Last week was a big week for cannabis news across the United States. Legalization efforts advanced in New Mexico and Georgia. Meanwhile, in Maine, the will of the people continues to get pushback from politicians.Find out about that more in our weekly marijuana legislative roundup.
On Thursday, a measure to push back the start of recreational cannabis sales in Maine failed in the state House of Representative and sales of recreational marijuana officially became legal, though there remains no regulatory framework to obtain a license to sell cannabis products. The date was already pushed back to February to allow lawmakers more time to pass a bill to implement the recreational cannabis legalization initiative passed by voters in 2016. Lawmakers spent months hammering out a bill to substantially modify the ballot measure but that was ultimately vetoed by Governor Paul LePage in late October.
LePage, an outspoken critic of marijuana legalization, cited public health and safety concerns as well as uncertainty over federal enforcement of marijuana prohibition at the time. A legislative panel is once again working on an overhaul of the state’s marijuana law, which could take another nine months to complete before facing legislative and gubernatorial approval. The governor’s office said this week that it had not begun working on a regulatory and licensing system, and it seems likely that sales will be delayed at least another year.
Last week, legislation to make Massachusetts a “sanctuary state” for marijuana was introduced in the state House of Representatives. The bill would prohibit cooperation by state law enforcement with federal agencies for the purpose of enforcing federal marijuana prohibition, and is modeled after laws preventing state officials from assisting federal immigration agencies in pursuing undocumented immigrants. It comes on the heels of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ renunciation of the 2014 Cole Memo, which enshrined the Obama administration’s hands-off approach to state legalization efforts. A similar bill is under consideration in the California Assembly.
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On Wednesday, comprehensive legislation to legalize recreational marijuana was introduced in the New Mexico House of Representatives. The bill would allow adults 21 and older to possess up to two ounces of cannabis or 16 grams of concentrates and grow up to 12 plants at home, including six mature plants and six immature seedlings. Licensed retailers could also open a consumption area on their premises and deliver cannabis products to customers. Those convicted of offenses made legal under the law could have their charges dismissed and sealed, and corrections facilities would be required to report inmates whose cases should be reopened due to the change in the law. The bill would also prohibit state and local law enforcement from coordinating with federal agencies in enforcing federal marijuana law. The bill is considered unlikely to pass this year.
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Last week, lawmakers introduced a bill to the Georgia Senate that would allow voters to decide whether to legalize recreational marijuana in the state. If enacted, the measure would place a question on the November ballot asking voters whether the state Constitution should be amended to make cannabis legal. If voters approved the measure, the state would also be directed to create a regulatory and tax system for recreational marijuana. The state Constitution currently prohibits cannabis in Georgia, which has some of the most restrictive cannabis laws in the nation.
On Monday, the Virginia Senate Courts of Justice Committee voted down a measure to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana in the state. The bill would have reduced possession of small amounts of marijuana from a criminal misdemeanor to a civil violation punishable by a fine. The committee approved a separate bill that would allow those convicted of first-time marijuana offenses to have their convictions expunged, and create a database of beneficiaries eligible for expungement under the law. That bill now goes before the Senate Finance Committee.
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On Wednesday, a Utah House committee approved one bill legalizing medical marijuana for patients with terminal illnesses and another allowing cannabis cultivation for research purposes. The measures will now go before the full House for a vote at some point this session.