People of color have been disproportionately punished under decades of marijuana prohibition laws, but restrictive rules in many states largely block many communities that have been targeted by the war on drugs from participating in the legal cannabis industry.
A new resolution filed in Congress on Thursday seeks to change that.
“The communities that have been most harmed by cannabis prohibition are benefiting the least from the legal marijuana marketplace,” reads the measure, introduced by Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA). “The House of Representatives encourages States and localities to adopt best practices and take bold steps…to address disparities in the cannabis marketplace participation and to address, reverse, and repair the most egregious effects of the war on drugs on communities of color, in particular to those who now hold criminal records for a substance that is now legal and regulated.”
The resolution highlights several areas where states with legal marijuana can do better, including by keeping licensing and application fees low, moving to automatically expunge cannabis convictions, eliminating restrictions on industry participation by people with marijuana arrest records and using tax revenue to fund community reinvestment, among others.
“There’s no question that there is growing momentum – both within Congress and nationwide – for cannabis legalization,” Lee said in a press release. “However, as we move into this new era, we must learn from the failed War on Drugs and ensure that entrepreneurs of color are included in this expanding industry. Due to unequal criminalization rates and disparities in access to capital, people of color are being locked out of the new and thriving legal cannabis trade.”
“We need to address the systemic exclusion and discrimination at play. Otherwise, we will be prolonging and encouraging the injustices of the past – where brown men spend their lives in prison for cannabis, while white communities get rich off the industry.”
The measure is titled the RESPECT Resolution, short for Realizing Equitable & Sustainable Participation in Emerging Cannabis Trades.
I have a new bill! My RESPECT Resolution creates a framework for #CannabisEquity.
Communities of color have borne the brunt of the failed War on Drugs. As the legal cannabis industry grows, we must ensure that this history of discrimination is not repeated. pic.twitter.com/66qekbKouC
— Rep. Barbara Lee (@RepBarbaraLee) June 14, 2018
“As more and more states dial back the war on marijuana consumers, it is important that those who were impacted by this oppressive criminalization are able to see previous harms remedied and be provided the opportunity to participate in the benefits that come along with legalization and regulation,” said Justin Strekal, political director for NORML. “It is absolutely crucial that future legalization efforts include avenues to expunge prior criminal convictions for actions which are now 100% legal.”
Earlier this week, a separate resolution demanding that Congress apologize for the failed and discriminatory war on drugs was filed.
“This is groundbreaking cannabis legislation that addresses the effects of the war on drugs and how to create a fair and equitable industry while others ignore the opportunity and say it cannot be done,” Shanita Penny, president of the Board of Directors of the Minority Cannabis Business Association, said of the Lee resolution. “We will continue our work to ensure that thoughtful resolutions to this issue are put forth and that cannabis legislation is holistic in solving past problems and preventing future travesties like the drug war and the exclusion of the communities most impacted by it as this industry continues to grow.”
The measure has at least 13 initial cosponsors.
“The systemic prejudice of the failed war on drugs is a stain on America’s history,” said Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR). “As these outdated and discriminatory policies come to an end, we must address the damage done to communities of color and ensure equal access to the growing cannabis economy.”
See a summary of the new resolution’s provisions below:
The “RESPECT Resolution: Realizing Equitable & Sustainable Participation in Emerging Cannabis Trades” elevates the importance of equity within the legal cannabis marketplace. This resolution aims to address disparities and proactively addressing and repairing the most egregious effects of the War on Drugs on communities of color. The RESPECT Resolution seeks both economic and reparative justice, ensuring that disenfranchised communities will be able to benefit equally in the emerging legal and regulated industry.
The “RESPECT Resolution” encourages States and localities to adopt best practices already in effect in localities around the country and take bold steps to address, reverse, and repair the most egregious effects of the War on Drugs on communities of color, in particular to those who maintain criminal records for a substance that is now legal and regulated.
Steps Encouraged by Resolution:
Establish licensing and application fees that are reasonable to cover only the costs of program implementation and necessary regulations
Create a system where licensing is to be obtained at the local level and avoids arbitrary caps on licenses, which allows the community to determine the type and number of and results in an industry more representative of the local marketplace
Eliminate broad felony restrictions for licensing and instead focus restrictions on entering the market to those with criminal convictions that are relevant to the owning and operating of a business to be made on a case-by-case basis
Establish a free and automatic process for the expungement and resentencing of penalties for persons previously convicted of cannabis-related crimes for which the criminal penalties have been reduced or removed.
Eliminate the penalizations for persons currently under parole, probation or other state supervision, or released on bail awaiting trial, for conduct otherwise allowed under state cannabis laws.
