Connect with us


Virginia Marijuana Legalization Bills Sail Though Committees As Key Friday Deadline Nears



Proposals to legalize marijuana in Virginia cleared key committee votes in both chambers of the state legislature over the weekend and Monday morning as lawmakers raced to qualify the bills for full floor votes ahead of an upcoming mid-session deadline on Friday.

Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and top lawmakers unveiled the legalization plan in mid-January, on the first day of a short 2021 legislative session scheduled to end later this month. To survive into the next stage of the session, versions of the marijuana proposal must pass the Senate and House of Delegates by Friday, the state’s so-called crossover deadline.

“This is a breakneck speed for us,” Del. Vivian Watts (D), vice chair of the House Courts of Justice Committee, said at a virtual meeting on Sunday, where the panel voted to approve the House version of the legislation, HB 2312, and refer it to the House Appropriations Committee. If it succeeds there, the measure would next advance to the House floor.

On the Senate side, the Judiciary Committee approved that chamber’s version of the bill, SB 1406, at a hearing Monday morning after it cleared that panel’s Expungement subcommittee over the weekend. That bill now goes to the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee, next scheduled to meet on Tuesday, before potentially proceeding to the full Senate.

All told, the two marijuana legalization bills sailed through a total of five committees and subcommittees over the past three days alone.

Despite amendments made in both chambers, lawmakers at hearings over the weekend said they have lingering questions over numerous specific details, including business regulation, effective dates, social equity and penalties for violating proposed limits on possession and sales. Legislative leaders repeatedly stressed that there would be further opportunities to make changes as the proposal proceeds.

“This has been a very robust process involving a number of members on a number of committees, and it continues,” Watts said Sunday afternoon before calling for a vote on the bill. “With that understanding, this is a work in progress.”

Reform advocates said lawmakers’ immediate goal is to get the bills to the floor so they can clear the crossover hurdle. If the legislation don’t get floor votes by Friday, legalization is dead for the session.

“At this point it’s unnecessary to get mired in minutiae,” Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “Currently, efforts are largely focused on advancing the bills to their required floor votes before the crossover deadline, and in a posture that is generally acceptable by the majority of each chamber.”

That dynamic was on display Saturday at a hearing of the House General Laws Committee, as members began digging into a new rule in the chamber’s bill that would prevent licensed marijuana companies from owning multiple categories of business licenses, a practice known as vertical integration. Some members of the committee said they worried that prohibiting vertical integration altogether could hurt small cannabis businesses that might, for example, want to both grow cannabis plants and process them into products such as edibles or tinctures.

One public commenter, representing the Cannabis Business Association of Virginia, suggested adding a class of microbusiness licenses that would allow small companies to vertically integrate. The comment drew follow-up questions from lawmakers, but the committee’s chair, Del. David Bulova (D), told colleagues he was “hesitant about making any changes on the fly.”

Ultimately the panel approved the bill without further addressing vertical integration, with Bulova assuring the committee the matter would be taken up again. “This is not the final decision,” he said. “I can’t imagine this would be the final stop with respect to how we land on vertical integration.”

Other proposed changes are more certain to make it into the final legislation. For one, the Virginia’s alcohol regulators won’t be in charge of overseeing the legal marijuana market, as originally proposed in the governor’s bill. Instead, the House General Laws Committee voted to mirror a change made last week by the Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee and establish a new, separate regulatory body for marijuana called the Virginia Cannabis Authority.

To accommodate the creation of the new agency, committees in both chambers also agreed to push back the start of legal sales one year, to January 1, 2024.

It’s still not settled when simple possession of marijuana would become legal, although Senate lawmakers moved in subcommittee to make it so that would occur on July 1 of this year.

“Otherwise all we’re doing is setting up a situation where people are paying civil fines for something that is going to be completely legal eventually,” said Sen. Jennifer McClellen (D), who introduced the successful amendment in the Senate Judiciary’s Expungement Subcommittee. Home cultivation would not be legalized until cannabis stores come online in 2024 under the chamber’s bill, however.

