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Vermont Governor Allows Marijuana Sales Legalization Bill To Take Effect Without His Signature

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The governor of Vermont announced on Wednesday that he will allow a bill to legalize marijuana sales in the state to take effect without his signature. He also signed separate legislation to automate expungements for prior cannabis convictions.

While Vermont legalized personal possession of up to one ounce and cultivation of two plants for adults in 2018, retails sales have remained prohibited. But now with Gov. Phil Scott’s (R) decision not to veto the new cannabis commercialization bill, a tax-and-regulate system will finally be implemented.

Differing versions of the marijuana sales proposal passed each chamber before being reconciled in a bicameral conference committee last month. The legislature then approved the finalized proposal and sent it to Scott’s desk. The governor had been noncommittal about his plans for the legislation—even up until the day before the signature deadline—and had hinted that he was even considering vetoing the bill. But he ultimately gave legal cannabis supporters a win by deciding not to block the reform.

In the conference committee, legislators worked fastidiously to ensure that Scott’s stated concerns about the policy change were largely addressed. Those issues primarily related to impaired driving, taxes and local control.

But after the legislature advanced a finalized form, Scott threw advocates for a loop, stating that while he appreciated the legislative process that the bill went through, certain racial justice groups had raised concerns with his office about the extent to which the proposal addressed social equity in the cannabis industry for communities historically targeted by the war on drugs. There was some suspicion that the governor was using that pushback as an excuse to veto S. 54.

On Tuesday, the day before his deadline to act on the bill, the governor said lawmakers “did move forward in a lot of areas that I had concerns about, but it still isn’t exactly what I’d like to see and there are some shortcomings.”

In the end, however, he stood out of the way and took no proactive action.

“However, there is still more work to be done to ensure the health and safety of our kids and the safety of our roadways—we should heed the public health and safety lessons of tobacco and alcohol,” Scott wrote in a letter to lawmakers announcing his decision. “Further, I believe we are at a pivotal moment in our nation’s history which requires us to address systemic racism in our governmental institutions. We must take additional steps to ensure equity is a foundational principle in a new market.”

“The concerns with this bill of the communities historically most negatively affected by cannabis enforcement were not meaningfully incorporated into this bill,” he said.

The governor raised several areas where he feels lawmakers can tweak the legislation in the 2021 session.

The new law will give existing medical cannabis businesses an “an unfair head start on market access” over would-be new entrants to the legal industry, he said, arguing that lawmakers “should consider include creating a social equity applicant category for cannabis establishment licenses” as well as a 50 percent licensing fee waiver for those applicants and additional technical and financial assistance.

“And in the event the Legislature maintains the current integrated licensing structure, to make it more equitable revenues from those licensees could be directed to benefit social equity applicants and the communities historically most negatively impacted by cannabis enforcement,” Scott wrote.

He also expressed concern about cannabis vaping products, marketing that could appeal to youth, roadside impaired driving enforcement training for police and the timeline for appointing a new regulatory board as well as the process by which its members could be removed.

Finally, Scott said that the 30 percent of cannabis excise taxes that are set aside for substance misuse prevention programs should be allocated by the Commissioner of Health. “As passed, this funding could be raided by the Legislature and used for other unrelated purposes,” he wrote.

It’s possible that there was some political calculus involved in the decision to let the bill go into law despite his concerns, as his reelection challenger, Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman (D), is a vocal advocate for legalization and has raised the issue in recent appearances.

Zuckerman stressed in a debate last week that while he agrees with the sentiment that more needs to be done to ensure racial justice, 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 separate legislation providing for automatic expungements of prior cannabis convictions, which Scott signed on Wednesday, would complement the restorative justice provisions of the tax-and-regulate bill.

A coalition of Vermont civil rights and criminal justice reform groups including the state’s ACLU chapter released a statement on Sunday that says while they shared concerns about the limitations of the social equity components of the marijuana commerce bill, they felt it could be built upon and wanted the governor to sign it, in addition to the expungements legislation.

“This has been a top priority for the majority in the Legislature for four years, but their work is not complete,” Scott said on Wednesday. “They must ensure equity in this new policy and prevent their priority from becoming a public health problem for current and future generations.”

Legalization advocates celebrated the fact that another state system of regulated cannabis sales is set to come online.

