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Missouri Marijuana Activists File Legalization Initiatives For 2022 As Other Groups Prepare Separate Measures

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A group of Missouri marijuana activists recently filed four separate initiatives to put marijuana reform on the state’s 2022 ballot, a move that comes as other advocacy groups are preparing separate efforts to collect signatures for cannabis ballot petitions of their own. Meanwhile, still other activists are focusing on getting the legislature to pass a resolution to place the question of legalization before voters next year.

One group, Fair Access Missouri, is exploring multiple citizen initiatives with the hopes of getting at least one on the ballot next year. Three of the four would create a system of legalized cannabis sales for adults 21 and older, while another would simply amend the state’s existing medical marijuana program.

“We’ve seen across the country that smart rules and an open market are the way to go when legalizing cannabis, and that’s what we’ll be bringing to Missouri,” the organization said in a statement last week.

While the group is pushing four separate measures, there’s overlap among their provisions and it’s likely that advocates at this stage are putting out feelers to see which may have the greatest potential to pass if put to a vote.

Aside from recreational marijuana legalization, three of the new initiatives would amend the state’s medical cannabis program. Among other changes, they would remove licensing caps, repeal the application scoring system, reduce patient fees, allow patients to access a one-year supply instead of 90 days, allow nurses and psychologists to make medical marijuana recommendations, eliminate some restrictions on market participation eligibility for people with prior cannabis convictions, increase the number of patients that a given caregiver can serve and revise the definition of hemp.

But the group is also eyeing broader reform, and three of Fair Access Missouri’s initiatives would accomplish that by implementing a regulated adult-use marijuana market.

The purpose of the measures is to “permit the safe and legal use of cannabis by adults over the age of 21 and to responsibly regulate the cultivation, processing, manufacturing, and distribution of cannabis,” the text states. “The people of Missouri have a right to enjoy the benefits of their labor free from unreasonable regulation.”

Free Access Missouri, which has ties to the Missouri Cannabis Industry Association (MCIA), does seem to be living up to its name based on the measures, which contain provisions that appear to specifically promote industry participation by proposing a system without licensing limits.

With respect to the adult-use legalization measures, differences between them largely come down to brevity and cannabis tax revenue allocation.

Shared provisions include allowing adults to possess up to eight ounces of cannabis and cultivate “up to 25 square feet of flowering canopy of cannabis.”

Regulators would have to promulgate rules to issue cannabis licenses by June 30, 2023, otherwise the industry rules would default to being the same as those for alcohol manufacturing and sales.

There would be no local-opt out provision to fully ban marijuana businesses from operating in a given area in two of the measures. However, local governments would be able to pass ordinances governing time of operation and locations.

One of the initiatives, which is far shorter than the others and doesn’t contain the medical cannabis amendments language that’s in the other three measures, leaves the issue of local control more open, stipulating that jurisdictions must simply “develop and adopt ordinances and policies related to cannabis licensees no later than June 30, 2023.”

Local ordinances could not “create an undue burden on access to consumers,” however. Presumably a blanket ban on retailers could fit the definition of an “undue burden,” but the text of the short measure doesn’t explicitly prohibit that action.

People with marijuana convictions—except for certain felonies or distribution to a person under 17—could petition for a “release from custody and expungement of their criminal record.” These petitions would need to be expedited and granted unless the individual has additional crimes.

Among the two lengthy recreational measures, one would split cannabis tax revenue between the general fund and nonprofits that help people expunge past records, while the other would earmark the funds for a broader range of services, including expanding internet access, improving roads, repairing utilities, substance misuse prevention and treatment, marijuana research, job training for formerly incarcerated people and small business loans and grants for marginalized people.

Eric McSwain, president of Fair Access Missouri, told MO Greenway that a primary goal of the group’s push is to “actually make the medical program better.”

“We’ve seen that mistake in other states where adult use comes around and all of a sudden the medical program suffers or is made to suffer by additional policies,” he said. “We want to avoid that.”

