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Lawmakers And Advocates React To Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill’s House Passage

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The House on Friday passed a historic bill to federally legalize marijuana, eliciting cheers from pro-reform lawmakers and advocates, and scorn from opponents.

Perhaps no member is more elated than Rep. opEarl Blumenauer (D-OR), a longtime advocate who has pushed hard to get his colleagues on board and advance legalization. He said during a press briefing following the vote that the bill is “going to make a huge difference for people all across America as Congress starts to catch up to where the American public is.”

“There’s a whole range of things that the MORE Act fixes,” he said. “But most important is it stops this failed war on drugs that is so unfair to Americans of color, particularly black and brown. It will stop the federal interference with research. It’ll allow this emerging market to thrive, make it possible for more people to participate and be able to get on with their lives.”

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), another Congressional Cannabis Caucus co-chair, also participated in the presser and said this “really is a moment for racial justice.”

“We know that this year has put inequality and systemic racism to the forefront of our attention, and there’s no better way to close out this year than to really begin to atone for the destructive policies brought on by the failed war on drugs,” she said.

The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which cleared the chamber in a decisive 228-164 vote, would federally deschedule marijuana and allow people with prior cannabis convictions to have their records expunged. Descheduling would be retroactive. It also contain provisions to tax cannabis and use the revenue to fund programs to aid people harmed by the war on drugs.

But its chances of becoming law this session are low, as the Republican-controlled Senate isn’t expected to take up the legislation before adjourning early next month. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is one of numerous GOP members who’s criticized House leadership in recent days for holding the vote in the first place.

(See Marijuana Moment’s earlier roundup of dozens of Republicans who slammed the marijuana vote this week.)

To advocates, however, this is long overdue progress on an issue that has been sidelined in Congress for years. Reactions to the vote largely differ across partisan lines, but the passage of the MORE Act has clearly captured the attention of legislators and organizations far and wide.

Here’s a roundup of what they’ve been saying about the bill’s advancement:

Supportive Lawmakers

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)

“Today, with the bipartisan MORE Act, the House has proudly passed one of the most important criminal justice reform bills in recent history. This momentous step helps end the devastating injustices of the criminalization of marijuana that have disproportionately impacted low income communities and communities of color, and reflects the overwhelming will of the American people — 47 states have recently reformed marijuana laws, with California at the helm of this justice effort.

“The MORE Act builds on these advancements and finally secures justice for those negatively impacted by the brutal, unfair consequences of criminalization. This landmark legislation will also open the doors of opportunity for all people to participate in the growing cannabis industry and provide revenue and resources to communities to grow.

“Guided by the tireless voices of advocates and young people, and the leadership of Democrats, the House has achieved an extraordinary victory for our fundamental values of justice, equality and opportunity for all. Our Majority will fight to enact this vital legislation as we work to lift up communities of color and advance progress for all.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD)

“Today, the House passed legislation important to Democrats’ work addressing systemic racism and reforming our criminal justice system. Millions of Americans’ lives have been upended as a result of convictions for possessing small amounts of marijuana, and the racial disparities in conviction rates for those offenses are as shocking as they are unjust. That’s why we passed the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act today, which will decriminalize cannabis possession and create a process to expunge the records of those convicted of non-violent marijuana possession in the past. As a result of those convictions, many now have difficulty finding jobs or obtaining loans, effectively excluding them from economic opportunity, which, in the context of the severe racial disparities of those convictions, represents a modern-day form of segregation.

“I want to thank Chairman Nadler of the Judiciary Committee for authoring this legislation, along with Vice President-elect Harris in the Senate, and for moving it swiftly through his committee before the end of the 116th Congress. I also want to thank Rep. Earl Blumenauer and Rep. Barbara Lee for their longtime advocacy for this type of reform. I hope the Senate will join us in passing this legislation, and I will work with Chairman Nadler, with the Congressional Black Caucus, and with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to continue advancing measures that fix our broken criminal justice system and root out the racial injustices in policing and sentencing in our country.”

