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New Jersey Lawmakers Send Marijuana And Psilocybin Bills To Governor

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New Jersey is one step closer to launching legal marijuana sales as approved by voters last month after the state Senate and Assembly passed landmark legislation Thursday to establish a framework for the new market. The proposal now heads to the desk of Gov. Phil Murphy (D) for his signature.

Both chambers of legislature also approved separate bills to decriminalize possession of up to six ounces of marijuana and reduce criminal charges for the possession of psilocybin. The two provisions were once parts of a single measure, but lawmakers spun off the psychedelic mushroom component into standalone legislation after some took issue with pairing them together.

The marijuana sales legislation (A21/S21)—passed by the Assembly on a 49–24 vote, with six abstentions, and approved by the Senate with a 23-17 tally—is by far the most sweeping of the bills. It has also generated some controversy. Introduced by sponsors just days after more than 67 percent of voters approved a marijuana legalization referendum on Election Day, it ran into repeated delays over concerns about social equity, licensing rules and drug testing of workers.

The psilocybin bill cleared the Senate by a 22-15 vote, with three abstentions, and passed the Assembly, 51-22, with six abstentions.

The marijuana decriminalization proposal was approved by the Assembly in a 64-12 vote, with three abstentions, and the Senate approved it, 31-2.

The final cannabis legalization legislation is the result of a compromise announced less than a week ago by top lawmakers and the governor, and includes a number of amendments made in committees earlier this week and only published online for public consumption after the fact on Wednesday afternoon. Sponsors have explained their rush by saying it’s necessary to pass the legislation before the voter-approved legalization of cannabis in the state Constitution takes effect on January 1.

After the deal was reached, the governor and legislative leaders released a joint statement saying the revised 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.”

“This is a historic reform that will have a real-life impact on social justice, law enforcement and the state’s economy. It will launch a new cannabis industry with the potential to create jobs and economic activity at a time when it is desperately needed,” Senate President Steve Sweeney (D) said in a press release after the bill’s passage. “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.”

Among the most notable changes to the bill since its introduction last month is the inclusion of a social equity excise tax and a provision to route 70 percent of all state marijuana sales tax to so-called impact zones, areas determined by the state to have been disproportionately affected by marijuana prohibition. The money would fund legal aid, health care, workforce training and other programs for residents of those areas.

Sweeney, along with Judiciary Committee Chairman Nick Scutari (D), has also proposed a separate 2021 ballot question that would enshrine equity funding as a constitutional amendment and as a result shield the money from being directed to other programs as part of the state’s annual budget process.

While equity advocates have welcomed those changes, the ACLU of New Jersey and others say the new law still wouldn’t do enough to redress racial injustices of the drug war or ensure a path for victims of prohibition to profit from the new industry, as some other legal states have attempted to do.

Jessica Gonzalez, general counsel for Minorities for Medical Marijuana, said this week that she would have liked to see lawmakers add a special social equity status for license applicants. “There’s still a considerable amount of uncertainty surrounding the tax allocation to social equity programs,” she said.

The legislation passed Thursday would give priority to applications for businesses that include a person who has resided in an impact zone for three or more years, or for businesses that plan to hire at least 25 of their employees from impact zones. Gonzalez and others warn that could allow large businesses to move in to a town and hire only a small number of local workers.

Another recent change to New Jersey’s cannabis legislation would limit the state to granting 37 marijuana cultivation licenses to commercial growers during the first two years of legal sales. That could benefit existing medical cannabis producers, who would be allowed to sell to adults over 21 as soon as they certify they have enough supply to meet existing patient demand.

Proponents of dropping the license cap, meanwhile, said removing it would allow a more diverse array of businesses to participate, including those with less access to capital. The legislation does not set a limit on licenses for microbusinesses, or those that employ 10 or fewer people.

Under another recent amendment, employers would be allowed to require workers to take drug tests based on “reasonable” suspicion of cannabis use in addition to pre-employment or regular employee drug screening. Drug tests would need to be done alongside a physical examination done by a person specifically trained to recognize cannabis use, which some businesses have complained would be impracticable.

