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.
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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.
New York Legal Marijuana Push ‘Effectively Over’ For 2020, Governor Says
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) conceded on Saturday that it’s unlikely marijuana will be legalized in the state this year.
“Marijuana and the gig economy were two of the more complicated initiatives that we wanted to work through that we didn’t get a chance to do,” he said in response to a question about which policy issues he would’ve liked to tackle in the annual budget bill that passed this week.
“Is the session effectively over? It’s up to the legislature, but I think it’s fair to say it’s effectively over,” he added, noting that several state lawmakers have been infected with coronavirus.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Congresswoman Wants Ban On DC Marijuana Sales Lifted Through Coronavirus Legislation
A congresswoman is calling on the government to end a policy prohibiting Washington, D.C. from legal marijuana sales, arguing that the jurisdiction is in particular need of tax revenue from cannabis commerce due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) has repeatedly condemned the congressional rider barring the District of Columbia from allowing retail sales that has been extended each year since 2014, shortly after local voters approved a ballot measure to legalize low-level possession and home cultivation. But given the need for resources to combat the pandemic, she said a reversal of the provision should be included in the next COVID-related relief bill.
“At this moment of unparalleled need, D.C. should be able to collect tax revenue from all available sources, like every other jurisdiction, including from recreational marijuana, which is believed to be widely used in the District,” the congresswoman said in a press release on Friday, adding that D.C. was shorted in the last stimulus because Congress treated it as a territory rather than a state.
“While I am working for a retroactive fix in the next coronavirus bill, it is imperative that Congress also repeal the D.C. recreational marijuana commercialization rider in the next bill to help D.C. shore up its finances,” she said. “It is beyond unreasonable that congressional interference keeps only the District from commercializing recreational marijuana, while all other jurisdictions are free to do so.”
— Eleanor Holmes Norton (@EleanorNorton) April 3, 2020
“Bringing the District in line with other jurisdictions would create a critical source of tax revenue in our time of need.”
Last year, the House approved an appropriations bill that excluded the D.C. rider, but it was included in the Senate version and ultimately made its way into the final package that the president signed. The cannabis commerce ban was also included in President Trump’s budget proposal earlier this year.
“True to form, Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton continues to be one of the best allies to the cannabis reform movement,” Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “During this unprecedented COVID-19 outbreak, it is critical that lawmakers analyze and reform any and every aspect of public policy to mitigate the health crisis and build a foundation for a strong recovery.”
“As the majority of states that regulate cannabis have deemed the industry essential to the continued functioning of their jurisdictions, the continued congressional prohibition of the District of Columbia enacting it’s own adult-use program becomes even more ridiculous,” he added.
Norton, in an interview about her push, said that the congressionally mandated prohibition on sales doesn’t prevent people from accessing cannabis but does block the city from collecting tax revenue.
“You can buy two ounces but, by the way you’ve got to do that on the black market,” she told WUSA-TV. “But there’s nobody to tax it. And I’m simply trying to get the taxes the District is due for merchandise, in this case marijuana that’s being consumed readily in the District of Columbia.”
🟢🟢 LEGALIZING COMMERCIAL MARIJUANA IN D.C. 🟢🟢
I spoke to D.C.'s Delegate @EleanorNorton
She's pushing for fully legal commercial marijuana sales in the District in a 4th Congressional stimulus package.
The District needs the money.
And people are smoking weed anyway. pic.twitter.com/PL9yoDKlrj
— Adam Longo (@adamlongoTV) April 3, 2020
Legislative priorities for Congress have shifted significantly as lawmakers attempt to address the outbreak, and that’s meant putting some reform efforts on hold. However, the issue isn’t being ignored entirely, and it’s possible that other members may look to attach modest marijuana proposals to additional coronavirus legislation.
For example, Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) said this week that U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs policy preventing its doctors from recommending medical cannabis in legal states puts service members at risk in Massachusetts because the state is shuttering recreational shops (but not medical dispensaries) and some veterans fear registering as patients out of concern that they could lose federal benefits.
Eleven senators wrote a letter to Appropriations Committee leadership asking that they allow small cannabis businesses to access federal loans and disaster relief programs. While the lawmakers said it should be enacted through an annual spending bill, advocates have argued that the policy change should be pursued through coronavirus legislation since these businesses are facing challenges just like those experienced by many other companies during the pandemic.
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.
North Dakota Activists Say Marijuana Legalization Initiative Unlikely In 2020 Due To Coronavirus
North Dakota activists announced on Thursday that they are suspending their campaign put marijuana legalization on the November ballot due to the coronavirus outbreak.
In a Facebook post, Legalize ND said “we are going to have to face a few hard realities going forward” as businesses are shuttering, public events are being cancelled and individuals are encouraged to shelter in place. The pandemic means in-person signature gathering can’t take place, and the state does not allow for alternative signing options such as by mail or online.
“Due to the virus all of our major avenues for signature collection have been cancelled or indefinitely postponed, and going door to door is not safe for both those knocking and those getting knocked,” the group said. “Businesses will continue to collect, but we don’t want to create another vector for the coronavirus. As a result, at this time if something major doesn’t change we will not be able to make the 2020 ballot.”
Legalize ND said there’s no way for state policies related to signature gathering to be changed ahead of the November election. They needed to collect 13,452 valid signatures from voters before July 6 in order to qualify. In all likelihood, the campaign said it would have to shift its focus to the July 2022 primary election.
“This isn’t the solution we want, but given the situation it is what will have to happen,” the post states. “Stay safe, and hopefully we can make a major push when the quarantine ends.”
The proposed initiative would allow individuals to purchase and possess up to two ounces of cannabis. Unlike a much more far-reaching measure the same group pushed in 2018 that included no possession or cultivation limits, which voters rejected, this version would prohibit home growing, impose a 10 percent excise tax and establish a regulatory body to approve licenses for marijuana businesses.
North Dakota voters approved a medical cannabis initiative in 2016.
The coronavirus outbreak has dealt several blows to drug policy reform efforts in recent weeks.
Likewise in Washington, D.C., advocates for a measure to decriminalize psychedelics asked the mayor and local lawmakers to accept online signatures for their ballot petition.
In Oregon, advocates for a measure to decriminalize drug possession and a separate initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes have suspended in-person campaign events amid the pandemic.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) recently conceded that legalization was “not likely” going to happen through the budget, as he hoped. Coronavirus shifted legislative priorities, and comprehensive cannabis reform seems to have proved too complicated an issue in the short-term.
Idaho activists announced on Thursday that they are suspending their campaign, though they are still “focusing on distributing petitions through online download at IdahoCann.co and encouraging every volunteer who has downloaded a petition to get them turned in to their county clerk’s office by mail, regardless of how many signatures they have collected.”
Finally, in Arizona, a legalization campaign is petitioning the state Supreme Court to instruct the secretary of state to allow individuals to sign ballot petitions digitally using an existing electronic system that is reserved for individual individual candidates seeking public office.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.