A top Mexican senator reaffirmed on Monday that his chamber considers marijuana reform a major priority in the coming legislative session.
That’s largely because of a Supreme Court mandate to reform the nation’s cannabis laws, which came after a 2018 ruling deemed prohibition unconstitutional. But in any case, Sen. Ricardo Monreal of the ruling MORENA party laid out 17 issues that he said he will work to build consensus around by meeting with coordinators of the chamber’s parliamentary groups over the coming days.
“These are all priorities for us,” Monreal, who serves as president of the Senate’s Political Coordination Board, said at a press conference.
Durante el próximo Segundo Periodo Ordinario de Sesiones del Segundo Año de Ejercicio se espera atender la regulación del #cannabis, tema de mayor relevancia y que ha sido asunto de análisis y debate por especialistas nacionales e internacionales en la salud, en asuntos legales. pic.twitter.com/o1u8JIzuwe
— Senadores Morena (@MorenaSenadores) January 7, 2020
When Congress reconvenes on February 1, the Senate will “return to the issue of jurisdiction and raise the welfare system, pensions for the elderly, cannabis, outsourcing, judicial reform, financial system reform, circular economy, electoral reform [and] animal welfare to constitutional status,” he said.
As Monreal acknowledged, lawmakers are obligated by court order to establish a legal framework for cannabis. And they came close late last year, when a legalization bill that had the approval of several Senate committees was set to go up for debate and a vote.
But as the Supreme Court’s initial October 31, 2019 deadline approached, the senator said that an “unprecedented” amount of lobbying by outside interest required the chamber to take a step back. Lawmakers submitted a request for a deadline extension on enacting reform, and the court granted it. Now Congress has until April 30 to get the job done.
It’s not clear whether the Senate and Chamber of Deputies will take all of that additional time to pass a legalization bill, as the existing legislation was the product of extensive study, debate and public education campaigns. Numerous experts and lawmakers held panels across the country to weigh in on the reform move, including a presentation by a former White House drug czar who urged “robust” regulation of the market.
Still, some civil liberties-minded reform advocates might fight for changes to the legislation, as they’ve expressed concerns about certain restrictive provisions such as a cap on the number of plants individuals can cultivate for personal use.
But after months of delays—with Monreal repeatedly predicting votes on legalization only to push back his timeline—pressure is on lawmakers to pass legalization sooner rather than later. And the senator’s inclusion of cannabis reform in his first major speech of the new year seems to bode well for that prospect.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
Minnesota Marijuana Legalization Bill Could ‘Absolutely’ Pass Full Legislature If GOP Senate Allows A Vote, Sponsor Says
A bill to legalize marijuana in Minnesota is set for a House floor vote this week, and the sponsor of the legislation is optimistic that it could pass the full legislature—if only the GOP-controlled Senate would just allow a vote on it.
This measure—filed by House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D), Speaker Melissa Hortman (D) and other lawmakers—has moved through a dozen committees since February. It would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis and cultivate up to eight plants, four of which could be mature.
Despite being advanced through 12 House panels, there have been lingering doubts about its prospects in the Senate. But Winkler said in an interview on Sunday that, if Republican leadership in the chamber give it a vote, “it absolutely could pass.”
“Support for legalizing cannabis for recreational or personal use, making sure that we have a safe, regulated marketplace, that we are expunging criminal records for people who’ve been unfairly targeted for law enforcement reasons for cannabis in the past, making sure that we’re creating a marketplace that reflects Minnesota’s values—all those things are our priorities in this bill, and they are priorities for Minnesotans of all political persuasions,” Winkler said.
Pressed on whether the legislation could advance through the Republican-led Senate if it advances through the House, the leader said it “absolutely could pass,” citing public polling on the issue and the fact that South Dakota voters approved a legalization initiative last year.
“It cuts across both parties,” Winkler said. “I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t pass both houses if the vote can come up in the Senate.”
But one provision of the legalization bill that the leader isn’t willing to cede on concerns expungements for people with prior cannabis convictions.
