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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 Sacramento-based senior editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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Massachusetts Lawmakers Discuss Drug Decriminalization And Safe Injection Sites At Hearing

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Massachusetts lawmakers on Monday heard testimony on separate proposals to decriminalize drug possession and establish a pilot program for safe injection facilities where people could use illicit substances in a medically supervised environment to prevent overdose deaths and facilitate treatment.

The state legislature’s Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery held a hearing on the harm reduction proposals, with experts and people personally impacted by substance misuse advocating for new approaches to drugs that destigmatize addiction and offer people resources outside of a criminal justice context.

The decriminalization bill would replace criminal penalties for the possession of any controlled substance with a civil fine of up to $50. To avoid the fine, individuals could enroll in a “needs screening to identify health and other service needs, including but not limited to services that may address any problematic substance use and mental health conditions, lack of employment, housing, or food, and any need for civil legal services.”

For the safe injection site legislation, the state would establish a 10-year pilot program where at least two facilities would “utilize harm reduction tools, including clinical monitoring of the consumption of pre-obtained controlled substances in the presence of trained staff, for the purpose of reducing the risks of disease transmission and preventing overdose deaths.”

A separate, less far-reaching bill that was added to the agenda in a late addition would direct the Department of Public Health to simply “evaluate the feasibility” of safe consumption sites and then report back to lawmakers by July 31, 2022..

The joint committee listened to academics, health professionals, lawmakers discuss the reform proposals but did not take immediate action on any of the legislation. It’s unclear when the bills will be taken up again for further consideration.

“By every metric, the war on drugs has been a catastrophic failure,” Rep. Mike Connolly (D) said. “In the United States and here in Massachusetts, the criminalization of drug possession is a major driver of mass incarceration. We know that black people have been incarcerated at a rate eight times higher than white people, and there’s no question that the criminalization of substance use issues has contributed to these terrible disparities.”

Connolly is also the sponsor of legislation that received a Joint Judiciary Committee hearing in July on  studying the implications of legalizing psychedelics like psilocybin and ayahuasca.

Officials with at least one Massachusetts city, Somerville, said that there are plans in the work to launch a safe injection facility in the jurisdiction. And they want to see the statewide bill pass to provide additional protections against being federally penalized.

“State legislation, wielding its constitutionally granted powers to enact laws for public health and safety, has the ability to greatly minimize these risks through legislation authorizing a pilot of safe consumption sites,” Hannah Pappenheim, assistant city solicitor at the City of Somerville, said. “In addition, state legislation would also minimize the risk of costly—but more importantly, lengthy—litigation.”

The official noted that a separate, Pennsylvania-based case on the legality of safe injection sites has been ongoing in federal courts for years at this point.

A coalition of 80 current and former prosecutors and law enforcement officials—including one who is President Joe Biden’s pick for U.S. attorney of Massachusetts—recently filed a brief urging the Supreme Court to take up the case.

Xavier Bacerra, the Biden administration’s secretary of health and human services, was among eight top state law enforcement officials who filed an earlier amicus brief in support of the Philadelphia-based Safehouse’s safe injection site plan when he served as California’s attorney general.

“State legislation paves the way for a more expedient process in Somerville, and of course elsewhere in the Commonwealth,” Pappenheim said.

Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone (D) said at Monday’s hearing that “it’s important for Massachusetts to finally lead—not just compiling, but implementing a strategy that reduces harm and save lives.” He conceded that he previously opposed the concept of allowing safe consumption sites; but his personal experience knowing people in his immediate family who suffered from addiction—as well as his own review of the scientific literature on harm reduction alternatives to criminalization—led him to embrace the reforms.

Massachusetts lawmakers advanced similar legislation last year, but it was not ultimately enacted.

The governor of neighboring Rhode Island signed a bill in July to establish a safe consumption site pilot program where people could test and use currently illicit drugs in a medically supervised environment. It became the first state in the country to legalize the harm reduction centers. It’s not clear whether the Department of Justice will seek to intervene to prevent the opening of such facilities in that state.

