Key state and federal officials representing Illinois met at a Chicago marijuana dispensary on Sunday to discuss the need for social equity and access to banking services in the cannabis industry.
The meeting, which comes weeks after the state’s first adult-use marijuana shops opened, featured U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton (D), the state deputy treasurer, the governor’s cannabis czar and state Sen. Robert Peters (D).
Deputy Treasurer Rodrigo Garcia was honored to join @SenDuckworth, @LtGovStratton, and others this afternoon to discuss Illinois’ new recreational cannabis program, the importance of social equity, and the need for banking options for cannabis businesses. pic.twitter.com/pIGBb4mzvU
— Michael W. Frerichs (@ILTreasurer) January 13, 2020
“People of color have been disproportionally arrested and incarcerated for marijuana-related offenses for decades, and I’m proud Illinois is working to make legalization of recreational cannabis equitable for all,” Duckworth said in a press release. “I’ll keep working with these local leaders to make sure equity and justice are at the forefront of this process.”
Part of ensuring that the market is equitable means passing legislation at the federal level to shield financial institutions that service marijuana businesses from being penalized by regulators, the lieutenant governor said at the Mission South Shore dispensary in Chicago.
— Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton (@LtGovStratton) January 13, 2020
State Treasurer Michael Frerichs agreed that solving cannabis businesses’ financial services access issues is important.
“I want to thank U.S. Sen. Duckworth for hosting this important discussion and for her leadership on this issue. We must change old banking laws, ensure public safety, and promote fairness within the cannabis industry,” he told Marijuana Moment. “For the past couple of years, we have pushed for state and federal changes to make sure these legitimate and legal cannabis businesses can use banks and credit unions like other legitimate and legal businesses. Doing so will minimize the risk of theft and promote safety for this industry.”
To that end, Duckworth is a cosponsor of a bipartisan bill to free up banks to work with the cannabis industry. She’s also signed onto legislation to federally deschedule marijuana.
4Front Ventures President Kris Krane, whose company operates the Mission South Shore shop, told Marijuana Moment that the senator “expressed optimism” that banking reform can be achieved in Congress, though she recognized that the chair of the Senate Banking Committee’s recent comments on proposed changes to the House-passed version of the legislation pose a challenge.
According to Krane, Duckworth said at the dispensary that Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID), whose panel has jurisdiction over the Secure and Faire Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, was using “delay tactics” when he announced last month that he wants to revise the bill so that only businesses selling marijuana products with a maximum of two percent THC can access financial services, among other changes.
The senator also “floated the idea that it might wind up [attached to] a larger omnibus bill if Crapo winds up stonewalling,” Krane said. However, “they’re going to continue to try to work with Banking Committee to try to get it done there.”
Watch a short ABC 7 news segment on the cannabis meeting below:
“First of all, just the fact that all of these high-ranking elected official were comfortable not only having the discussion but having it inside a legal cannabis dispensary shows just how much progress we’ve made on this issue,” he said. “We were really honored to host them, to participate in this discussion and I genuinely believe that some progress is going to come out of this.”
The meeting, which also involved a tour of the shop, represents the latest in a series of high-profile dispensary visits made by politicians interested in reform.
For example, this is at least the second cannabis dispensary visit for the lieutenant governor, who was among the first customers to purchase a marijuana product in Illinois on the first day of legal sales on January 1.
Former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, talked to workers about cannabis issues at a dispensary in Las Vegas last year. Rep. Julia Brownley (D-CA) made an appearance at a California marijuana shop in November and also discussed banking problems and legislation to end cannabis prohibition.
In 2018, then-Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) took a cannabis tour to a dispensary in California with a busload of senior citizens.
This story was updated to include comment from Frerichs.
Photo courtesy of Kris Krane/4Front.
Top Trump Campaign Spokesman: Marijuana Must Be ‘Kept Illegal’
Asked in a new interview about President Trump’s position on changing federal marijuana laws, a top reelection campaign aide said the administration’s policy is that cannabis and other currently illegal drugs should remain illegal.
“I think what the president is looking at is looking at this from a standpoint of a parent of a young person to make sure that we keep our kids away from drugs,” Marc Lotter, director of strategic communications for the Trump 2020 effort, said in an interview with Las Vegas CBS affiliate KLAS-TV.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.
Virginia Marijuana Decriminalization Gets Closer To Governor’s Desk With New Amendments
One week after bills to decriminalize marijuana in Virginia were passed by both the House and Senate, they advanced again on Wednesday in committee votes, where they were revised in an effort to ease the path to the governor’s desk.
The goal was to make the language of the bills identical, with lawmakers hoping to streamline the process by avoiding sending differing pieces of decriminalization legislation to a bicameral conference committee to resolve differences.
The House of Delegates and Senate were under pressure to approve their respective versions of decriminalization ahead of a crossover deadline last week. After clearing floor votes in their respective chambers, the Senate-passed bill was sent to the House Court of Justice Committee, while the House’s legislation was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Those panels amended the bills and advanced them on Wednesday, with senators voting 10-4 to advance the revised legislation and delegates voting 8-5. However, the Senate panel also struck a part of the text of a compromise substitute version concerning a record clearing provision while the House committee accepted the substitute as offered.
That means it will be up to the Finance Committees to resolve the remaining differences if lawmakers hope to skip the conference step prior to full floor votes in both chambers.
Regardless of the unexpected complication, advocates said the new committee actions represent a positive development.
