The American Bar Association (ABA) adopted a resolution on Monday that calls on Congress to allow states to set their own marijuana policies and recommends rescheduling or descheduling cannabis under federal law.
Members of the ABA House of Delegates approved the measure at the organization’s annual meeting in San Francisco and, according to the ABA Journal, it was broadly supported—passing “without audible opposition”—even after proponents waived their time to speak.
Though ABA specified that it was not taking a position on marijuana legalization generally, it recognized that conflicting federal and state cannabis policies are untenable and have created complications for cannabis businesses operating in compliance with state law. That includes a lack of access to financial services that lead such companies to operate on a largely cash basis, making them targets for crime.
HOD adopts Res 104: Urges Congress to end conflict between some state laws and federal law over marijuana regulation and update federal marijuana policy. #ABAAnnual
— American Bar Association (@ABAesq) August 12, 2019
The resolution states that ABA “urges Congress to enact legislation to exempt from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) any production, distribution, possession, or use of marijuana carried out in compliance with state laws.”
ABA, an association established in 1878 that now touts 411,000 members, also wants Congress to “enact legislation to remove marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act,” which could involve placing it in a less restrictive category or removing it from the list of federally controlled substances altogether.
Finally, the resolution recommends that Congress pass legislation to “encourage scientific research into the efficacy, dose, routes of administration, or side effects of commonly used and commercially available cannabis products in the United States.”
A report attached to the measure provides context on state-level legalization efforts, the history of federal prohibition and the “resulting regulatory quagmire.”
“There is an obvious tension between marijuana’s Schedule I status – which prohibits marijuana in virtually all circumstances—and state regulatory reforms—which increasingly authorize marijuana for at least some purposes,” ABA wrote. “While state and federal law often diverge—on everything from environmental to workplace laws—marijuana policy is the only area where the states regulate and tax conduct the federal government nearly universally prohibits.”
The temporary protections that lawmakers have been able to secure for medical cannabis states and guidance memos from the Justice Department are not enough to relieve the regulatory tension produced by federal prohibition, ABA argued. While the House approved a budget rider that would extend protections to adult-use programs, it’s not clear how that will fare in the Senate—and even if it passes, it must be annually renewed, creating uncertainty.
More fundamentally, however, because the spending riders operate only as a restraint on Justice Department action, they have not prevented other parties from using federal law against state-compliant marijuana businesses and users.
ABA listed various problems that these businesses face under the current regulatory framework: a lack of access to banking services, “unusually high federal taxes,” no federal protection for their trademarks and an increased number of private lawsuits.
“No one should be satisfied with the regulatory quagmire that has resulted from the unresolved tension between state reforms and federal law.”
The report goes on to describe how its recommendations would help resolve some of these issues.
Passing legislation such as the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act would mean “marijuana businesses could obtain banking and legal services, deduct their reasonable business expenses when computing their federal tax liability, obtain federal protection for their trademarks, avoid civil RICO liability, and so on.”
What’s more, Congress could attach provisions to such legislation that would establish a basic federal framework for state cannabis programs by “incentivizing states to adopt and maintain careful controls on marijuana activities,” including age restrictions for adult-use programs.
But creating an exemption for legal cannabis states under the CSA wouldn’t fix all of the problems that federal prohibition is created, which is why ABA also made a scheduling recommendation.
It said that knowledge about marijuana’s risks and benefits has evolved in the years since the drug was placed in Schedule I of the CSA and that it no longer made sense to schedule cannabis in the same category as substances that are decidedly more dangerous. Loosening federal restrictions by rescheduling it could help, but “Congress could even choose to remove marijuana from the CSA altogether, in the same way it exempted alcoholic beverages and tobacco from the statute’s coverage in the first instance,” ABA wrote.
