About a month after New Jersey voters approved a marijuana legalization referendum, a key Senate committee on Monday advanced a newly revised bill to implement regulations for the program, with a floor vote expected on Thursday.
The panel also approved another piece of legislation to reduce penalties for possession of psilocybin mushrooms. That was originally included in a separate marijuana decriminalization bill, but it was removed amid controversy and instead made into its own standalone legislation.
Lawmakers quickly got to work crafting legislation that would set rules for the marijuana market following the ballot measure’s passage, and differing versions cleared appropriations panels in the Assembly and Senate last month. Leaders from both branches have since negotiated with one another and with Gov. Phil Murphy (D) to arrive at a unified approach.
Now the Senate Judiciary Committee has passed the resulting cannabis sales bill in a 6-5 vote.
Advocates have encouraged the legislature to swiftly enact cannabis sales regulations, but they’ve pushed back on the initial proposal that was introduced, arguing that it did not go far enough to address social equity and restorative justice for communities disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.
The new version seeks to address those concerns, but some activists say it is still inadequate.
It's all hands on deck, folks.
State lawmakers are expected to vote on S21/A21, the bill legalizing cannabis, on Thursday, 12/17.
Tell the NJ Legislature: we must make sure the final bill prioritizes + reinvests in communities hit hardest by prohibition.https://t.co/HZYkQVZfep
— ACLU of New Jersey (@ACLUNJ) December 11, 2020
The new bill includes Senate-supported provisions to allocate 70 percent of marijuana tax revenue to community reinvestment programs such as legal aid, workforce training and mentoring.
The Assembly secured a win as well, with negotiators agreeing to include the chamber’s proposal to cap cannabis cultivation licenses at 37 for the first two years. Activists want no caps, as they feel it would limit minority participation in the industry. Microgrow licenses for businesses with 10 or fewer employees would be uncapped.
Tax revenue would also go toward public education and law enforcement training, in addition to covering administrative costs.
“This is a historic step forward for New Jersey that will put us in the forefront of the reform movement,” Senate President Steve Sweeney (D) said in a press release. “We will now be able to move forward to correct social and legal injustices that have had a discriminatory impact on communities of color at the same time that marijuana is regulated and made legal for adults. This represents a significant change in public policy that will have a real-life impact on social justice, law enforcement and the state’s economy.”
Today we have approved historic legislation that will act to implement the public #referendum approved by #voters on adult-use marijuana in NJ. Taking efforts to establish this legalized system will put our state at the forefront of the #reform movement.https://t.co/Vd9d4bO9uO pic.twitter.com/puNGXPiPq7
— Steve Sweeney (@NJSenatePres) December 14, 2020
The legislation does not create a special category of licenses for equity business applicants and continues to criminalize the act of growing small amounts of marijuana at home for one’s own consumption, which are points of contention for many legalization supporters.
In any case, the recent compromises between top lawmakers are clearing the path for floor votes, which are expected on Thursday. The Assembly is also expected to take up the separate bill to decriminalize marijuana possession on that day. The Senate approved it last month when it still had the psilocybin component attached.
In the meantime, the Assembly Appropriations Committee is set to vote on the revised legal sales implementation legislation on Tuesday.
After a deal was reached, Murphy, Sweeney, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D), Senate Judiciary Chairman Nicholas Scutari (D) and Assemblywoman Annette Quijano (D) released a joint statement saying the legislation “will accomplish our shared goals of delivering restorative justice and ensuring that the communities most impacted by the War on Drugs see the economic benefits of the adult-use cannabis market.”
Last month, New Jerseyans voted overwhelmingly to legalize adult-use marijuana.
Today, I'm proud to announce an agreement with @NJSenatePres, @SpeakerCoughlin, @SenatorScutari, and @AnnetteQuijano on a framework for legalization to advance racial, social, and economic justice. pic.twitter.com/rpeqbyoMoT
— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) December 4, 2020
Last night we agreed with the administration and other state leaders to provide the framework for the legalization of #marijuana. This #bill will deliver restorative justice & economic benefits to the communities most harmed by the #WaronDrugs. https://t.co/5Hy6NxcxwL pic.twitter.com/lj6MWh32Ea
— Steve Sweeney (@NJSenatePres) December 5, 2020
While the bill advanced on Monday, there was some debate during the hearing over provisions related to workplace and roadside drug testing. Several advocates also testified in favor of enhancing the legislation’s social equity components.
