The governor of Wisconsin called out state lawmakers on Wednesday for declining to pass legislation legalizing medical marijuana despite widespread public support for the policy.
“When more than 80 percent of our state supports medical marijuana…and elected officials can ignore those numbers without consequence, folks, something’s wrong,” Gov. Tony Evers (D) said during his annual State of the State address.
Watch Evers’s comments about public support for medical cannabis below:
He also cited contrasting public support support and lack of legislative action on issues such as expanding Medicaid and universal background checks for gun purchases.
While Evers had included both marijuana decriminalization and medical cannabis legalization in his budget proposal last year, Republican leaders stripped those policies from the plan. It’s not clear if he’ll attempt to pursue the policies through the budget again this year, or if lawmakers would be more inclined to support reform than the last round.
Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling (D) recently said she hopes that the legislature came come together around certain bipartisan issues such as medical marijuana. But Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R) said last month that there’s no such legislation he’s be willing to get behind.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R) didn’t seem to close the door on the possibility of approving legalization legislation, however, but tempered expectations about when or how it would be achieved.
“It’s going to take a while,” he said last month. “It’s not like it’s a panacea that everybody thinks, ‘Oh, jeez this is an easy slam dunk.’ It’s a complicated issue that we want to get right.”
He also previously suggested that he’d only support a significantly limited program that would allow patients to access cannabis in pill form, raising doubts about whether Democratic lawmakers would be willing to advance such a reform.
While decriminalization didn’t come up in the governor’s speech, lawmakers did file a bill last year to remove criminal penalties for possession of up 28 grams of marijuana.
Not only is there broad public support for medical cannabis legalization based on polling, but local elections have also demonstrated that the people are ready for change. Three jurisdictions in the state voted in favor of non-binding resolutions expressing support for the legalization of marijuana for medical or recreational purposes last year. That followed the approval of other cannabis ballot measures in 16 counties in 2018.
Evers reflected on the progress the state has made in the past year in a tweet sent during his speech, citing improvements to its hemp program as an example of the “many bipartisan successes” that have been achieved.
In my first State of the State Address, I called on the Legislature to set politics aside so we could get to work on the issues facing our state. One year later, I am proud that from improving our hemp program to expanding telehealth services, we had many bipartisan successes. pic.twitter.com/qCjGPWpzDW
— Governor Tony Evers (@GovEvers) January 23, 2020
Rep. Dianne Hesselbein (D) weighed in on the State of the State speech as well, echoing Evers’s point about 80 percent support for medical cannabis.
Let’s review what WI wants:
✅ 80% support medical marijuana.
✅ 80% support universal background checks.
✅ 70% support accepting our Medicaid money.
Why does the majority ignore these issues? Partisan gerrymandering. #sots2020
— Dianne Hesselbein (@RepHesselbein) January 23, 2020
“Why does the majority ignore these issues?” she asked. “Partisan gerrymandering.”
Evers joined a growing list of governors who’ve discussed cannabis reform priorities for 2020.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) included legalization in his budget plan this week. Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) called for a state-run cannabis model in her budget plan. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) said it’s “high time” to legalize in her State of the State address and put ending prohibition on the agenda for the short 2020 session. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) said he wants to decriminalize cannabis possession and create a pathway for expungements in his annual address. And U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. (D) pushed lawmakers to legalize cannabis to raise revenue to support a government employees retirement fund in his State of the Territory address.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
Mississippi Lawmakers Attempt To ‘Kill’ Medical Marijuana Ballot Initiative With New Strategy
Mississippi voters could see multiple proposals to legalize medical marijuana on the state’s November ballot.
Over the past week, lawmakers have introduced several alternatives to an activist-led legalization initiative that qualified for the ballot last month. And separately, three bills to legalize medical cannabis statutorily have also been filed.
This could create complications for reform advocates, as an already-qualified measure is regarded as the most comprehensive and detailed. If these other alternatives—which are more vague and open to interpretation—make the ballot, that could split votes. And should one of the legislature’s versions pass over the activist-backed initiative, lawmakers could enact a medical marijuana program that is significantly more restrictive.
“The people want this,” Jaime Grantham, communications director for the Medical Marijuana 2020 Campaign, which is behind the already-qualified measure, told Marijuana Moment.
“Mississippi’s ballot initiative process allows the legislature to put an alternative resolution on the ballot if they don’t like what’s being offered,” she said. “The only reason to do that is that it’s very convoluted and it confuses the process for voters and it ultimately kills it. That’s really where we’re at right now.”
