As the Spring is upon us, legislative sessions across the nation are wrapping up. New laws, new policies are being enacted in several states which bring us ever closer to ending cannabis prohibition. Elections matter. And, the election of criminal justice reform advocates have seen results in the following states:
The Commonwealth of Virginia is one of the most significant states to change its policy on cannabis prohibition. Being the first state in the South to legalize the adult use of marijuana, marks a milestone for criminal justice reform. The Democratically controlled Virginia General Assembly sent legislation to Governor Ralph Northam to which he responded with amendments recommending provisions legalizing the personal possession and personal cultivation of cannabis by adults take effect on July 1, 2021 rather than on January 1, 2024 — the enactment date initially approved by lawmakers. Adults age 21 and older would be permitted to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and to cultivate up to four cannabis plants per household without penalty later this year. The legislature is set to reconvene on April 7 to accept or reject the proposed amendments. Gov. Northam also submitted an amendment to expedite the expungement and sealing processes of those with criminal records for previous cannabis related convictions.
A separate bill spearheaded by Virginia NORML passed last year ending the right for police to search a vehicle based on the smell of marijuana. Executive Director of Virgina NORML, Michelle Pedini, had this to say, “While a number of important improvements were made, we’re disappointed that Virginia is not following the common-sense pathways previously established by other states that have successfully expanded from medical-use to adult-use. In the interest of public and consumer safety, Virginians 21 and older should be able to purchase retail cannabis products at the already operational dispensaries in 2021, not in 2024. Such a delay will only exacerbate the divide for equity applicants and embolden illicit activity. NORML remains dedicated to continuing our work with lawmakers and regulators to advance legislative reforms that are most closely aligned with the views of the majority of Virginians who desire a safe, legal cannabis market.”
The Empire State has long been on the front lines when it comes to criminal justice reform. The NYPD has been one of the key antagonists in the War on Drugs. Their stop-and-frisk policy has resulted in the weaponization of cannabis prohibition against Latino and African American Communities for decades. Now with the legalization of the adult use of cannabis and the right to grow 3 mature plants at home, we can turn the page to the next chapter in the New York. The provisions specific to the personal possession of marijuana (up to three ounces of flower and/or up to 24 grams of concentrates) took effect upon signing. The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act also provides expungement relief for millions of residents with past cannabis convictions on their records. It also limits the ability of police to initiate a search based solely on the odor of cannabis.
Forty percent of tax revenue will be directed toward communities disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition. Provisions in the MRTA seek to award half of all business licenses to social equity applicants. An economic analysis published earlier this year estimated that legalizing the adult-use marijuana market in New York could yield over $700 million in tax revenue and create over 50,000 jobs by 2027.
Having had a medical marijuana system in place for many years, New Mexico joins the ranks of states that have legalized adult use of cannabis. Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, signed House Bill 2 and Senate Bill 2, legalizing the adult-use marijuana market, and expunging the criminal records of those convicted of low-level cannabis offenses. Adults ages 21 and older to legally purchase up to two ounces of marijuana and/or up to 16 grams of cannabis extract from licensed retailers. It also permits adults to home-cultivate up to six mature plants for their own personal use. Retail sales would begin by April 2022. Those with past convictions for offenses made legal under this act are eligible for automatic expungement of their records. Those currently incarcerated for such offenses are eligible for a dismissal of their sentence. Earlier this week, the Governor signed legislation into law eliminating fines for the possession of cannabis by minors and modified the requirement for community service to a maximum of 48 hours.
Our own Sunshine State remains the example throughout the nation of how not to roll out a medical marijuana system. A corrupt role out of the five original licenses has resulted in now 22 vertically licensed medical marijuana treatments centers of which most were acquired through legal challenges. Stipulations in the legislative implementation of the licenses state that 5 new licenses for every 100,000 patients. However, due to the pending Florida Supreme Court ruling in the Florigrown case, no new licenses have been issued since the registry was at 250,000 patients. We now stand at over 500,000 patients in Florida, with many more who have not gone through the process of obtaining a doctor’s recommendation and medical marijuana ID card.
All the issues of high costs, a limited supply of medical marijuana products, an oligarchy of a medical marijuana market aside, patients in Florida are under attack by their own legislators. In a time where the Florida Legislature should be expanding qualifying conditions, implementing job protections, and recognizing medical marijuana patients from out of state, State Representative Spencer Roach and State Senator Ray Rodrigues have been pushing a bill to cap THC content in medical marijuana products. Republican representatives in the Florida House have moved this bill through committee along party lines while Republican chairman Jeff Brandes of the Senate Judiciary Committee has not scheduled it for a hearing which will effectively kill the bill. And, while many pieces of good legislation have been buried by the Florida GOP, a bill to expunge past cannabis crimes by State Senator Randolph Bracy has moved through its Senate Committee stops with overwhelming support. Unfortunately, its companion bill in the Florida House of Representatives has not been heard in any committee also effectively killing the bill.
It seems the status quo will be the order of the day when coming out of this year’s 2021 legislative session. It is because of this in action by the Florida Legislature while patients continue to suffer that we are calling on all our supporters and members to commit to getting involved in the 2022 mid-term elections. Without new State Representatives, new State Senators, and a new Governor, Florida is doomed to repeat history.