Connect with us

Politics

Vermont Lawmakers Make Key Compromises On Marijuana Sales Legalization Bill As Deal Nears

Published

on

A bill to legalize marijuana sales in Vermont in nearing the finish line, with a bicameral conference committee meeting again on Friday to hash out the remaining differences between each chamber’s respective versions of the legislation. And on the same day, a separate Senate-passed bill providing for cannabis expungements advanced in the House.

Importantly, House members of the bicameral legal sales negotiation panel unveiled their counteroffer to a proposed compromise that the Senate side offered last month.

The last few conference meetings have largely focused on the economics of the cannabis commerce bill and how many tax dollars are projected to be allocated to various state programs and funds. Members have also debated policies such as which regulatory body should be responsible for overseeing the state’s existing medical marijuana program as well as reporting requirements for regulators charged with overseeing the industry.

One of the most notable compromises the House made was accepting the Senate’s proposal to shift regulatory control for the medical cannabis to the Cannabis Control Board established under the bill instead of keeping it under the Department of Public Safety.

Watch the committee conference discuss the marijuana commerce bill below: 

But there were a series of significant areas of disagreement that persisted. For example, the House maintained its position that individual jurisdictions should have to opt-in to allow marijuana businesses to operate in their area, while the Senate wanted an opt-out provision. The House also stuck with its proposed ban on advertising and restrictions on what types of products will be available to consumers.

The conference has yet to reach a consensus on the tax rate for cannabis sales. And a House-passed provision allowing police to pull people over for failure to wear seatbelts that became an early sticking point remained a point of contention until near the end of Friday’s meeting.

“Is the House unwilling to move on seatbelts? And if that’s the case, then what’s the point in keeping going?” Sen. Dick Sears (D), the chief sponsor of the reform legislation, S. 54, said at the hearing. He also said that he “understands seatbelts are important to” the House speaker and asked what the chamber would want in exchange for taking it out.

Curiously, the House recommended in their counteroffer an amendment that would prohibit people from transporting marijuana products—or alcohol—in any part of a car (even if they were in closed containers) unless they’re stored in a locked glove box or trunk. The Senate side sharply criticized that measure.

The Senate also initially rejected a House provision to add saliva to the “definition of evidentiary test for impaired driving,” and the House kept with that component as well.

Following an initial breakout at which each chamber’s negotiators met separately, the Senate made a series of significant concessions. Senators said they would accept the House’s provisions on jurisdictional opt-in, product restrictions, saliva testing and the advertising ban. But they were only willing to accept those changes if the House agreed to get rid of the seatbelt enforcement component, accept their proposed two percent local option tax and remove the amendment on cannabis transportation in cars.

The House members then broke away to discuss the Senate concessions and, when they came back, said they would be inclined to accept most of the proposal if they were able to keep their version of the tax structure. The Senate side said they would consult with colleagues and consider it over the weekend. Sears said he wanted to put the revisions past the Senate Agriculture Committee and would report back by the middle of next week.

“I’m pleased that the House and Senate were able to reach agreement on almost all of the outstanding issues,” Dave Silberman, an attorney and pro bono drug policy reform advocate, told Marijuana Moment. “I’m particularly grateful that the House conferees were able to find a way to back off their demands for primary seatbelt enforcement as well as the absurd proposal to require Vermonters to strap the 6-pack from the grocery store onto their roof racks.”

Matt Simon, New England political director of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), told Marijuana Moment that it “was very encouraging to see the conference committee reach agreement on nearly all of the outstanding issues.

“Compromise is often difficult, but legislators deserve credit for setting aside their differences and working together to help establish a regulated market for cannabis,” he said. “I’m hopeful that they will finalize the details of the bill at their next meeting.”

Gov. Phil Scott (R), who reluctantly signed a bill legalizing low-level cannabis possession and cultivation in 2018, has expressed some concerns about adding commercial sales but he may be more inclined to allow the tax-and-regulate legislation to take effect with the latest agreement given his interest in allowing saliva-based drug testing.

That said, if the conference committee does reach an agreement next week, the unified proposal would still have to go back to both chambers for final floor votes on sending it to the governor’s desk.

Updated estimates on each chamber’s tax proposals were also published on Friday. The total tax revenue projections are the same, but the Senate’s version shows higher local revenue estimates, while the House proposal would generate more dollars for the general fund.

Sears said near the end of the meeting that he was encouraged to see that the conference is “extremely close” to reaching a deal.

The conference has been meeting on Mondays since the beginning of August, but they opted to convene for a shorter conversation on Friday because of the upcoming Labor Day holiday and their collective desire to finalize the bill sooner rather than later.

