Canadian Bill To Decriminalize Drugs Gains Momentum – Marijuana Moment

Maryland Lawmakers Vote To Put Marijuana Legalization Referendum On November Ballot
New York Assembly Leader Launches PAC That Will Support Pro-Marijuana Reform Candidates
Canadian Bill To Decriminalize Drugs Gains Momentum
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“It’s time to truly end the failed war on drugs. This is a health issue and I’m calling upon all parliamentarians to do the right thing.”
By Doug Johnson, Filter
Right now, cities and provinces around Canada are pursuing decriminalization in piecemeal fashion. Recently, British Columbia and its largest city Vancouver applied for a Health Canada Exemption allowing the jurisdictions to decriminalize the possession of drugs including cocaine, amphetamines and opioids. Late last year, the Toronto Board of Health also voted in favor of asking for the exemption.
However, that leaves vast swaths of the country where people who use drugs will continue to be arrested and prosecuted for possession; according to Statistics Canada, in 2019 there were more than 30,000 possession cases in the country across various drugs including heroin, other opioids, methamphetamine and others. Experts add that the jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction approach will cause difficulties for people traveling from place to place.
Recently, Canada’s New Democratic Party (NDP)—a social democratic party that finished as the country’s fourth largest in last year’s federal elections—proposed a federal bill to decriminalize drug possession nationwide. The private member’s bill, Bill C-216, will be debated in the spring.
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has publicly supported the motion. And according to Gord Johns, the NDP member of parliament for Courtenay—Alberni, BC, who put the private bill forward, it has a real chance of becoming law.
“It’s time to truly end the failed war on drugs,” Johns told Filter. He hopes fellow MPs from across the political spectrum will act to improve the health of Canadians, rather than try to garner votes. “This is a health issue and I’m calling upon all parliamentarians to do the right thing.”
The bill, functionally, has three parts. The first is the simple decriminalization of the possession of drugs. Johns said that decades of criminalization and the rise of extremely potent drugs adulterating the supply—along with a lack of timely access to harm reduction and recovery services—are fueling overdose deaths. Between January 2016 and June 2021 there were 24,626 “apparent opioid toxicity deaths” in the country, according to Statistics Canada. Between April and June of last year, there were 1,720, or 19 per day. “Decriminalization is a key part in a smart, effective, and scientifically-proven strategy to tackle the overdose epidemic,” Johns said.
The bill would also see the expungement of criminal records for possession charges, removing barriers that hamper many people in employment, housing and other areas of life.
The third part is the National Strategy on Substance Use Act. This would mandate the creation of a “national strategy to address the harm caused by problematic substance use by promoting a comprehensive public health approach,” the bill reads. Its functions include creating low-barrier access to safe supply, reducing stigma associated with substance use through various programs, and implementing prevention programs that address the factors—social and economic, among others—that lead to problematic drug use.
Experts in the field support the bill, but say there are a number of issues that need ironing out. According to Donald MacPherson, the executive director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, decriminalization could make people who use drugs feel more comfortable accessing vital services, like health care, as well as reducing arrests. He told Filter that it’s past time for the ruling Liberal Party of Canada to move forward with decriminalization. Around 30 countries have already taken such steps, with widely varying models.
Brittany Graham, a community organizer and acting executive director of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), said that Canada’s current approach of municipalities and provinces applying for the Health Canada exemption doesn’t make sense. It leaves people who use drugs outside these areas still criminalized. And even within these jurisdictions, the varying rules would be tricky to navigate when traveling between, say, Toronto and Vancouver.
A national approach is more equitable, Graham told Filter. “It also makes things a lot simpler when there’s the same rule across the board.”
The bill is also light on details, as legislation tends to be at this stage. In particular, both MacPherson and Graham expressed concern over potential thresholds—the maximum quantities of drugs that would be considered “possession” under the law.
This question is controversial among the jurisdictions seeking exemptions, and a potential source of confusing differences. For example, even Vancouver and its province of BC have proposed different limits that a person (aged 19 and over) could carry. This is often broken down by drug classification. For instance, the BC model allows a person to carry a total of 4.5 grams of drugs on their person, while Vancouver’s model allows a person to carry a total of 3.5 grams, but with separate limits by substance such as only 2 grams of opioids, or 3 grams of cocaine.
The bill does not explicitly state what a national threshold would be. But MacPherson and Graham agreed that higher would be better. According to Graham, most people who use drugs in Vancouver will often purchase between 3 and 7 grams. However, this is in a city (and more particularly, the Downtown Eastside neighborhood) where drugs are relatively accessible and most people do not need to travel far to get them.
People who live in rural areas—or even city neighborhoods that are less walkable and have less access to public transit—may need to travel to stock up. Decriminalization therefore needs to follow people’s patterns of use, MacPherson said.
“Your purchasing patterns are different,” Graham said. “If you live close to a farmers’ market, you probably purchase [food] every day. But if you live in the suburbs, you probably go to the grocery store once a week and really bulk buy. That’s a thing you could say for a lot of rural and remote parts in BC and even more remote parts of Vancouver.”
Some people may also want to make larger purchases if they find someone selling a particularly good supply, while others may simply want to limit the number of times they interact with people who sell drugs. There’s also an economic rationale behind purchasing larger amounts: Buying in bulk is often more cost effective.
“By having a smaller [threshold], you’re always going to be punishing people for their economic status, the places they live, the access to safe supply they have,” Graham said.
MacPherson also pointed out that people who use drugs sometimes sell small amounts in order to make ends meet, and that this would constitute “trafficking” even if the current bill is passed. While he believes the bill could be the start of dismantling a “bad system.” And, he urged that if it’s passed, people who use drugs must be included in the process of hammering out the details. “We need to get it right,” he said.
Unlike safe supply programs, decriminalization also doesn’t directly address the problem of dangerously adulterated drugs, even if removing the fear of arrest would promote access to drug checking options.
Johns acknowledged these concerns, and said that finding the right thresholds would be an important factor. He also noted that police chiefs across Canada have, in the past, supported decriminalization, though that’s not universally the case; those in Alberta, for example, have argued that the province is not yet ready for it. But he remains confident that this is doable. “I’m not worried about the threshold piece as much. We can work that out,” he said.
It’s hard to say if this bill will ever become law. On one hand, private bills rarely do—though it is more likely in the case of minority governments, like Canada’s current one. But in the country’s last election, each of the major political parties gave at least a tacit acknowledgement that prosecuting people for possession wasn’t the right path.
Johns claimed that some other MPs from different parties—though he declined to say which—have privately supported his effort. “We’re hopeful,” he said.
This article was originally published by Filter, an online magazine covering drug use, drug policy and human rights through a harm reduction lens. Follow Filter on Facebook or Twitter, or sign up for its newsletter.
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Marijuana Legalization Bill Heads To Delaware House Floor Following Second Committee Approval

