A bipartisan bill to federally reschedule marijuana in the interest of lifting barriers to cannabis research was introduced on Thursday.
Reps. Donna Shalala (D-FL) and Matt Gaetz (R-FL) filed the “Expanding Cannabis Research and Information Act,” arguing that the current classification of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act unduly inhibits scientists from exploring the plant’s potential risks and benefits.
For years now, states have been changing their cannabis laws without investing in a better understanding of the short & long-term effects of cannabis on human health.
By rescheduling cannabis and studying it, we can safely bring US cannabis policy into the 21st century. pic.twitter.com/wl5mVYc1iZ
— Rep. Donna E. Shalala (@RepShalala) September 12, 2019
Under the legislation, marijuana would be moved from Schedule I to Schedule III, which would make it easier to access for research purposes.
The bill would also require federal agencies to develop a research agenda within one year of its enactment and designate certain universities as “Centers of Excellence in Cannabis Research” to conduct “interdisciplinary research related to cannabis and other biomedical, behavioral, and social issues related to cannabis.”
The proposal is identical companion legislation to a bill introduced by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) in July.
“This bipartisan and bicameral legislation will improve, expedite, and streamline cannabis research: by rescheduling cannabis to Schedule III, this bill will lessen the conflict between states and the federal government, and by designating ‘Centers of Excellence in Cannabis Research,’ it will help unlock cures for America’s most vulnerable populations,” Gaetz said in a press release.
Gaetz’s involvement in the legislation is no surprise; he’s a vocal proponent of changing federal law to encourage marijuana research. But for Shalala, her sponsorship reflects a significant evolution in her position on cannabis since her time as the federal Health and Human Services secretary under former President Bill Clinton.
Shalala was a sharp critic of the first medical cannabis laws to pass in California and Arizona in 1996, stating that “any law premised on the notion that marijuana or these other illicit drugs are medically useful is suspect.”
She appeared alongside Clinton’s anti-legalization drug czar, Barry McCaffrey, that year when the administration outlined its response to state-level reform efforts.
At that press conference, Shalala said “all available research has concluded that marijuana is dangerous to our health. Marijuana harms the brain, the heart, the lungs and our immune system.”
“Marijuana limits learning and memory perception and judgement and our ability to drive a car,” she said. “And marijuana smoke typically contains over 400 compounds, some of which are carcinogenic.”
Twenty years later, Shalala included cannabis decriminalization in her congressional campaign—tweeting on the unofficial marijuana holiday 4/20 that doing so is a “moral imperative.”
Minorities and people of lower-income are 10 times more likely to be arrested for nonviolent marijuana offenses. Decriminalizing marijuana shouldn't just be a policy priority—but a moral imperative. Stand with me in this fight for progressive justice: https://t.co/Qq9eB2DAmk
— Donna E. Shalala (@DonnaShalala) April 20, 2018
Her support for this latest bill, in addition to prior cosponsorship of legislation that would allow banks to service cannabis businesses, is indicative of a broader realignment on marijuana policy among political officials.
“For years now, states across the country have been liberalizing their cannabis laws without making corresponding investments in developing a better scientific understanding of the short and long-term benefits and effects of cannabis on human health,” Shalala said in a press release. “By rescheduling cannabis and directing our national research infrastructure to study and collect data on how it impacts health outcomes, we are not only bringing federal cannabis policy into the 21st century, but we’re also guaranteeing that we do so safely.”
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) is also a cosponsor of the new legislation.
Read the full text of the marijuana research bill below:
Photo by Aphiwat chuangchoem.
New Hampshire Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Legalization Bill
A New Hampshire House committee approved a bill on Tuesday that would legalize marijuana for adult use in the state.
While the legislation doesn’t provide for retail sales, it would allow individuals 21 and older to possess and gift up to three-fourths an ounce of cannabis and grow up to six plants. The model would be similar to neighboring Vermont’s non-commercial cannabis system.
The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee advanced the bill in a 13-7 vote.
“I think that the legalization of cannabis is more popular than the legislature itself or the governor or any other political entity in the state of New Hampshire,” Chairman Renny Cushing (D) said prior to the vote. “This is something that the people of the state of New Hampshire want. They don’t want to be treated like they’re criminals if they have a plant.”
Watch New Hampshire lawmakers discuss the marijuana legalization bill below:
This vote comes a week after the panel held a hearing on the proposal, with advocates and stakeholders testifying in favor of the reform move.
“Like most Granite Staters, this committee understands that it’s time for New Hampshire to stop prohibiting cannabis,” Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a press release. “Adults in the ‘Live Free or Die’ state should not be punished for their choice to use a substance that is objectively less harmful than alcohol.”
“Now that New Hampshire is literally surrounded by jurisdictions where cannabis is legal for adults, our current policies can no longer be justified in any way,” he said. “It’s time for the House, Senate and Gov. Chris Sununu to work together and move cannabis policies into the 21st century.”
A floor vote by the full House of Representatives is expected on February 6.
Tax-and-regulate marijuana legislation has advanced in the legislature in prior sessions, but it never arrived on the governor’s desk.
Even if it did make it that far, however, it’s unclear if Sununu, a Republican, would sign it. He’s voiced opposition to commercial legalization, and he vetoed a bill last year that would’ve allowed medical cannabis patients to cultivate their own marijuana, raising questions about whether he’d be willing to support this latest measure extending that right to all adults over 21.
