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Vermont Governor Seems Open To Legalizing Marijuana Sales

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Vermont’s governor is apparently open to legalizing, taxing and regulating marijuana sales in the state—a significant shift from his earlier position.

While the legislature legalized low-level possession and home cultivation in 2018, the current law doesn’t allow for sales, and Gov. Phil Scott (R) has said in the past that he’s wary about allowing such commercial cannabis activity, citing concerns about impaired driving.

But the 2020 session could be different, as Scott is reportedly eyeing tax-and-regulate legislation and considers it a potential source of revenue to support an after-school program he’s pushing. The governor still wants to ensure any reform legislation includes provisions to prevent driving under the influence.

“If we do end up there, this might be a good use of any revenues from there,” Administration Secretary Susan Young told Vermont Public Radio in an interview released on Wednesday. “That’s not exclusively how we plan to fund it, but we’re going to have to be creative and looking like we did with clean water to find a source.”

Listen to Young’s comments in the audio clip below:

Another state official, Cynthia Seivwright, director of the state Department of Health’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Programs, said in a radio interview last month that legalizing marijuana sales would better protect public health than current policy does.

“Without the regulation, we don’t know what’s in it,” she said. “We can’t control the potency of it. We can’t control the access, and we definitely don’t want children and adolescents to have access to it.”

According to top lawmakers in the state, the legislature is positioned to advance a cannabis commerce bill, with most members in favor of the reform move.

House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D) said last month that she believes “there is a solid tri-partisan majority in the House that would like to see tax and regulate pass this year.” While she has expressed reluctance about the legislation in the past, the speaker now says she won’t block her chamber from passing it.

Last week, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard Sears (D) and House Government Operations Committee Chairwoman Sarah Copeland-Hanzas (D) said in a press conference that the time is right to act on marijuana legalization.

“We are shipping tax dollars out of state and fueling the economy in those states in this industry in another state,” Sears said. “It makes no sense whatsoever.”

“We look forward to working with our House counterparts in a conference committee to arrive at a bill that is supported by most members of the legislature, the governor and the general public,” he added.

Copeland-Hanzas said adults in Vermont “need to have safe and legal access to cannabis.”

“This is an opportunity—and a very unique opportunity—to stand up a new industry and to create jobs and to fill some of our vacant manufacturing and warehouse facilities in Vermont,” she said.

Matt Simon, New England political director of the Marijuana Policy Project, agreed.

“It seems clear to me in the year 2020 there is no state in the U.S. that is more ready to regulate cannabis sales than Vermont,” he said.

Other political observers in the state seem to think that Scott is coming around to legalizing sales despite his earlier reluctance.

“The governor already seems to be counting those chickens that are going to be hatched from whatever tax-and-regulate system we have as it relates to revenue that’s going to be generated by a retail marijuana market,” Pete Hirschfeld of Vermont Public Radio said in a recent TV appearance. “If we read the tea leaves we can see that Governor Phil Scott has essentially resigned himself that this is an eventuality and is counting on using legal marijuana tax dollars to fund his priorities.”

Watch Hirschfeld’s comments, about 17:10 into the video below:

While it remains to be seen whether the governor will ultimately back a tax-and-regulate bill, such as legislation that was approved by the Senate last year—a proposal discussed again by the body’s Judiciary Committee on Wednesday—advocates are optimistic this legislative session will be a success.

The Senate-passed bill, which is still alive for 2020, has already been approved by one House committee. At the press conference last week, Sears expressed some frustration about how long it is taking for House committees and leadership to deal with legislation, saying he wants to get finalized legislation through a bicameral conference committee and to the governor’s desk by early March.

Scott could feel additional pressure to support a commercial marijuana model given that he’s facing a reelection challenge this year from Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman (Vermont Progressive Party), who is strongly in favor of taxing and regulating the state’s cannabis market.

“I think every year we go by not doing it, we are perpetuating the underground, unregulated, unjust system that we have today while other states are moving forward,” Zuckerman said in 2018.

Over in neighboring New Hampshire, lawmakers have decided to take a lesson from Vermont and pursue non-commercial cannabis legalization this session—a move that was described to Marijuana Moment as an incremental, albeit important, step toward eventual commercialization.

Montana Activists Submit Measure To Legalize Marijuana In 2020

Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

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

Congressman Visits Marijuana Dispensary On Behalf Of Bernie Sanders’s Presidential Campaign

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A congressman and staffers for Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-VT) presidential campaign toured a marijuana dispensary in Las Vegas on Monday and discussed the need for federal cannabis reform.

