Wednesday is the deadline to submit comments on a draft Senate bill to federally legalize marijuana, and feedback has flooded in from a broad array of advocates and industry stakeholders.
While legalization proponents have widely celebrated the introduction of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA), they have some suggestions for improvement—principally as it concerns issues of social equity, licensing, tax policy and interstate commerce.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) are the lead sponsors of the legislation, and after releasing a draft version of the measure in July, they opened a public comment to receive input on what will be a revised measure the senators plan to formally introduce.
Pro-reform organizations like NORML, Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) and Hemp Roundtable made their voices heard—and while they generally applauded the senators’ work to end federal cannabis prohibition, they had some recommendations for revisions. Prohibitionist groups also weighed in with thoughts about the proposal can be changed to better reflect their concerns with the overall policy of legalization.
Here’s an overview of the public comment that the senators have received on their marijuana legalization bill:
Marijuana Justice Coalition
The Marijuana Justice Coalition—which counts among its membership the ACLU, Center for American Progress, Drug Policy Alliance, Human Rights Watch, Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights, MoveOn, Students for Sensible Drug Policy and United Food and Commercial Workers International Union—sent a joint letter on the legalization proposal.
It said that the “regulatory approach taken by the CAOA is generally modeled on the federal approach taken to regulate alcohol and tobacco,” and while the draft measure “includes critical elements to end federal criminalization and to undo and repair many of the harms resulting from criminalization, it seeks to regulate cannabis like a vice, meaning a consumer product with potential harms to public health and huge economic potential.”
The coalition recommended “an approach [to reform] that does not just include reparative justice, health equity, and community reinvestment as a subset of a larger policy reform, but rather an approach where these components are the primary goal.”
“As we move forward, it is necessary that the Senate work alongside the House, as well as the Marijuana Justice Coalition and other key stakeholders, to ensure we build a bill that is greater than the sum of our parts. We encourage the Senate to hold a hearing on the issue of federal cannabis reform this year in order to inform our work on this bill moving forward.”
The consumer-focused group’s comments largely center on the need to help repair the harms of prohibition for those who have been criminalized over cannabis, ensure that there are regulations in place to prevent the corporate consolidation of the industry and protect the infrastructure of existing state markets.
The organization also surveyed advocates and included its findings in its comment letter. Seventy-three percent of respondents said including provisions to expunge past records is either very or somewhat important to them, for example. And 68 percent said the legislation should end drug testing for cannabis.
“For too long, the criminalization of cannabis has been a tool used to disrupt communities and foster distrust of law enforcement,” the letter says. “It is our sincere hope that your team will be successful in collaborating with your colleagues and other good-faith stakeholders to ensure that the impending shift in federal policy takes great strides toward rectifying this situation by advancing comprehensive reform that is centered in science, evidence, and rational thought.”
Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, added that the “CAOA draft represents a thoughtful path forward toward ending federal marijuana criminalization.”
Marijuana Policy Project (MPP)
MPP stressed in its letter that while federal legalization is necessary, the rollout should be thoughtful and gradual, giving deference to states so as to avoid jeopardizing efforts to promote equity in the industry.
“While we are enthusiastic about the goals of the CAO Act Discussion Draft, we believe the regulatory aspects need significant clarification and revision to avoid unintended consequences,” Karen O’Keefe, state policies director for MPP, wrote. “Our two major areas of concern are: the possible upending of state licensing and regulatory systems—driving sales underground—and the impact on medical cannabis access, including for those under the age of 21.”
The group also called for more robust provisions to provide relief for those impacted by marijuana criminalization and dedicate more tax revenue to communities hardest hit by prohibition.
MPP additionally proposed policies aimed at protecting medical cannabis patients and dispensaries, including by eliminating any federal tax on medical marijuana.
“The vast majority of Americans support legalizing cannabis for adults,” O’Keefe wrote. “Congress must work to swiftly end federal cannabis prohibition through an approach that starts with a framework of deference to states and includes a slow transition, avoids burdens that will drive the market for cannabis products back underground, and stops destroying lives—disproportionately those of Black and Brown Americans—over a plant that is safer than alcohol.”
National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA)
NCIA said that it solicited feedback on the draft legalization bill from stakeholders large and small to inform its comments.
It discussed testing standards for cannabis products, interagency regulatory coordination, access to federal aid for marijuana businesses, the need to allow states to set retail sales limits and more.
