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Advocates Float New Strategy To Pass Marijuana Legalization In Senate, With Democratic Support In Question



As Senate leaders work to draft a bill to federally legalize marijuana, there’s an elephant in the room: even with Democrats in control of the chamber, the votes might not be there to enact comprehensive reform.

Recognizing the potential challenges of mustering 60 votes to overcome a filibuster for standalone legislation on the floor, advocates are urging leadership to pursue the policy change through a process known as budget reconciliation that would require a simple majority of 51 votes for a broader, must-pass package.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who is spearheading the legalization push in his chamber, didn’t rule out that possibility at a press conference last week.

Asked whether senators might try to incorporate the cannabis proposal into reconciliation, he said “you will hear in a few weeks the legislation that’ll answer” that question.

“This is an option the Marijuana Justice Coalition shared” with the majority leader, Maritza Perez, director of the office of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, told Marijuana Moment. “The way we see it, a must-pass bill is the only vehicle that can ensure we pass a marijuana justice bill in this Senate.”

Chris Lindsey, director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment that it’s clear “Leader Schumer is taking seriously his commitment to see legalization happen at the federal level, and address the ongoing harm from prohibition.”

“We have no doubt he is looking at all vehicles that can accomplish reform,” he said.

But while going the reconciliation route might seem like a simple workaround that would relieve pressure to garner Republican supporters, the legislative process is complex, with a series of rules that limit what kind of measures can be enacted under the procedure in the first place.

The so-called Byrd rule determines whether a given proposal is an “extraneous matter” that’s not germane to the budget process. There are several criterion that are used to make that determination, including whether the legislation would add to the deficit beyond a 10-year “budget window.”

If a senator opposed to legalization wanted to block the marijuana language from being included in the broader package based on this procedural rule, they would have to raise a point of order. The Senate Parliamentarian would then make a determination, in consultation with the presiding officer of the chamber. If they deemed the language in violation of the Byrd rule, it would be stricken from the reconciliation bill.

Assuming that the forthcoming legalization measure survives a challenge under those reconciliation limitations, it’s possible it will face a separate hurdle. Under the process, any member can introduce an amendment, and they must all be considered on the floor in a lengthy process known as “vote-a-rama.”

That means, if a senator opposed to marijuana reform chooses to, they could force a vote on an amendment calling for the legalization language to be stripped, which would then require a simple majority to defeat it. That might sound easy enough given that Democrats now hold the majority, but there’s yet another complication: some members of the party have signaled that they’re not on board with federal legalization.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), for example, told Politico last week that she doesn’t support legalization and that “we’re in the middle of an opioid epidemic, and the research that I’ve seen suggests that that is a way that more people get into drugs.” Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) said he thinks legalization would “cause more problems than it solves.” Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Bob Casey (D-PA) and Mark Kelly (D-AZ) all told the outlet that they remain undecided on the issue.

What’s more, a number of other Democratic senators such as Sens. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) told Business Insider in March that they hadn’t looked closely enough at the issue of federal legalization to say how they would vote. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), a longtime opponent of legalization who in recent years came around to sponsoring some reform legislation, represents another question mark for Democratic leaders.

Losing any single one of those lawmakers would jeopardize the bill even it only 50 votes are required, with Vice President Kamala Harris as the tie-breaker. For any Democrat legalization loses, Schumer would have to pick up a Republican to get back to 50.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) supports cannabis reform and said he is “one of the possible gets” this session, though he questioned why his Democratic colleagues haven’t reached out to him on the issue—and his libertarian leanings could give him pause about supporting any proposal to tax marijuana and use the proceeds to repair the harms of the war on drugs.

Put simply, if senators move to incorporate legalization into a budget package via reconciliation, things could get messy—but it may be their only possible path to success given the alternative standalone route and the 60-vote threshold to end a filibuster.

Meanwhile, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) said on Tuesday that he’s “pretty confident that we could get the 50 votes of the Democrats” for broad cannabis reform, but also seemed to suggest that the bill might actually be brought to the floor under regular order and would need to overcome a filibuster.

“We’ve got to pick up another 10 votes. Now, the good news is, is that there are Republican bright red states that have legalized marijuana,” he said at a 4/20 event hosted by the ACLU of New Jersey. “And that should give us some advantage in trying to cobble together the kind of majority that we need.
.. I’m going to do everything I can to cobble together the 60 votes necessary.
 Unless of course, we somehow get rid of the filibuster, which would be wonderful.”

Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, told Marijuana Moment that no senators’ vote should be taken for granted and that supporters need to make it clear that they expect their elected officials to represent their views no matter how cannabis reform proceeds to the floor.

“As all procedural possibilities are explored, one thing is certain: far too many U.S. senators believe it to be acceptable to arrest and incarcerate Americans for marijuana possession,” he said. “Now is the time for each and every supporter of cannabis policy reform to contact their elected officials and make it clear that they will be watching.”

Democrats were cleared by the Senate parliamentarian to do another reconciliation bill this year and seem poised to pursue the option in the coming months—but cannabis isn’t the only issue that could be attached to the procedurally complicated legislation.

Drug pricing, immigration reform, climate policy and other issues are all on the table as Democrats step up their push to deliver wins on infrastructure and jobs before the midterms. House Budget Chairman John Yarmuth (D-KY) said the upcoming reconciliation package will be tantamount to a “kitchen sink” approach—throwing everything in. As such, advocates say cannabis should be included.

Despite the possible challenges, legalization advocate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) told The Washington Post that he’s open to using reconciliation to enact the reform. However, “there are a whole lot of questions out there” and “it’s a little bit more complicated” procedurally.

Schumer isn’t alone in drafting the reform legislation this session. He’s teamed up with Booker and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) to get the job done. The majority leader said the bill will be released “shortly” and put to the floor “soon.” 

The majority leader told Marijuana Moment in an interview last week that one thing they want to avoid is to enact a policy change that’s temporary, such as attaching amendments to appropriations legislation. Schumer said their “first goal is not to settle for just partial measures.”

On the House side, Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said recently that he plans to reintroduce his legalization bill, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which cleared the chamber last year but did not advance in the Senate under GOP control.

Another factor that’s frustrating advocates is a more long-term concern: President Joe Biden opposes federal legalization, and his press secretary on Tuesday wouldn’t say whether he would sign or veto a reform bill if it’s sent to his desk. She did note, however, that his position is at odds with the proposals that congressional leaders are working on.

GOP Congressman’s Bill Would Protect Marijuana Consumers’ 2nd Amendment Rights

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.


Senate’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal Aims To Let Researchers Study Marijuana From Dispensaries



Senate leaders released a massive and long-anticipated infrastructure bill late on Sunday—and after weeks of bipartisan negotiations, the legislation includes provisions that aim to allow researchers to study the actual marijuana that consumers are purchasing from state-legal dispensaries instead of having to use only government-grown cannabis.

The bill also encourages states that have enacted legalization laws to educate people about impaired driving.

The language on scientists’ access to retail cannabis products was attached to an earlier version of infrastructure legislation in a Senate committee, and it’s substantively the same as a provision included in a House-passed infrastructure bill.

The measure makes it so the transportation secretary would need to work with the attorney general and secretary of health and human services to develop a public report within two years of the bill’s enactment that includes recommendations on allowing scientists to access retail-level marijuana to study impaired driving.

The cannabis provision stipulates that the report must contain a recommendation on establishing a national clearinghouse to “collect and distribute samples and strains of marijuana for scientific research that includes marijuana and products containing marijuana lawfully available to patients or consumers in a state on a retail basis.”

It specifies that scientists from states that have not yet enacted legalization should also be able to access to dispensary products that are being sold in jurisdictions that have ended prohibition.

Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) sponsored the committee amendment that contains these reforms, and he argued that the changes are necessary in order to promote research into impaired driving and create a national standard for addressing such activity.

Advocates have been waiting to see whether the committee-approved language would make it into the bipartisan negotiated bill. And the fact that it did stay intact following extensive negotiations between Democrats and Republicans who worked to craft the deal is significant. The Senate is expected to take up the bill on the floor this week.

If it passes, the amended legislation would then need to go back to the House for consideration before heading to President Joe Biden’s desk.

The bill says the cannabis research report must also broadly examine “federal statutory and regulatory barriers” to studies on marijuana-impaired driving.

The transportation legislation also contains a separate section that would require legal marijuana states—and only those states—to consider methods of educating people about and discouraging impaired driving from cannabis. Advocates take issue with that language simply because it targets legalized jurisdictions while ignoring the fact that marijuana-impaired driving takes place regardless of its legal status.

