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Lawmakers And Advocates React To Historic Passage Of Bill To End Federal Marijuana Prohibition

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Drug policy reform advocates and lawmakers celebrated on Wednesday after a key congressional committee approved a bill to end federal marijuana prohibition for the first time in history.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 24-10, including two “aye” votes from Republican lawmakers, to advance the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act. Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) is the bill’s sponsor.

The legislation would federally deschedule cannabis, provide expungement and resentencing relief and impose a five percent federal tax on marijuana sales to support investments in communities most harmed by the drug war. It would also protect immigrants from being denied citizenship over cannabis and prevent federal agencies from denying public benefits or security clearance due to its use.

Here’s how people are reacting to the bill’s historic passage. 

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD):

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY):

“I have long believed that the criminalization of marijuana has been a mistake, and the racially disparate enforcement of marijuana laws has only compounded this mistake,” Nadler said in a statement. “While states have led the way in reform, our federal laws have not kept pace with the obvious need for change. With the passage of the MORE Act today, the Judiciary Committee has taken long overdue steps to address the devastating injustices caused by the War on Drugs and to finally decriminalize marijuana at the federal level.”

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA):

“As more states legalize marijuana, millions of Americans with marijuana-related convictions continue to face overwhelming barriers to jobs, education, and housing,” Harris said in a statement. “That is why we must act to remove the burden of marijuana convictions and make sure these individuals have the support needed to move forward. It is also critical that everyone — especially people of color who have been disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs — has a real opportunity to participate in this growing industry. This is a matter of racial and economic justice. I am grateful for Chairman Nadler’s partnership on this issue and for his leadership in moving this legislation forward. I look forward to the House of Representatives passing our legislation soon.”

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ):

“After years of work in the Senate, our efforts to pair marijuana legalization with expungement and reinvestment in the communities most harmed by the War on Drugs have finally led us to today’s critical mark-up,” Booker said in a statement. “The war on drugs has systematically targeted people of color and the poor, harmed job prospects and access to housing for our nation’s most vulnerable communities, and destroyed countless lives.”

“The House Judiciary Committee’s decision to advance this bill is a significant step toward righting these wrongs and healing the wounds of decades of injustice,” he said.

“This is a significant tipping point. The Committee passage of this bill is an important step towards reversing decades of failed drug policy that has disproportionately impacted communities of color and low-income individuals. These draconian laws have sacrificed critical resources, violated our values, destroyed families and communities, and failed to make us safer,” Booker added in a separate press release. “This legislation continues us down the path towards justice and I’m excited to see momentum growing around the movement to fix our nation’s broken drug laws.”

Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee (D):

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA):

“This is really a defining moment on so many fronts as it relates to cannabis reform,” Lee told Marijuana Moment in an interview prior to the vote. “I have to salute and thank Chairman Nadler for being bold and for living up to his commitment and for making sure that this is a comprehensive bill that will address the different aspects of these very complicated issues.”

“For those who have been victimized by these unjust laws, I want to just say to them that we have to keep optimistic, keep hope alive and just know that their members of Congress worked to make sure that justice is served.”

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR):

Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO):

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI):

Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA):

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA):

Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA):

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN):

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA):

Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-PA):

Rep. Dwight Evans (D-PA):

Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME):

“Today’s vote is a historic step toward setting a federal cannabis policy that works in the 21st century. Eleven states including Maine have already legalized marijuana even though it remains illegal under federal law. The MORE Act will remove a major hurdle for states by removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act list. It will also provide incentives for this industry to grow and succeed with new grant programs,” Pingree said in a press release. “I’m especially pleased that this legislation will right the wrongs of the misguided ‘war on drugs’ which has for decades disproportionally harmed disadvantaged communities and communities of color. The MORE Act will reassess marijuana convictions, create programs for restorative justice, and promote equal participation in the legal marijuana industry.”

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI):

NORML Political Director Justin Strekal:

“The passage of the MORE Act represents the first time that the Judiciary Committee has ever had a successful vote to end the cruel policy of marijuana criminalization,” Strekal said. “Not only does the bill reverse the failed prohibition of cannabis, but it provides pathways for opportunity and ownership in the emerging industry for those who have suffered most.”

“In 2018 alone, over 663,000 Americans were arrested for marijuana-related crimes, a three-year high,” he said. “Now that Chairman Nadler has moved the MORE Act through committee, it is time for the full House to vote and have every member of Congress show their constituents which side of history they stand on.”

NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri:

“This is a truly historic moment in our nation’s political history,” Altieri said. “For the first time, a Congressional committee has approved far-reaching legislation to not just put an end to federal marijuana prohibition, but to address the countless harms our prohibitionist policies have wrought, notable on communities of color and other marginalized groups.”

“Opposition to our failed war on marijuana has reached a boiling point with over two-thirds of all Americans, including majorities of all political persuasions, now supporting legalization,” he said. “Congress should respect the will of the people and promptly approve the MORE Act and close this dark chapter of failed public policy.”

Drug Policy Alliance Executive Director Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno:

“With today’s mark-up of the MORE Act, the United States is coming one step closer to ending the devastating harms of marijuana prohibition, which have fallen so heavily on Black and Brown people,” Sánchez-Moreno said.

“This legislation won’t make up for the full scale of harm that prohibition has caused to its victims. It’s not going to return anyone their lost dreams, time lost at the mercy of the criminal justice system; or the years spent away from their families,” she said. “But this legislation is the closest we’ve come yet to not only ending those harms at the federal level, but also beginning to repair them. Now it’s up to Congress to do the right thing and swiftly pass the bill to ensure justice is not delayed a moment longer.”

Cannabis Trade Federation CEO Neal Levine:

“This committee vote is a historic step forward for cannabis policy reform at the federal level,” Levine said. The MORE Act would ensure cannabis consumers and businesses are treated fairly under the law. It would also bolster state and industry efforts to promote diversity within the cannabis business community, while helping communities and individuals adversely impacted by the war on drugs.”

“A solid majority of Americans support ending cannabis prohibition, and we’re finally seeing that reflected in a vote on Capitol Hill. These votes demonstrate the broad bipartisan support that exists in Congress for allowing states to determine their own cannabis policies,” he said. “There appears to be a consensus among both parties that the conflict between state and federal cannabis laws is untenable and needs to be resolved. We encourage our allies in the Democratic and Republican parties come together to find a bipartisan path forward and pass a law this Congress.”

Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association:

“Today’s vote marks a turning point for federal cannabis policy, and is truly a sign that prohibition’s days are numbered,” Smith said. “Thanks to the diligent efforts of advocates and lawmakers from across the political spectrum, we’ve seen more progress in this Congress than ever before.”

“Supermajority public support for legalization, increasing recognition of the devastating impacts of prohibition on marginalized communities and people of color, and the undeniable success of state cannabis programs throughout the country are all helping to build momentum for comprehensive change in the foreseeable future,” he said.

Marijuana Policy Project Executive Director Steve Hawkins:

“This vote is an encouraging indication that federal lawmakers are listening to the majority of Americans who support cannabis legalization,” Hawkins said. “Prohibition brings devastating and unjustifiable human and economic costs, and it is time for Congress to take action. We are hopeful that the House of Representatives and the Senate will cooperate to pass legislation to finally end the failed policy of prohibition.”

Americans for Safe Access Interim Director Debbie Churgai:

“This groundbreaking legislation would eliminate barriers to cannabis research and provide access for patients throughout the entire country,” Churgai said. “It is time our federal government steps up to provide relief so that patients everywhere can medicate without fear of losing any of their civil rights and protections, including while in federal housing or healthcare settings, such as hospices.”

American Civil Liberties Union Policy Analyst Charlotte Resing:

“The House Judiciary Committee’s consideration of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act is a significant step towards ending the failed war on drugs and correcting some of the harms that it has caused,” Resing said. “The bill not only deschedules marijuana at the federal level, but it also provides a roadmap for states to legalize in a just and equitable manner. The MORE Act also provides resentencing and expungement for those with marijuana convictions and mandates the inclusion of those most impacted by the criminalization of marijuana in the newly legal marijuana industry. The ACLU is pleased to support the MORE Act and its efforts to counter the over-criminalization, over policing, and mass incarceration stemming from the war on drugs.”

Maritza Perez, senior policy analyst for Criminal Justice Reform at the Center for American Progress:

“We commend Chairman Nadler, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), and the House Judiciary Committee for voting the MORE Act out of committee today,” Perez said. “Along with the Marijuana Justice Coalition, CAP has called on Congress to enact marijuana legalization legislation centered on justice reform and equity. We are proud of the milestone reached today and ask that this bill now move swiftly to the House floor for a vote.”

Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights President Vanita Gupta:

Prohibitionist organization Smart Approaches to Marijuana:

Marijuana Legalization Bill Approved By Congressional Committee In Historic Vote

Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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Trinidad And Tobago Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Decriminalization Bill

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A bill to decriminalize low-level marijuana possession in Trinidad and Tobago was approved by the nation’s House of Representatives on Wednesday.

