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House Marijuana Vote In Question Following Leadership Remarks, But ‘Schedule Hasn’t Changed’

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Marijuana reform advocates are getting concerned as rumors about the potential cancellation of a cannabis legalization vote on the House floor that’s been planned for next week continue to circulate and expand.

And they didn’t get much peace of mind when House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) on Tuesday seemed to signal that now might not be the right time to put the legislation to the floor. That said, a representative for his office later told Marijuana Moment that, as for now, nothing about the schedule has changed.

While leadership announced earlier this month that they intended to hold a floor vote on Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act during the week of September 21, there’s been some pushback from certain moderate Democrats in vulnerable reelection races who feel that advancing cannabis reform before the next round of coronavirus relief legislation would come back to bite them, even if they’re personally supportive of the proposal at a time a majority of American voters back legalizing cannabis.

Hoyer said on a press call that Democrats are “really focused on the [continuing resolution] and on the COVID-19, which are the two critical pieces of legislation that in this three-week period we have to pass,” referring to legislation to keep the government funded and avoid a shutdown at the end of this month.

“I’m a support[er] of the MORE Act, but we’ve got to get the CR and COVID-19 done, because they’re absolutely critical to the welfare of our country,” he said. “There are a lot of bills that are possible which are—which are important bills, good bills, but we’re focused on COVID-19 and the CR, because that keeps government open, and it gives assistance to millions of people who absolutely need it.”

A spokesperson for Hoyer’s office told Marijuana Moment that they didn’t have anything to add on the leader’s remarks, but that “the schedule hasn’t changed.”

Also on Tuesday, Democratic Caucus Chairman Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) was asked about the MORE Act and said that the bill did not come up on a caucus call earlier in the day.

“We didn’t discuss the MORE Act on the call today or the timing of some of the bills that are going to be on the floor next week,” he said.

“With respect to some of the other items on the legislative agenda—particularly as it relates to next week—I’m just trying to get to tomorrow,” Jeffries added said. “That’s the approach that many of us have taken in the context of the long national nightmare that has been the Trump administration since January 20 of 2017.”

He also pushed back against criticism from the office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), which put out a a press release on Monday highlighting some apparent Democratic discontent with plans to hold a vote on the MORE Act.

“I think the comment about marijuana is just silliness,” he said. “They care more about the wealthy, the well-off and the well-connected.”

But it is the case that there has been some splintering over the pending scheduled vote; it’s just not clear the extent to which there’s been pushback and whether it’s enough to convince leadership to pull the bill following the public announcement of their intention to hold it this month.

“At a time when people are really struggling just to pay the bills and to get through this health crisis, [COVID relief] should be our priority,” Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA) told The Hill, adding that he’s told Democratic leadership the legislation is “probably something I would support but we should do it later on.”

Another unnamed lawmaker said that certain colleagues feel that holding a vote on the bill doesn’t make sense at this time because “it’s not something that you can get passed into law,” presumably referring to its prospects in the GOP-controlled Senate.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) seemed less convinced that the MORE Act stands no chance in the Senate during a virtual meeting on Tuesday that also involved Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ). He said “I think we’re going to see not just a strong vote in the House, but I think there’s a chance that this is going to move through the Senate, with the leadership of Senator Booker.”

An aide to a senior Democrat who was also unnamed told The Hill flippantly that “prioritizing weed smokers over funding the government and providing relief to families and small businesses doesn’t make much sense to the American people.” The official added that while there are certain concerns about provisions of the bill, the ultimate issue “is the timing of this.”

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), sponsor of the MORE Act, acknowledged that there are discussions about delaying the vote, but told Politico that he’s feels the legislation should advance as planned.

“I’m not in favor of” a delay “because I think we can do it now,” the congressman said. He also dismissed concerns about the optics of voting on marijuana reform at this time because the issue “polls pretty well.”

But Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), cochair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, took a different stance and expressed openness to pushing the vote back if it could ultimately increase the vote count.

“We want to make sure the bill has the maximum number of votes. So the timing is not that crucial,“ she told Politico. “Whatever it takes to get unity and maximize our votes, we need to do that.”

In clarifying those comments, Lee told Marijuana Moment that legalization is “not an unpopular issue,” referring to polling data showing voter support and the growing number of states enacting reforms.

“Especially as the country reckons with its history of racial injustice, this should be seen as a prime opportunity to address a form of systemic racism,” she said. “Each day we gain more and more cosponsors, giving me no doubt that we are going to finally correct this historic injustice once and for all. We’re doing everything we can over the next week to build broad coalitions of support to ensure that happens sooner rather than later.”

Legalization advocates are pushing House leadership to move ahead with the vote next week.

