Both the New York Senate and Assembly included marijuana legalization language in annual budget legislation released on Tuesday.
But while the Senate recommended certain modifications to the legal cannabis proposal first introduced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), the Assembly’s resolution seemed to approach the issue with less urgency.
That said, the Assembly did stipulate that legalization legislation should “provide for personal cultivation” of marijuana. That stands in contrast to the governor’s proposal, which bans home growing of recreational cannabis in line with the wishes of a New York-based medical cannabis industry association as detailed in a memo that Marijuana Moment obtained through a public records request.
Overall, the language around cannabis policy in the new budget bills is of particular interest to legalization advocates, as the governor has recently said he’s “no longer confident” the idea will make it into final spending legislation that must be signed by an April 1 deadline.
On the Senate side, though, the idea still seems to be alive. The chamber said it “generally supports” legalization and outlined a series of amendments the chamber’s leaders want to be included.
For example, the Senate said legalization legislation should grant the body authority to approve executive appointees to the state’s adult-use regulatory committee. It also wants to reduce criminal penalties for future marijuana offenses, expand expungement provisions and reduce tax rates for retail cannabis sales.
The Senate is also calling for marijuana tax revenue to be allocated to “fund public education, job training, reentry services, drug treatment and prevention programs, community-based supportive services, improvements to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and to expand training for state and local law enforcement to maintain road safety.”
“The Senate will work to make sure that the good-paying jobs in the medical marijuana field will continue to be protected and will flourish as the adult use program is established and expanded,” the resolution states. “The Senate believes that it is critically important that revenue generated from legalization support communities that have been disproportionately impacted by enforcement of prior marijuana policies.”
However, Senate President Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D) said last month “I don’t think [legalization] will be in the budget” that ultimately gets sent to Cuomo’s desk and that the chamber wants “to make sure we get it right.”
Over in the Assembly, meanwhile, a separate budget resolution also lists priorities for cannabis legalization. But the language suggests that its inclusion in the final budget is even less of a given.
Instead, the chamber “proposes to continue discussion with the Executive and the Senate to provide for the regulation of hemp-derived cannabis products, to expand the existing medical cannabis program and to provide for the regulation of cannabis and cannabis products for adult-use.”
“The Assembly supports the establishment of a centralized regulatory approach for the regulation and management of medical, adult-use and hemp-based cannabis and cannabis products through the creation of a regulatory body comprised of legislative and executive appointments, as well as ex-officio agency representation from agencies involved in implementation.”
The chamber also expressed support for reducing criminal penalties for marijuana-related activity, expunging prior cannabis convictions, implementing employment protections for consumers, ensuring that licensing empowers individuals from communities that have been hardest hit by the drug war, developing social equity programs and imposing a “reasonable tax structure” to curb the illicit market.
The “continue discussion” language seems to reflect the Assembly’s strong position on how revenue should be distributed. It “maintains that it is critically important that revenue generated from legalization of cannabis be invested in communities that have been disproportionately impacted by enforcement of prior cannabis policies.”
“Therefore, the Assembly will further continue discussions on how to direct revenue to ensure that funds will be used for: public education; job creation, skills development and training; social justice and reentry services for communities that have been disproportionately impacted by past criminalization of cannabis; substance use disorder services and mental health services; community-based supportive services; expanding training for state and local law enforcement to maintain driver safety; and any other uses deemed necessary and appropriate.”
One difference between the Assembly’s resolution and the Senate and governor’s concerns funding MTA improvements with cannabis tax revenue. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D) has criticized the proposal, as have drug policy reform advocates.
Those issues will have to be resolved soon if legalization is going to make it into the final budget. As lawmakers continue to consult on workable legislation that can garner sufficient support, a deadline looms just over two weeks away.
If it doesn’t make it in the budget, there are a number of standalone bills on the table that would also legalize cannabis for adult use. Lawmakers would have to send a marijuana bill to Cuomo’s desk by June, which is when the current legislative session ends.
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.
Top Trump Campaign Spokesman: Marijuana Must Be ‘Kept Illegal’
Asked in a new interview about President Trump’s position on changing federal marijuana laws, a top reelection campaign aide said the administration’s policy is that cannabis and other currently illegal drugs should remain illegal.
“I think what the president is looking at is looking at this from a standpoint of a parent of a young person to make sure that we keep our kids away from drugs,” Marc Lotter, director of strategic communications for the Trump 2020 effort, said in an interview with Las Vegas CBS affiliate KLAS-TV.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.
Virginia Marijuana Decriminalization Gets Closer To Governor’s Desk With New Amendments
One week after bills to decriminalize marijuana in Virginia were passed by both the House and Senate, they advanced again on Wednesday in committee votes, where they were revised in an effort to ease the path to the governor’s desk.
The goal was to make the language of the bills identical, with lawmakers hoping to streamline the process by avoiding sending differing pieces of decriminalization legislation to a bicameral conference committee to resolve differences.
The House of Delegates and Senate were under pressure to approve their respective versions of decriminalization ahead of a crossover deadline last week. After clearing floor votes in their respective chambers, the Senate-passed bill was sent to the House Court of Justice Committee, while the House’s legislation was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Those panels amended the bills and advanced them on Wednesday, with senators voting 10-4 to advance the revised legislation and delegates voting 8-5. However, the Senate panel also struck a part of the text of a compromise substitute version concerning a record clearing provision while the House committee accepted the substitute as offered.
That means it will be up to the Finance Committees to resolve the remaining differences if lawmakers hope to skip the conference step prior to full floor votes in both chambers.
Regardless of the unexpected complication, advocates said the new committee actions represent a positive development.
“Fortunately, the patrons were able to reach a consensus and move the bills forward,” Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “Virginians have waited long enough for this important step, one that will dramatically reduce both marijuana arrests and the collateral consequences that follow such charges.”
The legislation as amended would make possession of up to one ounce a civil penalty punishable by a $25 fine without the threat of jail time. Currently, simple possession is punishable by a maximum $500 fine and up to 30 days in jail.
A provision that would have allowed courts to sentence individuals to up to five hours of community service in lieu of the civil penalty was removed with the latest revisions. The bill also stipulates that juveniles found in possession of cannabis will be treated as delinquent, rather than go through a less punitive process for a “child in need of service.”
Language providing a means to seal prior records for marijuana convictions was successfully reinserted into the House Courts of Justice Committee-passed bill after it was previously removed and placed in a separate expungement bill. That latter legislation is stalled, so lawmakers put it back into the decriminalization measure via the substitute to ensure its enactment.
The Senate Judiciary moved to delete that section, however, creating complications for avoiding a conference committee.
Meanwhile, the House Rules Committee voted in favor of a separate Senate-passed resolution on Wednesday that calls for the establishment of a joint commission to “study and make recommendations for how Virginia should go about legalizing and regulating the growth, sale, and possession of marijuana by July 1, 2022, and address the impacts of marijuana prohibition.” That vote was 12-5.
That’s a significant step, as the legislature is generally reluctant to enact bold reform without first conducting a study on the issue.
While Gov. Ralph Northam (D) is in favor of decriminalization, including a call for the policy change in his State of the Commonwealth address last month, he’s yet to embrace adult-use legalization. That said, Attorney General Mark Herring (D), who is running to replace the term-limited governor in 2021, said he’s optimistic that Northam will come around on the issue.
Herring organized a cannabis summit late last year to hear from officials representing states that have already legalized marijuana. That’s one tool he said the governor could use as he considers broader reform.
Also on Wednesday, the House Courts of Justice Criminal Subcommittee advanced another Senate-passed bill to formally legalize possession of CBD and THC-A medial cannabis preparations that are recommended by a doctor, an expansion of the current policy simply offers patients arrested with it an affirmative defense in court.
For now, Virginia seems to be on the path to become the 27th state to decriminalize marijuana, and the first to do so in 2020. Last year, three states—New Mexico, Hawaii and North Dakota—also approved the policy change.
Alabama Lawmakers Approve Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill
An Alabama Senate committee approved a bill on Wednesday that would legalize medical marijuana in the state.
The legislation would allow patients with qualifying conditions to purchase cannabis products from licensed dispensaries. It would be a limited system, however, prohibiting patients from smoking or vaping marijuana.
The Senate Judiciary Committee cleared the bill in a 8-1 vote, with one abstention. The next stop for the legislation will be the Senate floor.
The proposal would establish the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission, which would be responsible for overseeing a patient registry database, issuing medical cannabis cards and approving licenses for marijuana dispensaries, cultivators, transporters and testing facilities.
This vote comes two months after a panel created by the legislature, the Medical Cannabis Study Commission, issued a recommendation that Alabama implement a medical cannabis program.
The full Senate approved a medical cannabis legalization bill last year, but it was diluted in the House to only provide for the establishment of the study commission. Sen. Tim Melson (R) sponsored both versions of the legislation and served as chairman of the review panel.
The current bill has been revised from the earlier version. For example, this one does not require patients to exhaust traditional treatment options before they can access medical cannabis.
The committee also approved a series of amendments by voice vote, including several technical changes to the bill. Another one would shield physicians from liability for recommending medical cannabis. One would clarify that employees are ineligible for workers’ compensation for accidents caused by being intoxicated by medical cannabis, which is the same standard as other drugs.
Watch the Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee debate and vote on medical cannabis below:
Members also agreed to an amendment creating a restriction on who can be on the cannabis commission.
While it’s not clear how the House would approach the bill if it advances to the chamber this year, the speaker said this week that he’s “in a wait and see mode” and commended Melson for his work on the measure. The state’s attorney general, meanwhile, sent a letter to lawmakers expressing opposition to the reform move.
Under the measure, patients suffering from 15 conditions would qualify for the program. Those include anxiety, cancer, epilepsy and post-traumatic stress disorder. Patients would be able to purchase up to a 70-day supply at a time, and there would be a cap of 32 dispensaries allowed in the state.
Prior to the vote, committee heard from a series of proponents and opponents, including parents who shared anecdotes about the therapeutic benefits of cannabis for their children. Interest in the reform move was so strong that an overflow crowd has to be moved to a separate hearing room.
“Sometimes people are not able to empathize with others who have gone through something. I guarantee you if one of relatives, members of the legislature, went through something like the testimonies that we’ve heard today, they would want it,” Sen. Vivian Figures (D) said. “But they would probably have the means to fly somewhere and get it.”
One thing we're watching on Goat Hill today is the medical marijuana bill. Alabama is one of only 17 states where medical cannabis remains illegal. https://t.co/V8CK8nm6mm
— Alabama Democrats (@aldemocrats) February 19, 2020
There would be a number of restrictions under the bill when it comes to advertising. It would also require seed-to-sale tracking for marijuana products, set packaging and labeling requirements and impose criminal background checks for licensed facility employees.
A nine percent tax would be levied on “gross proceeds of the sales of medical cannabis” sold at a retail medical cannabis dispensary. Part of those funds would go toward creating a new Consortium for Medical Cannabis Research, which would provide grants to study the plant.
Last year, the Senate Judiciary Committee also approved a bill to decriminalize marijuana.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.