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New Jersey Senate Approves Marijuana Decriminalization Despite Contentious Psychedelics Provision

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The New Jersey Senate on Monday approved a marijuana decriminalization bill as lawmakers continue to discuss broader enabling legislation to legalize cannabis following voter approval of the issue on Election Day.

Members of the Assembly were also scheduled to take up the decriminalization proposal—which would eliminate criminal and civil penalties for marijuana possession of up to six ounces. But that action was postponed, in part over disagreements about an amendment added in committee last week that would lower penalties for possession of psilocybin mushrooms.

Since the election, state legislators have been prioritizing cannabis reform. While the constitutional amendment voters passed will legalize marijuana as of January 1, it’s still up to the legislature to create regulations for the program, and a bill to accomplish that was introduced days after the vote. It was approved by committees in both chambers last week, but a vote in appropriations panels was cancelled on Thursday over disputes on certain components, primarily tax-related.

Senate leaders and the office of Gov. Phil Murphy (D), who strongly campaigned in favor of the legalization referendum, have reportedly struck a deal to add an excise tax on cannabis at the cultivation level on top of the 6.625 percent state sales tax that’s stipulated in the referendum. And now Senate President Steve Sweeney (D) says the planned committee votes will proceed on Thursday, with a full floor vote expected on Monday.

The disagreements on marijuana tax issues are familiar disputes that played out the last time lawmakers unsuccessfully attempted to enact the reform legislatively.

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D) said he wanted to add a user fee to the legalization bill to bolster revenue for the state beyond the normal sales tax rate for purchases.

But Sweeney and lead sponsor Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D) quickly pushed back, saying in a joint statement that the state “should not impose any additional taxes that will put the cost of legally purchasing marijuana out of reach for the communities that have been impacted the most.”  They also asserted that increasing the tax rate would hurt efforts to eliminate the illicit market.

Those issues appear to have been tentatively resolved—at least on the Senate side.

“We are still working on it, but there is agreement,” an administration source told NJ.com.

In the meantime, decriminalization advanced in the Senate in a 29-4 vote on Monday.

The bill would make it so that possession “of up to six ounces of marijuana, or up to 170 grams of hashish would be completely decriminalized and have no associated criminal or civil penalties.”

It would also provide for “virtual” expungements of cannabis possession convictions that occurred prior to the bill’s enactment. And it would make it so police could not use the odor of marijuana as justification to conduct a search.

Senate President Pro Tempore M. Teresa Ruiz (D), called it “the most progressive decriminalization bill in the country.”

“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,” she said in a press release. “This is yet another step towards bringing justice and equity to historically impacted communities.”

But it didn’t pass without controversy. Of principle concern for certain lawmakers, for example, is the provision that would make low-level possession of so-called magic mushrooms a “disorderly persons offense,” a significant reduction from its prior status as a third-degree crime.

A disorderly persons offense is punishable by a $500 fine and potential jail time, so advocates wouldn’t consider the psychedelic “decriminalized” if the provision is enacted into law. Still, it’s a notable reduction from the current penalty for people convicted of third-degree crimes, which can come with three-to-five-year prison sentences and fines of up to $15,000.

“How can we decriminalize a psychedelic drug called magic mushrooms when the basis for the decriminalization is the disproportionate impact on black and brown communities who had been arrested, or arrested, for marijuana,” Sen. Nia Gill (D) said on the floor prior to the vote. “And this magic mushroom, which is a psychedelic drug, has never been established as a drug used by the affected community and they are arrested for at a rate higher than all of us.”

Meanwhile, Assemblyman Jamel Holley (D) took to Twitter to slam the psychedelic provision.

“The decriminalization of marijuana debate has always been about the opportunity to address these wrongful policies & begin to reverse the damage done through decades of racial & social injustice,” he said, “Not mushrooms!”

Of course, racial disparities in drug criminalization aren’t exclusive to cannabis. And, as a fellow senator noted, the revised language does not “decriminalize” psilocybin mushrooms; it simply lowers the penalty, and possession still carries the threat of jail time.

