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Vermont Democratic Party Calls For Marijuana Legalization Expansion

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Vermont’s Democratic-led legislature passed a bill to legalize low-level possession and home cultivation of marijuana earlier this year. Now, party activists are calling on lawmakers to expand on that by allowing a system of legal cannabis production and sales.

“We believe that marijuana should be legal, taxed and regulated in the interests of consumer and public health, and economic opportunity,” reads a platform plank adopted by delegates at the Vermont Democratic Party’s platform convention on Sunday.

The limited legalization bill was signed into law by Gov. Phil Scott (R) in January.

While Scott, who is up for reelection this year, has said the state won’t be ready to go further until better solutions to address impaired driving are formulated, Democratic challenger Christine Hallquist is all-in on expanded legalization, pledging to “work with the legislature to ensure that a tax and regulate system was passed into law in my first term.”

Democratic leaders in both chambers of the legislature brought the noncommercial legalization proposal to votes last session, but House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D) has been reluctant about adding tax and regulate. Meanwhile, the Senate has already passed legislation to legalize cannabis sales.

Advocates hope that the Democratic Party’s new official position in support of expanding to a regulated commercial system of legalization like ones that exist in eight other states will encourage Johnson and other top lawmakers to prioritize moving a bill early in 2019.

“The Vermont Democratic Party has now officially and fully embraced the position that regulating the production and sale of cannabis is the smart way to achieve improvements in public health and safety – a position strongly supported by the general public,” Dave Silberman, an attorney and pro bono drug policy reform advocate, told Marijuana Moment.

“From the party officials at the dais, to the grassroots members on the platform convention floor, support for regulation was vocal, even amongst delegates who opposed homegrow legalization,” added Silberman, who authored the language of the new platform plank as a delegate at the convention over the weekend. “This sends Vermonters an unambiguous message ahead of November’s election: a vote for Democratic legislators is a vote for tax-and-regulate.”

Meanwhile, the party is also pushing for broader drug policy reforms that go beyond cannabis.

“We recognize that the ‘War on Drugs’ has been disproportionately focused on people of color and those with low incomes, and urge the adoption of non-discriminatory, public health-based approaches,” reads an additional new platform plank.

“We believe that Vermont’s policies towards drug use and abuse should be motivated by a desire to reduce harm, rather than to punish undesirable private behavior,” says another.

A third new plank touches on the far-reaching effects of drug and other convictions: “We support ensuring that the collateral consequences of criminal convictions do not last a lifetime, by enabling more people to clear their records after having repaid their debt to society. To do this, we must expand access and reduce financial and bureaucratic barriers to expungement.”

On a voice vote, delegates defeated a proposed plank calling for the decriminalization of all drugs. The party’s 2016 platform called for “exploration of the decriminalization of drug use and instead treating it as a health and mental health issue” but was silent on cannabis specifically.

“The feeling the room was that while almost all support alternatives to incarceration, the party was not quite yet ready to fully embrace decriminalization,” Silberman said.

A Guide To Vermont’s New Marijuana Legalization Law

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Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 15-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (Organization citations are for identification only and do not constitute an endorsement or partnership.)

Politics

Chris Christie Finally Recognizes Marijuana Legalization As States’ Rights Issue

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Famously anti-marijuana former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) isn’t jumping on the pro-legalization train any time soon—but new comments suggest he might be softening his opposition a smidge, recognizing marijuana reform as a states’ rights issue.

Speaking at Politicon on Saturday, Christie took a question about his cannabis stance from YouTuber Kyle Kulinski, who asked him to weigh in on studies showing that states with legal marijuana programs experience lower rates of opioid addiction and overdoses compared to non-legal states. He was quick to dismiss the research, contending that other studies show the “exact opposite.”

“I just don’t believe when we’re in the midst of a drug addiction crisis that we need to legalize another drug,” Christie said, echoing comments he’s made as chair of President Donald Trump’s opioids committee.

Then he pivoted, acknowledging that some will push back on his anti-legalization position by pointing out that alcohol is legal. “I get that,” he said, “but I wasn’t here when we legalized alcohol.”

Kulinski seized on that point and asked the former governor if he’d vote to ban alcohol.

“No, I wouldn’t ban it. You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube, and that’s a big, important argument about marijuana because once you legalize this, that toothpaste never goes back in the tube.”

Christie stood out among other Republican and Democratic contenders during his 2016 presidential run by maintaining that in addition to personally opposing legalization, he’d crack down on legal cannabis states and enforce federal laws nationwide if elected.

“If you’re getting high in Colorado today, enjoy it,” Christie said in 2015. “As of January 2017, I will enforce the federal laws.

So it came as something of a surprise when the former governor went on to say in the Politicon appearance that “states have the right to do what they want to do on this,” signaling a modest shift in his anti-marijuana rhetoric. States should have that right even though, as Christie put it, “broad legalization of marijuana won’t, in my view, alleviate or even minimize the opioid crisis.”

