The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday again defeated a spending bill amendment meant to promote research into the medical benefits of psychedelics like psilocybin and MDMA. But it picked up about 50 “yes” votes since it was last considered in 2019, signaling that Congress may be coming around on the issue as psychedelics reform advances at the state and local levels—similar to how support for marijuana law reform has increased over time.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) sponsored the amendment, with the hopes of attaching it to a wide-ranging appropriations bill. But it failed in a 140-285 vote. That’s a notably smaller margin compared to two years ago, when the proposal was rejected by a vote of 91-331.
Most Democrats supported the amendment this round, unlike in 2019 when a majority of Ocasio-Cortez’s party joined Republicans in quashing the reform.
The proposal, if adopted, would have removed a 1990s-era provision that’s long been part of spending legislation for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The rider bars use of funds for “any activity that promotes the legalization of any drug or other substance in Schedule I” of the Controlled Substances Act, language that reform supporters say can have a chilling effect on even researching the therapeutic potential of restricted drugs.
Despite the growth in Democratic support over the past two years, enough members of the party helped take the measure down during Tuesday’s vote. Ocasio-Cortez said in a tweet that “we got a little closer to ending this outdated war-on-drugs-era policy last night” and pledged that she will “keep bringing it up until the times catch up.”
(The vote tallies cited in the following tweet are incorrect).
We got a little closer to ending this outdated war-on-drugs-era policy last night. Last Congress, we had 83 votes. This Congress, we had 139, including 7 Republicans. We'll keep bringing it up until the times catch up. We're undeterred! https://t.co/bS73jHRy6x
— Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@RepAOC) July 28, 2021
A handful of Republicans did vote to pass the amendment, showing that the issue isn’t totally partisan. However, it was just seven GOP members who supported the effort, which is the same number as 2019. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) gave Ocasio-Cortez credit for “vastly increasing dem support here.”
BREAKING: Republicans voting YES on @aoc ecstasy/MDMA/psilocybin legislation (not enough, amendment fails)
Alex deserves a TON of credit for vastly increasing dem support here.
We will destigmatize this issue and win very soon based on the rate of growth of our support. pic.twitter.com/chme5TVDH2
— Matt Gaetz (@mattgaetz) July 28, 2021
- Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE)
- Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-PA)
- Rep. Anthony Brown (D-MD)
- Rep. Tim Burchett (R-TN)
- Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA)
- Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA)
- Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA)
- Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-VA)
- Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN)
- Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT)
- Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO)
- Rep. Sharice Davids (D-KS)
- Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-PA)
- Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL)
- Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI)
- Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX)
- Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-TX)
- Rep. Dwight Evans (D-PA)
- Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL)
- Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX)
- Rep. Al Green (D-TX)
- Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY)
- Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL)
- Rep. Daniel Kildee (D-MI)
- Rep. John Larson (D-CT)
- Rep. Al Lawson Jr. (D-FL)
- Rep. Sean Maloney (D-NY)
- Rep. Donald McEachin (D-VA)
- Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY)
- Rep. Donald Norcross (D-NJ)
- Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL)
- Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA)
- Rep. Mary Scanlon (D-PA)
- Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA)
- Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA)
- Rep. Albio Sires (D-NJ)
- Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA)
- Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-NY)
- Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY)
- Rep. Norma Torres (D-CA)
- Rep. Lori Trahan (D-MA)
- Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA)
- Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ)
- Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT)
- Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL)
Burchett was the lone Republican flip from opposition to support. And while each member may have their own reason for moving to back the amendment, it stands to reason that the psychedelics reform movement that’s played out locally and in states over the past two years contributed to the sizable increase in support.
Larson, for example, told The News Station that his state legislature’s passage of a bill requiring Connecticut to carry out a study into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin mushrooms, which the governor signed last month, influenced his vote.
“I think that was part of it,” he said, adding that Ocasio-Cortez also proved convincing in their conversations.
There were also a number of flips for other members representing states where psychedelics reform has been pursued of late.
Six lawmakers from the California delegation switched to “yes” this vote, as the state legislature has been actively considering a proposal to legalize possession of certain psychedelics and advocates continue to push for psilocybin legalization via a ballot measure.
