U.S. House Plans December Vote on the MORE Act, New Jersey Lawmakers Consider Bill to Implement Adult-Use Cannabis Program: Week in Review

This week, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced plans for a December vote on the MORE Act, which would federally decriminalize cannabis by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act. Elsewhere, in New Jersey, Sen. Nicholas Scutari introduced legislation to implement the state’s adult-use cannabis program, just days after voters passed a legalization initiative on Election Day.

Here, we’ve rounded up the 10 headlines you need to know before this week is over.

  • Federal: The U.S. House is planning a December floor vote on the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, legislation that would federally decriminalize cannabis by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act. In a Nov. 9 letter to colleagues, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer outlined the legislative schedule for the lame-duck session in November and December, and said lawmakers will take up the bill next month after postponing a September vote on the legislation. Read more
  • Nearly seven in 10 Americans support legalizing the possession and use of cannabis by adults, according to nationwide polling data compiled and reported by Gallup. Sixty-eight percent of respondents endorse legalization—the highest percentage of support ever reported in a national Gallup poll. Read more
  • New Jersey: New Jersey Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union) has introduced legislation to implement the state’s adult-use cannabis program, just days after voters passed a legalization initiative on Election Day. The bill, S.21/A.21, outlines how the state’s newly legal cannabis industry will operate, and largely mirrors an unsuccessful legalization bill Scutari sponsored last year. Read more
  • In another effort to roll out the state’s adult-use cannabis market, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has named two members to the state’s five-member Cannabis Regulatory Commission, which will oversee the state’s medical and newly legal adult-use cannabis industries. Murphy has named Dianna Houenou, associate counsel and senior policy adviser to the governor and former policy counsel for the ACLU-NJ, as the chair of the commission, and Jeff Brown, the current assistant commissioner of the Department of Health who oversees the state’s medical cannabis program, as the executive director of the commission. Read more
  • Tennessee: Sen. Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma) has announced plans for a new medical cannabis legalization bill. Bowling, who has backed legislation to legalize medical cannabis in the state for years, plans to introduce the new bill when the state legislature re-convenes in January. Read more
  • Massachusetts: Gov. Charlie Baker has issued an executive order to implement a coronavirus-related business curfew that requires all adult-use cannabis sales to end at 9:30 p.m., although medical cannabis sales can continue past the curfew under the order, which went into effect Nov. 6. The rules are part of a new stay-at-home advisory, which aims to address a second wave of COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts. Read more
  • Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Advisory Board held a quarterly meeting this week, where it rejected adding insomnia to the state’s list of qualifying conditions. The board voted 7-4 to reject insomnia as a new qualifying condition, and tabled a discussion on whether to add traumatic brain injuries to the list. Read more
  • Texas: State lawmakers have pre-filed several bills that would expand Texas’ medical cannabis program and legalize adult-use ahead of the 2021 legislative session. New legislation introduced by Sen. Jose Mendez, S.B. 90, would allow doctors to recommend medical cannabis to patients with any condition they deem necessary, while Rep. Roland Gutierrez has pre-filed S.B. 140 to legalize adult-use cannabis in the state. Read more
  • Illinois: Sangamon County Judge Adam Giganti has allowed Illinois regulators to rescore cannabis applications as part of the state’s controversial licensing process to issue 75 new dispensary licenses. On Nov. 12, Giganti denied a request to bar officials from rescoring the applications, ruling that the plaintiffs have not shown that they will be irreparably harmed by allowing the licensing do-over to continue. Read more
  • Montana: The Montana Department of Revenue has announced preparations for licensing adult-use cannabis businesses. The department will make cultivation and retail licenses available by Oct. 1, 2021, and under Montana’s recently approved adult-use cannabis law, only licensed medical cannabis businesses can apply for adult-use licenses for the first 12 months after they become available. Read more

Read the full article here.


Congress Planning Vote On Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill In September, Sources Say

Leadership of the House of Representatives is moving toward holding a floor vote on a comprehensive federal cannabis legalization bill in September, multiple sources familiar with the developing plan tell Marijuana Moment.

