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These States Are Likely To Legalize Marijuana In 2018

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After four of five statewide marijuana legalization ballot initiatives were approved by voters in 2016, no additional states ended cannabis prohibition in 2017 (though New Hampshire did decriminalize possession of the drug and West Virginia allowed its medical use).

Now, a number of states are poised to legalize marijuana and approve other far-reaching cannabis measures in 2018.

If marijuana policy advocates’ plans come to fruition in the new year, 2018 will bring about the first legalization laws passed by lawmakers; to date, all eight states to end cannabis prohibition did it through voter initiatives.

Here’s a look at the states that are most likely to enact marijuana reforms in 2018:

Vermont

The Green Mountain state appears ready to legalize cannabis very soon. House and Senate leaders and Gov. Phil Scott (R) have signaled in recent weeks that they are prepared to legalize marijuana shortly after the legislature reconvenes on January 3. Because the state operates on a biennium, all that is needed is one more House vote in favor of a previously-Senate-passed bill that the governor has pledged to sign.

The legislation is different that other existing legalization laws because it would not create a system of taxed and regulated cannabis sales, at least not initially. It would instead legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana as well as low-level home cultivation, while a study commission would examine potential future legal commercialization.

New Jersey

Gov.-elect Phil Murphy (D) campaigned on legalization, and the Senate president says he’s ready to pass a bill in 2018. While some key lawmakers have signaled that they’d prefer not to rush into passing big changes to marijuana laws, the sponsor of a Senate legalization bill says he wants to get it to the governor’s desk within the first 100 days of the new administration.

Murphy consistently pledged to end prohibition on the campaign trail, often describing it as an important piece of a broader criminal justice reform agenda, in addition to touting the tax revenue it would generate. Failing to shepherd a legalization bill to enactment in the Garden State would amount to a broken promise and likely be somewhat of an embarrassment for the new governor.

Michigan

Advocates are poised to place a marijuana legalization measure on the state’s November ballot.

A similar proposal fell just short of qualifying in 2016, but the new effort is better-funded and has the support of national groups like the Marijuana Policy Project. Several surveys have shown majority support for legalization, including one this May that found likely voters back ending prohibition by a margin of 58 percent to 36 percent.

If the measure is approved, Michigan would be the first state in the Midwest to end cannabis prohibition.

Oklahoma

Activists have already succeeded in collecting enough signatures to place a medical cannabis measure before voters. There was a chance the measure could have gone on the 2016 ballot but, because a dispute over the measure’s official ballot title with then-Attorney General Scott Pruitt (now U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator) was not resolved by the state Supreme Court in time, its consideration was delayed until the next election.

Gov. Mary Fallin (R) says she will announce after the new year whether it will appear on the June primary ballot or will be considered during the November general election.

A 2013 poll found that 71 percent of the state’s likely voters support medical cannabis.

Utah

Activists are mounting a well-funded effort to qualify a medical marijuana measure for the state’s November ballot. If approved, the proposed measure would allow patients with cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, PTSD, chronic pain and other specifically enumerated conditions to use medical cannabis preparations, but they would not be allowed to smoke the drug.

An October Salt Lake Tribune survey found that 75 percent of the state’s registered voters back medical marijuana. If the conservative state, along with Oklahoma, approves medical cannabis it would send a strong signal that the issue is not a partisan one.

Missouri

The Show Me State could potentially see three separate medical cannabis ballot measures qualify in 2018.

Competing teams are currently working to collect signatures for measures that would allow patients to use medical marijuana with their doctors’ recommendations. If one or more of the measures pass, the result could be in flux. Whereas the measure with the most votes usually prevails in instances of same-topic questions appearing on the same ballot, in this case two of the measures are constitutional amendments and one is a statutory change. Enacted constitutional provisions take precedence over statutes, of course, but if the statutory measure gets more votes than either of the proposed constitutional changes, it’s not clear which would be enacted. Litigation would likely ensue.

A July 2016 survey found that voters favored an earlier proposed ballot measure by a margin of 62 percent to 27 percent.

Virginia

Gov.-elect Ralph Northam (D) made marijuana decriminalization a centerpiece of his campaign, often describing the issue in stark racial justice terms.

