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US Rep. Ilhan Omar hosts conversation about cannabis, in Minnesota and nationwide.
As Cannabis Wire reported earlier this month, Minnesota House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler introduced an adult use cannabis legalization bill, similar to the one he introduced last year.
That bill will have its first hearing today in the House Commerce Finance and Policy Committee.
So it was fitting that last night, Winkler, along with US Rep. Barbara Lee, a co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, talked about cannabis in Minnesota and across the US during a live streamed event hosted by US Rep. Ilhan Omar, of Minnesota.
Rep. Lee shared some of her perspectives on cannabis reform and the incoming administration.
“I was on the drafting committee for the platform, the Democratic Party platform, right? And so I had to negotiate with the Bernie and Biden people, our section on cannabis. So, bottom line is, for the most part, we got expungement, we got reinvestment. We got a lot in, but not enough for many of us. I want full legalization and we still haven’t gotten there yet. I know that Vice President [Kamala] Harris carried the MORE Act in the Senate, and so I’m optimistic that we’ll be able to get there also. But in the meantime, what we’re trying to do is make sure that President Biden comes forward,” Rep. Lee said.
(For some deep context on the Democratic Party platform and the MORE Act and forthcoming legislation, catch up on Cannabis Wire’s feature about the window that has opened for cannabis reform in Congress.)
She then turned to a forthcoming letter, which we previewed in yesterday’s newsletter, to Biden regarding pardons, and she provided some new details about how that effort is coming along.
“And actually,” Rep. Lee continued, “I just want to read a couple of paragraphs from this letter, in terms of issuing pardons for people. Hold on a minute, let me go to exactly what it says. They can actually issue pardons of people and clemency, the 1,900 individuals convicted of federal crimes. Most of these individuals have been convicted on drug charges and have been sentenced so harshly as it relates to today’s standards. So we’re asking the President to issue a general pardon to all of those formerly convicted of nonviolent cannabis offenses. But in the letter, we’re also asking the United States to trigger resentencing for all of those who remain federally incarcerated on nonviolent cannabis-only offenses for activity that is legal where the states have legalized it. And so it would be a big deal.”
Turning to Minnesota, Winkler shared some highlights of his bill, including: the creation of a Cannabis Management Board to oversee the industry; not allowing local jurisdictions to opt out, he said, “because our main goal is to shift in an illegal marketplace into a legal marketplace;” preventing vertical integration; and the automatic expungement of certain cannabis convictions.
“We have the pleasure of being the only legislative body in the nation that is split between Republicans and Democrats. We used to share that distinction with Congress, but Georgia fixed that for us. So we have a very progressive DFL House and a very conservative Republican Senate. And the Senate leader has expressed on multiple occasions his opposition to supporting the bill,” Winkler said, speaking about the bill’s chances of passage.
“But I think as we move our bill through the House, like Congresswoman Lee’s experience in the US House, I think we will pick up quite a bit of Republican support. And we know that a lot of Republicans, in fact, do support the bill. So our strategy is based on demonstrating strong support from Democrats, but also showing that Republicans want to have a chance to vote on the bill and want to have an opportunity to see if we can get it passed. So, we have never passed it in the House before. We’re going to do that. And we’re going to work on a strategy of putting pressure on Senate leadership to at least bring the bill up and see if we can get the votes to pass it.”
Another twist in New Jersey.
As Cannabis Wire reported in our newsletter yesterday, the New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee was supposed to hold a vote later in the day on a new “clean up” bill, the latest effort to convince Gov. Phil Murphy to sign the adult use and decrim bills on his desk.
Well, that didn’t happen. As Tuesday’s meeting came to a close, Sen. Nicholas Scutari, who is also the Committee chair, said, “Unfortunately, I’m going to hold that today as the prime sponsor.”
He continued, “We’re going to reconvene the new meeting tomorrow, of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to consider this and perhaps one other bill, without testimony from the public, related to marijuana cleanup. And that meeting shall most likely be via Zoom because there won’t be any public testimony on it. We’ve done the public testimony on Monday. I’m also of the understanding that Thursday’s voting session may be moved to Friday because of inclement weather, and that there will be in-person voting on Friday. But that’s going to come from the Senate president. But my understanding is that’s what he’s planning on doing. That will also give us the necessary time to have these bills heard tomorrow and then still voted on on Friday.”
Notably, earlier in the meeting, when one person began to talk about cannabis while testifying about a separate bill, Scutari said, while excusing him, “I will say this as you leave: we haven’t even gotten it passed yet. You want amendments, and we’re still 48 hours away from a potential veto.”
The deadline for Gov. Murphy to act on the legislation is February 18.
Maryland adult use bill gets first hearing.
Yesterday, Maryland’s House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on HB 32, also known as the Cannabis Legalization and Regulation, Inclusion, Restoration, and Rehabilitation Act of 2021, introduced by Maryland State Delegate Jazz Lewis.
The bill, as Cannabis Wire previously reported, is the first ever cannabis legalization bill to propose directing cannabis tax revenue to HBCUs (in this case, the four in the state).
The hearing lasted for nearly three hours, with testimony in favor, some suggested amendments, and some testimony in opposition. At the start, Lewis spoke, urging a favorable vote on his bill, and providing some updates.
“In the fall, I learned that Senator Feldman was introducing his own bill and began negotiations with the shared goal of creating a unity bill,” Lewis said, referencing the vice chair of Maryland’s Senate Finance Committee, Brian Feldman, who introduced SB 0708, another adult use bill, earlier this month. Lewis continued to detail amendments that “reflect those negotiations and input from some key stakeholders.”
The first, he said, was on tax rates. “My bill comes in at 29%, it lowers it to 18%,” he said, noting that the adult use legislation advancing in neighboring Virginia includes a tax rate closer to his original proposal. “We lower licensing as well, from 200 to 100 [available retail licenses]. We increase the possession limit to four ounces to mirror the medical program. And we add some labor peace language. The main difference is that our bill has an unlimited amount of micro grow, micro cultivators, because that’s something that’s critically important to the independent dispensaries in order to survive competing with the vertically aligned businesses.”