New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has released the full text of amendments to his marijuana legalization plan that he hopes will resolve disagreements with legislative leaders over his original proposal.
The main changes would allow cannabis delivery services, specify how social equity grant funding is distributed and lower the proposed penalty for selling marijuana to people under 21, all of which were previewed earlier last week.
The governor’s revised proposal also includes “technical changes such as modify the adult-use cannabis retail dispenser definition, require returns to be filed electronically, establish the ability to revoke a registration for possession of illicit cannabis and exempt cannabis sold to a person with a research cannabis license from sales and excise taxes,” a summary states.
The decision to revise his plan to lower penalties for selling cannabis to those under 21 is directly responsive to criticism from advocates over his original plan. Advocates and legislators said that making such activity a class D felony punishable by up to 2.5 years in prison, as it was initially drafted, was counterproductive to the goal of ending marijuana criminalization and would disproportionately impact black New Yorkers.
Here’s the new text of the penalties provision:
“A person is guilty of criminal sale of cannabis in the third degree when he knowingly and unlawfully sells any amount of cannabis or concentrated cannabis to any person under twenty-one years of age. In any prosecution for unlawful sale of cannabis or concentrated cannabis to someone under twenty-one years of age pursuant to this section, it is an affirmative defense that: (a) the defendant had reasonable cause to believe that the person under twenty-one years of age involved was twenty-one years old or more; and (b) such person under twenty-one years of age exhibited to the defendant a draft card, driver’s license or identification card, birth certificate or other official or apparently official document purporting to establish that such person was twenty-one years old or more. Criminal sale of cannabis in the third degree is a class A Misdemeanor.”
As far as delivery services are concerned, Cuomo said adding the licensing option will open up opportunities to participate in the industry with a lower cost of entry. There would be a local opt-out option for individual jurisdictions to ban delivery services, however. Meanwhile, advocates say that allowing delivery is a crucial component of any legalization plan amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Here’s the text of the cannabis delivery amendment:
“No adult-use retail dispensary may engage in the home delivery or retail delivery of adult-use cannabis products unless they are specifically approved and licensed to do so, or have contracted with a third-party home delivery licensee. All home delivery operations must be separately approved and licensed by the office and must comply with minimum application, licensing and operation requirements required by the board in regulation. The board may approve adult-use retail dispensaries which engage solely in the retail delivery of adult-use cannabis products without an approved storefront location.”
The amended legalization plan doesn’t seem to increase grant funding as advocates had called for; rather, the governor laid out specifics on how the funds will be managed and what those dollars will specifically support.
Here’s the text of the social equity revision:
“The moneys in the ‘cannabis social equity fund’ shall be administered by the urban development corporation and allocated by the department of state in collaboration with the office of children and family services, the department of labor, the department of health, the division of housing and community renewal, and the office of addiction services, and approved by the director of the division of the budget, to provide grants for qualified community-based nonprofit organizations and approved local government entities for the purpose of reinvesting in communities disproportionately affected by past federal and state drug policies.
Such grants shall be used, including but not limited to, to support job placement, job skills services, adult education, mental health treatment, substance use disorder treatment, housing, financial literacy, community banking, nutrition services, services to address adverse childhood experiences, afterschool and child care services, system navigation services, legal services to address barriers to reentry, including, but not limited to, providing representation and related assistance with expungement, vacatur, substitution and resentencing of marihuana-related convictions, and linkages to medical care, women’s health services and other community-based supportive services. The grants from this program may also be used to further support the social and economic equity program created by article four of the cannabis law and as established by the cannabis control board.”
It remains to be seen whether these amendments will meet the standards of legislative leaders who’ve strongly pushed back against Cuomo’s initial proposal.
Advocates say the changes address some key concerns but don’t go far enough. Under the amendments, for example, home cultivation of cannabis would still be criminalized and there would be no automatic expungements of past convictions.
“It’s good to see that the governor is responding to the concerns being raised, but even with the recent amendments, his proposal falls well short of what’s needed,” Eli Northrup, a New York public defender and member of the reform coalition Smart START NY, told Marijuana Moment.
Bizarrely, Gov. proposal would expand the definition of the term “drug” in the Vehicle & Traffic Law to include “any substance or combination of substances that impair, to any extent, physical or mental abilities.” This is ridiculously broad and unnecessary. Does Red Bull count? pic.twitter.com/YpnA9NpKdA
— Eli Northrup (@EliNorthrup) February 19, 2021
Northrup also took issue with a part of Cuomo’s original proposal that would broadly expand the definition of a “drug” under the state’s impaired driving laws.
