The federal government would be required to study the impact of state marijuana legalization laws under an amendment to a spending bill that Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) wants his colleagues to consider this week.
The measure, which would be attached to appropriations legislation funding the Department ofJustice and other government agencies for the 2020 fiscal year, lists several criminal justice-related aspects of legalization that the attorney general would have to review.
Menendez filed a similar cannabis research amendment last year, but the study objectives were different. Whereas this latest version calls for an analysis of data focused primarily on issues such as marijuana arrests and criminal justice costs, the previous measure would have ordered the Justice Department to study revenue from legal cannabis sales, opioid-related overdoses and hospitalization and the experience of patients using medical cannabis in legal states.
The former amendment did not receive a vote, so it didn’t make it into final 2019 appropriations legislation. It’s yet to be seen whether this latest version will be allowed for consideration on the Senate floor.
The new proposal asks for a review of “rates of marijuana-related arrests for possession, cultivation, and distribution, and of these arrests, the percentages that involved a secondary charge unrelated to marijuana possession, cultivation, or distribution.”
That information would have to be broken down into different categories accounting for demographics such as age, race, gender and ethnicity.
Further, the measure requires research into “rates of arrests at the Federal and State levels for unlawful driving under the influence of a substance, and the rates of such arrests involving marijuana” as well as the “total monetary amounts expended for marijuana-related enforcement, arrests, court filings and proceedings, and imprisonment before and after legalization.”
The senator also wants to know how often individuals who are prosecuted for marijuana-related offenses in the federal justice system argue that their activity was legal under state law.
In addition to those specific questions, the report must also “include a national assessment of average trends across States with such programs in relation to the effects on economy, public health, criminal justice, and employment in the respective States.”
The attorney general would have to conclude the study within 18 months of the bill’s enactment and then submit a report on the findings to Congress. The document would have to address any barriers the Justice Department faced in gathering the relevant data, make recommendations on how to resolve those limitations and propose best practices for future data collection.
“If the Senate is sincere about wanting to assess the implications of the majority of states regulating marijuana sales, then adopting this amendment would be a step in the right direction,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal told Marijuana Moment. “Now more than ever, we must reduce the barriers for successful reform efforts to operate as intended and end the waste of taxpayer dollars being used to arrest and incarcerate marijuana consumers.”
While not identical, the amendment is similar to the Marijuana Data Collection Act, a standalone House bill filed by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) that would also require the federal government to study the impact of state cannabis laws.
It’s not certain that Menendez’s measure will ultimately be attached to the spending bill; so far, there are three unrelated amendments that the Senate is scheduled to consider on Monday, including a proposal concerning a food distribution program and another that addresses funding for an agriculture relending program.
Last month, Senate committees approved spending bill riders to protect state medical cannabis programs from federal intervention and providing funds to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to implement hemp and CBD regulations. A rider that blocks D.C. from using its local tax dollars to establish a legal marijuana sales program remained in one piece of appropriations legislation, however.
This summer, the House voted in favor of a spending bill that included, for the first time, an amendment that would extend existing protections for medical cannabis programs to all state marijuana markets. It’s possible that the more expansive measure will be taken up by a bicameral conference committee but, given that appropriations leaders have agreed in principle not to add new policy riders to spending bills this year, it’s far from certain that the House-passed language will be included in the final version that makes it to President Trump’s desk.