Last year the state passed legislation decriminalizing possession of up to an ounce of marijuana, replacing existing penalties with a $25 civil fine and no threat of jail time. The law took effect last July.

Some House lawmakers who met over the weekend, however, worried legalizing possession too soon before opening licensed stores could end up fueling the illicit market. It’s an issue likely to see further discussion as the bill continues its path through the legislature.

“There are still a multitude of finer points to debate, and that’s to be expected a little further along in the legislative process,” said Pedini, who also serves as national development director for NORML. “Should both bills succeed, they will be sent to a conference committee for reconciliation.”

Other changes made by House lawmakers over the weekend would affect wide-ranging issues around business licensing, social equity, criminal justice and home cultivation of cannabis.

Under changes adopted by the General Laws Committee, the number of business licenses available would be capped at a maximum of 400 retail, 25 wholesale, 60 manufacturing and 450 cultivation. Licensees could only hold licenses of a single type—vertical integration would be prohibited—and no entity could have more than five licenses.

The state’s four existing medical marijuana businesses would be able to apply for licenses under the separate adult-use system, but they wouldn’t have an advantage in getting licenses or be able to start sales early. Some lawmakers questioned the rationale for that approach.

Del. Paul Krizek (D), who chairs the House General Laws ABC and Gaming Subcommittee and helped coordinate the panel’s marijuana legislation, explained that the provision was aimed at promoting small business and local control over comparatively large marijuana companies operating in multiple states. The same justification was behind limiting vertical integration.

“Our goal was to craft the best regulatory framework we can to legalize adult use of marijuana in a safe and equitable manner,” Krizek said.

Retail stores under the House bill would be permitted to sell only marijuana products and paraphernalia—not meals, snacks or other goods, as once envisioned in the bill. Marijuana products would need to be tested for both contaminants and THC potency.

Both retailers as well as licensed cultivators could sell seeds and immature plants to adults 21 and over, who would be allowed to grow up to two mature cannabis plants and two immature plants at home for personal use. But unlike the Senate’s version of the bill, which would allow adults to grow the plants indoors or outdoors, changes adopted by the House General Laws Committee on Saturday would allow only indoor grows.

The committee also established a social licensing category for businesses that are at least 66 percent controlled by alumni of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in the Commonwealth, an effort to ensure that those from communities most harmed by the war on drugs share in the new industry’s profits.

The House committee also adopted changes to licensing provisions aimed at protecting union organizing efforts in the cannabis industry, allowing state regulators to suspend the business license of a marijuana company that “fails to stay neutral on union organizing efforts or does not pay prevailing wage per the U.S. Department of Labor or designates more than 10 percent of employees as independent contractors,” David May, an attorney at the state Division of Legislative Services, said at Saturday afternoon’s hearing.

House lawmakers made further changes at the Courts of Justice hearing on Sunday, clarifying a rule that would allow adults over 21 to gift each other up to an ounce of marijuana and increasing penalties for personal possession of between one and five pounds of cannabis.

Regarding the legislation’s plan to automatically expunge past convictions for low-level marijuana possession, Colin Drabert, deputy director of the Virginia State Crime Commission, said there might be technical issues with how those cases are coded. The obstacle could force individuals to petition the court themselves to erase past criminal convictions.

Lawmakers didn’t immediately address that concern, however. Watts, the vice chair, suggested “a technical amendment that could possibly be handled at the floor or appropriations committee.”

While lawmakers took public testimony during the hearings, they did not propose any amendments in response to comments.

Billie Brown, founding member of the Cannabis Equity Coalition of Virginia, was one of a handful of public commenters who urged lawmakers to ensure the bill recognizes the harm the war on drugs has done Black and brown people and invests in rebuilding those communities.

