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Vermont Governor Again Voices Concerns On Marijuana Sales Legalization Bill, Suggesting Possible Veto

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The governor of Vermont again deflected a question about whether he intends to sign a bill to legalize marijuana sales in the state, suggesting that new racial justice concerns could lead him to veto it and make the legislature take the issue up anew during the next session that begins in January.

During a debate with his challenger, Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman (D), on Thursday, Gov. Phil Scott (R) said that he needs time to reflect on concerns expressed by certain racial justice groups who are urging him to veto the tax-and-regulate bill that officially arrived on his desk earlier in the day.

The governor has until Wednesday to sign or veto the legislation, and if he takes no action by then it will become law without his signature.

The House and Senate passed differing versions of the bill, S. 54, earlier this session and both approved a new version last month that was put together by a bicameral conference committee that negotiated differences between the two chambers’ proposals. Throughout the process, lawmakers took pains to ensure that Scott’s previously stated concerns with the reform measure—namely around impaired driving, taxes and local control—were largely accounted for before transmitting it to his office.

But while the governor said last month that he was impressed by the legislative process that the bill went through.

“I haven’t been philosophically opposed to the regulation of marijuana, but I had some certain conditions that had to be met in order for me to sign it. They have come a long ways,” Scott reiterated during the debate. “They aren’t perfect, they aren’t everything that I wanted, but they’ve come a long ways.”

But for the second time in the span of just a few days, the governor voiced news concerns about the bill. He also brought up the social equity concerns during a separate debate with Zuckerman on Tuesday.

“The only hesitancy I have at this point is we have had some racial equity groups—more than one—contact our office and urge us to veto this legislation because they don’t feel it was enough for them, they don’t feel as though they were heard,” he said in the latest debate. “I’ll reflect on that, but I haven’t signed it yet. I think we have until mid-next week to do so.”

To watch the candidates discuss the marijuana legislation, click here and scroll down to the twelfth clip.

Some advocates suspect Scott may be simply picking up an excuse to lay the groundwork for a veto, as he never raised racial justice issues during the many months that lawmakers were debating and negotiating the cannabis commercialization legislation.

To be sure, several racial justice groups and growers associations have voiced opposition to the legislation, arguing that it doesn’t go far enough to promote equity in the industry.

But as Zuckerman pointed out in the debate, an imperfect bill can be improved upon, and the legislature has plenty of time to finesse the details before legal cannabis sales launch. He also noted that the bill already does contain social equity provisions such as prioritizing women- and minority-owned businesses. Plus, a separate companion bill providing for automatic expungements of prior marijuana convictions is also on its way to Scott’s desk.

The moderator pressed the governor, stating that the bill could be improved and asking whether he’s “inclined” to sign it.

“I want to reflect on some of the concerns. Racial equity is important to all of us,” he said. “I want to reflect them on what they’re saying versus what actually happened in the bill. And again, we can address this come January and, as with a lot of legislation, it will need some help, assistance and repair.”

That last remark highlights that a veto at this point would likely mean lawmakers would need to start the cannabis sales legalization process all over again with a new bill during the next session that starts early in 2021. That said, the negotiations on the current proposal were fairly comprehensive and involved buy-in from numerous committees, so the legislature would potentially be able to move a new bill with additional racial equity components added through the process and to the governor’s desk on a relatively rapid basis.

Zuckerman, meanwhile, said that if he were governor, “I would certainly sign the bill.”

“This has been a long time coming to bring the underground market aboveboard, to work to reduce access to youth and to make sure that what is out there is a cleaner product so we don’t have contaminated or adulterated product out there,” he said. “We could use the resources being of both economic development but also for after-school programs, as I believe is in the bill, for youth prevention of this as well as other drugs.”

Former state Rep. Kiah Morris (D), who is Black, put out a statement on Friday that encourages residents to contact the governor’s office and urge him to sign the legislation. She also made the case that the proposal does advance racial justice.

Under the cannabis commerce bill, a new Cannabis Control Commission would be responsible for issuing licenses for retailers, growers, manufacturers, wholesalers and labs. The body would also take over regulation of the state’s existing medical cannabis industry from the Department of Public Safety .

A 30 percent THC limit would be imposed on cannabis flower, while oils could contain up to 60 percent THC. Flavored vape cartridges would be banned.

