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Vermont Governor ‘At The Table’ On Marijuana Legalization Talks, Top Lawmaker Says

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Vermont Gov. Phil Scott (R) is “at the table” as lawmakers work to pass a bill to tax and regulate marijuana sales in the state, a top legislative leader said in a recent interview.

The governor’s reported openness to establishing a commercial cannabis market is a notable policy shift, as he’s previously voiced opposition to such a model, citing concerns about impaired driving.

But according to House Majority Leader Jill Krowinski (D), conversations about taxing and regulating marijuana in Vermont have been productive, and she expressed optimism that Scott will lend his support as the legislature takes up the issue.

“I think that when we get that to the floor, it’s going to have strong tri-partisan support,” she told Vermont Conversation host David Goodman. “And so far the indications we’re getting from the governor is he’s at the table and interested and so I hope that’s one we can move forward and have his support on.”

“There’s been a lot of work done on this bill that is currently under consideration in the House to move Vermont towards a system where marijuana is taxed and regulated,” she said. “I think there’s a lot of interest from the governor on this bill and even use some of the funding for some of his programs and ideas, taking some of the money that would come from a taxed system for marijuana.”

Listen to Krowinski’s marijuana comments, around 17 minutes into the audio below:

That’s consistent with what Administration Secretary Susan Young said earlier this month, telling Vermont Public Radio that it “might be a good use of any [cannabis tax] revenues” to partly fund Scott’s proposed after-school program.

Scott may face additional pressure to support a tax-and-regulate model from the state’s lieutenant governor, David Zuckerman (P), who is running against him this year and who has been a leading voice for creating a legal commercial marijuana system.

Vermont legalized cannabis without a retail element in 2018, but Krowinski said she’s heard from people from a wide range of political backgrounds who argue that “legalization is one step, [but] we need to get to the regulated step.”

“States around us are coming to that place as well, and we need to put a system in place if other states are going to be doing that as well,” she said. “All different types of arguments for a tax and regulated system: racial justice, criminal justice, other factors at play.”

Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment that the organization would “like nothing more” than to see the governor sign off on pending marijuana commercialization legislation so that the state can “move forward with sensible regulation of cannabis sales.”

“The majority leader is correct that Vermonters from a wide range of backgrounds are supportive of S. 54, and the bill enjoys strong support in both the House and Senate,” he said. “Vermonters of all political stripes are ready to see S. 54 pass, and we hope the governor will agree it deserves his full support.”

There’s a growing sense of inevitability that a cannabis commerce bill will advance in Vermont this session, as neighboring states continue to pursue legalization as well. Other leaders in the legislature, including House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D), have indicated that 2020 could be the year create a commercial marijuana market.

Johnson said last month that “there is a solid tri-partisan majority in the House that would like to see tax and regulate pass this year.” Meanwhile, Senate President Pro-Tem Tim Ashe (D) said his chamber, which approved a bill to allow commercial marijuana sales last year, is waiting to see what kind of changes the House makes.

That Senate-passed bill is still alive for the session, and it has already been approved by one House committee. It was also discussed in the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month.

Dave Silberman, an attorney and pro bono drug policy reform advocate from Middlebury, told Marijuana Moment that the majority leader’s comments are a good sign for the legislation’s prospects.

“Vermonters have grown frustrated with the House of Representatives’s years-long delay in approving a regulated cannabis market, a policy that is supported by roughly 2 in 3 Vermonters,” he said. “It’s heartening to hear House leadership reaffirm what advocates have been saying since this legislative session began in 2019: there is a wide, tri-partisan majority of legislators ready to vote for S.54. I urge House leadership to now follow their words with real action, and schedule S.54 for a vote of the full House.”

Last week, several representatives introduced a bill to “create a universal afterschool program by 2025 using tax receipts from marijuana sales.” It is believed that the legislation was filed at the governor’s behest and signals that lawmakers are serious about earning Scott’s support for legalizing cannabis sales.

Meanwhile, as most legislators remain focused on passing tax-and-regulate legislation, some are also thinking about next steps in drug policy reform. A bill filed last week would decriminalize three psychedelics as well as kratom.

Virginia Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Decriminalization Bill

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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.

Politics

New York Legal Marijuana Push ‘Effectively Over’ For 2020, Governor Says

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) conceded on Saturday that it’s unlikely marijuana will be legalized in the state this year.

“Marijuana and the gig economy were two of the more complicated initiatives that we wanted to work through that we didn’t get a chance to do,” he said in response to a question about which policy issues he would’ve liked to tackle in the annual budget bill that passed this week.

“Is the session effectively over? It’s up to the legislature, but I think it’s fair to say it’s effectively over,” he added, noting that several state lawmakers have been infected with coronavirus.

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 elements courtesy of Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Carlos Gracia.

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Congresswoman Wants Ban On DC Marijuana Sales Lifted Through Coronavirus Legislation

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A congresswoman is calling on the government to end a policy prohibiting Washington, D.C. from legal marijuana sales, arguing that the jurisdiction is in particular need of tax revenue from cannabis commerce due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) has repeatedly condemned the congressional rider barring the District of Columbia from allowing retail sales that has been extended each year since 2014, shortly after local voters approved a ballot measure to legalize low-level possession and home cultivation. But given the need for resources to combat the pandemic, she said a reversal of the provision should be included in the next COVID-related relief bill.

“At this moment of unparalleled need, D.C. should be able to collect tax revenue from all available sources, like every other jurisdiction, including from recreational marijuana, which is believed to be widely used in the District,” the congresswoman said in a press release on Friday, adding that D.C. was shorted in the last stimulus because Congress treated it as a territory rather than a state.

