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Two More Governors Call For Marijuana Legalization During Budget Speeches

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The governors of Connecticut and Illinois both said on Wednesday that legalizing marijuana should be a part of plans to generate revenue for their cash-strapped states.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D), who campaigned last year on a pro-legalization platform, said that the state needed to “embrace some near term reasonable—and realistic—new revenue” in a speech detailing his budget proposal.

“Let’s begin with this: By legalizing and regulating adult-use cannabis in this legislative session, we will create jobs and bring in $170 million in licensing and other fees in this fiscal year 2020,” he said.

While the move would bring economic benefits for the state, Pritzker added, “I have noted many times that I don’t view this issue through a purely financial lens.”

“I think we should take this action for our state because of the beneficial criminal and social justice implications and the jobs that it will create. And let’s be honest, like it or not, cannabis is readily available right now. I would rather the state tax it and regulate it than deny the reality of its use and accessibility.”

Watch Pritzker’s marijuana legalization comments at about 32:25 into the video below:

Pritzker’s budget plan would provide for the licensing of more than 2,000 cannabis cultivators, which would “accelerate more than $200 million in future cannabis tax revenue” through a licensing and tax credit system.

Via Illinois Governor’s Office.

Overall, “it is estimated that $170 million will be realized in fiscal year 2020,” the budget proposal states. “Initial license fees would be the same price as the current medical cannabis renewal fee of $100,000. Credits against future cannabis taxes would be equal to 1/5th of 90 percent of the license fee, reducing the economic cost of the licenses to a value closer to the fees in other states.”

Last year, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) proposed a similar budget plan that included marijuana legalization. But so far, the plan hasn’t played out, as lawmakers continue to weigh legalization legislation.

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D) also unveiled his two-year budget proposal on Wednesday and, while he isn’t counting on revenue from the possible future legalization of cannabis in his recommendations to lawmakers, he emphasized during a speech that ending prohibition could represent an additional new revenue source for the state.

Lamont, who said that cannabis reform would be one of his “priorities” after he was elected last year, argued that it is important to develop “new sources of revenue” beyond his budget proposals.

That includes “legalized recreational marijuana like our neighbors, that will be carefully regulated for a safer market, with tax,” he said during the speech.

Even though Lamont’s budget document doesn’t include legal marijuana revenue, it does call for the establishment of a state-licensed industrial hemp program. The governor proposed providing the state Department of Agriculture with $136,000 in funding to “develop and regulate a state industrial hemp program.”

“This is an economic development opportunity for agricultural producers in Connecticut, a sector that represents $4 billion in economic impact to the state each year, and employs about 22,000 people,” the proposal states. “Governor Lamont is solidifying his commitment to economic development and agriculture by investing in this new opportunity.”

Connecticut remains one of the states where legalization is most likely to pass in 2019, regardless of its exclusion from the budget plan. A House bill to tax and regulate marijuana sales that was filed last month has 40 cosponsors—more than a quarter of the chamber’s members.

Elsewhere in the U.S., Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) said this week that his budget proposal, which is set to be released later this month, will include plans to legalize medical marijuana and eliminate penalties for low-level cannabis possession, manufacturing and distribution. Individuals with prior marijuana convictions could also apply to have their records cleared under his plan.

Evers said his proposal calls for decriminalization instead of legalization because the administration is “starting with places that we feel we can win.”

In Rhode Island,  Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) included legislative language to accomplish marijuana legalization in her budget proposal last month. According to the plan, legal sales will bring in about $22 million in tax revenue annually.

And New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) also proposed legalization legislation in his budget plan this year.

Wisconsin Governor Announces Marijuana Reform Plan Details

Photo courtesy of ABC 20.

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 York And Connecticut Governors Talk Marijuana Legalization On Fishing Trip

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The governors of New York and Connecticut went fishing and talked about marijuana legalization on Tuesday.

The conversation comes after lawmakers in both states were unable to pass legalization legislation before their respective sessions’ ends this year, despite having the support of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D).

“We talked about policy issues like the marijuana issue, which is obviously also relevant to contiguous states,” Cuomo said at a press conference following the fishing trip. “What Connecticut does on marijuana is relevant to New York, what New York does is relevant to Connecticut so we talked about that and a lot of issues. So we had fun.”

Watch Cuomo’s marijuana comments at about 5:00 into the video below:

Cuomo had described legalization as a top legislative priority for 2019 and included it in his state budget proposal. But after months of negotiations with lawmakers, the plan fell through, due in part to disagreements about how to allocate tax revenue and whether to allow individual jurisdictions to opt out of allowing cannabis businesses.

The governor did sign legislation in July that expands the state’s marijuana decriminalization policy and provides a pathway for expungements of past marijuana convictions.

Over in Connecticut, Lamont campaigned on legalization during his election bid last year and described it as one of his administration’s “priorities” after he took office. But as with neighboring New York, the legislature failed to advance a legalization bill beside multiple successful committee votes and hearings throughout the year.

The specifics of what the governors talked about during their fishing expedition on Lake Ontario aren’t clear, but both are presumably gearing up for another round of legislative efforts marijuana over the coming year and could take lessons from each other as reform talks continue.

Another East Coast state, New Jersey, has also struggled to move legalization legislation forward, with lawmakers saying that the issue should be taken up by voters in 2020 rather than pushed through the legislature, though there has been discussion lately about another try at moving a bill before year’s end. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) did sign a decriminalization and expungements bill in May, however.

Federal Data Shows Youth Marijuana Use Isn’t Increasing Under Legalization

Photo courtesy of CBS 6.

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GOP Congressman Will Meet Attorney General To Discuss Expanding Marijuana Research

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Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) said on Monday that he will soon be speaking with the U.S. attorney general about expanding marijuana research.

