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Analyzing Congress’s Latest Vote To Protect Legal Marijuana States From Federal Enforcement

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Last week, for the second year in a row, the House of Representatives approved a spending bill amendment to protect all state, territory and tribal marijuana programs from federal interference.

The measure, which blocks the Department of Justice from using its funds to impede the implementation of cannabis local programs, cleared the chamber in a 254-163 vote. While there were fewer votes in favor of the amendment compared to last year’s tally of 267-165, that’s accounted for by an overall dip in votes, the death or absence of pro-reform members and the lack of ability to vote on the floor by delegates representing non-state U.S. territories this time around. “No” votes also decreased, though by a smaller margin.

“Overall, we are pleased with the successful vote,” Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “It indicates an eager willingness for the House to address the underlying issue of federal prohibition and hope that House leadership views it the same way.”

There were notable flips in both directions—most significantly longtime opponent Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), who for the first time voted in favor of the measure—and other dynamics at play.

This analysis focuses on comparing only the 2019 and 2020 votes, whereas a previous Marijuana Moment’s piece compared last year’s result to a 2015 vote on the initial version of the measure that narrowly failed by a tally of 206-222.

All told, 222 Democrats voted in favor of the amendment while 157 Republicans opposed it. However, despite that partisan divide, there were several interesting exceptions.

Who Changed Their Vote From Last Year?

2019 “no” votes flipped to 2020 “yes” votes: 

  • Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV)
  • Rep. Sharice Davids (D-KS)
  • Rep. Drew Ferguson IV (R-GA)
  • Rep. Mark Green (R-TN)
  • Rep. Roger Marshall (R-KS)
  • Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL)

As noted, Wasserman Schultz’s “yes” vote is especially interesting, as the former Democratic National Committee chair has historically opposed cannabis reform and voted twice against versions of this measure. Just before voting yes this time, she could be seen engaging in an animated chat on the House floor with amendment sponsor Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).

Amodei’s shift to a favorable vote is also notable given that his state legalized adult-use marijuana, though the policy had already been in place when he cast a “no” vote last year—something he likely got negative feedback about from constituents.

Davids, along with Wasserman Schultz, was one of only eight Democrats to vote against the measure in 2019, and she’s now joined the vast majority of her party colleagues in supporting the amendment.

2019 “yes” votes to flipped to 2020 “no” votes:

  • Rep. Matthew Cartwright (D-PA)
  • Rep. James Comer (R-KY)
  • Rep. Russ Fulcher (R-ID)
  • Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT)
  • Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH)
  • Rep. Tom Rice (R-SC)
  • Rep. David Schweikert (R-AZ)
  • Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID)

Of this group, Comer’s switch to the opposition stands out the most. He’s been a vocal advocate for the hemp industry and even brought a CBD product that he said he uses to a congressional hearing last year.

Schweikert, Cartwright and Gianforte are also of interest, as each of their states are positioned to advance adult-use legalization. Activists in Montana and Arizona are confident that their legalization initiatives will qualify for the November ballot. In Pennsylvania, top lawmakers and state officials are actively pushing for bold cannabis policy reform.

This year’s action also provided an opportunity to see where lawmakers who did not participate in the vote last year—either because they were absent or not yet serving in Congress—stand on the issue.

2019 absences to 2020 “yes” votes:

  • Rep. Tom Emmer (R-MN)
  • Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL)
  • Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ)
  • Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-MD)
  • Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH)
  • Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA)

2019 absences to 2020 “no” votes: 

  • Rep. Dan Bishop (R-NC)
  • Rep. Mike Garcia (R-CA)
  • Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA)
  • Rep. Chris Jacobs (R-NY)
  • Rep. Gregory Murphy (R-NC)
  • Rep. Thomas Tiffany (R-WI)

In contrast, several members who did vote on the measure in 2019 did not get the chance to do so again this year. Some lawmakers have since died or resigned, while others were not present for other reasons and didn’t give their proxy votes to other members.

