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Vermont House Speaker Says Majority Of Lawmakers Back Legalizing Marijuana Sales

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Legislation to tax and regulate recreational marijuana sales has a good chance of passing in Vermont in 2020, according to one of the state’s top elected officials.

During a Thursday press conference in which House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D) and Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe (D) discussed legislative priorities for the 2020 session, the speaker said there is currently enough multi-party support in her chamber to pass a bill legalizing cannabis commerce next year.

“Given what I’ve heard from people, I believe there is a solid tri-partisan majority in the House that would like to see tax and regulate pass this year,” Johnson said.

When pressed again to answer the question, specifically, of whether the bill has a significant chance of passage, Johnson continued, “I believe there is the will in the House to pass it this year.”

The new comments come despite Johnson previously saying that the legislation isn’t a top priority in the new session.

As for where the bill stands once it potentially comes back to the Senate, Ashe, whose chamber approved a cannabis commerce bill earlier this year, said the legislation remains in “wait and see mode” because of changes the House may end up making to the proposal.

“Because the bill is not a final product, obviously members in the Senate who were particularly active in drafting it on our side are keeping tabs but are waiting to worry about differences until we get the final product,” Ashe said.

Watch Johnson and Ashe’s marijuana legalization comments, about 37:30 into the video below: 

The Senate approved a cannabis sales legalization bill in February. But as the first half of the biennial session came to a close in the spring, it became clear that the bill would not reach the House floor for a vote despite having advanced at the committee level.

Had the bill been approved, it would have acted as a building block on legislation Vermont lawmakers approved January 2018 to legalize low-level possession and home cultivation of marijuana. Gov. Phil Scott (R) signed the bill later that month, but sales and other means of cannabis commerce are prohibited.

In light of the current law’s lack of regulatory measures, advocates for cannabis reform in Vermont welcomed Johnson’s latest comments on the issue.

Dave Silberman, an attorney and pro bono drug policy reform advocate from Middlebury, told Marijuana Moment that the speaker’s remarks “underscore the importance of the work that the House Government Operations Committee has already done to address legislators’ concerns about youth access to cannabis, traffic safety and environment protection.”

Johnson said at the press conference that concerns such as roadside safety, youth usage and the marijuana production’s impact on the environment must be addressed before the bill is to see a floor consideration in the new year.

“The legislature returns in early January, and I look forward to the bill being brought to a vote in short order,” Silberman noted.

Johnson’s latest clarification of her stance comes on the heels of a top Vermont health official’s endorsement of legal recreational marijuana sales.

During a radio interview with WDEV last week, Cynthia Seivwright, director of the state Department of Health’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Programs, said that regulating cannabis commerce in the state would better protect public health than current policy does.

“Without the regulation, we don’t know what’s in it,” Seivwright said when asked whether a regulatory model that is similar to that for alcohol makers sense for cannabis. “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. … We at the Health Department support a regulated system.”

That said, the governor has raised concerns about the idea of legalizing marijuana sales, saying that he isn’t prepared to sign such legislation until he feels comfortable that law enforcement have the tools they need to deal with issues related to driving under the influence.

Oklahoma Activists Take First Step To Put Marijuana Legalization On State’s 2020 Ballot

Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

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.

Xander Peters is a freelance journalist living in New Orleans. His work has appeared in Rolling Stone, Reason, Earther and other publications.

Politics

Senator Files New Bill To Federally Legalize Marijuana And Regulate It Like Tobacco

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A Democratic senator filed a new bill to federally legalize marijuana on Thursday, creating yet another potential avenue through which Congress could enact the policy change.

This piece of legislation, sponsored by Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN), would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and direct several federal agencies to develop regulations for the plant.

Titled the “Substance Regulation and Safety Act,” the bill would deschedule cannabis, require the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to develop rules that treat marijuana the same as tobacco, create a national research institute to evaluate the risks and benefits of cannabis, require the U.S. Department of Agriculture to impose quality control standards and mandate that the Department of Transportation study methods for detecting THC-impaired driving.

The descheduling provisions “are retroactive and shall apply to any offense committed, case pending, or conviction entered, and, in the case of a juvenile, any offense committed, case pending, or adjudication of juvenile delinquency entered, before, on, or after the date of the enactment of this Act,” the text of the bill states.