Read the full marijuana study amendment from Menendez below:
SA 991. Mr. MENENDEZ submitted an amendment intended to be proposed by him to the bill H.R. 3055, making appropriations for the Departments of Commerce and Justice, Science, and Related Agencies for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2020, and for other purposes; which was ordered to lie on the table; as follows: At the appropriate place, insert the following: SEC. __. REPORT CONCERNING THE EFFECTS OF STATE LEGALIZED MARIJUANA PROGRAMS. (a) In General.--The Attorney General shall-- (1) to complete a study, not later than 18 months after the date of enactment of this Act, on the effects of State legalized marijuana programs on criminal justice in the respective States; and (2) upon the completion of the initial study pursuant to paragraph (1), to prepare or update a report on the results of such study and submit such report to the Congress. (b) Study Considerations.--The study pursuant to subsection (a)(1) shall consider the effects of State legalized marijuana programs with respect to criminal justice, including the following: (1) The rates of marijuana-related arrests for possession, cultivation, and distribution, and of these arrests, the percentages that involved a secondary charge unrelated to marijuana possession, cultivation, or distribution, including-- (A) the rates of such arrests at the Federal level, including the number of Federal prisoners so arrested, disaggregated by sex, age, race, and ethnicity of the prisoners; and (B) the rates of such arrests at the State level, including the number of State prisoners so arrested, disaggregated by sex, age, race, and ethnicity. (2) The rates of arrests and citations at the Federal and State levels related to teenage use of marijuana. (3) The rates of arrests at the Federal and State levels for unlawful driving under the influence of a substance, and the rates of such arrests involving marijuana. (4) The rates of marijuana-related prosecutions, court filings, and imprisonments. (5) The total monetary amounts expended for marijuana- related enforcement, arrests, court filings and proceedings, and imprisonment before and after legalization, including Federal expenditures disaggregated according to whether the laws being enforced were Federal or State laws. (6) The total number and rate of defendants in Federal criminal prosecutions asserting as a defense that their conduct was in compliance with applicable State law legalizing marijuana usage, and the effects of such assertions. (c) Report Contents.--The report pursuant to subsection (a)(2) shall-- (1) address both State programs that have legalized marijuana for medicinal use and those that have legalized marijuana for adult non-medicinal use and to the extent practicable distinguish between such programs and their effects; (2) include a national assessment of average trends across States with such programs in relation to the effects on economy, public health, criminal justice, and employment in the respective States, including with respect to the items listed in subsection (b); and (3) describe-- (A) any barriers that impeded the ability to complete or update aspects of the study required by subsection (a)(1) and how such barriers can be overcome for purposes of future studies; and (B) any gaps in the data sought for the study required by subsection (a)(1) and how these gaps can be eliminated or otherwise addressed for purposes of future studies. (d) Best Practices for Data Collection by States.--Best practices developed pursuant to this section shall consist of best practices for the collection by States of the information described in the items listed in subsection (b), including best practices for improving-- (1) data collection; (2) analytical capacity; (3) research integrity; and (4) the comparability of data across States.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
Santa Cruz City Council Approves Psychedelics Decriminalization Measure
The Santa Cruz, California City Council unanimously voted in favor of a resolution on Tuesday that would effectively decriminalize a wide range of psychedelics by making them among the city’s lowest law enforcement priorities.
The measure—which was originally sponsored by then-Vice Mayor Justin Cummings (D), who’s since become mayor—says the city shouldn’t expend “resources in the investigation and arrest of persons twenty-one (21) years of age and older solely for the personal use and personal possession of Entheogenic Plants and Fungi” such as psilocybin, ayahuasca and ibogaine.
It further stipulates that possession and use of psychedelics by adults “should be considered among the lowest law enforcement priorities for the City of Santa Cruz.”
This is the latest in a series of local policy victories for the psychedelics reform movement, which kicked off with a successful ballot measure vote in Denver to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms last May. Oakland’s City Council then unanimously approved a measure to make a broad range of plant- and fungi-derived psychedelics among the city’s lowest law enforcement priorities.
Now activists across the country are hoping to replicate that resolution, with organizers in roughly 100 cities aiming to decriminalize certain psychedelic substances through ballot initiatives and legislative action at the local level.
In November, Santa Cruz’s City Council heard testimony from the group behind the resolution, Decriminalize Santa Cruz. It was then referred to the Public Safety Committee and was amended prior to returning to the full body for a final vote.
Councilmembers revised the original measure in order to “to recognize the need for harm reduction and education for youth and families about drug prevention.” A provision was also inserted to clarify that “the sale, use and cultivation of Entheogenic Plants and Fungi to and by minors should be considered an exception that should require appropriate investigation by the Santa Cruz City Police Department.”
The word “cultivation” was also removed from provisions specifying the measure’s scope. But before the full Council vote on Tuesday, several advocates used the public comment portion of the meeting to urge that it be added back in, and members adopted that request before approving the final resolution.
“With possession and use being inserted without cultivation, that actually encourages the black market because there’s nowhere else to go,” Cummings, the mayor, said. “If people are are cultivating at themselves they know exactly what they’re producing.”