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), who endorsed Sanders’s bid for the White House last week, shared photos on Twitter from the visit to NuWu Cannabis, a tribal-owned shop that features a consumption lounge and a drive-thru where consumers can buy marijuana products.

“After years of an unjust War on Drugs, it’s time we work to ensure all communities can benefit from legalization—[Sanders’s] marijuana legalization plan will do just that,” the congressman tweeted.

While the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate wasn’t scheduled to attend the shop and has since had to drop campaign stops in order to participate in the Senate’s impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, Pocan and Nevada campaign staff were there on his behalf, Tick Segerblom, a Clark County commissioner and former state senator who helped coordinate the event, told Marijuana Moment.

“We showed him around, explained on how it works, explained how it’s organized under state law,” Segerblom said of Pocan. “He said he’d never seen anything like it.”

The congressman also talked with business owners about the importance of social equity within the marijuana industry. He didn’t purchase or sample any cannabis products, however.

Segerblom said that while Sanders wasn’t able to attend this tour, he believes it’s important for the candidate to participate in such events and talk about his reform agenda to distinguish himself in the race.

“There’s a lot of people who will vote on this issue, and since [former Vice President Joe Biden] has come out against legalizing cannabis, I think it’s a very important issue for him to emphasize,” he said.

It’s fitting that Pocan would tour a tribal-owned cannabis business, as he was the chief sponsor of a 2016 bill that would have protected tribes from losing federal funds if they enact a legal marijuana program. Although the congressman represents Wisconsin, which doesn’t even have a comprehensive medical cannabis program let alone full adult-use legalization, he has cosponsored several cannabis reform bills this Congress, including two that would end federal prohibition.

State-legal dispensaries are getting a lot of high-profile attention from politicians lately. For example, former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg visited a Las Vegas marijuana shop last year, Rep. Julia Brownley (D-CA) paid a visit to a California dispensary and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) toured a business that makes CBD-infused chocolates.

New Mexico Governor Says It’s ‘High Time’ To Legalize Marijuana

Photo courtesy of Rep. Mark Pocan.

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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New Vermont Bill Would Decriminalize Psychedelics And Kratom

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Vermont lawmakers filed a bill on Wednesday that would decriminalize three psychedelic substances as well as kratom.

Rep. Brian Cina (P/D) introduced the legislation, which would amend state law to carve out exemptions to the list of controlled substances. Psilocybin, ayahuasca, peyote and kratom would no longer be regulated under the proposal.

Cina told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview that he decided to pursue the policy change based on a “belief that I share with many people around the world that plants are a gift from nature and they’re a part of the web of life that humans are connected to.”

“Plants, especially plant medicines, should be accessible to people,” he said. “Use of plant medicine should be considered a health care issue, not a criminal issue.”

While it remains to be seen whether the legislature will have the appetite to pursue the policy change, the bill’s introduction represents another sign that the psychedelics reform movement has momentum. Activists in about 100 cities across the U.S. are working to decriminalize a wide range of entheogenic substances, but the Vermont proposal is unique in that it’s being handled legislatively at the state level.

Text of the bill states that the four substances are “commonly used for medicinal, spiritual, religious, or entheogenic purposes.”

Larry Norris, cofounder of the national psychedelics reform group Decriminalize Nature, told Marijuana Moment that he’s especially encouraged by the use of the word “entheogenic,” a term that advocates are hoping to bring into the mainstream to more accurately describe the type of substances they want to decriminalize.

“It is exciting to see emerging interest at the state legislative level to support decriminalizing natural plants and fungi that are ‘commonly used for medicinal, spiritual, religious, or entheogenic purposes,'” he said. “The fact that the word entheogenic is making its way into the legislative lexicon speaks volumes for the shift in perspective that is happening nationwide.”

“While we were not involved in the drafting of this legislation, we look forward to offering any support and guidance to Representative Brian Cina in Vermont or any future state legislators aiming to decriminalize entheogenic plants and fungi,” Norris said.

Denver became the first city in the nation to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms last year, followed by a unanimous City Council vote in Oakland to make a wide range of psychedelics among the city’s lowest law enforcement priorities. And while lawmakers have been comparatively slow to raise the issue in legislatures, activists in Oregon are working to put a therapeutic psilocybin initiative on the state’s 2020 ballot and, separately, a measure to decriminalize possession of all drugs with a focus on funding substance misuse treatment. In California, meanwhile, advocates are aiming to put psilocybin legalization before voters in November.

Part of the motivation behind the legislation was “recognizing that the decriminalization of mushrooms seems to be a next step in other places, and thinking that it might have greater success if we can make the point that in the path of decriminalization, the next step after cannabis is psilocybin mushrooms,” Cina said. “It was important for me to make a point about the significance of plants.”