“We want to create a more open market. Where our normal market forces can sort of blend in and do their work in order to set prices, supply, demand, all those sorts of things,” he continued. “We think that’s to the benefit of consumers, patients first, and also adult use consumers—because they’re going to see that competition is going to force higher quality at lower prices.”

Some activists feel that the group’s initiatives don’t quite meet the mark, particularly as it concerns restrictions embedded in the language.

The pro-legalization Crossing Paths PAC, for example, said the limits on personal possession and home cultivation in Fair Access Missouri’s measures would actually create a burden for law enforcement. The group said “continuing to mandate personal possession or homegrow limits would waste law enforcement resources, as police would still have to make a determination of what lawful possession is.”

Further, it expressed concerns about the lack of a distinction between different forms of THC. “We’d welcome the chance to engage with Fair Access or any other group that is unhappy with the significant problems stemming from” the current medical cannabis system, it said.

Fair Access Missouri’s initiatives are also a focus of a MCIA ballot initiative workshop that’s taking place this weekend.

This group isn’t alone in working to put legalization on the 2022 ballot. New Approach Missouri, which successfully got a medical cannabis initiative passed by voters in 2018, is also planning to file a broader reform initiative in the coming days through its campaign committee Legal Missouri 2022,. Details of the proposal have yet to be released, however.

“Our coalition looks forward to putting a cannabis legalization and expungement initiative on the 2022 ballot,” John Payne, campaign director of New Approach Missouri, told Marijuana Moment on Friday. “We are fortunate to live in a state where the citizens have the right to change our laws through the initiative petition process.”

“But that process is an arduous one, which is why of the hundreds of petitions filed every election cycle, only a handful typically reach the ballot, and even fewer are passed into law,” he said. “Our coalition of activists, entrepreneurs, and criminal justice reform advocates looks forward to placing this important issue before voters in 2022 and winning their support, much like we were able to do in 2018 with medical marijuana. We wish others luck as well.”

The organization tried to place the issue of legalization before voters last year, but the COVID-19 pandemic derailed that effort.

Despite the health crisis, activists managed to collect 80,000 raw signatures within months, though they needed 160,199 valid signatures to qualify.

For 2022, proposals to amend the state Constitution will need 171,592 valid signatures from registered voters.

Meanwhile, some advocates want the legislature to take the lead on reform. And Rep. Shamed Dogan (R), who filed a resolution last year to ask voters about legalization on the ballot and compel lawmakers to develop a legal system if approved, is expected to make another push for similar legislation early next year after the prior effort failed to advance this session.

It should be noted that there’s yet another group pushing to put a marijuana initiative on the ballot next year—but one that doesn’t currently having the backing of major trade or advocacy groups. It would similarly legalize cannabis for adult use.

Missouri is just one state where activists are working to qualify marijuana reform for 2022 ballots around the country.

Nebraska marijuana activists have announced plans for a “mass scale” campaign to put medical cannabis legalization on the state’s 2022 ballot.

Two measures were submitted in Wyoming last month to place medical cannabis legalization and adult-use decriminalization measures before voters in 2022.

This month, Idaho activists filed a revised measure to legalize marijuana possession for adults that they hope to place before voters on the 2022 ballot. That’s in addition to a separate medical cannabis effort in the state.

In South Dakota, activists this month filed four separate cannabis ballot measures for 2022.

North Dakota activists are formulating plans for a marijuana legalization measure after lawmakers failed to enact the reform this session.

Meanwhile, the Florida Supreme Court has blocked two cannabis legalization initiatives for which activists had already collected thousands of signatures.

Locally, a newly established Texas progressive group unveiled a campaign last month to put an initiative to decriminalize marijuana possession and ban no-knock warrants on this November’s ballot in Austin.

Ohio activists also recently qualified a measure to decriminalize cannabis to appear on a local 2021 ballot—the first of dozens of reform proposals that could go before voters this year as signature gathering efforts continue across the state. The group is also working to put marijuana initiatives on local ballots in South Carolina and West Virginia.

