Senate appropriators on Tuesday released several wide-ranging spending bills and related reports for the 2021 fiscal year that include a variety of provisions related to marijuana and hemp.
Perhaps the most consequential new provision from the Senate Appropriations Committee—at least in the short-term—criticizes a proposed hemp rule from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Hemp is defined under federal statute as containing no more than 0.3 percent THC, but the agency proposed a negligence threshold of up to 0.5 percent—and farmers who exceed that limit would have to destoy their crop. The Senate panel is pushing back against that rule, however, urging USDA to reconsider that “arbitrary” policy in light of stakeholder feedback.
The Senate report also says that another USDA provision “creates roadblocks for farmers by requiring an unrealistic timeframe for testing” and asks the agency to “ensure that any final rule is based on science and will ensure a fair and reasonable regulatory framework.” Advocates and stakeholders have made similar arguments since USDA released its interim rule.
Several other cannabis-related provisions that have appeared in prior appropriations bills and reports are back again. Those include measures banning Washington, D.C. from using its own local tax dollars to implement a regulated marijuana market and protecting state medical cannabis programs from federal intervention. Additionally, lawmakers continue to flag barriers to marijuana research caused by federal prohibition.
One new section asks the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to add more cannabis-related questions to an annual federal survey of young people. Specifically, lawmakers want to include measures of “consumption of flavored marijuana vapes and marijuana edibles flavored to appeal to adolescents.”
As noted, the spending bill and committee report cannabis provisions largely align with prior years’ spending bill. Beyond the D.C. and medical marijuana sections, senators also called for $5 million in funding for Food and Drug Administration (FDA) research into cannabis and its derivatives, protecting state hemp programs and expanding marijuana studies within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), for instance.
The House advanced its own appropriations bills over the summer that include broader cannabis reform policies, though there is some overlap between the two chambers.
The House versions contain provisions to protect recreational marijuana legalization laws from federal interference, ease cannabis businesses’ access to basic banking services, expand research, oversee the country’s hemp and CBD industries and grant D.C. the ability to legalize recreational sales.
Fiscal year 2021 already began on October 1, so the government has been relying on continuing resolutions (CRs) to keep programs and agencies funded. Hemp advocates celebrated after the president signed a CR in September that extends a 2014 pilot program for the crop until 2021. It was initially set to expire in October.
The current CR in place will end on December 11, meaning that there would be a federal shutdown if lawmakers don’t pass another short-term extension of full-year appropriations package by then.
“By and large, these bills are the product of bipartisan cooperation among members of the committee,” Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) said of his panel’s new bills in a press release. “Time after time, we have demonstrated our willingness to work together and get the job done. We have before us the opportunity to deliver for the American people once again.”
Hemp advocates celebrated the committee’s pushing USDA on the issue.
“It is clear that YOUR lobbying has been effective, and we are very optimistic that this will make a difference as USDA moves to a Final Rule,” the advocacy group U.S. Hemp Roundtable said in an email blast responding to the THC-related report language.
Below is the full language of each cannabis-related legislative and report provision, separated according to their respective area of policy.
Hemp and CBD
The reports also call on federal agencies to “propose amendments” to resolve concerns about hemp THC limits, study the environmental impacts of hemp cultivation and reject new agricultural user fees, including those imposed on cannabis producers.
Hemp.—The Committee is concerned that the interim final rule entitled ‘‘Establishment of a Domestic Hemp Production Program’’ published by the Department of Agriculture in the Federal Register on October 31, 2019 (84 Fed. Reg. 58522) creates roadblocks for farmers by requiring an unrealistic timeframe for testing, the use of Drug Enforcement Administration registered laboratories, the conversion of THCA into THC, a sampling of only flowering tops, and an arbitrary negligence threshold of 0.5 percent. The Committee directs USDA to propose amendments to the interim final rule to ensure that any final rule is based on science and will ensure a fair and reasonable regulatory framework for commercial hemp production in the United States. In addition, the Committee encourages the Secretary to utilize current Agricultural Research Service research to revise the hemp sampling and testing protocols.
Hemp Cultivation Sustainability.—The Committee encourages the Secretary to study the usage and impacts of energy and water in hemp cultivation and controlled environment agriculture and to make recommendations on best practices and standards in both sectors.
