Marijuana legislation seems to be gaining traction on Capitol Hill during what is undoubtedly the most cannabis-friendly Congress in history, with the House already passing an amendment this year to shield local legalization laws from federal interference as well as approving a bill to let state-licensed businesses access banks.
But as the Senate prepares to more seriously consider far-reaching cannabis proposals, one Republican congressman who backs ending federal prohibition is concerned that impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump could undermine the bipartisan momentum that has been pushing marijuana reform forward in 2019 to date.
“I think the impeachment thing is not going to be helpful to getting much done between now and November 2020, which is a shame because we have some serious issues that we need to address,” Rep. David Joyce (R-OH) said in an interview. “I haven’t seen any facts that say whether the president will be impeached or not, but I do think that there are going to be a lot of raw nerves out there.”
NORML Political Director Justin Strekal praised Joyce—who is a co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus—for his leadership role on the issue, but said he is hopeful that disputes over impeachment will not endanger reform efforts.
“Congressman Joyce has been instrumental in building support for marijuana policy among Republicans in the House and it’s our hope that the goodwill built will not be jettisoned over differences in unrelated matters such as impeachment,” he said.
Joyce, who sat down to answer questions following an on-stage appearance with Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and former Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) at the Institutional Capital & Cannabis conference in Manhattan on Monday, also addressed an emerging dispute between progressives who say marijuana legislation must include restorative justice provisions and conservatives who want only a narrow states’ rights approach.
“I think when you put too much that’s not germane on the issue—what’s called loading up the Christmas tree, eventually the tree is going to tip over,” he said. “People are like, ‘this is not what I signed up for.’ I understand what they’re talking about, the criminal justice issues, and I do think there’s a need for criminal justice reform, and they should be taken care of in a criminal justice reform bill and let this one stand on its own.”
The question of how far to go in repairing the past harms of the drug war has divided legalization advocates, some of whom say including far-reaching social equity provisions in any cannabis legislation that advances is a necessity, while others are concerned that anything but a simple states’ rights approach is dead in the water in the Senate and could jeopardize the chances of getting a win across the finish line before the end of the 116th Congress.
Some advocates were upset, for example, that the Democratic-controlled House passed a marijuana banking bill last month before advancing broader legislation to deschedule cannabis and address social equity issues.
Looking ahead, the House is expected to next take up a bill—the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act—filed by Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) that would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and fund programs to undo the damage of the war on drugs.
Strekal, of NORML, argued that “supporters of ending prohibition must see the connection between criminalization and those who have been harmed by its enforcement.”
“In just seven years, we have moved from state initiatives that ignored the reparative justice components in Washington State to those that embody them with full expungements such as in Illinois,” he said. “This political evolution must translate to the federal level and is broadly supported by a majority of Americans, regardless of political ideology.”
While most advocates support efforts to help people harmed by prohibition, some are focused on advancing a more limited proposal that would simply leave the issue of marijuana to the states, which they believe can pass the Senate over the course of the next year. President Trump has indicated he would sign that legislation, the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act.
Joyce is the lead GOP cosponsor of the latter bill in the House, and in the interview wouldn’t commit to voting for the more far-reaching legislation that Democrats seem determined to bring to the floor of that chamber, though he acknowledged that his support as a member of the minority party might not be needed.
“I don’t know what’s going to be in the final [version] but, I do think it doesn’t matter—they have the ability to pass it out of the House because they’re in the majority,” the congressman said.
But just passing the House won’t be enough to actually change federal policy.
“It doesn’t go anywhere in the Senate,” Joyce said. “I play the long game. At the end of the day, I want to win. Messaging bills, they drive me nuts because, ‘oh yeah we stood up for this, we passed this bill.’ Where’s it go? It goes nowhere.”
“The social issues will bog the issues down when it gets to the Senate,” he argued.
Closer to home, Joyce thinks that his state of Ohio could end up legalizing marijuana in the near future.
Voters there defeated a cannabis legalization measure in 2015 that even some longtime advocates opposed because it had written-in control of cannabis cultivation operations by the very donors who paid to qualify the initiative for the ballot.
“This time around, I think if you just went as an issue, it would probably stand a better chance because people are coming around to it more,” he said.
