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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 15-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

Where Presidential Candidate Kamala Harris Stands On Marijuana

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On Monday, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) announced that she’s running for president in 2020. The latest in a growing list of candidates hoping to take on President Donald Trump, Harris has made criminal justice reform—including marijuana legalization—a main component of her platform.

Though the former San Francisco district attorney and California attorney general hasn’t always been friendly to cannabis reform, Harris’s evolution on the issue has earned her an A grade from NORML.

Legislation And Policy Actions

Harris came out in support of legalization in 2018, adding her name to a far-reaching marijuana bill introduced by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ). The legislation would remove cannabis from the list of federally banned substances and also penalize states where marijuana laws are enforced disproportionately against people of color.

“Right now in this country people are being arrested, being prosecuted, and end up spending time in jail or prison all because of their use of a drug that otherwise should be considered legal,” she said in a press release. “Making marijuana legal at the federal level is the smart thing to do, it’s the right thing to do. I know this as a former prosecutor and I know it as a senator.”

But beyond the Marijuana Justice Act, Harris has only co-sponsored one other cannabis-related bill: the SAFE Banking Act, which would protect banks that work with marijuana businesses from federal punishment.

Harris also signed a letter alongside Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) that called on the Justice Department to stop blocking federal research into medical cannabis. In a separate sign-on letter, she joined her colleagues in requesting that lawmakers include protections for legal cannabis states in a spending bill.

The limited scope of her legislative track record on cannabis policy contrasts with other Democratic candidates like Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), who have co-sponsored numerous bills to change federal marijuana laws.

Quotes And Social Media Posts

All that said, Harris has talked quite a bit about marijuana in speeches and on social media.

When then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole memo, which provided guidance on federal marijuana enforcement priorities, she said the Justice Department shouldn’t be focused on “going after grandma’s medicinal marijuana.”

“This administration and Jeff Sessions want to take us back to the dark ages,” Harris said at the Center for American Progress Ideas Conference in 2017. “Sessions has threatened that the United States Department of Justice may renew its focus on marijuana use even as states like California, where it is legal.”

“Well, let me tell you what California needs, Jeff Sessions,” she said. “We need support in dealing with transnational criminal organizations, dealing with issues like human trafficking—not going after grandma’s medicinal marijuana. Leave her alone.”

Harris hadn’t signed onto any marijuana reform legislation during the time she was going after Sessions. But she was using the battle to solicit signatures on a petition, a common tactic that politicians use to build email lists that they can later use for fundraising. Several House members pressured her and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to take stronger action by blocking Justice Department nominees until the Cole memo was restored.

The senator has repeatedly called for federal cannabis decriminalization, characterizing existing laws as “regressive policies” that have “ruined” many lives.

“We need to decriminalize marijuana,” she said. “We have a problem of mass incarceration in our country. And let’s be clear, the war on drug was a failed war. It was misdirected.”

She has also criticized the federal government for blocking military veterans’ access to medical cannabis.

“As states moves toward legalizing marijuana, let’s remember how many lives have been ruined because of our regressive policies,” Harris wrote. “We must focus on restorative justice.”

Curiously, however, Harris also has a habit of referring to the war on drugs in the past tense—as if it isn’t the case that hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. are still being arrested for cannabis and other drugs every year.

“The war on drugs was a failure,” she said in 2017. “It criminalized what is a public health matter. It was a war on poor communities more than anything.”

She also accused Sessions of “resuscitating” the drug war.

During her time as a prosecutor, Harris said she “saw the war on drugs up close, and let me tell you, the war on drugs was an abject failure.”

“It offered taxpayers a bad return on investment, it was bad for public safety, it was bad for budgets and our economy, and it was bad for people of color and those struggling to make ends meet,” she said.

“I’ll tell you what standing up for the people also means,” Harris said in 2015. “It means challenging the policy of mass incarceration by recognizing the war on drugs was a failure. And Democrats, on that point, let’s be clear also: now is the time to end the federal ban on medical marijuana. It is.”

