The prospect of legalizing marijuana in New York through the budget this year appears increasingly dim, with leading lawmakers indicating that state’s urgent need to contain the coronavirus will overshadow other legislative priorities such as cannabis reform.
The sponsor of a comprehensive legalization bill, Sen. Liz Krueger (D), said on Wednesday that she now doesn’t expect lawmakers to reach an agreement to include the policy change in the budget despite Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) repeatedly arguing that the spending legislation is the ideal vehicle to get it done.
“I don’t believe marijuana is going to be negotiated in this budget in the next few days,” Krueger, chair of the Senate Finance Committee that’s responsible for budget negotiations, told WMHT. “I just don’t see it as realistic.”
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D), however, said it is too soon to tell what will make it into the budget.
“I can’t tell you necessarily what’s in, what’s out. I think we’re all kind of looking at numbers,” he said. “I think that’s kind of where we are. So I can’t tell you what’s in or out at this point.”
While the budget technically has an April 1 deadline, lawmakers in recent days have talked about moving it on an expedited basis due to COVD-19, potentially voting as soon as Friday.
If cannabis is left out of the spending bill, it will remain to be seen whether lawmakers will continue to pursue legalization through standalone legislation. Marijuana Moment reached out to Krueger’s office for comment on the plan moving forward but a representative was not immediately available.
Cuomo, who also stressed the need for legalization in his State of the State address in January, seemed pessimistic about the legislature’s ability to approve it outside of that process last week, telling reporters that “without the budget, the easiest thing for a legislative body to do is to do nothing.”
Advocates are at least happy with Krueger’s standalone legalization bill, a revised version of which was released last week. It would allow adults 21 and older to possess and purchase cannabis products from licensed retailers. An 18 percent tax would be imposed on sales, with revenue going toward implementation costs, education, substance misuse treatment and community reinvestment grants.
It notably also includes a recreational home grow option—a policy that wasn’t featured in the governor’s budget request, which only allows for personal cultivation of medical cannabis.
Some Republican lawmakers are actively encouraging the administration and reform allies to drop the issue of legalization as it concerns the budget.
Assemblyman Robert Smullen (R) wrote in a column on Wednesday that the coronavirus underscores the need to put public health first, and he argued that marijuana reform runs counter to that objective.
“Now, in the midst of the public health crisis over the coronavirus, the governor’s budget proposal maintains that the legalization of marijuana is a major policy priority,” he said. “Since when did encouraging more people to smoke become a major budget priority? And this needs to be passed in a real health crisis?”
“Our immediate priority should be passing a budget extender to keep the government running while ensuring the state has the necessary resources to address the coronavirus crisis,” he added. “The potential legalization of marijuana and other unrelated policy issues should be legislated outside of the state budget when they can receive full and proper consideration.”
Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan issued a statement arguing that colleagues should not be “jamming completely unrelated and highly controversial policy measures in place when all New Yorkers are appropriately focused on dealing with this crisis,” though he didn’t mention cannabis specifically.
Prohibitionist group Smart Approaches To Marijuana, echoed that sentiment, writing in an email blast to its supporters that “now is not the time for lawmakers to be dedicating any thought towards any other issue, especially marijuana commercialization.”
Earlier this month, Cuomo said that the administration’s focus on responding to the viral outbreak could mean a delay of his planned tour of legal cannabis states to learn from their experiences, though he also pointed out that conversations he’s had with officials from nearby states about developing a regional marijuana legalization plan has developed relationships that have aided coronavirus coordination.
Across the country, the coronavirus crisis is interfering with drug policy reform initiatives, with campaigns stretching from California to Washington, D.C. requesting that state governments allow individuals to sign petitions electronically to qualify their measures for the November ballot.
Meanwhile, the advocacy group Americans for Safe Access is urging lawmakers to keep medical cannabis dispensaries open to ensure patients have access to their medicine.
Baltimore’s top prosecutor announced on Wednesday that her office will suspend pursuing certain low-level cases, including those for drug possession, to further prevent the spread of the virus.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
DEA Seeks Contractor Capable Of Burning Four Tons of Marijuana Per Day
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recently reached out for help burning “at least” 1,000 pounds of marijuana per hour for eight hours straight.
