A key Democratic congressman has a step-by-step plan to enact the end of federal marijuana prohibition in 2019 if his party takes control of the House, and he’s laying it all out in a new memo.
“Congress is out of step with the American people and the states on cannabis,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) writes in the eight-page document addressed to House Democratic Leadership. “We have an opportunity to correct course if Democrats win big in November. There’s no question: cannabis prohibition will end. Democrats should lead the way.”
House Republican leaders have blocked floor votes on dozens of cannabis-related amendments during the current 115th Congress. Not a single marijuana measure has advanced to a vote before the full body in 2017 or 2018.
Many political observers believe Democrats are likely to regain control of the House in next month’s midterm elections. Their chances in the Senate, however, are seen as more of a long shot.
But Blumenauer’s plan, which he is calling a “Blueprint to Legalize Marijuana,” is for a Democratic House to lead on the issue and build pressure on the Senate, where bipartisan support for cannabis reform is already growing.
The Oregon congressman says that after the 116th Congress is seated in January, Democrats should begin holding a series of hearings on cannabis issues.
“Almost every standing House committee has jurisdiction over some aspect of marijuana policy,” he writes. “Within the first six months of the new Congress, these committees should hold hearings, bring in experts, and discuss potential policy fixes.”
He gives nine examples, including:
- House Judiciary Committee hearing on descheduling marijuana
- House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on safe and equal access to medical marijuana for veterans
- House Financial Services Committee hearing on barriers to the safe access of banking services and capital as well as unnecessary and unwise barriers to banking services for state legal marijuana businesses
By April, Blumenauer wants committees to begin passing legislation to “narrow the marijuana policy gap—the gap between federal and state marijuana laws.”
These incremental fixes would include measures concerning the removal of barriers to marijuana research, making amends for racial injustices stemming from unequal enforcement, providing pathways to banking services and tax reform for cannabis businesses, granting easier access to medical marijuana for military veterans and more.
Blumenauer suggests that Democratic leaders bring such bills to the House floor by August.
Come September, he wants the body to begin work on the ultimate goal: ending federal marijuana prohibition through a “full descheduling bill.”
His vision is that by the end of 2019, “Marijuana will be legal at the federal level, and states allowed to responsibly regulate its use. The federal government will not interfere with state efforts to responsibly regulate marijuana use within their borders.”
But while there is majority support for ending marijuana prohibition among House Democrats, the party’s leadership has so far appeared lukewarm to the idea of prioritizing the issue in 2019.
For example, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) recently said top Democrats “haven’t talked about that” when he was asked about pushing cannabis reform in next year.
And Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the minority leader who many expect will seek the speakership again if her party regains a majority in the House, suggested that marijuana bills’ success would largely depend on support from President Trump.
“I don’t know where the president is on any of this,” she said. “So any decision about how we go forward would have to reflect where we can get the result.”
In fact, Trump, who repeatedly pledged to respect state marijuana laws on the 2016 campaign trail, indicated earlier this year that he would be likely to back sweeping cannabis reform legislation.
But Blumenauer is worried that if Democrats don’t move quickly to seize the marijuana reform, the GOP may seek to make the issue their own.
“If we fail to act swiftly, I fear as the 2020 election approaches, Donald Trump will claim credit for our work in an effort to shore up support—especially from young voters,” he writes. “Democrats must seize the moment.”
Also this week, Blumenauer is introducing legislation to address U.S. federal policy that could prevent Canadians who have ever used marijuana or work or invest in the legal cannabis industry from visiting the country.
The bill, pegged to Canada’s legalization law going into effect on Wednesday, would “exempt cannabis-use and/or participation in the cannabis industry as a disqualification for entry into the United States from a country that has ended its marijuana prohibition” and would shield “foreign nationals who participate in state-legal cannabis activity from deportation,” according to a congressional staffer.
Read Rep. Earl Blumenauer’s full plan for marijuana reform in a Democratic Congress here.
Hemp Farmers Guaranteed Federal Crop Insurance Through Disaster Bill Amendment
The Senate approved a bill on Thursday that is mostly focused on providing relief aid to areas impacted by natural disasters—but it also includes a provision ensuring that hemp farmers qualify for federal crop insurance.
The hemp section was inserted into the legislation at the behest of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Though similar language already exists in the 2018 Farm Bill, which federally legalized hemp and its derivatives, the senator took an added measure to provide clarity to farmers who want access to the insurance option ahead of the 2020 planting season.
“Beginning not later than the 2020 reinsurance year, the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation shall offer coverage under the wholefarm revenue protection insurance policy (or a successor policy or plan of insurance) for hemp (as defined in section 297A of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 (7 U.S.C. 1639o)),” text of the provision states.
“Provided, That such amount is designated by the Congress as being for an emergency requirement pursuant to section 251(b)(2)(A)(i) of the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985,” it continues.
The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 85 to 8. The House is expected to approve the disaster legislation by unanimous consent by the end of the week, and President Donald Trump has offered assurances that he will sign it into law.
The legalization of hemp has sparked strong interest among farmers in states from Colorado to Kentucky, but it will still be some time until the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) develops and implements its federal regulatory guidelines.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said that while his department would not rush its rulemaking process, it still intends to implement the regulations before the 2020 planting season. After that point, USDA would be able to approve regulatory plans submitted by individual states.
McConnell, who championed the hemp legalization provision, has urged the quick and effective implementation of such regulations, and he’s suggested that he’d introduce standalone legislation to resolve any “glitches” in its rollout.
While not a standalone bill, the hemp-focused provision of the disaster legislation seems to indicate he plans to make good on that promise.
