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New Mexico Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Legalization Bill At Committee Hearing

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New Mexico lawmakers voted to advance a marijuana legalization bill out of committee on Saturday.

The legislation, if it passes through the legislature and is signed into law, will allow adults 21 and older to possess up to two ounces of cannabis and up to 16 grams of marijuana extracts, permit the cultivation of up to six plants for personal use, establish a regulated commercial cannabis market and expunge the records of those with certain prior marijuana-related convictions.

The vote in the House Health and Human Services Committee was five in favor of the bill to two against.

Earlier this week, a Senate committee in Hawaii also voted to approve marijuana legalization legislation. Together, the two victories mark the start of what advocates believe could be a year in which a number of states across the country enact new laws to end cannabis prohibition.

So far, five House members are signed on as cosponsors of the New Mexico bill, including Rep. Deborah Armstrong (D), who is the chair of the same panel that hosted the hearing.

The proposal next heads to House Judiciary Committee and, if approved there, to the floor.

House Speaker Rep. Brian Egolf (D) said last year that marijuana legalization legislation “would probably pass the House” if it came to a vote. And while the Senate has historically resisted marijuana reform, even lawmakers who are personally opposed to legalization, like Sen. Mark Moores (R), have said they recognize “the political reality that it is here.”

“I want to make sure we have a system that is extremely well-regulated, and the ability to take those revenues and mitigate some of those negative social impacts that marijuana has,” Moores said.

Under the current bill, cannabis sales would be taxed at nine percent, and local municipalities or counties would be given the option to impose an addition three percent tax. Revenue from those taxes would go toward several funds meant to support educational programs, substance use disorder treatment services, job placement and impaired driving prevention, among other services.

“We have the chance to pass an innovative legalization bill that stays true to New Mexican values and what we care most about: the wellbeing of our children, healthy and safe communities, and a stronger economic future,” Emily Kaltenbach, the New Mexico state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, told Marijuana Moment. “Cannabis prohibition has fueled mass criminalization and we have an ethical obligation to repair the disproportionate harms inflicted on Latino, Black and Native people.”

A fiscal impact report on the bill prepared by the Legislative Finance Committee projects that legalization would generate $33.9 million in annual revenues for the state by Fiscal Year 2023, with an additional $22.1 million coming in for municipalities and counties.

“This legislation is responsive to the lives of New Mexicans, not solely business interests,” Kaltenbach said. “New Mexicans agree that prohibition of cannabis has failed and we must replace it with a responsible, regulated system that reinvests in our children and communities.”

It remains to be seen whether the bill will ultimately clear both chambers of the legislature, but the chances are markedly improved given the election of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D), who campaigned last year on a pro-legalization platform.

Grisham voted in favor of several cannabis reform amendments during her time in Congress, and she’s said that a legal marijuana system would bring hundreds of millions of dollars to New Mexico’s economy.”

During her first State of the State speech last month, the governor said she is directing officials to add opioid addiction as a medical cannabis qualifying condition.

Hawaii Lawmakers Unanimously Approve Marijuana Legalization Bill In Committee

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

Senate Schedules Second Cannabis Hearing For Next Week

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A key Senate committee will hold a hearing next week to discuss hemp production, featuring witnesses from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In the months since hemp and its derivatives were federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill, there’s been strong interest in developing USDA and FDA regulations for the crop and its compounds such as CBD, and lawmakers have repeatedly pressed the agencies to speed up the rulemaking process to unlock the industry’s potential.

While the hearing notice doesn’t go into detail about what will be discussed, the meeting’s title—”Hemp Production and the 2018 Farm Bill”—and list of witnesses indicate that the conversation will revolve around the development of federal guidelines for hemp businesses.

USDA Marketing and Regulatory Programs Under Secretary Greg Ibach, USDA General Counsel Stephen Vaden, FDA Principal Deputy Commissioner Amy Abernethy and EPA Assistant Administrator of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention Alexandra Dunn will appear before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry on July 25.

Other invited witnesses include Kentucky farmer Brian Furnish, National Hemp Association Executive Director Erica Stark and Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians Tribal Chairman Darrell Seki.

The Senate Agriculture Committee meeting will mark the chamber’s second cannabis-related hearing of the week. The Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs announced on Tuesday that it will meet to discuss marijuana banking issues on July 23.

FDA and USDA have both recently signaled that they were cognizant of widespread interest in creating regulatory pathways for hemp and its derivatives, with USDA stating that it planned to release an interim final rule on the products in August and FDA’s Abernethy writing that the agency is “expediting” its rulemaking process. FDA added that it hoped to release a report on its progress by early fall.

