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Virginia Governor Calls For Marijuana Legalization In 2021 As Commission Issues Recommendations On Provisions

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The governor of Virginia said on Monday that he wants the state to legalize marijuana and will work with lawmakers to pass a reform bill in 2021. His comments come on the same day that a legislative commission tasked with studying the issue issued  recommendations to lawmakers on how a legal cannabis market could be structured.

Gov. Ralph Northam (D) campaigned on simple decriminalization, a policy he signed into law earlier this year, but until now had never previously taken a stand on broader adult-use legalization.

“We are going to move forward with the legalization of marijuana in Virginia. I support this and I’m committed to doing in the right way,” he said during a briefing, adding that it’s “not going to happen overnight.”

“Marijuana laws have been based originally in discrimination and undoing these harms means things like social equity licenses, access to capital, community reinvestment and sealing or expunging people’s prior records,” Northam said.

That’s consistent with the analysis put forward in a report by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) on Monday. The panel made recommendations on the policy change from a number of angles—including economic, social equity and public health. Members drew from the experiences of other states that have enacted legalization, as well as existing research into the topic.

Although the panel did not formally recommend whether legislators should pursue legalization, they noted the projected tax revenue the Commonwealth could bring in and possible restorative justice policies that could help repair the damages of the drug war if the state were to enact the reform.

JLARC was tasked with conducting the study and issuing recommendations as part of a resolution approved by the legislature earlier this year.

“If Virginia legalizes marijuana, the General Assembly would need to make several policy choices,” the commission said in its report. “The General Assembly would need to determine legal limits on the amount of marijuana an individual could possess; where marijuana could legally be smoked or consumed; the legal age for marijuana use; and whether to allow individuals to grow their own plants. Legislators would also need to determine whether to adjust existing penalties for illegal distribution and possession above the legal amount.”

The panel made 45 recommendations and also gave lawmakers 29 “policy options” related to legalizing cannabis. They based the recommendations on interviews with more than 100 stakeholders and more than 200 prior studies on the issue.

Here are some of the main findings

-By legalizing marijuana, the state would see an 84 percent reduction in cannabis-related arrests.

-If the state enacted the reform and taxed marijuana sales at a rate of 25-30 percent, it could bring in $154-308 million in revenue annually five years after implementation.

-The cannabis program could also create upwards of 11,000 jobs by year five.

-Social equity in the industry could be promoted using a variety of tactics. For example, Virginia could use some tax revenue to support reinvestment programs for communities most impacted by the drug war. Legislators could also prevent vertical integration and provide loans for small businesses.

-The commission said their review of studies on legalization in other states shows that more people would consume marijuana, but evidence indicates that youth use would remain the same, if not decline.

-Local jurisdictions should have “substantial authority” over how to regulate, or whether to allow, cannabis facilities. That includes allowing them to set licensing caps on marijuana retailers.

-Members agreed that the industry should be privatized, rather than having the state control it.

-Legislators should wait to set up the basic market infrastructure prior to deciding on whether to allow cannabis delivery services or on-site consumption.

-Allowing home cultivation would provide a low-cost access option for consumers and, if lawmakers provide for it, they should set a two-to-six plant limit per adult.

-JLARC also said that the legislature should establish restrictions on marijuana labeling and advertising to deter youth consumption.

“I’d like to emphasize that we were directed to look at how Virginia could legalize marijuana and create a commercial market,” Mark Gribbin, JLARC’s project manager for this report, said during a presentation on Monday. “We’re not asserting if that should be done.”

Northam’s office, in a press release, said that he is “working closely with lawmakers to finalize legislation” to legalize cannabis ahead of the 2021 session that begins in January.

He said the proposal will need to address social, racial equity and economic equity. It also must protect public health, limit young people’s access to cannabis, align with the state’s Indoor Clean Air Act and include data collection components to track implementation.

Last week, top Virginia lawmakers signaled that legal cannabis could have enough support to be enacted in 2021.

House Majority Leader Charniele Herring (D) said there is a “good chance” it could happen, and Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D) put the odds at “slightly better than 50-50.”

Meanwhile, legislation to stop police from searching people or seizing property based solely on the smell of marijuana in Virginia is set to take effect after lawmakers adopted recommended changes from the governor this month.

Also during the recently concluded special session, Northam signed another bill that will allow people issued summonses for cannabis offenses under the state’s new decriminalization law to prepay their civil penalty rather than having show up in court.

Together, when enacted, the two new reforms will build upon the measure to decriminalize cannabis that the governor signed earlier this year during the regular legislative session, which makes it so possession of up to one ounce of marijuana is punishable by a $25 fine with no threat of jail time and no criminal record.

But not all proposed reforms advanced.

Lawmakers were ultimately not able to reach an agreement during the special session on legislation to provide expungements for prior cannabis convictions that had appeared destined for Northam’s desk after passing either chamber in differing forms. The issue died in conference.

