Almost a dozen cannabis-related amendments will be considered by a key congressional committee next week.
The House Rules Committee published the submitted measures on Thursday. They cover everything from preventing the Justice Department from interfering in state legal marijuana programs to funding the creation of a regulatory pathway for CBD to be introduced into the food supply to shifting Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) funds to substance abuse prevention and education programs.
Here’s a rundown of what’s being proposed as part of a large-scale appropriations bill to fund parts of the federal government for Fiscal Year 2020.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Tom McClintock (R-CA) reintroduced an amendment that would bar the Justice Department from using its funds to prevent states “from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of marijuana.” The measure, which goes beyond an existing rider that protects only local medical cannabis laws by also including all adult-use states, is similar to an amendment that came just nine flipped votes short of passage on the House floor in 2015.
“In 2014, we successfully passed amendments to protect state cannabis programs,” Blumenauer told Marijuana Moment, referring to when the current medical marijuana protections were first enacted. “It’s now 2019. It’s past time to protect all cannabis programs, including adult-use.”
Interestingly, the amendment covers states with cannabis laws but does not cover Washington, D.C. or U.S. territories that have enacted legalization. To that end, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) filed a separate measure that also covers the District of Columbia and the territories.
And Rep. Stacey Plaskett (D-VI) introduced another amendment that would fix the fact that the U.S. Virgin Islands, which enacted a medical cannabis law this year, was inadvertently left out of the overall funding bill’s existing medical cannabis protection rider.
Blumenauer also introduced four other measures aimed at extending protections to tribal areas that allow marijuana in some form: one that prohibits the Justice Department from spending money to interfere in any tribal marijuana programs, another for tribal marijuana programs within states where it’s legal, one that applies to tribal medical cannabis programs in states with such programs and one that would broadly protect tribal medical cannabis programs regardless of surrounding state laws.
The congressman, who is one of the leading advocates for marijuana reform in Congress, didn’t stop there.
He also filed a measure to prohibit the Justice Department from prosecuting or penalizing U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) workers “for filing out paperwork in compliance with State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.”
The VA, on the other hand, would be blocked under a separate amendment Blumenauer filed from punishing its doctors for that activity, otherwise preventing veterans from participating in a state-legal medical cannabis program or denying their benefits due to such participation.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), whose amendment meant to expand research into psychedelics in a separate spending bill was rejected on the House floor on Thursday, introduced another bold drug reform measure she is seeking to attach to the new spending legislation.
The congresswoman proposed diverting $5 million in DEA enforcement funds “to the Comprehensive Opioid Abuse Program in keeping with the growing consensus to treat drug addiction as a public health issue,” a summary of the amendment states. (She initially proposed shifting $30 million between the accounts but scaled that back in a revised version.)
Under the spending legislation as it stands now, DEA funding for next year would be almost $90 million above what was appropriated in the 2019 fiscal year and roughly $78 million more than what was requested by President Donald Trump.
Another interesting amendment concerns Food and Drug Administration (FDA) funding. While the text of the measure, introduced by Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA), doesn’t explicitly mention the purpose of the spending proposal, its summary stipulates that it’s meant to fund a “process to make lawful a safe level for conventional foods and dietary supplements containing Cannabidiol (CBD) so long as the products are compliant with all other FDA rules and regulations.”
Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said repeatedly that Congress may have to pass legislation to provide for the lawful marketing of hemp-derived CBD, which was legalized in the 2018 Farm Bill, in the food supply. Existing FDA policies would force the department to develop alternative pathways to that end.
Also of interest to drug policy reformers is a measure proposed by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) that would block the Department of Justice from spending money to prohibit states and localities from establishing and implementing safe consumption sites for illegal substances. The department is currently suing to stop a proposed facility from opening in Philadelphia.
There are at least two anti-drug amendments that run counter to the objectives of reform advocates. Both of them, filed by Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-WI), propose that U.S. Department of Agriculture funds included in the spending legislation should be restricted or withheld unless the head of the agency testifies before Congress that resources won’t go toward individuals participating or applying for benefits unless they’ve undergone drug testing.
This year has seen a deluge of drug reform legislation being pursued through the appropriations process, especially in recent weeks.
Besides Ocasio-Cotez’s psychedelics research amendment, committee reports attached to funding legislation have touched on issues such as CBD regulations, hemp policy implementation, preventing impaired driving, safeguarding veteran benefits and urging the federal government to reevaluate employment policies for federal workers who use marijuana in accordance with state law.
Also, earlier this week the House Appropriations Committee advanced spending legislation that contains an amendment to protect banks that service cannabis businesses and excludes a longstanding rider blocking Washington, D.C. from using local funds to legalize and regulate cannabis sales.