Removing criminal penalties for cannabis appears to have bipartisan support in the state. Republican Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment has pledged to file a decriminalization bill early in 2018.

And the effort could get an additional boost by Democrats’ surprising number of wins in House of Delegates races this past November. Depending on the results for two still-pending seats under review, the party could either have a narrow majority in the chamber or be tied with Republicans. The GOP has a two-seat majority in the Senate, but tie votes there would be broken by the Democratic lieutenant governor.

Other Possibilities

A team of wealthy individuals in Ohio announced this month that they will work to qualify a marijuana legalization measure for the state’s 2018 ballot. A 2015 initiative pushed by the same group was overwhelmingly rejected by voters. That campaign generated opposition from many longtime legalization activists because it proposed creating an oligopoly on cannabis cultivation for the very investors who paid to put it on the ballot. Advocates were also turned off by the campaign’s usage of a cartoony mascot, “Buddie,” which raised concerns about appealing to children. The team has said that it learned from those mistakes.

While Vermont and New Jersey are seen as most likely to pass marijuana legalization bills through their legislatures in 2018, advocates are also working to build momentum for bills to end prohibition in a number of other states next year. Among those are Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois and Rhode Island, any or all of which could potentially send legalization legislation to their governor’s desks in the coming months.

2018 is likely to be one of the most active years to date for marijuana legislation, and lawmakers in a number of states have already gotten a head start and begun prefiling bills for new sessions that begin in January.

This piece was first published by Forbes.

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Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 15-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he serves as chairman of the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (Organization citations are for identification only and do not constitute an endorsement or partnership.)

Business

Sen. Jeff Merkley “Disappointed” That Democrats Blocked His Marijuana Banking Amendment

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One of the U.S. Senate’s foremost champions for marijuana law reform says he is “disappointed” that fellow Democrats recently joined with Republicans in blocking his amendment to increase cannabis businesses’ access to banks.

Last month, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) offered a measure that would have shielded banks that open accounts for state-legal marijuana businesses from being punished by federal regulators for that activity even though cannabis remains illegal under federal law.

While the Senate Appropriations Committee had approved two similar amendments in previous years, the panel this time voted to table the measure with a bipartisan vote of 21 – 10, with ranking member Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and other Democrats who normally support marijuana reform objecting on procedural grounds.

“I was disappointed,” Merkley said in an interview with BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith on Monday. “We had passed this twice before.”

“We need to establish banking for cannabis because a cash economy is an invitation to money laundering and theft and cheating your employees and cheating on your taxes [and] organized crime. All bad.”

“I accompanied the owner of a company who had $70,000 in his backpack to pay quarterly taxes,” Merkley recounted in response to the cannabis banking question on Monday, which was suggested to BuzzFeed by Marijuana Moment’s editor. “It’s so bizarre going down the freeway and talking about how they have to pay their employees in cash, have to pay their suppliers in cash. It’s a bad system.”

“Everyone should agree: States’ rights on this. Let the states have an electronic system to track what these businesses are doing, not billions of dollars floating around like this.”

Despite his disappointment with the measure being blocked, the Oregon Democrat, who is believed to be considering a 2020 presidential run, said that his colleagues “had a fair point to make on the policy front” in tabling the measure.

At the time, Leahy argued that spending bills such as the one before the committee should be kept “free of new controversial policy riders” and that a more appropriate forum would be an authorizing committee that sets banking laws.

“It wasn’t existing policy and therefore it was new policy,” Merkley acknowledged in the new interview.

But he pointed out that there are few other avenues available for senators to pursue the issue.

“Here’s the thing. Normally we could take these policy bills like I was putting forward [and] you could put it on the floor of the Senate as an amendment to something,” he said. “In 2017, outside of the budget process, not a single amendment was considered on the floor of the Senate… This is the end of the Senate really as a deliberative body on policy. So if you’re blocked in the Appropriations Committee, and you’re blocked on the floor, then it’s very hard to put ideas out there and say, ‘Hey vote on this. This matters.'”

The House Appropriations Committee also defeated a cannabis banking amendment last month.

