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Congress Votes To Block Feds From Enforcing Marijuana Laws In Legal States

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The House of Representatives approved a far-reaching measure on Thursday to prevent the Department of Justice from interfering with state marijuana laws, including those allowing recreational use, cultivation and sales.

The amendment, which also shields cannabis laws in Washington, D.C. and U.S. territories, is now attached to a large-scale appropriations bill to fund parts of the federal government for Fiscal Year 2020.

The inclusion of adult-use programs represents a significant expansion of an existing policy that protects only local medical cannabis laws from federal intervention which was first enacted in 2014 and has since been extended through annual spending bills.

The broader rider was approved in a floor vote of 267 to 165, a tally that is considered by legalization supporters to be an indication of how much support there is in Congress for more comprehensive and permanent changes to federal marijuana policies.

“This is the most significant vote on marijuana reform policy that the House of Representatives has ever taken,” said NORML Political Director Justin Strekal. “Today’s action by Congress highlights the growing power of the marijuana law reform movement and the increasing awareness by political leaders that the policy of prohibition and criminalization has failed.”

Cannabis Trade Federation CEO Neal Levine agreed with the importance of the legislative victory.

“The historic nature of this vote cannot be overstated,” he said. “For the first time, a chamber of Congress has declared that the federal government should defer to state cannabis laws.”

Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, called the vote “without a doubt the biggest victory for federal cannabis policy reform to date, and a hopeful sign that the harmful policies of marijuana prohibition will soon be a relic of the past.”

The measure, sponsored by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and Tom McClintock (R-CA), would bar the Department of Justice from spending money to prevent states and territories from “implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of marijuana.”

In 2015, a nearly identical measure came just nine flipped votes short of passage on the House floor. Since then, the number of states with full legalization laws has more than doubled, meaning that far more lawmakers now represent constituents who stand to benefit from its protections.

“The end of marijuana prohibition has never been closer. When Drug Policy Alliance and a small band of allies first worked on this amendment in 2015, we were told that we didn’t stand a chance,” DPA Director of National Affairs Michael Collins said. “But we convinced members this was the right thing to do, and four years on, victory is sweet.”

“Now is the time for Democrats to pivot to passing legislation that will end prohibition through a racial justice lens, making sure that the communities most impacted by our racist marijuana laws have a stake in the future of legalization,” he said. “To do anything less would be to repeat an injustice.”

On Wednesday, the House approved a similar amendment protecting the marijuana laws of Indian tribes by a voice vote, and no member requested a roll call vote, so that language is also now attached to the spending bill.

“We’re watching the growth of this industry, a multibillion-dollar industry. We’re watching state after state move forward,” Blumenauer said in a floor debate on the state protection amendment on Wednesday evening. “Every one of us on the floor of the House who are here now represent areas that have taken action. We have had embedded in our legislation protections for medical marijuana. And this would simply extend that same protection to prevent the Department of Justice interfering with adult use. I strongly, strongly urge that we build on the legacy that we’ve had in the past, that we move this forward to allow the federal government to start catching up to where the rest of the states are.”

In a letter circulated to colleagues prior to the vote, McClintock wrote that “the issue at hand is whether the federal government has the constitutional authority to dictate policy to states on an issue which occurs strictly within their own borders.”

“I do not believe the federal government has that authority, but even if it did, states should determine their own criminal justice policies,” he wrote. “This is how our constitutional system was designed to function.”

Don Murphy, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, said that Blumenauer and McClintock “deserve credit for their early leadership on marijuana policy reform, which dates back to the days when it was just good policy, not good politics too.”

The fate of the cannabis measures in the Senate is unknown for now. Historically that chamber’s Appropriations Committee has been relatively open to attaching marijuana riders to spending bills, and has consistently approved the medical cannabis protections. But the body’s Republican leadership may be reluctant to take the further step of also tying the Justice Department’s hands when it comes to enforcing federal prohibition against licensed businesses and consumers in states that allow recreational marijuana use and sales.

