Connect with us

Politics

New York Governor Says Marijuana Legalization Remains A Top-10 Priority For 2019

Published

on

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said on Tuesday that passing marijuana legalization before the end of the legislative session is a top-10 priority.

Efforts to legalize cannabis through the legislature have stalled in part due to a changing political dynamic in light of neighboring New Jersey’s failure to get a legalization bill over the finish line this year and because some senators want voters to first approve the idea of ending cannabis prohibition through a referendum, he said.

But in two separate radio interviews, the governor challenged lawmakers to capitalize on a growing pro-legalization sentiment and get a bill to his desk before the session ends on June 19.

Cuomo seemed open to the prospect of a referendum vote, but he made clear that the fight in the legislature isn’t over yet. He expressed frustration that lawmakers are falling short of their legalization promise for political reasons and not necessarily because they take issue with the merits of cannabis reform.

A revised version of a pending legalization bill was introduced in the legislature on Friday, with new provisions that would allow for the expungement of records for prior cannabis-related convictions and set guidelines for the production, processing and sale of marijuana, for example.

Cuomo’s original plan was to include cannabis legalization in the state budget but, after failing to reach compromises with legislators ahead of the April 1 deadline, it was ultimately cut from the spending package. That version included some provisions that proved controversial for advocates, including a ban on home cultivation that several large marijuana businesses pushed for.

The amended version of the pending standalone bill does provide for home cultivation.

Cuomo said the expungement addition wasn’t a “dealbreaker”—even though his initial proposal called for the the less-far-reaching step of sealing of records—but added that some thorny questions still have to be resolved such as setting limits on home cultivation, how tax revenue from cannabis sales should be spent and who should be responsible for issuing licenses for dispensaries.

“But I don’t think the issue here is even that. I don’t think it’s going to be on the merits—I think it’s on the politics,” he told WNYC’s Brian Lehrer. “New Jersey was going to legalize it. New Jersey stopped. I think that started to shift the political environment.”

Listen to Cuomo discuss marijuana politics around 10:00 into the audio below:

Cuomo cited senators who’ve told reporters that there isn’t enough support in the chamber “to pass it politically.”

“I think that’s the problem here, is the political reality that you don’t have the votes in the Senate,” he said. “I support it, I proposed, but we’re getting down to the final three weeks or so, and they’re still saying they don’t have the votes.”

The host asked Cuomo if it was possible that lawmakers could reach compromises on certain provisions to get the legislation passed before the session’s end. Allowing individual jurisdictions to opt out of allowing marijuana businesses to operate could represent one such compromise, Lehrer said.

“I’ve tried a number of things. The opting out provision I’ve tried,” Cuomo said. “The opposition Senate position is there is no state that has passed it without a referendum. It’s never been done just by the legislature.”

“I believe Jersey may be moving to a referendum also, but Massachusetts, et cetera, the legislature acted after a referendum,” he added. “So that’s what the senators who oppose it say—they think it’s an overreach by the legislature.”

New Jersey lawmakers announced earlier this month that after months of debate and negotiations, they were not able to reach a compromise on legalization legislation and would instead focus on getting the issue on the state’s 2020 ballot.

It’s possible that New York could see a ballot referendum on the issue to get a “sense of the people,” Cuomo said. Theoretically, voters could approve a legalization referendum and the legislature could then take action. But the governor repeated that it’s politics that’s holding back legislative reform and “everything else is smoke.”

“The Senate promised in their campaign—we have a Democratic Senate now for the first time, and I supported them and I worked very hard for them—and this was one of the big campaign issues,” Cuomo said. “And the senators say that they don’t have the votes, and at the end of the day if you don’t have the votes, you don’t have the votes.”

Even so, Cuomo didn’t rule out the possibility of passing cannabis legalization this session, despite the issue being “very difficult.”

He told WAMC in a separate interview on Tuesday that marijuana reform remains a central tenet of his agenda, even if he’s facing a resistance in the Senate.

(You can listen to the conversation by following this link; the discussion on cannabis starts at about 11:00.)

“They have work to do,” he said. “They are stopping surrogacy, they are stopping the ERA, they are stopping marijuana, they are stopping drivers licenses, they are stopping prevailing wages, they are stopping gay panic defense.”

Legislators “need to get things done if they’re going to vindicate the promise they made the people of this state when we elected a Democratic Senate and we promised the most progressive laws in the country,” he said.

New Jersey Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Decriminalization, Expungements And Medical Cannabis Expansion

Photo elements courtesy of Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Carlos Gracia.