Combat the vestiges of the War on Drugs by utilizing tax revenue for small business and community reinvestment
Drug Policy Alliance, NORML, National Association of Social Workers, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund, Minority Cannabis Business Association, Cannabis Cultural Association, Defending Rights & Dissent, District Growers, LLC., Protect Families First, StoptheDrugWar.org, San Francisco Drug Users Union, National Cannabis Festival & National Cannabis Policy Summit, Center for Living and Learning, A New PATH, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, National Cannabis Industry Association, Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, Inc., Denver Relief Consulting
Congress Votes To Block Feds From Enforcing Marijuana Laws In Legal States
The House of Representatives approved a far-reaching measure on Thursday to prevent the Department of Justice from interfering with state marijuana laws, including those allowing recreational use, cultivation and sales.
The amendment, which also shields cannabis laws in Washington, D.C. and U.S. territories, is now attached to a large-scale appropriations bill to fund parts of the federal government for Fiscal Year 2020.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Watch Live: Congressional Committee Discusses Medical Marijuana And Military Veterans
A congressional committee held a hearing on four bills that concern veterans and medical marijuana on Thursday.
The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee discussed one piece of legislation that would allow doctors at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to issue medical cannabis recommendations in states where it’s legal. That bill was introduced by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).
The panel also took up a bill sponsored by Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA) that would require VA to conduct clinical trials on the therapeutic potential of cannabis in the treatment of conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain.
“The men and women that I meet back home vouch for the therapeutic benefits of medical cannabis and support further research into the issue,” Correa said in testimony prepared for the hearing. “The legislation provides a framework for that research to ensure a scientifically-sound study on the issue.”
“Cannabis must be objectively researched. Period,” Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA), chair of the committee, said in support of the legislation. “Medicinal cannabis may have the potential to manage chronic pain better than opioids and treat PTSD.”
Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN), ranking member on the committee, agreed that VA should be studying the therapeutic potential of cannabis for veterans but complained that the proposed bill is excessively prescriptive. The congressman, who introduced a similar piece of legislation in January, said lawmakers shouldn’t “be telling the scientists how to design their studies.”
Other legislation that came up for consideration was a bill from Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA), a 2020 presidential candidate, that would provide training on medical cannabis for VA health practitioners.
Finally, the committee heard testimony on another Moulton proposal that would require VA to conduct a survey to “measure cannabis use by veterans.”
Watch the hearing below:
Witnesses who testified before the committee include Adrian Atizado, deputy national legislative director of Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Travis Horr, director of government affairs with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and Carlos Fuentes, director of national legislative service for Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW).
The VFW representative said the organization supports all but one of the cannabis bills. While the group agrees with the intent of allowing VA doctors to recommend cannabis, it “believe it is unacceptable for VA providers to recommend a treatment that they are unable to provide veterans and force patients to pay for the full cost of such care.”
"VA must expand research on the efficacy of non-traditional alternatives to opioids, such as medicinal cannabis and other holistic approaches. " #VFWTestimony
— VFW National HQ (@VFWHQ) June 20, 2019
DAV voiced support for legislation requiring VA to study medical cannabis and also to survey veterans on their marijuana usage.
“DAV supports @DeptVetAffairs research on conditions related to military service and effective treatments to help #veterans recover, rehabilitate and improve the overall quality of their lives…many veterans report the use of medicinal #cannabis for these purposes is beneficial.” pic.twitter.com/29C9WCw0Di
— DAV National HQ (@DAVHQ) June 20, 2019
And IAVA came out in strong support for the research bill. In testimony, the group said that “without research done by VA surrounding cannabis, veterans will not have conclusive answers to ways cannabis might aide their health needs. This is unacceptable.”
“VA houses some of the most innovative and best-in-class research this country has to offer. It should not be shutting its doors on a potentially effective treatment option because of politics and stigma,” the group said. “Our nation’s veterans deserve better.”
Larry Mole, chief consultant of population health services at the federal Veterans Health Administration, testified that VA opposes all four of the cannabis bills.
He expressed concerns that VA doctors would be penalized if they recommend medical cannabis, that the research requirement would be excessively onerous and that VA is already studying marijuana, that VA doctors already have access to training materials on the subject and that the proposed anonymous survey would require veterans to disclose information that could make them identifiable.
“The legislation would prescriptively define how the surveys would be conducted, but it does not provide the purpose, goals, or objectives for the surveys,” he said. “We have significant concerns that veterans will not want to participate, despite the survey being anonymous.”
Several committee members pressed Mole on VA’s current research efforts, noting the widespread support among veterans to study the medicinal benefits of marijuana.
Rep. Mike Levin (D-CA) said that he meets with veteran constituents each week and asked the VA representative, “[w]hat am I to tell them when they ask when is this [research] actually going to happen?”
