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House Passes Amendments Stripping DEA Funding And Pushing FDA To Regulate CBD

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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.

Congress Clashes On Marijuana Amendments In Floor Debate

This story was updated to include comment from Riffle.

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

Politics

New Initiative To Legalize Marijuana Sales Filed In D.C.

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Activists recently filed a new proposed ballot initiative to legalize marijuana sales in Washington, D.C.

The measure—titled the “New Modern Day Cannabis Justice Reform Act”—would end prosecutions of cannabis cultivation, sales and consumption. It would also prevent marijuana from being the basis of police searches and provide for expungements of prior cannabis convictions.

District voters approved a measure to legalize low-level marijuana possession and home cultivation in 2014, but the city has been prevented from implementing a retail model due to a congressional rider barring it from using local tax dollars for such purposes. It stands to reason that the new proposal would run into the same problem, but activists say they plan to push ahead regardless.

Dawn Lee-Carty, executive director of the campaign behind this initiative, told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview that the currently unregulated cannabis system that’s in place has failed to address the problem of racially disproportionate enforcement, with arrests still occurring and putting people at risk of contracting the coronavirus.

“Our goal is to push hard and—if we have to take it to Congress, whatever levels that we have to take—to ensure that it is a different cannabis climate for the safety of the patient, for the economy, for those who run a participate and want to be store owners for cannabis, we should have access just like big moneyed interests have access without being washed out,” she said.

Lee-Carty said that, ideally, the measure would appear on the November ballot this year. It’s fairly late in the process at this point, but the Board of Elections is scheduled to meet to determine whether the initiative meets the standards of relevant subject matter for initiatives on September 2.

To qualify for the ballot, activists would have to collect 24,835 valid signatures from registered voters—just as a separate campaign to decriminalize a wide range of psychedelics successfully did. The marijuana campaign has not started formally gathering signatures, but it did circulate an independent petition that advocates say amassed about 40,000 signatures from individuals who would presumably be inclined to sign the official form.

“This initiative legalizes the possession, to the extent possible by current law the use, sale, and purchase of cannabis and CBD products for any person over the age of 21 or older,” text of the measure states. “Where not possible the initiative will make police enforcement and prosecution the lowest priority. Reverting to law automatically the soonest date possible in the future.”

The proposal also contains several noteworthy provisions such as requiring that, in order to obtain a marijuana business license, individuals must have resided in D.C. for at least two years. Those on parole would also be eligible, the measure states.

“We don’t want outsiders to come in and take over our business. It’s already happened. It’s already here,” Lee-Cary said, referring to the district’s existing medical cannabis program. “You have a lot of out-of-state, people that come in—big money interests that come in—and they sweep up the opportunities that people in our community could have.”

There’s also a ban on vertical integration included in the measure, preventing companies from multiple stages of production and sales so that the local industry would be more diverse and less at risk of monopolization.

Another unique provision would make it so police dogs “previously trained to detect cannabis will be retrained to detect explosives, weapons of mass destruction, and firearms so as to protect our schools, malls, mass gatherings, from foreign and domestic foreign terrorism.”

“Dogs are trained to sniff marijuana, but meanwhile we have bombs, we have school shootings, we have so many other things that are in play right now that I think that we should redirect the funding for dogs—once again removing police and all police-related things, including dogs—out of the cannabis industry or out of the cannabis climate if it’s legal,” Lee-Carty said.

Read the text of the proposed D.C. marijuana sales legalization measure below: 

Dc Marijuana Initiative by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

Where Vice Presidential Candidate Kamala Harris Stands On Marijuana

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USDA Explains Why It’s Denying Hemp Farmers Access To Coronavirus Relief Benefits

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has explained its reasoning for denying hemp growers access to federal coronavirus relief.

In a notice set to be published in the Federal Register on Thursday, the department said it was only providing benefits under the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) for producers of commodities that experienced a five percent price decline between January and April. Their analysis found that hemp did not meet that threshold.

“While the national price did decrease during the first quarter of 2020, it was only a 1 percent decrease, which did not meet the 5 percent or greater decrease in price for CFAP eligibility,” USDA said.

“The national price is represented by the average of 5 regional published hemp biomass benchmark midpoints,” the notice states. “USDA has determined hemp is not eligible for CFAP due to not meeting the 5 percent or greater price decline, nationally.”

USDA first announced that hemp and several other crops would not be eligible for the program in May. While the agency initially maintained it was not even open to reevaluating that decision when it comes to hemp—a determination for only that crop and tobacco—it changed course after Marijuana Moment reported on the blanket exclusion. The department then said that it would at least accept evidence of price declines to reconsider eligibility.

