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Vermont Governor “Comfortable” Legalizing Marijuana In Early 2018

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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.

 

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.

Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 20-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.)

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Former Gov. Rick Perry Urges Texas Lawmakers To Pass Psychedelics Study Bill

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“All of that properly done in the right type of clinical setting will save a multitude of lives,” Perry said. “I’m convinced of it. I have seen it enough of these young men.”

By Patrick Svitek, The Texas Tribune

Rick Perry, in a rare return to policy debates in Austin, is teaming up with a Democratic state lawmaker to push for psychedelic drug therapy for veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The former Republican governor is throwing his support behind a bill by state Rep. Alex Dominguez, D-Brownsville, that calls for a clinical study of psilocybin—the active ingredient in “magic mushrooms”—to treat PTSD in veterans.

“To me, this may be one of the most hopeful pieces of legislation that the members of the Legislature have the opportunity to consider this session,” Perry said in an interview Tuesday.

Some studies have suggested that psilocybin could be safe and effective in treating mental health disorders like depression, while calling for larger studies with more thorough methods.

Perry said he has “historically been a very anti-drug person” and still firmly opposes legalization for recreational uses. However, he said he has seen through his longtime advocacy for veterans how psychedelic drugs can provide relief to former service members who have exhausted other options — and are traveling to other countries, like Mexico, to receive treatment.

“All of that properly done in the right type of clinical setting will save a multitude of lives,” Perry said. “I’m convinced of it. I have seen it enough of these young men.”

Perry is set to join Dominguez for a news conference on his proposal Wednesday morning at the state Capitol. The news conference will also be attended by veterans that Perry has gotten close to over the years, including retired Navy SEAL Morgan Luttrell and Dakota Meyer, a Marine veteran and Medal of Honor recipient.

Dominguez’s House Bill 1802 would direct the Health and Human Services Commission to conduct the clinical study of psilocybin in partnership with a health sciences university and a Veterans Affairs hospital. The proposal would also ask HHSC to do a literature review—a survey of prior studies—of using not just psilocybin but also MDMA and ketamine to treat PTSD in veterans.

HHSC would have to submit quarterly progress reports on its study, and it would have a deadline of Dec. 1, 2024, to deliver final findings to the the so-called “Big Three”—the governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker—as well as members in both chambers.

The bill was referred to the House Public Health Committee last month but has not received a hearing yet.

Texas has largely avoided loosening its drug laws in recent years as a growing number of states have legalized marijuana for recreational use. The state has legalized marijuana with limited levels of THC—the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that makes people feel high—for people with certain debilitating illnesses, but eligibility is limited and relatively few people have signed up.

Noting the influence that the Big Three could have if they get behind a proposal, Perry said he’s talked with the offices of Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and that the speaker’s office has been briefed on it. He added that he is hoping that Republicans can “get comfortable [that], ‘Hey, this is not some recreational drug thing,'” but a life-changing treatment for veterans when handled carefully.

Dominguez said in an interview that he has found that colleagues on both sides of the aisle are “very supportive” of studying the issue.

“I think in general we’re supportive of veterans issues and certainly there’s maybe a generational discussion to be had… But I found most members want to hear the science,” Dominguez said, emphasizing the study would go through a “controlled process” and that there would be “a number of safeguards in place to make sure that nobody abuses this and we learn the efficacy.”

The lawmaker said his interest in the issue comes from his time as a prosecutor in Cameron County, which set up a veterans treatment court in 2014.

Perry has largely stayed out of state legislative matters since leaving office in 2015, unsuccessfully running for president in 2016 and then joining former President Donald Trump’s Cabinet as energy secretary. He stepped down as energy secretary in late 2019.

But Perry is not unfamiliar with the Legislature, though, and particularly the House. He served there from 1985 to 1991—first as a Democrat and then as a Republican.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune.

With State Law Against Drug Possession Overturned, Washington Governor Frees 15 People From Prison

Photo elements courtesy of carlosemmaskype and Apollo.