While the congressman acknowledges that Ohio is “a very conservative state for the most part when it comes to this,” he said that over time more voters will come to understand that legalization will help to “suppress and eliminate the black market.”
Back on Capitol Hill, Joyce is optimistic about the prospects for federal marijuana reform sooner or later, despite concerns about impeachment and social equity provisions—especially if more of his colleagues take the step of personally touring state-regulated cannabis businesses.
“Go see what a dispensary looks like, go see what a processor looks like, go see what a grow facility looks like,” he said. “If you can get them to do that, then you get them on the path to saying, ‘OK, now why wouldn’t you regulate this industry and why wouldn’t you let it go on like any other ongoing concern?’ Legally the state has formed a legal background to allow it to operate as an entity, so why not give it the same things you would any other business entity?”
Image element courtesy of Tim Evanson.
The White House Is Reviewing CBD And Marijuana Research Guidance From FDA
The White House is currently reviewing a federal plan for marijuana and CBD research.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) submitted draft guidance on the issue last week to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
Details about the document—titled “Cannabis and Cannabis-Derived Compounds: Quality Considerations for Clinical Research”—are sparse. But an FDA spokesperson indicated to Marijuana Moment that it’s related to the agency’s ongoing work to develop broader CBD regulations that could eventually allow for the marketing of cannabis products as dietary supplements or food items.
“We recognize that there is substantial public interest in marketing and accessing CBD for a variety of products. We are working toward a goal of providing additional guidance, and have made substantial progress,” FDA said in a statement. “There are many questions to explore regarding the science, safety, effectiveness and quality of products containing CBD, and we need to do our due diligence.”
“As part of our work, the FDA continues to explore potential pathways for various types of CBD products to be lawfully marketed,” the statement continues. “An important component of this work is obtaining and evaluating information to address outstanding questions related to the safety of CBD products that will inform our consideration of potential regulatory frameworks for CBD while maintaining the FDA’s rigorous public health standards.”
What remains to be seen is whether FDA plans to wait for this specific guidance to be finalized and for the resulting research to be completed before it gets around to issuing final rules for CBD products in general. Stakeholders have been eagerly awaiting those regulations so they can fully take advantage of the legalization of hemp and its derivatives.
“We will continue to update the public about our path forward as our work progresses, and provide information that is based on sound science and data,” FDA said.
While sending the guidance to OMB could be interpreted as a positive development signaling that FDA is making progress on the development of regulations, former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said on Saturday that White House policies requiring OMB to review scientific documents in the first place represent an onerous step that’s delayed the issuance of guidance.
It’s also worth noting FDA’s effort to modernize definition of “healthy” on food labels to help consumers make more informed choices about diets has been under OMB review since August 2019. Will technical and scientific guidance critical to advancing patient care move faster? 2/2
— Scott Gottlieb, MD (@ScottGottliebMD) May 30, 2020
The FDA spokesperson declined to comment on the former commissioner’s statement.
The agency first announced in January that it planned to publish guidance on cannabis research this year. It’s not clear how long the OMB review will take or when the document will be finalized for public release.
In addition to sending the guidance to the White House for review, FDA is also soliciting public input about the safety and efficacy of CBD in comment period it has decided to keep open indefinitely. The agency said in an update to Congress in March that it has several specific questions it wants answered before deciding whether the cannabidiol can be lawfully marketed. That includes questions about the impact of different methods of consumption and drug interactions.
In the meantime, FDA is maintaining enforcement discretion when it comes to action against companies that sell CBD products regardless of the lack of regulations and has said it is currently targeting sellers that make especially outlandish or unsanctioned claims about the therapeutic value of their products.
It sent a warning letter to a CBD company owned by a former NFL player after advertisements it displayed suggested its products could treat and prevent a coronavirus infection, for example.
FDA sent a letter warning to a company about its marketing of injectable CBD products that led to a voluntary recall last month.
The agency also publicized a voluntary recall of another CBD product from a different company, notifying consumers about potentially high levels of lead in a batch of tinctures.
FDA has previously issued warnings to other CBD companies that have made unsubstantiated claims about the therapeutic potential of their products.
Photo by Kimzy Nanney.
