The new year begins with politicians from both sides of the aisle pushing diverse pieces of cannabis reform.
The moves from both the left and the right underscore recent victories in last November’s election, during which cannabis policy took significant steps forward. Candidates such as Colorado Democrat Jared Polis — who campaigned on legalization and will be sworn-in as governor this week — are following through with promises made.
In Colorado, Polis has already expressed support for several cannabis measures, including advancing cannabis hospitality. And across the nation, politicians are exploring similar cannabis-friendly initiatives.
Washington Governor Offers Pardons
People who have a misdemeanor marijuana possession conviction on their record in Washington State are now eligible to receive an expedited pardon under a program announced by Gov. Jay Inslee (D) on Friday.
The governor rolled out his Marijuana Justice Initiative during a speech at the Cannabis Alliance’s annual conference.
“It is time to end marijuana injustice in the state of Washington,” he said. “It is the right thing to do because a simple possession conviction 20 years ago should not be a life sentence for a Washingtonian.”
If you have a simple possession conviction and no other convictions going back to 1998, you can fill out an online petition on the governor’s website and get the record cleared.
If a petition is granted, Inslee’s office will instruct the State Patrol to remove the person from the criminal records system that’s available to the public.
Connecticut House Speaker Pledges Marijuana Legalization
Connecticut is one of several states where the prospect of full marijuana legalization in 2019 looks promising, and that’s bolstered by the fact that the House speaker, Senate president and governor-elect all seem to be on board with ending cannabis prohibition this year.
In a podcast interview with The Record-Journal last month, which was released on Thursday, House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz (D) said that the state shouldn’t legalize “just for the money,” but that he’s nonetheless in favor of adult-use legalization as a means to ensure that residents have access to safe, regulated cannabis.
Marijuana is “here in the state from the states that allow it and right now we’re not able to ensure its safety,” Aresimowicz said. “So if nothing else, we should do it in a way that’s consistent with one of the best medical marijuana programs in the country, which is the state of Connecticut.”
“I think we should legalize it,” he said. “I will work with my caucus to get there, but it needs to be done in a responsible fashion that mirrors our medical marijuana program.”
Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin (D) commented on the interview on Friday, saying it’s “[g]ood to see momentum building for legalization and regulation” and that the state should “dedicate revenue raised from marijuana taxes to opioid and other addiction treatment—and to communities most affected both by the epidemics and the war on drugs.”Good to see momentum building for legalization and regulation. Lets dedicate revenue raised from marijuana taxes to opioid and other addiction treatment — and to communities most affected both by the epidemics and the war on drugs.
Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) introduced a bill on Thursday that would reschedule marijuana and clarify that the federal government cannot “prohibit or otherwise restrict” state-legal use, possession, transportation, production and distribution of medical cannabis.
It is at least the second marijuana bill already filed in the new Congress, which began the same day.
While the full text of Griffith’s legislation is not currently available, the short title—”To provide for the legitimate use of medicinal marihuana in accordance with the laws of the various States”—is the same as a bill he’s previously introduced for the past three Congresses.
Griffith has touted cannabis as a viable alternative to some prescription medications and stressed the need to provide patients with legal alternative treatment options.
“Isn’t it cruel to not allow real doctors, real drug companies, and real pharmacists to use marijuana for legitimate medical reasons for real patients?” the congressman said in a press release when he introduced the bill—the Legitimate Use of Medical Marijuana Act (LUMMA)— in 2014. “We use all sorts of opioids under the same scenario that this bill would allow us to use marijuana.”
“The Legitimate Use of Medicinal Marijuana Act would merely allow health care professionals and patients to have another legal tool to use.”
The bill as previously written would also reschedule marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act, from Schedule I to Schedule II.
While the congressman is strongly supportive of medical cannabis reform, he’s voiced opposition to recreational legalization and even decriminalization, saying he worries that “we’e going to send the wrong message that this stuff is safe and the federal government has approved it as being safe and reasonable product to use.”
This is one of at least two cannabis bills that were introduced on the first day of the 116th Congress. Reps. Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Don Young (R-AK) also revived legislation they previously sponsored—a bill that would similarly permit states to implement medical cannabis programs without federal intervention.
The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act would also allow physicians with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to recommend cannabis to veterans. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) is expected to introduce a companion bill soon.
Pennsylvania Lawmakers Gear Up To Push Full Marijuana Legalization Bills
Pennsylvania lawmakers are pushing ahead with plans to fully legalize marijuana this legislative session.
On Thursday, Rep. Jake Wheatley Jr. (D) released a co-sponsorship memo seeking support for a forthcoming House bill that he described as “the most comprehensive legalization legislation to date.” The bill would permit adults 21 and older to purchase, possess and consume cannabis, and tax revenue from retail sales would be invested in programs like student debt forgiveness and affordable housing.
“Pennsylvanians have spoken,” Wheatley, who also introduced legalization legislation during the last session, wrote. “They recognize the once ugly stigma of cannabis is now just a part of history and want the Commonwealth to move into the future. We can take a step towards the future with the passage of my legislation.”
Things are heating up in the state Senate as well. On Wednesday, Sen. Daylin Leach (D) shared a photo of himself and Sen. Sharif Street (D) going over final edits of an adult-use legalization bill they plan to file. The pair have “been focusing on this for months and will soon unveil what we think will be the best, most progressive and just bill in the nation,” Leach wrote.
Top New Hampshire Lawmaker Says Marijuana Could Be Legalized Despite Governor’s Opposition
The marijuana policy debate is evolving so quickly now that more and more states keep joining the list of those that could legalize cannabis soon.
The latest development out of New Hampshire has already rendered incomplete the list of 2019 cannabis predictions that Marijuana Moment put together earlier this week.
Steve Shurtleff, the Democratic speaker of the state House of Representatives, now says that his chamber and the Senate likely have enough support to override a promised veto of marijuana legalization legislation from Gov. Chris Sununu (R).
“It’s going to pass,” the speaker told the Boston Globe for a story published on Friday. “It’s burying our head in the sand to think that if we continue to make it illegal in New Hampshire that people won’t be using marijuana.”
Earlier this month, Sununu said he would “absolutely” veto any marijuana legalization bill “regardless of what the language looks like.”
New York Gov. Cuomo Pledges Marijuana Legalization In Inaugural Address
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) reiterated his newfound support for legalizing marijuana in his inaugural speech on Tuesday, just after he was sworn into a third term in office.
“When they write the history books and ask what did we do – in the face of anger and division, when people were disillusioned, let New York’s answer be that in this defining moment we brought healing and light and hope and progress and action,” he said in his remarks as prepared for delivery. “That New York led on legalizing recreational marijuana, bringing justice and new economic opportunity not for rich corporations, but for the poor communities that paid too high a price for too long.”
The focus on social justice and opportunities for people who have been targeted by marijuana prohibition enforcement echoes comments from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D), often a rival of Cuomo’s, who also endorsed legalization last month.
In his inauguration speech, the governor promised to propose “the most progressive agenda this state has ever seen, period,” within 100 days, noting that marijuana legalization is part of that.