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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.

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Connecticut Governor Says He’s Open To Smoking Marijuana After He Signs Legalization Bill

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The governor of Connecticut said on Friday that he isn’t ruling out smoking marijuana after he formally signs a legalization bill into law next week.

While most top politicians might still demure when asked if they’d partake in cannabis given ongoing stigma and federal prohibition, Gov. Ned Lamont (D) said matter-of-factly that “time will tell” when asked by a reporter if people can “expect to see the governor smoking a joint” after legalization goes into effect in the state.

News 12’s John Craven replied incredulously, “Really? You’re open to it?”

The governor first shrugged, then nodded his head yes.

“Not right now, but we’ll see” Lamont said.

Other governors in legal states have been playful about cannabis culture and their own relationship to the plant. But while a growing number of lawmakers are comfortable discussing their past marijuana use, this is a fairly remarkable exchange for the sitting top executive officer of a state.

It’s also a sign of the times, as congressional lawmakers step up the push to end federal prohibition and legalization bills move through numerous state legislatures.

Connecticut lawmakers sent Lamont an adult-use legalization bill on Thursday, and he’s confirmed his intent to sign it into law. It would make the state the 19th to have enacted the policy change and the fourth this year alone.

And while the governor has consistently emphasized the important of social equity in legalization legislation—at one point threatening to veto the bill because of a provision he felt could undermine its intent to effectively stand up disparately impacted communities—he also seems to see the personal benefits of the reform.

Similar to Lamont’s new comments, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) raised some eyebrows in 2018 when he said in an interview that he grows cannabis himself. But then a spokesperson for his office denied that he actually personally cultivates marijuana.

Minnesota Marijuana Reform Could ‘Move Forward’ In Special Session That Just Launched, Top Lawmaker Says

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Minnesota Marijuana Reform Could ‘Move Forward’ In Special Session That Just Launched, Top Lawmaker Says

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Even though a Minnesota House-passed marijuana legalization bill died in the Senate without action by the end of this year’s regular session, a top lawmaker says there’s still a “possibility to move forward” on cannabis reform as part of a special session that began this week.

“Nobody really expected the medical program to be so successfully changed this year,” House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D) said at a rally with cannabis reform advocates on Wednesday, referencing a separate measure Gov. Tim Walz (D) signed last month that will allow patients to access smokable cannabis products.

According to The Star Tribune, Winkler added that “surprising things can happen” during a special session. “When you see Republican support and Democratic support in the House and Senate, there is a possibility to move forward.”

Advocates with Minnesota NORML are pushing for several specific policies to be incorporated into legislation that is set to be taken up by the legislature during the special session. The first is to expand the state’s decriminalization policy, and the second is to have the state petition for a federal exemption for Minnesota’s medical cannabis program.

Part of the motivation behind that latter proposal is to ensure that registered patients are able to lawfully purchase and possess firearms in spite of federal restrictions.

At the rally, which was organized by NORML, Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP) and other groups, Winkler and several other lawmakers spoke in favor of modest policy changes such as decriminalizing cannabis.

“Decriminalizing small amounts is important,” Rep. Jeremy Munson (R), one of only a handful of Republicans who voted for Winkler’s broad adult-use legalization bill, said at the rally. “If someone in Minnesota gets caught with two gummy bears, it’s a felony and they’ll lose their gun rights forever.”

The coalition proposed several key reforms that they say should be integrated into public safety and health legislation that’s currently moving through committee during the special session:

-Further reduce penalties for simple possession of marijuana.

-Allow people convicted of possession up to eight grams of cannabis to petition the courts for expungement.

-Require the Minnesota health commissioner to petition the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for an exemption for its medical marijuana program.

”Reducing or eliminating the criminal penalties we’re seeing around marijuana is where we have consensus,” Thomas Gallagher of RAMP said in a press release. “Let’s focus on the people who have small quantities. There is injustice in a trivial amount of marijuana resulting in life-changing punishments like imprisonment, criminal records, and lost jobs and kids.”

Similar to the Minnesota activists’ call, Iowa officials have requested that federal agencies guarantee some level of protection for people participating in the state’s medical marijuana program.

The Hawaii legislature adopted a resolution in April seeking an exemption from DEA stipulating that the state is permitted to run its medical cannabis program without federal interference.

Back in Minnesota, the House approved a bill last month to legalize marijuana for recreational use following 12 committee assignments. That legislation stalled in the GOP-controlled Senate, however.

