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Montana Marijuana Implementation Bill Moves Forward In Senate, With Changes Making It Closer To What Voters Approved



Lawmakers are restoring funding for conservation programs, allowing home cultivation and making sure legalization will continue even if certain provisions are struck down in court.

By Arren Kimbel-Sannit, Daily Montanan

They may have just missed 4/20, by which point they had hoped to see House Bill 701 hit the floor, but a committee of Senate lawmakers succeeded Wednesday evening in passing a heavily amended version of a bill to implement and tax recreational marijuana in Montana, one of the final priorities of a legislative session nearing its close.

Among the many changes that the Senate Select Committee on Marijuana Laws made to the bill before passing it on a voice vote is to partially restore some funding in the bill for conservation and land easements—allocations that existed in Ballot Initiative 190, a legalization proposal that voters approved last year, but that received pushback from Republicans who argued that only the Legislature has the right to make spending decisions, not the voters. The version of the flagship pot bill that emerged from committee Wednesday also allows for limited home-grow of marijuana, some local taxation and provides a compromise on the sticky issue of a locality’s right to refuse to authorize recreational marijuana.

An amendment that lawmakers on the committee passed Wednesday first directs marijuana revenues—recreational pot will be taxed at 20 percent, as it stands now—to the Department of Revenue, then $6 million to substance abuse prevention program called the HEART Fund, of which a chunk goes to tribal healthcare, with 20 percent of the remaining sum going to Habitat Montana, a program to fund conservation easements. From there, 4 percent each of the remainder goes to parks, trail maintenance and non-game wildlife habitats, with several hundred thousand dollars then going to care for veterans and programs within the Department of Justice, followed, ultimately, by the general fund.

There is at least one caveat: The money wouldn’t become available until 2024, a compromise introduced by Sen. Tom Jacobson, D-Great Falls. In the first year of the program, parks, trail maintenance and non-game wildlife protection accounts would split $2 million, and beginning in 2023, Habitat Montana would receive around $5.4 million. That appropriation would continue in 2024 and beyond, with the conservation easement program receiving 20 percent of post-HEART Fund revenues, or, according to current projections, around $5.4 million. At that point, the parks, trails and non-game wildlife accounts would receive 4 percent of the remaining funds each.

This means that the bill would allocate money out of the current biennium. The Legislature in one session can’t bind the hands of their successors in the next session—so while many of the same lawmakers may still be in Helena in two years, lawmakers next session could always choose a different way to spend marijuana revenues.

The language, part of a large amendment brought by Sen. Jason Ellsworth, R-Hamilton, and developed in concert with Democrats on the committee, finds an uneasy middle ground between I-190, which would have put almost half of marijuana revenues into conservation and park programs, and HB701 as initially introduced, which made only small investments in outdoor recreation and conservation and directed the bulk of pot monies to the general fund. It could mean millions more in funding for programs that environmental and hunting groups have advocated for all session, assuming the changes last through the rest of the process. It would also boost funding for veterans’ care, another proposed allocation in the ballot initiative.

“Trying to stay as true to the initiative as possible has been our priority,” said Jacobson.

“And the fact that we have to have enough votes to get this out of here in some way that makes sense for Montanans,” said Senate Minority Leader Jill Cohenour, D-East Helena, one of the other Democrats on the committee.

Bringing HB701’s funding language closer to I-190 has been the top priority of Democrats during debate on the many marijuana implementation bills this session. Rep. Mike Hopkins, R-Missoula, HB701’s sponsor, said the new language could help bring minority lawmakers into the fold, but that he and other Republicans also acknowledge the need for continued funding in programs like Habitat Montana.

“We obviously have conversations on our ability to be able to fund all of their requests, and we especially have a conversation around being able to fund the maintenance portions for projects within Habitat Montana (in other appropriations bills),” Hopkins said. “And then, also, it allows us to work a little bit more closely with our Democratic friends.”

