Connect with us

Politics

Top Virginia Officials Submit Marijuana Legalization Recommendations To Governor And Lawmakers

Published

on

A working group comprised of four Virginia cabinet secretaries and other top officials submitted recommendations to the governor and lawmakers on Monday about how to best implement a legal marijuana program in the state.

With Gov. Ralph Northam (D) officially on board with the policy change—a development that came earlier this month as a legislative commission offered separate recommendations on the subject—the group’s new analysis provides an early look at what that regulated cannabis system could look like.

The report, which was required as part of a cannabis decriminalization bill that was enacted earlier this year, was authored by the governor-appointed secretaries of the state departments of agriculture and forestry, finance, health and human resources and public safety and homeland security.

“We will advance new laws to make sure that our Commonwealth legalizes marijuana the right way,” Northam said in a press release. “Virginia has studied the experience of other states and this report lays out a path forward that leads with social equity, public health, and public safety.”

The panel—which also includes the state attorney general, State Police captain, commissioners of various agencies, the head of Virginia NORML and other advocates and officials—made 20 recommendations on adult-use legalization. That includes suggestions that a single agency should be created to regulate the program, retail marijuana sales should be taxed to generate revenue but the rate shouldn’t be so high that people remain in the illicit market and the state should look into ways to allow cannabis businesses to access banking services, including state-chartered financial institutions.

Additionally, the group advised that Virginia should consider “undoing the harms of criminalization” by expunging prior marijuana convictions, administering social equity licenses for the cannabis industry and using funds for community reinvestment, among other policies.

Local jurisdictions should have input on where marijuana businesses are allowed to operate, they said. And when it comes to home cultivation, the group said there are “substantial pros and cons,” but they seemed to lean against allowing it because of the high value of cannabis and personal safety considerations. The report also floats the idea of letting people use cannabis at social consumption facilities.

“The purpose of this report is not to recommend to either the Governor or the General Assembly whether or not the Commonwealth should take legislative action to legalize marijuana,” the working group wrote. “Rather, this report seeks to outline important areas of consideration should Virginia pass legislation legalizing the substance.”

“Overall, this report provides a blueprint for thinking about marijuana legalization in Virginia, should policymakers choose to pursue legislation,” they said. “This report rarely makes specific recommendations. However, it does lay out options for officials to consider as they move forward in this area.”

According to the analysis, Virginia stands to bring in up to $274 million in cannabis tax revenue annually by the fifth year after implementation. The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC), which released its own recommendations on legalizing marijuana earlier this month, put that figure slightly higher, saying the state could see up to $308 million by that time.

During its final meeting in October, the working group said their intent was to provide “a more general analysis” of the potential revenue while JLARC developed “more detailed estimates.”

“Virginia has already implemented other cannabis programs over the past few years, and a legal marijuana program could build upon the progress that has already taken place to ensure the success of these programs,” the new report states, referring to the state’s current medical marijuana system, which has been expanded over time. “Furthermore, the Commonwealth can develop a program that accomplishes a wide array of policy goals if it chooses to pass marijuana legalization legislation.”

“This task would be both challenging and complex, requiring the input of multiple state agencies, stakeholders, and experts,” it continues. “The process to set up a state regulatory program would likely take some time and require adequate resources. While the potential economic opportunities and revenue impacts are promising, they are not guaranteed.”

While the task may be challenging, it’s one that legislators and the governor has indicated they’re up for.

Northam, who campaigned on decriminalization but stayed relatively quiet on broader legalization until recently, said “we are going to move forward with the legalization of marijuana in Virginia. I support this and I’m committed to doing in the right way.” He recognized, however, that it’s “not going to happen overnight.”

“Marijuana laws have been based originally in discrimination and undoing these harms means things like social equity licenses, access to capital, community reinvestment and sealing or expunging people’s prior records,” he said.

Last month, top Virginia lawmakers also signaled that legal cannabis could have enough support to be enacted in 2021.

House Majority Leader Charniele Herring (D) said there is a “good chance” it could happen, and Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D) put the odds at “slightly better than 50-50.”

“The path to equitable cannabis legalization in Virginia is paved with more than good intention,” NORML Development Director Jenn Michelle Pedini, who severed on the governor’s workgroup, told Marijuana Moment.

“The Virginia Marijuana Legalization Work Group Report coupled with the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission Marijuana Legalization Study will provide the administration and the legislature a solid foundation of data-supported evidence, regulatory best practices and stakeholder input to consider as they work to legalize the responsible adult-use of marijuana in the 2021 General Assembly,” Pedini, who also serves as the executive director of Virginia NORML, said.

