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Lawmakers Want Legal Protections For Universities That Research Marijuana

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A bipartisan group of lawmakers on Capitol Hill is asking House leadership to protect universities that conduct research on marijuana from being penalized under federal law.

In a letter sent to the chairwoman and ranking member of a House education appropriations subcommittee, Rep. Joe Neguse (D) and 25 colleagues wrote that “there are a multitude of higher education institutions conducting a range of cannabis-related research, including many in our districts, who prefer for future developments to occur through an accredited educational setting.”

Neguse and lead co-author Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-ND), along with the other lawmakers, requested that the subcommittee include specific language in the fiscal year 2020 Labor-Health and Human Services appropriations bill that would prohibit the U.S. Department of Education from withholding federally appropriated dollars from universities that are researching cannabis.

“Formal research is especially important as more states legalize medical marijuana,” the letter states. “We need medical professionals who are equipped with the knowledge to discuss competently issues surrounding cannabis and health. Evidence-based research regarding cannabis ought to be encouraged in academic settings, not discouraged.”

“Our constitutional framework has afforded the whole nation the chance to allow states to differ on many matters of public policy, including cannabis. As a result, that same framework should be extended to the protection of research of cannabis at higher education institutions.”

Other lawmakers signing the letter to the House Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies include Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Ro Khanna (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA),Ted Lieu (D-CA), Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), Dina Titus (D-NV) and Don Young (R-AK).

The letter notes that there are many universities that are interested in pursuing scientific and observational research into the marijuana plant, but that the threat of having funds withheld has presented “an undue hurdle for many academic institutions.”

As it stands, universities must comply with a drug-free schools law stipulating that they cannot manufacture, distribute, dispense, possess or use a federally controlled substance. The letter notes that the Department of Education has been silent on the issue, and that’s why the lawmakers are seeking action through the appropriations legislation.

The language they requested be included in the bill reads:

“None of the funds provided by this Act or provided by previous Appropriations Acts to the Department of Education shall be withheld from an institute of higher education solely because that institute is conducting or is preparing to conduct research on marihuana as defined in 21 U.S.C. § 802 (16).”

“The roots of marijuana’s national criminalization run deep throughout the federal code and protecting American universities ability to research and understand the dynamic properties of cannabis is a commonsense next step for the Appropriations Committee to take,” Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, told Marijuana Moment.

Last year, Neguse won the seat of former Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), a longtime marijuana reform champion on Capitol Hill, when he retired to run for Colorado governor.

“This is a great move for Rep. Neguse given his background in higher education and we look forward to what other new ideas he will bring to Congress,” Strekal said.

You can read the full letter below:

FY20 Cannabis Observational… by on Scribd

Congressional Bill Would Automatically Seal Marijuana Conviction Records

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

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Top Trump Campaign Spokesman: Marijuana Must Be ‘Kept Illegal’

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Asked in a new interview about President Trump’s position on changing federal marijuana laws, a top reelection campaign aide said the administration’s policy is that cannabis and other currently illegal drugs should remain illegal.

“I think what the president is looking at is looking at this from a standpoint of a parent of a young person to make sure that we keep our kids away from drugs,” Marc Lotter, director of strategic communications for the Trump 2020 effort, said in an interview with Las Vegas CBS affiliate KLAS-TV.

Please visit Forbes to read the rest of this piece.

(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.

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Virginia Marijuana Decriminalization Gets Closer To Governor’s Desk With New Amendments

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One week after bills to decriminalize marijuana in Virginia were passed by both the House and Senate, they advanced again on Wednesday in committee votes, where they were revised in an effort to ease the path to the governor’s desk.

The goal was to make the language of the bills identical, with lawmakers hoping to streamline the process by avoiding sending differing pieces of decriminalization legislation to a bicameral conference committee to resolve differences.

The House of Delegates and Senate were under pressure to approve their respective versions of decriminalization ahead of a crossover deadline last week. After clearing floor votes in their respective chambers, the Senate-passed bill was sent to the House Court of Justice Committee, while the House’s legislation was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Those panels amended the bills and advanced them on Wednesday, with senators voting 10-4 to advance the revised legislation and delegates voting 8-5. However, the Senate panel also struck a part of the text of a compromise substitute version concerning a record clearing provision while the House committee accepted the substitute as offered.

That means it will be up to the Finance Committees to resolve the remaining differences if lawmakers hope to skip the conference step prior to full floor votes in both chambers.

Regardless of the unexpected complication, advocates said the new committee actions represent a positive development.

“Fortunately, the patrons were able to reach a consensus and move the bills forward,” Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “Virginians have waited long enough for this important step, one that will dramatically reduce both marijuana arrests and the collateral consequences that follow such charges.”

The legislation as amended would make possession of up to one ounce a civil penalty punishable by a $25 fine without the threat of jail time. Currently, simple possession is punishable by a maximum $500 fine and up to 30 days in jail.