The amendment from Ellsworth also would ask the Supreme Court to appoint a judge specifically to handle expungement and resentencing of past marijuana provisions, which is allowed for under HB701. And, though some Republicans were itching to impose THC limits and nix the ability for recreational users to grow marijuana at home after a presentation earlier in the process from a drug enforcement officer from Colorado who warned lawmakers of the dangers of smelly basement grow-ops and marijuana-induced psychosis, the committee ultimately left those components largely intact. Recreational marijuana under the bill can have up to two plants per person and four per household.

Finally, the bill still officially bans the outdoor growing of cannabis, a provision requested by the hemp industry, but the amendment allows for the grandfathering of existing outdoor operations.

The bill first came to the Senate in early April, and has undergone a series of protracted deliberations alongside other proposals for legalizing marijuana that the Senate panel has gradually picked off. At each stage, concepts have been shuffled around or amended to address concerns from an expanse of stakeholders and an existing medical marijuana industry sensitive to change. It seemed for most of the process that Republicans would be unwilling to restore environmental funding, despite repeated pleas from advocates to follow the language of the initiative. Exactly what changed isn’t entirely clear, and Ellsworth, who led the Senate’s marijuana committee, declined to comment on the deliberations that led to the language approved Wednesday.

Other changes that the Senate committee approved includes a compromise on the issue of local excise taxes, which were allowed in the first draft of HB701 but removed in the House. After Wednesday’s amendments, municipalities can levy a separate excise tax of up to 3 percent on marijuana if approved by the voters.

The bill will also strike a balance on the county option. At first, HB701 would require every county to opt-in to adult-use marijuana, which some in the industry feared could lead to local governments deciding to shutter existing medical marijuana businesses. But Republicans in the Senate including Ellsworth worried that this would constitute a takings by the government, so an amendment that failed in the House was revived and added to the bill. Now, the half of Montana counties that supported I-190 will have adult-use unless voters decide to opt out, while counties that voted against I-190 will still have to pass local initiatives opting in if they want recreational marijuana.

The amendment also fixes a technical issue that arrangement created: At first, tribes, which as federal entities cannot license dispensaries on their land, would only be able to operate dispensaries within a 25-mile radius. But that would mean many tribes could only operate dispensaries in counties that did not support I-190 and presumably would not opt-in to the program; so, the amendment Wednesday expanded that boundary to 150 miles.

The final piece to fall into place was how to handle the problem of a legal challenge to either the bill or the underlying initiative. When Ellsworth’s amendment debuted early Wednesday, it contained language that would void all of HB701 if any part of I-190 was found unconstitutional, which some fear could be a possibility given the ballot language allocating funding. I-190—and HB701—also contain provisions restricting the ability to own dispensaries to Montana residents, language that in other states the court has challenged as illegal protectionism. Some members of the marijuana industry feared that language amounted to a poison pill that could tank recreational marijuana if the program is challenged.

But by the time the ink dried on the amendment, the language was updated to explicitly protect the overall legalization effort if the funding provisions of I-190 are declared void or the court overturns any other sections of the initiative, so long as those sections aren’t integral to the function of the program.

The committee’s work Wednesday addressed most of the concerns that J.D. “Pepper” Petersen, a dispensary owner and Montana Cannabis Guild President who wrote I-190, had on that front, he told the Daily Montanan.

From here, lawmakers will need to rush the bill through the Senate and then send it back to the House so lawmakers there can vote to concur with the Senate amendments. They’ll have to walk a tight-rope, and possibly suspend rules, in order to make it happen, but Cohenour said she’s quite sure that her counterparts in the House can offer their votes.

“The biggest thing is trying to stay true to the people of Montana,” Jacobson said. “Given the circumstances, we did as good a job as we could, and I think we met that expectation. Like anything, this isn’t over. We’re gonna see what loopholes, what bugs we can fix. But I think we’ve got a pretty solid start.”

This story was first published by Daily Montanan.

Virginia Governor Signs Marijuana Legalization Bill In Ceremonial Event—Even Though It’s Already Enacted

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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



“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



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



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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