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.
Bernie Sanders Asks Campaign Rally Audience To Share Stories About Marijuana Arrests
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) asked an audience in South Carolina to share stories about marijuana possession convictions and then argued that those anecdotes help to demonstrate the case for national legalization.
During a campaign stop in the early primary state on Sunday, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate asked people to raise their hands if they knew someone who’d been arrested for possessing cannabis. There was no shortage of hands raised.
“Holy God, whoa. That’s a lot of people,” Sanders said before asking for volunteers to go into detail.
“I got caught with about a joint and they took my license for a year and I lost my job,” an audience member said. “Ended up losing my house, and it went worse from there.”
The War on Drugs has been a disaster. It is time to legalize marijuana nationwide. pic.twitter.com/tehuM7xjxx
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) September 17, 2019
“Wow, this is for smoking a joint?” Sanders asked.
“Yeah, I had a little—like a dime bag in my car,” the person said.
Another person in attendance who appeared in the campaign video Sanders released on Tuesday said that she visited a guilty plea court and witnessed “three different men get put in at least two years of prison just for anywhere from two grams to eight grams of marijuana found on them.”
“That’s why all over this country states are doing the right thing and either decriminalizing or legalizing the possession of marijuana,” Sanders said to applause.
Since becoming the first major party presidential candidate to call for cannabis legalization in 2015, Sanders has continued to place an emphasis on the need for marijuana reform, with a focus on the racial injustices of prohibition.
Last month, he released a criminal justice reform plan that included proposals to legalize cannabis federally and also provide for safe injection sites to curb opioid overdoses.
But while Sanders has been a leading voice in the drug policy reform movement, he’s said twice in recent weeks that he’s not ready to embrace decriminalizing possession of drugs beside marijuana.
Photo courtesy of Lorie Shaull.
New York Gov. Cuomo Hints Marijuana Smoking Ban Could Be Part Of Next Legalization Push
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) seemed to suggest that he might want a ban on smoking marijuana included in legalization legislation when lawmakers take up the issue again next year.
During an interview with MSNBC on Sunday, the governor was asked whether the spike in apparent vaping-related lung injuries and deaths, which experts attribute to altered nicotine and cannabis oils primarily purchased on the illicit market, has made him reconsider pursuing legalization in the state.
“No,” he said, adding that his administration is “not in favor of smoking marijuana” and that there are “ways to get THC without smoking marijuana.”
“People are vaping THC, yes that is true,” Cuomo said. “We think that from a public health point of view, that is not something that we recommend and we think it’s dangerous—smoking of any kind.”
“You can legalize marijuana and sell THC in compounds that do not require you to smoke the marijuana, and we do not support smoking of marijuana,” he said. “There are compounds that have the THC, which is a compound in marijuana, that you don’t smoke.”
It’s not entirely clear if Cuomo plans to ask for a smoking ban the next time a legalization bill emerges or if he was simply outlining an administrative position advising against smoking. A spokesperson for his office did not respond to Marijuana Moment’s request for comment by the time of publication.
But while there was no ban on marijuana smoking included in legalization legislation that he worked to pass earlier this year, it wouldn’t be entirely out of character given that he pushed for such a restriction as part of New York’s medical cannabis program in legislation enacted in 2014.
The logic behind that policy, according to Cuomo, was that it would prevent people from abusing the program. If he moved to incorporate a ban for adult-use legalization, however, it would presumably be a public health decision.
That could create problems when lawmakers return to the negotiating table. In California, flower and concentrates represent about 70 percent of the marijuana market, meaning any attempt to ban smokeable cannabis will likely be met with pushback from consumers, industry stakeholders and civil liberties-minded reform advocates.
Industry players seemed to have influence when Cuomo included a ban on home cultivation for personal use in his prior legalization proposal—something a major medical cannabis association recommended in a policy statement submitted to the governor.
For the time being, however, there don’t seem to be tangible plans to include a smoking ban in future cannabis legislation and it could be that the governor simply ends up pushing for public education campaigns discouraging the activity rather than keeping it illegal.
In July, he signed legislation broadening New York’s decriminalization law and creating a pathway for expungements for individuals with prior cannabis convictions.
Photo courtesy of MSNBC.
