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.
Missouri Activists Take Steps To Put Marijuana Legalization Initiative On November Ballot
Missouri activists are gearing up for a push to put marijuana legalization on the state’s November ballot.
A proposed constitutional amendment to legalize for adult use, which was submitted last year, has been cleared for signature gathering by the secretary of state, which certified the ballot title last month.
The initiative, which the campaign Missourians for a New Approach is backing and the national New Approach PAC is funding, would allow adults 21 and older to possess and purchase up to one ounce of cannabis from licensed retailers. Individuals would also be able to cultivate up to three plants for personal use.
A 15 percent excise tax would be imposed on recreational marijuana sales, with revenue going toward veterans’ services, infrastructure and substance misuse treatment. According to a fiscal analysis, Missouri stands to bring in $86 million to $155 million in revenue annually by 2025.
The costs of implementation is estimated to be about $21 million initially, then decreasing to $6 million annually.
The proposal would also allow individuals with prior cannabis convictions to apply for resentencing or expungements.
“Missourians for a New Approach, in collaboration with New Approach PAC, is exploring the initiative petition process right now to determine the feasibility of allowing Missourians to vote on this important issue this year,” campaign manager John Payne told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
“There is widespread support among Missouri voters to regulate, tax and legalize marijuana,” he said. “The status quo has allowed an unsafe and unregulated black market to thrive in Missouri, while wasting law enforcement resources that would be better spent fighting serious and violent crimes.”
The campaign will face a challenge if they ultimately begin signature gathering, as organizers must deliver about 160,000 signatures by mid-May.
Under the proposal, the state’s Department of Health and Senior Services would be responsible for regulating the market and issuing licenses for cultivation facilities, retailers, testing laboratories and social consumption sites.
Marijuana products that are sold must be manufactured in Missouri, but text of the initiative also contains provisions stating that if federal laws change, regulators can change the rules to allow for cannabis imports and exports, provided any products that come into the state are subject to testing requirements.
The initiative also contains a series of restrictions, including banning billboard advertising in certain areas and selling marijuana edibles that appeal to children, prohibiting shops from publicly displaying their products and disallowing individuals with disqualifying felony convictions on their records from owning cannabis businesses (except for marijuana offenses or non-violent offenses that didn’t result in incarceration and are at least five years old).
Local governments would be able to temporarily prohibit recreational cannabis businesses from operating in their jurisdictions up until the next general election following Election Day 2020. After that point, local governments could only impose a ban through voter approval of ballot measures.
Missouri voters approved a medical cannabis ballot measure in 2018 by a two-to-one margin. It was one of three medical legalization initiatives to make it on the ballot that year—a situation that could repeat itself this November, as there’s a separate adult-use legalization proposal that was submitted to the secretary of state on Thursday that’s available for public comment.
The state Department of Health and Senior Services would have to approve at least as many recreational cultivation facilities and retailers as there are medical cannabis operations in the state. If the number of applications exceeds the department’s licensing cap, it would have to develop a grading system to score and select the winners.
Microbusiness licensees would be allowed to be vertically integrated, and owners could cultivate up to 150 flowering plants at a time. In order to qualify for a microbusiness license, the majority owner or owners would have to be economically disadvantaged or disabled veterans.
For the first year following implementation, licenses could only be approved for individuals who’ve lived in Missouri for at least a year prior to submitting an application.
The regulating agency would have to provide applications for licenses within nine months of the law’s effective date, which would be December 3, 2020 if voters approve the ballot question. Applications would have to be accepted within one year, and the department would have six months to either approve or reject the submissions.
The proposal also includes provisions concerning the state’s existing medical cannabis program. It stipulates that documents obtained from medical cannabis businesses licensees or applications are subject to state transparency laws. Additionally, the state’s medical marijuana law would be amended to extend the amount of time that cannabis patient recommendations are valid and due for renewal from one to three years.
