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

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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

Harris Will Give Biden ‘Honest’ Input On Legalizing Marijuana And Other Issues As Part Of ‘Deal’

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Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris says she has a “deal” with Joe Biden to candidly share her perspective on a range of progressive policies he currently opposes, including legalizing marijuana. Separately, she also recently discussed cannabis reform in a private meeting with rapper Killer Mike.

During an interview on 60 Minutes that aired on Sunday, the senator was pressed on marijuana and numerous other issues where she and Biden disagree. In response, while she didn’t specifically commit to proactively advocating for comprehensive cannabis reform, she pledged in general that she would always share her views with the would-be president if the pair are elected next week.

“What I will do—and I promise you this and this is what Joe wants me to do, this was part of our deal—I will always share with him my lived experience as it relates to any issue that we confront,” she said after the interviewer listed cannabis legalization among a handful of issues on which she and Biden depart. “I promised Joe that I will give him that perspective and always be honest with him.”

Asked whether that perspective will be “socialist” and “progressive,” Harris laughed and said “no.”

“It is the perspective of a woman who grew up a black child in America, who was also a prosecutor, who also has a mother who arrived here at the age of 19 from India, who also, you know, likes hip hop,” she said.

The senator’s taste in music also came up during her own 2020 presidential bid, when she said in an interview that she listened to Snoop Dogg and Tupac while smoking marijuana during college despite graduating before those artists released their debut albums.

Music culture has played a key role in this election cycle, and one of the strongest voices for criminal justice reform in the industry is Killer Mike, who worked as a surrogate for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) when he was running for the Democratic presidential nomination. The artist said he met with Harris on Friday and the two discussed cannabis business opportunities for communities of color.

As she’s done repeatedly since joining Biden’s campaign, Harris also reiterated at a rally in Pontiac, Michigan on Sunday that the administration would pursue marijuana decriminalization and expunging prior cannabis convictions.

She made similar comments during a campaign event in Atlanta last week, stating that the “war on drugs was, by every measure, a failure, and black men were hit the hardest.” That said, while the senator has come to embrace broad cannabis reform, she’s faced criticism over her past opposition to legalization and role in prosecuting people for marijuana offenses as a California prosecutor.

In another interview released last week, Harris said she and Biden “have a commitment to decriminalizing marijuana and expunging the records of people who have been convicted of marijuana offenses.”

“When you look at the awful war on drugs and the disproportionate impact it had on black men and creating then criminal records that have deprived people of access to jobs and housing and basic benefits,” she said.

There’s been some frustration among cannabis reform advocates that Harris has scaled back her reform push since joining the Democratic ticket as Biden’s running mate. During her own run for the presidential nomination, she called for comprehensive marijuana legalization but has in recent weeks focused her comments on the more modest reforms of decriminalization and expungement.

Harris, who is the lead Senate sponsor of a bill to federally deschedule marijuana, said last month that a Biden administration would not be “half-steppin’” cannabis reform or pursuing “incrementalism,” but that’s exactly how advocates would define simple decriminalization.

In any case, the senator has repeatedly discussed cannabis decriminalization on the trail. She similarly said during a vice presidential debate earlier this month that she and Biden “will decriminalize marijuana and we will expunge the records of those who have been convicted of marijuana.”

In addition to those policies, Biden backs modestly rescheduling the drug under federal law, letting states set their own policies and legalizing medical cannabis.

Musician John Legend Endorses Drug Decriminalization Ballot Measure In Oregon

Photo element courtesy of California Attorney General’s Office.

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GOP Tennessee Senator Calls For Medical Marijuana Legalization In New Campaign Ad

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A Tennessee senator touted his support for legalizing medical marijuana in a campaign ad released on Friday.

In the 30-second spot, which has notably high production value for this kind of local race, state Sen. Steve Dickerson (R) talks about both the therapeutic benefits of cannabis and the consequences of broader marijuana criminalization.

“As your state senator, I’ve led the fight to legalize medical marijuana so our veterans and sickest Tennesseans can deal with chronic pain,” he said. “But this same life-saving plant has led to mass incarceration, with nonviolent marijuana possession resulting in lengthy prison sentences.”

“I think that’s wrong. That’s why I’ve been pushing for criminal justice reform,” the senator added.

Dickerson, who sponsored a medical cannabis legalization bill that cleared a Senate committee in March, said in a Q&A published earlier this month that the policy change would be among his top three legislative priorities if he’s reelected.

