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Where Presidential Candidate John Hickenlooper Stands On Marijuana

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Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) announced that he was running for president on March 7, 2019 and ended his campaign on August 15.

Hickenlooper has gone through as significant evolution when it comes his views on cannabis, though he’s stopped short of endorsing legalization outright. His record has earned him a “B” grade from NORML.

Here’s a comprehensive look at where he stands on marijuana.

This piece was last updated on August 16, 2019 to include the candidate’s statements and policy actions on marijuana since joining the race.

Legislation And Policy Actions

Colorado voters approved a marijuana legalization ballot measure during the 2012 election—a decision that Hickenlooper initially opposed and later described as “reckless.” But he nonetheless oversaw the successful implementation of the initiative after its passage.

“The voters have spoken and we have to respect their will,” he said after the vote on election night. “This will be a complicated process, but we intend to follow through.”

But he couldn’t help himself from adding a quip that infuriated legalization supporters: “That said, federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug, so don’t break out the Cheetos or goldfish too quickly.”

In the years since, Hickenlooper signed a wide range of cannabis-related bills into law, reshaping the legal marketplace in Colorado.

He signed a bill that created the country’s first state-level banking system to service marijuana companies in 2014. He and Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee (D), who is also seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, sent a joint letter to to various federal financial regulators requesting “follow-up inter-agency guidance” on banking in the cannabis industry.

In 2014, the governor signed a bill that invested $9 million in grants to fund research into medical cannabis. A 2017 bill that was designed to stimulate research into medical marijuana through a new licensing scheme went into effect in spite of a drafting error that led Hickenlooper to withhold his signature.

Hickenlooper signed off on legislation in 2016 that banned the sale of marijuana gummy bears and edibles in the shape of animals, fruits or people.

(Tweets from the former governor’s official account now feature the avatar and name of newly elected Democratic Gov. Jared Polis.)

Hickenlooper put his signature on a bill that allows patients on probation or parole to use medical cannabis in 2017, and later signed legislation that prohibited courts from banning criminal defendants from using medical marijuana while they await trail.

Hickenlooper approved several pieces of legislation that make incremental changes to the state’s marijuana program. One bill allowed out-of-state visitors purchase up to one ounce of cannabis, instead of a quarter ounce, another bill provided protections for medical marijuana patients in schools and another loosened residency requirements for ownership of, and investment in, Colorado cannabis businesses.

In 2015, Hickenlooper issued an executive order calling on state agencies to investigate the unsanctioned use of certain pesticides in cannabis cultivation. Contaminated marijuana “constitutes a threat to the public safety,” the order said.

In his budget proposal for the 2017 fiscal year, Hickenlooper requested that the legislature put aside more than $16 million in marijuana tax revenue to fund the construction of affordable housing units.

For the following fiscal year, his budget plan called for about $10 million in marijuana tax money to go toward resolving teacher shortages in rural communities. It also included a request for about $1 million to fund law enforcement efforts to eliminate the illicit cannabis market.

The governor sought a 50 percent increase on the sales tax rate for retail marijuana sales in order to make up for a budget shortfall for education funding. He also signed a bill that provided funding for a “resource bank” of educational materials on marijuana that Colorado schools would be able to access.

About $6 million in tax revenue from marijuana sales were designated to fund technology grants for Colorado schools under a separate piece of cannabis education legislation that the governor approved. He also signed a bill that allows for the administration of medical cannabis to qualifying students at schools.

Hickenlooper signed legislation in 2017 that limited the number of plants that could be grown in a single household to 12, instead of 24. A separate bill created penalties for violating the plant limit. He also approved legislation to use $6 million in cannabis tax revenue to fund enforcement efforts to combat the illicit marijuana market.

He approved a bill that provided some safeguards to hemp farmers that use water from federal reserves. Another approved bill excluded “marijuana” from the state’s definition of a “farm product.” 

Individuals with prior misdemeanor marijuana convictions were granted the ability to petition the courts to have their records cleared if the offense was for something made legal under another bill that Hickenlooper signed.

The governor signed off on legislation that added post-traumatic stress disorder to the list of conditions that qualify patients for medical cannabis. But he vetoed a bill that would have added autism to that list. Following that veto, Hickenlooper’s lieutenant governor, at his direction, signed an executive order instructing the the state Board of Health to investigate the safety and efficacy of using medical cannabis for individuals with autism spectrum disorders.

“I vetoed it just because they went to all levels of the autism spectrum and my medical advisors said that they were concerned with people at the far end,” he told Salon.

The governor also vetoed legislation to allow dispensaries to apply to operate “tasting rooms” and to increase flexibility for investments in the marijuana industry.

Hickenlooper signed a bill in 2017 that repealed the state’s Office Of Marijuana Coordination, which was established to coordinate his administration’s response to the implementation of marijuana legalization.

Taxation regulations for cannabis businesses were amended under another bill Hickenlooper signed, and the legislation also “includes additional remediation options for testing of adulterated products.” 