“Congress has the ability and responsibility to walk and chew gum at the same time. The House can and must pass a bill that will bring justice to millions of Americans while continuing to work on other priorities,” Queen Adesuyi, policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, told Marijuana Moment. “Taking a vote on the MORE Act will not preclude the House from working on the CR or another COVID-19 package, which by the way, the House already voted on back in May but is now wasting away in the Senate.”

“The MORE Act is not simply a bill about the marijuana plant—it’s about addressing the unjust criminalization of a substance that has led to the economic and social devastation of millions of Americans and whole communities in the middle of a global pandemic,” she said.

Matthew Schweich, deputy director of the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment that the group is “confident that Congress will pass comprehensive marijuana reform legislation in the near future.”

“The precise timing of the MORE Act vote will not change the fact that 66 percent of Americans support marijuana legalization and a growing number of states are enacting marijuana reform policies,” he said.

Should the legislation be formally scheduled and head to the floor for a vote, it wouldn’t be entirely partisan, as three GOP members have already publicly said they will vote in favor of the proposal.

The latest to say as much, Rep. Don Young (R-AK), said he’s “confident” it will pass the chamber.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), the sole GOP cosponsor on the bill, said earlier this month that he would be voting “yes” on the MORE Act, though he expressed criticism about a provision that would impose a federal excise tax on marijuana sales to be reinvested in communities most impacted by the drug war, calling them “reparations.”

Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA) also said “I intend to vote yes on the bill” in a recent interview with Politico. “With respect to timing, I do find it ironic that the only small businesses the Democrats seem to be worried about is cannabis shops, but I would support this bill whenever it is brought to a vote,” he said.

McClintock, along with Gaetz, voted for the MORE Act when it was marked up by the Judiciary Committee last year.

This story was updated to include comment from Lee and to correct a quote misattributed to Hoyer by another outlet.

Kamala Harris Says Biden Admin Won’t Half-Step Marijuana Reform But Pledges Mere Decrim

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Democrats Remove Marijuana Research Bill From House Floor Schedule After Briefly Listing Possible Vote

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On Friday afternoon, a bipartisan bill to promote marijuana research was included in a list of legislation that was “scheduled for consideration” on the House floor next week. But hours later, it was removed.

“It was just an error,” a spokesperson for House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) told Marijuana Moment. “It’s not scheduled for next week.”

This is the second cannabis-related scheduling complication to occur within the House this month. The chamber’s leadership had previously announced plans to hold a vote on a comprehensive federal cannabis legalization bill this week, but that action was postponed following pushback from certain centrist Democratic members. 

The Medical Marijuana Research Act that was mistakenly included in the list of bills to be taken up next week cleared the House Energy and Commerce Committee earlier this month in a voice vote. The crux of the proposal is to streamline studies, and one notable mechanism through which it would do that is to let researchers obtain cannabis from dispensaries in legal states—a significant departure from current policy that restricts scientists to using marijuana grown under federal authorization.

That could resolve an issue identified by researchers and lawmakers, who complain that marijuana produced at the only existing authorized facility at the University of Mississippi is difficult to access and is chemically closer to hemp than cannabis available on the commercial market.

It’s not clear whether that provision will be a sticking point for members who oppose broader marijuana reform if it does eventually get a floor vote. As initially listed on the House’s weekly calendar, the bill would have been considered under a process known as suspension of the rules, under which it could advance on an expedited basis with no amendments allowed and which requires at least a two-thirds majority to pass.

The legislation would also establish a simplified registration process for researchers interested in studying cannabis, in part by reducing approval wait times, minimizing costly security requirements and eliminating additional layers of protocol review.

As it was originally drafted, the bill would have made it so researchers could access marijuana from additional federally approved private manufacturers. But an amendment in the nature of a substitute was approved in committee, also via a voice vote, that included the component expanding access to state-legal dispensaries.

In July, the House approved separate legislation that also called for letting researchers study marijuana purchased from businesses in state-legal markets instead of only letting them use government-grown cannabis. The intent of that provision, tucked into a 2,000-plus-page infrastructure bill, was to allow the interstate distribution of such products even to scientists in jurisdictions that have not yet legalized marijuana.

The revised research-focused proposal that the House is poised take up next week also stipulates that nothing about the legislation precludes the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary from enforcing Food and Drug Administration restrictions on the method of administration of marijuana, the dosage or number of patients involved in approved studies.

The bill would also make it so there would be no limit on the number of entities that can be registered to cultivate marijuana for research purposes. Additionally, it would require HHS to submit a report to Congress within five years after enactment to overview the results of federal cannabis studies and recommend whether they warrant marijuana’s rescheduling under federal law.