Local jurisdictions would have to proactively opt in to allow marijuana businesses to operate in their area. Municipalities would also be able to establish their own regulations and municipal licensing requirements.

timeline for the legislation states that it would formally take effect on October 1, 2020—but regulators would then have to make a series of determinations about rules and licensing before retail sales would launch. Dispensary licenses would have to be issued on or before October 1, 2022.

fiscal analysis on the final bill projects that Vermont will generate between $13.3 million and $24.2 million in annual cannabis tax revenue by Fiscal Year 2025. Licensing fees will lead to additional funds for the state, but the regulatory board created by the legislation will set those levels at a later date. For now, the Joint Fiscal Office estimates the fees could lead to another $650,000 in revenue every year. Municipalities hosting marijuana businesses will also be able to levy additional local fees.

The expungements bill that is also being transmitted to Scott’s desk would make it so those with convictions for marijuana possession of up to two ounces, four mature plants and eight immature plants prior to January 2021 would have their records automatically cleared. Those who receive expungements would be notified by mail.

It’s not clear what will happen if Scott vetoes the legal cannabis sales bill. It passed the Senate with a veto-proof margin, but fell shy of that threshold in the House. The governor vetoed an earlier version of the noncommercial legalization bill in 2018 before negotiating changes with lawmakers that made him comfortable with signing a revised bill.

D.C. Expands Medical Marijuana Deliveries Amid Coronavirus And Shifts Regulatory Control To Alcohol Agency

Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

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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Arizona Marijuana Opponents Release Five Misleading Attack Ads Ahead Of Legalization Vote Next Week

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A campaign opposing a marijuana legalization initiative in Arizona recently released a series of ads imploring voters to reject the proposal.

The digital spots—which range from 16 to 42 seconds in length—argue that cannabis reform would negatively impact young people, increase impaired driving and create workplace risks. In doing so, they make misleading claims about what the proposed Arizona law would allow and what has occurred in other states that have already enacted legalization.

Here’s each ad and script, along with some broader context on the accuracy of the claims: 

“When Washington State legalized marijuana, I wasn’t too concerned. What began happening with students, however, was alarming. Marijuana possession increased. We maintained a zero drug policy in our district, and parents and students became confused when students were disciplined for possession of marijuana. Suspensions increased and students lost valuable classroom time. If I could give one piece of advice from this Democrat, school principal from Washington to my new Arizona neighbors vote ‘no’ on 207. It won’t provide the support needed to deal with the problems this law will create. Vote ‘no’ on Prop. 207.”

Actually, a study published last year by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that youth marijuana use declined in Washington State’s largest metropolitan county after legalization. Other research has reached similar conclusions.

“Marijuana use damages the developing brain of teenagers. Unfortunately, where marijuana is legal for adults, more teens get it and use it. Under Prop. 207, marijuana-laced candies, cookies and vape pens—all very appealing to teens—are not only legal but marijuana marketers can advertise them on TV, radio and social media, a teen favorite. Vote ‘no’ on Prop. 207.”

The Arizona initiative states that any advertising “involving direct, individualized communication or dialogue shall use a method of age affirmation is twenty-one years of age or older before engaging in that communication or dialogue.”

“Police pull over the driver next to you for swerving, but there’s no standard of impairment. It’s 2021, and using marijuana is legal right under Prop. 207. There’s no roadside test to gauge marijuana impairment, so they let it go. Nearly 70 percent of marijuana users in Colorado admit to driving stoned. Their traffic deaths doubled after legalization. Keep stoned drivers off Arizona roads. Vote ‘no’ on Prop. 207.”

The Arizona initiative explicitly states that it “does not allow driving, flying or boating while impaired by marijuana to even the slightest degree.”

“When you drop your child off at daycare, you expect the caregiver to be sober. Under Prop. 207, employers can only prohibit using marijuana at work. There’s nothing stopping employees from using and then heading to the daycare or elderly care facility or the worksite. Prop 207. ties the hands of employers who want to keep a drug-free workplace. Vote ‘no’ on Prop. 207.”

The Arizona initiative says it “does not restrict the rights of employers to maintain a drug- and alcohol-free workplace or affect the ability of employers to have workplace policies restricting the use of marijuana by employees or prospective employees.” It also “does not restrict the rights of employers, schools, day care centers, adult day care facilities, health care facilities or corrections facilities to prohibit or regulate conduct otherwise allowed by this chapter when such conduct occurs on or in their properties.”

Despite the questionable ad splurge from Arizonans for Health and Public Safety, convincing enough people to vote against the legalization proposal will be a steep task days out from the election, recent polling suggests.

A firm that’s been consistently tracking where residents stand on candidates and ballot questions found that 55 percent of likely voters favor Proposition 207 in a survey released earlier this month. A separate, recent survey showed 56 percent support among registered voters.