In June 2017, Hickenlooper signed off on a bill that restricted the ability of law enforcement to seize funds through civil asset forfeiture.

He vetoed a piece of legislation that would have amended policy on how medical marijuana businesses can buy and sell cannabis. The governor expressed concerns that the bill would have posed a risk of “destabilizing Colorado medical marijuana markets.”

He also put his signature on a bill that eased some restrictions on medical cannabis dispensaries.

Advertising marijuana products without license to market them became a level two misdemeanor under a bill Hickenlooper signed in 2017.

All told, while Hickenlooper initially campaigned against legalization, he appeared to make earnest attempts to implement what voters decided—even if cannabis reformers didn’t agree with his every move.

On The Campaign Trail

“Trust me, the marijuana industry is not going to support someone who says I don’t think it should be legal in every state,” Hickenlooper told reporters in March, adding that each state “should make their choice.”

He also said that fears about the potential consequences of his state legalizing cannabis “have not come to pass.” 

The former governor discussed the need to provide access to banking services for marijuana businesses at a separate event that month and he described the “marijuana boom” as “a social phenomenon.”

Watch Hickenlooper’s cannabis comments about 45:00 into the video below:

“I think that states are the laboratory for democracy. And even though I disagreed with the direction and the vote of the people of Colorado, I think my job as governor was to do everything I could to see if we could make that succeed,” Hickenlooper told New York Magazine. “And I wanted to make sure that if it failed—which I was very worried, that there’d be a spike in teenage consumption, I worried there’d be a spike in people driving while high—no one could come back and say, ‘Oh, well, they were trying to sink it.'”

“In the end, we haven’t seen any of those things that we feared,” he said. “We still have a black market. We still have a lot of work to go. We didn’t get out in front of edibles. No one anticipated that edibles would explode. But it took us a year, we got our arms around it.”

In that interview, Hickenlooper also compared the state-level legalization movement to the end of federal alcohol prohibition.

“I don’t think the federal government — and this is based on all my experience in government — should come in and tell the state of Maine, or the state of Alabama, that they should legalize marijuana. I think that should still be left to states. It’s just like alcohol.”

The candidate touted his state’s decision to legalize marijuana—despite his initial opposition—during a National Action Network event in April.

He also seemed to take credit for Colorado’s voter-approved legalization measure in an Instagram Story in June.

Describing his evolution on the issue, Hickenlooper said “because I had experience with a highly regulated product like alcohol, I was a fairer witness and a better person to have at the controls to make sure this experiment wasn’t slanted one way or the other.”

“I think there’s a legitimate argument that having that discipline allowed a lot of people who were unconcerned, in the middle or weren’t invested in either side to look at legal marijuana more favorably, because the way we implemented it was rigorous,” he said. “We demonstrated a new framework where teenagers wouldn’t get high more often. In fact, I think because of the way we implemented it, there are fewer teenagers getting high.”

In an interview with Iowa Public Television in June, Hickenlooper said “we should decriminalize on a federal level, marijuana, so that they’re not in conflict with these different states,” “declassify it from a Schedule I narcotic” and allow banks to service cannabis businesses. However, he said he didn’t agree that the federal government should impose legalization on states.

That said, he did tell C-SPAN that the federal government should have a role in regulating the marijuana industry.

In a Reddit Ask Me Anything session, Hickenlooper said we “should not be arresting people—disproportionately people of color—and making their lives immeasurably harder because of a joint. It should be completely decriminalized on a national level.”

Reform advocates pushed back against the former governor for including his state’s decision to legalize cannabis in a list of accomplishments he claimed credit for during a Democratic debate.

“I was concerned about what [legalization] might do to teenage consumption, more people driving while high,” Hickenlooper told The Denver Post while explaining his initial opposition to the state’s ballot measure. “But I also grew up in the ’60s.”

He also said that he “can’t imagine” going back to an era of prohibition and complained about federal inaction on marijuana decriminalization.

During an appearance on The Breakfast Club, Hickenlooper stressed the need to provide access to capital to help individuals from communities disproportionately impacted by prohibition participate in the legal industry.

The state-by-state approach to cannabis legalization is representative of how localized reform can influence federal politics, he said at a campaign event in Iowa.

Hickenlooper said in March that states should be allowed to decriminalize other drugs such as heroin and cocaine without federal interference, stating “I think that criminalizing drug use has not worked—the war on drugs.”

Previous Quotes And Social Media Posts

For good reason, Hickenlooper has frequently been asked about marijuana and the impact of legalization in Colorado. His comments and social media posts reflect a gradual, if somewhat reluctant, evolution on the issue.

Almost 15 years ago, the then-mayor of Denver stood opposed to a local marijuana legalization ordinance that was ultimately approved by voters. He said he didn’t support it because he viewed cannabis as a “gateway” drug and that individuals who possess marijuana still faced arrests under state law regardless of any local change.