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL)

“While I have serious reservations regarding some of the specifics of this bill, I will vote yes on the MORE Act because the status quo, where marijuana laws continue to ravage communities of color, is untenable and must change immediately. For decades, the ‘War on Drugs’ and racism thbat has long stained our criminal justice system has resulted in people of color being arrested, prosecuted and incarcerated for marijuana offenses at rates far exceeding white people. The destructive and inequitable policies that led to these disparities must end. However, I must make clear that my preferred legislative path would be decriminalizing marijuana and rescheduling it from Schedule I to Schedule III in order to allow us to better research the proven concerns around its safety and long-term health impacts. I cast my vote today in support of the provisions of the bill that will alleviate the injustice but remain opposed to the de-scheduling provisions and believe rescheduling and modifying regulations to allow more research is the more prudent approach. Given that the MORE Act will not become law, I will continue to pursue this more safe, prudent, and politically viable legislative path.”

Opposing Lawmakers

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN):

“We were incredibly disappointed when House Democrats this week decided they were going to talk about cannabis and cats and not deal with COVID and the cash that is needed by so many individuals who have lost their job through no fault of their own.”

Rep. David Joyce (R-OH)

“Over the last several years, I’ve been proud to lead the effort to protect the rights of states across the country, like Ohio, that have voted to implement responsible, common-sense cannabis policies. I firmly believe we need to clarify cannabis policy on the federal level and allow states to determine their own policies without fear of federal repercussion.

“However, this partisan bill deprived us of the opportunity to do just that. There are several bipartisan proposals that have the chance to actually become law and help the thousands of businesses, workers, and patients that rely on the cannabis industry. By bringing the MORE Act up for a vote instead, Congress is failing to enact sensible and meaningful cannabis reforms.

“That’s not to mention the fact that government funding runs out in seven days and we have yet to finalize a funding deal or a much-needed COVID-19 relief package. I’ve heard from hospital systems that are overwhelmed, small business owners who are struggling to keep their doors open, and workers who have lost their jobs. There are only four more days Congress is scheduled to be in session this year. Congress needs to stop playing partisan messaging games and get to work.”

Rep. Conor Lamb (D-PA)

“I support decriminalizing marijuana. It’s a big, serious issue that needs to be done the right way. This is a small, non-serious bill that wasn’t done the right way and will never be signed into law, regardless of who is President. And everyone knows that. This was an opportunity for people to say they voted to ‘legalize marijuana’ without doing any of the work to actually accomplish that.

“I hope we do take this up in a serious way in the future. For now I’m focused on the fact that an American is dying every minute, people are losing jobs and going broke, and we’re in a recession. People say ‘you can do two things at once’ — well, Congress usually can’t even do one thing at once. Which is why we still haven’t gotten a COVID relief deal. So maybe for now we should stay focused on the deadly, devastating health and economic crisis that’s raging in every single one of our districts.”

Other Politicians

 

Advocacy Organizations

Photo courtesy of Jurassic Blueberries.

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Minnesota Marijuana Legalization Bill Approved By Seventh House Committee

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Another day, another House committee approval of a bill to legalize marijuana in Minnesota.

On Saturday, a seventh panel cleared the proposal from House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D), Speaker Melissa Hortman (D) and other lawmakers since it was filed in February.

The bill would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis and cultivate up to eight plants, four of which could be mature.

The House State Government Finance and Elections Committee is the latest panel to advance the legislation, by a vote of 7-5,—just days after the House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee gave it the green light.

Winkler said before the vote that the goal of the bill is “to end the criminal prohibition of cannabis in Minnesota [and] to acknowledge that the criminal enforcement of cannabis in Minnesota is part of a broader war on drugs that has disproportionately impacted communities of color, especially black Minnesotans.”

“We seek to provide criminal justice reform and make sure that those adversely affected through the criminal sanctions of the war on drugs have an opportunity to have their records expunged,” he said, “and to have an opportunity to participate in the upside, the opportunity of a new cannabis market—to right past wrongs.”

Before this latest hearing, the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee, the Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee, the Workforce and Business Development Finance and Policy Committee, the Labor, Industry, Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee and the Commerce Finance and Policy Committee each advanced the measure.

The next stop will be the Education Finance Committee. Winkler recently said that he expects the legislation to go through any remaining panels by the end of April, with a floor vote anticipated in May.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,000 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.

Still, even if the legislation does make it all the way through the House, it’s expected to face a significant challenge in the Republican-controlled Senate, where lawmakers have signaled that they’re more interested in revising the state’s existing medical cannabis program than enacting legalization of adult use.

After the New York legislature approved a recreational cannabis legalization bill—which the governor promptly signed into law—Winkler said that Minnesota is “falling behind a national movement towards progress.”