Before Harris backed full legalization or federal decriminalization, she was supportive of rescheduling cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act. Asked about the policy in 2016, she said “I would work to remove marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II.”

“We need to reform our criminal justice system and changing the marijuana classification and drug sentencing laws are part of that effort.”

At a debate that year, she predicted that California voters would approve full legalization via a ballot measure (which they did) and reiterated that “we have to do is move [marijuana] from Schedule I to Schedule II.”

“We have incarcerated a large number of predominantly African American and Latino men in this country for possession and use at a very small scale of one of the least dangerous drugs in the schedule,” she said.

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Harris said “I started my career as a baby prosecutor during the height of the crack epidemic—not all drugs are equal.”

“We have over-criminalized so many people, in particular poor youth and men of color, in communities across this country and we need to move it on the schedule,” she said. “Plus we need to start researching the effect of marijuana and we have not been able to do it because of where it is on the schedule.”

Harris congratulated Canada on its national legalization of marijuana.

Harris’s evolution on cannabis can be neatly summed up with two videos. The first shows her being asked about marijuana legalization in 2014 in light of her Republican opponent for attorney general supporting it. She dismissively laughs off the question.

The second shows Harris during a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing pressing President Donald Trump’s attorney general nominee, William Barr, on whether he’d use Justice Department funds to go after marijuana businesses acting in compliance with state law.

Harris even attempted to crack her own marijuana joke during a recent appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, though the late night host didn’t seem especially amused.

In her book, The Truths We Hold, she took her message in support of legalization a step further. Not only should we “legalize marijuana and regulate it,” but we should also “expunge nonviolent marijuana-related offenses from the records of millions of people who have been arrested and incarcerated so they can get on with their lives,” Harris wrote.

“We also need to stop treating drug addiction like a public safety crisis instead of what it is: a public health crisis,” she also wrote, suggesting she may be in favor of broader drug policy reforms. “When someone is suffering from addiction, their situation is made worse, not better, by involvement in the criminal justice system.”

Personal Experience With Marijuana

Harris hasn’t said whether she’s personally experimented with “grandma’s medicinal marijuana.”

Marijuana Under A Harris Presidency

Five years ago, marijuana reform advocates might have felt apprehensive about cannabis policy under a Harris presidency. And they would’ve been reasonably skeptical about the prospect of her administration playing an active role in reform efforts. But the senator’s recent rhetoric and legislative action suggest she would likely be an ally of the legalization movement if elected to the Oval Office.

Where Presidential Candidate Tulsi Gabbard Stands On Marijuana

Photo element courtesy of California Attorney General’s Office.

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2018 Was A Major Year For Cannabis Legislation And 2019 Is Shaping Up To Be Much Bigger

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Lawmakers across the country are introducing, debating and voting on more marijuana legislation than ever before.

In 2018, Marijuana Moment tracked 915 bills in state legislatures and Congress concerning cannabis, medical marijuana and hemp. According to our legislative analysis platform, a huge majority of states—92 percent—took up cannabis reform bills of some kind during the year.

This year, legislators in state capitols and on Capitol Hill have already filed more than 350 cannabis-related proposals for 2019 sessions that in most cases began only weeks ago. If 2018 is any indication, this year should see a sizable number of those bills making it to governors’ desks for enactment.

In 2018, a significant percentage of filed marijuana legislation moved forward, with at least 147 bills being signed or enacted in 35 states and the District of Columbia.

Those that made it across the finish line ranged from far-reaching proposals such as the legalization of cannabis possession and home cultivation in Vermont to more modest regulatory measures like Colorado bills concerning marijuana waste recycling and water use for hemp cultivation.

Twenty-eight of the bills that were enacted concerned hemp, while 48 were related to medical cannabis or cannabidiol (CBD).