2019 “yes” votes to 2020 absences:

  • Rep. Aumua Amata (R-AS)
  • Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) (resigned)
  • Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) (deceased)
  • Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH)
  • Res. Comm. Jenniffer González-Colón (R-PR)
  • Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA)
  • Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) (resigned)
  • Rep. John Larson (D-CT)
  • Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) (deceased)
  • Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-MI)
  • Rep. Eleanor Norton (D-DC)
  • Rep. Stacey Plaskett (D-VI)
  • Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA)
  • Rep. Gregorio Sablan (D-MP)
  • Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-CA)
  • Rep. Michael San Nicolas (D-GU)

This category does the most to help explain why this year’s amendment saw fewer “yes” votes compared to 2019. The loss of Cummings and Lewis, the resignation of two Republican reform allies and the fact that representatives of the District of Columbia and territories such as Puerto Rico and Guam weren’t allowed to vote for procedural reasons related to the House’s coronavirus-related social distancing protocols.

2019 “no” votes to 2020 absences:

  • Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI) (retired in 2019)
  • Rep. Louie Gohmert Jr. (R-TX)
  • Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX)
  • Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL)
  • Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) (appointed White House chief of staff)
  • Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK)
  • Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-LA) (appointed director of national intelligence)
  • Rep. William Timmons (R-SC)

Who Voted To Let The Feds Arrest Their Constituents?

All told, there were 17 members, all Republicans, who represent legal adult-use cannabis states who cast “no” votes for the amendment to protect their constituents’ interests. This analysis doesn’t include members from states that have only legalized medical cannabis, as those programs are already protected under an existing spending rider that’s been approved each year since 2014.

California

  • Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA)
  • Rep. Paul Cook (R-CA)
  • Rep. Mike Garcia (R-CA)
  • Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA)
  • House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA)
  • Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA)

Colorado

  • Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO)
  • Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO)

Illinois

  • Rep. Michael Bost (R-IL)
  • Rep. Darin LaHood (R-IL)
  • Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL)

Michigan

  • Rep. Jack Bergman (R-MI)
  • Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-MI)
  • Rep. John Moolenaar (R-MI)
  • Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI)

Washington State

  • Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA)
  • Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA)

Who Went Against Their Party On The Amendment?

While cannabis legalization is an increasingly bipartisan issue, with majorities of the public from both parties expressing support for the policy change, the partisan divide remains largely intact in Congress. That said, the vote revealed some ideological dissents.

Democrats who voted “no”:

  • Rep. Matthew Cartwright (D-PA)
  • Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX)
  • Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ)
  • Rep. Conor Lamb (D-PA)
  • Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN)
  • Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY)

These votes are even more interesting given that most of these members represent states where plans are in the works to implement recreational marijuana legalization. For example, in Gottheimer’s New Jersey, voters will see a marijuana legalization referendum on the November ballot. Top lawmakers in states represented by many of the other Democratic “no” votes are pushing legislation to end cannabis prohibition.

Republicans who voted “yes”:

  • Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV)
  • Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-ND)
  • Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE)
  • Rep. Troy Balderson (R-OH)
  • Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO)
  • Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL)
  • Rep. Tom Emmer (R-MN)
  • Rep. Drew Ferguson (R-GA)
  • Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL)
  • Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH)
  • Rep. Mark Green (R-TN)
  • Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA)
  • Rep. Kevin Hern (R-OK)
  • Rep. Trey Hollingsworth (R-IN)
  • Rep. David Joyce (R-OH)
  • Rep. Roger Marshall (R-KS)
  • Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY)
  • Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL)
  • Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA)
  • Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA)
  • Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY)
  • Rep. Denver Riggleman (R-VA)
  • Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL)
  • Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX)
  • Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL)
  • Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI)
  • Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR)
  • Rep. Michael Waltz (R-FL)
  • Rep. Steve Watkins (R-KS)
  • Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL)
  • Rep. Don Young (R-AK)

Notably, only seven of those 31 “yes” votes came from Republican members representing states with legal recreational marijuana laws on the books.

What remains to be seen, however, is how the GOP-controlled Senate will approach this measure. There were not similar amendments introduced to that chamber’s version in 2015 or 2019, and it’s not clear whether any senators will attempt to insert a version this round. The Senate has not yet started its Fiscal Year 2021 appropriations process.

