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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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New Hampshire Marijuana Legalization Effort Runs Up Against New Republican Legislature

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“Eventually it will get passed. But I don’t think it will happen until we get a new governor.”

By Christian Wade | The Center Square

Marijuana advocates are continuing a push to legalize the drug for recreational use in New Hampshire, but the effort faces an unlikely path in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

A bipartisan bill filed in the state House of Representatives this month would, if approved, legalize recreational cannabis for adults over 21 and set up a system of regulation and taxation for the drug that would allow retail sales. It’s similar to proposals filed in previous legislative sessions, all of which have failed to win approval.

“The battle continues,” said Rep. Rebecca McWilliams, D-Concord, a primary sponsor of the bill. “We keep refining it and negotiating and trying to come up with something that could potentially get to the two-thirds vote needed to override the governor’s veto.”

The proposal would allow adults 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of weed and would authorize regulated cultivation and retail sales. Adults would be allowed to grow up to six marijuana plants at home. A state-run cannabis commission would set regulations and oversee the new industry. The proposal calls for a 9% tax on recreational pot sales.

But the measure faces a steep climb in the state legislature—which swung back to the GOP in the November 3 elections—not to mention the threat of a veto by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who opposes legalization.

McWilliams acknowledges the measure faces long odds in the biennial legislative session and said lawmakers who support the effort lack the votes to override a Sununu veto. But she said the effort is building more support with every passing year.

“Eventually it will get passed,” she said. “But I don’t think it will happen until we get a new governor.”

While marijuana remains an illegal drug under federal law, she said there’s a chance the new Democrat-controlled Congress and White House could lift the federal prohibition on pot.

Nationally, 68 percent of Americans back the legalization of marijuana, according to a recent Gallup poll, which noted that support has been inching up steadily over the years.

To date, 15 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. territory of Guam have legalized recreational marijuana. Thirty-six states have medical marijuana programs.

New Hampshire has often been described as a “cannabis island” with neighboring states and Canada allowing recreational marijuana cultivation and retail sales.

While the Granite State decriminalized marijuana possession in 2017, recreational growing and sales are not authorized.

In 2014, the Democrat-controlled House approved a legalization bill but it failed to pass the Senate. Similar proposals have been refiled every session, but have failed to gain traction.

The state has also allowed medical marijuana dispensaries since 2013, but cultivating the drug for personal use is still a felony.

Lawmakers approved a bill in 2019 that would have allowed medical pot patients to grow their own supply, but Sununu vetoed it, citing public safety concerns.

This piece was first published by The Center Square.

New York Governor Releases More Details On Marijuana Legalization Proposal

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American Medical Association Asks Court To Overturn Medical Marijuana Vote In Mississippi

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Two medical associations are throwing their support behind a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the medical marijuana ballot initiative that Mississippi voters overwhelmingly approved in November, arguing that it creates “risks to public health” and places a “burden” on physicians.

The American Medical Association (AMA) and its state affiliate, the Mississippi State Medical Association (MSMA), recently filed an amicus brief backing the legal challenge being considered by the state Supreme Court, which was brought by the city of Madison just days before the election.

The lawsuit argues that legalization proposal is invalid because of a state law that dictates the percentage of signatures required per district to qualify a ballot initiative.

While Mississippi’s secretary of state and attorney general have strongly criticized the suit, calling it “woefully untimely” and contesting the merits, AMA and MSMA are backing the challenge nonetheless.

“Making sure the constitutional amendment map is followed is always important, but given the nature of the initiative at issue and the substantial ramifications it poses for Mississippi’s public health and the medical community, particular care is warranted here,” the brief states, according to a blog post published by AMA on Friday.

The groups further argue that, outside of the statutory concerns outlined in the suit, the medical cannabis legalization initiative “poses significant risks to public health and puts a burden on Mississippi physicians.”

“While it is possible there may be beneficial medicinal uses of marijuana, numerous evidence-based studies demonstrate that significant deleterious effects abound,” the brief states, adding “without question, the public health risks are immense.”