Top Rhode Island Senator Says Lawmakers Are Discussing A Marijuana Legalization Compromise This Summer

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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Maryland Lawmakers Must Override Governor’s Drug Paraphernalia Decriminalization Veto (Op-Ed)

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“Criminalization, marginalization, isolation, injury and death are all part of a largely preventable cycle of harm.”

By Scott Cecil, Maryland Matters

The writer is a regional ambassador of the Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition.

At the urging of public health professionals and harm reduction advocates during the 2021 session, the Maryland legislature approved Senate Bill 420 decriminalizing the possession of drug paraphernalia. Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) decision to veto that bill flies in the face of the expertise of those same public health professionals and harm reduction advocates.

His action constitutes a failure to meaningfully respond to the calls to abolish hyper-criminalization in policing, reimagine public safety in our society and address the crisis of accidental fatal drug overdoses in Maryland.

Because of the veto, in Maryland, the tools which may be used to consume drugs will continue to be illegal to possess and use. This makes them scarcer and encourages people to share them with others, putting them at an elevated risk of contracting bloodborne illnesses and disease such as hepatitis and HIV.

Criminalization of paraphernalia is dangerous for all Marylanders, including those who do not use illicit substances, because it increases the likelihood that the public at large and law enforcement personnel can be directly harmed. Under continued paraphernalia criminalization, people who use drugs will continue to be reluctant to hold onto their supplies due to the fear that the police will use possession of these items as a means to search and arrest them.

With the threat of having to interact with law enforcement personnel, drug users are more likely to dispose of paraphernalia in public spaces. Paraphernalia criminalization laws also put law enforcement personnel at greater risk because they are more likely to be endangered by hidden supplies when interacting with or conducting a search of someone’s body or belongings.

Prohibitive drug paraphernalia laws are ostensibly intended to discourage both drug use and the availability of paraphernalia. Decades of the so-called War on Drugs has shown us that aggressive enforcement and criminalization of drug use have not reduced the rate of drug use in our society nor the availability of drug paraphernalia.

Meanwhile, the rates of infectious diseases and accidental fatal overdose deaths among drug users have surged. Last year, more than 93,000 Americans (including approximately 2,800 people in Maryland) died of accidental fatal drug overdoses.

Decriminalization or paraphernalia is rooted in the harm reduction principle of equipping people to use drugs more safely.

This is positive for everyone in the community—including law enforcement agents, by stemming the spread of infectious disease and lifting the stigma which so dangerously isolates people who use drugs.

By contrast, criminalization, and perceived suspicion of criminal activity—like illicit drug use—is far too often used as a means for law enforcement personnel to target historically marginalized groups, such as people living with mental illnesses and people who are surviving without access to housing. These folks are more likely to be suffering from substance use disorders, thereby placing them at extremely elevated risk of injury or death from drug use.

Criminalization, marginalization, isolation, injury and death are all part of a largely preventable cycle of harm. And criminalization is perhaps the only part of that cycle which can be meaningfully and quickly addressed by public policy and law.

The Maryland legislature understood this when they passed SB420 into law earlier this year. It is unfortunate that Gov. Hogan has failed to acknowledge this reality.

His statement on the veto demonstrates that he either lacks a sufficient understanding of the expertise of public health professionals and harm reduction advocates, or that his decision making on this issue has been clouded by outdated, misleading or simply false drug-warrior misinformation.

It is now up to the Maryland legislature to override his veto.

Maryland must be led down a path which has the greatest chances of success for reducing the risks associated with drug use for all Marylanders (including those who do not use illicit drugs) and stemming the tide of accidental fatal overdoses in Maryland which have reached catastrophic proportions.

This content was republished with permission from Maryland Matters.