While the floor announcement would have represented a positive development for advocates, there’s still frustration over the postponement of a vote on the federal descheduling bill—the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act. Certain centrist Democrats reportedly convinced leadership to delay the action, citing concerns about the optics of advancing cannabis reform without first passing another round of coronavirus relief.

The research legislation is being led by the unlikely duo of pro-legalization Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and prohibitionist Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD).

During an Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health hearing in January—which was requested by four GOP lawmakers last year—federal health and drug officials, including from DEA, acknowledged that the current supply of cannabis for research purposes is inadequate and that scientists should be able to access a wider range of marijuana products.

DEA said four years ago that it would be taking steps to expand the number of federally authorized cannabis manufacturers, but it has not yet acted on applications.

Last year, scientists sued the agency, alleging that it had deliberately delayed approving additional marijuana manufacturers for research purposes despite its earlier pledge.

A court mandated that DEA take steps to make good on its promise, and that case was dropped after DEA provided a status update.

In March, DEA finally unveiled a revised rule change proposal that it said was necessary due to the high volume of applicants and to address potential complications related to international treaties to which the U.S. is a party.

The scientists behind the original case filed another suit against DEA, claiming that the agency used a “secret” document to justify its delay of approving manufacturer applications.

That was born out when the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel document was released in April as part of a settlement in the case, revealing, among other things, that the agency feels that its current licensing structure for cannabis cultivation has been in violation of international treaties for decades.

But the committee-approved bill states that international treaty obligations “shall not be construed to prohibit, or impose additional restrictions upon, research involving marijuana, or the manufacture, distribution, or dispensing of marijuana, that is conducted in accordance with the Controlled Substances Act, this Act, and the amendments made by this Act.”

The legislation has drawn support from a broad array of organizations on both sides of the legalization debate, including Smart Approaches to Marijuana, American Psychological Association, Marijuana Policy Project and American Academy of Neurology.

This story has been updated to reflect that the cannabis research bill will not receive a floor vote next week and was mistakenly included in the House schedule, seemingly due to a clerical error.

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Mexican Cabinet Member Accepts Gifted Marijuana Plant As Lawmakers Prepare Legalization Vote

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Marijuana is becoming something of a staple in the Mexican Congress, and not just when it comes to reform bills being considered. Actual cannabis products are regularly being exchanged, displayed and planted in and around legislative chambers as lawmakers work to legalize the plant.

On Wednesday, a top administration official was gifted a marijuana plant by senator, and she said she’d be making it a part of her personal garden.

Interior Ministry Secretary Olga SĂĄnchez Cordero said that by the time she plants the cannabis gift from Sen. Emilio Álvarez Icaza, she’ll be “fervently hoping that the law [to legalize cannabis] is already passed,” referring to reform legislation that the legislature has been working on the past couple years.

“The medicinal use of marijuana has been a revelation for the world, and second because hemp is industrially interesting from clothes, energy, paper, construction materials, stronger than any other construction material,” she said, according to a translation. “In other words, there is enormous potential with hemp and also the recreational use of marijuana, respecting the principle of the autonomy of the will and the free development of the person.”

Last year, a different lawmaker gave the SĂĄnchez Cordero a marijuana joint on the floor of the Chamber of Deputies.

“I bring you a gift as a reminder of that proposal you made at the beginning, because that goes to be the way to help us build peace. Let’s regulate the use of drugs,” Deputy Ana LucĂ­a Riojas MartĂ­nez said at the time.

Cannabis made another appearance in the legislature last month, when Sen. Jesusa RodrĂ­guez of the ruling Morena party decorated her desk with a marijuana plant.

Drug policy reform advocates have also been cultivating hundreds of marijuana plants in front of the Senate, putting pressure on legislators to make good on their pledge to advance legalization.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador recently said that marijuana reform legislation will advance in the new session.

A legalization bill was approved by several committees earlier this year, but the reform effort has been stalled due to the coronavirus pandemic. The nation’s Supreme Court—which deemed the country’s prohibition on personal possession and cultivation unconstitutional in 2018—is currently giving lawmakers until December 15 to enact the policy change.

The legalization bill that’s set to advance this coming session was revised during a joint meeting of the Justice, Health, Legislative Studies and Public Safety Committees in March.

The proposal would allow adults 18 and older to possess and cultivate marijuana for personal use. Individuals could grow up to 20 registered plants as long as the total yield doesn’t exceed 480 grams per year. Medical patients could apply to cultivate more than 20 plants, however.

Personal possession would be capped at 28 grams, but possession of up to 200 grams would be decriminalized.

