The Democratic leader of a key U.S. Senate committee on Monday released the text of legislation that, if enacted, would finally allow Washington, D.C. to legalize recreational marijuana sales—in contravention of the wishes of President Joe Biden.
The new bills and attached report language announced by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), which are part of a package of legislation to fund the federal government for Fiscal Year 2022, also contain several additional cannabis-related provisions. Among others, they would continue an existing protection for state medical marijuana laws, call on the federal government to reconsider policies that fire employees for cannabis, criticize the restrictive drug classification system that impedes scientific research and encourage the development of technologies to detect THC-impaired driving.
The House included its own cannabis-related legislative provisions and report language on many of these issues in large-scale appropriations legislation it passed in July. Since then, the 2022 fiscal year technically started on October 1 but the government has been operating on a temporary “continuing resolution” for spending while the Senate has worked to catch up on its bills.
The current temporary funding is set to expire on December 3, however, and Democratic leaders want to finalize FY22 appropriations by then.
Here’s a look at the full language of the cannabis-related provisions in new spending bills and attached reports:
Letting Washington, D.C. Legalize
Perhaps the most consequential aspect of the new bills is what’s missing: A longstanding rider that has prevented Washington, D.C. from spending its own money to legalize and regulate adult-use marijuana sales. While local voters approved a ballot initiative to allow low-level cannabis possession and home cultivation in 2014, Congress has since blocked local officials from adding a legal sales component.
The new legislation from the Appropriations Committee omits the rider, which Biden proposed to continue with the budget request he sent to Congress in May. The House appropriations legislation approved this summer does not include the provision, and the fact that it’s not in the Senate bill either greatly increases the chances that the District of Columbia—where officials have scheduled a hearing on a legalization bill for next month—will be able to allow cannabis commerce by the end of this year if Congress completes the appropriations process.
Protecting State Medical Cannabis Laws
The bill that covers the Department of Justice (DOJ) contains a rider, versions of which have been enacted into law since 2014, that prevents DOJ from interfering with the implementation of state medical cannabis laws:
“SEC. 531. None of the funds made available under this Act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to any of the States of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, or with respect to the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the United States Virgin Islands, Guam, or Puerto Rico, to prevent any of them from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.”
The House on several occasions has passed amendments that would expand the protection to cover recreational marijuana laws as well, but the Senate has not yet followed suit. It remains to be seen if any senators will move to add the adult-use protection in committee or on the floor this year.
Marijuana Issues For Federal Employees
The report for the bill on Financial Services and General Government encourages a review of employment policies for federal agencies with respect to personal use of cannabis:
“Federal Employment Guidelines.—The Committee supports the updated guidance on agencies’ consideration of how an individual’s marijuana use may or may not adversely affect the integrity or efficiency of the government and impact an individual’s suitability or fitness for a position. The Committee encourages OPM and the Suitability Executive Agent to continue to review these 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.”
In the report for the Justice Department bill, the panel is urging the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to make available field testing technology that can help law enforcement distinguish between legal hemp and still-illegal marijuana:
“Hemp Testing Technology.—The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (Public Law 115–334) removed hemp and its derivatives from the Controlled Substances Act (Public Law 91–513, as amended), and authorized the production, consumption, and sale of hemp and hemp-derived products in the United States. The Act requires random testing to ensure hemp meets the definition under the law of having a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol [THC] concentration of less than 0.3 percent. The Committee is aware that DEA has developed field testing kits that can distinguish between hemp and marijuana on-the-spot. The Committee directs the DEA to continue to work to ensure State and local law enforcement have access to this field test technology so they can more efficiently conduct their drug interdiction efforts at the local level. The Committee further directs the DEA to report back to the Committee not later than 180 days after enactment of this act, and not less than every 6 months thereafter, until such time as testing kits are deployed to State and local law enforcement in the field.”
A provision that has been included in past appropriations legislation that prohibits the use of funds to interfere in the implementation of state hemp programs is also being extended:
“SEC. 530. None of the funds made available by this Act may be used in contravention of section 7606 (“Legitimacy of Industrial Hemp Research”) of the Agricultural Act of 2014 (Public Law 113–79) by the Department of Justice or the Drug Enforcement Administration.”