“The cannabis legalization bill advanced by the Senate’s Judiciary Committee today is testament to the hard work of advocates, community organizers, and faith leaders across New Jersey who fought to ensure that our state prioritizes reparations for communities of color as we launch this historic new cannabis market,” Rev. Charles Boyer, founding director of Salvation and Social Justice, said in a press release.
“Although there are several more provisions we would like to see, we cannot understate how far this has come,” he said. “While legislators initially tried to rush through a framework that perpetuated an oppressive status quo, today’s bill includes powerful elements that will promote racial justice as we legalize cannabis statewide—including a social equity excise tax and 70 percent of the sales tax that will directly fund community programs in parts of the state devastated by the drug war and lifts the caps for licenses after two years.”
At the hearing, Scutari emphasized the importance of passing this implementation legislation sooner rather than later.
He said failing to do so would mean that the state would “have a constitutional crisis like you’ve never seen before you’re going to have the constitution saying it’s legal,” yet there would be no regulations. “We’ll have shirked our responsibility to the public,” he said.
Prior to the compromise deal, Sweeney and other Democratic senators released another cannabis-related constitutional amendment that would go before voters. If approved, it would ensure that a majority of tax revenue from marijuana sales would go to communities most affected by cannabis criminalization, shielding the funds from being moved to other programs during the state’s annual budget process.
Meanwhile, as legislators work to advance the implementation bill, state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal (D) is directing prosecutors to adjourn most marijuana possession cases until at least January 25. The day after the referendum vote, he issued initial guidance to prosecutors, encouraging them to use discretion when it comes to cannabis offenses that will soon be codified as legal.
Meanwhile, the psilocybin bill that’s advancing would not decriminalize the fungi, per se. But it would make low-level possession punishably by a maximum $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail, rather than three to five years of incarceration. An Assembly committee approved that chamber’s version of the mushroom bill last week and it is set to receive a floor vote on Thursday.
Separately on Monday, the Senate Judiciary panel also approved legislation to revise “the restrictions that apply to ownership of or investment in a medical cannabis dispensary and other types of alternative treatment centers,” according to a summary.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
Top Pennsylvania Official Restores Marijuana Flag After GOP Lawmakers Allegedly Got It Removed
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman’s (D) marijuana and LGBTQ flags are waving again at his Capitol office after state officials removed them Monday night, allegedly at the behest of certain GOP lawmakers who feel strongly about the activist decor.
The day after their removal, the lieutenant governor proudly announced on Twitter that he’d restored the flags—one rainbow-themed and the other displaying cannabis leaves.
“I really can’t emphasize this enough, my issue isn’t with the individuals that came to take them down. They’re kind of caught in the middle of it so it’s not them,” Fetterman told Marijuana Moment. “But the Pennsylvania GOP exerted enough pressure and made enough drama so they felt that they needed to do something and they took them down. When I realized that, I just put them back up.”
I even had to rehang this one. 🙄 pic.twitter.com/NPuADtb1Lt
— John Fetterman (@JohnFetterman) January 26, 2021
The flags have been an unusual source of controversy for some members of the legislature. In November, Republican lawmakers passed budget legislation that included a provision targeting his cannabis-themed office decor, making it so only the American flag, the Pennsylvania flag and those honoring missing soldiers could be displayed at the Capitol building.
It’s kinda flattering that they changed Pennsylvania law just for me. 🥺👉👈
Speaking of changing laws…
I’ll take them down when we get:
LEGAL WEED 🟩 FOR PA + EQUAL PROTECTION UNDER THE LAW for LGBTQIA+ community in PA.
— John Fetterman (@JohnFetterman) November 20, 2020
“There’s one great way to get them down for good and we can end this,” the lieutenant governor said. And that’s by enacting legislative reform.
“It shouldn’t have to be this way. These are not controversial things. These are very fundamentally American things. It’s freedom-related. It’s individuality-related. It’s jobs. It’s revenue,” he said. “These are not controversial, but these flags are. For the party that thinks it’s A-OK to talk about how an election that was secure was rigged, they sure have a real thin skin when it comes to free speech.”