Both of those results are largely consistent with an internal poll Smart and Safe Arizona, the campaign behind the initiative, shared with Marijuana Moment last month.

These survey results represent promising signals to reform advocates that Arizona is ready to enact legalization, unlike in 2016 when voters rejected a similar proposal.

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Mark Kelly also indicated this month that he is inclined to back the legal cannabis measure.

If the Arizona measure is approved by voters, adults could possess up to an ounce of marijuana at a time and cultivate up to six plants for personal use.

The measure also contains several restorative justice provisions such as allowing individuals with prior cannabis convictions to petition the courts for expungements and establishing a social equity ownership program

Cannabis sales would be taxed at 16 percent. Tax revenue would cover implementation costs and then would be divided among funds for community colleges, infrastructure, a justice reinvestment and public services such as police and firefighters.

The Department of Health Services would be responsible for regulating the program and issuing cannabis business licenses. It would also be tasked with deciding on whether to expand the program to allow for delivery services.

Majority Of New Yorkers Support Marijuana Legalization, New Poll Shows As Governor Renews Reform Pledge

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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Montana Marijuana Legalization Ballot Measure Has Solid Lead In New Poll

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Montana voters appear poised to approve a proposal to legalize marijuana next week, according to a new poll released on Wednesday.

The survey, conducted by Montana State University (MSU) Billings, found that 54 percent of likely voters plan to support legal cannabis on the ballot, while 38 percent are opposed. Seven percent remain undecided.

There is a stark partisan divide on the measure, with 77 percent of Democrats in favor, and only 31 percent of Republicans agreeing. Sixty-three percent of independents back the reform.

Ending marijuana prohibition has majority support among both men and women in the state, and from voter groups under the age of 65. Those older than that are narrowly divided on legalizing cannabis.

Via Montana State University Billings.

The poll involved interviews with 546 likely voters, conducted from October 19 to 24, and has a margin of error of 4.2 percent.

A separate survey released earlier this month showed the measure leading, but without outright majority support. That poll, conducted by a separate team at MSU, found that Montana voters support marijuana legalization, 49 percent to 39 percent.

The new numbers showing continued voter backing for marijuana legalization comes a week after the state Supreme Court rejected a request to block the initiative. The case was filed by opponents who argued that the measure violates the state Constitution by appropriating funds to specific programs.

Under the proposal, half of the public revenue generated from marijuana sales would go toward environmental conservation programs—a provision that earned the campaign key endorsements last month.

In addition to the cannabis revenue earmarked for land, water and wildlife conservation programs, the proposal aims to send funds toward veteran services, substance misuse treatment, health care and local governments, with the rest being pegged to the general fund.

The state Supreme Court didn’t rule on the merits of the challenge but said that opponents needed to take up the issue in lower courts first, which they said they plan to do.

Also this month, a Montana-based federal prosecutor appointed by President Trump sent a press release highlighting his concerns that legalizing cannabis in the state could cause public health and safety harms.

Montana voters will actually see two cannabis questions on their ballots. A statutory measure to legalize marijuana for adult use would allow adults to possess up to an ounce of cannabis and cultivate up to four plants and four seedlings at home, while a separate constitutional amendment stipulates that only those 21 and older could access the market.

Photo courtesy of Max Pixel.

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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‘Drug Free USA Forever’ Stamps Launched By DEA, Postal Service And Miss America

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The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and U.S. Postal Service (USPS) have officially released a new “Drug Free USA Forever” stamp that’s supposed to help “raise awareness about the dangers of drug abuse.”

In partnership with Miss America 2020, the federal agencies unveiled the stamps—because, evidently, they feel the postage symbol could help move the U.S. toward a totally “drug-free” status that has never been achieved in the history of civilization.

Of course, the message is symbolic and targeted at preventing the use of currently illicit drugs.

“With this powerful image and message, the U.S. Postal Service has given us another means to promote the battle against drug abuse,” DEA Acting Administrator Timothy Shea said in a press release on Tuesday. “In America alone, 70,000 lives are lost to drug overdoses every year, with countless others impacted by the actions of violent drug traffickers and the scourge of illegal drug use.”

“We urge the public to engage in this fight against illegal drug use and to use the Drug Free USA stamp to signify their support for safer, drug-free communities,” he said.

Drug policy reform advocates don’t see the utility in using federal dollars to promote DEA’s arguably unrealistic message via the mail, however.