A bill to legalize marijuana possession was filed for the special session by a delegate who is running to replace the term-limited Northam as governor in 2021, but it did not advance out of the committee to which it was referred.

Meanwhile, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), who is considering running again next year, endorsed Northam’s call for legal cannabis in a tweet.

Attorney General Mark Herring (D), who had considered a run for governor but has decided to seek another term in his current office, said that the new JLARC report “just confirms what I have long been saying – Virginia needs to allow legal, regulated adult use of marijuana as a matter of public safety, justice, equity, and economic opportunity.”

During this year’s regular legislative session, the governor and lawmakers also expanded Virginia’s limited medical cannabis program in addition to enacting the decriminalization law.

Beyond the JLARC study, several executive agencies—including “the Secretaries of Agriculture and Forestry, Finance, Health and Human Resources, and Public Safety and Homeland Security—have formed a work group that is also studying the potential implications of legalization, and their report is due by the end of this month. That action is required under the approved decriminalization bill.

“It comes as no surprise that Governor Northam has announced his support for legalizing the responsible use of cannabis by adults,” NORML Development Director Jenn Michelle Pedini, told Marijuana Moment.

“Governor Northam has always been thoughtful in his approach to cannabis policy,” Pedini, who also serves as the executive director of Virginia NORML and is a member of the Virginia Marijuana Legalization Work Group, said. “NORML appreciates that social equity, racial equity and economic equity are among his top considerations for legalization. We look forward to continuing our work with the administration and the legislature to ‘get this right.'”

Rhode Island Will ‘Absolutely’ Consider Legalizing Marijuana In 2021, New House Speaker Says

Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

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Marijuana Legalization Could Curb Opioid Crisis In West Virginia, Governor Says

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If West Virginia lawmakers send a bill to legalize marijuana to his desk, he will sign it, Gov. Jim Justice (R) said on Tuesday.

While he might not be personally in favor of adult-use legalization, he said in response to a question during a town hall event that he’s heard from members of the medical community who feel that regulating cannabis sales could actually reduce “drug-type problems” like the opioid overdose epidemic, which has hit his state especially hard.

“I’ll just tell it like it is, I’m not educated enough to make a really good assessment as of yet,” he said. “But I can tell you just this: I do believe that that is coming, and the wave is coming across all of our states, and as that wave comes, if our House Republicans and Democrats and Senate Republicans and Democrats would get behind that effort from a standpoint of legalization of recreational marijuana and they would be supportive of that, I would too.”

Watch the governor respond to the marijuana legalization question below: 

The governor’s point about the broad public health impacts of legalization is substantiated in a growing body of scientific literature that’s found that increasing legal access to cannabis—which has been shown to effectively treat conditions such as chronic pain with minimal side effects—leads to fewer opioid prescriptions and overdose deaths.

Tuesday’s town hall wasn’t specifically about marijuana, however; rather, it centered on the state’s push to eliminate the income tax. On that note, House Majority Whip Paul Espinosa (R) recently circulated an internal poll among Republican lawmakers, inquiring about what kind of policies—including marijuana legalization—they’d be willing to support to make up revenue for the state as part of the plan to gut the income tax.

When asked about legalization as a means to raise tax revenue that could theoretically be used to get ride of the income tax, Justice said he’s principally opposed to broad reform but “I’m weakening on that position” because while his instinct is to reject regulating marijuana amid the state’s drug crisis, the medical community has shifted his perspective.

Experts “tell me that really and truly the legalizing of marijuana in certain areas or certain states that have that, from a recreational standpoint, have lowered their drug-type problems,” he said.

“If we could bucket the proceeds [from cannabis tax revenue] and use them in a way, just like this personal income tax reduction…in a really beneficial way for all our people,” he would be supportive of that.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 700 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

West Virginia approved medical cannabis legalization in 2017, which Justice signed into law, and patients were just recently approved to start registering for the program. That said, the state must still partner with a testing laboratory before marijuana products are made available.

Two Democratic candidates who lost their bids for West Virginia House seats last year had pledged to introduce legislation to legalize marijuana in the state if they were elected.

Chuck Schumer Says Federal Marijuana Legalization Is A Priority In Democrats’ ‘Big, Bold Agenda’

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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Mississippi House Replaces Senate’s Alternate Medical Marijuana Program With What Voters Originally Approved

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“The people have spoken, with a constitutional amendment about medical marijuana, and that bill went against the spirit of what the people decided.”

By Geoff Pender, Mississippi Today

A House panel on Tuesday gutted a Senate medical marijuana proposal and inserted the medical marijuana language voters passed as a constitutional amendment in November.

