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New Jersey Governor And Lawmakers Announce Marijuana Legalization Deal

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After months of debate over the nuances of marijuana legalization legislation, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) and leaders in the legislature have reached a broad agreement.

In a press release on Tuesday, the governor, Senate President Steve Sweeney (D), Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D), Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D) and Assemblywoman Annette Quijano (D) announced the agreement and said that text of a bill to legalize cannabis for adult use will be released “in the coming days.”

That’s a welcome development for advocates, who had the benefit of a pro-legalization governor but worried that his concerns about aspects of legalization such as the tax rates and regulatory structures might derail the reform effort.

“Legalizing adult-use marijuana is a monumental step to reducing disparities in our criminal justice system,” Murphy said. “After months of hard work and thoughtful negotiations, I’m thrilled to announce an agreement with my partners in the Legislature on the broad outlines of adult-use marijuana legislation.”

“I believe that this legislation will establish an industry that brings fairness and economic opportunity to all of our communities, while promoting public safety by ensuring a safe product and allowing law enforcement to focus their resources on serious crimes,” he said.

While Murphy initially called for a much steeper tax rate than his counterparts in the legislature, a compromise was reached to tax cannabis by weight, rather than by price. Under the agreement, there will be a $42 per ounce excise tax as well as additional local taxes for municipalities that opt to allow manufacturers, wholesalers or retailers.

In his annual budget proposal last week, the governor estimated that the state would collect $60 million in marijuana tax revenue for the 2020 fiscal year.

“This plan will allow for the adult use of cannabis in a responsible way,” Sweeney said of the new deal. “It will create a strictly regulated system that permits adults to purchase limited amounts of marijuana for personal use. It will bring marijuana out of the underground market so that it can be controlled, regulated and taxed, just as alcohol has been since the end of Prohibition. This plan will also advance important social justice reforms to help reverse the discriminatory impact that drug laws have had on diverse communities.”

Social equity will be a major feature of the legalization bill, the lawmakers emphasized. The legislation will establish a system to expedite the clearing of records for prior low-level cannabis convictions and also create a “virtual expungement process” that would prevent marijuana offenses from affecting things like education, house and occupational licensing.

“As much as we would want this to be automatic, it is functionally not possible,” Murphy said in response to questions about expungements at a press conference on unrelated gun issues on Tuesday. “You have an affirmative action an individual has to take, or in the absence of that a virtual expungement, meaning until that person takes that action, that crime cannot impair their ability—just as race, gender, religion cannot impair your ability—to get a job, to get an education, to get a license, et cetera.”

“It will address enormous social injustice in our system. And while that appears to be under the justice category, it has enormous implications for both the individuals who are finally freed from this prior charge but also for the rest of us. The economic impact, the societal impact, not just on those individuals, but on the rest of us, is potentially enormous.”

The joint announcement from Murphy and lawmakers said that “there are a number of provisions that aim to ensure broad-based participation in the industry for Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises (M/WBEs), low- and middle-income individuals, and disadvantaged communities across the state.”

“The agreement reached to legalize adult-use cannabis is the result of incredibly hard work by many people over many months,” Coughlin said. “Getting to this point wasn’t easy. We talked and we negotiated in good faith, but most importantly, we listened.”

“I want to thank Governor Murphy and Senate President Sweeney for their tireless efforts and willingness to compromise so we could put forth the most responsible legislation possible,” he said. “I believe this new, regulated industry will help boost our economy, but I’m particularly proud of the critical social justice components included in the bill.”

The statement from Murphy and the lawmakers doesn’t mention whether allowing people to grow their own marijuana at home is part of the deal.

Under the agreement, the state’s legal marijuana program would be regulated by a five-member Cannabis Regulatory Commission. Three of the members will be appointed by the governor without being subject to Senate confirmation, and two would be recommended by Sweeney and Coughlin.

“The prohibition on marijuana has long been a failed policy,” Scutari said. “This plan will bring an end to the adverse effects our outdated drug laws have had on the residents of our state.”

“As a regulated product legalized marijuana will be safe and controlled,” he said. “It is time to legalize adult use marijuana in New Jersey and this is a well crafted legal reform that will advance social policy in a fair and effective way.”

More details and actual legislative language are still to come, but the announcement offers the clearest look yet at how New Jersey’s legal cannabis system could take shape.

“This was not easy. We’re standing up an entire new industry, so not surprisingly, it took time,” Murphy said at the press conference. “I got there via the notion that in the yawning gaps of social injustice in our state, particularly among peoples who are incarcerated across racial lines.”