That said, he recognized that “attitudes are changing” and given the percentage of young people living in Denver “it makes sense that attitudes here might be changing faster.”

Fast forward to 2012, when marijuana legalization appeared on the state ballot, and Hickenlooper, then the governor, again expressed opposition to reform.

“Colorado is known for many great things—marijuana should not be one of them,” he said. “Amendment 64 has the potential to increase the number of children using drugs and would detract from efforts to make Colorado the healthiest state in the nation. It sends the wrong message to kids that drugs are OK.”

“Federal laws would remain unchanged in classifying marijuana as a Schedule I substance, and federal authorities have been clear they will not turn a blind eye toward states attempting to trump those laws. While we are sympathetic to the unfairness of burdening young people with felony records for often minor marijuana transgressions, we trust that state lawmakers and district attorneys will work to mitigate such inequities.”

In 2014, he told the National Governors Association that the “jury is still out” on marijuana legalization and warned fellow governors to approach reform with caution.

“I don’t think governors should be [in] the position of promoting things that are inherently not good for people,” he said, raising concerns about legalization leading to increased youth usage. He also said that nobody should consider legal cannabis as a revenue generator.

“This whole notion of legalizing recreational marijuana should not be addressed and analyzed… as this is a source of new revenue, that this is going to help us build roads, or this is going to help us expand other worthy programs,” he said.

He said in his 2016 State of the State address that “pot-infused gummy bears send the wrong message to our kids about marijuana” and that the state needs to “make sure that edibles do not so closely resemble the same products kids can find in the candy aisle.” Hickenlooper also pledged to veto any legislation allowing for the consumption of cannabis indoors at businesses.

He encouraged lawmakers in the state not to approve legislation to allow for marijuana delivery services and said that home cultivation should be limited, too.

While Hickenlooper referred to cannabis tax revenue as a “drop in the bucket” compared to the overall state budget, he did tout the use of the money for marketing efforts to deter underage consumption.

“It’s going to be one of the great social experiments of the 21st century,” he said. “As we implement it, we want to make sure that our society is no worse off than it was before this was passed.”

He said in 2016 that “if you’re trying to encourage businesses to move to your state, some of the larger businesses, think twice about legalizing marijuana” but on another occasion did recognize that state officials “haven’t seen” negative economic fallout from legalization that he feared.

In more recent years, however, Hickenlooper has become increasingly supportive of the state’s legal cannabis system, recognizing that many of his initial fears about legalization haven’t come to fruition. For example, while he worried that legalizing would lead to increased underage usage, that “hasn’t happened” and what’s more, reducing the illicit market ensures a “much more secure system to make sure that kids don’t have access to marijuana.”

“There hasn’t been a spike in young people suddenly using marijuana,” he told Seth Meyers during an appearance on NBC’s “Late Night” show. “It wasn’t like it was impossible to find beforehand.”

And among adults, he said, for the most part, those who weren’t consuming cannabis before legalization still aren’t using it. One reason he came to that conclusion was from impromptu surveys of audiences he speaks before.

“I routinely ask, ‘how many of you on occasion, let’s say once in the last six months or however often, but on occasion, smoke marijuana? And I’m surprised I get about a third of the hands and these are adults. And then I ask, ‘how many of you were smoking before it was legal?’ The same hands go up.”

“The only increase in consumption is among senior citizens, which we think is either Baby Boomers coming home to roost or arthritis and the aches and pains of growing older—people finding that marijuana is better pain solution than opioids or other things,” he told Rolling Stone.

Taxing and regulating marijuana hasn’t been “as vexing as we thought it was going to be,” Hickenlooper said in 2015.

It’s just like any industry, right?” Hickenlooper, who worked in the beer industry before seeking public office, said in 2014. “There are good players, there are people who are little more restless, people who try to seize on sensationalism and kind of gives the entire industry a bad name. And you can say the same thing about almost any industry in Colorado.”

“All I’m saying is we need to regulate the marijuana industry, which I did oppose, but I’m saying if we have regulations that are going to work we’re going to regulate just as tightly as the beer industry is regulated,” he said.

Speaking of alcohol, the governor seemed to imply that it’s safer to drink as a teen that consume cannabis.

“If you’re a 15-year old or a 16-year old and you go out and drink some beers, nobody I’ve talked to thinks that affects the cognitive part of your brain as it matures,” he said. “The high-THC marijuana we have is so intense… If you’re a teenager it will take a sliver of your memory forever.”

However, he said that marijuana is “for many people a more effective pain relief than opioids, and lord knows we recognize that we need alternatives at every step for opioids.”

By 2015, Hickenlooper said that while he hadn’t done a 180 on marijuana, “I certainly have come 70 or 80 degrees.”

“I still look at it as fraught with risk, but some of the stuff that was so worrisome hasn’t happened, and as you heard tonight from everybody, the war on drugs was a disaster,” he said, adding that repealing the state’s marijuana legalization law would represent a missed opportunity.

