Once again, the U.S. House Rules Committee has blocked a vote on a cannabis amendment. This time, the proposed measure would have encouraged the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to study the medical benefits of marijuana for military veterans.
The proposal, which Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO) was seeking to attach to the Stop the Importation and Trafficking of Synthetic Analogues Act, a bill dealing with synthetic drugs, would have required the VA to regularly report to Congress about the status of its cannabis research efforts.
Polis also unsuccessfully tried to move an amendment to prevent federal authorities from restricting the use of kratom, a plant that some people use for pain relief.
“The opioid epidemic has affected so many in the U.S., if not directly, indirectly through friends and family. Along with improving access to mental health services, drug abuse treatment, and prevention programs, we need to improve access to alternative pain relief options that work,” Polis said in a press release. “For some, kratom, a cousin of the coffee plant, can be such an alternative. For others, including many veterans, medical marijuana can help manage pain without resorting to more dangerous and addictive prescription opioids. Kratom and medical marijuana should be legal and available to our veterans.”
Under Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX), the Rules Committee has made a practice over the past several years of blocking marijuana amendments from reaching the House floor.
This time was no different. On a party-line vote of 7 to 4 on Tuesday, the panel blocked the marijuana research amendment from having a chance to be considered on the House floor.
On Wednesday morning, Polis took to the floor to voice his disappointment about his amendments being blocked.
“Many states have medical marijuana available to patients with a variety of health issues, including chronic pain. Doctors across the country have prescribed medical marijuana as a legitimate treatment option for pain management,” he said. “In cases where it works, it provides a less harmful alternative, a less harmful and less addictive alternative to opioids.”
“I’ve heard from so many Coloradans for whom medical marijuana works instead of having to resort to opioids.”
“Unfortunately, medical marijuana is still illegal at the federal level,” Polis said. “There’s limited research opportunities about the safety and efficacy of marijuana, and that’s holding us back from really understanding how medical marijuana can be used for pain management. I offered a very simple and commonsense amendment at the Rules Committee last night that authorized the secretary of Veterans Affairs to study medical marijuana as an alternative treatment option to prescription opioids.”
Polis, who is a member of the Rules Committee, had some choice words for his Republican colleagues who control the panel:
“This bill is being considered under a closed rule. This is the 86th closed rule of this Congress. What that means, Mr. Chairman, not a single member, Democrat or Republican was able to offer an amendment to this bill… And there were good ideas on both sides that weren’t allowed to be advanced. The Republicans continue to bring bills to the floor this way to limit the opportunity for Republicans and Democrats to do something to stop opioid abuse. As a legislator who has a lot of ideas to save lives, increase freedom and decrease opioid abuse that would pass, I think a lot of my ideas would get 350 votes here in the House. We are not allowed to bring them forward. It is just so frustrating when we all know the human face of people that are suffering from being caught in a vicious cycle of opioid addiction and we have seen in our friends and family.”
The overall synthetic drugs bill is expected to receive a House floor vote on Friday.
AMENDMENT TO RULES COMMITTEE PRINT 115–74
OFFERED BY MR. POLIS OF COLORADO
At the end of the bill, insert the following:
SEC. 12. CONDUCT OF RESEARCH INTO EFFECTS OF CANNABIS ON HEALTH OUTCOMES OF CERTAIN VETERANS.
(a) RESEARCH.—In carrying out the responsibilities of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs under section 7303 of title 38, United States Code, the Secretary may conduct and support research relating to the efficacy and safety of medical cannabis on the health outcomes of covered veterans diagnosed with chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other conditions the Secretary determines appropriate. The Secretary shall ensure that such research is conducted in accordance with applicable regulations relating to the oversight of research, including such regulations prescribed by the Office of Research and Development of the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Health and Human Services (including through the National Institute on Drug Abuse), the Food and Drug Administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the National Institutes of Health.
(b) DATA PRESERVATION.—Research conducted pursuant to subsection (a) shall include a mechanism to en3 sure the preservation of all data, including all data sets, collected or used for purposes of the research required by subsection (a) in a manner that will facilitate further research.
(c) REPORTS.—During the five-year period beginning on the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall submit periodically, but not less frequently than annually, to the Committees on Veterans’ Affairs of the House of Representatives and the Senate reports on—
(1) the implementation of this section; or
(2) the rationale of the Secretary with respect to determining not to implement this section.