“Given your demonstrated focus on engaging with the people most directly impacted by cannabis policy reform, we hope the breadth and depth of our feedback will enable you to enact sound legislation which fosters the growth of a thriving and equitable legal cannabis industry,” the organization said. “NCIA is committed to creating a vibrant legal industry that can sustain thousands of well-paying jobs while responsibly serving adult consumers and medical patients who rely on cannabis for relief.”
“That this bill looks to create restorative justice and to consider the complexities of how communities were negatively and disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition is of the utmost importance, and is greatly appreciated. In order to achieve this, we are encouraged that this discussion draft will result in the continued dialogue that is necessary to ensure that individual states do not continue to perpetuate illicit markets.”
U.S. Cannabis Council (USCC)
USCC, like other organizations, told the senators that it feels the Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) should be the primary regulators for the cannabis industry.
It also noted that the complexity and diversity of marijuana production in states requires “a new model of taxation, at rates that do not fuel the illicit market.”
Further, USCC said that federal legislation should account for legal obstacles in state markets and ensure that there’s a more gradual, transitionary process after a given state legalizes marijuana before being subject to federal rules that could disrupt social equity goals.
“We are fully aligned with the sponsors’ goals and applaud their leadership and careful consideration,” Steven Hawkins, CEO of USCC, said in a statement. “Cannabis prohibition in America is coming to an end, and the draft legislative text provides a road map for transitioning to a more just, equitable and prosperous future, particularly for emerging and social equity businesses and those directly impacted by cannabis prohibition.”
“At the end of the day, the detailed policy conversations taking place around the CAO Act should not distract from its historic nature. We support the leadership and vision of the sponsors and look forward to ongoing discussions and engagement to advance this vital legislation.”
Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP)
SSDP said that the drug war “has inflicted incalculable harm on marginalized communities—particularly communities of color,” and that war” weaponized cannabis over the last 50 years with disgustingly successful results.”
The organization said it appreciates the senators’ work to correct these issues, but it did offer some proposed revisions, including preventing the criminalization of people under 21 for marijuana. It further recommended eliminating restrictive language on who could qualify for federal relief after legalization is enacted.
“While fueling the public health crisis of mass incarceration, marijuana prohibition targeted the foundation of [marginalized] communities, leaving countless youth without guidance, an incalculable amount of economic loss, and millions of families suffering the loss of loved ones,” SSDP said in its comments. “The time has long since past to put this nightmare to an end.”
Americans for Safe Access (ASA)
ASA, which focuses on access for medical cannabis patients, touched on a number of prompts that the senators said they were especially interested in, such as appropriate ways to measure potency, agency responsibilities for regulating the marijuana market and the composition of a federal advisory board on cannabis.
Much of the group’s comment letter centers are ensuring that patient access to cannabis is not negatively impacted by federal regulations.
The organization also made recommendations for the legislation to address the denial of federally assisted housing to people who use cannabis in compliance with state laws and encourage the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to “develop a cannabis physician education curriculum for VA and civilian physicians.”
American Trade Association for Cannabis and Hemp (ATACH)
ATACH said that one of its primary concerns is giving regulatory authority over cannabis to Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and it advised the senators to consider the possible role of TTB within the market.
Michael Bronstein, president of ATACH, further explained that the comments address “the need for increased recognition and understanding of the interaction with existing state-level regulatory frameworks, the treatment of hemp and CBD, and taxation policy.”
Like several other organizations, ATACH said the rollout process for federal regulations should be gradual to prevent undue burdens on existing state markets.
“ATACH is thankful for the dedication of the sponsors for taking these historic next steps and appreciates the opportunity to continue the dialogue regarding appropriate federal rates and tax structure, and how they interact with existing state and local taxes,” Bronstein said.
Coalition for Cannabis Policy, Education, and Regulation (CPEAR)
“The draft bill represents a pivotal moment for the cannabis industry and an opportunity for stakeholders to inform a pathway towards responsible federal cannabis regulation that is rooted in science, evidence and data, ensures public health and safety standards, and secures fair market access including for small and minority-owned businesses,” CPEAR, which comprised largely up of alcohol and tobacco companies, said.
The group submitted comments that include recommendations on developing regulations that curb the illicit market, respecting state cannabis markets and providing “meaningful economic opportunities for small and minority-owned businesses.”