“This is just another example of the DEA squandering government resources,” Maritza Perez, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, told Marijuana Moment. “Rather than focus on ‘drug-free’ initiatives, our government should be focused on providing harm reduction services and treatment for people who use drugs.”

“We are facing an overdose epidemic made increasingly deadly due to the pandemic, but the DEA is selling stamps. Unconscionable,” she said. “Further, with an election just days away, people are depending on the USPS to ensure their ballots are delivered, not to waste precious time and resources memorializing a failed drug war that has caused nothing but pain to the same people that could be most disenfranchised during the electoral process.”

But Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said USPS hopes “that the Drug Free USA stamp will help publicize the dangers of illicit drug use and to promote drug abuse prevention.”

“Millions of Americans have had their lives hijacked by the impact of addiction. Families are destroyed and communities are disrupted. We can measure the cost to society in the billions, but we cannot measure the grief and the despair. To fully address this problem requires a unified effort at every level of the community, and with this stamp, the Postal Service is proud to join the Drug Enforcement Administration and many other federal, state and local partners’ commitment to a Drug Free USA.”

Camille Schrier, who holds the beauty pageant title of Miss America 2020, is also involved in the anti-drug postal promotion. She spoke about prescription opioid misuse promotion during a talk with the National Institute on Drug Abuse that was released last month.

In the DEA announcement, Schrier said, “I have dedicated my year as Miss America 2020 to keeping patients safe with medications and fighting prescription drug misuse, so I am thrilled to see this issue nationally recognized through the drug-free stamp.”

“I admire the DEA’s commitment toward achieving a drug-free America, and am grateful to work beside them in educating the public on the dangers of drug misuse, living a substance-free life, as well as celebrating the creation of this historic stamp,” she said.

DEA initially revealed the stamp design in November 2019 at the conclusion of Red Ribbon Week, an annual occurrence first launched under the Reagan administration.

A description of the design states that the stamp “features a white star with lines of red, light blue and blue radiating from one side of each of the star’s five points, suggesting the unity necessary at all levels to effectively address drug abuse.”

For those with mailing needs who aren’t interested in supporting the notion of a “Drug Free USA,” USPS does have another stamp that recognizes the 50-year anniversary of the drug-fueled 1969 counterculture music festival Woodstock.

The stamp “features an image of a dove along with the words ‘3 DAYS OF PEACE AND MUSIC,’ evoking the original promotional poster for the festival,” USPS says.

Another option is a John Lennon Forever stamp, celebrating the iconic Beatles member and marijuana enthusiast who famously got “high with a little help” from his friends.

The stamps are intended to “celebrate one of history’s greatest rock-and-roll legends,” USPS said.

For those who do want to send their mail with DEA’s new anti-drug stamp, however, they will be available for the next year.

Meanwhile, DEA has been caught up in several court proceedings over its marijuana criminalization policy.

Following a series of legal challenges, the Supreme Court announced earlier this month that it will not hear a case challenging the constitutionality of federal cannabis prohibition.

The case was rejected in a series of rulings by lower courts, but attorneys for the plaintiffs said those decisions made it clear their only source of acceptable relief would come from the Supreme Court.

Lawyers representing a group of scientists and military veterans filed a comprehensive brief in federal court earlier this month, outlining their case challenging decisions about the classification of marijuana made by the agency. A week later, a major military veterans group urged the court to take up that case.

The plaintiffs initially filed that lawsuit against the federal agency in May, contending that DEA’s justification for maintaining a Schedule I status for cannabis is unconstitutional. DEA attempted to quash the case by filing a motion to dismiss, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rejected that request in August.

The plaintiffs also sued the agency last year in a separate case, alleging that it had deliberately delayed approving additional marijuana manufacturers for research purposes despite pledging to expand the number of those facilities in 2016.

A court mandated that DEA take steps to make good on its promise, and that suit was dropped after DEA provided a status update.

In March, DEA finally unveiled a revised rule change proposal that it said was necessary due to the high volume of applicants and to address potential complications related to international treaties to which the U.S. is a party.

The same scientists behind the original case filed another suit against DEA, claiming that the agency used a “secret” document to justify its delay of approving manufacturer applications.

That was born out when the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel document was released in April as part of a settlement in the case, revealing, among other things, that the agency feels that its current licensing structure for cannabis cultivation has been in violation of international treaties for decades.

Separately, a federal court recently ruled that California regulators must comply with a DEA subpoena demanding information about marijuana businesses that they are investigating.

Kansas Residents Support Legalizing Marijuana By A Large Margin, Poll Finds

Photo courtesy of DEA.

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