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Pennsylvania Senators File Comprehensive Marijuana Legalization Bill

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Two Pennsylvania senators introduced a comprehensive marijuana legalization bill on Tuesday—just weeks after Gov. Tom Wolf (D) announced that he’s in favor of the policy.

Sens. Daylin Leach (D) and Sharif Street (D) filed the legislation, which would allow adults 21 and older to possess, cultivate and purchase cannabis from licensed retailers.

It also contains social justice provisions aimed at promoting equity in the industry, including automatically expunging prior marijuana convictions and providing interest-free loans to low-income individuals who want to participate in the market.

Adults could grow up to 10 cannabis plants for personal use under the bill.

Marijuana deliveries and social use lounges at dispensaries would also be permitted.

“Pennsylvania’s cannabis policy is cruel, irrational and expensive,” Leach, who previously championed the legislation that created state’s medical cannabis law, said in a press release. “Prohibition has destroyed countless lives and has cost taxpayers millions.”

“We need to stop arresting our kids and funding violent drug cartels,” he said. “This is going to be a tough battle, but so was passing medical marijuana. We did that, and we’ll do this too. The stakes are too high for us to fail.”

The bill, first reported by The Philadelphia Inquirer, is designed to limit the influence of large marijuana corporations and empower small businesses to enter the market. It would accomplish that creating licenses for microgrowers who could cultivate up to 150 plants, with permits costing $250 annually. Existing medical cannabis dispensaries could sell recreational products as long as the supply chains are kept separate, and there’d be no cap on the number of retailers. However, no single owner could operate more than three shops.

For large marijuana firms, they’d be limited to 150,000 square feet of outdoor space for cultivation or 60,000 square feet for indoor facilities. Like dispensaries, there isn’t a cap on how many of these facilities could operate, but licenses would be capped at one per owner. There’d be a $100,000 application fee, with renewals costing $10,000 annually.

Unlike a separate legalization bill that was introduced earlier this month, this proposal would not utilize state-run stores to distribute legal marijuana.

“An end to the prohibition of cannabis is overdue,” Street said. “It is time for us to join the emerging cannabis economy with the legalization of the Adult Use of Cannabis in PA, which should not be a crime when responsibly used by adults nor mandate medical oversight.”

“The economic imperatives are too great,” the senator said. “We also have a moral mandate to correct the damage that disparate enforcement of our marijuana laws has done and is still doing to communities across the commonwealth.”

Cannabis retail sales would be taxed at 17.5 percent, which the lawmakers predict will generate $500 million during the first fiscal year of implementation. Revenue would be mostly directed to school districts, which would be able to decide how they spend their shares, whether by hiring additional staff, investing in educational programs or even providing “local tax relief to homeowners in their districts,” according to the lawmakers’ press release.

“We’re fighting to create an adult-use cannabis program where individuals harmed by prohibition and small Pennsylvanian farms and businesses will have the opportunity to not only participate in the industry, but to profit from it,” Leach, who also launched a website where residents can voice support for the bill, said.

The legislation contains a few other unique provisions, including allowing universities to process cannabis to be used for any courses related to the marijuana industry. (The lawmakers acknowledged many schools will be reluctant to take advantage of that, however, due to concerns about losing federal funds.) It would also require the Department of Agriculture to establish an educational program to instruct people about cannabis entrepreneurship.

All told, the bill is sure to generate excitement among marijuana reform advocates, as it takes into account social justice concerns while ensuring that consumers are put ahead of large cannabis corporations. Home delivery, social use lounges and personal cultivation are also provisions that aren’t always included in other states’ marijuana bills.

Interestingly, the legislation explicitly allows marijuana businesses to utilize any mode of transportation for deliveries, including walking or public transit.

Leach and Street first released details about the bill in March, around the same time that Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D), a vocal proponent of legalization, embarked on a statewide listening tour to hear where constituents stand on the issue.

He and Wolf unveiled their findings from the tour during a press conference in late September, when the governor announced that he’s officially on board with legalization after previously stating that he didn’t feel the state was quite ready for the reform. He said the legislature should “seriously debate” legalization, while pursuing more modest reforms in the meantime.

Despite strong administrative support, the legislation will likely face an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Street told the Inquirer that while there currently aren’t any Republican cosponsors, he’s optimistic that the bill will attract GOP members.

“I think the bill will ultimately be enacted and get wide Republican support,” the senator said. “Many of my Republican colleagues tell me that they support the concept, and believe it eventually will be adopted.”

“It’s an economic, political, and moral win for both sides,” Leach said. “It keeps the black-market tamped down, the $500 million generated in cannabis fees would be directed to the schools, it decreases regulation by eliminating the seed-to-sale tracking.”

Marijuana Moment supporters on Patreon can read the full text of the new Pennsylvania bill below:

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This piece initially incorrectly reported that the 10 plants allowed for home cultivation would be the most in any state, but Michigan allows for 12 plants.

