A powerful House Committee cleared a drug policy reform amendment for consideration on the House floor on Monday. But at the same time, it blocked a separate marijuana reform proposal from advancing.
The measure moving to a full House vote, introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), would eliminate a long-standing rider on a spending bill that prohibits federal agencies from using funds for “any activity that promotes the legalization of any drug or other substance in Schedule I” of the Controlled Substances Act.
The congresswoman argued in a summary of her proposal that the current provision impedes valuable research into substances that have therapeutic potential such as psilocybin and MDMA. Cannabis is also listed among those substances as a Schedule I drug.
The amendment blocked from advancing to the floor, filed by Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA), would have prevented the Department of Education from denying or limiting “any funding or assistance to institutions of higher education” that allow the use or possession of medical cannabis on campus in states where it is legal.
Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), chair of the House Rules Committee, said last year that he was “not going to block marijuana amendments like my predecessor has done.”
“I’m not going to block marijuana amendments,” he said shortly after Democrats took back control of the House in the midterm elections. “People ought to bring them to the floor, they should be debated and people ought to vote the way they feel appropriate.”
McGovern told Marijuana Moment that procedural hurdles prevented him from letting the medical cannabis amendment advance this time.
“As Chairman, I will not reflexively block germane amendments having to do with marijuana the way the Republicans did. In fact, this week, we are going to debate Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez’s amendment to allow research on Schedule I drugs, including marijuana,” he said.
Thanks Tom! As Chairman, I'm not going to reflexively block germane amendments having to do with marijuana the way Republicans did. This week we're going to debate @AOC's amendment to allow research on Schedule I drugs, including marijuana!
— Rep. Jim McGovern (@RepMcGovern) June 11, 2019
Over the past several years, Republicans under then-Rules Chairman Peter Sessions (R-TX) consistently blocked all cannabis-related amendments from reaching the House floor.
“I certainly would have liked to make the Correa amendment in order as well, but we were unable to because it violated the rules of the House – specifically, clause 2 of House Rule 21,” McGovern argued. “I continue to welcome and encourage debate on marijuana policy, but amendments must comply with the Rules of the House in order to advance through the legislative process. I look forward to making this amendment in order on a bill where it doesn’t violate the rules.”
I look forward to making the amendment in order on a bill where it doesn’t violate the rules!
— Rep. Jim McGovern (@RepMcGovern) June 11, 2019
The House rule McGovern cited has several sub-parts, and it is likely that a decision was made that the measure goes against a prohibition on making policy via appropriations bills, which are supposed to be limited to spending issues.
The committee advanced several other policy-related amendments on climate change, civil rights and insurance rules on Monday, however.
Beyond that, two congressional staffers suggested to Marijuana Moment that the Correa measure would have improperly forced the Department of Education to make a determination—namely, deciding which schools allow medical cannabis and which don’t—something not procedurally allowed in appropriations amendments.
The rider that Ocasio-Cortez’s separate amendment would remove has been attached to spending legislation for the U.S. Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education since at least 1996.
The congresswoman’s effort comes at an especially relevant time, as jurisdictions across the U.S. are pursuing psilocybin reform with a focus on the fungi’s medical potential. Voters in Denver approved a local measure to decriminalize the substance in May, and last week the Oakland City Council unanimously passed a similar measure that also applies to other psychedelics including ayahuasca, mescaline and ibogaine.
Just before the Rules Committee meeting on Monday, Reps. Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Matt Gaetz (R-FL) signed on as cosponsors of the amendment.
We now have *bipartisan support* for our amendment allowing expanded research into psychedelics.
This is important, as several studies have shown promise in treatment-resistant PTSD, severe depression, & more.
The War on Drugs has caused so much harm. It’s time to reverse it. https://t.co/SUGxFAQ0CD
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) June 10, 2019
Correa’s amendment on medical marijuana at colleges and universities would have helped undercut a major reason some administrators say they won’t allow even approved patients to bring cannabis on campus: the threatened loss of federal funds over a failure to bar federally illegal drug use and possession.
“It is frustrating that patients who are seeking to improve their position in life by attending college would be forced to choose between their education and their medication,” University of Utah NORML Director Pedro Padilla told Marijuana Moment.