“While I am working for a retroactive fix in the next coronavirus bill, it is imperative that Congress also repeal the D.C. recreational marijuana commercialization rider in the next bill to help D.C. shore up its finances,” she said. “It is beyond unreasonable that congressional interference keeps only the District from commercializing recreational marijuana, while all other jurisdictions are free to do so.”

“Bringing the District in line with other jurisdictions would create a critical source of tax revenue in our time of need.”

Last year, the House approved an appropriations bill that excluded the D.C. rider, but it was included in the Senate version and ultimately made its way into the final package that the president signed. The cannabis commerce ban was also included in President Trump’s budget proposal earlier this year.

“True to form, Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton continues to be one of the best allies to the cannabis reform movement,” Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “During this unprecedented COVID-19 outbreak, it is critical that lawmakers analyze and reform any and every aspect of public policy to mitigate the health crisis and build a foundation for a strong recovery.”

“As the majority of states that regulate cannabis have deemed the industry essential to the continued functioning of their jurisdictions, the continued congressional prohibition of the District of Columbia enacting it’s own adult-use program becomes even more ridiculous,” he added.

Norton, in an interview about her push, said that the congressionally mandated prohibition on sales doesn’t prevent people from accessing cannabis but does block the city from collecting tax revenue.

“You can buy two ounces but, by the way you’ve got to do that on the black market,” she told WUSA-TV. “But there’s nobody to tax it. And I’m simply trying to get the taxes the District is due for merchandise, in this case marijuana that’s being consumed readily in the District of Columbia.”

Legislative priorities for Congress have shifted significantly as lawmakers attempt to address the outbreak, and that’s meant putting some reform efforts on hold. However, the issue isn’t being ignored entirely, and it’s possible that other members may look to attach modest marijuana proposals to additional coronavirus legislation.

For example, Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) said this week that U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs policy preventing its doctors from recommending medical cannabis in legal states puts service members at risk in Massachusetts because the state is shuttering recreational shops (but not medical dispensaries) and some veterans fear registering as patients out of concern that they could lose federal benefits.

Eleven senators wrote a letter to Appropriations Committee leadership asking that they allow small cannabis businesses to access federal loans and disaster relief programs. While the lawmakers said it should be enacted through an annual spending bill, advocates have argued that the policy change should be pursued through coronavirus legislation since these businesses are facing challenges just like those experienced by many other companies during the pandemic.

Eleven Senators Push To Let Marijuana Businesses Access Federal Loan Programs

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North Dakota Activists Say Marijuana Legalization Initiative Unlikely In 2020 Due To Coronavirus

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North Dakota activists announced on Thursday that they are suspending their campaign put marijuana legalization on the November ballot due to the coronavirus outbreak.

In a Facebook post, Legalize ND said “we are going to have to face a few hard realities going forward” as businesses are shuttering, public events are being cancelled and individuals are encouraged to shelter in place. The pandemic means in-person signature gathering can’t take place, and the state does not allow for alternative signing options such as by mail or online.

“Due to the virus all of our major avenues for signature collection have been cancelled or indefinitely postponed, and going door to door is not safe for both those knocking and those getting knocked,” the group said. “Businesses will continue to collect, but we don’t want to create another vector for the coronavirus. As a result, at this time if something major doesn’t change we will not be able to make the 2020 ballot.”

Legalize ND said there’s no way for state policies related to signature gathering to be changed ahead of the November election. They needed to collect 13,452 valid signatures from voters before July 6 in order to qualify. In all likelihood, the campaign said it would have to shift its focus to the July 2022 primary election.

“This isn’t the solution we want, but given the situation it is what will have to happen,” the post states. “Stay safe, and hopefully we can make a major push when the quarantine ends.”

The proposed initiative would allow individuals to purchase and possess up to two ounces of cannabis. Unlike a much more far-reaching measure the same group pushed in 2018 that included no possession or cultivation limits, which voters rejected, this version would prohibit home growing, impose a 10 percent excise tax and establish a regulatory body to approve licenses for marijuana businesses.

North Dakota voters approved a medical cannabis initiative in 2016.

The coronavirus outbreak has dealt several blows to drug policy reform efforts in recent weeks.

California activists for campaigns to amend the state’s legal cannabis program and legalize psilocybin mushrooms are asking for a digital signature option.

Likewise in Washington, D.C., advocates for a measure to decriminalize psychedelics asked the mayor and local lawmakers to accept online signatures for their ballot petition.

An effort to legalize medical cannabis in Nebraska is facing similar signature gathering challenges. A campaign to legalize cannabis in Missouri is also in jeopardy.

In Oregon, advocates for a measure to decriminalize drug possession and a separate initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes have suspended in-person campaign events amid the pandemic.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) recently conceded that legalization was “not likely” going to happen through the budget, as he hoped. Coronavirus shifted legislative priorities, and comprehensive cannabis reform seems to have proved too complicated an issue in the short-term.

Idaho activists announced on Thursday that they are suspending their campaign, though they are still “focusing on distributing petitions through online download at IdahoCann.co and encouraging every volunteer who has downloaded a petition to get them turned in to their county clerk’s office by mail, regardless of how many signatures they have collected.”

Finally, in Arizona, a legalization campaign is petitioning the state Supreme Court to instruct the secretary of state to allow individuals to sign ballot petitions digitally using an existing electronic system that is reserved for individual individual candidates seeking public office.

Virginia Groups Push Governor To Amend Marijuana Decriminalization Bill On His Desk

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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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