Advocates likely appreciate the renewed sense of urgency, as they’ve been waiting months during the coronavirus pandemic for action on the bill since it cleared both the House and Senate earlier this session.

While Vermont legalized possession of up to one ounce of cannabis and cultivation of two plants in 2018, there are currently no regulations in place that allow for retail sales.

Also on Friday, the House Judiciary Committee approved cannabis expungements legislation, and a full chamber vote is expected next week. Simon of MPP said the issue “is a moral imperative for Vermont” and that legislators “should be applauded for taking bold action on this issue.”

Prohibitionist group Smart Approaches To Marijuana is working to get constituents to contact House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D) to raise concerns about cannabis as the legislature finalizes the legal sales bill—and they recently made the controversial decision to include her personal cell phone number in a mailer sent out to residents in her district.

Separately, the Senate approved a bill in June that would double the amount of marijuana that can be possessed and grown without the threat of jail time.

Meanwhile, Vermont Democratic Party insiders included planks to decriminalize drug possession and legalize marijuana sales in a draft platform for 2020. The document is still subject to change based on comments from county committees and delegates at the party’s September 12 convention.

Marijuana Decriminalization And Expungements Will Be Biden-Harris Priorities, Top Aide Says

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.

Politics

Democrats Remove Marijuana Research Bill From House Floor Schedule After Briefly Listing Possible Vote

Published

on

On Friday afternoon, a bipartisan bill to promote marijuana research was included in a list of legislation that was “scheduled for consideration” on the House floor next week. But hours later, it was removed.

“It was just an error,” a spokesperson for House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) told Marijuana Moment. “It’s not scheduled for next week.”

This is the second cannabis-related scheduling complication to occur within the House this month. The chamber’s leadership had previously announced plans to hold a vote on a comprehensive federal cannabis legalization bill this week, but that action was postponed following pushback from certain centrist Democratic members. 

The Medical Marijuana Research Act that was mistakenly included in the list of bills to be taken up next week cleared the House Energy and Commerce Committee earlier this month in a voice vote. The crux of the proposal is to streamline studies, and one notable mechanism through which it would do that is to let researchers obtain cannabis from dispensaries in legal states—a significant departure from current policy that restricts scientists to using marijuana grown under federal authorization.

That could resolve an issue identified by researchers and lawmakers, who complain that marijuana produced at the only existing authorized facility at the University of Mississippi is difficult to access and is chemically closer to hemp than cannabis available on the commercial market.

It’s not clear whether that provision will be a sticking point for members who oppose broader marijuana reform if it does eventually get a floor vote. As initially listed on the House’s weekly calendar, the bill would have been considered under a process known as suspension of the rules, under which it could advance on an expedited basis with no amendments allowed and which requires at least a two-thirds majority to pass.

The legislation would also establish a simplified registration process for researchers interested in studying cannabis, in part by reducing approval wait times, minimizing costly security requirements and eliminating additional layers of protocol review.

As it was originally drafted, the bill would have made it so researchers could access marijuana from additional federally approved private manufacturers. But an amendment in the nature of a substitute was approved in committee, also via a voice vote, that included the component expanding access to state-legal dispensaries.

In July, the House approved separate legislation that also called for letting researchers study marijuana purchased from businesses in state-legal markets instead of only letting them use government-grown cannabis. The intent of that provision, tucked into a 2,000-plus-page infrastructure bill, was to allow the interstate distribution of such products even to scientists in jurisdictions that have not yet legalized marijuana.

The revised research-focused proposal that the House is poised take up next week also stipulates that nothing about the legislation precludes the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary from enforcing Food and Drug Administration restrictions on the method of administration of marijuana, the dosage or number of patients involved in approved studies.

The bill would also make it so there would be no limit on the number of entities that can be registered to cultivate marijuana for research purposes. Additionally, it would require HHS to submit a report to Congress within five years after enactment to overview the results of federal cannabis studies and recommend whether they warrant marijuana’s rescheduling under federal law.

While the floor announcement would have represented a positive development for advocates, there’s still frustration over the postponement of a vote on the federal descheduling bill—the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act. Certain centrist Democrats reportedly convinced leadership to delay the action, citing concerns about the optics of advancing cannabis reform without first passing another round of coronavirus relief.

The research legislation is being led by the unlikely duo of pro-legalization Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and prohibitionist Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD).

During an Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health hearing in January—which was requested by four GOP lawmakers last year—federal health and drug officials, including from DEA, acknowledged that the current supply of cannabis for research purposes is inadequate and that scientists should be able to access a wider range of marijuana products.