It’s unclear what’s behind the apparent shift from hardline prohibitionist to wary federalist, but who knows… maybe Christie experienced an epiphany at a Melissa Etheridge concert he attended earlier this month.

Etheridge, who recently spoke with Marijuana Moment about her cannabis advocacy and use of the drug for medicinal purposes, reacted to a tweet showing Christie at one of her recent performances, where he reportedly knew every word of her songs and sang along.

Christie, for his part, replied that he “enjoyed every minute of a great performance and a truly wonderful group of fans.”

Hm…

GIF by #ActionAliens

Melissa Etheridge Talks Art, Culture and Marijuana Advocacy In The Legalization Era

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.

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Politics

Marijuana Support Grows: Two Out Of Three Americans Back Legalization, Gallup Says

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Two-thirds of Americans now support legalizing marijuana, the highest percentage ever in Gallup’s ongoing decades-long series of national polls on the topic.

The new survey released on Monday shows that U.S. adults back ending cannabis prohibition by a supermajority margin of 66 percent to 32 percent. That’s more than a two-to-one ratio.

Please visit Forbes to read the rest of this piece.

(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)

Photo courtesy of Jurassic Blueberries.

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North Dakota Marijuana Legalization Measure Winning In Latest Poll

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North Dakota voters appear poised to legalize marijuana via a ballot measure next month, according to a new poll.

Measure 3, which would legalize cannabis for adults 21 and over in one of the country’s most conservative states—and with no possession limits—is ahead among likely voters by a margin of 51 percent to 36 percent in the survey released on Sunday.

North Dakota has brought marijuana policy reform supporters pleasant surprises before. Medical cannabis was approved there by an overwhelming majority of voters in 2016, for example, and will be available to patients sometime in 2019.

And despite little pro-legalization funding and relatively large spending in opposition to the ballot measure—a flip of the usual paradigm seen in most other states with cannabis initiatives—libertarian-leaning and younger voters on the prairie appear to be pushing Measure 3 towards a slim victory.

The results sharply contrast to those of another poll released earlier this month, which found the marijuana measure losing, 59 percent to 30 percent.

And although legalization support was significantly larger than opposition in the new survey, 13 percent of the 412 respondents say they are still undecided, leaving the issue very much in balance in the lead up to Election Day.

Nonetheless, legalization advocates are pleased with the new polling result.

“Despite a big-money funded misinformation campaign from the opposition, this poll reveals that most North Dakotans are ready to end the failed prohibition of marijuana in the state,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said in a press release. “By voting ‘Yes’ on Measure 3, North Dakotans could save the state millions of taxpayer dollars currently being spent on arresting otherwise law-abiding adults for possession of a plant that is objectively less harmful than legal alcohol and tobacco, allow law enforcement to allocate their limited resources to focus on violent crime, and defend individual freedom.”

But activists know that the opposition has more money, and aren’t taking anything for granted over the next few weeks.

“The message of ending marijuana arrests is resounding in North Dakota, and these results demonstrate that voters are hearing our call for action. This is a dogfight, and LegalizeND will continue to set the record straight when it comes to adult-use marijuana,” Cole Haymond, a campaign advisory for Legalize ND, said.

Consistent with other states where medical marijuana has become legal, the measure performed best with voters under 50 in the new poll. Fifty-seven percent of respondents were 50 or older, suggesting that if younger voters turn out on Election Day, the measure may stand an even better chance of success.

“Passage of Measure 3 is greatly dependent upon the voters under the age of 50 voting in at least their historical percentages,” reads a polling memo by The Kitchens Group, which conducted the survey. “If the electorate is skewed toward the older, more conservative voters, passage could be problematic.”

But Measure 3 is being sold to voters on a personal responsibility platform, with emphasis on harsher penalties for sales to minors—and on marijuana’s proven ability to alleviate opiate-related overdoses and deaths.

When these aspects of the ballot measure were mentioned to poll respondents, support increased by the end of the eight-question survey.

Both before and after the push-polling, the percentage of voters who said they would “definitely” vote no stayed at a consistent 29 percent, suggesting that North Dakota has only a hardcore minority of prohibition-minded voters, with many more undecideds and pro-legalization voters.

The ballot measure is very far-reaching compared to those proposed in other states. It would allow possession, cultivation and sales of marijuana, with no set limits, though lawmakers would almost certainly enact regulations in the event of the measure’s passage. It would also expunge prior cannabis convictions.

The poll was conducted between October 11 and 14, and has a margin of error or +/- 4.9 percentage points.

Voters in seven states will consider marijuana ballot measures on Election Day this year.

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Measure 3 legalized only small amounts of marijuana. The text of Measure 3 legalizes marijuana for adults 21 and over with no possession limits. This article has been updated.

North Dakota’s Marijuana Legalization Supporters Outraised By Opponents, Filings Show

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