Hemp.—The Committee is aware of statements made by the Department acknowledging the eligibility of researchers participating in hemp pilot programs, as defined by Section 7606 of the Agricultural Act of 2014 (Public Law 113–79), to compete for Federal funds awarded by the Department. The Committee directs the Department to work with and inform stakeholders of this eligibility and to support hemp research, as authorized by Section 7606 of the Agricultural Act of 2014 (Public Law 113–79) and Subtitle G of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 (7 U.S.C. 1621–1627, 1635– 1638)
Hemp Germplasm.—The Committee recognizes the increasing demand for hemp for a variety of uses and its growing importance as a crop for U.S. farmers. When the Nation’s hemp germplasm was destroyed in the 1980s, researchers lost access to publicly available germplasm for plant breeding purposes. The Committee directs ARS to establish and maintain a hemp germplasm repository at the Plant Genetics Resources Research Unit and provides no less than the fiscal year 2020 level for this purpose. The Committee also encourages ARS and the Plant Genetics Resources Research Unit to partner with 1890 institutions that have existing institutional capacity on hemp germplasm research, education, and extension capabilities.
Hemp Production Systems.—The Committee recognizes the emerging market potential for U.S. hemp and hemp-based products for a variety of uses. The Committee directs ARS to conduct regionally-driven research, development, and stakeholder engagement to improve agronomic and agro-economic understanding of effectively integrating hemp into existing agricultural cropping, processing, and marketing systems. The Committee provides an increase of $2,000,000 for this purpose. Research, engagement, and technology transfer shall be conducted in strict accordance with all applicable Federal and State authorities and regulations.
Proposed User Fees.—The Committee rejects the Administration’s proposal to administratively implement new user fees to cover the government’s full cost for providing services to certain beneficiaries, including licenses for…domestic hemp production… The Committee strongly believes that USDA should not propose new user fees without taking into account the full impact on farmers, ranchers, and beneficiaries who would be forced to contend with rapid changes in these programs and additional burdensome costs without prior notice.
Cannabis and Cannabis Derivatives.—As previously noted, the Committee provides $5,000,000 to support regulatory activities, including developing policy, and for the FDA to continue to perform its existing regulatory responsibilities, including review of product applications, inspections, enforcement, and targeted research for cannabis-derived substances, such as cannabidiol [CBD]. Within 90 days of enactment of this Act, the FDA shall issue a policy of enforcement discretion with regard to certain products containing CBD meeting the definition of hemp as defined by section 297A of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1964 (7 U.S.C. 1639). Such enforcement discretion shall be in effect until the FDA establishes a process for stakeholders to notify the FDA of use of CBD in products that include safety studies for intended use per product and makes a determination about such product. In addition, the FDA is encouraged to consider existing and ongoing medical research related to CBD that is being undertaken pursuant to an Investigational New Drug application in the development of a regulatory pathway for CBD in products under the jurisdiction of the FDA and to ensure that any future regulatory activity does not discourage the development of new drugs. The Committee also encourages the FDA to partner with an academic institution to expand sampling studies of CBD products currently on the market.
Hemp-Based Products.—The Committee recognizes the growing interest for U.S. hemp and hemp-based products for a variety of uses and directs FCA to work with the institutions under its jurisdiction to provide access to guaranteed loans for hemp producers and businesses.
The Committee provides a net increase of $38,000,000 for cross cutting, medical product and food safety activities requested in the budget. Included in this funding is…$5,000,000 for Cannabis and Cannabis Derivatives…
Hemp Testing Technology.—The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (Public Law 115–334) removed hemp and its derivatives from the Controlled Substances Act (Public Law 91–513, as amended), and authorized the production, consumption, and sale of hemp and hemp-derived products in the United States. The Act requires random testing to ensure hemp meets the definition under the law of having a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol [THC] concentration of less than 0.3 percent. The Committee is aware that DEA has developed field testing kits that can distinguish between hemp and marijuana on-the-spot. The Committee directs the DEA to continue to work to ensure State and local law enforcement have access to this field test technology so they can more efficiently conduct their drug interdiction efforts at the local level. The Committee further directs the DEA to report back to the Committee not later than 180 days after enactment of this act, and not less than every 6 months thereafter, until such time as testing kits are deployed to State and local law enforcement in the field.