“When is this research going to occur? When is the VA going to listen to the 92 percent of veterans across all political stripes and ideologies that want to see this done?” he said.
Mole pointed to the single ongoing VA clinical trial that just recently recruited its first participant focusing on the benefits of CBD for post-traumatic stress disorder. He encouraged Levin to tell his constituents to look up the study and apply to participate if they were interested.
Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY) characterized the VA’s study as “a baby steps approach” to the issue given that CBD alone isn’t representative of the products that veterans are using in the commercial market.
After the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health held a hearing on several of the cannabis proposals in April, the full committee was set to vote on two marijuana measures last month. That hearing was cancelled, however.
Blumenauer is also pursuing cannabis reform for veterans through a different vehicle: an appropriations bill that’s being debated on the House floor this and next week. He introduced an amendment that would prohibit VA from “interfering with a veteran’s participation in a state medical cannabis program, denying a veteran who participates in a state medical cannabis program from being denied VA services, and interfering with the ability of VA health care providers to recommend participation in state medical cannabis programs.”
This was the second congressional committee hearing on marijuana-related issues this week. On Wednesday, the House Small Business Committee met to discuss challenges and opportunities for entrepreneurs in the emerging cannabis industry.
This story has been updated to include additional testimony from witnesses.
House Passes Amendments Stripping DEA Funding And Pushing FDA To Regulate CBD
Two drug policy amendments cleared the House of Representatives on Thursday, building on reform victories in the chamber the day before.
One measure addresses funding for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the other would direct the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to establish regulations for adding CBD to foods and dietary supplements.
The first amendment, introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), would transfer $5 million from the DEA to an opioid treatment program. It passed without opposition on a voice vote and is now be attached to the House version of a large-scale spending bill, but it remains to be seen how the Senate will set funding levels for the agency in its own version of the funding legislation.
“I offer this amendment because ending the war on drugs has to mean changing our priorities in order to keep all communities safe and healthy,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “The best way we do that is by offering people the help and support they need before arrest and criminalization should be considered in the first place.”
She added that the DEA is still receiving $2.36 billion in funding, which is $90 million higher than was appropriated for the last fiscal year. It’s also about $78 million higher than President Trump requested in his budget.
Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY), the chairman of an appropriations subcommittee that handles Justice Department funding, rose in support of the amendment, stating that opioids “are a serious threat to the health and wellbeing of our communities, and we must do everything we can to combat this epidemic.”
Michael Collins, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, told Marijuana Moment that the successful vote “should send a message to the DEA—it’s not business as usual anymore.”
“We want to end the drug war and we will fight for it. We will drain you dollar-by-dollar, cent-by-cent, if that’s what it takes,” he said.
Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) claimed time designated for the opposition on the floor but said he supports the amendment. The congressman did note, however, that funding for opioid abuse prevention grants has increased by 360 percent since 2017 and that “we want to work with both sides to make sure we have the appropriate funds necessary to make sure we fight this opioid addiction that has taken over so many parts of the country.”
In closing, Ocasio-Cortez said “just as the epidemic is exploding so should our commitment to address this problem.”
“We have overfunded one agency and we should move that to make sure that we are getting people the care they need,” she said.
Dan Riffle, senior counsel and policy advisor in Ocasio-Cortez’s office told Marijuana Moment that the amendment is “a good start, but it’s not enough.”
“Every dollar we waste trying and failing to reduce supply is a dollar that should be spent on treatment and demand reduction,” he said.
This is the second drug policy amendment the freshman congresswoman has introduced that’s been brought to the House floor. However, her earlier proposal, which was meant to lift barriers to research for psychedelic substances such as psilocybin and MDMA, was rejected when it came up for a vote as part of separate appropriations legislation last week.
The FDA amendment, introduced by Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA), was approved as part of an en bloc voice vote combining other relatively noncontroversial measures and it did not receive debate on the floor. The measure aims to resolve a problem that the FDA has repeatedly raised since hemp and its derivatives were federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill.
Because CBD exists as an FDA-approved drug and has never been allowed in the food supply before, the agency’s former commissioner said Congress may have to pass separate legislation to provide for its lawful marketing.
The amendment’s description directs FDA to “undertake a process to make lawful a safe level for conventional foods and dietary supplements containing cannabidiol (CBD) so long as the products are compliant with all other FDA rules and regulations.”
Two other drug policy amendments were debated in the chamber on Wednesday. A measure that would block the Justice Department from using its funds to intervene in state marijuana laws was approved on a voice vote but still needs to pass in a recorded vote; another that extends similar protections to tribal cannabis programs passed without a request for a recorded vote.
This story was updated to include comment from Riffle.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.