Will 2019 be the year that Congress blocks the federal government from enforcing prohibition in legal marijuana states? A bipartisan team of lawmakers in the House and Senate are optimistic that it will, and they introduced legislation on Thursday to accomplish that goal.
Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and David Joyce (R-OH) filed the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, appearing alongside cosponsors Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Joe Neguse (D-CO) at a press conference. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) filed the Senate version of the bill.
Watch the press conference below:
STATES Act Introduction https://t.co/vQMd6appgZ
— Earl Blumenauer (@repblumenauer) April 4, 2019
The legislation would amend the Controlled Substances Act to protect people complying with state legal cannabis laws from federal intervention, and the sponsors are hoping that the bipartisan and bicameral nature of the bill will advance it through the 116th Congress.
President Trump voiced support for a previous version of the legislation last year.
“I’ve been working on this for four decades. I could not be more excited,” Blumenauer told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview.
While other legislation under consideration such as bills to secure banking access for cannabis businesses or study the benefits of marijuana for veterans are “incremental steps that are going to make a huge difference,” the STATES Act is “a landmark,” he said.
46 states have some legalized some form of cannabis. Yet far too many people still face federal prosecution and roadblocks in their daily lives — especially people of color. I’m proud to support the #STATESAct to stop federal interference in legal cannabis enterprises. pic.twitter.com/lhjTHB1Sft
— Rep. Barbara Lee (@RepBarbaraLee) April 4, 2019
The congressman said it will take some time before the bill gets a full House vote, however. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) recently suggested that the legislation would advance within “weeks,” but Blumenauer said it will “be a battle to get floor time” and he stressed the importance of ensuring that legislators get the chance to voice their concerns and get the answers they need before putting it before the full chamber.
“We want to raise the comfort level that people have. We want to do it right,” he said. “There’s no reason that we have to make people feel like they’re crowded or rushed.”
Today, I introduced the STATES Act w/ @RepDaveJoyce @SenCoryGardner @SenWarren. Our outdated cannabis laws have ruined lives, devastated communities and wasted resources. This is the next logical step for Congress to catch up w/ the rest of America & fix a badly broken system. pic.twitter.com/YUW3iqwu25
— Earl Blumenauer (@repblumenauer) April 4, 2019
Asked whether he’d had conversations with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) about moving cannabis bills forward this Congress, Blumenauer said there’s been consistent communication between their offices and that the speaker is “very sympathetic” to the issue and “understands the necessity of reform.”
There are 26 initial cosponsors—half Democrats and half Republicans—on the House version. Reps. Ro Khanna (D-CA), Lou Correa (D-CA), Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Don Young (R-AK) are among those supporters. The previous version ended the 115th Congress with 45 cosponsors.
Today, I joined my colleagues to introduce bipartisan legislation that will ensure the cannabis industry in Colorado is not held back by the federal governments delay in legalization, by ensuring they can access banks & loans & that the threat of federal prosecution is removed. pic.twitter.com/yQlBjtQN3b
— Rep. Joe Neguse (@RepJoeNeguse) April 4, 2019
On the Senate side, there are 10 lawmakers initially signed on: Warren and Gardner, along with Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Rand Paul (R-KY).
People of good faith – both in the industry and outside of it – are at risk of being a federal felon despite complying with state law. And the cash on the streets is a big public safety and law enforcement concern.
— Cory Gardner (@SenCoryGardner) April 4, 2019
“Our federal marijuana laws are outdated and pose a threat to our public health and safety. Marijuana should be legalized, and we must reverse the harm of these failed policies by wiping clean the records of those unjustly jailed for minor marijuana crimes,” Warren said in a press release, although the STATES Act does not contain provisions addressing past cannabis convictions.
“Congress should take immediate action on these important issues by passing the bipartisan STATES Act and protecting states, territories, and tribal nations as they implement their own marijuana laws without federal interference,” she added.
