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Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Isn’t ‘Dead’ In Texas, Key Senate Chairman Clarifies

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Marijuana decriminalization in Texas isn’t “dead,” contrary to what the lieutenant governor claimed on Tuesday.

Shortly after the House of Representatives voted this week to approve a decriminalization bill, which would make possession of one ounce or less of cannabis punishable by a $500 fine and no jail time, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) tweeted that the measure was “dead in the Texas Senate,” citing comments from the chairman of that body’s Criminal Justice Committee.

“I join with those House Republicans who oppose this step toward legalization of marijuana,” Patrick said.

But in an interview with The American-Statesman, the chairman in question said his views were mischaracterized by the lieutenant governor.

Sen. John Whitmire (D) said he raised doubts about the prospects of passage in the chamber before the House even voted on the bill, which was subsequently amended to appeal to more Republicans, and that he hadn’t used the word “dead” to describe the legislation at all.

“The reality is we don’t have the votes in the Senate as we talk,” Whitmire said. However, “I don’t believe it’s dead and I’m going to do the best I can [to round up support]. I’m trying to see if we have the votes in the Criminal Justice Committee to get it to the [Senate] floor.”

The lieutenant governor’s hostility toward the modest decriminalization bill puts him out of step with the majority of Texas voters, his own party and even Gov. Greg Abbott (R).

Texas Republicans endorsed decriminalization as a platform plank last year, calling for an even smaller $100 fine for marijuana possession.

Abbot said during a reelection debate last year that he doesn’t want to see “jails stockpiled with people who have possession of a small amount of marijuana” and that he would “be open to talking to the legislature about reducing the penalty for possession of two ounces or less from a class B misdemeanor to a class C misdemeanor,” which is precisely what the House-passed bill would do.

Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, told Marijuana Moment that Patrick’s plan “has backfired.”

“Instead of accepting defeat, our statewide movement for reform is more energized than ever before,” she said. “With passage from a bipartisan supermajority in the House, HB 63 is anything but DOA, as Lt. Gov. Patrick would like us to believe.”

“The prohibitionists in Texas are going to continue coming out hard in defense of the status quo. They want to defeat our movement for reform,” Fazio added. “But in less than 24 hours we’ve generated thousands of emails and phone calls to the Senate, including Lt. Gov. Patrick. We will not be intimidated or discouraged. It is time for marijuana law reform in Texas and we’re bringing it to the people!”

As lieutenant governor, Patrick is the presiding officer of the Senate and could still block the legislation from coming up for a floor debate even if it clears Whitmire’s committee. He has also expressed opposition to pending legislation to expand the state’s limited medical cannabis program.

Hawaii Legislature Sends Marijuana Decriminalization Bill To Governor’s Desk

Photo courtesy of Max Pixel.

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.

Politics

Senate Schedules Second Cannabis Hearing For Next Week

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A key Senate committee will hold a hearing next week to discuss hemp production, featuring witnesses from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In the months since hemp and its derivatives were federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill, there’s been strong interest in developing USDA and FDA regulations for the crop and its compounds such as CBD, and lawmakers have repeatedly pressed the agencies to speed up the rulemaking process to unlock the industry’s potential.

While the hearing notice doesn’t go into detail about what will be discussed, the meeting’s title—”Hemp Production and the 2018 Farm Bill”—and list of witnesses indicate that the conversation will revolve around the development of federal guidelines for hemp businesses.

USDA Marketing and Regulatory Programs Under Secretary Greg Ibach, USDA General Counsel Stephen Vaden, FDA Principal Deputy Commissioner Amy Abernethy and EPA Assistant Administrator of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention Alexandra Dunn will appear before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry on July 25.

Other invited witnesses include Kentucky farmer Brian Furnish, National Hemp Association Executive Director Erica Stark and Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians Tribal Chairman Darrell Seki.

The Senate Agriculture Committee meeting will mark the chamber’s second cannabis-related hearing of the week. The Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs announced on Tuesday that it will meet to discuss marijuana banking issues on July 23.

FDA and USDA have both recently signaled that they were cognizant of widespread interest in creating regulatory pathways for hemp and its derivatives, with USDA stating that it planned to release an interim final rule on the products in August and FDA’s Abernethy writing that the agency is “expediting” its rulemaking process. FDA added that it hoped to release a report on its progress by early fall.

