In one of the most significant legislative victories in the history of the marijuana reform movement, an amendment blocking the Department of Justice from interfering in state-legal cannabis programs was approved for the first time in the U.S. House of Representatives last week.
In a 267-165 vote, the measure passed handily, drawing support from all but eight Democrats and nearly a quarter of the Republican caucus. The amendment’s passage seems to affirm what advocates have suspected—that broad reform is within arm’s reach in the 116th Congress.
But a closer look at the vote tally reveals subtle trends, dissents, individual vote flips and developments that paint a fuller picture of the state of marijuana politics in the Democratic-controlled chamber.
First, a top-level look: the last time this amendment was up for consideration in 2015, it came nine flipped votes short of passing, with a final tally of 206-222. It gained 61 “yes” votes in that time, which is a reflection of evolving public opinion on the issue and was also likely influenced by the fact that several sizable states such as California, Michigan and Illinois have since opted to legalize cannabis, putting pressure on lawmakers to embrace a policy that protects their constituents from federal harassment.
State Action Makes A Difference
Geographic changes in the vote tally can be seen in the images below, courtesy of GovTrack.us. Blue represents Democrats and red represents Republicans, with dark shading indicating “yes” votes and lighter shading standing for “no” votes.
Among states that legalized adult-use marijuana subsequent to the prior amendment’s consideration, here’s how the the number of “yes” votes for the measure grew:
- California: 40 vs. 46
- Illinois: 10 vs. 14
- Massachusetts: 6 vs. 9
- Maine: 1 vs. 2
- Michigan: 6 vs. 10
- Nevada: 2 vs. 3
- Vermont: 1 vs. 1
But not all of the growth came from states that have recently enacted legalization. All told, 20 individual members who were present for the prior amendment’s consideration switched their vote from “nay” to “aye” since 2015.
“No” to “yes” votes:
- Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA)
- Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-OH)
- Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY)
- Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II (D-MO)
- Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN)
- Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI)
- Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH)
- Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA)
- Rep. William Keating (D-MA)
- Rep. Joseph Kennedy (D-MA)
- Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL)
- Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MD)
- Rep. Tom Reed II (R-NY)
- Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA)
- Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL)
- Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID)
- Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY)
- Rep. Marc Veasey (D-TX)
- Rep. Filemon Vela (D-TX)
- Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR)
Meanwhile, seven members flipped their votes in the opposite direction.
“Yes” to “no” votes:
- Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT)
- Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL)
- Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL)
- Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC)
- Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-GA)
- Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA)
- Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO)
Support And Opposition Across Party Lines
The measure enjoyed some bipartisan support, but while a sizable bloc of members joined the “aye” side, there were actually four fewer total Republicans who voted in favor of the amendment this round as compared to 2015. Why? The shift is partially related to loss of marijuana-friendly GOP members in the 2018 midterm election. For example, Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) and Mike Coffman (R-CO) each voted in favor of the 2015 amendment and otherwise championed cannabis reform to some extent, but lost reelection bids last year.
Plus there are those noted above who actually supported the measure last time but voted against it this year.
Perhaps some members took issue with the broader language of the new version, which extended protections to Washington, D.C. and U.S. territories, unlike the prior amendment, which lined up more squarely with Republican “states’ rights” views.
Another explanation could come down to partisanship. GOP Congressman Tom McClintock of California was the lead sponsor of the 2015 version, when Republicans controlled the House, whereas Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) took the helm this year, with McClintock as a cosponsor. With dozens of amendments to consider in a row in floor voting blocks of just two minutes each, it’s within reason to assume that some lawmakers approached some votes along party lines, leading some Republicans to vote for the prior measure led by their caucus-mate in 2015 after a quick glance.
An even simpler answer to the question of why there were fewer Republican “aye” vote this time is that there are just fewer GOP members in the chamber to begin with in light of Democrats’ electoral success in last year’s midterms in which they readily won control of the chamber.
Regardless, the 267-vote win is remarkable. More members voted for this amendment than they did for a narrower measure that simply prevented Justice Department interference in state medical cannabis programs in 2015. That tally was 242-186.