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A key Maryland House committee on Friday approved a pair of bills to put a marijuana legalization referendum on the November ballot and begin setting up details for the program if voters approve.
Both measures are being sponsored by Del. Luke Clippinger (D), who chairs the House Judiciary Committee that approved the measures. Del. Robbyn Lewis (D) said that the proposals are expected to be taken up on the floor “next week.”
More hopeful news from the Maryland House of Delegates: the Judiciary Committee voted out bills to legalize adult recreational use of cannabis. Bills should come to the floor next week. I look forward to voting yes. #LegalizeIt #MDGA22 #Working4MD https://t.co/5NDILzJW8r
— Del. Robbyn Lewis (@RobbynLewis46th) February 18, 2022

Clippinger’s two proposals are relatively straightforward. The first, HB 1, would ask voters to approve an amendment to the state’s constitution to legalize cannabis use and possession by adults at least 21 years old. It would further direct lawmakers to set laws to “provide for the use, distribution, regulation, and taxation of cannabis within the state.”
It was approved in a 14-6 vote.
The second measure, HB 837, is designed to get started on that work. It specifies that the purchase and possession of up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis would be legal for adults, and it would remove criminal penalties for possession of up to 2.5 ounces. Past convictions for conduct made legal under the proposed law would be automatically expunged, and people currently serving time for such offenses would be eligible for resentencing.
That measure passed in a 15-5 vote.
Several amendments to that bill were adopted by the panel on Thursday and Friday, including allowing adults 21 and older to grow up to two plants for personal use, gift cannabis to other adults and reduce the time before a person with a marijuana conviction is eligible for automatic expungement from four to three years.