Bills funding USDA and the Department of Justice also contain long-standing provisions making clear that federal agencies should not interfere with state hemp research programs.
SEC. 744. None of the funds made available by this Act or any other Act may be used—
(1) in contravention of section 7606 of the Agricultural Act of 2014 (7 U.S.C. 5940), subtitle G of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946, or section 10114 of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018; or
(2) to prohibit the transportation, processing, sale, or use of hemp, or seeds of such plant, that is grown or cultivated in accordance with subsection section 7606 of the Agricultural Act of 2014 or Subtitle G of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946, within or outside the State in which the hemp is grown or cultivated.
SEC. 529. None of the funds made available by this Act may be used in contravention of section 7606 (‘‘Legitimacy of Industrial Hemp Research’’) of the Agricultural Act of 2014 (Public Law 113–79) by the Department of Justice or the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Protecting State Medical Cannabis Laws
The Justice Department bill also includes a rider protecting state medical cannabis programs from federal intervention, though it does not account for South Dakota voters’ recent decision to legalize.
SEC. 530. None of the funds made available under this Act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to any of the States of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, or with respect to the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the United States Virgin Islands, Guam, or Puerto Rico, to prevent any of them from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.
The report for the bill to fund the Department of Health and Human Services contains several passages directing officials to expand marijuana research, including a note that cannabis’s Schedule I status impedes research.
Barriers to Research.—The Committee is concerned that restrictions associated with Schedule I of the Controlled Substance Act (Public Law 91–513) effectively limit the amount and type of research that can be conducted on certain Schedule I drugs, especially opioids, marijuana or its component chemicals, and new synthetic drugs and analogs. At a time when as much information as possible is needed about these drugs to find antidotes for their harmful effects, as well as regulatory and other barriers to conducting this research should be addressed.
Flavored THC.—The Committee appreciates the important data collected in the annual NIDA-funded Monitoring the Future [MTF] survey. The Committee recommends the inclusion of questions on consumption of flavored marijuana vapes and marijuana edibles flavored to appeal to adolescents in the annual MTF survey.
Cannabis Research.—The Committee believes that cannabidiol [CBD] and cannabigerol [CBG], compounds found in cannabis, may provide beneficial medicinal effects. However, there is insufficient scientific information about the long-term effects of these compounds. Additional, coordinated research on a national scale could help determine the toxicology and medicinal effects of CBD and CBG. The Committee encourages NIH to consider additional investment in studying the medicinal effects and toxicology of CBD and CBG including clinical trials.
Blocking Washington, D.C. From Legalizing Marijuana Sales
The bill that funds the District of Columbia maintains a current rider banning the city from using its own money to legalize and regulate recreational cannabis sales, whereas the House-passed version of FY2021 legislation proposes repealing the policy.
SEC. 809. (a) None of the Federal funds contained in this Act may be used to enact or carry out any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801 et seq.) or any tetrahydrocannabinols derivative.
(b) No funds available for obligation or expenditure by the District of Columbia government under any authority may be used to enact any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801 et 4 seq.) or any tetrahydrocannabinols derivative for recreational purposes.
Blocking Legalization Advocacy
One bill includes a 1990s-era provision blocking the use of funds for any activity that “promotes the legalization of any drug” classified in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.
SEC. 509. (a) None of the funds made available in this Act may be used for any activity that promotes the legalization of any drug or other substance included in schedule I of the schedules of controlled substances established under section 202 of the Controlled Substances Act except for normal and recognized executive-congressional communications.
(b) The limitation in subsection (a) shall not apply when there is significant medical evidence of a therapeutic advantage to the use of such drug or other substance or that federally sponsored clinical trials are being conducted to determine therapeutic advantage.
That provision was the target of a floor amendment last year from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), which was defeated resoundingly. The congresswoman framed her proposal as a way to remove barriers to research on the potential medical benefits of psychedelics.
Photo courtesy of Brendan Cleak.