Under the decriminalization bill, distribution of “one ounce or less of marijuana, or five grams or less of hashish would become, for a first offense, an act subject to a written warning, which also indicates that any subsequent violation is a crime punishable by a term of imprisonment, a fine, or both,” according to a summary of the measure.

It’s not clear when the Assembly will move ahead with a vote on the bill, or if additional changes will be made that would necessitate further Senate action on a revised version.

Meanwhile, under the separate commercial legalization legislation that leadership has indicated will get committee and floor action in the coming days, adults 21 and older would be allowed to purchase and possess up to an ounce of marijuana or five grams of concentrates. Retailers wouldn’t launch right away, but as the licensing system is set up, medical cannabis dispensaries would be able to sell marijuana products to adult consumers.

Local bans on cannabis shops would be permitted, but delivery services would be allowed statewide regardless of each jurisdiction’s policy. Retailers could also provide for on-site consumption with local approval. Home cultivation for personal use would be prohibited, unlike in most legal states.

As legislators work through these policy disagreements, Murphy recently appointed Dianna Houenou, a current administration staffer and former policy counsel to the ACLU of New Jersey, to head the state’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC). She emphasized that social justice would be a key regulatory priority.

CRC would be responsible for granting licenses to growers, processors, wholesalers, laboratory testing facilities, distributors, delivery services and retailers.

But as those are set up, the bill will let medical cannabis dispensaries sell marijuana products for the recreational market. Scutari proposed that plan last month, saying that adults could start purchasing cannabis from dispensaries within just weeks after the election. However, a top regulator pushed back on the proposal, noting that the state’s existing medical marijuana have already struggled to keep up with patient demand.

The senator addressed that issue in the legislation. His bill would allow each medical producer to open two more cultivation facilities to increase the available supply. “There’s no reason why, in the next 90 days, they can’t grow any more product and get it out on the shelves,” he told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview earlier this month. “I mean, not saying they will, but they could—it’s not a physical impossibility.”

Also under the legislation, 15 percent of cannabis licenses would go to for minority-owned businesses, and an additional 15 percent would be given to businesses owned by women or veterans. If an applicant pledges to hire people from communities disproportionately impacted by crime or unemployment, they would get licensing priority.

Further, the bill would establish an Office of Minority, Disabled Veterans and Women Cannabis Business Development that would be tasked with promoting participation in the industry by marginalized groups.

Meanwhile, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal (D) is encouraging police and prosecutors to exercise discretion around marijuana offenses in the interim.

Sweeney said that the top prosecutor should “use his legal and moral authority to issue clear guidelines to all law enforcement authorities—state, county and municipal—to stop all arrests and suspend all pending criminal cases against individuals for possession of amounts of marijuana that would be considered personal use.”

“It’s time for these arrests that have disproportionately affected people of color to stop,” he said.

Holley, the assemblyman, similarly said recently that all low-level cannabis prosecutions should be ended, stating that the referendum vote demonstrates that “there is no patience anymore for prosecuting people caught smoking and possessing marijuana.”

Virginia Governor Calls For Marijuana Legalization In 2021 As Commission Issues Recommendations On Provisions

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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Marijuana Legalization Could Curb Opioid Crisis In West Virginia, Governor Says

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If West Virginia lawmakers send a bill to legalize marijuana to his desk, he will sign it, Gov. Jim Justice (R) said on Tuesday.

While he might not be personally in favor of adult-use legalization, he said in response to a question during a town hall event that he’s heard from members of the medical community who feel that regulating cannabis sales could actually reduce “drug-type problems” like the opioid overdose epidemic, which has hit his state especially hard.

“I’ll just tell it like it is, I’m not educated enough to make a really good assessment as of yet,” he said. “But I can tell you just this: I do believe that that is coming, and the wave is coming across all of our states, and as that wave comes, if our House Republicans and Democrats and Senate Republicans and Democrats would get behind that effort from a standpoint of legalization of recreational marijuana and they would be supportive of that, I would too.”

