Connect with us


Washington Lawmakers Hear Drug Decrim Bill After Supreme Court Strikes Down Prohibition



With Washington State lawmakers weighing their options after a court ruling that struck down the state’s law criminalizing drug possession, legislation favored by reform-minded lawmakers received its first committee hearing on Monday.

Senate Bill 5476 is one of at least nine measures introduced in response to the state Supreme Court’s February decision, State v. Blake, and is widely seen as among the more likely of the bills to make it across the finish line before the legislative session ends on April 25. If passed, it would represent a shift away from the punitive drug war and toward a public health approach to substance use.

Possession of small, “personal use” amounts of controlled substances by adults 21 and older would remain decriminalized under the bill. Adults found with anything under those amounts—adopted from neighboring Oregon’s voter-passed decriminalization law—could be referred to evaluation and treatment but would see no criminal or civil penalties. Opening or using controlled substances in public would be subject to a $125 civil fine, which would help defray administrative costs resulting from the state’s abrupt decriminalization.

The bill would reinstate criminal charges, however, for activity outside the carveout for simple possession. Adults with more than the personal use amounts would be subject to a Class C felony, while possession by anyone under 21 would be a gross misdemeanor.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee took nearly an hour of initial testimony on Monday but, as planned, did not vote on the bill. Further action has not yet been scheduled.

Sen. Manka Dhingra (D), the proposal’s sponsor, said at the hearing that both the timing and the outcome of the Blake decision were unexpected. Within hours after the ruling, police departments across the state announced they would immediately halt arrests for drug possession. Prosecutors, too, began preparing to drop ongoing cases and file orders vacating past convictions. Courts and the state Department of Corrections are now scrambling to address the consequences.

“There were two questions” in the wake of the decision, Dhingra told the committee. “One was, ‘Does the state need to act?’ Overwhelmingly the response was yes. And the second one was, ‘What should the response be?’”

There’s less of a consensus on the second question so far. While more progressive lawmakers see the ruling as an opportunity to fundamentally rethink the state’s approach to substance use disorders and mental health, more centrist and conservative members have balked at the idea of removing all penalties for drugs, which they say is tantamount to legalization.

A number of competing proposals have also been introduced. Some, including SB 5468, SB 5475 and HB 1560, would more or less return the state’s possession law to how it was before the Blake decision, adding a provision that would require that a defendant “knowingly” possess the drug. A similar bill, SB 5471, would also add a $3,000 civil fine for anyone “unknowingly” in possession. Another, HB 1561, would reinstate felony charges and increase sentences for simple possession.

Some Republican-backed bills offer alternative approaches to the consequences of the court decision. HB 1562 would allow local governments to recriminalize drug possession, while HB 1558 would fund law enforcement training programs around substance treatment disorder. HB 1559 would allow police officers to detain minors for substance possession and refer them to treatment.

Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 900 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.

Dhingra described SB 5476 to Marijuana Moment as a compromise bill meant “to get the votes needed.” She said she was aware of criticisms by some reform advocates, such as the criminal charge for minors in possession of controlled substances, but noted that among her colleagues, “I think a lot of people draw the line on children.”

She said that the felony-level charge for possession of more than the personal use amount would ensure that control of possession cases is handled by district attorneys rather than less-experienced criminal prosecutors at the municipal level. The Class C felony designation, she added, would make the charge among the lowest priority for prosecutors.

Washington voters, meanwhile, are generally supportive of decriminalization, according to a new statewide poll commissioned by advocates. Fifty-nine percent of those surveyed said lawmakers should use the Blake decision to “reconsider and replace past drug possession laws with more effective addiction and treatment alternatives,” while only 35 percent favored making a technical change to return to the past system.

Nearly 3 in 4 voters (73 percent) said the state’s approach to problematic drug use has been a failure. Just 9 percent called it a success, while 18 percent were unsure.

While members of the Ways and Means Committee made few comments about the bill during Monday’s hearing, those who spoke at public comment included prosecutors and public defenders, local government advocates, advocacy groups and individuals in treatment for substance use disorder, among others.