The senator has made much of his pro-hemp agenda, arguing last month that his role in reforming hemp laws is at “the top of the list” of reasons why voters should reelect him in 2020. He also cited hemp as an agricultural alternative to tobacco when he introduced a bill this week to raise the minimum age requirement to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21.
Congressional Report Urges DEA Action On Marijuana Cultivation Applications
A congressional committee report attached a large-scale spending bill containing marijuana-related protections has been amended to include a call for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to finally act on long-pending applications for federal licenses to grow cannabis for research purposes.
The legislation itself, which was released by a House subcommittee last week, could still be further amended as it goes through the legislative process. But as approved by the full House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, the bill stipulates that none of the Fiscal Year 2020 funds it allocates may be used by the Justice Department to interfere in state-legal medical marijuana programs.
The provision has been federal law since 2014, but its inclusion in the initial subcommittee proposal as introduced is the earliest it has ever surfaced in the legislative process for the annual spending bill. While advocates hoped broader protections for adult-use cannabis states would also be included in the base legislation, that rider isn’t in the bill—at least not yet.
There was also a technical problem with the legislation that wasn’t resolved by the committee manager’s amendment, the text of which has not been posted but was obtained by Marijuana Moment. The medical cannabis provision lists the states and territories its protections apply to—but it left out the U.S. Virgin Islands, which legalized medical marijuana in January.
Similar errors have occurred in past versions of the legislation, when legal medical cannabis states North Dakota and Indiana were not included in an earlier version of the rider, and advocates hope that the language will be amended on the House floor.
But while that fix didn’t make it into the bill at the committee level, the directive to the DEA about cannabis cultivation licenses was added to the committee report attached to the bill via the manager’s amendment.
“The Committee urges the Drug Enforcement Administration to expeditiously process any pending applications for authorization to produce marijuana exclusively for us in medical research,” the revised report states.
The DEA has faced significant pressure from lawmakers, advocates and scientists to approve applications for additional marijuana manufacturers to produce research-grade cannabis. Currently there is only one federally authorized facility, and the quality of its product has long been criticized.
DEA announced a process to license additional cultivators during the final months of the Obama administration in 2016, but the Justice Department under then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions refused to act on more than two dozen pending applications. Current Attorney General William Barr has pledged to look into the matter, and has said he agrees that approving additional manufacturers is necessary.
Advocates hope that the new committee report language could help to finally spur movement at the department.
“The DEA is a disaster on marijuana and they need to stop obstructing research ASAP,” Michael Collins, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, told Marijuana Moment.
“It’s beyond ridiculous that they won’t act on these applications. Even prohibitionists like Project SAM agree,” he added, referring to the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana. “And when the guys who get their drug policy from the 1920s say you’re behind the times, that’s pretty embarrassing.”
Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, said that Sessions “was the only government official opposed to cannabis research, and he is no longer employed.”
“Now is the time for AG Barr to follow through on his commitment and allow researchers pathways to consumer-grade cannabis,” he said.
Another provision included in the appropriations bill would offer protections for states that have implemented industrial hemp pilot programs under the 2014 Farm Bill. The Justice Department wouldn’t be allowed to use its funds to interfere in such programs under the proposal.
Of course, the 2018 version of the agriculture legislation removed hemp and its derivatives from the Controlled Substances Act, shifting regulatory responsibility onto the U.S. Department of Agriculture instead of the Justice Department, so that provision may not be especially relevant going forward.
The bill will next head to the Rules Committee, which will decide the list of amendments—potentially including additional cannabis-related ones—that can be considered on the House floor.
Read the text of the manager’s amendment with the DEA marijuana language below:
Managers Amendment FINAL by on Scribd
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
House Committee Approves Immigration Bill With Marijuana Protections
A congressional committee voted in favor of a wide-ranging immigration bill on Wednesday, and the legislation includes marijuana-related protections for people who were brought to the U.S. as children.
Under the DREAM Act as approved, having low-level cannabis convictions, or engaging in state-legal cannabis-related activities such as working in the regulated marijuana industry, would not be counted against applications for permanent resident status for so-called Dreamers.
The House Judiciary Committee advanced the bill in a 19-10 vote, without specific discussion about the cannabis provisions.
The section concerning eligibility for permanent status stipules that having three or more misdemeanor convictions could be grounds for ineligibility—but the bill creates an exemption for “simple possession of cannabis or cannabis-related paraphernalia” or “any offense involving cannabis or cannabis-related paraphernalia which is no longer prosecutable in the State in which the conviction was entered.”
The text seems to indicate that immigrants who engaged in cannabis-related activities prior to a state reforming its marijuana laws would still be protected even if that activity was not state-legal at the time.
Similar language appears under a separate section about grounds for a provisional denial of an application for adjustment of status. Applicants would be exempted from such a denial if their conviction was for “simple possession of cannabis or cannabis-related paraphernalia” or “any offense involving cannabis or cannabis-related paraphernalia which is no longer prosecutable in the State in which the conviction was entered.”
A previous version of the legislation, filed in March, didn’t include the specific eligibility requirements related to certain criminal activity, nor did it contain any explicit marijuana protections. It’s possible that House Democrats thought up the exemptions during a brainstorming session earlier this month about potential bill revisions aimed at building more support.
The next likely stop for the DREAM Act will be the House Rules Committee before heading to a full floor vote.
There’s been growing interest in reforming marijuana policies as they apply to immigrants and visitors to the U.S.
Earlier this month, four congressional Democrats sent a letter to the head of the Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security to end the practice of rejecting naturalization applications solely because the applicant worked in a state-legal marijuana market. That came after the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) released a memo specifying that such activity could render them morally unfit for citizenship.
And last week, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced legislation aimed at resolving marijuana-related border issues, whereby visitors who admit to using cannabis or working in their country’s legal industry can be denied entrance.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.