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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.

Politics

Another Poll Shows Majority Of Americans Support Marijuana Legalization And Expungements

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Another poll has found that a majority of Americans support legalizing marijuana and clearing the records of those with prior cannabis convictions.

This one—commissioned by CBS News and released on the unofficial marijuana holiday 4/20—shows that 55 percent of respondents said recreational cannabis should be legal in their own state, compared to 42 percent who said it should be illegal.

While still a sizable majority, that’s notably lower than several other recent surveys, including those released by Quinnipiac University and the Pew Research Center this month. Those polls found that 69 percent and 60 percent of Americans back broad legalization, respectively.

Unique to this poll, however, is that participants were also asked about related cannabis issues. For example, 59 percent of adults said that people with non-violent marijuana convictions in states that have legalized should have their records cleared, versus 37 percent who said the conviction shouldn’t be expunged.

Among those who were surveyed and live in a legal marijuana state, 60 percent said they favor the policy. And 53 percent of those living in states where prohibition is still on the books said cannabis should be legalized.

Via CBS News.

Twenty-three percent of respondents said legalizing cannabis would increase crime and 19 percent said it would decrease crime—but the majority (54 percent) said it would have “no effect.”

Via CBS News.

CBS also asked respondents whether they felt legalizing marijuana would lead people to use other drugs. Most people (45 percent) said the reform would have “not much effect” to that end, while 33 percent said they felt more people would seek out other substances and 17 percent said it would make people less likely to try other drugs.

Via CBS News.

Nearly half of Americans (48 percent) said legalization would boost local economies, while 14 percent said it would have a negative economic impact and 35 percent said it wouldn’t have much of an effect at all.

Via CBS News.

Interestingly, while most people backed legalization in the poll, 53 percent said that openly using marijuana socially is “unacceptable,” compared to 43 percent who said it was “acceptable”—perhaps more a reflection of respondents’ perception of other people’s views than their own.

The poll involved interviews with 1,004 adults from March 9-14 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

Despite this latest example of polling showing that Americans favor ending prohibition, President Joe Biden is still not on board with extending that policy to the federal level, as confirmed again by the White House press secretary on Tuesday.

While the president says he supports allowing states to set their own policies, he feels it should only be decriminalized and rescheduled federally and wants more research to be done if he’s to change his position on broader reform.

This poll comes at a time when there’s a concerted push in both chambers of Congress to seize the opportunity they have with Democratic control to pass legalization legislation.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) have been working on a bill on their side. The majority leader told Marijuana Moment on Monday that he’s working to push the president in a pro-legalization direction as they draft the measure.

Schumer said last week that the legislation will be introduced and placed on the floor “soon.”

On the House side, Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said recently that he plans to reintroduced his legalization bill, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which cleared the chamber last year but did not advance in the Senate under GOP control.

Biden Won’t Commit To Sign Marijuana Bill If Passed By Congress, Press Secretary Says

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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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New House Bills Would Make Cannabis Businesses Eligible For Federal Small-Business Aid

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Lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives have introduced three new bills to make state-legal marijuana businesses eligible for federal small business services, including loans, disaster relief and grant programs.

The package of legislation is aimed at establishing parity for cannabis businesses, which are currently prohibited from receiving federal aid due to marijuana still being classified as a Schedule I controlled substance. The country’s legal cannabis industry nevertheless now supports nearly 320,000 full-time jobs in the U.S., according to industry estimates.

The measures are largely similar to legislation introduced by the lawmakers in 2019, with some small changes.

One bill, sponsored by House Small Business Committee Chairwoman Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), would allow marijuana businesses to access resources from the federal Small Business Administration (SBA). The Ensuring Safe Capital Access for All Small Businesses Act of 2021, which had not been assigned a bill number as of Tuesday afternoon, would expand access to services such as microloans, disaster assistance and the agency’s loan guaranty program.

“With more and more states pursuing legalization, including my home state of New York, there are a growing number of legitimate small businesses that are excluded from critical SBA programs,” Velázquez said in a statement, noting that much of the cannabis industry consists of small businesses.

Compared to Velázquez’s 2019 bill, the new version adds clauses meant to expand the availability of services. While the 2019 bill applied to SBA itself, provisions in the new legislation also prevent SBA intermediaries, private lenders and state and local development companies from declining to work with businesses simply because of their marijuana-related work.