“It’s really nonsensical and has no place in a legalization bill,” he said.
A separate, comprehensive bill supported by top lawmakers and advocates that’s been introduced in the legislature does include a home grow option—one of several differences that could make or break an agreement ahead of the April 1 budget deadline.
“It is my hope and desire that New York will legalize adult-use of cannabis this current session in 2021,” Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D)—who has been especially critical of the governor’s proposal and wants to move forward with the separate legalization bill in the legislature first before starting negotiations with the administration about Cuomo’s plan—recently told Cheddar.
The majority leader has been especially forceful in her call for increased and stable funding for social equity, though she said there could be room for compromise with the governor after lawmakers approve the Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA).
“He wants to allocate some dollars out of the general fund, and my legislation says that there should be in the statute a percentage of the resources that go directly to the communities that have been negatively impacted,” she said in the interview that was posted on Friday. “The legislation calls for 50 percent reinvestment in communities that have been harmed, but that’s the starting point. But until we get to have the conversation, we can’t negotiate by ourselves. We have to negotiate jointly with [Cuomo]. We haven’t gotten to that point yet.”
Earlier this month, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) told Marijuana Moment in an interview that there would be room for revisions to the governor’s plan, stating that “much of it is going to be negotiated with the legislature, and all these details can be resolved with their input as well.”
Cuomo made clear when announcing the amendments that he sees the budget process as the way to enact the policy change.
“It is a controversial topic. It’s a controversial and a difficult vote. I get it,” he said. “I believe if we don’t have it done by the budget, we’re not going to get it done. And I think it would be a failing if we don’t get it done this year and I think that would be a mistake.”
“We’re setting up a new bill that reflects the conversations we’ve had, but I’m hopeful that we can come to an agreement and we can get it done,” he added. “But I believe—because I’ve seen this movie before—if we don’t get it done by April 1, we won’t get it done.”
This is the third year in a row that Cuomo has included a legalization proposal in his budget plan. The last two times, negotiations with the legislature stalled amid disagreements over certain components such as the tax structure for the market and funding for social equity programs.
Regardless of which direction the legislature ultimately goes on this issue, there’s growing recognition in the state that legalization is an inevitability.
The top Republican in the New York Assembly said in December that he expects the legislature to legalize cannabis this coming session.
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D) said in November that she also anticipates that the reform will advance in 2021, though she noted that lawmakers will still have to decide on how tax revenue from marijuana sales is distributed.
Cuomo also said that month that the “pressure will be on” to legalize cannabis in the state and lawmakers will approve it “this year” to boost the economy amid the health crisis.
The push to legalize in New York could also be bolstered by the fact that voters in neighboring New Jersey approved a legalization referendum in November.
Separately, several other bills that focus on medical marijuana have been filed in New York, and they touch on a wide range of topics—from tenants’ rights for medical cannabis patients to health insurance coverage for marijuana products.
This story has been updated to clarify that the expanded definition of “drug” was included in Cuomo’s original proposal and is not part of the new amendments.
Connecticut Governor Says He’s Open To Smoking Marijuana After He Signs Legalization Bill
The governor of Connecticut said on Friday that he isn’t ruling out smoking marijuana after he formally signs a legalization bill into law next week.
While most top politicians might still demure when asked if they’d partake in cannabis given ongoing stigma and federal prohibition, Gov. Ned Lamont (D) said matter-of-factly that “time will tell” when asked by a reporter if people can “expect to see the governor smoking a joint” after legalization goes into effect in the state.
News 12’s John Craven replied incredulously, “Really? You’re open to it?”
LIGHT IT UP?: Will we see @GovNedLamont partake in newly legal marijuana?
Check out his answer: pic.twitter.com/XVP3d5fDNi
— John Craven (@johncraven1) June 18, 2021
The governor first shrugged, then nodded his head yes.
“Not right now, but we’ll see” Lamont said.
Other governors in legal states have been playful about cannabis culture and their own relationship to the plant. But while a growing number of lawmakers are comfortable discussing their past marijuana use, this is a fairly remarkable exchange for the sitting top executive officer of a state.
It’s also a sign of the times, as congressional lawmakers step up the push to end federal prohibition and legalization bills move through numerous state legislatures.
Connecticut lawmakers sent Lamont an adult-use legalization bill on Thursday, and he’s confirmed his intent to sign it into law. It would make the state the 19th to have enacted the policy change and the fourth this year alone.
And while the governor has consistently emphasized the important of social equity in legalization legislation—at one point threatening to veto the bill because of a provision he felt could undermine its intent to effectively stand up disparately impacted communities—he also seems to see the personal benefits of the reform.