“MN has some of the worst criminal justice disparities in the country, and legalizing cannabis & expunging convictions is a first step towards fixing that,” he tweeted.

The majority leader’s bill as introduced was identical to a proposal he filed last year, with some minor technical changes. Winkler, who led a statewide listening to gather public input ahead of the measure’s introduction, called it the “best legalization bill in the country” at the time. It did not advance in that session, however.

Under the legislation, social equity would be prioritized, in part by ensuring diverse licensing and preventing the market from being monopolized by corporate players. Prior marijuana records would also be automatically expunged.

On-site consumption and cannabis delivery services would be permitted under the bill. And unlike in many legal states, local municipalities would be banned from prohibiting marijuana businesses from operating in their areas.

Retail cannabis sales would be taxed at 10 percent. Part of that revenue would fund a grant program designed to promote economic development and community stability.

The bill calls for the establishment of a seven-person Cannabis Management Board, which would be responsible for regulating the market and issuing cannabis business licenses. It was amended in committee month to add members to that board who have a social justice background.

People living in low-income neighborhoods and military veterans who lost honorable status due to a cannabis-related offense would be considered social equity applicants eligible for priority licensing.

Cannabis retails sales would launch on December 31, 2022.

Gov. Tim Walz (D) is also in favor of ending marijuana prohibition, and in January he called on lawmakers to pursue the reform as a means to boost the economy and promote racial justice. He did not include a request to legalize through his budget proposal, however.

Walz did say in 2019 that he was directing state agencies to prepare to implement reform in anticipation of legalization passing.

Winkler, meanwhile, said in December that if Senate Republicans don’t go along with the policy change legislatively, he said he hopes they will at least let voters decide on cannabis as a 2022 ballot measure.

Heading into the 2020 election, Democrats believed they had a shot of taking control of the Senate, but that didn’t happen.

The result appears to be partly due to the fact that candidates from marijuana-focused parties in the state earned a sizable share of votes that may have otherwise gone to Democrats, perhaps inadvertently hurting the chances of reform passing.

In December, the Minnesota House Select Committee On Racial Justice adopted a report that broadly details race-based disparities in criminal enforcement and recommends a series of policy changes, including marijuana decriminalization and expungements.

Marijuana Banking Bill Will Get A House Floor Vote Next Week, Majority Leader Confirms

Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

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Marijuana Banking Bill Will Get A House Floor Vote Next Week, Majority Leader Confirms

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A bipartisan bill to protect banks that service state-legal marijuana businesses from being penalized by federal regulators has been formally scheduled to receive a House floor vote on Monday, a calendar released by Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s (D-MD) office confirms.

Marijuana Moment reported on the expected development earlier Friday after obtaining an email that was sent to stakeholders by a staffer for Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), the bill’s sponsor, seeking letters of support for the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act ahead of the anticipated vote.

The bill is now now officially listed on the majority leader’s agenda of legislation for Monday.

This will mark the first floor action on a cannabis reform bill this Congress. The standalone legislation cleared the House with bipartisan support in 2019, and its language was also included in two coronavirus relief packages that the chamber approved. The proposal did not advance in any form in the Senate under GOP control, however.

With Democrats now in control of the House, Senate and White House, industry stakeholders are optimistic that the legislation stands a solid chance of becoming law this year.

The SAFE Banking Act was reintroduced in the House last month, and it currently has 168 cosponsors—more than one-third of the chamber. Days later, it was refiled in the Senate, where Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Steve Daines (R-MT) are the chief sponsors.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,000 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 legislation would ensure that financial institutions could take on cannabis business clients without facing federal penalties. Fear of sanctions has kept many banks and credit unions from working with the industry, forcing marijuana firms to operate on a cash basis that makes them targets of crime and creates complications for financial regulators.

Because the bill will be taken up under the process known as suspension of the rules, it will need a two-thirds supermajority to pass—an achievable threshold given the level of support it got during the earlier 2019 vote. No floor amendments will be allowed under the procedure.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) said in a tweet on Friday that he’ll “be voting for the SAFE Banking Act in the House” and that it’s “absurd that Marijuana business cannot fully access the US financial system.” He did not comment on the timing of a vote, however.

After it passed the House last Congress, advocates and stakeholders closely watched for any action to come out of the Senate Banking Committee, where it was referred after being transmitted to the chamber. But then-Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) did not hold a hearing on the proposal, despite talk of negotiations taking place regarding certain provisions.

