A bipartisan bill designed to stimulate research into marijuana was reintroduced on Wednesday—with changes that could significantly increase its chances of passage in the 116th Congress.
The Medical Cannabis Research Act, sponsored by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), wouldn’t change the federal legal status of cannabis, but it would require the Justice Department to approve additional manufacturers of research-grade marijuana, protect research institutions interested in conducting studies on cannabis and authorize the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to inform patients about federally approved cannabis studies that they can participate in.
While the legislation was approved by a voice vote in the Republican-controlled House Judiciary Committee when it was introduced last year, several Democratic members of Congress and drug reform advocacy organizations voiced opposition to language in the bill that would have barred people with “a felony or drug-related misdemeanor” from manufacturing marijuana for research purposes.
Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), now the chair of the committee in the new Democratic Congress, voted against the bill last year, saying the legislation at the time “unfortunately and unjustly expands the collateral consequences of criminal convictions.”
But that language was stripped from the new version. Instead, only individuals with “violent felonies” on their record would be excluded from participating.
“This bipartisan legislation will make a tremendous difference to researchers nationwide, who may finally be able to develop cures for illnesses that affect many of America’s most vulnerable populations,” Gaetz said in a press release. “I fully believe that this bill has a chance to pass this Congress and be signed into law by the President, who expressed his support for medical cannabis during his campaign.”
For too long, Congress has faced a dilemma w/ cannabis-related legislation: we cannot reform cannabis law without research—but we cannot perform this critical research without first reforming cannabis law. My legislation, the Medical Cannabis Research Act, helps break that logjam
— Rep. Matt Gaetz (@RepMattGaetz) January 16, 2019
So far, four cosponsors have signed their names onto the bill: Reps. Darren Soto (D-FL), Ken Buck (R-CO), Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), and Diana DeGette (D-CO). The prior version of the legislation ultimately garnered 44 cosponsors during the last Congress.
The bill initially came about after then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions blocked the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) from making good on its promise to approve additional marijuana manufacturers for research purposes. Since his departure, the DEA has reiterated that it’s actively reviewing manufacturer applications.
The Gaetz bill, if enacted, would force the attorney general to begin issuing new licenses on a set timetable.
The Medical Cannabis Research Act, which I introduced today, will make a tremendous difference to researchers nationwide, who may finally be able to develop cures for illnesses that affect many of America’s most vulnerable populations—veterans, the chronically ill, & the elderly.
— Rep. Matt Gaetz (@RepMattGaetz) January 16, 2019
Queen Adesuyi, policy coordinator at the Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs, told Marijuana Moment that the organization is “pleased that Rep Gaetz has revised his bill to remove the provisions that prohibited personnel with convictions for a felony or drug-related misdemeanor from working on marijuana research.”
However, the group takes issue even with the scaled-down ban on people with violent felony convictions from working on cannabis research.
“There is no sound reason to include such language in a marijuana research bill, and such bans only serve to exacerbate racial disparities that permeate our criminal justice system,” Adesuyi said. “That said, we have received a commitment from the Gaetz office that eliminating the ban completely is a change they support and would be happy to make.”
Other changes to the bill include 1) increasing the required number of additional marijuana manufacturers from three to four, 2) extending the application deadline for Justice Department approval for manufacturing licenses “until enactment of this Act” and 3) eliminating a requirement for a “letter of reference affirming the manufacturer’s good standing” from state health care and law enforcement authorities.
Drug policy reform groups had also objected to the language in the previous bill regarding that last point because police groups often oppose marijuana law reform.
“The goal with these changes is to increase the number and diversity of federal manufacturers of cannabis for research purposes, ensure fair treatment of employees and to increase the applicant pool to ensure robust competition and high-quality applicants,” Gaetz’s legislative director wrote in a Dear Colleague letter seeking cosponsors for the bill.
The Congressional Budget Office said that the previous version of the legislation would have a “negligible” effect on federal spending.
Read the full text below:
Medical Cannabis Research Act by on Scribd
Trade Associations And Civil Rights Groups Send Mixed Messages On Marijuana Banking To Senate
A coalition of trade associations sent a letter to Senate Banking Committee leadership on Thursday, urging a vote on legislation to protect financial institutions that service state-legal marijuana businesses.
But those senators are also feeling pressure from leading civil rights groups like the ACLU and Human Rights Watch, which sent an earlier letter insisting that they not allow cannabis banking to detract from more comprehensive reform that addresses social equity.
The organizations involved in the latest letter—including the American Bankers Association and Credit Union National Association—said that advancing the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act or similar legislation is pivotal to ensuring that stakeholders receive needed clarity and are shielded from being penalized by federal regulators.
The letter, addressed to Banking Chair Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Ranking Member Sherrod Brown (D-OH), emphasized the bipartisan nature of the House passage of the bill in September and the growing movement at the state level to legalize cannabis for medical or recreational purposes.
“Our organizations support an initial legislative step that allows the legal cannabis industry into the banking system,” the groups, which also include the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers, International Council of Shopping Centers and National Association of REALTORS, wrote. “Ultimately, protecting law-abiding financial institutions and ancillary businesses from their currently untenable position and addressing increasing public safety concerns.”
As more states reform their marijuana laws, however, “distribution, sale, possession, research, transaction, housing, employment, and a broader landscape of cannabis is becoming increasingly problematic” for stakeholders under federal prohibition.