HHS would have to come up with a “national strategy to prevent youth use and abuse of cannabis, with specific attention to youth vaping of cannabis products.” Further, text of the legislation states that the department would be required to “regulate cannabis products in the same manner, and to the same extent,” as it does with tobacco.

That includes “applying all labeling and advertising requirements that apply to tobacco products under such Act to cannabis products.”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection would be tasked with working with other agencies to develop policies on allowing marijuana imports and exports.

The legislation further contains racial justice provisions. For example, HHS would have to consult with “consult with civil rights stakeholders” to determine “whether cannabis abuse prevention strategies and policies are likely to have racially disparate impacts” within 100 days of the bill’s enactment.

The Department of Transportation would similarly have to determine whether its impaired driving prevention policy “is likely to contribute to racially disparate impacts in the enforcement of traffic safety laws.”

Agencies charged with establishing these regulations would have one year following the bill’s enactment to finalize those rules.

A federal age requirement for marijuana sales would be set at 21 under the measure.

The short title of the bill as published on Congress’s website states that it would “decriminalize and reschedule cannabis.” However, the text of the legislation as introduced that was shared with Marijuana Moment says it would go beyond rescheduling by removing marijuana from the CSA entirely, a process known as descheduling. Representatives from Smith’s office did not immediately respond to a request for clarification.

This is the latest legalization bill to be introduced this Congress. In some ways, it appears to be a more modest reform compared to other pieces of legislation that reform advocates are backing such as the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act, which includes provisions beyond rescheduling to reinvest in communities most impacted by the war on drugs.

Sources recently told Marijuana Moment there are plans in motion to get a House floor vote on that bill in September, though it’s prospects in the Republican-controlled Senate are more dubious. It’s possible that this bill from Smith would be more palatable to GOP members given its more narrow focus.

“It’s terrific to see Senator Smith engage so substantively in the cannabis policy reform debate,” Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “We at NORML look forward to propelling many aspects of the new legislation into the broader conversation on the future of federal regulations in regards to a post-prohibition America.”

The introduction of this legislation comes one day after the House approved a spending bill amendment that would protect all state, territory and tribal cannabis programs from federal intervention.

While Smith has only been in Congress since 2018, after she replaced Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) following his resignation, she has signed onto various pieces of cannabis reform legislation as a cosponsor, and she’s made several comments in favor of reform.

For example, the senator attached her name to bills to protect banks that service state-legal marijuana businesses from being penalized from federal regulators and to legalize industrial hemp. She also cosponsored a resolution condemning “state-sanctioned extrajudicial killings” over drug crimes in the Philippines.

Smith also recently remarked racial disparities in drug enforcement in a Senate floor speech.

This bill is being introduced as Minnesota lawmakers push for state-level legalization, with a top legislator unveiling a comprehensive plan for legalizing cannabis for all adults 21 and older in May.

It also comes shortly after the Democratic National Committee rejected an amendment to adopt legalization as a 2020 party plank, with members opting instead to embrace more modest reforms. Advocates suspend that there may have been pressure for the panel not to formally embrace a policy change that is opposed to by presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

Read the new Senate marijuana legalization below: 

Substance Regulation and Sa… by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

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Louisiana Law Allowing Medical Marijuana For Any Debilitating Condition To Take Effect

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A new Louisiana law significantly expanding the state’s medical marijuana program officially takes effect on Saturday.

This comes two months after the legislature approved the bill and Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) signed it. The legislation will allow physicians to recommend medical cannabis to patients for any debilitating condition that they deem fit instead of from the limited list of maladies that’s used under current law.

Other new laws coming into force this weekend include ones to set hemp and CBD regulations, shield financial institutions that service marijuana businesses from being penalized by state regulators and provide legal protections for doctors who recommend medical cannabis and medical facilities that have marijuana patients in their care.

The medical marijuana expansion bill as introduced by its sponsor, Rep. Larry Bagley (R), initially only would have added traumatic brain injuries and concussions but was amended in committee to include several other conditions as well as language stipulating that cannabis can be recommended for any malady that a physician “considers debilitating to an individual patient.”

“I’m excited. I’m expecting it to be a pretty big day,” Bagley told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview on Thursday. “All the people out here tell me all the wonderful stories about how they were in terrible pain and then they took it and then they’ve gotten away from the pain.”

