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Wisconsin Governor Puts Marijuana Decriminalization And Medical Cannabis In Budget

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Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) plans to include a series of sweeping marijuana reforms in his budget proposal this month, according to a report.

The newly sworn-in governor will push legislators to stop criminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana, legalize medical cannabis, make it easier to access CBD products and expunge past convictions, the Wisconsin State Journal scooped on Sunday.

Here are the details of Gov. Evers’s marijuana plan, according to the newspaper:

Patients with a “debilitating medical condition,” such as cancer, AIDS, chronic pain, PTSD, Alzheimer’s, glaucoma and a number of other delineated conditions, would be able to get recommendations to use medical cannabis. The list of qualifying diseases and disorders could later be expanded by regulators.

A system of licensed cultivators, testers and retailers would be created, and home cultivation of up to 12 plants would be allowed. A spokesperson for the governor said that the proposal is largely modeled on that in neighboring Minnesota, except that Wisconsin patients would be able to smoke medical marijuana.

And whereas current state law allows patients with doctors’ recommendations to legally access cannabidiol (CBD) products to treat seizures, the budget proposal would remove the requirement for physician involvement.

When it comes to the broader decriminalization aspect of the governor’s plan, “all state penalties for possessing, manufacturing or distributing marijuana in the amount of 25 grams or less” would be removed, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

As to prior criminal records, Evers will propose creating a process through which convictions for possessing, manufacturing or distributing 25 grams or less of cannabis could be expunged.

Evers and several lawmakers will hold a press conference Monday morning to discuss the plan in more detail.

The governor teased last month that his budget, which is set to be formally unveiled on February 28, would likely include a “first step” toward legalizing medical cannabis.

While Evers endorsed medical marijuana and decriminalization of cannabis possession during his electoral campaign last year, he did not endorse outright legalization of marijuana for recreational use—only going so far as to say he would support putting it before voters in a referendum.

That reluctance ended last month when he said, “At the end of the day, do I favor legalization? Yes.”

“I personally would sign that bill.”

The new plan, as reported by the Wisconsin State Journal, does not include full marijuana legalization or a referendum on the topic, however.

Broadly speaking, leaders in the state’s Republican-controlled Senate and Assembly appear skeptical of the governor’s marijuana reform ideas.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R) said that he is “open to” medical cannabis, but that it would need to be narrowly tailored so it doesn’t end up leading to recreational legalization, which he opposes.

“I still don’t believe the support’s there within the Senate caucus to move in that direction,” Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R) said.

Legalization supporters are pleased with the news.

“Gov. Evers’ proposal to include medical cannabis along with cannabis decriminalization in the state budget is the most significant cannabis policy reform plan ever proposed by a Wisconsin governor,” Gary Storck, a longtime marijuana reform advocate and publisher of the Wisconsin-based site Cannabadger, told Marijuana Moment. “As one who stumbled upon cannabis as a means to save my sight from glaucoma nearly 47 years ago, I’m thrilled and hope that lawmakers will adopt the budget with these provisions intact.”

In November, on the same ballots through which Evers was elected as governor, voters in 16 Wisconsin counties—representing nearly half the state’s population—overwhelmingly approved nonbinding referendums calling for marijuana reforms like legalization and medical access.

Elsewhere, the governors of both Rhode Island and New York included plans to fully legalize marijuana in their budget proposals last month.

Wisconsin Voters Widely Embrace Marijuana Legalization In the Midterms

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 15-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (Organization citations are for identification only and do not constitute an endorsement or partnership.)

Politics

Cory Booker Endorses Bill To Legalize Marijuana In New Jersey

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Efforts to legalize marijuana in New Jersey received a high-profile endorsement on Friday, with U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) voicing support for the bill in a statement.

The senator, who is a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate and also sponsored congressional legislation to end federal cannabis prohibition, is the latest in a growing list of political leaders who’ve advocated for the bill, which was approved by state Senate and Assembly committees earlier this week and is expected to receive floor votes in both chambers on Monday.

“New Jersey is the first state in the country to couple decriminalizing marijuana with strong criminal justice reform measures to redress the decades of immense harm inflicted by an unfair system,” Booker said. “All too often, communities of color and low-income individuals are unjustly impacted by our broken drug policies, but by including measures to expunge records and reinvest in the communities most impacted, our state has the opportunity to lead in prioritizing social justice.”

The bill’s focus on social equity provisions has been critical in shoring up support as the legislature gets closer to a vote. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) has been putting out calls to advocates and lawmakers to get the legislation advanced, which would fulfill a campaign promise of his.

“With this bill, New Jersey legislators can send a strong message to the country that marijuana legalization and social justice must be inextricably linked,” Booker said. “I’m hopeful our state will succeed in setting this example.”