Others had to do with regulating newly legal markets. Not surprisingly, California had the most legislation passed (26 bills), as the state attempted to implement its voter-approved legalization system. Among the enacted legislation in the Golden State were items touching on issues like medical cannabis recommendations by veterinarians, marijuana advertisements and cannabinoid-infused alcoholic beverages. An additional 29 bills died or were vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown.

Colorado was next, with 18 bills signed and three vetoed.

Hawaii, it turns out, dealt with the greatest volume of cannabis bills overall. Six were enacted but an astonishing 103 additional proposals died in committee, failed or were vetoed. That number accounts for 11 percent of all the cannabis bills we tracked across the country in 2018.

While a few states like South Dakota only had one bill, fourteen individual states dealt with 20 or more pieces of legislation each.

New Jersey saw 57 cannabis-related bills, with only one making it all the way to the end of the legislative process: A measure to create a pilot program to research industrial hemp cultivation.

California lawmakers considered 55 bills, New York weighed 48 and Washington State saw 45 pieces of cannabis legislation filed.

States that dealt with 20 or more pieces of cannabis legislation in 2018:

State
Total number
of bills
Hawaii 109
Federal 64
New Jersey 57
California 55
New York 48
Washington 45
Maryland 32
Colorado 31
Tennessee 31
Iowa 28
Michigan 28
Virginia 28
Arizona 22
Maine 20

Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, told Marijuana Moment that the organization’s chapters across the country are seeing “increased interest and increased support from lawmakers from every part of the political spectrum.”

“As politicians see the public moving ahead of them, they are rapidly evolving their stance regarding marijuana.”

There is plenty of political resistance remaining, however. A majority of cannabis-related legislation introduced last year—529 bills—failed, died or were vetoed.

Maine was the only state where legislators overrode a gubernatorial veto in order to implement a regulatory system for the recreational marijuana law that the state’s voters approved in 2016.

Meanwhile, Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana via an act of lawmakers as opposed to through a ballot measure. Legislators in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory, followed by passing a legalization bill of their own.

“Last year’s tremendous amount of legislative activity surrounding cannabis, hemp and CBD legislation reflected that elected officials are increasingly getting the message that the harsh criminalization of marijuana in all its forms is misguided and out of step with the the wishes of voters,” Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment.

At the federal level, 2018 marked the first time stand-alone cannabis bills advanced though congressional committees.

In May, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee approved legislation encouraging the federal government to study the benefits of medical cannabis for military veterans. Then, in September, the House Judiciary Committee passed a bill that would force the Department of Justice to approve new businesses to cultivate marijuana to be used in scientific research.

Neither proposal ended up getting a floor vote, but their historic committee approvals demonstrated momentum ahead of the new 116th Congress, in which advocates are more hopeful than ever before that marijuana legislation could advance to enactment.

An additional 59 cannabis-related congressional bills stalled without hearings or votes, though it is also worth noting that lawmakers approved, and President Trump signed, a large-scale Farm Bill renewal that included language legalizing industrial hemp and its derivatives.

Back at the state level, O’Keefe is optimistic that efforts made in 2018 will pay off in 2019. “Several states saw committee wins or other progress that will help set the ground for eventual passage,” she said.

In New Jersey, for example, Senate and Assembly committees approved a bill to legalize marijuana in November but, due to an ongoing inability to agree with Gov. Phil Murphy (D) on tax rates and regulatory matters, legislative leaders didn’t bring the proposal to the floor of either chamber by the end of the year. Those negotiations are still underway, with advocates hopeful that agreeable language can be worked out early in 2019.


Marijuana Moment is currently tracking more than 350 key cannabis bills in state legislatures and Congress for 2019 sessions. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

We followed more than 900 pieces of cannabis legislation in 2018. Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

Strekal agrees that this year will be another especially active one for cannabis legislation. “There will be greater numbers of legislation introduced,” he predicts, as well as an increase in those pieces of legislation “receiving hearings, passing committees, being passed by legislative votes and being enacted by governors.”