Similar to Lamont’s new comments, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) raised some eyebrows in 2018 when he said in an interview that he grows cannabis himself. But then a spokesperson for his office denied that he actually personally cultivates marijuana.
Minnesota Marijuana Reform Could ‘Move Forward’ In Special Session That Just Launched, Top Lawmaker Says
Even though a Minnesota House-passed marijuana legalization bill died in the Senate without action by the end of this year’s regular session, a top lawmaker says there’s still a “possibility to move forward” on cannabis reform as part of a special session that began this week.
“Nobody really expected the medical program to be so successfully changed this year,” House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D) said at a rally with cannabis reform advocates on Wednesday, referencing a separate measure Gov. Tim Walz (D) signed last month that will allow patients to access smokable cannabis products.
According to The Star Tribune, Winkler added that “surprising things can happen” during a special session. “When you see Republican support and Democratic support in the House and Senate, there is a possibility to move forward.”
Photos from today’s emergency rally at the Capitol 📸
Thank you to House Majority Leader @_RyanWinkler, Sen. @ScottDibble, Rep. @jeremymunson, and Sen. @jimabeler for speaking and advocating for the decriminalization of cannabis in Minnesota. #mnisready for change! pic.twitter.com/c5T1ffqSuy
— Minnesotans for Responsible Marijuana Regulation (@mnisready) June 16, 2021
Advocates with Minnesota NORML are pushing for several specific policies to be incorporated into legislation that is set to be taken up by the legislature during the special session. The first is to expand the state’s decriminalization policy, and the second is to have the state petition for a federal exemption for Minnesota’s medical cannabis program.
Part of the motivation behind that latter proposal is to ensure that registered patients are able to lawfully purchase and possess firearms in spite of federal restrictions.
At the rally, which was organized by NORML, Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP) and other groups, Winkler and several other lawmakers spoke in favor of modest policy changes such as decriminalizing cannabis.
“Decriminalizing small amounts is important,” Rep. Jeremy Munson (R), one of only a handful of Republicans who voted for Winkler’s broad adult-use legalization bill, said at the rally. “If someone in Minnesota gets caught with two gummy bears, it’s a felony and they’ll lose their gun rights forever.”
The coalition proposed several key reforms that they say should be integrated into public safety and health legislation that’s currently moving through committee during the special session:
-Further reduce penalties for simple possession of marijuana.
-Allow people convicted of possession up to eight grams of cannabis to petition the courts for expungement.
-Require the Minnesota health commissioner to petition the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for an exemption for its medical marijuana program.
”Reducing or eliminating the criminal penalties we’re seeing around marijuana is where we have consensus,” Thomas Gallagher of RAMP said in a press release. “Let’s focus on the people who have small quantities. There is injustice in a trivial amount of marijuana resulting in life-changing punishments like imprisonment, criminal records, and lost jobs and kids.”
Rally for Our Special Session Agenda:
1. Decrim law reform: reduce penalties for concentrates & ensure a petty is not a crime in fed court.
2. Medical reform: Require Minn to petition for a fed exemption fr Schedule 1 for Minn's Med Cannabis patients.https://t.co/9S8Vwz4yoB
— Minnesota NORML (@MNNORML) June 15, 2021
Similar to the Minnesota activists’ call, Iowa officials have requested that federal agencies guarantee some level of protection for people participating in the state’s medical marijuana program.
The Hawaii legislature adopted a resolution in April seeking an exemption from DEA stipulating that the state is permitted to run its medical cannabis program without federal interference.
Back in Minnesota, the House approved a bill last month to legalize marijuana for recreational use following 12 committee assignments. That legislation stalled in the GOP-controlled Senate, however.
Advocates are hopeful about the possibility that further cannabis reforms could be accomplished in the special session, but they see an obstacle in Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R), who has been relatively silent on the issue since the end of the regular session.
He did previously say, however, that “we’re always said we were open to lowering the criminal penalties [for marijuana].”
The decriminalization legislation that advocates are rallying behind would make possession of up to eight grams of cannabis a petty misdemeanor. It would also make people with prior convictions for that level of possession eligible for expungements.
Under the separate medical cannabis expansion bill that the governor has signed, adults 21 and older will be able to access smokable marijuana products. That policy must take effect by March 1, 2022, or earlier if rules are developed and the state’s cannabis commissioner authorizes it.
Dispensaries could also provide a curbside pickup option for patients under the new law. It further removes restrictions for designated caregivers and allows them to tend to six registered patients at once, rather than just one.