The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act—introduced by Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) last year—has already cleared his panel and was referred to several other committees. In the months since, advocates have been eagerly awaiting further action to advance the legislation to the floor.

While the coronavirus pandemic has stalled legislative efforts on a wide range of issues, sources in the advocacy world and an aide to a key House committee chair say that a floor vote of the MORE Act is now being planned for September.

The mechanics of that plan are tricky, as several additional committees would have to either hold their own markups on the bill in the coming weeks amid the pandemic and a planned August recess, or the chairs would have to waive jurisdiction outright, as the Small Business Committee has already indicated it will. The aide to a committee chair who spoke to Marijuana Moment did so on background only in order to be able to candidly discuss plans that haven’t yet been publicly announced by House leaders.

“Looking at the legislative calendar, realistically we have limited time to get this on the House floor for a vote before time runs out and Congress has to turn their attention elsewhere,” Queen Adesuyi, policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), told Marijuana Moment.

DPA is also part of a coalition, including the ACLU, Human Rights Watch and NORML, that circulated a letter on Wednesday urging Congress to move on the bill, arguing that the COVID-19 outbreak has underscored the need for reform. The legislation currently has 78 cosponsors.

“This Congress, the House made history when it passed an industry-led marijuana bill,” Adesuyi said, referring to the passage of cannabis banking legislation. “It would be shameful for them, as one of the most progressive group of electeds in recent memory, to end the year without addressing victims of the war on drugs or centering those most adversely impacted by marijuana’s criminalization. We need the MORE Act now.”

In addition to that floor vote on the standalone banking bill last year, the House approved its provisions again as part of a coronavirus relief package in May.

The MORE Act would federally deschedule cannabis, expunge the records of those with prior marijuana convictions and impose a federal five percent tax on sales, revenue from which would be reinvested in communities most impacted by the drug war.

It would also create a pathway for resentencing for those incarcerated for marijuana offenses, as well as protect immigrants from being denied citizenship over cannabis and prevent federal agencies from denying public benefits or security clearances due to its use.

Read the entire article here.


Marijuana Legalization May Not Be A Blue State Issue

In November of 2019, a Pew Research study revealed that 9 out of 10 Americans favor legalization of either medical or recreational/adult-use marijuana. As a political issue, the study found that a majority of Republicans—55%—and a majority of Democrats—78%—were in favor of legalization. American voters no longer believe marijuana should remain a criminalized, Schedule I substance. This is not shocking. The people have spoken, the money is flowing, and the globe keeps on spinning.

As his 2020 presidential campaign rolled out, former Vice President Joe Biden took the position that marijuana should be decriminalized, but not legalized. He justified his position by citing the debunked “gateway drug theory,” which even the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has acknowledged lacks scientific merit.

Recently, a task force formed between Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders issued a number of criminal justice reform measures. This is not yet Biden’s or the Democratic Party’s official platform stance, but it is instructive.

The joint task force findings do not recommend the federal legalization of marijuana, but rather look toward decriminalization and deferring to the states for their judgment(s) on medical or adult use marijuana legalization. As I’ve touched on before, this follows the philosophy of the Republican-supported States Act.

The task force further indicates that the federal government will not prosecute state-related marijuana crimes, and would view marijuana violations as something to be addressed with drug treatment rather than incarceration.

The task force also recommended not launching federal prosecution for legal matters at the state level – an obvious reference to Attorney General William Barr, accused of inappropriately using Justice Department funds to target the legal cannabis industry. Whether or not Barr abused his power remains to be seen.

Despite the overwhelming support of voters, the Biden-Sanders task force recommendations stop short of marijuana legalization. Why? Isn’t this a blue issue? Not so fast.

It’s been said that marijuana legalization is the “superweapon” that Biden refuses to use. The mere fact that Biden refuses to use this superweapon is indicative of Democratic policy, which has consistently favored the pharmaceutical industry and regulatory policy lane. This was Hillary Clinton’s position, equal to the rescheduling of cannabis to a Schedule II substance. This overall conservative approach to marijuana by the Democrats in the upcoming election is strategic – lay low and don’t say anything controversial.