Convictions for non-violent cannabis offenses push people into a cycle of poverty that cuts them off from housing and jobs.
That’s why expunging existing cannabis offenses is a non-negotiable piece of our legalization bill. This is an economic and criminal justice issue.
— Ryan Winkler (@_RyanWinkler) May 10, 2021
He said in a tweet on Monday that “expunging existing cannabis offenses is a non-negotiable piece of our legalization bill,” and that “is an economic and criminal justice issue.”
While Republican support remains an open question in either chamber, it is the case that the proposal has earned the support of several GOP members as its moved through an extensive committee process.
That’s despite the fact that Republicans have generally signaled that they’re more interested in revising the state’s existing medical cannabis program than enacting legalization of adult use.
But a GOP member of the House Taxes Committee, which approved the broader legalization bill last week, indicated that he felt an amendment he introduced and that was adopted could bolster Republican support.
That revision from Rep. Pat Garofolo (R) directs remaining cannabis revenue to a tax relief account after implementation costs are covered and substance misuse treatment and prevention programs are funded.
Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,100 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy 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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Before the Taxes Committee, the bill passed the Health Finance and Policy Committee, Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Committee, Education Finance Committee, State Government Finance and Elections Committee, Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee, Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee, Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee, Workforce and Business Development Finance and Policy Committee, Labor, Industry, Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee and Commerce Finance and Policy Committee.
The litany of committees the bill has gone through makes it perhaps the most thoroughly vetted legalization measure to move through a state legislature—and it means that a solid portion of the House has already had the chance to review, propose amendments to and vote on the legislation it as it advances to the floor, presumably increasing its chances of passage in the chamber.
The majority leader’s bill as introduced was identical to a proposal he filed last year, with some minor technical changes. Winkler, who led a statewide listening to gather public input ahead of the measure’s introduction, called it the “best legalization bill in the country” at the time. It did not advance in that session, however.
Under the legislation, social equity would be prioritized, in part by ensuring diverse licensing and preventing the market from being monopolized by corporate players. Prior marijuana records would also be automatically expunged.
On-site consumption and cannabis delivery services would be permitted under the bill. And unlike in many legal states, local municipalities would be banned from prohibiting marijuana businesses from operating in their areas.
Retail cannabis sales would be taxed at 10 percent. Part of that revenue would fund a grant program designed to promote economic development and community stability.
The bill calls for the establishment of a seven-person Cannabis Management Board, which would be responsible for regulating the market and issuing cannabis business licenses. It was amended in committee month to add members to that board who have a social justice background.
People living in low-income neighborhoods and military veterans who lost honorable status due to a cannabis-related offense would be considered social equity applicants eligible for priority licensing.
Cannabis retails sales would launch on December 31, 2022.
Gov. Tim Walz (D) is also in favor of ending marijuana prohibition, and in January he called on lawmakers to pursue the reform as a means to boost the economy and promote racial justice. He did not include a request to legalize through his budget proposal, however.
Walz did say in 2019 that he was directing state agencies to prepare to implement reform in anticipation of legalization passing.
Winkler, meanwhile, said in December that if Senate Republicans don’t go along with the policy change legislatively, he said he hopes they will at least let voters decide on cannabis as a 2022 ballot measure.
Heading into the 2020 election, Democrats believed they had a shot of taking control of the Senate, but that didn’t happen. The result appears to be partly due to the fact that candidates from marijuana-focused parties in the state earned a sizable share of votes that may have otherwise gone to Democrats, perhaps inadvertently hurting the chances of reform passing.
In December, the Minnesota House Select Committee On Racial Justice adopted a report that broadly details race-based disparities in criminal enforcement and recommends a series of policy changes, including marijuana decriminalization and expungements.
Head Of Top Federal Drug Agency Says It’s Time To Consider Decriminalization
The head of a top federal drug agency is criticizing the ongoing policy of criminalizing people for drug use and is suggesting that the government should instead consider a policy of decriminalization.
Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), penned an essay for the journal Health Affairs that’s titled “Addiction Should Be Treated, Not Penalized.” It lays out the case against incarcerating people over low-level drug offenses and looking at the issue as a public health matter.
While it stops short of explicitly endorsing decriminalization, Volkow says that the current system leads to disproportionate enforcement against communities of color and can actually increase the risk of overdose deaths.
“Drug use continues to be penalized, despite the fact that punishment does not ameliorate substance use disorders or related problems,” she said. “Imprisonment, whether for drug or other offenses, actually leads to much higher risk of drug overdose upon release.”
“We have known for decades that addiction is a medical condition—a treatable brain disorder—not a character flaw or a form of social deviance,” Volkow continued in the essay, which was first published by Health Affairs late last month and republished on NIDA’s website on Friday. “Yet, despite the overwhelming evidence supporting that position, drug addiction continues to be criminalized. The US must take a public health approach to drug addiction now, in the interest of both population well-being and health equity.”
In @Health_Affairs blog, Dr. Volkow makes the evidence-based case on how drug #criminalization disproportionately harms Black communities & exacerbates health disparities. A public health approach to #addiction is needed. https://t.co/6w1awINIRb pic.twitter.com/ty9GfrlWtg
— NIDAnews (@NIDAnews) April 27, 2021
The NIDA head pointed out how people of color have been “disproportionately harmed by decades of addressing drug use as a crime rather than as a matter of public health.” Citing disparities in how opioid criminalization has been enforced and laws punishing crack more harshly than powder cocaine, Volkow said these are examples of “racial discrimination that have long been associated with drug laws and their policing.”
What makes these admissions notable is the source from which they’re coming. While NIDA is known among advocates as a source of resistance to reforms such as ending marijuana prohibition, its director sides with them on the fundamental principle that substance misuse should not be criminalized.
“The damaging impacts of punishment for drug possession that disproportionately impact Black lives are wide ranging. Imprisonment leads to isolation, an exacerbating factor for drug misuse, addiction, and relapse,” the director said. “It also raises the risk of early death from a wide variety of causes.”
Volkow also said that beyond incarceration, merely being arrested for marijuana possession “can leave the individual with a criminal record that severely limits their future opportunities such as higher education and employment.” And that enforcement trend hurts black people more than white people despite comparable rates of consumption.
“This burden reinforces poverty by limiting upward mobility through impeded access to employment, housing, higher education, and eligibility to vote,” she said. “It also harms the health of the incarcerated, their non-incarcerated family members, and their communities.”
These statements ostensibly lend themselves to a harm reduction policy position in favor of decriminalization, but Volkow doesn’t specifically say that’s the route lawmakers should take. Instead, she says that research “is urgently needed to establish the effectiveness and impact of public health–based alternatives to criminalization, ranging from drug courts and other diversion programs to policies decriminalizing drug possession.”
To that end, NIDA is “redoubling its focus on vulnerabilities and progression of substance use and addiction in minority populations,” she said. “We are exploring research partnerships with state and local agencies and private health systems to develop ways to eliminate systemic barriers to addiction care.”
The agency is “also funding research on the effects of alternative models of regulating and decriminalizing drugs in parts of the world where such natural experiments are already occurring,” Volkow said, presumably referencing countries such as Portugal that have stopped criminalizing people over simple possession.
“People with substance use disorders need treatment, not punishment, and drug use disorders should be approached with a demand for high-quality care and with compassion for those affected,” she said. “With a will to achieve racial equity in delivering compassionate treatment and the ability to use science to guide us toward more equitable models of addressing addiction, I believe such a goal is achievable.”
While NIDA might not be widely considered a champion of progressive drug policy, its director has previously conceded that existing federal drug laws aren’t working.
In 2019, for example, she acknowledged that the Schedule I status of marijuana and other drugs makes it “very difficult” for researchers to study the benefits and risks of those substances.
