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Marijuana Legalization Will Advance In Connecticut This Year, Top Lawmakers Say

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When Connecticut’s legislature convenes for its 2020 session next month, top lawmakers say marijuana legalization will be a priority.

While legislation to legalize cannabis for adult use in the state advanced in several committees last year, disagreements about certain provisions such as how to allocating revenue ultimately derailed those efforts.

This time around, however, the General Assembly is positioned to build on those bills and craft a passable measure. That’s according to Senate President Pro-Tem Martin Looney (D).

“We are revisiting legalizing recreational cannabis because we see that most of our neighboring states have already done it or want to do it this year,” Looney told CT Insider earlier this month. “We had three very detailed bills on this last year, so I think we’re well prepared to do that when the time comes. We clearly need additional revenue and anecdotally we hear about people who travel to Massachusetts to purchase it.”

“We’re very well prepared to enact the legalization bill because we have the statutory framework already drafted,” he said in a separate interview. “It’s absolutely essential, I think, that we move on this front. We need the revenue.”

Leaders of key committees met last week to discuss what a legalization push could look like this year, and the Senate Democratic caucus is expected to outline the contours of a new proposal on Thursday, according to the Hartford Courant.

There were some who felt the legislature was only positioned to put the question of legalization to voters in the form of a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot—a process that would mean legal sales wouldn’t go online until 2024.  “At least a constitutional amendment would be forward movement,” Rep. Josh Elliott (D) told CT News Junkie.

But Gov. Ned Lamont (D), who’s been having ongoing conversations with the governors of neighboring states about coordinating a regional legalization model, isn’t supportive of that process, with a spokesperson stating that the “administration doesn’t believe the Connecticut Constitution is the proper venue for these kinds of policy decisions.”

“Making changes in statute is the best venue for the path to the legalization of marijuana for adult use,” the spokesperson said.

Lamont is instead pushing the legislature to pursue the policy change directly in the coming three-month session, and he’s stressing the importance of regulating cannabis to disrupt the illicit market.

“I think the idea that we’d be isolated by ourselves and the idea that you hand this over to the black market is dangerous,” the governor said in a recent TV appearance. “You have no idea what they’re doing, you want a carefully regulated market. How fast this happens in Connecticut—look, I’ve got to bring people along, I’ve got to talk to families, I’ve got to let them know that we’re going to do this in a very careful and thoughtful way.”

Connecticut can learn from Colorado’s example, the governor argued.

“They got rid of the black market. They got rid of a lot of the most dangerous substances that the black market was trying to sell. I think their vaping-related illnesses are down,” he said. “They’ve raised some real revenue from this—some of which is going to opioid addiction and treatment and other things.”

“Look, we didn’t have to be the first out of the box with this, but you’re right, we’ve got 20 percent of the states in this country now are legalizing or are about to legalize it, and Colorado is a place where you have a long history you can look at,” he told Fox 61.

Watch Lamont’s marijuana remarks, around 15:30 into the video below:

House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz (D) said that “if a flat-out ‘should we legalize?’ bill goes up in the House that it would pass,” but the “problem is when you’re talking about resources and dollars coming in from it, that’s where the disagreement is.” Lawmakers still have to settle issues such as the number of allowable cannabis shops, the tax rate, what the licensing scheme should look like and how to address expungements for prior marijuana convictions.

“The reality is we have marijuana here in the state of Connecticut,” Aresimowicz said. “It’s here and we have no ability to limit the amount of THC, we have no ability to decide what products are available, and obviously we’re not benefiting from it.”

Rep. Steve Stafstrom (D), co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, said “is not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when” the state legalizes cannabis.

“I think the Connecticut public is fairly clear on this issue,” he said. “The polling data from around the state has been fairly uniform that there is an overwhelming majority of state residents that would like to see us legalize.”

Social equity is likely to be a primary focus of discussion around legalization legislation this year. To that end, Rep. Mike D’Agostino (D) has pledged to create a commission designed to ensure that communities most harmed under prohibition stand to benefit from the policy change by being prioritized for licensing and receiving revenue from legal sales, for example.

Jason Ortiz, the Connecticut-based president of the Minority Cannabis Business Association, told Marijuana Moment that he’s “excited to hear Rep. Dagastino will be making equity a priority for this session, because without it no bill would pass.”

“It shows that some of our Connecticut legislators are listening and do understand just how important doing right by communities of color really is,” he said. “Now it’s time for us to have this conversation with the governor so he fully understands the complexity of cannabis legalization, and the economic potential of getting it right.”

Kebra Smith-Bolden, president of the advocacy group CT United for Reform and Equity, told Marijuana Moment, that she “applaud[s] State Representative D’Agostino for recognizing the importance of restorative justice in regard to cannabis legalization for adult use in Connecticut.”