Can the Democrats win an election based simply on the perceived disdain toward Trump, rather than having excitement and support for their own candidate? Are the Dems trying not to lose, rather than trying to win, playing it safe rather than setting forth an agenda – a hollow jack and the winner take the hand. The task force’s position on marijuana indicates that they see the issue as a distraction, one that could cause voters to abstain or switch party lines.

It’s unfortunate to watch the Democrats not see the opportunity for social progress by using cannabis as a vehicle for change. Legalizing marijuana is about undoing a century of racist drug policy that disproportionately targets Black and Latino communities — an issue ripe for the Democrats to own. Not to mention job creation. What does the country need right now in the face of a COVID-induced economic crisis? Jobs.

Perhaps Biden doesn’t want to be called a hypocrite. He did advance policy which included strict enforcement for drug crimes and mandatory minimum sentences, all of which disproportionately affected minorities. Again, 55% of Republicans support legalization. The days of Jeff Sessions’s prohibitionist policy are over. The native son just lost the Alabama primary.

A new breed of young Republicans have supported this issue. Whether that’s Cory Gardner in Colorado and his support of the States Act, or former California representative, Dana Rohrabacher, an Orange County Republican so in favor that he enacted the spending legislation with Democrat Sam Farr – the Rohrabacher Farr Amendment – to prohibit federal interference to state marijuana programs.

For Republicans, marijuana legalization is big business. At the end of the day, this is now an essentially designated business responsible for creating at least 250,000 new jobs across the country. All the core conservative platform issues are present: personal freedoms, liberty, and states’ rights. While our current President is a wildcard on this issue, and most others, these principals align with the GOP.

The legalization and commercialization of marijuana has taken the world by storm. Dozens upon dozens of countries are enacting marijuana legalization and commercialization reforms – some specifically because of the economic potential of the cannabis industry to combat a COVID-exacerbated recession.

A proactive candidate would recognize these issues. But here we are in America – skyrocketing cases of the virus, a mobilizing social movement for racial equality, and facing one of the deepest political divides in our nation’s history.

All the while, the marijuana issue just sits there, waiting to be seized. Since Joe looks to let it lie, perhaps the opportunity rests with the Republicans.

Read the full article here.


Louisiana industrial hemp hit hard by southern blight

Louisiana’s first industrial hemp crop is getting hammered by a fungal disease called southern blight.

LSU AgCenter plant doctor Raj Singh says the disease is caused by a soilborne fungus called Sclerotium rolfsii.

“The pathogen has a wide host range and is known to cause disease on more than 500 plant species in 100 plant families,” Singh said. “Some of the economically important vegetables include tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplants and cucurbits.”

The fungus also affects a wide variety of woody ornamentals, annual and perennial herbaceous, and bedding plants.

Hemp plants infected with southern blight start to wilt initially and later on turn brown and eventually die, Singh said.

On closer inspection of wilted plants, dead, water-soaked lesions can be observed along with white fungal growth (mycelium) and sclerotia on the base of the plant at the soil line.

“Sclerotia are fungal structures that help the pathogen survive adverse environmental conditions,” he said. “They are tiny, mustard seed-like, tan-colored when young and turn reddish to dark brown as they age.”

They can persist in infested soils for several years in the absence of a host.

The pathogen survives as mycelium or sclerotia on plant debris or in the form of sclerotia on topsoil around infected plants. These sclerotia are formed from mycelium extending from the base of infected plants.

Southern blight is favored by hot and humid weather, which is common in Louisiana. The pathogen has the ability to infect industrial hemp plants at any stage of their growth development.
The pathogen may spread by a number of means, including planting of diseased transplants, movement of infested soil, equipment, tools and plant debris. Running irrigation water may also aid in dispersal of sclerotia.

“Management of southern blight warrants an integrated disease management approach,” Singh said. “Growers must plant disease-free, healthy transplants and avoid physical injury to roots and lower stems while handling and transplanting the seedlings.”

Fields with a history of southern blight must be avoided. And growers should scout hemp fields regularly for symptom development.

