After about seven months of legislative debate, Canadian lawmakers approved a bill to fully legalize marijuana nationwide on Tuesday.
Though the bill must still receive “royal assent” from the Governor General before the law is officially sanctioned, that step is generally viewed as a formality. At that point, Canada will become the first G7 nation to legalize recreational cannabis.
The decision in the Senate, which voted 52-29, with two abstentions, to approve the Cannabis Act, comes a week after the House of Commons approved 25 of the Senate’s amendments and rejected 13 others. About two weeks ago, the Senate gave initial approved the amended bill 56-30.
Some Conservative and Independent senators expressed reservations about the final bill, particularly the rejection of an amendment that would have given individual provinces the authority to ban home cultivation of cannabis.
A vote to amend the legislation with respect to the home grow issue, which would have sent the bill back to the House, was voted down, 35-45 with one abstention.
— Senate of Canada (@SenateCA) June 19, 2018
— Tony Dean (@TonyDean_TO) June 19, 2018
Other Senate amendments that were rejected by the House include a ban on marijuana companies distributing “branded merchandise” and a requirement to establish a national registry “for shareholders involved in marijuana companies,” CTV News reported.
In April, three Senate committees submitted reports outlining their concerns about the legalization bill and offering recommendations that included a proposed one-year delay to better consult with Indigenous peoples. However, the Senate Aboriginal Peoples Committee later redacted that recommendation.
But in spite of the concerns of some committees and lawmakers, the legislation cleared its last major hurdle.
It will still take a few months before Canada implements a retail cannabis sales system. Liberal MP Bill Blair, the Canadian government’s point person on parliamentary cannabis legalization efforts, estimated that, pending royal assent, marijuana will be fully legalized and available for purchase in September.
The federal point-man on #pot, Bill Blair, says that if the legislation to legalize #marijuana passes by the end of the week, the government will eye a September date to implement the new regime. https://t.co/Ck2Zrx9DSF
— EquityInsight (@EquityInsightCA) June 18, 2018
Following the vote, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted that “[i]t’s been too easy for our kids to get marijuana – and for criminals to reap the profits.”
It’s been too easy for our kids to get marijuana – and for criminals to reap the profits. Today, we change that. Our plan to legalize & regulate marijuana just passed the Senate. #PromiseKept
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) June 20, 2018
“Today, we change that. Our plan to legalize & regulate marijuana just passed the Senate.”
The Cannabis Act will legalize the possession, use, cultivation and sale of marijuana for adults 18 and older. Individuals would be allowed to possess up to 30 grams of cannabis and grow up to four plants.
The bill also outlines criminal penalties for illegal distribution and sales of cannabis, crossing international borders with cannabis and possession over the legal limit.
Photo courtesy of Cannabis Culture.
Tennessee GOP Governor Candidate Puts Trump In Medical Marijuana Ad
Tennessee’s Republican House speaker is asking voters for a promotion—to governor. And on Friday she released a campaign ad touting her support for legalizing medical marijuana. The spot also features President Trump voicing support for allowing seriously ill people to use cannabis.
“I am the only Republican candidate for governor who supports legalizing doctor-prescribed medical cannabis,” Beth Harwell says in the new ad.
“Many suffer. Veterans, children with seizures, cancer patients, our elderly,” she says in the 30-second spot, which was first reported by the Tennessean. “I just know if it were my loved one I would want this option.”
“President Trump agrees,” she says.
A clip of the president from a 2015 campaign rally is then shown.
“I think medical should happen, right?” he says. “Don’t we agree?”
“Opioids must not be our only option for those in pain,” Harwell adds.
Harwell came out in support of medical cannabis earlier this year, revealing that it helped her sister deal with the pain of a back injury.
Medical marijuana legislation was filed in the Tennessee legislature this session, but it did not advance to floor votes in the House or Senate.
The primary election will be held on August 2. Most polls show Harwell trailing Congresswoman Diane Black and former economic and community development commissioner Randy Boyd. The two candidates oppose marijuana law reform.
Harwell also held a press conference about medical cannabis on Friday.
We cannot wait for a federal bureaucracy to act on medical cannabis. Today, I held a press conference on the issue, perhaps the one which impacts Tennesseans the most. End the suffering. #PromisesMadePromisesKept #harwellforgovernor 🐘 pic.twitter.com/MTzJbANRgC
— Beth Harwell (@BethHarwellTN) July 20, 2018
While the Trump administration’s Department of Justice, led by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, moved earlier this year to rescind Obama-era guidance protecting local marijuana laws from federal interference, the president himself recently voiced support for congressional legislation to end federal cannabis prohibition.