USDA’s latest comments on hemp in the new Federal Register notice are part of a compilation of responses from the department to public feedback requesting aid for a variety of crops that were initially left out of the program.

CFAP is a $19 billion immediate relief program that “includes direct support to agricultural producers.” It was established as part of the first approved COVID-19 package passed by Congress.

Hemp industry advocates have expressed disappointment over USDA’s action, arguing that like any other industry, the hemp market is experiencing unique challenges amid the pandemic and shouldn’t be written off from this program.

They say because hemp is a newly legal crop, it’s more difficult to assess price declines based on traditional benchmarks.

The hemp exclusion by from USDA seemed unusual given that the department has seemingly made a significant effort to demonstrate that it is supportive of the industry and is actively working to ensure that the market has the resources it needs to expand since the crop’s federal legalization in 2018.

In the meantime, USDA is facing pressure from the top Democrat in the Senate and industry stakeholders to delay issuing final regulations for hemp until 2022, citing concerns about the challenges of state compliance that have arisen due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The minority leader isn’t alone in requesting an extension; state agriculture departments and a major hemp industry group made a similar request to both Congress and USDA this week.

USDA has since approved numerous state, territory and tribal plans—most recently for Maryland and an Indian tribe last week.

Two senators representing Oregon recently expressed concerns that USDA appears positioned to reinstate two particular provisions of its interim final rule that stakeholders view as especially problematic. Those requirements, which the department temporarily suspended enforcement of, mandate that labs that test hemp be registered with the Drug Enforcement Administration and that law enforcement be involved in disposal of the crop if it contains excess THC.

Trump, Asked About Harris’s Marijuana Record, Says ‘She Lied’

Photo courtesy of Brendan Cleak.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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Trump, Asked About Harris’s Marijuana Record, Says ‘She Lied’

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President Trump weighed in on Sen. Kamala Harris’s (D-CA) prior comments on marijuana shortly after she was announced as Joe Biden’s vice presidential running mate on Tuesday.

While the president declined to explicitly discuss the senator’s cannabis policy positions after being pressed by New York Post reporter Steve Nelson, he said “she lied” and “said things that were untrue” when presented with details about an interview she gave last year in which she discussed smoking marijuana in college.

Harris, a former California prosecutor who has been widely criticized by advocates over he role in convicting people over marijuana and past dismissive comments about reform efforts, told The Breakfast Club that during her college days, she consumed cannabis and listened to rappers Tupac and Snoop Dogg. But as some quickly pointed out, the timeline didn’t match, as those artists hadn’t yet released their debut albums while she was in school.

Harris later conceded that she “definitely was not clear about what I was listening to” while consuming cannabis.

Nelson asked the president at a White House press briefing if he felt Harris’s “past on marijuana” is “a liability.”

“Well, she lied. I mean, she said things that were untrue. She is a person that’s told many, many stories that weren’t true,” Trump said before pivoting to criticism about her position on topics like taxes, fracking, military funding and health care.

The reporter followed up to ask whether “supporters of marijuana legalization should vote for you rather than her because she convicted so many people in the past.”

“I can’t tell you what she’s voting for. I don’t think she knows what. I think Joe knows even less than she does,” the president said without directly addressing the question.

It’s somewhat rare for Trump to comment on marijuana issues, but it’s notable that when presented with the opportunity to seize on Harris’s criminal justice record, he declined. It’s especially interesting given that his reelection campaign has been attacking Biden as an “architect” of the drug war who authored punitive laws during his time in the Senate and framing the incumbent president as the criminal justice reform candidate.

A majority of Americans support legalizing marijuana, which makes it all the more curious that neither Trump nor Biden have sought to embrace the issue. Harris, for her part, is now the lead sponsor of a bill to federally legalize cannabis.

In any case, Nelson, the New York Post reporter, has made a habit of pressing Trump on cannabis policy. Last year, he cited studies about reduced opioid overdoses in states with legalization on the books and the president replied that “right now we are allowing states to make that decision” with regard to cannabis policy.

And when the reporter previously asked about Sen. Cory Gardner’s (R-CO) legislation to allow states to set their own marijuana policies, the president voiced tentative support, saying “I really do” favor the proposal.

“I know exactly what he’s doing. We’re looking at it,” he said at the time. “But I probably will end up supporting that, yes.”

Both Trump and Biden are in favor of medical cannabis. And Biden has put forward plans to decriminalize marijuana possession, modestly reschedule the plant and facilitate expungements for prior cannabis convictions.

It remains to be seen whether Harris will push the former vice president to adopt a pro-legalization stance.

Where Vice Presidential Candidate Kamala Harris Stands On Marijuana

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