“Indeed, the moment that a drug gets a Schedule I, which is done in order to protect the public so that they don’t get exposed to it, it makes research much harder,” Volkow said during a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing. “This is because [researchers] actually have to through a registration process that is actually lengthy and cumbersome.”
She also discussed the potential benefits and risks of cannabis at a congressional hearing last year.
NIDA is also one of the main agencies behind a new development in federally sanctioned marijuana research. After requesting public input last year on a standard THC unit for cannabis studies, it announced last week that it had reached a determination to set the standard at five milligrams of THC per dosage.
Don’t Bring CBD Pet Shampoo Onto Military Bases, U.S. Air Force Warns
Don’t bring your dog’s CBD-infused shampoo on federal military bases, the U.S. Air Force reminded personnel in a recent blog post.
While hemp and its derivatives are federally legal—and a growing number of states have regulated marijuana markets—a Massachusetts base of the military branch emphasized that possessing or using cannabis products can result in disciplinary action.
“Hemp, CBD and traces of THC can be found in a number of products like shampoos, lotions, and lip balms that you can buy in the open market, but you can’t bring them onto the installation,” Tech. Sgt. Kyle Majorana said. “Even if it’s for your pet, it’s still illegal.”
Hemp, CBD & traces of THC can be found in a number of products like shampoos, lotions, & lip balms that you can buy in the open market, but you can’t bring them onto a federal installation. Even if it’s for your pet, it’s still illegal. #knowtheruleshttps://t.co/CqJWXR7XD7
— U.S. Air Force Materiel Command ✈️ (@HQ_AFMC) May 8, 2021
He stressed that the “line between state and federal laws begins and ends at our gates.”
While this notice specifically targeted one Air Force base, the message is consistent with past updates from the military division, which has gone out of its way to make its cannabis policy clear.
About one year after hemp was federally legalized, the Air Force sent out a notice that similarly warned against using CBD products that are commonly found on the market. The reason for the blanket ban, it said, is because those products may have trace amounts of THC that could show up in a drug test.
The Air Force said the previous year that it wants its members to be extra careful around “grandma’s miracle sticky buns” that might contain marijuana.
To that end, this new blog post is just the latest example of the military branch underscoring its enforcement priorities.
For military members, drug use and possession will have adverse career implications and administrative actions like loss of rank and pay,” Maj. Steven Vallarelli said. “If the case warrants more severe action, members could be subject to a court-martial, possibly resulting in a federal conviction.”
The policy also applies to non-members, the post says. There could be “security clearance implications” for civilian employees and contractors convicted of possessing marijuana, for example. And visitors at federal installations who bring cannabis could also be penalized.
“Our intent is always to protect, educate and inform the base community while maintaining good order and discipline,” Maj. Shane Watts said.
Several military divisions have taken steps to advise members about marijuana prohibition policies in recent years.
In 2019, the Department of Defense (DOD) announced a policy barring all active and reserve service members from using hemp products, including CBD.
The Navy issued an initial notice in 2018 informing ranks that they’re barred from using CBD and hemp products no matter their legality. Then in 2020 it released an update explaining why it enacted the rule change.
DOD more broadly reaffirmed that CBD is off limits to service members, regardless of the federal legalization of hemp and its derivatives, in earlier notices published last year.
The Coast Guard said that sailors can’t use marijuana or visit state-legal dispensaries.
And NASA, which is not part of the military, warned that CBD products could contain unauthorized THC concentrations that could cost employees their jobs if they fail a drug test.
A factor that could have influenced these policy updates is that the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration released guidance to federal agency drug program coordinators in 2019 that outlined concerns about THC turning up in CBD products and causing failed drug tests. The agency issued an updated warning late last year after several more states voted to legalize marijuana.
As military institutions continue to broadly ban cannabis for active service members, congressional lawmakers are pushing for marijuana reform when it comes to those who have served in the past.
A bipartisan bill reintroduced last month would federally legalize medical marijuana for military veterans, for example.
Lawmakers have also recently filed several pieces of legislation that would promote research into the therapeutic potential of cannabis for veterans.
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.