Every year, DEA seizes millions of marijuana plants and literal tons of raw cannabis, which eventually end up being destroyed. The successful contractor in Arizona would be responsible for burning marijuana and other controlled substances seized as evidence in drug cases “to a point where there are no detectable levels, as measured by standard analytical methods, of byproduct from the destruction process.”
“DEA shall inspect the incinerator to ensure no drug residue remains,” the agency said.
DEA posted the work description earlier this month in what’s called a “sources sought notice,” an initial step before a formal request for proposals is sent.
“This is not a request for proposals and does not obligate the Government to award a contract,” the post says. “The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is conducting market research, and is encouraging all businesses, including small businesses, to respond to this notice.”
An accompanying statement of work gives a behind-the-scenes look at the DEA’s process of destroying seized drugs. Typical boxes weigh between 40 and 60 pounds, for example, but can weigh up to 200 pounds. Contraband might come in on “semi-trucks, tractor trailers, cargo vans, fork lifts, etc.,” the work description says.
“The drugs are usually tightly compressed ‘bricks’ or ‘bales,’” it continues, and are packaged in all sorts of materials: cardboard, wrapping paper, plastic wrap, aluminum foil, packing tape, “duct tape and derivatives,” plastic evidence bags, “grease/oil” and others. Contractors will be expected to burn that stuff, too.
To avoid potential contact highs, there must be ”proper ventilation” and “no smoke buildup” will be allowed. Other mandates include closed-circuit cameras that capture the entire process, which DEA reserves the right to access, as well as background checks and regular drug tests of all personnel.
Armed DEA agents and contractors will be present during scheduled burns.
The work is also very hush-hush, so whoever gets the job shouldn’t expect to regale friends with stories of the latest large-scale federal weed burning sesh.
“The contractor and its personnel shall hold all information obtained under the DEA contract in the strictest confidence,” the work description says. “All information obtained shall be used only for performing this contract and shall not be divulged nor made known in any manner except as necessary to perform this contract.”
The work would start January 1 of next year and the contract would expire in 2026 unless terminated sooner. The deadline to send information for would-be contractors was Friday.
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images
Harris Will Give Biden ‘Honest’ Input On Legalizing Marijuana And Other Issues As Part Of ‘Deal’
Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris says she has a “deal” with Joe Biden to candidly share her perspective on a range of progressive policies he currently opposes, including legalizing marijuana. Separately, she also recently discussed cannabis reform in a private meeting with rapper Killer Mike.
During an interview on 60 Minutes that aired on Sunday, the senator was pressed on marijuana and numerous other issues where she and Biden disagree. In response, while she didn’t specifically commit to proactively advocating for comprehensive cannabis reform, she pledged in general that she would always share her views with the would-be president if the pair are elected next week.
“What I will do—and I promise you this and this is what Joe wants me to do, this was part of our deal—I will always share with him my lived experience as it relates to any issue that we confront,” she said after the interviewer listed cannabis legalization among a handful of issues on which she and Biden depart. “I promised Joe that I will give him that perspective and always be honest with him.”
If elected, would Kamala Harris advocate for Medicare for All, a plan Joe Biden doesn’t support?
— 60 Minutes (@60Minutes) October 26, 2020
Asked whether that perspective will be “socialist” and “progressive,” Harris laughed and said “no.”
“It is the perspective of a woman who grew up a black child in America, who was also a prosecutor, who also has a mother who arrived here at the age of 19 from India, who also, you know, likes hip hop,” she said.
The senator’s taste in music also came up during her own 2020 presidential bid, when she said in an interview that she listened to Snoop Dogg and Tupac while smoking marijuana during college despite graduating before those artists released their debut albums.
Music culture has played a key role in this election cycle, and one of the strongest voices for criminal justice reform in the industry is Killer Mike, who worked as a surrogate for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) when he was running for the Democratic presidential nomination. The artist said he met with Harris on Friday and the two discussed cannabis business opportunities for communities of color.
Just had a meeting with Sen. Harris.
My points *Dems Need to be heavy on the door Knox’N, HR40 tweek it better and have Biden Sign, Fed Trades Programs for worker class Americans so u can build, Black men exit prison and entrance to marijuana biz as a priority for biz and jobs
— Killer Mike (@KillerMike) October 23, 2020
As she’s done repeatedly since joining Biden’s campaign, Harris also reiterated at a rally in Pontiac, Michigan on Sunday that the administration would pursue marijuana decriminalization and expunging prior cannabis convictions.
