A major congressional subcommittee will hold a hearing on marijuana policy next week, Marijuana Moment has learned.
Though few details about the meeting are currently available, the House Judiciary Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee is expected to discuss various legislative proposals to allow states to set their own cannabis policies without fear of federal intervention.
Several sources who did not wish to be be identified shared with Marijuana Moment the names of witnesses expected to soon receive formal invitations to testify before the panel on Wednesday, July 10. Given the backgrounds of these individuals, it seems apparent that committee members will be discussing not whether the U.S. should end federal cannabis prohibition, but will focus primarily on how to do it.
Witnesses are anticipated to include Malik Burnett, a physician at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who previously served as the Washington, D.C. policy manager at the Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs, where he helped lead a successful ballot initiative campaign to legalize cannabis in the nation’s capital in 2014.
Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, who announced in January that her office would no longer prosecute cannabis possession cases and would work to clear the records of certain individuals with prior marijuana convictions, is also being invited to testify.
David Nathan, a physician and board president of the pro-legalization group Doctors for Cannabis Regulation (DFCR), will also appear before the committee.
He told Marijuana Moment that he looks “forward to discussing the evidence-based health effects of cannabis, the failure of prohibition, the inadequacy of decriminalization, and the public health and social justice benefits of effective regulation.”
“DFCR physicians have successfully fought for legalization in states around the country,” Nathan said. “Now DFCR is proud to advocate for the broad majority of Americans—both Republicans and Democrats—who want our government to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and finally end the specter of federal interference with state cannabis laws.”
Finally, Neal Levine, CEO of Cannabis Trade Federation, will be the minority witness—which is noteworthy in and of itself, as Levine advocates for legalization, while one might expect the minority Republican party to invite someone who shares an opposing perspective on ending prohibition.
“I cannot comment on what has not been announced publicly by the committee, but I would welcome the opportunity to share the perspective of our members,” Levine, who previously served as a staffer for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment. “We are especially well positioned to discuss the challenges arising from the inconsistency between state and federal cannabis laws.”
(Full disclosure: the Cannabis Trade Federation and its affiliate CTF Action have sponsored Marijuana Moment.)
After this story was initially published, the subcommittee posted an official notice for the hearing. It is titled “Marijuana Laws in America: Racial Justice and the Need for Reform” and will begin at 10:00 AM ET.
While lawmakers aren’t expected to vote on any particular bill at the hearing, it will nonetheless be one of the most significant congressional developments on marijuana reform to date.
The Judiciary Committee, under which this subcommittee falls, wields particular influence in advancing broad changes to federal drug laws, and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) designated it as the panel to bring about the end of cannabis prohibition in a blueprint to legalization in the 116th Congress.
“For the first time in recent memory, there will be a candid conversation in the Judiciary Committee about the failures of marijuana prohibition in the United States and how people have been impacted,” Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “We look forward to working with the subcommittee to best inform the conversation and the public at large.”
Legislation that could be marked up by the panel in the future includes the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, the Marijuana Justice Act, the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act and the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, is also said to be working on his own bill to end federal marijuana prohibition, but no details have yet been announced.
Notably, every single Democratic member of the full Judiciary Committee, including the chairman, voted in favor of amendment protecting cannabis programs in all states, U.S. territories and Washington, D.C. from Justice Department intervention last month. Six Republican members of the panel joined them in support of the measure, which was attached to spending legislation that has since cleared the House. The bipartisan nature of that vote indicates that further reform legislation stands a strong chance of passing in the committee.
Besides Blumenauer’s House-passed amendment protecting cannabis programs, this Congress has also seen several other hearings on cannabis issues. The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee discussed four pieces of legislation concerning veterans and marijuana last month, and the House Small Businesses Committee also convened to address opportunities and barriers for small cannabis businesses under the federal framework of prohibition.
In March, a bipartisan bill that would provide protections for banks that service cannabis businesses cleared the House Financial Services Committee following a hearing on the issue, and a full floor vote on that legislation could be coming soon.
Unlike the new Judiciary hearing, the minority witnesses at the Financial Services and Small Business hearings—representatives of the prohibitionist group Smart Approaches to Marijuana and the Heritage Foundation, respectively—opposed legalization.