During a panel hosted by the Milken Institute in 2016, the governor said that several years ago, if he had a “magic wand” and “could have reversed” the election that legalized cannabis, he would have. But in the years since, the regulatory system has proved robust and tax revenue has helped fund important social services.

“If I had that magic wand now, I’m not sure I’d wave it,” he said, adding that “it’s beginning to look like [legalization] might work.”

In 2017, the governor said he’s “getting close” to personally supporting legalization.

During his State of the State address that year, Hickenlooper said the state’s regulatory framework “works.”

Anecdotally, it does seem that legalization has driven out illicit drug dealers, Hickenlooper told Bloomberg and reiterated that point at a separate panel hosted by the Aspen Institute.

While the illicit market seemed to be tapering, however, Hickenlooper has made a point to emphasize that a “gray market” continues to exist in Colorado and that the state must “move swiftly and aggressively to make sure illegal activity is stamped out.” 

“If we don’t stamp it out right now, it becomes acceptable. And then, all of a sudden, people are going to start getting hurt.”

“We have a lot to be proud of for the way we have worked together on difficult issues,” the governor told attn in 2016. “While we have been heartened that we have not seen the spikes in public health and public safety concerns that we feared, it is too early to give a final conclusion on the success or failure of this experiment.”

“We will continue to learn from experience, gather data, and implement changes and new regulations to ensure that recreational marijuana is kept out of the hands of youth, and that public health and safety are protected,” he said.

He also said in 2018 that his administration was looking into ways to expunge the records of individuals with convictions for non-violent cannabis offenses.

Even as Hickenlooper has come to embrace the results of his state’s move to regulate cannabis, he has repeatedly urged officials from other states to pump the breaks and wait to watch for any unintended consequences of legalization.

He told California lawmakers in 2017, for example, that the state has “made an awful lot of mistakes as we were trying to wrestle with some of these issues.” And Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) said Hickenlooper told him that he thinks the “net effect [of legalization] for the state has been a negative.”

Hickenlooper said that if data comes back and shows that legalization is associated with an increase in violent crime, he said he wouldn’t rule out repealing the state’s legal system. But for the time being, the data indicates that “the new system [of marijuana legalization] is intrinsically better” than prohibition, he said.

It’s “a better system than what we had,” he said.

Hickenlooper was one of 12 governors to sign a letter urging Congress to pass broad cannabis reform at the federal level in 2018. “Our states have acted with deliberation and care to implement programs through thoughtful and comprehensive legislation and regulations,” the governors wrote. “Our citizens have spoken, we are responding. We ask that Congress recognize and respect our states’ efforts by supporting and passing the STATES Act.”

Hickenlooper seemed to become a more active defender of his state’s legal cannabis program after Jeff Sessions, a staunch prohibitionist, was confirmed as President Donald Trump’s first attorney general.

“We’re going to argue with the attorney general that, you know he’s worried about violence around marijuana,” he told VICE News. “I saw it was reported this morning. There’s a heck of a lot more violence around illegal marijuana than there is around legal marijuana. We know that for a fact.”

While he initially said that Sessions was “leaning towards cracking down on recreational marijuana” and “wouldn’t be surprised if [U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions] closes down one or two of these [marijuana] facilities just to make that statement,” he said after meeting him that that probably wasn’t the case after all. 

“Well, you haven’t seen us cracking down have you?” he said Sessions asked him.

“I’m not going to do anything that in any way encourages someone to open a marijuana sales store or a marijuana grow,” he also reportedly said. “You’re not going to hear me say a word that will encourage anyone in any way. That being said, we’ve got higher priorities. We don’t have unlimited resources.”

If Sessions were to launch a crackdown, “there would be a lot of outrage” and “people would storm the barricades,” Hickenlooper said

But Sessions “didn’t give me any reason to think that he is going to come down and suddenly try to put everyone out of business,” he later added

In August 2017, Sessions sent a letter to Hickenlooper listing concerns about the state’s ability to regulate cannabis sales.

In response, the governor said that he “take[s] the concerns shared in the letter seriously and will provide a comprehensive response.” 

“I think we can work together,” he said.

However, Hickenlooper did send a letter pushing back against Sessions’s concerns as well.

“The State of Colorado has worked diligently to implement the will of our citizens and build a comprehensive regulatory and enforcement system that prioritizes public safety and public health,” he and the state’s attorney general wrote. “We take seriously our duty to create a robust marijuana regulatory and enforcement system. Colorado’s system has become a model for other states and nations.”

When speaking with marijuana business owners, Hickenlooper said would tell them this about Sessions:

“He is seriously against you. He just doesn’t have the money to fight you right now. If you’re in the business, you should think about it pretty hard how much you want to expand.”

Hickenlooper observed that Democrats have been leading the charge in defending states’ rights in response to concerns about federal intervention in state-legal cannabis activities.

