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Congress Misses Opportunity To Vote On Marijuana Amendment

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A powerful congressional committee debated, but did not vote on, a far-reaching amendment to protect state marijuana laws from federal interference on Wednesday night.

The measure, sponsored by Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO), would have prevented the Department of Justice from spending money to prosecute people who are in compliance with state marijuana policies.

Amidst an impassioned debate in the House Rules Committee, Polis opted to withdraw the amendment instead of forcing a vote that he likely would have lost due to the panel’s partisan makeup and tendency to decide along party lines. As a result, the measure will not be considered by the full House this week as part of legislation to fund federal agencies and avoid a government shutdown by a Friday deadline.

“I, as probably everybody in this rooms knows, have a strong opinion on drugs, illegal drugs, alcohol,” committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX), who has blocked numerous cannabis amendments from advancing in recent years, said during the debate. “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.”

Polis argued that his amendment “says nothing about whether you or I think marijuana should be legal or illegal. It simply respects the reality of the named states that have moved to regulate marijuana.”

A similar proposal sponsored by Polis and Congressman Tom McClintock (R-CA) came just nine flipped votes short of passage on the House floor in 2015. Advocates believe that the amendment would pass if given another opportunity, because the number of states with legalization has doubled since the last attempt, and significantly more members of Congress now represent businesses and consumers who would be protected by the measure.

Under a related appropriations rider that is currently in effect, the Department of Justice is barred from spending money to interfere with state medical cannabis laws or people following them, but provides no protections for recreational marijuana businesses or consumers.

Advocates are concerned that in the wake of U.S Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s rescission earlier this month of an Obama-era memo that generally allowed states to implement their own laws without federal interference, businesses that operate in accordance with adult-use local marijuana policies are now at risk.

Last week, a bipartisan group of nearly 70 House members sent a letter to congressional leadership asking that the broader state cannabis protection language be included in the funding bill.

Bipartisan Lawmakers Push For Marijuana Protections In Funding Bill

If the current legislation is approved by the House and Senate and signed into law by President Trump, funding for the federal government, along with policy riders like the medical cannabis protections, would be extended through February 16 as congressional leaders negotiate a full Fiscal Year 2018 spending package.

Passing the short-term extension is by no means certain, however, as partisan squabbles over immigration and other issues have put the legislation in jeopardy. If the government shuts down, the medical marijuana provision would expire and the Justice Department would be free to prosecute state-legal medical cannabis businesses.

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

Read: Here’s The Final 2018 Farm Bill That Will Legalize Hemp

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The final text of the 2018 Farm Bill was released on Monday, and industrial hemp legalization made the cut. Votes to send the legislation to President Trump’s desk are expected this week.

The bipartisan provision, championed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), will enable U.S. farmers to cultivate, process and sell hemp, the market for which is now a multi-billion dollar industry.

Following the announcement last month that lawmakers in the Senate and House Agriculture Committees had reconciled their respective versions of the agriculture legislation—with hemp legalization in the mix—questions remained about a controversial provision in the Senate version that would ban people with felony drug convictions from participating in the hemp industry.

But a compromise was reached and the final version will allow such individuals to work for hemp businesses after 10 years.

Read the text of the final 2018 Farm Bill’s hemp provisions here, followed by explanatory statements from the conference committee:

Farm Bill Hemp Provisions by on Scribd

Marijuana Moment excerpted the above sections dealing with hemp from the full 807-page Farm Bill and committee explanatory documentation.

“While this Farm Bill is a missed opportunity, there are some good provisions,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) said in a press release. “One of those provisions is to roll back our senseless hemp prohibition.”

“Our forefathers would be rolling in their graves if they saw us putting restraints on a versatile product that they grew themselves. We have farmers growing thousands of acres of hemp in dozens of states across the U.S. already. You can have hemp products shipped to your doorstep. This is a mainstream, billion-dollar industry that we have made difficult for farmers. It’s past time Congress gets out of their way.”

Under the legislation, hemp would no longer be in the jurisdiction of the Justice Department. Rather, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will lightly regulate the crop.

If the bill passes and President Trump signs it, hemp legalization will go into effect on January 1, according to VoteHemp.

Watch: Sen. Mitch McConnell Uses Hemp Pen To Sign Farm Bill Legalizing The Crop

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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Watch: Sen. Mitch McConnell Uses Hemp Pen To Sign Farm Bill Legalizing The Crop

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) signed off on the final version of the 2018 Farm Bill on Monday…and he used a pen made of marijuana’s non-psychoactive cousin, hemp, to so do.

The senator has been the leading proponent of an industrial hemp legalization provision, which recently made its way into the final version of the wide-ranging agriculture legislation.

“Making it official with my hemp pen,” McConnell wrote in a tweet that includes video of him signing off on the proposal. “Proud to have served as conferee on Farm Bill & to fight for Kentucky priorities.”

“With today’s signature, my provision to legalize industrial hemp is 1 step closer to reality. Looking forward to voting YES on this bill & sending to [President Donald Trump].”

The full text of the final Farm Bill legislation is expected to be publicly released on Tuesday, with votes anticipated in the House and Senate in the coming days.

Lawmakers Reach Compromise Over Controversial Hemp Legalization Felony Provision

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.

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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New York Governor May Include Marijuana Legalization In Budget Proposal Next Month

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) might just go ahead and include full marijuana legalization in his budget proposal set to come out next month, Crain’s reported on Monday.

Two state lawmakers told the outlet that they’d heard rumors about the governor’s plan, which would build on his recent efforts to put legalization on the table during the next legislative session. Cuomo instructed a working group to draft legalization legislation in August after the state Department of Health came out with a report that found the pros of ending cannabis prohibition outweigh the cons.

If the historically anti-marijuana governor, who as recently as last year was calling cannabis a “gateway drug,” did put legalization in his budget proposal, it’d mean “the state could have a fiscal framework for the program as soon as April,” Crain’s reported.

What exactly that fiscal framework would look like is unclear, and Cuomo’s office declined to comment on the report. It’s possible that the budget would account for the costs of whatever legislation the working group ultimately releases; however, since the bill has yet to be released and the governor’s proposal is expected for January, that might be cutting it close.

In 2014, reform advocates expressed disappointment after Cuomo and leading lawmakers agreed to a budget deal that did not include a medical marijuana legalization bill. Months later, Cuomo signed separate medical cannabis legislation and, in the years since, the governor has grown more amenable to broader reform—especially in the heat of a contentious primary battle against Cynthia Nixon this year.

When the state does go forward with legalization, money is going to be a point of particular interest for lawmakers and advocates, as can already be seen as a debate over a proposal to use cannabis sales tax revenue for public transit in New York City intensified last week.

New York Cannabis Clash: Should Marijuana Taxes Fund Subways Or Social Justice?

Photo courtesy of Zack Seward.

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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