The panel included a provision in the report attached to the bill to fund the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that criticizes federal barriers to studying marijuana and other Schedule I drugs:
“Barriers to Research.—The Committee is concerned that restrictions associated with Schedule I of the Controlled Substance Act which effectively limits the amount and type of research that can be conducted on certain Schedule I drugs, especially opioids, marijuana or its component chemicals and new synthetic drugs and analogs. At a time when we need as much information as possible about these drugs and antidotes for their harmful effects, the Committee believes we should be lowering regulatory and other barriers to conducting this research. The Committee appreciates NIDA’s completion of a report on the barriers to research that result from the classification of drugs and compounds as Schedule I substances including the challenges researchers face as a result of limited access to sources of marijuana including dispensary products.”
The committee report also expresses concerns that cannabis policy changes are moving faster than science on marijuana and its components:
“Marijuana Research.—The Committee is concerned that marijuana policies on the Federal level and in the states (medical marijuana, recreational use, etc.) are being changed without the benefit of scientific research to help guide those decisions. NIDA is encouraged to continue supporting a full range of research on the health effects of marijuana and its components, including research to understand how marijuana policies affect public health and the impacts associated with high potency cannabis. There is insufficient scientific information about the short-term and long-term effects of compounds found in cannabis, including cannabidiol [CBD] and cannabigerol [CBG], cannabichromene [CBC], minor cannabinoids, and terpenes. Additional, coordinated, research on a national scale is necessary to determine the toxicology and medicinal effects of CBD, CBG CBC, minor cannabinoids, and terpenes. The Committee believes that NIH should strongly consider significantly expanding the use of funds to study the medicinal effects and toxicology of CBD, CBG, CBC, minor cannabinoids, and terpenes. This expanded effort should include funding of clinical trials with academic health centers to study the long-term medicinal benefits and toxicology of CBD and CBG.”
Appropriators are also worried about the potency of marijuana, and they want federal agencies to study the effects of high-THC products:
“THC Potency.—Given the increasing number of individuals using high potency cannabis in the United States and the potential adverse public health effects associated with its use, the Committee encourages NIH to support research on the short- and long-term impacts associated with high potency cannabis that could inform the establishment of THC limits in commercially-available marijuana products.”
The report on the bill to fund the Department of Transportation calls on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to develop a standardized field sobriety test to detect marijuana impairment:
“The Committee is also aware of NHTSA’s efforts to examine the feasibility of a standardized field test for marijuana impairment. NHTSA previously completed a project to gather, evaluate, and interpret recent literature on tests of impairment from marijuana or other drugs. A number of different tests were reviewed, including tests of cognitive ability, behavioral tests, tests of physical capability, physiological tests, and driving skills tests. The Committee encourages NHTSA to use the results of the laboratory tests to move forward to field testing and to work towards the development of a standardized field sobriety test to detect levels of marijuana impairment. NHTSA’s work should focus on all commonly available cannabis products. NHTSA should also consider issuing toxicology testing guidance to State officials in accordance with recommendations issued by the National Safety Council in the publication entitled, “Recommendations for Toxicological Investigation of Drug-Impaired Driving and Motor Vehicle Fatalities-2021 Update” and consult with relevant accredited universities.”
Blocking Legalization Advocacy
The report on the HHS bill also contains a 1990s-era provision banning the use of federal funds to advocate for the legalization of Schedule I drugs:
“SEC. 507. (a) None of the funds made available in this Act may be used for any activity that promotes the legalization of any drug or other substance included in schedule I of the schedules of controlled substances established under section 202 of the Controlled Substances Act except for normal and recognized executive-congressional communications.
“(b) The limitation in subsection (a) shall not apply when there is significant medical evidence of a therapeutic advantage to the use of such drug or other substance or that federally sponsored clinical trials are being conducted to determine therapeutic advantage.”
In the House, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) filed a floor amendment to delete this provision, arguing that it discourages research into Schedule I drugs, including psychedelics like psilocybin and MDMA. But lawmakers defeated her proposal.
The Senate Appropriations Committee already cleared several other spending bills in August, including one that covers the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration. The report attached to that legislation contains several directives to federal agencies on hemp and CBD regulations.
Another bill approved in August to fund the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) includes an amendment to allow VA doctors to issue medical cannabis recommendations in legal states.
It’s not yet clear when the spending panel or full Senate will take up the new bills that Leahy released on Monday.
Indiana GOP Lawmaker Plans Medical Marijuana Bill As Democrats Push Full Recreational Legalization
“It polls higher than any other issue. We’ve seen 38 other states step up and do the right thing for their citizens. We know it saves lives. We know it offers a better quality of life.”
