compromise legislation now goes to the desk of Gov. Ralph Northam (D), who supports ending cannabis prohibition.

Among the most pressing issues for lawmakers to negotiate in recent weeks was the timeline for crafting regulations for the cannabis market. The Senate has pushed for a reenactment clause to be included which would extend the process into next session, whereas the House side wanted to complete legislative work during the current session, arguing that enough research has already been done to effectively decide the issue. But Senate negotiators won out, meaning that the legislature will revisit cannabis regulations and post-legalization penalty structures next session.

Another major area of contention dealt with how the state would approach cannabis possession in the time between the bill’s signing and implementation of legal sales going into effect. Under both versions, the adult-use market wouldn’t launch until January 1, 2024 to give the state time to establish a regulatory agency to oversee the program. While the Senate had wanted to make the legalization of simple possession and home cultivation take effect starting on July 1 of this year, negotiators ultimately agreed to delay it to coincide with commercialization in 2024.

In the meantime, under the deal, a new Virginia Cannabis Control Authority will begin work this July to lay the ground for a legal marijuana industry.

Here are some of the other major provisions that were resolved in conference: 

Referendum—The Senate version of the bill would have asked voters to weigh in on legalization through a nonbinding referendum on this November’s ballot. But the issue became increasingly contentious in recent days and conference negotiators decided to drop the idea.

Local control—Whereas the Senate measure called for individual cities to be able to ban marijuana businesses from operating in their area, the House version did not include an opt-out provision. Conferees decided to allow municipalities to elect to ban cannabis commercialization, but they must do so by December 31, 2022.

Penalties for youth—Under the House bill, minors caught possessing cannabis would be subject to a $25 fine with a referral to substance misuse treatment. The Senate, meanwhile, proposed a $250 fine for youth possession for the first offense and then criminal charges and even jail time for subsequent convictions. The agreed-upon final legislation would continue the current approach of treating youth possession as a delinquency, subject to a civil penalty of up to $25, but add a mandatory substance misuse treatment or education program or both. There would be no interaction with courts for such youths. For people between the ages of 18 and 20, the conference deal would continue the existing $25 fee that exists under the state’s decriminalization law and add that they may be ordered to enter a treatment or education program or both.

Social equity—Both versions of the legislation called for licensing priorities for social equity businesses, but there were differences in how each chamber defined what constitutes a social equity applicant. The final legislation defines an equity business as one that has at least 66 percent ownership by people who have been convicted of misdemeanor marijuana offenses (or have family members with such convictions) or people who live in a geographic area that is economically distressed or has a disproportionate rate of cannabis policing. People who graduated from a historically black college or university located in the state would also qualify. Also, beginning on July 1, the state would establish Cannabis Equity Reinvestment Fund and a Cannabis Equity Business Loan Fund.

Vertical integration—The House’s measure would ban vertical integration, a process that would allow a single company could control aspects of growing, processing and selling marijuana products. The Senate, meanwhile, wanted to allow vertical integration only if a cannabis business paid a $1 million fee into a state equity fund. Under the final legislation, vertical integration will be generally limited but will allow existing medical cannabis and hemp businesses to partially vertically integrate. Micro-businesses will also be able to vertically integrate.

In general under the legislation, adults 21 and older would be able to purchase and possess up to one ounce of cannabis and cultivate up to four plants for personal use. It also allows people to petition for suspended or modified sentences for marijuana convictions and establishes criteria for sealing past records.

The bill would set a cannabis excise tax of 21 percent and allow localities to add an additional 3 percent tax on top of the state’s existing 6 percent retail sales tax. Revenue would partly fund pre-K education programs for at-risk youth and would support the new equity funds as well as addiction prevention and treatment services and public health initiatives.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 700 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

The proposal would create a new cannabis-focused state agency to regulate the legal market as opposed to having it fall under the existing alcoholic beverage authority as was the case under the governor’s original plan.

Post-legalization penalties set to go into effect in 2024, which are subject to renewal by the legislature next session, would include a $25 fine for possessing between one ounce and one pound in public. For public consumption, there would be a civil penalty of no more than $25 for first offense. A second offense would come with a $25 civil penalty and an order to enter a substance misuse treatment or education program, or both. Third or subsequent offenses would constitute a Class 4 misdemeanor with no possibility of jail time. Meanwhile, bringing marijuana across state lines would be a Class 1 misdemeanor.