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Pennsylvania’s Lieutenant Governor Wants To Process As Many Marijuana Pardons As Possible Before Leaving Office

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Pennsylvania’s Lieutenant Governor Wants To Process As Many Marijuana Pardons As Possible Before Leaving Office

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The lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania is stepping up his push to get marijuana records cleared, promoting an expedited petition program that he hopes will provide relief to thousands of people negatively impacted by prohibition.

In an interview with KDKA that aired last week, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) said one of his key goals in his final year in office is to ensure that as many eligible people as possible submit applications to have the courts remove their cannabis records and restore opportunities to things like housing, student financial aid and employment.

“I’m a fervent believer in second chances. And one of the things I quickly discovered was that people’s lives were just being ruined by these silly charges, and you have all this unnecessary review [to seal records],” Fetterman, who chairs the state Board of Pardons, said.

“This is a plant that’s legal in many jurisdictions across America, and it’s not a big deal, but you go through your life in many cases a convicted felon, and that excludes you from a lot of opportunities,” he said. “So I developed an expedited review process that I encourage everybody to partake in.”

There are about 20,000 marijuana-related cases in Pennsylvania each year, he said. And some eligible cases go back decades, including one case that recently went through the petition process where a man had a felony conviction on his record for possession of eight ounces of cannabis that dates back to 1975.

“If you’ve got some stupid charge like that on your record, it doesn’t cost anything to apply, and we can get that off your your permanent record,” the lieutenant governor said. “I don’t care how conservative or how liberal you are politically. I don’t think we as a society should be really damaging people’s future for consuming a plant that is now legal in many jurisdictions—and soon will be in Pennsylvania.”

While both Fetterman and Gov. Tom Wolf (D) support mass expungements of cannabis convictions, he said that, right now, this is “the only way to free records.”

But the official is optimistic about the prospect of future reform to both legalize marijuana in the state and provide an even more effective process to get past convictions sealed. He pointed to a legalization bill that was recently filed by a Republican lawmaker as an example of the “evolution towards this” and described the legislation’s introduction as “a quantum leap in acknowledging it.”

For now, however, he’s doing what he can to raise awareness about the expedited petition program under the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons. People with non-violent marijuana convictions can apply for free on the board’s website.

“I’m lieutenant governor for a little over a year, and we want to get as many people free of these silly convictions and charges that are holding the record back,” Fetterman said. “The application doesn’t cost anything. You don’t need an attorney. And our turnaround time is, right now, down to three to four months.”

In May, Wolf pardoned a doctor who was arrested, prosecuted and jailed for growing marijuana that he used to provide relief for his dying wife. That marked his 96th pardon for people with cannabis convictions through the Expedited Review Program for Non-Violent Marijuana-Related Offenses.

Meanwhile in Pennsylvania, a lawmaker introduced a bill last month to expand the number of medical marijuana cultivators in the state, prioritizing small farms to break up what she characterized as a monopoly or large corporations that’s created supply problems.

Separately, bipartisan Pennsylvania senators said this month that they are introducing a bill to allow medical marijuana patients to cultivate their own plants for personal use.

A much-anticipated bipartisan Senate bill to legalize marijuana in Pennsylvania that has been months in the making was formally introduced last month.

Sens. Dan Laughlin (R) and Sharif Street (D) unveiled the nearly 240-page legislation months after first outlining some key details back in February. It would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to 30 grams of cannabis, five grams of marijuana concentrate products and 500 milligrams of THC contained in cannabis-infused products.

Meanwhile, Rep. Amen Brown (D) recently announced his intent to file a reform bill that he’ll be working on with Sen. Mike Regan (R), who expressed his support for the policy change a day earlier.

Additionally, a separate pair of state lawmakers—Reps. Jake Wheatley (D) and Dan Frankel (D)—formally unveiled a legalization bill they’re proposing.

While each measure generally seeks and end to marijuana criminalization by creating a regulated, commercial model for cannabis, there are some provisions that make each piece of legislation unique. For example, the proposals vary in how they would approach taxes, revenue and social equity.