This story was updated to note the title and time of the hearing.
Image element courtesy of Tim Evanson.
Bernie Sanders Asks Campaign Rally Audience To Share Stories About Marijuana Arrests
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) asked an audience in South Carolina to share stories about marijuana possession convictions and then argued that those anecdotes help to demonstrate the case for national legalization.
During a campaign stop in the early primary state on Sunday, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate asked people to raise their hands if they knew someone who’d been arrested for possessing cannabis. There was no shortage of hands raised.
“Holy God, whoa. That’s a lot of people,” Sanders said before asking for volunteers to go into detail.
“I got caught with about a joint and they took my license for a year and I lost my job,” an audience member said. “Ended up losing my house, and it went worse from there.”
The War on Drugs has been a disaster. It is time to legalize marijuana nationwide. pic.twitter.com/tehuM7xjxx
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) September 17, 2019
“Wow, this is for smoking a joint?” Sanders asked.
“Yeah, I had a little—like a dime bag in my car,” the person said.
Another person in attendance who appeared in the campaign video Sanders released on Tuesday said that she visited a guilty plea court and witnessed “three different men get put in at least two years of prison just for anywhere from two grams to eight grams of marijuana found on them.”
“That’s why all over this country states are doing the right thing and either decriminalizing or legalizing the possession of marijuana,” Sanders said to applause.
Since becoming the first major party presidential candidate to call for cannabis legalization in 2015, Sanders has continued to place an emphasis on the need for marijuana reform, with a focus on the racial injustices of prohibition.
Last month, he released a criminal justice reform plan that included proposals to legalize cannabis federally and also provide for safe injection sites to curb opioid overdoses.
But while Sanders has been a leading voice in the drug policy reform movement, he’s said twice in recent weeks that he’s not ready to embrace decriminalizing possession of drugs beside marijuana.
Photo courtesy of Lorie Shaull.
New York Gov. Cuomo Hints Marijuana Smoking Ban Could Be Part Of Next Legalization Push
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) seemed to suggest that he might want a ban on smoking marijuana included in legalization legislation when lawmakers take up the issue again next year.
During an interview with MSNBC on Sunday, the governor was asked whether the spike in apparent vaping-related lung injuries and deaths, which experts attribute to altered nicotine and cannabis oils primarily purchased on the illicit market, has made him reconsider pursuing legalization in the state.
“No,” he said, adding that his administration is “not in favor of smoking marijuana” and that there are “ways to get THC without smoking marijuana.”
“People are vaping THC, yes that is true,” Cuomo said. “We think that from a public health point of view, that is not something that we recommend and we think it’s dangerous—smoking of any kind.”
“You can legalize marijuana and sell THC in compounds that do not require you to smoke the marijuana, and we do not support smoking of marijuana,” he said. “There are compounds that have the THC, which is a compound in marijuana, that you don’t smoke.”
It’s not entirely clear if Cuomo plans to ask for a smoking ban the next time a legalization bill emerges or if he was simply outlining an administrative position advising against smoking. A spokesperson for his office did not respond to Marijuana Moment’s request for comment by the time of publication.
But while there was no ban on marijuana smoking included in legalization legislation that he worked to pass earlier this year, it wouldn’t be entirely out of character given that he pushed for such a restriction as part of New York’s medical cannabis program in legislation enacted in 2014.
The logic behind that policy, according to Cuomo, was that it would prevent people from abusing the program. If he moved to incorporate a ban for adult-use legalization, however, it would presumably be a public health decision.
That could create problems when lawmakers return to the negotiating table. In California, flower and concentrates represent about 70 percent of the marijuana market, meaning any attempt to ban smokeable cannabis will likely be met with pushback from consumers, industry stakeholders and civil liberties-minded reform advocates.
Industry players seemed to have influence when Cuomo included a ban on home cultivation for personal use in his prior legalization proposal—something a major medical cannabis association recommended in a policy statement submitted to the governor.
For the time being, however, there don’t seem to be tangible plans to include a smoking ban in future cannabis legislation and it could be that the governor simply ends up pushing for public education campaigns discouraging the activity rather than keeping it illegal.
In July, he signed legislation broadening New York’s decriminalization law and creating a pathway for expungements for individuals with prior cannabis convictions.
