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Texas Lawmakers Hold Hearings On 11 Cannabis Bills In One Day

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Monday is a busy day for hemp and marijuana policy in Texas, with lawmakers in three House committees scheduled to hold hearings on 11 separate pieces of cannabis legislation.

The hearings come one week after a Texas House committee approved a marijuana decriminalization bill that would make possession of one ounce or less punishable by a $250 fine with no jail time. That legislation is awaiting placement on the House calendar for a full floor vote.

In the meantime, lawmakers in the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee will take testimony on five other bills that would reduce penalties for possession of various amounts of cannabis, in addition to one proposed constitutional amendment to legalize and regulate marijuana sales. Here’s a rundown of those bills:

HB 335: The legislation would make possession of one ounce or less a Class C misdemeanor, as opposed to a Class B misdemeanor.

HB 371: Possession of one ounce of less of cannabis would be a Class C misdemeanor under the bill.

HB 753: The bill would make possession of .35 ounces (or about ten grams) of marijuana a Class C misdemeanor.

HB 1206: Under this legislation, possession of two ounces or less of cannabis would be a Class C misdemeanor. It also lowers penalties for higher levels of possession, making possession of five pounds or less a Class A misdemeanor instead of a state jail felony, for example.

HB 2518: Possession of two ounces of less would be a Class C misdemeanor under the bill. Penalties for possession of marijuana over two ounces would remain in place.

HJR 108: The joint resolution proposes a constitutional amendment that would authorize the possession, cultivation and sale of marijuana for personal use.

“We’re grateful to see so many legislators prioritizing marijuana law reform and understanding that current policies are costly and ineffective,” Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, said in a press release. “We’re working to ensure any passing measure includes provisions to eliminate the threat of arrest, jail time and permanent criminal record for low-level marijuana possession.”

“A criminal record for even a small amount of marijuana follows a person for life, hindering their access to education, employment and housing,” she said. “This is especially important considering that high school and college age Texans make up the majority of arrests every year. We’re saddling our young people with criminal records and causing more harm to their lives than marijuana itself ever could.”


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 900 cannabis bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

Elsewhere at the capitol, the House Agriculture and Livestock Committee will be meeting to discuss several pieces of hemp legislation. Here’s what those bills would do:

HB 1325: The bill would require the state agriculture department to develop regulations for hemp production. Those regulations would include annual inspections, tracking and testing of hemp and hemp products. It would also be charged with instituting fees for hemp cultivation.

HB 989: Beyond requiring the agriculture department to create rules for hemp manufacturing, the bill also calls on the department to select a university through which it will “promote the research and development of industrial hemp and commercial markets for industrial hemp and hemp-derived products.”

HB 1657: The legislation would also require the agriculture department to establish a regulatory framework for hemp. The bill would additionally amend the state’s drug laws to exempt hemp from the list of controlled substances.

HB 1230: The legislation would mandate the agriculture department to develop regulations for industrial hemp cultivation and then submit those plans to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for approval.

Finally, the House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee has one cannabis-related bill on Monday’s agenda.

HB 1196: This bill would simply make a change to statutory references to marijuana. Instead of “marihuana,” the plant would be referred to as “cannabis” in official state code.

Most of the proposed Texas cannabis reform measures aren’t as sweeping as bills that are moving forward in other states. In New Hampshire, for example, legislation to legalize cannabis for adult use cleared two major legislative hurdles in recent weeks. But the sheer volume of decriminalization and hemp regulation bills alone is a positive signal for advocates.

What’s more, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has already indicated that he’s open to signing decriminalization legislation that reduces the penalty for low-level possession to a Class C misdemeanor. The governor said he doesn’t want to see “jails stockpiled with people who have possession of small amounts of marijuana.”

Meanwhile, lawmakers are also considering legislation to expand the state’s current limited medical cannabis law.