Activists celebrated their city becoming the third in the U.S. in less than a year to decriminalize certain psychedelic substances.
“These eight months we’ve been working on the resolution, I’ve met so many people whose lives were saved by entheogenic plants and fungi,” Julian Hodge, a founder of Decriminalize Santa Cruz and a member of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, told Marijuana Moment. “The Santa Cruz City Council took a great step to help those people today. I am incredibly proud to be part of this movement, and can’t wait to see the change we continue to make in the future.”
Another provision of the measure instructs the city’s state and federal lobbyists to “work in support of decriminalizing all entheogenic psychoactive plants, and plant and fungi-based compounds listed in the Federal Controlled Substances Act.”
Beyond Decriminalize Santa Cruz, a newly formed group called Project New Day also advocated for the reform move. The organization, which is focused on promoting research into psychedelics for the treatment of addiction and other mental health conditions, sent a press release on Tuesday highlighting comments from a military veteran who overcame addiction with the help of medically supervised psychedelics treatment.
“Psychedelic-assisted therapy saved my life,” Dylan Jouras said. “It’s important that people know there is an effective way to get better from addiction and deep mental health issues.”
While the local Santa Cruz resolution wouldn’t allow legal sales of psychedelics, another group of advocates is currently collecting signatures toward placing a broad statewide psilocybin legalization initiative before California voters on the November ballot.
In Oregon, organizers are hoping to put a proposal before voters that would legalize psilocybin for therapeutic use. Separately, a campaign in that state is pushing a measure to decriminalize possession of all drugs with a focus on funding substance misuse treatment.
Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang said at an Iowa campaign stop last week that he wants to legalize psilocybin for military veterans.
New Mexico Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Legalization Bill
A New Mexico Senate committee approved a bill on Tuesday that would legalize marijuana for adult use.
With a little more than three weeks left in the state’s short 2020 legislative session, lawmakers are making clear their intent to advance the legalization proposal in a timely fashion.
The bill, which is supported by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D), cleared the Senate Public Affairs Committee in a 4-3 vote.
Sen. Jacob Candelaria (D) led the introduction of the bill before the committee, testifying that he believes “2020 is the year New Mexico becomes the third state to enact legalization of cannabis through legislative action,” following Vermont and Illinois.
“We know that New Mexicans across the state, from rural to urban centers, are with us on this issue.”
“Bringing an underground market aboveground takes a lot of deliberation, statewide input from community members and stakeholders, ingenuity and learning from other states’ experiences,” the senator, who is himself a medical cannabis patient, said. “The criminalization of cannabis disproportionately harms and criminalizes young people and people of color, sponsors violence and corruption by those who currently exclusively trade in cannabis in the black market. The current situation, our status quo that relies on a black market outside of the medical program, does nothing to curb youth access to cannabis.”
The governor included legalization in her formal 2020 legislative agenda and discussed the importance of establishing a well-regulated and equitable cannabis market in her State of the State address this month.
✅ SB 115, legalizing recreational adult-use cannabis, successfully passes out of its first committee! Recreational cannabis will be the next frontier of our economic expansion, creating 11,000 jobs across New Mexico & true economic potential for every part of the state. #SB115 pic.twitter.com/jgLnRX8UDY
— Michelle Lujan Grisham (@GovMLG) January 29, 2020
The day after Lujan Grisham’s agenda was released, lawmakers filed the legalization bill, which would allow adults 21 and older to possess and purchase marijuana from licensed retailers. The legislation also contains social justice provisions such as automatic expungements for prior cannabis possession convictions.
The proposal would not allow home cultivation; however, it does decriminalize the cultivation of up to three plants and six seedlings, making the offense punishable by a $50 fine without the treat of jail time.
Additionally, the bill would eliminate the gross receipts tax for medical cannabis sales, mandate that recreational dispensaries service registered patients and create a subsidy program for low-income patients to access marijuana.
Recreational cannabis sales would be taxed at nine percent, with revenue going toward that subsidy program in addition to a “cannabis industry equitable opportunity investment fund” to support entrepreneurs from communities most impacted by the drug war, a “community grants reinvestment fund” and a workplace training program, among other programs.