Grantham also argued that while lawmakers do have the option under state law to suggest alternate ballot questions, it’s important to note that the legislature is already capable of passing medical cannabis legalization at any time and has consistently chosen not to. That lawmakers are suddenly tackling the issue now that their hands have been forced by the qualified ballot measure strikes advocates as disingenuous.
“The reason that some people in the legislature are doing this is to kill the initiative before it even has a chance,” she said. “They’re unwilling to let Mississippi voters have a fair up-or-down vote on the initiative. It’s wrong.”
Here’s what you need to know about the proposed alternatives and legalization bills before lawmakers:
Senate Concurrent Resolution 551/House Concurrent Resolution 38/House Concurrent Resolution 45
These identical measures call for the establishment of “a medical marijuana program for the purpose of offering treatment for Mississippi residents suffering from chronic, debilitating medical conditions.”
If approved by voters, lawmakers would have to enact “necessary and appropriate legislation” during the 2021 session. But because it lacks any specifics about what an effective program would look like, it’s possible that legislators could craft a limited system, or impose significant restrictions on participation in the program.
The proposed ballot title reads: “Shall Mississippi legalize medical marijuana for cancer patients and others suffering from chronic medical conditions who are under the supervision of a Mississippi licensed physician?”
House Concurrent Resolution 39
This measure is more detailed than the other alternative initiatives, but it contains provisions that would make the state’s medical cannabis system more restrictive than the measure that activists have already qualified.
It calls for a program “based on sound medical principles” and says participation would be “limited to qualified persons with debilitating medical conditions as certified by health practitioners who are licensed under state law.”
Smoking cannabis would be prohibited. Instead, it would provide for “limited categories of marijuana preparation of suitable and verified quality standards for oral administration.”
The proposed ballot title reads: “Shall Mississippi establish a program to allow the medical use of marijuana products by qualified persons with debilitating medical conditions?”
House Bill 1213
This legislation wouldn’t appear on the state ballot, but it also stands to reason that it could preempt the ballot initiative if approved prior to November by giving voters the impression that the issue has been settled.
It would allow patients with a set of qualifying medical conditions to possess and purchase marijuana from a licensed dispensary. Additionally, it would create protections against discrimination over participation in the program by universities and employers. Patients would also be granted an affirmative defense for the use or possession of marijuana in criminal proceedings.
The state Department of Health would be responsible for regulating the program. Licenses would be issued by a Medical Marijuana Commission established under the bill.
Marijuana sales would be subject to the same state and local taxes as any other product, with revenue going toward the implementation costs and then distributed among county governments.
House Bill 1411
This bill would allow patients with a qualifying medical condition to obtain up to two and a half ounces of cannabis per two-week period for therapeutic use. The state Department of Health would be responsible for regulating the program and issuing cannabis business licenses. It would also provide protections for doctors who recommend medical marijuana to patients.
Senate Bill 2498
This bill would also legalize medical cannabis for seriously ill patients. At the beginning of the text, it specifies that the legislature “does not intend to make marijuana legally available for other than medical purposes.”
“State law should make a distinction between the medical and nonmedical use of marijuana,” it states. “Therefore, the purpose of this act is to ensure that physicians are not penalized for discussing marijuana as a treatment option with their patients, and that seriously ill people who engage in the medical use of marijuana upon their physicians’ advice are not arrested and incarcerated for using marijuana for medical purposes.”
The alternative resolutions and bills have been referred to committees. A simple majority of both chambers in the legislature would have to approve the resolutions in order for them to appear on the ballot. Legalizing medical cannabis statutorily would also require a simple majority vote of lawmakers, but the governor would also need to sign off on any legislation before it is enacted.
It’s not clear the extent to which Gov. Phil Bryant (R) was involved in the alternative ballot questions, but he did say last month that he opposes the measure that’s already qualified and hinted at the possibility of supporting differing versions.
Grantham said said that if one of the alternate resolutions advances, her campaign will put resources into public education to ensure that voters understand the differences and support Initiative 65.
“We would absolutely have to handle that with education and empower the public to where when they go into the booth to vote, they’re an informed voter,” she said.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
Bernie Sanders Touts Marijuana Legalization Plan In South Carolina Ad Ahead Of Primary
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is touting his support for marijuana legalization to attract South Carolina voters ahead of the state’s primary on Saturday.