In testimony before both House committees, Brown urged lawmakers to increase funding from marijuana revenues to the Cannabis Equity Reinvestment Fund, which would direct money to scholarships, job training and workforce development, low- and zero-interest loans for social equity marijuana business applicants and other programs for historically marginalized populations.

Currently 30 percent of revenue from the legal system would go to the equity fund, while another 40 percent would go to fund pre-kindergarten education. Brown called for the full 70 percent to be directed toward equity. The ACLU of Virginia has called for a similar change.

“While CECA is in favor of funding pre-K,” Brown told lawmakers, “this has always been a direct obligation of Virginia taxpayers from the general fund.”

Other issues lawmakers considered but did not immediately act on included limits on advertising—which many said they hope to make as strict as possible without violating free speech protections, in order to avoid appealing to children—as well as certain homegrow and consumption rules that seem to privilege homeowners over rental tenants and those living in public housing. Changes to those and other provisions of the bills could still be coming.

While Virginia’s legalization proposal has a long way to go with just weeks left in the legislative session, lawmakers said so far they’re impressed by the effort that the bill’s lead patrons, as well as other lawmakers and advocates, have put into the policy change.

The state’s legalization proposal stemmed from an official state study conducted by a legislative commission on legalization as well as a working group consisting of four state cabinet secretaries and other officials. Those studies were part of the marijuana decriminalization bill passed last year.

“This is the product of an incredible amount of hard work,” Del. Mark Levine (D) said at Sunday’s hearing, “and it shows in the 563-page bill.”

Chuck Schumer Says Marijuana Reform Bills Are Being Merged As Congress Moves To Legalize

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.

Ben Adlin is a Seattle-based writer and editor. He has covered cannabis as a journalist since 2011, most recently as a senior news editor for Leafly.


Congressman Files New Marijuana Banking Reform Amendment To Large-Scale House Bill



The House sponsor of a bill to protect banks that work with state-legal marijuana businesses announced on Friday that he is seeking to attach an amendment containing the reform to a broader bill dealing with research and innovation in the tech and manufacturing sectors.

Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), sponsor of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, has expressed interest in finding another vehicle to pursue his proposal after it was stripped from a separate defense bill late last year. The congressman’s legislation has cleared the House in five forms at this point, only to stall in the Senate.

His latest attempt to get the reform enacted is by filing an amendment with the SAFE Banking language to the America COMPETES Act, which does not deal specifically with cannabis issues as drafted but was introduced in the House this week.

“Cannabis-related businesses—big and small—and their employees are in desperate need of access to the banking system and access to capital in order to operate in an efficient, safe manner and compete in the growing global cannabis marketplace,” Perlmutter, who is retiring from Congress after this session and committed to passing his bill first, said in a press release.

“The SAFE Banking Act is the best opportunity to enact some type of federal cannabis reform this year and will serve as the first of many steps to help ensure cannabis businesses are treated the same as any other legal, legitimate business,” he said. “I will continue to pursue every possible avenue to get SAFE Banking over the finish line and signed into law.”

It remains to be seen whether the America COMPETES Act will serve as a more effective vehicle for the cannabis banking bill than the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), where the language was successfully attached on the House side but later removed amid bicameral negotiations. Perlmutter said at the time that Senate leadership, which is working on comprehensive legalization legislation, was to blame for the decision to remove his amendment from the proposal.

The new SAFE Banking Act amendment will still need to be made in order by the House Rules Committee in order to be formally be considered on the House floor when the body takes up the research and innovation package. The deadline to file amendments was Friday, and the panel is set to take them up starting on Tuesday.

Even some Republicans are scratching their heads about how Democrats have so far failed to pass the modest banking reform with majorities in both chambers and control of the White House. For example, Rep. Rand Paul (R-KY) criticized his Democratic colleagues over the issue last month.