After the amendment was adopted, questions remained about the eight Democratic members who voted against the measure, given that marijuana reform is widely popular, especially among the party’s voters.
The most noteworthy Democratic “nay” vote came from Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the former chair of the Democratic National Committee, who has historically been opposed to many cannabis reform measures. She was joined by Reps. Henry Cuellar (D-TX), Sharice Davids (D-KS), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Conor Lamb (D-PA), Collin Peterson (D-MN), Tom Suozzi (D-NY) and Jeff Van Drew (D-NJ) in opposing the measure.
But overall, Democratic members sent a forceful message about where the party stands on the issue. Leadership sent a “yes” recommendation in a whip email distributed before the vote, and presidential candidates and even some who’ve historically been reluctant to back cannabis reform joined hands to push the measure forward.
Presidential hopefuls Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and Seth Moulton (D-MA) voted for it. (Other contenders Reps. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) and Tim Ryan (D-OH) were absent for the vote as well as others taking place on Thursday.)
Leadership votes in favor of the amendment include Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY); Appropriations Committee Chair Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY); Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY); Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD); Deputy Speaker Ben Ray Luján (D-NJ) and Majority Whip Jim Cylburn (D-SC).
Every Democratic member of the Judiciary Committee voted in favor of the measure—another positive sign as lawmakers continue to pursue various pieces of marijuana legislation that will likely have to pass through the panel.
Curiously, however, Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), minority ranking member on the Judiciary who’s advocated for a separate bill to let states set their own cannabis policies, voted against the amendment. That said, McClintock and other GOP members of the panel—Reps. Kelly Armstrong (R-ND), Ken Buck (R-CO), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA) and Gregory Steube (R-FL)—voted for the measure, indicating that broad legislation to reform federal cannabis laws could sail through the Judiciary Committee with solid bipartisan support.
On the Democratic side, Reps. Joe Kennedy (D-MA) and Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL), who have historically been hostile to cannabis reform, also voted for the measure this time around.
On the flip side, here are all 41 Republicans who bucked party leadership in voting in favor of the amendment:
- Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI)
- Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-ND)
- Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE)
- Rep. Troy Balderson (R-OH)
- Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO)
- Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY)
- Rep. James Comer (R-KY)
- Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL)
- Rep. Russ Fulcher (R-ID)
- Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL)
- Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT)
- Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH)
- Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH)
- Rep. Jenniffer González-Colón (R-PR)
- Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA)
- Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA)
- Rep. Kevin Hern (R-OK)
- Rep. Trey Hollingsworth (R-IN)
- Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA)
- Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH)
- Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY)
- Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL)
- Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA)
- Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-MI)
- Rep. Dan Newhouse (WA)
- Rep. Amata Radewagen (R)
- Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY)
- Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA)
- Rep. Tom Rice (R-SC)
- Rep. Denver Riggleman (R-VA)
- Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL)
- Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX)
- Rep. David Schweikert (R-AZ)
- Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID)
- Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL)
- Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI)
- Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR)
- Rep. Michael Waltz (R-FL)
- Rep. Steve Watkins (R-KS)
- Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL)
- Rep. Don Young (R-AK)
Who Voted To Let The Feds Arrest Their Constituents?
While the increased number of votes in favor of the amendment seems to correspond, in part, with the rising number of states with legal marijuana programs, there were 17 members representing legal states who voted against protecting consumers who participate in their state’s cannabis system. Here’s a breakdown:
- Rep. Ken Calvert (R)
- Rep. Paul Cook (R)
- Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R)
- Rep. Devin Nunes (R)
- Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R)
- Rep. Doug Lamborn (R)
- Rep. Scott Tipton (R)
- Rep. Mike Bost (R)
- Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R)
- Rep. Darin LaHood (R)
- Rep. John Shimkus (R)
- Rep. Jack Bergman (R)
- Rep. Bill Huizenga (R)
- Rep. John Moolenarr (R)
- Rep. Tim Walberg (R)
- Rep. Mark Amodei (R)
- Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R)
Advocates walked away with a demonstrable win on Thursday but, as a final note, the roll call tally might well have been even larger if it weren’t for certain absentees. Besides Ryan and Swalwell, those members include Reps. Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ) and Tom Emmer (R-MN)—all of whom voted in favor of the measure in 2015. There was just one member absent from the latest vote who voted against it last time.
