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Analysis: GOP Congress Has Blocked Dozens Of Marijuana Amendments

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Increase military veterans’ access to access medical cannabis. Shield state marijuana laws from federal interference. Protect industrial hemp growers’ water rights. Allow marijuana businesses to be taxed fairly and to access banking services.

That describes just some of the nearly three dozen cannabis-related amendments that Republican leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives has blocked from even being voted on during the current Congress, a new analysis by Marijuana Moment finds.

On at least 34 occasions, lawmakers—Democrats and Republicans alike—filed marijuana and drug policy reform proposals only to be stymied by the powerful Rules Committee, which decides which measures can advance to the House floor.

One Man Is The Biggest Obstacle To Congressional Marijuana Reform.

That panel, led by Congressman Pete Sessions (R-TX), has for the past several years instituted an effective roadblock to cannabis law reform by refusing to make any amendments dealing with the plant “in order.” That means the full 435-member roster of House never even gets an opportunity to vote on the measures.

This Man Is The Reason Congress Can’t Vote On Marijuana Anymore

This analysis only covers the current 115th Congress, which began in January 2017. Republican leaders have made a practice of blocking cannabis amendments since the previous summer.

The last time the House was allowed to vote on marijuana, in May 2016, a measure to allow military veterans to get medical cannabis recommendations from Department of Veterans Affairs doctors was approved by a overwhelming vote of 233 to 189. Several other marijuana measures were approved on the House floor in the two years preceding that, including proposals to let marijuana businesses store their profits in banks and to protect state medical cannabis laws from Justice Department interference, the latter of which made it into federal law and is still on the books.

In June 2015, an amendment to expand that protection to prevent the Department of Justice from interfering with all state marijuana laws—including those allowing recreational marijuana use and sales—came just nine flipped votes short of passage.

Since that time, the number of states with legal marijuana has more than doubled, meaning that far more legislators now represent constituents who would stand to be protected. Advocates are confident they could get the measure approved if given another opportunity, but the cannabis blockade by Sessions’s Rules Committee has meant that no more votes on it have been allowed.

While House Republicans have instituted a broader policy of blocking amendments deemed to be “controversial” after floor disputes on gay rights and gun policy measures threatened the passage of several spending bills in 2015, Sessions, who is not related to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, seems to have a particular problem with marijuana.

“I, as probably everybody in this rooms knows, have a strong opinion on drugs, illegal drugs, alcohol,” he said just before stymying a measure to prevent federal intervention in state cannabis laws earlier this year. “Marijuana is an addictive product, and the merchants of addiction make it that way. They make it for addiction. They make it to where our people, our young people, become addicted to marijuana and keep going.”

On another occasion, Sessions claimed that cannabis is now more potent than it was when he was a young man—by a mathematically impossible factor.

“When I went to high school…in 1973, I graduated, marijuana, on average, is 300 times more powerful,” he said. “That becomes an addictive element for a child to then go to the next thing.”

Legalization Supporters Target Sessions For Defeat.

Sessions, like all members of the House, is up for reelection this year. The Cook Political Report, which tracks congressional races, moved his seat—Texas’s 32nd congressional district—from being rated “Lean Republican” to the closer “Toss Up” status last month. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won the district.

Sensing an opportunity, marijuana reform advocates are targeting Sessions for defeat in 2018.

Pro-legalization Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who has authored several of the blocked amendments, started a PAC and pledged to fund in-district billboards spotlighting Sessions’s anti-cannabis tactics.

Six of the amendments blocked by Sessions and his committee concerned military veterans’ access to medical cannabis. Five had to do with marijuana businesses’ ability to use banking services. Seven would have allowed states and Washington, D.C. to implement their own marijuana laws without federal interference.

“These are not controversial measures. They have bipartisan support,” Blumenauer told Marijuana Moment in an emailed statement. “By blocking our amendments, Sessions is standing in the way of progress, commonsense, and the will of the American people—and that includes Republican voters.”

Pro-Legalization Congressman To Target Anti-Cannabis Lawmakers

Sessions faces Democrat Colin Allred, a former NFL player, in November.