In any case, the New Hampshire development comes amid a flurry of legislative activity around cannabis in the Northeast.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) included legalization in his budget last week, as did Rhode Island’s governor, who pitched a state-run cannabis model in her plan. In New Jersey, the legislature approved a referendum to put the question of recreational legalization before voters during the November election. Top lawmakers in Connecticut are also confident that marijuana reform will advance this year. In Vermont, advocates are hopeful that lawmakers will add a legal sales component to the state’s current noncommercial cannabis law.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
AOC Says Colorado Is Doing A ‘Great Job’ With Marijuana Legalization
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) says Colorado is an example of a state that’s effectively taxing and regulating marijuana.
At a town hall event in Iowa on Saturday, the congresswoman, who serves as a surrogate for Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-VT) presidential campaign, was asked if revenue from legal sales of cannabis and other drugs would be used to fund the senator’s Medicare for All proposal.
While she said the economic benefits of legalization are secondary concerns, she acknowledged that “Colorado is doing a great job of taxing it to fund schools.”
That said, funding large programs such as universal health care would require a diverse financing strategy, Ocasio-Cortez said.
“In terms of financing, I think the financing for our health care program would potentially come from different sources,” she said. “Senator Sanders has outlined how he would pay for Medicare for All.”
“I would just say the financing is a different question,” she said. “But when it comes to decriminalization and legalization, I know that the senator believes in the legalization of marijuana and, frankly, having that part of a decarceral approach” to the criminal justice system.
Listen to the conversation below, starting around 1:45:
“We need to not only have a conversation about decriminalization and a conversation about legalization, but we need to have a conversation about the harm done during the war on drugs,” she said in comments that were first flagged by The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel.
First actual Q for AOC as a Sanders surrogate: Would she legalize drugs to pay for M4A?
"The funding is going to come from a lot of sources," she says, clarifying that Sanders supports legalizing only marijuana and is focused on ending war on drugs.
— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) January 25, 2020
“It exacerbated the racial wealth gap in America as well,” she said. “But not only that, it tore apart communities, it tore apart families and it was an explicit targeting of black and brown communities that dates back to the Nixon administration.”
“On one hand it’s an economic issue, but much deeper, it’s a justice issue. This is an issue of justice, this is an issue of mass incarceration. The United States has historically incarcerated more people per capita than any other country in the world. We need to live up to our values about what ‘Land of the Free’ means and transitioning to that means dismantling the system of mass incarceration. That’s an incredibly important part of this agenda.”
While Sanders has been a long-standing champion of cannabis reform, his views on broader drug policy proposals diverge from those of his surrogate, who believes that possession of all currently illicit drugs should be decriminalized and federal laws around psychedelics should be loosened to promote research.
Despite being widely regarded as the most progressive candidates in the race, both Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) have so far declined to back comprehensive decriminalization for simple drug possession, a policy changed favored by former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), another 2020 contender, recently said that she’s in favor of legalizing and regulating controlled substances.
Photo courtesy of C-SPAN.
USDA Approves Hemp Plans For Texas, Nebraska And Delaware
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced on Monday that it has approved hemp regulatory plans for three more states and four additional Indian tribes.
This is the latest in a series of approvals that USDA has doled out since the crop and its derivatives were federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill. Texas, Nebraska and Delaware—in addition to the Colorado River Indian Tribes, the Fort Belknap Indian Community, the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska and the Yurok Tribe—each had their regulatory plans cleared.
“USDA continues to receive and review hemp production plans from states and Indian tribes on an ongoing basis,” the department said in a notice. “Plans previously approved include those for the states of Louisiana, New Jersey, and Ohio, and the Flandreau Santee Sioux, Santa Rosa Cahuilla, and La Jolla Band of Luiseno Indian Tribes.”
While hemp is no longer a federally controlled substance, farmers interested in cultivating and selling the crop must live in a jurisdiction where USDA has approved a proposed regulatory scheme. The process was outlined in an interim final rule USDA published late last year. If a state or tribe does not have, or plan to propose, regulations for hemp, cultivators can apply for a USDA license instead.
“This is a victory for Texas farmers,” Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller said in a statement. “We are one step closer to giving our ag producers access to this exciting new crop opportunity.”
“We’ve got to get our rules approved and get our licensing program up and running, but the dominoes are dropping pretty quick,” he said. “We’re almost there.”
Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, told Marijuana Moment that “Texas has the potential to be the largest supplier of hemp in the U.S., providing farmers with an unprecedented opportunity.”
“With approval from the USDA and the Texas Department of Agriculture already moving forward with establishing licensing standards, it’s refreshing to see our government paving the way for legal cannabis cultivation in Texas,” Fazio said.
While lawmakers and industry stakeholders have widely celebrated USDA’s commitment to implementing hemp legalization, it has also received a significant amount of pushback over proposed rules such as THC limits and laboratory testing requirements. A public comment period for the department’s interim rule ends on Wednesday.
USDA maintains a website that tracks the status of state and tribal hemp plans.
Monday’s announcement sends another signal to the hemp industry that the federal government is committed to supporting the market and ensuring that farmers have the resources they need to see their businesses thrive since the crop was legalized.
That said, one of the most lucrative market opportunities that hemp farmers are hoping to take advantage of is the widespread interest in hemp-derived CBD products. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has jurisdiction over rules for marketing CBD, and the agency has made clear that the process may take several years without congressional action.
Earlier this month, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers set out to do just that, filing a bill that would require FDA to allow CBD products to be sold as dietary supplements.
Photo courtesy of Brendan Cleak.