Marijuana Equity Advocates Propose Changes To Federal Legalization Bill To Stop Big Business Takeover
Civil rights groups are pushing for a vote on a bill to federally legalize marijuana to take place in the U.S. House of Representatives this month—but some activists who have experience in the state-level regulatory space are now proposing changes to the legislation to ensure that the market is equitable and empowers communities that have been most impacted by prohibition to benefit from the new industry.
Without the modifications, they say, legal cannabis sales could end up in the hands of a few large corporations—”putting most small cultivators and retailers out of business.”
The equity advocates have submitted a pair of alternative amendments of the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which cleared the House last year and was recently refiled by Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). The proposals come from the Parabola Center, a newly established organization that is working to inform legalization legislation federally and at the state-level with the intent of promoting social justice-centered reforms.
The new suggested amendments were shared exclusively with Marijuana Moment and are being sent to cannabis reform champions in the House and Senate for consideration on Thursday.
In principle, there’s broad agreement on the legislation, Parabola Center’s Shaleen Title, a former Massachusetts cannabis regulator, told Marijuana Moment. But in practice, there’s a sense among some advocates that federally descheduling cannabis without rigorous regulations will not have the intended impact for disproportionately impacted communities.
“We hope this project inspires the mass movement that legalized marijuana to become more proactive and intentional in deciding what the national marijuana marketplace will look like,” Title said.
In order to achieve equity, the advocates say there must also be a conversation around how to prevent large corporations—more specifically Big Tobacco and Big Alcohol—from dominating the market once the restraints of federal prohibition are lifted. There’s a sense of urgency to address that aspect of the reform, with companies like Amazon now lobbying in favor of the MORE Act, for example.
A summary of the proposed amendments from the Parabola Center says that the MORE Act’s sponsors “deserve full credit for their determination to address” equity-focused reforms, but expresses concern that the federal government is not yet ready to effectively oversee a national marijuana market, noting that its “experience with cannabis until now has been exclusively limited to interdiction and prosecution predominantly targeting Black and Latino communities.”
The advocates say the government “needs time to develop the tools and skills to regulate marijuana in a way that repairs the harms of the war on drugs” and points out that states are also struggling to oversee the industry “in an equitable way.”
Regulating marijuana isn’t just a matter of applying existing rules for alcohol and tobacco, Parabola says.
“While superficial similarities exist, to equate the prohibition and regulation of alcohol to that of cannabis is legally and historically inaccurate. It is not a sound basis for detailed cannabis policy,” their summary states. “Neither alcohol nor tobacco regulations have been developed to repair damage on the scale of that caused by the war on drugs. Further, neither of those regulatory models are ideal. As a country, we are still trying to undo the public health damage of letting Big Tobacco run wild.”
“Ultimately, if we are serious about creating a fair and equitable national industry, we must allow the federal government to develop its own core competency in cannabis regulation and prevent the domination of the market by a small number of corporations in the meantime.”
As introduced in Congress, the MORE Act would deschedule cannabis and take steps to promote equity in the industry. That includes by providing for expungements of prior marijuana convictions and reinvesting cannabis tax dollars into disproportionately impacted communities.
However, the descheduling component could inadvertently undermine the the social justice goals of the bill if steps aren’t taken to prevent the corporate consolidation of the industry, Parabola says. There’s a “high likelihood that such removal will result in a handful of national cannabis firms rapidly dominating the market and putting most small cultivators and retailers out of business,” according to the summary.
In other words, advocates see room for improvement, and they’re pushing for the incorporation of one of two proposed regulatory approaches to federal reform.
The first would give additional power to the Office of Cannabis Justice (OCJ) established under the MORE Act, letting the autonomous Justice Department body that would be created by the legislation dictate marijuana permitting. As drafted, that authority would be given to the Treasury Department.
The office would “regulate interstate commerce and enforce anti-cartel restrictions, preventing the creation of a national oligopoly similar to the state-level oligopolies that currently exist,” the summary states.
Federal funding could also be withheld from states that fail to meet certain racial justice benchmark standards under the revised plan.
The second, separate Parabola proposal is being described as a “cooperative federalism approach” that would end the federal criminalization of personal possession, cultivation and social sharing under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA)—but it would not formally deschedule marijuana and would allow states to continue operating under the broader status quo of prohibition.