Crapo said he opposed the reform proposal, but he signaled that he might be more amenable if it included certain provisions viewed as untenable to the industry, including a 2 percent THC potency limit on products in order for cannabis businesses to qualify to access financial services as well as blocking banking services for operators that sell high-potency vaping devices or edibles that could appeal to children.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), who took the top seat in that panel after Democrats secured a majority in the Senate, told reporters in February that he’s “willing” to move the cannabis banking bill, “but with it needs to come sentencing reform.”

The current Senate version of the SAFE Banking Act has 32 cosponsors.

When legislative leaders announced that the SAFE Banking Act was getting a House vote in 2019,  there was pushback from some advocates who felt that Congress should have prioritized comprehensive reform to legalize marijuana and promote social equity, rather than start with a measure viewed as primarily friendly to industry interests.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus and an original cosponsor of the bill, said last month that the plan is to pass the banking reform first this session because it “is a public safety crisis now,” and it’s “distinct—as we’ve heard from some of my colleagues—distinct from how they feel about comprehensive reform.”

Meanwhile, congressional lawmakers are simultaneously preparing to introduce legislation to end federal cannabis prohibition.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) are in the process of crafting a legalization bill, and they’ve already met with advocates to get feedback on how best to approach the policy change.

Schumer said this week that the legislation will be introduced and placed on the floor “soon.”

On the House side, Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said recently that he plans to reintroduced his legalization bill, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which cleared the chamber last year but did not advance in the Senate under GOP control.

Biden’s Already On Board With Federal Marijuana Legalization Even If He Doesn’t Use That Word, Booker Says

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Washington Senate Replaces Drug Decriminalization Bill With Revised Measure To Reinstate Penalties

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A bill that would have formally decriminalized drugs in Washington State was gutted on the Senate floor on Thursday, with lawmakers approving a dramatically revised version that instead reinstates criminal penalties following a state Supreme Court ruling that overturned prohibition.

The action sets up a possible showdown with more progressive Democrats in the House of Representatives who have said they won’t vote for legislation that returns to a criminal war on drugs.

Washington has been without a law against drug possession since a divided state Supreme Court abruptly struck it down February, after ruling that a narrow portion of the decades-old law was unconstitutional. Lawmakers have since scrambled to address the decision—which has halted drug arrests and prosecutions across the state and freed dozens of people incarcerated on drug possession charges—before the legislative session ends on April 25.

On the Senate floor on Thursday evening, a bill that originally would have left drug possession decriminalized was amended to instead make possession a gross misdemeanor, a crime punishable by up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine—a change that led its lead sponsor to vote against the measure.

Prior to the court decision, drug possession was classified as a felony.

Senators passed the amended version of the bill, SB 5476, on a 28–20–1 vote. It next proceeds to the House, where it’s scheduled for an initial hearing in the Appropriations Committee on Monday, with possible committee action slated for Wednesday, April 21.

Watch the senators discuss the drug penalties legislation, around 1:01:33 into the video below: 

As amended, the Senate-passed bill represents a moderate reform to Washington’s now-invalidated felony law against possession. It requires the prosecutors divert people for first- and second-time possession charges to evaluation and treatment programs, and allows for the possibility of further diversions with a prosecutor’s approval.

“I think that this striking amendment will help move us forward as we continue negotiations in these final 10 days with the body across the way toward having a response that will provide services and treatment and help for people who are struggling with substance use disorder,” Sen. Jamie Pedersen (D), who brought the amendment, said on the Senate floor.

The bill in its original form represented a more significant shift away from the drug war. It would have imposed no penalties for possession of small, “personal use” amounts of drugs, instead routing people to evaluation and treatment services for substance use disorder.

Some senators who initially supported SB 5476 ultimately changed their vote after the misdemeanor amendment was adopted. The bill’s original sponsor, Sen. Manka Dhingra (D) said she could no longer support the proposal.

“The way we are doing this, I’m glad there’ll be opportunities for diversion, but it needs to be not through the criminal justice system,” Dhingra said during floor debate. “I understand this is my bill, I understand my name is on there, but I will be voting no on this today.”

Many senators who weighed in on the bill Thursday said it was important that the legislature pass something before the session end, given the sweeping impact of February’s state Supreme Court decision, State v. Blake. In a statement issued after the floor vote, Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig (D) said that not passing a state law on drug possession “means a patchwork of local ordinances that will be confusing to Washingtonians and won’t provide equal justice across the state.”