In the interim, federal financial regulator Rodney Hood—a board member and former chairman of the federal National Credit Union Administration (NCUA)—recently said that marijuana legalization is not a question of “if” but “when,” and he’s again offering advice on how to navigate the federal-state conflict that has left many banks reluctant to work with cannabis businesses.

Ohio Lawmakers Will Be Forced To Consider Marijuana Legalization As State Validates Activist Signatures

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


Ohio Lawmakers Will Be Forced To Consider Marijuana Legalization As State Validates Activist Signatures



Ohio activists have collected enough signatures to force the legislature to take up the issue of marijuana legalization, the secretary of state’s office confirmed on Friday.

This comes about two weeks after the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CTRMLA) submitted a final round of signatures for the measure. The petitions’ formal validation triggers the legislative review of legalization, but it does not require lawmakers to enact the reform.

The legislature now has four months to consider the campaign’s cannabis reform proposal. Lawmakers can adopt the measure, reject it or pass an amended version. If they do not pass the measure, organizers can then collect an additional 132,887 valid signatures from registered voters to place the issue on the ballot in November.

CTRMLA previously submitted petitions for the initiative but the state said they were short some 13,000 signatures, requiring activists to go back and make up the difference.

“We are ready and eager to work with Ohio legislators over the next four months to legalize the adult use of marijuana in Ohio,” CTRMLA spokesman Tom Haren said in a press release. “We are also fully prepared to collect additional signatures and take this issue directly to voters on November 8, 2022, if legislators fail to act.”

The measure that lawmakers will be required to consider would legalize possession of up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis for adults 21 and older, and they could also have up to 15 grams of marijuana concentrates. Individuals could grow up to six plants for personal use, with a maximum 12 plants per household.

A 10 percent sales tax would be imposed on cannabis sales, with revenue being divided up to support social equity and jobs programs (36 percent), localities that allow adult-use marijuana enterprises to operate in their area (36 percent), education and substance misuse programs (25 percent) and administrative costs of implementing the system (three percent).

A Division of Cannabis Control would be established under the state Department of Commerce. It would have authority to “license, regulate, investigate, and penalize adult use cannabis operators, adult use testing laboratories, and individuals required to be licensed.”

The measure gives current medical cannabis businesses a head start in the recreational market. Regulators would need to begin issuing adult-use licenses to qualified applicants who operate existing medical operations within nine months of enactment.

The division would also be required to issue 40 recreational cultivator licenses and 50 adult-use retailer licenses “with a preference to applications who are participants under the cannabis social equity and jobs program.” And it would authorize regulators to issue additional licenses for the recreational market two years after the first operator is approved.

Individual municipalities would be able to opt out of allowing new recreational cannabis companies from opening in their area, but they could not block existing medical marijuana firms even if they want to add co-located adult-use operations. Employers could also maintain policies prohibiting workers from consuming cannabis for adult use.

Further, regulators would be required to “enter into an agreement with the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services” to provide “cannabis addiction services,” which would involve “education and treatment for individuals with addiction issues related to cannabis or other controlled substances including opioids.”

With respect to social equity, some advocate are concerned about the lack of specific language on automatic expungements to clear the records of people with convictions for offenses that would be made legal under the legislation. That said, it does include a provision requiring regulators to “study and fund” criminal justice reform initiatives including expungements.

Ohio voters rejected a 2015 legalization initiative that faced criticism from many reform advocates because of an oligopolistic model that would’ve granted exclusive control over cannabis production to the very funders who paid to put the measure on the ballot.

Activists suspended a campaign to place another measure on the 2020 ballot due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Aside from the new voter initiative, state lawmakers from both parties are separately working to advance marijuana reform.

A legalization bill that was the first of its kind to be introduced in the Ohio legislature last year would legalize the possession, sale and cultivation of cannabis by adults. It’s being championed by Reps. Casey Weinstein (D) and Terrence Upchurch (D).

