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Marijuana Legalization Bills Died In Three States This Week As Others Move Forward

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Lawmakers in states across the country are taking up marijuana reform measures this year after a November election in which voters passed every state-level drug reform initiative put before them. But in three states—Maryland, Hawaii and Wyoming, bills to end cannabis prohibition this year have died in recent days as key legislative deadlines passed.

Advocates said the failure of lawmakers in Hawaii, Maryland and Wyoming to move forward on the proposals means the harms of criminalization will continue to fall disproportionately on Black and brown communities in those states for at least another year, even as a majority of voters support legalization.

“We will continue to see racially disproportionate enforcement throughout our state,” Luke Jones, director of Maryland NORML, told Marijuana Moment, “resulting in tens-of-thousands of avoidable police encounters and more arrest records we will pay to expunge next year.”

Lawmakers in other states, meanwhile, including New York, Kansas, North Dakota, Rhode Island, New Mexico, Delaware and others, are still pursuing some form of cannabis reform this year. And in Virginia, the legislature last month sent a legalization bill to the governor’s desk.

Broader drug reform efforts also got underway this year in CaliforniaConnecticut, FloridaKansasMissouriNew York, Rhode Island, Washington State and Virginia, where lawmakers have introduced a variety of bills during the 2021 session—some dealing with psychedelics but others that call for comprehensive decriminalization.

At the national level, meanwhile, lawmakers recently reintroduced a proposal to allow state-legal marijuana businesses access to banking services, with legislation to end federal cannabis prohibition expected to be introduced soon.

For now, here’s a look at the recent death of legalization bills in three states.

Maryland

Two separate marijuana legalization bills in Maryland expired this week, one backed by top leaders in the state Senate and a competing measure introduced by Del. Jazz Lewis (D) in the House. Both failed to pass their respective chambers before a legislative deadline on Monday.

“Neither adult use legalization bill introduced in Maryland has advanced ahead of today’s crossover deadline, meaning the legislature is not ready to move forward with legalization this year,” Olivia Naugle, legislative analyst for the advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), told Marijuana Moment. “However, bill sponsors are working on amendments that could be considered after crossover to set the stage for equitable legalization next year.”

Lewis, whose HB 32 was heard in the House Judiciary Committee last month but never voted on, told Cannabis Wire that the goal this session will now be “to move forward on the regulatory infrastructure so that there is one less barrier next year.”

Lewis proposed a number of amendments to his bill at the hearing with the aim of aligning the measure with the competing Senate bill, SB 708, which was filed with the support of the Senate president and other legislative leaders.

Meanwhile, the Senate Finance committee heard SB 708 but took no action on the measure at a meeting earlier this month. The bill’s lead sponsor, Sen. Brian Feldman (D), framed the hearing as an opportunity to discuss provisions of the legislation and gauge the likelihood of its success.

“I wanted to get a little feedback from the committee,” he told the panel. “I didn’t have a good take of where the committee is and where the committee’s concerns are.”

The latest versions of each proposal would legalize possession of up to four ounces of marijuana for adults 21 and older as well as home cultivation for personal use. Individuals with past convictions for low-level cannabis activity would see those records expunged, and people currently incarcerated for cannabis crimes would be resentenced or released.

Lewis’s proposal put a stronger focus on targeted community reinvestment than the Senate bill, for example by proposing that some tax revenue from the legal industry fund the state’s historically Black colleges and universities. HB 13 became the preferred bill among social and racial equity advocates, including the chair of Maryland’s Legislative Black Caucus, Del. Darryl Barnes (D).

Luke Jones, director of Maryland NORML, called it “a real tragedy” that legislators missed the opportunity to end marijuana prohibition this year.

“We will continue to see racially disproportionate enforcement throughout our state, resulting in tens-of-thousands of avoidable police encounters and more arrest records we will pay to expunge next year,” Jones told Marijuana Moment. “Our next steps are to invite legislators to attend training sessions on issues of persistent concern, such as non-commercial home cultivation, traffic safety, protecting children, and the role of county and local government officials under a new approach to public safety.”

A poll released earlier this month found that two-thirds (67 percent) of Marylanders support legalizing cannabis, with just 28 percent opposed. Gov. Larry Hogan (R), however, has remained lukewarm on the policy change. In mid-2018 he signed a bill to expand the state’s medical marijuana system and said full legalization was “worth taking a look at,” but last May he vetoed a bill that would’ve shielded people with low-level cannabis convictions from having their records publicized on a state database.

