The green wave is already making splashes in multiple red states this year, with marijuana legalization bills being introduced in at least six traditionally conservative states so far for 2019 sessions.
On Wednesday, lawmakers in Kentucky and West Virginia put forward pieces of legalization legislation, the latest in a growing list of states where the thought of lawmakers even considering full legalization would have been implausible just a couple years ago.
Legislatures in Indiana, Missouri, Texas and Virginia could also vote on legalization bills that have already been introduced this year.
Whether each of these bills has enough support to pass is another question. While marijuana reform is an increasingly bipartisan issue, there are various obstacles lawmakers will have to overcome—such as anti-legalization governors in some states.
West Virginia is a good example of that problem. On the same day that Sen. Richard Ojeda (D) introduced his bill to allow adults 21 and older to consume, possess, and cultivate cannabis for personal use, Gov. Jim Justice (R) emphasized that he is “adamantly, adamantly, etched-in-stone, adamantly against recreational marijuana” during a State of the State address.
Separately, Ojeda announced that he will be resigning from the state Senate next week in order to focus on a 2020 presidential run.
In Kentucky, Sen. Dan Seum (R) also filed legislation to fully legalize cannabis in the state on Wednesday. Unlike the noncommercial approach in the West Virginia bill, however, Seum’s proposal would permit and tax retail marijuana sales.
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In a floor speech, Seum said the state could collect tax revenue, address racial disparities in marijuana enforcement and reduce overcrowding in jails under his bill. He also remarked that Kentucky “grows the best” and has a unique agricultural landscape that would allow the state to “double up on this revenue.”
Sen. Dan Seum on legalizing cannabis in #Kentucky
— Jason Maynard (@KYMMJason) January 9, 2019
Earlier this week, Virginia lawmakers put forward legalization legislation—two separate new proposals out of about a dozen marijuana-related bills that have been filed in the state this session. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) reiterated his support for the more modest step of decriminalization on Wednesday, saying the policy would “ease overcrowding in our jails and prisons, and free up our law enforcement and court resources for offenses that are a true threat to public safety.”
Missouri Rep. Brandon Ellington (D) wasted no time pushing for full legalization, pre-filing a bill in early December that would legalize possession, use and cultivation of marijuana.
In Texas, a proposed constitutional amendment to legalize cannabis was among multiple marijuana-related pieces of legislation that were pre-filed before the formal start of the session.
And New Jersey lawmakers are also considering several marijuana legalization bills, including one that was approved by legislative committees late last year.
“Lawmakers are increasingly finding ways to support legalization, regardless of their political ideology,” Carly Wolf, who was recently promoted to state policies coordinator at NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “The debunked stigma of ‘Reefer Madness’ is rapidly falling by the wayside and politicians of all stripes can now support establishing a commercial cannabis marketplace in a manner that is consistent with their worldview.”
Senate Schedules Hearing On Marijuana Business Banking Access
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.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Congressman Files Marijuana Bill After Leaving Republican Party
In one of his first legislative acts since leaving the Republican Party earlier this month amid a feud with the president, Rep. Justin Amash (I-MI) filed a bill on Monday that would let states set their own marijuana policies without federal interference.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because bipartisan legislation that would accomplish the same goal has already been filed this Congress.
But unlike the nearly identical Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, Amash’s new bill excludes one provision that would require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study the effects of cannabis legalization on road safety and issue a report on its findings within a year of the law’s enactment.
That language states that the GAO must study “traffic crashes, fatalities, and injuries” in legal cannabis states, actions taken by those states to “address marihuana-impaired driving,” testing standards being used to detect impaired driving and federal initiatives “aiming to assist States that have legalized marihuana with traffic safety.”
Given Amash’s libertarian leanings, it stands to reason that he opposes spending government dollars to conduct the research and simply supports the broader states’ rights intent of the original legislation.
That would also put him at odds with social justice advocates who feel that the STATES Act itself doesn’t go far enough and are pushing for more comprehensive legislation that includes additional provisions addressing social equity and restorative justice for people harmed by drug law enforcement.
