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These 10 States Are Most Likely To Pass Marijuana Legalization Bills In 2019

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The number of states with legal marijuana is expected to jump significantly in 2019, and a slew of already-filed bills offers a look at what those new legal cannabis systems might look like.

While marijuana legalization legislation has already been introduced in at least 17 states—including several traditionally conservative ones—there are 10 that seem to hold the most promise of passage at this point.

Here’s a look at the states that are most likely to send legal cannabis bills to their governors’ desks this year, in alphabetical order:

In Connecticut, several House and Senate proposals seek to fully legalize cannabis for adults 21 and older and also establish a commercial market. The Senate version was introduced on Thursday by Martin Looney (D), the chamber’s president, who also sponsored a legalization bill last year. More than a quarter of the House jointly filed a bill to legalize earlier this month. A third legalization proposal puts a focus on social justice by establishing a “cannabis equity policy through open legalization of cannabis” and includes provisions such as diversity requirements and justice reinvestment.

Importantly, newly sworn-in Gov. Ned Lamont (D) has called legalization one of his “priorities.”

Hawaii Senate President Ron Kouchi (D) said that debating marijuana legalization will be a top priority for the state legislature this year. Seven legalization bills have been filed so far, and the chances of passing something in the Democratic-majority chambers are solid. The Senate Judiciary Committee is set to hold a hearing on one of the proposals on Thursday. That said, past attempts to approve cannabis reform bills in Hawaii have consistently stalled or failed, and Gov. David Ige (D) remains concerned about conflicting state and federal laws.

Illinois seems to be in an especially good position to legalize this year. At the beginning of this month, Sen. Heather Steans (D) filed a placeholder bill establish a tax-and-regulate marijuana system, but full details of her plan are so far scarce. Separate House legislation to end cannabis prohibition was introduced on Friday and has a focus on social equity, mandating that at least half of cultivation and retail facilities be located in “communities disproportionately harmed by the war on drugs.”

What’s clear, though, is that Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) is ready and eager to sign some kind of legalization legislation—a policy he campaigned on.

Fifteen House members in Minnesota jointly filed a legalization bill last week. The legislation would amend the state constitution to allow for the possession, consumption, manufacturing and sale of cannabis and cannabis products for adults 21 and older.

Gov. Tim Walz (D) has promised to “replace the current failed policy with one that creates tax revenue, grows jobs, builds opportunities for Minnesotans, protects Minnesota kids, and trusts adults to make personal decisions based on their personal freedoms.”

New Hampshire lawmakers are moving forward with plans to fully legalize marijuana in the Granite State despite the fact that Gov. Chris Sununu (R) has threatened to veto such legislation. House Speaker Steve Shurtleff (D) believes that, with Democrats now in control of both chambers, they have to votes to override a veto. So far, two bills have been introduced to legalize and establish a retail sales system.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 450 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.

We followed more than 900 pieces of cannabis legislation in 2018. Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

In New Jersey, eight bills have been filed to legalize marijuana, including ones that would involve expungements for past cannabis-related convictions. Legalization legislation was approved in committees late last year, but was never brought to a floor vote in either chamber. Advocates are hopeful that a bill will be taken up soon, but some concerns remain as to whether Gov. Phil Murphy (D), who campaigned on legalization, will sign legislation that doesn’t include a high tax rate for cannabis sales.

That said, the governor recently said he believes “we can make progress on this.”

On Thursday, a bill to legalize marijuana and establish a commercial sales system was filed in New Mexico, sponsored by Reps. Moe Maestas (D) and Javier Martinez (D). Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) is supportive of legalization and said a legal market will bring “hundreds of millions of dollars to New Mexico’s economy.”

There are four pieces of legalization legislation on the table in New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has pledged to enact a commercial cannabis system after previously calling marijuana a “gateway drug.” The Assembly version of the Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act has 28 sponsors, while the companion bill in the Senate has 12.

Last week, Cuomo unveiled details of a legalization proposal of his own that he hopes will make it through the legislature as part of his annual budget. He’s proposing a 20 percent state tax and 2 percent county tax on marijuana transfers from wholesalers to retailers and said legalization “will create the good union jobs that we need.”

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) was initially reluctant to embrace marijuana legalization but, in light of legalization efforts underway in neighboring states, she’s recently proposed ending cannabis prohibition herself. Her proposal, included in a budget request, would allow adults 21 and older to possess and purchase marijuana from a licensed retailer.

However, under the governor’s plan, cannabis could be sold commercially by licensed retailers but not grown at home for personal use. She also wants to ban high-THC products including concentrates.