States that have legal markets could fully opt out of CSA enforcement if they meet certain criteria, specifically tied to racial justice objectives.
The purpose of that approach is to “protect individual cannabis consumers from federal arrest and prosecution while allowing states to continue to experiment with different types of equitable commercial markets.”
Asked why the group proposed two options for lawmakers, Title said they “thought it would be valuable to illustrate that there’s a whole spectrum of regulatory approaches between prohibition and descheduling that doesn’t protect state programs.”
“Those are the approaches we see discussed most often, but they essentially represent a police free-for-all versus a corporate free-for-all, both bad choices in our view,” she said.
Here’s a closer look at the details of each proposal:
-Under this plan, OCJ would regulate marijuana permitting, and no person or corporation would be able to own more than five cannabis licenses in order to support small business participation in the industry.
-While the MORE Act was amended this Congress to exclude a section barring market participation by people with former felony convictions, advocates recommend replacing that language. The proposal says that except for offenses based on marijuana sales, there should be “mandatory disqualification of applicants who have violated the RICO Act or engaged in substantial fraud, abusive labor practices, human trafficking, slavery, intentional failure to pay wages, substantial harm to public health, the environment or an endangered species, terroristic actions, money laundering, misappropriation of public funds, and/or public corruption.”
-OCJ would have authority over regulating interstate commerce and would be required to study state markets to develop the best approach. The proposal says that could take the form of regional compacts allowing for limited interstate commerce between certain states or allowing only equity businesses to sell cannabis across state lines.
-Federal funds could be withheld from states that fail to meet “racial justice benchmarks,” and portions of federal tax revenue could go to states that are meeting those standards.
-As with the original MORE Act, this approach would not preempt state law. Personal possession, cultivation and social sharing would be federally legalized while marijuana remains a controlled substance.
-For states that follow certain federal guidelines for cannabis regulation, the plant would only be legal within their borders. Interstate commerce would not be permitted under this approach.
-The proposers say this will “allow state governments to continue their experimentation while giving the federal government time to understand those models and develop its own evidence-based cannabis policies.”
“The key is that both approaches eliminate federal penalties for consumers and patients using cannabis, but they don’t open the doors to corporate consolidation we wouldn’t be able to take back,” Title said. “It’s important not to conflate consumer/patient rights with corporate profits. One is an immediate need and one isn’t.”
Separately, a federal prisoner who received clemency for his cannabis conviction from President Donald Trump recently wrote to members of Congress about how the MORE Act’s resentencing and expungement provisions could leave some impacted people without the relief that lawmakers intend.
These proposals also come as Senate leadership continues to work on their own version of legalization legislation, which Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has repeatedly said will be introduced “soon.”
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR), who is also working the bill alongside Schumer and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), also said to expect a filing “very soon.”
Schumer has said that the proposal they’re working on will “ensure restorative justice, public health and implement responsible taxes and regulations.” He also made a point in March to say that it will specifically seek to restrict the ability of large alcohol and tobacco companies to overtake the industry.
Instead, it will prioritize small businesses, particularly those owned by people from communities most impacted by prohibition, and focus on “justice, justice, justice—as well as freedom,” he said.
Read the summary of the advocates’ MORE Act proposals and the text of the amendments below:
Photo courtesy of Carlos Gracia.
Connecticut Marijuana Legalization Bill Heads To Governor’s Desk
Connecticut is on the verge of legalizing marijuana after lawmakers sent a cannabis reform bill to the desk of the state’s supportive governor on Thursday.
The latest action, a Senate vote of 16-11, caps a drama-filled week that at one point saw Gov. Ned Lamont (D) issue a threat to veto the legislation he largely supports over a specific provision on equity licensing eligibility.
On Wednesday the bill passed the House of Representatives, which had amended the version adopted by the Senate a day earlier to remove the controversial language, necessitating Thursday’s final vote on concurrence.
If Lamont signs the bill into law as expected, possession of marijuana by adults 21 and older will become legal on July 1. Commercial cannabis sales could begin as soon as next May, but the bill does not specify an exact start date.
Sen. Gary Winfield (D), who shepherded the measure through the body, noted before the final vote that it came on the 50th anniversary of President Richard Nixon’s declaration of the war on drugs, which the senator said damaged communities that now stand to benefit from equity-focused legalization.
