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Congressional Report Urges Feds To Update Marijuana Employment Policies

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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.

The full Appropriations Committee is scheduled to consider the Financial Services and General Government spending legislation and approve the report on Tuesday.

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.”

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.

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This story was updated to include comment from Crist.

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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GOP Congressman Falsely Claims Marijuana Can Be Legally Consumed In Public In ‘Many States’

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A Republican congressman wrongly claimed that marijuana can be legally consumed in public in “many states” in a Twitter post on Friday.

Following a House vote in favor of anti-vaping legislation that also included a ban on menthol cigarettes, Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY) argued that the bill is an example of government overreach and that it would not prevent youth from using vaping products.

“Now, Democrats propose making possession of a menthol cigarette a violation of federal law when smoking a marijuana joint in public is legal in many states,” he wrote in his tweet. “Instead, we need to focus on real healthcare issues like surprise billing, the opioid epidemic and curbing coronavirus.”

The claim about laws governing public cannabis consumption is likely to raise eyebrows among reform advocates familiar with state-legal marijuana programs.

It’s not the case that “many states” allow individuals to smoke in public areas. In fact, it’s one of the most commonly prohibited activities in legalization measures.

“Rep. Barr is anti-freedom and pro-false hysteria when it comes to cannabis,” Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “Sadly, his desire to continue to see hundreds of thousands of Americans be arrested and incarcerated due to minor marijuana charges is held far too many of his colleagues in Congress.”

Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies at the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment that Barr’s “facts and priorities are wrong.”

“No legalization state allows public smoking of cannabis (other than in adult-only locations in some cases), and almost all medical cannabis states forbid it,” she said. “Marijuana isn’t associated with increased mortality, while cigarettes are associated with more than 480,000 deaths a year in the U.S. alone. Why is Rep. Barr maligning and voting against the safer substance, and working to keep it illegal?”

Here are some examples of public consumption policies in legal cannabis states.

Alaska: For adults over 21 years of age, the law permits “consumption of marijuana, except that nothing in this chapter shall permit the consumption of marijuana in public.”

California: “You can consume cannabis on private property but you cannot consume, smoke, eat, or vape cannabis in public places.”

Colorado: “Using marijuana in any way—smoking, eating or vaping—isn’t allowed in public places.”

Illinois: “There is no public consumption allowed for cannabis. Smoking or consuming weed is illegal in motor vehicles and public spaces, including your front porch.”

Massachusetts: “You can’t use marijuana in any form (smoking, vaping, edibles, etc.) in public or on federal land.”

Nevada: “Adults 21 years and older can legally consume marijuana, but with restrictions on where it can be consumed: You cannot use marijuana in any public place.”

Oregon: “Recreational marijuana cannot be sold or smoked in public.”

Put simply, the notion that public consumption of marijuana is widespread is a false narrative. A standout exception is Oklahoma, where medical cannabis patients are able to consume wherever tobacco is permitted. That said, Barr’s assertion that public marijuana smoking is legal in “many states” is patently false.

That the congressman is perpetuating that narrative isn’t especially surprising, however. Barr is no fan on cannabis, voting against spending bill amendments preventing the Justice Department from using its fund to interfere in state-legal medical marijuana programs as well as a separate measure last year that would’ve extended protections to all state cannabis programs.

That said, Barr isn’t alone in his opposition to the menthol cigarette ban that cleared the House on Friday. Several Democrats joined Republicans in voting against the measure in committee and on the floor. But their reasoning was generally that the targeted ban would lead to overpolicing of minority communities.

House Democrats Block Amendment To Restrict Marijuana Products In Anti-Vaping Bill

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VA Notice About Researching Medical Marijuana For Military Veterans Deleted Shortly After Posting

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The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will soon release a notice announcing that it is seeking information about the potential of marijuana and its components to treat medical conditions that commonly afflict military veterans.

A post describing the request was briefly uploaded to a government website this week, though it’s since been deleted—but not before Marijuana Moment downloaded a copy. A representative said in response to an e-mailed query that the document was “rescinded for edits” and a revised version will be published “at a future date.”

VA’s Clinical Science Research and Development Service wrote in the filing that it is interested in establishing a research program designed to “examine the potential for medical marijuana and cannabinoids to treat disorders and diseases prevalent in our Veteran population.”

In a request for white papers on the topic, the department said it’s especially interested in identifying potential medical uses for cannabis to treat neuropathic pain and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“Unrelieved neuropathic pain experienced by Veterans after spinal cord or peripheral nerve injury contributes to depression, anxiety, disrupted sleep, and overall decreased quality of life,” VA said. “PTSD, also highly prevalent in Veterans, is a mental health problem often co-morbid with chronic pain.”

“A large percentage of Veterans who seek relief from these conditions, resort to smoking marijuana or use unregulated dietary cannabis supplements, etc,” it continued. “It is therefore imperative to determine which cannabinoid compounds are truly effective, for which symptoms, in which populations, as well as the associated risks.”

VA said it is committed to researching and developing evidence-based treatment options for veterans, and that’s what the program is meant to address.

“Without the needed evidence base for medical marijuana, this will not be a treatment choice within VA,” the department wrote. “We hope to support a series of clinical trials, which in case of positive outcomes, will generate robust data to support the use of cannabinoid(s) for pain and/or PTSD (or one or more of its symptoms).”

The department plans to conduct clinical trials if the evidence indicates that medical cannabis can be useful. It touted the “cadre of experienced clinical investigators, a highly participatory research population, and mechanisms in place to support every aspect of clinical research.”

White papers submitted to VA under the now-deleted solicitation must contain four components: 1) the “formulation and route of administration of the cannabinoid preparation,” 2) their ability to manufacture and supply those preparations, 3) the investigational new drug registration for compounds that aren’t already approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and 4) evidence about the product’s efficacy in treating pain, PTSD and other conditions.