Meanwhile, legislation to stop police from searching people or seizing property based solely on the smell of marijuana in Virginia is set to take effect after lawmakers adopted recommended changes from the governor last month.

Also during the recently concluded special session, Northam signed another bill that will allow people issued summonses for cannabis offenses under the state’s new decriminalization law to prepay their civil penalty rather than having show up in court.

Together, when enacted, the two new reforms will build upon the measure to decriminalize cannabis that the governor signed earlier this year during the regular legislative session, which makes it so possession of up to one ounce of marijuana is punishable by a $25 fine with no threat of jail time and no criminal record.

But not all proposed reforms advanced.

Lawmakers were ultimately not able to reach an agreement during the special session on legislation to provide expungements for prior cannabis convictions that had appeared destined for Northam’s desk after passing either chamber in differing forms. The issue died in a bicameral conference committee.

A bill to legalize marijuana possession was filed for the special session by a delegate who is running to replace the term-limited Northam as governor in 2021, but it did not advance out of the committee to which it was referred.

During this year’s regular legislative session, the governor and lawmakers also expanded Virginia’s limited medical cannabis program in addition to enacting the decriminalization law.

These States Could Have Marijuana Legalization On Their 2022 Ballots

Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

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 Hampshire Marijuana Legalization Effort Runs Up Against New Republican Legislature

Published

on

“Eventually it will get passed. But I don’t think it will happen until we get a new governor.”

By Christian Wade | The Center Square

Marijuana advocates are continuing a push to legalize the drug for recreational use in New Hampshire, but the effort faces an unlikely path in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

A bipartisan bill filed in the state House of Representatives this month would, if approved, legalize recreational cannabis for adults over 21 and set up a system of regulation and taxation for the drug that would allow retail sales. It’s similar to proposals filed in previous legislative sessions, all of which have failed to win approval.

“The battle continues,” said Rep. Rebecca McWilliams, D-Concord, a primary sponsor of the bill. “We keep refining it and negotiating and trying to come up with something that could potentially get to the two-thirds vote needed to override the governor’s veto.”

The proposal would allow adults 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of weed and would authorize regulated cultivation and retail sales. Adults would be allowed to grow up to six marijuana plants at home. A state-run cannabis commission would set regulations and oversee the new industry. The proposal calls for a 9% tax on recreational pot sales.

But the measure faces a steep climb in the state legislature—which swung back to the GOP in the November 3 elections—not to mention the threat of a veto by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who opposes legalization.

McWilliams acknowledges the measure faces long odds in the biennial legislative session and said lawmakers who support the effort lack the votes to override a Sununu veto. But she said the effort is building more support with every passing year.

“Eventually it will get passed,” she said. “But I don’t think it will happen until we get a new governor.”

While marijuana remains an illegal drug under federal law, she said there’s a chance the new Democrat-controlled Congress and White House could lift the federal prohibition on pot.

Nationally, 68 percent of Americans back the legalization of marijuana, according to a recent Gallup poll, which noted that support has been inching up steadily over the years.

To date, 15 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. territory of Guam have legalized recreational marijuana. Thirty-six states have medical marijuana programs.

New Hampshire has often been described as a “cannabis island” with neighboring states and Canada allowing recreational marijuana cultivation and retail sales.

While the Granite State decriminalized marijuana possession in 2017, recreational growing and sales are not authorized.

In 2014, the Democrat-controlled House approved a legalization bill but it failed to pass the Senate. Similar proposals have been refiled every session, but have failed to gain traction.

The state has also allowed medical marijuana dispensaries since 2013, but cultivating the drug for personal use is still a felony.

Lawmakers approved a bill in 2019 that would have allowed medical pot patients to grow their own supply, but Sununu vetoed it, citing public safety concerns.

This piece was first published by The Center Square.

New York Governor Releases More Details On Marijuana Legalization Proposal

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.
Continue Reading

Politics

American Medical Association Asks Court To Overturn Medical Marijuana Vote In Mississippi

Published

on

Two medical associations are throwing their support behind a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the medical marijuana ballot initiative that Mississippi voters overwhelmingly approved in November, arguing that it creates “risks to public health” and places a “burden” on physicians.

The American Medical Association (AMA) and its state affiliate, the Mississippi State Medical Association (MSMA), recently filed an amicus brief backing the legal challenge being considered by the state Supreme Court, which was brought by the city of Madison just days before the election.