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

Watch Live: Senate Committee Holds Hearing On Marijuana And Health

Published

on

The U.S. Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control is scheduled to discuss the health effects of marijuana at a hearing on Wednesday afternoon.

The event—titled “Marijuana and America’s Health: Questions and Issues for Policy Makers”—will feature testimony from Surgeon General Jerome Adams and National Institute On Drug Abuse Director Nora Volkow, along with several academics.

Watch the Senate marijuana hearing below:

In a Senate floor speech on Tuesday in which he previewed the hearing, caucus co-chair Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) compared claims about cannabis’s medical benefits to decades-old ads about tobacco.

“There’s no shortage of people who claim that marijuana has endless health benefits and can help patients struggling from everything from epilepsy to anxiety to cancer treatments,” he said. “This reminds me of some of the advertising we saw from the tobacco industry years ago where they actually claimed public health benefits from smoking tobacco, which we know as a matter of fact were false and that tobacco contains nicotine, an addictive drug, and is implicated with cancers of different kinds.”

In August, Cornyn said that he wanted to hold a hearing focused on cannabis’s health effects before the Senate moves to consider a proposal to allow state-legal businesses to access banking services. A bill to do so passed the House of Representatives last month and Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) says he’d like to advance similar legislation by the end of the year, though he has indicated he wants some changes to the version approved by the other chamber.

The narcotics panel hosting the health hearing is also co-chaired by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who has long opposed broad marijuana reform. She did cosponsor a bill to let states set their own cannabis laws without federal interference during the course of her reelection campaign last year, but has not yet signed onto a new version filed in the current Congress.

Federal Court Dismisses Suit Against DEA Over Marijuana Growing Applications

Photo elements courtesy of rawpixel and Philip Steffan.

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.
Continue Reading

Politics

UK Parliament Committee Endorses Decriminalizing Drugs

Published

on

A UK House of Commons panel is calling on the government to decriminalize drugs and adopt other harm reduction approaches to address a growing overdose crisis.

“We recommend a radical change in UK drugs policy from a criminal justice to a health approach. A health focused and harm reduction approach would not only benefit those who are using drugs but reduce harm to and the costs for their wider communities,” reads a report issued on Wednesday by the Health and Social Care Committee. “Decriminalisation of possession for personal use saves money from the criminal justice system that is more effectively invested in prevention and treatment.”

“Every drug death is avoidable. However, the United Kingdom, and in particular Scotland, have amongst the highest drug death rates in Europe. The evidence we have heard leads us to conclude that UK drugs policy is failing.”

The panel said that decriminalization alone “will not be effective without investing in holistic harm reduction, support and treatment services for drug addiction.” To that end, it is also voicing support for syringe exchange programs, drug checking services, naloxone, safe consumption facilities and heroin assisted treatment—components that it says “can all play an important role in preventing deaths amongst drug users as well as protecting their communities by reducing the harm from discarded syringes and drug related crime.”

The committee also wants to move responsibility for drug policy from the Home office, which handles crime, to the Department of Health and Social Care. “We strongly recommend this move,” the report says.

When it comes to the proposal to remove criminal penalties for drug possession, the committee wrote about witnessing the success of that policy in Portugal, where it was enacted in 2001.

“On our visit to Portugal we saw a system marked by a positive attitude to service users which recognised the impact that chaotic lifestyles could have on engagement with support and treatment,” the report says. “There was a striking ethos of holistic, non-judgemental treatment and access to services focused on the needs of individuals rather than the convenience of the system.”

The lawmakers said that UK-based treatment professions share “a similar ethos, but their capacity to deliver is compromised by inadequate funding and the policy framework.”

The Portuguese model, they write, has “had an impact on stigma” and has led to a “dramatic drop in drug related deaths…without significant increases in drug use.”

“All those we met in Portugal involved in this policy area were very positive about their model,” the lawmakers said. “On introduction, there had been significant opposition, but there is now political consensus and nobody would want to go back. Some of those we met were now of the view that the next step should be legalisation and regulation, to enable the generation of taxation revenue and quality control.”

“Efforts to improve the unacceptably high rates of drug-related deaths would be strengthened by explicitly reframing drug use as a health rather than a criminal justice issue.”

The panel’s report also recounts how members toured supervised drug consumption facilities in Frankfurt, Germany, and recommends that they be “piloted in areas of high need” in the UK.

“Police representatives told us that these facilities should not be viewed simply as allowing people to take illicit drugs–they are about safety, stopping drug overdoses, and very importantly, providing access to a wraparound of other services to eventually stop that person’s drug use,” they wrote. “Harm reduction approaches such as [drug consumption rooms] reduce the wider harms to local communities as well as for those using drugs.”