“Having tax revenue from cannabis sales go directly to the communities most affected by destructive and discriminatory drug policies, masked by the term ‘War on Drugs’ is the first step to addressing those wrongs, and affords communities the funds to began to repair the damage that was done,” Smith-Bolden said.

The Northeast is set to be a major player in the reform space this year. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) renewed his call for reform in his State of the State address and included legalization language in a budget proposal to lawmakers this week. Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) included a proposal to legalize though a state-run model in her budget plan. New Hampshire lawmakers will pursue legislation for non-commercial cannabis legalization. New Jersey voters will decide on the issue in November’s election. And Vermont Gov. Phil Scott (R) seems more open to adding a regulated sales component to his state’s noncommercial legal marijuana law.

Missouri Activists Take Steps To Put Marijuana Legalization Initiative On November Ballot

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.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

Politics

DEA Seeks Contractor Capable Of Burning Four Tons of Marijuana Per Day

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The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recently reached out for help burning “at least” 1,000 pounds of marijuana per hour for eight hours straight.

Every year, DEA seizes millions of marijuana plants and literal tons of raw cannabis, which eventually end up being destroyed. The successful contractor in Arizona would be responsible for burning marijuana and other controlled substances seized as evidence in drug cases “to a point where there are no detectable levels, as measured by standard analytical methods, of byproduct from the destruction process.”

“DEA shall inspect the incinerator to ensure no drug residue remains,” the agency said.

DEA posted the work description earlier this month in what’s called a “sources sought notice,” an initial step before a formal request for proposals is sent.

“This is not a request for proposals and does not obligate the Government to award a contract,” the post says. “The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is conducting market research, and is encouraging all businesses, including small businesses, to respond to this notice.”

An accompanying statement of work gives a behind-the-scenes look at the DEA’s process of destroying seized drugs. Typical boxes weigh between 40 and 60 pounds, for example, but can weigh up to 200 pounds. Contraband might come in on “semi-trucks, tractor trailers, cargo vans, fork lifts, etc.,” the work description says.

“The drugs are usually tightly compressed ‘bricks’ or ‘bales,’” it continues, and are packaged in all sorts of materials: cardboard, wrapping paper, plastic wrap, aluminum foil, packing tape, “duct tape and derivatives,” plastic evidence bags, “grease/oil” and others. Contractors will be expected to burn that stuff, too.

To avoid potential contact highs, there must be ”proper ventilation” and “no smoke buildup” will be allowed. Other mandates include closed-circuit cameras that capture the entire process, which DEA reserves the right to access, as well as background checks and regular drug tests of all personnel.

Armed DEA agents and contractors will be present during scheduled burns.

The work is also very hush-hush, so whoever gets the job shouldn’t expect to regale friends with stories of the latest large-scale federal weed burning sesh.

“The contractor and its personnel shall hold all information obtained under the DEA contract in the strictest confidence,” the work description says. “All information obtained shall be used only for performing this contract and shall not be divulged nor made known in any manner except as necessary to perform this contract.”

The work would start January 1 of next year and the contract would expire in 2026 unless terminated sooner. The deadline to send information for would-be contractors was Friday.

DEA Seized More Marijuana Plants In 2019, But Arrests Fell

Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images

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Harris Will Give Biden ‘Honest’ Input On Legalizing Marijuana And Other Issues As Part Of ‘Deal’

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Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris says she has a “deal” with Joe Biden to candidly share her perspective on a range of progressive policies he currently opposes, including legalizing marijuana. Separately, she also recently discussed cannabis reform in a private meeting with rapper Killer Mike.

During an interview on 60 Minutes that aired on Sunday, the senator was pressed on marijuana and numerous other issues where she and Biden disagree. In response, while she didn’t specifically commit to proactively advocating for comprehensive cannabis reform, she pledged in general that she would always share her views with the would-be president if the pair are elected next week.

“What I will do—and I promise you this and this is what Joe wants me to do, this was part of our deal—I will always share with him my lived experience as it relates to any issue that we confront,” she said after the interviewer listed cannabis legalization among a handful of issues on which she and Biden depart. “I promised Joe that I will give him that perspective and always be honest with him.”

Asked whether that perspective will be “socialist” and “progressive,” Harris laughed and said “no.”

“It is the perspective of a woman who grew up a black child in America, who was also a prosecutor, who also has a mother who arrived here at the age of 19 from India, who also, you know, likes hip hop,” she said.

The senator’s taste in music also came up during her own 2020 presidential bid, when she said in an interview that she listened to Snoop Dogg and Tupac while smoking marijuana during college despite graduating before those artists released their debut albums.