Another indicator bodes well for the future of marijuana reform by demonstrating growing support from political newcomers is that among current members of Congress who weren’t in office during the 2015 vote, 98 voted in favor of the amendment while 50 voted against it.
Though advocates are celebrating the historic victory in the House, it remains to be seen whether the Republican-controlled Senate has an appetite for reform. That chamber’s Appropriations Committee is expected to begin its consideration of appropriations legislation that a similar amendment could potentially be attached to within the next few weeks.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
New Hampshire Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Legalization Bill
A New Hampshire House committee approved a bill on Tuesday that would legalize marijuana for adult use in the state.
While the legislation doesn’t provide for retail sales, it would allow individuals 21 and older to possess and gift up to three-fourths an ounce of cannabis and grow up to six plants. The model would be similar to neighboring Vermont’s non-commercial cannabis system.
The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee advanced the bill in a 13-7 vote.
“I think that the legalization of cannabis is more popular than the legislature itself or the governor or any other political entity in the state of New Hampshire,” Chairman Renny Cushing (D) said prior to the vote. “This is something that the people of the state of New Hampshire want. They don’t want to be treated like they’re criminals if they have a plant.”
Watch New Hampshire lawmakers discuss the marijuana legalization bill below:
This vote comes a week after the panel held a hearing on the proposal, with advocates and stakeholders testifying in favor of the reform move.
“Like most Granite Staters, this committee understands that it’s time for New Hampshire to stop prohibiting cannabis,” Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a press release. “Adults in the ‘Live Free or Die’ state should not be punished for their choice to use a substance that is objectively less harmful than alcohol.”
“Now that New Hampshire is literally surrounded by jurisdictions where cannabis is legal for adults, our current policies can no longer be justified in any way,” he said. “It’s time for the House, Senate and Gov. Chris Sununu to work together and move cannabis policies into the 21st century.”
A floor vote by the full House of Representatives is expected on February 6.
Tax-and-regulate marijuana legislation has advanced in the legislature in prior sessions, but it never arrived on the governor’s desk.
Even if it did make it that far, however, it’s unclear if Sununu, a Republican, would sign it. He’s voiced opposition to commercial legalization, and he vetoed a bill last year that would’ve allowed medical cannabis patients to cultivate their own marijuana, raising questions about whether he’d be willing to support this latest measure extending that right to all adults over 21.
In any case, the New Hampshire development comes amid a flurry of legislative activity around cannabis in the Northeast.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) included legalization in his budget last week, as did Rhode Island’s governor, who pitched a state-run cannabis model in her plan. In New Jersey, the legislature approved a referendum to put the question of recreational legalization before voters during the November election. Top lawmakers in Connecticut are also confident that marijuana reform will advance this year. In Vermont, advocates are hopeful that lawmakers will add a legal sales component to the state’s current noncommercial cannabis law.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
AOC Says Colorado Is Doing A ‘Great Job’ With Marijuana Legalization
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) says Colorado is an example of a state that’s effectively taxing and regulating marijuana.
At a town hall event in Iowa on Saturday, the congresswoman, who serves as a surrogate for Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-VT) presidential campaign, was asked if revenue from legal sales of cannabis and other drugs would be used to fund the senator’s Medicare for All proposal.
While she said the economic benefits of legalization are secondary concerns, she acknowledged that “Colorado is doing a great job of taxing it to fund schools.”
That said, funding large programs such as universal health care would require a diverse financing strategy, Ocasio-Cortez said.
“In terms of financing, I think the financing for our health care program would potentially come from different sources,” she said. “Senator Sanders has outlined how he would pay for Medicare for All.”
“I would just say the financing is a different question,” she said. “But when it comes to decriminalization and legalization, I know that the senator believes in the legalization of marijuana and, frankly, having that part of a decarceral approach” to the criminal justice system.