Russell Brown, executive director of the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys (WAPA), told the panel that the group supports many of the bill’s provisions, including penalties for juvenile use and establishing a felony for adult possession of more than personal use amounts.

But prosecutors remain divided on the issue of decriminalization, he said. “There’s certainly a split within WAPA on the ultimate question of whether personal use or whether we use some other tool, like a mandatory diversion to treatment or some graduated penalty.”

Andy Miller, Benton County prosecutor, said he’s among those who “is concerned about decriminalization of personal use,” arguing that it “would remove an incentive for drug courts and drug diversion programs.”

Greg Banks, Island County prosecuting attorney, was less skeptical. “I’m one of a number of prosecutors who are not opposed to decriminalizing personal use amounts for adults as part of a comprehensive strategy,” he said.

On the criminal defense side, Willy Jefferson Jr., of the Washington Association for Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Washington Defender Association, told the panel the bill itself is unnecessary. He argued the Blake decision did not get rid of other elements of the state’s drug laws—only possession.

“[A drug] has to be in something—that’s drug paraphernalia,” which remains illegal, Jefferson noted. “You can’t give it away—that’s a delivery. And you can’t possess it with intention to deliver—that’s a felony. And so these laws will hurt people. We don’t need them.”

Others, however, such as Lisa Daugaard, a founding staff attorney at the Public Defender Association, warned that if the state doesn’t pass SB 5476 or a similar state-level law regarding possession, “most local jurisdictions will pass their own ordinances criminalizing drug possession, and there is compelling legal analysis that they legally can do so.”

Many drug reform advocates were broadly supportive of the bill but said it needed to provide more support to people in need, such as by investing in expanded drug treatment outreach and recovery services.

“The war on drugs has particularly hurt Black, brown and Indigenous communities,” said Sybill Hyppolite, legislative director for the Washington State Labor Council. “This bill provides a minimum statewide standard of protection from this punishment. This is an important step, and also we know more is needed to undo the war on drugs, to build a true system of care.”

Earlier this session, lawmakers considered a separate bill, HB 1499, that would have decriminalized simple possession and reinvested in broader treatment and recovery services. That measure also would have established an expert panel to set personal use amounts. It passed a House committee but failed to meet a mid-session legislative deadline.

Rep. Lauren Davis (D), the lead sponsor of that bill, said the Blake decision has rightly called into question the criminalization of drug use, “but that has taken all the air out of the room about how do we actually serve these individuals.”

“If you fail to treat the underlying substance use disorder, there will be no reduction in recidivism,” she told Marijuana Moment in an interview. “How do we create a person-centered paradigm of care, and, importantly, how do we fund it?”

“Frankly, the only way that you are ever going to get the more progressive caucus, particularly of the House, to ever vote to recriminalize,” she added, “is if you’re going to create the architecture for and truly fund that diversion mechanism.”

In a letter to the Senate Ways and Means Panel, the advocacy group Treatment First WA, which helped organize and introduce HB 1499, urged lawmakers to pass SB 5467.

“This moment calls for a pragmatic, statewide approach to next steps,” the group wrote. “What makes this moment challenging is not that we lack an understanding of the damage done by past policy, or evidence to support better policy, but that we are breaking new ground, and we need action in a very short window of time.”

Read the new Washington drug decriminalization poll below:

Cops Can’t Arrest You For Smoking Marijuana On Sidewalks, NYPD Says In Post-Legalization Memo

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.


California Senator Seeks Federal Clarification On Medical Marijuana Use In Hospitals



A California senator is asking the head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to provide clarification on whether hospitals and other healthcare facilities in legal marijuana states can allow terminally ill patients to use medical cannabis without jeopardizing federal funding.

State Sen. Ben Hueso (D) on Thursday sent a letter to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure inquiring about the policy. Confusion about possible implications for permitting marijuana consumption in health facilities led pro-legalization Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) to veto a bill meant to address the issue in 2019.

Hueso refiled a nearly identical version of the legislation for this session, and it’s already passed the full Senate and one Assembly committee. It’s now awaiting action on the Assembly floor before potentially being sent to Newsom’s desk.