Mitch McConnell Tells FDA To Clear A Path For CBD Products Though Spending Bill Directive
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is moving to insert language into a congressional spending report that calls on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to clear a path for the lawful marketing of hemp-derived CBD products.
FDA has said that allowing CBD to be sold as food items or dietary supplements would require it to develop alternative regulations that could take years to complete without congressional action. But McConnell, who was the chief proponent of a hemp legalization provision of the 2018 Farm Bill, isn’t interested in waiting around.
In draft language shared by the U.S. Hemp Roundtable on Tuesday, the senator is asking FDA to “issue a policy of enforcement discretion with regard to certain products containing CBD” within 120 days—a move that industry stakeholders say will clarify rules so that banks are more willing to service CBD companies.
🚨 BREAKING FDA UPDATE 🚨 After close work with the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, @senatemajldr Mitch McConnell submitted legislation urging the FDA to take action on CBD. Visit the link in bio to take action! pic.twitter.com/zMohlD3NiS
— US Hemp Roundtable (@HempRoundtable) September 17, 2019
The provision of the spending report was marked up in the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture on Tuesday. It will go before the full Appropriations Committee on Thursday.
Prior to issuing its enforcement discretion policy under McConnell’s report language, FDA would have to submit a report to the committee within 90 days detailing its “progress toward obtaining and analyzing data to help determine a policy of enforcement discretion, and the process in which CBD meeting the definition of hemp will be evaluated for use in products.”
Once those provisional enforcement guidelines are established, they would remain in place until FDA finalizes the regulatory process.
“FDA is encouraged to consider existing and ongoing medical research related to CBD that is being undertaken pursuant to an Investigation New Drug (IND) application in the development of a regulatory pathway for CBD in products under the jurisdiction of FDA and to ensure that any future regulatory activity does not discourage the development of new drugs,” the report states.
Outside of McConnell’s proposal, the FDA and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) appropriations legislation already sets aside $2 million to support research and regulatory activities surrounding hemp-derived CBD products and $16.5 million for the broader hemp production program.
During the subcommittee meeting on Thursday, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) praised the bill’s support for hemp legalization implementation.
“You might note that this year in Oregon, the hemp industry may well be a billion dollar crop, and that is an incredible addition to income for our agricultural community,” he said.
The legalization of hemp and its derivatives has been met with intense interest from manufacturers and lawmakers alike, but limitations on the marketability of CBD has been an ongoing source of frustration.
Last week, a bipartisan pair of lawmakers asked fellow House members to join them in signing a letter to the head of FDA that similarly asks for enforcement discretion guidelines allowing companies to sell CBD products.
The House, which approved its version of appropriations legislation for the upcoming fiscal year prior to the summer recess, included a separate amendment that would require FDA to establish rules providing for the lawful marketing of CBD in food and dietary supplements.
Meanwhile, USDA is expected to soon release its broader hemp regulations soon.
Read McConnell’s full CBD report language below:
“As previously mentioned, the Committee provides $2,000,000 for research, policy evaluation, market surveillance, issuance of an enforcement discretion policy, and appropriate regulatory activities with respect to products under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration which contain cannabidiol (CBD) and meet the definition of hemp, as set forth in section 297A of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 (7 U.S.C. 1639o). Within 90 days, FDA shall provide the Committee with a report regarding the Agency’s progress toward obtaining and analyzing data to help determine a policy of enforcement discretion, and the process in which CBD meeting the definition of hemp will be evaluated for use in products. Within 120 days, FDA shall issue a policy of enforcement discretion with regard to certain products containing CBD meeting the definition of hemp as defined by section 297A of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1964 (7 U.S.C. 1639). Such enforcement discretion shall be in effect until FDA establishes a process for stakeholders to notify FDA for use of CBD in products that include safety studies for intended use per product, and makes a determination about such product. FDA is encouraged to consider existing and ongoing medical research related to CBD that is being undertaken pursuant to an Investigation New Drug (IND) application in the development of a regulatory pathway for CBD in products under the jurisdiction of FDA and to ensure that any future regulatory activity does not discourage the development of new drugs.”
This story was updated to include comment from Merkley.
Photo courtesy of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.