In a new television ad, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate outlined his criminal justice reform plan—emphasizing that he will legalize cannabis and expunge prior marijuana convictions, among other actions.
“Our criminal justice system lets the crooks on Wall Street who destroyed our economy walk free, while one in three black men go to prison. Bernie Sanders is fighting for justice and always has. He’ll fix our broken justice system so that it works for everyone, not just the wealthy,” the ad, narrated by actor Danny Glover, Sander’s campaign surrogate, states. “He’ll end police misconduct and cash bail, legalize marijuana and expunge past convictions and invest in jobs and eduction instead of jails and incarceration.”
Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein have their photos flashed on the screen while a narrator says "crooks on Wall Street who destroyed our economy" in a new @BernieSanders TV ad focuses on criminal justice. Spot first aired at 05:20 in Columbia, S.C. on WLTX (CBS). pic.twitter.com/rztOwaarbx
— John McCormick (@McCormickJohn) February 24, 2020
The legalization policy proposal puts Sanders in stark contrast with the other candidate leading polls in the state. Former Vice President Joe Biden is one of just two contenders in the race who opposes legalization, the other being former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg. Both Biden and Bloomberg back more modest reforms such as decriminalizing cannabis possession.
South Carolina Democratic primary voters overwhelming approved a non-binding advisory ballot measure supporting the legalization of medical cannabis in 2018. But while House and Senate committees have voted in favor of legislation to accomplish that goal, none have yet received full floor votes. Lawmakers in a House panel took up the issue again in a hearing last week.
A poll conducted last year shows that a strong majority of South Carolina residents (72 percent) support medical marijuana legalization, including 84 percent of Democrats.
Sanders has consistently promoted his plan for comprehensive cannabis reform on the campaign trail. And so far, he’s won the popular vote in the first three primary states: Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada.
In his victory speech after the Nevada caucus on Saturday, Sanders delivered criminal justice reform messages similar to those in his new campaign ad.
“We are in fact are going to reform a broken and racist criminal justice system. We do not want to continue a situation where we have more people in jail than any other country including China, four times our size. And the people in jail are disproportionately African American, Latino and Native American,” he said. “And that is why we are going to invest in our young people in jobs and education, not more jails and incarceration. That is why we are going to end private prisons and detention centers. That is why we are going to end the war on drugs and legalize marijuana in every state in this country.”
He then asked people in the audience to indicated whether the know someone who has been arrested for cannabis possession before saying, “We are going to move forward to expunge the record for those who have been arrested for possession of marijuana.”
While the senator was the first major presidential candidate to call for legalization during his 2016 bid, he recently revised the strategy and said he would legalize in all 50 states on his first day in office through executive action. Legal experts told Marijuana Moment such a plan may not be legally and practically unfeasible, however.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), another 2020 candidate, also backs legalization and released a plan over the weekend where she pledged to begin the process of ending federal marijuana prohibition within 100 days of taking office. That’s in line with an earlier version of Sanders’s reform plan.
Photo courtesy of Lorie Shaull.
Elizabeth Warren Has A New Plan For Legalizing Marijuana
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) unveiled a plan for federal marijuana reform on Sunday, calling for legalization as well as a series of policies aimed at righting the wrongs of the drug war and promoting involvement in the legal industry by communities harmed by prohibition.
In the “Just and Equitable Cannabis Industry” plan, which Warren’s campaign shared with Marijuana Moment ahead of a town hall event in Colorado, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate slams the “racist ‘War on Drugs’ policy” perpetuated during the Nixon administration and the mass incarceration that has followed.
She also introduces noteworthy ideas, such as using her executive authority to begin the federal legalization process within 100 days of taking office, respecting the sovereignty of other nations to legalize marijuana, protecting immigrants who participate in the legal industry, empowering veterans to access medical cannabis and ensuring that corporations aren’t able to monopolize the market.
Further, the Warren plan promotes unionization in the marijuana industry, protecting Indian tribes’ authority to enact their own reform programs and lifting a current ban so that Washington, D.C. can use its local monies to implement legal marijuana sales
“Even as the federal government has held fast to its outdated marijuana policy, states have led the charge in adopting thoughtful, evidenced-based marijuana policy,” the six-page document says. “And what have we learned in the eight years since the first states legalized marijuana? Legalization works.”
The senator details the progress of the legalization movement and the economic potential of the industry, and she argues that access to cannabis has been shown to play a role in mitigating the opioid epidemic. All that said, she notes that marijuana arrests have continued to increase nationally—and they continue to be carried out on racially disproportionate basis—and so comprehensive reform at the federal level is a goal she is pledging to pursue starting day one if elected president.