The Mexican Institute of Regulation and Control of Cannabis, a decentralized body established under the measure, would be established and responsible for regulating the market and issuing licenses for marijuana businesses.

The bill proposes a 12 percent tax on cannabis sales, with some revenue going toward a substance misuse treatment fund.

Public consumption would be permissible, except in spaces designated as 100 percent smoke-free. Hemp and CBD would be exempt from regulations that apply to THC products.

An earlier version of the legislation was approved by Senate committees last year ahead of the court’s previous October deadline.

Sen. Julio Ramón Menchaca Salazar, also of the Morena party, said in April that while legislators must still resolve certain disagreements about the legislation, legalizing cannabis could fill treasury coffers at a time when the economy is recovering from the pandemic.

While advocates are eager to enact reform, they’ve also raised several concerns with the legislation as drafted, particularly as it relates to restorative justice.

Zara Snapp, a legalization activist with the Instituto RIA and the coalition #RegulacionPorLaPaz, told Marijuana Moment on Friday that while it’s “concerning” that committees haven’t yet scheduled time to take the legalization bill back up, she’s had conversations with senators from all political parties and “they all tell me this will happen this legislative session.”

“We’re going to take them at their word that they will be approving this in the next two to three months,” she said.

Vermont Democratic Party Platform Calls For Decriminalizing Drugs And Legalizing Marijuana Sales

Photo courtesy of Twitter/EmilioAlvarezI.

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Vermont Democratic Party Platform Calls For Decriminalizing Drugs And Legalizing Marijuana Sales

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The Vermont Democratic Party formally adopted a platform this month that calls for bold drug policy reforms, including legalizing marijuana sales, promoting equity in the cannabis industry and decriminalizing possession of all currently illicit substances.

During a virtual meeting on September 12, about 100 local delegates from across the state approved the platform. Beside marijuana legalization and drug decriminalization, the party further called for a process to automate expungements and reassess sentencing guidelines more broadly.

All this came together as legislators worked to send the governor a cannabis tax-and-regulate bill and separate legislation that would provide automatic record clearing for prior marijuana convictions.

The party released the final language of its positions this week. Here’s how the drug policy-related planks were written:

-Adopt an approach to the possession and misuse of drugs that is motivated solely by the principles of public health and harm reduction, rather than punishing undesirable private behavior, while avoiding the criminal justice system altogether.

-Ensure that cannabis is appropriately regulated and taxed in a manner that rights the historic wrongs of the War on Drugs and that recognizes the disproportionate impact prohibition has had on minority communities.

-Expand access to expungement, including by enacting a system to automatically expunge criminal records, so that those who have repaid their debt to society can make a fresh start.

-Re-examine existing prison sentences in light of our current knowledge of how systemic bias has led to disparate outcomes based on race and socio-economic status, and give State’s Attorneys greater authority to take a second look at and reduce existing sentences where these biases are found, and otherwise are in the interest in justice.

“This platform reflects a continuing shift in attitudes among Vermont Democrats when it comes to drug policy,” Dave Silberman, a pro bono attorney and reform advocate who led the drafting of the platform’s criminal justice provisions, told Marijuana Moment. “As a party, we’ve fully recognized that the War on Drugs has completely failed to reduce problematic drug use, and in fact fuels the racial biases we see in policing today, all without contributing to public safety.”

“Even a few years ago, these statements would have been controversial, but today they are the consensus view,” Silberman, who is running for the elected office of high bailiff in Addison County, said. “I’m excited to work with Democratic elected officials in 2021 and beyond to turn these principles into law and policy.”

The Vermont Republican Party didn’t respond to Marijuana Moment’s request for reaction to Democrats’ drug policy positions by press time.

Legalizing marijuana sales in Vermont has been a priority for activists since the governor signed legislation in 2018 allowing adults to possess up to one ounce of cannabis and cultivate up to two plants.

After both chambers advanced the marijuana commerce bill earlier this session, it was sent to a bicameral conference committee to resolve differences. Those negotiations resulted in a finalized bill this month, which the House and Senate then approved, putting it on its way to the governor’s desk.

While Scott hasn’t said whether he will put his signature on S. 54, he noted last week that he’s been impressed with how the legislative process unfolded for the measure and would take that into account.

The expungements bill that also cleared the legislature this month would allow records to be cleared systematically and also people to possess and grow more cannabis without the threat of jail time than is currently allowed.

Outside Vermont, the Oregon Democratic Party this week formally endorsed statewide initiatives to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic purposes and decriminalize possession of all currently illicit drugs while investing in substance misuse treatment.

Read the Vermont Democratic Party’s platform below: 

VDP 2020 Platform by Marijuana Moment

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