That said, heads of the departments have also tried to temper expectations. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said that USDA wouldn’t be expediting regulatory developments but that he expected them to be issued ahead of the 2020 planting seasons.

Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, meanwhile, cited policy complications that would make it difficult for the agency to create an alternative regulatory pathway for hemp-derived CBD products to be lawfully marketed as food items or dietary supplements. He said that without congressional action, it may take FDA years to establish those rules.

Separately, officials from both FDA and USDA will participate in hemp conferences in August, where they’re also expected to update stakeholders on their progress.

Senate Schedules Hearing On Marijuana Business Banking Access

Photo courtesy of Brendan Cleak.

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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Politics

As More States Legalize, DEA Chops Down Fewer Marijuana Plants, Federal Data Shows

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The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) seized far fewer marijuana plants in 2018 compared to the previous year but made significantly more cannabis-related arrests, according to federal data released this month.

More than 2.8 million indoor and outdoor marijuana plants were seized last year as part of the DEA’s Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program. That marks a 17 percent decline from 2017 levels.

NORML first noted the DEA report, which also shows that marijuana-related arrests the agency was involved with increased by about 20 percent in a year. And while the overall number of plants that were seized dropped, DEA said that the value of the assets totaled about $52 million—more than twice as much as it reported the previous year.

State-level legalization efforts appear to have played a role in the declining number of plant seizures, particularly those cultivated outdoors. In the same year that retail cannabis sales started in California, DEA confiscated almost 40 percent fewer outdoor plants in the state compared to 2017.

That data point is consistent with recent research showing that legalization is associated with a decrease in the number of illicit cannabis grows in national forests, which are often targets for DEA enforcement action.

It’s not clear why there was a significant uptick in marijuana-related arrests, but those increases generally did not occur in states where legal cannabis systems were recently implemented.

For example, arrests in Kansas, where marijuana is strictly prohibited, increased by more than 3,500 percent—from 15 to 544—from 2017 to 2018. Louisiana likewise experienced a 168 percent increase in cannabis arrests.

The data covers federal law enforcement actions and does not include those of local police agencies that did not partner with the agency.

Year-over-year decreases in cannabis seizures through DEA’s eradication program have been viewed by advocates as evidence that state-level legalization systems effectively displace the illicit market, removing the incentive to illegally cultivate cannabis.

Similarly, a separate recent report from the U.S. Sentencing Commission showed that federal prosecutions for marijuana trafficking dropped precipitously in 2018—another sign demonstrating that state-level legalization is disrupting the illicit market, advocates argue.

NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano told Marijuana Moment that “federal eradication programs are a holdover from a bygone era.”

“At a time when roughly one-quarter of the country resides in a jurisdiction where adult marijuana use is legal, and when members of Congress are openly discussing removing cannabis from the federal Controlled Substances Act, it is time for these federal anti-marijuana efforts to be put out to pasture and for federal agencies to take positions that more closely comport with cannabis’ rapidly changing cultural status in America,” he said.

DEA has also faced criticism of its cannabis eradication efforts from a non-partisan federal watchdog agency last year for failing to adequately collect documentation from state and local law enforcement partners funded through the program.

The Government Accountability Office said in a report that DEA “has not clearly documented all of its program goals or developed performance measures to assess progress toward those goals.”

At the same time that DEA is seizing fewer plants grown illicitly, it’s also setting higher goals for federally authorized cannabis cultivation for research purposes. In 2019, the agency said it hoped to grow approximately 5,400 pounds of marijuana to meet research demand, which is more than double its quota for 2018.

Legalizing Marijuana Leads To Fewer Illegal Grow Sites In National Forests, Study Finds

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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Business

Senate Schedules Hearing On Marijuana Business Banking Access

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In one of the clearest signs of marijuana reform’s growing momentum on Capitol Hill, a Republican-controlled Senate committee has scheduled a hearing for next week that will examine cannabis businesses’ lack of access to banking services.

The formal discussion in the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs on Tuesday comes as legislation aimed at resolving the marijuana industry’s financial services problems is gaining momentum. A House cannabis banking bill that cleared that chamber’s Financial Services Committee with a bipartisan vote in March now has 206 cosponsors—nearly half the body—while companion Senate legislation has 32 out of 100 senators signed on.

Please visit Forbes to read the rest of this piece.

(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)

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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