The lawsuit argues that legalization proposal is invalid because of a state law that dictates the percentage of signatures required per district to qualify a ballot initiative.

While Mississippi’s secretary of state and attorney general have strongly criticized the suit, calling it “woefully untimely” and contesting the merits, AMA and MSMA are backing the challenge nonetheless.

“Making sure the constitutional amendment map is followed is always important, but given the nature of the initiative at issue and the substantial ramifications it poses for Mississippi’s public health and the medical community, particular care is warranted here,” the brief states, according to a blog post published by AMA on Friday.

The groups further argue that, outside of the statutory concerns outlined in the suit, the medical cannabis legalization initiative “poses significant risks to public health and puts a burden on Mississippi physicians.”

“While it is possible there may be beneficial medicinal uses of marijuana, numerous evidence-based studies demonstrate that significant deleterious effects abound,” the brief states, adding “without question, the public health risks are immense.”

Additionally, because marijuana remains federally illegal, the voter-approved measure would put physicians in “quite the pinch,” it says. “Yet physicians will be expected by their patients (though perhaps not required by Initiative 65) to sign off on certifications to receive their supply. Perhaps no liability will lie under state law, but what about federal law?”

In fact, federal courts have ruled that doctors have a First Amendment right to discuss medical cannabis with their patients without risking federal sanction.

“As everyone knows, all it takes to file a lawsuit is a piece of paper and a filing fee, so even if a physician is judged correctly and immunity is appropriate, the matter will still have to be litigated,” the AMA and MSMA brief continues. “And with increased exposure and litigation comes increased costs, not least of which is rising professional liability insurance premiums.”

The legal challenge brought by Madison cites a state law stipulating that “signatures of the qualified electors from any congressional district shall not exceed one-fifth (1/5) of the total number of signatures required to qualify an initiative petition for placement upon the ballot.” But that policy went into effect when Mississippi had five congressional districts, and that’s since been reduced to four, making it mathematically impossible to adhere to.

Advocates see desperation in the court filing, with the medical associations now making a last-ditch effort to overturn the will of voters.

“These are cynical attempts to undermine the democratic process,” Carly Wolf, state policies coordinator for NORML, said. “Legalization opponents have shown time and time again that they cannot succeed in either the court of public opinion or at the ballot box.”

“Thus, they are now asking judges to set aside the votes of over a million Americans in a desperate effort to override undisputed election outcomes,” she said. “Whether or not one supports marijuana legalization, Americans should be outraged at these overtly undemocratic tactics.”

Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML, said “AMA’s position is woefully out of step with both public opinion and scientific consensus, as well as with the opinions of the majority of physicians.”

“It is regrettable that this organization would go on record in attempting to nullify the vote of a supermajority of Mississippi voters,” he said.

It’s also not especially surprising that these particular groups would join in this legal challenge given their earlier attempts to get voters to reject the reform initiative.

Weeks before the vote, AMA and MSMA circulated a sample ballot that instructed voters on how to reject the activist-led cannabis measure. The mailers said the associations were “asking for you to join us in educating and encouraging our population to vote against Initiative 65.”

Ultimately, however, nearly 74 percent of Mississippi voters approved the legalization initiative.

It will allow patients with debilitating medical issues to legally obtain marijuana after getting a doctor’s recommendation. It includes 22 qualifying conditions such as cancer, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder, and patients would be allowed to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana per 14-day period.

Marijuana Moment reached out to AMA and MSMA for additional information about the brief, which has not yet been posted on the state court’s public docket, but representative did not immediately respond.

The Mississippi case is just one example of legalization opponents asking the courts to overturn the will of voters who approve marijuana reform.

In South Dakota, another legal challenge against the constitutionality of a legalization initiative is playing out. In this case, plaintiffs—with the backing of Gov. Kristi Noem (R)—are claiming that the recreational marijuana measure violates a state statute requiring that proposals that appear on the ballot on deal with a single subject.

Over in Montana, opponents of a voter-approved initiative to legalize cannabis for adult use attempted to get the state Supreme Court to invalidate the proposal ahead of the vote, but the justices rejected that request, arguing that they failed to establish the urgency needed to skip the lower court adjudication process. They didn’t rule on the merits, however.

The plaintiffs then announced they were pursuing action in a lower court, arguing that the statutory proposal unlawfully appropriates funds, violating a portion of the state Constitution that prohibits such allocations from being included in a citizen initiative.