Watch the governor respond to the marijuana legalization question below: 

The governor’s point about the broad public health impacts of legalization is substantiated in a growing body of scientific literature that’s found that increasing legal access to cannabis—which has been shown to effectively treat conditions such as chronic pain with minimal side effects—leads to fewer opioid prescriptions and overdose deaths.

Tuesday’s town hall wasn’t specifically about marijuana, however; rather, it centered on the state’s push to eliminate the income tax. On that note, House Majority Whip Paul Espinosa (R) recently circulated an internal poll among Republican lawmakers, inquiring about what kind of policies—including marijuana legalization—they’d be willing to support to make up revenue for the state as part of the plan to gut the income tax.

When asked about legalization as a means to raise tax revenue that could theoretically be used to get ride of the income tax, Justice said he’s principally opposed to broad reform but “I’m weakening on that position” because while his instinct is to reject regulating marijuana amid the state’s drug crisis, the medical community has shifted his perspective.

Experts “tell me that really and truly the legalizing of marijuana in certain areas or certain states that have that, from a recreational standpoint, have lowered their drug-type problems,” he said.

“If we could bucket the proceeds [from cannabis tax revenue] and use them in a way, just like this personal income tax reduction…in a really beneficial way for all our people,” he would be supportive of that.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 700 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.

West Virginia approved medical cannabis legalization in 2017, which Justice signed into law, and patients were just recently approved to start registering for the program. That said, the state must still partner with a testing laboratory before marijuana products are made available.

Two Democratic candidates who lost their bids for West Virginia House seats last year had pledged to introduce legislation to legalize marijuana in the state if they were elected.

Chuck Schumer Says Federal Marijuana Legalization Is A Priority In Democrats’ ‘Big, Bold Agenda’

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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Mississippi House Replaces Senate’s Alternate Medical Marijuana Program With What Voters Originally Approved

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“The people have spoken, with a constitutional amendment about medical marijuana, and that bill went against the spirit of what the people decided.”

By Geoff Pender, Mississippi Today

A House panel on Tuesday gutted a Senate medical marijuana proposal and inserted the medical marijuana language voters passed as a constitutional amendment in November.

“I’m interested in seeing that bill die—I think it just did die,” said Rep. Robert Johnson III, House minority leader. “The people have spoken, with a constitutional amendment about medical marijuana, and that bill went against the spirit of what the people decided.”

Johnson made those statements about Senate Bill 2765 on Tuesday afternoon, when it appeared the bill had died, with no Ways and Means Committee meeting called on the floor for the afternoon to take the bill up. Later, Ways and Means had a meeting and took the bill up, then struck the Senate language and inserted Initiative 65. It now goes to the full House and if passed, back to the Senate in its amended form.

Rep. Joel Bomgar, R-Madison, who helped lead, and fund, the successful citizen initiative to enshrine medical marijuana use in the state constitution, offered the amendment to replace the Senate bill language with Initiative 65’s language.

Senate Bill 2765 was originally a legislative alternative to the medical marijuana program voters overwhelmingly approved in November with Ballot Initiative 65, which is now being challenged in the state Supreme Court. The bill passed the Senate only after much wrangling and a “do-over” vote in the wee hours of the morning in mid-February. It was initially drafted to create its own medical marijuana program, regardless of whether the court upholds the voter-passed program. But it was amended during heated Senate debate to take effect only if the courts strike down the voter-passed program.

The legislative move had many Initiative 65 supporters crying foul, claiming the Legislature was trying to usurp the will of the voters. After lawmakers failed for years to approve use of medical marijuana despite a groundswell of public support, voters took matters in hand in November with Initiative 65.

Jessica Rice, director of the Mississippi Cannabis Trade Association was among many watching the legislative alternative marijuana bill with skepticism and trepidation. She questioned whether lawmakers were truly trying to provide a backstop in case courts strike down Initiative 65. If so, she said, they would codify Initiative 65 — as the House panel did — not come up with a proposal with higher taxes and more or different regulations as in the Senate version.