Trump also consistently said on the 2016 campaign trail that while he personally doesn’t support legalizing marijuana, he knows people who have benefitted from medical cannabis and would respect the right of states to implement their own marijuana laws.
Photo courtesy of Beth Harwell.
Senators Honor The DEA On Its 45th Birthday (Even Though They Lost The Drug War)
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) celebrated its 45th anniversary this month—and two U.S. senators thought it prudent to honor the federal agency with a congressional resolution, despite the fact that the war on drugs has not been won by any metric.
Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) filed the measure on Wednesday, calling on their colleagues to formally recognize the DEA’s accomplishments throughout its history.
The two senators co-chair the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, so it’s not especially surprising that they’d join hands in celebrating the agency responsible for prohibition enforcement. But the warm embrace of a main arm of the federal drug war—particularly for Feinstein, who has recently taken steps to distinguish herself as at least somewhat supportive of marijuana reform—raises eyebrows.
The resolution’s primary focus is on the sacrifices of DEA special agents. However, it also cites statistics about marijuana seizures over the past decade at a time when more and more Americans believe that cannabis prohibition has failed.
Come to the DEA Museum and Visitors Center in Arlington, Virginia as we launch our 45th anniversary celebrations starting tomorrow! Learn about federal drug law enforcement and the dangers of drugs! Now open Saturday! More https://t.co/rV9tQyOmRw pic.twitter.com/i5yzQsjyJk
— DEA HQ (@DEAHQ) June 30, 2018
The DEA seized more than 3,200,000 kilograms of marijuana in the past 10 years, the resolution states. For that and other reasons, the senators resolved to “give heartfelt thanks to all the men and women of the [DEA] for their past and continued efforts to protect the people of the United States from the dangers of drug abuse.”
But taking a step back, that figure doesn’t necessarily reflect the reality of marijuana use in the country. In spite of DEA’s ongoing efforts to stymie drug trafficking operations and its stubborn resistance to lifting the federal ban on cannabis, people haven’t stopped consuming marijuana. And the past decade has also seen a wave of states approving legalization.
To be sure, the resolution doesn’t explicitly endorse keeping marijuana illegal, but on the DEA’s 45th anniversary, it’s worth revisiting some other statistics:
- In 2017, the DEA—through its contentious Cannabis Eradication Program—destroyed more than 3,300,000 marijuana plants.
- The marijuana enforcement effort proved profitable, too. The agency reported that it had seized more than $20,500,000 in assets that year.
- Access to marijuana has actually increased. According to the DEA’s 2017 National Drug Threat Survey, “80 percent of responding agencies reported marijuana availability was high in their jurisdictions” and “35 percent reported availability increased over the past year.”
- The percentage of Americans reporting use of marijuana over the past month has steadily risen, reaching 8.3 percent in 2015.
- In the years since the agency’s inception in July 1973, a majority of states and D.C. have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational purposes.
- The number of Americans who died from a drug-related overdose skyrocketed to about 62,000 in 2016, though not a single death was attributable to marijuana.
- The DEA’s list of marijuana slang terms now hovers in the hundreds, with 50 new nicknames like “shoes” added this year.
With all that in mind, one wonders what sort of results DEA would have had to achieve over four and a half decades of prohibition enforcement in order to not receive a resolution of congratulations from Congress.
Photo courtesy of Max Pixel.
Congressional Bills Affecting Cannabis Laws Go To Conference Committees
Key bicameral congressional panels that will determine the fate of two far-reaching proposed cannabis measures are taking shape. At issue is whether hemp will finally become legal and whether military veterans will be able to receive medical marijuana recommendations from government doctors.
House and Senate leaders have begun making appointments to the so-called “conference committees” that will merge each chambers’ respective relevant legislation into singular proposals that can be sent to President Trump’s desk.
In both cases, the Senate legislation contains cannabis reform language while the House version is silent on the issue. The conferees on both bills will decide what gets enacted into law.
Medical Marijuana For Military Veterans
Last month, the Senate approved a wide-ranging funding bill that includes a provision to allow military veterans in medical cannabis states to get the necessary certifications from their doctors at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The House’s version of the bill contains no such provision; it was blocked from reaching the floor by Republican leaders, as has been the case with every cannabis reform amendment proposed during the current Congress.