“It is a great thing when you now have Democratic governors fighting to say, ‘Hey, what about states’ rights?'” he said. 

He also indicated that Colorado would take the federal government to court if it took action against legal states.

During his 2018 State of the State address, the governor said Colorado was the “first state to legalize recreational marijuana” and that “while doing so, we’ve helped create a roadmap for other states.”

“And by the way, I don’t think any of us are wild about Washington telling us what’s good for us,” he said. “We expect that the federal government will respect the will of Colorado voters.”

Adult use aside, Hickenlooper has been a supporter of medical cannabis and has called for federal reform to make researching cannabis simpler.

Hickenlooper told NPR that he discussed marijuana policy with President Barack Obama over a game of pool.

In November 2018, Hickenlooper and state regulators issued a warning, telling customers not to purchase marijuana products that were cultivated by Colorado Wellness Centers due to the use of unapproved pesticides.

Personal Experience With Marijuana

Hickenlooper has been forthcoming about his personal experience with cannabis. He wrote in his book about how his mother caught him attempting to grow marijuana during high school, how cannabis “slowed me down and made me kind of silly” and how he “got a little high” and took a nude selfie as part of a project for an advanced photography class in college, for example.

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Hickenlooper said the first time he smoked marijuana was with his brother in the 10th grade.

“Honest to gosh, I didn’t know what the difference was between marijuana and heroin. I’d never been exposed to it,” he said. But because he was with his brother, “I felt safe.”

“In a funny way, back then it helped me relax and in some ways it was a way of—in high school and college—a way of being part of something,” he said.

He said that he hasn’t smoked cannabis since it’s become legal and that he wouldn’t take a job in the legal industry after leaving office.

“I don’t need any help to look stupid anymore,” he said. “As my staff will tell you, there’s never too big a distance from my foot to my mouth. I think marijuana is best left to the side for now.”

Marijuana Under A Hickenlooper Presidency

Although Hickenlooper has had a long and seemingly reluctant evolution on cannabis policy, at this point there’s little reason to expect that marijuana reform would take a backslide if he were elected to the Oval Office. His support for congressional legislation allowing states to regulate cannabis free of federal intervention, in addition to his growing embrace of Colorado’s legal system, are signs that an end to national prohibition would be within reach were he to become president.

Where Presidential Candidate Jay Inslee Stands On Marijuana

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Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

Politics

New Mexico Governor Signs Marijuana Legalization Bill, Making State Third To Enact Reform Within Days

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The governor of New Mexico on Monday signed a bill to legalize marijuana in the state, as well as a separate measure to expunge records for people with prior, low-level cannabis convictions.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) gave final approval to the legislation, a key accomplishment for her administration after she listed legalization as a 2021 priority. Although lawmakers failed to pass a legalization bill before the regular session’s end last month, the governor convened a special session to ensure they got the job done.

“The legalization of adult-use cannabis paves the way for the creation of a new economic driver in our state with the promise of creating thousands of good paying jobs for years to come,” the governor said in a press release. “We are going to increase consumer safety by creating a bona fide industry. We’re going to start righting past wrongs of this country’s failed war on drugs. And we’re going to break new ground in an industry that may well transform New Mexico’s economic future for the better.”

“As we look to rebound from the economic downturn caused by the pandemic,” she said, “entrepreneurs will benefit from this great opportunity to create lucrative new enterprises, the state and local governments will benefit from the added revenue and, importantly, workers will benefit from the chance to land new types of jobs and build careers.”

Provisions of the legalization bill and expungements legislation were initially included together in the same package that passed the House during the regular session but later stalled on the Senate floor. When the special session started, however, supporters split up the legislation to win favor from Republicans and moderate Democrats who expressed opposition to the scope of the original proposal.

With Lujan Grisham’s action, New Mexico is the third state to formally end cannabis prohibition within the span of days. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed a marijuana legalization bill into law late last month, just hours after lawmakers sent it to his desk. In Virginia, lawmakers last week accepted amendments to a legal cannabis bill that were suggested by Gov. Ralph Northam (D), giving final passage to the bill that they had initially approved in February.

Here are some of the main components in the New Mexico legalization bill the governor signed:

-Adults 21 and older can purchase and possess up to two ounces of cannabis, 16 grams of cannabis concentrates and 800 milligrams of infused edibles. All products will be tested by licensed laboratories for contamination and potency.

-Home cultivation of up to six mature cannabis plants will be allowed for personal use, provided the plants are out of public sight and secured from children. Households will be limited to 12 total plants. Marijuana grown at home cannot be sold or bartered.

-Legal retail sales won’t begin for another year or so, with a target date of April 1, 2022 or earlier. Final license rules will be due from the state by January 1, 2022, with licenses themselves issued no later than April 1.

-Advertising cannabis to people under 21 are prohibited, with the use of cartoon characters or other imagery likely to appeal to children forbidden. Advertisements will also be barred from billboards or other public media within 300 feet of a school, daycare center or church. All products will need to carry a state-approved warning label.