“I support the use of medical marijuana as an alternative to the habit-forming opioids that have become a national crisis,” the challenger told Politico. “This common-sense approach to alternative treatments has been opposed by Pete Sessions, and is something I will fight to expand.”

The willingness to see Sessions go extends even to dedicated Republicans who could risk seeing control of the House tipped to Democrats in what is expected to be a very close midterm election overall.

“More often than not, elected officials respond to carrots and sticks. So if making Pete Sessions an electoral casualty is what it takes to advance drug policy reform, so be it,” Don Murphy, a Republican former Maryland state lawmaker who now serves as federal policies director for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), told Marijuana Moment. “If the GOP loses control of the House by one vote, it won’t be my fault. I tried to warn them.”

Former MPP executive director Rob Kampia says he’s aiming to raise half a million dollars to pour into the effort to defeat Sessions with his new outfit, the Marijuana Leadership Campaign, and a related political action committee.

More Cannabis Amendments Are Likely To Be Blocked Soon.

In the meantime, it seems likely that even more cannabis proposals will be added to the blocked tally when the Rules Committee considers a broad funding package this week which includes the Financial Services and General Government bill. Earlier versions of that annual appropriations legislation have been used as vehicles for measures concerning Washington, D.C.’s ability to spend its own money regulating marijuana and to allow cannabis growers, processors and retailers to access financial services.

Marijuana Moment’s analysis of blocked marijuana amendments relies heavily on a report issued in late May by Rules Committee Democrats, which tallied all blocked amendments across issues up to that point. (Marijuana Moment identified several subsequent cannabis measures that were prevented from reaching the floor following the Democratic report’s release.)

“Shutting down amendments and preventing debate is bad for the Congress as an institution, but is even worse for the country,” the Rules Committee minority, led by Congressman James McGovern of Massachusetts, wrote. “The inevitable result is partisan legislation written by a small number of Members, staff and lobbyists, with many bipartisan priorities left out in the cold.”

“Blocking amendments shuts out members of Congress from offering their ideas to improve legislation, and in doing so silences the voices of the millions of Americans they are elected to represent. So far during this record-breaking closed 115th Congress, 380 Members have had at least one amendment blocked from consideration by the Republican-controlled Rules Committee and Republican Leadership.

“These districts account for 270 million Americans. In other words, Representatives from roughly 80 percent of the county have been blocked from offering an idea for debate on the House Floor – the ideas their constituents sent them to Congress to advocate for on their behalf.”

In the report, which dubs the 115th Congress “the most closed Congress in history,” Democrats call out Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), who pledged to “uphold the rights of the minority” and “have a process that is more open, more inclusive, more deliberative, more participatory.”

“You are the first Speaker in history to have never allowed a truly open rule, which would permit all Members to offer their ideas on the floor of the House,” McGovern and Democratic colleagues wrote.

“The People’s House is meant to operate as a deliberative body. Shutting out the voices of the representatives of hundreds of millions of Americans erodes the foundation of our democracy, and makes the job of governing increasingly more difficult.”

While the Democrats highlight several issue areas such as guns, immigration, the environment, veterans affairs and criminal justice reform in their report narrative, they do not specially discuss the blocked marijuana amendments, which are included in an appendix that lists every submitted measure not “made in order” by the Rules Committee.

Among the cannabis-related amendments impeded during this Congress were measures to reduce funding for the Drug Enforcement Administration’s marijuana eradication efforts, shield military veterans from losing their benefits due to cannabis use, expand research on marijuana’s medical benefits, allow Indian tribes to enter the cannabis industry and create a federal excise tax on marijuana sales.

There were also measures that would have granted an official congressional apology for the damage done by the war on drugs and ceased the practice of punishing states that don’t automatically revoke drivers licenses from people convicted of drug offenses.

At a time when marijuana law reform enjoys overwhelming support from voters, and more states are modernizing their cannabis laws, lawmakers in the so-called “People’s House” are not even allowed to vote on the issue.

The Senate Saves The Day. Maybe.

For the past several years, cannabis reform advocates have been largely relying on the Senate to advance their proposals. Last month, for example, that chamber’s Appropriations Committee approved measures on veterans’ medical cannabis access and preventing Justice Department intervention in state medical marijuana laws. (The panel, however, blocked an amendment on banking for marijuana businesses.)