“It’s a great relief to learn that Vermont will finally move forward with plans to replace prohibition with sensible regulation,” Matt Simon, New England Political Director for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment. “Legislators bent over backwards to address Gov. Scott’s concerns throughout this process, and it’s now clear that these difficult compromises weren’t made in vain.”

“Much work remains to create a responsible and equitable cannabis industry in Vermont, but now that S. 54 has passed the state is definitely on the right track,” he said.

State Attorney General T.J. Donovan (D) said in a Twitter post that the new bill “brings good governance & common sense to VT’s cannabis law. It will provide revenue to fund protections for consumers, education programs & safety measures.”

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

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

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

A timeline for the legislation states that it will 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 will have to be issued on or before October 1, 2022.

A 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 separate expungements bill 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.

The governor had vetoed an earlier version of a noncommercial legalization bill in 2018 before negotiating changes with lawmakers that made him comfortable with signing revised a revised form of the legislation.

Read Scott’s full letter to lawmakers below:

Vermont Governor Marijuana Bill Letter by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

New Jersey Governor Promotes Marijuana Legalization Referendum In New Ad

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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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U.S. House Approves Marijuana Banking Bill For Fourth Time, Setting Up Senate Consideration

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The U.S. House of Representatives on Monday approved a bill to protect banks that service state-legal marijuana businesses from being penalized by federal regulators.

After receiving an initial voice vote earlier in the afternoon, members passed the legislation by a final recorded vote of 321-101.

The legislation, which was reintroduced by Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) and a long bipartisan list of cosponsors last month, was taken up under a process known as suspension of the rules, which does not allow for amendments and requires a 2/3rd supermajority to pass.

“The fact is that people in states and localities across the country are voting to approve some level of cannabis use, and we need these cannabis businesses and employees to have access to checking accounts, payroll accounts, lines of credit, credit cards and more,” Perlmutter said on the House floor. “This will improve transparency and accountability, and help law enforcement root out illegal transactions to prevent tax evasion, money laundering and other white collar crime. But most importantly, this will reduce the risk of violent crime in our communities.”

Because marijuana businesses are largely precluded from accessing traditional financial institutions and have to operate on a mostly cash-only basis, that makes them targets of crime—a point that advocates, regulators and banking representatives have emphasized.

“Even if you are opposed to the legalization of cannabis, you should support this bill,” Perlmutter added. “American voters have spoken and continue to speak—and the fact is, you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. Prohibition is over.”

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, said “it’s time for us to address this inconsistency, it’s time for us to pass, again, the SAFE Banking Act and it’s time for us to move forward with legalization on the federal level.”

“I appreciate us being at this point—a critical first step along the path to full legalization, which I’m confident will happen this Congress, and not a moment too soon,” the congressman said.

Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) spoke in opposition to the legislation, stating that “regardless of your position on this bill, I do think the fact remains that cannabis is a prohibited substance under Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act—and let me further state, by enacting this legislation, we’re effectively kneecapping law enforcement enforcement and legalizing money laundering.”

But in a sign of the bipartisan nature of this reform, Rep. David Joyce (R-OH) took to the floor to defend the legislation. He said “I’m proud to help lead this common sense and overdue effort.”

“At a time when small businesses are just beginning to recover from the economic destruction caused by COVID-19, the federal government should be supporting them, not standing in their way,” he said.

McHenry was the only lawmaker to rise against the bill on the floor, yielding all additional opposition time to other Republican members who actually spoke in support of it.

Watch the floor debate on the marijuana banking bill in the video below:

Just before the debate started on Monday, the governors of 20 states and one U.S. territory—as well as bankers associations representing every state in the country and a coalition of state treasurers—sent letters to House leadership, expressing support for the reform legislation.

The vote marks the fourth time the House has approved the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act. Lawmakers passed it as a standalone bill in 2019 and then twice more as part of coronavirus relief legislation. At no point did the measure move forward in the Senate under Republican control last session, however.

But this time around, advocates and industry stakeholders are feeling confident that the bill’s path will not end in the House. With Democrats now in control of both chambers and the White House, there are high expectations that the proposal will make its way through the Senate and onto the president’s desk.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,000 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

The legislation would ensure that financial institutions could take on cannabis business clients without facing federal penalties. Fear of sanctions has kept many banks and credit unions from working with the industry, forcing marijuana firms to operate on a cash basis that makes them targets of crime and creates complications for financial regulators.

