A working group appointed by New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) to explore options for legalizing marijuana early in 2020 has scheduled its first hearing for August 14.
The Governor’s Working Group On Cannabis Legalization announced the meeting on Friday, releasing comprehensive information about what will be discussed and how interested parties can provide input on issues related to implementing a legal marijuana system.
Residents and organizations can comment in advance online or in-person at the beginning of the hearing. Also at the meeting, members of the group will hear presentations from the state’s Department of Health, which will discuss New Mexico’s existing medical cannabis system, and the Department of of Regulation & Licensing, which will cover the “current regulatory framework.”
Then the panel will deliberate on a wide range of considerations for a legal marijuana system, including talks on licensing, advertising, creating a cannabis control division and the prospect of establishing state-run marijuana shops.
Most items up for discussion have a corresponding landing page online that describes the committee’s goals, key questions they hope to answer, details about a legalization proposal the legislature considered earlier this year and comparisons to parallel policies in other states that have end cannabis prohibition. At the bottom of each page is a form that residents can use to weigh in on the specific components.
For example, here are the questions the group will attempt to resolve when they talk about the possibility to having the state government control marijuana shops, as was proposed in a bill the House of Representatives approved in March but which later died in the Senate:
1. Are state-run cannabis stores the best way to implement distance and density rules for dispensaries?
2. If not, should the law specifically establish density and distance rules by statute? Or should those be left to individual counties and municipalities to implement based on local needs?
3. Would state-run cannabis stores expose state workers and property to federal legal liability? If so, is the state willing to take on this risk?
The meeting will “conclude with a vote by the group on a recommendation of best policy for New Mexico,” the notice states.
“Any working group member may propose a recommendation for endorsement by the group,” it continues. “More details on this process will be explained at the beginning of the meeting.”
A second meeting is scheduled for August 27.
Grisham campaigned on a pro-legalization platform, and when she announced the formation of the working group in June, she said the goal is to craft a bill that would go before the legislature during the short 30-day session that begins January 2020—meaning legalization could arrive very early in the year, potentially setting New Mexico up to be the next state in the U.S. to end prohibition.
Photo by Aphiwat chuangchoem.
Marijuana Offenses Would No Longer Get Immigrants Deported Under New Congressional Bill
The fourth highest-ranking Democrat in the House introduced a bill on Wednesday designed to protect immigrants from being deported or denied entry into the U.S. over low-level marijuana offenses.
Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) filed the Removing Marijuana from Deportable Offenses Act, which stipulates that “any offenses involving the use, possession, or distribution of marijuana shall not be considered as grounds of inadmissibility.”
It would further allow immigrants who’ve been denied a visa or deported due to cannabis offenses to reapply or have their visa reissued.
In a press release, Luján said that the legislation is necessary in order to combat what he described as the “despicable” weaponization of marijuana against immigrant communities by the Trump administration. According to Human Rights Watch, 34,000 immigrants were deported from 2007 to 2012 for cannabis possession.
Minor marijuana use should not be grounds for deportation – it’s a wasteful use of resources and separates families. It's time to end these injustices. pic.twitter.com/G6y6EzbA1z
— Ben Ray Luján (@repbenraylujan) September 18, 2019
“The federal government should not be wasting resources to wreak havoc on immigrant families when there are children held in border camps that are desperate for legal services, hygiene products, and basic humanitarian care,” he said. “Providing care for these children and families should be where the Trump administration devotes its funding – not working as a deportation force.”
“I’m proud to be fighting for this legislation to hold President Trump accountable and defend our immigrant communities from senseless and hateful policies,” he said.
The legislation is identical to a companion bill that Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced in June.
“This Administration’s efforts to use marijuana possession as a tool for deportation is misguided and does not make our communities safer,” Booker said. “Limited law enforcement resources should not be wasted on deporting people for something two of the last three presidents have admitted to doing.”
Earlier this year, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services issued a memo stating that immigrants are ineligible for citizenship if they use marijuana or engage in cannabis-related activities, including employment in a state-legal cannabis business, because such activity is not consistent with “good moral character.”