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With State Law Against Drug Possession Overturned, Washington Governor Frees 15 People From Prison

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Fifteen people incarcerated on drug possession charges in Washington State will be released from prison following commutations issued this week by Gov. Jay Inslee (D), nearly two months after the state Supreme Court struck down the state’s felony law against simple possession of controlled substances.

The governor’s office announced the commutations on Tuesday, saying that 13 of the petitions had already been signed, and two more were expected to be finalized later in the day—with even more to come soon.

Lawmakers, meanwhile, are working to pass legislation to respond to the court ruling, State v. Blake, before the legislative session ends later this month.

Inslee’s signing of the commutation petitions, submitted by people currently in prison solely on simple drug possession charges, essentially cuts through the ongoing process of clearing past possession convictions and resentencing people accordingly. It means that the 15 people, already eligible for release following the Supreme Court decision, will be released sooner than they would have through judicial procedures. None of the convictions have been legally valid since the court case was decided in late February.

“While prosecutors and the courts have worked to vacate the convictions of individuals convicted and sentenced under this now-invalidated drug possession statute,” Inslee’s office said in a news release, “the governor has endeavored to use his clemency authority to expeditiously facilitate a more immediate release for other individuals in custody solely on these convictions.”

Fewer than 100 people in the state were estimated to be incarcerated on possession charges alone shortly after the Supreme Court issued its decision. That number has already dropped to about two dozen people, Taylor Wonhoff, deputy general counsel for Inslee, told the Seattle Times. The bulk of the releases were handled earlier by county prosecutors and courts.

Wonhoff said the governor’s office recently created a very simple commutation petition form, then circulated it to people through the state Department of Corrections to people imprisoned for drug possession. “What we did was created a very basic petition,” he said, “which basically says, ‘Here’s my name, here’s my signature, I want a Blake commutation.’”

As of Tuesday evening, the Times reported, 12 of the 13 people whose petitions had already been signed had already been released from state custody. Even people whose sentences are commuted, however, will still need judges to clear the now-invalid convictions from their criminal records.

The Supreme Court decision came unexpectedly for lawmakers, who are now working to decide how to address the fallout of the ruling. While the court said only a narrow part of the law was unconstitutional—the fact that it failed to require that defendants knowingly possess a drug—it voided the possession law completely.

“Although we knew it had been winding its way through the courts,” Rep. Roger Goodman (D) said last month, “with everything else, we forgot about it. Then this earth-shaking opinion comes out right in the middle of the legislative session.”

In addition to weighing how to fund court costs of identifying and resentencing individuals whose convictions are no longer lawful, the legislature is also considering whether—and how—to replace the state’s felony drug possession law. Democrats and Republicans have introduced bills that would reinstate the felony charge for simple possession, but a progressive bloc in the House of Representatives that has grown more powerful in recent years insists that the chamber won’t pass legislation that re-establishes criminal penalties for small amounts of drugs.

Of several bills introduced in the wake of the ruling, one leading proposal, SB 5476, would leave simple drug possession decriminalized. As introduced, the measure would establish “personal use” amounts of controlled substances, and adults found with anything less than those amounts see no criminal or civil penalties, although they could be referred to evaluation and treatment for substance use disorder. Opening or using controlled substances in public would be subject to a $125 civil fine, which would help defray administrative costs resulting from the state’s abrupt decriminalization.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee took initial public testimony on the bill earlier this month, and at a hearing this past Saturday voted to advance the bill without recommendation to the Senate Rules Committee. Little if any debate is expected in that committee before the bill advances to the full Senate floor for what’s likely to be a contentious debate.

Several amendments have already been introduced and are expected to be taken up on the Senate floor. Most are contained in a proposed substitute bill by Sen. Manka Dhingra (D), the sponsor of the original bill, and are relatively minor clarifications. Among the more major changes, the substitute authorizes the presiding judge in any county to appoint commissioners that would assist the court with resentencing and vacating convictions affected by the Blake decision. It also clarifies that anyone under 21 found in possession of controlled substances would be under the jurisdiction of juvenile courts and require the courts to offer diversion to treatment for a person’s first offense. The substitute also eliminates a provision requiring a $125 fine for public drug use to fund court administrative costs.