“Ryan’s Law would require that hospitals and certain types of healthcare facilities in the State of California allow a terminally-ill patient to use medical cannabis for treatment and/or pain relief,” the senator wrote in the letter to the federal officials, with whom he is asking to meet to discuss the issue. “Currently, whether or not medical cannabis is permitted is left up to hospital policy, and this creates issues for patients and their families who seek alternative, more natural medication options in their final days.”

Hospitals that receive CMS accreditation are generally expected to comply with local, state and federal laws in order to qualify for certain reimbursements. And so because marijuana remains federally illegal, “many healthcare facilities have adopted policies prohibiting cannabis on their grounds out of a perceived risk of losing federal funding if they were to allow it.”

But Hueso said that his office received a letter from CMS several months ago stating that there are no specific federal regulations in place that specifically address this issue and that it isn’t aware of any cases where funding has been pulled because a hospital allows patients to use medical cannabis.

Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 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.

Additionally, because the Justice Department has been barred under annually renewed spending legislation from using its funds to interfere in the implementation of state-level medical marijuana programs, the senator said, “we believe the risk of federal intervention is little to none.”

“This confirmation from CMS been quite a breakthrough and we are optimistic it will alleviate the Governor’s concerns,” the letter continues. “However, I want to underscore that, prior to receiving this response, even the Governor of California was under the impression that CMS rules prohibited hospitals and healthcare facilities from allowing medical cannabis use.”

“Undoubtedly other states are struggling with this issue, too,” it says. “As more states decriminalize cannabis and even create recreational markets, we must not forget to also update the books for the most important consumers of all—patients.”

“While ideally the federal government will remove cannabis from its Schedule I designation, I appreciate that this is a lengthy and complex process. In the interim, it would be extremely helpful if you could provide clarification that assures Medicare/Medicaid providers that they will not lose reimbursements for allowing medical cannabis use on their premises. This clarification would go a long way to help hospital staff, security, above all, patients.”

Becerra, while previously serving as California attorney general and as a member of Congress, demonstrated a track record of supporting marijuana law reform.

Meanwhile, there are efforts in both chambers of Congress to end federal marijuana prohibition.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) are currently soliciting feedback on draft legalization legislation they introduced this month.

Meanwhile, a separate House bill to federally legalize marijuana and promote social equity in the industry was reintroduced in May.

The legislation, sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), was filed with a number of changes compared to the version that was approved by the chamber last year.

Read the letter from the California senator to Becerra below: 

Marijuana hospital letter t… by Marijuana Moment

Rhode Island House Speaker Says ‘No Consensus’ On Marijuana Legalization, But It’s ‘Workable’

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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


Rhode Island House Speaker Says ‘No Consensus’ On Marijuana Legalization, But It’s ‘Workable’



A top Rhode Island lawmaker says that while there’s not yet a consensus among legislators and the governor on a bill to legalize marijuana, it’s still a “workable” issue and would be prioritized if a special session is convened this fall.

House Speaker Joe Shekarchi (D) told The Public’s Radio that it’s “possible” that a special session will be held later in the year after lawmakers failed to reach a deal on competing reform proposals.

“It really depends if we can come to some kind of resolution of consensus on a couple of major bills,” he said, referring to cannabis and a handful of other issues. “If we can, we certainly would come back.” But if not, members will continue to discuss the proposals and prepare to take them up at the start of the next session in January.

“Unfairly, sometimes I have or the House gets blamed for stopping the legalization of recreational use of marijuana, when in reality there is no consensus,” he said. “If we can come to some closeness, in the several different proposals, then we’ll move some kind of legislation. But if not, it just needs more work—and it’s very workable, so it’s very much something that can happen, we just have to put the effort in and make it happen.”

Listen to the speaker discuss the marijuana legalization plan, about 1:00 into the audio  below: 

Shekarchi similarly told Marijuana Moment in an email earlier this week that he’s “not opposed to the legalization of recreational marijuana,” but “there have been very divergent proposals offered by Representative Scott Slater, the Senate, the governor and various advocacy groups.”

