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Democratic Party Delegates Reject Marijuana Legalization Amendment To 2020 Policy Platform

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The Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) platform committee on Monday rejected an amendment calling on the party to support marijuana legalization as an official 2020 policy plank.

Several delegates testified in favor of the proposal, arguing that legalization and ending the war on drugs will help resolve racial inequities and stimulate the economy. But following discussion of the measure, it was shot down in a 50-106 vote, with three abstentions. The panel opted to keep the language included in a draft platform that was released last week.

That document calls for decriminalizing cannabis possession, automatic expungements of prior marijuana convictions, federal rescheduling through executive action, legalizing medical cannabis and allowing states to set their own laws. Like presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, it stops short of endorsing adult-use legalization.

The language very closely echoes recommendations released earlier this month by criminal justice reform task force that Biden and former primary rival Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) organized.

“We cannot ignore the fact that the current marijuana criminalization policy has in too many cases been used to target people of color,” delegate Dennis Obduskey, who introduced the amendment, said. “They are unfairly and disproportionately six times more likely to be arrested than other citizens.”

Iowa County Supervisor Stacey Walker, who served as a member of the Biden-Sanders criminal justice task force, testified in support of the proposal, stating that black people are “overpoliced and brutalized over the same trace amounts of marijuana that white kids in this country are using without fear of repercussion or consequence.”

“I’m imploring all of you to approach this with an open mind and heart. Do something big here,” he said. “Take one small but meaningful step toward changing the course of history. If my black life matters to you, you will consider this amendment. We want to get in good trouble today, and I urge you to do the right thing and support it.”

Louisiana Sen. Cleo Fields (D) testified that he felt the existing platform proposal already represents “ambitious agenda” and opposed the legalization amendment. He said delegates should “respect the efforts of our unity task force that produced it by retaining its current form.”

Bakari Sellers, an attorney and former South Carolina lawmaker, spoke in favor of the measure.

“I understand that sometimes these efforts we have to stand in headwinds and sometimes we may feel as if we don’t go far enough,” he said. “But I think Democrats should support efforts like the Marijuana Justice Act that remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol and impose the federal excise tax on marijuana.”

“I think that we actually have to do something about the problem to unravel mass incarceration,” he said. “I think that it’s strictly unfair that when I represent a young black kid for trafficking marijuana in South Carolina where his criminal offenses are stacked one after another and there are white boys in Colorado and California making a billion dollars off of it, I just see the inherent unfairness of that.”

“I stand in favor of legalizing marijuana,” he concluded. “I stand in favor of doing what’s right by unraveling mass incarceration and investing those dollars in black and brown communities that were disproportionately affected by the war on drugs.”

While the measure was defeated, it did receive more favorable votes that a proposal for the party to support Medicare For All as part of its 2020 platform.

Here’s part of the draft plan that the platform committee approved:

“Democrats will decriminalize marijuana use and reschedule it through executive action on the federal level. We will support legalization of medical marijuana, and believe states should be able to make their own decisions about recreational use. The Justice Department should not launch federal prosecutions of conduct that is legal at the state level. All past criminal convictions for cannabis use should be automatically expunged.”

“Substance use disorders are diseases, not crimes. Democrats believe no one should be in prison solely because they use drugs,” the draft document states. “And rather than involving the criminal justice system, Democrats support increased use of drug courts, harm reduction interventions, and treatment diversion programs for those struggling with substance use disorders.”

The DNC in 2016 similarly adopted a plank asserting that “states should be laboratories of democracy on the issue of marijuana, and those states that want to decriminalize marijuana should be able to do so.”

But it also seemed more open to broader changes, stating that the party supports “reforming our laws to allow legal marijuana businesses to exist without uncertainty.”

The party explicitly stated in the earlier document that there should be a “a reasoned pathway for future legalization.”

This year’s draft platform doesn’t say anything about taking steps to broader cannabis legalization and makes no mention of the marijuana industry.

Beyond cannabis, the drafting committee included a provision that argues it is “past time to end the failed ‘War on Drugs,’ which has imprisoned millions of Americans— disproportionately people of color—and hasn’t been effective in reducing drug use.”