So far, the House version has 21 cosponsors, including Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Lou Correa (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Jim McGovern (D-MA), Eric Swalwell (D-CA), Dina Titus (D-NV), Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ).
“We’re the closest that we have ever been to ending marijuana prohibition across the United States; it’s vital that individuals and communities that continue to bear the brunt of prohibition do not get left behind—that includes noncitizens,” Queen Adesuyi, policy coordinator for Drug Policy Alliance, said. “Marijuana has been one of the leading causes for deportation, destroying the lives of countless individuals and families over a substance that is now the center of an industry bringing in billions in profits.”
FWD.us President Todd Schulte called the proposal “commonsense legislation that will help keep families together and ensure taxpayer dollars aren’t wasted on cruelly deporting individuals with low-level offenses.”
“The status quo of marijuana criminalization is irrational and discriminatory towards tens of thousands of otherwise law-abiding aspiring Americans who pose no safety risk to the United States,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said. “Public opinion and policy surrounding cannabis are rapidly shifting, which is why we must ensure that those who strive to achieve the American Dream are treated with dignity.”
Also this week, Luján became of cosponsor of separate far-reaching legislation to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and divert funds toward programs to begin repairing the damage of the war on drugs.
Read the text of Luján’s marijuana and immigration bill below:
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
Key Congressional Chair Says Marijuana Banking Vote Will Happen Over Groups’ Objections
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) said marijuana banking legislation will advance to the House floor despite the fact that some major advocacy groups are calling for a delay until more comprehensive cannabis reform is first passed.
The congresswoman, who chairs the House Financial Services Committee, told Marijuana Moment in an interview on Wednesday that she appreciates the concerns outlined by groups including the ACLU and Center for American Progress, which released a letter on Tuesday stating that they were worried that passing the banking bill would undermine broader reform efforts.
The problem, she said, is that Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) hasn’t yet advanced the more wide-ranging legalization legislation those groups favor, leaving House leadership in a bind as they plan out the floor calendar.
“I know that leadership is in support of the Judiciary moving as fast as they possibly can with the bill that would deal with those civil rights issues,” she said. “We just can’t get from Judiciary exactly when they are going to do that.”
“And so what’s going to happen is Mr. Perlmutter’s bill that gives safe harbor to the banks is going to move, and whenever Judiciary gets that bill done, then it’s going to move too with the same kind of support that Mr. Perlmutter’s bill is going to get,” she said, referring to the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act sponsored by Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO).
“We’ve been working on it for six years—the banks are reticent to deal with the cannabis industry. The states are moving forward very quickly to authorize and support cannabis. All this cash is piling up. And so something has to be done to give safe harbor to the banks.”
Perlmutter’s bill was approved by Waters’s House Financial Services Committee with a strong bipartisan vote in March, and certain advocates expected the full chamber to take it up before the summer recess. While that didn’t pan out, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) informed the Democratic Caucus last week that a floor vote would be held by the end of the month, his staff confirmed to Marijuana Moment.
That announcement came one day after Senate Banking Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) said his panel would vote on cannabis banking reform, though he declined to provide a timeline beyond saying that he wants to get it done by the end of the year.
Hoyer’s announcement took some advocates by unpleasant surprise, as they were under the impression that something like Nadler’s Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act—which addresses social equity and restorative justice—would get a vote before the House worked to pass what’s viewed as a largely industry-friendly banking bill.
“I just think it’s a matter of timing. I think the Judiciary bill, whenever it’s ready, it’s going to move as quickly as they get it ready, and it will be supported,” Waters said.
Perlmutter echoed that point in an interview with Marijuana Moment on Wednesday.
“We’ve had this passed [out of committee] for six months and certainly support all of what they’re trying to do,” he said, referring to his banking bill and the groups’ call for comprehensive reform. “But we’ve got to get these things moving.”
“That’s what I’m trying to do, and I think we’re going to be successful.”
The congressman also said he agreed with Waters about the need for Judiciary to act.