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Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

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Democrats Remove Marijuana Research Bill From House Floor Schedule After Briefly Listing Possible Vote

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On Friday afternoon, a bipartisan bill to promote marijuana research was included in a list of legislation that was “scheduled for consideration” on the House floor next week. But hours later, it was removed.

“It was just an error,” a spokesperson for House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) told Marijuana Moment. “It’s not scheduled for next week.”

This is the second cannabis-related scheduling complication to occur within the House this month. The chamber’s leadership had previously announced plans to hold a vote on a comprehensive federal cannabis legalization bill this week, but that action was postponed following pushback from certain centrist Democratic members. 

The Medical Marijuana Research Act that was mistakenly included in the list of bills to be taken up next week cleared the House Energy and Commerce Committee earlier this month in a voice vote. The crux of the proposal is to streamline studies, and one notable mechanism through which it would do that is to let researchers obtain cannabis from dispensaries in legal states—a significant departure from current policy that restricts scientists to using marijuana grown under federal authorization.

That could resolve an issue identified by researchers and lawmakers, who complain that marijuana produced at the only existing authorized facility at the University of Mississippi is difficult to access and is chemically closer to hemp than cannabis available on the commercial market.

It’s not clear whether that provision will be a sticking point for members who oppose broader marijuana reform if it does eventually get a floor vote. As initially listed on the House’s weekly calendar, the bill would have been considered under a process known as suspension of the rules, under which it could advance on an expedited basis with no amendments allowed and which requires at least a two-thirds majority to pass.

The legislation would also establish a simplified registration process for researchers interested in studying cannabis, in part by reducing approval wait times, minimizing costly security requirements and eliminating additional layers of protocol review.

As it was originally drafted, the bill would have made it so researchers could access marijuana from additional federally approved private manufacturers. But an amendment in the nature of a substitute was approved in committee, also via a voice vote, that included the component expanding access to state-legal dispensaries.

In July, the House approved separate legislation that also called for letting researchers study marijuana purchased from businesses in state-legal markets instead of only letting them use government-grown cannabis. The intent of that provision, tucked into a 2,000-plus-page infrastructure bill, was to allow the interstate distribution of such products even to scientists in jurisdictions that have not yet legalized marijuana.

The revised research-focused proposal that the House is poised take up next week also stipulates that nothing about the legislation precludes the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary from enforcing Food and Drug Administration restrictions on the method of administration of marijuana, the dosage or number of patients involved in approved studies.

The bill would also make it so there would be no limit on the number of entities that can be registered to cultivate marijuana for research purposes. Additionally, it would require HHS to submit a report to Congress within five years after enactment to overview the results of federal cannabis studies and recommend whether they warrant marijuana’s rescheduling under federal law.

While the floor announcement would have represented a positive development for advocates, there’s still frustration over the postponement of a vote on the federal descheduling bill—the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act. Certain centrist Democrats reportedly convinced leadership to delay the action, citing concerns about the optics of advancing cannabis reform without first passing another round of coronavirus relief.

The research legislation is being led by the unlikely duo of pro-legalization Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and prohibitionist Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD).

During an Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health hearing in January—which was requested by four GOP lawmakers last year—federal health and drug officials, including from DEA, acknowledged that the current supply of cannabis for research purposes is inadequate and that scientists should be able to access a wider range of marijuana products.

DEA said four years ago that it would be taking steps to expand the number of federally authorized cannabis manufacturers, but it has not yet acted on applications.

Last year, scientists sued the agency, alleging that it had deliberately delayed approving additional marijuana manufacturers for research purposes despite its earlier pledge.

A court mandated that DEA take steps to make good on its promise, and that case was dropped after DEA provided a status update.

In March, DEA finally unveiled a revised rule change proposal that it said was necessary due to the high volume of applicants and to address potential complications related to international treaties to which the U.S. is a party.

