A congressional committee is urging the federal government to reconsider its hiring and firing policies as they relate to workers who use marijuana in compliance with state laws.
The House Appropriations Committee made the recommendation in a report attached to a large-scale spending bill funding parts of the federal government for Fiscal Year 2020 that was released on Monday. That same legislation also includes a provision protecting banks that service cannabis businesses and deletes a longstanding rider prohibiting Washington, D.C. from using its local tax dollars to implement a system of legal marijuana sales.
The panel made its new recommendation to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM).
“Hiring Guidelines—The Committee encourages OPM to review its policies and guidelines regarding hiring and firing of individuals who use marijuana in states where that individual’s private use of marijuana is not prohibited under the law of the State. These policies should reflect updated changes to the law on marijuana usage and clearly state the impact of marijuana usage on Federal employment.”
Existing federal policy strictly prohibits marijuana usage for federal workers even in states that have enacted legalization.
But even while the committee report is adding the new encouragement for a legal-state carveout for cannabis, the bill itself maintains a provision stating that a federal agency can only receive funds under the legislation if it “has in place, and will continue to administer in good faith, a written policy designed to ensure that all of its workplaces are free from the illegal use, possession, or distribution of controlled substances by the officers and employees of such department, agency, or instrumentality.”
That language could potentially be amended as the bill makes it way through the legislative process.
“We’re proud to support any efforts to ensure that the successful cannabis reform efforts in states around the nation are able to be implemented in smooth and sensible manner,” Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “The prospect of responsible adults being denied federal employment opportunities is counterproductive and disproportionally impacts the veterans community.”
“It is our hope that the final appropriations package maintain these provisions to give certainty to the increasing number of states that are ending the failed war on cannabis,” he said.
The report recommendation is in line with a piece of standalone legislation introduced in March by Reps. Charlie Crist (D-FL) and Don Young (R-AK) that would bar federal agencies from firing employees solely because they tested positive for THC if they live in a legal cannabis state. That bill has not yet been scheduled for any hearings or votes.
“Voters across the country are saying yes to legalization. It’s time for the federal government to catch up with the will of the people,” Crist said in a press release about the new appropriations moves. “For folks from all walks of life, veterans, seniors, people facing chronic pain or disabilities, cannabis is an incredible source of relief – and that legal commerce is providing an economic boost to our communities. You shouldn’t lose your job if you need cannabis to live a healthy, normal life, and companies shouldn’t be at risk of operating a cash-only business in this day and age.”
It’s time for the federal government to follow the will of the people when it comes to medical marijuana! Proud to have secured two major wins for medical cannabis users & businesses across the country. https://t.co/XJR34AKNpX pic.twitter.com/GaCIoYHp5R
— Rep. Charlie Crist (@RepCharlieCrist) June 10, 2019
Besides the employment section, the spending bill report also discusses the cannabis banking provision that made it into the base spending bill.
That provision states that none of the money appropriated through the bill “may be used to penalize a financial institution solely because the institution provides financial services to an entity that is a manufacturer, a produce, or a person that participates in any business or organized activity that involves handling marijuana, marijuana products, or marijuana proceeds” in a jurisdiction where it’s legal.
Standalone legislation to provide that protection is making headway in Congress. It was approved by the House Financial Services Committee in March. Last week, it was placed on the chamber’s Union Calendar and is expected to be taken up for a full floor vote in coming weeks. In the meantime, lawmakers are considering adding amendments to broaden its GOP appeal.
Missing from the report is a description of a rider that appeared in earlier versions of the appropriations bill, stipulating that Washington, D.C. isn’t allowed to spend local tax revenue to implement legal marijuana sales. That section was nixed from the draft legislation as introduced. If it doesn’t get put back in later in the legislative process, the path would be cleared for officials in the nation’s capital to move ahead with a local proposal to expand the city’s current noncommercial legal cannabis system.
The 116th Congress has seen numerous standalone cannabis reform bills introduced so far, but it seems that lawmakers are also increasingly interested in pursuing change though the appropriations process.
Several other House Appropriations Committee reports released so far this year include provisions aimed at expanding research into medical cannabis, establishing a regulatory framework for CBD, providing funds for the implementation of hemp regulations, addressing impaired driving and protecting military veterans from losing their benefits for working in the cannabis industry.
On Friday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) filed an amendment to a separate spending bill coming to the floor this week that would eliminate a provision blocking the use of federal funds for “any activity that promotes the legalization of any drug or other substance in Schedule I.” The purpose of the legislation is to lift barriers to research into the therapeutic potential of substances such as psilocybin and MDMA, a summary prepared by the congresswoman’s office says.
Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA) also introduced an amendment to that bill that would prevent the Department of Education from denying or limiting “any funding or assistance to institutions of higher education” as a punishment for allowing the use of medical cannabis in a legal marijuana state.