By Margaret Menge, The Center Square
Democrats in Indiana have launched a campaign to legalize marijuana in the state and appealed to business-friendly Republicans to join to help the state’s economy.
There is some support from Republicans.
“I have a medical cannabis bill ready to go,” Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, said.
He said the bill will be similar to the one he introduced in the last session of the Indiana General Assembly, which would permit the use of medical marijuana by people with “serious medical conditions” as determined by a doctor, and would permit the “cultivation, testing, processing, transportation and dispensing” of medical marijuana by people who hold a valid permit issued by the state.
It also would put the Indiana Department of Health in charge of implementing and enforcing the medical marijuana program.
Indiana is one of just a handful of states that has not legalized medical marijuana.
“It polls higher than any other issue,” Lucas said. “We’ve seen 38 other states step up and do the right thing for their citizens. We know it saves lives. We know it offers a better quality of life.”
In 2016, the national American Legion, which is based in Indianapolis, called on Congress to remove marijuana from Schedule I of the federal Controlled Substances Act and reclassify it to “recognize cannabis as a drug with potential medical value.”
The Legion has also pushed for more research to be done on marijuana related to its potential in treating post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury among veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in particular.
The Indiana American Legion, however, has not taken a position on the issue, and did not discuss the bill Lucas introduced in the last session, spokesperson Josh Marshall said.
He said the issue would have to be reviewed by the organization’s executive committee before any action were taken on the issue in the upcoming session of the legislature, which begins January 3.
Meanwhile, Indiana Democrats are pushing to get the issue on the table.
Rep. Sue Errington, D-Muncie, is set to lead a “community talking circle” at a pizza place in Muncie today to hear from the public about legalizing medical marijuana.
“The reality is that medical cannabis is becoming an accepted and preferred method of treatment throughout the country,” Errington said in a statement from the Indiana House Democratic Caucus on November 29. “Medical cannabis is a safe, non-addictive alternative to opioids that could benefit Hoosiers who live with chronic pain and anxiety disorders, including our brave veterans who struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder. Those who have sacrificed so much for our state deserve an effective treatment for their pain, rather than a potential criminal record.”
Republicans hold a supermajority in both houses of the legislature and hold every statewide office. But legislative leaders—some of them—have appeared more open on the issue in recent years.
In 2018, the Republican floor leader in the Indiana House of Representatives, Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, authored a resolution calling for an interim study committee to research medical marijuana.
“Hoosiers rightfully want to know what direction Indiana will take,” he said at the time. “I believe it is wise of policymakers to carefully gather public and professional input.”
Lehman told Fox59 last month that he thinks there’s “always room for discussion” about medical marijuana, but that he thought the federal government would have to act first, before Indiana takes action.
DEA Backs White House Plan To Streamline Research On Marijuana, Psychedelics And Other Schedule I Drugs
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and National Institute On Drug Abuse (NIDA) say they are in favor of a White House proposal to streamline the process of researching Schedule I drugs like marijuana and certain psychedelics.
The agencies testified at a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on Thursday, expressing support for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) research plan. While the focus of the meeting was mostly on a controversial move to strictly classify fentanyl-related substances, the Biden administration proposal’s research components would also help address concerns within the scientific community about the difficulty of studying other Schedule I drugs.
DEA said in written testimony that “expanding access to Schedule I research is a critical part of DEA’s mission to protect public safety and health.”
“It is critical that the scientific and medical community study Schedule I substances, as some may turn out to have therapeutic value,” DEA Principal Deputy Administrator Louis Milione said. “DEA supports the administration’s legislative proposal’s expansion of access to Schedule I research. DEA looks forward to continuing to work with the research community and our interagency partners to facilitate Schedule I research.”
In general, what the administration is proposing is to align the research requirements for Schedule I drugs with those of less-restricted Schedule II drugs. Scientists and lawmakers have consistently pointed out that the existing rules for studying Schedule I controlled substances are excessively burdensome, limiting vital research.
Rather than having each scientist involved in a Schedule I drug study obtain DEA registration, ONDCP wants to make it so multiple researchers at a given institution would be allowed to participate under a single registration. The administration also proposed a policy change where a research institute with studies taking place over multiple locations would only require one overall registration instead of needing to have a specific one for each site.