Coughlin predicted that a vote on a legalization bill could come on March 25.

Murphy, meanwhile, predicted that legal cannabis sales would be an “early next year reality.” He said it’s “too early for me to tell” whether there’s enough support to pass legalization in either chamber, but “I’m all in to help them get this over the goal line.

“We have to get the votes now. The Senate president, the speaker, myself, their teams—we have to collectively get the votes we need both in the Senate and the Assembly,” he said. “We’ll be working on this jointly.”

The news of a deal in New Jersey comes one day after Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) of neighboring New York announced that he is not optimistic about the chances of including marijuana legalization in his state’s annual budget this year, as he initially proposed. He and lawmakers are saying that they still plan to pursue the issue in separate legislation, however.

New Jersey Governor Includes Legal Marijuana Revenue In Budget Proposal

Photo courtesy of Phil Murphy.

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

Bernie Sanders Asks Campaign Rally Audience To Share Stories About Marijuana Arrests

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Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) asked an audience in South Carolina to share stories about marijuana possession convictions and then argued that those anecdotes help to demonstrate the case for national legalization.

During a campaign stop in the early primary state on Sunday, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate asked people to raise their hands if they knew someone who’d been arrested for possessing cannabis. There was no shortage of hands raised.

“Holy God, whoa. That’s a lot of people,” Sanders said before asking for volunteers to go into detail.

“I got caught with about a joint and they took my license for a year and I lost my job,” an audience member said. “Ended up losing my house, and it went worse from there.”

“Wow, this is for smoking a joint?” Sanders asked.

“Yeah, I had a little—like a dime bag in my car,” the person said.

Another person in attendance who appeared in the campaign video Sanders released on Tuesday said that she visited a guilty plea court and witnessed “three different men get put in at least two years of prison just for anywhere from two grams to eight grams of marijuana found on them.”

“That’s why all over this country states are doing the right thing and either decriminalizing or legalizing the possession of marijuana,” Sanders said to applause.

Since becoming the first major party presidential candidate to call for cannabis legalization in 2015, Sanders has continued to place an emphasis on the need for marijuana reform, with a focus on the racial injustices of prohibition.

Last month, he released a criminal justice reform plan that included proposals to legalize cannabis federally and also provide for safe injection sites to curb opioid overdoses.

But while Sanders has been a leading voice in the drug policy reform movement, he’s said twice in recent weeks that he’s not ready to embrace decriminalizing possession of drugs beside marijuana.

Joe Biden Says Marijuana Should Remain Illegal As A Misdemeanor At Democratic Debate

Photo courtesy of Lorie Shaull.

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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New York Gov. Cuomo Hints Marijuana Smoking Ban Could Be Part Of Next Legalization Push

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) seemed to suggest that he might want a ban on smoking marijuana included in legalization legislation when lawmakers take up the issue again next year.

During an interview with MSNBC on Sunday, the governor was asked whether the spike in apparent vaping-related lung injuries and deaths, which experts attribute to altered nicotine and cannabis oils primarily purchased on the illicit market, has made him reconsider pursuing legalization in the state.

“No,” he said, adding that his administration is “not in favor of smoking marijuana” and that there are “ways to get THC without smoking marijuana.”

“People are vaping THC, yes that is true,” Cuomo said. “We think that from a public health point of view, that is not something that we recommend and we think it’s dangerous—smoking of any kind.”

“You can legalize marijuana and sell THC in compounds that do not require you to smoke the marijuana, and we do not support smoking of marijuana,” he said. “There are compounds that have the THC, which is a compound in marijuana, that you don’t smoke.”

It’s not entirely clear if Cuomo plans to ask for a smoking ban the next time a legalization bill emerges or if he was simply outlining an administrative position advising against smoking. A spokesperson for his office did not respond to Marijuana Moment’s request for comment by the time of publication.

But while there was no ban on marijuana smoking included in legalization legislation that he worked to pass earlier this year, it wouldn’t be entirely out of character given that he pushed for such a restriction as part of New York’s medical cannabis program in legislation enacted in 2014.

The logic behind that policy, according to Cuomo, was that it would prevent people from abusing the program. If he moved to incorporate a ban for adult-use legalization, however, it would presumably be a public health decision.

That could create problems when lawmakers return to the negotiating table. In California, flower and concentrates represent about 70 percent of the marijuana market, meaning any attempt to ban smokeable cannabis will likely be met with pushback from consumers, industry stakeholders and civil liberties-minded reform advocates.

Industry players seemed to have influence when Cuomo included a ban on home cultivation for personal use in his prior legalization proposal—something a major medical cannabis association recommended in a policy statement submitted to the governor.

