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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.

Politics

Rand Paul Pushes Marijuana Amendments On Funding Bill

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As Congress works to end a federal government shutdown that began at midnight on Friday, a Republican senator is trying to insert marijuana into the process.

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky has filed two far-reaching cannabis amendments that he wants to be part of a deal to reopen the government.

One measure would prevent the Justice Department from interfering with state recreational legalization and medical cannabis laws, a big concern in the wake of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s recent rescission of Obama-era guidance that has generally allowed local marijuana policies to be implemented without federal harassment:

                                ______
                                 
  SA 1910. Mr. PAUL submitted an amendment intended to be proposed by 
him to the bill H.R. 195, to amend title 44, United States Code, to 
restrict the distribution of free printed copies of the Federal 
Register to Members of Congress and other officers and employees of the 
United States, and for other purposes; which was ordered to lie on the 
table; as follows:

       At the appropriate place, insert the following:
       Sec. __.  None of the funds made available by 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, 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, to prevent the State from 
     implementing State laws that authorize the use, distribution, 
     possession, or cultivation of marijuana on non-Federal lands 
     within the respective jurisdiction of the State.
                                 ______

 

Paul’s other amendment concerns the ability of banks to open accounts for marijuana businesses without running afoul of federal regulators:

                                ______
                                 
  SA 1909. Mr. PAUL submitted an amendment intended to be proposed by 
him to the bill H.R. 195, to amend title 44, United States Code, to 
restrict the distribution of free printed copies of the Federal 
Register to Members of Congress and other officers and employees of the 
United States, and for other purposes; which was ordered to lie on the 
table; as follows:

       At the appropriate place, insert the following:
       Sec. __.  None of the funds made available by this Act may 
     be used by the Department of Justice for activities that are 
     not in compliance with the February 14, 2014, Department of 
     Justice memorandum from James M. Cole, Deputy Attorney 
     General, entitled ''Guidance Regarding Marijuana Financial 
     Crimes'', and the memoranda incorporated therein.
                                 ______

 

A top Treasury Department official testified before senators this week that the Trump administration is currently weighing whether to tear up an Obama-era memo on cannabis banking in line with Sessions’s move to rescind the broader Justice Department guidance on state marijuana laws.

Feds Reviewing Marijuana Banking Protections

It is unclear if either of Paul’s amendments will actually be considered and voted on as part of a deal to re-open the federal government following the Friday shutdown.

The lapse in spending legislation has put medical cannabis patients and providers at greater risk because an existing protection preventing the Justice Department from undermining medical marijuana laws has now expired, but drug enforcement has not. Under a federal contingency plan, anti-drug agents and prosecutors are exempt from furlough.

If Congress passes another bill to fund the government, the medical cannabis protections will go back into effect through whatever date to which the legislation continues spending levels. People complying with broader full-scale marijuana legalization laws will remain at risk of federal enforcement actions, however, unless Paul’s relevant amendment is adopted.

Earlier this week, House leaders effectively blocked an amendment to protect state marijuana laws from federal interference from being considered on the floor.

Congress Misses Opportunity To Vote On Marijuana Amendment

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.

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Politics

Marijuana Is Safer Than Alcohol, Tobacco Or Sugar, Americans Say In New Poll

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Americans think marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol, tobacco or sugar. That’s according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Friday.

When asked in a survey which substance is most harmful to health, 41 percent chose tobacco, 24 percent said alcohol and 21 percent flagged sugar.

Just nine percent believe cannabis is the most dangerous of the four options.

The poll also asked about American’s views on legalizing marijuana in their state, with 60 percent saying they would favor the policy.

When the news organizations polled the same question in 2014, 55 percent were on board.

The new numbers are in line with other recent polls showing growing support for ending cannabis prohibition.

In October, a Gallup poll found that 64 percent of Americans back legalizing marijuana.

Earlier this month, in the wake of the Trump administration’s decision to rescind Obama-era guidance that has generally allowed states to implement their own marijuana laws, three separate national polls found broad opposition to federal interference in local cannabis policies.

On Marijuana, Voters Want Feds To Butt Out Of State Laws, Polls Find

See the full NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll below:

18033 NBCWSJ January Poll (1!19!18 Release) by Carrie Dann on Scribd

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Politics

Government Shutdown Would Let Sessions Attack Medical Marijuana

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The federal government will shut down at midnight on Friday, barring an unexpected, last-minute bipartisan deal. That puts medical marijuana patients and providers at risk of being arrested, prosecuted and sent to prison by Jeff Sessions’s Justice Department.