-There is no limit on the number of business licensees that could be granted under the program, or the number of facilities a licensee could open, although regulators could stop issuing new licenses if an advisory committee determines that “market equilibrium is deficient.”

-Small cannabis microbusinesses, which can grow up to 200 plants, will be able to grow, process and sell cannabis products all under a single license. The bill’s backers have said the separate license type will allow wider access to the new industry for entrepreneurs without access to significant capital.

-Cannabis purchases will include a 12 percent excise tax on top of the state’s regular eight percent sales tax. Beginning in 2025, the excise rate would climb by one percent each year until it reached 18 percent in 2030. Medical marijuana products, available only to patients and caretakers, would be exempt from the tax.

-In an effort to ensure medical patients can still access medicine after the adult-use market opens, the bill allows the state to force licensed cannabis producers to reserve up to 10 percent of their products for patients in the event of a shortage or grow more plants to be used in medical products.

-Local governments cannot ban cannabis businesses entirely, as some other states have allowed. Municipalities can, however, use their local zoning authority to limit the number of retailers or their distance from schools, daycares or other cannabis businesses.

-Tribal governments can participate in the state’s legal cannabis industry under legal agreements contemplated under the bill.

— With certain social justice provisions expected to be repackaged into a separate bill, the legalization measure retains only some of HB 12’s original equity language, primarily focused on enacting procedures meant to encourage communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs to participate in the new industry.

-The new industry will be overseen by a newly created Cannabis Control Division, part of the state Regulation and Licensing Department. Medical marijuana will also be regulated by that division, although the Department of Health will control the patient registry.

-By September of this year, the state will establish a cannabis regulatory advisory committee to advise the Cannabis Control Division. The committee will need to include various experts and stakeholders, such as the chief public defender, local law enforcement, a cannabis policy advocate, an organized labor representative, a medical cannabis patient, a tribal nation or pueblo, various scientists, an expert in cannabis regulation, an environmental expert, a water expert and a cannabis industry professional, among others.

-The bill as amended now includes language that will allow medical marijuana patients who are registered in other states to participates in in other states to access, a proposal that failed to pass during the regular session.

“Today, New Mexico seized a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to establish a multi-million industry with a framework that’s right for our state and will benefit New Mexicans for generations to come,” Rep. Javier Martínez (D), who sponsored the legalization bill, said. “Not only are we launching a burgeoning industry that will strengthen our economy, create jobs and generate tax dollars, but we are doing so in an equitable way that will curb the illicit market and undo some damage of the failed war on drugs.”

Rep. Andrea Romero (D), who also led the charge to get the reform bills to the governor’s desk, said, “For decades, our communities of color have been discriminated against for minor cannabis offenses, so we must ensure that those who would not be arrested today do not continue to be incarcerated or held back by criminal records for acts that are no longer crimes.”

“By ensuring equity and social justice in our cannabis legalization, we are saying ‘enough’ to the devastating ‘War on Drugs’ that over-incarcerated and over-penalized thousands of New Mexicans,” she said.

Polling indicates New Mexico voters are ready for the policy change. A survey released in October found a strong majority of residents are in favor of legalization with social equity provisions in place, and about half support the decriminalization of drug possession more broadly.

Lujan Grisham included cannabis legalization as part of her 2021 legislative agenda and has repeatedly talked about the need to legalize as a means to boost the economy, especially amid the coronavirus pandemic. She said during a State of the State address in January that “a crisis like the one we’ve experienced last year can be viewed as a loss or as an invitation to rethink the status quo—to be ambitious and creative and bold.”

Additional pressure to end cannabis prohibition this year came from neighboring Arizona, where sales officially launched in January after voters approved a legalization ballot initiative last year. To New Mexico’s north is Colorado, one of the first states to legalize for adult use.

New Mexico’s House in 2019 approved a legalization bill that included provisions to put marijuana sales mostly in state-run stores, but that measure died in the Senate. Later that year, Lujan Grisham created a working group to study cannabis legalization and issue recommendations.

In May of last year, the governor signaled she was considering actively campaigning against lawmakers who blocked her legalization bill in 2020. She also said that she was open to letting voters decide on the policy change via a ballot referendum if lawmakers didn’t send a legalization bill to her desk.

Texas Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Decriminalization Bill In Committee

Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

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Minnesota Marijuana Legalization Bill Sails Through Fifth Committee, With Floor Vote Expected Next Month

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A bill to legalize marijuana in Minnesota advanced again on Monday, passing a fifth House committee as it moves closer to floor action.

House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D), Speaker Melissa Hortman (D) and other lawmakers filed the measure in February. It would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis and cultivate up to eight plants, four of which could be mature.

The House Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee approved the bill, which it amended, in a 11-7 vote on Monday.