She made similar comments during a campaign event in Atlanta last week, stating that the “war on drugs was, by every measure, a failure, and black men were hit the hardest.” That said, while the senator has come to embrace broad cannabis reform, she’s faced criticism over her past opposition to legalization and role in prosecuting people for marijuana offenses as a California prosecutor.
In another interview released last week, Harris said she and Biden “have a commitment to decriminalizing marijuana and expunging the records of people who have been convicted of marijuana offenses.”
“When you look at the awful war on drugs and the disproportionate impact it had on black men and creating then criminal records that have deprived people of access to jobs and housing and basic benefits,” she said.
There’s been some frustration among cannabis reform advocates that Harris has scaled back her reform push since joining the Democratic ticket as Biden’s running mate. During her own run for the presidential nomination, she called for comprehensive marijuana legalization but has in recent weeks focused her comments on the more modest reforms of decriminalization and expungement.
Harris, who is the lead Senate sponsor of a bill to federally deschedule marijuana, said last month that a Biden administration would not be “half-steppin’” cannabis reform or pursuing “incrementalism,” but that’s exactly how advocates would define simple decriminalization.
In any case, the senator has repeatedly discussed cannabis decriminalization on the trail. She similarly said during a vice presidential debate earlier this month that she and Biden “will decriminalize marijuana and we will expunge the records of those who have been convicted of marijuana.”
In addition to those policies, Biden backs modestly rescheduling the drug under federal law, letting states set their own policies and legalizing medical cannabis.
Photo element courtesy of California Attorney General’s Office.
GOP Tennessee Senator Calls For Medical Marijuana Legalization In New Campaign Ad
A Tennessee senator touted his support for legalizing medical marijuana in a campaign ad released on Friday.
In the 30-second spot, which has notably high production value for this kind of local race, state Sen. Steve Dickerson (R) talks about both the therapeutic benefits of cannabis and the consequences of broader marijuana criminalization.
“As your state senator, I’ve led the fight to legalize medical marijuana so our veterans and sickest Tennesseans can deal with chronic pain,” he said. “But this same life-saving plant has led to mass incarceration, with nonviolent marijuana possession resulting in lengthy prison sentences.”
It’s past time for Tennessee to legalize medical cannabis and give our sickest residents a smart, safe treatment to help with chronic pain. Legalization and securing criminal justice reform have been my top priorities, and I won’t stop fighting until we’ve changed the law. pic.twitter.com/28eFUy3loZ
— Steve Dickerson (@DickersonforS20) October 23, 2020
“I think that’s wrong. That’s why I’ve been pushing for criminal justice reform,” the senator added.
Dickerson, who sponsored a medical cannabis legalization bill that cleared a Senate committee in March, said in a Q&A published earlier this month that the policy change would be among his top three legislative priorities if he’s reelected.
His Democratic opponent, former Oak Hill Mayor Heidi Campbell, is in favor of “fully legalizing marijuana,” with her campaign site stating that cannabis crimes “disproportionately impact people of color and it’s time to end marijuana prohibition.”
But while Dickerson has earned a reputation as a moderate Republican given his positions on issues like cannabis reform, he’s faced backlash after declining to denounce an independent ad taken out on his behalf that some, including the LGBTQ rights organization Tennessee Equality Project (TEP), called racist.
The ad, which was paid for by Lt. Gov. Randy McNally’s (R) political action committee MCPAC, hits Campbell over her support for a nonprofit organization that is designed to keep young people out of prison, and it frames the group as “radical” and “extremist.” TEP rescinded their endorsement of Dickerson over his refusal to condemn the ad.
In the Tennessee legislature, marijuana reform has yet to pass—but there’s growing recognition that voters are in favor of the policy change. For example, former House Speaker Glen Casada (R) released the results of a constituent survey last year that showed 73 percent of those in his district back medical cannabis legalization.
Another former GOP House speaker, Beth Harwell, highlighted her support for the reform proposal during her unsuccessful bid for governor in 2018, and she referenced President Trump’s stated support for medical marijuana on the campaign trail.
In other Tennessee drug policy politics, a lawmaker in June blocked a resolution to honor murdered teen Ashanti Posey because she was allegedly involved in a low-level cannabis sale the day she was killed.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.