“For the first time since Joe Biden assumed the presidency, a supermajority of the House has voted affirmatively to recognize that the legalization and regulation of marijuana is a superior public policy to prohibition and criminalization,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said in a press release. “However, the SAFE Banking Act is only a first step at making sure that these state-legal markets operate safely and efficiently. The sad reality is that those who own or patronize the unbanked businesses are themselves criminals in the eyes of the federal government, which can only be addressed by removing marijuana from the list of controlled substances.”

Aaron Smith, co-founder and chief executive officer of the National Cannabis Industry Association, said the bill is “vital for improving public safety and transparency and will improve the lives of the more than 300,000 people who work in the state-legal cannabis industry.”

“It will also help level the playing field for small businesses and communities with limited access to capital,” he said. “It is time for the Senate to start considering the companion legislation without delay.”

At the beginning of Monday’s House session, prior to the formal debate on the bill, Rep. Bob Good (R-VA) voiced opposition to the legislation, arguing that it is “about legitimizing and bankrolling the marijuana industry and making legalization inevitable.”

“We’re not even directly debating our drug laws,” he said. “No, we’re cowardly debating if we should reward states that are undermining the rule of law. Despite what the swamp says, we don’t need recreational marijuana.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s (D-MD) office first confirmed that the chamber would vote on the SAFE Banking Act on Friday.

Days after the legislation was introduced in the House last month, it was also refiled in the Senate, where Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Steve Daines (R-MT) are the chief sponsors. That version currently has 32 cosponsors. It remains to be seen when the bill will be scheduled for action in the chamber.

After it passed the House last Congress, advocates and stakeholders closely watched for any action to come out of the Senate Banking Committee, where it was referred after being transmitted to the chamber. But then-Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) did not hold a hearing on the proposal, despite talk of negotiations taking place regarding certain provisions.

Crapo said he opposed the reform proposal, but he signaled that he might be more amenable if it included certain provisions viewed as untenable to the industry, including a two percent THC potency limit on products in order for cannabis businesses to qualify to access financial services as well as blocking banking services for operators that sell high-potency vaping devices or edibles that could appeal to children.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), who took the top seat in that panel after Democrats secured a majority in the Senate, told reporters in February that he’s “willing” to move the cannabis banking bill, “but with it needs to come sentencing reform.”

When legislative leaders announced that the SAFE Banking Act was getting a House vote in 2019,  there was pushback from some advocates who felt that Congress should have prioritized comprehensive reform to legalize marijuana and promote social equity, rather than start with a measure viewed as primarily friendly to industry interests.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus and an original cosponsor of the bill, said last month that the plan is to pass the banking reform first this session because it “is a public safety crisis now,” and it’s “distinct—as we’ve heard from some of my colleagues—distinct from how they feel about comprehensive reform.”

Meanwhile, congressional lawmakers are simultaneously preparing to introduce legislation to end federal cannabis prohibition.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) are in the process of crafting a legalization bill, and they’ve already met with advocates to get feedback on how best to approach the policy change.

Schumer said last week that the legislation will be introduced and placed on the floor “soon.”

On the House side, Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said recently that he plans to reintroduced his legalization bill, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which cleared the chamber last year but did not advance in the Senate under GOP control.

Nine In Ten Americans Support Legalizing Marijuana For Recreational Or Medical Use, New Pew Poll Finds

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Governors, Banking Associations And State Treasurers Tell Congress To Pass Marijuana Banking Bill

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The governors of 20 states and one U.S. territory—as well as bankers associations representing every state in the country and a coalition of state treasurers—recently sent letters to House leadership, expressing support for a bill to protect banks that service state-legal marijuana businesses that the chamber is set to vote on within hours.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) led the governors’ letter on Monday, which states that the officials “strongly support the passage of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act” in order to “remove the legal uncertainty and allow banks and credit unions to provide services to state-licensed cannabis-related businesses.”

“Because few banks and credit unions provide these services, state-licensed cannabis businesses predominantly operate on a cash basis,” the governors wrote. “Without banking services, state-licensed cannabis businesses are unable to write checks, make and receive electronic payments, utilize a payroll provider, or accept credit and debit cards.”