Separately, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled in September that a medical marijuana legalization initiative could not appear on the state’s November ballot following a legal challenge, even though activists collected enough signatures to qualify.

The court determined that the measure violated Nebraska’s single-subject rule that limits the scope of what can be placed on the ballot before voters. Activists have already introduced a new initiative that they say will satisfy the court’s interpretation of state law—and their also working on a broader adult-use legalization measure.

New York Governor Releases More Details On Marijuana Legalization Proposal

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.
Continue Reading

Politics

New York Governor Releases More Details On Marijuana Legalization Proposal

Published

on

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has released more details of his marijuana legalization proposal, including plans to reinvest in communities most impacted by the war on drugs.

Following his State of the State address last week, in which the governor said enacting the reform could boost the economy while promoting social equity, he unveiled an outline of his agenda that provides more insights into what the state’s legal cannabis market could look like. Next, he’s expected to release the full budget proposal on Tuesday, which will contain much more detailed legislative language.

The State of the State Book released on Friday says Cuomo’s upcoming proposal would create an Office of Cannabis Management to regulate the program, establish national standards and best practices to encourage responsible marijuana consumption and provide for “robust social and economic equity benefits to ensure New York’s law will create an egalitarian adult-use market structure that does not just facilitate market entry but ensures sustained market share for entrepreneurs in communities that have been most harmed by cannabis prohibition.”

Notably, it also states that the plan will “correct past harms by investing in areas that have disproportionally been impacted by the war on drugs, understanding that expunging past cannabis convictions helps to correct the injustice faced on the day that someone was arrested, but fails to correct the lasting harms that arrest has had on citizens, families, and communities.”

That’s important, as the governor in past years has pushed for marijuana tax revenue to be put into the state’s general fund, rather than specifically allocating resources for community reinvestment, as some lawmakers and advocates have urged.

That said, it remains to be seen exactly how the governor’s forthcoming budget will go about “investing” in communities that have been harmed by past prohibition enforcement and whether it will be deemed adequate by legislators and activists who have balked at his past proposals.

Cuomo has included legalization in his last two annual budget plans, but the issue has consistently stalled over details in negotiations.

That said, the legislature will have more influence this year after Senate Democrats secured a supermajority in the November election. If Cuomo were to veto any bill over details he didn’t like, they could potentially have enough votes to override him.

The governor’s new outline also talks about making investments in research into harm reduction and education campaigns to deter youth use and impaired driving.

“Cannabis legalization will create more than 60,000 new jobs, spurring $3.5 billion in economic activity and generating an estimated $300 million in tax revenue when fully implemented,” the document says.

A separate section describes plans to bolster the state’s hemp industry.

To accomplish that, Cuomo will call together a workgroup “composed of hemp growers, researchers, producers, processors, manufacturers, and trade associations to make recommendations for the further development of hemp as a multi-use agricultural commodity and a mature cannabinoid wellness market.”

“The hemp workgroup will explore ways to provide more opportunities for New York growers and manufacturers and work to help facilitate the development of safe New York products that will meet the needs of informed consumers,” the plan says. The group’s recommendations could build upon regulations for hemp and CBD that were developed last year.

But for many advocates, it’s recreational legalization that has the spotlight this session. And to that end, New York lawmakers have made comments in recent months that indicate they feel the reform is inevitable, despite differing opinions on the specifics.

The top Republican in the New York Assembly said last month that he expects the legislature to legalize cannabis this coming session.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D) said in November that she also anticipates that the reform will advance next year, though she noted that lawmakers will still have to decide on how tax revenue from marijuana sales is distributed.

Cuomo also said that month that the “pressure will be on” to legalize cannabis in the state and lawmakers will approve it “this year” to boost the economy amid the health crisis.

The push to legalize in New York could also be bolstered by the fact that voters in neighboring New Jersey approved a legalization referendum in November.

Legislators prefiled a bill to legalize cannabis in New York earlier this month. The legislation, introduced in the Senate by Sen. Liz Krueger (D) and 18 other lawmakers, is identical to a version she filed last year that did not advance.

Separately, several other bills that focus on medical marijuana were recently prefiled in New York, and they touch on a wide range of topics—from tenants’ rights for medical cannabis patients to health insurance coverage for marijuana products.

Biden Taps Marijuana Legalization Supporter To Lead Democratic National Committee

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.
Continue Reading
Advertisement

Marijuana News In Your Inbox

Support Marijuana Moment

Marijuana News In Your Inbox

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!