Meanwhile, advocates this year for the first time advanced a marijuana amendment out the House Appropriations Committee, circumventing the Pete Sessions floor blockade. That measure, to shield state medical cannabis laws from federal interference, has historically required House floor votes—now impossible, thanks to Sessions—or Senate action to advance.

The ultimate fate of the various Senate-approved marijuana measures now rests with bicameral conference committees that will merge the two chambers’ bills into single proposals to be sent to President Trump’s desk.

For example, both the Senate and the House approved separate versions of large-scale food and agriculture legislation known as the Farm Bill this year, but only the Senate version has hemp legalization language in it. Sessions’s Rules Committee blocked a House vote. It will be up to the conference committee to decide which version prevails.

Regardless of which party controls the chamber when the 116th Congress is seated in January, Ryan, who is retiring, will be gone. And if legalization supporters have their way, so will Sessions.

See below for the full list of cannabis amendment blocked by Pete Sessions and the Rules Committee during the 115th Congress:

Amendment Summary Sponsor(s)
Prohibits the use of funds to prevent any of various states from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possessions, or cultivation of marijuana on non-Federal lands within their respective jurisdictions. Polis (CO), McClintock (CA)
Specifies that cannabis-related businesses may utilize federal financial institutions when they are compliant with the law or regulation of their state or political subdivision of their state. Gaetz (FL), Rohrabacher (CA)
Permits the District of Columbia to spend its local funds to regulate and tax recreational marijuana. Norton (DC), Rohrabacher (CA), Blumenauer (OR), Lee, Barbara (CA)
Prohibits funds from being used to limit or interfere with the ability of VA healthcare providers to make appropriate recommendations, fill out forms or take steps to comply with a medicinal marijuana program approved by a state. Blumenauer (OR), Amash (MI), Curbelo (FL), Gaetz (FL), Garrett (VA), McClintock (CA), Reed (NY), Rohrabacher (CA),
Cohen (TN), Young, Don (AK), Lee, Barbara (CA), Perlmutter (CO), Polis (CO), Titus (NV), Hunter (CA), Pocan (WI), DeFazio (OR), Correa (CA)
Prohibits funds from being used to limit or interfere with the ability of VA healthcare providers to make appropriate recommendations, fill out forms or take steps to comply with a medicinal marijuana program approved by a state. Blumenauer (OR), Amash (MI), Curbelo (FL), Gaetz (FL), Garrett (VA), McClintock (CA), Reed (NY), Rohrabacher (CA),
Young, Don (AK), Cohen (TN), Correa (CA), Lee, Barbara (CA), Perlmutter (CO), Polis (CO), Titus (NV), Hunter (CA), Pocan (WI), DeFazio (OR)
Prevents the denial of water rights to a legal owner of an absolute or conditional water right, or an entity that receives or distributes water contracted from the Federal government for the cultivation of industrial hemp. Polis (CO), Comer (KY)
Prevents the denial of water rights to a legal owner of an absolute or conditional water right, or an entity that receives or distributes water contracted from the Federal government for the cultivation of industrial hemp. Polis (CO)
Prevents denial of federal water rights to hemp and marijuana farmers and growers. Polis (CO), Blumenauer (OR), Young, Don (AK), Bonamici (OR)
Prohibits the Department of Justice from prosecuting individuals who are in compliance with their state’s medical marijuana laws, or otherwise interfering with the implementation of such laws. Rohrabacher (CA), Blumenauer (OR), Young, Don (AK), Polis (CO), McClintock (CA), Lee, Barbara (CA), Joyce (OH), Cohen
(TN), Gaetz (FL), Titus (NV), Coffman (CO), Lewis, Jason (MN), Rosen (NV), Correa (CA)
Prevents funds to the Department of Justice from being used in preventing or delaying the applications of research of schedule I controlled substances for conducting medical research in states and jurisdictions that said substance is legal for medicinal use pursuant to State law Gaetz (FL)
Prohibits funds from being used to pay the salaries or expenses of personnel to fail to act on a marijuana research application. Polis (CO)
Prohibits any funds from being used to prevent a state from implementing any law that makes it lawful to possess, distribute, or use cannabidiol or cannabidiol oil. Perry (PA)
Reduces funds in the DEA Salaries and Expenses used for the Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Marijuana Suppression Program. Increases the spending reduction account by the same amount. Lieu (CA), Polis (CO), Young, Don (AK), Titus (NV)