An earlier version of the transportation bill cleared the House last Congress with identical marijuana provisions but did not advance in the GOP-controlled Senate.

Since its initial introduction last year, some steps have been taken to resolve that issue. Most notably, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recently notified several companies that it is moving toward approving their applications to become federally authorized marijuana manufacturers for research purposes.

That marks a significant development—and one of the first cannabis-related moves to come out of the Biden administration. There is currently a monopoly on federal cannabis cultivation, with the University of Mississippi having operated the only approved facility for the past half-century.

But that move from DEA would still not free up researchers to access marijuana products from state-legal retailers in the way the transportation legislation would encourage if enacted.

While advocates are supportive of measures to reduce impaired driving, some have raised issues with the implication that legalizing cannabis increases the risk of people driving while under the influence. Research isn’t settled on that subject.

A federally funded study recently promoted by the National Institute of Justice also found that the amount of THC in a person’s system after consuming marijuana is not an accurate predictor of impairment.

Colorado Could Vote On Marijuana Tax Hike To Fund Education Programs After Campaign Submits Signatures

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Colorado Could Vote On Marijuana Tax Hike To Fund Education Programs After Campaign Submits Signatures



A Colorado campaign appears to have submitted enough signatures to place a ballot initiative before voters in November that would raise marijuana taxes to fund programs that are designed to reduce the education gap for low-income students.

The Colorado Learning Enrichment and Academic Progress (LEAP) measure would give low- and middle-income families a $1,500 stipend to have school-aged children participate in after-school programs, tutoring and summer learning activities.

The state excise tax on sales adult-use cannabis products would increased from 15 percent to 20 percent to fund the effort.

Supporters say this policy is especially needed as a response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has exacerbated income-related learning gaps for students. But some marijuana industry stakeholders—and even the state’s largest teachers union—have expressed concern about the proposal.

In any case, the LEAP campaign turned in about 200,000 signatures for the measure to the secretary of state’s office on Friday. It only needs 124,632 valid signatures to qualify.

Monica Colbert Burton, a LEAP campaign representative, told Colorado Public Radio that the sizable signature turn-in “really demonstrates the broad support around the state for this issue.”

“The learning loss that we’ve seen during the pandemic is so much higher than we’ve ever seen before particularly for our low-income families and our students that don’t have access to the same resources,” Colbert Burton said.

Beyond imposing the extra five percent tax on cannabis, the initiative also calls for a repurposing of state revenue that it generates from leases and rents for operations held on state land. Advocates estimate that the measure would translate into $150 million in additional funding annually.

But according to an analysis from Westword, adding the tax to the existing 15 percent special tax would’ve only created $80 million in added revenue based on 2020 sales figures.

Some stakeholders and cannabis advocates have come out strongly against the proposal.

“That this initiative is being pushed at a moment in Colorado when the cannabis industry is trying to create more equity and bring economic growth to marginalized communities harmed by the racist Drug War is especially tone deaf,” Hashim Coates, executive director of the trade group Black Brown and Red Badged, said in a press release. “But that is to be expected when the backers of this measure are affluent white men.”

“Let’s just be perfectly clear: this is a regressive tax—which always harms Black and Brown consumers the most. This is going to a voucher program—which always harms Black and Brown communities the most,” Coates said. “And it’s targeting the marijuana industry as a magical bottomless piggy bank—which will devastate the Black and Brown owned cannabis businesses the most. Can we just let the black community breathe for a moment after this pandemic before we start taxing them to death?”

The measure is being endorsed by a two former governors, about 20 sitting state lawmakers, several former legislative leaders and several other educational organizations.

But in June, the Colorado Education Association withdrew its support for the proposal over concerns about how it would be implemented.

The next step for the initiative is for the secretary of state’s office to verify that there are enough valid signature in the batch LEAP supporters turned in.

This development comes days after Colorado officials announced the launch of a new office to provide economic support for the state’s marijuana industry.

Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 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.

The division, which was created as part of a bill signed into law in March, is being funded by cannabis tax revenue. It will focus on creating “new economic development opportunities, local job creation, and community growth for the diverse population across Colorado.”

Gov. Jared Polis (D) had initially asked lawmakers back in January to create a new a new cannabis advancement program as part of his budget proposal.

