The New Hampshire House of Representatives voted to legalize marijuana on Tuesday, just five days after the Trump administration moved to rescind federal guidelines protecting state cannabis laws.
Under the bill, which now moves to the state Senate, people over 21 years of age would be allowed to legally possess three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana and grow up to three mature cannabis plants at home. Retail sales locations would not be allowed.
The noncommercial approach is similar to a bill advancing in neighboring Vermont. There, the House passed a legalization measure on Thursday — the same day U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions tore up Obama-era marijuana guidance. That state’s Senate, which previously OKed similar legislation, is expected to give its final approval on Wednesday, and Gov. Phil Scott (R) has pledged to sign legalization into law.
The swift action by the two states represents a stunning rebuke to the Trump administration’s anti-cannabis move, which was also roundly slammed by dozens of members of Congress from both parties.
In New Hampshire, the House voted to amend a broader bill that would have allowed legal, taxed and regulated marijuana sales. The legislation, as introduced, was defeated in committee in November. Opponents argued that because a legislative study commission is currently examining how legalized marijuana commerce might work in the state, passing the bill now would be premature.
On Tuesday, supporters successfully moved a floor amendment to scale the proposal back to only legalize possession and home cultivation.
The vote on overturning the committee’s recommendation to kill the bill was 183 to 162. The body then amended the proposal to remove the commercialization provisions via a voice vote. Passage of the revised legislation was approved by a tally of 207 to 139.
While advocates had anticipated that the bill would move directly to the Senate after the House vote, leadership unexpectedly referred the legislation to the House Ways and Means Committee. Now, supporters must wait to see whether the panel will opt to hear the bill. It is possible that they may decline to do so, since it no longer contains provisions concerning regulations or taxes. If the committee takes action on the legislation it would necessitate another House floor vote before being sent to the other chamber.
Either way, the bill will face a tougher road to passage in the Senate, which has been where House-approved cannabis legislation has gone to die over the course of several years.
The House repeatedly approved bills to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in a number of sessions, for example, only to see those proposals consistently defeated in the other chamber. It wasn’t until last year that the support of newly elected Gov. Chris Sununu (R) provided a boost to the decriminalization effort and the bill passed both chambers and was enacted into law.
Now, advocates are working to expand on that victory by removing the fines that are assessed to adults possessing small amounts of marijuana, and add in legal home cultivation.
However, Sununu said on Tuesday that he doesn’t support the new proposal.
“Are you kidding?” he said. “We’re in the middle of one of the biggest drug crises the state has ever seen. To go to a full recreational marijuana when other states that are seeing all the problems it has in other states and seeing the issues it’s bearing, it’s definitely not something that I’m supportive of right now.”
Former Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand (D), who is running for governor this year, called Sununu’s comments “deeply disappointing.”
“When I am Governor in 2019, I will advocate for the legalization, regulation and taxation of cannabis for adult recreational use,” he said in a statement. “Doing so will lower costs for incarceration, courts and law enforcement.”
In 2014, the New Hampshire House became the first legislative chamber in U.S. history to approve a marijuana legalization bill, but it later died in the Senate.
A poll from the University of New Hampshire conducted last year found that 68% of New Hampshire adults support legalizing marijuana.
Next door, in Vermont, Scott vetoed a marijuana legalization bill last year. But he then laid out a few small revisions he wanted legislators to make in order to garner his signature. The Senate quickly acted to make the requested changes, but the House wasn’t able to overcome procedural hurdles to pass the revised bill in time during a short special session over the summer. When lawmakers reconvened for the regular 2018 session last week, the House passed the bill and made another small change, necessitating Wednesday’s expected final Senate vote on sending the measure to Scott.
Advocates believe that New Jersey is also poised to end marijuana prohibition via the legislature this year as well. Phil Murphy (D), who will be sworn in as governor later this month, campaigned on full-scale commercial legalization, and the Senate president says he is ready to pass a bill.
A number of other states are expected to vote on ballot initiatives to legalize recreational or medical cannabis later this year.
Sen. Jeff Merkley “Disappointed” That Democrats Blocked His Marijuana Banking Amendment
One of the U.S. Senate’s foremost champions for marijuana law reform says he is “disappointed” that fellow Democrats recently joined with Republicans in blocking his amendment to increase cannabis businesses’ access to banks.
Last month, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) offered a measure that would have shielded banks that open accounts for state-legal marijuana businesses from being punished by federal regulators for that activity even though cannabis remains illegal under federal law.
While the Senate Appropriations Committee had approved two similar amendments in previous years, the panel this time voted to table the measure with a bipartisan vote of 21 – 10, with ranking member Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and other Democrats who normally support marijuana reform objecting on procedural grounds.
“I was disappointed,” Merkley said in an interview with BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith on Monday. “We had passed this twice before.”
“We need to establish banking for cannabis because a cash economy is an invitation to money laundering and theft and cheating your employees and cheating on your taxes [and] organized crime. All bad.”
“I accompanied the owner of a company who had $70,000 in his backpack to pay quarterly taxes,” Merkley recounted in response to the cannabis banking question on Monday, which was suggested to BuzzFeed by Marijuana Moment’s editor. “It’s so bizarre going down the freeway and talking about how they have to pay their employees in cash, have to pay their suppliers in cash. It’s a bad system.”
