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New Jersey Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Legalization

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New Jersey got one step closer to legalizing marijuana on Monday after lawmakers approved an adult-use legalization bill in a joint session of Senate and Assembly committees.

A total of three separate cannabis bills were approved at the hearing: one to fully legalize marijuana, one to expand the state’s existing medical cannabis program and another that would create a system to speed up expungements for people who’ve been convicted for low-level marijuana offenses.

After about four hours of testimony on the full legalization bill, the panels cast votes on that piece of legislation, with it being approved 7-4 with two abstentions on the Senate side. The Assembly panel then signed off by a vote of 7-3 with one abstention.

“Today’s Senate and Assembly votes are a victory for common sense and for sound public policy in New Jersey,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said in a press release. “We look forward to lawmakers on the Assembly and Senate floors acting swiftly to approve this legislation to send to Governor Murphy to sign into law.”

“New Jersey holds the dubious distinction of ranking second in the nation in per capita annual marijuana arrests. This policy disproportionately impacts young people of color, violates civil liberties, and is an egregious waste of public resources that can be reprioritized elsewhere. The people of New Jersey are ready to move forward. Their representatives should approve this legislation this year and replace the failed practice of prohibition with the sensible policy of legalization and regulation.”

The other two bills—to expand New Jersey’s medical cannabis program and expedite expungements—were also approved by both panels.

Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D), the main sponsor of the legalization proposal, kicked off the hearing by touting the economic and criminal justice benefits of ending prohibition.

He was followed by a large mix of legalization supporters and opponents, including representatives from the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), Latino Justice and law enforcement associations.

“Today’s vote is a step in the right direction for New Jersey,” DPA’s Roseanne Scotti said in a press release. “For too long, New Jersey’s marijuana laws have harmed families and communities, particularly communities of color. African Americans are three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than whites despite similar rates of use, and anecdotal evidence suggests similar disparities for Latinos. Legalizing marijuana for adult-use is essential to help repair these wrongs.”

Former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), who co-founded the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, spoke out against the reform legislation and sparred with lawmakers in especially heated testimony.

Assembly Appropriations Chair John Burzichelli (D) commented on the “long road” to reform and said “we are on the verge of something very significant.”

He also talked about the failures of prohibition and said keeping marijuana “in the shadows” doesn’t “serve us.”

“I believe this is a good bill and one that will change the lives of tens of thousands of New Jersey residents for the better,” Assemblywoman Annette Quijano said.

“Lets face it: legalizing, regulating and taxing cannabis will be an economic driver that will allow us to reinvest in our communities,” she later said.

The marijuana reform proposals will now head for full floor votes.

“We will continue working the bills towards passage to create a well-regulated and inclusive marijuana industry that is rooted in social and economic justice,” Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin said in a press release.

Pending approval by both full chambers the legislation will go on to Gov. Phil Murphy (D), whose office released a statement Monday affirming that the governor “remains committed to legalizing adult-use marijuana, a critical step in eliminating racial disparities in our criminal justice system.”

Separately, the governor said he’s “very happy” that legalization is moving forward, though he declined to get into the specifics of the legislation.

Murphy’s administration has expressed reservations about certain aspects of the bill—namely who gets to be in charge of regulating the commercial marijuana system and how sales are taxed. The governor reportedly wanted the executive branch to have more regulatory control and called for a steeper tax than the 12 percent rate included in the legislation.

It could be a matter of weeks before Murphy will have the chance to sign the legislation.

“New Jersey is one step closer to replacing marijuana prohibition with sensible regulation,” Kate Bell, general counsel for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a press release. “Arresting adult cannabis consumers is a massive waste of law enforcement officials’ time and resources, and it does nothing to improve public health or safety.”

“Prohibition forces marijuana sales into the underground market, where it is impossible to control them. Under the proposed regulated system, businesses will be governed by strict rules, and authorities will be empowered to make sure those rules are being followed.”

Besides legalizing cannabis for adult use—the centerpiece of the legislative package—the committees also approved a bill to expand New Jersey’s medical marijuana system. Under the proposal, the list of qualifying medical conditions would be expanded and patients would be able possess an extra half ounce of cannabis during a 30-day window, among other smaller policy changes.

Elsewhere in the Legislature on Monday, a separate Senate committee also approved that bill, which is meant to simplify the process of qualifying for medical cannabis and obtaining it. The bill passed 7-1 in that panel. One state senator on the committee did not vote.

Lastly, while there’s an expungement element included in the broad legalization bill, a separate bill to expedite expungements for low-level marijuana offenses also passed.

You can read the text of the latest versions of all three bills here.

