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Pennsylvania Governor Slams GOP Lawmakers For Not Legalizing Marijuana

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Pennsylvania’s governor and lieutenant governor renewed their support for legalizing adult-use marijuana in the state during a press conference Thursday afternoon, criticizing the Republican-led legislature for failing to move on a proposal put forward last year.

“There’s nothing going on,” Gov. Tom Wolf (D) said at the event. “That’s why we’re having this press conference. We’re saying, ‘Remember a year ago?’”

Wolf and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) in recent months have been at loggerheads with the Republican-controlled House and Senate over unrelated policies, such as COVID-related school and business closures. But while GOP leaders have criticized the pair’s legalization plan as a distraction from more pressing issues, Wolf and Fetterman said Thursday that an infusion of marijuana tax revenue could be routed toward education, small businesses and criminal justice reform programs.

“It’s a turnkey solution for Pennsylvania,” Fetterman said, challenging critics to name a single other solution that could so immediately and effectively route hundreds of millions of dollars to the state at a time when revenue is hurting. “I would pitch this as much as a jobs bill, as much as anything.”

Sen. Sharif Street (D), who has led the Senate push for legalization and who joined Wolf and Fetterman at the press conference, noted that the state auditor general estimated adult-use legalization could bring in as much as $600 million dollars in annual recurring tax revenue for the state. Washington State saw $319 million in cannabis revenue in 2018, while Colorado made $266 million, Wolf said. “Both of those states are much smaller than, of course, Pennsylvania.”

Street, whose grandfather was a dairy farmer, also pointed out that marijuana could effectively be grown by Pennsylvania farmers alongside other crops, providing another potential revenue stream at a tough economic time. “Cannabis is a crop—and this is something people may not know—that works very well in rotation with corn for dairy farmers,” he said, adding that “the excess parts of the plant that aren’t traditionally good for commercial purposes can be used for feed.”

All three speakers also emphasized the effect legalization would have on criminal justice. In Pennsylvania, Street said, Black and Latino people are four to five times more likely to have a cannabis-related encounter with police than white people despite similar use rates. Fetterman pointed to a chart showing the past decade of the state’s marijuana-related arrests, which average about 20,000 per year. “If you go over the span of a decade,” the lieutenant governor said, “you’re talking nearly a quarter of a million Pennsylvanians.”

Wolf and Fetterman are proposing a plan that would legalize, tax and regulate the sale of commercial marijuana. It would route half the revenue to restorative justice programs “that give priority to the harm done to crime victims and communities as the result of cannabis criminalization,” according to a press release, while the other half would go to aid the state’s historically disadvantaged businesses, “many of which have had difficulties attaining other assistance because of systemic issues.”

The governor initially came out in favor of legalization in September of last year, urging the legislature to “seriously debate” passing legislation to allow marijuana commercial sales while simultaneously pursuing more immediate steps to decriminalize cannabis possession and expunge past criminal convictions. That followed Fetterman embarking on a listening tour across the state, during which he talked to communities and gathered mailed and online comments from tens of thousands of residents.

At Thursday’s event, the pair said that 65 to 70 percent of people they heard from supported legalization. And despite Republican leaders’ opposition to the proposal, Street said that he knows of “a significant number” of GOP lawmakers who he thinks would vote for a marijuana bill.

Republican lawmakers have accused the governor of “legislating by press conference” but failing to take up formal negotiations with lawmakers. Wolf pushed back on that claim at the press conference, saying he’s “inviting that conversation to start.”

“We unveiled that a year ago, and nothing’s happened,” he said. “It’s been dead silence.”

Republicans have also criticized a plan to legalize a drug when other, more dangerous drugs such as opioids are already causing problems in the state. The speakers at Thursday’s press conference said those criticisms don’t make sense.

“Safe, legal access to cannabis is exactly what we need to combat that,” Fetterman said. “I think quite frankly they’re trying to deflect because they know it’s popular.”

Street predicted that marijuana use by teens would actually go down after legalization—a phenomenon that’s been seen in other states—as licensed retailers replace unregulated sales that currently meet the state’s demand for marijuana.

