New Hampshire just became the 22nd state in the U.S. to eliminate the possibility of spending time behind bars for possessing small amounts of marijuana.
Earlier this year, lawmakers passed, and Republican Gov. Chris Sununu signed, a bill to decriminalize cannabis in the Granite State.
The legislation went into effect on Saturday. That means cannabis is now decriminalized in all of New England.
Under the new law, people caught possessing up to three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana will receive a $100 fine for their first or second offenses. The punishment rises to a $300 fine for a third offense within a three-year period. If police find someone possessing small amounts of marijuana a fourth time in that window, they could be charged with a class B misdemeanor.
Until now, first-time cannabis possession was treated as a criminal misdemeanor punishable by up to one year behind bars and a $2,000 fine.
“There is no good reason to continue arresting and prosecuting people for marijuana possession,” Matt Simon of the Marijuana Policy Project, which lobbied lawmakers to pass the decriminalization bill, said in a press release.
While celebrating the decriminalization victory, advocates want the state to go even further by fully legalizing marijuana and regulating its sales.
A poll released in May found that 68% of adults in the state support cannabis legalization.
“New Hampshire lawmakers should continue to follow their constituents’ lead on this issue,” Simon said in the press release. “Every state in New England is either implementing or strongly considering legislation to regulate marijuana for adult use. It is time for the Legislature to develop a realistic marijuana prohibition exit strategy for New Hampshire.”
Last November, voters in Massachusetts and Maine approved marijuana legalization ballot measures. Lawmakers in Vermont came very close to passing legislation to end cannabis prohibition, but ran out of time to enact it during a short special session this summer. And legalization bills in Connecticut and Rhode Island seemed to pick up some momentum, though weren’t voted on.
New Hampshire lawmakers also approved legislation this year to create a study commission to examine possible future legalization in the state. Its findings are due by November 2018.
Rhode Island and Vermont officials also created legalization study commissions that are expected to begin work soon.
Cory Booker Bill Would Let Students With Drug Convictions Keep Financial Aid
Every year, about 1,000 students lose some or all of their federal financial aid because they admit to having a conviction for a marijuana or other drug offense. But a Senate bill filed on Friday would change that.
One provision of the bill—which aims to “streamline the financial aid application process” overall—would eliminate a question on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) regarding drug convictions. Currently, applicants must answer this question:
“Have you been convicted for the possession or sale of illegal drugs for an offense that occurred while you were receiving federal student aid (such as grants, work-study, or loans)?”
In some cases, a “yes” response could mean the difference between going on to graduate or dropping out. Low-income students, who might not be able to afford tuition without federal aid, are particularly impacted.
That’s why a growing number of civil rights, drug reform and higher education groups have called for the question to be removed from the FAFSA. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and a coalition of six other senators hope their new bill will achieve that goal.
“We know that when a student completes the federal financial aid form, he or she is more likely to receive aid, attend college, and graduate from college,” Booker said in a press release. “But sadly, less than half of today’s high school students complete the form, and students from underserved backgrounds complete the form at even lower rates than their peers.”
“Our bill would simplify the complicated process in order to reduce barriers to higher learning for students from marginalized populations.”
A similar House bill introduced by Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) last year also called for the elimination of the drug conviction eligibility question on the FAFSA.
The “Simplifying Financial Aid for Students Act” would do more than just remove that one question. It would also take steps to simplify the process of determining financial aid eligibility and make the FAFSA available to the young immigrants known as DREAMers, for example.
But the drug conviction question is an important one that’s penalized tens of thousands of students since Congress first enacted the aid ban in 1998. There have been efforts to revise the question so that students don’t automatically lose all of their aid if they self-report a drug conviction, but even a partial loss can derail students on the path to higher education.
“The drug conviction question, which remains on the FAFSA, serves solely as a deterrent to higher education from the students who might benefit from it most: particularly, students of color whose communities have been overpoliced and marginalized by the drug war,” Betty Aldworth, executive director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, told Marijuana Moment.
“We champion any effort to assure students equitable access to education, and look forward to the day when young people who are unlucky enough to be caught using drugs are not punished for the same behavior that half of their peers get away with.”
Initial cosponsors of Booker’s financial aid reform bill are Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Doug Jones (D-AL), Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV).
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.
Marijuana ‘Farmers Markets’ Won’t Happen In California Yet After Bill’s Failure
Popular marijuana events in California like the Emerald Cup will take on a different flavor than hoped for this year, after a bill that would have allowed licensed growers to sell directly to consumers at temporary events was defeated in the state Legislature.
Cannabis producers like the small and medium growers in the northern California counties that make up the Emerald Triangle have for years sold directly to consumers at “marijuana farmer’s markets” and events like the Emerald Cup, a long-running end-of-the-harvest celebration.
But under current state law following the passage of Prop. 64, which legalized recreational marijuana in 2016, direct sales are no longer allowed unless a grower also has a retail sales permit—for which a small operation may not qualify, even if they can afford it—or if they conduct sales in tandem with a licensed retailer.