“Democrats support policies that will reorient our public safety approach toward prevention, and away from over-policing—including by making evidence-based investments in jobs, housing, education, and the arts that will make our nation fairer, freer, and more prosperous,” it says.

The platform will be formally approved by delegates at the Democratic National Convention next month.

Earlier in the committee meeting, another delegate gave emotional testimony, shaming the body for proposing draft policy planks that she said fall short of the progressive ideals to which they should aspire.

The party should back the BREATHE Act, activist and Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors said, referring to a wide-ranging proposal that includes provisions to decriminalize drugs, expunge prior drug convictions and defund the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), among other reforms.

“My role here today is also to give voice to the BREATHE Act—our century’s unedited Civil Rights Act, penned by leaders from across our nation with a movement for black lives and working tirelessly to defend black lives and to hold our leaders accountable to your promises to enhance the self-determination of black communities,” she said. “The BREATHE Act is a love letter and agenda setting forth how black people in America can not only survive but thrive.”

Cullors cited provisions of the proposal, text of which has not yet been released, that call for ending federal grants to provide local police with militarized equipment and abolishing DEA and other law enforcement agencies.

“Until and unless our leaders, become signatory to the BREATHE Act… the Democratic party of today will be remembered as the party of complicity, the party that refused to sacrifice its own comforts and material securities to ensure it walk the walk,” she said. “Before you leave today, I want you to answer this question for yourself: Which side of history is my party actually on? Which side of history am I actually on?”

“If you’re not careful, the Democratic Party will miss its greatest opportunity to lead our country to the true American Revolution,” she said.

Valerie Alexander, another delegate, said in the meeting that the party’s existing platform will “end the failed war on drugs, which has imprisoned millions of Americans and disproportionately people of color and hasn’t been effective in reducing drug use.”

Oregon Drug Decriminalization Measure Will Reduce Racial Disparities And Save Money, State Officials Say

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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Nine Members Of Congress Tell DEA To Revise Proposed Hemp Rule On THC Content

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Nine members of Congress sent a letter to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) on Tuesday, urging the agency to revise its proposed hemp regulations.

DEA released an interim final rule (IFR) for the crop in August, and it said the regulations were simply meant to comply with the 2018 Farm Bill that legalized hemp and its derivatives. But stakeholders and advocates have expressed serious concerns about certain proposals, arguing that they could put processors at risk of violating federal law and hamper the industry’s growth.

Reps. David Joyce (R-OH) and Denver Riggleman (R-VA) led the letter and pointed specifically to a provision of DEA’s IFR that could impact processing hemp extracts. The agency stipulated that “any such material that contains greater than 0.3% of Δ9-THC on a dry weight basis remains controlled in schedule I.”

That’s problematic, the lawmakers said, because in many cases the process of extracting cannabinoids from hemp temporarily causes THC levels to increase beyond that threshold. And so while Congress intended to legalize those extracts, businesses that produce the materials could find themselves inadvertently breaking the law.

“Our offices have received countless calls from constituents involved in the hemp industry who are extremely fearful that simply following the provisions of the Farm Bill will result in criminal liability under the IFR,” the lawmakers’ letter states. “The IFR will likely have the effect of inhibiting these nascent state hemp programs thereby harming those American companies and workers who chose to pursue careers in the hemp industry and made significant investments to effectuate those aspirations.”

Therefore, the lawmakers are “requesting a resolution to this issue as quickly as possible,” adding that “DEA must revise the IFR to eliminate the ambiguities set forth above and provide peace of mind to all Americans who have chosen to pursue a career in the hemp industry.”

Reps. Rodney Davis (R-IL), Morgan Griffith (R-VA), Glenn Grothman (R-WI), Don Young (R-AK), Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Matt Gaetz (R-FL) also signed the letter.

A public comment period on DEA’s proposed rules closed on Tuesday. It saw more than 3,300 submissions, many of which focused on issues with the “work in progress” hemp THC issue.

“This IFR’s criminalizes work in progress hemp extract, a fundamental component of any consumer hemp/CBD product, and will negatively impact the hemp/CBD industry at a time when financial pressure is already high,” one commenter wrote. “Hemp and subsequent extracts are not controlled substances.”

