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Congressional GOP Blocks Marijuana Votes (Again)

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Republican leaders in Congress really, really don’t want their fellow lawmakers to have the chance to vote on marijuana amendments.

In the latest in a long series of roadblocks thrown up in front of developments on the issue over the past several years, a key House panel prevented four cannabis measures from reaching the floor on Wednesday night.

Three of the proposals concerned military veterans’ ability to access medical cannabis without punishment or hardship, and one was about water rights for marijuana and hemp growers.

All four were blocked by the Rules Committee and its chairman, Pete Sessions (R-TX).

One of the amendments, a move to allow veterans to receive medical cannabis recommendations from their Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) doctors, has previously been approved by both the full House and Senate, but has never been enacted into law.

Sessions and fellow Republicans did not allow the measure to advance to the floor this year.

Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) who led the push for the amendment, along with at least 17 cosponsors, said that too many veterans have been “shamefully treated by the VA,” which forces them to seek medical marijuana recommendations from outside doctors who are often expensive and don’t know their health histories.

“It’s in keeping with trying to discourage free flow of ideas here in the House,” Blumenauer told Marijuana Moment in an interview earlier on Wednesday, anticipating the Rules Committee’s continuing cannabis blockade. “Pretty miserable legacy, and this is an example something that the overwhelming majority of people in both the House and the Senate support. There’s bipartisan support for it. There’s no reason that it shouldn’t be debated.”

The Oregon Democrat predicted that Republicans would find themselves on the wrong side of the politics of marijuana.

“It’s ultimately going to be self-defeating because we are going to win on this,” he said. “I don’t think it helps the Republican leadership to be on the wrong side of history of something that even a majority of Republicans support. But it’s a symbol of how far out of touch they are and how narrowly controlling.”

But he did note that a growing number of rank-and-file GOP members are taking pro-cannabis-reform positions in contravention of their party’s leadership.

“I think you’re watching that Republicans are changing,” he said. “They know that what Sessions is doing is not good for them politically.”

Another amendment that the Rules Committee blocked on Wednesday would have protected veterans from losing access to their VA benefits as a punishment for medical marijuana use.

A third would have shielded VA employees who are veterans and who use marijuana in accordance with state law from being fired.

The last would have prevented the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation from enforcing a rule that denies access to water rights for cannabis cultivators.

None were allowed for consideration by the full House.

Supporters were seeking to attach the proposals to legislation to fund parts of the federal government for Fiscal Year 2019, namely the VA and military construction efforts, as well as energy and water programs. Also being considered as part of the “minibus” spending bill are funds for the legislative branch.

Separately, the Senate Appropriations Committee is expected to consider a version of the veterans medical cannabis recommendation amendment on Thursday.

Sessions, who is not related to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has made a practice of blocking any and all cannabis amendments over the course of the past several years.

Last month, for example, the Rules Committee prevented a series of hemp-related amendments to the Farm Bill from being considered.

Matt Laslo contributed reporting from Washington, D.C.

The full text of all four amendments blocked by the Rules Committee can be seen in Marijuana Moment’s previous coverage:

Congress Will Consider These Marijuana Amendments Next Week

Photo courtesy of David.

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

Hemp Legalization Is Officially Headed to President Trump’s Desk For Signature

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The 2018 Farm Bill, which would legalize industrial hemp, is officially headed to President Donald Trump’s desk. The House passed the legislation on Wednesday, one day after the Senate approved it.

It’s been decades since the ban on hemp was imposed—a byproduct of the federal government’s war on marijuana and other drugs. The ban, it seems, will be lifted in a matter of days.

The House passed the bill, 369-47.

The votes come after months of debate over other aspects of the wide-ranging agriculture bill. But the hemp legalization provision, shepherded by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), has received bipartisan support at every step of the legislative process.

Hemp legalization made it through a conference committee where the Senate and House Agriculture Committees reconciled their respective versions of the bill. McConnell marked the occasion this week by signing the conference report with a hemp pen, which he said on Wednesday that the president was free to use to sign the bill into law.

The hemp provision would allow U.S. farmers to grow, process and sell the crop. The Justice Department would no longer have jurisdiction over hemp under the legislation; rather, the U.S. Department of Agriculture would lightly regulate it.

One element of the hemp language created tension between lawmakers and advocates. The original Senate-passed bill prohibited people with felony drug convictions from participating in the hemp industry, but a compromise was reached last week that limited that ban in the final version to 10 years after the last offense.

House Democrats in the Agriculture Committee listed hemp legalization as one of several reasons they were calling for a “yes” vote on the legislation.

According to VoteHemp, if the president signs the bill before the year’s end, it will take effect on January 1, 2019.

Mitch McConnell Says Trump Can Borrow His Hemp Pen To Sign Farm Bill Into Law

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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Marijuana Industry Border Issues Would Be Solved Under New Congressional Bill

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Marijuana can really mess up border and immigration issues for people who partake in consumption or participate in the industry, but that would change if a new bill being introduced in Congress this week is enacted.

Under current U.S. laws, people who admit to past cannabis use or who work for or invest in marijuana businesses can be barred from visiting the country under certain circumstances. And marijuana consumption, even if it is legal under state law, can lead to an immigrant being deported.

The new legislation, the Maintaining Appropriate Protections For Legal Entry Act, would provide exceptions for conduct that “was lawful in the State, Indian Tribe, or foreign country in which the conduct occurred” or that was “subsequently made lawful under the law or regulation of such jurisdiction,” according to a draft obtained by Marijuana Moment.

The bill, known as the MAPLE Act for short—surely a nod to the leaf on Canada’s flag—is being filed on Wednesday by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).

U.S. border policies on entry by marijuana industry participants were slightly loosened just ahead of the launch of Canada’s legal marijuana market in October to clarify that people working for cannabis businesses are generally admissible to the U.S., with the caveat that “if a traveler is found to be coming to the U.S. for reason related to the marijuana industry, they may be deemed inadmissible.”

And that’s a key exception. Several Canadians traveling to a cannabis industry conference in Las Vegas last month were detained for hours, with one investor being given a lifetime ban from visiting the U.S.

While there is almost certainly not enough time for Blumenauer’s proposal to be considered and voted on by the end of the year, its language could easily be adopted into new legislation after the 116th Congress is seated in January.

In October, the congressman laid out a plan for a step-by-step approach to federally legalizing marijuana in 2019 in a memo to fellow House Democrats.

Marijuana Moment supporters on Patreon can read the full text of the new MAPLE Act below:

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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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Chicago Mayor Wants Legal Marijuana Revenue To Fund Pensions

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Tax revenue from legal marijuana sales should be earmarked to fund pension programs, the mayor of Chicago said on Wednesday.

“Illinois legislators will be taking a serious look next year at legalizing recreational marijuana,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) said in a speech to the City Council. “Should they follow that course, a portion of that revenue could go toward strengthening our pension funds and securing the retirement of the workers who depend on them.”

Please visit Forbes to read the rest of this piece.

(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)

Photo courtesy of Daniel X. O’Neil.

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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