Another new section deals with debentures—certain unsecured loan certificates—and clarifies that SBA may not decline to purchase or guarantee a debenture just because of a business’s involvement in cannabis. Nor can other small business investment companies decline to provide assistance to the cannabis sector.

“This legislation will spark growth by extending affordable capital to small firms in the cannabis space,” she continued. “Simultaneously, the bill acknowledges the structural disadvantages facing entrepreneurs of color and seeks to level the playing field.”

Another newly refiled measure, H.R. 2649, sponsored by Rep. Dwight Evans (D-PA), would establish a U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) grant program to provide funding to state and local governments to help them navigate the licensing process for cannabis businesses. The bill, which also removes marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, specifies that the grant money should be used to benefit communities disproportionately impacted by the drug war.

“My bill would act as a poverty-buster and help homegrown small businesses, which are the backbone of our economy and our neighborhoods. We need to make sure that the booming legal cannabis industry does not become consolidated in the hands of a few big companies,” Evans said.


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.

A third bill, H.R. 2649, from Rep. Jared Golden (D-ME), would prohibit SBA partners that provide guidance and training services from denying help to businesses solely because of involvement in cannabis. The changes would affect providers such as SBA’s Small Business Development Centers, Women’s Business Centers and the Veterans Business Outreach Centers, among others.

“Our continued economic recovery depends on the health of American small businesses of all kinds. Especially in this environment, no Maine small business owner should be turned away from crucial SBA programs that could help them create jobs and lift up the economy,” said Rep. Golden. “My bill would help address this problem by providing small business owners directly or indirectly associated with the cannabis industry with access to the services and resources they need to get their small businesses off the ground and grow.”

Meanwhile, federal lawmakers have been making headway on other cannabis-related proposals. The House passed a cannabis banking bill on Monday, and broader legislation to legalize cannabis at the federal level is expected to be introduced soon.

The banking legislation would ensure that financial institutions can take on cannabis business clients without facing federal penalties. Fear of sanctions has kept many banks and credit unions from working with the industry, forcing marijuana firms to operate on a cash basis that makes them targets of crime and creates complications for financial regulators. The full House passed the bill on a 321–101 vote.

“Even if you are opposed to the legalization of cannabis, you should support this bill,” sponsor Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) said on the House floor. “The fact is that people in states and localities across the country are voting to approve some level of cannabis use, and we need these cannabis businesses and employees to have access to checking accounts, payroll accounts, lines of credit, credit cards and more.

Other Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) are working on legislation that would end federal cannabis prohibition completely.

Schumer said last week that the long-awaited proposal would be introduced “shortly” and placed on the floor “soon.” Schumer has so far declined to discuss the bill’s specifics, though he’s stressed that it will prioritize small businesses and people most historically impacted by the drug war.

In an interview with Marijuana Moment this week, Schumer worried that passage of the House banking bill could actually undermine broader congressional cannabis reform this year.

On the House side, Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said recently that he plans to reintroduced his own legalization bill, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which cleared the House in a landmark vote last year but did not advance in GOP-controlled the Senate.

Meanwhile, support for legalization among U.S. voters continues to grow. More than 9 in 10 Americans (91 percent) now support legalizing cannabis for either medical or adult use, according to a Pew Research Center poll released on Friday. Sixty percent of respondents said that cannabis should be legal for both medical and adult use. Thirty-one percent said it should be legalized for therapeutic purposes only, while just eight percent said it should continue to be criminalized across the board.

A majority of those in every age, race and political demographic included in the poll said they feel marijuana should be legal in some form, although many Republicans remain wary of adult-use legalization. Seventy-two percent of Democrats favored both medical and adult-use legalization compared to only 47 percent of Republicans.

Among the minority in opposition to federal legalization: President Joe Biden (D). White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said last month that the president’s position on the issue “has not changed,” meaning he still opposes the reform. on Tuesday, Psaki refused to say whether Biden would sign or veto a cannabis legalization bill if passed by Congress.

The president instead backs modestly rescheduling the plant, decriminalizing possession, legalizing medical cannabis, expunging prior marijuana records and letting states set their own policies.