While the Democratic-controlled House has produced several wide-ranging marijuana bills this congressional session, including a cannabis banking bill expected to hit the floor in the coming weeks, it’s apparent that there’s strong interest in advancing reform through the appropriations process.
House Appropriations Committee reports released so far this year call for the expansion of research into medical cannabis, funding the implementation of hemp regulations, tackling the challenges associated with impaired driving, creating an alternative regulatory framework for CBD and ensuring that military veterans don’t lose their benefits due to their involvement in state-legal cannabis markets.
A committee report published on Monday also implored the federal government to reevaluate its employment polices as it pertains to workers who use cannabis in accordance with state law.
Ocasio-Cortez’s amendment is expected to be debated on the House floor this week.
This story was updated to include comment from McGovern and NORML and to add information about House rules.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
New York And Connecticut Governors Talk Marijuana Legalization On Fishing Trip
The governors of New York and Connecticut went fishing and talked about marijuana legalization on Tuesday.
The conversation comes after lawmakers in both states were unable to pass legalization legislation before their respective sessions’ ends this year, despite having the support of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D).
“We talked about policy issues like the marijuana issue, which is obviously also relevant to contiguous states,” Cuomo said at a press conference following the fishing trip. “What Connecticut does on marijuana is relevant to New York, what New York does is relevant to Connecticut so we talked about that and a lot of issues. So we had fun.”
Watch Cuomo’s marijuana comments at about 5:00 into the video below:
Cuomo had described legalization as a top legislative priority for 2019 and included it in his state budget proposal. But after months of negotiations with lawmakers, the plan fell through, due in part to disagreements about how to allocate tax revenue and whether to allow individual jurisdictions to opt out of allowing cannabis businesses.
The governor did sign legislation in July that expands the state’s marijuana decriminalization policy and provides a pathway for expungements of past marijuana convictions.
Over in Connecticut, Lamont campaigned on legalization during his election bid last year and described it as one of his administration’s “priorities” after he took office. But as with neighboring New York, the legislature failed to advance a legalization bill beside multiple successful committee votes and hearings throughout the year.
The specifics of what the governors talked about during their fishing expedition on Lake Ontario aren’t clear, but both are presumably gearing up for another round of legislative efforts marijuana over the coming year and could take lessons from each other as reform talks continue.
Another East Coast state, New Jersey, has also struggled to move legalization legislation forward, with lawmakers saying that the issue should be taken up by voters in 2020 rather than pushed through the legislature, though there has been discussion lately about another try at moving a bill before year’s end. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) did sign a decriminalization and expungements bill in May, however.
Photo courtesy of CBS 6.
GOP Congressman Will Meet Attorney General To Discuss Expanding Marijuana Research
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) said on Monday that he will soon be speaking with the U.S. attorney general about expanding marijuana research.
The congressman, a close ally of President Trump, is a vocal proponent of medical cannabis and has argued that the federal drug scheduling system is hampering research into the plant’s therapeutic potential.
“I will be meeting with Attorney General Bill Barr in the coming weeks to discuss the Department of Justice’s approach to unlocking more research grants so that we can have American innovation applied to our health care in a way that can get people off of some of these devastating opioids and painkillers, and on to a more natural product,” he said following a radio town hall event.
Even under the framework of prohibition, the Justice Department is able to promote research by, for example, approving additional marijuana manufacturers—something the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said it would do three years ago.
Barr has voiced support for expanding the number of federally authorized cannabis manufacturers.
“I think we’re going to move forward on it,” the attorney general said in April. “I think it’s very important to get those additional suppliers.”
Earlier this year, Gaetz joined congressional colleagues in leading a letter addressed to Barr and the head of DEA expressing frustration that the Justice Department has declined to take action despite its pledges. The lawmakers implored DEA to “do whatever you can to speed up and improve the research application process.”
Gaetz also introduced legislation that would force DEA to approve additional facilities to produce research-grade cannabis. A version filed last year cleared the Judiciary Committee in a voice vote, and he reintroduced the bill in January but it has not yet been acted upon.
Listen to Gaetz’s new cannabis comments, about 1:20 into the audio below:
DEA is facing two lawsuits regarding its approach to marijuana, including one that concerns the lack of diversity of research-grade cannabis since only one manufacture is currently authorized. The agency was ordered to respond to the suit by August 28.