“What it goes back to for me ultimately is that any kind of use of substances should be treated as a health care matter, not a criminal issue,” he said. “Whether those substances are used for treating pain or whether they’re used for seeking pleasure, that is a health care choice, and it’s a waste of society’s resources to criminalize a behavior that goes back to the very roots of our humanity.”

The bill currently has three cosponsors and has been referred to the Judiciary Committee. One of the cosponsors, Rep. Zachariah Ralph (P/D) told Marijuana Moment that he supports “the legalization of psychedelics because prohibition, generally, does not to work, and has continued to be enforced disproportionally against low income and minority communities.”

“Research at Johns Hopkins University and other facilities around the country on the medicinal use of psilocybin mushrooms are showing some promising results as a long term treatment of depression, addiction and anxiety,” he said. “This is especially important today as we deal with increased rates of suicides and drug overdoses across the nation and especially in Vermont.”

The bill’s introduction also comes as Vermont lawmakers express optimism about the prospects of expanding the state’s cannabis law to allow commercial sales.

While Gov. Phil Scott (R) has previously voiced opposition to allowing retail marijuana products to be sold, citing concerns about impaired driving, he recently indicated that he may be open to taxing and regulating the market. And according to top lawmakers in the state, the legislature is positioned to advance a cannabis commerce bill this session, with most members in favor of the reform move.

Vermont made history in 2018 by becoming the first state to pass marijuana legalization through the legislature, albeit with a noncommercial grow-and-give model. Now the question is whether lawmakers there will again make history by taking up psychedelics reform and decriminalizing these substances at the state level for the first time.

“We’ve decriminalized and then legalized and now might be regulating and taxing marijuana, which is a plant medicine,” Cina said. “But there are these other plant medicines that have been left behind.”

A Republican lawmaker in Iowa filed a bill to legalize certain psychedelics for medical purposes last year, but it did not advance.

Marijuana Legalization Will Advance In Connecticut This Year, Top Lawmakers Say

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Mushroom Observer.

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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Mexican Lawmakers Plan To Pass Amended Marijuana Legalization Bill Before End Of April

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An amended bill to legalize and regulate marijuana sales in Mexico is being circulated among lawmakers, setting the stage for a renewed reform push as the legislature goes back into session next month.

The new proposal, which was jointly submitted by the Justice and Health Committees, would allow adults to possess up to 28 grams of cannabis for personal use and cultivate up to six plants. Individuals could apply for a license to possess more than 28 grams but no more than 200 grams.

While Sen. Ricardo Monreal Ávila of the ruling MORENA party said the measure is not final, it’s a next step in the process. He said he’ll be meeting with Interior Secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero and Julio Scherer, legal advisor to the president, next week to discuss cannabis reform legislation.

Under the proposed bill, those who possess an amount of marijuana between 28 and 200 grams would be charged a fine amounting to roughly $560, while stricter penalties would be imposed for possession of more than 200 grams.

The Mexican Cannabis Institute, a new regulatory body, would be responsible for issuing business licenses and developing rules for the market. The bill also contains provisions aimed at promoting social equity, such as prioritizing cultivation licenses for individuals from communities most impacted by the drug war.

The institute would also be able to issue grants for research into the cultivation of cannabis for commercial use, according to Milenio.

The introduction of this revised legislation comes more than a year after the nation’s Supreme Court deemed federal laws prohibiting personal marijuana possession and cultivation unconstitutional—a ruling that was followed by a legislative mandate to end the policy. In the months since, lawmakers have worked to develop a regulatory scheme to legalize the plant for adult use.

But while there was progress—with the Senate holding numerous public educational meetings, including one that featured a former White House drug czar—the legislature was unable to reach a compromise on a passable bill before the court’s October 2019 deadline, prompting leading lawmakers to request an extension.

The Supreme Court agreed to extend the deadline for a policy change to April 30.

The new bill going before the Congress is largely similar to the one that Senate committees unveiled just before the earlier deadline, but there have been some minor changes. For example, it amends the business licensing scheme. There will be five types of licenses that the institute can issue: cultivation, transformation, marketing, exports/imports and research.

Monreal stressed that “there is nothing ensured yet” in terms of the prospects for the new draft legislation being passed as written.

“There are those who are not in favor even of the legislation in this matter, so all that we have to pick it up and translate it into the will expressed on the opinion,” he said, adding that the legislature still hopes to pass legalization before the April deadline.

Read the full draft Mexican marijuana legalization bill below:

Mexican Marijuana Legalizat… by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

U.S. Virgin Islands Governor Pushes For Marijuana Legalization In Annual Speech

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