His Democratic opponent, former Oak Hill Mayor Heidi Campbell, is in favor of “fully legalizing marijuana,” with her campaign site stating that cannabis crimes “disproportionately impact people of color and it’s time to end marijuana prohibition.”

But while Dickerson has earned a reputation as a moderate Republican given his positions on issues like cannabis reform, he’s faced backlash after declining to denounce an independent ad taken out on his behalf that some, including the LGBTQ rights organization Tennessee Equality Project (TEP), called racist.

The ad, which was paid for by Lt. Gov. Randy McNally’s (R) political action committee MCPAC, hits Campbell over her support for a nonprofit organization that is designed to keep young people out of prison, and it frames the group as “radical” and “extremist.” TEP rescinded their endorsement of Dickerson over his refusal to condemn the ad.

In the Tennessee legislature, marijuana reform has yet to pass—but there’s growing recognition that voters are in favor of the policy change. For example, former House Speaker Glen Casada (R) released the results of a constituent survey last year that showed 73 percent of those in his district back medical cannabis legalization.

Another former GOP House speaker, Beth Harwell, highlighted her support for the reform proposal during her unsuccessful bid for governor in 2018, and she referenced President Trump’s stated support for medical marijuana on the campaign trail.

In other Tennessee drug policy politics, a lawmaker in June blocked a resolution to honor murdered teen Ashanti Posey because she was allegedly involved in a low-level cannabis sale the day she was killed.

New York Will Legalize Marijuana ‘Soon’ To Aid Economic Recovery From COVID, Governor Cuomo Says

Photo courtesy of 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.
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South Dakota Voters Back Marijuana Legalization And Medical Cannabis Ballot Measures, Poll Finds

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Voters in South Dakota are poised to approve two separate ballot measures next month that would legalize marijuana and allow patients to access medical cannabis.

The initiative to allow adults to possess, grow and purchase marijuana leads among likely voters by a margin of 51 percent to 44 percent, with five percent undecided, according to the survey released over the weekend by Argus Leader Media and KELO-TV.

The medical cannabis item got 74 percent support in the poll, with 23 percent in opposition and 3 percent undecided.

When it comes to recreational legalization, voters are divided on the issue across demographic lines. Fifty-seven percent of those under age 50 back the ballot measure, while it is narrowly opposed by older voters. Seventy-three percent of Democrats and 58 percent of independents support the reform, but Republicans are against it, 61 percent to 34 percent. Men are on board, 56 percent to 40 percent, but women are divided with 47 percent in support and 47 percent opposed.

Via KELO-TV.

The separate medical cannabis ballot measure, on the other hand, enjoys supermajority backing among every surveyed group. In fact, it had a greater margin of support than any other item or entity in the entire poll, which also asked voters about the presidential election, other races on the ballot and approval of officials including the governor and U.S. vice president.

Via KELO-TV.

The poll, which was conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling Strategy from October 19 to 21, involved 625 voters and has a margin of error of +/- 4 percentage points.

A separate survey released last month by marijuana opponents found that about 60 percent of South Dakota voters support the broader recreational legalization proposal and more than 70 percent back the narrower medical cannabis initiative.

Under the adult-use constitutional amendment, people 21 and older could possess and distribute up to one ounce of marijuana, and they would also be allowed to cultivate up to three cannabis plants.

The separate medical cannabis legalization measure that voters will decide on would make a statutory change to allow patients suffering from debilitating medical conditions to possess and purchase up to three ounces of marijuana from a licensed dispensary.

Gov. Kristi Noem (R), who previously vetoed a hemp bill, appeared in a new ad this month urging voters to reject the cannabis legalization ballot measure, saying, “I’ve never met someone who got smarter from smoking pot.”

Meanwhile, the pro-legalization campaign released its own spot featuring a retired police officer who says “our harsh marijuana laws aren’t working.”

“In 2018, 4,000 people were arrested for marijuana possession in South Dakota. That’s one in 10 arrests,” the former officer said in the TV advertisement, referencing a report that South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws published last month. “Each arrest costs $4,000. It doesn’t make us any safer. We’re wasting law enforcement time and resources that should be fighting serious crimes. So I’m voting ‘yes’ on A and 26.”

The data from that report also shows that—as is the case across the country—marijuana enforcement has had a disparate impact on people of color, despite comparable rates of consumption among white people.

Meanwhile, other recent polls in Arizona, Mississippi, Montana and New Jersey also show voters poised to approve cannabis ballot measures next month.

New York Will Legalize Marijuana ‘Soon’ To Aid Economic Recovery From COVID, Governor Cuomo Says

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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