(d) COVERED VETERAN DEFINED.—In this section, the term ‘‘covered veteran’’ means a veteran who is enrolled in the patient enrollment system of the Department of Veterans Affairs under section 1705 of title 38, United States Code.
More State Political Parties Endorse Marijuana Legalization
Delegates at Democratic party conventions in two separate states voted to add marijuana legalization planks to their official platforms this weekend.
In Texas, Democrats embraced a policy to “legalize possession and use of marijuana and its derivatives and to regulate its use, production and sale as is successfully done in Colorado, Washington and other States.” Delegates also called on the immediate legalization of medical marijuana, the removal of cannabis from the list of federally banned substances and the release of individuals convicted of marijuana possession, as well as the expungement of records for individuals convicted of marijuana-related misdemeanors.
A separate plank adopted by the party embraces the “legalization of hemp for agricultural purposes.”
The language of the planks is similar to the Texas Democratic Party’s current platform, which also called for marijuana decriminalization and the regulation of the “use, cultivation, production, and sale [of cannabis] as is done with tobacco and alcohol.”
The move comes about a week after the state’s Republican party delegates approved platform planks to decriminalize cannabis, expand the state’s medical marijuana program, reschedule marijuana under federal law and push forward with hemp reform.
In New Hampshire, Democratic delegates also voted in favor of adding a platform plank to legalize cannabis. “We believe that marijuana should be legalized, taxed, and regulated,” the Granite State Dems’ new plank reads. Delegates at the convention also approved a resolution supporting the removal of marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act.
The passage of the pro-legalization plank in New Hampshire reflects a significant policy evolution—but the path to its approval wasn’t necessarily smooth. There was debate among party officials about the initial language of the plank, which said the state should “treat cannabis in a manner similar to alcohol.” The plank was changed to satisfy some members who took issue with the reference to alcohol, The Concord Monitor reported. Even so, not all members were on board with the plank, with House Minority Leader Steve Shurtleff arguing that the party should wait until a legislative commission studying the impact of legalization in the state submits its report in November.
That the party’s delegates went ahead and adopted the legal marijuana endorsement is “an encouraging development that bodes very well for the future of cannabis policy in New Hampshire,” Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment. “After several years of modest, incremental reforms being obstructed by previous Democratic Governors John Lynch and Maggie Hassan, it’s great to see that the party, and both of its gubernatorial candidates, are now embracing legalization and regulation.”
New Hampshire’s Republican party has not taken up legalization as a platform plank.
The Texas and New Hampshire Dems joined the ranks of several others that approved similar platform positions.
In May, the Democratic Party of New York endorsed a resolution supporting “the legalization of marijuana which should be regulated and taxed in a manner similar to alcohol.” Connecticut’s Democratic party also adopted a platform plank this year stating that “[t]he time for legalization of Marijuana has come.”
“Doing so will raise revenue, which can be used to benefit those suffering from the disease of addiction to prescription pain medications and other opioids.”
And from California to Wisconsin, Democratic party delegates across the country officially backed marijuana legalization in 2016—and numerous others threw their support behind more modest cannabis reform policies such as decriminalization. Iowa’s Democratic party went even further, calling for the legalization of all drugs.
That same year, the Democratic National Convention (DNC) approved the first-ever major party platform to include a plank embracing a “reasoned pathway for future legalization” and the rescheduling of cannabis under federal law.
“We believe that the states should be laboratories of democracy on the issue of marijuana, and those states that want to decriminalize it or provide access to medical marijuana should be able to do so. We support policies that will allow more research on marijuana, as well as reforming our laws to allow legal marijuana businesses to exist without uncertainty. And we recognize our current marijuana laws have had an unacceptable disparate impact in terms of arrest rates for African Americans that far outstrip arrest rates for whites, despite similar usage rates.”
The growing support for legalization among Democratic state parties appears to reflect a similar trend in public opinion toward cannabis reform nationally. A recent poll found that a record 68 percent of Americans believe marijuana should be legal. That includes a majority of Republicans. While federal lawmakers have generally been slower to adopt pro-legalization stances, a number of bipartisan bills have also been introduced in recent months that aim to reform the country’s cannabis laws.
James Comey Weighs In On Marijuana Legalization
Former FBI Director James Comey, at the center of a wide-ranging investigation into whether President Trump obstructed justice, has been asked many times what he thinks about the rule of law and related matters during the course of a publicity tour for his new book.