Status of cannabis bills considered in 2018, by state:

Photo elements courtesy of rawpixel and 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.
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Governor Signs Bill Legalizing Medical Marijuana In The U.S. Virgin Islands

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Medical cannabis was legalized in another U.S. territory on Saturday after the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands signed a long-awaited bill into law.

“I have approved the Virgin Islands Medicinal Cannabis Care Act because it is a step in the right direction toward assisting Virgin Islanders suffering from autoimmune and other debilitating medical conditions,” newly sworn-in Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. (D) said in a press release.

The Virgin Islands Medical Cannabis Patient Care Act allows qualified patients to obtain, possess and consume marijuana for therapeutic purposes. It also establishes legal dispensaries and facilities to cultivate, test and manufacture cannabis products.

“After such a prolonged beating, I don’t know how to feel, except relieved for the people who will finally have access to healthy, effective, and affordable medicinal cannabis,” Senator Terrence ‘Positive’ Nelson, who for several legislative sessions in a row has sponsored medical cannabis bills that were ultimately defeated, said in a text message to Marijuana Moment.

“I feel redeemed and excited that the effort went from ‘laughable’ to law!”

Photo courtesy of Gov. Albert Bryan’s office.

Patients suffering from a list of serious medical conditions including cancer, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s disease and chronic pain will be able to receive a recommendation for medical marijuana from a licensed medical practitioner. Qualifying residents can possess up to four ounces of cannabis at a time and possession for non-residents will be capped at three ounces.

The legislation was approved by lawmakers last month.

In an interview with The St. Thomas Source last year, Bryan said he supports legalizing medical cannabis “based on the proven health benefits in the relief of pain and treatment of symptoms for many serious ailments including cancer.”

“I believe a properly regulated medicinal cannabis industry can provide relief to those seeking alternatives to conventional medicine and can also be an economic driver attracting new revenues for the Virgin Islands,” he said.

Revenue from the territory’s medical cannabis program will be used to fund drug rehabilitation, tourism projects, agriculture investments, work training and infrastructure.

While reform efforts in mainland U.S. have been receiving significant attention, advocates are also scoring wins in various U.S. territories. For example, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands fully legalized cannabis last year, before even implementing a medical cannabis system.

“This legislation also gives effect to a Virgin Islands community-wide Referendum held in 2014 that approved the introduction of the medical-use sale of cannabis products by a majority of the voters,” Bryan said. “Since the Referendum, it is clear that marijuana-use policy in the United States has been changing rapidly in favor of medicinal and recreational use and will continue, even potentially on the federal level.”

The governor also suggested that the new medical cannabis policy may be tweaked going forward.

“The Legislature recognized that the Bill, as passed, is not perfect and needs more refinement and amendment and provides for an implementation period that we must aggressively pursue,” he said. It is part of the process of implementation of the regulatory and operational system. And therefore it will be essential that further revisions be developed, with professional guidance, in the implementation process, including preparation of Regulations, forms, fees, and procedures; and to undertake necessary amendments to the Bill with the Legislature.”

Nelson, the bill’s sponsor, said that he is looking forward to staying involved in the medical cannabis implementation process but that he is also ready to begin pushing for broader marijuana policy reforms.

“I am ready to assist with the establishment of rules and regulations which will be the next step,” Nelson said. “However, each jurisdiction cannot be satisfied with our own success in getting local law changed, but must continue the charge until there are changes to federal government law.”

“This is just another small victory on the rugged road to full legalization.”

Read the full text of the Virgin Islands Medical Cannabis Patient Care Act below:

USVI medical marijuana bill by on Scribd

UPDATE: A previous version of this story reported that the legislation was signed on Thursday as told to Marijuana Moment by the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Nelson. The governor signed the bill on Saturday.

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Photo element courtesy of Wikimedia.

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