Beyond this program, the state has worked to achieve equity and repair the harms of prohibition in other ways.

For example, Polis signed a bill in May to double the marijuana possession limit for adults in the state—and he directed state law enforcement to identify people with prior convictions for the new limit who he may be able to pardon.

The governor signed an executive order last year that granted clemency to almost 3,000 people convicted of possessing one ounce or less of marijuana.

Funding for the new office is made possible by tax revenue from a booming cannabis market in the state. In the first three months of 2021 alone, the state saw more than half a billion dollars in marijuana sales.

The lack of access to federal financial support for marijuana businesses became a pronounced issue amid the coronavirus pandemic, with the Small Business Administration saying it’s unable to offer those companies its services, as well as those that provide ancillary services such as accounting and law firms.

Polis wrote a letter to a member of the Colorado congressional delegation last year seeking a policy change to give the industry the same resources that were made available to other legal markets.

California Senator Seeks Federal Clarification On Medical Marijuana Use In Hospitals

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California Senator Seeks Federal Clarification On Medical Marijuana Use In Hospitals



A California senator is asking the head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to provide clarification on whether hospitals and other healthcare facilities in legal marijuana states can allow terminally ill patients to use medical cannabis without jeopardizing federal funding.

State Sen. Ben Hueso (D) on Thursday sent a letter to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure inquiring about the policy. Confusion about possible implications for permitting marijuana consumption in health facilities led pro-legalization Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) to veto a bill meant to address the issue in 2019.

Hueso refiled a nearly identical version of the legislation for this session, and it’s already passed the full Senate and one Assembly committee. It’s now awaiting action on the Assembly floor before potentially being sent to Newsom’s desk.

“Ryan’s Law would require that hospitals and certain types of healthcare facilities in the State of California allow a terminally-ill patient to use medical cannabis for treatment and/or pain relief,” the senator wrote in the letter to the federal officials, with whom he is asking to meet to discuss the issue. “Currently, whether or not medical cannabis is permitted is left up to hospital policy, and this creates issues for patients and their families who seek alternative, more natural medication options in their final days.”

Hospitals that receive CMS accreditation are generally expected to comply with local, state and federal laws in order to qualify for certain reimbursements. And so because marijuana remains federally illegal, “many healthcare facilities have adopted policies prohibiting cannabis on their grounds out of a perceived risk of losing federal funding if they were to allow it.”

But Hueso said that his office received a letter from CMS several months ago stating that there are no specific federal regulations in place that specifically address this issue and that it isn’t aware of any cases where funding has been pulled because a hospital allows patients to use medical cannabis.

Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 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.

Additionally, because the Justice Department has been barred under annually renewed spending legislation from using its funds to interfere in the implementation of state-level medical marijuana programs, the senator said, “we believe the risk of federal intervention is little to none.”

“This confirmation from CMS been quite a breakthrough and we are optimistic it will alleviate the Governor’s concerns,” the letter continues. “However, I want to underscore that, prior to receiving this response, even the Governor of California was under the impression that CMS rules prohibited hospitals and healthcare facilities from allowing medical cannabis use.”

“Undoubtedly other states are struggling with this issue, too,” it says. “As more states decriminalize cannabis and even create recreational markets, we must not forget to also update the books for the most important consumers of all—patients.”

“While ideally the federal government will remove cannabis from its Schedule I designation, I appreciate that this is a lengthy and complex process. In the interim, it would be extremely helpful if you could provide clarification that assures Medicare/Medicaid providers that they will not lose reimbursements for allowing medical cannabis use on their premises. This clarification would go a long way to help hospital staff, security, above all, patients.”

Becerra, while previously serving as California attorney general and as a member of Congress, demonstrated a track record of supporting marijuana law reform.

Meanwhile, there are efforts in both chambers of Congress to end federal marijuana prohibition.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) are currently soliciting feedback on draft legalization legislation they introduced this month.

Meanwhile, a separate House bill to federally legalize marijuana and promote social equity in the industry was reintroduced in May.

The legislation, sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), was filed with a number of changes compared to the version that was approved by the chamber last year.

Read the letter from the California senator to Becerra below: 

Marijuana hospital letter t… by Marijuana Moment

Rhode Island House Speaker Says ‘No Consensus’ On Marijuana Legalization, But It’s ‘Workable’

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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