Farmers should destroy symptomatic plants immediately and not leave removed infected plants in the row middles or carry them across the field. They should dig out infected plant with a shovel and remove the entire plant with the root ball and soil around it, place it in a trash bag to contain the infested soil and sclerotia, then remove it from the field.

Movement of infested soils should be minimized to prevent pathogen spread, Singh said. He recommends cleaning farm equipment to remove soil and encourages personnel working in fields infested with southern blight to clean their boots.

Growers should work with disease-free fields first followed by fields infested with southern blight.

“Keep weeds in check, as some species may serve as alternate hosts of the pathogen,” Singh said. “Destroy crop debris as soon as possible after harvesting.”

He recommends deep plowing to bury sclerotia to reduce pathogen inoculum.

Currently, no fungicides are available for industrial hemp growers to manage southern blight.

Read the entire article here.


Charges against Cajun Cannabis owner dismissed

Charges made against Travis DeYoung, the owner of Cajun Cannabis, have been dismissed by the District Attorney’s Office, according to court records.

DeYoung, 32, was formally charged in January in connection with an overnight raid on his store in April 2019 by the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office.

Those charges included one felony count of Distribution of a Schedule I Controlled Dangerous Substance identified as Detla 9-tetrahydrocannabinol, which is commonly referred to as THC.

DeYoung was also charged with one felony count of Possession of a Dangerous Weapon in the Presence of a Controlled Dangerous Substance, and two misdemeanor counts of Possession of Drug Paraphernalia.

Court records show that the District Attorney’s Office filed a motion to dismiss DeYoung’s charges on Monday.

The dismissal follows the District Attorney’s Office sending a plea recommendation to DeYoung’s attorney Jordan Precht in a letter dated July 13. The District Attorney’s Office had recommended a plea for DeYoung in exchange for a sentence of 5 years hard labor.

The letter states that in order for the plea recommendation to be made to the court, the plea must be entered on the date of the pretrial, which had been set for Thursday.

“I am very pleased with the result for Mr. DeYoung,” Precht told KATC. “I believe this matter was brought to an appropriate conclusion given the facts and circumstances of the case.”

KATC reached out to the District Attorney’s Office for comment on the dismissal and has yet to hear back.

KATC also reached out to the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office on the dismissal.

“We really do believe the charges were proper on that case,” said LPSO spokesman Capt. John Mowell.

On April 24, 2019, DeYoung was stopped by LPSO deputies on his way back from Festival International de Louisiane in connection to an ongoing narcotics investigation.

Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Narcotics Agents conducted a search of his vehicle and located the following: 17 Bottles of CBD Oil, 14 Bottles of CBD Gummies, 69 Glass jars of CBD Shatter, 1 Box of CBD mints and one handgun.

DeYoung said after the initial stop, deputies drove him to Cajun Cannabis on Johnston Street where they executed a search warrant on his store.

The sheriff’s office told KATC in April 2019 that narcotics agents located one handgun, 37,974.1 “gross grams” of CBD, less than 1 “gross gram” of Marijuana, 1,863 capsules containing CBD/THC, 902.2 “gross grams” of THC/CBD edibles, 155 “gross grams” of THC/CBD vapes/Shatter, honey containing THC/CBD, mints containing THC/CBD, and dog treats containing THC/CBD.

The raid on Cajun Cannabis took place less than a week after it opened on April 20, 2019.

After his arrest, DeYoung held a press conference where he stated that he took full responsibility for his actions.

Read the entire article here.


Congress Will Legalize Marijuana In 2021 Despite Biden Opposition, Democratic Senator Says

A Democratic U.S. senator says that if his party reclaims the Senate and White House in November, lawmakers will “move very quickly” to legalize marijuana regardless of where presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden stands on the issue.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) was asked about a variety of cannabis-related issues during an interview on Saturday, and he said Democrats are positioned to advance marijuana reform as soon as they have a majority in both chambers of Congress. While Biden remains opposed to adult-use legalization, the senator said supporters will have the votes to pass it in any case.