The congressman, a close ally of President Trump, is a vocal proponent of medical cannabis and has argued that the federal drug scheduling system is hampering research into the plant’s therapeutic potential.

“I will be meeting with Attorney General Bill Barr in the coming weeks to discuss the Department of Justice’s approach to unlocking more research grants so that we can have American innovation applied to our health care in a way that can get people off of some of these devastating opioids and painkillers, and on to a more natural product,” he said following a radio town hall event.

Even under the framework of prohibition, the Justice Department is able to promote research by, for example, approving additional marijuana manufacturers—something the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said it would do three years ago.

Barr has voiced support for expanding the number of federally authorized cannabis manufacturers.

“I think we’re going to move forward on it,” the attorney general said in April. “I think it’s very important to get those additional suppliers.”

Earlier this year, Gaetz joined congressional colleagues in leading a letter addressed to Barr and the head of DEA expressing frustration that the Justice Department has declined to take action despite its pledges. The lawmakers implored DEA to “do whatever you can to speed up and improve the research application process.

Gaetz also introduced legislation that would force DEA to approve additional facilities to produce research-grade cannabis. A version filed last year cleared the Judiciary Committee in a voice vote, and he reintroduced the bill in January but it has not yet been acted upon.

Listen to Gaetz’s new cannabis comments, about 1:20 into the audio below:

DEA is facing two lawsuits regarding its approach to marijuana, including one that concerns the lack of diversity of research-grade cannabis since only one manufacture is currently authorized. The agency was ordered to respond to the suit by August 28.

Separately, a group of patients and advocates sued DEA over marijuana’s Schedule I status under the Controlled Substances Act, with a federal court directing the agency to “promptly” consider reclassifying cannabis.

Gaetz also spoke about the need to more broadly reform cannabis laws during the Monday remarks.

“The federal government listing marijuana as a Schedule I drug impairs financial transactions, it impairs research and it stops us from being able to unlock cures for some of America’s most vulnerable people,” the congressman said, adding that he’s a cosponsor of legislation that would deschedule marijuana that was introduced by Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY).

Gaetz, who is also a member of the Judiciary Committee, said he is requesting that the panel hold a hearing on cannabis legislation. That’d mark the second such meeting after a Judiciary subcommittee convened last month to discuss paths to ending federal prohibition.

The congressman’s staff wasn’t able to provide Marijuana Moment with additional details regarding the meeting with Barr.

Congressman Says Marijuana Could Be Legal Sooner If Trump Stops Tweeting

Photo courtesy of Meredith Geddings.

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Elizabeth Warren’s Criminal Justice Plan Involves Legalizing Marijuana And Safe Injection Sites

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Legalizing marijuana, granting clemency to people convicted of drug offenses and investing in harm reduction programs such as safe injection sites are part of a criminal justice reform plan that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) released on Tuesday.

The 2020 Democratic presidential candidate stressed that the war on drugs has been carried out in a racially discriminatory manner, writing that it’s unfair that “a kid with an ounce of pot can get thrown in jail, while a bank executive who launders money for a drug cartel can get a bonus. It’s long past time for us to reform our system.”

“This failure [of the drug war] has been particularly harmful for communities of color, and we need a new approach,” she said. “It starts with legalizing marijuana and erasing past convictions, and then eliminating the remaining disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentencing.”

What’s more, the drug war “has criminalized addiction, ripped apart families—and largely failed to curb drug use” when a more effective system would treat addiction as a public health issue.

That includes diverting people who’ve been convicted of non-violent drug offenses to treatment programs and providing evidence-based resources for people suffering from addiction. For example, Warren’s plan calls for safe injection sites where people can use illicit drugs under the supervision of medical professionals who can help prevent fatal overdoses and get people into treatment. She also said needle exchange programs and expanding access to buprenorphine would reduce the opioid crisis.

“Instead of locking up people for nonviolent marijuana crimes, I’ve proposed putting pharmaceutical executives on the hook to report suspicious orders for controlled substances that damage the lives of millions.”

She also called for the abolition of certain mandatory minimum sentences and said that “people who struggle with addiction should not be incarcerated because of their disease.”

“Mass incarceration has not reduced addiction rates or overdose deaths, because substance abuse disorder is a public health problem — and it’s long past time to treat it that way,” the plan says. “We know that diversion programs are both more humane and a better investment than incarceration — for every dollar we invest in treatment programs, we can save $12 in future crime and health care costs.”

“And rather than incarcerating individuals with substance abuse disorders, we should expand options that divert them into programs that provide real treatment.”

Like Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Warren’s criminal justice reform proposal also mentions executive actions she could unilaterally take.

Specifically, she wrote that the Justice Department should not hold authority to make clemency recommendations and it should instead be left up to an independent clemency board so that those eligible for a pardons and commutations are more quickly identified.

“I’ll direct the board to identify broad classes of potentially-deserving individuals for review, including those who would have benefited from retroactivity under the First Step Act, individuals who are jailed under outdated or discriminatory drug laws, or those serving mandatory minimums that should be abolished,” she said.

The plan’s unveiling comes two days after Sanders released his criminal justice reform proposal, which also called for marijuana legalization and the implementation of harm reduction policies such as safe consumption facilities.

Buttigieg’s plan stands out from his fellow Democratic candidates in at least one regard: the mayor said drug possession should broadly be decriminalized.

Warren also released a separate plan for Indian tribes last week that involves protecting tribal cannabis programs from federal intervention.

Bernie Sanders Calls For Legalization Of Marijuana And Safe Injection Sites

Photo courtesy of Edward Kimmel.

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.
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