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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.

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GOP Senator Presses Treasury Secretary On Tax Credits For Marijuana Businesses

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A Republican senator recently pressed the head of the Treasury Department on whether marijuana businesses qualify for a federal tax benefit.

During a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was asked about the “opportunity zone” tax credit, which is meant to encourage investments in “distressed,” low-income communities through benefits such as deferrals on capital gains taxes.

Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), whose state’s voters approved a medical marijuana ballot measure in 2018, told Mnuchin that businesses that derive more than five percent of their profits from things like alcohol sales are ineligible for the tax credit, but there’s “not a definition dealing with cannabis businesses.”

“Are they within that five percent amount or are they not at all because there’s a federal prohibition on cannabis sales?” the senator asked.

“I’m going to have to get back to you on the specifics,” Mnuchin replied.

“That’d be helpful to get clarity because there are cannabis businesses across the country that, if they fall in opportunity zones, they’ll need clarification on that,” Lankford said. “When you and I have spoken about it before—it’s difficult to give a federal tax benefit to something that’s against federal law.”

 

Lankford, who opposes legalization and appeared in a TV ad against his state’s medical cannabis ballot measure, has raised this issue with the Treasury secretary during at least two prior hearings. When he questioned whether cannabis businesses qualify for the program last year, he clarified that he personally does not believe they should.

While Mnuchin’s department has yet to issue guidance on the issue, he said in response to the earlier questioning that his understanding is that “it is not the intent of the opportunity zones that if there is this conflict [between state and federal marijuana laws] that has not been cleared that, for now, we should not have those businesses in the opportunity zones.”

Mnuchin has also been vocal about the need for Congress to address the lack of financial resources available to state-legal marijuana businesses. Because so many of these companies are forced to operate on a largely cash-only basis, he said the Internal Revenue Service has had to build “cash rooms” to store their tax deposits.

“There is not a Treasury solution to this. There is not a regulator solution to this,” he said during one hearing. “If this is something that Congress wants to look at on a bipartisan basis, I’d encourage you to do this. This is something where there is a conflict between federal and state law that we and the regulators have no way of dealing with.”

Last week’s Finance Committee hearing was centered around President Trump’s Fiscal Year 2021 budget request, which separately includes a provision calling for the elimination of an appropriations rider that prohibits the Justice Department from using its fund to interfere in the implementation of medical cannabis laws as well as a continued block on Washington, D.C. spending its own local tax dollars to legalize marijuana sales.

American Bar Association Wants Protections For Marijuana Banking And Lawyers Working With Cannabis Clients

Photo courtesy of C-SPAN.

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American Bar Association Wants Protections For Marijuana Banking And Lawyers Working With Cannabis Clients

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The American Bar Association (ABA) approved two marijuana-related resolutions during its midyear meeting on Monday.

The group’s House of Delegates voted in favor of proposals endorsing pending federal legislation to protect banks that service cannabis businesses and calling for a clarification of rules to ensure that lawyers will not be penalized for representing clients in cases concerning state-legal marijuana activity.

Under the banking resolution, ABA “urges Congress to enact legislation to clarify and ensure that it shall not constitute a federal crime for banking and financial institutions to provide services to businesses and individuals, including attorneys, who receive compensation from the sale of state-legalized cannabis or who provide services to cannabis-related legitimate business acting in accordance with state, territorial, and tribal laws.”

ABA added that “such legislation should clarify that the proceeds from a transaction involving activities of a legitimate cannabis-related business or service provider shall not be considered proceeds from an unlawful activity solely because the transaction involves proceeds from a legitimate cannabis-related business or service provider, or because the transaction involves proceeds from legitimate cannabis-related activities.”

A bill that would accomplish this goal was approved by the House of Representatives last year, but it’s currently stalled in the Senate, where it awaits action in the Banking Committee. That panel’s chair, Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID) is under pressure from industry stakeholders to advance the legislation, but he’s also heard from anti-legalization lawmakers who’ve thanked him for delaying the bill.

“Passage of the [Secure and Fair Enforcement] Banking Act or similar legislation will provide security for lawyers and firms acting to advise companies in the industry against having their accounts closed or deposits seized,” a report attached to the ABA resolution states. “This will also foster the rule of law by ensuring that those working in the state-legalized legitimate cannabis industry can seek counsel and help prevent money laundering and other crimes associated with off-the-books cash transactions.”