“I’m interested in seeing that bill die—I think it just did die,” said Rep. Robert Johnson III, House minority leader. “The people have spoken, with a constitutional amendment about medical marijuana, and that bill went against the spirit of what the people decided.”

Johnson made those statements about Senate Bill 2765 on Tuesday afternoon, when it appeared the bill had died, with no Ways and Means Committee meeting called on the floor for the afternoon to take the bill up. Later, Ways and Means had a meeting and took the bill up, then struck the Senate language and inserted Initiative 65. It now goes to the full House and if passed, back to the Senate in its amended form.

Rep. Joel Bomgar, R-Madison, who helped lead, and fund, the successful citizen initiative to enshrine medical marijuana use in the state constitution, offered the amendment to replace the Senate bill language with Initiative 65’s language.

Senate Bill 2765 was originally a legislative alternative to the medical marijuana program voters overwhelmingly approved in November with Ballot Initiative 65, which is now being challenged in the state Supreme Court. The bill passed the Senate only after much wrangling and a “do-over” vote in the wee hours of the morning in mid-February. It was initially drafted to create its own medical marijuana program, regardless of whether the court upholds the voter-passed program. But it was amended during heated Senate debate to take effect only if the courts strike down the voter-passed program.

The legislative move had many Initiative 65 supporters crying foul, claiming the Legislature was trying to usurp the will of the voters. After lawmakers failed for years to approve use of medical marijuana despite a groundswell of public support, voters took matters in hand in November with Initiative 65.

Jessica Rice, director of the Mississippi Cannabis Trade Association was among many watching the legislative alternative marijuana bill with skepticism and trepidation. She questioned whether lawmakers were truly trying to provide a backstop in case courts strike down Initiative 65. If so, she said, they would codify Initiative 65 — as the House panel did — not come up with a proposal with higher taxes and more or different regulations as in the Senate version.

“Our position is that the people have already had an option to vote on a legislative created program, and they chose not to,” Rice said last week. “Just because this is up before the Supreme Court does not give the Legislature a second bite at the apple … I think this is about control — they want to be able to be in control of the program, but people have already rejected that.”

But many state leaders and lawmakers had lamented that Initiative 65 was drafted to favor the marijuana industry and is just short of legalized recreational use. It puts the Mississippi State Department of Health in charge of the program, with no oversight by elected officials. It also prevents standard taxation of the marijuana, and any fees collected by the health department can only be used to run and expand the marijuana program, not go into state taxpayer coffers. The measure allows little regulation by local governments, no limits on the number of dispensaries and otherwise leaves many specifics … unspecified.

The Senate proposal would have taxed medical marijuana, with a 4 percent excise at cultivation, and with a 7 percent sales tax patients would pay, which was originally 10 percent in earlier drafts of the bill. Most of the taxes collected would have gone to education, including early learning and college scholarships. And the Departments of Agriculture and Revenue would be in charge.

The bill also would have imposed large licensing fees on growers and dispensary shop owners. Originally, those fees would have been $100,000 for growers and $20,000 for dispensaries. Those were reduced to $15,000 and $5,000, respectively, on Thursday night. Other changes were made in an effort to assuage those who believed such fees would keep small businesses and farms out of the game.

The bill barely gained the three-fifths vote it needed to pass the Senate. It faced a Tuesday deadline for the Ways and Means Committee to pass it on to the full House. Ways and Means Chairman Trey Lamar had said late Tuesday he was still undecided on what to do with the bill.

He noted the Ways and Means meeting late Tuesday was not announced on the House floor, as is standard procedure.

“No, it wasn’t announced,” Lamar said. “We just added it to the schedule. I know that’s not the usual way we do it, but I wasn’t there to announce it on the floor.”

This left many believing the bill had died on deadline without a vote Tuesday—apparently, including House Speaker Philip Gunn.

Gunn said: “The issue, or the challenge here is that the people voted on it in November, and they spoke pretty strongly… I know there is a lawsuit, but that can be dealt with later if we need to. If the Supreme Court throws out that vote, then the Legislature can come back and deal with it. If they uphold it, well then I don’t know what the Legislature would have to do with it then.”

This story was first published by Mississippi Today.

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Mexican Lawmakers To Vote On Marijuana Legalization Next Week

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A long-awaited floor vote on a proposal to legalize marijuana in Mexico is being scheduled in the Chamber of Deputies for next week, a move that comes months after the Senate approved the reform.

That said, lawmakers say there is still no formal revised bill for deputies to take up, and it will have to move through the committee process before being potentially returned to the Senate.

Martha Tagle Martínez, a member of the chamber’s Health Committee, said on Tuesday that several groups have reached out to her after receiving what appeared to be a draft legislation to regulate cannabis. She clarified that “there is still no formal or definitive document.”

The Political Coordination Board, which is established by party leaders to reach consensus on legislative issues, has set floor action for March 9. “But there is still no draft opinion,” Martínez said. When there is a bill, it will go to the Health and Justice Committees.