There were also a handful of Texas flips. The state legislature recently enacted a bill to require the state to study the therapeutic potential of psychedelics.
Welch of Vermont decided to support the amendment this round after lawmakers in his state have pursued psychedelics decriminalization.
A Florida lawmaker introduced a bill this year to establish a legal psilocybin model for therapeutic use in the state, similar to an initiative that Oregon voters approved in November. Wilson, representing the state, changed her vote, too.
Last month, a New York lawmaker introduced a bill that would require the state to establish an institute to research the therapeutic potential of psychedelics. And four members of that state’s congressional delegation flipped to support the Ocasio-Cortez amendment from last time.
In contrast, there were just three members who flipped from “yes” to “no” since the 2019 vote:
- Rep. Sanford Bishop Jr. (D-GA)
- Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO)
- Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-WI)
There were some other newsworthy votes among congressional leadership. For example, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and former Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) all voted against the measure.
On the flip side, House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC), Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY)—who is sponsoring legislation to legalize marijuana federally—voted in favor of the proposal.
Separately on Tuesday, the House defeated a separate proposal from Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-AZ) to the HHS appropriations bill to eliminate a rider that’s currently in the legislation that “allows federal funding to go to institutions of higher education that are conducting research on marijuana.”
The amendment was rejected, with 147 votes in favor and 276 against. Every Democratic who voted opposed the proposal, and 60 Republicans joined their Democratic colleagues in defeating it.
Meanwhile, Congress will again vote on a proposal to protect all state and tribal marijuana programs from federal interference, a key committee decided on Wednesday.
The House Rules Committee made in order a bipartisan amendment to spending legislation that would provide the protections, which expand upon an existing rider that currently prevents the Justice Department from interfering in the implementation of medical cannabis laws alone. That more limited protection has been annually renewed as part of federal law since 2014.
The panel also advanced a competing amendment from Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) that would eliminate the current medical marijuana provision—despite the fact that it shields the decades-old program of the sponsor’s own state.
Photo courtesy of Dick Culbert.
Kansas Medical Marijuana Hearings Cancelled After Senate GOP Leader Reroutes House-Passed Bill
A House-passed bill to legalize medical marijuana in Kansas seems to be in jeopardy, with GOP Senate leadership moving the legislation out of a committee and into a different panel where it may sit in legislative limbo, resulting in the cancellation of hearings that were scheduled to be held this week.
Advocates are concerned about the decision by Senate President Ty Masterson (R), who withdrew the cannabis reform legislation from the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee days before hearings were to be held on Tuesday and Wednesday. It was then re-referred to the Senate Interstate Cooperation Committee, which Masterson chairs and where the bill’s fate is unclear.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that medical marijuana legalization is off the table for Kansas in 2022, but it does seem to signal that the reform might need to be enacted through another vehicle, either in the legislature or at the ballot, as top Democratic lawmakers in the state are pursuing.
“We certainly hope that this action is just making sure that this bill meets any concerns that Senate leadership may have concerning this historic legislation,” Kevin Caldwell, a legislative manager at Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), told Marijuana Moment. “This bill had widespread bipartisan support in the House last session. We hope Senate President Masterson quickly holds a committee hearing and advances this legislation.”
When the proposal was being advanced in the House last year during the first half of the two-year session, members amended an unrelated bill that previously cleared the Senate to make it the chamber’s vehicle for the policy change. Because of that, it was ruled “materially changed” last May and sent to the Senate for committee consideration.
Now there’s a question of whether lawmakers will be motivated to introduce another separate bill and try to move it through both chambers, requiring another House vote. The Senate president seemed to temper expectations in recent remarks, telling The Kansas City Star that “not a single member” of his caucus has expressed that the issue “was important to them.”
That’s not how Kansas Democrats feel, however. House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer (D) and Assistant Minority Leader Jason Probst (D) said this month that they will be introducing proposals to let voters decide on legalizing medical and adult-use marijuana in the state. At the time, Sawyer said he was “hopeful” that the legislature might separately advance the House-passed legalization measure.
Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,000 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.
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“The people of Kansas deserve to know if senators support the overwhelming majority of people who want to alleviate patients’ suffering with a medical cannabis program,” MPP’s Caldwell said. “Now is the time to show compassion to their fellow citizens and vote this bill out of committee.”