Here’s why:

Under a shutdown scenario, an existing budget provision that prevents the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and other agencies from spending money to interfere with state medical cannabis laws would expire. But federal drug enforcement and prosecution actions, which are exempted from furloughs, would continue.

Why Might The Government Shut Down?

A bill to extend federal funding levels and policy riders like the marijuana one through February 16 was approved by the House on Thursday. But a heated dispute over immigration issues has jeopardized its passage in the Senate, where a significant number of Democrats are refusing to support any bill that does not provide protections to people who were brought to the U.S. as children.

Earlier this month, Attorney General Sessions rescinded Obama-era guidance that has generally allowed states to implement their own cannabis laws without federal intervention. That has left recreational marijuana businesses and consumers without a key protection they’ve relied on since 2013, but the ongoing existence of the medical cannabis spending rider has continued to keep patients and providers safeguarded from federal attacks.

Until now.

An unintended consequence of Senate Democrats’ move to block the funding extension bill and shut down the government over immigration issues is that medical marijuana patients and industry operators would be at much greater risk, as soon as this weekend.

Why Would Drug Enforcement Continue Under A Shutdown?

“All agents in DEA field organizations are excepted from furlough because they support active counternarcotics investigations. This encompasses 21 domestic divisions, 7 regional foreign divisions, critical tactical support groups including the El Paso Intelligence Center and the Special Operations Division, forensic sciences, and technical surveillance support,” a Justice Department shutdown contingency plan says. “DEA investigations need to continue uninterrupted so that cases are not compromised and the health and safety of the American public is not placed at risk.”

The same goes for federal prosecutors.

“As Presidential Appointees, U.S. Attorneys are not subject to furlough,” the shutdown document reads. “Excepted employees are needed to address ongoing criminal matters and civil matters of urgency throughout the Nation. Criminal litigation will continue without interruption as an excepted activity to maintain the safety of human life and the protection of property.”

Politics Of Marijuana And Immigration Collide

Democrats, especially those considering 2020 presidential bids, are facing enormous pressure from their progressive base not to go along with yet another bill in a series of short-term funding extensions that do not include protections for young immigrants known as “DREAMers.” Because Republicans hold only 51 seats in the chamber, and a handful of GOP members are also opposing the spending resolution, leaders need support from Democrats to reach the critical 60-vote threshold to advance legislation.

The medical cannabis budget rider was first enacted into law in late 2014, and has since been extended for each subsequent fiscal year. Last May, Sessions sent a letter to congressional leaders asking them not to continue the medical marijuana rider into Fiscal Year 2018.

“I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime,” he wrote. “The Department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives.”

Setting aside the important question of whether the medical cannabis rider will be included in full Fiscal Year 2018 spending legislation that congressional leaders continue to negotiate — and it is a big question, since House leaders blocked lawmakers from even voting on whether to include the policy in that chamber’s version of Justice Department spending legislation — the current budget brinksmanship on Capitol Hill means the medical marijuana protections could disappear as soon as Saturday morning.

A Shutdown Allows Old Federal Marijuana Prosecutions To Resume

If the provision lapses, it wouldn’t just allow new actions against people violating federal marijuana laws. It would also allow earlier medical cannabis prosecutions that were suspended under to the rider to resume.

A federal judge in a California case last August, for example, wrote that the prosecution of two marijuana growers would be “stayed until and unless a future appropriations bill permits the government to proceed. If such a bill is enacted, the government may notify the Court and move for the stay to be lifted.”

The failure to enact a new bill continuing the protections would have the same effect under a shutdown scenario, given that enforcement of federal drug laws would still continue.

Long-Term Status Of Marijuana Protections Unclear

The Senate Appropriations Committee voted in July to include the medical cannabis rider in its version of the 2018 Justice Department funding bill. But without the provision being approved on the House side, its long-term continuance will be determined behind closed doors by a bicameral conference committee that merges the two chambers’ proposal into a single bill to be sent to President Trump.

Advocates have also pushed to expand the protection to encompass all state marijuana laws, not just those focused on medical access. A measure to do that came just nine flipped votes of passage on the House floor in 2015, and the number of states with legalization has doubled since then. However, Republican congressional leaders have blocked subsequent cannabis measures from advancing to floor consideration, including as recently as this week.

Bipartisan Lawmakers Push For Marijuana Protections In Funding Bill

In the meantime, medical cannabis patients and providers will wait to see if Jeff Sessions and his DEA agents will regain the ability to come after them for the first time since 2014 this weekend.

Portions of this post were first published by Forbes.

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