“This bill, first and foremost, is a recognition of the major racial disparities in how our current drug laws are enforced,” Winkler told the panel prior to the vote. “We have similar cannabis use rates across populations in Minnesota, but we have disproportionate policing and enforcement as applied to African Americans in Minnesota—anywhere from four to 10 times greater arrest rates. We have whole communities that have been adversely affected by the war on drugs.”

The majority leader added that “we have an opportunity to create the kind of new industry that can be a model for not only how to be inclusive and how to repair past wrongs, but also to do so in a way that upholds very high environmental standards.”

Members adopted a number of changes to the proposal. For example, it now stipulates that members of a cannabis advisory council established under the bill could not serve as lobbyists while on the panel and for two years after they end their service.

Other provisions of the amendment stipulate that marijuana products cannot be flavored to taste or smell like anything but the plant itself. Regulators could also adopt rules to “limit or prohibit ingredients in or additives to cannabis or cannabis products.”

Another change lays out rules for marijuana delivery services, including requiring that they verify that a customer is at least 21 years old.

The revised legislation also creates a substance use disorder treatment and prevention grant funded by marijuana tax dollars.

This latest vote comes about three weeks after the House Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee passed the legislation. Before that, it’s moved through the Workforce and Business Development Finance and Policy Committee, the Labor, Industry, Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee and the Commerce Finance and Policy Committee.

The bill’s next stop is the House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee, which is scheduled to take up the measure on Wednesday.

Winkler recently said that he expects the legislation to go through any remaining panels by the end of April, with a floor vote anticipated in May.


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“Minnesotans are ready for cannabis, and we will keep pushing until it gets done,” he said.

Still, even if the legislation does make it all the way through the House, it’s expected to face a significant challenge in the Republican-controlled Senate, where lawmakers have signaled that they’re more interested in revising the state’s existing medical cannabis program than enacting legalization of adult use.

After the New York legislature approved a recreational cannabis legalization bill—which the governor promptly signed into law—Winkler said that Minnesota is “falling behind a national movement towards progress.”

“MN has some of the worst criminal justice disparities in the country, and legalizing cannabis & expunging convictions is a first step towards fixing that,” he tweeted.

The majority leader’s bill as introduced was identical to a proposal he filed last year, with some minor technical changes. The majority leader, who led a statewide listening to gather public input ahead of the measure’s introduction, called it the “best legalization bill in the country” at the time. It did not advance in that session, however.

Under the legislation, social equity would be prioritized, in part by ensuring diverse licensing and preventing the market from being monopolized by corporate players. Prior marijuana records would also be automatically expunged.

On-site consumption and cannabis delivery services would be permitted under the bill. And unlike in many legal states, local municipalities would be banned from prohibiting marijuana businesses from operating in their areas.

Retail cannabis sales would be taxed at 10 percent. Part of that revenue would fund a grant program designed to promote economic development and community stability.

The bill calls for the establishment of a seven-person Cannabis Management Board, which would be responsible for regulating the market and issuing cannabis business licenses. It was amended in committee month to add members to that board who have a social justice background.

People living in low-income neighborhoods and military veterans who lost honorable status due to a cannabis-related offense would be considered social equity applicants eligible for priority licensing.

Cannabis retails sales would launch on December 31, 2022.

Gov. Tim Walz (D) is also in favor of ending marijuana prohibition, and in January he called on lawmakers to pursue the reform as a means to boost the economy and promote racial justice. He did not include a request to legalize through his budget proposal, however.

Walz did say in 2019 that he was directing state agencies to prepare to implement reform in anticipation of legalization passing.

Winkler, meanwhile, said in December that if Senate Republicans don’t go along with the policy change legislatively, he said he hopes they will at least let voters decide on cannabis as a 2022 ballot measure.

Heading into the 2020 election, Democrats believed they had a shot of taking control of the Senate, but that didn’t happen.

The result appears to be partly due to the fact that candidates from marijuana-focused parties in the state earned a sizable share of votes that may have otherwise gone to Democrats, perhaps inadvertently hurting the chances of reform passing.

In December, the Minnesota House Select Committee On Racial Justice adopted a report that broadly details race-based disparities in criminal enforcement and recommends a series of policy changes, including marijuana decriminalization and expungements.

Four More States Could Still Legalize Marijuana This Year After New Mexico, New York And Virginia

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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Four More States Could Still Legalize Marijuana This Year After New Mexico, New York And Virginia

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With New Mexico, New York and Virginia legalizing marijuana in recent days, one might think the cannabis reform movement has already achieved its high water mark for 2021. But the fact is, legalization bills are still moving forward in several other states across the country this session.

From Delaware to Minnesota, lawmakers are still working to end prohibition by the year’s end. While there’s no guarantee that they’ll be successful, there’s growing momentum for legalization with top lawmakers and governors on board, and each state that enacts the policy change adds pressure on those around them to follow suit.