“Cash only businesses pose a significant public safety risk to customers and employees. The cash-only environment also burdens state and local government agencies that must collect tax and fee payments in person and in cash, which creates additional public expenses and employee safety risks.”

“State and federal governments have a shared interest in upholding the rule of law, protecting public safety, and transitioning markets out of the shadows and into our transparent and regulated banking system. Many of our states have implemented laws and regulations to reduce these risks while ensuring financial accountability of the cannabis industry. These public safety risks can be further mitigated on the federal level by passing the SAFE Banking Act to provide state-licensed cannabis businesses with access to banking service providers.”

Alongside Polis, the governors of California, Connecticut, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, U.S. Virgin Islands, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin signed the letter.

“I’m proud that my fellow Governors and I are urging Congress to make the common sense decision to allow state-licensed cannabis-related businesses to access our financial institutions,” Polis said in a press release. “For more than a decade, Colorado has been a model of the success of these businesses and it’s well past time that we allow them to join our transparent and regulated banking system.”

Separately, bankers associations from all 50 states plus Puerto Rico sent a letter to House leadership on Monday that similarly voices support for passing the SAFE Banking Act, which they characterized as “an important step to address the conflict between federal and state laws and how banks safely work with legal cannabis and cannabis related businesses.”

“Although we do not take a position on the legalization of marijuana, our members are committed to serving the financial needs of their communities—including those that have voted to legalize cannabis,” the letter states. “Despite this ever-growing voter preference, current federal law continues to prevent banks from safely banking these businesses without fear of federal sanctions. As a result, this segment of our local economies is forced to operate on an all-cash basis, which creates serious public safety, revenue administration, and legal compliance concerns in the communities we serve.”

“The SAFE Banking Act is a banking-specific bipartisan solution that would address the reality of the current marketplace and allow banks to serve cannabis-related businesses in states where the activity is legal,” the associations said.

Last week, the National Association of State Treasurers also wrote to congressional leaders, saying that while its members don’t take a position on legalization in general, the group “remains concerned by the ancillary effects posed by legitimate participants in the industry lacking reliable access to the federally regulated banking system.”

“The National Association of State Treasurers continues to support commonsense federal laws and regulations to provide essential banking services to legitimate cannabis businesses, promote public safety and financial transparency, and facilitate tax and fee collection without compromising federal enforcement of anti- money laundering laws against criminal enterprises. To that extent, we fully support the key elements of the SAFE Banking Act that comport with our association’s policy as outlined in this letter and that is contained in our policy resolution.”

Three state attorneys general and the top prosecutor for Washington, D.C. sent a letter to congressional leaders earlier this month, and they also asked Congress to approve the reform.

The SAFE Banking Act, reintroduced by Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) and a long list of cosponsors last month, is expected to easily pass in the House after Monday’s debate wraps up.

It passed as a standalone bill in the chamber in 2019 with strong bipartisan support, and its language was also attached to two pieces of coronavirus relief legislation that the House approved. It didn’t advance in the Senate in any form under Republican control, however.

Among advocates and stakeholders, there’s an expectation that this year will be different now that Democrats control both chambers and the White House.

The legislation would ensure that financial institutions could take on cannabis business clients without facing federal penalties. Fear of sanctions has kept many banks and credit unions from working with the industry, forcing marijuana firms to operate on a cash basis that makes them targets of crime and creates complications for financial regulators.

Days after the legislation was introduced in the House last month, it was also refiled in the Senate, where Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Steve Daines (R-MT) are the chief sponsors. That version currently has 32 cosponsors. It remains to be seen when the bill will be scheduled for action in the chamber.

After it passed the House last Congress, advocates and stakeholders closely watched for any action to come out of the Senate Banking Committee, where it was referred after being transmitted to the chamber. But then-Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) did not hold a hearing on the proposal, despite talk of negotiations taking place regarding certain provisions.

Crapo said he opposed the reform proposal, but he signaled that he might be more amenable if it included certain provisions viewed as untenable to the industry, including a two percent THC potency limit on products in order for cannabis businesses to qualify to access financial services as well as blocking banking services for operators that sell high-potency vaping devices or edibles that could appeal to children.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), who took the top seat in that panel after Democrats secured a majority in the Senate, told reporters in February that he’s “willing” to move the cannabis banking bill, “but with it needs to come sentencing reform.”