“Cannabis holds an important place in American history and society today as much as it will have an important place in the future,” CPEAR said. “It is critical that any attempt to craft and implement federal guidelines is done so with a holistic approach, led by science and data, but considerate of criminal justice, social equity, and public health. CPEAR appreciates the opportunity to be a resource to the Sponsoring Offices as this legislative effort continues to evolve.”
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D)
Last week, Polis sent his letter to the Senate sponsors of the reform bill that urged them to pass incremental cannabis banking and tax reform first before moving forward with the comprehensive legislation to end prohibition.
The governor said he’s supportive of CAOA—but he insisted that there are more modest and practical steps that should be taken first to support state-legal markets and protect businesses.
“I am thrilled that you are bringing forward a long-term, comprehensive solution that deschedules cannabis while enhancing social equity pathways,” he wrote. “I hope that you will first focus your efforts on the two biggest barriers to the success of the cannabis industry: banking and IRS Code Section 280E.”
That latter statute has precluded state-legal marijuana businesses from making federal tax deductions that are available to other traditional industries.
Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser (D)
The attorney general of Colorado last week sent a letter asking congressional leaders to ensure that small marijuana businesses are protected from being overtaken by Big Tobacco and other major industries as federal cannabis reform legislation advances.
Weiser wrote that his state is “heartened” to see efforts on Capitol Hill to end federal cannabis prohibition and create a regulatory framework that still empowers states to make their own policy decisions. But he expressed concerns about large corporations potentially gobbling up the industry if preventative steps aren’t taken.
Ensuring that small businesses are empowered to participate in the marijuana industry is a major priority, the attorney general argued. And, therefore, the official said a national market should be rolled out in thoughtful way to prevent large corporations from overtaking the industry.
“If a national market is not rolled-out carefully and in stages, large companies, particularly existing tobacco-focused companies, will be able to move into new markets immediately, displacing and pushing out smaller players,” he wrote.
Students for Sensible Drug Policy
The hemp advocacy group provided senators with some tips for how it thinks CAOA could be improved. It provided five recommendations to that end:
- Open an additional pathway for the sale of hemp extracts like CBD as food and beverage additives.
- Expand protections from just CBD to all non-intoxicating hemp derivatives and cannabinoids.
- Allow all forms of safety evaluations permitted by law to be used, not just limit manufacturers to new dietary ingredient notifications (NDINs).
- Provide a more comprehensive process of determining potential daily serving limits.
- Ensure separate regulatory pathways for non-intoxicating hemp and intoxicating cannabis products
“The legislative prospects of the CAOA are still uncertain, but as legislation makes its way through both houses of Congress, we are working very hard to make sure that the details are reflective of the best interests of the hemp and CBD industries,” the group said.
The Parabola Center
The Parabola Center, a newly formed group that is working to inform legalization legislation federally and at the state-level with the intent of promoting social justice-centered reforms, has been actively monitoring reform efforts in Congress. And it previously recommended changes to a House legalization bill that cleared the chamber last session and has been reintroduced this year.
In its comment letter to the senators, the organization emphasized the importance of creating “a legal cannabis sector that lifts us out of a long history of systemic racial and economic oppression stemming from prohibition and into a fair, open, and competitive market that is part of a new framework focused on justice and restorative practices.”
Parabola expressed concern over the rapid consolidation of state-legal marijuana industries, and it said that members have observed “large current operators jockeying to dominate the market in various states and regions.”
It said that, as written, CAOA could thwart progress states have made toward promoting social equity in the marketplace. But there are steps that can be taken to avoid that issue.
“Our goal is to avoid irreversible market consolidation, and instead create a gradual approach to national legalization that favors an ecosystem of small businesses over a handful of excessively large ones. In short, our proposed changes to CAOA allow regulating agencies to collect data, monitor states, and develop expertise. That knowledge and expertise should then be used to create fair and equitable rules for everyone – and in the meantime prevent the formation of corporate oligopolies in the cannabis sector and closely-related ancillary industries.”
Some of the principal recommendations that Parabola shared with the senators include 1) take more concrete steps to incentive states to maintain equitable markets by, for example, tying federal funding to “defined justice benchmarks,” 2) outline a more gradual path for interstate commerce and 3) prohibit vertical integration and ensure that anti-competition provisions are included in the legislation and 4) prevent large tobacco companies from participating in the marijuana industry.