Provides that none of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to any of the States of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, to prevent any of them from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of marijuana on non-Federal lands within their respective jurisdictions. McClintock (CA), Polis (CO), Blumenauer (OR), Amash (MI), Coffman (CO), Cohen (TN), Curbelo (FL), Heck, Denny (WA), Lee, Barbara (CA), Perlmutter (CO), Pocan (WI), Sanford (SC), Rohrabacher (CA), Young, Don (AK), Hunter (CA), Smith, Adam (WA
Prohibits any DOJ funds from being used to prevent a state from implementing its own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of industrial hemp Bonamici (OR), Polis (CO), Blumenauer (OR), Soto (FL), Comer (KY), Pocan (WI)
Prohibits the Department of Justice from prosecuting individuals from federally recognized Indian tribes who are in compliance with their tribal medical marijuana laws, or otherwise interfering with the implementation of such laws Titus (NV), Polis (CO), Blumenauer (OR)
Permits the District of Columbia to spend its local funds to regulate and tax recreational marijuana. Norton (DC), DeSaulnier (CA), Blumenauer (OR)
Blocks FinCEN from revoking guidance on how financial institutions should provide banking services to legitimate marijuana businesses. Heck, Denny (WA), Young, Don (AK), Perlmutter (CO), Lee, Barbara (CA), Titus (NV)
Prohibits funds from being used to penalize a financial institution for serving a legitimate marijuana business. Heck, Denny (WA), Young, Don (AK), Perlmutter (CO), Gaetz (FL), Lee, Barbara (CA), Titus (NV), Rosen (NV), McClintock (CA),
Blumenauer (OR), Correa (CA)
Blocks FinCEN from altering guidance on how financial institutions should provide banking services to legitimate marijuana businesses. Heck, Denny (WA), Young, Don (AK), Perlmutter (CO), Lee, Barbara (CA), Titus (NV), Collins, Chris (NY), King, Peter (NY)
Eliminates Section 159 of title 23, which reduces highway funding for states if they did not automatically suspend drivers licenses of anyone convicted of a drug offense. O’Rourke (TX), Amash (MI), Jeffries (NY), Nadler (NY)
Exempts Cannabis businesses from 280e of the federal tax code Polis (CO)
Applies a 15 percent excise tax on marijuana sales for the purposes of deficit reduction Correa (CA)
Prevents the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) from prosecuting anyone for using, selling, or possessing marijuana in compliance with state laws, thus protecting the legal marijuana industry across the country from Federal interference. Polis (CO)
Allows small businesses located in states that have legalized marijuana to utilize tax deductions Polis (CO)
Creates a safe harbor for financial institutions that provide services to hemp legitimate businesses authorized under the pilot program in the 2014 Farm Bill and affiliated third parties. Barr (KY)
Amends the Controlled Substances Act to exclude industrial hemp from the definition of “marijuana.” Massie (KY), Polis (CO)
Removes industrial hemp from the definition of marihuana under the Controlled Substances Act and places it under the jurisdiction of the USDA as an agricultural commodity. Comer (KY), Blumenauer (OR), Polis (CO), Barr (KY), Taylor (VA), Bonamici (OR)
Requires the VA to study medicinal marijuana as an alternative treatment option to prescription opioids. Polis (CO), Correa (CA)
Forbids the VA from discriminating against veterans who use cannabis consistent with the laws of their state. Crist (FL), Blumenauer (OR)
Prevents denial of federal water rights to hemp and marijuana farmers and growers. Polis (CO), Blumenauer (OR), Bonamici (OR), Young, Don (AK)
Prohibits funds from being used by the Department of Veterans Affairs to deny VHA benefits to veterans, their dependents, and their survivors if they use marijuana in compliance with state law. Blumenauer (OR), Correa (CA)
Prohibits funds from being used to limit or interfere with the ability of VA healthcare providers to make appropriate recommendations, fill out forms, or take steps to comply with a medicinal marijuana program approved by a state. Blumenauer (OR), Amash (MI), Lee, Barbara (CA), Curbelo (FL), Crowley (NY), Gaetz (FL), Titus (NV), Jones (NC), Cohen (TN), McClintock (CA), Correa (CA), Reed (NY), Perlmutter (CO), Rohrabacher (CA), Pocan (WI), Young, Don (AK), DeFazio (OR), Sanford (SC)
Provides congressional apology for its role regarding the War on Drugs. Watson Coleman (NJ)

 

Congressional GOP Blocks Marijuana Votes (Again)

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.

Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 20-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (Organization citations are for identification only and do not constitute an endorsement or partnership.)

Politics

United Nations To Vote On Marijuana Rescheduling And CBD Issues This Week, With U.S. Backing Some Reforms

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A key United Nations (UN) commission will vote on a series of World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations concerning international marijuana reform this week. And the U.S. is in favor of the boldest policy change.

UN’s Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) has held numerous meetings on the proposals—including removing cannabis from the most restrictive global drug scheduling category under a global treaty—since WHO made its six recommendations last year. Now, after several delays, CND is finally scheduled to meet to decide on the measures on Wednesday.

Advocates are generally encouraged by the development, arguing that a vote in favor of the reforms will promote research into the therapeutic potential of cannabis. However, they say removing marijuana from its current international Schedule IV status does not go far enough and means that many member nations will continue to criminalize the plant.

Here are each of WHO’s cannabis recommendations:

1. Remove marijuana from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention.

2. Add THC and dronabinol (synthetic THC medication) to Schedule I of the 1961 Convention and, if approved, delete them from Schedule II of the 1971 Convention.

3. If the second recommendation is adopted, add tetrahydrocannabinol to Schedule I of the 1961 Convention and, if approved, delete it from Schedule I of the 1971 Convention.

4. Delete “extracts and tinctures of cannabis” from Schedule I of the 1961 Convention.

5. Add footnote to clarify that CBD products containing no more than 0.2 percent THC are not subject to international control.

6. Add “preparations containing dronabinol” to Schedule III of the 1961 Convention.

Last month, the U.S. government said it is backing the WHO recommendation to remove marijuana from the most restrictive global drug scheduling category—though it’s opposing separate cannabis reform proposals, including the one to clarify that CBD is not under international control.

John Walsh, director of drug policy for Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), told Marijuana Moment that this upcoming vote is “momentous,” especially as “this is the first time that the UN scientific bodies has assessed placing cannabis and drug control schedules.”

‘And it’s extremely significant that the United States is supporting a recommendation to remove cannabis from Schedule IV, which strongly discourages medical uses of cannabis, even if it doesn’t outright prohibit it,” he said.

Of principal concern to advocates is that while marijuana would be removed from Schedule IV under the 1961 Single Convention—the most strict international category—it would maintain its status as a Schedule I controlled substance if the panel accepts the recommendation. (The international scheduling system differs from that of the U.S. in that the country’s most restrictive category is Schedule I.)

But despite supporting that recommendation, the U.S. circulated a proposed joint statement to other member states that claims consensus on the notion “that cannabis is properly subject to the full scope of international controls of the 1961 Single Convention, due in particular to the high rates of public health problems arising from cannabis use and the global extent of such problems, as identified in the critical review by WHO.”

It also stipulates that “no Party shall be precluded from adopting measures of control more strict or severe than those required as a result of this decision, if such measures in its opinion are necessary or desirable for the protection of the public health or welfare.” The language seems to attempt to leave room for countries to continue enforcing more restrictive cannabis policies regardless of international rules.

In an email obtained by Marijuana Moment, a State Department official said that the U.S. “believes, to demonstrate unity, every CND member and observer could ideally join the statement below, regardless of how their government will vote.” They also plan to proceed with filing the statement even if no other member states join them.

The statement represents a “disconnect” from the country’s planned vote in favor of removing marijuana from the international body’s most restrictive drug classification, Walsh said.

“Civil society had called for, and welcomed, this long overdue review process—but many have been critical of some of the recommendations,” drug policy reform advocates said in a media advisory. “While recommendations on medical cannabis and CBD are certainly positive steps, profound concerns have been raised around leaving cannabis in Schedule I of the 1961 Convention.”