Members of the House Judiciary Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee heard that debate play out during a historic hearing on ending federal marijuana prohibition last week.
A newly formed coalition of civil rights and drug reform organizations, including the ACLU, is also insisting on passing wide-ranging legislation to deschedule cannabis entirely that also invests in communities that have been disproportionately impacted by prohibition.
Amash is a long-standing critic of the war on drugs and earlier this year signed on as a cosponsor of a separate bill that would federally deschedule marijuana. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, filed that legislation, which is also silent on social equity provisions.
— Justin Amash (@justinamash) March 8, 2019
Gabbard also introduced a separate bill that would require the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and other federal agencies to study the impacts of legalization. True to form, Amash declined to add his name to that measure as well.
Read the text of Amash’s new cannabis bill below:
Photo courtesy of Kyle Jaeger.
Berkeley City Council Considers Decriminalizing Psychedelics This Week
A resolution to decriminalize psilocybin and other psychedelics will go before a Berkeley, California City Council committee on Wednesday.
Decriminalize Nature, the group behind the measure, also led the charge to successfully get a measure decriminalizing entheogenic plants and fungi approved by the City Council in neighboring Oakland last month.
In Berkeley, the Public Safety Committee will discuss the proposal and can either decide to hold it for a future meeting or advance it to the full Council. The public is able to attend Wednesday’s special meeting and share their perspective on the resolution, but Decriminalize Nature stressed in a tweet that this “is a small meeting, so you do NOT need to attend.”
Is it time for #DecriminalizeNature #Berkeley? Agenda 4 at the public safety meeting this Wed. July 17, with the Decriminalize Nature team! This is a small meeting, so you do NOT need to attend. But if you live in Berkeley, write your City Council! https://t.co/gMSDkegMPU
— Decriminalize Nature (@DecrimNature) July 15, 2019
However, city residents are being encouraged to write to their Council members and urge them to vote in favor of the measure, which would codify that “no department, agency, board, commission, officer or employee of the city, including without limitation, Berkeley Police Department personnel, shall use any city funds or resources to assist in the enforcement of laws imposing criminal penalties for the use and possession of Entheogenic Plants by adults of at least 21 years of age.”
The resolution defines the covered substances as “plants and natural sources such as mushrooms, cacti, iboga containing plants and/or extracted combinations of plants similar to ayahuasca; and limited to those containing the following types of compounds: indoleamines, tryptamines, phenethylamines.”
Councilmembers Rigel Robinson and Cheryl Davila are sponsoring the resolution, which does not allow for commercial sales or manufacturing.
The lawmakers provided background information on the measure in a report to their colleagues and the mayor, describing the medical potential of various psychedelics as well as the success of decriminalization measures in Denver and Oakland.
“It is intended that this resolution empowers Berkeley residents to be able to grow their own entheogens, share them with their community, and choose the appropriate setting for their intentions instead of having to rely exclusively on the medical establishment, which is slow to adapt and difficult to navigate for many,” they wrote.
While efforts to eliminate criminal penalties associated with psilocybin and other psychedelics have so far centered in jurisdictions that have historically embraced marijuana legalization and broader drug reform, the conversation around decriminalizing psychedelics is spreading nationally.
Shortly after Oakland approved its measure, Decriminalize Nature received inquiries from activities in cities from across the country. The group has kept track of each city where organizers are pursuing decriminalization.
Nature lovers are organizing coast to coast (and Hawaii)! Is your city on the map? Connect to join with your local community, or if you have the motivation to propose a similar initiative in your city/town/county, let’s start growing! contact [email protected] #DNUSA pic.twitter.com/38UxLKK9RN
— Decriminalize Nature (@DecrimNature) July 2, 2019
On Monday, a conversation around changing laws governing psychedelics reared during a City Council meeting in Columbia, Missouri. One resident implored the body to take up a resolution to decriminalize the natural substances, pointing to their therapeutic benefits.
Councilmember Mike Trapp said that the student’s proposal should be considered and that a government advisory board on public health should provide input on the medical potential of psychedelics, describing it as “very promising.”