“It’s not justice when we lock up kids caught with an ounce of pot, while hedge fund managers make millions off of the legal sale of marijuana. My administration will put an end to that broken system.”
“Legalizing marijuana is about more than just allowing recreational use, or the potential medicinal benefit, or the money that can be made from this new market,” the Warren plan says. “It’s about undoing a century of racist policy that disproportionately targeted Black and Latinx communities. It’s about rebuilding the communities that have suffered the most harm. And it’s about ensuring that everyone has access to the opportunities that the new cannabis market provides.”
I've got a plan to legalize marijuana, rebuild communities devastated by failed anti-marijuana policies, and ensure that those communities are equally able to participate in the budding cannabis industry. Here’s how we’ll do it. https://t.co/11E2gfCHel
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) February 23, 2020
The plan for marijuana reform.
Warren’s proposal is two-pronged. The first objective is to “address the disproportionate enforcement of our drug laws.” Here’s how she plans to accomplish that:
1. Urge Congress to pass comprehensive marijuana legalization bill such as the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which cleared the House Judiciary Committee last year. “We need full legalization, as quickly as possible,” the plan states.
2. Should Congress not follow suit, Warren says she will use her executive powers to begin the process of descheduling marijuana within her first 100 days in office. The senator is promising to appoint heads of the Justice Department, Drug Enforcement Administration, Food and Drug Administration and Office of National Drug Control Policy who support legalization and says she will “direct those agencies to begin the process of delisting marijuana via the federal rule-making process.” Additionally, Warren is pledging to reinstate Obama-era guidance directing federal prosecutors to generally respect local cannabis laws.
3. Expunge prior cannabis convictions. Again the candidate cites the MORE Act as an ideal vehicle for that policy change, stating that it would also “prohibit the denial of federal benefits, such as housing, because of the use or possession of, or even a past conviction for, marijuana.”
4. Ensure that immigrants are not penalized over marijuana convictions or participation in a state-legal cannabis market. That’s “because any equitable and just cannabis economy must also include immigrant communities,” she says, slamming a Trump administration move declaring that those who use cannabis do not have the “good moral character” needed for citizenship.
5. Encourage the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to research the therapeutic potential of cannabis for service members and allow VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana to veterans. She is also pledging to end a current policy that blocks veterans from getting home loans “for no reason other than being employed in their state’s legal marijuana industry“—an issue she recently filed Senate legislation on.
6. Deschedule cannabis to promote “serious research into the potential benefits and drawbacks of medical marijuana [that’s been] largely blocked by outdated federal laws and policies”and allocate funds for such studies.
7. Lift the appropriations ban that prohibits Washington, D.C. from using its local tax dollars to implement a regulated cannabis market. While there’s been widespread interest in removing the congressional rider at issue, eliminating the policy hasn’t received much attention on the presidential stage until now. Warren says she will “encourage the District to develop a legal market that includes impacted communities and fulfills the racial justice goals of the original referendum” that voters approved in 2014.
8. Warren says she will “streamline and remove unnecessary administrative barriers that impede economic growth on Tribal lands, respect tribal jurisdiction over tribal businesses, and promote forward-looking efforts to ensure full access to new and emerging economic opportunities, including in the cannabis industry.“
9. Respect the sovereignty of other nations that opt to legalize marijuana. The senator promises she will “support the legalization of marijuana in any nation that wishes to do so and fully support our neighbors exercising their sovereignty when it comes to their internal drug policy.” She further says that U.S. officials need to “recognize the role our War on Drugs has had in destabilizing Latin America – a root cause of migration to the United States.”
We can't allow affluent and mostly white hedge-funders and capital investors to hoard the profits from the same behavior that led to the incarceration of generations Black and Latino youth. We must ensure equity in accessing the cannabis industry. https://t.co/4lsPQByHli pic.twitter.com/FgjLQxeJXp
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) February 23, 2020
Warren’s second broad objective as described in the plan is to “prioritize opportunities in the cannabis industry for communities of color and others who were harmed by the failed policies of the past.” That will involve:
1. Working to support unions, including those representing cannabis workers, to enhance collective bargaining rights. “As president, I will safeguard the organizing rights of working people and make it easier for unions to secure contracts and assert their rights in the cannabis industry,” Warren says. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), another 2020 candidate, also raised this issue last month, imploring employees at a major marijuana business in Illinois to vote in favor of unionization.