“This recommendation is at odds with The Who Expert Committee on Drug Dependence’s clear finding that cannabis was less harmful than other drugs included in that schedule (heroin and cocaine),” the advisory, prepared by advocacy groups Transform Drug Policy Foundation, Transnational Institute, International Drug Policy Consortium and WOLA, said.

“Regardless of the outcome of the votes on 2 December, this historic review process has demonstrably failed to implement a much-needed modernization of an outdated and malfunctioning system, and to resolve key scientific, political, institutional and human rights challenges related to cannabis and its status in the international drugs control system,” they said.

Numerous health and drug policy reform groups have advocated for the more modest changes WHO proposed.

A coalition of drug policy groups told member nations in a sign-on statement that patients worldwide are “counting on you to seize the opportunity offered by WHO to update the treaties, doing all you can to ensure access to all useful medicines. Including cannabis medicines.”

“Adopting WHO’s recommendations would lead to better medications being developed and more tools for doctors to alleviate suffering while simultaneously reinforcing the UN’s relevance,” they said.

The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies also weighed in in favor of the recommendations.

While the WHO’s CBD recommendation would simply offer clarification that cannabidiol products containing no more than 0.2 percent THC isn’t a controlled substance under international treaties, the U.S. came down against that and several other cannabis-related proposals.

It should be noted that none of WHO’s recommendations would promote the legalization of cannabis in any country, but advocates nonetheless seem that as a step forward from the status quo.

“This is super, super meaningful. But I don’t want to overstate it,” Michael Krawitz, a U.S. Air Force veteran and legalization advocate who has spent years working to reform international drug treaties, told Marijuana Moment. “I’ve been cautioning really hard to member states to not fall into this trap that the opposition fell into on [on California’s 1996 medical cannabis initiative] of overstating what this does in an effort to try to stop it—and then vicariously creating expectations in people’s minds that this actually does much more than it does.”

But the U.S.’s expected support for the proposal to remove marijuana from Schedule IV represents a departure from its position as articulated in a government document that Marijuana Moment obtained earlier this year. The document stated that it’s “possible that civil society, the media, and the general public will view deleting cannabis from Schedule IV as a first step toward widespread legalization of marijuana use, especially without proper messaging.”

Meanwhile, if the recommendation on CBD is adopted, it could potentially have far-reaching implications in the U.S. In 2018, the FDA determined that CBD does not meet the criteria for federal control—except for the fact that international treaties to which the U.S. is party could potentially be construed as requiring it.

The U.S. does intend to back the fourth WHO recommendation on deleting cannabis extracts and tinctures from Schedule I of the 1961 Convention, according to advocates familiar with the delegation’s thinking.

FDA has on several occasions solicited public input to shape the government’s position on the international scheduling of marijuana and cannabinoids. The agency initially requested feedback on the proposal in March 2019 and then reopened that comment period five months later.

House Leaders Propose Changes To Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill Up For Floor Vote This Week

Photo by Aphiwat chuangchoem.

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House Leaders Propose Changes To Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill Up For Floor Vote This Week

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A key House committee has scheduled a Wednesday hearing to advance a bill to federally legalize marijuana toward a full floor vote, which could then happen as soon as Thursday. Meanwhile, leaders in the chamber are proposing an amendment that would make several changes to the cannabis legislation.

Among the most significant revisions would be to the tax-related provisions of the bill.

The Rules Committee’s move to take up the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act follows Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) announcement that the chamber would be holding a floor vote on the bill before the end of the year.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), the lead sponsor of the bill, transmitted it to Rules with the series of modifications—many of them technical in nature. But beyond the tax changes, the newly proposed language also reaffirms the regulatory authority of certain federal agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and clarifies that cannabis can still be included in drug testing programs for federal workers.

Other members of the House are likely to file proposed amendments as well, though the Democratic majority of the Rules panel will determine which ones can be made in order for floor votes later this week.

As originally drafted, the legislation would have imposed a five percent tax on marijuana products, revenue from which would be used in part to fund a grant program to support communities disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs. In Nadler’s amendment, that language is being removed and replaced with text that more closely reflects a separate descheduling bill, the Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act.

