Four Crucial Marijuana Hearings This Week

By Tom Angell | April 10, 2017

State legislative committees in three states and one U.S. territory will hold hearings on far-reaching marijuana bills this week.

 

In New Hampshire, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a Tuesday hearing on a bill to make the Granite State the last in New England to finally decriminalize cannabis possession. Also on the agenda is legislation to create a study committee to examine possible future full legalization of marijuana. Both have already been approved by the full House of Representatives.

The House has approved decriminalization bills repeatedly over the past several years only to see them die in the Senate. Advocates are hopeful for a victory this year, however, as the state for the first time has a governor that supports removing cannabis’s criminal penalties.

Separately, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee will hold a hearing on three House-passed bills to expand the state’s medical cannabis law by adding new qualifying conditions and allowing patients to grow their own medicine at home.

 

In Rhode Island, the House Committee on Judiciary will hold a Tuesday hearing on several marijuana bills, including one to legalize, regulate and tax cannabis for recreational use. Advocates are hopeful that legalization in neighboring Massachusetts will spur lawmakers to make this the year that the Ocean State finally ends prohibition, but legislative leaders have thus far indicated they are in no rush.

While Gov. Gina Raimondo and House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, both Democrats, say they are open to legalization, they’ve said their top priority to make sure to get the details right instead of racing to beat the Bay State to market. Newly installed Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, also a Democrat, is a leading cosponsor of the legalization bill in his chamber but has said that he’s not sure if the bill is ready for passage, indicating that he might want to rework it to more clearly spell out rules for the industry instead of letting state regulators set them administratively.

 

In Vermont, the House Committee on Human Services is scheduled to hold a second hearing on a noncommercial cannabis legalization bill on Tuesday. The legislation would not legalize marijuana sales but would completely remove penalties for low-level possession and homegrow.

The bill had been expected to be approved by the full House of Representatives last month but was abruptly pulled from the floor and sent back to the committee level. Advocates in Montpelier say it’s not because leadership was trying to kill the legislation, but because the absence of several supportive lawmakers that day could have jeopardized passage in what is expected to be a very close vote.

Committee Chair Ann Pugh (D) says she’s been instructed to keep the bill in her committee until the “weather changes.” Last year, the Vermont Senate passed a broader bill to tax and regulate marijuana sales which later died in the House.

 

And in Guam, a marijuana legalization bill drafted by Gov. Eddie Calvo, a Republican, will get a a hearing before the legislature’s Committee on Rules, also on Tuesday. Calvo previously vetoed legislation to implement the medical cannabis initiative approved by voters in 2014, saying that it would cost too much to implement. He says that full legalization and taxation of a recreational market could generate enough revenue to pay for itself and for other government services.

 

Marijuana reform legislation also has momentum in other U.S. states.

Last week, for example, West Virginia lawmakers sent a medical cannabis bill to the desk of Gov. Jim Justice (D), who is expected to sign it into law.

Also also last week, the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee voted 4-2 to advance a bill to decriminalize marijuana.

And while advocates in Connecticut are disappointed that a marijuana legalization bill didn’t get a committee vote before a regular order deadline, they are still keeping hope alive that language to end prohibition can be approved as part of the budget process.

Recently introduced legalization bills are still very much alive in Delaware and Illinois, as well.

Tom Angell

Tom Angell is a senior political correspondent for MassRoots. A 15-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he serves as chairman of the nonprofit Marijuana Majority and is editor of the daily Marijuana Moment newsletter.

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