Another change would allow certain researchers to move ahead with conducting their studies after submitting a notification to the Department of Justice instead of waiting for officials to affirmatively sign off on their proposals. ONDCP’s plan would also waive the requirement for additional inspections at research sites in some circumstances and allow researchers to manufacture small amounts of drugs without obtaining separate registrations. The latter component would not allow cultivation of marijuana, however.
“Even experienced researchers have reported that obtaining a new Schedule I registration, adding new substances to an existing registration, or getting approval for research protocol changes is time consuming,” NIDA Director Nora Volkow said in her testimony. “Unlike for Schedule II through V substances, new and amended Schedule I applications are referred by the DEA to the HHS for a review of the protocol and a determination of the qualifications and competency of the investigator.”
“Researchers have reported that sometimes these challenges impact Schedule I research and deter or prevent scientists from pursuing this critical work,” she said.
In an interview last week, Vokow said that even she—the top federal official overseeing drug research—is personally reluctant to conduct studies on Schedule I substances like marijuana because of the “cumbersome” rules that scientists face when investigating them.
When ONDCP first announced its proposed Schedule I policy changes in September, some experts tempered expectations about the practical effects of aligning Schedule I and Schedule II applications. The difference is largely a matter of extra paperwork for the more restrictive category, they contend.
Regardless, several lawmakers who attended Thursday’s subcommittee hearing expressed enthusiasm about the prospects of these policy changes.
“I’m particularly interested in eroding existing barriers of federal law that limit researchers at academic medical centers from studying Schedule I substances,” Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA) said. “So I’m grateful that our research agencies are working to find effective solutions.”
Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-CA) also weighed in, saying that “we all agree that the current scheduling classification system has made it very difficult for scientists to research the effects of scheduled compounds, which may have medicinal properties.”
“For example, we know that compounds in marijuana have legitimate and beneficial medical uses, despite it being Schedule I,” he said. “So I’m encouraged to see that efforts are being made to allow researchers to study the effects of various compounds. In this proposal.”
ONDCP’s intent to streamline research into Schedule I drugs has been notable and seems to be part of a theme that developed within the administration.
For example, DEA has repeatedly proposed significant increases in the production of marijuana, psilocybin and other psychedelics for research purposes, with the intent of aiding in the development of new federally approved therapeutic medications.
NIDA’s Volkow told Marijuana Moment in a recent interview that she was encouraged by DEA’s prior proposed increase in drug production quota. She also said that studies demonstrating the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics could be leading more people to experiment with substances like psilocybin.
But while the production developments are promising, advocates are still frustrated that these plants and fungi remain in the strictest drug category in the first place, especially considering the existing research that shows their medical value for certain conditions.
There has been at least one recent development in the fight to modernize marijuana research. President Joe Biden signed a massive infrastructure bill last month that includes provisions aimed at allowing researchers to study the actual cannabis that consumers are purchasing from state-legal dispensaries instead of having to use only government-grown cannabis.
But that’s just one of numerous research barriers that scientists have identified. A report that NIDA recently submitted to Congress stressed that the Schedule I status of controlled substances like marijuana is preventing or discouraging research into their potential risks and benefits.
A federal appeals court recently dismissed a petition to require the DEA to reevaluate cannabis’s scheduling under the Controlled Substances Act. However, one judge did say in a concurring opinion that the agency may soon be forced to consider a policy change anyway based on a misinterpretation of the therapeutic value of marijuana.
Meanwhile, DEA has given hemp businesses that sell delta-8 THC products a boost, with representatives making comments recently signaling that, at the federal level at least, it’s not a controlled substance at this time.
Separately, the Washington State attorney general’s office and lawyers representing cancer patients recently urged a federal appeals panel to push for a DEA policy change to allow people in end-of-life care to access psilocybin under state and federal right-to-try laws.
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.
Ohio GOP Lawmakers File New Marijuana Legalization Bill
A pair of Ohio Republican lawmakers on Thursday filed a bill to legalize marijuana in the state. The move comes as activists are nearing completion of the first phase of their signature drive for a cannabis legalization initiative.
Reps. Jamie Callender (R) and Ron Ferguson (R) first announced their plan to push the legislative reform proposal in October and circulated a co-sponsorship memo to build support for the measure. Now they’re moving ahead with formal introduction of the “Ohio Adult Use Act.”
The bill would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to 50 grams of cannabis. They could also grow up to six plants, only three of which could be mature, for personal use.