The modified tax provisions of the MORE Act would make it so cannabis would be federally taxed at five percent for the first two years after implementation and then increased by one percent each year until reaching eight percent. After five years, taxes would be applied to marijuana products based on weight rather than price.

At its core, the MORE Act would federally deschedule cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and expunge the records of those with prior marijuana convictions. The descheduling provisions would be retroactive.

The bill would also create a pathway for resentencing for those incarcerated for marijuana offenses, as well as protect immigrants from being denied citizenship over cannabis and prevent federal agencies from denying public benefits or security clearances due to its use.

A new Cannabis Justice Office under the Justice Department would be responsible for distributing funds providing loans for small cannabis businesses owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals. The bill also seeks to minimize barriers to licensing and employment in the legal industry.

While the bill still calls for the establishment of a Community Reinvestment Grant Program, the new leadership amendment would remove a line calling for it to specifically fund “services to address any collateral consequences that individuals or communities face as a result of the War on Drugs.”

Tax dollars appropriated to that program would instead more generally go to job training, legal aid for criminal and civil cases such as those concerning marijuana-related expungements, literacy programs and youth recreation and mentoring services, among other programs.

The definition of people impacted by the drug war who could be eligible for aid is also being changed to narrow the scope. At first it included those who have “been arrested for or convicted of the sale, possession, use, manufacture, or cultivation of cannabis or a controlled substance,” but now it only extends to marijuana and not other illicit drugs.

Other changes included in Nadler’s latest revision include one requiring FDA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to hold public meetings on “regulation, safety, manufacturing, product quality, marketing, labeling, and sale of products containing cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds” within one year of the bill’s enactment.

The language is also being updated to reflect the current number of states where marijuana is legal for medical or recreational purposes, clarify that FDA and HHS maintain their authorities to regulate cannabis products and stipulate that federal agencies can continue to include cannabis in employee drug testing. A conforming amendment would clarify that the U.S. Department of Transportation could continue to require drug testing for workers in safety sensitive positions.

The revised version also stipulates that funding can be made available to “connect patients with substance use disorder services” and apply to “individuals who have been arrested for or convicted of the sale, possession, use, manufacture, or cultivation of a controlled substance other than cannabis (except for a conviction involving distribution to a minor).”

The proposal also deletes from the definition of substance misuse treatment language stating that it would be an “evidence-based, professionally directed, deliberate, and planned regimen including evaluation, observation, medical monitoring, harm reduction, and rehabilitative services and interventions such as pharmacotherapy, mental health services, and individual and group counseling, on an inpatient or outpatient basis, to help patients with substance use disorder reach remission and maintain recovery.”

There are also a number of technical and conforming changes in the proposal, as well as the removal of the word “most” from “individuals most adversely impacted by the War on Drugs” when it comes to determining eligibility for the new programs and services created by the legislation.

In a new report on the bill that was submitted by the Democratic majority in Judiciary, members said cannabis enforcement “has been a key driver of mass criminalization in the United States” and the “drug war has produced profoundly unequal outcomes across racial groups, manifested through significant racial disparities throughout the criminal justice system.”

“The higher arrest and incarceration rates for communities of color do not reflect a greater prevalence of drug use, but rather the focus on law enforcement on urban areas, lower income communities, and communities of color,” they wrote.

Further, the “collateral consequences of even an arrest for marijuana possession can be devastating, especially if a felony conviction results.”

“Those arrested can be saddled with a criminal conviction that can make it difficult or impossible to vote, obtain educational loans, get a job, maintain a professional license, secure housing, secure government assistance, or even adopt a child,” the report states. “These exclusions create an often-permanent second-class status for millions of Americans. Like drug war enforcement itself, these consequences fall disproportionately on people of color. For non-citizens, a conviction can trigger deportation, sometimes with almost no possibility of discretionary relief.”

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), GOP ranking member on the panel, wrote the minority opinion in the report.

He argued that the MORE Act “disregards established science” and “would open the floodgates to marijuana cultivation, distribution, and sale within the United States—allowing bad actors and transnational criminal organizations to further exploit America’s addiction crisis.”