Marijuana prohibitionists have also weighed in on the legalization proposal.
Smart Approaches To Marijuana (SAM)
“While we applaud Senate Majority Leader Schumer, as well as Senators Booker and Wyden, for their focus on exploring ways to mitigate the harms that have been perpetuated on vulnerable communities, full commercial legalization of today’s highly potent marijuana will only deepen these harms,” Kevin Sabet, president of SAM, argued.
“Decriminalization of minor marijuana possession and expungement of previous records was a key part of President Joe Biden’s platform and should be the path forward, but we cannot let the interests of the for-profit marijuana industry and its investors cloud the discussion,” he said. “Much as we have done with COVID, we must heed the science and be cautious with normalizing and promoting marijuana use.”
SAM said in its letter that while it would prefer not to federally legalize cannabis, its scientific advisory board has several recommendations if comprehensive reform is to be enacted. It wants a 10-15 percent cap on THC concentrations in marijuana products, a ban or significant restrictions on advertising and a prohibition on “flavored or child-friendly products.” There is some common ground on one proposal: both SAM and several advocacy organizations feel that Big Tobacco and Big Alcohol should be prevented from monopolizing the market.
Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA)
In a call-to-action campaign, CADCA encouraged members to submit a pre-written letter to the senators that expresses concern about the commercialization of cannabis.
The letter says that the “CAOA purports to be about decriminalizing marijuana,” but it would “totally legalize the cultivation, production, distribution and sale of marijuana, thus totally commercializing a new addictive and harmful substance.”
It’s unclear how long after the comment period ends that the bill will be finalized, formally filed and referred to committee. But Schumer has said on multiple occasions that he intends to bring the proposal to the floor “soon.”
As introduced, the legislation would federally deschedule cannabis, expunge prior convictions, allow people to petition for resentencing, maintain the authority of states to set their own marijuana policies and remove collateral consequences like immigration-related penalties for people who’ve been criminalized over the plant.
The bill would also impose a federal tax on marijuana products and put some of that revenue toward grant programs meant to support people from communities most impacted by prohibition who want to participate in the industry.
Further, the legislation would transfer regulatory authority over cannabis from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to FDA, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the TTB.
There have been some serious questions about whether the three senators will be able to muster the 60 votes needed to pass the legislation in their chamber. Even with a slim Democratic majority in the Senate, there are some members of Schumer’s own party who’ve expressed concerns about the comprehensive reform.
President Joe Biden’s position on cannabis presents another complication. Minutes after the senators unveiled the bill, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked at a briefing about the administration’s position on the legislation and said “nothing has changed” with respect to Biden’s opposition to adult-use legalization.
In the days following the introduction of CAOA, Booker had repeatedly stressed that he wants to see this legislation pass before allowing incremental reform to advance such as a bipartisan bill to protect banks that service state-legal marijuana businesses from being penalized by federal regulators.
The senator recently vowed to “lay myself down” to block any other senators who seek to pass marijuana banking legislation before the body approves comprehensive cannabis reform, igniting the controversy.
He’s taken some criticism from stakeholders on that position—though he later clarified that he simply feels that holding off on voting on the banking reform as a “sweetener” could encourage his colleagues to support more comprehensive legislation.
Top Rhode Island Lawmakers Signal That Marijuana Legalization Deal Is Close, With Key Issues Being Agreed Upon
A deal on a bill to legalize marijuana in Rhode Island is finally coming together, legislative leaders said this week.
While there are still certain outstanding issues to resolve such as which agency should be tasked with regulating the market, lawmakers have made significant progress and have reached compromises on a number of topics, Sen. Josh Miller (D), sponsor of one legalization proposal, said during a panel hosted by Johnson & Wales University.
Miller warned that he couldn’t be especially specific on details given that negotiations are ongoing, but he expressed optimism that legislators are nearing an agreement.
One issue that’s nearing consensus concerns the number of marijuana business licenses that could be authorized. Miller’s bill, which was approved by the Senate earlier this year, proposed as many as 150 cannabis shops, whereas Gov. Dan McKee’s (D) plan called for 25 and Rep. Scott Slater (D) wanted just 15 in his separate House bill.
The senator said that “we’re probably down to more in the 30, 40 range.”