“Kansas is one of fourteen states left without a medical cannabis program,” he said. “We have faith that the Kansas Senate will pass this legislation this session and this is just another step in that process.”
Michael Pirner, Masterson’s communications director, told the Star that “medical marijuana legislation is not a priority of Senate leadership,” but did signal the issue may still be considered before the year is over.
“The subject matter has clearly matured and we expect it to be considered at some level this session,” he said. “There are many more pressing topics on the Senate agenda.”
The bill as drafted contains several significant restrictions, including a ban on smokeable cannabis. Members of the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee did get a briefing on the issue at a meeting last week ahead of the expected, now-cancelled formal hearings before the panel.
Meanwhile, the constitutional amendment that the Democratic leaders are proposing would provide for a more comprehensive program that lawmakers would need to implement.
Gov. Laura Kelly (D), for her part, wants to see medical cannabis legalization enacted, and she said at a briefing with reporters on Friday that she “absolutely” thinks the bill could pass if “everything else doesn’t take up all the oxygen.”
She previously pushed a separate proposal that would legalize medical cannabis and use the resulting revenue to support Medicaid expansion, with Rep. Brandon Woodard (D) filing the measure on the governor’s behalf.
Kelly has she said she wants voters to put pressure on their representatives to get the reform passed.
The governor also said in 2020 that while she wouldn’t personally advocate for adult-use legalization, she wouldn’t rule out signing the reform into law if a reform bill arrived on her desk.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
Marijuana Banking Bill Sponsor Says He’s ‘Gonna Get That Darn Thing Passed’ Before Leaving Office
Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) is retiring from Congress at the end of this session, but he says that he’s going to work to pass his marijuana banking bill before his time on Capitol Hill comes to an end.
The congressman spoke to Colorado Public Radio last week about his decision not to run for reelection this November and his disappointment that, while the House has approved the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act five times now in some form, the Senate has failed to advance it under both Republican and Democratic leadership.
“That one still has me pretty irritated,” Perlmutter said, referring to the fact that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has effectively blocked his bipartisan legislation. When there was a GOP Senate majority, he was told the bill was “too big and too broad.” Then with a Democratic majority, he’s told that it’s “too narrow and too limited.”
Schumer and his colleagues who are working on a federal legalization bill have repeatedly said that they do not want to see the SAFE Banking Act pass before comprehensive reform is enacted that addresses equity issues. Supporters of the banking bill argue that the incremental policy change is necessary for promote public safety and, importantly, it stands a much stronger chance of getting to the president’s desk with bipartisan support.
Nonetheless, Perlmutter said he plans to spend his remaining months in office pushing to get the job done.
“I have not given up on that one,” he said. “I’m gonna get that darn thing passed this year while I still serve out my term.”
Listen to Perlmutter discuss the marijuana banking legislation, starting around 10:24 into the audio below:
Asked whether he thinks President Joe Biden would be inclined to sign the measure if it did get to his desk, the congressman said “absolutely.”
“Treasury Secretary [Janet] Yellen is somebody who has been talking to me about this for years,” he said. “I feel very good that it would pass. We’re at 47 states that have some level of marijuana use, all the territories and District of Columbia, and they need to have legitimate banking services.”
“It’s just a no brainer in my opinion,” he said. “And yeah, I’m a little bit irritated, but we’re gonna keep working on it and get it passed this year.”
The last attempt that Perlmutter made to enact the reform was by adding its language to a must-pass defense bill, but it was ultimately sidelined following bicameral negotiations and did not make it into the final version. The congressman told Marijuana Moment last month that he sees other potential vehicles to advance the bill and has spoken with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) about it.
Even some Republicans are scratching their heads about how Democrats have so far failed to pass the modest banking reform with majorities in both chambers and control of the White House. For example, Rep. Rand Paul (R-KY) criticized his Democratic colleagues over the issue last month.
Top Federal Drug Official Says ‘Train Has Left The Station’ On Psychedelics As Reform Movement Spreads
A top federal drug official says the “train has left the station” on psychedelics.