If two more states get legal marijuana bills signed this session, 2021 would set a record for the highest number of new legalization laws enacted in a single year. And if just one more state were to adopt legalization this session, 2021 would tie 2016 and 2020 as a year with the most number of states to legalize cannabis—quite remarkable given that no states are putting the issue directly to voters on the ballot this year.

Here’s a look at the states that could still legalize cannabis this session:

Connecticut

There are two legalization proposals being considered in the Connecticut legislature, including one that’s backed by Gov. Ned Lamont (D).

The governor’s bill cleared the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday after being amended to more comprehensively address issues of social equity. A competing measure from Rep. Robyn Porter (D) was approved in the Labor and Public Employees Committee last month.

Lamont said on Wednesday that if lawmakers fail to pass a marijuana reform bill, he expects voters to decide on the issue via referendum.

House Speaker Matthew Ritter (D) said last year that if the legislature isn’t able to pass a legalization bill, he will move to put a question on the state’s 2022 ballot that would leave the matter to voters. Ritter put “50-50” odds on lawmakers getting the job done this year themselves, however.

If cannabis does end up on the ballot, though, it would likely prove popular, as a poll released last month found that 66 percent of Connecticut adults favor legalization, and the same percentage of respondents back expunging prior cannabis records.

Delaware

A bill to legalize marijuana for adult use in Delaware was approved in its first House committee late last month.

The legislation, filed by Rep. Ed Osienski (D), passed the House Health and Human Development Committee in a 10-5 vote despite vocal opposition from some Republican members of the panel.

The bill as introduced would establish a regulated commercial cannabis system and tax sales at 15 percent. Home cultivation for personal use, however, would remain illegal.

The sponsor has stressed that the proposed legislation is “the first step,” and it will be subject to revisions in its next panel, the House Appropriations Committee.

Osienski was the chief sponsor of an earlier reform bill that cleared a House committee in 2019 but did not advance through the full chamber. One major difference between this latest bill and the last version is that HB 150 would not allow existing medical cannabis dispensaries to start selling marijuana during the transitional period between enactment and full implementation, as the previous bill would have done.

That led four of the state’s six medical cannabis operators to testify against the legislation—a decision that’s prompted certain advocates and patients to mount a boycott, accusing the companies of being profit-minded while standing in the way of broader reform.

Minnesota

Four House committees have already approved a bill to legalize marijuana in Minnesota. And Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D), sponsor of the reform legislation, said last week that it will move through its remaining committee stops by the end of April, setting the stage for action in the full chamber in May.

Winkler, Speaker Melissa Hortman (D) and other lawmakers filed the measure in February. It would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana and cultivate up to eight plants, four of which could be mature.

The House Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee was the latest panel to advance the bill on Monday.

Before that, the Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee, Workforce and Business Development Finance and Policy Committee, Labor, Industry, Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee and Commerce Finance and Policy Committee approved the proposal.

Its next stop will be the Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee on Wednesday.

Still, even if the legislation does make it all the way through the House, it’s expected to face a significant challenge in the Republican-controlled Senate, where lawmakers have signaled that they’re more interested in revising the state’s existing medical cannabis program than enacting legalization of adult use.

The majority leader’s bill as introduced was identical to a proposal he filed last year, with some minor technical changes. The majority leader, who led a statewide listening to gather public input ahead of the measure’s introduction, called it the “best legalization bill in the country” at the time. It did not advance in that session, however.

Gov. Tim Walz (D) is also in favor of ending marijuana prohibition, and in January he called on lawmakers to pursue the reform as a means to boost the economy and promote racial justice. He did not include a request to legalize through his budget proposal, however.

Walz did say in 2019 that he was directing state agencies to prepare to implement reform in anticipation of legalization passing.

Winkler, meanwhile, said in December that if Senate Republicans don’t go along with the policy change legislatively, he said he hopes they will at least let voters decide on cannabis as a 2022 ballot measure.

Rhode Island

A pair of Rhode Island Senate committees held a joint hearing on two marijuana legalization proposals this month—including one proposed by the governor.

The Senate Judiciary and Finance Committees heard testimony from administration officials on Gov. Dan McKee’s (D) budget measure as well as legislative leaders sponsoring the competing bill. While the panels did not immediately vote on either proposal, members generally discussed legalization as an inevitability in the state, especially with neighboring states enacting the reform

Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey (D) and Health & Human Services Committee Chairman Joshua Miller (D) are leading the separate legalization measure.

“We know there’s going to be a lot of input from different organizations and different individuals—and we hope over the next couple of months that we’re able to come up with a final piece of legislation,” Miller said. He added that enacting legalization this year is a priority for the Senate and administration.

Both plans allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to one ounce of marijuana. However, only the lawmakers’ bill provides a home grow option, with the governor’s stipulating a series of fines and penalties for personal cultivation of any number of plants.

The proposals 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.

House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi (D) has said he’s “absolutely” open to the idea of cannabis legalization and leans toward a private model.

Texas Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Decriminalization Bill In Committee

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