The final part of the resolution discusses the need to support research into cannabis. One area that could be quickly improved is in the sourcing of research-grade marijuana. ABA noted that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced in 2016 that it is accepting applications for additional cannabis manufacturers, which could bolster research, for example. Coincidentally, ABA’s resolution on the topic was approved exactly three years after DEA made that announcement, which the agency still has yet to act on.
The measure “urges Congress to actively support scientific research on marijuana,” ABA wrote. “As greater scientific knowledge of the benefits and harms of marijuana develops, Congress and the states can work together to ensure that the benefits of marijuana can be realized while the harms of the drug are properly addressed. Encouraging careful scientific study of marijuana will be beneficial regardless of the direction of marijuana law reform in the future.”
“You can’t do massive blind studies because everyone who does it is afraid they’ll get prosecuted,” Stephen Saltzburg, who moved the resolution, told ABA Journal. “We should have that research. We ought not to have states and [the federal government] flying blind.”
Read the full ABA marijuana resolution and report below:
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
New York Legal Marijuana Push ‘Effectively Over’ For 2020, Governor Says
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) conceded on Saturday that it’s unlikely marijuana will be legalized in the state this year.
“Marijuana and the gig economy were two of the more complicated initiatives that we wanted to work through that we didn’t get a chance to do,” he said in response to a question about which policy issues he would’ve liked to tackle in the annual budget bill that passed this week.
“Is the session effectively over? It’s up to the legislature, but I think it’s fair to say it’s effectively over,” he added, noting that several state lawmakers have been infected with coronavirus.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Congresswoman Wants Ban On DC Marijuana Sales Lifted Through Coronavirus Legislation
A congresswoman is calling on the government to end a policy prohibiting Washington, D.C. from legal marijuana sales, arguing that the jurisdiction is in particular need of tax revenue from cannabis commerce due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) has repeatedly condemned the congressional rider barring the District of Columbia from allowing retail sales that has been extended each year since 2014, shortly after local voters approved a ballot measure to legalize low-level possession and home cultivation. But given the need for resources to combat the pandemic, she said a reversal of the provision should be included in the next COVID-related relief bill.
“At this moment of unparalleled need, D.C. should be able to collect tax revenue from all available sources, like every other jurisdiction, including from recreational marijuana, which is believed to be widely used in the District,” the congresswoman said in a press release on Friday, adding that D.C. was shorted in the last stimulus because Congress treated it as a territory rather than a state.
“While I am working for a retroactive fix in the next coronavirus bill, it is imperative that Congress also repeal the D.C. recreational marijuana commercialization rider in the next bill to help D.C. shore up its finances,” she said. “It is beyond unreasonable that congressional interference keeps only the District from commercializing recreational marijuana, while all other jurisdictions are free to do so.”
— Eleanor Holmes Norton (@EleanorNorton) April 3, 2020
“Bringing the District in line with other jurisdictions would create a critical source of tax revenue in our time of need.”
Last year, the House approved an appropriations bill that excluded the D.C. rider, but it was included in the Senate version and ultimately made its way into the final package that the president signed. The cannabis commerce ban was also included in President Trump’s budget proposal earlier this year.
“True to form, Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton continues to be one of the best allies to the cannabis reform movement,” Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “During this unprecedented COVID-19 outbreak, it is critical that lawmakers analyze and reform any and every aspect of public policy to mitigate the health crisis and build a foundation for a strong recovery.”
“As the majority of states that regulate cannabis have deemed the industry essential to the continued functioning of their jurisdictions, the continued congressional prohibition of the District of Columbia enacting it’s own adult-use program becomes even more ridiculous,” he added.
Norton, in an interview about her push, said that the congressionally mandated prohibition on sales doesn’t prevent people from accessing cannabis but does block the city from collecting tax revenue.
“You can buy two ounces but, by the way you’ve got to do that on the black market,” she told WUSA-TV. “But there’s nobody to tax it. And I’m simply trying to get the taxes the District is due for merchandise, in this case marijuana that’s being consumed readily in the District of Columbia.”