“Fortunately, the patrons were able to reach a consensus and move the bills forward,” Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “Virginians have waited long enough for this important step, one that will dramatically reduce both marijuana arrests and the collateral consequences that follow such charges.”
The legislation as amended would make possession of up to one ounce a civil penalty punishable by a $25 fine without the threat of jail time. Currently, simple possession is punishable by a maximum $500 fine and up to 30 days in jail.
A provision that would have allowed courts to sentence individuals to up to five hours of community service in lieu of the civil penalty was removed with the latest revisions. The bill also stipulates that juveniles found in possession of cannabis will be treated as delinquent, rather than go through a less punitive process for a “child in need of service.”
Language providing a means to seal prior records for marijuana convictions was successfully reinserted into the House Courts of Justice Committee-passed bill after it was previously removed and placed in a separate expungement bill. That latter legislation is stalled, so lawmakers put it back into the decriminalization measure via the substitute to ensure its enactment.
The Senate Judiciary moved to delete that section, however, creating complications for avoiding a conference committee.
Meanwhile, the House Rules Committee voted in favor of a separate Senate-passed resolution on Wednesday that calls for the establishment of a joint commission to “study and make recommendations for how Virginia should go about legalizing and regulating the growth, sale, and possession of marijuana by July 1, 2022, and address the impacts of marijuana prohibition.” That vote was 12-5.
That’s a significant step, as the legislature is generally reluctant to enact bold reform without first conducting a study on the issue.
While Gov. Ralph Northam (D) is in favor of decriminalization, including a call for the policy change in his State of the Commonwealth address last month, he’s yet to embrace adult-use legalization. That said, Attorney General Mark Herring (D), who is running to replace the term-limited governor in 2021, said he’s optimistic that Northam will come around on the issue.
Herring organized a cannabis summit late last year to hear from officials representing states that have already legalized marijuana. That’s one tool he said the governor could use as he considers broader reform.
Also on Wednesday, the House Courts of Justice Criminal Subcommittee advanced another Senate-passed bill to formally legalize possession of CBD and THC-A medial cannabis preparations that are recommended by a doctor, an expansion of the current policy simply offers patients arrested with it an affirmative defense in court.
For now, Virginia seems to be on the path to become the 27th state to decriminalize marijuana, and the first to do so in 2020. Last year, three states—New Mexico, Hawaii and North Dakota—also approved the policy change.
Alabama Lawmakers Approve Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill
An Alabama Senate committee approved a bill on Wednesday that would legalize medical marijuana in the state.
The legislation would allow patients with qualifying conditions to purchase cannabis products from licensed dispensaries. It would be a limited system, however, prohibiting patients from smoking or vaping marijuana.
The Senate Judiciary Committee cleared the bill in a 8-1 vote, with one abstention. The next stop for the legislation will be the Senate floor.
The proposal would establish the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission, which would be responsible for overseeing a patient registry database, issuing medical cannabis cards and approving licenses for marijuana dispensaries, cultivators, transporters and testing facilities.
This vote comes two months after a panel created by the legislature, the Medical Cannabis Study Commission, issued a recommendation that Alabama implement a medical cannabis program.
The full Senate approved a medical cannabis legalization bill last year, but it was diluted in the House to only provide for the establishment of the study commission. Sen. Tim Melson (R) sponsored both versions of the legislation and served as chairman of the review panel.
The current bill has been revised from the earlier version. For example, this one does not require patients to exhaust traditional treatment options before they can access medical cannabis.
The committee also approved a series of amendments by voice vote, including several technical changes to the bill. Another one would shield physicians from liability for recommending medical cannabis. One would clarify that employees are ineligible for workers’ compensation for accidents caused by being intoxicated by medical cannabis, which is the same standard as other drugs.
Watch the Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee debate and vote on medical cannabis below:
Members also agreed to an amendment creating a restriction on who can be on the cannabis commission.
While it’s not clear how the House would approach the bill if it advances to the chamber this year, the speaker said this week that he’s “in a wait and see mode” and commended Melson for his work on the measure. The state’s attorney general, meanwhile, sent a letter to lawmakers expressing opposition to the reform move.
Under the measure, patients suffering from 15 conditions would qualify for the program. Those include anxiety, cancer, epilepsy and post-traumatic stress disorder. Patients would be able to purchase up to a 70-day supply at a time, and there would be a cap of 32 dispensaries allowed in the state.
Prior to the vote, committee heard from a series of proponents and opponents, including parents who shared anecdotes about the therapeutic benefits of cannabis for their children. Interest in the reform move was so strong that an overflow crowd has to be moved to a separate hearing room.
“Sometimes people are not able to empathize with others who have gone through something. I guarantee you if one of relatives, members of the legislature, went through something like the testimonies that we’ve heard today, they would want it,” Sen. Vivian Figures (D) said. “But they would probably have the means to fly somewhere and get it.”
One thing we're watching on Goat Hill today is the medical marijuana bill. Alabama is one of only 17 states where medical cannabis remains illegal. https://t.co/V8CK8nm6mm
— Alabama Democrats (@aldemocrats) February 19, 2020
There would be a number of restrictions under the bill when it comes to advertising. It would also require seed-to-sale tracking for marijuana products, set packaging and labeling requirements and impose criminal background checks for licensed facility employees.
A nine percent tax would be levied on “gross proceeds of the sales of medical cannabis” sold at a retail medical cannabis dispensary. Part of those funds would go toward creating a new Consortium for Medical Cannabis Research, which would provide grants to study the plant.
Last year, the Senate Judiciary Committee also approved a bill to decriminalize marijuana.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.