“In 2012, Coloradans legalized marijuana at the ballot box and the state created an apparatus to regulate the legal marijuana industry. But because of the one-size-fits-all federal prohibition, state decisions like this put Colorado and other states at odds with the federal government,” Gardner said. “The federal government is closing its eyes and plugging its ears while 47 states have acted. The bipartisan STATES Act fixes this problem once and for all by taking a states’ rights approach to the legal marijuana question. The bipartisan, commonsense bill ensures the federal government will respect the will of the voters – whether that is legalization or prohibition – and not interfere in any states’ legal marijuana industry.”
The federal government is closing its eyes and plugging its ears while 47 states have acted and it's time the federal government respects the will of Colorado voters. https://t.co/w33JVo1Y7s
— Cory Gardner (@SenCoryGardner) April 4, 2019
For the most part, the latest versions of the legislation are identical to the previous Congress’s bills, though there are two exceptions. Previously, there was a provision exempting hemp from the definition of marijuana, but that was removed—presumably because it is no longer needed in light of the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, which federally legalized the crop.
The bigger change is that the new version contains a section that requires the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study on the “effects of marihuana legalization on traffic safety.”
Among other data points, the office would be directed to collect info on “traffic crashes, fatalities, and injuries in States that have legalized marihuana use, including whether States are able to accurately evaluate marihuana impairment in those incidents.” A report on those effects would be due one year after the law is enacted.
“This bipartisan legislation signals the eventual end of marijuana prohibition at the federal level,” Steve Hawkins, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a press release. “It reflects the position held by a strong majority of Americans that states should be able to develop their own cannabis policies without interference from the federal government.”
“It also reflects the position President Trump took on marijuana policy throughout his campaign, and we are hopeful that he will have the opportunity to sign it into law,” Hawkins said. “While we look forward to the day when Congress is ready to enact more comprehensive reform, we fully embrace the states’ rights approach proposed by this bill.”
The National Cannabis Industry Association, which represents marijuana businesses, also backs the legislation.
“The STATES Act is being reintroduced at a key moment when bipartisan support for cannabis policy reform is at historic levels in both chambers of Congress and among the general public,” said Aaron Smith, the group’s executive director. “Regulating cannabis is working well in the states that have enacted more sensible policies, and legitimate businesses are creating jobs and generating revenue while helping to replace the illicit market. Those businesses shouldn’t have to worry about being treated like criminals by the federal government and deserve clarity that is set in law as opposed to the whims of federal prosecutors.”
According to a press release circulated by Warren’s office, the bill is also supported by ACLU, American Bankers Association, Americans for Prosperity, Americans for Tax Reform, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Cooperative Credit Union Association, Credit Union National Association and National Conference of State Legislatures, as well as a number of Indian tribes.
Read the text of the newly filed STATES Act below:
States Act by on Scribd
Photo courtesy of Don Murphy.
Connecticut Governor Says He’s Open To Smoking Marijuana After He Signs Legalization Bill
The governor of Connecticut said on Friday that he isn’t ruling out smoking marijuana after he formally signs a legalization bill into law next week.
While most top politicians might still demure when asked if they’d partake in cannabis given ongoing stigma and federal prohibition, Gov. Ned Lamont (D) said matter-of-factly that “time will tell” when asked by a reporter if people can “expect to see the governor smoking a joint” after legalization goes into effect in the state.
News 12’s John Craven replied incredulously, “Really? You’re open to it?”
LIGHT IT UP?: Will we see @GovNedLamont partake in newly legal marijuana?
Check out his answer: pic.twitter.com/XVP3d5fDNi
— John Craven (@johncraven1) June 18, 2021
The governor first shrugged, then nodded his head yes.
“Not right now, but we’ll see” Lamont said.
Other governors in legal states have been playful about cannabis culture and their own relationship to the plant. But while a growing number of lawmakers are comfortable discussing their past marijuana use, this is a fairly remarkable exchange for the sitting top executive officer of a state.
It’s also a sign of the times, as congressional lawmakers step up the push to end federal prohibition and legalization bills move through numerous state legislatures.
Connecticut lawmakers sent Lamont an adult-use legalization bill on Thursday, and he’s confirmed his intent to sign it into law. It would make the state the 19th to have enacted the policy change and the fourth this year alone.