Additionally, because marijuana remains federally illegal, the voter-approved measure would put physicians in “quite the pinch,” it says. “Yet physicians will be expected by their patients (though perhaps not required by Initiative 65) to sign off on certifications to receive their supply. Perhaps no liability will lie under state law, but what about federal law?”

In fact, federal courts have ruled that doctors have a First Amendment right to discuss medical cannabis with their patients without risking federal sanction.

“As everyone knows, all it takes to file a lawsuit is a piece of paper and a filing fee, so even if a physician is judged correctly and immunity is appropriate, the matter will still have to be litigated,” the AMA and MSMA brief continues. “And with increased exposure and litigation comes increased costs, not least of which is rising professional liability insurance premiums.”

The legal challenge brought by Madison cites a state law stipulating that “signatures of the qualified electors from any congressional district shall not exceed one-fifth (1/5) of the total number of signatures required to qualify an initiative petition for placement upon the ballot.” But that policy went into effect when Mississippi had five congressional districts, and that’s since been reduced to four, making it mathematically impossible to adhere to.

Advocates see desperation in the court filing, with the medical associations now making a last-ditch effort to overturn the will of voters.

“These are cynical attempts to undermine the democratic process,” Carly Wolf, state policies coordinator for NORML, said. “Legalization opponents have shown time and time again that they cannot succeed in either the court of public opinion or at the ballot box.”

“Thus, they are now asking judges to set aside the votes of over a million Americans in a desperate effort to override undisputed election outcomes,” she said. “Whether or not one supports marijuana legalization, Americans should be outraged at these overtly undemocratic tactics.”

Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML, said “AMA’s position is woefully out of step with both public opinion and scientific consensus, as well as with the opinions of the majority of physicians.”

“It is regrettable that this organization would go on record in attempting to nullify the vote of a supermajority of Mississippi voters,” he said.

It’s also not especially surprising that these particular groups would join in this legal challenge given their earlier attempts to get voters to reject the reform initiative.

Weeks before the vote, AMA and MSMA circulated a sample ballot that instructed voters on how to reject the activist-led cannabis measure. The mailers said the associations were “asking for you to join us in educating and encouraging our population to vote against Initiative 65.”

Ultimately, however, nearly 74 percent of Mississippi voters approved the legalization initiative.

It will allow patients with debilitating medical issues to legally obtain marijuana after getting a doctor’s recommendation. It includes 22 qualifying conditions such as cancer, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder, and patients would be allowed to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana per 14-day period.

Marijuana Moment reached out to AMA and MSMA for additional information about the brief, which has not yet been posted on the state court’s public docket, but representative did not immediately respond.

The Mississippi case is just one example of legalization opponents asking the courts to overturn the will of voters who approve marijuana reform.

In South Dakota, another legal challenge against the constitutionality of a legalization initiative is playing out. In this case, plaintiffs—with the backing of Gov. Kristi Noem (R)—are claiming that the recreational marijuana measure violates a state statute requiring that proposals that appear on the ballot on deal with a single subject.

Over in Montana, opponents of a voter-approved initiative to legalize cannabis for adult use attempted to get the state Supreme Court to invalidate the proposal ahead of the vote, but the justices rejected that request, arguing that they failed to establish the urgency needed to skip the lower court adjudication process. They didn’t rule on the merits, however.

The plaintiffs then announced they were pursuing action in a lower court, arguing that the statutory proposal unlawfully appropriates funds, violating a portion of the state Constitution that prohibits such allocations from being included in a citizen initiative.

Separately, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled in September that a medical marijuana legalization initiative could not appear on the state’s November ballot following a legal challenge, even though activists collected enough signatures to qualify.

The court determined that the measure violated Nebraska’s single-subject rule that limits the scope of what can be placed on the ballot before voters. Activists have already introduced a new initiative that they say will satisfy the court’s interpretation of state law—and their also working on a broader adult-use legalization measure.