“As I have done with other issues, my role will be to bring the parties together and see if we can reach a consensus,” he said. “I will be working on the issue this summer and fall, and if an agreement can be reached, it is possible that one piece of legislation will be brought before the legislature for future consideration. But there is a lot of work to be done to reach consensus.”

Shekarchi and other top lawmakers have previously said they will work this summer to try to reach a compromise on the differing provisions of the competing legalization plans.

Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (D) said earlier this month that he’s not disappointed the House hasn’t advanced legalization legislation yet and that “what we really wanted to do was send it over and have them take a look at it” when his chamber passed a cannabis reform measure last month.

Shekarchi previously said that he feels reform is “inevitable.”

Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 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.

A key disagreement between the House, Senate and governor’s office concerns who should have regulatory authority over marijuana. Ruggerio was pressed on the issue during the recent interview and said members of his chamber agree that “a separate commission is the way to go with respect to this.”

The House and Gov. Dan McKee (D), on the other hand, want the program to be managed by the state Department of Business Regulation (DBR). Ruggerio noted that “it was difficult to negotiate on a bill when the House bill really didn’t come until late in the session.”

Asked whether he felt the legislature and governor could come to an agreement despite the differences, Senate Majority Leader Mike McCaffrey (D) said this month that “that’s what our goal is.”

“Obviously there’s some issues that different people have relative to different categories of licenses and things like that and how we’re rolling them out,” he said. “Are we going to limit them? what type of equity are you going to give to the different people in different communities so that they can get into the business? And social equity and things of that nature.”

McCaffrey was also asked about provisions related to allowing local municipalities to opt out of allowing marijuana businesses to operate in their area. He said “once the legislation is passed and whatever form is passed in, the communities have an opportunity to opt out.”

“They have an opportunity to opt out if the community doesn’t want to participate in it,” he said. “That’s their decision—however, they don’t get the funds that would come from the sales in that community.”

The majority leader also noted that neighboring states like Connecticut and Massachusetts have enacted legalization, and that adds impetus for the legislature to pursue reform in the state. .

Shekarchi, meanwhile, said this month that he doesn’t intend to let regional pressure dictate the timeline for when Rhode Island enacts a policy change. But it is the case that legalization has now gone in effect in in surrounding states like Connecticut and Massachusetts.

“I’m not in any hurry to legalize marijuana for the sake of legalizing it. I want to do it right,” he said. “It doesn’t matter to me if we’re the last state in the union to legalize it or we never legalize it, but I need to do it right.”

Social equity, licensing fees, labor agreements and home grow provisions are among the outstanding matters that need to be addressed, Shekarchi said.

These latest comment come weeks after the state Senate approved a legalization bill from McCaffrey and Health & Human Services Chairman Joshua Miller (D), which was introduced in March. The governor also came out with his own legalization proposal shortly thereafter.

A third Rhode Island legalization measure was later filed on the House side by Rep. Scott Slater (D) and several cosponsors. The House Finance Committee held a hearing on the measure last month.

The governor, for his part, told reporters that while he backs legalization it is “not like one of my highest priorities,” adding that “we’re not in a race with Connecticut or Massachusetts on this issue.”

“I think we need to get it right,” he said, pointing to ongoing discussions with the House and Senate.

The House Finance Committee discussed the governor’s proposal to end prohibition at an earlier hearing in April.

Both the governor and the leaders’ legalization plans are notably different than the proposal that former Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) had included in her budget last year. Prior to leaving office to join the Biden administration as commerce secretary, she called for legalization through a state-run model.

McKee gave initial insights into his perspective on the reform in January, saying that “it’s time that [legalization] happens” and that he’s “more leaning towards an entrepreneurial strategy there to let that roll that way.”

Shekarchi, meanwhile, has said he’s “absolutely” open to the idea of cannabis legalization and also leans toward privatization.

Late last year, the Senate Finance Committee began preliminary consideration of legalization in preparation for the 2021 session, with lawmakers generally accepting the reform as an inevitability. “I certainly do think we’ll act on the issue, whether it’s more private or more state,” Sen. Ryan Pearson (D), who now serves as the panel’s chairman, said at the time.

