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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.

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Andrew Yang Contrasts Rampant Opioid Prescribing With Marijuana Criminalization

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Andrew Yang contrasted the widespread prescribing of opioids with the ongoing criminalization of marijuana on Wednesday.

In a tweet, the entrepreneur and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate said there were “more opiate prescriptions in the state of Ohio than people in Ohio,” yet “marijuana is still classified as a schedule 1 drug” under the federal Controlled Substances Act.

He’s brought that point up before, at a presidential debate in October. Asked about his proposed to decriminalize possession of opioids to combat the drug overdose crisis, Yang brought up the statistic and criticized the government for failing to take action against pharmaceutic companies that aggressively marketed addictive painkillers.

“If the government turned a blind eye to this company, spreading a plague among its people, then the least we can do is put a resource into work in our communities so that people have a fighting chance to get well, even though this is not a money problem,” he said at the time.

NBC News confirmed that, in 2010, federal data shows there were 102.4 opioid prescriptions in Ohio for every 100 persons. That’s decreased since then, with 2017 data showing 63.5 opioid prescriptions for every 100 persons in the state.

Yang, who supports comprehensive marijuana legalization, has also embraced other harm reduction policies. Beyond decriminalizing opioids, he said in an interview published last week that he’s in favor of providing federal funding for the establishment of safe injection facilities, where individuals can use illicit drugs under medical supervision and receive assistance getting into treatment.

Yang has not yet called for decriminalization of substances beyond opioids and cannabis, however. That policy is backed by rival contenders South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI).

Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, also presidential candidates, have called for the establishment of safe injection sites.

Killer Mike Credits Bernie Sanders For Inspiring Marijuana Legalization Movement

Photo courtesy of ABC News.

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Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed In Virginia Ahead Of Attorney General’s Cannabis Summit

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The attorney general of Virginia held a cannabis summit on Wednesday, with representatives of states that have legalized marijuana sharing their insights as lawmakers in the Commonwealth prepare to push reform legislation in the coming session.

This event came one day after a lawmaker prefiled a bill to legalize marijuana for adult use and expand the state’s existing limited medical cannabis program.

The event featured panels on marijuana decriminalization, social equity, public health, hemp, CBD and creating a pathway for eventual legalization. The goal was to answer policy questions and inform legislation, which Attorney General Mark Herring (D) hopes will start with decriminalization and expungements and later adult-use legalization.

“I don’t believe that Virginia’s current approach of criminalizing cannabis is working,” Herring said in his opening remarks. “It is needlessly creating criminals and burdening Virginians with convictions.”

“The human and social costs are enormous, in addition to the millions of dollars it costs Virginia taxpayers. And the negative consequences of the current approach fall disproportionately on African Americans and people of color,” he said. “It’s clear to me that the time for cannabis reform has come. Justice demands it. Virginians are demanding it. And I’m going to help make sure we get this right.”

Watch video of the Virginia Cannabis Summit  below: 

Representatives from Colorado and Illinois discussed law enforcement and equity in regulated marijuana markets.

The prospects of passing reform measures greatly increased in Virginia after November’s election, which saw Democrats reclaim control of both chambers of the General Assembly for the first time in decades. Herring said the timing is right to “plot a course for a smarter, fairer, more just cannabis policy” in the state.

Sen. Dave Marsden (D), co-founder of the legislature’s recently established Cannabis Caucus, said at the summit that ensuring that the legal market is equitable is paramount.

“We can’t substitute a civil process for a criminal one and not expect it to lead to disparities,” he said.

“Following several years of forming consensus around medical cannabis products, we have to be ready to take action in the upcoming legislative session to further reform our laws in this arena,” he said in a press release. “This effort will include a more robust medical cannabis program and Attorney General Herring’s summit is a big step in ensuring we are knowledgeable on the issue and prepared to do this right.”

“Virginia is ready for evidence-based reform and that is what we will provide.”

Del. Stephen Heretick (D) said the summit “is a great opportunity for me and my fellow legislators to learn from the experiences of other states as we consider how to create more fair, just, equitable, and effective cannabis laws here in Virginia.”

Decriminalization is the first proposal on the agenda when the next session starts, the attorney general said. That would fulfill a campaign promise of Gov. Ralph Northam (D), who ran on the issue in 2017 and talked about in his State of the Commonwealth address this year.

“It’s time for public policy to catch up with public opinion, and NORML applauds Attorney General Herring for his efforts to foster and advance evidence-based cannabis laws,” Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML said. “We look forward to supporting the attorney general and the Virginia Cannabis Caucus in their work reforming marijuana laws for a safer Commonwealth.”

While Northam hasn’t voiced support for recreational legalization, Herring said last week that Wednesday’s summit is one resource that will help the state move toward comprehensive reform.

“Based on my conversations, he supports decriminalization,” Herring, who is also running for governor in 2021, said. “Like a lot of people, I think they’d like to get more information about what legalization and what regulated, adult-use would look like.”

A bill to decriminalize marijuana and make possession of up to one ounce punishable by a maximum $50 civil penalty was prefiled in the legislature last month.

This latest legalization bill, introduced by Del. Lee Carter (D), will likely be a heavier lift. It would allow adults 21 and older to possess and purchase cannabis from licensed retailers, and it would impose a 10 percent tax, revenue from which would go toward a veterans fund, transportation and local municipalities that allow marijuana businesses to operate.

“While a majority of Virginians agree with Attorney General Herring that marijuana should be legal for responsible use by adults, it may take a bit more work to convince the Virginia General Assembly to send such a bill to the governor’s desk,” Michelle Pedini told Marijuana Moment. “Todays summit is an important, and historic, step toward that goal, and NORML is proud to be a part of it.”

Vermont Should Legalize Marijuana Sales, Top Health Department Official Says

Photo courtesy of Nicholas C. Morton.

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Thailand Prime Minister Uses Medical Marijuana At Event With Ganja Mascot

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Top officials in Thailand are getting the word out about medical marijuana—in part by distributing cartoon cannabis dolls and publicly using marijuana oils.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha announced the launch of the government’s medical cannabis education site on Wednesday and appeared at an event alongside a person wearing a spectacled marijuana leaf costume called Dr. Ganja. Children were also present, carrying their own Dr. Ganja dolls.

Prayut argued in favor of the therapeutic use of cannabis, stating that it represents a potential treatment option for low-income people in particular. According to The Nation Thailand, he also demonstrated marijuana products, inhaling an oil and applying some to the back of his ears. The prime minister also said he plans to purchase some oils himself.

The government’s education site features information about where to find cannabis clinics, what kinds of products are available and infographics laying out basic research into marijuana.

Via MedCannabis.

Thai lawmakers have made clear their excitement about medical cannabis, with several filmed participating in a ritual dance in August to celebrate the first batch of marijuana oil.

Months after Thailand opted to legalize medical marijuana, the ruling party unveiled draft legislation in September that allows individuals to cultivate up to six cannabis plants for personal use.

GOP Senator Shares Photo Of His Dad Harvesting Hemp Decades Ago

Photo courtesy of Bhumjaithai Party.

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