The House Rules Committee will decide on Monday whether those drug policy amendments will be allowed for votes by the full body.
That panel’s chairman, Rep. James McGovern (D-MA), had repeatedly criticized his Republican predecessor for blocking cannabis votes on the floor and pledged to take a different approach.
This story was updated to include comment from Crist.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
Bipartisan Lawmakers Tell DEA To Let Researchers Study Marijuana From Dispensaries
A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers from the House and Senate sent a letter to the Justice Department on Friday, requesting a policy change allowing researchers to access marijuana from state-legal dispensaries to improve studies on the plant’s benefits and risks.
The letter, led by Rep. Harley Rouda (D-CA) and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), cites feedback from federal health agencies, which have said that existing restrictions on cannabis have inhibited research. One problem in particular is that there’s only one federally authorized manufacturer of research-grade marijuana.
While the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said that it is in the process of approving additional manufacturers, it’s been more than three years since they first announced that applications for more growers would be accepted and, more recently, the agency said it would have to develop alternative rules to approve proposals that have been submitted.
“At the same time, the status quo does not address a barrier to research raised by both [the National Institutes of Health] and [the Food and Drug Administration],” the lawmakers wrote in the new letter. That barrier is a ban on researchers being able to obtain marijuana from dispensaries.
“Both agencies recommended that researchers should be able to obtain cannabis from state-legal sources,” the letter states.
Today, @SenBrianSchatz and I sent a bipartisan letter to AG Barr, urging the DEA to amend current policies to improve research on cannabis.
It’s time to bring our drug research policies into the 21st century.https://t.co/bfpPUhUvQf
— Rep. Harley Rouda (@RepHarley) December 6, 2019
Further, the lawmakers said that there are “problems in industry development of licensed drugs with data from products obtained from third-parties, such as the University of Mississippi.”
“In many states, cannabis law and regulations already provide for licensing of industrial manufacturing activities, and products are available for medical use in those states, but not for research leading to FDA licensure,” they wrote.
“There is a need for a greater diversity of cannabis products so that research on benefits and risks reflects the realities of what consumers and patients are using. NIH and FDA have strongly recommended streamlining the process for conducting research and product development activities with cannabis and other Schedule I substances, and that the DEA take action to assure that interpretations of processes and policies are universally applied in local DEA jurisdictions.”
The lack of chemical diversity in the federal government’s cannabis supply has been repeatedly pointed out. One study found that the research-grade cannabis is more similar to hemp than marijuana in commercial markets.
To resolve the research issues, the coalition made two recommendations: 1) to amend internal policy “so as to allow researchers with Schedule I licenses to obtain cannabis-derived products from state authorized dispensaries for research purposes” and 2) issue guidance clarifying that hemp researchers do not need a DEA license to obtain and study hemp because it was federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill.
The letter requests a response from DEA by December 20.
A total of 21 members of Congress signed the letter, including Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Cory Gardner (R-CO), along with Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Barbara Lee (D-CA) Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Joe Kennedy (D-MA).
“Our nation’s cannabis research laws are archaic,” Rouda said in a press release. “Forty-seven states have legalized some form of cannabis consumption—we must ensure our federal agencies and other licensed institutions can comprehensively study the benefits and risks of cannabis products.”
“I thank Senator Schatz, and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, for joining me to make this common-sense request,” he said. “It’s time to bring our drug research policies into the 21st century.”
Attorney General William Barr received a similar letter from lawmakers about the need to expand the number of federally authorized marijuana cultivators in April.
Read the lawmakers’ full letter on expanding marijuana research below:
Oregon Activists Begin Signature Gathering For 2020 Drug Decriminalization Initiative
Oregon activists have begun collecting signatures for a statewide initiative to decriminalize possession of all drugs.
Three months after petitioners quietly submitted the proposed ballot measure—titled the “Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act” (DATRA)—the signature gathering process has started, with organizers deployed to Portland to raise support.
A long road lies before the activists, who need to collect 112,020 valid signatures from voters in order to qualify for the 2020 ballot. Funding and polling will decide whether they mount a full push for the decriminalization measure in the months to come.
To that end, their efforts are being helped by David Bronner, CEO of the soap company Dr. Bronner’s, who told Marijuana Moment on Thursday that he will be investing $250,000 in the decriminalization campaign. An additional $500,000 will go to a separate Oregon initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes.
The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which backed Oregon’s successful marijuana legalization initiative in 2014, is also supporting this new effort to make low-level drug possession an infraction punishable by a $100 fine with no jail time, rather than a misdemeanor. It remains to be seen how involved in the campaign DPA will be, however.