House Democratic leadership urged their conference to support the measure in a whip email on Thursday, and only eight members of the party voted against it.

House Appropriations Committee

While the majority of Republicans voted against the rider, 41 GOP members supported it.

The passage of the state protection amendment comes despite congressional offices receiving an 11th-hour email saying Greenwich Biosciences, maker of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved CBD-based medication Epidiolex, wanted lawmakers to defeat it.

The message to congressional staff claimed that the measure is “overly broad and could be interpreted as impacting the ability of the DOJ to assist the FDA with any enforcement action that may need to be taken to ensure the public safety.”

But Collins, of DPA, pointed out that if that were true, it would also apply to the current medical cannabis rider that’s been part of federal law for nearly five years.

It “doesn’t pass the laugh test,” he said. “Who are Dems going to side with: Big Pharma or people trying to end the drug war?”

A company media representative didn’t respond to a phone message seeking comment.

Earlier on Thursday, the House approved an amendment from Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA) that directs the Food and Drug Administration to establish a process for regulating CBD in foods and dietary supplements.

Another measure passed in a voice vote, from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), shifts $5 million away from the Drug Enforcement Administration toward an opioid treatment program.

An additional Ocasio-Cortez amendment aimed at removing barriers to research on psychedelic drugs such as psilocybin and MDMA was soundly defeated on the House floor last week.

The House is set to consider another amendment on the spending legislation in the coming days that would allow military veterans to receive medical marijuana recommendations from Department of Veterans Affairs doctors.

A separate spending bill moving through the House already contains language to protect banks from being punished for working with state-legal cannabis businesses and removes a longstanding rider that has prevented Washington, D.C. from spending its own local tax dollars to legalize and regulate marijuana sales.

Meanwhile, standalone cannabis legislation is also advancing.

comprehensive marijuana banking bill was cleared by the Financial Services Committee in March and is expected to receive a floor vote next month. The Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a hearing on four separate pieces of legislation concerning cannabis and military veterans on Thursday. And the Small Business Committee hosted a Wednesday hearing on issues facing cannabis firms, with the panel’s chairwoman announcing she would soon file a bill on the issue.

This piece was first published by Forbes.

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

Kentucky GOP Congressman Touts ‘High Hemp IQ’ Of His Constituents

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Rep. James Comer (R-KY) says that he proved his political advisors wrong when he decided to champion hemp legalization.

When he served as Kentucky’s Agriculture Commissioner before joining Congress and first contemplated “making hemp a reality,” he was told that people would conflate the crop with marijuana and he’d face a backlash, Comer said during an interview that aired this week.

“They said the people of Kentucky will never know the difference. They’ll think you’re talking about marijuana and you’re done,” he said during the Kentucky Educational Television appearance. “You can’t be a Republican and do this.”

“But people in Kentucky are smarter than some people give us credit for, and the people in Kentucky knew the history of hemp,” he said, noting that his own grandparents cultivated the crop.

“We have a high hemp IQ in Kentucky, and people across America are now learning the difference between hemp and marijuana.”

One of the areas that Comer said he hopes to see expanded is the use of hemp fibers to create products such as furniture and car parts. He mentioned one example of a Kentucky company that’s creating hardwood flooring out of hemp, and House Agriculture Committee Chair Collin Peterson (D-MN) is going to tour that facility with him soon.

Shortly before becoming the panel’s chair, Peterson said he was considering growing hemp on his own farm.

Most of the existing hemp facilities in Kentucky are producing CBD oil, which Comer said he also takes to treat minor pain.

While hemp and its derivatives were federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill, businesses are still awaiting guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). And that regulatory uncertainty has led some financial institutions to deny credit lines to hemp companies.

To that end, Comer said he and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are working closely to resolve the problem. That includes pushing for the Secure And Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which would protect banks that service state-legal cannabis businesses from being penalized by federal financial regulators.