Meanwhile, legalization advocates have complained that the legislation would continue to criminalize people who grow their own cannabis at home for personal consumption—unlike most other legalized states.

A separate cannabis bill up Thursday for a full vote by the legislature would decriminalize possession of up to six ounces of marijuana. That measure, S2535/A1897, was introduced before voters approved marijuana legalization but would nevertheless still apply, removing criminal and civil penalties for cannabis possession. The commercial sales regulation bill, by contrast, allows legal possession of up to a single ounce of marijuana.

The decriminalization measure would also allow for “virtual” expungements of cannabis possession convictions that occurred prior to the bill’s enactment and prevent police from using marijuana odor as a justification to perform a search.

“Not only are we decriminalizing possession but also first offenses for low-level distribution, a move which will offer individuals a second chance and ensure they do not become entangled in the system the first time they are caught selling small quantities of marijuana,” Senate President Pro Tempore M. Teresa Ruiz (D), the bill’s lead sponsor, said in a statement last month. “This is yet another step towards bringing justice and equity to historically impacted communities.”

The marijuana decriminalization bill at one point contained a provision that would also reduce criminal penalties for possession of psilocybin mushrooms, although it would not decriminalize it completely. That amendment was added by Scutari in committee, and then removed over concerns it could derail the broader decriminalization measure.

It was reintroduced as a standalone bill, A5084/S3256 and is also set for final legislative votes on Thursday. The measure would reduce possession of up to one ounce of psilocybin mushrooms to a disorderly persons offense, punishable by a maximum $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail.

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal (D) late last month directed prosecutors to adjourn most marijuana possession cases until at least January 25. Legal sales could kick off early next year, and passage of the decriminalization bill would eliminate the need for most prosecutions for simple possession.

Sweeney, the Senate president, applauded the attorney general’s move. “Now that the people of NJ have spoken,” he wrote in a tweet, “no one should be subject to facing criminal charges for minimal amounts of this substance.”

Meanwhile, Murphy last month appointed an official to lead the state’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission that will oversee the legal marijuana market.

Also on Thursday, the Senate 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. The vote was 32-8.

DEA Issues Final Rule For Licensing More Growers Of Marijuana For Research

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.

Ben Adlin is a Seattle-based writer and editor. He has covered cannabis as a journalist since 2011, most recently as a senior news editor for Leafly.

Politics

Texas Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Decriminalization Bill In Committee

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A bill to decriminalize marijuana possession in Texas—as well as a separate proposal to reduce penalties for possessing cannabis concentrates—advanced out of a key House committee on Friday.

These are the latest developments that have come after a week where Texas lawmakers have considered a medley of marijuana reform measures. But arguably the most significant piece of cannabis legislation to move out of committee would make possession of up to an ounce of marijuana a class C misdemeanor that carries a fine but no threat of jail time.

The full House of Representatives approved a cannabis decriminalization bill in 2019, but it did not advance in the Senate that session.

This time around, the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee approved the decriminalization bill, which would also prevent law enforcement from making arrests over low-level possession. Other decriminalization proposals that were under consideration by the panel this week would not prohibit that enforcement action, which is key because police are currently able to incarcerate people who are arrested for class C misdemeanors even though the charge itself does not carry the risk of jail time in sentencing.

The advancing legislation, HB 441, sponsored by Rep. Erin Zwiener (D), would also prevent the loss of a driver’s license or the creation of a criminal record for possession of up to one ounce.

Separately, the committee advanced legislation to make possession of up to two ounces of cannabis concentrates a class B misdemeanor.

Both bills were among the subjects a lengthy hearing the panel held on Tuesday.

“Marijuana bills are moving through the committee process at record speed this session,” Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, told Marijuana Moment. “There’s good reason to be optimistic about the upcoming votes and the House and advocates will be doubling down their efforts to influence senators.”

This action comes one day after the House Public Health Committee unanimously approved a bill to significantly expand the state’s medical marijuana program.

Sponsored by Chairwoman Stephanie Klick (R), the bill would add cancer, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder (for veterans only) as conditions that could qualify people for the state’s limited medical cannabis program.