Marijuana Legalization And The Fight For Racial Justice (Op-Ed)
“Black and brown lives matter and we owe it to our country and to ourselves to take tangible steps toward dismantling many of the power structures that perpetuate injustice. Marijuana prohibition is simply one of them.”
By Erik Altieri, NORML
On May 25th, George Floyd was killed on camera by officers affiliated with the Minneapolis Police Department. As were many Americans, we were shocked and disheartened by this tragic and needless loss of life.
As the events of the past few days have unfolded, it is clear that America is in the midst of a long overdue reckoning with itself. Since 1619, when the first ships arrived on the coast of Virginia with enslaved Africans in chains, our country has long had to struggle to address the inequality and structural racism embedded within our public institutions—particularly within the criminal justice system.
From slavery and the Civil War, to the battles to end Jim Crow laws, to the marches for civil rights, to the protests against mass incarceration, to the Black Lives Matter movement, each generation of Americans has stepped up to take action to fight to end racial injustice.
As protests continue to take place across our nation, more Americans are beginning to publicly demand action from their local, state and federal leaders to end the policies and practices that promote, enable and drive systemic racial injustice. In these conversations about policy solutions, many will include in their demands an ending to the war on drugs—or, at a minimum, an ending to marijuana criminalization. But while ending cannabis prohibition is both important and necessary, we must also recognize that doing so is but a single piece of a much larger puzzle.
Will legalizing marijuana reform alone solve the problem of racial injustice? No.
Is ending cannabis prohibition going to fix all of America’s social ills? No.
After we legalize adult-cannabis use, will we see an end to discriminatory policing against communities of color and other marginalized groups? No.
Will end marijuana prohibition be a small step toward the greater goal of promoting justice? Without a doubt, yes.
And the majority of Americans agree.
Will marijuana reform end racism? No. Can it be a part of reforming a broken & racist system? Yes.
It is important for those of us not from marginalized communities to truly listen to those who are facing this oppression & support them in this struggle.https://t.co/9fesgBY7Pc
— NORML (@NORML) June 2, 2020
Our decades-long prohibition of marijuana was founded upon racism and bigotry. Look no further than the sentiments of its architect, Harry J. Anslinger, Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, who declared: “[M]ost [marijuana consumers in the US] are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. … [M]arijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes. … Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.”
These racial biases were later exploited by the Nixon administration when it ramped up the drug war in 1970 and declared cannabis to be “public enemy #1.” As former Nixon adviser John Ehrlichman later acknowledged: “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
Today, the modern era of marijuana prohibition continues to be disproportionately applied. Annually, over 650,000 Americans are arrested for violating marijuana laws. Yet, according to an analysis of these arrests released earlier this year by the ACLU, “In every single state, Black people were more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession, and in some states, Black people were up to six, eight, or almost ten times more likely to be arrested. In 31 states, racial disparities were actually larger in 2018 than they were in 2010.”
Of course, marijuana prohibition isn’t the sole cause of America’s racial inequities, nor is it the sole reason why certain members of the police continue to engage in racially-aggressive policing and misconduct. But its criminalization is one of the tools commonly used to justify and perpetuate these injustices.
For example, marijuana enforcement was the pretext in the fatal law enforcement shooting of another Minnesotan just a few years before George Floyd’s murder: Philando Castile. The officer in this case alleged that he feared for his life simply because he believed that Mr. Castille had been smoking marijuana, stating: “I thought I was gonna die. And I thought if he’s, if he has the guts and the audacity to smoke marijuana in front of the 5-year-old girl and risk her lungs and risk her life by giving her secondhand smoke and the front seat passenger doing the same thing then what, what care does he give about me. And, I let off the rounds and then after the rounds were off, the little girl was screaming.”
Even in those jurisdictions where adult-use cannabis is legal, we know that there still remains much work to be done to address continuing racial inequities. For instance, African Americans and Latinos continue to disproportionately be targeted for traffic stops in Colorado and Washington even after legalization.
Then there is the question of the cannabis industry itself. We advocates need to continue to push for inclusion and equity within this space. We must not ignore the reality that while a handful of venture capitalists are now engaging in licensed cannabis sales in systems that largely exclude minority ownership while millions of others—most of them young, poor and people of color—continue to face arrest and incarceration for engaging in much of the same behavior.