Half of the Senate in Vermont, including the chamber’s president, has already signed onto a bill that would allow for commercial marijuana sales. The state legalized the personal use, possession, consumption and cultivation of cannabis last year, but there’s currently no option for people to legally buy marijuana. That said, Gov. Phil Scott (R) has said that he’d be reluctant to sign a commercial legalization bill until technology was developed to detect active impairment from cannabis on the roads.

Other states to watch in 2019 are Delaware, where legalization came close to passing last year but didn’t get the required supermajority support, and Wisconsin, where Gov. Tony Evers (D) recently said he supports legalization.

2018 Was A Major Year For Cannabis Legislation And 2019 Is Shaping Up To Be Much Bigger

Photo courtesy of Jurassic Blueberries.

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

Where Presidential Candidate Joe Sestak Stands On Marijuana

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Joe Sestak, a former congressman from Pennsylvania and three-star vice admiral in the Navy, announced on Sunday that he is launching a relatively late run for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

Though his record in Congress doesn’t offer many insights into where Sestak stands on marijuana policy, he took one vote in support of shielding state medical cannabis laws from federal interference, and his current campaign site proposes reforming federal laws to facilitate research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics.

Legislation And Policy Actions

Sestak served in Congress from 2007 to 2011. In that time, he did not proactively sponsor or cosponsor any cannabis-related legislation.

The congressman was present for a vote on just one marijuana amendment attached to a spending bill—one to protect states that have legalized medical cannabis from Justice Department intervention—and he voted in favor of the proposal, even though his state had not yet enacted its own medical marijuana law.

Quotes And Social Media Posts

It’s difficult to assess exactly where the candidate stands on marijuana in part because a scan for relevant terms on his social media posts turns up nil.

Adding to the confusion is the apparent lack of public comments about cannabis policy from Sestak—at least any comments that have been reported by media.

The Philadelphia Inquirer did publish an article in 2016 that described Sestak, a former U.S. Navy admiral, as a “longtime supporter of medical access [to marijuana]—especially for vets” but it did not quote the congressman directly. That piece also noted that his position on cannabis decriminalization is unclear.

Statements on his campaign site do provide a small window into his views on the drug war more broadly.

Sestak argued that President Donald Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border would be ineffective because “most illicit trafficking of drugs, humans, and weapons, actually happens right under the noses of our border security agents” at legal ports of entry.

He also partially blamed “misguided US policies and the high demand for illegal drugs in the United States” for creating crises that leave many to flee their home countries to seek asylum in the U.S.

“Our country, which sends hundreds of millions in foreign aid to these countries, must do a better job of holding Central American officials accountable for seeing that our funds are spent effectively—and that they do not become fuel for the fires of corruption and instability,” he said.

One of the most revealing positions on drug policy that Sestak has offered also comes from his campaign site: he said that he supports efforts to combat mental health conditions and addiction, and one part of that plan involves changing “federal law to allow doctors and scientists to expand research into the potential of certain psychedelic drugs to complement traditional substance abuse and other mental health treatment.”

“Anti-drug laws should never be an impediment to sound scientific research, but especially not during a public health crisis such as this one,” he said.

Discussing veterans issues, Sestak said that the country “must learn from innovative approaches taken to reduce chronic veteran homelessness like Phoenix’s ‘housing first’ strategy in which homeless veterans are given housing before being required to prove sobriety or pass a drug test,” which also seems to indicate an openness to alternative approaches to drug policy.

Personal Experience With Marijuana

It does not appear that Sestak has publicly commented on any personal experience he’s had with marijuana.

Marijuana Under A Sestak Presidency

Though some reports indicate that Sestak supports medical cannabis reform, and he took one step to protect states that have implemented such programs during his time in Congress, there are more questions than answers when it comes to the candidate’s position on marijuana.

At the very least, his willingness to vote in favor of medical cannabis protections ahead of his state enacting a medical marijuana law should give patients in legal states some sense of comfort, although his limited record on the issue raises questions about whether he’d be willing to extend those protections to adult-use states—and whether cannabis reform would be a priority of his administration at all.

That said, the fact that he included a position on psychedelics reform on his campaign website signals that he’s cognizant of the issue and that his views on broader drug policy reform may have simply flown under the radar.

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Hawaii Marijuana Decriminalization Will Take Effect, Governor Says

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Hawaii Gov. David Ige (D), who has at times expressed serious concerns about marijuana policy reform, announced that he will allow a legislature-passed bill to decriminalize small amounts of cannabis to go into effect.

Ige didn’t include the decrim proposal in a list of legislation he intends to veto by Monday’s deadline.