Expungements is another issue that’s being sorted out. There’s agreement that the social justice component should be included in whatever legislation ultimately passes, but Miller explained that there are some challenges when it comes to processing.
For example, conviction records for possession don’t always specify the amounts, which could complicate any automated expungement procedure to clear the records of people with convictions for offenses made legal under the reform.
“What we’re trying to do is create a mechanism to give the attorney general or the court system a time component—maybe 90 days—to find a quantity component that would disqualify them,” the senator said.
Negotiators have also reached an agreement to place a temporary moratorium on approving additional cannabis cultivator licenses. Some have protested adding cultivators beyond the existing medical marijuana licensees because they say there’s already a sufficient supply to meet demand in the adult-use market.
These are all positive developments that signal a forthcoming deal, but the sponsor said that negotiators still need to figure out which body should be charged with regulating the adult-use market.
Some like Miller want to set up an independent cannabis commission, whereas others feel the recreational market should be overseen by the state Department of Business Regulation (DBR), which currently regulates Rhode Island’s medical marijuana program.
According to WPRI-TV, whose reporter Steph Machado also participated in Tuesday’s panel, negotiators are leaning toward a hybrid model, with responsibilities being divided by DBR and a separate commission.
House Speaker Joe Shekarchi (D) would be open to a compromise, a spokesperson for the leader told the TV station. Lawmakers have been reviewing regulatory models in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York.
A spokesperson for McKee said that “the governor supports recreational cannabis and his team has been actively working with our partners in the General Assembly on a bill that is equitable and benefits Rhode Island. The conversations are ongoing and we are hopeful that an agreement can be reached.”
Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (D), for his part, said last month that lawmakers are “very close” to reaching a deal on a marijuana legalization bill that could be taken up during a special session this fall.
“We sent legislation—which we think is a very good piece of legislation—over to the House before we left in June,” the senator said, referring to a legalization bill that his chamber approved in June. “They are working on that legislation with some of the House people at this point in time.”
The prospects of holding a special session could be bolstered if the legislature decides to take up separate legislation dealing federal with coronavirus relief, Miller said during Wednesday’s panel.
What remains to be seen is whether the negotiated legalization bill that’s ultimately produced will satisfy advocates and progressive lawmakers, some of whom have rallied behind an agenda for reform that emphasizes the need for bold social equity provisions.
While each of the competing bills contain components meant to address the harms of marijuana criminalization, the coalition led by Reclaim Rhode Island says they’re insufficient. Advocates and supportive lawmakers have laid out specific items that they want to see incorporated such as setting aside half of cannabis business licenses for communities most impacted by prohibition.
“We can’t reverse the harm of the war on drugs, but we can start to repair it by passing automatic expungement and waiving all related fines, fees and court debt,” Rep. Karen Alzate (D), chair of the Rhode Island Legislative Black and Latino Caucus, said last month. “This bold legalization plan offers us the chance to turn a new leaf for the Ocean State, and it’s time we take it.”
Ruggerio, for his part, said he does feel that the legalization bill that was approved in the Senate contained “very strong social justice provisions” and the expungements provision is “as close to automatic as practical.”
Reclaim Rhode Island isn’t the only group pushing lawmakers to expeditiously work to pass legalization. It’s part of a coalition of 10 civil rights and drug policy reform advocacy groups—including the Rhode Island chapters of the ACLU and NAACP—that recently demanded that lawmakers move ahead with enacting marijuana reform in the state before the end of 2021.
Shekarchi said in July that while there’s not yet a consensus among legislators and the governor on a deal to legalize marijuana, it’s still a “workable” issue and would be prioritized if negotiations succeed this summer and a special session is convened this fall.
Slater recently told Marijuana Moment that “things are still where they were” prior to the end of session—but lawmakers are “trying to figure out a reconciliation between my bill, the Senate’s and the governor’s.”
Meetings over the summer had been “mostly informal,” the representative said. “I think we can get there before next year. It will not be perfect, and I am sure a work in progress.”
Ruggerio said in July that he’s not disappointed the House hasn’t advanced legalization legislation yet and that “what we really wanted to do was send it over and have them take a look at it” when his chamber passed its cannabis reform measure.
Shekarchi, for his part, previously said that he feels reform is “inevitable.”
Senate Majority Leader Mike McCaffrey (D) was also recently asked about provisions related to allowing local municipalities to opt out of allowing marijuana businesses to operate in their area. He said “once the legislation is passed and whatever form is passed in, the communities have an opportunity to opt out.”