For the time being, however, there don’t seem to be tangible plans to include a smoking ban in future cannabis legislation and it could be that the governor simply ends up pushing for public education campaigns discouraging the activity rather than keeping it illegal.

Cuomo has made clear that legalization would again be an administrative priority after negotiations failed to produce a passable bill last session.

In July, he signed legislation broadening New York’s decriminalization law and creating a pathway for expungements for individuals with prior cannabis convictions.

Former White House Drug Czar Offers Marijuana Legalization Advice To Mexico

Photo courtesy of MSNBC.

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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Mitch McConnell Tells FDA To Clear A Path For CBD Products Though Spending Bill Directive

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is moving to insert language into a congressional spending report that calls on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to clear a path for the lawful marketing of hemp-derived CBD products.

FDA has said that allowing CBD to be sold as food items or dietary supplements would require it to develop alternative regulations that could take years to complete without congressional action. But McConnell, who was the chief proponent of a hemp legalization provision of the 2018 Farm Bill, isn’t interested in waiting around.

In draft language shared by the U.S. Hemp Roundtable on Tuesday, the senator is asking FDA to “issue a policy of enforcement discretion with regard to certain products containing CBD” within 120 days—a move that industry stakeholders say will clarify rules so that banks are more willing to service CBD companies.

The provision of the spending report was marked up in the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture on Tuesday. It will go before the full Appropriations Committee on Thursday.

Prior to issuing its enforcement discretion policy under McConnell’s report language, FDA would have to submit a report to the committee within 90 days detailing its “progress toward obtaining and analyzing data to help determine a policy of enforcement discretion, and the process in which CBD meeting the definition of hemp will be evaluated for use in products.”

Once those provisional enforcement guidelines are established, they would remain in place until FDA finalizes the regulatory process.

“FDA is encouraged to consider existing and ongoing medical research related to CBD that is being undertaken pursuant to an Investigation New Drug (IND) application in the development of a regulatory pathway for CBD in products under the jurisdiction of FDA and to ensure that any future regulatory activity does not discourage the development of new drugs,” the report states.

Outside of McConnell’s proposal, the FDA and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) appropriations legislation already sets aside $2 million to support research and regulatory activities surrounding hemp-derived CBD products and $16.5 million for the broader hemp production program.

During the subcommittee meeting on Thursday, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) praised the bill’s support for hemp legalization implementation.

“You might note that this year in Oregon, the hemp industry may well be a billion dollar crop, and that is an incredible addition to income for our agricultural community,” he said.

The legalization of hemp and its derivatives has been met with intense interest from manufacturers and lawmakers alike, but limitations on the marketability of CBD has been an ongoing source of frustration.

Last week, a bipartisan pair of lawmakers asked fellow House members to join them in signing a letter to the head of FDA that similarly asks for enforcement discretion guidelines allowing companies to sell CBD products.

The House, which approved its version of appropriations legislation for the upcoming fiscal year prior to the summer recess, included a separate amendment that would require FDA to establish rules providing for the lawful marketing of CBD in food and dietary supplements.

Meanwhile, USDA is expected to soon release its broader hemp regulations soon.

Read McConnell’s full CBD report language below:

“As previously mentioned, the Committee provides $2,000,000 for research, policy evaluation, market surveillance, issuance of an enforcement discretion policy, and appropriate regulatory activities with respect to products under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration which contain cannabidiol (CBD) and meet the definition of hemp, as set forth in section 297A of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 (7 U.S.C. 1639o). Within 90 days, FDA shall provide the Committee with a report regarding the Agency’s progress toward obtaining and analyzing data to help determine a policy of enforcement discretion, and the process in which CBD meeting the definition of hemp will be evaluated for use in products. Within 120 days, FDA shall issue a policy of enforcement discretion with regard to certain products containing CBD meeting the definition of hemp as defined by section 297A of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1964 (7 U.S.C. 1639). Such enforcement discretion shall be in effect until FDA establishes a process for stakeholders to notify FDA for use of CBD in products that include safety studies for intended use per product, and makes a determination about such product. FDA is encouraged to consider existing and ongoing medical research related to CBD that is being undertaken pursuant to an Investigation New Drug (IND) application in the development of a regulatory pathway for CBD in products under the jurisdiction of FDA and to ensure that any future regulatory activity does not discourage the development of new drugs.”

Bipartisan Lawmakers Circulate Letter Urging FDA To Back Off CBD Companies

This story was updated to include comment from Merkley.

Photo courtesy of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

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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