“From my perspective, this is another issue that’s just right there on the ballot in November,” he told The Young Jurks podcast. “We’ll move very quickly in January to change these laws to make sure that there are national protections which are put in place. But unfortunately, Trump controls the discretionary use of these personnel, and they’re kind of committed to keeping this crazy non scientifically based analysis of marijuana front-and-center.”

Markey said he and home state colleague Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) are “confronted with this obstinate, obdurate opposition from the Trump administration.”

Read the full article here.


Missouri Medical Cannabis Program Director Says Sales Could Launch This Fall

Medical cannabis sales could launch in Missouri as soon as this fall, according to a Missourian report.

Two cultivation facilities, one in Earth City near St. Louis and another in Perryville, were given the green light to plant their first crops last month, the news outlet reported, which means product could be ready within the next few months.

“If you do the math, 90 days from those time frames, you are looking at September and October,” Lyndall Fraker, director of the state’s medical cannabis program, told the Missourian. “That’s when I think you will be seeing quite a few dispensaries ready to sell product.”

RELATED: BeLeaf Medical Launches Missouri’s First Medical Cannabis Cultivation Operation with More to Come: The Starting Line

Fraker told the news outlet that three additional cultivators have requested inspections, and he expects more requests for final inspections and certifications in the coming months.

To date, 54,784 patients have been approved to participate in Missouri’s medical cannabis program, the Missourian reported, and the state has issued 60 cultivation, 86 processing and 192 dispensary licenses.

Read the entire article here.


Louisiana veteran serving life for $30 marijuana sale will get a new hearing

Louisiana courts have held for decades that state convicts can’t challenge their sentences as excessive once they’ve appealed a conviction and lost.

The Legislature in 1980 laid out specific grounds to file such “post-conviction” claims — new DNA evidence is now a common one — and didn’t include a review of sentencing errors, the state’s highest court would reason 16 years later.

But last week, the Louisiana Supreme Court dealt that stance a constitutional blow, as it granted a new hearing to an Abbeville man now serving life in prison as a habitual offender over a $30 marijuana sale.

In the case of Derek Harris, a Desert Storm veteran who got addicted to drugs after returning home from the war, the issue was whether his attorney failed him by not stopping the judge who said his hands were tied as he handed Harris his terminal sentence.

The Louisiana Supreme Court has found that judges can and must deviate below a mandatory minimum sentence in a case if they determine it “shocks the conscience.”

Harris had offered up .69 grams of the drug to an undercover agent who knocked on his door in 2008.

Four years later, 15th Judicial District Judge Durwood Conque found him guilty of marijuana distribution and said at Harris’ initial sentencing that he didn’t think a 30-year maximum sentence was warranted; he opted for 15 years instead.

But after Vermilion Parish prosecutors invoked the state’s habitual-offender law, Conque sentenced Harris to life, saying he had no choice under the law.

It was then that his lawyer should have told the judge otherwise, argued Cormac Boyle, Harris’ attorney with the Promise of Justice Initiative, at a hearing before the high court at Tulane University in January.

Harris’ prior convictions dated back to a 1991 conviction for dealing cocaine, according to court filings. He was later convicted of simple robbery in 1992 and 1993, simple burglary in 1997, theft under $500 in 2005 and distribution of marijuana.

Retired Judge James Boddie, sitting ad hoc as a justice, wrote that Harris’ sentencing warranted an exception to a rule laid out by the court in 1996, and repeatedly cited since, that found state law provided no basis for “review of claims of excessiveness or other sentencing error post-conviction.”

His lawyer’s “failure to object to the sentence or file a motion to reconsider at the habitual offender proceedings deprived (Harris) of an important judicial determination by the trial court,” Boddie wrote, “and also failed to correct any inaccurate assumptions concerning the law and the court’s capacity to deviate downward if warranted.”

All but one justice – Will Crain – agreed last week that it would violate Harris’ right to due process not to grant him a proper hearing before a district court judge on his claim. But three justices said labeling Harris an “exception” undersold the court’s decision.

Justice Scott Crichton, in a concurring opinion joined by Chief Justice Bernette Johnson and Justice James Genovese, wrote that the court was rightly overturning its 1996 ruling, which he called “egregiously wrong when it was decided.

