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Key GOP Chairman Supports New Marijuana Research Bill

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New legislation being filed this week by a bipartisan coalition of Republicans and Democrats — including the chair of the powerful House Judiciary Committee — would remove several key federal roadblocks to research on marijuana.

“Not later than 1 year after the date of enactment of the Medical Cannabis Research Act of 2018…the Attorney General shall register…at least 2 applicants to manufacture cannabis for legitimate research purposes,” reads the text of a bill obtained by Marijuana Moment that is slated to be introduced on Thursday with the support of Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA).

In subsequent years, the attorney general would be required to license at least three additional cannabis manufacturers annually.

For decades, all cannabis used for studies in the U.S. has been grown at a single farm at the University of Mississippi. Researchers have long argued that it is difficult to access cannabis from the facility, and that the product is often of low quality.

In 2016, the Drug Enforcement Administration enacted a new policy intended to license more research cultivators, and he agency has reportedly since received at least 25 applications to participate in the new program. But it has not yet acted on any of them and, according to the Washington Post, that is because top Justice Department officials have stepped in to prevent DEA from approving any proposals.

The new legislation would force the attorney general’s hand.

A fact sheet circulated by the office of Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-FL), the lead sponsor of the bill, says that the existing cannabis research supply is “extremely subpar.”

“It is weak and often moldy, which can cause illness. In addition to being subpar, federally-grown cannabis is scarce; there is not enough product,” the document says.

The new bill would also create a “safe harbor” from federal law for universities and other research institutions that want to study marijuana. And it would clarify that doctors with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs are allowed to refer military veterans to studies on cannabis’s medical benefits.

Bloomberg first reported that Goodlatte was supporting the bill.

On Tuesday night, Gaetz and other lawmakers took to the House floor to voice support for marijuana law reform.

Bipartisan Marijuana Speechathon On House Floor

“Even though VA doctors/staff are not prohibited from sharing information about federally-approved cannabis clinical trials with patients, many VA offices believe mentioning these trials is illegal,” Gaetz’s fact sheet says. “This legislation codifies that healthcare providers at the VA are authorized to provide information about federally-approved cannabis clinical trials, and they are also allowed to fill out forms for veterans to participate in these trials.”

Besides Goodlatte, other initial cosponsors include Steve Cohen (D-TN), Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Darren Soto (D-FL), Dana Rohrabacher (R-FL), Karen Handel (R-GA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Scott Taylor (R-VA), Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Dina Titus(D-NV), Tom McClintock (R-CA), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Barbara Lee (D-CA).

See below for the full section-by-section bill analysis circulated by Gaetz’s office:

Section 1: Title

Section 2: INCREASING THE NUMBER OF FEDERALLY-REGISTERED MANUFACTURERS OF CANNABIS FOR LEGITIMATE RESEARCH PURPOSES

PROBLEM: Currently, all federally-approved studies of medical cannabis get their product from one source, and it is extremely subpar. It is weak and often moldy, which can cause illness.

SOLUTION: this section requires there to be at least three federally-approved manufacturers of cannabis for legitimate research purposes.

The license to be a federally-approved manufacturer would be one year, with the (rare) exception of producers who wish to initiate a multi-year study or clinical trial.

Manufacturers would have to pass stringent background checks and meet a strict set of criteria, including growing at least ten different strains, and being able to test for at least 12 different cannabinoids. We must ensure that federally-approved growers are safe, will not run out of product, and are prepared to meet the needs of current and future researchers.

The strict standards set forth for medical cannabis manufacturers are not applied to other, non-research-based cannabis businesses. Keeping “research cannabis” separate means this legislation does not interfere with federal laws, state laws, or law enforcement. This bill makes no changes to the legal status of cannabis.

By ending the current monopoly on research-grade medical cannabis, and by improving choice among growers, research will be easier and better.

In addition to being subpar, federally-grown cannabis is scarce; there is not enough product. This section requires the Attorney General to annually assess whether there is an adequate and uninterrupted supply of research-grade cannabis.

Even though the DOJ is required to process new applicants for growing cannabis, they have dragged their feet, and a huge backlog of applications has built up. This section requires DOJ/DEA to act on any application to manufacture cannabis within one calendar year.

Some institutions (like universities) want to research cannabis, but cannot do so because cannabis research threatens their federal funding. This section includes “safe harbor” for researchers and institutions studying cannabis, and for patients in federally-approved medical cannabis clinical trials.