While these recent moves to enact reform in the GOP-controlled legislature are encouraging to advocates, a spokesperson for House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff (R) recently tempered expectations, saying that there’s “no significant support for the legalization of recreational marijuana in the House Republican caucus.”

Fetterman, who is running for U.S. Senate, told Marijuana Moment in a recent phone interview that he’s optimistic about the prospects of reform with these latest proposals, though he acknowledged that there may be disputes between legislators over how tax revenue should be distributed.

Wolf, for his part, has said that a bipartisan approach to legalization “would be a great thing. I think the time is right.”

Philadelphia voters also approved a referendum on marijuana legalization this month that adds a section to the city charter saying that “the citizens of Philadelphia call upon the Pennsylvania General Assembly and the Governor to pass legislation that will decriminalize, regulate, and tax the use, and sale to adults aged 21 years or older, of cannabis for non-medical purposes.”

Wolf said earlier this year that marijuana legalization was a priority as he negotiated the annual budget with lawmakers. However, his formal spending request didn’t contain legislative language to actually accomplish the cannabis policy change.

The governor, who signed a medical cannabis expansion bill in June, has repeatedly called for legalization and pressured the Republican-controlled legislature to pursue the reform since coming out in favor of the policy in 2019. Shortly after he did that, a lawmaker filed a separate bill to legalize marijuana through a state-run model.

A survey from Franklin & Marshall College released this month found that 60 percent of Pennsylvania voters back adult-use legalization. That’s the highest level of support for the issue since the firm started polling people about it in 2006.

An attempt to provide protections for Pennsylvania medical marijuana patients from being charged with driving under the influence was derailed in the legislature last week, apparently due to pushback by the state police association.

Mexican Senators Circulate Draft Marijuana Legalization Bill, With Vote Expected Within Weeks

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Mexican Senators Circulate Draft Marijuana Legalization Bill, With Vote Expected Within Weeks

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A draft bill to legalize and regulate marijuana sales in Mexico is being circulated among senators, and a top lawmaker says the plan is to vote on the proposal before December 15.

While the legislation hasn’t been formally introduced yet, the draft measure largely reflects an earlier version the Senate passed late last year, with some revisions.

Senate Majority Leader Ricardo Monreal Avila of the ruling MORENA party has been pushing for the reform and recently said that there’s agreement among leading lawmakers to prioritize legislation to regulate cannabis.

The Mexican Supreme Court declared nearly three years ago that the country’s prohibition on the personal possession and cultivation of cannabis was unconstitutional. Lawmakers were then obligated to enact the policy change but have since been unable to reach a consensus on legislation to put in place regulations for a marijuana program.

At the request of legislators, the court agreed to extend its deadline for Congress to formally end prohibition on multiple occasions. But because of the repeated failed attempts to meet those deadlines, justices ultimately voted to end criminalization on their own in June.

Monreal previously said that the stage is set for lawmakers to actually pass a marijuana legalization bill during the new session after multiple attempts in recent years fell short of getting over the finish line.

Under the draft bill that’s currently being circulated, adults 18 and older would be allowed to purchase and possess up to 28 grams of marijuana and cultivate up to six plants for personal use.

Members of the Senate Health and Justice Committees were tapped to formulate the draft of a cannabis bill.

The text of the measure states that the purpose of the reform is to promote “public health, human rights and sustainable development” and to “improve the living conditions of the people who live in the United Mexican States.”

It would further “prevent and combat the consequences of problematic consumption of psychoactive cannabis and contribute to the reduction of the crime incidence linked to drug trafficking, promoting peace, security and individual and community well-being.”

Regulators would be tasked with developing separate rules to regulate cannabis for adult-use, research and industrial production.

The bill would establish a Mexican Institute for the Regulation and Control of Cannabis, which would be a decentralized body under the Ministry of Health. It would also be responsible for issuing licenses, overseeing the program and promoting public education campaigns around marijuana.

Retail licenses would need to be issued within 18 months of the enactment of the law.