Those panels will “analyze, discuss, modify and approve the draft opinion” before sending it to the floor.

While it remains to be seen what changes will be made from the Senate version, Martínez said that the current bill as approved in the other chamber does not fulfill the requirements of the Supreme Court, which deemed the prohibition on personal possession and cultivation of marijuana unconstitutional in a 2018 ruling. Lawmakers have since been tasked with ending criminalization, but they’ve repeatedly pushed back deadlines to enact the policy change.

Now the legislature has until the end of April to legalize cannabis nationwide, and it seems next week’s action will set the stage for Congress to make good on its obligation.

In the meantime, the Health Committee already held a preliminary discussion on the issue last month.

Members of the panel said they wanted to hold four sessions to debate the legislation, but its president, Carmen Medel Palma, has yet to convene them and wants to speed up the process, La Jornada reported.

The Justice Committee also met to discuss the matter on Sunday, according to the group Cáñamo México.

The two panels were initially expected to send a revised legalization proposal to the floor last month, but that didn’t happen.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, for his part, said in December that a vote on legalization legislation was delayed due to minor “mistakes” in the proposal.

He said “there was no time to conduct a review” in the legislature before the prior December 15 Supreme Court deadline, but he noted that issues that need to be resolved are “matters of form” and “not of substance.”

The Senate passed the legalization bill in November and transmitted it to the Chamber of Deputies. Several committees took up the bill, with the Human Rights and Budget and Public Account Committees representing one panel that considered and advanced it just before the the court granted lawmakers’ latest deadline extension request.

While advocates are eager for lawmakers to formally end prohibition, they hoped the delay would give them more time to try to convince the legislature to address their concerns about certain provisions of the current bill, namely the limited nature of its social equity components and strict penalties for violating rules.

In response to unofficial drafts of the legalization measure that were obtained by advocacy groups, Regulación Por La Paz said the proposals “give way to a regulation designed as a way for the great national and international capital, at the cost of the criminalization of users” and that the draft legislation “prioritizes the interests of the industry over rights and needs of the Mexican citizenship.”

“The worst they propose [is] a registry for self cultivators,” Mariana Sevilla of Regulación Por La Paz told Marijuana Moment, adding that she also concerned about the inclusion of vertical integration for cannabis businesses.

Activists also want to increase the percentage of licenses granted to people harmed by prohibition.

“To avoid the formation of corporate oligopolies and promote a horizontal and inclusive market that encourages dignified participation and fair conditions for communities in vulnerable situations, it is essential to incorporate a perspective of social justice,” Zara Snapp of the Instituto RIA and #RegulacionPorLaPaz wrote in an op-ed coauthored by ReverdeSer Colectivo Coordinator Amaya Ordorika Imaz.

The legalization bill cleared a joint group of Senate committees prior to the full floor vote in that chamber, with some amendments being made after members informally considered and debated the proposal during a virtual hearing.

Members of the Senate’s Justice, Health, and Legislative Studies Committees had approved a prior version of legal cannabis legislation last March, but the coronavirus pandemic delayed consideration of the issue.

In general, the Senate bill would establish a regulated cannabis market, allowing adults 18 and older to purchase and possess up to 28 grams of marijuana and cultivate up to six plants for personal use.

The legislation makes some attempts to mitigate the influence of large marijuana corporations. For example, it states that for the first five years after implementation, at least 40 percent of cannabis business licenses must be granted to those from indigenous, low-income or historically marginalized communities.

The Mexican Institute of Cannabis would be responsible for regulating the market and issuing licenses.

Public consumption of marijuana would be allowed, except in places where tobacco use is prohibited or at mass gatherings where people under 18 could be exposed.

Households where more than one adult lives would be limited to cultivating a maximum of eight plants. The legislation also says people “should not” consume cannabis in homes where there are underaged individuals. Possession of more than 28 grams but fewer than 200 grams would be considered an infraction punishable by a fine but no jail time.

Sen. Julio Ramón Menchaca Salazar of the MORENA party said in April that legalizing cannabis could fill treasury coffers at a time when the economy is recovering from the pandemic.

As lawmakers work to advance the reform legislation, there’s been a more lighthearted push to focus attention on the issue by certain members and activists. That push has mostly involved planting and gifting marijuana.

In September, a top administration official was gifted a cannabis plant by senator on the Senate floor, and she said she’d be making it a part of her personal garden.

A different lawmaker gave the same official, Interior Ministry Secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero, a marijuana joint on the floor of the Chamber of Deputies in 2019.

Cannabis made another appearance in the legislature in August, when Sen. Jesusa Rodríguez of the 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.

Chuck Schumer Says Federal Marijuana Legalization Is A Priority In Democrats’ ‘Big, Bold Agenda’

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