Listen to the conversation below, starting around 1:45:
“We need to not only have a conversation about decriminalization and a conversation about legalization, but we need to have a conversation about the harm done during the war on drugs,” she said in comments that were first flagged by The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel.
First actual Q for AOC as a Sanders surrogate: Would she legalize drugs to pay for M4A?
"The funding is going to come from a lot of sources," she says, clarifying that Sanders supports legalizing only marijuana and is focused on ending war on drugs.
— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) January 25, 2020
“It exacerbated the racial wealth gap in America as well,” she said. “But not only that, it tore apart communities, it tore apart families and it was an explicit targeting of black and brown communities that dates back to the Nixon administration.”
“On one hand it’s an economic issue, but much deeper, it’s a justice issue. This is an issue of justice, this is an issue of mass incarceration. The United States has historically incarcerated more people per capita than any other country in the world. We need to live up to our values about what ‘Land of the Free’ means and transitioning to that means dismantling the system of mass incarceration. That’s an incredibly important part of this agenda.”
While Sanders has been a long-standing champion of cannabis reform, his views on broader drug policy proposals diverge from those of his surrogate, who believes that possession of all currently illicit drugs should be decriminalized and federal laws around psychedelics should be loosened to promote research.
Despite being widely regarded as the most progressive candidates in the race, both Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) have so far declined to back comprehensive decriminalization for simple drug possession, a policy changed favored by former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), another 2020 contender, recently said that she’s in favor of legalizing and regulating controlled substances.
Photo courtesy of C-SPAN.
USDA Approves Hemp Plans For Texas, Nebraska And Delaware
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced on Monday that it has approved hemp regulatory plans for three more states and four additional Indian tribes.
This is the latest in a series of approvals that USDA has doled out since the crop and its derivatives were federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill. Texas, Nebraska and Delaware—in addition to the Colorado River Indian Tribes, the Fort Belknap Indian Community, the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska and the Yurok Tribe—each had their regulatory plans cleared.
“USDA continues to receive and review hemp production plans from states and Indian tribes on an ongoing basis,” the department said in a notice. “Plans previously approved include those for the states of Louisiana, New Jersey, and Ohio, and the Flandreau Santee Sioux, Santa Rosa Cahuilla, and La Jolla Band of Luiseno Indian Tribes.”
While hemp is no longer a federally controlled substance, farmers interested in cultivating and selling the crop must live in a jurisdiction where USDA has approved a proposed regulatory scheme. The process was outlined in an interim final rule USDA published late last year. If a state or tribe does not have, or plan to propose, regulations for hemp, cultivators can apply for a USDA license instead.
“This is a victory for Texas farmers,” Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller said in a statement. “We are one step closer to giving our ag producers access to this exciting new crop opportunity.”
“We’ve got to get our rules approved and get our licensing program up and running, but the dominoes are dropping pretty quick,” he said. “We’re almost there.”
Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, told Marijuana Moment that “Texas has the potential to be the largest supplier of hemp in the U.S., providing farmers with an unprecedented opportunity.”
“With approval from the USDA and the Texas Department of Agriculture already moving forward with establishing licensing standards, it’s refreshing to see our government paving the way for legal cannabis cultivation in Texas,” Fazio said.
While lawmakers and industry stakeholders have widely celebrated USDA’s commitment to implementing hemp legalization, it has also received a significant amount of pushback over proposed rules such as THC limits and laboratory testing requirements. A public comment period for the department’s interim rule ends on Wednesday.
USDA maintains a website that tracks the status of state and tribal hemp plans.
Monday’s announcement sends another signal to the hemp industry that the federal government is committed to supporting the market and ensuring that farmers have the resources they need to see their businesses thrive since the crop was legalized.
That said, one of the most lucrative market opportunities that hemp farmers are hoping to take advantage of is the widespread interest in hemp-derived CBD products. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has jurisdiction over rules for marketing CBD, and the agency has made clear that the process may take several years without congressional action.
Earlier this month, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers set out to do just that, filing a bill that would require FDA to allow CBD products to be sold as dietary supplements.
Photo courtesy of Brendan Cleak.