Now that the final bill is headed to Northam’s desk, the governor will have the opportunity to suggest amendments to lawmakers, who can then adopt the suggestions as is or change or reject them, at which point the bill would go back to the governor for final action.

Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML, said the bill’s passage “is another historic step for cannabis justice” that will “replace the failed policy of cannabis prohibition with one that promotes Virginia’s economy as well as Virginians’ public health and safety.”

“This effort remains a work in progress and our efforts in Virginia are far from over,” Pedini, who also serves as NORML’s national development director, said. “NORML is dedicated to continuing our work with lawmakers and regulators to advance legislative reforms that are most closely aligned with the views of the majority of Virginians who desire a safe, legal cannabis market. In particular, we hope to expedite the timeline with which Virginia adults will no longer face either criminal or civil penalties for the personal possession and cultivation of cannabis.”

Matt Simon, senior legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, said it’s “exciting that Virginia is on track to end cannabis prohibition and replace it with sensible regulation.”

“Lawmakers in other states are already taking notice and seeking to learn from Virginia’s example,” he said.

Earlier on Saturday, the ACLU of Virginia and other groups had urged lawmakers to defeat the final proposal prior to the release of its actual text, saying that the provisions as described in media reports showed it to be a “symbolic marijuana legalization bill made behind closed doors that does not advance the cause of equal justice and racial justice.”

The Virginia NAACP argued that the bill, based on press accounts, “includes Systemically Racist probable cause provisions” and pledged that its members “will not stand by while Jim Crow’s sister Jane tries to creep her way into Virginia law.”

But after the bill’s text came out, NAACP issued an updated statement saying that while the final legislation “is not perfect, it’s a step in the right direction.”

The ACLU, for its part, maintained its opposition, saying that lawmakers “failed to legalize marijuana for racial justice” and “paid lip service to the communities that have suffered decades of harm caused by the racist War on Drugs with legislation that falls short of equitable reform and delays justice.”

All of this legislative action comes a little over a month after Northam and top lawmakers initially unveiled their legalization proposal.

The cannabis legislation’s structure was informed by separate studies conducted by a legislative research body and a working group made up of state cabinet officials.

Support for legalizing marijuana is strong in Virginia, according to a poll released this month. It found that a majority of adults in the Commonwealth (68 percent) favor adult-use legalization, and that includes most Republicans (51 percent).

The legislature has also taken up a number of other more modest cannabis reform proposals this session.

Bills to allow medical patients to access whole-flower cannabis in addition to oils, facilitate automatic expungements for certain marijuana convictions, protect employment rights of medical cannabis patients and allow those in hospice and nursing facilities to access medical marijuana have also advanced this session.

Virginia lawmakers passed separate legislation last year that decriminalized possession of up to an ounce of marijuana, replacing existing penalties with a $25 civil fine and no threat of jail time. The law took effect last July.

Read a summary of the provisions of the Virginia marijuana legalization conference report below:

Virginia Marijuana Legalization Conference Details by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

New Mexico House Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill, With Senate Action Imminent

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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New Mexico House Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill, With Senate Action Imminent

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The New Mexico House of Representatives on Friday approved a bill to legalize marijuana in the state, one day ahead of a scheduled Senate committee hearing on that chamber’s separate proposals to end cannabis prohibition.

The legislation that cleared the House—which would allow adults 21 and older to possess “at least” two ounces of cannabis and grow up to six mature and six immature plants for personal use—recently sailed through two committees before moving to the floor, where it was approved in a 39-31 vote.

The measure is favored by reform advocates because—unlike other House and Senate reform measures that have been introduced this session—it would prioritize using tax revenue from marijuana sales to support reinvestments in communities most impacted by the war on drugs. It also stands out for including provisions to automatically expunge prior cannabis convictions.

Meanwhile, the Senate Tax, Business & Transportation Committee will take up three separate legalization bills on Saturday.

Rep. Javier Martinez (D) introduced the House legislation, which would establish a system of regulated marijuana sales. It would require rules for the market to be implemented by January 2022.

“As I dove into this work years ago, I realized that, to me, legalizing recreational cannabis is not about the money,” Martinez said on the floor prior to the vote. “It’s a great revenue source for the state, but that’s not why I’m doing it.”