“We have operated for 50 years with unjust laws that target certain communities,” he said. “We have damaged the lives of human beings in the United States of America who are a certain hue, because of politics.”
In a statement after the vote, Lamont called it “fitting” for the move to come on the drug war anniversary.
“The war on cannabis, which was at its core a war on people in Black and Brown communities, not only caused injustices and increased disparities in our state, it did little to protect public health and safety,” he said. “I look forward to signing the bill and moving beyond this terrible period of incarceration and injustice.”
Here’s my statement on final approval by the Connecticut General Assembly of legislation legalizing adult-use cannabis.
I look forward to signing the bill and moving beyond this terrible period of incarceration and injustice. pic.twitter.com/H4DYBcbe0K
— Governor Ned Lamont (@GovNedLamont) June 17, 2021
On Tuesday, senators had adopted an amendment allowing people with past cannabis arrests and convictions, as well as their parents, children and spouses, to qualify for social equity status when applying for marijuana business licenses. Previously the bill limited eligibility only to people who reside in areas that have been disproportionately affected by drug war convictions and arrests.
Half of all business licenses under the new system would need to be issued to social equity applicants.
While the provision expanding equity eligibility based on past arrests and convictions was intended to help redress harms caused by the war on drugs, Lamont’s chief of staff, Paul Mounds Jr., said in a statement that it would “open the floodgates for tens of thousands of previously ineligible applicants to enter the adult-use cannabis industry.”
The rule “allows just about anyone with a history of cannabis crimes or a member of their family, regardless of financial means, who was once arrested on simple possession to be considered with the same weight as someone from a neighborhood who has seen many of their friends and loved ones face significant penalties and discrimination due to their past cannabis crimes,” the statement said.
A second Senate amendment, which reportedly was introduced to address the governor’s stated concerns, clarified that anyone whose income is more than three times the state’s median income—regardless of criminal record or place of residence—could not qualify for social equity status. But on Wednesday morning, Lamont again told reporters that he wouldn’t sign the bill in the form passed by the Senate.
In response, House lawmakers rejected both Senate-approved amendments, essentially returning the bill to the form in which it was originally introduced on Monday—then made one additional change.
I just presided over the Senate’s historic vote legalizing adult-use cannabis.
This is a good bill, grounded in equity and bringing justice to communities disproportionately harmed by the war on drugs. I look forward to seeing @GovNedLamont sign it into law! https://t.co/gloLnlnyUn
— Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz (@LGSusanB) June 17, 2021
After stripping the Senate changes, House lawmakers added back in a Senate-passed provision that bars legislators, statewide elected officials, cannabis regulators and members of the social equity board from participating in the cannabis industry for two years after leaving government. That restriction was introduced in response to Republican concerns that legalization would otherwise create opportunities for officials to benefit themselves by entering an industry they previously influenced.
Despite the flurry of activity on the latest proposal, much of the nearly 300-page bill resembles a legalization measure that passed the Senate last week, which went on to stall on the House floor during the final hours of the regular session. That measure was pitched by Democratic legislative leaders as a compromise incorporating elements of both Lamont’s own legalization proposal, which advanced through two legislative committees this year, as well as an equity-focused legalization bill by Rep. Robyn Porter (D).
The current bill, SB 1201, was originally introduced Monday by House Speaker Matt Ritter (D) and Senate President Martin Looney (D).
Here are some key details of the current legalization proposal:
- It would allow adults 21 and older to possess up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis starting on July 1 and establish a retail market. Legislative leaders anticipate sales would launch in May 2022.
- Regulators with the Department of Consumer Protection (DCP) would be responsible for issuing licenses for growers, retailers, manufacturers and delivery services. Social equity applicants would be entitled to half of those licenses.
- Equity applicants could also qualify for technical assistance, workforce training and funding to cover startup costs.
- A significant amount of tax revenue from cannabis sales would go toward broader community reinvestment targeting areas most affected by the criminal drug war.
- Home cultivation would be permitted—first for medical marijuana patients and later for adult-use consumers.
- Most criminal convictions for possession of less than four ounces of cannabis would be automatically expunged beginning in 2023.