Walz, who hadn’t been especially vocal about legalization as the broader legislation advanced during the regulator session, said, “I’ve thought for a long time about that,” adding that “we know that adults can make their own decisions on things, we know that criminalization and prohibition has not worked.”
“I’ve always thought that it makes sense to control how you’re doing this and to make sure that adults know what they’re getting into, and use it wisely,” he said. “I also think there’s a lot of inequity about how folks have spent time in jail or been arrested around this, especially in communities of color.”
The majority leader’s legalization legislation as introduced was identical to a proposal he filed last year, with some minor technical changes. Winkler, who led a statewide listening to gather public input ahead of the measure’s introduction, called it the “best legalization bill in the country” at the time. It did not advance in that session, however.
Under the measure, social equity would be prioritized, in part by ensuring diverse licensing and preventing the market from being monopolized by corporate players. Prior marijuana records would also be automatically expunged.
Walz in January he called on lawmakers to pursue the reform as a means to boost the economy and promote racial justice. He did not include a request to legalize through his budget proposal, however.
The governor did say in 2019 that he was directing state agencies to prepare to implement reform in anticipation of legalization passing.
Winkler, meanwhile, said in December that if Senate Republicans don’t go along with the policy change legislatively, he said he hopes they will at least let voters decide on cannabis as a 2022 ballot measure.
Heading into the 2020 election, Democrats believed they had a shot of taking control of the Senate, but that didn’t happen. The result appears to be partly due to the fact that candidates from marijuana-focused parties in the state earned a sizable share of votes that may have otherwise gone to Democrats, perhaps inadvertently hurting the chances of reform passing.
In December, the Minnesota House Select Committee On Racial Justice adopted a report that broadly details race-based disparities in criminal enforcement and recommends a series of policy changes, including marijuana decriminalization and expungements.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
Maine Lawmakers Approve Bill To Decriminalize All Drugs On 50th Anniversary Of Nixon’s ‘War On Drugs’
The Maine House of Representatives on Thursday approved a bill to decriminalize possession of all currently illicit drugs, delivering a victory to reform advocates on the 50th anniversary of President Richard Nixon’s declaration of the war on drugs.
The Senate also began consideration of the legislation on Thursday, but has not yet taken a vote.
The proposal, LD 967, was approved in 77-62 vote in the House. It would make possession of controlled substances for personal use punishable by a $100 fine, without the threat of incarceration. That fine could also be waived if a person completes a substance misuse assessment within 45 days of being cited.
“We are continually trying to criminalize a symptom of a disease. It hasn’t worked. It won’t work,” Rep. Charlotte Warren (D), who serves as the House chair of the legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, said before the vote. “We have tried criminalizing this disease for decades, and 11 Mainers a week are dying.”
Rep. Anne Perry (D), sponsor of the bill, said that incarcerating people who are suffering from addiction “only proves to them that they are as bad as they think they are” and perpetuates the cycle of substance misuse. “Law enforcement is not the gateway to treatment and recovery. It’s a gateway to isolation and suicide.”
The measure’s passage flies in the face of Gov. Janet Mills (D), whose administration opposes the reform, as does the state attorney general. Coupled with opposition from Republican legislators, the bill faces an uphill battle to final passage.
Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,100 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.
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The Senate also began consideration of the legislation on Thursday night, adopting a different committee report than the House approved, but setting it aside as unfinished business before taking a final vote on the bill. The version moving forward in that chamber would similarly impose a $100 fine for possession, but only for the first two offenses. Subsequent offenses would be considered Class E crimes that could carry jail time.
These actions come one month after a joint House and Senate committee advanced the decriminalization bill with several conflicting recommendations, as well as another measure to reform the state’s drug trafficking laws.
Supporters of the legislation include the American Academy of Pediatrics’s Maine Chapter, Maine Medical Association, Alliance for Addiction and Mental Health Services in Maine and Maine Council of Churches.
Thursday’s decriminalization vote represents a continuation of a national conversation about the need to reform laws criminalizing people over drugs and treat substance misuse as a public health issue, rather than a criminal justice matter.
For the first time ever, a congressional bill to federally decriminalize possession of controlled substances—and incentivize states to do the same—was formally introduced on Thursday.
Last year, Oregon voters elected to end criminalization of low-level drug possession at the ballot.
Vermont lawmakers also introduced a bill in March that would end criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of drugs in the state.
Also that month, a Rhode Island Senate committee held a hearing on decriminalization legislation to replace criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of drugs with a $100 fine.
Back in Maine, a bill was recently introduced that would legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic purposes.