Generally speaking, state drug laws are understood to preempt those of Washington’s cities and counties. With the state law against possession gone, localities could establish their own laws and penalties, and some have already begun doing so.

“The bill we passed today is not the final word on the subject,” Billig said in a statement. “It is a compromise that keeps this important legislation moving so that we can do our duty as the representatives of the people of our whole state.”

Representatives in the House, however, have indicated more openness to leaving drug possession decriminalized this session. On Thursday, lawmakers in favor of broader drug reform introduced a new bill, HB 1578, which would expand treatment and recovery services and reclassify low-level possession as a civil infraction, punishable by a fine of up to $125 and no possibility of jail time.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,000 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.

Of all the measures currently in play this session, the new bill is the one that most closely resembles neighboring Oregon’s drug decriminalization measure passed by voters in November. But its path forward is uncertain: HB 1578 would need to pass both chambers of the legislature in less than two weeks.

Likewise, it remains unclear how the House will receive the Senate-passed bill, SB 5476, in its new form. More progressive members of the Democratic caucus have said they won’t vote for legislation that reimposes criminal penalties for simple possession, but it’s not certain they’ll be able to muster enough support to pass a decriminalization measure.

If House lawmakers were to amend the Senate bill before passing it, the legislation would need to go to a conference committee, where members of both chambers would iron out differences in the two versions of the bills.

Earlier this year, before the Supreme Court’s decision, a House committee passed a separate bill, HB 1499, that would have ended criminal penalties for personal use amounts of drugs and instead routed people to evaluation and treatment. It would have also significantly expanded the state’s outreach and recovery programs for people with drug use disorders. That measure failed to proceed further after missing a legislative deadline last month.

HB 1499, for its part, stemmed from an effort to put a drug decriminalization initiative on Washington’s ballot last year. Supporters pivoted to a push through the legislature after pressing pause on their signature-gathering campaign after COVID-19 first broke out in the Seattle area early last year.

Advocates for reform have noted that the state’s criminal enforcement of drug possession laws has had a strong bias against people of color, particularly the state’s Black, brown and Indigenous communities.

In her comments on the Senate floor, Dhingra echoed that point, arguing that the Blake decision presents a chance for lawmakers to finally begin to address those racial disparities.

“I will say that the Supreme Court did provide us with an opportunity,” she said, “an opportunity to really think about what we as a state and as a nation have been doing in regards to the war on drugs, and to really think critically of the impact that this has had very, very specifically on Brown and Black families.”

“The racial impact of our drug laws cannot be understated,” Dhingra continued. “When we take a look at mass incarceration, when we take a look at families with a single mom who is bringing up her children, when we take a look at parents who cannot find a job because of their criminal history, cannot find housing, cannot seek recovery, it comes down to the manner in which we have been enforcing our drug laws.”

Rep. Roger Goodman (D), the lead sponsor of the new House measure, HB 1578, which would make possession a civil infraction, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday evening. In an interview with Marijuana Moment last month, however, he called the Blake decision “both a blessing and a curse.”

“It’s an opportunity for us to come up with a more effective approach that does less harm,” he said, “but we don’t have the opportunity to be deliberate and inclusive in conversations with interested parties, so it’s not as well thought-out a proposal as it would be otherwise. It has to be an interim measure.”

Just five years ago, few state legislatures would have dreamed of letting drugs remain decriminalized after a court decision like Blake. Now attitudes are beginning to shift.

“There’s this phenomenon called discontinuous change,” Goodman told Marijuana Moment, “where nothing happens and nothing happens and nothing happens, and then the Berlin Wall falls down. We’re getting to that place in drug policy where it’s a tipping point.”

Oregon voters ended prohibition of low-level drug possession at the ballot during last November’s election, which has contributed to the national conversation.

In both Maine and Vermont, lawmakers have also recently unveiled legislation last month to decriminalize small amounts of illegal drugs. Last month, a Rhode Island Senate committee held a hearing on legislation that would end criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of drugs and replace them with a $100 fine.

In New Jersey, meanwhile, Gov. Phil Murphy (D) said last month that he’s “open-minded” on decriminalizing all drugs.

California Bill To Legalize Possession Of Psychedelics Clears Second Senate Committee

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