Another issue identified by more than 1,000 commenters concerns delta-8 THC. The most widely known cannabinoid is delta-9 THC, the main component responsible for creating an intoxicating effect, but delta-8 THC from hemp is also psychoactive and is an object of growing interest within the market.

Because DEA’s proposed regulations state that all “synthetically derived tetrahydrocannabinols remain schedule I controlled substances,” some feel that would directly impact the burgeoning cannabinoid, as its converted from CBD through the use of a catalyst—and that could be interpreted as a synthetic production process.

In any case, it’s not clear whether DEA deliberately crafted either of these rules with the intent of criminalizing certain hemp producers—but stakeholders and advocates aren’t taking any chances.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has faced separate criticism over its own proposed hemp rules, though it has been more proactive in addressing them. Following significant pushback from the industry over certain regulations it views as excessively restrictive, the agency reopened a public comment period, which also closed this month.

USDA is also planning to distribute a national survey to gain insights from thousands of hemp businesses that could inform its approach to regulating the market.

Read the congressional coalition’s letter to DEA on its hemp rule below: 

DEA IFR Letter by Marijuana Moment

State And Local Marijuana Regulators Demand Congress Prioritize Federal Legalization Bill

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Pennsylvania House Votes To Protect Medical Marijuana Patients From DUI Charges

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The Pennsylvania House of Representatives approved an amendment on Tuesday that would protect medical marijuana patients from being penalized under the state’s DUI laws for using their legal medicine.

The proposal cleared the chamber as an amendment to a broader piece of legislation concerning motor vehicle policies. It passed in a 109-93 vote.

As it stands, registered medical cannabis patients can be convicted of driving under the influence of a controlled substance if THC metabolites are detected in their blood. That’s despite the fact that marijuana can remain present in the body well after someone is considered impaired.

The House-approved amendment, which is now attached to a bill previously passed by the Senate, exempts “marijuana used lawfully in accordance with” the state’s medical cannabis law from DUI statutes.

“I think that you can ask any veteran or anybody that’s using medical cannabis right now, if they took the prescription on Monday, [on] Wednesday, they’re not high,” Rep. Ed Gainey (D) said in a floor speech before the vote. “And if they got pulled over, they darned shouldn’t be charged for being intoxicated or under the influence of medical marijuana.”

“I think we’re putting an undue burden on the people of Pennsylvania if we’re saying this is what we want to do after we fought so hard to pass medical marijuana and we know what it’s done to help the people of Pennsylvania,” he said.

The amendment is similar in intent to separate standalone legislation introduced by Sen. Camera Bartolotta (R) in June to end the “zero tolerance” DUI policy for medical marijuana.

While Pennsylvania legalized medical cannabis in 2016, with the first dispensaries opening two years later, the law has not caught up as it concerns impaired driving. A person can test positive for THC for weeks after last consuming marijuana, rendering traditional roadside tests incapable of determining active impairment.

Several legal cannabis states have enacted per se THC limits in blood, similar to blood alcohol requirements. However, evidence isn’t clear on the relationship between THC concentrations in blood and impairment.

A study published last year, for example, concluded that those who drive at the legal THC limit—which is typically between two to five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood—were not statistically more likely to be involved in an accident compared to people who haven’t used marijuana.

Separately, the Congressional Research Service in 2019 determined that while “marijuana consumption can affect a person’s response times and motor performance… studies of the impact of marijuana consumption on a driver’s risk of being involved in a crash have produced conflicting results, with some studies finding little or no increased risk of a crash from marijuana usage.”

The modest cannabis DUI reform approved by the Pennsylvania House comes amid repeated calls from the state’s leaders to more broadly legalize marijuana for adult use.

Last week, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) in a speech stressed that marijuana reform could generate tax revenue to support the state’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and that ending criminalization is necessary for social justice.

That marked the third time in three months that the governor has held events focused on making the case for legalization. Last month, he took a dig at the Republican-controlled legislature for failing to act on reform in the previous session. And in August, he suggested that the state itself could potentially control marijuana sales rather than just license private retailers as other legalized jurisdictions have done.

Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D), a longstanding legalization advocate, has been similarly vocal about his position. In speeches and on social media, the official has expressed frustration that Pennsylvania has yet to enact the policy change, especially as neighboring like New Jersey are moving in that direction.