Separately, a group of patients and advocates sued DEA over marijuana’s Schedule I status under the Controlled Substances Act, with a federal court directing the agency to “promptly” consider reclassifying cannabis.
Gaetz also spoke about the need to more broadly reform cannabis laws during the Monday remarks.
“The federal government listing marijuana as a Schedule I drug impairs financial transactions, it impairs research and it stops us from being able to unlock cures for some of America’s most vulnerable people,” the congressman said, adding that he’s a cosponsor of legislation that would deschedule marijuana that was introduced by Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY).
Gaetz, who is also a member of the Judiciary Committee, said he is requesting that the panel hold a hearing on cannabis legislation. That’d mark the second such meeting after a Judiciary subcommittee convened last month to discuss paths to ending federal prohibition.
The congressman’s staff wasn’t able to provide Marijuana Moment with additional details regarding the meeting with Barr.
Photo courtesy of Meredith Geddings.
Elizabeth Warren’s Criminal Justice Plan Involves Legalizing Marijuana And Safe Injection Sites
Legalizing marijuana, granting clemency to people convicted of drug offenses and investing in harm reduction programs such as safe injection sites are part of a criminal justice reform plan that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) released on Tuesday.
The 2020 Democratic presidential candidate stressed that the war on drugs has been carried out in a racially discriminatory manner, writing that it’s unfair that “a kid with an ounce of pot can get thrown in jail, while a bank executive who launders money for a drug cartel can get a bonus. It’s long past time for us to reform our system.”
“This failure [of the drug war] has been particularly harmful for communities of color, and we need a new approach,” she said. “It starts with legalizing marijuana and erasing past convictions, and then eliminating the remaining disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentencing.”
What’s more, the drug war “has criminalized addiction, ripped apart families—and largely failed to curb drug use” when a more effective system would treat addiction as a public health issue.
Next, we have to rethink what we choose to criminalize. That starts with repealing the 1994 crime bill—the bulk of which needs to go—and legalizing marijuana. Overcriminalization has filled prisons and devastated communities—and it's time for it to end.
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) August 20, 2019
That includes diverting people who’ve been convicted of non-violent drug offenses to treatment programs and providing evidence-based resources for people suffering from addiction. For example, Warren’s plan calls for safe injection sites where people can use illicit drugs under the supervision of medical professionals who can help prevent fatal overdoses and get people into treatment. She also said needle exchange programs and expanding access to buprenorphine would reduce the opioid crisis.
“Instead of locking up people for nonviolent marijuana crimes, I’ve proposed putting pharmaceutical executives on the hook to report suspicious orders for controlled substances that damage the lives of millions.”
She also called for the abolition of certain mandatory minimum sentences and said that “people who struggle with addiction should not be incarcerated because of their disease.”
“Mass incarceration has not reduced addiction rates or overdose deaths, because substance abuse disorder is a public health problem — and it’s long past time to treat it that way,” the plan says. “We know that diversion programs are both more humane and a better investment than incarceration — for every dollar we invest in treatment programs, we can save $12 in future crime and health care costs.”
“And rather than incarcerating individuals with substance abuse disorders, we should expand options that divert them into programs that provide real treatment.”
Like Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Warren’s criminal justice reform proposal also mentions executive actions she could unilaterally take.
Specifically, she wrote that the Justice Department should not hold authority to make clemency recommendations and it should instead be left up to an independent clemency board so that those eligible for a pardons and commutations are more quickly identified.
The president can grant clemency and pardons herself. I'll empower a clemency board to make recommendations directly to the White House, identifying broad classes of potentially-deserving individuals for review, such as those serving mandatory minimums that should be abolished.
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) August 20, 2019
“I’ll direct the board to identify broad classes of potentially-deserving individuals for review, including those who would have benefited from retroactivity under the First Step Act, individuals who are jailed under outdated or discriminatory drug laws, or those serving mandatory minimums that should be abolished,” she said.
The plan’s unveiling comes two days after Sanders released his criminal justice reform proposal, which also called for marijuana legalization and the implementation of harm reduction policies such as safe consumption facilities.
Buttigieg’s plan stands out from his fellow Democratic candidates in at least one regard: the mayor said drug possession should broadly be decriminalized.
Warren also released a separate plan for Indian tribes last week that involves protecting tribal cannabis programs from federal intervention.
Photo courtesy of Edward Kimmel.