A provision that would have allowed courts to sentence individuals to up to five hours of community service in lieu of the civil penalty was removed with the latest revisions. The bill also stipulates that juveniles found in possession of cannabis will be treated as delinquent, rather than go through a less punitive process for a “child in need of service.”

Language providing a means to seal prior records for marijuana convictions was successfully reinserted into the House Courts of Justice Committee-passed bill after it was previously removed and placed in a separate expungement bill. That latter legislation is stalled, so lawmakers put it back into the decriminalization measure via the substitute to ensure its enactment.

The Senate Judiciary moved to delete that section, however, creating complications for avoiding a conference committee.

Meanwhile, the House Rules Committee voted in favor of a separate Senate-passed resolution on Wednesday that calls for the establishment of a joint commission to “study and make recommendations for how Virginia should go about legalizing and regulating the growth, sale, and possession of marijuana by July 1, 2022, and address the impacts of marijuana prohibition.” That vote was 12-5.

That’s a significant step, as the legislature is generally reluctant to enact bold reform without first conducting a study on the issue.

While Gov. Ralph Northam (D) is in favor of decriminalization, including a call for the policy change in his State of the Commonwealth address last month, he’s yet to embrace adult-use legalization. That said, Attorney General Mark Herring (D), who is running to replace the term-limited governor in 2021, said he’s optimistic that Northam will come around on the issue.

Herring organized a cannabis summit late last year to hear from officials representing states that have already legalized marijuana. That’s one tool he said the governor could use as he considers broader reform.

Also on Wednesday, the House Courts of Justice Criminal Subcommittee advanced another Senate-passed bill to formally legalize possession of CBD and THC-A medial cannabis preparations that are recommended by a doctor, an expansion of the current policy simply offers patients arrested with it an affirmative defense in court.

For now, Virginia seems to be on the path to become the 27th state to decriminalize marijuana, and the first to do so in 2020. Last year, three states—New MexicoHawaii and North Dakota—also approved the policy change.

Alabama Lawmakers Approve Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill

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Alabama Lawmakers Approve Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill

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An Alabama Senate committee approved a bill on Wednesday that would legalize medical marijuana in the state.

The legislation would allow patients with qualifying conditions to purchase cannabis products from licensed dispensaries. It would be a limited system, however, prohibiting patients from smoking or vaping marijuana.

The Senate Judiciary Committee cleared the bill in a 8-1 vote, with one abstention. The next stop for the legislation will be the Senate floor.

The proposal would establish the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission, which would be responsible for overseeing a patient registry database, issuing medical cannabis cards and approving licenses for marijuana dispensaries, cultivators, transporters and testing facilities.

This vote comes two months after a panel created by the legislature, the Medical Cannabis Study Commission, issued a recommendation that Alabama implement a medical cannabis program.

The full Senate approved a medical cannabis legalization bill last year, but it was diluted in the House to only provide for the establishment of the study commission. Sen. Tim Melson (R) sponsored both versions of the legislation and served as chairman of the review panel.

The current bill has been revised from the earlier version. For example, this one does not require patients to exhaust traditional treatment options before they can access medical cannabis.

The committee also approved a series of amendments by voice vote, including several technical changes to the bill. Another one would shield physicians from liability for recommending medical cannabis. One would clarify that employees are ineligible for workers’ compensation for accidents caused by being intoxicated by medical cannabis, which is the same standard as other drugs.

Watch the Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee debate and vote on medical cannabis below:

Members also agreed to an amendment creating a restriction on who can be on the cannabis commission.

While it’s not clear how the House would approach the bill if it advances to the chamber this year, the speaker said this week that he’s “in a wait and see mode” and commended Melson for his work on the measure. The state’s attorney general, meanwhile, sent a letter to lawmakers expressing opposition to the reform move.

Under the measure, patients suffering from 15 conditions would qualify for the program. Those include anxiety, cancer, epilepsy and post-traumatic stress disorder. Patients would be able to purchase up to a 70-day supply at a time, and there would be a cap of 32 dispensaries allowed in the state.

Prior to the vote, committee heard from a series of proponents and opponents, including parents who shared anecdotes about the therapeutic benefits of cannabis for their children. Interest in the reform move was so strong that an overflow crowd has to be moved to a separate hearing room.

“Sometimes people are not able to empathize with others who have gone through something. I guarantee you if one of relatives, members of the legislature, went through something like the testimonies that we’ve heard today, they would want it,” Sen. Vivian Figures (D) said. “But they would probably have the means to fly somewhere and get it.”

There would be a number of restrictions under the bill when it comes to advertising. It would also require seed-to-sale tracking for marijuana products, set packaging and labeling requirements and impose criminal background checks for licensed facility employees.

A nine percent tax would be levied on “gross proceeds of the sales of medical cannabis” sold at a retail medical cannabis dispensary. Part of those funds would go toward creating a new Consortium for Medical Cannabis Research, which would provide grants to study the plant.

Last year, the Senate Judiciary Committee also approved a bill to decriminalize marijuana.

Kentucky Lawmakers Approve Medical Marijuana Bill In Committee Vote

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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