Music culture has played a key role in this election cycle, and one of the strongest voices for criminal justice reform in the industry is Killer Mike, who worked as a surrogate for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) when he was running for the Democratic presidential nomination. The artist said he met with Harris on Friday and the two discussed cannabis business opportunities for communities of color.

As she’s done repeatedly since joining Biden’s campaign, Harris also reiterated at a rally in Pontiac, Michigan on Sunday that the administration would pursue marijuana decriminalization and expunging prior cannabis convictions.

She made similar comments during a campaign event in Atlanta last week, stating that the “war on drugs was, by every measure, a failure, and black men were hit the hardest.” That said, while the senator has come to embrace broad cannabis reform, she’s faced criticism over her past opposition to legalization and role in prosecuting people for marijuana offenses as a California prosecutor.

In another interview released last week, Harris said she and Biden “have a commitment to decriminalizing marijuana and expunging the records of people who have been convicted of marijuana offenses.”

“When you look at the awful war on drugs and the disproportionate impact it had on black men and creating then criminal records that have deprived people of access to jobs and housing and basic benefits,” she said.

There’s been some frustration among cannabis reform advocates that Harris has scaled back her reform push since joining the Democratic ticket as Biden’s running mate. During her own run for the presidential nomination, she called for comprehensive marijuana legalization but has in recent weeks focused her comments on the more modest reforms of decriminalization and expungement.

Harris, who is the lead Senate sponsor of a bill to federally deschedule marijuana, said last month that a Biden administration would not be “half-steppin’” cannabis reform or pursuing “incrementalism,” but that’s exactly how advocates would define simple decriminalization.

In any case, the senator has repeatedly discussed cannabis decriminalization on the trail. She similarly said during a vice presidential debate earlier this month that she and Biden “will decriminalize marijuana and we will expunge the records of those who have been convicted of marijuana.”

In addition to those policies, Biden backs modestly rescheduling the drug under federal law, letting states set their own policies and legalizing medical cannabis.

Musician John Legend Endorses Drug Decriminalization Ballot Measure In Oregon

Photo element courtesy of California Attorney General’s Office.

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GOP Tennessee Senator Calls For Medical Marijuana Legalization In New Campaign Ad

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A Tennessee senator touted his support for legalizing medical marijuana in a campaign ad released on Friday.

In the 30-second spot, which has notably high production value for this kind of local race, state Sen. Steve Dickerson (R) talks about both the therapeutic benefits of cannabis and the consequences of broader marijuana criminalization.

“As your state senator, I’ve led the fight to legalize medical marijuana so our veterans and sickest Tennesseans can deal with chronic pain,” he said. “But this same life-saving plant has led to mass incarceration, with nonviolent marijuana possession resulting in lengthy prison sentences.”

“I think that’s wrong. That’s why I’ve been pushing for criminal justice reform,” the senator added.

Dickerson, who sponsored a medical cannabis legalization bill that cleared a Senate committee in March, said in a Q&A published earlier this month that the policy change would be among his top three legislative priorities if he’s reelected.

His Democratic opponent, former Oak Hill Mayor Heidi Campbell, is in favor of “fully legalizing marijuana,” with her campaign site stating that cannabis crimes “disproportionately impact people of color and it’s time to end marijuana prohibition.”

But while Dickerson has earned a reputation as a moderate Republican given his positions on issues like cannabis reform, he’s faced backlash after declining to denounce an independent ad taken out on his behalf that some, including the LGBTQ rights organization Tennessee Equality Project (TEP), called racist.

The ad, which was paid for by Lt. Gov. Randy McNally’s (R) political action committee MCPAC, hits Campbell over her support for a nonprofit organization that is designed to keep young people out of prison, and it frames the group as “radical” and “extremist.” TEP rescinded their endorsement of Dickerson over his refusal to condemn the ad.

In the Tennessee legislature, marijuana reform has yet to pass—but there’s growing recognition that voters are in favor of the policy change. For example, former House Speaker Glen Casada (R) released the results of a constituent survey last year that showed 73 percent of those in his district back medical cannabis legalization.

Another former GOP House speaker, Beth Harwell, highlighted her support for the reform proposal during her unsuccessful bid for governor in 2018, and she referenced President Trump’s stated support for medical marijuana on the campaign trail.

In other Tennessee drug policy politics, a lawmaker in June blocked a resolution to honor murdered teen Ashanti Posey because she was allegedly involved in a low-level cannabis sale the day she was killed.

New York Will Legalize Marijuana ‘Soon’ To Aid Economic Recovery From COVID, Governor Cuomo Says

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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