Gifting up to 25 grams of marijuana between adult consumers without remuneration would also be permitted.
Adult-use cannabis products would be taxed at 10 percent. After covering administrative costs, tax revenue would be distributed as follows: 50 percent to the state general fund, 25 percent to combat illicit drug trafficking and 25 percent for substance misuse treatment programs.
The state Department of Commerce would be responsible for regulating the new adult-use marijuana and existing medical cannabis program and issuing business licenses through a new Division of Marijuana Control.
Regulators would be limited to approving one retail cannabis dispensary license per 60,000 residents in the state up until January 1, 2027. After that point, the department would would be required to review the program on “at least a biennial basis” to see if more licensees are needed.
The legislation does not contain specific provisions to promote social equity by expunging prior cannabis convictions or prioritizing licensing for communities most impacted under prohibition. That’s despite Callender saying in October that there would be a pathway for expungements “for folks that have prior convictions that would be not illegal after the passage of this bill.”
A spokesperson in the lawmaker’s office told Marijuana Moment that while those components weren’t included in this introduced version, “it is still the plan to add any needed language on the subject once we get it to committee.”
“Conversations on modifications are continuing but with Thanksgiving here and the end of the year approaching, we wanted to get the ball rolling with introduction,” he said.
Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.
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There is at least one equity-related provision to require regulators to conduct a study prior to issuing adult-use licenses “to determine whether there has been prior discrimination in the issuance of marijuana-related licenses in this state, including whether the effects of marijuana prohibition have contributed to a lack of participation by racial or ethnic minorities in the medical marijuana industry in this state.”
If the study does find evidence of discrimination, the department “shall take necessary and appropriate actions to address and remedy any identified discrimination when issuing licenses.”
Under the bill, employers would still be able to enforce anti-drug policies without accommodating workers who use cannabis in compliance with the state law.
The measure would also expand the amount of acreage that licensed cultivators could use to grow cannabis from what is allowed now under the medical marijuana program.
Further, the legislation includes a section that would have the state formally endorse a congressional bill to deschedule marijuana that’s sponsored by Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH).
A separate state legalization bill that was the first of its kind to be introduced in the Ohio legislature earlier this year would similarly legalize the possession, sale and cultivation of cannabis by adults. It’s being championed by Reps. Casey Weinstein (D) and Terrence Upchurch (D), and it does include expungement provisions.
A recent legislative survey found that Republican lawmakers in the state are more supportive of legalizing marijuana than their Democratic colleagues are.
But leadership in the legislature, as well as Gov. Mike DeWine (R), will likely present obstacles for any recreational legalization bill that advances.
House Speaker Robert Cupp (R) laughed when he was asked about Callender’s legislation after its initial announcement, though he added, “Let’s just see where it goes. I haven’t read it yet.”
Callender said that although Republican legislative leaders and the governor are not yet on board, “there is more bipartisan support than most people would think.”
Meanwhile, Ohio activists recently said that they would have enough signatures to force the legislature to consider legalizing marijuana by the end of November. And Weinstein said he feels the citizen-led effort could help build momentum for a legislative approach to ending prohibition.
While it’s only been a few months since Ohio officials cleared the campaign to collect signatures for its measure, Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol spokesperson Tom Haren said that the initial wave of signature gathering “will be completed probably about the end of November.” There’s yet to be an announcement as to whether they succeeded in that timeline.
The measure that legislators would then be required to consider would legalize possession of up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis for adults 21 and older, and they could also have up to 15 grams of marijuana concentrates. Individuals could grow up to six plants for personal use, with a maximum 12 plants per household.
Activists must collect 132,887 valid signatures from registered voters for the statutory initiative during this first phase of the effort. If they succeed, the legislature will then have four months to adopt the measure, reject it or adopt an amended version. If lawmakers do not pass the proposal, organizers will then need to collect an additional 132,887 signatures to place the proposal before voters on the ballot in November 2022.
Further demonstrating the appetite for reform in Ohio, voters in seven cities approved ballot measures to decriminalize marijuana possession during last month’s election.
Ohio marijuana activists have also successfully proved that they turned in enough valid signatures to put a local decriminalization initiative before Kent voters after having missed the 2021 ballot due to a verification error on the part of county officials.
Separately, Ohio senators recently filed a bill to expand the state’s medical cannabis program, in party by allowing physicians to recommend marijuana if they “reasonably” believe it could benefit the patient.
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.