Bill To Legalize Marijuana Through State-Run Model Introduced In Pennsylvania

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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

Supreme Court Justices Discuss Marijuana Policy During Immigration Case Arguments

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A Supreme Court hearing on Tuesday concerning the fate of a program protecting immigrants brought to the U.S. as children featured a brief conversation about federal marijuana enforcement policy.

Justices questioned the difference between what President Trump’s administration did—issuing memos ordering the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to be wound down—and what the Obama administration did when his Justice Department told prosecutors not to pursue marijuana cases in states that legalized it.

During the discussion about prosecutorial discretion, Justice Samuel Alito asked if courts have jurisdiction to review or overturn instances where prosecutors make a policy change for a “certain category of drug cases,” by declining to pursue those that involved “lesser amounts of drugs.”

An attorney representing the so-called “Dreamers,” Theodore Olson, said he didn’t think it would be.

But Olson said the comparison wasn’t valid because the DACA program “invited [Dreamers] into the program, provided other statutes which have not been challenged by the government, provided benefits that were associated with that decision, and individuals relied upon that for five years.”

In other words, while the Justice Department has historically issued guidance and allowed for prosecutorial discretion for issues such as drug crimes, DACA rises to a different standard, in part because of the benefits it provided to hundreds of thousands of eligible immigrants.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, a Trump appointee, sought clarification about the “limiting principle” that the attorney was using to distinguish DACA from other prosecutorial discretion decisions.

Olson said it’s “a composite of principles” and a “categorical determination involving a substantial number of people.”

“Let me just stop you there, though, because if it’s categorical and a large number of people, I can think of a lot of prosecutorial decisions involving drug cases, the treatment of marijuana in our society today under federal law—perhaps it would be cocaine, five kilograms,” Gorsuch said in the exchange, which was first noted by Politico. “Whatever is in the attorney general memo affects lots of people on a categorical basis every day.”

The justice appeared to cite the Obama-era Cole memo as an example. That guidance, which was rescinded by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions in early 2018, advised prosecutors to use enforcement discretion and not target state-legal cannabis programs despite ongoing federal prohibition.

“There’s an entire industry in a lot of states involving marijuana that would argue they’re relying on memos issued by the attorney general that we will not enforce marijuana laws, for example,” Gorsuch said.

“I think that is completely different,” Olson contended. “They are not invited to participate into a program, to reveal the business that they’re in, to come forward, to take advantage of benefits.”

Gorsuch countered that cannabis businesses “have a lot of economic interests at stake” and would argue that “billions of dollars are at stake [and] we’ve relied on the attorney general’s guidance memos.”

Groups Push Congress To Let D.C. Legalize Marijuana Sales

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Groups Push Congress To Let D.C. Legalize Marijuana Sales

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More than a dozen advocacy organizations sent a letter to House and Senate leadership on Wednesday, urging them to allow Washington, D.C. to implement a regulated marijuana market.

While D.C. voters approved an initiative legalizing low-level possession and home cultivation of cannabis in 2014, congressional lawmakers have attached riders to spending legislation each year since that have blocked officials in the nation’s capital from using local tax dollars to enact a retail sales component.

“It is critical that Congress support D.C.’s right to home rule and the ability to spend local tax dollars as they deem fit, especially in regard to the regulation and taxation of marijuana,” the groups—including Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), ACLU of D.C., NORML and Competitive Enterprise Institute—wrote.

In its latest spending bill for Fiscal Year 2020, the House Appropriations Committee stripped the rider from the chamber’s version of the legislation, and Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), who has sponsored the measure in years past, didn’t attempt to reinsert it. That bill passed the House in June.

But in the Senate version, the rider remained intact, meaning that it will come down to negotiators on a bicameral conference committee to decide which version is sent to President Trump’s desk.

“Current law has interfered with the District’s efforts to regulate marijuana, which has impacted public safety,” the reform groups’ letter states. “Without the ability to regulate marijuana sales, the grey market for marijuana flourishes despite the need and want of the District leadership and residents alike to establish a regulatory model.”

“Such a model would free up law enforcement resources to focus on reducing violent crime,” it continues. “It would also allow legitimate entrepreneurs to start businesses, create jobs and spur economic development.”

The National Cannabis Industry Association, Sentencing Project, Northwestern University School of Law, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, R Street Institute and Law Enforcement Action Partnership, among other organizations, also signed the letter.

“Under these conditions—where marijuana is essentially decriminalized, but there is no legal access for adult use—D.C. has been left with a complicated grey market that is both unsafe and a far cry from the racial and economic justice promises of the Initiative 71 campaign,” Queen Adesuyi, DPA’s policy manager for national affairs, said in a press release.

“It’s time that Congress get its hands off of D.C. and allow D.C. Council, Mayor Muriel Bowser, and other relevant D.C. stakeholders to deliver on the promises of equity and justice for those disproportionately impacted by racially-biased enforcement of marijuana laws,” she said.