“Everyone should agree: States’ rights on this. Let the states have an electronic system to track what these businesses are doing, not billions of dollars floating around like this.”
— Ben Smith (@BuzzFeedBen) July 16, 2018
Despite his disappointment with the measure being blocked, the Oregon Democrat, who is believed to be considering a 2020 presidential run, said that his colleagues “had a fair point to make on the policy front” in tabling the measure.
At the time, Leahy argued that spending bills such as the one before the committee should be kept “free of new controversial policy riders” and that a more appropriate forum would be an authorizing committee that sets banking laws.
“It wasn’t existing policy and therefore it was new policy,” Merkley acknowledged in the new interview.
But he pointed out that there are few other avenues available for senators to pursue the issue.
“Here’s the thing. Normally we could take these policy bills like I was putting forward [and] you could put it on the floor of the Senate as an amendment to something,” he said. “In 2017, outside of the budget process, not a single amendment was considered on the floor of the Senate… This is the end of the Senate really as a deliberative body on policy. So if you’re blocked in the Appropriations Committee, and you’re blocked on the floor, then it’s very hard to put ideas out there and say, ‘Hey vote on this. This matters.'”
The House Appropriations Committee also defeated a cannabis banking amendment last month.
See the video of Merkley’s remarks at about 19:15 into the clip below:
— AM to DM by BuzzFeed News (@AM2DM) July 16, 2018
Photo courtesy of Senate Democrats.
County Officials From Across The U.S. Push Feds To Reform Marijuana Laws
An organization representing the 3,069 county governments across the U.S. is calling on the federal government to allow states to legalize marijuana without interference.
“The federal government should largely be responsible for regulating and enforcing against illegal drug trafficking, while respecting states’ right to decriminalize cannabis under state law,” reads a new platform plank adopted on Monday by the National Association of Counties (NACo).
“NACo urges Congress to enact legislation that promotes the principles of federalism and local control of cannabis businesses with regard to medical and adult-use of cannabis under state law,” a related provision says. “Congress should allow and encourage state and local governments to enact and implement cannabis laws, regulations, and policies that appropriately control production, processing, sales, distribution and use, as well as promote public and consumer safety, should they choose to decriminalize and regulate cannabis under state law.”
The group is also calling on the federal government to make moves to expand banking access for marijuana businesses and broaden research on cannabis’s medical effects.
The county officials’ new stance is similar to resolutions adopted last month by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
“The United States Conference of Mayors urges the White House, U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to immediately remove cannabis from the schedule of the CSA to enable U.S. federal banking regulators to permanently authorize financial institutions to provide services to commercial cannabis businesses, and increase the safety of the public,” one of the mayoral group’s positions says.
Marijuana Moment supporters on Patreon can read the full text of the new NACo marijuana positions below:
Border Patrol Reflects On Feds’ Friendlier Historical Approach To Marijuana
Canada’s decision to legalize marijuana nationwide has stoked concerns that its citizens traveling across the U.S. border will risk temporary detention or even permanent visitation bans if they fess up having ever consumed cannabis, or even working in the industry.
Enforcement officials have told reporters that there’s no travel policy change in light of Canada’s end of prohibition, emphasizing that it remains illegal to bring cannabis across the border under federal law. Violating the policy “could potentially result in seizure, fines, and apprehension,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said in a recent statement.
But let’s take you back to a simpler time, courtesy of CBP.
“Did You Know… Marijuana Was Once a Legal Cross-Border Import?”
That’s the title of a 2015 blog post published by the federal agency—which seems to have gone mostly unnoticed until now—recalls how cannabis was historically recognized as a legal import by the government.
“One hundred years ago, the federal government was not overly concerned with marijuana, the common name for the Cannabis sativa L. plant,” the feds’ post reads.
Through the mid-1930s, the plant flew under the government’s radar, despite the fact that “several state governments and other countries had banned the drug.”
“The U.S. government hesitated, in part because therapeutic uses of Cannabis were still being explored and American industry profited from commercial applications of hemp fiber, seeds and oil.”
That all changed in the decades to come—first with the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act, which imposed taxes and regulations on cannabis imports, cultivation, distribution and possession, and then with full prohibition under the Nixon administration.
Up until that point, the Customs Agency Service (later rebranded as CBP) didn’t put too much stock in pot. Just before the Marihuana Tax Act passed, the agency described its cannabis policy here:
“Marihuana may be cultivated or grown wild in almost any locality. Inasmuch as this drug is so readily obtained in the United States, it is not believed to be the subject of much organized smuggling from other countries.”
It seems like pretty basic supply and demand, but federal prohibition changed the equation. Suddenly, marijuana wasn’t “so readily obtained” in the country—and even simple possession carried serious criminal penalties—so the legal supply dried up. In the absence of legal access, criminal organizations swooped in to meet the demand for marijuana in the United States.
“Today, however, marijuana trafficking is a major concern of CBP, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Drug Enforcement Administration,” CBP wrote. “Well over 3 million pounds of ‘pot’ were confiscated at our borders in 2011, making an impact on this multibillion-dollar illegal enterprise.”
The more you know!
Photo courtesy of Gerald Nino, U.S. Department of Homeland Security.