🟢🟢 LEGALIZING COMMERCIAL MARIJUANA IN D.C. 🟢🟢
I spoke to D.C.'s Delegate @EleanorNorton
She's pushing for fully legal commercial marijuana sales in the District in a 4th Congressional stimulus package.
The District needs the money.
And people are smoking weed anyway. pic.twitter.com/PL9yoDKlrj
— Adam Longo (@adamlongoTV) April 3, 2020
Legislative priorities for Congress have shifted significantly as lawmakers attempt to address the outbreak, and that’s meant putting some reform efforts on hold. However, the issue isn’t being ignored entirely, and it’s possible that other members may look to attach modest marijuana proposals to additional coronavirus legislation.
For example, Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) said this week that U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs policy preventing its doctors from recommending medical cannabis in legal states puts service members at risk in Massachusetts because the state is shuttering recreational shops (but not medical dispensaries) and some veterans fear registering as patients out of concern that they could lose federal benefits.
Eleven senators wrote a letter to Appropriations Committee leadership asking that they allow small cannabis businesses to access federal loans and disaster relief programs. While the lawmakers said it should be enacted through an annual spending bill, advocates have argued that the policy change should be pursued through coronavirus legislation since these businesses are facing challenges just like those experienced by many other companies during the pandemic.
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.
North Dakota Activists Say Marijuana Legalization Initiative Unlikely In 2020 Due To Coronavirus
North Dakota activists announced on Thursday that they are suspending their campaign put marijuana legalization on the November ballot due to the coronavirus outbreak.
In a Facebook post, Legalize ND said “we are going to have to face a few hard realities going forward” as businesses are shuttering, public events are being cancelled and individuals are encouraged to shelter in place. The pandemic means in-person signature gathering can’t take place, and the state does not allow for alternative signing options such as by mail or online.
“Due to the virus all of our major avenues for signature collection have been cancelled or indefinitely postponed, and going door to door is not safe for both those knocking and those getting knocked,” the group said. “Businesses will continue to collect, but we don’t want to create another vector for the coronavirus. As a result, at this time if something major doesn’t change we will not be able to make the 2020 ballot.”
Legalize ND said there’s no way for state policies related to signature gathering to be changed ahead of the November election. They needed to collect 13,452 valid signatures from voters before July 6 in order to qualify. In all likelihood, the campaign said it would have to shift its focus to the July 2022 primary election.
“This isn’t the solution we want, but given the situation it is what will have to happen,” the post states. “Stay safe, and hopefully we can make a major push when the quarantine ends.”
The proposed initiative would allow individuals to purchase and possess up to two ounces of cannabis. Unlike a much more far-reaching measure the same group pushed in 2018 that included no possession or cultivation limits, which voters rejected, this version would prohibit home growing, impose a 10 percent excise tax and establish a regulatory body to approve licenses for marijuana businesses.
North Dakota voters approved a medical cannabis initiative in 2016.
The coronavirus outbreak has dealt several blows to drug policy reform efforts in recent weeks.
Likewise in Washington, D.C., advocates for a measure to decriminalize psychedelics asked the mayor and local lawmakers to accept online signatures for their ballot petition.
In Oregon, advocates for a measure to decriminalize drug possession and a separate initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes have suspended in-person campaign events amid the pandemic.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) recently conceded that legalization was “not likely” going to happen through the budget, as he hoped. Coronavirus shifted legislative priorities, and comprehensive cannabis reform seems to have proved too complicated an issue in the short-term.
Idaho activists announced on Thursday that they are suspending their campaign, though they are still “focusing on distributing petitions through online download at IdahoCann.co and encouraging every volunteer who has downloaded a petition to get them turned in to their county clerk’s office by mail, regardless of how many signatures they have collected.”
Finally, in Arizona, a legalization campaign is petitioning the state Supreme Court to instruct the secretary of state to allow individuals to sign ballot petitions digitally using an existing electronic system that is reserved for individual individual candidates seeking public office.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.