“They have an opportunity to opt out if the community doesn’t want to participate in it,” he said. “That’s their decision—however, they don’t get the funds that would come from the sales in that community.”
The majority leader also noted that neighboring states like Connecticut and Massachusetts have enacted legalization, and that adds impetus for the legislature to pursue reform in the state.
Shekarchi, meanwhile, said in July that he doesn’t intend to let regional pressure dictate the timeline for when Rhode Island enacts a policy change. Social equity, licensing fees, labor agreements and home grow provisions are among the outstanding matters that need to be addressed, the speaker said.
The House Finance Committee held a hearing on Slater’s legalization measure in June.
The governor previously told reporters that while he backs legalization it is “not like one of my highest priorities,” adding that “we’re not in a race with Connecticut or Massachusetts on this issue.”
“I think we need to get it right,” he said, pointing to ongoing discussions with the House and Senate.
The House Finance Committee discussed the governor’s proposal to end prohibition at an earlier hearing in April.
Both the governor and the leaders’ legalization plans are notably different than the proposal that former Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) had included in her budget last year. Prior to leaving office to join the Biden administration as commerce secretary, she called for legalization through a state-run model.
McKee gave initial insights into his perspective on the reform in January, saying that “it’s time that [legalization] happens” and that he’s “more leaning towards an entrepreneurial strategy there to let that roll that way.”
Shekarchi, meanwhile, has said he’s “absolutely” open to the idea of cannabis legalization and also leans toward privatization.
Late last year, the Senate Finance Committee began preliminary consideration of legalization in preparation for the 2021 session, with lawmakers generally accepting the reform as an inevitability. “I certainly do think we’ll act on the issue, whether it’s more private or more state,” Sen. Ryan Pearson (D), who now serves as the panel’s chairman, said at the time.
Meanwhile, the governor in July signed a historic bill to allow safe consumption sites where people could use illicit drugs under medical supervision and receive resources to enter treatment. Harm reduction advocates say this would prevent overdose deaths and help de-stigmatize substance misuse. Rhode Island is the first state to allow the facilities.
The Senate Judiciary Committee also held a hearing in March on legislation that would end criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of drugs and replace them with a $100 fine.
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.
New York Regulators Move To Let Medical Cannabis Patients Grow Their Own And Give Marijuana Expungements Update
New York marijuana regulators are finally moving to allow medical cannabis patients in the state to grow plants for personal use, and they’ve provided an update on progress toward expunging prior marijuana conviction records.
At their second meeting on Thursday, New York’s Cannabis Control Board (CCB) voted unanimously to file the proposed regulations, which would allow qualified patients to cultivate up to six plants—indoors or outdoors—for their own therapeutic use.
There will be a 60-day public comment period after the rules are published. Then the board will review those comments, make any necessary revisions and officially file the regulations to take effect.
“We are proud to present those proposed regulations,” former Assemblywoman Tremaine Wright (D), who chairs CCB, said. “The home cultivation of medical cannabis will provide certified patients with a cost-effective means of obtaining cannabis through personal cultivation while creating a set of standards governing the conduct and activities relating to the personal cultivation of cannabis.”
A slide presented by the board states that the rules would impose “a duty on patients to take reasonable measures to ensure that cannabis plants, and any cannabis cultivated from such plants, is not readily accessible to anyone under the age of 21.”
Caregivers for patients under 21 “whose physical or cognitive impairments prevent them from cultivating cannabis” could also grow up to six plants on their behalf. For caregivers with more than one patient, they can “cultivate 1 additional cannabis plant for each subsequent patient.”
Landlords would have the option of prohibiting tenants from growing marijuana on their properties. Cannabis products could not be processed using any liquid or gas, other than alcohol, that has a flashpoint below 100 degrees.
Rules for home cultivation for patients were supposed to be released earlier, but officials failed to meet the legislatively mandated deadline. Recreational consumers, meanwhile, won’t be able to grow their own marijuana until after adult-use sales begin, which isn’t expected for months.
Prior to signing legalization into law—and before resigning amid a sexual harassment scandal this year—then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) put forth a reform plan that proposed maintaining a ban on home cultivation.
In 2019, Marijuana Moment obtained documents showing that a New York-based marijuana business association led by the executives of the state’s major licensed medical cannabis providers had previously sent a policy statement to Cuomo’s office arguing against allowing patients to grow their own medicine.