DEA said four years ago that it would be taking steps to expand the number of federally authorized cannabis manufacturers, but it has not yet acted on applications.

Last year, scientists sued the agency, alleging that it had deliberately delayed approving additional marijuana manufacturers for research purposes despite its earlier pledge.

A court mandated that DEA take steps to make good on its promise, and that case was dropped after DEA provided a status update.

In March, DEA finally unveiled a revised rule change proposal that it said was necessary due to the high volume of applicants and to address potential complications related to international treaties to which the U.S. is a party.

The scientists behind the original case filed another suit against DEA, claiming that the agency used a “secret” document to justify its delay of approving manufacturer applications.

That was born out when the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel document was released in April as part of a settlement in the case, revealing, among other things, that the agency feels that its current licensing structure for cannabis cultivation has been in violation of international treaties for decades.

But the committee-approved bill states that international treaty obligations “shall not be construed to prohibit, or impose additional restrictions upon, research involving marijuana, or the manufacture, distribution, or dispensing of marijuana, that is conducted in accordance with the Controlled Substances Act, this Act, and the amendments made by this Act.”

The legislation has drawn support from a broad array of organizations on both sides of the legalization debate, including Smart Approaches to Marijuana, American Psychological Association, Marijuana Policy Project and American Academy of Neurology.

This story has been updated to reflect that the cannabis research bill will not receive a floor vote next week and was mistakenly included in the House schedule, seemingly due to a clerical error.

The Marijuana Election Has Already Started: Here’s What You Need To Know About Early Voting And Registration Deadlines

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.
Continue Reading

Politics

Mexican Cabinet Member Accepts Gifted Marijuana Plant As Lawmakers Prepare Legalization Vote

Published

on

Marijuana is becoming something of a staple in the Mexican Congress, and not just when it comes to reform bills being considered. Actual cannabis products are regularly being exchanged, displayed and planted in and around legislative chambers as lawmakers work to legalize the plant.

On Wednesday, a top administration official was gifted a marijuana plant by senator, and she said she’d be making it a part of her personal garden.

Interior Ministry Secretary Olga SĂĄnchez Cordero said that by the time she plants the cannabis gift from Sen. Emilio Álvarez Icaza, she’ll be “fervently hoping that the law [to legalize cannabis] is already passed,” referring to reform legislation that the legislature has been working on the past couple years.

“The medicinal use of marijuana has been a revelation for the world, and second because hemp is industrially interesting from clothes, energy, paper, construction materials, stronger than any other construction material,” she said, according to a translation. “In other words, there is enormous potential with hemp and also the recreational use of marijuana, respecting the principle of the autonomy of the will and the free development of the person.”

Last year, a different lawmaker gave the SĂĄnchez Cordero a marijuana joint on the floor of the Chamber of Deputies.

“I bring you a gift as a reminder of that proposal you made at the beginning, because that goes to be the way to help us build peace. Let’s regulate the use of drugs,” Deputy Ana LucĂ­a Riojas MartĂ­nez said at the time.

Cannabis made another appearance in the legislature last month, when Sen. Jesusa RodrĂ­guez of the ruling Morena party decorated her desk with a marijuana plant.

Drug policy reform advocates have also been cultivating hundreds of marijuana plants in front of the Senate, putting pressure on legislators to make good on their pledge to advance legalization.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador recently said that marijuana reform legislation will advance in the new session.

A legalization bill was approved by several committees earlier this year, but the reform effort has been stalled due to the coronavirus pandemic. The nation’s Supreme Court—which deemed the country’s prohibition on personal possession and cultivation unconstitutional in 2018—is currently giving lawmakers until December 15 to enact the policy change.

The legalization bill that’s set to advance this coming session was revised during a joint meeting of the Justice, Health, Legislative Studies and Public Safety Committees in March.

The proposal would allow adults 18 and older to possess and cultivate marijuana for personal use. Individuals could grow up to 20 registered plants as long as the total yield doesn’t exceed 480 grams per year. Medical patients could apply to cultivate more than 20 plants, however.

Personal possession would be capped at 28 grams, but possession of up to 200 grams would be decriminalized.

The Mexican Institute of Regulation and Control of Cannabis, a decentralized body established under the measure, would be established and responsible for regulating the market and issuing licenses for marijuana businesses.

The bill proposes a 12 percent tax on cannabis sales, with some revenue going toward a substance misuse treatment fund.

Public consumption would be permissible, except in spaces designated as 100 percent smoke-free. Hemp and CBD would be exempt from regulations that apply to THC products.