And while the governor has consistently emphasized the important of social equity in legalization legislation—at one point threatening to veto the bill because of a provision he felt could undermine its intent to effectively stand up disparately impacted communities—he also seems to see the personal benefits of the reform.
Similar to Lamont’s new comments, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) raised some eyebrows in 2018 when he said in an interview that he grows cannabis himself. But then a spokesperson for his office denied that he actually personally cultivates marijuana.
Minnesota Marijuana Reform Could ‘Move Forward’ In Special Session That Just Launched, Top Lawmaker Says
Even though a Minnesota House-passed marijuana legalization bill died in the Senate without action by the end of this year’s regular session, a top lawmaker says there’s still a “possibility to move forward” on cannabis reform as part of a special session that began this week.
“Nobody really expected the medical program to be so successfully changed this year,” House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D) said at a rally with cannabis reform advocates on Wednesday, referencing a separate measure Gov. Tim Walz (D) signed last month that will allow patients to access smokable cannabis products.
According to The Star Tribune, Winkler added that “surprising things can happen” during a special session. “When you see Republican support and Democratic support in the House and Senate, there is a possibility to move forward.”
Photos from today’s emergency rally at the Capitol 📸
Thank you to House Majority Leader @_RyanWinkler, Sen. @ScottDibble, Rep. @jeremymunson, and Sen. @jimabeler for speaking and advocating for the decriminalization of cannabis in Minnesota. #mnisready for change! pic.twitter.com/c5T1ffqSuy
— Minnesotans for Responsible Marijuana Regulation (@mnisready) June 16, 2021
Advocates with Minnesota NORML are pushing for several specific policies to be incorporated into legislation that is set to be taken up by the legislature during the special session. The first is to expand the state’s decriminalization policy, and the second is to have the state petition for a federal exemption for Minnesota’s medical cannabis program.
Part of the motivation behind that latter proposal is to ensure that registered patients are able to lawfully purchase and possess firearms in spite of federal restrictions.
At the rally, which was organized by NORML, Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP) and other groups, Winkler and several other lawmakers spoke in favor of modest policy changes such as decriminalizing cannabis.
“Decriminalizing small amounts is important,” Rep. Jeremy Munson (R), one of only a handful of Republicans who voted for Winkler’s broad adult-use legalization bill, said at the rally. “If someone in Minnesota gets caught with two gummy bears, it’s a felony and they’ll lose their gun rights forever.”
The coalition proposed several key reforms that they say should be integrated into public safety and health legislation that’s currently moving through committee during the special session:
-Further reduce penalties for simple possession of marijuana.
-Allow people convicted of possession up to eight grams of cannabis to petition the courts for expungement.
-Require the Minnesota health commissioner to petition the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for an exemption for its medical marijuana program.
”Reducing or eliminating the criminal penalties we’re seeing around marijuana is where we have consensus,” Thomas Gallagher of RAMP said in a press release. “Let’s focus on the people who have small quantities. There is injustice in a trivial amount of marijuana resulting in life-changing punishments like imprisonment, criminal records, and lost jobs and kids.”
Rally for Our Special Session Agenda:
1. Decrim law reform: reduce penalties for concentrates & ensure a petty is not a crime in fed court.
2. Medical reform: Require Minn to petition for a fed exemption fr Schedule 1 for Minn's Med Cannabis patients.https://t.co/9S8Vwz4yoB
— Minnesota NORML (@MNNORML) June 15, 2021
Similar to the Minnesota activists’ call, Iowa officials have requested that federal agencies guarantee some level of protection for people participating in the state’s medical marijuana program.
The Hawaii legislature adopted a resolution in April seeking an exemption from DEA stipulating that the state is permitted to run its medical cannabis program without federal interference.
Back in Minnesota, the House approved a bill last month to legalize marijuana for recreational use following 12 committee assignments. That legislation stalled in the GOP-controlled Senate, however.
Advocates are hopeful about the possibility that further cannabis reforms could be accomplished in the special session, but they see an obstacle in Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R), who has been relatively silent on the issue since the end of the regular session.