The congressman complained that the legislation—which he called “an extreme and unwise measure”—wouldn’t impose limits on THC concentration or ban flavored cannabis products, and he said it “fails to funnel any tax revenue towards a public awareness campaign to discourage teen use of marijuana, modeled on successful anti-tobacco campaigns.”

He also claimed it “does nothing to help the Federal government and scientific community to understand the effects of marijuana usage.”

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris (D-CA) is the lead sponsor of the Senate companion version of the MORE Act.

One provision of the bill requires that any uses of the words “marijuana” or “marihuana” in U.S. Code or regulations be replaced with the term “cannabis”—despite the fact that the legislation has “marijuana” in its own title.

The Congressional Research Service released an analysis of the MORE Act last week, finding that the bill’s passage could “reverse” the current cannabis policy gap that exists between states and the federal government.

That’s because the bill does not require states to stop criminalizing cannabis, and so jurisdictions with prohibition still on the books could continue to punish people over marijuana even as such activity is legalized at the federal level.

Even if the legislation does pass in the Democratic-controlled chamber, as it’s expected to with some bipartisan support, it remains unlikely that the Senate will follow suit. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is a champion of the hemp industry but staunchly opposes further marijuana reform.

That said, a symbolic vote for legalization could send a strong signal to the incoming Biden administration.

Given Biden’s former approach to championing punitive anti-drug legislation as a senator and his ongoing obstinance on marijuana legalization at a time when polls show that a clear majority of Americans favor the policy change, there remains some skepticism about his willingness to make good on his campaign promises to achieve more modest reforms he has endorsed, such as decriminalizing possession and expunging records.

A transition document the incoming Biden-Harris administration released this month left out mention of those cannabis pledges.

That said, the president-elect has conceded that his work on punitive anti-drug legislation during his time in Congress was a “mistake.”

For his part, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) told Marijuana Moment in August that “the Biden administration and a Biden Department of Justice would be a constructive player” in advancing legalization.

These States Could Have Marijuana Legalization On Their 2022 Ballots

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.
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Politics

USDA Expands Hemp Crop Insurance Program For Farmers In More States

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced on Monday that it is expanding and improving a crop insurance program for hemp farmers.

The Multi-Peril Crop Insurance is one of several coverage programs for which hemp qualifies. Under the new expansion, farmers in certain counties of the additional states of Arizona, Arkansas, Nevada and Texas will be eligible, as will those in new counties of states already included in the program, such as Colorado, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, New Mexico, Tennessee and Virginia.

Broker contracts for hemp grain will also be allowed for the first time, and reporting and billing dates will be adjusted to match those for similar crops.

“We are pleased to expand the hemp program and make other improvements for hemp producers,” USDA Risk Management Agency Administrator Martin Barbre said in a press release. “Hemp offers exciting economic opportunities for our nation’s farmers, and we are listening and responding to their risk management needs.”

Crop insurance policies are one of many areas USDA has acted in following hemp’s legalization through the 2018 Farm Bill.

The department has approved nearly 70 state and tribal regulatory hemp proposals and recently awarded an advocacy group $200,000 to support America’s international hemp trade.

Last month USDA closed an extended public comment period on its proposed hemp regulations after temporarily reopening the feedback period due to strong pushback from stakeholders, many of whom said the policies were too restrictive. An initial comment round saw more than 4,600 submissions.

Due to the concerns, Congress approved a continuing resolution that extends a current hemp pilot program established in 2014 through September 2021. That program, which many in the industry feel is more flexible than USDA’s proposed rules, was initially set to expire in October.

The department announced last month that it is planning to distribute a national survey to gain insights from thousands of hemp businesses that could inform its approach to regulating the industry.

Also last month, USDA issued and then rescinded guidance on providing federal loans for hemp processors.

Several members of Congress sent a letter to USDA and other federal agencies this month, telling them to better coordinate their hemp policies.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, hemp industry associations pushed for farmers to be able to access to certain COVID-19 relief loans—a request that Congress granted in the most recent round of coronavirus legislation.

While USDA previously said that hemp farmers are specifically ineligible for its Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, that decision was reversed. While the department initially said it would not even reevaluate the crop’s eligibility based on new evidence, it removed that language shortly after Marijuana Moment reported on the exclusion.

These States Could Have Marijuana Legalization On Their 2022 Ballots

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

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.
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