At the meeting on Thursday, the Office of Cannabis Management also provided an update on efforts to expunge cannabis records.
There have been 45 expungements for cases related to marijuana possession, though most remain “under custody or supervision for additional crimes,” another slide reads.
“Approximately 203,000 marijuana related charges are presently being suppressed from background searches and in process to be sealed or expunged,” it continues. “This will add to the approximately 198,000 sealing accomplished as part of the first round of marijuana expungements for the 2019 expungement legislation.”
At their first meeting earlier this month, CCB announced that medical marijuana dispensaries will now be allowed to sell flower cannabis products to qualified patients. The $50 registration fee for patients and caregivers is also being permanently waived.
Members of the board, who were recently appointed by the governor and legislative leaders, also discussed ethical considerations for regulators, approved key staff hires and talked about next steps for the panel.
Gov. Kathy Hochul (D), who replaced Cuomo, has repeatedly emphasized her interest in efficiently implementing the legalization law that was signed in March.
At a recent event, she touted the fact that she had quickly made regulatory appointments that had been delayed under her predecessor. “I believe there’s thousands and thousands of jobs” that could be created in the new industry, the governor said.
CCB is responsible for overseeing the independent Office of Cannabis Management within the New York State Liquor Authority, which is also responsible for regulating the state’s medical marijuana and hemp industries.
As it stands, adults 21 and older can possess up to three ounces of cannabis or 24 grams of concentrates in New York—and they can also smoke marijuana in public anywhere tobacco can be smoked—but there aren’t any shops open for business yet.
The state Department of Labor separately announced in new guidance that New York employers are no longer allowed to drug test most workers for marijuana.
The first licensed recreational marijuana retailers in New York may actually be located on Indian territory, with one tribe officially opening applications for prospective licensees earlier this month.
In July, a New York senator filed a bill to create a provisional marijuana licensing category so that farmers could begin cultivating and selling cannabis ahead of the formal rollout of the adult-use program. The bill has been referred to the Senate Rules Committee.
Because the implementation process has been drawn out, however, one GOP senator wants to give local jurisdictions another year to decide whether they will opt out of allowing marijuana businesses to operate in their area—a proposal that advocates say is unnecessary and would create undue complications for the industry.
Under the law as enacted, municipalities must determine whether they will opt out of permitting marijuana retailers or social consumption sites by December 31, 2021. Sen. George Borrello (R) introduced legislation earlier this month that would push that deadline back one year.
Legalization activists aren’t buying the argument, however.
Adding pressure to get the market up and running is the fact that regulators in neighboring New Jersey recently released rules for its adult-use marijuana program, which is being implemented after voters approved a legalization referendum last year.
For the first year of cannabis sales, the state is expected to see just $20 million in tax and fee collections. That will be part of an estimated $26.7 billion in new revenues that New York is expected to generate in fiscal year 2021-2022 under a budget that the legislature passed in April.
Meanwhile, a New York lawmaker introduced a bill in June that would require the state to establish an institute to research the therapeutic potential of psychedelics.
Photo courtesy of Max Pixel.
Activists Push D.C. Lawmakers To Decriminalize Drugs And Promote Harm Reduction With New Campaign
Activists in Washington, D.C. on Thursday launched a new campaign to urge local lawmakers to broadly decriminalize drugs, with a focus on expanding treatment resources and harm reduction services.
DecrimPovertyDC—a coalition of advocacy groups like the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) and Students for Sensible Drug Policy—will be imploring the District Council to take up the cause, and members have already met with the offices of each legislator and have gotten a generally positive reception.
Today, @DrugPolicyOrg, @HIPS, @Defund_MPD & over 40 civil rights, justice reform, public health, & faith groups join forces to launch the #DecrimPovertyDC campaign. We are urging for @councilofdc to treat drug use like a public health issue. Learn more: https://t.co/KFXc7su9Pu pic.twitter.com/TwWACpAsUU
— #DecrimPovertyDC (@decrimpovertydc) October 21, 2021
“Through ongoing advocacy, we aim to replace carceral systems with harm reduction-oriented systems of care that promote the dignity, autonomy, and health of people who use drugs, sex workers, and other criminalized populations,” the campaign site says.