On Friday, he was asked to share his thoughts about marijuana legalization.
“The experiment is underway in the United States and I think the jury is still out on it,” Comey said.
“What I like about what’s going on in the U.S. is we call the states the laboratories of democracy, and allow the people in the states to experiment — experiment is probably the wrong word in this context — but to make choices, to try and figure out the best way not to overcriminalize behavior that people want to engage in, but also not to reward behavior that might hurt especially young people.”
While the former top federal cop indicated he supports letting states implement cannabis policies that are in conflict with U.S. laws, he’s not yet ready to personally endorse legalization.
“I’d like to see how it goes and what the natural break on it is. Does it really lead down a slippery slope to other drugs?” he said in the interview with LBC in the UK. “And there’s emerging science about the the dangers to the brain of smoked marijuana. Smoked marijuana is not medicine, and so I honestly don’t know.”
“I think it’s worth experimenting with relaxation, talking about it, but monitoring it very closely.”
See Comey’s marijuana comments, roughly 18:50 into the clip below:
In 2014, as FBI director, Comey made headlines by suggesting that he wanted to relax the bureau’s employment policies with respect to drug use.
“I have to hire a great work force to compete with those cyber criminals and some of those kids want to smoke weed on the way to the interview,” he said at the time.
He walked the comments back days later in response to questioning from then-Sen. Jeff Sessions, who now serves as U.S. attorney general.
“I was trying to be both serious and funny,” Comey said in response to the “disappointed” senator.
Photo courtesy of FBI.
Marijuana Legalization Bill Moves Forward In U.S. Territory
About a week after a U.S. territory hit a snag on the road to full marijuana legalization, a committee made several revisions to the bill that are expected to clear the path to passage.
Lawmakers in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) seemed set to put a legalization bill to a full House of Representatives vote on June 12, but the bill was unexpectedly sent back to the chamber’s Committee on Judiciary and Governmental Operations (JGO).
That same committee previously unanimously approved the legislation in May. It also passed in the territory’s full Senate that month.
Upon referral, the committee made a number of revisions, including the removal of licensing fees for statutory reasons and the addition of a policy that bans regulatory commissioners from participating in the program if they’ve been convicted of a crime within the last 15 years, legalization advocate Gerry Palacios of Sensible CNMI told Marijuana Moment. Because two sections regarding cannabis use and sales for individuals under 21 contradicted each other, one was struck from the legislation.
One question still needs to be resolved by lawmakers: the JGO recommended a recess until July 2 in order to clear up whether fines levied against individuals who violate the law would be counted as “revenue generators.” If the commission determines that these fines are not a part of the revenue stream, the fines provision will remain in the bill. (Revenue generation legislation is supposed to originate in the House — and not the Senate, where the legalization bill was first filed.)
Another change the committee made to the bill on Thursday would speed up the timeline for implementing legalization. The JGO amended the legislation to require that the CNMI Cannabis Commission would be created within 30 days of the passage of the bill instead of 90 days.
“These changes were made for clarification and constitutional purposes for speedy passage of the bill,” Palacios said. “The goal is to keep the intent and integrity of the bill intact while at the same time addressing issues on interpretation of its language.”
“Once the JGO convenes on July 2 after clarification on [the] ‘fines’ issue, they will move to adopt and push for full House review.”
So that’s where the state of cannabis legalization in the U.S. jurisdiction stands. Advocates tell Marijuana Moment that the Senate is likely to OK the changes recommended by the committee, but it’s unclear when a full House vote will take place at this point. If the bill ultimately passes, CNMI will be the first U.S. territory to fully legalize without a preexisting medical cannabis system in place.
“The Senate will have no problem with these changes as long as the bill’s integrity and intent are kept.”
That said, the territory’s governor, Ralph Torres, expressed concerns earlier this month about the potential impact of legalization on public health and crime.
“In the nine states that have legalized marijuana, have we seen an increase in crime?,” he asked, according to Marianas Variety. “If there is, what is the nature of these crimes? We should look at this and other things. I am concerned about public safety issues.”
Here’s what the bill would accomplish
- Adults 21 and older would be allowed to possess, grow and consume cannabis.
- CNMI would establish a regulatory system to produce, process and manage retail sales of marijuana.
- Tax revenue from marijuana sales would go toward funding the regulatory system and other government services.