Utah lawmakers approved a controversial medical marijuana bill in a special session on Monday.
— Robert Gehrke (@RobertGehrke) December 3, 2018
During November’s midterm election, Utah voters passed a separate medical cannabis initiative, Proposition 2, that would allow patients with certain medical conditions to obtain, possess and consume cannabis for therapeutic purposes.
But opposition from groups like the Mormon church and the Utah Medical Association drove some advocates to negotiate a deal in advance of Election Day that called on the Utah legislature to craft a so-called “compromise” bill. The legislation will still legalize medical marijuana, but it contains several substantive changes to Proposition 2.
For example it removes home cultivation rights for patients, allows fewer dispensaries and adds a requirement that dispensaries employ pharmacists.
Gov. Gary Herbert (R) signed the bill into law just hours after its passage by lawmakers, saying that it would close “loopholes that have created significant problems in other states that have legalized medical cannabis.”
This is an example of how collaboration makes Utah the best-managed state in the nation. Proponents and opponents came together to honor the voice of Utah voters who compassionately stood up for Utah patients.
— Gov. Gary Herbert (@GovHerbert) December 4, 2018
“While this legislation is not ideal, it is a major step forward for Utah and it will help patients and families across the state,” Matthew Schweich, deputy director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a press release about the vote. “This law will enable patients to safely and legally access the medical cannabis treatments they need, and it can be improved upon in future legislative sessions. It’s now time to move forward, and we call on the state government to implement this new policy without delay.”
But to some, the compromise bill is just that—a compromise of the will of the people. An attorney representing a coalition of patients and advocates said the Mormon church could face a lawsuit over its alleged attempts to undermine the voter-approved initiative. Separately, pro-reform group TRUCE also said on Monday that a suit could emerge if lawmakers passed the compromise bill.
— Julia Ritchey (@juliaritchey) December 3, 2018
Advocacy group Alliance for a Better Utah put out a press release on Monday voicing opposition to the legislation. “Last month, the people voted,” the group’s executive director said. “Lawmakers should respect those votes.”
“The large number of propositions on the ballot in 2018 were an indicator of the lack of trust the public has in the Legislature to represent their interests. The Legislature should not further destroy that trust today.”
— Better Utah (@betterutah) December 3, 2018
Regardless, after several hours of debate and votes to reject amendments and substitute proposals, both chambers passed the bill decisively. Some lawmakers defended the compromise against criticism, arguing that the revised proposal ensured that the state wouldn’t open the door to adult-use legalization. It passed 60-13 in the House and 22-4 in the Senate.
"Those who opposed this bill really wanted something more!" Rep. Nelson says, suggesting it leads to recreational marijuana.
— Ben Winslow (@BenWinslow) December 3, 2018
Sen. Jim Dabakis (D) shared a the live stream of the Senate vote, which you can watch below. He introduced two substitute bills in the special session that were designed to maintain the integrity of the voter-approved initiative, but both failed on voice votes.
For now, qualifying medical cannabis patients are technically protected to use marijuana based on the legal premise of “affirmative defense,” Fox 13 reported. But the passage of this bill means Proposition 2 will be effectively replaced.
UPDATE: This article has been updated to include the results of the Senate vote and the governor’s signing the medical cannabis bill into law.
Photo courtesy of Nicholas C. Morton.
Trump’s New White House Chief Of Staff Supports Marijuana Reform
President Trump announced on Friday that Mick Mulvaney will serve as his acting White House chief of staff, a move that could bode extremely well for federal marijuana reform efforts in 2019.
….I look forward to working with him in this new capacity as we continue to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! John will be staying until the end of the year. He is a GREAT PATRIOT and I want to personally thank him for his service!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 14, 2018
Mulvaney, who currently serves as director of the Office of Management and Budget and acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, was previously a member of the U.S. House, where he consistently voted to support marijuana reform amendments and cosponsored cannabis bills.
In 2015, for example, he voted for a floor amendment that would have barred the Justice Department from spending money to interfere with state marijuana laws. The proposal, which came just nine flipped votes short of passage, would have expanded on existing protections for state medical cannabis programs by covering recreational laws as well.
Mulvaney backed a 2014 amendment to prevent the Treasury Department from punishing banks that work with marijuana businesses.
He also signed his name on as a cosponsor of several pieces of standalone marijuana legislation, including a comprehensive bill to reschedule cannabis and protect state medical-use laws, a measure to allow banking access for marijuana businesses, a hemp legalization bill and two separate CBD proposals.
