Vermont is on pace to become the first state in the U.S. to legalize marijuana through an act of lawmakers early next year.
In 2017, the state fell just short of doing so. The legislature passed a bill to legalize personal cannabis possession and homegrow, but Gov. Phil Scott (R) vetoed it. However, in doing so, he laid out a few small changes he wanted legislators to make in order to win his support. The Senate quickly acted to make the requested revisions, but the House was not able to jump through procedural hurdles to get it done in time during a short special session over the summer.
Advocates believe they can quickly move the bill through the House under regular order once the legislative reconvenes early next month.
And Scott, in an interview on Friday, said he was still “comfortable” with the plan.
“It’s not a high priority for me, but I did make a commitment that I was supportive of the bill that was put together,” he said of the revised legislation during an appearance on Vermont Public Radio.
All eight states that have ended cannabis prohibition to date have done so via ballot measures approved by voters. Reform supporters think that either Vermont or New Jersey, where Gov.-elect Phil Murphy (D) campaigned on legalization, will be the first state to end prohibition through an act of lawmakers.
Vermont’s approach would be different than the laws that exist in other states, in that it would enact a noncommercial form of legalization where only possessing small amounts of cannabis and growing a few plants at home would be legal. There would initially be no licensed stores where consumers could purchase marijuana, but the Senate-passed legislation would create a commission to study possible future commercialization.
New Jersey lawmakers, on the other hand, are expected to consider full-scale commercial legalization right away, something that Murphy repeatedly argued on the campaign trail is necessary to undermine the illegal market.
Because Vermont’s compromise bill has already cleared one chamber and now just needs approval from the other, the state seems poised to get its legislation across the finish line sooner than the Garden State can act.
However, in the Friday interview Scott said that it might make sense to further tweak the compromise bill before lawmakers send it to his desk in 2018.
That’s because during the legislative recess he proactively created a marijuana legalization study commission via executive order.
“Part of that bill is no longer needed,” Scott said, referring to its commission provisions.
While saying that he hasn’t “spoken to legislative leaders” about it, the governor suggested they might want to “make some changes on the floor, send it back to committee, make some alterations and then we’ll see what they either add or delete and then we’ll see if it’s the same as what I committed to pushing forward with.”
Accomplishing those changes likely would not take very long given that a consensus between legislative leaders and Scott on getting legalization enacted seemed to crystalize during the 2017 session.
In the radio interview, Scott also discussed concerns about “determining impairment on our highways, regardless of what the substance is,” something he has consistently raised.
“Whether we legalize [marijuana] or not, we still have to face this,” he said.
New Jersey Governor Promises Legal Marijuana In Inauguration Speech
New Jersey’s new governor reiterated a campaign promise to legalize marijuana during his inauguration speech on Tuesday.
“A stronger and fairer New Jersey embraces criminal justice reform comprehensively, and that includes a process to legalize marijuana,” Phil Murphy, a Democrat, said moments after being sworn in as the state’s chief executive.
(This story will be updated to direct the above video to the exact time stamp of Murphy’s marijuana remarks once the live stream concludes.)
A stronger and fairer New Jersey embraces comprehensive criminal justice reform — including a process to legalize marijuana — and focuses on creating housing that is affordable and safe from the danger of lead. #NewDayNJ
— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) January 16, 2018
Murphy campaigned on legalization, often touting its economic and social justice benefits in the face of opposition from Republican Kim Guadagno, whom he soundly defeated in November.
Outgoing New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) is an ardent opponent of legalizing marijuana who often said it would never happen on his watch.
Now, the Garden State is poised to be one of the next to end cannabis prohibition. The Senate president says he is ready to pass a bill, and the sponsor of legalization legislation wants to send it to Murphy’s desk within 100 days.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D), who was sworn in over the weekend, campaigned on decriminalizing marijuana in his state.
Cannabis is a major issue in a number of 2018 gubernatorial races.
Photo courtesy of Phil Murphy.
GOP & Democratic Governor Candidates Agree: Legalize Marijuana
Legalizing marijuana is going to be a huge issue in 2018 gubernatorial races.
Take, for example, the candidates for governor from both major parties who held press conferences to discuss ending cannabis prohibition in the past week.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Bipartisan Lawmakers Push For Marijuana Protections In Funding Bill
A bipartisan group of members of the U.S. House sent a letter to congressional leaders on Friday asking that they include protections for state marijuana laws in federal funding legislation that is currently being negotiated.
“[W]e are concerned with several attempts to apply federal law upon commerce related to cannabis that is conducted entirely within the boundaries of states that have legalized such commerce,” the group of 69 lawmakers, led by Reps. Tom McClintock (R-CA) and Jared Polis (D-CO), wrote in the letter.
“While the federal government is legitimately empowered to regulate interstate commerce, the measures adopted by states such as California, Oregon and Colorado are aimed solely at intrastate commerce and as such should not be interfered with,” they wrote. “Indeed, this is exactly the mechanism Louis Brandeis referred to when he wrote of the states as laboratories for innovation and experimentation.”
Under a current appropriations rider, the Department of Justice is barred from spending money to interfere with state medical cannabis laws or people following them. But advocates are concerned that in the wake of U.S Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s rescission last week of an Obama-era memo that generally allowed states to implement their own laws without federal interference, recreational cannabis businesses that operate in accordance with local policy are now at risk.
Pushing to get my amendment attached to the gov’t funding bill to stop @TheJusticeDept from prosecuting anyone for following state marijuana laws. Nearly 70 members – Rs and Ds – agree w/ me, & I am hopeful we can get it done before Jan. 19. #bipartisan https://t.co/3vzc4dWYAm
— Rep. Jared Polis (@RepJaredPolis) January 12, 2018
The group of House Republicans and Democrats wants the existing rider’s language to be expanded in scope to prohibit the Justice Department from going after people in compliance with recreational legalization laws in eight states and Washington, D.C.
“While our proposed funding language does nothing to diminish the authority of the federal government to interdict or forbid the interstate transport of marijuana, it respects the Constitutional authority for states to regulate commerce within their own borders,” they wrote.
The language they want included reads:
“None of the funds made available by this act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to any of the States of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, to prevent any of them from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of marijuana on non-Federal lands within their respective jurisdictions.”
A similar amendment came just nine flipped votes of passing the House in 2015. But while the number of states with legalization has doubled since then, congressional leaders have blocked further floor votes on the measure.
In November, a similar group of House lawmakers sent a letter to leadership requesting that the medical cannabis-specific protections be extended.
Current funding for the federal government — along with the existing medical cannabis rider — is set to expire on January 19. Advocates believe that Congress is likely to enact another short-term extension while negotiations on a final Fiscal year 2018 spending package are finalized.
In the meantime, supportive lawmakers are introducing and cosponsoring a number of standalone marijuana reform bills.
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