Read the full text of the new legislation below:

Ensuring Safe Capital Access for All Small Businesses Act of 2021 by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

Ensuring Access to Counseli… by Marijuana Moment

Homegrown Act by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

Schumer Worries Senate Marijuana Banking Vote Could Undermine Broader Legalization Push

 

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Biden Won’t Commit To Sign Marijuana Bill If Passed By Congress, Press Secretary Says

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White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday declined to say whether President Joe Biden would sign or veto a bill to federally legalize marijuana if it arrives on his desk, noting that his cannabis policy position is at odds with broader proposals that congressional Democratic leaders are working on.

She was also asked about his stance on marijuana banking reform, the disconnect between public opinion favoring legalization and the president’s opposition and whether Biden plans to revisit clemency applications for those facing federal sentences over cannabis.

The noncommittal response to the legalization question comes on the unofficial cannabis holiday 4/20—a day that has seen a wide range of politicians, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), voice support for comprehensive marijuana reform.

Psaki was pressed on the Senate leader’s remarks and asked whether Biden would support legislation to end federal cannabis prohibition if Congress approved it.

“The president supports leaving decisions regarding legalization for recreational use up to the states, rescheduling cannabis as a Schedule II drug so researchers can study its positive and negative impacts and, at the federal level, he supports decriminalizing marijuana use and automatically expunging any prior criminal records,” she said. “He also supports legalizing medicinal marijuana so that’s his point of view on the issue.”

Biden’s positions to that end are well known, but an outstanding question has been whether his opposition to adult-use legalization is so strong that he would reject a reform proposal such as those currently being drafted in the House and Senate.

Asked directly what action the president would take if a federal legalization bill was sent to his desk, Psaki signaled that he wouldn’t be inclined to sign it, stating “I just have outlined what his position is, which isn’t the same as what the House and Senate have proposed, but they have not yet passed a bill.”

The reporter followed up to ask about a separate cannabis pledge Biden made as a presidential candidate, when he said people incarcerated in federal prisons over non-violent marijuana offenses should be released.

Psaki said that would be addressed if cannabis was rescheduled to Schedule II—a dubious claim given that there are still serious penalties for offenses involving substances in that category as well. She also didn’t provide any insight into whether the president is proactively pushing for the modest scheduling change.

Later in the briefing, the press secretary was asked where Biden stands on legislation to protect banks that service state-legal marijuana businesses from being penalized by federal regulators. The House approved the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act along bipartisan lines on Monday.

She said it was a “good question,” but she wasn’t sure and told the reporter she would follow up with a response later.

When pushed on Biden’s opposition to the legalization in the face of mounting, majority support among Americans, Psaki said that while he’s in favor of decriminalization and legalizing medical marijuana, he wants more research on the “positive and negative effects” of adult-use legalization.

“He’ll look at the research once that’s concluded,” she said. “Of course we understand the movement that’s happening toward it. I’m speaking for what his position is and what long, consistently has been his position. He wants to decriminalize, but again, he’ll look at the research of the positive and negative impacts.”

The press conference ended with a final question about cannabis policy—specifically whether the Biden administration plans to revisit requests for clemency for federal cannabis convictions. The reporter cited the case of Luke Scarmazzo, who was sentenced to 22 years in federal prison for operating a state-legal medical cannabis business in California, as an example.

“Given, as you’ve noted in the briefing, the president’s support for decriminalization, support for expunging exactly these types of offenses, are there any plans to revisit some of those bids for clemency?” the reporter asked.

“Well, I would just take it as an opportunity to reiterate that the president supports legalizing medicinal marijuana,” Psaki said. “It sounds like this would have been applicable in this case, and of course decriminalizing marijuana use and automatically expunging any prior criminal records. In terms of individual cases, I can’t get ahead of those obviously.”

These question come, of course, on 4/20. But they also come at a time when there’s a concerted push in both chambers of Congress to seize the opportunity they have with Democratic control to pass legalization legislation.

Schumer, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) have been working on a bill on their side. The majority leader told Marijuana Moment on Monday that he’s working to push the president in a pro-legalization direction as they draft the measure.

Schumer said last week that the legislation will be introduced and placed on the floor “soon.”

On the House side, Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said recently that he plans to reintroduced his legalization bill, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which cleared the chamber last year but did not advance in the Senate under GOP control.

Schumer Worries Senate Marijuana Banking Vote Could Undermine Broader Legalization Push

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