“Ultimately, this creates more legal and security concerns that impact the operations and safety of businesses and consumers,” they said. “Finally, the lack of an available safe harbor for cannabis will continue to challenge the full adoption and deployment of the legal hemp and CBD products market in the U.S. due to the inextricable link between hemp and cannabis.”
“To resolve this, we urge the Committee to vote on the SAFE Banking Act or similar measures. Such measures are meant to create a safe harbor for depository institutions that provide a financial product or service to businesses in a state permitting the use of cannabis. A safe harbor will enable law enforcement and states to effectively monitor and regulate businesses while simultaneously bringing billions into the regulated banking sector.”
12 groups including ABA just wrote @MikeCrapo @SenSherrodBrown @senatemajldr @SenSchumer urging a vote on the #SAFEBanking Act. It's time to end the legal limbo over banking cannabis in the growing number of states where it's legal. Read the letter: https://t.co/1529vIHawq
— American Bankers Association (@ABABankers) December 12, 2019
The letter, also signed by Americans for Prosperity and R Street, recognizes that creating a federal regulatory scheme for marijuana will take time but says that the SAFE Banking Act represents “a critical first step to ensure that legal cannabis marketplaces are safe, legal, and transparent.”
Crapo has said that he’s interested in holding a vote on resolving the cannabis banking issue in his panel before the year’s end, but so far nothing has been scheduled. The chairman told Marijuana Moment in earlier interviews that there are several changes to the House-passed bill that he’d like to see but that he’s worried impeachment proceedings against the president will interfere with plans to hold a vote.
All that said, pressure from civil rights advocacy groups could complicate congressional efforts to get the banking bill approved. In October, several organizations including the ACLU, Drug Policy Alliance, Human Rights Watch and Center for American Progress sent a letter to Senate leadership, as well as Crapo and Brown, demanding that “marijuana legislation considered in the Senate include provisions that will guarantee equity in the industry.”
The letter, which doesn’t appear to have been previously reported and was obtained by Marijuana Moment, states that while the coalition agrees the SAFE Banking Act “is an incremental step toward rolling back the federal prohibition of marijuana, it fails to help communities that have been historically and disproportionately devastated by United States’ punitive drug laws.”
“As the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs considers similar legislation, we insist that the legislation include provisions that ensure equity in the marijuana industry by creating opportunities for individuals who have been prohibited from this growing business either by legal or financial means,” the letter, which was also signed by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and National Association of Social Workers, states.
“Indeed, this Congress has shown it understands the economic impact of legalization. But while progress on the business side of legalization is promising, it is not sufficient. Federal marijuana legislation must be comprehensive and lead with equity, addressing past and current harms to communities of color and low-income communities who bore the brunt of the failed war on drugs. We demand that any marijuana reform or legalization bill considered by the Senate] include robust provisions addressing equity. More than simply adding equity provisions to bills that address industry concerns, we need comprehensive reform that deschedules marijuana and addresses the inequities and harms continually inflicted by the failed war on drugs.”
In other words, the groups are insisting on broad reform prior to a vote on a bill viewed as largely beneficial to the cannabis industry—similar to a request they made of House members prior to the legislation’s passage in the chamber.
Read the marijuana banking letters from the trade associations and civil rights groups below:
GOP Congressman Knocks His Party For Failing To Pass Marijuana Reform
A Republican congressman says that whichever party is responsible for passing federal marijuana reform will “instantly” shoot up in the polls, while lamenting the fact that the GOP failed to do so when they controlled the House.
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), a vocal advocate for hemp, was asked by Fox Business host Kennedy on Wednesday whether cannabis should be rescheduled under federal law.
“Absolutely,” he said. “The first party that does this—and I don’t understand why either party won’t do it—is going instantly gain 10 points in the general poll on which party versus the other.”
“We should have done it when we were in the majority,” he added. “The liberals should be asking Pelosi why she hasn’t put it on the floor yet.”
The House Judiciary Committee approved legislation last month to end federal marijuana prohibition, but it hasn’t yet been scheduled for floor action.
Massie made similar points during an interview with Marijuana Moment earlier this year, stating that if Republicans had advanced states’ rights-focused marijuana legislation, “I think we might still be in the majority.”
Of course, while Massie has supported legislation to allow states to set their own cannabis policies without federal intervention, as well as other more modest reform measures such as protecting banks that service marijuana businesses, he’s so far declined to cosponsor any bills that seek to deschedule cannabis.
The congressman has also expressed interest in changing federal gun control laws to allow cannabis consumers to purchase firearms.
Though it’s not clear exactly how much of a boost either party would get by passing a marijuana reform bill, a Pew poll released last month does show that there’s majority support for legalization among those who lean Republican (55 percent) as well those who lean Democratic (78 percent).
Photo courtesy of YouTube/Rep. Massie.
State Department Warns Travelers About Flying With Cannabis Oil Internationally
The U.S. State Department is warning international holiday travelers that while hemp-derived CBD might be legal in the U.S., it can land you in trouble if you take it certain places abroad.
“Make sure your gift isn’t a fa la la la la la la la la fail,” the department said in a tweet on Thursday. “Bringing along gifts like drones, CBD oils, and firearms can land you in trouble in foreign countries. Research what is and isn’t allowed before you travel.”
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo courtesy of Flickr/DHS.