“I think what we ought to be focusing on is programs that help people,” Wolf added. “This is a heaven-sent opportunity to do that.”

Despite raising the issue a year ago, Wolf and Fetterman have vocally returned to the issue this summer. Last week the governor held a press conference touting the economic benefits of legalization and hinted that the state itself might run adult-use marijuana retail stores—a plan that would be unique among legal states and could potentially increase revenue, though he didn’t mention that specific idea at Thursday’s availability with reporters.

Repeatedly during the latest press conference, Fetterman declared that supporting ongoing cannabis prohibition has become a minority, even fringe viewpoint. Legalization, he said, is an obvious path forward. According to some recent polls, majorities of all major political groups, including Republican voters, support cannabis legalization.

“This isn’t shocking, this isn’t something that’s controversial,” Fetterman said. “We know we’re right.”

But Sen. Majority Leader Jake Corman (R) isn’t so sure. In a response posted after Thursday’s press conference, he said not to expect movement on legalization anytime soon.

“We look forward to receiving specifics about [Wolf’s] broad concepts including who would regulate this new industry, where it would be sold, strategies for enforcement and plans to minimize the impacts on the medical marijuana industry,” Corman said. “Like with any issue, a bill would need to work its way through the Senate Committee process to be vetted. Movement on this issue should not be expected his fall.”

The idea isn’t so popular with leadership on the other side of the state capitol either. In a statement issued by a House GOP spokesperson, the caucus criticized Wolf for trying to legalize marijuana while at the same time declaring that drug overdoses in the state have reached disaster proportions.

Republicans added that rather than “legalizing drugs as a way to tax and spend on new government programs,” the governor should work on getting people back to work, returning kids to school campuses and providing “the return to normalcy Pennsylvanians long for.”

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Photo courtesy of Gov. Tom Wolf

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.

Ben Adlin is a Seattle-based writer and editor. He has covered cannabis as a journalist since 2011, most recently as a senior news editor for Leafly.

Politics

Biden Taps Marijuana Legalization Supporter To Lead Democratic National Committee

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President-elect Joe Biden’s pick to lead the Democratic National Committee (DNC) is a strong backer of marijuana legalization—the latest example of a nominee holding cannabis policy reform views that go further than the incoming president’s.

If confirmed by party leaders on Thursday, as is expected, former South Carolina Democratic Party Chair Jaime Harrison will be responsible for coordinating Democrats’ national political activities. To that end, a push from the chair to emphasize marijuana reform, which is overwhelmingly supported by Democratic voters, could be broadly influential.

Harrison made a 2020 run for a Senate seat held by outgoing Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) but didn’t prevail. During his campaign, he stressed the need to legalize marijuana as a means to promote racial justice.

“I think we should legalize, regulate and tax marijuana like we do alcohol and tobacco,” he said in July. “There is simply no medical reason to lock people up over this issue. In essence, this is about common sense.”

“We know that marijuana arrests, including those for simple possession, account for a large number of drug arrests,” he said. “The racial disparities in marijuana enforcement—black men and white men smoke marijuana the same rates, but black men are much more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession—is just unacceptable.”

“Across the country, we are finding that states are legalizing marijuana and medical marijuana, and it’s just time for South Carolina to lead on this issue,” Harrison added.

He also criticized then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions after he rescinded an Obama-era Justice Department policy that provided guidance to prosecutors on federal cannabis enforcement.

“I believe we need to regulate marijuana just like we do tobacco. I think we need to tax it and make sure that it’s safe. I just think if you look at the science right now—the criminalization—it’s been more harmful to us as a society than not,” Harrison said in another interview. “I think we will do much better to just simply regulate and tax it just like we do alcohol and tobacco. So I’ve been very plain and outspoken on that. I think we have to decriminalize it at this point in time.”

But the likely DNC chair’s support for broad cannabis reform is at odds with Biden’s position.

Despite supermajority support for the policy change among Democrats, the president-elect has maintained an opposition to legalization. Instead, he backs decriminalizing possession, legalizing medical cannabis, modest rescheduling, expunging past records and allowing states to set their own policies free of federal intervention.

