It was a landmark week for cannabis legal reform as Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the nation’s top Democrat, announced his plan to introduce legislation decriminalizing marijuana nationwide. The unexpected about-face from a onetime drug warrior is a strong indication that electoral politics is changing quickly. On the state level, Maine and Alaska made progress on their legalization efforts. Find out more in our weekly marijuana legislative roundup.
On Friday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) introduced legislation to decriminalize marijuana nationwide. The bill would remove cannabis from the list of controlled substances under the Controlled Substances Act, which would effectively leave marijuana policy up to the states.
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The move comes in the wake of President Donald Trump’s announcement the prior week that he would support leaving the issue up to the states, which put him directly at odds with outspoken cannabis critic Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions in January rescinded the Obama administration’s hands-off policy toward state legalization efforts, as outlined in the so-called Cole Memo, in favor of placing marijuana prosecution at the discretion of U.S. Attorneys.
On Tuesday, the Maine legislature sent a bill to Gov. Paul LePage for signature that would implement a modified version of the recreational cannabis legalization measure passed by voters in 2016. Both houses passed the bill the week before, but legislative procedure held up the legislation for a few more days. The bill would eliminate cannabis social clubs and increase taxes on recreational cannabis sales from 10 percent to 20 percent while providing some tax revenues for public awareness initiatives and law enforcement.
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The bill would also cut the number of plants that adults can grow at home from six to three. LePage, who vetoed a similar bill last fall, has vowed to veto the legislation. Unlike last fall, however, lawmakers were able to garner a veto-proof majority in both houses of the legislature, so the bill is likely to become law regardless. LePage, who has been an outspoken critic of cannabis legalization, said he opposes the present bill because it does not merge the state’s recreational and medical cannabis systems. Possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana has been legal for adults 21 and older in the state since February.
On Monday, the Alaska House of Representatives passed a bill to limit access to past convictions for adult marijuana possession. The legislation, which will now go to a vote of the Senate, would prohibit state courts from listing prior convictions for possession of up to an ounce of cannabis committed by adults 21 and older on their publicly-accessible websites. While the convictions would not be expunged, it would limit public access to them for employment and similar purposes.