Congressional Leaders Call For Psilocybin Policy Review, Hemp As A Plastic Alternative And Marijuana Product Research Access
House Appropriations Committee leaders are calling for a federal review of psilocybin policy, utilizing hemp as an alternative to Chinese plastics and letting researchers study marijuana from dispensaries in new spending bill reports. At the same time, several GOP members are complaining about separate language on freeing up cannabis advertising—but an amendment to strike those protections was defeated in the panel.
The report for the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CSJ), released on Monday, contains a novel section that specifically concerns psilocybin, calling for a Government Accountability Office (GAO) analysis on barriers to state, local and tribal programs for the psychedelic.
This comes amid a rapidly growing psilocybin reform movement that has emerged in localities and state legislatures across the country.
The GAO report, the committee says, should look at the impact of the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) enforcement in jurisdictions allowing for psilocybin, barriers to accessing the psychedelic for medical use, recommendations on how to remove research blockades and more.
“Psilocybin Report.—The Committee directs GAO to report to Congress within one year of the date of enactment of this Act on the barriers to State, local, and Tribal programs that incorporate psilocybin products, including for therapeutic use and religious, Indigenous, or spiritual practices. The report shall: (1) review the impact of Controlled Substances Act enforcement on psilocybin use legally sanctioned by States, local governments, and Tribes; (2) identify barriers to accessing therapeutic use of psilocybin in States that have made such use legal under State law; (3) recommend ways to improve the processes used to obtain Federal authorization to conduct research with psilocybin-related substances; and (4) identify barriers to legal access to and use of psilocybin for religious, Indigenous, or spiritual practices under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”
Ongoing federal prohibition of psilocybin is significant as more states enact policies allowing for use of the psychedelics in certain circumstances. Oregon voters, for example, approved a ballot measure in 2020 to allow service providers to offer psilocybin for use in supervised sessions, and Colorado voters could potentially see two far-reaching psychedelics reform measures on their ballots this November.
Meanwhile, the congressional panel also has two separate but similar sections on alternatives to plastics—one in the CJS report and another in an updated version of a spending report for the Department of Defense. Both specifically talk about transitioning to more environmentally friendly alternatives like hemp.
“Alternatives to Plastics.—China remains the world’s largest producer of plastics and accounts for nearly one-third of global plastics. Consequently, the U.S. remains the largest importer of Chinese-made plastics. The Committee recognizes that plastics are critical engineering materials for products ranging from food packaging and automobiles to medical devices. The Committee understands the need for environmentally safer, bio-based, U.S. alternatives. NIST is directed to report on such alternatives currently in use and the potential for new and expanded use of U.S. alternatives, including hemp.”
“RELIANCE ON CHINESE PLASTICS.—The People’s Republic of China remains the world’s largest producer of plastics, which are necessary in the production of critical materials for national security and defense purposes. The Committee encourages the Department of Defense to lessen its dependency on Chinese plastic suppliers and transition to domestic materials, including hemp, when applicable. Further, the Committee directs the Secretary of Defense to submit a report to the congressional defense committees not later than 180 days after the enactment of this Act outlining the Department’s efforts to increase domestic sourcing of these materials.”
In a similar vein, Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) filed a bill in 2020 that that’s meant to promote recycling beverage containers—and it explicitly included marijuana and hemp drink bottles as one of a handful qualifying categories.
Another section of the new CJS report talks about conducting research to create an “objective standard to measure marijuana impairment to ensure highway safety,” and appropriators said a key to accomplishing that goal would be to liberate cannabis research, in part by allowing scientists to access cannabis products that are available in commercial markets.
The passage recognizes that President Joe Biden signed an infrastructure bill this year that includes provisions aimed at allowing researchers to study the actual marijuana that consumers are purchasing from state-legal dispensaries instead of having to use only government-grown cannabis. The committee said in the CJS report that it wants an update on the Transportation Department’s interim progress to that end within 60 days of the spending bill’s enactment.
“Marijuana impairment.—The Committee supports the development of an objective standard to measure marijuana impairment to ensure highway safety. Essential to that development are high-quality scientific studies using marijuana and products containing marijuana lawfully available to patients or consumers in a State on a retail basis. The Committee understands that the majority of Federal research on marijuana has been limited to a single strain of marijuana that is not fully representative of varieties used or commercially available across the country. Section 25026 of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA, Public Law 117–58), requires the Secretary of Transportation, in consultation with the Attorney General and Secretary of Health and Human Services, to issue a report and recommendations for increasing and improving access to samples and strains by scientific researchers studying impairment while driving under the influence of marijuana. The Committee emphasizes the need for research that encompasses the diversity, quality, and potency of products commonly available to patients or consumers in a State on a retail basis. The Department shall provide a briefing to the Committee no later than 60 days after the date of enactment of this Act regarding interim progress toward expanded researcher access in advance of publication of the report required by the IIJA.”
There’s also familiar language on combating illegal marijuana grow operations in states that have legalized cannabis. Appropriators are asking for a report from the Justice Department on the prevalence of the illicit activities, associated crimes and steps that could be further taken to coordinate federal, state and local enforcement to the problem.
“Illegal Grow Operations.—Within 30 days of the date of enactment of this Act, the Department of Justice is directed to submit a report detailing the prevalence of illegal grow operations in States with legal production and sales frameworks; the number and types of crimes associated with the presence of illegal grow operations in States with legal production and sales frameworks; challenges faced by Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies in combatting illegal grow operations; and recommendations for changes in DOJ policy to improve DOJ support to local law enforcement agencies who are combatting illegal grow operations in States with legal marijuana production and sales frameworks.”