A pair of Ohio Republican lawmakers similarly filed a bill to legalize marijuana in the state in December. Reps. Jamie Callender (R) and Ron Ferguson (R) first announced their plan to push the legislative reform proposal in October and circulated a co-sponsorship memo to build support for the measure.

There are also additional local reform efforts underway in Ohio for 2022.

After voters in seven cities approved ballot measures to decriminalize marijuana possession during last November’s election—which builds on a slew of previous local reforms in the state—campaigns are now looking to enact decriminalization in Marietta, Rushville, Rutland, Shawnee, McArthur and Laurelville.

Ohio marijuana activists already successfully proved that they turned in enough valid signatures to put a local decriminalization initiative before Kent voters after having missed the 2021 ballot due to a verification error on the part of county officials. That measure is now expected to go before voters this November.

Top Federal Drug Official Says Marijuana Use ‘Stable’ Among Youth At Prohibitionist-Hosted Panel Sponsored By D.A.R.E.

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


Top Federal Drug Official Says Marijuana Use ‘Stable’ Among Youth At Prohibitionist-Hosted Panel Sponsored By D.A.R.E.



A top federal drug official participated in a panel hosted by a prohibitionist group and sponsored by D.A.R.E.—and she again reiterated that data shows youth marijuana use has remained stable “despite the legalization in many states.”

While National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow expressed concerns about certain cannabis trends related to potency, commercialization and use by pregnant women, she affirmed that surveys funded by her own federal agency have demonstrated that adolescent marijuana use is “stable,” despite repeated arguments from prohibitionists that legalization would lead more young people to experiment with cannabis.

The event was hosted by Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), an anti-legalization group. SAM President Kevin Sabet and the organization’s co-founder former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) led the discussion.

Sabet said that data on youth use has showed varying results in states that have legalized cannabis and asked Volkow to weigh in on the issue. She replied that federal data “have not been able to see large differences in terms of prevalence” of cannabis consumption among young people in legal and non-legal states.

The official made similar comments in an interview with Marijuana Moment late last year.

That said, Volkow said that they have seen some differences when it comes to consumption rates among adolescents for edible cannabis products.

“But the effects are not large, and one of the things that also certainly surprised me [is] the rate overall, the prevalence rates of marijuana use among teenagers, have been stable despite the legalization in many states,” she said, adding that there are some concerns about increased frequency of use and limitations in data collection with respect to dosages being taken.

Volkow also commented on a recent federally funded survey that found illicit drug use by young people has taken a significant plunge in the last year, though she largely attributed that to the reduced social interaction resulting from COVID-19 policies across the country.

“Interestingly what we’ve observed during the COVID pandemic is, across schools in the United States, the prevalence of drug use has gone down,” she said, “which likely very much reflects the fact that kids don’t have the opportunity to interact with others, and drug taking at that stage is a peer pressure behavior.”

The official also briefly addressed the fact that she feels criminalizing people over drugs in the first place is the wrong policy approach—a point she’s made repeatedly in interviews and blog posts.

She said that “criminalization has created a system for that allows a structural racism to be implemented, you can control people, and that’s a horrible policy. This criminalization actually opens up our eyes that well, yes, we need to change that.”

However, she said that “liberalizing and making the drugs widely available, with no counter messaging,” is not the alternative she would recommend.

While the SAM-hosted event did not touch specifically on psychedelics policy, Volkow has also recently discussed that issues, especially as data has shown an increase in use of the substances among adults.

She said people are going to keep using substances such as psilocybin—especially as the reform movement expands and there’s increased attention being drawn to the potential therapeutic benefits—and so researchers and regulators will need to keep up.

Volkow also mentioned that NIDA is “pleased” the Drug Enforcement Administration recently announced plans to significantly increase the quota of certain psychedelic drugs to be produced for use in research.

USDA Teams Up With Cornell University For Hemp Education Webinar Series

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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

Marijuana News In Your Inbox

Support Marijuana Moment

Marijuana News In Your Inbox

Marijuana Moment