While the legalization bills are dead, there is still hope for some marijuana reform in Maryland this year. The House last month passed HB 324, which would expand the amount of marijuana decriminalized under state law from 10 grams to one ounce. Penalties for having less than that amount would be punishable by a fine of up to $100, with subsequent violations leading to fines of up to $500 and a referral to drug education and a substance use disorder screening. That bill is currently in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, and could potentially be a vehicle for the amendments that MPP”s Naugle said could “set the stage for equitable legalization next year.”


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 900 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

Hawaii

A Senate-approved bill to legalize marijuana in Hawaii fell short last week when it failed to proceed past a House committee by a March 18 deadline. Separate legislation to expand the state’s existing decriminalization threshold from three grams to 30 grams of cannabis also failed to advance in the House this session after winning approval of the Senate.

Both measures died in the House Committee on Health, Human Services and Homelessness, chaired by Rep. Ryan Yamane (D), who did not call either bill for a hearing.

“Chair Ryan Yamane exercised his pocket veto, which wasn’t surprising given his poor record on cannabis reform,” Nikos Leverenz, board president for the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii (DPFH), told Marijuana Moment.

Yamane previously opposed Hawaii’s decriminalization law, which replaced criminal penalties with a $130 fine, and in 2015 voted against allowing storefront dispensaries in the state medical program.

Even if the legalization bill had cleared the Senate panel, it faced another difficult hurdle in the House Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee. Chairman Mark Nakashima (D) signaled earlier this month that he might not even hold a hearing on the proposal, saying, “I really think we need to get the medical marijuana program up and running in a much more healthy way before we’re ready for any kind of legalization.

Contacted by Marijuana Moment about those remarks, Nakashima replied that the bill “will have to be considered in the Health Committee before I will have jurisdiction”—a step that never happened.

Legalization advocates were also concerned about Gov. David Ige (D), who recently declined to say whether he would sign or veto a legalization bill if it arrived on his desk. Ige also waffled on the state’s existing decriminalization law, which eventually took effect without his signature.

Wyoming

Two cannabis bills that advanced through their initial committee votes in the House will not move forward this session after the full chamber declined to take them up.

Lawmakers had introduced HB 209, which would have legalized and regulated commercial marijuana, and HB 82, which would have required the state to study the possible creation of a medical marijuana program. Neither measure was considered by the full House.

The adult-use legalization legislation was passed on a 6–3 vote earlier this month by the Judiciary Committee, whose Republican chair, Rep. Jared Olsen, is the bill’s lead sponsor. It would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to three ounces of marijuana and cultivate up to 12 mature plants for personal use.

The measure, which is also cosponsored by the House speaker and other top GOP lawmakers, earned testimony from state agencies and the members public—including former U.S. senator and Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, now a Wyoming resident.

A former Wyoming lawmaker gave an emotional testimony in favor of the bill, explaining how his diagnosis of multiple sclerosis cost him his career because, even with the prescription medications he was administered, he did not have the ability to continue his work.

Olsen, who cited surveys showing majority public support for the policy change, said during the hearing that he expected Wyoming voters to take the lead on ending marijuana prohibition if the lawmakers failed to act.

If a voter-led legalization initiative were to become law, “it means that the legislative process doesn’t design the regulation of marijuana,” he said. “Instead, the public by ballot initiative, which may be a lot more simplistic, decides what that will look like.”

The medical cannabis study bill also cleared the Judiciary panel earlier this month only to die on the House floor without a vote.

Marijuana Banking Bill Reintroduced In Senate, With Nearly A Third Of The Chamber Signed On

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.

Ben Adlin is a Seattle-based writer and editor. He has covered cannabis as a journalist since 2011, most recently as a senior news editor for Leafly.

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Kansas Medical Marijuana Hearings Cancelled After Senate GOP Leader Reroutes House-Passed Bill

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A House-passed bill to legalize medical marijuana in Kansas seems to be in jeopardy, with GOP Senate leadership moving the legislation out of a committee and into a different panel where it may sit in legislative limbo, resulting in the cancellation of hearings that were scheduled to be held this week.

Advocates are concerned about the decision by Senate President Ty Masterson (R), who withdrew the cannabis reform legislation from the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee days before hearings were to be held on Tuesday and Wednesday. It was then re-referred to the Senate Interstate Cooperation Committee, which Masterson chairs and where the bill’s fate is unclear.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that medical marijuana legalization is off the table for Kansas in 2022, but it does seem to signal that the reform might need to be enacted through another vehicle, either in the legislature or at the ballot, as top Democratic lawmakers in the state are pursuing.