New York Governor Releases More Details On Marijuana Legalization Proposal

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New York Governor Releases More Details On Marijuana Legalization Proposal

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has released more details of his marijuana legalization proposal, including plans to reinvest in communities most impacted by the war on drugs.

Following his State of the State address last week, in which the governor said enacting the reform could boost the economy while promoting social equity, he unveiled an outline of his agenda that provides more insights into what the state’s legal cannabis market could look like. Next, he’s expected to release the full budget proposal on Tuesday, which will contain much more detailed legislative language.

The State of the State Book released on Friday says Cuomo’s upcoming proposal would create an Office of Cannabis Management to regulate the program, establish national standards and best practices to encourage responsible marijuana consumption and provide for “robust social and economic equity benefits to ensure New York’s law will create an egalitarian adult-use market structure that does not just facilitate market entry but ensures sustained market share for entrepreneurs in communities that have been most harmed by cannabis prohibition.”

Notably, it also states that the plan will “correct past harms by investing in areas that have disproportionally been impacted by the war on drugs, understanding that expunging past cannabis convictions helps to correct the injustice faced on the day that someone was arrested, but fails to correct the lasting harms that arrest has had on citizens, families, and communities.”

That’s important, as the governor in past years has pushed for marijuana tax revenue to be put into the state’s general fund, rather than specifically allocating resources for community reinvestment, as some lawmakers and advocates have urged.

That said, it remains to be seen exactly how the governor’s forthcoming budget will go about “investing” in communities that have been harmed by past prohibition enforcement and whether it will be deemed adequate by legislators and activists who have balked at his past proposals.

Cuomo has included legalization in his last two annual budget plans, but the issue has consistently stalled over details in negotiations.

That said, the legislature will have more influence this year after Senate Democrats secured a supermajority in the November election. If Cuomo were to veto any bill over details he didn’t like, they could potentially have enough votes to override him.

The governor’s new outline also talks about making investments in research into harm reduction and education campaigns to deter youth use and impaired driving.

“Cannabis legalization will create more than 60,000 new jobs, spurring $3.5 billion in economic activity and generating an estimated $300 million in tax revenue when fully implemented,” the document says.

A separate section describes plans to bolster the state’s hemp industry.

To accomplish that, Cuomo will call together a workgroup “composed of hemp growers, researchers, producers, processors, manufacturers, and trade associations to make recommendations for the further development of hemp as a multi-use agricultural commodity and a mature cannabinoid wellness market.”

“The hemp workgroup will explore ways to provide more opportunities for New York growers and manufacturers and work to help facilitate the development of safe New York products that will meet the needs of informed consumers,” the plan says. The group’s recommendations could build upon regulations for hemp and CBD that were developed last year.

But for many advocates, it’s recreational legalization that has the spotlight this session. And to that end, New York lawmakers have made comments in recent months that indicate they feel the reform is inevitable, despite differing opinions on the specifics.

The top Republican in the New York Assembly said last month that he expects the legislature to legalize cannabis this coming session.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D) said in November that she also anticipates that the reform will advance next year, though she noted that lawmakers will still have to decide on how tax revenue from marijuana sales is distributed.

Cuomo also said that month that the “pressure will be on” to legalize cannabis in the state and lawmakers will approve it “this year” to boost the economy amid the health crisis.

The push to legalize in New York could also be bolstered by the fact that voters in neighboring New Jersey approved a legalization referendum in November.

Legislators prefiled a bill to legalize cannabis in New York earlier this month. The legislation, introduced in the Senate by Sen. Liz Krueger (D) and 18 other lawmakers, is identical to a version she filed last year that did not advance.

Separately, several other bills that focus on medical marijuana were recently prefiled in New York, and they touch on a wide range of topics—from tenants’ rights for medical cannabis patients to health insurance coverage for marijuana products.

Biden Taps Marijuana Legalization Supporter To Lead Democratic National Committee

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