He did previously say, however, that “we’re always said we were open to lowering the criminal penalties [for marijuana].”
The decriminalization legislation that advocates are rallying behind would make possession of up to eight grams of cannabis a petty misdemeanor. It would also make people with prior convictions for that level of possession eligible for expungements.
Under the separate medical cannabis expansion bill that the governor has signed, adults 21 and older will be able to access smokable marijuana products. That policy must take effect by March 1, 2022, or earlier if rules are developed and the state’s cannabis commissioner authorizes it.
Dispensaries could also provide a curbside pickup option for patients under the new law. It further removes restrictions for designated caregivers and allows them to tend to six registered patients at once, rather than just one.
Walz, who hadn’t been especially vocal about legalization as the broader legislation advanced during the regulator session, said, “I’ve thought for a long time about that,” adding that “we know that adults can make their own decisions on things, we know that criminalization and prohibition has not worked.”
“I’ve always thought that it makes sense to control how you’re doing this and to make sure that adults know what they’re getting into, and use it wisely,” he said. “I also think there’s a lot of inequity about how folks have spent time in jail or been arrested around this, especially in communities of color.”
The majority leader’s legalization legislation 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 measure, 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.
Walz 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.
The governor 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.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
Maine Lawmakers Approve Bill To Decriminalize All Drugs On 50th Anniversary Of Nixon’s ‘War On Drugs’
The Maine House of Representatives on Thursday approved a bill to decriminalize possession of all currently illicit drugs, delivering a victory to reform advocates on the 50th anniversary of President Richard Nixon’s declaration of the war on drugs.
The Senate also began consideration of the legislation on Thursday, but has not yet taken a vote.
The proposal, LD 967, was approved in 77-62 vote in the House. It would make possession of controlled substances for personal use punishable by a $100 fine, without the threat of incarceration. That fine could also be waived if a person completes a substance misuse assessment within 45 days of being cited.
“We are continually trying to criminalize a symptom of a disease. It hasn’t worked. It won’t work,” Rep. Charlotte Warren (D), who serves as the House chair of the legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, said before the vote. “We have tried criminalizing this disease for decades, and 11 Mainers a week are dying.”
Rep. Anne Perry (D), sponsor of the bill, said that incarcerating people who are suffering from addiction “only proves to them that they are as bad as they think they are” and perpetuates the cycle of substance misuse. “Law enforcement is not the gateway to treatment and recovery. It’s a gateway to isolation and suicide.”
The measure’s passage flies in the face of Gov. Janet Mills (D), whose administration opposes the reform, as does the state attorney general. Coupled with opposition from Republican legislators, the bill faces an uphill battle to final passage.
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The Senate also began consideration of the legislation on Thursday night, adopting a different committee report than the House approved, but setting it aside as unfinished business before taking a final vote on the bill. The version moving forward in that chamber would similarly impose a $100 fine for possession, but only for the first two offenses. Subsequent offenses would be considered Class E crimes that could carry jail time.
These actions come one month after a joint House and Senate committee advanced the decriminalization bill with several conflicting recommendations, as well as another measure to reform the state’s drug trafficking laws.
Supporters of the legislation include the American Academy of Pediatrics’s Maine Chapter, Maine Medical Association, Alliance for Addiction and Mental Health Services in Maine and Maine Council of Churches.
Thursday’s decriminalization vote represents a continuation of a national conversation about the need to reform laws criminalizing people over drugs and treat substance misuse as a public health issue, rather than a criminal justice matter.
For the first time ever, a congressional bill to federally decriminalize possession of controlled substances—and incentivize states to do the same—was formally introduced on Thursday.
Last year, Oregon voters elected to end criminalization of low-level drug possession at the ballot.
Vermont lawmakers also introduced a bill in March that would end criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of drugs in the state.
Also that month, a Rhode Island Senate committee held a hearing on decriminalization legislation to replace criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of drugs with a $100 fine.
Back in Maine, a bill was recently introduced that would legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic purposes.