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.
White House Drug Officials Say Legal Marijuana Is Up To States
Two top federal drug officials, including the White House drug czar, recently said that marijuana legalization should be left up to states.
The comments stand out coming from the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), which has historically played a central role in defending blanket federal prohibition.
Jim Carroll, the Trump-appointed drug czar who directs the administration’s drug policies, told Fox 59 reporter Kayla Sullivan that he considers legalization a states’ right issue. He added that he’d like to see targeted education campaigns concerning cannabis use during pregnancy and underage usage as well as research into impaired driving.
Got the answer: He believes it should be left up to the state. However, he does want to educate people on the effect marijuana has on young brain development, pregnant women and wants to come up with better guidance & testing for marijuana while driving. https://t.co/eifryNJB1j
— Kayla Sullivan (@KaylaReporting) August 14, 2019
It’s a particularly notable position given that federal law stipulates that the drug czar is required to “take such actions as necessary to oppose any attempt to legalize the use of a substance” listed as Schedule I under the Controlled Substances Act, including marijuana.
Even if Carroll’s remarks arguably don’t directly violate that statute, they are significant in that he doesn’t seem to have taken the opportunity to proactively oppose state legalization efforts when asked by a reporter.
Anne Hazlett, senior advisor at ONDCP, also weighed in on cannabis legalization on Wednesday, telling CentralIllinoisProud.com that marijuana legalization is “a state decision.”
“Marijuana is an ongoing challenge that is being addressed in many of our states,” she said. “This is a state decision, and we would like to see additional research done so that these decisions being made at a state level are being made in a manor that is fully informed.”
Though the comments from Carroll and Hazlett seem to reflect an evolving understanding of the federal government’s role in imposing prohibition on the states, the ONDCP director has previously made clear he’s not enthusiastic about the burgeoning legal market.
During a House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing in May, Carroll raised concerns about THC potency in marijuana products, saying “the marijuana we have today is nothing like what it was when I was a kid, when I was in high school.”
“Back then the THC, the ingredient in marijuana that makes you high, was in the teens in terms of the percentage,” he said. “Now what we’re seeing is twice that, three times that, in the plant.”
He also said that more research is needed and that the Drug Enforcement Administration as well as the Department of Health and Human Services are “working hard to make sure that we understand the impact of legalization of marijuana on the body.”
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
New Industry-Backed Marijuana Legalization Measure Filed In Florida
Another measure to legalize marijuana has been filed in Florida—and this one is being spearheaded by a major industry stakeholder, the multi-state dispensary chain MedMen.
Make It Legal Florida—a political committee that was registered earlier this month and is chaired by Nick Hansen, MedMen’s director of government affairs in the Southeastern U.S —filed the 2020 ballot initiative on August 6.
The campaign shared language of the measure, which isn’t yet available on the Florida Department of State elections division site, with Marijuana Moment.
“Make it Legal Florida is proud to present a ballot initiative that will legalize the safe, adult use of marijuana,” Hansen said via email. “Public opinion is on our side, and the time to act is now. Florida voters on every side of the aisle overwhelmingly support this initiative and at Make it Legal Florida, we are committed to ensuring Floridians have a chance to have their voices heard.”
The proposed constitutional amendment would legalize the possession, use, transportation and retail sale of up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis for adults 21 and older. Medical marijuana dispensaries in the state would be permitted to sell marijuana to adults. The initiative doesn’t mention a licensing system to establish separate recreational shops, though the legislature will likely enact more detailed regulations consistent with the constitutional amendment’s text should it pass.
It also requires cannabis products to be “clearly labeled and in childproof packaging” and prohibits advertisements that are targeted at those under 21.
There’s also no mention of a home cultivation option, which is something that many advocates regard as a necessary civil liberties component but that some industry players have resisted or actively opposed.
A medical cannabis industry association based in New York faced backlash from advocates earlier this year after it was reported that it sent a document to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) recommending that the state prevent consumers from growing their own marijuana at home. MedMen was among the companies listed as members of the association at the time, though a representative later told Marijuana Moment that the business supports giving adults the right to grow their own cannabis.
The new Florida language is “currently being reviewed by the Florida Division of Elections to ensure the petition is in the proper form and we are awaiting their approval, per the usual process,” a spokesperson told Marijuana Moment.