A spokesperson for the state Department of General Services confirmed to Marijuana Moment that it was tasked with removing the flags and did so “in order to comply with section 1724-E of the fiscal code.” Asked whether lawmakers from the legislature’s Republican majority influenced the recent action, the representative repeated: “All I can say is the Department of General Services removed the flag in order to comply with section 1724-E of the fiscal code.”
Marijuana Moment reached out to the offices of the Senate majority leader and House speaker for comment, but representatives did not respond by the time of publication.
Defying the flag order is par for the course for Fetterman, a longtime marijuana reform advocate who is weighing a run for the U.S. Senate. His enthusiastic embrace of the issue has often put him in the spotlight, and he said he’d take that advocacy to Congress if he ultimately decides to enter the race and is elected.
“I’m the only person that’s actually called out my own party for its failure to embrace it when it is appropriate,” he said, referring to his repeated criticism of the Democratic National Committee’s rejection of a pro-legalization platform. “There has never been—or would ever be—a more committed advocate to ending this awful superstition over a plant for the United States.”
🚨🚨 PENNSYLVANIA *AND* DNC IS BEING LAPPED ON LEGAL WEED BY THE DAKOTAS NOW
— John Fetterman (@JohnFetterman) January 26, 2021
On his campaign website, the lieutenant governor touts his role in leading a listening tour across the state to solicit public input on the policy change. He noted that, following his efforts, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) “announced his support for legalization for the first time.”
It remains to be seen when legalization will happen in Pennsylvania, however. Despite Fetterman and Wolf’s support for legalization and the pressure they’re applying on lawmakers, convincing Republican legislative leaders to go along with the plan remains a challenge.
Fetterman previously told Marijuana Moment that pursuing reform through the governor’s budget request is a possibility. But in the meantime the administration is exploring the constitutionality of issuing “wholesale pardons for certain marijuana convictions and charges.”
Since adopting a pro-legalization position in 2019, Wolf has repeatedly called on the legislature to enact the policy change. He’s stressed that stressed that marijuana reform could generate tax revenue to support the state’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and that ending criminalization is necessary for social justice.
In September, he took a dig at the Republican-controlled legislature for failing to act on reform in the previous session. And in August, he suggested that the state itself could potentially control marijuana sales rather than just license private retailers as other legalized jurisdictions have done.
Fetterman previously said that farmers in his state can grow better marijuana than people in New Jersey—where voters approved a legalization referendum in November—and that’s one reason why Pennsylvania should expeditiously reform its cannabis laws.
He also hosted a virtual forum where he got advice on how to effectively implement a cannabis system from the lieutenant governors of Illinois and Michigan, which have enacted legalization.
Shortly after the governor announced that he was embracing the policy change, a lawmaker filed a bill to legalize marijuana through a state-run model.
A majority of Senate Democrats sent Wolf a letter in July arguing that legislators should pursue the policy change in order to generate revenue to make up for losses resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photo courtesy of Twitter/John Fetterman.
Hawaii Could Legalize Psychedelic Mushroom Therapy Under New Senate Bill
Hawaii could legalize the use of psychedelic mushrooms for therapy under a newly filed bill in the state legislature.
The measure, if approved, would direct the state Department of Health to “establish designated treatment centers for the therapeutic administration of psilocybin and psilocyn,” two psychoactive substances produced by certain fungi.
It would also remove the two compounds from the state’s list of Schedule I controlled substances and create a seven-person psilocybin review panel to assess the impacts of the policy change.
Few other specifics are provided in the bill, SB 738, introduced in the state Senate on Friday. It doesn’t specify who would qualify for the therapy, for example, or how precisely the drugs—which remain federally illegal—would be administered. The legislation simply says the Department of Health “shall adopt rules” in accordance with state law.
The new legislation comes less than a year after Hawaii lawmakers introduced bills to begin studying the therapeutic use of psychedelic mushrooms with the goal of eventually legalizing them, though those measures did not advance.
Entheogens—including other substances like ayahuasca and ibogaine—have emerged as a promising treatment for severe depression, anxiety and other conditions, although research remains ongoing.
In November, voters in Oregon approved a ballot measure to legalize psilocybin therapy that the state is now in the process of implementing.
The new Hawaii bill was introduced by Sens. Stanley Chang, Laura Clint Acasio, Les Ihara Jr. and Maile Shimabukuro, all Democrats. It has not yet been scheduled for a hearing, according to the state legislature’s website.
Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 400 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.
Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.
The Hawaii proposal is one of a growing number of broader reform bills to have been introduced across the country this year as the debate on drug policy moves beyond marijuana. A measure introduced in New York earlier this month would remove criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of any controlled substance, instead imposing a $50 fine. Similar measures are expected to be introduced in California and Washington State this year.
A Florida lawmaker recently announced plans to introduce legislation to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes in the state.
Lawmakers in New Jersey last month sent a bill to Gov. Phil Murphy (D) that would reduce criminal charges for the possession of psilocybin, but so far Murphy hasn’t signed the measure.
Voters, meanwhile, have been broadly supportive of drug reform measures in recent years. In addition to the psilocybin. measure, Oregon voters in November also approved an initiative to decriminalize possession of all drugs. Washington, D.C. voters overwhelmingly enacted a proposal to decriminalize the possession of psychedelics.
Despite the growing discussion of drug reform at statehouses across the country, some high-profile advocates are setting their sights on the 2022 election. Dr. Bronner’s CEO David Bronner, a key financial backer of successful reform efforts in Oregon, told Marijuana Moment last month that he’s expecting both Washington state and Colorado voters will see decriminalization or psilocybin therapy on their 2022 ballots.
Meanwhile, a new advocacy group is pushing Congress to allocate $100 million to support research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Workman
Minnesota Governor Urges Lawmakers To Pursue Marijuana Legalization Amid Budget Talks
The governor of Minnesota on Tuesday implored the legislature to look into legalizing marijuana as a means to boost the economy and promote racial justice.
During a briefing focused on his budget proposal for the 2022-23 biennium, Gov. Tim Walz (D) was asked whether he is open to allowing sports betting in the state to generate tax revenue. He replied he wasn’t closing the door on that proposal, but said he is more interested in seeing lawmakers “take a look at recreational cannabis.”
Not only would tax revenue from adult-use marijuana “dwarf” those collected through sports betting, he said, but legalization would also help address “the equity issue and, quite honestly, the racial impact of our cannabis laws.”
Watch the governor discuss marijuana legalization below:
“I will say this, I will certainly leave open that possibility. Our neighboring states have done both of those things,” Walz said of legalizing sports gambling and cannabis. “I obviously recognize that that’s not a 100 percent slam dunk for people, and they realize that there’s cost associated with both. But my message would be is, I don’t think this is the time for me to say I’m shutting the door on anything.”
The Minnesota governor did say in 2019, however, that he was directing state agencies to prepare to implement reform in anticipation of legalization passing.
Earlier this month, the House majority leader said he would again introduce a bill to legalize marijuana in the new session. And if Senate Republicans don’t go along with the reform, he said he hopes they will at least let voters decide on cannabis as a 2022 ballot measure.
Heading into the 2020 election, Democrats believed they had a shot of taking control of the Senate, but that didn’t happen. The result appears to be partly due to the fact that candidates from marijuana-focused parties in the state earned a sizable share of votes that may have otherwise gone to Democrats, perhaps inadvertently hurting the chances of reform passing.
House Speaker Melissa Hortman (D) said this month that “Senate Republicans remain the biggest obstacle to progress on this issue.”
“Minnesota’s current cannabis laws are doing more harm than good,” she told The Center Square. “By creating a regulatory framework we can address the harms caused by cannabis and establish a more sensible set of laws to improve our health care and criminal justice systems and ensure better outcomes for communities,” she said.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R), for his part, said that while he would be “open to expanding medical use or hearing criminal justice reforms,” he doesn’t “believe fully legalized marijuana is right for the state.”
“Other states that have legalized marijuana are having issues with public safety,” he argued, “and we are concerned that we haven’t fully seen how this works with employment issues, education outcomes and mental health.”
Last month, the Minnesota House Select Committee On Racial Justice adopted a report that broadly details race-based disparities in criminal enforcement and recommends a series of policy changes, including marijuana decriminalization and expungements.
Another factor that might add pressure on lawmakers to enact the reform is the November vote in neighboring South Dakota to legalize adult-use cannabis.
Also next door, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) is pushing lawmakers to enact marijuana reform and recently said that he is considering putting legalization in his upcoming budget request.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.