- Beginning July 1, 2022, individuals could petition to have other cannabis convictions erased, such as for possession of marijuana paraphernalia or the sale of small amounts of cannabis.
- The smell of cannabis alone would no longer be a legal basis for law enforcement to stop and search individuals, nor would suspected possession of up to five ounces of marijuana.
- Absent federal restrictions, employers would not be able to take adverse actions against workers merely for testing positive for cannabis metabolites.
- Rental tenants, students at institutions of higher learning, and professionals in licensed occupations would be protected from certain types of discrimination around legal cannabis use. People who test positive for cannabis metabolites, which suggest past use, could not be denied organ transplants or other medical care, educational opportunities or have action taken against them by the Department of Children and Families without another evidence-based reason for the action.
- Cannabis-related advertising could not target people under 21, and businesses that allow minors on their premises would be penalized. Products designed to appeal to children would be forbidden.
- Licensees who sell to minors would be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison and a $2,000 fine. People in charge of households or private properties who allow minors to possess cannabis there could also face a Class A misdemeanor.
- Adults 18 to 20 years old who are caught with small amounts cannabis would be subject to a $50 civil fine, although subsequent violations could carry a $150 fine and/or mandatory community service. All possession offenses would require individuals to sign a statement acknowledging the health risks of cannabis to young people.
- Minors under 18 could not be arrested for simple cannabis possession. A first offense would carry a written warning and possible referral to youth services, while a third or subsequent offense, or possession of more than five ounces of marijuana, would send the individual to juvenile court.
- Local governments could prohibit cannabis businesses or ban cannabis delivery within their jurisdictions. Municipalities could also set reasonable limits on the number of licensed businesses, their locations, operating hours and signage.
- Municipalities with more than 50,000 residents would need to provide a designated area for public cannabis consumption.
- Until June 30, 2024, the number of licensed cannabis retailers could not exceed one per 25,000 residents. After that, state regulators will set a new maximum.
- Cannabis products would be capped at 30 percent THC by weight for cannabis flower and all other products except pre-filled vape cartridges at 60 percent THC, though those limits could be further adjusted by regulators. Medical marijuana products would be exempt from the potency caps. Retailers would also need to provide access to low-THC and high-CBD products.
- The state’s general sales tax of 6.35 percent would apply to cannabis, and an additional excise tax based on THC content would be imposed. The bill also authorizes a 3 percent municipal tax, which must be used for community reinvestment.
- Existing medical marijuana dispensaries could become “hybrid retailers” to also serve adult-use consumers. Regulators would begin accepting applications for hybrid permits in September 2021, and applicants would need to submit a conversion plan and pay a $1 million fee. That fee could be cut in half if they create a so-called equity joint venture, which would need to be majority owned by a social equity applicant. Medical marijuana growers could also begin cultivating adult-use cannabis in the second half this year, though they would need to pay a fee of up to $3 million.
- Licensing fees for social equity applicants would be 50 percent of open licensing fees. Applicants would need to pay a small fee to enter a lottery, then a larger fee if they’re granted a license. Social equity licensees would also receive a 50 percent discount on license fees for the first three years of renewals.
- The state would be allowed to enter into cannabis-related agreements with tribal governments, such as the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe and the Mohegan Tribe of Indians.
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Despite his veto threat, Lamont has been broadly supportive of legalization. Last week he told reporters that he has “a strong point of view to do whatever it takes to get this over the finish line.”
“Around the country, we have red states and blue states that are passing this and doing it on a very careful, regulated way—and I think we’re ready to do the same.”
The governor also said that if a legalization measure isn’t enacted this year, the issue could ultimately go before voters.
“Marijuana is sort of interesting to me. When it goes to a vote of the people through some sort of a referendum, it passes overwhelmingly. When it goes through a legislature and a lot of telephone calls are made, it’s slim or doesn’t pass,” the governor said. “We’re trying to do it through the legislature. Folks are elected to make a decision, and we’ll see where it goes. If it doesn’t, we’ll probably end up in a referendum.”
He last year that if the legislature wasn’t able to pass a legalization bill, he would move to put a question on the state’s 2022 ballot that would leave the matter to voters.