“I think they’re prepared to set a markup and move it, and I’m a cosponsor of that bill. But I want to get this one going,” he said. “This sort of breaks the ice for everything else. That’s been what we’ve talked about for a long time, and this one we’ve been working on a long time.”
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), a close ally of the Trump administration, had sharp words for groups urging a delay on a marijuana banking vote, stating that it’s “deeply disappointing that instead of adding to the coalition of the marijuana reform movement, we continue to find new and destructive ways to divide the coalition.”
“It is unfortunate that some of the most left-wing elements of our pro-marijuana reform coalition are now making demands beyond freedom,” he said. “The way we attract folks on the libertarian and right to our movement is to embrace freedom and to show it’s both popular and helpful to people in their lives.”
But while the congressman went on to say that calls for social equity and reparations “fatally divide the movement,” he’s also a cosponsor of Nadler’s MORE Act that includes such provisions.
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) told Marijuana Moment that while he shares the groups’ frustration over inaction on broader reform, he’s going to support the banking bill when it comes to the floor because he has “a lot of constituents who would benefit greatly if we made reform in banking.”
“It’s just hard to look them in the eye and say I’m not going to support legislation that would help you immediately so you can help patients, help people who need it,” he said. “I’m inclined this one to support if it came up for a vote, but I understand the sentiment. I’m frustrated too.”
Jason Ortiz, vice president of the Minority Cannabis Business Association, told Marijuana Moment that while he similarly understands where groups like ACLU are coming from, the banking bill isn’t entirely about bolstering the industry and would also serve disadvantaged communities.
“SAFE banking would open bank financing sources to cannabis companies allowing approved social equity applicants to enter the market without accepting predatory terms from private investors just to open their doors,” he said. “Many entrepreneurs of color are looking to start their businesses immediately and become the success stories that will spur further support and investment in our communities.”
“While I understand and respect the position of our allies in advocacy, current social equity applicants should not be held hostage until we can enact legislation unlikely to pass under the current administration,” he said. “Doing so would give the multi-state operators even more of a head start which will widen the ownership gap in the cannabis industry.”
But Jasmine Tyler, advocacy director of the U.S. Program for Human Rights Watch, which also signed the Tuesday letter to House leaders, took a different view.
“Civil and human rights groups, criminal justice and drug policy advocates, faith leaders, and doctors have all called for the repeal of the US’s racialized marijuana enforcement and start repairing harms done to communities for decades,” she told Marijuana Moment. “For House Leadership to prioritize a bill that would advance banking rights over human rights is a travesty.”
Asked whether she had a message for the groups requesting a delay on the banking legislation, Waters said, “I don’t, except to say that the Democratic Caucus supports ensuring that minorities and others who have been disadvantaged, who’ve been unfairly incarcerated by those marijuana laws, must be supported in ways that will help them to benefit from this new industry.”
“We’re all waiting for the bill. We’re desperately waiting for that bill,” she said. “As soon as this gets ready, we’re all going to get forcefully behind it.”
Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment that Waters is “one of the most effective champions of cannabis reform, from successfully moving the SAFE Banking Act swiftly out of committee earlier this year to being one of the original lead sponsors of the MORE Act.”
“After a successful vote on the banking bill, it will be time for cannabis advocates and the industry to unite behind the MORE Act to ensure passage this Congress,” he said.
“We are encouraged by the comments from Chairwoman Waters,” Neal Levine, CEO of the Cannabis Trade Federation, said. “While both industry and advocacy groups are seeking more substantial reforms, the banking issue is something that can be addressed immediately on a bipartisan basis. This is a move that should be cheered, as it will greatly enhance public safety and protect workers in states that have made the rational choice to end prohibition and regulate the sale of cannabis.”
Aaron Houston contributed reporting from Capitol Hill for this story.
This story has been updated to include comments from Perlmutter, Gaetz, Swalwell, Cannabis Trade Federation and Human Rights Watch.
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.
Senate Report Slams Drug Scheduling System For Blocking Marijuana Research
A Senate committee released a draft spending report on Wednesday that expresses concern about barriers to marijuana research and calls for increased research on two cannabis compounds, CBD and CBG.