If the campaign is successful, Missouri would join a growing number of states where cannabis reform will go before voters in November. Already, a medical marijuana initiative has qualified in Mississippi, South Dakota voters will see both medical cannabis and adult-use legalization on the ballot and the New Jersey legislature approved a resolution to let voters decide on recreational legalization.
Read the full Missouri marijuana legalization initiative below:
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.
Joe Biden Again Says No To Marijuana Legalization Without More Studies
Former Vice President Joe Biden reaffirmed that he’s opposed to legalizing marijuana without further studying its potential health risks.
In an interview with The New York Times editorial board that was published on Friday, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate was asked to explain his “more moderate approach” to cannabis policy when nearly all of his primary opponents, as well as the public, have embraced broad legalization.
“Because I think science matters,” he said. “I mean one of the reasons I’m running against the guy I’m running against is science matters, not fiction.”
He also said that he’s not arguing that marijuana is a gateway drug—something he did indicate might be the case last year, though he walked it back after facing pushback and being attacked for the statement on a debate stage.
“What I’m arguing is there have been studies showing that it complicates other problems if you already have a problem with certain drugs,” Biden said. “So we should just study it and decriminalize it, but study it and find out. Get the medical community to come up with a final definitive answer as to whether or not it does cause it. If it does cause other problems, then make it clear to people. So that’s a place you don’t not engage in the use of it.”
The former vice president’s marijuana reform plan involves rescheduling the plant to make it easier for researchers to access, decriminalizing simple possession and expunging prior cannabis records.
A member of the Times editorial board noted that marijuana is legal in some form in a majority of states, to which Biden said, “Sure they have. I get that, but that doesn’t mean the science shouldn’t be looked at.”
The former vice president has previously said that states should be able to implement their own legalization laws without federal interference.
Asked whether he’d support legalizing cannabis while simultaneously encouraging research into it, the candidate said “no.”
“Why would you promote the science if the science would say it’d be a bad idea to legalize it? You’ve got to find out the facts first,” he said.
“But by the way, let’s get something straight here. I’ve argued for some time total decriminalization. Anyone who has a record, it should be immediately expunged. So when you come to work for The New York Times, and they ask you if you have any problems, any criminal arrests, you don’t have to say yes, because it will be completely expunged. And in fact, there should be anyone who is in fact, has been served any time in prison or is in prison, which a few people are these days, that they immediately be released, and the record totally expunged.”
Earlier in the interview, Biden was asked to reflect on “anything that you have changed your mind about,” and he brought up his record on criminal justice reform—particularly his role in crafting punitive anti-drug laws aimed at crack cocaine as a senator during the Reagan administration.
“I made a big mistake in the criminal justice side when I—it’s easy to forget it now—but when, all of a sudden, crack was introduced as a great threat to the United States of America,” he said.
“And you had medical folks at the time saying, well, crack, because it immediately penetrates the membrane of the brain and it goes straight to the brain, it’s going to have this long-term effect,” he continued. “So we bought on to the idea that crack somehow should be punished much more significantly than, in fact, powdered cocaine. Well, what it meant was somebody snorting powder in the party you guys go to.”
Under the Anti Drug Abuse Act that Biden helped draft and was an original cosponsor for, crack offenses were made 100 times more severe than powder cocaine, leading to rampant racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
“But it’s put a lot of people in jeopardy, put them in jail, and it’s had a disproportionate impact on minority communities, particularly African-American communities. I sorely regret that,” he said, adding that while serving as vice president under President Obama, he advocated for legislation that reduced the sentencing disparity somewhat.
“We’ve also learned a lot more about drug abuse overall. It used to be that we thought—I’ve spent a lot of my career in the Judiciary Committee dealing with this issue,” he said. “We used to argue—and you tell me when I’m going longer than I should—we used to deal with it in terms of we thought that mental illness was a product of drug abuse. It’s the reverse. Mental illness is the reason for drug abuse. It’s not the reverse.”