Peter Zuckerman, a chief petitioner for the decriminalization initiative, told OregonLive on Thursday that it’s not guaranteed that the campaign will proceed and that much rides on how much money the group can raise, whether there’s public support for the reform move and how staff recruitment comes together.
He said the main thrust of the measure is to take a “health-based approach to drug addiction rather than a criminal justice-based approach.”
The proposal caught the attention of Oregon’s teachers’ union, which said that it supports decriminalizing drug possession but wrote in a comment submitted to the secretary of state in October that it was not taking an official position because it’s concerned about another provision that would shift cannabis tax revenue away from schools.
DATRA would make it so most of that revenue would be used to fund addiction treatment programs.
At the same time that activists are collecting signatures and weighing whether to move ahead with the broad decriminalization initiative, another advocacy group is pushing for a measure to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic use, allowing individuals to receive treatment with the psychedelic fungus at licensed health facilities. The group launched its signature drive in September.
Advocates in Portland are also hoping to advance a local measure to decriminalize psilocybin and other psychedelics such as ayahuasca and ibogaine.
Bronner wrote in a blog post that the decriminalization and therapeutic psilocybin legalization campaigns are “already coordinating closely and conserving resources on the statewide signature drive.”
He told Marijuana Moment that “we see this as the perfect one two punch in Oregon, legalizing psilocybin therapy that has so much promise for treating drug addiction, at the same time Oregon shifts to a treatment not jail approach.”
“And 100 percent confident it’s coming together,” he said.
All of this comes amid a national movement to decriminalize psychedelics, with activists in almost 100 cities across the U.S. considering pushing for reduced penalties for substances such as psilocybin and ayahuasca. Decriminalize Nature, which is aiding in and tracking these efforts, is also receiving donations from Bronner, he said.
Decriminalization is also gaining traction on the national stage, with two presidential candidates—South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI)—voicing support for the policy change. Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, another candidate, recently said that he’s open to broad decriminalization, while entrepreneur Andrew Yang backs decriminalizing opioids.
North Dakota Activists Submit Measure To Legalize Marijuana In 2020
North Dakota activists submitted a measure to legalize marijuana for adult use to state officials on Thursday, an organizer confirmed to Marijuana Moment.
Legalize ND, the group behind the proposed statutory initiative, delivered the measure to the secretary of state’s office. It’s expected to be validated within days, after which point petitions will be distributed to collect signatures in support of qualifying for the 2020 ballot.
It’s been about a year since organizers began working on the measure, which would allow adults 21 and older to possess and purchase cannabis for personal use. The proposal is more narrowly tailored than a legalization initiative from the same organization that voters rejected in 2018, however.
The previous version didn’t include any restrictions on cultivation or possession, and it didn’t involve a licensing scheme. By contrast, the new measure would prohibit home cultivation, limit possession to two ounces, impose a 10 percent excise tax and establish a regulatory body to approve licenses for marijuana businesses.
“One of the largest complaints from last time was the mantra of ‘poorly written,'” Legalize ND’s David Owen told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview. “They targeted the lack of legal experience from our team and they targeted a lack of ‘qualified lawyers’ to be drafting language that would go into the state’s statutory law.”
But he said he’s confident the campaign will be successful this time around, in part because they spent months drafting the language with the North Dakota Legislative Council.
Asked what he’d say to voters still on the fence about legalization, Owen replied that it would depend on what their initial concerns were:
“If it’s a concern over home grow, well it’s simple, we don’t have that anymore. If it’s a concern of people having too much, we have a reasonable possession limit now—in their eyes, I still think possession limits are fundamentally arbitrary, but they wanted a possession limit so we have that now. If people go, ‘well what about the quality of the language?’ I can point to how it’s literally written by Legislative Council, so either every attorney who works for the state of North Dakota is incompetent or this is well written.”
In order to qualify for next year’s ballot, the group must collect 13,452 valid signatures from voters before July 6, 2020.
“I think the most important thing isn’t what it would do, but what it would stop from happening,” Owen told local radio station KFGO on Wednesday. “We currently have a system where people are unable to find a job because of a criminal record, we have a system where people are continuing to get marijuana charges and lose their housing, we have families being separated because of parents losing custody over their children for marijuana charges. That all stops when this is legalized.”
Listen to Owen’s radio interview about the new marijuana ballot measure below:
Internal polling that received outside funding, which Owen said cannot be publicly released because of the wishes of the donor, shows the initiative is “slightly ahead” among voters.
In an earlier interview with Marijuana Moment in February, Owen said that it’s “very probable that we can do it” this time around, but much of that depended on the extent to which opposition campaigns are involved and how much funding outside groups are able to offer.
Currently, North Dakota has a medical cannabis program, and the governor signed legislation in May decriminalizing low-level marijuana possession.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.