UPDATE: This story has been updated with the latest information on votes for all three marijuana bills and to include comment from Drug Policy Alliance, Marijuana Policy Project and NORML.

Read The Marijuana Bills New Jersey Lawmakers Will Vote On Next Week

Photo courtesy of Max Pixel.

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

Mitch McConnell Says Hemp Could Replace Tobacco And Argues That’s Why Voters Should Reelect Him

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said on Thursday that his role in getting industrial hemp legalized is at “the top of the list” of reasons Kentuckians should reelect him next year.

He also said that hemp could essentially replace tobacco, historically a big cash crop for the state that could take a hit under new legislation he introduced to raise the age requirement for tobacco sales from 18 to 21 nationwide.

“How does my job as majority leader help you? Help Kentucky?” McConnell said at a press conference. “At the top of the list I would put hemp.”

Then he pivoted into a discussion of his tobacco legislation, saying that his proposal to deter young tobacco use “underscores the transition in our state from tobacco to something new.”

McConnell led a ten-year federal buyback program meant to compensate tobacco farmers, whose profitability has sunken. He said one factor that contributed to Kentucky’s high rates of tobacco use was industry loyalty, with farmers and other industry workers feeling loyal to the crop that earns them their living and, therefore, choosing to smoke it.

He made a similar point at an earlier press conference Thursday, arguing that the ubiquity of tobacco farms “only further enhanced the view that I ought to be using this product which provides my livelihood” and that “Kentucky agriculture is moving in a much different way with industrial hemp, which we hope to lead the nation in.”

“What comes next? Well, in the previous Farm Bill five years ago, I inserted a provision that allowed pilot projects—because remember hemp was considered a controlled substance under federal law going back to right after World War II so it was treated like this more controversial cousin that we’ve all heard of,” he said, referring to marijuana. “Some states are actually legalizing that, but that’s not what we’re involved in. We’re talking about industrial hemp.”

“The pilot projects showed that there was a good deal of interest in Kentucky, particularly among young farmers,” he said, adding that his success in getting the president to sign the 2018 version of the agriculture legislation that legalized hemp is “an example of how my being in the job I’m in benefits our state.”

McConnell, who also touted his hemp provision in his reelection launch video last week, boasted about how his position as majority leader gives him access and influence. He called the Senate Agriculture Committee chair and got him to include hemp legalization in the Farm Bill. Nobody in the committee tried to shoot it down. But, because the House Agriculture Committee didn’t include hemp legalization in their version, McConnell said he leveraged his power to get the proposal past the goal line and to the president’s desk.

“When you have two different versions, you have a conference to work out the differences before they go back to each house,” he said. “Who appoints the conferees? I do. Who did I appoint? Myself.”

The majority leader also requested that Rep. James Comer (R-KY) be appointed a House conferee, ensuring a smooth process that would kept hemp legalization intact.

“Nobody ever made an effort to take it out. The reason I make this point is there’s certain advantages to Kentucky having someone like me in this job because I allows us to punch above our weight,” he said. “My being in the position I’m in I think really helps Kentucky.”

Mitch McConnell Touts Hemp Legalization Achievement In Reelection Campaign Ad

Photo courtesy of WLKY.

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Culture

Lots Of Politicians And Companies Are Tweeting About Marijuana On 4/20

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It’s 4/20 again, and that means another slew of tweets from politicians and mainstream brands looking to use the marijuana holiday as a hook to get their message out.

Here’s a roundup of some of the best, funniest, most important or otherwise notable cannabis-related tweets of the day…

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), a presidential candidate:

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), a presidential candidate:

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), a presidential candidate:

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), a presidential candidate:

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), a presidential candidate:

Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA), a presidential candidate:

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX), a presidential candidate:

Former Sen. Mike Gravel (D-AK), a presidential candidate:

Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee (D), a presidential candidate:

Former San Antonio, Texas Mayor Julián Castro (D), a presidential candidate:

Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang:

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY):

House Committee on Small Business:

Congressional Black Caucus:

Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV):

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR):

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN):

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA):

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA):

Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL):

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN):

Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM):

Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D):

Los Angeles, California City Council President Herb Wesson (D):

Cook County, Illinois State’s Attorney Kim Foxx (D):

The American Civil Liberties Union:

Ben & Jerry’s:

Denny’s:

Hidden Valley Ranch:

Carl’s Jr.:

Boston Market:

George Washington’s Mount Vernon:

Bill Maher:

Miley Cyrus:

311:

The Onion:

Ben & Jerry’s Stands Out From Companies Just Trying To Make Money From 4/20

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Politics

State-Legal Marijuana Use Makes Immigrants Morally Unfit for Citizenship, Trump Administration Warns

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A federal immigration agency clarified on Friday that using marijuana or engaging in cannabis-related “activities” such as working for a dispensary—even in states where it’s legal—is an immoral offense that makes immigrants ineligible for citizenship.

