For the second time so far this year, marijuana legislation in Congress has been officially designated with the bill number 420. It seems to be an obvious nod to the increasingly mainstream cannabis culture from lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
Sen. Ron Wyden’s (D-OR) proposal, S.420, would establish a federal excise tax on legal marijuana sales, deschedule the drug by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and create a system of permits for businesses to engage in cannabis commerce.
Marijuana enthusiasts, of course, celebrate their favorite plant on April 20, also known as 4/20.
“S. 420 may get some laughs, but what matters most is that it will get people talking about the serious need to end failed prohibition,” Wyden said in an emailed statement.
The new Senate bill, filed on Thursday, is far from the first time that the number 420 has officially been attached to cannabis legislation.
Just last month, another federal lawmaker from Oregon, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), filed a congressional bill to regulate marijuana like alcohol, numbered H.R. 420.
Also last month, Minnesota state lawmakers introduced a marijuana legalization bill designated as HF 420.
In California, the first move to establish statewide medical cannabis regulations was through 2003 legislation numbered SB 420.
In 2017, a Rhode Island senator introduced bill to legalize marijuana that was designated as S 420.
And back on Capitol Hill, the first House vote on an amendment to prevent the Department of Justice from interfering with state medical cannabis laws was via 2003’s Roll Call 420.
“The federal prohibition of marijuana is wrong, plain and simple. Too many lives have been wasted, and too many economic opportunities have been missed,” Wyden said in a press release. “It’s time Congress make the changes Oregonians and Americans across the country are demanding.”
The federal prohibition of marijuana is wrong – plain and simple. Too many lives have been wasted and too many economic opportunities have been missed. It’s time for Congress to respect the will of the voters in Oregon and nationwide, who are demanding common-sense drug policies.
— Ron Wyden (@RonWyden) February 8, 2019
NORML Political Director Justin Strekal called the new bill “a thoughtful and thorough approach to how the federal government could ultimately end prohibition.”
“Hailing from the first state to decriminalize marijuana back in 1973, Senator Wyden has a unique and much-needed perspective that his colleagues in the nation’s upper chamber would be wise to follow,” he said.
Aside from S.420, which would also authorize regulations on packaging and labeling of cannabis products and apply alcohol advertising guidelines to the product, Wyden introduced two separate pieces of marijuana legislation in the Senate this week.
One of the bills, S.421, seeks to “reduce the gap between Federal and State marijuana policy.” It proposes a number of changes such as exempting state-legal marijuana activity from the CSA, allowing banking access for cannabis companies, eliminating advertising prohibitions, expunging criminal records, shielding immigrants from deportation over marijuana and allowing Department of Veterans Affairs doctors to issue medical cannabis recommendations.
The other piece of legislation, S.422, would exempt state-legal cannabis businesses from the federal provision known as 280(E), which prevents them from taking normal business tax deductions that are available to operators in other industries.
This third bill is the only one of Wyden’s new proposals that comes with initial cosponsors. Also signing on to the legislation are Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY), Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Patty Murray (D-WA).
Wyden filed previous versions of all three bills during the last Congress, but none were brought to a vote.
The new cannabis legislation comes at a time when legalization advocates are more hopeful than ever before about the prospects for federal marijuana reform.
Next week, the new House Democratic majority will hold a hearing on marijuana businesses’ lack of access to banks, part of a plan Blumenauer proposed in a memo to party leaders that entails moving a number of incremental reform bills leading up to the eventual federal legalization of marijuana in 2019.
“Oregon has been and continues to be a leader in commonsense marijuana policies and the federal government must catch up,” Blumenauer in a press release. “The American people have elected the most pro-cannabis Congress in American history and significant pieces of legislation are being introduced. The House is doing its work and with the help of Senator Wyden’s leadership in the Senate, we will break through.”
A number of additional bills with differing approaches to end federal marijuana prohibition have been introduced in Congress in recent years, and it remains to be seen which formation House leaders will choose to advance, if any, and whether the Republican-controlled Senate would go along.
President Trump, for his part, has signaled support for moves to end federal marijuana prohibition.
In the meantime, activists are reacting to the increasing interest in marijuana reform on Capitol Hill and lawmakers’ nods to cannabis culture with a mixture of lighthearted optimism.
“With 420 legislation pending in both chambers of Congress, the next logical step is for lawmakers to sit in a circle and finally hash out their differences,” NORML’s Strekal joked.
California Governor Signs Marijuana Tax Fairness Bill But Vetoes Cannabis In Hospitals
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announced on Saturday that he signed several marijuana-related bills into law—including one that will let legal businesses take advantage of more tax deductions—but also vetoed another measure that would have allowed some patients to use medical cannabis in health care facilities.
Under a section of current federal law known as 280E, marijuana growers, processors and sellers are unable to deduct expenses from their taxes that businesses in any other sector would be able to write off. Until now, California policy simply mirrored the federal approach.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo courtesy of Carlos Gracia.
Former FDA Head Floats Federal Marijuana Regulation ‘Compromise’ To Address Vaping Issue
Former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb seems to propose changing the scheduling status of marijuana under federal law as a “compromise” to provide limited regulations and promote research.
In an op-ed published in The Wall Street Journal on Friday, Gottlieb said the recent spike in vaping-related lung injuries involving contaminated THC cartridges demonstrates the need for federal regulations.