The lawmaker is particularly hopeful that providing this expanded access will help curb the opioid epidemic by providing patients with a safer alternative to prescription painkillers.

“The medical marijuana is not [like opioids] because not not addictive. No one’s ever died from it,” he said.

“I’m hopeful I think this is gonna be a big day. I’m really expecting this to be a game changer for Louisiana, for the state, for the pharmacies that are doing this,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a big moneymaker for state. At least I hope it is. And I think that everybody’s going to be really happy about it, but time will tell.”

Bagley had also introduced a House-passed bill to allow delivery services, but he voluntarily withdrew it from Senate committee consideration, telling Marijuana Moment at the time that he felt the debilitating condition bill would already allow cannabis products to be delivered to patients like other traditional pharmaceuticals.

The delivery bill would have required a government regulatory body to develop “procedures and regulations relative to delivery of dispensed marijuana to patients by designated employees or agents of the pharmacy.”

It remains to be seen if regulators will agree with Bagley’s interpretation, as doctors are still prohibited from “prescribing” cannabis, and marijuana products are not dispensed through traditional pharmacies. But regulators did move to temporarily authorize delivery services during the coronavirus pandemic, so it’s possible they will be amenable to extending the allowance on a permanent basis.

State lawmakers also passed a resolution in June to create “a task force to study and make recommendations relative to the cannabis industry projected workforce demands.” Text of the legislation, which does not require gubernatorial action, states that “there is a need to study the workforce demands and the skills necessary to supply the cannabis industry with a capable and compete workforce, including physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, and other healthcare practitioners.”

Nancy Pelosi Says Marijuana Is A ‘Therapy That Has Proven Successful’ Amid Coronavirus Bill Debate

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.
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Nancy Pelosi Says Marijuana Is A ‘Therapy That Has Proven Successful’ Amid Coronavirus Bill Debate

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on Friday defended the decision to include marijuana banking protections in Democrats’ latest coronavirus relief bill.

The speaker was asked about various provisions of the legislation that Republicans had criticized as not germane to the health crisis, with a reporter citing the cannabis component in particular. Pelosi took issue with the suggestion and said there is a role for marijuana reform amid the pandemic.

“I don’t agree with you that cannabis is not related to this,” the top House Democrat said. “This is a therapy that has proven successful.”

It’s not clear whether the speaker was suggesting that marijuana has medical value for a coronavirus infection specifically or was more broadly referencing the plant’s therapeutic potential. The Food and Drug Administration has made clear that there’s currently no solid evidence that cannabinoids can treat COVID-19 and it’s warned companies that make that claim.

Several lawmakers have argued that the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act is relevant to the health crisis for a different reason, as protecting financial institutions that service cannabis businesses would mean fewer cash exchanges at dispensaries, thus minimizing the spread of the virus.

Marijuana Moment previously exclusively reported that Pelosi—who said in 2018 that doctors should prescribe medical cannabis and yoga more often instead of prescription opioids—supported attaching the banking language to the House’s coronavirus package prior to the legislation’s introduction.

That said, Senate leadership unveiled their latest round of coronavirus relief legislation on Monday, and it does not include the SAFE Banking Act provisions. It remains to be seen whether bicameral negotiators will be able to get it in the final bill sent to the president’s desk.

Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) said in May that he felt there was a 50-50 chance the Senate would adopt it as part of their COVID-19 bill.

On Friday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) took to Twitter to slam Pelosi’s latest cannabis comments.

“Hey Nancy, let’s focus on the pandemic. Not pot,” he said.

The Senate Republican Communications Center also chimed in.

“House Democrats are continuing to try and push unrelated COVID-19 wish-list items. All of them should be taken out,” the group tweeted.

Meanwhile, the standalone SAFE Banking Act has continued to sit in the Senate Banking Committee without action in the months since the House initially approved it.

Earlier this month, a bipartisan coalition of state treasurers sent a letter to congressional leaders, asking that they include marijuana banking protections in the next piece of coronavirus relief legislation.

In May, a bipartisan coalition of 34 state attorneys general similarly wrote to Congress to urge the passage of COVD-19 legislation containing cannabis banking provisions.

Pelosi’s latest comments come one day after the House approved an amendment to protect state, territory and tribal marijuana laws from federal interference.

House Votes To Protect State Marijuana Laws From Federal Interference

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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