It would further allow the Department of State Health Services to add more qualifying conditions via administrative rulemaking. And it would also raise the THC cap for medical marijuana products from 0.5 percent to five percent.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 900 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.

On Thursday, the House Agriculture and Livestock Committee also discussed legislation that would make certain changes to the state’s hemp program, including imposing rules related to the transportation and testing of consumable hemp products.

While the Texas legislature has historically resisted most cannabis reforms, there are signs that this session may be different.

House Speaker Dade Phelan (R) said during a Texas Young Republicans event last month that while he wouldn’t be able to distinguish marijuana from oregano, he said, “I understand the issue.”

The speaker said that he voted for a limited medical cannabis legalization bill during his freshman year in the legislature, and his support for the reform is partly based on the fact that he has a “sister with severe epilepsy, and small amounts of CBD oil makes a big difference in people’s lives.”

Phelan also noted that he was a “joint author—no pun intended” of cannabis decriminalization legislation last session.

“I was able to go back home and explain it, and it wasn’t a big deal,” he said. “To me, it’s a reasonable criminal justice reform issue.”

Texans’ support for legalizing marijuana has grown significantly over the past decade, according to a poll released last month.

Sixty percent of state voters now back making cannabis legal “for any use,” the University of Texas and Texas Tribune survey found. That compares to just 42 percent who said the same back in 2010.

Leaders in both chambers of the legislature have recently indicated that they anticipate more modest proposals to be taken up and potentially approved this session, particularly as it concerns expanding the state’s limited medical cannabis program.

Phelan said he thinks “the House will look at” reform measures this year, including bills to legalize for adult use. He said the lawmakers will likely “review those again, and some will get traction, some will not.” However, the Senate remains an obstacle for comprehensive reform.

Legislators in the state prefiled more than a dozen pieces of cannabis legislation ahead of the new session. That includes bills that would legalize recreational marijuana, allow high-THC cannabis for medical use and decriminalize low-level possession of marijuana.

That said, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), who presides over the Senate, has killed prior efforts to enact reform in the state, raising questions about the prospects of far-reaching changes advancing in the chamber.

Nevada Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Bill To Allow On-Site Consumption Lounges

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Nevada Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Bill To Allow On-Site Consumption Lounges

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A bill to allow on-site marijuana consumption lounges advanced through a Nevada Assembly committee on Friday. The panel separately passed a measure making it so the concentration of THC in a person’s blood cannot be singularly used to determine impairment while driving.

The social use legislation, sponsored by Speaker Pro Tempore Steve Yeager (D), would create two new licensing categories for cannabis businesses in the state. One would be for “retail cannabis consumption lounges” and the other would be an “independent cannabis consumption lounge.”

Existing retailers could apply for the former license and sell products that could be consumed on-site by adults 21 and older. Independent lounges would not be permitted to sell cannabis on their own, but would need to have marijuana products delivered to consumers from another source.

That said, independent licensees could submit a request to regulators to sell cannabis that they produce or to enter into a contract with an adult-use retailer to sell their products.

The state’s Cannabis Compliance Board would also be responsible for creating regulations for on-site facilities and setting fees for license applicants. Businesses that qualify as social equity applicants would have a reduced fee.

Under the legislation, a person “who has been adversely affected by provisions of previous laws which criminalized activity relating to cannabis, including, without limitation, adverse effects on an owner, officer or board member of the applicant or on the geographic area in which the applicant will operate” is considered a social equity applicant.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 900 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.

Yeager proposed a large-scale amendment to the proposal before it was approved by the Assembly Judiciary Committee. It builds on the definition and scoring system for social equity applicants, revises public safety requirements for lounges and ensures that products purchased at lounges cannot be removed from the facility, among other changes.

The Las Vegas City Council in 2019 approved an ordinance allowing for social consumption sites within city limits.

That year, Alaska became the first state to enact regulations that provide for the on-site use option at dispensaries. Colorado followed suit with legislation approved that legalized cannabis “tasting rooms” and “marijuana hospitality establishments” where adults could freely use cannabis. Social consumption sites are also provided for in New York’s recently enacted marijuana legalization law.