A government spokesperson rejected the committee’s recommendation to remove criminal penalties for low-level drug offenses, saying that it “would not eliminate the crime committed by the illicit trade, nor would it address the harms associated with drug dependence and the misery that this can cause to families and communities.”

But Dr. Sarah Wollaston MP, chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, said that “a holistic approach centered on improving the health of and reducing the harm faced by drug users, as well as increasing the treatment available, must be a priority going forward.”

“This approach would not only benefit those who are dependent on drugs but benefit their wider communities,” she said in a press release. “The Government should learn lessons from the international experience, including places like Portugal and Frankfurt. It should consult on the decriminalisation of drug possession for personal use from a criminal offence to a civil matter. Decriminalisation alone would not be sufficient. There needs to be a radical upgrade in treatment and holistic care for those who are dependent on drugs and this should begin without delay.”

James Nichols, CEO of the pro-reform Transform Drug Policy Foundation, praised the report but also suggested its recommendations didn’t go far enough in that they would leave the market unregulated by simply decriminalizing possession.

“We need to think about drugs as a health issue, not a criminal justice agenda. This isn’t simply a matter of thinking differently. It’s about creating an entirely new policy landscape. It means action, not just words,” he wrote in a blog post. “Decriminalisation is essential in moving drug policy away from the simplistic, ineffective and often prejudicial approach we have today. Ultimately, though, we need to bring the whole market under legal regulation in order to really get drugs under control and reduce the violence and exploitation that prohibition creates.”

The UK committee’s endorsement of decriminalization is just the latest sign that broad drug policy reforms beyond marijuana legalization are gaining traction around the globe.

This month, Scotland’s ruling party unanimously adopted a resolution endorsing “decriminalization of possession and consumption of controlled drugs so that health services are not prevented from giving treatment to those that need it.”

In Canada, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health issued a report in June recommending the government “work with provinces, territories, municipalities and Indigenous communities and law enforcement agencies to decriminalize the simple possession of small quantities of illicit substances.”

In the U.S., presidential candidates such as Pete Buttigieg and Tulsi Gabbard have voiced support for drug decriminalization during the course of their campaigns for the Democratic nomination, and businessman Andrew Yang and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) spoke in favor of removing criminal penalties for at least opioids during a debate this month.

Denver and Oakland have enacted policies this year focused on psychedelics decriminalization.

A poll released this month found that a majority of Americans—55 percent—support decriminalizing drugs.

Last week, a top Mexican lawmaker proposed going further by legalizing the production and sales of drugs in order to undercut the violent, cartel-controlled underground market.

Vaping Injury Outbreak Hasn’t Hurt Marijuana Legalization Support, Gallup Poll Shows

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.
Continue Reading

Politics

USDA Outlines Rules For Importing Hemp Plants And Seeds From Other Countries

Published

on

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) quietly updated guidance last week to clarify that hemp seeds and plants may be imported from other countries.

As was the case under a previous announcement focused on seeds, the requirements for importing the full plant from Canada are different than for other countries. Plants from Canada are allowed if they’re “accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate from Canada’s [national plant protection organization” to verify the origin of the plant and to confirm no plant pests are detected.” For other countries, importers must fill out an additional permit application.

Companies can also import hemp seeds from Canada if they produce a “Federal Seed Analysis Certificate.”

In addition to a phytosanitary certificate, those who seek to import seeds from countries other than Canada are subject to a Custom and Border Protection inspection at the port of entry in order “ensure they meet [Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service] regulations, including certification and freedom from plant pests.”

Prior to last week, USDA had only offered guidance on the rules for importing seeds, which it released in April. Both updates are in response to the federal legalization of hemp and its derivatives under the 2018 Farm Bill.

USDA has taken an incremental approach to the implementation process for hemp since the legislation was signed into law last December. The department said in April that it’s accepting applications for intellectual property protections for seed-propagated hemp.

In August, USDA said farmers operating under the 2014 Farm Bill are eligible for federal crop insurance for the 2020 planting season. That coverage will extend to all hemp farmers after USDA releases its final regulations for the crop.

USDA Deputy Secretary Stephen Censky said on Monday that the department plans to release its interim final rule on hemp within “the next couple of weeks.”

The latest development comes after more than three months of interagency review of the regulations, which included input from the Justice Department and White House Office of Management and Budget.

Hemp Regulations Will Be Issued Within Weeks, Top USDA Official Says

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

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.
Continue Reading
Advertisement

Stay Up To The Moment

Marijuana News In Your Inbox


Support Marijuana Moment

Marijuana News In Your Inbox

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!