“Our position is that the people have already had an option to vote on a legislative created program, and they chose not to,” Rice said last week. “Just because this is up before the Supreme Court does not give the Legislature a second bite at the apple … I think this is about control — they want to be able to be in control of the program, but people have already rejected that.”

But many state leaders and lawmakers had lamented that Initiative 65 was drafted to favor the marijuana industry and is just short of legalized recreational use. It puts the Mississippi State Department of Health in charge of the program, with no oversight by elected officials. It also prevents standard taxation of the marijuana, and any fees collected by the health department can only be used to run and expand the marijuana program, not go into state taxpayer coffers. The measure allows little regulation by local governments, no limits on the number of dispensaries and otherwise leaves many specifics … unspecified.

The Senate proposal would have taxed medical marijuana, with a 4 percent excise at cultivation, and with a 7 percent sales tax patients would pay, which was originally 10 percent in earlier drafts of the bill. Most of the taxes collected would have gone to education, including early learning and college scholarships. And the Departments of Agriculture and Revenue would be in charge.

The bill also would have imposed large licensing fees on growers and dispensary shop owners. Originally, those fees would have been $100,000 for growers and $20,000 for dispensaries. Those were reduced to $15,000 and $5,000, respectively, on Thursday night. Other changes were made in an effort to assuage those who believed such fees would keep small businesses and farms out of the game.

The bill barely gained the three-fifths vote it needed to pass the Senate. It faced a Tuesday deadline for the Ways and Means Committee to pass it on to the full House. Ways and Means Chairman Trey Lamar had said late Tuesday he was still undecided on what to do with the bill.

He noted the Ways and Means meeting late Tuesday was not announced on the House floor, as is standard procedure.

“No, it wasn’t announced,” Lamar said. “We just added it to the schedule. I know that’s not the usual way we do it, but I wasn’t there to announce it on the floor.”

This left many believing the bill had died on deadline without a vote Tuesday—apparently, including House Speaker Philip Gunn.

Gunn said: “The issue, or the challenge here is that the people voted on it in November, and they spoke pretty strongly… I know there is a lawsuit, but that can be dealt with later if we need to. If the Supreme Court throws out that vote, then the Legislature can come back and deal with it. If they uphold it, well then I don’t know what the Legislature would have to do with it then.”

This story was first published by Mississippi Today.

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Mexican Lawmakers To Vote On Marijuana Legalization Next Week

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A long-awaited floor vote on a proposal to legalize marijuana in Mexico is being scheduled in the Chamber of Deputies for next week, a move that comes months after the Senate approved the reform.

That said, lawmakers say there is still no formal revised bill for deputies to take up, and it will have to move through the committee process before being potentially returned to the Senate.

Martha Tagle Martínez, a member of the chamber’s Health Committee, said on Tuesday that several groups have reached out to her after receiving what appeared to be a draft legislation to regulate cannabis. She clarified that “there is still no formal or definitive document.”

The Political Coordination Board, which is established by party leaders to reach consensus on legislative issues, has set floor action for March 9. “But there is still no draft opinion,” Martínez said. When there is a bill, it will go to the Health and Justice Committees.

Those panels will “analyze, discuss, modify and approve the draft opinion” before sending it to the floor.

While it remains to be seen what changes will be made from the Senate version, Martínez said that the current bill as approved in the other chamber does not fulfill the requirements of the Supreme Court, which deemed the prohibition on personal possession and cultivation of marijuana unconstitutional in a 2018 ruling. Lawmakers have since been tasked with ending criminalization, but they’ve repeatedly pushed back deadlines to enact the policy change.

Now the legislature has until the end of April to legalize cannabis nationwide, and it seems next week’s action will set the stage for Congress to make good on its obligation.

In the meantime, the Health Committee already held a preliminary discussion on the issue last month.

Members of the panel said they wanted to hold four sessions to debate the legislation, but its president, Carmen Medel Palma, has yet to convene them and wants to speed up the process, La Jornada reported.

The Justice Committee also met to discuss the matter on Sunday, according to the group Cáñamo México.