People of color are disproportionately impacted by drug criminalization, and the group said the impact “extends far beyond the criminal legal system, as people face an array of punishments in employment, housing, education, immigration, child welfare, and public benefits—all of which can trap people in poverty.”
An outline of the legislative proposal starts with drug decriminalization. People who possess small amounts of controlled substances would face no criminal or civil penalties. An independent commission would decide what the possession limit should be, and those who possess more than that amount would face a $50 fine, which could be waived if the person completes a health assessment.
Further, the mayor would be required to establish a harm reduction center where people could receive treatment resources and access sterile needles. The legislation allows for the creation of a safe consumption site within the center where people could use illicit drugs in a medically supervised environment.
That could prove challenging, however, as the U.S. Supreme Court recently rejected a request to hear a case on the legality of establishing safe injection sites where people can use illicit drugs in a medically supervised environment. An attempt to create such a facility in Philadelphia was blocked under the Trump administration and is now pending further action in a lower federal court.
The D.C. initiative, which is also being supported by AIDS United, Defund MPD, Honoring Individual Power and Strength (HIPS) and dozens of other groups, would also make it so the health department would need to provide a drug testing service so people could screen products for contaminants or other hazardous compounds.
In 2020, 511 people fatally overdosed in the District; over 94,000 people died from accidental overdose nationally. We are in a state of emergency directly caused by criminalization and other inhumane drug policies. #DecrimPovertyDC pic.twitter.com/9stWKb1nYG
— #DecrimPovertyDC (@decrimpovertydc) October 21, 2021
Another provision activists are pushing for would work to repair the harms of criminalization, in part by requiring the courts to “identify and vacate convictions for offenses decriminalized by this bill.” They would also need to find and vacate cases related to drug paraphernalia, which was decriminalized last year under separate legislation.
Queen Adesuyi, policy manager of national affairs at DPA, told Marijuana Moment that the campaign’s branding and scope is “intentionally broad to address poverty more generally, because in D.C. the drug war does disproportionately impact under-resourced communities in addition to black communities.”
“We wanted to build out our campaign to paint the full picture of the drug war’s harms locally in the District,” she said, adding that the coalition will be poised to “support other efforts that are also working to minimize state-based harm against vulnerable communities in D.C.”
At this point, the drug decriminalization measure has not been introduced in the D.C. Council, but activists are encouraged by early conversations with local lawmakers. The intent is to build on drug policy progress such as paraphernalia decriminalization, which was championed by key players like the chairman of the Council’s Judiciary Committee.
The push in the nation’s capital follows advocates’ success in advancing decriminalization in other parts of the country.
Oregon voters approved a historic initiative to decriminalize drug possession last year, and multiple jurisdictions across the U.S. are now exploring similar policy changes.
Last month, Massachusetts lawmakers heard testimony on separate proposals to decriminalize drug possession and establish a pilot program for safe injection facilities. A safe consumption site bill advanced through a legislative committee in the state in May.
The Maine Senate this summer defeated a bill that would have decriminalized possession of all currently illicit drugs.
Rhode Island’s governor signed a bill in July to create a pilot program legalizing safe consumption sites.
Congressionally, a first-of-its-kind bill to decriminalize drug possession at the federal level was introduced this session.
There’s a sense of urgency to get this reform in D.C. enacted, as the coronavirus pandemic has seemed to contribute to record-high drug overdose deaths in the country. Adesuyi said “the last year really has made it so we just can’t wait any more.”
Meanwhile, advocates have renewed hope that D.C. could soon move to legalize the sale of adult-use marijuana.
The District has been prevented from doing so despite legalizing cannabis in 2014 because it’s been bound by a congressional spending bill rider prohibiting the use of local tax dollars for that purpose. But with majorities in both chambers this session, Democratic appropriators have excluded that prohibitive language in the most recent spending measures—so D.C. would be empowered to finally enact a regulated market.
The mayor of D.C. said in April that local officials are prepared to move forward with implementing a legal system of recreational marijuana sales in the nation’s capital just as soon as they can get over the final “hurdle” of congressional interference.
Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) introduced a cannabis commerce bill in February—and members of the District Council are considering that, as well as a separate proposal put forward by Chairman Phil Mendelson (D).
A hearing on the latter bill is scheduled for next month the Committee of the Whole, the Committee on the Judiciary & Public Safety & the Committee on Business & Economic Development.