Oamshri Amarasingham, deputy legislative director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, voiced support for both reform proposals at Monday’s hearing and told WGBH that establishing a safe injection site pilot program “is one piece of that puzzle” that is “critically important and that’s had great success in other countries.”

Shaleen Title, a former Massachusetts cannabis commissioner who now heads the Parabola Center, juxtaposed how laws handle substances like caffeine, alcohol and nicotine differently from currently illegal drugs.

“What separates that from when we have these illicit drugs, where handcuffs and cages are involved, and what led that to be? The reason has nothing to do with science, or evidence or the relative dangers of those drugs,” she said. “The reason is because—and this is well-documented—those drugs could be scapegoated and blamed on their association with indigenous and Indian and Mexican and Chinese and other cultures, and then used to target communities of color, particularly black and Latino people nationally and here in Massachusetts.”

At the same time that Massachusetts legislators are looking into harm reduction and broad drug decriminalization, local activists in the state have also been pursuing psychedelics reform.

Three Massachusetts cities—NorthamptonSomerville and Cambridge—have each passed resolutions to deprioritize enforcement of laws against the possession, use and distribution of a wide range of psychedelics and other drugs. The Easthampton City Council is also exploring a resolution to decriminalize a wide range of entheogenic substances, with a meeting set for Friday.

Marijuana Arrests Dropped Sharply In 2020 As Both COVID And Legalization Spread, FBI Data Shows

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Marijuana Arrests Dropped Sharply In 2020 As Both COVID And Legalization Spread, FBI Data Shows

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Marijuana arrests declined significantly in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic, newly released FBI data shows.

There were 1,155,610 drug-related arrests overall last year, with cannabis sales and possession busts accounting for just over 30 percent (or 350,150) of those cases. The vast majority were for marijuana possession alone.

The agency’s data shows that there was a cannabis arrest every 90 seconds in the country in 2020, and there was a drug-related arrest every 27 seconds.

While these figures still highlight the rampant, ongoing criminalization of cannabis in states across the U.S., it’s a substantial deescalation compared to 2019, when FBI reported a total of 545,601 marijuana arrests. That amounted to a cannabis bust every 58 seconds.

Put another way, there was a 36 percent decrease in cannabis cases from 2019 to 2020. And while the federal agency doesn’t attempt to explain the statistical shift, there are a number of factors that could help explain it.

One of the more obvious societal changes during that timeframe is the COVID-19 health crisis, which involved social distancing requirements and generally discouraged people from being out in public where they might be at higher risk of being arrested for simple possession.

But advocates have also pointed out that the marijuana reform movement could be playing a role. Illinois’s adult-use cannabis law took effect at the beginning of 2020, for example. Hawaii, New Mexico and North Dakota also enacted decriminalization of marijuana possession in 2019, and Virginia followed suit the next year.

In Arizona, limited cannabis possession was legalized for adults starting on November 30, 2020 following voter approval of a reform initiative earlier that month.

“As more states move toward the sensible policy of legalizing and regulating cannabis, we are seeing a decline in the arrest of non-violent marijuana consumers nationwide,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri told Marijuana Moment. “The fight for legalization is a fight for justice. While these numbers represent a historic decline in arrests, even one person being put into handcuffs for the simple possession of marijuana is too many.”

Despite the decline in cannabis busts, the new data shows that American law enforcement still carried out more arrests for marijuana alone last year than for murder, rape, robbery, burglary, fraud and embezzlement combined.

It should be noted that not all local police participate in FBI’s reporting program, so these figures are not holistic and are estimates the agency makes based on those that do submit data.

The country had seen a consistent decline in cannabis arrests for roughly a decade prior to 2016, when those cases started to rise up until 2019.

Observers expect to see the downward trend in cannabis busts continue as more states move to end prohibition and law enforcement deprioritizes marijuana-relate cases. In New York, for example, police received new guidance this year stipulating that adults 21 and older can possess certain amounts of marijuana and consume it in places where tobacco use is permitted.

That directive alone seems to have led to a dramatic decrease in cannabis arrests in New York City.

Federal marijuana trafficking cases also continued to decline in 2020 as more states have moved to legalize, an analysis from the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC) that was released in June found.