Medical Cannabis Expansion Has High Support In Texas Legislature, But Lt. Gov. Might Stand In The Way

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

Politics

New York And Connecticut Governors Talk Marijuana Legalization On Fishing Trip

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The governors of New York and Connecticut went fishing and talked about marijuana legalization on Tuesday.

The conversation comes after lawmakers in both states were unable to pass legalization legislation before their respective sessions’ ends this year, despite having the support of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D).

“We talked about policy issues like the marijuana issue, which is obviously also relevant to contiguous states,” Cuomo said at a press conference following the fishing trip. “What Connecticut does on marijuana is relevant to New York, what New York does is relevant to Connecticut so we talked about that and a lot of issues. So we had fun.”

Watch Cuomo’s marijuana comments at about 5:00 into the video below:

Cuomo had described legalization as a top legislative priority for 2019 and included it in his state budget proposal. But after months of negotiations with lawmakers, the plan fell through, due in part to disagreements about how to allocate tax revenue and whether to allow individual jurisdictions to opt out of allowing cannabis businesses.

The governor did sign legislation in July that expands the state’s marijuana decriminalization policy and provides a pathway for expungements of past marijuana convictions.

Over in Connecticut, Lamont campaigned on legalization during his election bid last year and described it as one of his administration’s “priorities” after he took office. But as with neighboring New York, the legislature failed to advance a legalization bill beside multiple successful committee votes and hearings throughout the year.

The specifics of what the governors talked about during their fishing expedition on Lake Ontario aren’t clear, but both are presumably gearing up for another round of legislative efforts marijuana over the coming year and could take lessons from each other as reform talks continue.

Another East Coast state, New Jersey, has also struggled to move legalization legislation forward, with lawmakers saying that the issue should be taken up by voters in 2020 rather than pushed through the legislature, though there has been discussion lately about another try at moving a bill before year’s end. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) did sign a decriminalization and expungements bill in May, however.

Federal Data Shows Youth Marijuana Use Isn’t Increasing Under Legalization

Photo courtesy of CBS 6.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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GOP Congressman Will Meet Attorney General To Discuss Expanding Marijuana Research

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Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) said on Monday that he will soon be speaking with the U.S. attorney general about expanding marijuana research.

The congressman, a close ally of President Trump, is a vocal proponent of medical cannabis and has argued that the federal drug scheduling system is hampering research into the plant’s therapeutic potential.

“I will be meeting with Attorney General Bill Barr in the coming weeks to discuss the Department of Justice’s approach to unlocking more research grants so that we can have American innovation applied to our health care in a way that can get people off of some of these devastating opioids and painkillers, and on to a more natural product,” he said following a radio town hall event.

Even under the framework of prohibition, the Justice Department is able to promote research by, for example, approving additional marijuana manufacturers—something the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said it would do three years ago.

Barr has voiced support for expanding the number of federally authorized cannabis manufacturers.

“I think we’re going to move forward on it,” the attorney general said in April. “I think it’s very important to get those additional suppliers.”

Earlier this year, Gaetz joined congressional colleagues in leading a letter addressed to Barr and the head of DEA expressing frustration that the Justice Department has declined to take action despite its pledges. The lawmakers implored DEA to “do whatever you can to speed up and improve the research application process.

Gaetz also introduced legislation that would force DEA to approve additional facilities to produce research-grade cannabis. A version filed last year cleared the Judiciary Committee in a voice vote, and he reintroduced the bill in January but it has not yet been acted upon.

Listen to Gaetz’s new cannabis comments, about 1:20 into the audio below:

DEA is facing two lawsuits regarding its approach to marijuana, including one that concerns the lack of diversity of research-grade cannabis since only one manufacture is currently authorized. The agency was ordered to respond to the suit by August 28.

Separately, a group of patients and advocates sued DEA over marijuana’s Schedule I status under the Controlled Substances Act, with a federal court directing the agency to “promptly” consider reclassifying cannabis.