Two competing amendments would gut the original decriminalization proposal and reinstate felony drug possession charges for drug possession committed knowingly. One was put forward by Sen. Lynda Wilson (R) and would also establish a state legislative workgroup to study further drug reform measures.

“I do think that that’s the direction we need to go,” Wilson said at the Ways and Means Committee hearing. “I think putting knowingly back into the statute is what will be at least a good fix right now, and then we study it later. I’m afraid that if we do too much now that we won’t get it quite right—or right at all.”

The other major amendment, from Sen. Keith Wagoner (R), would temporarily reinstate felony possession charges but also step up SB 5476’s proposed penalties for public drug use to a Class 1 civil infraction, which carries a $250 fine. It would also create some optional programs to divert drug cases to evaluation and treatment, “so you can be diverted once or maybe twice with a prosecutor’s authority,” Wagoner said at the hearing.

“Yeah, I’m not going to pretend to have written the entire amendment,” he told the panel, “but I think the point that we’re trying to do, you’re trying to recognize…first of all, we’ve got a big problem and we’ve got to do something about it now. But this doesn’t have to be a permanent solution.”

Dhingra told the panel that the policy embodied in the competing amendments “actually goes back to about five years ago to where we were as Washington State.”

The Ways & Means Committee discussed the mechanics of the proposed amendments on Saturday but did not act on them, leaving them to be discussed later on the Senate floor. “Rather than going through all of the amendments and motions, we’re going to move that we move that to the rules committee without rec,” said committee chair Sen. Christine Rolfes (D), “and continue in-depth policy discussion in preparation for floor action.”

The panel voted 15–7–3 to advance the bill without amendments, with Wilson and Wagoner voting to kill the measure rather than fight for their amendments on the Senate floor.

On the House side, Goodman, a longtime drug reform advocate who supports ending criminal penalties for simple possession, told Marijuana Moment earlier this month that with the legislative session set to end on April 25, “time is our enemy in this enterprise.”

“The Blake decision is both a blessing and a curse,” he said, “because it’s an opportunity for us to come up with a more effective approach that does less harm, but we don’t have the opportunity to be deliberate and inclusive in conversations with interested parties, so it’s not as well thought-out a proposal as it would be otherwise. It has to be an interim measure.”

“The story to tell of this issue isn’t about drugs,” he added. “This is about helping your loved ones—your neighbors, your friends, your children—who are in trouble. The two big messages are: What we’re doing isn’t working, and we want to help people.”

In February, Goodman’s panel approved a separate bill to decriminalize drug possession and expand treatment services, but it failed to advance further by a key legislative deadline.

Just five years ago, few state legislatures would have dreamed of letting drugs remain decriminalized after a court decision like Blake. Now lawmakers in Washington have the opportunity to be the first to decriminalize drugs through the legislature—and there’s a chance they’ll take it.

“A lot has changed in the past five years. Since our most recent president, there’s an appetite for more radical transformation of our society and to react to retrograde policies of the past century,” Goodman said. “Also those who are active in the political sphere are younger, even over the course of these last several years.”

Oregon voters historically ended prohibition of low-level drug possession at the ballot during last November’s election, which has contributed to the national conversation.

In both Maine and Vermont, lawmakers have also recently unveiled legislation last month to decriminalize small amounts of illegal drugs. Last month, a Rhode Island Senate committee held a hearing on legislation that would end criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of drugs and replace them with a $100 fine.

In New Jersey, meanwhile, Gov. Phil Murphy (D) said last month that he’s “open-minded” on decriminalizing all drugs.

“There’s this phenomenon called discontinuous change,” Goodman told Marijuana Moment, “where nothing happens and nothing happens and nothing happens, and then the Berlin Wall falls down. We’re getting to that place in drug policy where it’s a tipping point.”