It’s been a complicated process to form a coalition united around passing legalization in New Jersey. Disagreements between the governor and lawmakers about certain aspects of the bill such as tax rates and regulatory structures were finally resolved earlier this month when a compromise was reached. And amendments to expand expungement provisions gave the mayors of the state’s two largest cities proper assurance to back the legislation.

That said, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka (D) and Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop (D) continue to push for automatic expungements, as opposed to virtual expungements. Murphy said that automatic expungements is not a feasible policy.

“Now more than ever, we must work together,” the mayors said in a statement on Friday. “Again, we stand in unison in support of this legislation that could potentially become New Jersey’s law. We should aim to become a model state from which other states can clearly follow. We should address these issues in a manner that protects our communities and the people that live here.”

On Thursday, the governor’s office also released a list of quotes from lawmakers, activists and spiritual leaders voicing support for the legalization legislation.

“If we have learned anything at all, it is that the status quo has been disproportionately unfair to minority communities,” Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D) said. “This bill is a step in the right direction to correct that inequality.”

Senate President Steve Sweeney (D) agreed, saying the legalization bill will “advance social justice, legal justice and economic justice in meaningful ways.”

“This is an opportunity for continued progress as we strive for a society that respects the rights of everyone,” he said.

Whether the legislation will be approved is yet to be seen. NJ.com is keeping track of where lawmakers currently stand on the bill, and as of Friday afternoon their online whip count shows that a majority in the Senate plan to vote against it, while votes allocated so far in the Assembly are roughly even.

New Jersey Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Legalization Bill

Photo courtesy of Jamelle Bouie.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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Politics

Connecticut Lawmakers Hold Two Simultaneous Hearings On Marijuana Legalization Bills

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Two Connecticut committees held hearings on bills to legalize marijuana and expand the state’s medical cannabis program on Friday.

The proposed legislation would permit adults 21 and older to possess, purchase and consume certain amounts of marijuana for personal use. The House bill also includes a number of social equity provisions that are meant to encourage people from communities that were disproportionately impacted by prohibition to participate in the legal industry.

While reform advocates generally support the bills, they’ve also made a series of recommendation to increase the focus on restorative justice and to include policies such as allowing home cultivation.

In the legislature’s General Law Committee, witnesses including a commissioner for the state’s medical cannabis program and social equity advocates testified about HB 7371. That bill would establish a governor-appointed commission to regulate the industry, give licensing priority to individuals from communities most impacted by the drug war and require the commission to conduct a study on permitting a home grow option and microbusinesses.

“The time has come to move this forward. We think this is a fantastic start [and] there is definitely some amazing language in here,” Jason Ortiz, president of Connecticut United for Reform and Equity (CURE), said at the hearing. “There’s just some other pieces that we think undermine the really good parts that we can strike out and maybe amend and move the basic ideas forward.”

Advocates want to change the legislation so that home cultivation and microbusinesses are allowed from the outset, for example.

“Marijuana prohibition was borne of misinformation and racism and it continues to be enforced unequally to this day,” Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies at the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), testified.

Over in the Judiciary Committee, experts dedicated significant time to testimony about the public health and safety impacts of cannabis legalization. Lawmakers pressed the witnesses on issues such as labeling requirements, what kinds of edibles should be allowed, impaired driving and the mental health affects of consuming high-THC marijuana varieties.

The bill before that panel, SB 1085, would also legalize cannabis for adult use. But the legislation has a focus on expungements for individuals with prior marijuana convictions for possession of 1.5 ounces or less.

As with the House bill, advocates are supportive of the spirit of the legislation but feel certain provisions fall short. For example, MPP said that expungements should apply to convictions for any kind of cannabis conviction. The organization also called for a home grow option, which is not included in either legalization bill under consideration.

Two other pieces of cannabis legislation were discussed at the Judiciary committee hearing. One would create a misdemeanor penalty for driving while consuming marijuana and provide $500,000 in funding for law enforcement to train officers as drug recognition experts. The other bill specifies that employers don’t have to provide special accommodations for employees who use cannabis while working.

As one of the states considered most likely to legalize cannabis in 2019, the hearings offer another example of how the conversation around reform has shifted from “should it be legal” to “how should it be legal,” with the hearings largely concentrated on defining and promoting social equity provisions.

If either bill makes it through the legislature, Gov. Ned Lamont (D) is expected to sign.

He’s called the issue one of his “priorities” for the current legislative session and spoke about the issue during a budget speech last month.

Committee votes are expected on Monday.

Military Veterans Organizations Press Congress On Medical Marijuana Research

Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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GOP Lawmakers Want Marijuana Banking Vote Delayed In Congress

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A key congressional committee is scheduled to vote on far-reaching legislation that would expand marijuana businesses’ ability to store their profits in banks on Tuesday.

But key Republican lawmakers on the panel are now asking Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) to delay the vote.

Please visit Forbes to read the rest of this piece.

(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)

Read the full letter seeking a delay in the marijuana banking vote below:

GOP seeks delay on marijuan… by on Scribd

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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