Bowser, who is a champion of D.C. statehood and cannabis reform, announced in May that she was sending a bill to the District Council that would provide for the retail sale of marijuana in the city. She’s repeatedly implored lawmakers to remove the rider preventing the local government from fully following through on the will of voters.

“Keep your #HandsOffDC and #RemoveTheRider preventing us from establishing a safe & equitable cannabis regime for adult use,” she wrote in October, linking to a petition. “Together, with Congresswoman [Eleanor Holmes Norton], we fight for the rights of 702,000 disenfranchised DC residents.”

Another area of interest for cannabis reform advocates as it concerns the appropriations process centers on the possible expansion of a rider shielding state marijuana laws from federal interference. Since 2014, Congress has enacted such a policy that only covers medical cannabis policies, but this year the House approved a version that would cover adult-use marijuana programs as well. However, the Senate bill contains only the current medical-focused language, meaning that it will be up to conference committee negotiators to decide.

While the current continuing resolution providing funds for federal agencies is set to expire on November 21, lawmakers are discussing another stopgap funding measure that would push the deadline to December 20.

Read the full letter on the D.C. marijuana rider below:

National DC Rider Letter Final by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

More Than 500 People Have Commented On USDA Hemp Rules So Far

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Marijuana Prohibition Is Delaying Federal Response To Vaping Crisis, CDC Says

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Marijuana’s ongoing illegal status under federal law is delaying health officials’ response to the rise in vaping-related lung injuries and deaths, a top official with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Wednesday.

During a hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) mentioned that her state is the only one in the country that hasn’t experienced reports of lung injuries due to vaping, adding that Alaska has a voter-approved legal cannabis market.

“In our state, retail marijuana is commercialized, it’s tested by our state laboratories,” the senator said. “Is the CDC providing any information to state regulatory bodies—whether it’s Alaska or other states that have legalized—on testing these products for these compounds that are our concern?”

She followed up to ask if there are “any barriers preventing federal officials from working with our state marijuana labs on this topic.”

CDC Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat replied that the agency is in touch with state health departments, many of which are involved in regulating the cannabis industry, and that they provide guidance. However, because marijuana remains a federally controlled substance, she said there “are some challenges with shipment of specimens [for testing] because of the scheduling of drugs.”

“I think it’s just delaying it, I don’t think it’s stopping it,” she added.

Watch the marijuana exchange at 1:54:22 into the video below:

But as numerous lawmakers stressed throughout the hearing, there’s no room for delays, as more than 2,000 Americans have experienced lung injuries from vaping and almost 40 have died. CDC recently announced that an analysis of lung fluid samples from 29 patients in 10 states turned up evidence indicating that adulterated vape cartridges containing vitamin E acetate may be the cause.

Schuchat emphasized during a separate House hearing last month that while most vaping cases seem connected to THC-containing products, the vast majority have been obtained from illicit sources that wouldn’t be subject to the same testing standards as those enforced in regulated state markets.

She made similar remarks earlier this month during an appearance on C-SPAN and suggested that federal regulation of THC products could mitigate vaping injuries.

Still, there was a case in Oregon where a man who purchased vaping products from a licensed dispensary later fell ill and died—though officials said it’s not clear whether there’s a direct link at this point. In any case, the CDC official’s point about delays due to shipping complications arising from prohibition raises concerns at a time when data is urgently needed.

Also during the Senate hearing, Mitch Zeller, director of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Center for Tobacco Products, was asked by Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) whether the agency has “jurisdiction over THC products and, if so, what is the authority?”

“I think on a case-by-case basis, when it comes down to the facts, if we were to take an action because of the presence of THC, it would be because the investigation has continued—because we’re going after the supply chain here,” Zeller said.  “How did these products get onto the market in the first place?”

The official noted that as a regulatory agency, FDA is not in the business of going after individuals for personal possession or use of THC products; rather they have “investigators on the ground to try to get at how did they get into the chain of distribution and commerce in the first place.”

“If we can identify the responsible party—because with THC we’re talking about an illicit compound so it’s not like someone is going to step forward and say, ‘yeah I did it’—If we can find the responsible party, if we can do the product analysis that shows that the THC is present, with or without these oils that seem to be making it worse, then in theory we could use authorities that we have under the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act,” he said.

“We could act, depending upon the facts, under Food and Drug authorities,” he said.

The comment was quickly applauded by prohibitionist group Smart Approaches To Marijuana, which has argued that recent vaping issues represent an example of why cannabis legalization efforts should be halted.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) shared a different perspective, siding with reform advocates who say that calls to prohibit vaping products in response to the crisis are misguided because that policy change could exacerbate the problem by bolstering illicit sales and leaving consumers less protected against contaminated products.

“It seems to be primarily deaths and horrific medical problems from vaping illegal products,” the senator said. “What we’re going to do in response to that is make more vaping illegal. It seems kind of counterintuitive. It seems if you make more things illegal, maybe you get more people vaping illegal products and you have more problems.”

More Than 500 People Have Commented On USDA Hemp Rules So Far

Photo courtesy of Senate HELP Committee.

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