Now, a conference committee will decide which chamber’s version prevails.
Medical cannabis advocates looking at the lists of participating members will take heart in knowing that Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), who offered the veterans medical cannabis amendment in the Appropriations Committee, will be in the room. Congressman Scott Taylor (R-VA), a military veteran who has been outspoken in support of marijuana law reform, will also be there. So will Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), who has posed questions about the benefits of medical marijuana during several hearings, including ones focused on veterans issues.
That said, a number of ardent marijuana opponents will be at the table, along with other lawmakers who have been skeptical of reform.
Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), who appeared in a television commercial opposing his state’s successful medical cannabis ballot measure and has sponsored a number of anti-marijuana amendments and pieces of legislation, is a member. So is Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) who has historically been one of Congress’s most vocal legalization opponents (although she has softened her stance this year amidst a reelection battle).
On the House side, Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), who has made a number of bizarre claims about fentanyl-laced marijuana during recent hearings and media appearances (but has supported marijuana amendments during House floor votes), will be on the committee. Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), who voted against an earlier version of the veterans cannabis amendment before evolving to support a subsequent version, is also a conferee.
Because the medical marijuana language is in the Senate bill, it will be up for discussion by the conference committee and has a chance of being enacted into law for the first time.
But medical cannabis supporters are not necessarily getting their hopes up, given the measure’s history. In 2016, both chambers’ bills had slightly differing provisions allowing VA medical cannabis recommendations, but both were stripped out of the final enacted legislation.
That said, advocates are working to press conferees on the issue.
“Given the incredible amount of support, both from the general public and veterans community specifically, it would be politically disastrous to vote against veterans and their ability to get access to a substance—which 22 percent are currently consuming, according to the American Legion—to alleviate symptoms of a physical or mental ailment,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal told Marijuana Moment in an interview.
Advocates are much more optimistic about hemp legalization this year.
Last month, the Senate voted overwhelmingly to approve large-scale agriculture legislation known as the Farm Bill, which includes provisions to finally remove hemp from the federal definition of marijuana after decades of prohibition.
The push is being driven by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who has spoken often about the economic benefits that industrial hemp can bring to farmers in Kentucky and other states.
On the House side, Republican leaders blocked floor votes on including hemp legalization in that chamber’s version of the Farm Bill.
So as is the case with medical cannabis recommendations for veterans, the fate of hemp’s legal status will come down to a conference committee.
There is reason for advocates to be hopeful. It is unlikely that many or any of the House Democratic conferees would strongly object to inclusion of the Senate’s legalization language.
On the Republican side, advocates were overjoyed to see Congressman James Comer (R-KY) named to the panel on Wednesday.
As Kentucky agriculture’s commissioner, Comer championed and implemented the state’s industrial hemp research program. In Congress, he has served as the lead sponsor of hemp legalization bills.
“The hemp industry has reason to celebrate — one of our most passionate advocates…was appointed — he will literally be ‘in the room where it happens,'” the Hemp Roundtable said in an alert. “As the final Farm Bill is reconciled, it is comforting to know that Rep. Comer will be on hand to support the Senate’s language which would permanently legalize hemp.”
Also among the conferees are a number of GOP lawmakers who co-sponsored a hemp bill that Comer filed in the House last year, including Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Congressman Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Congressman Glenn Thompson (R-PA) and Congressman Rodney Davis (R-IL).
Comer told the Associated Press in an interview that he will push hard to include the hemp language in the final legislation.
“The economic viability of industrial hemp in Kentucky grows every day,” he said.
The Senate hasn’t yet appointed its conferees on the Farm Bill, but the hemp legalization proposal has broad support in the chamber and it is unlikely that Democratic or fellow GOP senators would try to buck McConnell by seeking to strip the language.
Timetable For Action
Current funding for the federal government is set to expire on September 30, so Congress is working to enact the veterans funding bill and other appropriations legislation before that date, though it is entirely possible that lawmakers won’t finish work in time and will need to enact a temporary extension of current provisions, known as a continuing resolution.
The 2014 version of the Farm Bill is set to expire on the same day, so the conference committee will likely move quickly once the Senate appoints its conferees, though a temporary extension is also possible on that legislation.
Whenever the committees issue their final conference reports on either bill, those will go to the floor of both chambers for up or down votes on sending the legislation to President Trump.