When applying for naturalization, the process of gaining citizenship, individuals must have established “good moral character” in the five years preceding the application. Good moral character is a vague requirement that has been criticized by scholars and civil rights advocates, as assessing morality is arguably subjective.

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), state-legal marijuana consumption renders individuals morally unfit for citizenship. The new policy clarification reflects a sentiment once expressed by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who said that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”

The USCIS memo says that “violation of federal controlled substance law, including for marijuana, established by a conviction or admission, is generally a bar to establishing [good moral character] for naturalization even where the conduct would not be a violation of state law.”

Further, an applicant “who is involved in certain marijuana related activities may lack GMC if found to have violated federal law, even if such activity is not unlawful under applicable state or foreign laws,” the document says. The policy also applies to individuals who worked in the state-legal cannabis industry.

There have already been reports of people being denied citizenship due to their proximity to state-legal marijuana businesses. Earlier this month, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock hosted a group of immigrants who said their work in the state’s cannabis industry was being used as justification by federal officials to deny them citizenship.

“In Colorado, cannabis has been legal for 5 years. For work in a legal industry to be used against an individual trying to gain citizenship is a prime example of why we need to harmonize our state and federal laws to ensure that states like Colorado that have moved to legalize cannabis can act in our own authority to expand and regulate our cannabis industry,” Rep. Joe Neguse (D-CO), told Marijuana Moment in reaction to the Trump administration memo.

Legalization activists also criticized the move.

“The cruel treatment of immigrants for offenses related to something as minor as marijuana is illustrative of the way this administration has used the war on drugs to pursue communities of color,” Michael Collins, director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, told Marijuana Moment. “It also shows that pursuing a state by state approach to federal policy doesn’t work for these communities. Federal descheduling is essential.”

While the federal policy deeming marijuana use a violation of “good moral character” standards for immigration purposes was already on the books, it seems the spread of state-level cannabis legalization has prompted the agency, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, to issue the clarification.

“A number of states and the District of Columbia (D.C.) have enacted laws permitting ‘medical’ or ‘recreational’ use of marijuana. Marijuana, however, remains classified as a ‘Schedule I’ controlled substance under the federal CSA,” the updated USCIS policy manual now reads. “Schedule I substances have no accepted medical use pursuant to the CSA. Classification of marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law means that certain conduct involving marijuana, which is in violation of the CSA, continues to constitute a conditional bar to GMC for naturalization eligibility, even where such activity is not a criminal offense under state law.”

“Such an offense under federal law may include, but is not limited to, possession, manufacture or production, or distribution or dispensing of marijuana. For example, possession of marijuana for recreational or medical purposes or employment in the marijuana industry may constitute conduct that violates federal controlled substance laws. Depending on the specific facts of the case, these activities, whether established by a conviction or an admission by the applicant, may preclude a finding of GMC for the applicant during the statutory period. An admission must meet the long held requirements for a valid ‘admission’ of an offense. Note that even if an applicant does not have a conviction or make a valid admission to a marijuana-related offense, he or she may be unable to meet the burden of proof to show that he or she has not committed such an offense.”

The underlying policy does provide an exception for “a single offense of simple possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana.”

An additional update to the policy manual stipulates that the exception “is also applicable to paraphernalia offenses involving controlled substances as long as the paraphernalia offense is ‘related to’ simple possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana.”

That detail wasn’t included in an earlier 2014 version of the USCIS policy manual.

The policy alert is similar to an update the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) issued in 2017 when the federal gun purchase application form was revised to include a warning that the “use or possession of marijuana remains unlawful under Federal law regardless of whether it has been legalized or decriminalized for medicinal or recreational purposes in the state where you reside” and therefore disqualifies applicants.

But the USCIS clarification also reflects a recent ratcheting up of anti-immigration policy moves under the Trump administration.

Jason Ortiz, vice president of the Minority Cannabis Business Association, told Marijuana Moment that the new memo reflects a “callous and irrational decision” by the administration and “is a reminder that without comprehensive cannabis reform our communities of color will continue to be prosecuted and subject to deportation for activity that is legal for affluent communities around the country.”

“Proposals such as the STATES act which seek to simply ease the risk on business do not address these deeper issues related to federal prohibition,” he said. “Considering the devastating effects our war on drugs had on Latin America, immigration reform must be a necessary component of any comprehensive cannabis legalization policy.”

People Could Use Marijuana In Public Housing Under New Congressional Bill

This story has been updated to include comment from Neguse.

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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