That said, heads of the departments have also tried to temper expectations. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said that USDA wouldn’t be expediting regulatory developments but that he expected them to be issued ahead of the 2020 planting seasons.

Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, meanwhile, cited policy complications that would make it difficult for the agency to create an alternative regulatory pathway for hemp-derived CBD products to be lawfully marketed as food items or dietary supplements. He said that without congressional action, it may take FDA years to establish those rules.

Separately, officials from both FDA and USDA will participate in hemp conferences in August, where they’re also expected to update stakeholders on their progress.

Senate Schedules Hearing On Marijuana Business Banking Access

Photo courtesy of Brendan Cleak.

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As More States Legalize, DEA Chops Down Fewer Marijuana Plants, Federal Data Shows

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The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) seized far fewer marijuana plants in 2018 compared to the previous year but made significantly more cannabis-related arrests, according to federal data released this month.

More than 2.8 million indoor and outdoor marijuana plants were seized last year as part of the DEA’s Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program. That marks a 17 percent decline from 2017 levels.

NORML first noted the DEA report, which also shows that marijuana-related arrests the agency was involved with increased by about 20 percent in a year. And while the overall number of plants that were seized dropped, DEA said that the value of the assets totaled about $52 million—more than twice as much as it reported the previous year.

State-level legalization efforts appear to have played a role in the declining number of plant seizures, particularly those cultivated outdoors. In the same year that retail cannabis sales started in California, DEA confiscated almost 40 percent fewer outdoor plants in the state compared to 2017.

That data point is consistent with recent research showing that legalization is associated with a decrease in the number of illicit cannabis grows in national forests, which are often targets for DEA enforcement action.

It’s not clear why there was a significant uptick in marijuana-related arrests, but those increases generally did not occur in states where legal cannabis systems were recently implemented.

For example, arrests in Kansas, where marijuana is strictly prohibited, increased by more than 3,500 percent—from 15 to 544—from 2017 to 2018. Louisiana likewise experienced a 168 percent increase in cannabis arrests.

The data covers federal law enforcement actions and does not include those of local police agencies that did not partner with the agency.

Year-over-year decreases in cannabis seizures through DEA’s eradication program have been viewed by advocates as evidence that state-level legalization systems effectively displace the illicit market, removing the incentive to illegally cultivate cannabis.

Similarly, a separate recent report from the U.S. Sentencing Commission showed that federal prosecutions for marijuana trafficking dropped precipitously in 2018—another sign demonstrating that state-level legalization is disrupting the illicit market, advocates argue.

NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano told Marijuana Moment that “federal eradication programs are a holdover from a bygone era.”

“At a time when roughly one-quarter of the country resides in a jurisdiction where adult marijuana use is legal, and when members of Congress are openly discussing removing cannabis from the federal Controlled Substances Act, it is time for these federal anti-marijuana efforts to be put out to pasture and for federal agencies to take positions that more closely comport with cannabis’ rapidly changing cultural status in America,” he said.

DEA has also faced criticism of its cannabis eradication efforts from a non-partisan federal watchdog agency last year for failing to adequately collect documentation from state and local law enforcement partners funded through the program.

The Government Accountability Office said in a report that DEA “has not clearly documented all of its program goals or developed performance measures to assess progress toward those goals.”

At the same time that DEA is seizing fewer plants grown illicitly, it’s also setting higher goals for federally authorized cannabis cultivation for research purposes. In 2019, the agency said it hoped to grow approximately 5,400 pounds of marijuana to meet research demand, which is more than double its quota for 2018.

Legalizing Marijuana Leads To Fewer Illegal Grow Sites In National Forests, Study Finds

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.
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Senate Schedules Hearing On Marijuana Business Banking Access

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In one of the clearest signs of marijuana reform’s growing momentum on Capitol Hill, a Republican-controlled Senate committee has scheduled a hearing for next week that will examine cannabis businesses’ lack of access to banking services.

The formal discussion in the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs on Tuesday comes as legislation aimed at resolving the marijuana industry’s financial services problems is gaining momentum. A House cannabis banking bill that cleared that chamber’s Financial Services Committee with a bipartisan vote in March now has 206 cosponsors—nearly half the body—while companion Senate legislation has 32 out of 100 senators signed on.

Please visit Forbes to read the rest of this piece.

(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)

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.
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