Another part of the CJS report also reiterates that federal Byrne JAG formula grant funding for local and state police departments can be used to support “expungement and record clearing initiatives,” though it doesn’t explicitly talk about marijuana-related relief.
“The Committee would like to reiterate the following allowable uses of Byrne JAG formula grant funding:…supporting expungement and record clearing initiatives…”
The committee further recommended appropriating $110 million for the National Criminal History Improvement Program (NCHIP) to help states, territories and tribes effectively complete and maintain criminal records so that they are more effectively able to facilitate record sealing.
“National Criminal History Improvement Program (NCHIP).—The Committee recommends $110,000,000 for NCHIP to support States, territories, and Tribes in ensuring the effective and efficient exchange of complete and accurate criminal history records. These records are necessary for criminal-justice decisions on pretrial release, career-criminal charging, sentencing, and correctional assignments; and for pre-employment, licensing, and other non-criminal justice decision-making purposes. The Committee is aware that many State laws and policies provide for the expungement or sealing of certain criminal records, making it possible for people with past convictions to access employment and housing, or exercise their social and civic rights, but many States do not have the resources for appropriate technology to effectively implement such policies. The Committee urges the Department to ensure that within the funds provided, grants awarded under NCHIP are made available for supporting the implementation of records systems that allow for the efficient expungement or sealing of criminal history records.”
This appropriations cycle for Fiscal Year 2023 funding of various agencies has touched on a wide range of drug policy issues. And already, some GOP members are balking at certain marijuana provisions.
On Friday, for example, anti-legalization Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) filed an amendment during a committee markup for the Financial Services and General Governance (FSGG) spending bill that would have significantly watered down a provision of that legislation preventing the Federal Communications Commission from using federal funds to penalize TV or radio broadcasters for airing cannabis ads in jurisdictions that permit the sale of such products.
“Section 512 opens wide the barn doors to cannabis and cannabis-related products with no restrictions on that advertising. No guardrails,” Harris said during the markup.
A key guardrail, of course, is that the advertising provision would only apply in jurisdictions that have already legalized marijuana in some form and where limited advertising outside of FCC-regulated broadcasting is generally permitted.
The amendment from Harris would have required the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse to certify that any given cannabis-related broadcast ad is “scientifically accurate and poses “no risk to individual or public health.”
Members of the committee defeated the proposal in a 21-33 vote.
At the Friday markup, Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), ranking member of the full Appropriations Committee, separately listed the marijuana advertising section as among the “controversial policies” she hopes to see “dropped” from the final package.
Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) separately voiced opposition to language in the FSGG spending legislation that would provide safeguards from financial institutions that work with state-legal marijuana businesses against being penalized by federal regulators.
“There are many serious public health issues that need to be addressed before changing these regulations,” he said. “I hope we can work together to in a bipartisan way to address these issues as we move through the process in this bill.”
There are other notable cannabis provisions that have been included in recently released spending bills and attached reports, including one submitted last week that encourages sports regulators to push international officials to “change how cannabis is treated” when it comes to suspending athletes from competition over positive tests.
The FSGG report also more broadly addresses drug testing requirement for federal workers, as previous versions have done in the past. But this time, there’s a new line that specifically urges the executive branch to apply drug testing standards with “consistency and fairness.”
Meanwhile, in an education spending bill, there’s again a section that would prevent the Department of Education from penalizing universities simply because the institutions are conducting research into marijuana.
The House Appropriations Committee also released other spending bills and reports last week, with lawmakers pushing multiagency coordination to create guidance on hemp manufacturing, better guidance on the marketing of CBD, updates on research into medical marijuana for veterans and investigations into “alternative treatments” for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) such as psychedelics.
Those provisions came out of Fiscal Year 2023 spending legislation for Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and Related Agencies, as well as Military Construction, Veterans Affairs (VA), and Related Agencies.
To the disappointment of advocates and lawmakers, the CJS base bill itself did not include requested provisions to protect all states and tribal adult-use marijuana programs. Rather, it simply maintained a longstanding riders preventing the Justice Department from using its appropriated funds to intervene in the implementation of state-legal medical cannabis and hemp programs.
This means supporters will again need to make their case for the broader protections’ inclusion as amendments—either in committee or on the House floor, as in past years.
In 2019 and 2020, the House attached the sweeping state and tribal protections to its version of the appropriations legislation as amendments adopted on the floor, but they’ve yet to be incorporated into any final package enacted into law. CJS legislation didn’t end up making it to the floor in 2021, but supporters had planned an amendment that year as well.
For the Interior appropriations base bill that was released last week, there’s a section on tribal marijuana protections (with some new caveats that have raised questions about tribes potentially being held to a different standard than states).
In a related development, a Senate committee recently held a listening session that explored cannabis issues for Native Americans, touching on areas such as tribal sovereignty in the marijuana space, agreements with state governments and taxation.
A coalition of nine U.S. senators also sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland in March, urging him to direct federal prosecutors to not interfere with marijuana legalization policies enacted by Native American tribes.
Importantly, it remains to be seen whether the Senate will accept any of the House-led cannabis and drug policy proposals. Senate appropriators have not yet released their spending bills for FY23, and typically wait until after the House has acted, so it’s not yet clear which issues will ultimately get reconciled by the two chambers and adopted into law.
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Photo courtesy of Dick Culbert.