If formally elected, Harrison would be replacing Tom Perez, whose views on marijuana policy are less clear. That said, the current DNC chair did reveal a cannabis blindspot in 2019 when he attempted to joke about President Trump getting high from smoking hemp (which is non-intoxicating) and suggested that it makes people dumb.

Before Perez, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) served as DNC chair. She had long opposed cannabis reform but seems to have evolved, voting in favor of a spending bill amendment for the first time last year that called for protecting all state marijuana programs from federal intervention.

The DNC hasn’t historically warmed to marijuana reform at the pace of the party’s voters. And as recently as last year, the organization’s platform committee rejected an amendment that would have made legalization an official 2020 party plank.

Instead, the committee adopted a position calling for decriminalization, rescheduling, medical cannabis legalization, expungements and allowing state-level reform—much like Biden.

For her part, Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel, who was recently reelected for another term, said last year when asked about medical marijuana that the issue is “left up to the states and there’s going to be variances between states.”

“But that’s not something that the RNC puts forward as policy,” she said. “That’s a legislative issue.”

Meanwhile, Biden’s choice of Harrison to lead the Democrats’ political operation represents yet another pick whose position on legalization breaks with his own.

The president-elect announced earlier this month that he wants Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) to run the Commerce Department. The governor came out in support of legalization in 2019, and she released a budget proposal last year that called for a state-run regulatory model for cannabis.

Biden also recently selected a nominee lead the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)—California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D)—who is amenable to reform. And in his role, he could help facilitate federal cannabis rescheduling.

For attorney general, Biden is nominating Judge Merrick Garland, who has not been especially outspoken about his views on marijuana policy. While advocates expressed concern about his commentary in a 2012 federal appeals case on marijuana scheduling, he doesn’t appear to have been publicly hostile to a policy change.

In positive news for advocates, the president-elect is also set to nominate former prosecutor and civil rights activist Vanita Gupta as associate attorney general. She favors cannabis legalization and has strongly condemned harsh criminalization policies for non-violent drug offenses.

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Local Massachusetts Lawmakers Unanimously Approve Psychedelics Decriminalization Measure

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Local Massachusetts lawmakers on Thursday unanimously approved a resolution to decriminalize a wide range of psychedelics—the latest in a national movement to reform laws on entheogenic plants and fungi.

Prior passing the measure in a 9-0 vote, the Somerville City Council took testimony from two people with personal experience benefiting from the therapeutic use of psychedelics. Several members of the council also discussed the failures of the drug war and the potential medical value of entheogenic substances, particularly as it concerns mental health.

The resolution was supported by the mayor.

“By decriminalizing psychedelic plants, Massachusetts can mainstream harm-reduction strategies as therapists and health providers embrace these compounds for physical, psychological, and spiritual relief,” Decriminalize Nature, Bay Staters for Natural Medicines and the Heroic Hearts Project said in written testimony to lawmakers.

“Somerville has a chance to empower our neighbors, friends, and loved ones to seek the physical and spiritual relief they need and put public health above incarcerating people even in cases of addiction and abuse of controlled substances,” they wrote.

Under the proposal, enforcement of laws against psychedelics such as psilocybin mushrooms and ayahuasca would be among the city’s lowest priorities. It also calls on the county prosecutor to cease pursing cases for persons charged with possessing or distributing entheogens.

The measure states that “the City Council hereby maintains it should be the policy of the City of Somerville that the investigation and arrest of adult persons for planting, cultivating, purchasing, transporting, distributing, engaging in practices with, and/or possessing entheogenic plants… shall be amongst the lowest law enforcement priority for the City of Somerville.”

It also stipulates that “no City of Somerville department, agency, board, commission, officer or employee of the city, including without limitation, Somerville Police Department personnel, should use any city funds or resources to assist in the enforcement of laws imposing criminal penalties for the use and possession of entheogenic plants by adults.”

The resolution emphasizes that the measure would not allow for commercial sales of these substances, nor would it permit driving while under the influence of them.