It’s not clear to what extent MedMen will be funding or running the campaign, but the cannabis company appears to be taking a more active role in legalization efforts this election cycle.
In Arizona, an adult-use legalization measure filed at the beginning of the month is also reportedly being backed by MedMen, as well as other existing medical cannabis companies in the state.
Make it Legal Florida will be competing against at least one other campaign that’s working to legalize cannabis in Florida. Sensible Florida, another advocacy group, announced last month that it had collected enough signatures to prompt a state Supreme Court review of the ballot language. It’s collected about 80,000 signatures so far.
To qualify for the ballot, the campaigns will have to gather a total of 766,200 valid signatures. If an effort clears that hurdle, passing a constitutional amendment requires 60 percent support from voters.
“Floridians are ready to legalize marijuana,” Ben Pollara, a political consultant who worked on 2014 and 2016 medical cannabis measures in the state, the latter of which was enacted, told Marijuana Moment. “If this measure makes it on the ballot in 2020, it is almost certain to pass.”
Personal injury attorney John Morgan, who bankrolled the state’s previous medical cannabis initiatives but only recently expressed interest in contributing to this recreational push, told The Miami Herald that Sensible Florida’s challenge will be raising millions of dollars to push their measure forward, whereas Hansen’s operation is well supported by the industry.
“Last time I did, I was the lone trombone player marching down the street,” he said of his role in medical marijuana legalization. “This will be the University of Miami marching band with trumpets and tubas and snare drums. I’ll just be one trombone player, marching with them.”
Read the full text of Make It Legal Florida’s marijuana proposal below:
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.
Defense Department Official Stresses CBD Ban For Military Members
A Department of Defense (DOD) official is reiterating that military service members are barred from using CBD products despite the legalization of hemp and its derivatives under the 2018 Farm Bill.
Patricia Deuster, director of the Human Performance Laboratory at the federal government-run Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, said in a call with reporters this week that the non-intoxicating compound is “completely forbidden for use by any service member in any of the services at this point of time.”
While CBD products are widely available—in grocery stores, gas stations and online—the lack of regulations for these items from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) creates uncertainty about levels of THC in the preparations. And military members who test positive for THC can be punished with an other-than-honorable discharge and the potential loss of other benefits.
“It’s a real conundrum, and it’s going to be a major issue for the military because it is available [nearly everywhere],” Deuster said, according to Military.com, which first reported her remarks. “You go into any store, and you can find gummy bears with a supplement fact panel on it.”
Though the Tuesday press call simply provided clarity on existing military CBD policy, it represents the latest example of DOD interest in preventing the use of cannabis among service members.
The Navy released a notice earlier this month stipulating that “all hemp and CBD products are strictly prohibited for use by Sailors” no matter the legal status. And the Coast Guard said its members aren’t even allowed to visit marijuana shops or use online or delivery cannabis services, according to an order released last month.
That order didn’t specify policy around hemp-derived CBD, but a Coast Guard official told Mililtary.com that if members “have a desire to use a product that may or may not fall into the definition of what’s prohibited, they should seek guidance or use caution.”
Last year, the Air Force wrote in a post that “consumption [of marijuana] is not permitted in any fashion, period.” It emphasized the need to take caution as more states legalize, with one risk factor being your “friend’s grandma’s miracle sticky buns” that “might look mighty tasty and get rave reviews at the big shindig,” but could contain THC.
In a memo released in April, the Air Force said that “Airmen are advised against using CBD products” and could face disciplinary action if they use CBD that isn’t the FDA-approved drug Epidiolex.
The Army issued a similar notice in November 2016 that stated service members may not use marijuana, hemp or hemp oil.
Though not a military branch, NASA also sent a warning to its workforce this month that the unregulated nature of CBD products means employees could inadvertently consume THC that could get them fired.
“The problem is there is no regulatory framework to ensure that the CBD products being sold meet the Farm Act,” Deuster said on the call this week. “[CBD] is everywhere. We are waiting for the FDA to do something,”
She added that service members shouldn’t “believe what [the companies] are telling you” about the benefits of CBD.
Photo by Sam Doucette on Unsplash.