See the video of Merkley’s remarks at about 19:15 into the clip below:

Photo courtesy of Senate Democrats.

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Politics

County Officials From Across The U.S. Push Feds To Reform Marijuana Laws

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An organization representing the 3,069 county governments across the U.S. is calling on the federal government to allow states to legalize marijuana without interference.

“The federal government should largely be responsible for regulating and enforcing against illegal drug trafficking, while respecting states’ right to decriminalize cannabis under state law,” reads a new platform plank adopted on Monday by the National Association of Counties (NACo).

“NACo urges Congress to enact legislation that promotes the principles of federalism and local control of cannabis businesses with regard to medical and adult-use of cannabis under state law,” a related provision says. “Congress should allow and encourage state and local governments to enact and implement cannabis laws, regulations, and policies that appropriately control production, processing, sales, distribution and use, as well as promote public and consumer safety, should they choose to decriminalize and regulate cannabis under state law.”

The group is also calling on the federal government to make moves to expand banking access for marijuana businesses and broaden research on cannabis’s medical effects.

The county officials’ new stance is similar to resolutions adopted last month by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

“The United States Conference of Mayors urges the White House, U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to immediately remove cannabis from the schedule of the CSA to enable U.S. federal banking regulators to permanently authorize financial institutions to provide services to commercial cannabis businesses, and increase the safety of the public,” one of the mayoral group’s positions says.

Mayors From Across U.S. Call On Feds To Deschedule Marijuana

Marijuana Moment supporters on Patreon can read the full text of the new NACo marijuana positions below:

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Culture

Border Patrol Reflects On Feds’ Friendlier Historical Approach To Marijuana

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Canada’s decision to legalize marijuana nationwide has stoked concerns that its citizens traveling across the U.S. border will risk temporary detention or even permanent visitation bans if they fess up having ever consumed cannabis, or even working in the industry.

Enforcement officials have told reporters that there’s no travel policy change in light of Canada’s end of prohibition, emphasizing that it remains illegal to bring cannabis across the border under federal law. Violating the policy “could potentially result in seizure, fines, and apprehension,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said in a recent statement.

But let’s take you back to a simpler time, courtesy of CBP.

“Did You Know… Marijuana Was Once a Legal Cross-Border Import?”

That’s the title of a 2015 blog post published by the federal agency—which seems to have gone mostly unnoticed until now—recalls how cannabis was historically recognized as a legal import by the government.

“One hundred years ago, the federal government was not overly concerned with marijuana, the common name for the Cannabis sativa L. plant,” the feds’ post reads.

Through the mid-1930s, the plant flew under the government’s radar, despite the fact that “several state governments and other countries had banned the drug.”

“The U.S. government hesitated, in part because therapeutic uses of Cannabis were still being explored and American industry profited from commercial applications of hemp fiber, seeds and oil.”

That all changed in the decades to come—first with the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act, which imposed taxes and regulations on cannabis imports, cultivation, distribution and possession, and then with full prohibition under the Nixon administration.

Up until that point, the Customs Agency Service (later rebranded as CBP) didn’t put too much stock in pot. Just before the Marihuana Tax Act passed, the agency described its cannabis policy here:

“Marihuana may be cultivated or grown wild in almost any locality. Inasmuch as this drug is so readily obtained in the United States, it is not believed to be the subject of much organized smuggling from other countries.”

It seems like pretty basic supply and demand, but federal prohibition changed the equation. Suddenly, marijuana wasn’t “so readily obtained” in the country—and even simple possession carried serious criminal penalties—so the legal supply dried up. In the absence of legal access, criminal organizations swooped in to meet the demand for marijuana in the United States.

Ergo…

“Today, however, marijuana trafficking is a major concern of CBP, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Drug Enforcement Administration,” CBP wrote. “Well over 3 million pounds of ‘pot’ were confiscated at our borders in 2011, making an impact on this multibillion-dollar illegal enterprise.”

The more you know!

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Here Are The DEA’s Newest Slang Terms for Marijuana: ‘Shoes,’ ‘My Brother’ And More

Photo courtesy of Gerald Nino, U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

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