While he expressed frustration over the “federal government’s decade-long refusal to challenge state laws legalizing pot,” he also recognized that enforcing prohibition in legal states isn’t politically practical and floated a “feasible compromise” that would “require Congress to take marijuana out of the existing paradigm for drug scheduling, especially if Congress wants to allow carefully regulated access for uses that fall outside FDA-approved drug indications.”
That language leaves room for interpretation, but he goes on to say that the “ship has probably sailed on legalization for recreational use” and that “regulation of the potency of THC compounds, the forms they take, how they’re manufactured, and who can make purchases ought to be possible.”
Gottlieb stopped short of explicitly backing descheduling, which would represent a formal end to federal prohibition. Still, his recommendation that the government control aspects of legal marijuana markets like THC potency is a more concrete position than he’s taken in recent weeks, where he’s repeatedly bemoaned the lack of regulations and the gap between state and federal cannabis laws as contributing to vaping issues without endorsing a specific policy to correct it.
It’s clear in the editorial that the former commissioner feels Congress has missed its opportunity to prevent the proliferation of state-legal cannabis programs. And he criticized the Obama administration for issuing guidance that offered states some assurances that the Justice Department wouldn’t interfere in their markets, as well as congressional riders barring the department from using its funds to enforce prohibition against medical cannabis patients and providers following state laws.
My Op Ed in today’s @WSJopinion – The tragic vape injuries involving THC demand that we consider a federal reckoning when it comes to the dangerous conflict between state and federal pot laws that leave federal regulators on sidelines https://t.co/HGptTfx8Db
— Scott Gottlieb, MD (@ScottGottliebMD) October 11, 2019
“The result is an impasse,” he wrote. “Federal agencies exert little oversight, and regulation is left to a patchwork of inadequate state agencies. The weak state bodies sanction the adoption of unsafe practices such as vaping concentrates, while allowing an illegal market in cannabis to flourish.”
One area where FDA might be able to exercise its regulatory authority in this grey space would involve oversight of vaping hardware. Because the agency is able to regulate the “components and parts” of vapes for tobacco use—and because companies generally market those products as being intended for the use of vaporizing herbs and concentrates generally—it could be argued that FDA has jurisdiction over regulating the devices. However, that would still prove challenging “without clear laws and firm political support,” Gottlieb said.
My Op Ed in @WSJopinion – The conflict between federal and state law when it comes to marijuana has created a dangerous gap in oversight. It's about time we consider a new federal paradigm when it comes to regulation of cannabis and its active ingredients https://t.co/QifVa5Dbfq
— Scott Gottlieb, MD (@ScottGottliebMD) October 13, 2019
“THC is currently illegal under federal law,” he said. “Right now there’s no middle ground allowing federal agencies to scrutinize these compounds for their manufacturing, marketing and safety.”
Again, it’s not exactly clear what kind of federal regulation Gottlieb is proposing to Congress. He spends part of his op-ed noting the difficulties scientists face in obtaining high quality cannabis for research purposes—an issue that policymakers have indicated rescheduling could resolve—but he also said the government should ensure that any reform move is “backed up with oversight and vigorous enforcement to keep a black market from continuing to flourish and causing these lung injuries.”
That’s led some to assume he’s talking about descheduling and providing for broad regulations, as regulating the market is largely viewed as a primary means of disrupting the illicit market and enforcing safety standards for marijuana products. But the continued ambiguity of his position raises questions about whether he’s actually proposing Congress should go that far.
“The protracted hand-wringing over federal cannabis policy must stop,” he said. “The tragic spate of fatalities related to vaping of pot concentrates means the time has come for Congress and the White House to stop blowing smoke and clear the air.”
Mexican Senate Committees Will Introduce Marijuana Legalization Bill Next Week
Mexican Senate committees will introduce an updated proposal to legalize marijuana for adult use within days.
During a meeting on Thursday, members of the Health, Justice, Public Security and Legislative Studies Committees announced that they would remain in permanent session as they go through various legalization bills that lawmakers have already filed and present a comprehensive new piece of legislation on Thursday.
Sen. Miguel Ángel Navarro Quintero of the ruling MORENA party, who is a cosponsor of one existing reform bill, said the development “is a positive step to regulate—it is definitely a positive step,” according to TV Aztecha.
The primary focus of the committees will be on legislation introduced by Interior Secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero last year, senators said. However, there are about a dozen other legalization bills on the table, including one to have the federal government control the marijuana market, and they said provisions of each proposal would be taken into consideration.
The panels will also look at public input and expert testimony—including a panel led by a former White House drug czar—that were gathered as part of a weeks-long series of cannabis events that the Senate organized.
“It is a backbone that we are taking into account,” Sen. Julio Menchaca of the MORENA party said of Sánchez Cordero’s bill, which the cabinet member filed while previously serving as a senator, adding that “each of the initiatives that different senators have presented are also very important.”
Quintero said “if we are committing an open parliament, all opinions must be taken into account, because if not, we would be simulating a process.”
If the committees are successful in advancing the legislation, that would put the chamber one key step closer to meeting a deadline imposed by the Supreme Court last year. After ruling that the country’s ban on possession and cultivation of cannabis by adults is unconstitutional, it gave lawmakers until the end of October to change federal drug policy.
The leader of the MORENA party in the Senate, Sen. Ricardo Monreal, said earlier this month that the chamber was on track to vote on a legalization bill ahead of that deadline.
Separately, the chairman of the Senate’s Agriculture Committee, Sen. José Narro Céspedes, said on Thursday that legalization will be an economic boon for farmers and must be implemented in a way that disrupts the illicit market.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.