“Currently, the threat of criminal prosecution prevents most depository institutions from banking clients, including lawyers, who are in the stream of commerce of state-legalized marijuana. This Resolution is necessary to clarify that such provision of legal and other services in compliance with state law should not constitute unlawful activity pursuant to federal law.”

The second marijuana-related resolution ABA adopted on Monday asks Congress to allow attorneys to serve clients in cannabis cases without facing federal punishment.

Text of the measure states that the association “urges Congress to enact legislation to clarify and explicitly ensure that it does not constitute a violation of federal law for lawyers, acting in accord with state, territorial, and tribal ethical rules on lawyers’ professional conduct, to provide legal advice and services to clients regarding matters involving marijuana-related activities that are in compliance with state, territorial, and tribal law.”

Such a change would provide needed clarity for lawyers as more states legalize cannabis for adult use. ABA’s own rules of conduct have been a source of conflict for attorneys, as it stipulates that they “shall not counsel a client to engage, or assist a client, in conduct that the lawyer knows is criminal or fraudulent.” Federal law continues to regard marijuana as an illegal, strictly controlled substance.

An ABA report released last year made the case that there’s flexibility within that rule, however, as “it is unreasonable to prohibit a lawyer from providing advice and counsel to clients and to assist clients regarding activities permitted by relevant state or local law, including laws that allow the production, distribution, sale, and use of marijuana for medical or recreational purposes so long as the lawyer also advises the client that some such activities may violate existing federal law.”

A new report attached to the resolution states that “statutory guidance is needed that explicitly ensures that attorneys who adhere to their state ethics rules do not risk federal criminal prosecution simply for providing legal counsel to clients operating marijuana businesses in compliance with their state law.”

“This Resolution accomplishes this elegantly by harmonizing federal criminal liability with States’ ethical rules regarding the provision of advice and legal services relating to marijuana business. If a state has legalized some form of marijuana activity and explicitly permitted lawyers to provide advice and legal services relating to such state-authorized marijuana activity, such provision of advice and legal services shall not be unlawful under the Controlled Substances Act or any other federal law.”

Last year, ABA adopted another cannabis resolution—arguing that states should be allowed to set their own marijuana policies.

Border Patrol Union Head Admits Legalizing Marijuana Forces Cartels Out Of The Market

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Border Patrol Union Head Admits Legalizing Marijuana Forces Cartels Out Of The Market

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The head of the labor union that represents U.S. Border Patrol agents acknowledged on Friday that states that legalize marijuana are disrupting cartel activity.

While National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd was attempting to downplay the impact of legalization, he seemed to inadvertently make a case for the regulation all illicit drugs by arguing that cartels move away from smuggling cannabis and on to other substances when states legalize.

Judd made the remarks during an appearance on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, where a caller said that “the states that have legalized marijuana have done more damage to the cartels than the [Drug Enforcement Administration] could ever think about doing.”

“As far as drugs go, all we do is we enforce the laws. We don’t determine what those laws are,” Judd, who is scheduled to meet with President Trump on Friday, replied. “If Congress determines that marijuana is going to be legal, then we’re not going to seize marijuana.”

“But what I will tell you is when he points out that certain states have legalized marijuana, all the cartels do is they just transition to another drug that creates more profit,” he said. “Even if you legalize marijuana, it doesn’t mean that drugs are going to stop. They’re just going to go and start smuggling the opioids, the fentanyl.”

One potential solution that Judd didn’t raise would be to legalize those other drugs to continue to remove the profit motive for cartels. Former presidential candidate Andrew Yang made a similar argument in December.

Federal data on Border Patrol drug seizures seems to substantiate the idea that cannabis legalization at the state level has reduced demand for the product from the illicit market. According to a 2018 report from the Cato Institute, these substantial declines are attributable to state-level cannabis reform efforts, which “has significantly undercut marijuana smuggling.”

Additionally, legalization seems to be helping to reduce federal marijuana trafficking prosecutions, with reports showing decreases of such cases year over year since states regulated markets have come online.

In his annual report last year, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts also noted reduced federal marijuana prosecutions—another indication that the market for illegally sourced marijuana is drying up as more adults consumers are able to buy the product in legal stores.

Top Mexican Senator Says Marijuana Legalization Bill Will Be Approved This Month

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