“And that’s why, when I wrote the crime bill that everybody for a while there thought that was a massive reason for massive incarceration, which it wasn’t, I might add,” he said. “But what happened was I put in that bill, at the time, drug courts to try to divert anyone arrested for a drug offense to a drug court for rehab, not to go to jail.”
Photo courtesy of Flickr/Marc Nozell.
Marijuana Record Expungement Movement Growing Rapidly, Report Shows
Though eleven states and Washington, D.C. have legalized recreational marijuana, the process of expunging prior cannabis convictions remains complicated and expensive, with methods to clear records varying widely between jurisdictions.
People with marijuana records may struggle to pay outstanding fines or locate documents from different courthouses—if they are even aware at all that they are eligible for expungement.
But against all these barriers, the movement to expunge cannabis records is growing rapidly. That’s the takeaway from a new report on the impact of National Expungement Week (NEW), which launched in 2018 and is now an annual occurrence. NEW offers expungement and post-conviction relief services, as well as other social and support services, at various events hosted throughout the country.
In 2019, NEW helped 652 people start the record clearing process, more than double the 298 people it assisted in 2018. The number of people who received other services like voter registration, job support and health screenings increased by more than 750 percent, to 3,069 people.
Seven hundred and fifty people cleared or reduced their court fines and fees associated with the expungement process. Last year’s event also more than doubled the amount of expungement clinics and events hosted, from 18 events in 15 cities in 2018 to 44 events in over 30 cities in 2019.
A popular video promo by comedy actor Seth Rogen may have also helped new audiences discover NEW. Rogen’s cannabis company Houseplant also sponsored the expungement assistance push, as did Canopy Growth Corporation and Caliva. Rock the Vote and Equity First Alliance were also involved.
“While we are encouraged by the growth of National Expungement Week, it only demonstrates the need for deeper reforms of the record clearing process at the state and federal levels,” Torie Marshall, director of Cage-Free Repair, one of the nonprofits that helps to organizes NEW, said in a press release. “We will continue to fight for those reforms while providing direct services to justice-impacted communities.”
Organizers estimate that the 2019 effort generated a public benefit of $7,143,964, in the form of increased wages, reduced public spending and other benefits over the next two years.
The report describes some of the barriers and challenges facing people who want to expunge their records. Only four-to-six percent of people eligible for expungement or post-conviction relief actually apply for it, the document reports. People with records may have difficulty simply locating their criminal records from courts and offices, or they may struggle to afford an attorney to help them. There’s also the possibility that distrust in the criminal justice system due to prior experiences with arrests or incarceration may be a factor.
“We believe in the necessity of both automation and clinics,” the report states. “Technology offers a chance to provide cost-effective legal relief at scale, and events provide opportunities to connect in-person and deliver wraparound services in a coordinated fashion. With 77 million people in the US in possession of a criminal record, we need multi-faceted solutions to address the challenges of these complex problems.”
Notably in 2019, NEW also partnered with the tech non-profit Code for America (CFA), which hosted the National Day of Civic Hacking on September 21, the first day of NEW 2019. The civic hacking day alone featured 46 events throughout the U.S. focused on the criminal justice system and record clearing.
CFA has been working with county governments to automate the process of cannabis record expungement. In February 2019, San Francisco County used CFA’s special Clear My Record software to expunge 8,100 cannabis convictions. Then, in April, Los Angeles and San Joaquin Counties announced they were partnering with CFA to clear as many as 54,000 convictions. Finally, in September, CFA made their software available for any prosecutor in California to use.
More state and local governments are signing onto not just marijuana legalization, but record expungement as well. Last year, the top prosecutor in Baltimore announced that her office would no longer prosecute marijuana possession cases and would expunge nearly a decade’s worth of marijuana cases. And on December 31, the day before Illinois opened its first adult-use cannabis shops, Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) cleared the marijuana possession records of 11,000 people.
The next National Expungement Week will be held September 19-26.