2. Freeing up banks and financial institutions to service cannabis businesses. Additionally, Warren says she will direct her administration “to investigate discrimination in cannabis-related capital lending that prevents many aspiring entrepreneurs of color from securing needed loans.”
3. Promoting participation in the legal industry by minorities and women—something that Warren says the MORE Act would accomplish. She also says she would “mitigate the high permitting and licensing fees that prevent many aspiring entrepreneurs of color from starting a cannabis business.”
4. Preventing large corporations from overtaking the marijuana industry and working to “protect consumers by closely regulating the safety and marketing of marijuana products.” Like Sanders, Warren points specifically at tobacco companies as examples of businesses that shouldn’t be able to enter the market. “We’ll make sure Big Tobacco can’t muscle in on the fledgling marijuana industry,” she says, adding that her administration will “use anti-trust laws and federal oversight to prevent consolidation in the cannabis industry that drives up prices, restricts new businesses from entering the markets, and lowers quality.”
5. Allowing individuals with prior drug convictions to participate in the marijuana and hemp industries. “I will remove collateral sanctions associated with federal convictions for activity that is no longer criminalized and encourage states to do the same,” the senator says.
“For four decades, we’ve subscribed to a ‘War on Drugs’ theory of crime, which has criminalized addiction, ripped apart families—and failed to curb drug use,” the plan states. “Legalizing marijuana and erasing past convictions won’t fully end the War on Drugs or address its painful legacy, but it’s a needed step in the right direction.”
My friends and colleagues @KamalaHarris and @CoryBooker have led the fight to repair the damage done by failed anti-marijuana policies. I am proud to support the MORE Act and the Marijuana Justice Act, and will continue to fight for those reforms as president.
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) February 23, 2020
“As we move to harness the economic potential of a legalized cannabis industry, we must ensure that the communities that were harmed by the War on Drugs—disproportionately communities of color—are fully included in the opportunity and prosperity that legalization will create. I support investing federal and state revenue from the cannabis industry into communities that have been disproportionately impacted by enforcement of our existing marijuana laws.
“Legalizing marijuana gives us an opportunity to repair some of the damage caused by our current criminal justice system, to invest in the communities that have suffered the most harm, and to ensure that everyone can participate in the growing cannabis industry. We have an opportunity now to get this right, and I’ll fight to make that happen.”
Warren also calls out former House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) in her proposal, stating that the country “cannot allow affluent and predominantly white hedge-funders and capital investors to hoard the profits from the same behavior that led to the incarceration of generations of Black and Latino youth.”
“Boehner, who declared that he was ‘unalterably opposed’ to legalization while in Congress, now profits handsomely as a lobbyist for legalization even as others continue to live with the consequences of a prohibition he defended,” she points out, referencing the former speaker’s role as a board member at the cannabis firm Acreage Holdings.
Legalizing marijuana is about more than just allowing its use. It’s about undoing a century of racist policy that disproportionately targeted Black and Latino communities and rebuilding the communities that have suffered the most harm. https://t.co/11E2gfl5PL
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) February 23, 2020
While Warren’s plan repeatedly cites the need to broadly address the harms of the broader drug war, her proposals are exclusively focused on cannabis policy changes. While she and Sanders have been strong champions of marijuana reform, drug policy advocates have emphasized the need to expand reform to other illicit substances, as former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) have by proposing decriminalization and legalization of all illegal drugs, respectively.
In terms of her marijuana reform agenda, however, experts who spoke to Marijuana Moment recently have indicated that Warren’s 100-day plan would probably be legally and practically more realistic that Sanders’s most recent proposal to use an executive order to legalize marijuana in all 50 states on day one of his presidency.
While Sanders initially proposed something similar to Warren—appointing key officials within his administration who would pursue legalization during his first 100 days in office—he shifted gears last month and pledged to deschedule cannabis on his first day in the White House.
Last year, Warren laid out a criminal justice reform plan that called for marijuana reform, as well as the legalization of safe injection sites where individuals could use illicit substances under medical supervision—a move also backed by Sanders.
Warren and Sanders might have differing approaches to marijuana legalization, but what’s clear is they stand in stark contrast to former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg and former Vice President Joe Biden, both of whom are the only contenders in the Democratic race who remain opposed to ending cannabis prohibition.
Read Warren’s full marijuana plan below:
Photo element courtesy of Gage Skidmore.