In order to “compensate the damages generated by the prohibition,” the bill states that at least 40 percent of marijuana cultivation licenses would need to go to communities most impacted by cannabis criminalization for at least the first five years of implementation. After that point, at least 20 percent of licenses would need to be reserved for equity applicants.

After the Supreme Court independently invalidated prohibition earlier this year, advocates stressed that the decision underscores the need for legislators to expeditiously pass a measure to implement a comprehensive system of legal and regulated sales. They want to ensure that a market is established that’s equitable, addresses the harms of criminalization on certain communities and promotes personal freedom.

Advocates are pleased to see Senate leadership take seriously the need to establish regulations and provide access to cannabis for adults, but they have identified some provisions as problematic.

For example, possessing more than 200 grams of marijuana could still result in prison time.

Senate President Olga Sánchez Cordero, who previously served at a cabinet-level position in President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s administration, recently said that “there is no longer room for the prohibitionist policy.” And she also says the influence of the U.S. is to blame for failed marijuana criminalization laws in her country.

The Senate approved a legalization bill late last year, and then the Chamber of Deputies made revisions and passed it in March, sending it back to the originating chamber. A couple of Senate committees then took up and cleared the amended measure, but leaders quickly started signaling that certain revisions made the proposal unworkable.

After the Chamber of Deputies previously approved the Senate-passed legalization bill, senators said that the revised proposal was critically internally conflicted—on provisions concerning legal possession limits, the definition of hemp and other issues—and lawmakers themselves could be subject to criminal liability if it went into effect as drafted.

But Monreal said in April that if the court were to make a declaration of unconstitutionality before a measure to regulate cannabis was approved, it would result in “chaos.”

The top senator also talked about the importance of lawmakers taking their time to craft good policy and not rush amidst lobbying from tobacco and pharmaceutical industry interests.

“We must not allow ourselves to be pressured by interests,” he said at the time. “The Senate must act with great prudence in this matter.”

Sen. Eduardo Ramírez Aguilar of the MORENA party said in April that “at this time, it is important to legislate in the terms that are presented to us” and then consider additional revisions to cannabis laws through subsequent bills.

That’s the position many legalization advocates took as well, urging lawmakers to pass an imperfect bill immediately and then work on fixing it later.

Mexico’s president said in December that a vote on legalization legislation was delayed due to minor “mistakes” in the proposal.

The legalization bill cleared a joint group of Senate committees prior to the full floor vote in that chamber last year, with some amendments being made after members informally considered and debated the proposal during a virtual hearing.

Members of the Senate’s Justice, Health, and Legislative Studies Committees had approved a prior version of legal cannabis legislation last year as well, but the pandemic delayed consideration of the issue. Sen. Julio Ramón Menchaca Salazar of the MORENA party said in April that legalizing cannabis could fill treasury coffers at a time when the economy is recovering from the health crisis.

As lawmakers work to advance the reform legislation, there’s been a more lighthearted push to focus attention on the issue by certain members and activists. That push has mostly involved planting and gifting marijuana.

Late last year, Sánchez Cordero, then a top administration official, was gifted a cannabis plant by senator on the Senate floor, and she said she’d be making it a part of her personal garden.

A different lawmaker gave Sánchez Cordero, a marijuana joint on the floor of the Chamber of Deputies in 2019. That joint is now framed and hangs in her office.

Cannabis made another appearance in the legislature last year, when Sen. Jesusa Rodríguez of the MORENA party decorated her desk with a marijuana plant.

Drug policy reform advocates have also been cultivating hundreds of marijuana plants in front of the Senate, putting pressure on legislators to make good on their pledge to advance legalization.

Read the draft marijuana legalization bill that’s being circulated in Mexico’s Senate below: 

Click to access texto-normativo-para-nueva-iniciativa-1.pdf

Taliban Announces Deal To Grow Cannabis In Afghanistan Amid Questions Over Company’s Involvement

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