“We teamed up with the marijuana people in the states,” Comer said.

Watch Comer’s hemp comments, starting around 5:30 into the video below:

“They’ve legalized marijuana. They’re selling marijuana. They’re not allowed to deposit the cash. They’re not allowed to take credit card transactions at those marijuana stores,” he said. “We have worked with them to try to create a system where you can have financial transparency, and that bill is making its way through Congress now.”

The SAFE Banking Act was approved by the House Financial Services Committee in March. And on Tuesday, the Senate Banking Committee took advocates by surprise after it announced that it would hold a hearing on marijuana banking issues next week, with just days left before the August recess.

Separately, the Senate Agriculture Committee will meet to discuss hemp production two days later.

McConnell has been an especially vocal advocate for hemp and CBD. For example, he led the head of USDA on a tour of a Kentucky hemp facility that produces CBD oil earlier this month.

Comer also claimed in the new interview that large pharmaceutical companies feel threatened by hemp-derived CBD as more consumers gravitate toward it as a “natural supplement” that could be a substitute for prescription painkillers.

“Now what you are having up here in Washington as we speak, the big drug companies are like, ‘Wow, people are buying this CBD oil and not buying our drug,'” the congressman said. “So they’re demanding that the FDA regulate it.”

He and McConnell are working to “keep the FDA off the backs of people,” Comer said.

While former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb stressed that creating a regulatory pathway that allows for the lawful marketing of CBD as a food item or dietary supplement would take years without congressional action, the agency recently said that it is speeding up the rulemaking process and will issue a progress report by early fall.

USDA similarly recognized the intense interest from lawmakers and stakeholders in developing regulations for the crop, and it plans to issue an interim final rule for the crop in August.

Senate Schedules Second Cannabis Hearing For Next Week

Photo courtesy of KET.

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Psychedelics Decriminalization Moves Forward In Cities Around The U.S.

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Activists in Berkeley, California and Port Townsend, Washington took steps this week to get psilocybin mushrooms and other psychedelics decriminalized, following in the footsteps of successful similar efforts in Denver and Oakland.

In Berkeley, a decriminalization resolution advanced in a City Council committee on Wednesday, and organizers in Port Townsend spoke about their proposal at a county public health board meeting on Thursday, with plans to formally present it to the City and County Council.

The Berkeley measure would prohibit city departments and law enforcement from using any funds to enforce laws against possession, propagation and consumption of psychedelics by individuals 21 or older. Members of the City Council Public Safety committee unanimously voted to send the resolution to the body’s Public Health Committee for further consideration.

If that panel approves the measure, the full Council will schedule a hearing and vote on final passage. Decriminalize Nature, the group behind this resolution as well as the successful passage of neighboring Oakland’s psychedelics decriminalization effort last month, said they hope the Council will act on the measure by early November.

Separately, activists in Port Townsend announced that they delivered a speech about their psychedelics decriminalization proposal during a meeting of the Jefferson County Board of Health.

Beyond prohibiting the use of government funds to criminalize adults for using and possessing the substances, the local Washington resolution also calls on the city administrator to “instruct the City’s state and federal lobbyists to work in support of decriminalizing all Entheogenic Plants and plant-based compounds that are listed on the Federal Controlled Substances Schedule 1.”

“We are overwhelmed by the support of our community. Our group of supporters filled up half the audience,” the Port Townsend Psychedelic Society said in an Instagram post. “We are currently making plans to speak with the county health officer to talk about next steps in presenting in front of city and county council.”

Alex Williams, who is leading the decriminalization effort in Berkeley, told Marijuana Moment that Wednesday’s Council committee meeting there “went better than I had anticipated” and that he feels “there is an excellent chance of the resolution passing.”