On the other hand, the appropriations bill that the report is attached to also contains a long-standing rider prohibiting the use of funds for “any activity that promotes the legalization” of Schedule I drugs—a provision that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) unsuccessfully attempted to remove from the House version of the spending legislation earlier this year in order to encourage studies on psychedelics.
Although the language prohibiting the promotion of legalizing controlled substances wasn’t dropped, the Senate Appropriations Committee did express concern in its report that “restrictions associated with Schedule I of the Controlled Substance Act effectively limit the amount and type of research that can be conducted on certain Schedule I drugs, especially marijuana or its component chemicals, and new synthetic drugs and analogs.”
“At a time when we need as much information as possible about these drugs to find antidotes for their harmful effects, we should be lowering regulatory and other barriers to conducting this research,” the panel said, adding that it wants the National Institute on Drug Abuse to submit a report “on the barriers to research that result from the classification of drugs and compounds as Schedule I substances” within 120 days of enactment.
While past committee reports have included similar language concerning the impact of the federal drug scheduling system on marijuana research and the need for more information about CBD, this appears to be the first time that such a report has mentioned CBG, a lesser-known non-intoxicating compound commonly found in low-THC cannabis varieties, including hemp.
“The Committee believes that cannabidiol [CBD] and cannabigerol [CBG], compounds found in cannabis, may provide beneficial medicinal effects,” the report on the Fiscal Year 2020 Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill states. “However, there is insufficient scientific information about the long-term effects of these compounds.”
“Additional, coordinated research on a national scale could help determine the toxicology and medicinal effects of CBD and CBG,” it continues. “The Committee encourages [the National Institutes of Health] to consider additional investment in studying the medicinal effects and toxicology of CBD and CBG.”
There were a number of marijuana-related recommendations attached to House spending reports earlier this year, including one encouraging the Food and Drug Administration to create a regulatory pathway for CBD to be marketed in food items and as dietary supplements, another urging funding so that the U.S. Department of Agriculture can expediently develop rules for hemp and one expressing concern about impaired driving from THC.
A separate report contained language directing the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to take action on applications for additional federally authorized marijuana manufacturers for research purposes. DEA said in August that it is taking steps to get those requests approved.
The House Appropriations Committee also advised that the U.S. Office of Personnel Management update its guidelines for hiring and firing individuals solely because they use cannabis in a state where it’s legal.
The most consequential cannabis rider the House approved in appropriations legislation this year was a measure blocking the Justice Department from using its funds to interfere in state-legal marijuana programs, both for medical and adult use. It remains to be seen whether the Republican-controlled Senate will follow suit, however.
Read the full text of the Senate committee’s two cannabis-specific recommendations below:
Barriers to Research—The Committee is concerned that restrictions associated with Schedule I of the Controlled Substance Act effectively limit the amount and type of research that can be conducted on certain Schedule I drugs, especially marijuana or its component chemicals, and new synthetic drugs and analogs. At a time when we need as much information as possible about these drugs to find antidotes for their harmful effects, we should be lowering regulatory and other barriers to conducting this research. The Committee directs NIDA to provide a brief report on the barriers to research that result from the classification of drugs and compounds as Schedule I substances no later than 120 days after enactment.
Cannabis Research—The Committee believes that cannabidiol [CBD] and cannabigerol [CBG], compounds found in cannabis, may provide beneficial medicinal effects. However, there is insufficient scientific information about the long-term effects of these compounds. Additional, coordinated research on a national scale could help determine the toxicology and medicinal effects of CBD and CBG. The Committee encourages NIH to consider additional investment in studying the medicinal effects and toxicology of CBD and CBG.
Read the full text of the rider banning the promotion of legalizing Schedule I substances below:
SEC. 509. (a) None of the funds made available in this Act may be used for any activity that promotes the legalization of any drug or other substance included in schedule I of the schedules of controlled substances established under section 202 of the Controlled Substances Act except for normal and recognized executive-congressional communications.
Photo courtesy of Evan Johnson.