Gaetz also spoke about the need to more broadly reform cannabis laws during the Monday remarks.

“The federal government listing marijuana as a Schedule I drug impairs financial transactions, it impairs research and it stops us from being able to unlock cures for some of America’s most vulnerable people,” the congressman said, adding that he’s a cosponsor of legislation that would deschedule marijuana that was introduced by Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY).

Gaetz, who is also a member of the Judiciary Committee, said he is requesting that the panel hold a hearing on cannabis legislation. That’d mark the second such meeting after a Judiciary subcommittee convened last month to discuss paths to ending federal prohibition.

The congressman’s staff wasn’t able to provide Marijuana Moment with additional details regarding the meeting with Barr.

Congressman Says Marijuana Could Be Legal Sooner If Trump Stops Tweeting

Photo courtesy of Meredith Geddings.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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Elizabeth Warren’s Criminal Justice Plan Involves Legalizing Marijuana And Safe Injection Sites

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Legalizing marijuana, granting clemency to people convicted of drug offenses and investing in harm reduction programs such as safe injection sites are part of a criminal justice reform plan that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) released on Tuesday.

The 2020 Democratic presidential candidate stressed that the war on drugs has been carried out in a racially discriminatory manner, writing that it’s unfair that “a kid with an ounce of pot can get thrown in jail, while a bank executive who launders money for a drug cartel can get a bonus. It’s long past time for us to reform our system.”

“This failure [of the drug war] has been particularly harmful for communities of color, and we need a new approach,” she said. “It starts with legalizing marijuana and erasing past convictions, and then eliminating the remaining disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentencing.”

What’s more, the drug war “has criminalized addiction, ripped apart families—and largely failed to curb drug use” when a more effective system would treat addiction as a public health issue.

That includes diverting people who’ve been convicted of non-violent drug offenses to treatment programs and providing evidence-based resources for people suffering from addiction. For example, Warren’s plan calls for safe injection sites where people can use illicit drugs under the supervision of medical professionals who can help prevent fatal overdoses and get people into treatment. She also said needle exchange programs and expanding access to buprenorphine would reduce the opioid crisis.

“Instead of locking up people for nonviolent marijuana crimes, I’ve proposed putting pharmaceutical executives on the hook to report suspicious orders for controlled substances that damage the lives of millions.”

She also called for the abolition of certain mandatory minimum sentences and said that “people who struggle with addiction should not be incarcerated because of their disease.”

“Mass incarceration has not reduced addiction rates or overdose deaths, because substance abuse disorder is a public health problem — and it’s long past time to treat it that way,” the plan says. “We know that diversion programs are both more humane and a better investment than incarceration — for every dollar we invest in treatment programs, we can save $12 in future crime and health care costs.”

“And rather than incarcerating individuals with substance abuse disorders, we should expand options that divert them into programs that provide real treatment.”

Like Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Warren’s criminal justice reform proposal also mentions executive actions she could unilaterally take.

Specifically, she wrote that the Justice Department should not hold authority to make clemency recommendations and it should instead be left up to an independent clemency board so that those eligible for a pardons and commutations are more quickly identified.

“I’ll direct the board to identify broad classes of potentially-deserving individuals for review, including those who would have benefited from retroactivity under the First Step Act, individuals who are jailed under outdated or discriminatory drug laws, or those serving mandatory minimums that should be abolished,” she said.

The plan’s unveiling comes two days after Sanders released his criminal justice reform proposal, which also called for marijuana legalization and the implementation of harm reduction policies such as safe consumption facilities.

Buttigieg’s plan stands out from his fellow Democratic candidates in at least one regard: the mayor said drug possession should broadly be decriminalized.

Warren also released a separate plan for Indian tribes last week that involves protecting tribal cannabis programs from federal intervention.

Bernie Sanders Calls For Legalization Of Marijuana And Safe Injection Sites

Photo courtesy of Edward Kimmel.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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