— NM Senate Democrats (@NMSenateDems) January 29, 2020
According to a fiscal analysis, the state stands to bring in nearly $6.2 million in recreational cannabis revenue in Fiscal Year 2021. By FY20204, that amounts would rise to nearly $34 million. Municipalities and counties would rake in additional revenues.
“Legalizing and regulating will bring one of the nation’s largest cash crops under the rule of law, generating an estimated between 11,000 and 13,000 jobs for New Mexicans in every corner of the state,” Candelaria said.
The legislation must still pass in two other panels—Judiciary and Finance—before it gets a full vote on the Senate floor.
This latest development at the committee-level is the product of months of work from legislators and the governor’s administration. Last summer, Lujan Grisham formed a working group tasked with reaching out to community members and stakeholders, studying various components of cannabis regulation and submitting recommendations ahead of the current session.
The final report, which was released in October, laid out a number of proposed rules and restrictions for a legal marijuana market.
Earlier last year, the New Mexico House of Representatives approved a bill to legalize marijuana but it later died in the Senate. Lawmakers did send Lujan Grisham a more limited bill to simply decriminalize cannabis possession, which she signed.
While it’s possible that the current committee-passed legislation will be amended as it makes its way to a full Senate vote, or that companion legislation could be changed in the House, recent polling shows that New Mexico residents are widely in favor of the general policy change. Three-out-of-four residents who participated in a state-funded survey that was released last month said they back legalization.
If all goes according to the governor’s plan, a final legalization bill will be delivered to her desk by the end of the session—and upon her signature, New Mexico would likely become the 12th state to legalize recreational marijuana.
That said, lawmakers in states across the U.S. are eyeing cannabis reform this year, and a marijuana legalization bill advanced in a New Hampshire House committee earlier on Tuesday.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
New Hampshire Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Legalization Bill
A New Hampshire House committee approved a bill on Tuesday that would legalize marijuana for adult use in the state.
While the legislation doesn’t provide for retail sales, it would allow individuals 21 and older to possess and gift up to three-fourths an ounce of cannabis and grow up to six plants. The model would be similar to neighboring Vermont’s non-commercial cannabis system.
The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee advanced the bill in a 13-7 vote.
“I think that the legalization of cannabis is more popular than the legislature itself or the governor or any other political entity in the state of New Hampshire,” Chairman Renny Cushing (D) said prior to the vote. “This is something that the people of the state of New Hampshire want. They don’t want to be treated like they’re criminals if they have a plant.”
Watch New Hampshire lawmakers discuss the marijuana legalization bill below:
This vote comes a week after the panel held a hearing on the proposal, with advocates and stakeholders testifying in favor of the reform move.
“Like most Granite Staters, this committee understands that it’s time for New Hampshire to stop prohibiting cannabis,” Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a press release. “Adults in the ‘Live Free or Die’ state should not be punished for their choice to use a substance that is objectively less harmful than alcohol.”
“Now that New Hampshire is literally surrounded by jurisdictions where cannabis is legal for adults, our current policies can no longer be justified in any way,” he said. “It’s time for the House, Senate and Gov. Chris Sununu to work together and move cannabis policies into the 21st century.”
A floor vote by the full House of Representatives is expected on February 6.
Tax-and-regulate marijuana legislation has advanced in the legislature in prior sessions, but it never arrived on the governor’s desk.
Even if it did make it that far, however, it’s unclear if Sununu, a Republican, would sign it. He’s voiced opposition to commercial legalization, and he vetoed a bill last year that would’ve allowed medical cannabis patients to cultivate their own marijuana, raising questions about whether he’d be willing to support this latest measure extending that right to all adults over 21.
In any case, the New Hampshire development comes amid a flurry of legislative activity around cannabis in the Northeast.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) included legalization in his budget last week, as did Rhode Island’s governor, who pitched a state-run cannabis model in her plan. In New Jersey, the legislature approved a referendum to put the question of recreational legalization before voters during the November election. Top lawmakers in Connecticut are also confident that marijuana reform will advance this year. In Vermont, advocates are hopeful that lawmakers will add a legal sales component to the state’s current noncommercial cannabis law.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.