“We certainly hope that this action is just making sure that this bill meets any concerns that Senate leadership may have concerning this historic legislation,” Kevin Caldwell, a legislative manager at Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), told Marijuana Moment. “This bill had widespread bipartisan support in the House last session. We hope Senate President Masterson quickly holds a committee hearing and advances this legislation.”

When the proposal was being advanced in the House last year during the first half of the two-year session, members amended an unrelated bill that previously cleared the Senate to make it the chamber’s vehicle for the policy change. Because of that, it was ruled “materially changed” last May and sent to the Senate for committee consideration.

Now there’s a question of whether lawmakers will be motivated to introduce another separate bill and try to move it through both chambers, requiring another House vote. The Senate president seemed to temper expectations in recent remarks, telling The Kansas City Star that “not a single member” of his caucus has expressed that the issue “was important to them.”

That’s not how Kansas Democrats feel, however. House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer (D) and Assistant Minority Leader Jason Probst (D) said this month that they will be introducing proposals to let voters decide on legalizing medical and adult-use marijuana in the state. At the time, Sawyer said he was “hopeful” that the legislature might separately advance the House-passed legalization measure.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,000 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

“The people of Kansas deserve to know if senators support the overwhelming majority of people who want to alleviate patients’ suffering with a medical cannabis program,” MPP’s Caldwell said. “Now is the time to show compassion to their fellow citizens and vote this bill out of committee.”

“Kansas is one of fourteen states left without a medical cannabis program,” he said. “We have faith that the Kansas Senate will pass this legislation this session and this is just another step in that process.”

Michael Pirner, Masterson’s communications director, told the Star that “medical marijuana legislation is not a priority of Senate leadership,” but did signal the issue may still be considered before the year is over.

“The subject matter has clearly matured and we expect it to be considered at some level this session,” he said. “There are many more pressing topics on the Senate agenda.”

The bill as drafted contains several significant restrictions, including a ban on smokeable cannabis. Members of the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee did get a briefing on the issue at a meeting last week ahead of the expected, now-cancelled formal hearings before the panel.

Meanwhile, the constitutional amendment that the Democratic leaders are proposing would provide for a more comprehensive program that lawmakers would need to implement.

Gov. Laura Kelly (D), for her part, wants to see medical cannabis legalization enacted, and she said at a briefing with reporters on Friday that she “absolutely” thinks the bill could pass if “everything else doesn’t take up all the oxygen.”

She previously pushed a separate proposal that would legalize medical cannabis and use the resulting revenue to support Medicaid expansion, with Rep. Brandon Woodard (D) filing the measure on the governor’s behalf.

Kelly has she said she wants voters to put pressure on their representatives to get the reform passed.

The governor also said in 2020 that while she wouldn’t personally advocate for adult-use legalization, she wouldn’t rule out signing the reform into law if a reform bill arrived on her desk.

Marijuana Banking Bill Sponsor Says He’s ‘Gonna Get That Darn Thing Passed’ Before Leaving Office

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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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Marijuana Banking Bill Sponsor Says He’s ‘Gonna Get That Darn Thing Passed’ Before Leaving Office

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Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) is retiring from Congress at the end of this session, but he says that he’s going to work to pass his marijuana banking bill before his time on Capitol Hill comes to an end.

The congressman spoke to Colorado Public Radio last week about his decision not to run for reelection this November and his disappointment that, while the House has approved the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act five times now in some form, the Senate has failed to advance it under both Republican and Democratic leadership.

“That one still has me pretty irritated,” Perlmutter said, referring to the fact that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has effectively blocked his bipartisan legislation. When there was a GOP Senate majority, he was told the bill was “too big and too broad.” Then with a Democratic majority, he’s told that it’s “too narrow and too limited.”

Schumer and his colleagues who are working on a federal legalization bill have repeatedly said that they do not want to see the SAFE Banking Act pass before comprehensive reform is enacted that addresses equity issues. Supporters of the banking bill argue that the incremental policy change is necessary for promote public safety and, importantly, it stands a much stronger chance of getting to the president’s desk with bipartisan support.

Nonetheless, Perlmutter said he plans to spend his remaining months in office pushing to get the job done.

“I have not given up on that one,” he said. “I’m gonna get that darn thing passed this year while I still serve out my term.”

Listen to Perlmutter discuss the marijuana banking legislation, starting around 10:24 into the audio below: 

Asked whether he thinks President Joe Biden would be inclined to sign the measure if it did get to his desk, the congressman said “absolutely.”

“Treasury Secretary [Janet] Yellen is somebody who has been talking to me about this for years,” he said. “I feel very good that it would pass. We’re at 47 states that have some level of marijuana use, all the territories and District of Columbia, and they need to have legitimate banking services.”