The Rules Committee will decide next week which of the new pending amendments will be cleared for floor votes when the House takes up the overall spending legislation. This week the panel blocked a measure that would have prevented the Department of Education from punishing colleges and universities for allowing medical marijuana on campus, citing procedural issues.
Chairman James McGovern (D-MA) has said that he generally will not impede cannabis amendments filed in proper order from advancing, however, unlike former Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), who consistently blocked marijuana proposals from coming to the floor when he held the panel’s gavel in recent years.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
California Governor Says Marijuana Legalization Is A ‘Civil Rights’ Matter Amid Mass Protests Over Racial Injustice
The governor of California discussed systemic racism and injustice that is inspiring mass protests across the country in a Friday speech, and he touted the state’s legalization of marijuana as an example of how it has addressed racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said at a press conference that he’s “very proud of this state” for going beyond issues such as implicit bias in policing and the “deadly use of force.” California’s leadership helped advance “a conversation about broader criminal justice reform to address the issues of the war on drugs” and “race-based sentencing,” he said.
“That’s why the state was one of the early adopters of a new approach as it relates to cannabis reform. Legalization around adult-use of marijuana,” he said. “It was a civil rights call from our perspective.”
“I was proud to be out in front in those efforts,” he added. “It was about addressing the disparities. It was about addressing incarceration. It was about addressing the ills of this war on drugs.”
Newsom also discussed the racially discriminatory sentencing of crack versus powder cocaine and other mandatory minimum sentencing policies. While the federal disparity was reduced over time since Congress passed the sentencing provision—a policy presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden helped enacted during his time in the Senate and later sought to undo—California eliminated the distinction in terms of state sentencing in 2014.
Even so, the governor recognized that the reforms the state has enacted to date are “not enough” and more work needs to be done. He’s also not alone in drawing a connection between drug policy reform and racial justice.
Earlier this week, the governor of Virginia said that the passage of marijuana decriminalization legislation this year represents an example of how his state has addressed racial inequities that are inspiring mass protests over recent police killings of black Americans such as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) also recently said racial disparities in marijuana criminalization is an example of a systemic injustice that underlies the frustration of minority communities.
Last week, 12 House members introduced a resolution condemning police brutality and specifically noting the racial injustices of the war on drugs. It now has 160 cosponsors.
The measure came one week after 44 members of the House sent a letter to the Justice Department, calling for an independent investigation into a fatal police shooting of Taylor in a botched drug raid.
In New York, there’s a renewed push to pass a package of criminal justice reform legislation that includes a bill to legalize marijuana. Sen. Julia Salazar (D) told Marijuana Moment that “in this particular moment, I think what’s the important factor here is that [criminalization] disproportionately impacts black and brown New Yorkers.”
“Because of the criminalization of the use of marijuana, more black and brown New Yorkers have interactions with police than they need to,” she said. “More people end up in the criminal justice system in the first place than is necessary at all.”
Image element courtesy of Gage Skidmore.
American Bar Association Says Firms Working ‘Indirectly’ With Marijuana Industry Should Get COVID Relief
The American Bar Association (ABA) sent a letter to the heads of the Treasury Department and Small Business Administration (SBA) on Friday, urging them to end a current policy preventing law firms that service state-legal marijuana businesses from receiving federal coronavirus relief.
SBA has made clear that cannabis companies are ineligible for its Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans—but its policy also bars those that work with marijuana businesses indirectly from getting the aid. ABA, which has nearly 200,000 dues-paying members, said it wants clarification or a formal policy change to make it so indirect businesses are not impacted.
“The ABA supports amending federal law to ensure that lawyers do not face the threat of criminal charges when they represent clients in states that have legalized marijuana,” the organization said. “Even before those changes are made to federal law, lawyers should also not be penalized for providing legal services to cannabis-related businesses that comply with state laws.”
ABA also argued that the policy is excessively broad in that it stipulates that companies that derive any revenue from servicing a cannabis business cannot receive relief during the pandemic. “Thus, a law firm where a single lawyer provided advice to a single marijuana business client on legal issues for a nominal fee would arguably be ineligible under this language for the SBA PPP loan program,” the organization wrote.
ABA’s letter further notes that 78 percent of firms are located in states where marijuana is legal in some form.
“We urge SBA to provide further guidance that it will not treat otherwise eligible businesses, including law firms, as disqualified from the PPP program based solely on having provided legal, financial/accounting, policy, or regulatory advice to a Direct Marijuana Business,” Judy Perry Martinez, ABA’s president, wrote.
Steve Fox, strategic advisor at the Cannabis Trade Federation, told Marijuana Moment that it’s “wonderful to see an organization with the reputation and stature of the ABA engage on this issue.”
“As they note, the SBA guidance is overly broad and unjustly punishes companies and firms all across the country. In fact, in some states, the cannabis industry is so ingrained in the economy, you have many hundreds of companies providing goods or services to cannabis businesses,” he said. “According to the plain language of the SBA guidance, they are all, with very minor exceptions, ineligible for PPP loans.”