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow said people are going to keep using substances such as psilocybin—especially as the reform movement expands and there’s increased attention being drawn to the potential therapeutic benefits—and so researchers and regulators will need to keep up.
The comments came at a psychedelics workshop Volkow’s agency cohosted with the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) last week.
The NIDA official said that, to an extent, it’s been overwhelming to address new drug trends in the psychedelics space. But at the same time, she sees “an incredible opportunity to also modify the way that we are doing things.”
“What is it that the [National Institutes of Health] can do to help accelerate research in this field so that we can truly understand what are the potentials, and ultimately the application, of interventions that are bought based on psychedelic drugs?” Volkow said.
The director separately told Marijuana Moment on Friday in an emailed statement that part of the challenge for the agency and researchers is the fact that psychedelics are strictly prohibited as Schedule I drugs under the federal Controlled Substances Act.
“Researchers must obtain a Schedule I registration which, unlike obtaining registrations for Schedule II substances (which include fentanyl, methamphetamine, and cocaine), is administratively challenging and time consuming,” she said. “This process may deter some scientists from conducting research on Schedule I drugs.”
“In response to concerns from researchers, NIDA is involved in interagency discussions to facilitate research on Schedule I substances,” Volkow said, adding that the agency is “pleased” the Drug Enforcement Administration recently announced plans to significantly increase the quota of certain psychedelic drugs to be produced for use in research.
“It will also be important to streamline the process of obtaining Schedule I registrations to further the science on these substances, including examining their therapeutic potential,” she said.
At Thursday’s event, the official talked about how recent, federally funded surveys showed that fewer college-aged adults are drinking alcohol and are instead opting for psychedelics and marijuana. She discussed the findings in an earlier interview with Marijuana Moment as well.
Don't miss out on the @NIDAnews, @NIAAAnews, & @NIMHgov-sponsored virtual Workshop on Psychedelics as Therapeutics: Gaps, Challenges, and Opportunities, Jan. 12‒13, 2022. Learn more and register: https://t.co/S1zttkoYXq pic.twitter.com/C2Qrk6FN9a
— NIDAnews (@NIDAnews) January 10, 2022
“Let’s learn from history,” she said. “Let’s see what we have learned from the marijuana experience.”
While studies have found that marijuana use among young people has generally remained stable or decreased amid the legalization movement, there has been an increase in cannabis consumption among adults, she said. And “this is likely to happen [with psychedelics] as more and more attention is placed on these psychedelic drugs.”
“I think, to a certain extent, with all the attention that the psychedelic drugs have attracted, the train has left the station and that people are going to start to use it,” Volkow said. “People are going to start to use it whether [the Food and Drug Administration] approves or not.
There are numerous states and localities where psychedelics reform is being explored and pursued both legislatively and through ballot initiative processes.
On Wednesday—during the first part of the two-day federal event that saw nearly 4,000 registrants across 21 time zones—NIMH Director Joshua Gordon stressed that his agency has “been supporting research on psychedelics for some time.”
Tune in today and tomorrow for the @NIH workshop on Psychedelics as Therapeutics, which will examine findings on psychoplastogens for treating depression, post-traumatic stress, and substance and alcohol use disorders. https://t.co/Qzxte5xJt9
— Joshua A. Gordon (@NIMHDirector) January 12, 2022
“We can think of NIMH’s interests in studying psychedelics both in terms of proving that they work and also in terms of demonstrating the mechanism by which they work,” he said. “NIMH has a range of different funding opportunity announcements and other expressions that are priorities aimed at a mechanistic focus and mechanistic approach to drug development.”
Meanwhile, Volkow also made connections between psychedelics and the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic. She said, for example, that survey data showing increased use of psychedelics “may be a way that people are using to try to escape” the situation.
But she also drew a metaphor, saying that just as how the pandemic “forced” federal health officials to accelerate the development and approval of COVID-19 vaccines because of the “urgency of the situation,” one could argue that “actually there is an urgency to bring treatments [such as emerging psychedelic medicines] for people that are suffering from severe mental illness which can be devastating.”
But as Volkow has pointed out, the Schedule I classification of these substances under federal law inhibits such research and development.
The official has also repeatedly highlighted and criticized the racial disparities in drug criminalization enforcement overall.