Lawmakers sent the bill, which punishes possession of three grams of marijuana with a $130 fine instead of jail time, to the governor’s desk in April. As originally introduced, it covered greater amounts of marijuana in line with decriminalization policies in other states, but was watered down as it advanced through the legislative process.

Under current law, possessing cannabis is a petty misdemeanor that carries up to a $1,000 fine.

In a press conference to discuss his veto list, Ige called the marijuana legislation “a very tough call” and said went “go back and forth” on the issue before deciding to let the bill take effect.

The governor said he would have preferred if the decriminalization proposal included provisions aimed at “young people who we would want to get into substance abuse or other kinds of programs to help them deal with drug use.”

In the end, he said, he decided “it would be best not to veto that.”

Watch Ige discuss his decision not to veto marijuana decriminalization, about 23:35 into the video below:

Some legislative leaders have expressed interest in considering legislation to legalize and regulate marijuana.

Asked by a reporter about the possibility of broader cannabis reforms in Hawaii, Ige said that the state “can benefit from not being at the head of the table.”

“We continue to learn from other states about the problems that they see with recreational marijuana,” he said, echoing concerns he has about legalization and noting that he’s been discussing the possible reform with governors from some western states that have already enacted it. “We would be smart to engage and recognize what’s happening in other states, acknowledge the challenges and problems it has raised.”

Nikos Leverenz, board president for the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, told Marijuana Moment that Ige should be “commended” for not vetoing the bill.

“It’s also encouraging that he’s having ongoing conversations with other governors from states that have legalized adult-use cannabis,” he said. “Hawai’i can indeed learn a great deal from other states, including the enactment of social equity measures to ensure broad local participation by women, underrepresented minorities, and those harmed by the drug war.”

Also on Monday, Ige announced that he intends to veto a bill allowing medical cannabis patients to transport their medicine between islands.

“Marijuana, including medical cannabis, remains illegal under federal law. Both the airspace and certain areas of water fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal government,” he wrote. “This bill may lead travelers, acting in reliance on this provision, to erroneously believe they are immune from federal prosecution.”

Another proposal on the governor’s veto list would establish a hemp licensing program.

“There are concerns that this bill creates a licensing structure that cannot be enforced, will not meet USDA requirements for an approved industrial hemp program, and creates practical problems in the enforcement of existing medical cannabis,” he reasoned.

Finally, Ige plans to veto a bill to scale back the use of asset forfeiture, which is often used against people accused of drug crimes, with the governor calling the practice “an effective and critical law enforcement tool that prevents the economic benefits of committing a crime from outweighing consequential criminal penalties and punishment.”

Texas Governor Signs Bill To Expand State’s Medical Marijuana Program

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USDA Sets Target Deadline To Release Hemp Regulations

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) offered new insights into its rulemaking process for hemp regulations in a notice published in the Federal Register on Monday.

Of particular note is the deadline by which USDA is aiming to release its interim final rule for the newly legal crop: August. Previously, the department simply said it would have the rules in place in time for the 2020 planting season.

“This action will initiate a new part 990 establishing rules and regulations for the domestic production of hemp,” the new notice states. “This action is required to implement provisions of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (Farm Bill).”

The hemp update update is part of a larger regulatory agenda for various agencies that’s being released by the Trump administration.

“It is great to see that USDA is on track to complete federal hemp farming regulations this year,” Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp, told Marijuana Moment.

A USDA spokesperson told Marijuana Moment in an email that the August projection is the department’s “best estimate” for when the regulations will be released. It remains USDA’s intention “to have the regulations in place by this fall to allow for a 2020 planting season.”

“However, the clearance process will dictate the actual timing of the publication,” the spokesperson said.

While USDA officials have said the department didn’t plan to expedite the regulatory process despite strong interest among stakeholders, it seems to be making steady progress so far. The department said in March that it has “begun the process to gather information for rulemaking.”

USDA has also outlined the basic elements that will be required when states or tribes are eventually able to submit regulatory plans for federal approval. Those proposals will have to include information about the land that will be used to cultivate hemp, testing standards, disposal procedures, law enforcement compliance, annual inspections and certification for products and personnel.

The new update comes about six months after hemp and its derivatives were federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill. But until USDA releases its guidelines, hemp farmers must adhere to the earlier rules established under a narrower research-focused provision of the 2014 version of the agriculture legislation.

While the rules are yet to be published and there are therefore some restrictions on what hemp farmers can lawfully do, USDA has clarified several policies that have already gone into effect in recent months.

The department is accepting intellectual property applications for hemp products, for example. It also explained that hemp seeds can be lawfully imported from other countries and that the crop can be transported across state lines since it’s been federally descheduled.

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