The recently introduced legislation would remove criminal penalties for possession of up to 30 grams of cannabis. A fixed fine would be imposed for possession of more than 30 but fewer than 60 grams, and it would not impact an individual’s criminal record if the debt is paid.

The proposal would also provide a pathway for expungements of prior cannabis convictions and allow individuals to cultivate up to four plants for personal use. An earlier version specified that they must be male plants, which do not produce flower, but that was amended after lawmakers received public input.

Representatives spent about eight hours debating the bill, and its approval comes after a series of amendments were made in committee. It’s expected to get a vote in the Senate later this month.

There are some provisions that don’t sit well with reform advocates. Specifically, the measure imposes new penalties against possession and distribution of other substances such as LSD, MDMA and ketamine.

The decriminalization bill is one part of a package of marijuana reform proposals that the government brought before Parliament last month. Another piece of legislation, the Cannabis Control Bill, would legalize cannabis for medical, research and religious purposes and establish a regulatory body to approve licenses for marijuana businesses.

That proposal was also discussed during the House session on Wednesday and has been referred to a Joint Select Committee, which is tasked with delivering a report on the bill by February 29, 2020, local journalist Clydeen McDonald reported.

Prime Minister Keith Rowley and Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi have advocated for the policy changes, arguing that legalization and decriminalization will free up law enforcement resources, promote research into the therapeutic potential of cannabis and address racial justice.

“The history of cannabis is rooted in our country and, in fact, in our culture,” Al-Rawi said in his opening remarks. “Cannabis certainly be traced to several ethnic, religious and cultural traditions relevant to Trinidad and Tobago.”

“There are some who say legalize, there are some who say decriminalize, there are some who say do nothing at all, enhance the functions and penalties,” he concluded. “This is not an easy balance to be had, but commonsense tells us that it is by far past the time to make sure that the criminal justice system and the people most at risk are not exposed to the inevitability of just being processed through, after a whole lot of time, exposed to danger for a mere fine.”

The prime minister acknowledged that there’s ongoing debate about the extent to which the country should pursue reform and said “this matter is not a simple matter, but it also not a matter that we need to be frightened of.”

“We’re not going to please everybody by doing this,” he said. “There’s a body of opinion that says it shouldn’t be done at all, people should have to behave themselves. If we don’t do it, it is already an integral part of our societal behavior.”

“There are those who say we shouldn’t do it all, there are those who say we haven’t done enough, we should just legalize it and let the bush grow freely. That is not the position of the majority. The majority view in this country is we should decriminalize but we should not legalize. That may change in the future, I don’t know, but at this time, we decriminalize.”

The vote to advance these bills comes one year after the heads of 19 Caribbean nations announced they would be reviewing marijuana reform proposals. Since then, several regional countries such as St. Kitts have moved to change their country’s cannabis laws.

Thailand Prime Minister Uses Medical Marijuana At Event With Ganja Mascot

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New Jersey Lawmakers Take First Steps To Put Marijuana Legalization On The 2020 Ballot

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New Jersey Assembly and Senate committees held hearings on Thursday to discuss a resolution that would put the question of marijuana legalization before voters on the 2020 ballot.

The Oversight, Reform and Federal Relations Committee debated the legislation at a morning hearing, which featured testimony from advocates, stakeholders and opponents, while a companion proposal was later discussed before the Senate Commerce Committee.

Both versions of the resolution have been scheduled for floor action in their respective chambers on Monday.

Separately, legislators in the Assembly Appropriations Committee approved a bill to revise and streamline the expungement process. It has also been listed for floor consideration on Monday.

The proposal to hold a cannabis referendum next November comes after top lawmakers failed to rally enough support to get legalization done legislatively, despite Gov. Phil Murphy (D) actively engaging in negotiations with the Senate and Assembly leaders. One of the main contentions was over how to tax marijuana sales.

“We had hoped to get this done legislatively, but that proved to be too tall of an order,” Assembly Judiciary Chairwoman Annette Quijano (D) said at the start of the Oversight panel hearing. “This is a seismic shift. I do not take that lightly.”

After Senate President Steve Sweeney (D) announced that lawmakers would be approaching legalization through a voter referendum, Murphy said that while he was disappointed, he felt confident New Jersey residents would do what the legislature was unable to accomplish.

In the meantime, the governor said he would work with both chambers to quickly pass more limited legislation decriminalizing cannabis possession.