Biden’s Pick To Lead DEA Voiced Openness To State Medical Marijuana Program

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Majority Of Connecticut Residents Back Marijuana Legalization And Expungements, Poll Finds As Reform Bills Advance

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As bills to legalize marijuana in Connecticut move through the legislature, a new poll finds that the reform has strong support among residents.

The survey from Sacred Heart University (SHU), released on Tuesday, found that about 66 percent of people in the state favor legalizing cannabis for adult use, while 27 percent are opposed.

If the policy change is enacted, 62 percent said those with prior marijuana convictions should have their records expunged.

Via SHU.

Younger people and those who identify as Democrats were more likely to back ending prohibition, compared to those 65 and older or Republicans.

Further, the poll asked about perceived harms of cannabis, and 77 percent said they felt the plant carried “fewer effects” or comparable effects as alcohol. About 72 percent drew the same contrast between marijuana and other drugs such as heroin, amphetamines and prescription painkillers.

Via SHU.

These figures are largely consistent with a previous poll that SHU conducted in February.

And like that prior survey, nearly half of Connecticut residents again expressed that they still believe that there are potential negative public safety implications of legalization, even if they support the policy. In this case, 48 percent said they agree that allowing recreational cannabis would lead to a “significant” increase in impaired driving.

Two in five respondents said they agree that marijuana is a gateway to other drugs. The poll involved interviews with 1,000 residents from March 23-31.

But while these figures largely align with the last SHU survey, one thing that has changed is that reform legislation has started to advance in the legislature, including a bill being backed by the governor.

The Judiciary Committee approved Gov. Ned Lamont’s (D) proposal, which was amended to more comprehensively address social equity issues, last week. That said, legislative leaders have indicated that the bill is fluid and will likely see additional revisions down the road.

A competing legalization measure from Rep. Robyn Porter (D) was approved in the Labor and Public Employees Committee last month.

One amendment that was adopted to the governor’s bill would provide for the free erasure of past marijuana convictions for possession or sales of up to four ounces of cannabis or six mature plants—a policy that is evidently backed by most residents in the state.

Lamont, who convened an informal work group in recent months to make recommendations on the policy change, initially described his legalization plan as a “comprehensive framework for the cultivation, manufacture, sale, possession, use, and taxation of cannabis that prioritizes public health, public safety, and social justice.”

For his part, House Speaker Matthew Ritter (D) said last month that “optimism abounds” as lawmakers work to merge proposals into a final legalization bill.

Majority Leader Jason Rojas (D) said “in principle, equity is important to both the administration and the legislature, and we’re going to work through those details.”

To that end, the majority leader said that working groups have been formed in the Democratic caucuses of the legislature to go through the governor’s proposal and the committee-approved reform bill.

In February, a Lamont administration official stressed during a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee that Lamont’s proposal it is “not a final bill,” and they want activists “at the table” to further inform the legislation.

The legislature has considered legalization proposals on several occasions in recent years, including a bill that Democrats introduced last year on the governor’s behalf. Those bills stalled, however.

Lamont reiterated his support for legalizing marijuana during his annual State of the State address in January, stating that he would be working with the legislature to advance the reform this session.

Ritter said in November that legalization in the state is “inevitable.” He added later that month that “I think it’s got a 50–50 chance of passing [in 2021], and I think you should have a vote regardless.” The governor said in an interview earlier this year that he puts the odds of his legislation passing at “60-40 percent chance.”

Should that effort fail, the speaker said he will move to put a constitutional question on the state’s 2022 ballot that would leave the matter to voters. Lamont made similar remarks last week.

The governor has compared the need for regional coordination on marijuana policy to the coronavirus response, stating that officials have “got to think regionally when it comes to how we deal with the pandemic—and I think we have to think regionally when it comes to marijuana, as well.”

He also said that legalization in Connecticut could potentially reduce the spread of COVID-19 by limiting out-of-state trips to purchase legal cannabis in neighboring states such as Massachusetts and New Jersey.

Illinois Gets More Tax Revenue From Marijuana Than Alcohol, State Says

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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