In Nevada, adding new license types and giving consumers this option—especially in the tourist-centric state—could further boost marijuana and other tax revenues. And Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) has had a particular interest in ensuring that those tax dollars support public education, which he talked about during a State of the State address in January.

Sisolak has also committed to promoting equity and justice in the state’s marijuana law. Last year, for example, he pardoned more than 15,000 people who were convicted for low-level cannabis possession.

That action was made possible under a resolution the governor introduced that was unanimously approved by the state’s Board of Pardons Commissioners.

Under the impaired driving bill that separately cleared the committee on Friday, the per se blood test for THC would no longer be used in determining impairment.

Advocates have argued that the limit is arbitrary and there’s a lack of scientific evidence demonstrating a link between the amount of THC metabolites present in the blood and active impairment.

New Mexico Governor Sends Marijuana Bill Sponsors A ‘Save The Date’ For Expected Legalization Bill Signing

Photo courtesy of Martin Alonso.

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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Biden Gets Yet Another Congressional Letter Blasting Marijuana-Related White House Firings

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President Joe Biden has received yet another letter from a lawmaker demanding answers about his administration’s practice of firing or otherwise punishing staffers for prior marijuana use.

Rep. Angie Craig (D-MN) noted the national push to end prohibition and how the White House’s actions reveal a troubling disconnect.

“Cannabis is legal for either medical or adult use in 36 states, with numerous states pursuing efforts to further legalize for adult use,” the congresswoman wrote. “In Minnesota, our state legislature is expected to vote on measures to legalize cannabis in the coming months following years of political and community organizing by activists throughout the state.”

“Minnesotans and the American people are demanding change to our harsh and unequally applied cannabis laws,” she wrote. “I look forward to seeing your Administration reverse course on this harmful and unnecessary hurdle to hiring diverse and talented public servants.”

Craig also mentioned efforts to legalize marijuana at the federal level and commented on Biden’s prior statements on more modest reforms.

“I stand ready to work with you as we revisit our country’s drug laws, including the descheduling of cannabis as a Class 1 drug at the federal level,” she said. “You have previously expressed your commitment to decriminalizing cannabis in acknowledgement that a cannabis conviction or even the stigma of cannabis use can ruin lives and prevent people from voting, gaining employment and contributing to society.”

This is the third letter from lawmakers that Biden has been sent regarding the federal marijuana employment controversy.

A coalition of 30 members of Congress sent a letter last month that sharply criticizes the administration for terminating or punishing multiple White House staffers who disclosed their prior cannabis use. They pointed out that Vice President Kamala Harris and at least one one other Cabinet member are on record about their own marijuana use experiences.

Prior to that, Rep. David Joyce (R-OH) sent a similar message to the president condemning news of the marijuana-related firings for people who were honest about their history with cannabis on a federal form that’s required as part of the background check process.

“Simply put, in a nation where the truth is considered malleable, we need to demonstrate to our young public servants that telling the truth is an honorable trait, not one to be punished,” the congressman wrote. “I respectfully request that your administration discontinue punishment of staff for being honest about their prior cannabis use and reinstate otherwise qualified individuals to their posts.”

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki addressed the controversy last month, saying during a press briefing that while Biden could theoretically end the policy of firing staff over prior marijuana use himself, that’s not happening as long as cannabis is federally illegal.

She later said that the president’s stance on marijuana legalization “has not changed,” meaning he’s still opposed to the comprehensive reform.

Psaki has previously attempted to minimize the fallout over the cannabis firings, with not much success, and so her office released a statement last month stipulating that nobody was fired for “marijuana usage from years ago,” nor has anyone been terminated “due to casual or infrequent use during the prior 12 months.”

Read the new letter to Biden on White House marijuana employment policy below: 

Letter to Biden Regarding C… by Marijuana Moment

New Mexico Governor Sends Marijuana Bill Sponsors A ‘Save The Date’ For Expected Legalization Bill Signing

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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