He said last month that farmers in his state can grow better marijuana than people in New Jersey—and that’s one reason why Pennsylvania should expeditiously legalize cannabis before voters next door in the Garden State enact the policy change this November.

Fetterman also recently hosted a virtual forum where he got advice on how to effectively implement a cannabis system from the lieutenant governors of Illinois and Michigan, which have enacted legalization.

While Wolf initially opposed adult-use legalization, he came out in support of the reform last year after Fetterman led a statewide listening tour last year to solicit public input on the issue.

Shortly after the governor announced that he was embracing the policy change, a lawmaker filed a bill to legalize marijuana through a state-run model.

A majority of Senate Democrats sent Wolf a letter in July arguing that legislators should pursue the policy change in order to generate revenue to make up for losses resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

State And Local Marijuana Regulators Demand Congress Prioritize Federal Legalization Bill

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Montana Supreme Court Rejects Challenge To Marijuana Legalization Initiative

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The Montana Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a lawsuit seeking to invalidate a marijuana legalization initiative that will appear on the state’s November ballot.

With weeks before the election, opponents asked the court to quash the measure, arguing that because it involves appropriating funds, it violates state statute on citizen initiatives.

The court didn’t weigh in on the merits of the challenge; rather, it said the petitioners with the campaign Wrong for Montana (WFM) failed to demonstrate “urgency or emergency factors” that would justify moving the case into its jurisdiction instead of going through trial and appeals courts first.

It left the door open for the opponents to take its challenge through the traditional process. Brian Thompson, the attorney representing the plaintiffs, told Marijuana Moment that they now intend to file the suit in district court “soon,” but he wasn’t able to provide an exact timeline.

“We express no opinion on the merits of WFM’s constitutional challenge, nor to its right to pursue this challenge in district court,” the justices wrote. “However, WFM’s claim does not present an appropriate basis on which to invoke this Court’s original jurisdiction. Even if it did, WFM has wholly failed to establish that urgency or emergency factors make litigation in the trial courts and the normal appeal process inadequate.”

Dave Lewis, policy advisor to the pro-legalization New Approach Montana, said in a press release that this “was an easy decision for the Montana Supreme Court.”

“At best, this lawsuit was a frivolous longshot,” he said. “At worst, it was an intentional effort to create confusion right before the election.”

The measure in question would establish that adult-use marijuana system. The lawsuit did not target a separate, complementary initiative that would specify that only those 21 and older could participate in the legal market.

It is the case that state statute says citizens “may enact laws by initiative on all matters except appropriations of money and local or special laws” and that the initiative does allocate cannabis tax revenue to certain programs. But prior measures that have appeared on the state’s ballot have done so as well.

Under the proposal, half of the public revenue generated from marijuana sales would go toward environmental conservation programs—a provision that earned the campaign key endorsements last month.

The initiative is already on the ballot and voting has started, so presumably if the court had sided with the plaintiffs, the votes simply wouldn’t have been counted or implementation would have been prevented. It is also possible that a court could rule that monies raised by legal cannabis sales under the initiative would simply into the state’s general fund instead of toward the specific programs delineated in its current text.

“We’re receiving strong support from voters across the state,” Lewis, who is a former Republican state senator and former budget director for three Montana governors, said. “Instead of making a coherent argument against the initiatives, our opponents tried to deprive Montanans of their constitutional right to a citizen initiative process.”

“Our opponents are desperately throwing everything at the wall in the hope that something sticks,” he added. “They’re resorting to fear tactics and misinformation because they know that a majority of Montana voters are ready to vote yes on legalizing, regulating, and taxing marijuana for adults 21 and over.”

In neighboring Nebraska, the state Supreme Court did rule last month that a measure to legalize medical cannabis that had qualified for the November ballot could not proceed because it violated the state’s single-subject rule for ballot initiatives.

Recent polling indicates that Montana voters are positioned to approve the legalization proposal. Forty-nine percent of respondents in a survey released last week said they support the policy change, with 39 percent opposed and 10 percent remaining undecided.

This story has been updated to include comment from Thompson.

Read the Montana Supreme Court’s ruling on the marijuana challenge and the original lawsuit below:

Montana Marijuana Lawsuit by Marijuana Moment

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Photo elements courtesy of rawpixel and Philip Steffan.

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