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Virginia Marijuana Decrim Push Gets Boost Ahead Of Governor Election

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In less than a week, Virginia voters will elect a new governor, and polls to date have generally shown that they narrowly favor a candidate who has promised to push for decriminalizing marijuana.

Now, Democrat Ralph Northam’s plan to remove cannabis’s criminal penalties if he is elected just got a bipartisan boost from a high-ranking Republican.

Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment announced this week that he plans to file a bill to decriminalize first-time low-level marijuana possession offenses in the new legislative session starting in January.

The GOP leader’s move comes as the State Crime Commission is wrapping up a study on consequences of Virginia’s marijuana criminalization laws. More than 112,000 people were arrested for first-time marijuana offenses between 2007 to 2016, the commission found.

Norment’s bill, which is still being drafted, would reportedly remove criminal penalties for such first-time cannabis busts and make them punishable by fines, mandatory education and driver’s license suspensions

In the meantime, marijuana has become a relatively prominent issue in the state’s gubernatorial race.

Northam, the Democratic nominee and currently the state’s lieutenant governor, has consistently argued for decriminalization, often framing it in stark racial justice terms.

“We need to change sentencing laws that disproportionately hurt people of color. One of the best ways to do this is to decriminalize marijuana,” he wrote, for example, earlier this year. “African Americans are 2.8 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession in Virginia. The Commonwealth spends more than $67 million on marijuana enforcement — money that could be better spent on rehabilitation.”

Meanwhile, Republican nominee Ed Gillespie doesn’t support decriminalization per se but has proposed changes to allow people to avoid jail for first- and second-time low-level cannabis offenses.

Find out what else Northam and Gillespie have said about marijuana decriminalization and medical cannabis during the gubernatorial campaign:

Marijuana Is A Big Issue In Next Month’s Elections

Majority Leader Norment, who led the push for the state Crime Commission to do the study on decriminalization, predicted that the chances of his bill being enacted next year are 50-50.

While the legislation would need to earn majority support from the state’s Republican-controlled Senate and House of Delegates, a boost from a supportive governor — even if a Democrat — would likely help keep the pressure on lawmakers to take the issue seriously.

Northam is ahead by a few points in the Real Clear Politics average of polls on the race.

The election is on Tuesday.

New Jersey voters will also elect a new governor next week, and marijuana has become a central issue in that campaign as well.

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 15-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.)

Politics

Marijuana Legalization Measure Advances One Step In South Dakota

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South Dakota’s attorney general filed an official explanation of a proposed ballot measure to legalize marijuana on Friday.

While separate organizations are working to get a medical cannabis-focused initiative on the state’s 2020 ballot, activists behind this measure are hoping to incorporate recreational legalization, medical marijuana reform and hemp into one package.

Adult-use legalization would be accomplished through a constitutional amendment under the initiative, which would separately require the legislature to pass legislation creating rules for medical cannabis and hemp.

“The constitutional amendment legalizes the possession, use, transport, and distribution of marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia by people age 21 and older. Individuals may possess or distribute one ounce or less of marijuana,” Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg (R) wrote. “Marijuana plants and marijuana produced from those plants may also be possessed under certain conditions.”

The South Dakota Department of Revenue would be responsible for issuing licenses for cannabis cultivators, manufacturers, testing facilities and retailers. Individual jurisdictions would be able to opt out of allowing such facilities in their areas.

“The Department must enact rules to implement and enforce this amendment,” the explanation states. “The amendment requires the Legislature to pass laws regarding medical use of marijuana. The amendment does not legalize hemp; it requires the Legislature to pass laws regulating the cultivation, processing, and sale of hemp.”

The initiative calls for a 15 percent excise tax on marijuana sales. That revenue would be used to fund the Department of Revenue’s implementation and regulation of the legal cannabis system, with remaining tax dollars going toward public education and the state general fund.

Ravnsborg said that judicial clarification of the amendment “may be necessary” and notes that marijuana “remains illegal under Federal law.”

The attorney general issued a similar explanation of a proposed constitutional amendment to legalize medical cannabis earlier this month.

This latest move comes one day after advocacy organization New Approach South Dakota announced that their medical marijuana initiative was certified, enabling them to begin the signature gathering process.