“It’s just a no brainer in my opinion,” he said. “And yeah, I’m a little bit irritated, but we’re gonna keep working on it and get it passed this year.”

The last attempt that Perlmutter made to enact the reform was by adding its language to a must-pass defense bill, but it was ultimately sidelined following bicameral negotiations and did not make it into the final version. The congressman told Marijuana Moment last month that he sees other potential vehicles to advance the bill and has spoken with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) about it.

Even some Republicans are scratching their heads about how Democrats have so far failed to pass the modest banking reform with majorities in both chambers and control of the White House. For example, Rep. Rand Paul (R-KY) criticized his Democratic colleagues over the issue last month.

Top Federal Drug Official Says ‘Train Has Left The Station’ On Psychedelics As Reform Movement Spreads

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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Top Federal Drug Official Says ‘Train Has Left The Station’ On Psychedelics As Reform Movement Spreads

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A top federal drug official says the “train has left the station” on psychedelics.

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow said people are going to keep using substances such as psilocybin—especially as the reform movement expands and there’s increased attention being drawn to the potential therapeutic benefits—and so researchers and regulators will need to keep up.

The comments came at a psychedelics workshop Volkow’s agency cohosted with the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) last week.

The NIDA official said that, to an extent, it’s been overwhelming to address new drug trends in the psychedelics space. But at the same time, she sees “an incredible opportunity to also modify the way that we are doing things.”

“What is it that the [National Institutes of Health] can do to help accelerate research in this field so that we can truly understand what are the potentials, and ultimately the application, of interventions that are bought based on psychedelic drugs?” Volkow said.

The director separately told Marijuana Moment on Friday in an emailed statement that part of the challenge for the agency and researchers is the fact that psychedelics are strictly prohibited as Schedule I drugs under the federal Controlled Substances Act.

“Researchers must obtain a Schedule I registration which, unlike obtaining registrations for Schedule II substances (which include fentanyl, methamphetamine, and cocaine), is administratively challenging and time consuming,” she said. “This process may deter some scientists from conducting research on Schedule I drugs.”

“In response to concerns from researchers, NIDA is involved in interagency discussions to facilitate research on Schedule I substances,” Volkow said, adding that the agency is “pleased” the Drug Enforcement Administration recently announced plans to significantly increase the quota of certain psychedelic drugs to be produced for use in research.

“It will also be important to streamline the process of obtaining Schedule I registrations to further the science on these substances, including examining their therapeutic potential,” she said.

At Thursday’s event, the official talked about how recent, federally funded surveys showed that fewer college-aged adults are drinking alcohol and are instead opting for psychedelics and marijuana. She discussed the findings in an earlier interview with Marijuana Moment as well.

“Let’s learn from history,” she said. “Let’s see what we have learned from the marijuana experience.”

While studies have found that marijuana use among young people has generally remained stable or decreased amid the legalization movement, there has been an increase in cannabis consumption among adults, she said. And “this is likely to happen [with psychedelics] as more and more attention is placed on these psychedelic drugs.”

“I think, to a certain extent, with all the attention that the psychedelic drugs have attracted, the train has left the station and that people are going to start to use it,” Volkow said. “People are going to start to use it whether [the Food and Drug Administration] approves or not.

There are numerous states and localities where psychedelics reform is being explored and pursued both legislatively and through ballot initiative processes.

On Wednesday—during the first part of the two-day federal event that saw nearly 4,000 registrants across 21 time zones—NIMH Director Joshua Gordon stressed that his agency has “been supporting research on psychedelics for some time.”

“We can think of NIMH’s interests in studying psychedelics both in terms of proving that they work and also in terms of demonstrating the mechanism by which they work,” he said. “NIMH has a range of different funding opportunity announcements and other expressions that are priorities aimed at a mechanistic focus and mechanistic approach to drug development.”

Meanwhile, Volkow also made connections between psychedelics and the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic. She said, for example, that survey data showing increased use of psychedelics “may be a way that people are using to try to escape” the situation.

But she also drew a metaphor, saying that just as how the pandemic “forced” federal health officials to accelerate the development and approval of COVID-19 vaccines because of the “urgency of the situation,” one could argue that “actually there is an urgency to bring treatments [such as emerging psychedelic medicines] for people that are suffering from severe mental illness which can be devastating.”

But as Volkow has pointed out, the Schedule I classification of these substances under federal law inhibits such research and development.

The official has also repeatedly highlighted and criticized the racial disparities in drug criminalization enforcement overall.

Delaware Lawmakers File New Marijuana Legalization Bill With Key Equity Revisions

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