“Legalizing adult use of cannabis is probably going to be good for tourism. Legalizing is probably going to be good in terms of creating jobs and a new homegrown industry,” he said. “But really when you get to the core of why I’m doing this and why I’ve worked on this for so long, it’s because I have seen the faces of the people who have most been impacted by this terrible and unwinnable war on drugs. It’s one that we cannot win.”

The Taxation & Revenue Committee approved a substitute version of the measure on Wednesday that includes a number of changes, including moving the start of legal sales back to January 1, 2022 from October 1 of this year. That would apply to existing medical cannabis dispensaries and microbusinesses, with sales for other retailers set to start September 2022.

Language was also removed in committee that earmarked tax revenue for a community reinvestment fund and a low-income patient subsidy program. The fund accounts will still be created, but it would be up to lawmakers to steer money to them in future sessions once cannabis revenue starts coming in.

Other modifications include language on regulatory authority for the cannabis market, allowing health and safety inspections of businesses, addressing workplace and employment issues, replacing fines and fees for youth who violate the law with a civil infraction penalty, stipulating that people can petition for resentencing for offenses made legal and adjusting the state excise tax on marijuana from nine percent to eight percent while giving local jurisdictions the option to levy an additional four percent tax.

On the floor on Friday, members additionally accepted a technical amendment to add back in a section of the bill that had been inadvertently deleted by committee staff.

Rep. Randal Crowder (R) offered an amendment to allow local jurisdictions to opt out of allowing marijuana businesses. But after it was pointed out to him that its broad language would have unintentionally impacted medical cannabis operations as well as recreational ones, he withdrew it. A second, revised version, was more narrowly drafted to focus only on adult-use operations, but it was blocked by a successful motion to table it.

“Cannabis legalization in New Mexico is one step closer to the finish line,” Emily Kaltenbach, senior director of resident States and New Mexico for the Drug Policy Alliance, said after the vote. “After tonight’s debate, we’re even more optimistic that this bill has a path to the governor’s desk.”

She argued that the House bill is superior to the three measures the Senate panel will take on Saturday.

“Given HB 12 puts the lives of New Mexicans ahead of solely business interests, it is critical it be the vehicle for legalization as the issue moves forward,” she said. “HB 12 legalizes cannabis in an equitable way that begins to repair the harms that have disproportionately impacted Hispanic/Latinx, Black, Native and Indigenous people in New Mexico. New Mexicans are absolutely ready to see marijuana legalization become a reality in the state, but they have made it clear that repairing the damage done by the drug war is non-negotiable.”

For her part, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) has repeatedly talked about the need to legalize as a means to boost the economy, especially amid the coronavirus pandemic. She said during a State of the State address last month that “a crisis like the one we’ve experienced last year can be viewed as a loss or as an invitation to rethink the status quo—to be ambitious and creative and bold.”

The governor also included cannabis legalization as part of her 2021 legislative agenda that she released last month and said in a recent interview that she’s “still really optimistic about cannabis” this session.

That optimism is bolstered by the fact that several anti-legalization Democrats, including the Senate president pro tem and the Finance Committee chair, were ousted by progressive primary challengers last year.

Additional pressure to end cannabis prohibition this year is coming from neighboring Arizona, where voters approved legalization in November and where sales officially launched earlier this month.

New Mexico shares another border with Colorado, one of the first states to legalize for adult use. Cannabis is also expected to be legalized across the southern border in Mexico, with lawmakers facing a Supreme Court mandate to end prohibition by April.

Last year, a bill to legalize cannabis for adult use passed one New Mexico Senate committee only to be rejected in another before the end of the 30-day session.

Earlier, in 2019, the House approved a legalization bill that included provisions to put marijuana sales mostly in state-run stores, but it died in the Senate. Later that year, Lujan Grisham created a working group to study cannabis legalization and issue recommendations.

Polling indicates that voters are ready for the policy change. A survey released in October found that a strong majority of New Mexico residents are in favor of legalization with social equity provisions in place, and about half support decriminalizing drug possession more broadly.

Last May, the governor signaled that she was considering actively campaigning against lawmakers who blocked her legalization bill in 2020. She also said that she’s open to letting voters decide on the policy change via a ballot referendum if lawmakers can’t send a legalization bill to her desk.

Washington Supreme Court Strikes Down Criminalization Of Drug Possession

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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