According to recent polling, if legalization did go before voters, it would pass. Sixty-four percent of residents in the state favor legalizing cannabis for adult use, according to a survey from Sacred Heart University released last month.
The legislature has considered legalization proposals on several occasions in recent years, including a bill that Democrats introduced last year on the governor’s behalf. Those bills stalled, however.
Lamont reiterated his support for legalizing marijuana during his annual State of the State address in January, stating that he would be working with the legislature to advance the reform this session.
The governor has compared the need for regional coordination on marijuana policy to the coronavirus response, stating that officials have “got to think regionally when it comes to how we deal with the pandemic—and I think we have to think regionally when it comes to marijuana, as well.”
Meanwhile in neighboring Rhode Island, a legislative committee on Monday approved a marijuana legalization bill backed by Senate leadership in that state.
Photo courtesy of Max Pixel.
Most American Voters Support Decriminalizing All Drugs, Another New Poll Finds
The survey’s release coincides with the introduction of a first-ever congressional bill to decriminalize drugs.
By Molly Bernstein & Sean McElwee, The Appeal
For 50 years, the so-called “war on drugs,” which President Richard Nixon declared on June 17, 1971, has ravaged entire communities, exacerbated racial inequality and helped propel the United States to the highest incarceration rate in the world. It is a war that, by any measure, has been lost. Abusive and discriminatory policing tactics, long prison terms, and the myriad collateral consequences of criminal convictions have destroyed lives, while doing nothing to curb addiction or the epidemic of overdose fatalities.
These destructive policies of criminalization are also unpopular.
A new national poll from Data for Progress and The Lab, a policy vertical of The Appeal, found that more than seven in ten voters (71 percent) believe that federal drug policies are not working and that there is a need for reform. Voters no longer want to treat public health issues like drug use and addiction as matters of crime and law enforcement—they support decriminalizing both drug possession (59 percent support) and the distribution of drugs in small quantities (55 percent support), while also shifting regulatory power over drugs from the Drug Enforcement Agency to the Department of Health & Human Services (60 percent support).
Many of these reforms are part of the Drug Policy Reform Act (DPRA), announced this week by Reps. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) and Cori Bush (D-MO). The DPRA would eliminate incarceration as a penalty for possession of any drug, expunge possession convictions retroactively, invest in alternative harm reduction programming and place drug classification power within DHS.
The DPRA also creates incentives for state and local jurisdictions to decriminalize drug possession and invest in alternatives to incarceration, reflecting momentum toward decriminalization already in full swing at the state and local level. In November 2020, Oregon passed a measure decriminalizing low-level drug possession across the board and four other states—Arizona, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota—voted to legalize marijuana, joining 11 other states and Washington, D.C. At the local level, prosecutors in counties like Philadelphia and Austin have policies to dismiss a significant number of possession-related charges.
The DPRA builds upon the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act that would decriminalize marijuana and that the House passed in December 2020, though the Senate has yet to vote on it.
Full Polling Results
We also found that a variety of arguments in support of reforming federal drug policy resonate with voters, including that the war on drugs has led to ineffective, discriminatory policies and counterproductive outcomes:
- 60 percent of likely voters find it convincing that current federal drug policies are unfair and too harsh, exacerbating racial inequality rather than healing communities;
- 70 percent of likely voters find it convincing that “war on drugs” policies fail to improve community safety by failing to address drug addiction or crime;
- 68 percent of likely voters find it convincing that outdated “war on drugs” policies focus too much on politics and punishment;
- 67 percent of likely voters find it convincing that punishing people for drug use is ineffective at helping individuals and communities.
The new survey is the second this month to find broad support for decriminalizing drugs. A separate poll from the ACLU and Drug Policy Alliance found similar results, with 83 percent saying the drug war is a failure and 66 percent backing the removal of criminal penalties for drug possession.
From May 21 to 23, 2021, Data for Progress conducted a survey of 1,250 likely voters nationally using web panel respondents. The sample was weighted to be representative of likely voters by age, gender, education, race and voting history. The survey was conducted in English. The margin of error is ±3 percentage points.
The story was first published by The Appeal. The Appeal is a non-profit media organization that produces news and commentary on how policy, politics, and the legal system affect America’s most vulnerable people.
Additional reporting by Marijuana Moment.