Assembly Bill 2641, introduced by Assemblyman Jim Wood (D-Santa Rosa) would have allowed the state Bureau of Cannabis Control to issue temporary licenses for “on-site sales and consumption of cannabis” at temporary events.
The bill died for the year after it was held in committee this week.
According to a committee analysis, it was opposed by major California cannabis brands like Canndescent, a large-scale cultivator, and by the United Cannabis Business Association, which represents Los Angeles and Orange County-area retail dispensaries.
Supporters included county governments in Mendocino and Humboldt counties, where the economy relies heavily on small-scale marijuana growers, and the California Cannabis Industry Association.
With its failure, small and medium growers without sales permits may be shut out from end-of-year sales events. Coming in a year of falling prices and restricted access to retail, some small growers are expected to go out of business, industry advocates say.
“I’m really hopeful we’ll still have awesome events, but they’re not going to be the same behind the scenes,” Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers’ Association, which sponsored the bill, told Marijuana Moment on Friday.
Of 900 licensed growers in California that would have been able to sell at events like the Emerald Cup, Allen said he expects 400 to go out of business this year regardless. Of the rest, the livelihoods of about half rely on temporary sales events, he said.
“For years, these types of events have been lifelines for small growers,” he said. “For the smallest licensed growers, these are life or death.”
“There’s a few hundred members who won’t be here next year because we lost that bill.”
Other marijuana-related bills did pass the committee process before a legislative deadline this week and will go for votes on the floors of the state Assembly and Senate. A bill must pass both chambers before it can go to Gov. Jerry Brown (D) for signature.
Bills that advanced include:
*SB 1294, which would create a statewide equity program to encourage and assist people of color and other small operators to enter the marijuana industry
*SB 829, which would create a new license to allow for medical cannabis products to be given away free of charge (a “compassion care license”)
*SB 1409, which would allow for state agriculture authorities to create an industrial-hemp farming program
*AB 1863, which would allow marijuana businesses to make certain tax deductions
*SB 311, which clarifies the commercial marijuana distribution process
Also this week, legislation which would have created state-chartered banks to serve the cannabis industry was held for review, effectively killing it for the year.
“This is a serious public safety issue that deserves swift resolution,” Sen. Bob Hetrzberg (D), that bill’s sponsor, said in a press release. “We’ve got barrels of cash buried all over the state, businesses being ransacked, and it’s clear that the federal government won’t act. It’s a shock to me that the state government may not act this year either – especially after this bill passed through nearly every step with bipartisan support and little to no opposition.”
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.
Baker Who Denied Same-Sex Couple Now Complaining About Marijuana-Themed Cake Requests
Remember the Colorado “cake artist” who refused to make a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple in 2012? Well, after taking his case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and winning a procedural victory this year, he’s still having issues, according to a new lawsuit filed on Tuesday.
Part of the problem is that people keep requesting that he make marijuana and Satan-themed baked goods, Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips said. And he’s blaming Colorado officials for allegedly targeting him and creating a hostile environment for his family and business. Phillip’s lawsuit names several members of the Colorado Civil Rights Division, the state attorney general and Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper as culpable.
Phillips has made it patently clear that he won’t design cakes that conflict with his religious views—namely his belief that being gay or transgender is at odds with Christian values—but that also apparently extends to “controlled substances like marijuana and alcohol,” according to the complaint.
Yet some jokesters seem to be testing the cake man.
In the year after the Supreme Court announced it’d take Phillips’s case, he “received other requests for cakes celebrating Satan, featuring Satanic symbols, depicting sexually explicit materials, and promoting marijuana use.”
The complaint cites a specific example of someone calling his shop for an admittedly esoteric occasion:
“The caller asked Phillips to create a ‘birthday’ cake for Satan. The caller requested that the cake feature a red and black theme and an image of Satan smoking marijuana. Phillips declined to create that cake because it included designs that would have expressed messages in violation of his religious beliefs.”
The complaint doesn’t specify which tenet of Christianity explicitly prohibits the depiction of cannabis. But in any case, this is far from the first time that marijuana policy and religious rights have tangoed.
In fact, a campaign opposing a medical marijuana initiative in Utah cited the Supreme Court baker case ruling in a lawsuit also filed this week, which alleges that one provision of the measure would infringe upon religious liberties.
Mormon's new lawsuit: Utah medical marijuana measure violates his religion. Citing Supreme Court Colorado gay wedding cake case:
— Tom Angell 🌳📰 (@tomangell) August 16, 2018
Because the Utah measure includes language that prevents landlords from discriminating against medical cannabis cardholders, the group said Mormons would encounter situations where they’d be forced to rent to people who engage in activities against their religion.
“In the United States of America, members of all religions, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints have a constitutional right to exercise their religious beliefs,” the complaint states, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. “This includes the right not to consort with, be around, or do business with people engaging in activities which their religion finds repugnant.”
“The State of Utah is attempting to compel the speech of Utah landowners by suppressing their ability to speak out against cannabis use and consumption by only renting to tenants who do not possess or consume cannabis and who support their viewpoints in opposition against cannabis possession and consumption.”
Activists are skeptical that argument will hold up in court.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia, Jeffrey Beall.