Watch the Berkeley Public Safety Committee discuss psychedelics, starting at about 42:00:

While Williams said two members of the committee seemed to be under the impression that the resolution is singularly geared toward recreational use and meant to “capitalize on a new market,” Decriminalize Nature plans to address those misconceptions, emphasizing that the measure would not provide for commercial manufacturing or sales and that “this process is very important to allowing safe, equitable access to marginalized communities.”

“It is essential that entheogenic substances be treats as sacred spiritual practices and healers,” he added.

The resolution defines entheogenic substances as “plants and natural sources such as mushrooms, cacti, iboga containing plants and/or extracted combinations of plants similar to ayahuasca; and limited to those containing the following types of compounds: indoleamines, tryptamines, phenethylamines.”

Two Councilmembers, Rigel Robinson and Cheryl Davila, are sponsoring the measure.

“You can imagine a day where, years from now, doctors working with patients with serious depression or veterans dealing with PTSD could actually offer them a more realistic and comprehensive suite of potential treatments, which may include some of these plants as the research over the last several decades has indicated,” Robinson said at the meeting.

While Berkeley might seem like an obvious target for psychedelics reform given the city’s decades-long close association with counterculture, the movement to remove criminal penalties is gaining steam nationally. Decriminalize Nature is maintaining a map of jurisdictions throughout the country where activists have expressed interest in pursuing a similar model.

Also this week, a resident spoke at a Columbia, Missouri City Council meeting, asking the body to consider a resolution to decriminalize psychedelics. At least one councilmember expressed interest in following through, and he called the therapeutic potential of the natural substances “very promising.”

Individuals from nearly 100 cities have reached out to the organization for assistance advancing their own decriminalization efforts.

Voters in Denver kicked things off by approving the nation’s first-ever ballot measure to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms in May.

Activists are currently pursuing efforts to place psilocybin-focused measures on statewide ballots in California and Oregon for next year.

More Than 100 Marijuana Businesses Urge Congress To Include Social Equity In Legalization

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Mushroom Observer.

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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Top Democratic Party Leader Flops With Attempted Joke About Trump Smoking Hemp

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The chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) apparently thinks that hemp gets you high—and that getting high makes you dumb.

In an attempted dig at President Donald Trump, who said last week that farmers struggling amid a trade war were “over the hump,” DNC Chair Tom Perez said he thought the president “was smoking some hemp when he said they were over the hump.”

“If you smoke some hemp, I guess that would stimulate certain farm economies here,” he added during his remarks at a press conference in Wisconsin.

Watch Perez’s hemp comment at about 6:45 into the video below:

Because hemp contains only trace amounts of THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, it wouldn’t get you high, as Perez implied. But legalization advocates say it’s especially problematic that a party leader is treating marijuana as a laughing matter in the first place.

“I would need to be smoking something a hell of a lot stronger than hemp to find Tom Perez’s weak attempt at a marijuana joke funny,” Erik Altieri, executive director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment.

“At a time when over 600,000 overwhelmingly black and brown Americans are still being arrested every year for simple possession, our failed and racist prohibition is no laughing matter,” he said. “While we have made great progress in winning elected officials nationwide to our cause, Perez illustrated that we have a lot of work left to do when it comes educating them about the issue and still a bit of a road to go down before we can stop dealing with dad jokes and bad weed puns.”

Don Murphy, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, echoed that point.

“We need more leadership and action at the federal level, not more stupid jokes, puns and inaccurate comments about hemp’s ability to get you high,” he told Marijuana Moment. “Luckily that is something that many of his party’s presidential candidates understand,” he said. “Sadly, Mr. Perez does not.”

Perez’s position on cannabis policy isn’t quite clear, as he’s remained largely silent on the issue. In contrast, many 2020 Democratic presidential candidates are campaigning on broad marijuana reform proposals.

The DNC chair made his attempted hemp quip during a press availability in Milwaukee, where he is meeting donors and coordinating preparation for next year’s Democratic National Convention.

Senate Schedules Second Cannabis Hearing For Next Week

Photo courtesy of Flickr/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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