Several other cannabis initiatives are in the process of being certified in the state, according to the attorney general’s website. In order to place constitutional amendments on the ballot, activists must collect 33,921 valid signatures from voters.

South Dakota is one of the last remaining states in the U.S. that has not legalized marijuana for any purposes.

GOP Senator Keeps Endorsing Medical Marijuana But Hasn’t Sponsored A Single Cannabis Bill

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.
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Politics

Elizabeth Warren’s Plan For Indian Tribes Includes Marijuana Legalization

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) unveiled a plan on Friday that’s aimed at holding the federal government accountable for following through on its obligations to Native American tribes, and that includes ensuring that tribal marijuana programs are protected against federal intervention.

The plan emphasized Warren’s support for a bill she filed earlier this year that “would protect cannabis laws and policies that tribal nations adopted for themselves.”

The 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, who has faced criticism over claims of Native American heritage, pointed to federal reports showing that tribal programs generally have not received adequate funding and said it is imperative that legislation be enacted to “provide resources for housing, education, health care, self-determination, and public safety” for those communities.

To that end, Warren is planning to introduce a bill called the “Honoring Promises to Native Nations Act” alongside Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM), co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus. Before filing, however, the lawmakers are soliciting input on how best to draft the legislation, and are accepting written testimony until September 30.

While the proposed legislation itself doesn’t currently include marijuana-specific provisions, a press release and blog post on the topic address the senator’s sponsorship of the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, which would allow tribal communities and states to set their own cannabis policies without Justice Department interference.

In order to provide economic opportunities to Native people, that “requires streamlining and removing unnecessary administrative barriers that impede economic growth on Tribal lands, respecting tribal jurisdiction over tribal businesses, and promoting forward-looking efforts to ensure full access to new and emerging economic opportunities.”

“For example, while not every tribe is interested in the economic opportunities associated with changing laws around marijuana, a number of Tribal Nations view cannabis as an important opportunity for economic development,” Warren’s campaign blog post states.

“I support full marijuana legalization, and have also introduced and worked on a bipartisan basis to advance the STATES Act, a proposal that would at a minimum safeguard the ability of states, territories, and Tribal Nations, to make their own marijuana policies,” she wrote.

A separate press release on Warren’s Senate website also touts her support for the STATES Act, saying she “worked hard to ensure” that it included tribal protections.

“It’s beyond time to make good on America’s responsibilities to Native peoples, and that is why I’m working with Congresswoman Haaland to draft legislation that will ensure the federal government lives up to its obligations and will empower tribal governments to address the needs of their citizens,” Warren said of the overall tribal plan. “We look forward to working closely with tribal nations to advance legislation that honors the United States’ promises to Native peoples.”

In an email blast to her campaign list, Warren included “a set of additional ideas to uphold the federal government’s trust and treaty obligations with Tribal Nations and to empower Native communities,” which includes her marijuana proposal:

“New economic opportunities: We also need to respect tribal jurisdiction over tribal businesses and promote forward-looking efforts to ensure full access to new economic opportunities. For example, a number of Tribal Nations view cannabis as an important economic opportunity. I support full marijuana legalization and have advanced the STATES Act, a proposal that would safeguard the ability of Tribal Nations to make their own marijuana policies.”

There’s increased interest in ensuring that Native populations receive the same benefits and protections as states as it concerns cannabis legislation.

In June, the House passed a spending bill that included a rider stipulating that Native American marijuana programs couldn’t be infringed upon by the Justice Department. And a GOP representative filed a bill in March that would provide similar protections.

GOP Senator Keeps Endorsing Medical Marijuana But Hasn’t Sponsored A Single Cannabis Bill

Photo elements courtesy of Pixabay and NorthEndWaterFront.com.

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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Politics

FBI Seeks Tips On Marijuana Industry Corruption

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The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is actively seeking tips on public corruption related to the marijuana industry, it announced on Thursday.

“States require licenses to grow and sell the drug—opening the possibility for public officials to become susceptible to bribes in exchange for those licenses,” FBI Public Affairs Specialist Mollie Halpern said on a short podcast the bureau released. “The corruption is more prevalent in western states where the licensing is decentralized—meaning the level of corruption can span from the highest to the lowest level of public officials.”

Please visit Forbes to read the rest of this piece.

(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)

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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