When legislative leaders announced that the SAFE Banking Act was getting a House vote in 2019,  there was pushback from some advocates who felt that Congress should have prioritized comprehensive reform to legalize marijuana and promote social equity, rather than start with a measure viewed as primarily friendly to industry interests.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus and an original cosponsor of the bill, said last month that the plan is to pass the banking reform first this session because it “is a public safety crisis now,” and it’s “distinct—as we’ve heard from some of my colleagues—distinct from how they feel about comprehensive reform.”

Meanwhile, congressional lawmakers are simultaneously preparing to introduce legislation to end federal cannabis prohibition.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) are in the process of crafting a legalization bill, and they’ve already met with advocates to get feedback on how best to approach the policy change.

Schumer said last week that the legislation will be introduced and placed on the floor “soon.”

On the House side, Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said recently that he plans to reintroduced his legalization bill, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which cleared the chamber last year but did not advance in the Senate under GOP control.

Read the letter from the governors on the marijuana banking legislation below:

Governors Ask Congress To P… by Marijuana Moment

Read the letter from the National Association of State Treasurers on the cannabis reform bill below: 

Treasurers Ask Congress To … by Marijuana Moment

USPS Wants Hemp And CBD Vape Companies To Prepare For Upcoming Mailing Restrictions

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Top North Carolina GOP Senator Notes Strong Medical Marijuana Support As Reform Bills Are Filed

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Public opinion is shifting in favor of marijuana reform, a top GOP North Carolina senator acknowledges, and that could open up opportunities for several recently introduced bills to advance this session.

While advocates are doubtful that the conservative state will advance broad adult-use legalization measures being carried by Democrats this year, there is some optimism about the prospects of separate medical cannabis reform legislation that’s sponsored by the Republican chair of the Senate Rules Committee, for example.

To that end, Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R) recently acknowledged that the tides are shifting when it comes to marijuana in North Carolina, and he said that sponsor, Chairman Bill Rabon, “for a long time has looked at the issue.”

“I do sense that public opinion is changing on marijuana—both medical and recreational,” Rabon said. “I don’t know where the members of the General Assembly are at this time in terms of support for the bill, but it’s something we’ll look at and we’ll see how things move along.”

A majority of North Carolina adults support legalizing marijuana for recreational use—and three in four say it should be legal for medical purposes—according to a poll released in February.

Rabon’s bipartisan medical cannabis legalization bill could be the vehicle to advance that more modest reform. While it has not seen legislative action since being filed earlier this month, the legislation was referred to his committee and advocates see potential to advance.

Patients would qualify for medical marijuana under the proposal if they have a “debilitating medical condition” such as cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis or any other ailment for which a physician recommends the treatment option. The legislation would prohibit smokable cannabis products, however.

But the bill is not the only proposal seeking to reform the state’s marijuana laws that could see action this session.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,000 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

Among others, a separate medical cannabis bill, adult-use marijuana legalization measures and several pieces of cannabis decriminalization legislation have been introduced in recent weeks—though they do not currently have bipartisan cosponsorships and would likely face an uphill battle in the GOP-controlled legislature.

Pressure to end criminalization are building regionally, however. Neighboring Virginia became the first state in the south to legalize marijuana for recreational use this month, for example, and a bill to expand South Carolina’s limited existing medical cannabis program cleared a key committee vote last month.

“Now that Virginia has legalized cannabis for both medical and nonmedical use, it is becoming increasingly difficult for North Carolina residents to understand why their state’s cannabis policies remain stuck in the 20th Century,” Matt Simon, senior legislative analyst with the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment. “It’s encouraging to see that some state lawmakers are working to move the state forward on this important issue.”

A task force convened by Gov. Roy Cooper (D) backed decriminalization as part of a series of policy recommendations on racial equity that were released late last year. The group also said prior cannabis convictions should be expunged and the state should consider whether to more broadly legalize marijuana.

Under current law, possessing more than half an ounce up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis is a class 1 misdemeanor, subject to up to 45 days imprisonment and a $200 fine. In 2019, there were 3,422 such charges and 1,909 convictions, with 70 percent of those convicted being nonwhite.

Minnesota Marijuana Legalization Bill Approved By Seventh House Committee

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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