There is no doubt that our national discussion over matters of race and policing will continue long after these public protests have ceased. NORML believes that calls for cannabis legalization need to be an important part of this emerging discussion—but only a part. Black and brown lives matter and we owe it to our country and to ourselves to take tangible steps toward dismantling many of the power structures that perpetuate injustice. Marijuana prohibition is simply one of them.
We are at a crossroads in this country and it is time for all of us to march as allies in the fight for racial justice and equality. It is important during this process for those of us not from these marginalized communities to truly listen to those who are facing this oppression and support them in this struggle. Let us take this moment in time to pledge to put in the work necessary in order to make America the better and more just nation that we know it can be.
Erik Altieri is executive director of NORML.
Two-Thirds Of Arizona Voters Support Marijuana Legalization Ballot Measure, Poll Shows
If Arizona marijuana activists succeed in placing a legalization initiative before voters this November, it will likely pass by a wide margin, according to a new poll.
In a survey of likely voters, about two-thirds (65.5 percent) of respondents said they would support the proposed measure, the Smart and Safe Arizona Act. That’s a notable shift since residents were surveyed late last year in a poll that showed 54 percent in favor of the policy change.
The survey described the legalization initiative, which would make it legal for adults 21 and older to purchase and possess cannabis and also impose taxes on legal sales, and asked 400 respondents if they would vote yes or no on the proposal
NEW POLL shows 65% of #Arizona voters are likely to vote Yes to legalize the sale, possession, and consumption of one ounce of #marijuana for adults at least 21 years old. READ MORE 👉🏼https://t.co/hTO0L60CRT pic.twitter.com/TygihYdxso
— HighGround, Inc. (@azhighground) June 1, 2020
Forty-seven percent said they would “definitely” back it and 18.5 percent said they “probably” would. Nineteen percent said they “definitely” would not vote for it, while six percent said they “probably” wouldn’t.
The campaign behind the initiative, Smart and Safe Arizona, said in April that it had collected enough raw signatures to qualify for the ballot. However, those haven’t been verified by the state yet and the group said it plans to continue petitioning to ensure success. Stacy Pearson, campaign manager for the organization, told Marijuana Moment on Tuesday that they’re “on track to turn in more than 400,000 signatures by the July 2 deadline.”
“The HighGround poll is encouraging and tracks with what our internal polling shows—Arizonans are ready to legalize marijuana,” she said. “Particularly in this economic environment, new jobs and tax revenue are important to voters.”
Activists asked the state Supreme Court to allow electronic signature gathering given challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic, but that request was rejected.
In the poll, which was conducted from May 18-22, the only group that appears divided on the issue are those who identify as “very conservative.” They were evenly split—47.6-47.6 percent—on whether or not they’d vote in favor of legalization. All other demographics were solidly in favor of the proposal.
“As long as Smart and Safe Arizona can qualify for the ballot, all signs point to 2020 being the year that recreational marijuana finally becomes legal in Arizona,” Paul Bentz, senior vice president of research and strategy at HighGround, said in a press release. “Of course, there is still strong opposition among some of those who represent the most conservative segments of the electorate. We should expect a legal challenge coming from that audience because at this point, that’s the likely the only way they can defeat this issue.”
Under the measure, adults could possess up to an ounce of marijuana at a time and cultivate up to six plants for personal use.
The initiative also contains several restorative justice provisions such as allowing individuals with prior marijuana convictions to petition the courts for expungements and establishing a social equity ownership program
Cannabis sales would be taxed at 16 percent. Tax revenue would cover implementation costs and then would be divided among funds for community colleges, infrastructure, a justice reinvestment and public services such as police and firefighters.
The Department of Health Services would be responsible for regulating the program and issuing cannabis business licenses. It would also be tasked with deciding on whether to expand the program to allow for delivery services.
A 2016 legalization proposal was rejected by Arizona voters. But in the four years since, more states have opted to legalize and public opinion has continued to shift in favor of reform.
“Clearly, the initiative backers have learned from the mistakes of the past and have done everything they can to put together a more palatable proposal,” Bentz said. “In particular, they were wise to make this proposition more ‘family friendly’ by banning smoking in public and ensuring products cannot resemble children’s candy. Ultimately, that’s likely what got them over the hump with a majority of Republicans.”
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.