“We believe prohibition has been a spectacular failure,” Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project told lawmakers on Thursday, adding that regulated markets mitigate public safety and workplace risks that exist under prohibition.

Representatives from ACLU New Jersey, New Jersey CannaBusiness Association, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, Doctors for Cannabis Regulation and Clergy for a New Drug Policy also testified in favor of the measure.

Marijuana reform activist Chris Goldstein argued in his testimony that the language of the proposed ballot question should be revised to emphasize that it would end prohibition and remove criminal penalties associated with cannabis.

In order to put changes to the state’s constitution on the ballot, as would be the case with the legalization referendum, the legislature must approve the proposal with a simple majority in two consecutive years, or once with a three-fifths supermajority.

As NJBiz reported, however, it’s unclear whether the two-year rule means it must be approved in two consecutive calendar years or two legislative sessions. The former would give lawmakers until the end of December to pass it the first time and the latter would give them until Murphy’s State of the State address on January 14, 2020.

Legalizing Marijuana Has Majority Support In Kansas, Poll Finds

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Senators Demand Update From DEA On Marijuana Growing Applications

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A group of senators are pressing top federal drug and health agencies to provide an update on the status of efforts to increase the number of authorized marijuana manufacturers for research purposes.

A letter from the lawmakers—led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and addressed to the heads of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Office of National Drug Control Policy and Department of Health and Human Services—emphasizes the need to expand the supply of research-grade cannabis as more states opt to legalize the plant for medical or recreational use.

It notes that DEA announced more than three years ago that it would begin to approve additional marijuana growers and has since continually delayed that process. While the agency said in August that it is taking steps to make approvals, it argued that the volume of applications received requires it to develop alternative rules before issuing any new licenses.

It made that announcement just before a court deadline mandated that DEA take action in response to a lawsuit brought against it by researchers who had applied for approval to produce cannabis for studies. Because the agency gave the update, however, the suit was dismissed in October.

But the senators aren’t satisfied and wrote that they’re “requesting written guidance on how the DEA will make these licenses available to qualified researchers in a timely manner.”

“While millions of Americans are now lawfully able to use marijuana for recreational and medicinal purposes, there remains limited research on its therapeutic benefits,” the letter, sent on Wednesday, states. “With an ever-growing number of Americans consulting their doctors about marijuana treatment options for conditions such as chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, and terminal illnesses, it is imperative that your agencies make a concerted effort to improve our understanding of cannabis, its potential health benefits, and its health risks.”

The senators also noted that the fact that cannabis remains a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act “is, in itself, a significant barrier to conducting research.”

“Hampering these research opportunities and discouraging qualified, independent researchers attempting to conduct studies on the benefits of medical marijuana is detrimental to states that wish to thoughtfully implement their own marijuana laws,” they argued. “This research is crucial to developing a thorough understanding of medical marijuana and would be invaluable to doctors, patients, and lawmakers across the nation.”

The letter lists five questions that the agencies are being asked to respond to by January 10.

The group wants the government to provide 1) the status and timeline of application approvals by DEA, 2) details on the existing supply of research-grade cannabis and whether additional varieties are being cultivated, 3) information on any plans to consider rescheduling marijuana, 4) a description of the application process and 5) particulars on any efforts to support research into the therapeutic potential of cannabis, particularly as an alternative to opioid painkillers.

“With millions of American adults having access to recreational marijuana and a growing number seeking the drug for medicinal purposes, the federal government is not providing the necessary leadership and tools in this developing field,” they wrote. “Evidence-based public policy is crucial to ensuring our marijuana laws best serve patients and health care providers.”

“Federal agencies have a unique opportunity to collaborate with one another to expand our nation’s understanding of marijuana’s potential to create safe and effective therapies,” they said.

Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Ed Markey (D-MA) and Jacky Rosen (D-NV) also signed the letter.

Last week, DEA received a separate letter from a bipartisan coalition of House and Senate lawmakers urging them to change policy so that researchers can obtain marijuana from state-legal dispensaries. This would help resolve one problem that scientists have identified in the past, expressing frustration over a lack of diversity in the federal government’s cannabis supply.

One study found that the government’s marijuana is chemically more similar to hemp than what’s available in commercial markets.

DEA will likely find is useful to expand the number of cannabis manufacturers given the quota it released on how much marijuana it plans approve for cultivation in 2020: 3.2 million grams, which represents a 30 percent increase from this year’s quota.

Read the senators’ full marijuana letter below:

Senators Press Feds On Mari… by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

House Democrats Cave To Senate On Two Marijuana And Veterans Measures

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