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NH Conferees Reach Agreement on Pot Legalization Bill, NC Tribe OKs Adult-Use Pot Sales, More... (6/6/24)

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The Senate has passed a resolution demanding Russia free imprisoned Pennsylvania medical marijuana patient Marc Fogel, and more. 

Medical marijuana patient Marc Fogel has been imprisoned in Russia for the past three years for possessing a half-ounce of weed. (KDKA screenshot)
Marijuana Policy

New Hampshire House and Senate Negotiators Agree on Marijuana Legalization Bill. The last bastion of pot prohibition in New England may be about to fall. House and Senate members of a conference committee charged with hammering out differences between House and Senate versions of a marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 1633, announced Thursday they had reached an agreement. 

Although sales are not set to begin until 2026, the House had wanted immediate decriminalization of up to two ounces—the amount to be allowed under legalization—but will now settle for the immediate decriminalization of up to one ounce. 

On the contested issue of passengers in vehicles using marijuana, the Senate side agreed to allow passengers to possess edible marijuana without violating the law if they are medical marijuana patients. It will be illegal for anyone to smoke or vape in a vehicle, with drivers subject to losing their licenses for violations.

The House side also prevailed on giving licensing priority to already existing medical marijuana dispensaries that want to enter the adult market, but when it came to who would sit on a cannabis control commission, the House wanted two members from the industry, but the Senate agreed to only one. 

There will be 15 franchise stores and they would pay a 15 percent tax on retail sales, which would be incorporated into the price of the product. House members had sought a lower 12.5 percent tax but did not prevail. 

The agreed-upon changes should make the bill acceptable to Gov. Chris Sununu (R), who in the past year has shifted from opposing legalization to saying he could support it under the right conditions. 

"New Hampshire is finally just a few steps away from making 2024 the year it legalizes marijuana," said Devon Chaffee, Executive Director of the ACLU of New Hampshire. "Signing marijuana legalization into law would ensure that our state stops arresting Granite Staters for marijuana possession – around a thousand per year, and who are disproportionately Black. We thank the Committee of Conference members for coming to a compromise, and are hopeful that the full House and Senate will adopt the Committee of Conference report and send it to Governor Sununu’s desk to put an end to the harmful, real-life impacts of marijuana prohibition."

North Carolina Cherokee Tribe Approves Recreational Marijuana Sales. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Tribal Council has okayed recreational marijuana sales on the Qualla Boundary, a territory held in trust by the federal government for the tribe. The tribe has allowed medical marijuana sales at its dispensary there since April.

Last fall, 70 percent of Cherokee voters approved a referendum to legalize marijuana for people 21 and over. This week, the Tribal Council moved to actualize that vote by passing a resolution to regulate the sale of recreational marijuana.

The council also passed an amendment limiting the ability to home grow to enrolled tribal members who are also medical marijuana patients and who have no minor children in their home. They will be limited to four plants. 

It passed another amendment barring the sale of hemp products by non-tribally owned businesses on the Qualla Boundary. 

The resolution now goes to the desk of Principal Chief Michell Hicks. It could be 10 days to two weeks before the bill is signed. 

Foreign Policy 

Senate Passes Resolution Condemning Russia's Imprisonment of American Medical Marijuana Patient. The Senate on Tuesday approved a resolution calling for the release of US citizen Marc Fogel from a Russian prison, where the Pennsylvania-certified medical marijuana patient is serving a 14-year sentence for "large-scale drug smuggling." He was caught with about a half-ounce of pot.

Sponsored by Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), the resolution cleared committee two months ago and passed the full Senate this week under unanimous consent. It calls on President Joe Biden to step up efforts to win his release. 

The resolution calls Fogel's sentence disproportionate and politically motivated, especially when he was using marijuana for medical purposes in accordance with a doctor’s recommendation.

"Marc Fogel has undergone three back surgeries, a spinal fusion, a hip replacement, and two knee surgeries to correct various injuries and health issues, which have left him with chronic back pain and a permanent limp," the measure says. And he "did not wish to use opioids to manage his pain and was instead prescribed medical marijuana for pain management in a manner consistent with the State law of Pennsylvania."

Fogel "stated he intended that marijuana solely for personal consumption, and the Government of the Russian Federation has presented no evidence to the contrary," the resolution reads, yet he received a 14-year sentence following a "politicized show trial."

 "Marc’s worsening medical conditions and actions to bring in less than an ounce of marijuana into Russia should not require him to serve the full 14-year sentence and a Russian penal colony—14 years imprisonment for less than an ounce of marijuana," Casey said on the Senate floor Wednesday.

The resolution also notes that the typical sentence for small-time pot possession in Russia is five years' probation while Russia has sentenced people caught with up to 1,500 grams of various drugs to lesser sentences. 

"Marc Fogel’s sentence is vastly disproportionate to the severity of his nonviolent crime, wildly dissimilar to the typical punishments for comparable offenses in Russia, and clearly motivated by ongoing political tensions between Russia and the United States," it says.

The resolution says that Russia should immediately release Fogel and urges the US government to "press for his immediate release in all interactions with the Government of the Russian Federation." It also "urges the Government of the Russian Federation to desist from issuing outlandishly disproportionate criminal sentences to nonviolent United States citizens" and "condemns the Government of the Russian Federation’s continued use of detentions and prosecutions of citizens and lawful permanent residents of the United States for political purposes."

Fogel has been behind bars in Russia for three years now. 

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.

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