An earlier version of the legislation was approved by Senate committees last year ahead of the court’s previous October deadline.

Sen. Julio Ramón Menchaca Salazar, also of the Morena party, said in April that while legislators must still resolve certain disagreements about the legislation, legalizing cannabis could fill treasury coffers at a time when the economy is recovering from the pandemic.

While advocates are eager to enact reform, they’ve also raised several concerns with the legislation as drafted, particularly as it relates to restorative justice.

Zara Snapp, a legalization activist with the Instituto RIA and the coalition #RegulacionPorLaPaz, told Marijuana Moment on Friday that while it’s “concerning” that committees haven’t yet scheduled time to take the legalization bill back up, she’s had conversations with senators from all political parties and “they all tell me this will happen this legislative session.”

“We’re going to take them at their word that they will be approving this in the next two to three months,” she said.

Vermont Democratic Party Platform Calls For Decriminalizing Drugs And Legalizing Marijuana Sales

Photo courtesy of Twitter/EmilioAlvarezI.

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.
Continue Reading

Politics

Vermont Democratic Party Platform Calls For Decriminalizing Drugs And Legalizing Marijuana Sales

Published

on

The Vermont Democratic Party formally adopted a platform this month that calls for bold drug policy reforms, including legalizing marijuana sales, promoting equity in the cannabis industry and decriminalizing possession of all currently illicit substances.

During a virtual meeting on September 12, about 100 local delegates from across the state approved the platform. Beside marijuana legalization and drug decriminalization, the party further called for a process to automate expungements and reassess sentencing guidelines more broadly.

All this came together as legislators worked to send the governor a cannabis tax-and-regulate bill and separate legislation that would provide automatic record clearing for prior marijuana convictions.

The party released the final language of its positions this week. Here’s how the drug policy-related planks were written:

-Adopt an approach to the possession and misuse of drugs that is motivated solely by the principles of public health and harm reduction, rather than punishing undesirable private behavior, while avoiding the criminal justice system altogether.

-Ensure that cannabis is appropriately regulated and taxed in a manner that rights the historic wrongs of the War on Drugs and that recognizes the disproportionate impact prohibition has had on minority communities.

-Expand access to expungement, including by enacting a system to automatically expunge criminal records, so that those who have repaid their debt to society can make a fresh start.

-Re-examine existing prison sentences in light of our current knowledge of how systemic bias has led to disparate outcomes based on race and socio-economic status, and give State’s Attorneys greater authority to take a second look at and reduce existing sentences where these biases are found, and otherwise are in the interest in justice.

“This platform reflects a continuing shift in attitudes among Vermont Democrats when it comes to drug policy,” Dave Silberman, a pro bono attorney and reform advocate who led the drafting of the platform’s criminal justice provisions, told Marijuana Moment. “As a party, we’ve fully recognized that the War on Drugs has completely failed to reduce problematic drug use, and in fact fuels the racial biases we see in policing today, all without contributing to public safety.”

“Even a few years ago, these statements would have been controversial, but today they are the consensus view,” Silberman, who is running for the elected office of high bailiff in Addison County, said. “I’m excited to work with Democratic elected officials in 2021 and beyond to turn these principles into law and policy.”

The Vermont Republican Party didn’t respond to Marijuana Moment’s request for reaction to Democrats’ drug policy positions by press time.

Legalizing marijuana sales in Vermont has been a priority for activists since the governor signed legislation in 2018 allowing adults to possess up to one ounce of cannabis and cultivate up to two plants.

After both chambers advanced the marijuana commerce bill earlier this session, it was sent to a bicameral conference committee to resolve differences. Those negotiations resulted in a finalized bill this month, which the House and Senate then approved, putting it on its way to the governor’s desk.

While Scott hasn’t said whether he will put his signature on S. 54, he noted last week that he’s been impressed with how the legislative process unfolded for the measure and would take that into account.

The expungements bill that also cleared the legislature this month would allow records to be cleared systematically and also people to possess and grow more cannabis without the threat of jail time than is currently allowed.

Outside Vermont, the Oregon Democratic Party this week formally endorsed statewide initiatives to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic purposes and decriminalize possession of all currently illicit drugs while investing in substance misuse treatment.

Read the Vermont Democratic Party’s platform below: 

VDP 2020 Platform by Marijuana Moment

Marijuana Businesses Could Get Federal Disaster Relief Funds Under New Congressional Bill

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.
Continue Reading
Advertisement

Marijuana News In Your Inbox

Support Marijuana Moment

Marijuana News In Your Inbox

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!