“I love living in a city where this is not controversial and you got unanimous support,” Council President Matt McLaughlin said at the close of the meeting. “Let’s end this war on drugs, and this is a good step.”

Watch the lawmakers discuss the psychedelics reform resolution, starting around 25:45 into the video below: 

With Thursday’s vote, Somerville joins a growing number of cities across the U.S. that have enacted psychedelics decriminalization. Most of the reforms have advanced legislatively, though Washington, D.C. became the first jurisdiction to decriminalize via the ballot in November.

Three other cities—OaklandSanta Cruz and Ann Arbor—have also decriminalized possession of plant-and fungi-based psychedelics.

In Oregon, November’s election saw the passage of a historic initiative to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic purposes. The governor announced in November that applications for an advisory board to oversee implementation of the program were being accepted up until January 1.

Much of this reform progress can be traced back to Denver, which became the first city in the country to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms in May 2019. Since then, activists in more than 100 cities have expressed interest in pursuing psychedelics decriminalization.

In Oakland, the first city where a city council voted to broadly deprioritize criminalization of entheogenic substances, lawmakers approved a follow-up resolution last month that calls for the policy change to be adopted statewide and for local jurisdictions to be allowed to permit healing ceremonies where people could use psychedelics.

A California state senator plans to file a bill to decriminalize psychedelics for the 2021 session.

Meanwhile, after Ann Arbor legislators passed a decriminalization resolution in September, a county prosecutor recently announced that his office will not be pursuing charges over possessing entheogenic plants and fungi—“regardless of the amount at issue.”

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Photo elements courtesy of carlosemmaskype and Apollo.

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North Dakota Lawmakers File Bill To Significantly Expand Marijuana Decriminalization Law

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North Dakota lawmakers have introduced a bill to significantly expand marijuana decriminalization in the state.

The legislation, which was filed on Monday, would build on an initial cannabis decriminalization law that was enacted in 2019.

Under the current statute, possession of half an ounce or less of marijuana is an infraction punishable by a fine of up to $1,000, with no jail time. The new proposal would make possession of up to an ounce a non-criminal offense that carries a $50 fine.

Further, possession of more than one ounce and less than 250 grams would be treated as an infraction, rather than a class B misdemeanor, as it is currently classified.

Possessing more than 250 grams of marijuana would be a class B misdemeanor and possessing more than 500 grams would be a class A misdemeanor.

The bill is being sponsored by Rep. Shannon Roers Jones (R) and Sen. Scott Meyer (R) in their respective chambers. It’s been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 250 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.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

“It’s encouraging to see Rep. Roers Jones and her colleagues continue the push to reduce harsh and senseless penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana in North Dakota,” Jared Moffat, state campaigns manager at the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment. “Decriminalization is no substitute for legalizing and regulating marijuana for adults, as several of North Dakota’s neighbors have now done. But passage of this bill would continue the trend of progress the state has seen in recent years.”

Activists are moving forward with plans to put a cannabis legalization ballot initiative before voters in 2022.

The measure, which would allow adults 21 and older to possess and cultivate cannabis for personal use, was submitted to Secretary of State Al Jaeger on Monday. If its language is accepted, the campaign will be able to start signature gathering to qualify for the ballot.

The same team behind the new initiative came close to putting a similar measure on the state’s ballot last year, but petitioning efforts were impeded by the coronavirus pandemic.

A separate group of advocates, Legalize ND, also attempted to qualify a different legalization initiative in 2020 that would have allowed retail sales but excluded a home grow option. That organization is also considering plans for its own 2022 measure.

Previously, a 2018 legalization push that did qualify for the ballot was defeated. Voters in the state did approve a measure to legalize medical cannabis in 2016, though the law was scaled down by the legislature the following year.

While activists are skeptical that the legislature has the appetite to enact the policy change on their own, it is the case that lawmakers may feel increased pressure given that voters in neighboring South Dakota and Montana elected to legalize cannabis in November.

Read the new North Dakota marijuana decriminalization bill below: 

North Dakota Decriminalizat… by Marijuana Moment

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