Photo courtesy of MSNBC.
Mitch McConnell Tells FDA To Clear A Path For CBD Products Though Spending Bill Directive
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is moving to insert language into a congressional spending report that calls on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to clear a path for the lawful marketing of hemp-derived CBD products.
FDA has said that allowing CBD to be sold as food items or dietary supplements would require it to develop alternative regulations that could take years to complete without congressional action. But McConnell, who was the chief proponent of a hemp legalization provision of the 2018 Farm Bill, isn’t interested in waiting around.
In draft language shared by the U.S. Hemp Roundtable on Tuesday, the senator is asking FDA to “issue a policy of enforcement discretion with regard to certain products containing CBD” within 120 days—a move that industry stakeholders say will clarify rules so that banks are more willing to service CBD companies.
🚨 BREAKING FDA UPDATE 🚨 After close work with the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, @senatemajldr Mitch McConnell submitted legislation urging the FDA to take action on CBD. Visit the link in bio to take action! pic.twitter.com/zMohlD3NiS
— US Hemp Roundtable (@HempRoundtable) September 17, 2019
The provision of the spending report was marked up in the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture on Tuesday. It will go before the full Appropriations Committee on Thursday.
Prior to issuing its enforcement discretion policy under McConnell’s report language, FDA would have to submit a report to the committee within 90 days detailing its “progress toward obtaining and analyzing data to help determine a policy of enforcement discretion, and the process in which CBD meeting the definition of hemp will be evaluated for use in products.”
Once those provisional enforcement guidelines are established, they would remain in place until FDA finalizes the regulatory process.
“FDA is encouraged to consider existing and ongoing medical research related to CBD that is being undertaken pursuant to an Investigation New Drug (IND) application in the development of a regulatory pathway for CBD in products under the jurisdiction of FDA and to ensure that any future regulatory activity does not discourage the development of new drugs,” the report states.
Outside of McConnell’s proposal, the FDA and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) appropriations legislation already sets aside $2 million to support research and regulatory activities surrounding hemp-derived CBD products and $16.5 million for the broader hemp production program.
During the subcommittee meeting on Thursday, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) praised the bill’s support for hemp legalization implementation.
“You might note that this year in Oregon, the hemp industry may well be a billion dollar crop, and that is an incredible addition to income for our agricultural community,” he said.
The legalization of hemp and its derivatives has been met with intense interest from manufacturers and lawmakers alike, but limitations on the marketability of CBD has been an ongoing source of frustration.
Last week, a bipartisan pair of lawmakers asked fellow House members to join them in signing a letter to the head of FDA that similarly asks for enforcement discretion guidelines allowing companies to sell CBD products.
The House, which approved its version of appropriations legislation for the upcoming fiscal year prior to the summer recess, included a separate amendment that would require FDA to establish rules providing for the lawful marketing of CBD in food and dietary supplements.
Meanwhile, USDA is expected to soon release its broader hemp regulations soon.
Read McConnell’s full CBD report language below:
“As previously mentioned, the Committee provides $2,000,000 for research, policy evaluation, market surveillance, issuance of an enforcement discretion policy, and appropriate regulatory activities with respect to products under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration which contain cannabidiol (CBD) and meet the definition of hemp, as set forth in section 297A of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 (7 U.S.C. 1639o). Within 90 days, FDA shall provide the Committee with a report regarding the Agency’s progress toward obtaining and analyzing data to help determine a policy of enforcement discretion, and the process in which CBD meeting the definition of hemp will be evaluated for use in products. Within 120 days, FDA shall issue a policy of enforcement discretion with regard to certain products containing CBD meeting the definition of hemp as defined by section 297A of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1964 (7 U.S.C. 1639). Such enforcement discretion shall be in effect until FDA establishes a process for stakeholders to notify FDA for use of CBD in products that include safety studies for intended use per product, and makes a determination about such product. FDA is encouraged to consider existing and ongoing medical research related to CBD that is being undertaken pursuant to an Investigation New Drug (IND) application in the development of a regulatory pathway for CBD in products under the jurisdiction of FDA and to ensure that any future regulatory activity does not discourage the development of new drugs.”
This story was updated to include comment from Merkley.
Photo courtesy of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.