Advocates are hopeful about the possibility that further cannabis reforms could be accomplished in the special session, but they see an obstacle in Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R), who has been relatively silent on the issue since the end of the regular session.

He did previously say, however, that “we’re always said we were open to lowering the criminal penalties [for marijuana].”

The decriminalization legislation that advocates are rallying behind would make possession of up to eight grams of cannabis a petty misdemeanor. It would also make people with prior convictions for that level of possession eligible for expungements.

Under the separate medical cannabis expansion bill that the governor has signed, adults 21 and older will be able to access smokable marijuana products. That policy must take effect by March 1, 2022, or earlier if rules are developed and the state’s cannabis commissioner authorizes it.

Dispensaries could also provide a curbside pickup option for patients under the new law. It further removes restrictions for designated caregivers and allows them to tend to six registered patients at once, rather than just one.

Walz, who hadn’t been especially vocal about legalization as the broader legislation advanced during the regulator session, said, “I’ve thought for a long time about that,” adding that “we know that adults can make their own decisions on things, we know that criminalization and prohibition has not worked.”

“I’ve always thought that it makes sense to control how you’re doing this and to make sure that adults know what they’re getting into, and use it wisely,” he said. “I also think there’s a lot of inequity about how folks have spent time in jail or been arrested around this, especially in communities of color.”

The majority leader’s legalization legislation as introduced was identical to a proposal he filed last year, with some minor technical changes. Winkler, 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 measure, 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.

Walz 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.

The governor 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.

California Senator Previews Next Steps For Psychedelics Bill And Says It’s A Step Toward Decriminalizing All Drugs

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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Maine Lawmakers Approve Bill To Decriminalize All Drugs On 50th Anniversary Of Nixon’s ‘War On Drugs’

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The Maine House of Representatives on Thursday approved a bill to decriminalize possession of all currently illicit drugs, delivering a victory to reform advocates on the 50th anniversary of President Richard Nixon’s declaration of the war on drugs.

The Senate also began consideration of the legislation on Thursday, but has not yet taken a vote.

The proposal, LD 967, was approved in 77-62 vote in the House. It would make possession of controlled substances for personal use punishable by a $100 fine, without the threat of incarceration. That fine could also be waived if a person completes a substance misuse assessment within 45 days of being cited.

“We are continually trying to criminalize a symptom of a disease. It hasn’t worked. It won’t work,” Rep. Charlotte Warren (D), who serves as the House chair of the legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, said before the vote. “We have tried criminalizing this disease for decades, and 11 Mainers a week are dying.”

Rep. Anne Perry (D), sponsor of the bill, said that incarcerating people who are suffering from addiction “only proves to them that they are as bad as they think they are” and perpetuates the cycle of substance misuse. “Law enforcement is not the gateway to treatment and recovery. It’s a gateway to isolation and suicide.”

The measure’s passage flies in the face of Gov. Janet Mills (D), whose administration opposes the reform, as does the state attorney general. Coupled with opposition from Republican legislators, the bill faces an uphill battle to final passage.


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The Senate also began consideration of the legislation on Thursday night, adopting a different committee report than the House approved, but setting it aside as unfinished business before taking a final vote on the bill. The version moving forward in that chamber would similarly impose a $100 fine for possession, but only for the first two offenses. Subsequent offenses would be considered Class E crimes that could carry jail time.

These actions come one month after a joint House and Senate committee advanced the decriminalization bill with several conflicting recommendations, as well as another measure to reform the state’s drug trafficking laws.

Supporters of the legislation include the American Academy of Pediatrics’s Maine Chapter, Maine Medical Association, Alliance for Addiction and Mental Health Services in Maine and Maine Council of Churches.

Thursday’s decriminalization vote represents a continuation of a national conversation about the need to reform laws criminalizing people over drugs and treat substance misuse as a public health issue, rather than a criminal justice matter.

For the first time ever, a congressional bill to federally decriminalize possession of controlled substances—and incentivize states to do the same—was formally introduced on Thursday.

Last year, Oregon voters elected to end criminalization of low-level drug possession at the ballot.

Vermont lawmakers also introduced a bill in March that would end criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of drugs in the state.

Also that month, a Rhode Island Senate committee held a hearing on decriminalization legislation to replace criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of drugs with a $100 fine.

Back in Maine, a bill was recently introduced that would legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic purposes.

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