Federal prosecutions of drug-related crimes overall increased in 2019, but cases involving marijuana dropped by more than a quarter, according to an end-of-year report released by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts in December.

A study released by the Cato Institute in 2018 found that “state-level marijuana legalization has significantly undercut marijuana smuggling.

New York Governor Says Marijuana Legalization Will Create ‘Thousands’ Of Jobs And Touts Regulatory Appointments

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New York Governor Says Marijuana Legalization Will Create ‘Thousands’ Of Jobs And Touts Regulatory Appointments

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The governor of New York says marijuana legalization will generate “thousands and thousands of jobs” in the state, and she’s touting her recent actions to make regulatory appointments for the industry to get implementation underway.

At the Business Council of New York State’s annual meeting on Friday, Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) talked about the state’s business ethic and the importance of supporting markets of all sizes, including cannabis companies.

“We do want to go big or go home, and I want to help you get there,” she said. “I need you to survive because you’re the identity of New York that people create jobs and opportunities. You are who we are as New Yorkers. Your success means the success of this entire state.”

“So count me in as an ally—someone who’s going to be there for you, who will fight for you to make sure that we do not lose out to any competition, whether it’s in the space of cannabis, where I believe there’s thousands and thousands of jobs and new industries, to be created that were not even focused on,” Hochul said.

The governor has made a point of emphasizing her support for adult-use legalization and standing up the industry since replacing former Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who resigned amid a sexual misconduct scandal last month.

At Friday’s meeting, she said, “I had to unleash this opportunity that had been stifled for the first five months [after legalization was signed into law] because a few appointments hadn’t been made. Got that done.”

Hochul named two additional Cannabis Control Board members last week, which followed the Senate confirmation of previous appointees earlier this month. The newly named regulators do not require confirmation by lawmakers.

According to The New York Post, the governor reportedly recently dismissed Norman Birenbaum, director of cannabis programs under Cuomo, whom advocates had opposed becoming the head of the new Office of Cannabis Management.

Under New York’s legalization law, the independent Office of Cannabis Management within the New York State Liquor Authority was established and will be responsible for regulating the recreational cannabis market as well as the existing medical marijuana and hemp programs. It will be overseen by a five-member Cannabis Control Board.

Three members have now been appointed by the governor, and the Senate and Assembly have also appointed one member each.

As it stands, adults 21 and older can possess up to three ounces of cannabis or 24 grams of concentrates in New York—and they can also smoke marijuana in public anywhere tobacco can be smoked—but there aren’t any shops open for business yet.

The first recreational marijuana retailers in New York may actually be located on Indian territory, with one tribe officially opening applications for prospective licensees earlier this month.

In July, a New York senator filed a bill to create a provisional marijuana licensing category so that farmers could begin cultivating and selling cannabis ahead of the formal rollout of the adult-use program. The bill has been referred to the Senate Rules Committee.

Because the implementation process has been drawn out, however, one GOP senator wants to give local jurisdictions another year to decide whether they will opt out of allowing marijuana businesses to operate in their area—a proposal that advocates say is unnecessary and would create undue complications for the industry.

Under the law as enacted, municipalities must determine whether they will opt out of permitting marijuana retailers or social consumption sites by December 31, 2021. Sen. George Borrello (R) introduced legislation earlier this month that would push that deadline back one year.

Legalization activists aren’t buying the argument, however.

Adding pressure to get the market up and running is the fact that regulators in neighboring New Jersey recently released rules for its adult-use marijuana program, which is being implemented after voters approved a legalization referendum last year.

The state comptroller recently projected that New York stands to eventually generate $245 million in annual marijuana revenue, which they say will help offset losses from declining tobacco sales.

For the first year of cannabis sales, the state is expected to see just $20 million in tax and fee collections. That will be part of an estimated $26.7 billion in new revenues that New York is expected to generate in fiscal year 2021-2022 under a budget that the legislature passed in April.

Meanwhile, a New York lawmaker introduced a bill in June that would require the state to establish an institute to research the therapeutic potential of psychedelics.

Florida Would Study Psychedelics’ Medical Benefits Under Top Senate Democrat’s New Bill

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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