The committee also approved amendments to reduce the penalty for public consumption and legalize cannabis paraphernalia. Meanwhile, a proposed revision to provide gun rights protections for cannabis consumers under state law was rejected, with members expressing concern about a potential federal policy conflict.
“We’re grateful to Maryland’s legislative leaders for prioritizing cannabis legalization and are encouraged by the amendments made in House Judiciary to expand legalized conduct,” Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment.
These latest developments come days after committee members held an extensive discussion about the reform proposals.

The bill as drafted would further establish a Cannabis Business Assistance Fund to support equity initiatives for minority- and women-owned businesses. That fund would go toward incubator and educational programs to promote participation in the industry by people most impacted by criminalization.
To study the effects of legalization on the state and its residents, the new statutory bill would also establish various studies, including into youth impacts, use patterns, impaired driving, advertising, labeling, quality control of products and barriers to entering the industry. A baseline study would be conducted before legalization, and updates would be sent to the governor every two months.
The Maryland bill would start by making possession of small amounts of cannabis a civil offense on January 1, 2023, punishable by a $250 fine, with legalization not kicking in for another six months. That’s a problematic timeline, as far as advocates are concerned.
HB 1 (the Constitutional amendment for adult use and possession of cannabis) and HB 837 (cannabis reform) have passed out of the Judiciary Committee. Our work now heads to the House floor. Thank you to @SpeakerAJones & members of our workgroup for your leadership on this issue.
— Luke Clippinger (@LukeClippinger) February 18, 2022

“We appreciate Chair Clippinger and the committee’s work to allow adult sharing, limited home cultivation, and to ensure edibles and paraphernalia are included,” MPP’s O’Keefe said. “We look forward to continuing to work with both chambers, including to address a gap between the referendum’s passage and legalization that could lead to demeaning and potentially violent police-civilian interactions.”
Meanwhile, there are at least three other competing legalization bills that have been filed in the state legislature this session.
On the Senate side, meanwhile, Sen. Brian J. Feldman (D) earlier this month introduced SB 833, which would also ask voters to approve a constitutional amendment legalizing cannabis for adults. That measure, like Clippinger’s plan, would go to voters in November and take effect in July 2023.
Feldman’s 83-page bill would allow home cultivation of up to four plants per adult, with a maximum of eight plants per residence. It would also package the constitutional amendment and basic regulatory framework in a single piece of legislation, unlike Clippinger’s bifurcated package.
Feldman was a lead author on a separate legalization measure last year that was co-sponsored by Senate President Bill Ferguson (D).
Ferguson, for his part, said last year that he favored legalizing cannabis through the legislature rather than waiting to ask voters on November’s ballot.
Another Senate bill in play this session, SB 692, from Sen. Jill Carter (D), would set higher possession amounts of up to four ounces of marijuana and would allow home cultivation of up to six cannabis plants. Possession in excess of those limits would carry no more than a $150 fine, and past criminal records would be cleared for certain cannabis-related charges.
Both Senate bills are set to be discussed March 3 in the Senate Finance Committee.
A competing legalization bill on the House side, HB 1342, was introduced earlier this month by Del. Gabriel Acevero (D).

Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,000 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

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Legalization began to advance through Maryland’s legislature last session, but no votes were ultimately held. The Senate Finance Committee held a hearing last March on a legalization bill sponsored by Feldman and Ferguson. That followed a House Judiciary Committee hearing on a separate cannabis proposal in February.
Lawmakers then worked to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate proposals in hopes of getting something to the desk of Gov. Larry Hogan (R). Hogan has not endorsed legalization but has signaled he may be open to considering the idea.
A poll in October found that the state’s residents are on board with the policy change. Two-thirds (67 percent) of Marylanders now back legalizing cannabis, according to a Goucher College survey. Just 28 percent are opposed.
Maryland legalized medical marijuana through an act of the legislature in 2012. Two years later, a decriminalization law took effect that replaced criminal penalties for possession of less than 10 grams with a civil fine of $100 to $500. Since then, however, a number of efforts to further marijuana reform have fallen short.
A bill to expand the decriminalization possession threshold to an ounce passed the House in 2020 but was never taken up in the Senate.
Also that year, the governor vetoed a bill that would have shielded people with low-level cannabis convictions from having their records publicized on a state database. In a veto statement, he said it was because lawmakers failed to pass a separate, non-cannabis measure aimed at addressing violent crime.
In 2017, Hogan declined to respond to a question about whether voters should be able to decide the issue, but by mid-2018 he had signed a bill to expand the state’s medical marijuana system and said full legalization was worth considering: “At this point, I think it’s worth taking a look at,” he said at the time.
As for Maryland lawmakers, a House committee in 2019 held hearings on two bills that would have legalized marijuana. While those proposals didn’t pass, they encouraged many hesitant lawmakers to begin seriously considering the change.
Read the full text of amendments approved by the committee below:

New York Assembly Leader Launches PAC That Will Support Pro-Marijuana Reform Candidates

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A top New York lawmaker is launching an equity-focused political action committee (PAC) that will place a strong focus on electing candidates that support marijuana reform.
Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D) announced the EquityPAC earlier this week. The committee is centered on three policy pillars: cannabis, education and the environment. The leader will be discussing the PAC’s mission at an event in New York City on Saturday, alongside U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and two other members of the state Assembly.

The fact that marijuana reform will be a target issue for the PAC makes sense given that Peoples-Stokes has been a consistent champion of legalization in the state, playing a key role in enacting comprehensive reform legislation last year.
The leader has repeatedly emphasized the need to put equity front-and-center as the state prepares to implement retail cannabis sales.
Just this week, the legislature sent a bill she sponsored to the governor that would allow for temporary cannabis licensing for existing hemp growers, with the stipulation that applicants agree to participate in a social equity mentorship program to support entrepreneurs disproportionately impacted by criminalization who are seeking to enter the industry.
“In order for New York state to fulfill its promise as a beacon of progress in a deeply divided country, equity must be our bedrock,” Peoples-Stokes said in a statement to Marijuana Moment. “Cannabis equity is central to EquityPAC because as an emerging industry, we have the opportunity to make it equitable from its beginnings in New York.”
“This PAC will support candidates, issues, and legislation that allows individuals and communities most harmed by cannabis prohibition to gain the most in New York’s cannabis industry,” the leader said.
“We want opportunities for legacy operators to win licenses and bring their expertise into the legal market. We want those most harmed to be educated about the health and wellness benefits and economic opportunities of legal cannabis. We must center their needs and champion their success to ensure that the industry is truly inclusive and equitable.”
While the PAC will initially focus on political races and legislation in New York, the plan is to expand and serve as a model for other jurisdictions.
The PAC’s site describes the racial disparities in marijuana criminalization both nationally and in the state. It also stresses that while lawmakers in other areas have implemented policies meant to support minority participation in the cannabis industry, the results have been disappointing.
The announcement comes just weeks after a separate PAC, founded by the former political director of NORML, launched to specifically elect pro-legalization politicians and provide education around the need to end federal prohibition.
The Better Organizing to Win Legalization (BOWL) PAC will be working to build a coalition of other organizations to develop a more targeted approach to legalization in Congress.
“We all do better when we all do better, and Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes has been a champion for ensuring a justice-centered approach to legalization,” Justin Strekal, founder of the BOWL PAC, told Marijuana Moment. “Her efforts will result in the Empire State’s congressional delegation being that much bolder in their efforts to end federal prohibition once and for all.”
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Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
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A second Delaware House committee has approved a bill to legalize marijuana in the state, clearing its way to a floor vote.
The House Appropriations Committee passed the legislation from Rep. Ed Osienski (D) on Thursday. No members voted in favor or against the proposal, and instead agreed unanimously to move it forward “on its merits.”
This comes about a month after the House Health and Human Development Committee approved the measure, which would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to one ounce of cannabis, including up to five grams of cannabis concentrates.
Home cultivation and marijuana delivery services would be prohibited, however.
A marijuana commissioner under the state Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement would regulate the industry and oversee licensing of retailers, cultivators, manufacturers and laboratories. Licenses would be granted through a scored, competitive process, with advantages given to those who pay workers a living wage, provide health insurance or meet certain other benchmarks.
It’s not yet clear when a House floor vote will be scheduled.
The bill from Osienski cleared committee last year, too. However, disagreements over social equity provisions stalled the earlier version, keeping it from the floor. At the time, Osienski pledged to bring a revised bill for the 2022 session that could earn broad enough support to pass.

Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,000 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

There are equity components included in this measure. After 19 months of the bill’s enactment, for example, regulators would have to approve 30 retailer licenses, half of which would go to social equity applicants. Social equity applicants are defined as entities majority-owned by people with past cannabis convictions or who live in an area disproportionately impacted by the drug war.
Those applications would also be allotted one-third of the planned 60 cultivation licenses, one-third of manufacturing licenses and two of five licenses for testing laboratories. They could also qualify for reduced application and licensing fees as well as technical assistance from the state.
Retail marijuana sales would be subject to a 15 percent tax. No tax would be levied on medical cannabis sales.
Seven percent of the tax revenue would be used to support a new Justice Reinvestment Fund that would provide grants, services and other initiatives that focus on issues such as jail diversion, workforce development and technical assistance for people in communities that are economically disadvantaged and disproportionately impacted by the drug war. The money would also be used to help facilitate expungements.
When Osienski’s earlier bill was being considered last year, a similar equity fund provision was included, and the sponsor said he was caught off guard when he was informed that its inclusion meant the bill would require 75 percent of legislators in the chamber to approve it.
The lawmaker tried to address the problem through an amendment, but some members of the Black Caucus opposed the changes, and the measure failed.
The current bill will still require a supermajority threshold to pass, but a smaller one of 60 percent.
Osienski has worked with the Black Caucus in the ensuing months to build support and move toward more passable legislation. And a clear sign of the progress is that Reps. Rae Moore (D) and Nnamdi Chukwuocha (D) have already signed on as cosponsors to the new bill after pulling their support for the 2021 version over equity concerns.
In 2019, Osienski was the chief sponsor of a legalization bill that cleared a House committee but did not advance through the full chamber. That bill would have allowed medical cannabis dispensaries to begin selling marijuana to adults 21 and older while the rest of the adult-use industry was still preparing to launch, a provision that was removed from later versions.
Four of the state’s six medical marijuana companies came out publicly against that change and testified in opposition to last year’s bill. In response, Delaware activists mounted a boycott against those operators.
Several modest amendments that were filed when last year’s bill was being considered have been incorporated into the new measure. Those include provisions related to quality control standardization, accreditation for marijuana testing facilities and packaging and labeling requirements.
Portions of the bill on expungements were also removed, as they were made redundant by the enactment of separate legislation last year.
Individual municipalities would be able to establish their own regulations for marijuana business operating times and locations, and they would also be able to ban cannabis companies altogether from their jurisdiction.
As supportive lawmakers work to push the bill through the legislature, they also face the challenge of winning over Gov. John Carney (D), one of the rare Democratic governors who remain opposed to legalization.
Despite his wariness about adult-use legalization, Carney did sign two pieces of marijuana expungement legislation in recent years. In 2017 and 2018, a state task force met to discuss issues related to legalization, and the governor hosted a series of roundtable meetings about cannabis.
A legalization bill previously received majority support on the House floor in 2018, but it failed to receive the supermajority needed to pass.
Carney’s predecessor approved a measure to decriminalize simple possession of cannabis in 2015.
An analysis from State Auditor Kathy McGuiness (D) released last year found that Delaware could generate upwards of $43 million annually in revenue from regulating marijuana and imposing a 20 percent excise tax. The legal market could also create more than 1,000 new jobs over five years if the policy is enacted, according to the report.
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Photo by Sam Doucette on Unsplash.

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