Section 3: PROVISION BY DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS HEALTH CARE PROVIDERS OF INFORMATION REGARDING VETERAN PARTICIPATION IN FEDERALLY-APPROVED CANNABIS CLINICAL TRIALS

PROBLEM: even though VA doctors/staff are not prohibited from sharing information about federally-approved cannabis clinical trials with patients, many VA offices believe mentioning these trials is illegal.

SOLUTION: this section codifies that healthcare providers at the VA are authorized to provide information about federally-approved cannabis clinical trials, and they are also allowed to fill out forms for veterans to participate in these trials.

This section also clarifies that VA employees are allowed to receive information about cannabis clinical trials from researchers.

Finally, this section says that VA researchers (who are eligible to research Schedule 1 substances) may do research on cannabis.

This section provides clarity to VA employees, and allows VA researchers to study cannabis.

­­­

This bill is not a pathway to legalization, nor does it change the legal status of cannabis. It simply makes it easier to conduct federally-approved research. Many people say that we can’t change cannabis laws without doing more research. Fair enough. This legislation simply makes cannabis research safer, better, and more accessible.

If you value staying updated on cannabis news, please start a monthly Patreon pledge to support Marijuana Moment!

Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 15-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he serves as chairman of the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (Organization citations are for identification only and do not constitute an endorsement or partnership.)

Politics

Voters In Key Congressional Districts Support Marijuana Legalization, Poll Says

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With many key congressional races rated as “toss ups” by political observers, either major party could end up controlling of the U.S. House of Representatives after this November’s midterm elections.

A new poll identifies one thing that can help Republican or Democratic candidates come out ahead: Embracing marijuana legalization.

The polling firm Lake Research Partners surveyed 800 likely 2018 general election voters in 60 so-called “battleground districts,” finding that 60 percent support ending cannabis prohibition. Only 36 percent are opposed.

Medical marijuana is even more popular, with 79 percent of voters in these swing districts on board.

More to the point for politicians looking to win elections, the survey showed that 44 percent of battleground voters say they would be more more likely to vote for a candidate who supports legalization, including 26 percent who say they would be “much” more likely. Only 33 percent said they would be less likely to back a pro-legalization candidate.

The survey was conducted in February but is being released on Tuesday at Washington, D.C. event sponsored by MedMen Enterprises, a cannabis dispensary chain that commissioned the poll.

Another key finding is that 55 percent of voters say they would be “more likely” to vote if a marijuana initiative was on the ballot in their state.

The survey also tested the effectiveness of various arguments concerning legalization, determining that “the strongest pro-legalization message frame highlights how we need legalization to repair the financial and moral damage of the failed war on drugs,” according to a polling memo prepared by the firm.

Several other recent national polls have found majority support for marijuana legalization, but the new results narrowed down to key swing districts are likely to warrant special attention from candidates and political operatives.

Support for Marijuana Legalization At Record High, New Survey Shows

Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

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Congressional Committee Blocks Marijuana Votes (Again)

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Lawmakers on a key congressional committee once again blocked colleagues in the full House from being able to vote on marijuana-related amendments.

One proposed measure, filed last week, would have allowed Washington, D.C. to legally tax and regulate retail marijuana sales and another would have prevented federal regulators from penalizing federal banks from working with businesses and individuals in the legal cannabis industry.

But on Monday evening, the Republican-controlled Rules Committee, led by Congressman Pete Sessions (R-TX), continued its recent tradition of preventing floor votes on any and all measures to scale back federal cannabis prohibition.

“Everyone who knows that Congress has a responsibility to at least debate these issues should unite and help Pete Sessions find another line of work,” Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who cosponsored both cannabis measures, told Marijuana Moment in a statement.

Sessions’s Texas district, which Hillary Clinton won in 2016, is currently considered a “toss up” by political analysts in this November’s midterm elections.

Before Monday, his panel had blocked at least 34 other cannabis-related amendments from reaching the floor for votes during the current Congress. The full House of Representatives has not been allowed to consider marijuana reform proposals since the spring of 2016.

Analysis: GOP Congress Has Blocked Dozens Of Marijuana Amendments

Bipartisan groups of lawmakers cosponsored both new cannabis measures, which they were seeking to attach to legislation to fund parts of the federal government through Fiscal Year 2019.

(A third marijuana-related measure considered on Monday proposes shifting money away from forest and rangeland research toward “eradicating, enforcing, and remediating illegal marijuana grow operations on National Forest System land.” That measure was cleared for a floor vote, likely sometime this week.)