“Mulvaney’s history of opposing wasteful government spending and support for states’ rights, specifically when it comes to marijuana, makes him our strongest ally in the White House,” Don Murphy, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment.
Pointing to how the Office of Management and Budget under Mulvaney on several occasions has floated severe funding cuts for the Office of National Drug Control Policy, commonly known as the drug czar’s office, Murphy said that the new acting chief of staff “delivers our ‘more liberty/less spending’ position directly into the Oval Office on a daily basis, where it could bring the federal war on marijuana to an end by 2020.”
It is unclear how long Mulvaney will serve as acting chief of staff, or how frequently marijuana issues will come across his desk, but the fact that he—and not an ardent legalization opponent like Chris Christie, who was also under consideration for the job—will sit a door away from the Oval Office is likely to be seen as a positive development for cannabis reform supporters.
In his new capacity, Mulvaney will be party to conversations about which congressional legislation the president should back as well as discussions about potential marijuana enforcement policy changes at the Department of Justice under a new attorney general.
This story has been updated to include comment from MPP.
Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.
New York Governor Will Outline Plan To Legalize Marijuana On Monday
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) will lay out his agenda for the upcoming legislative session in a speech on Monday, and that will include details on his plan to get an adult-use marijuana legalization bill through the state legislature in 2019.
In an interview with radio station 1010 WINS on Friday, the governor confirmed that a proposal to end cannabis prohibition would be one of 15 pieces of legislation he’ll discuss in the speech. He said the current “political atmosphere” is “unlike anything we’ve ever seen before,” and the timing is ripe to promote a bold agenda.
Listen to Cuomo confirm plans to reveal marijuana legalization details on Monday, about 5:00 into the clip below:
(In the exchange, the host mistakenly asks about “medical” marijuana, which is already legal in New York.)
In a separate interview on WCNY’s Capitol Pressroom, Cuomo said the Monday speech “is going to get to the meat of the specific legislative issues. This is not going to be a lot of rhetoric and retrospective.”
“We have an incoming [Democratic majority] legislature and I wanted to say, ‘these are the 15 things I’m trying to get done this year, and these are the 15 bills you’re going to see.'”
While reforming marijuana laws hasn’t always been a top priority for the governor, who as recently as a year ago called cannabis a “gateway drug,” 2018 has seen Cuomo’s position on the issue evolve dramatically. In August, he formed a working group to draft a legalization bill after the state Department of Health released a report finding that the benefits of legal cannabis outweigh the consequences.
Cuomo is also rumored to be considering putting cannabis legalization in his 2019 budget, which is set to come out next month. If he did so, New York could have a “fiscal framework for the program” by April, according to Crain’s.
It remains to be seen whether Cuomo will talk about a proposal to use revenue from legal marijuana sales to improve New York City’s subway system—a notion that’s put some lawmakers and advocates at odds—or if he will address details such as cannabis businesses licensing structures or whether he believes home cultivation should be allowed.
Photo courtesy of Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Missouri Lawmaker Moves To Block Feds From Getting Medical Marijuana Patient Info
Missouri officials would be prohibited from sharing information about registered medical marijuana patients with the federal government under a new bill pre-filed by a state lawmaker on Thursday.
Voters in the state approved one of three competing medical cannabis initiatives during November’s midterm elections. So if the new legislation passes, patients enrolled in the program wouldn’t have to worry about the state outing them to the feds, who still regard cannabis as a strictly controlled illegal substance.
Any state official who did share medical marijuana patient info with a federal agency would be committing a felony under the proposal.
Missouri Rep. Nick Schroer (R) is sponsoring the bill, which states:
“1. Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, no state agency shall disclose to the federal government the statewide list of persons who have obtained a medical marijuana card.
2. Any violation of this section is a class E felony.”
Federal prosecution of medical marijuana patients or providers is rare—the Justice Department is barred from using federal dollars to enforce prohibition in medical cannabis states—but not entirely unheard of.
“It’s very, very unlikely that there’s going to be [federal] targeting of individual customers,” Tamar Todd, legal director for the Drug Policy Alliance, told PolitiFact earlier this year. “Many, many other targets would come first.”
Still, Schroer’s bill would at least provide a safeguard in the event that the government radically shifts its drug enforcement policy. And it sends a strong message that state officials want the feds to respect their rights to enact their own marijuana laws without any kind of interference.
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The new Missouri bill is one of several that have been pre-filed for 2019 in states from Nevada to Texas.