The scientists behind the original case filed another suit against DEA, claiming that the agency used a “secret” document to justify its delay of approving manufacturer applications.

That was born out when the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel document was released in April as part of a settlement in the case, revealing, among other things, that the agency feels that its current licensing structure for cannabis cultivation has been in violation of international treaties for decades.

But the committee-approved bill states that international treaty obligations “shall not be construed to prohibit, or impose additional restrictions upon, research involving marijuana, or the manufacture, distribution, or dispensing of marijuana, that is conducted in accordance with the Controlled Substances Act, this Act, and the amendments made by this Act.”

The legislation has drawn support from a broad array of organizations on both sides of the legalization debate, including Smart Approaches to Marijuana, American Psychological Association, Marijuana Policy Project and American Academy of Neurology.

This story has been updated to reflect that the cannabis research bill will not receive a floor vote next week and was mistakenly included in the House schedule, seemingly due to a clerical error.

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Mexican Cabinet Member Accepts Gifted Marijuana Plant As Lawmakers Prepare Legalization Vote

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Marijuana is becoming something of a staple in the Mexican Congress, and not just when it comes to reform bills being considered. Actual cannabis products are regularly being exchanged, displayed and planted in and around legislative chambers as lawmakers work to legalize the plant.

On Wednesday, a top administration official was gifted a marijuana plant by senator, and she said she’d be making it a part of her personal garden.

Interior Ministry Secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero said that by the time she plants the cannabis gift from Sen. Emilio Álvarez Icaza, she’ll be “fervently hoping that the law [to legalize cannabis] is already passed,” referring to reform legislation that the legislature has been working on the past couple years.

“The medicinal use of marijuana has been a revelation for the world, and second because hemp is industrially interesting from clothes, energy, paper, construction materials, stronger than any other construction material,” she said, according to a translation. “In other words, there is enormous potential with hemp and also the recreational use of marijuana, respecting the principle of the autonomy of the will and the free development of the person.”

Last year, a different lawmaker gave the Sánchez Cordero a marijuana joint on the floor of the Chamber of Deputies.

“I bring you a gift as a reminder of that proposal you made at the beginning, because that goes to be the way to help us build peace. Let’s regulate the use of drugs,” Deputy Ana Lucía Riojas Martínez said at the time.

Cannabis made another appearance in the legislature last month, when Sen. Jesusa Rodríguez of the ruling Morena party decorated her desk with a marijuana plant.

Drug policy reform advocates have also been cultivating hundreds of marijuana plants in front of the Senate, putting pressure on legislators to make good on their pledge to advance legalization.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador recently said that marijuana reform legislation will advance in the new session.

A legalization bill was approved by several committees earlier this year, but the reform effort has been stalled due to the coronavirus pandemic. The nation’s Supreme Court—which deemed the country’s prohibition on personal possession and cultivation unconstitutional in 2018—is currently giving lawmakers until December 15 to enact the policy change.

The legalization bill that’s set to advance this coming session was revised during a joint meeting of the Justice, Health, Legislative Studies and Public Safety Committees in March.

The proposal would allow adults 18 and older to possess and cultivate marijuana for personal use. Individuals could grow up to 20 registered plants as long as the total yield doesn’t exceed 480 grams per year. Medical patients could apply to cultivate more than 20 plants, however.

Personal possession would be capped at 28 grams, but possession of up to 200 grams would be decriminalized.

The Mexican Institute of Regulation and Control of Cannabis, a decentralized body established under the measure, would be established and responsible for regulating the market and issuing licenses for marijuana businesses.

The bill proposes a 12 percent tax on cannabis sales, with some revenue going toward a substance misuse treatment fund.

Public consumption would be permissible, except in spaces designated as 100 percent smoke-free. Hemp and CBD would be exempt from regulations that apply to THC products.

An earlier version of the legislation was approved by Senate committees last year ahead of the court’s previous October deadline.

Sen. Julio Ramón Menchaca Salazar, also of the Morena party, said in April that while legislators must still resolve certain disagreements about the legislation, legalizing cannabis could fill treasury coffers at a time when the economy is recovering from the pandemic.