As drafted, the notice gives a deadline of March 15 to submit the requested one-page white papers, though it’s not clear if that will change when the updated notice is released.

Additionally, VA said it plans to collaborate with industry partners for “further understanding and development of evidence-based treatments such as medical marijuana and cannabinoids” and on April 27, will hold an “Industry Day” to discuss the “goals of the program.”

The department is “particularly interested in obtaining information about cannabinoid drugs availability, likelihood of their approval by the FDA (if not yet approved), and the data supporting their use for pain and PTSD treatment in Veterans,” the notice says.

Members of Congress and veterans advocates discussed the need for alternative treatment options, including medical cannabis, during a joint committee hearing earlier this week.

At the same time, bipartisan legislators are asking their colleagues to cosponsor a bill that would require VA to conduct research into the therapeutic potential of marijuana for veterans. That legislation already has 104 House cosponsors.

Read VA’s since-rescinded notice on medical marijuana research below: 

VA Request For Medical Mari… by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

House Democrats Block Amendment To Restrict Marijuana Products In Anti-Vaping Bill

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House Democrats Block Amendment To Restrict Marijuana Products In Anti-Vaping Bill

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House Democrats pushed back against a Republican attempt to include a flavored marijuana vaping ban in a broader anti-vaping bill that passed the chamber on Friday, arguing that it doesn’t make sense to prohibit products that are already illegal under federal law.

Instead, several lawmakers argued that Congress should enact separate cannabis reform legislation that could include provisions designed to protect public health and reduce the appeal of marijuana to youth.

The issue first came up during a House Rules Committee hearing on Wednesday, with Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) introducing an amendment to “include a prohibition against flavored marijuana products” such that they would be “treated in the same manner as flavored tobacco products” under the bill.

While the congressman argued that language of the legislation implicitly already provides for such a ban, he said it was important to clarify to send a message to young people that they can’t vape products containing nicotine or THC.

“Let it not be said in 2029 that we had a chance and we felt maybe we were getting to it in 2020,” he said. “Let’s just go ahead and do it. Let’s say you can’t sell flavored marijuana THC vaping products. My amendment makes that clear.”

Watch the conversation below: 

Democratic members said they shared Griffith’s concern about underage use of flavored cannabis vaping products. However, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) pushed back and said the proposal is not germane because marijuana remains illegal under federal law and so regulating these products requires separate congressional action.

Earlier in the hearing, he suggested that his House-passed cannabis banking bill—the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act—could serve as a vehicle to address the body’s concerns.

“We have to start addressing it because we have 47 states that now are allowing some level of marijuana use when the statute under the Controlled Substance Act clearly makes it illegal,” the congressman said. “There’s a bill sitting in the Senate called the SAFE Banking Act that may get back here at some point, and we could put some testing and regulatory components on it.”

Watch this exchange below: 

Is a flavored marijuana vaping ban even necessary?

Also during the hearing, Rep. Rob Woodall (R-GA) pressed Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) about the lack of specificity in the bill as it concerns marijuana vaping products. Woodall said he wanted that aspect addressed before he leaves office in nine months.

“It strikes me…more than strange that banana crush [nicotine vaping products] will no longer be available to adults in my district. But banana strawberry cream, which is an illegal [marijuana] product today, will continue to be available at 180 retailers near you,” Woodall said. “I don’t know how I take that message into my high schools and say that we’re going to reduce drug dependency in the months and years ahead.”

Watch the conversation below: 

Pallone said he appreciates Woodall’s concern that flavored vaping products can mislead consumers about what they’re actually putting into their bodies and that he “would tend to think that the same problem would exist” for flavored marijuana products. However, he said there’s a distinction to be made.

“Most people tell me that nicotine is much more toxic and much more dangerous to your health than marijuana so maybe we shouldn’t have restrictions on marijuana at all and maybe we shouldn’t have any restrictions on flavored marijuana because the marijuana doesn’t have the same health problems that nicotine has,” he said. “Maybe I should say, assuming that marijuana is dangerous then maybe the flavored should be. But it’s not as dangerous.”

“The reality is that we know that nicotine is much more dangerous than marijuana so maybe the flavors masking it is not as serious a problem as it would be for nicotine,” he said.

Griffith’s amendment was blocked from floor consideration in a party-line vote of 3-6 by the panel, but the conversation around flavored marijuana products continued on Friday on the House floor.

Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) brought a poster board showing pictures of flavored cannabis vaping products and lamented that they are not explicitly included in the anti-vaping bill.

“If you want to do something about kids—if you want to do something about lung disease—then we need to do something about marijuana and the oils it gets mixed with that this bill does not address,” he said.

But Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) pointed out that if Republicans are interested in ensuring that such marijuana products are properly regulated, the substance needs to be removed from the Controlled Substances Act to provide Congress with the means to enact regulations.

Imposing regulations on marijuana while it’s still federally prohibited is “like regulating flavored heroin,” he said. The congressman added that a bill to deschedule marijuana called the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act would give lawmakers the tools to protect public health.

“The challenge that we have now is to be able to move forward—to be able to protect young people and the public,” Blumenauer said. “Cannabis is a red herring. If we tax and regulate it, then we can deal with the products they’re talking about. But unless and until we bring it—as two-thirds of the states have done—to actually tax and regulate it, we can’t deal with that. It doesn’t matter.”

Not all Democrats were on board with the anti-vaping bill.

It was a tight 213-195 vote in the House on Friday. Top Democratic leaders are faced challenges as they worked to get the broader legislation approved. Some members of the party have expressed opposition over policies to ban flavored tobacco, including menthol, which they argue would lead to overpolicing of minority communities.

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Image by Lindsay Fox from Pixabay.

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