“Our federal laws are outdated. The people in this country want the law to treat marijuana as we do alcohol,” Congressman Denny Heck (D-WA), said in testimony about his marijuana banking amendment. “These large sums of cash make dispensaries an obvious target for robberies.”

He recounted the story of Travis Mason, a 24-year-old Marine veteran who was killed during a 2016 robbery at a Colorado marijuana dispensary where he was serving as a security guard.

“He managed to survive his service in the United States Marine Corps, but he didn’t survive his job guarding a store here at home,” Heck said.

“If we do nothing, this is bound to happen again.”

The D.C. measure was filed by Democratic Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, who represents the District of Columbia.

“This rider has unintentionally benefited violent drug gangs,” Norton said of current policy in her testimony before the Rules Committee. “For that reason, some refer to it as the ‘Drug Dealer Protection Act.’ As one marijuana dealer told the Washington Post, the rider is ‘a license for me to print money.’ Regulating marijuana like alcohol would allow D.C., instead of drug dealers, to control production, distribution, sales and revenues.”

Under a ballot measure approved by D.C. voters in 2014, low-level marijuana possession and home cultivation is legal. But because of an ongoing federal appropriations rider enacted in past years and included in the new FY19 bill, local officials have been prevented from adding a system of taxed and regulated cannabis sales.

Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO), a member of the Rules Committee, specifically moved during the meeting Monday night to make the amendment on cannabis businesses’ access to banks in order for a floor vote, but that was defeated by a party-line vote of 8 – 2.

The marijuana banking measure had 22 cosponsors, more than any of the 276 other measures the Rules Committee considered this week. Eighty-seven amendments were cleared for floor consideration.

Congress Could Vote On These Marijuana Amendments Next Week (Unless GOP Blocks Them Again)

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Sen. Jeff Merkley “Disappointed” That Democrats Blocked His Marijuana Banking Amendment

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One of the U.S. Senate’s foremost champions for marijuana law reform says he is “disappointed” that fellow Democrats recently joined with Republicans in blocking his amendment to increase cannabis businesses’ access to banks.

Last month, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) offered a measure that would have shielded banks that open accounts for state-legal marijuana businesses from being punished by federal regulators for that activity even though cannabis remains illegal under federal law.

While the Senate Appropriations Committee had approved two similar amendments in previous years, the panel this time voted to table the measure with a bipartisan vote of 21 – 10, with ranking member Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and other Democrats who normally support marijuana reform objecting on procedural grounds.

“I was disappointed,” Merkley said in an interview with BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith on Monday. “We had passed this twice before.”

“We need to establish banking for cannabis because a cash economy is an invitation to money laundering and theft and cheating your employees and cheating on your taxes [and] organized crime. All bad.”

“I accompanied the owner of a company who had $70,000 in his backpack to pay quarterly taxes,” Merkley recounted in response to the cannabis banking question on Monday, which was suggested to BuzzFeed by Marijuana Moment’s editor. “It’s so bizarre going down the freeway and talking about how they have to pay their employees in cash, have to pay their suppliers in cash. It’s a bad system.”

“Everyone should agree: States’ rights on this. Let the states have an electronic system to track what these businesses are doing, not billions of dollars floating around like this.”

Despite his disappointment with the measure being blocked, the Oregon Democrat, who is believed to be considering a 2020 presidential run, said that his colleagues “had a fair point to make on the policy front” in tabling the measure.

At the time, Leahy argued that spending bills such as the one before the committee should be kept “free of new controversial policy riders” and that a more appropriate forum would be an authorizing committee that sets banking laws.

“It wasn’t existing policy and therefore it was new policy,” Merkley acknowledged in the new interview.

But he pointed out that there are few other avenues available for senators to pursue the issue.

“Here’s the thing. Normally we could take these policy bills like I was putting forward [and] you could put it on the floor of the Senate as an amendment to something,” he said. “In 2017, outside of the budget process, not a single amendment was considered on the floor of the Senate… This is the end of the Senate really as a deliberative body on policy. So if you’re blocked in the Appropriations Committee, and you’re blocked on the floor, then it’s very hard to put ideas out there and say, ‘Hey vote on this. This matters.'”

The House Appropriations Committee also defeated a cannabis banking amendment last month.

See the video of Merkley’s remarks at about 19:15 into the clip below:

Photo courtesy of Senate Democrats.

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