The two panels were initially expected to send a revised legalization proposal to the floor last month, but that didn’t happen.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, for his part, said in December that a vote on legalization legislation was delayed due to minor “mistakes” in the proposal.

He said “there was no time to conduct a review” in the legislature before the prior December 15 Supreme Court deadline, but he noted that issues that need to be resolved are “matters of form” and “not of substance.”

The Senate passed the legalization bill in November and transmitted it to the Chamber of Deputies. Several committees took up the bill, with the Human Rights and Budget and Public Account Committees representing one panel that considered and advanced it just before the the court granted lawmakers’ latest deadline extension request.

While advocates are eager for lawmakers to formally end prohibition, they hoped the delay would give them more time to try to convince the legislature to address their concerns about certain provisions of the current bill, namely the limited nature of its social equity components and strict penalties for violating rules.

In response to unofficial drafts of the legalization measure that were obtained by advocacy groups, Regulación Por La Paz said the proposals “give way to a regulation designed as a way for the great national and international capital, at the cost of the criminalization of users” and that the draft legislation “prioritizes the interests of the industry over rights and needs of the Mexican citizenship.”

“The worst they propose [is] a registry for self cultivators,” Mariana Sevilla of Regulación Por La Paz told Marijuana Moment, adding that she also concerned about the inclusion of vertical integration for cannabis businesses.

Activists also want to increase the percentage of licenses granted to people harmed by prohibition.

“To avoid the formation of corporate oligopolies and promote a horizontal and inclusive market that encourages dignified participation and fair conditions for communities in vulnerable situations, it is essential to incorporate a perspective of social justice,” Zara Snapp of the Instituto RIA and #RegulacionPorLaPaz wrote in an op-ed coauthored by ReverdeSer Colectivo Coordinator Amaya Ordorika Imaz.

The legalization bill cleared a joint group of Senate committees prior to the full floor vote in that chamber, with some amendments being made after members informally considered and debated the proposal during a virtual hearing.

Members of the Senate’s Justice, Health, and Legislative Studies Committees had approved a prior version of legal cannabis legislation last March, but the coronavirus pandemic delayed consideration of the issue.

In general, the Senate bill would establish a regulated cannabis market, allowing adults 18 and older to purchase and possess up to 28 grams of marijuana and cultivate up to six plants for personal use.

The legislation makes some attempts to mitigate the influence of large marijuana corporations. For example, it states that for the first five years after implementation, at least 40 percent of cannabis business licenses must be granted to those from indigenous, low-income or historically marginalized communities.

The Mexican Institute of Cannabis would be responsible for regulating the market and issuing licenses.

Public consumption of marijuana would be allowed, except in places where tobacco use is prohibited or at mass gatherings where people under 18 could be exposed.

Households where more than one adult lives would be limited to cultivating a maximum of eight plants. The legislation also says people “should not” consume cannabis in homes where there are underaged individuals. Possession of more than 28 grams but fewer than 200 grams would be considered an infraction punishable by a fine but no jail time.

Sen. Julio Ramón Menchaca Salazar of the MORENA party said in April that legalizing cannabis could fill treasury coffers at a time when the economy is recovering from the pandemic.

As lawmakers work to advance the reform legislation, there’s been a more lighthearted push to focus attention on the issue by certain members and activists. That push has mostly involved planting and gifting marijuana.

In September, a top administration official was gifted a cannabis plant by senator on the Senate floor, and she said she’d be making it a part of her personal garden.

A different lawmaker gave the same official, Interior Ministry Secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero, a marijuana joint on the floor of the Chamber of Deputies in 2019.

Cannabis made another appearance in the legislature in August, when Sen. Jesusa Rodríguez of the MORENA party decorated her desk with a marijuana plant.

Drug policy reform advocates have also been cultivating hundreds of marijuana plants in front of the Senate, putting pressure on legislators to make good on their pledge to advance legalization.

Chuck Schumer Says Federal Marijuana Legalization Is A Priority In Democrats’ ‘Big, Bold Agenda’

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