While advocates are eager to enact reform, they’ve also raised several concerns with the legislation as drafted, particularly as it relates to restorative justice.

Zara Snapp, a legalization activist with the Instituto RIA and the coalition #RegulacionPorLaPaz, told Marijuana Moment on Friday that while it’s “concerning” that committees haven’t yet scheduled time to take the legalization bill back up, she’s had conversations with senators from all political parties and “they all tell me this will happen this legislative session.”

“We’re going to take them at their word that they will be approving this in the next two to three months,” she said.

Vermont Democratic Party Platform Calls For Decriminalizing Drugs And Legalizing Marijuana Sales

Photo courtesy of Twitter/EmilioAlvarezI.

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Vermont Democratic Party Platform Calls For Decriminalizing Drugs And Legalizing Marijuana Sales

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The Vermont Democratic Party formally adopted a platform this month that calls for bold drug policy reforms, including legalizing marijuana sales, promoting equity in the cannabis industry and decriminalizing possession of all currently illicit substances.

During a virtual meeting on September 12, about 100 local delegates from across the state approved the platform. Beside marijuana legalization and drug decriminalization, the party further called for a process to automate expungements and reassess sentencing guidelines more broadly.

All this came together as legislators worked to send the governor a cannabis tax-and-regulate bill and separate legislation that would provide automatic record clearing for prior marijuana convictions.

The party released the final language of its positions this week. Here’s how the drug policy-related planks were written:

-Adopt an approach to the possession and misuse of drugs that is motivated solely by the principles of public health and harm reduction, rather than punishing undesirable private behavior, while avoiding the criminal justice system altogether.

-Ensure that cannabis is appropriately regulated and taxed in a manner that rights the historic wrongs of the War on Drugs and that recognizes the disproportionate impact prohibition has had on minority communities.

-Expand access to expungement, including by enacting a system to automatically expunge criminal records, so that those who have repaid their debt to society can make a fresh start.

-Re-examine existing prison sentences in light of our current knowledge of how systemic bias has led to disparate outcomes based on race and socio-economic status, and give State’s Attorneys greater authority to take a second look at and reduce existing sentences where these biases are found, and otherwise are in the interest in justice.

“This platform reflects a continuing shift in attitudes among Vermont Democrats when it comes to drug policy,” Dave Silberman, a pro bono attorney and reform advocate who led the drafting of the platform’s criminal justice provisions, told Marijuana Moment. “As a party, we’ve fully recognized that the War on Drugs has completely failed to reduce problematic drug use, and in fact fuels the racial biases we see in policing today, all without contributing to public safety.”

“Even a few years ago, these statements would have been controversial, but today they are the consensus view,” Silberman, who is running for the elected office of high bailiff in Addison County, said. “I’m excited to work with Democratic elected officials in 2021 and beyond to turn these principles into law and policy.”

The Vermont Republican Party didn’t respond to Marijuana Moment’s request for reaction to Democrats’ drug policy positions by press time.

Legalizing marijuana sales in Vermont has been a priority for activists since the governor signed legislation in 2018 allowing adults to possess up to one ounce of cannabis and cultivate up to two plants.

After both chambers advanced the marijuana commerce bill earlier this session, it was sent to a bicameral conference committee to resolve differences. Those negotiations resulted in a finalized bill this month, which the House and Senate then approved, putting it on its way to the governor’s desk.

While Scott hasn’t said whether he will put his signature on S. 54, he noted last week that he’s been impressed with how the legislative process unfolded for the measure and would take that into account.

The expungements bill that also cleared the legislature this month would allow records to be cleared systematically and also people to possess and grow more cannabis without the threat of jail time than is currently allowed.

Outside Vermont, the Oregon Democratic Party this week formally endorsed statewide initiatives to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic purposes and decriminalize possession of all currently illicit drugs while investing in substance misuse treatment.

Read the Vermont Democratic Party’s platform below: 

VDP 2020 Platform by Marijuana Moment

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