Meanwhile, the governor this month signed a historic bill to allow safe consumption sites where people could use illicit drugs under medical supervision and receive resources to enter treatment. Harm reduction advocates say this would prevent overdose deaths and help de-stigmatize substance misuse. Rhode Island is the first state to allow the facilities.

The Senate Judiciary Committee also held a hearing in March on legislation that would end criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of drugs and replace them with a $100 fine.

Ohio Lawmakers Officially File Marijuana Legalization Bill In Historic First For The State

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.
Continue Reading


Ohio Lawmakers Officially File Marijuana Legalization Bill In Historic First For The State



Ohio lawmakers on Friday formally introduced a bill to legalize marijuana possession, production and sales—the first effort of its kind in the state legislature. This comes as activists are pursuing a separate ballot initiative that would effectively force the legislature to consider similar cannabis reforms.

Reps. Casey Weinstein (D) and Terrence Upchurch (D) filed the legislation, weeks after circulating a co-sponsorship memo to colleagues to build support for the measure.

The 180-page bill would legalize possession of up to five ounces of cannabis for adults 21 and older and allow them to cultivate up to 12 plants for personal use. It also includes provisions to expunge prior convictions for possession and cultivation activities that are being made legal under the measure.

A 10 percent excise tax would be imposed on marijuana sales, with revenue first going toward the cost of implementation and then being divided among municipalities with at least one cannabis shop (15 percent), counties with at least one shop (15 percent), K-12 education (35 percent) and infrastructure (35 percent).

“It’s time to lead Ohio forward,” Weinstein said in a press release. “This is a big step for criminal justice reform, for our veterans, for economic opportunity, and for our individual liberties.”

The state Department of Commerce would be responsible for overseeing the program and issuing cannabis business licenses.

Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 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.

Individual municipalities could restrict the type and number of marijuana that operate in their area. The bill specifically states that the state’s existing medical marijuana program would not be impacted by the establishment of an adult-use market.

“This bill is much needed in Ohio, and it’s time for Ohio to become a national leader in marijuana decriminalization and legalization,” Upchurch said. “This bill is more than just about legalization, it’s about economic and workforce development, it’s about decriminalization, and it’s about healthcare! The time is now, and I look forward to getting this done in a bipartisan fashion.”

Gov. Mike DeWine (R) is likely to oppose the effort given his record, but activists have effectively demonstrated through local initiatives that voters in the state broadly support enacting a cannabis policy change.

A newly formed organization called the the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CTRMLA) is also actively collecting signatures for a statewide ballot measure that would separately force lawmakers to consider taking up legalization legislation once a certain signature gathering threshold is met.

“I’m glad to see it! It’s added momentum toward legalization,” Weinstein told Marijuana Moment earlier this week of the ballot effort. “And hopefully a looming ballot initiative will add some incentive for my Republican colleagues to work with me on my bill.”

Meanwhile, 22 jurisdictions have adopted local statues so far that reduce the penalty for low-level cannabis possession from a misdemeanor punishable by jail time and a fine to the “lowest penalty allowed by state law.” And activists are pursuing similar policy changes in dozens of cities this year.

Don Keeney, executive director of NORML Appalachia, told Marijuana Moment that local officials have so far certified decriminalization initiatives in five cities they were targeting this year: Laurelville, McArthur, Murray City, New Lexington and New Straitsville.

Ohio activists had hoped to place a cannabis legalization initiative on the statewide ballot last year, but that effort stalled as the COVID-19 outbreak and resulting public health restrictions made signature gathering all but impossible.

Local advocates sought relief through the court system to make it so they could collect signatures electronically for 2020 ballot initiatives, but the lawsuit was repeatedly rejected—most recently by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which ruled on Wednesday that the challenge was no longer relevant because last year’s election has passed and the case was therefore moot.

Read the text of the Ohio marijuana legalization bill below: 

Ohio marijuana legalization… by Marijuana Moment

GOP Senator Sponsoring Marijuana Banking Bill Proposes Controversial Welfare Restrictions For Cannabis Purchases

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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