“The consequences of it have been significant and negative,” Crichton added, “leaving defendants like this one with no real remedy for the denial of the Sixth Amendment right to effective representation during sentencing, a critical stage of the proceedings.”

Crichton also panned an argument raised by the Louisiana District Attorneys Association, that granting Harris a new hearing would open the floodgates to thousands of new challenges to sentences handed down long ago.

“The State has been unable to explain why the legislature would have decided that the Sixth Amendment somehow matters less during sentencing than it does during trial,” Crichton wrote.

He downplayed the potential impact of a change, citing the views of a few conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court recently in a different Louisiana case, when they outlawed non-unanimous jury verdicts.

Crain, the lone dissenter, objected to what he described as the court “creating an additional basis for post-conviction relief” under the state law. The court could review the constitutionality of Harris’ sentence without touching the state law, “and leave any needed amendments … to the legislature,” Crain wrote.

Harris’ attorneys described it as a “landmark” decision.

“The opinion rightly recognizes that the Louisiana courts made a mistake in foreclosing from review an entire class of important constitutional claims, and that there must be an opportunity for a person to challenge their unconstitutional sentence in state post-conviction,” Boyle said.

Kristin Wenstrom, an attorney who argued for Harris on behalf of the state public defender board, said the message to the Legislature was clear.

“The Louisiana Supreme Court did the right thing for Mr. Harris and others like him who are serving unconstitutional sentences,” she said.

“What’s left now is for the Legislature to bring the relevant statute in line with the court’s ruling; we hope they will do that in the next session.”

Read the full article here.


Colorado Governor Could Mass-Pardon Marijuana Possession Convictions

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis is one pen stroke away from having expanded powers to pardon persons in the state with low-level marijuana possession convictions.

The proposed measure is the result of an amendment to a bill approved by Colorado’s General Assembly at the end of this legislative session. The bill, HB 1424, would expand access to the state’s cannabis industry for people of color. The amendment, put forward by Rep. Jonathan Singer (D-Longmont), would allow the governor to mass-pardon possession convictions of 2 ounces or less of cannabis, without the input of the District Attorney or the judge concerned with the particular case.

The main provisions in the bill would remove restrictions on individuals with past cannabis convictions from applying for a marijuana industry license. Another would give higher priority for marijuana industry licenses to individuals from socially-deprived areas.

Rep. Singer had previously sponsored a standalone bill that would automatically expunge past cannabis convictions, but his plans were scuppered due to the coronavirus outbreak. With Colorado lawmakers largely consumed by the state’s response to COVID-19 – as is the case across the country – and with the 2020 legislative session coming to a close, Singer decided to try and insert an expungement amendment onto the bill concerning social equity in the marijuana industry.

“When we talk about a business licensing and equity model, we need to be thinking about people left behind in the War on Drugs,” Singer said. “There are people who are still paying for their crimes that are now legal and constitutional.”

“As someone that ended up making a lot of their career in the legislature on everything from helping people struggling with substance abuse to creating the legal marijuana industry as we know it now, this is the biggest blind spot,” he said.

The amendment was approved by the conference committee with one addition: that the governor can consult with others about pardons if he or she wishes to.

The inclusion of an expungement amendment to a bill concerned with social equity in Colorado’s marijuana industry was not universally welcomed. Rep. Matt Soper, (R-Delta), withdrew as a sponsor of the bill citing his disapproval with the process under which the amendment was added, rather than the content of the proposal itself.

“It shifted from a marijuana business licensing bill to becoming a criminal justice bill concerning mass expungement and record sealing for an entire class of offenders,” Soper said.

Under legislation passed in 2017, individuals with misdemeanor marijuana convictions can petition the courts to seal their records. The new proposal would allow the governor to do this unilaterally. Gov. Jared Polis is thought to be supportive of the initiative but his spokesperson, Conor Cahill, declined to confirm whether or not the governor would sign the bill into law.

“The Governor is happy that a meaningful, bipartisan bill addressing marijuana equity passed the legislature and thanks lawmakers for their efforts to get this bill to his desk,” Cahill said.

Read the entire article here.


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