“We stand with the ABA in urging the Treasury and Small Business Administration to issue further guidance, clarifying that ‘indirect marijuana businesses’ are eligible for PPP loans. If they fail to do so, Congress should remedy this situation at the earliest possible opportunity,” he added.
In February, ABA’s House of Delegates voted in favor of proposals endorsing pending federal legislation to protect banks that service cannabis businesses and calling for a clarification of rules to ensure that lawyers will not be penalized for representing clients in cases concerning state-legal marijuana activity.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced a bill last month that would fix the COVID-19 relief access problem, calling for SBA eligibility for cannabis businesses and ancillary companies. That came after he led a letter with 34 bipartisan members of the House urging leadership to include the policy change in future coronavirus-related bills.
Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) made a similar request to Senate leaders in a separate letter.
Separately, the ABA-supported Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act was included in a House-passed COVID-19 relief package last month.
A bipartisan coalition of 34 state and territory attorneys general asked Congress to pass the bill with that language, which would protect banks that service marijuana businesses from being penalized by federal regulators.
The head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation said this week that marijuana business banking represents one of the most “challenging issues that I have encountered” at the agency.
Read ABA’s letter to the Treasury and SBA below:
Bermuda Government Releases Marijuana Legalization Bill For Public Feedback
The government of Bermuda released a draft bill on Wednesday to establish a legal marijuana market in the self-governing British overseas territory.
“Surprising for some, public attitudes have evolved apace with global legislative reforms and in recognition that opening up pathways for new economic opportunities and activity is needed,” Attorney General Kathy Simmons said in a video on the proposal.
Under the proposed legislation, adults 21 and older would be able to possess and purchase up to seven grams of cannabis from licensed retailers.
A regulatory body called the Cannabis Advisory Authority would be responsible for issuing licenses and regulating the market. There would be seven types of licenses available: cultivation, retail, research, import, export, transportation and manufacturing.
Individuals with prior marijuana convictions would not be barred from participating in the industry.
Fees for the licenses would be set in a way designed to both stimulate the territory’s economy while also ensuring that they are not prohibitively expensive for “underserved and marginalized communities,” a summary of the bill states.
People with convictions for possessing seven grams or less would be eligible for expungement.
The Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Senator the Hon. Kathy Lynn Simmons, JP has announced new regulations by the Government of #Bermuda to reform Cannabis laws.
— Bermuda Government (@BdaGovernment) June 4, 2020
Last year, Bermudan lawmakers unveiled draft legislation to create a medical cannabis program. Public feedback signaled that people felt the bill imposed excessive regulations and that the territory should more broadly legalize marijuana altogether for adult use.
Now that this new draft legislation has been released, the government is again asking for public input up until July 3. On its site, individuals are prompted with seven specific questions that feedback is being sought on. That includes queries about licensing requirements and penalties.
Premier David Burt, who pledged last year to introduce marijuana legalization legislation, also encouraged individuals to weigh in on the proposed regulations.
We want to hear from you! Share your thoughts by July 3rd.https://t.co/kkGtsuQ1ES
— Premier David Burt (@BermudaPremier) June 5, 2020
“The Government has made a commitment to progressively liberalize cannabis laws in Bermuda and to create economic opportunities for citizens wishing to participate in a regulated cannabis scheme,” the site states. “The Government again wishes to ‘take it to the people’ by commencing a one month public consultation exercise on the proposed scheme.”
The attorney general said in her video that the government plans to “move ahead with a more simplified, regulated cannabis scheme, which builds on the strength of the original medicinal cannabis policy and which embraces the public feedback.”
“The revised proposal with provide for a regulated cannabis program which has been hybridized to meet Bermuda’s requirements while modeling the best available legal provisions in Canada, both provincial and federal, and to a lesser degree, examples from the Caribbean,” she said.
Several Caribbean nations have started exploring marijuana reform in recent years. Importantly, in 2018, the heads of 19 Caribbean nations agreed to “review marijuana’s current status with a view to reclassification,” emphasizing “human and religious rights” issues stemming from criminalization as well as “the economic benefits to be derived” from legalization.
Since then, lawmakers in the dual-island nation of St. Kitts and Nevis said they would be introducing legalization legislation. The government of Trinidad and Tobago brought two cannabis reform bills before Parliament last year—one to decriminalize low-level possession and another to legalize cannabis for medical and religious purposes.
Meanwhile, the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands has been stressing the need to legalize marijuana in order to generate tax revenue for the U.S. territory’s fiscal recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
The Jamaican government also recently announced that it will be allowing medical cannabis patients to make marijuana purchases online for pickup at “herb houses” as a means to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
Read the draft bill to legalize marijuana in Bermuda below: