A leading marijuana reform advocate in the House and architect of a congressional blueprint to end federal cannabis prohibition is amped up about Wednesday’s hearing on a slew of cannabis bills in a key committee.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview on Tuesday that while he’s not especially enthused about the list of witnesses invited to testify at the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health meeting—which will involve discussions on six cannabis bills—the development itself is a positive sign that interest in reforming federal marijuana policy is widespread and growing.
Members of the panel will take up two pieces of legislation to federally legalize cannabis and several others aimed at promoting research into the plant’s effects. This comes months after the Judiciary Committee held a historic vote approving Chairman Jerrold Nadler’s (D-NY) Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which would deschedule marijuana and includes various social equity provisions.
Blumenauer shared insights into the process moving forward and weighed in on the political dynamics at play as the panel prepares to take up the issue of comprehensive cannabis reform. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Marijuana Moment: Can I start by getting your overall reaction to the hearing? Are you encouraged by the development, and what are you expecting?
Earl Blumenauer: I am very encouraged. This is the first major hearing by a committee that plays a critical role. I assume you’ve seen our blueprint memo that we’ve been periodically updating for the last 18 months, and the Energy and Commerce Committee is a key part of that. They have a wide range of items to consider, including putting the MORE Act before the committee, which I think is important. That’s likely to be the major vehicle for comprehensive reform in this Congress.
The concentration on research is extraordinarily important. I have a hearing on my research bill that the cosponsor is [Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD)], who doesn’t even believe in medical marijuana. It illustrates how comprehensive the interest is in moving forward on research. I have talked to thousands of people this year, including hundreds in and around the Capitol. No one—not a single person—disputes the fact that we need to clear away the barriers to research. Doing so will have a lot of residual effects. It’s an important step in our goal to ultimately legalize, regulate and tax cannabis.
MM: What do you make of the fact that only federal officials—from the Drug Enforcement Administration, Food and Drug Administration and National Institute on Drug Abuse—were invited to testify?
EB: They are not my witness list. I’ve had some interaction, but there would have been, I think, better witnesses.
Frankly, if I was structuring the hearing, one of the witnesses that I would invite would be a parent of a child with an extreme seizure disorder. The stories of what these parents have to do to create the treatment for their own children is just remarkable. Some of them have done amazingly sophisticated efforts that ultimately are saving the lives of their children. I think hearing from one or two of them would illustrate the lunacy of our current policies and the desperate measures that parents will take. I think it would just melt the hearts of committee members while it inspired them to action.
MM: Do you have any concerns about the volume of reform bills under consideration in a single hearing?
EB: No. I welcome it. Get them out on the table, let them be aware of the breadth of reform action. Most of it’s going to be focused on research, which I think is appropriate. Having the MORE Act before them, the E&C Committee will be playing a role going forward. It’s something that we highlighted in our blueprint two years ago. It doesn’t bother me. I’m happy, I welcome it.
MM: Nadler said he was requesting that other committees his MORE Act has been referred to waive jurisdiction. Do you think other panels should do that to expedite the legislation to the floor?
EB: I would feel comfortable doing that, but either way, they need to have some sort of hearing on it. If they waive it, that’s cool. If not, have a hearing right away. The other committees should not be an impediment to this important reform legislation being voted on by the full House.
MM: While the Veterans’ Affairs Committee has held two hearings on legislation specific to veterans and cannabis, there hasn’t been a markup. What would it mean if Energy and Commerce ends up voting on a veterans medical cannabis bill before Veterans’ Affairs?
EB: It just shows that the Veterans Committee is asleep at the switch and other committees will move on. They’ve lost an opportunity to be at the forefront and pretty soon they’ll lose an opportunity to be involved at all. I think it’s unfortunate and sad, but I hope they get their act together and move quickly.
Particularly in the veterans space, this is overwhelmingly popular and I think they would be hard pressed to explain why they’re not acting.
MM: Have you had a chance to talk to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) or Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) about the timeline for advancing the MORE Act or other marijuana reform this Congress?
EB: I am deferring to Chairman Nadler on [the MORE Act], but I have had numerous conversations with House leadership—and not just the speaker and the majority leader—about the need to move. I’m having another meeting with a key person this afternoon in a different staff capacity. We’re beating this drum and hope that we break this loose in the next few weeks.
Photo courtesy of the House of Representatives.
Idaho Medical Marijuana Activists ‘Likely’ To Seek Signature Gathering Relief After Court Ruling
A campaign to legalize medical marijuana in Idaho is preparing to potentially collect signatures again, as they are likely to seek the same relief that a federal court recently granted a separate campaign that found its petitioning efforts crippled by the coronavirus pandemic.
The judge said activists behind Reclaim Idaho, which is pushing an initiative on school funding, can start collecting signatures in-person and electronically for 48 days starting July 9. While the Idaho Cannabis Coalition wasn’t involved in that case, they feel the ruling will apply to them and they’re actively monitoring the situation.
“We are in the process of working with the local medical marijuana campaign to assess whether Judge Winmill’s order provides a route for the medical marijuana initiative to still qualify for the November ballot,” Tamar Todd, legal director for the New Approach PAC, which is lending support to the state cannabis effort, told Marijuana Moment.
“The medical marijuana campaign is similarly situated to the Reclaim Idaho campaign and will likely ask for a similar extension of time and permission to collect signatures electronically from the Secretary of State, and if necessary, from the District Court,” she said. “I don’t know the exact timeline as there are a number of moving pieces but it will be quick.”
On June 23, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill gave the state two options: either allow electronic signature gathering for 48 days or simply place the Reclaim Idaho initiative on the ballot regardless of the signature requirement. The state chose neither and proceeded to request that the ruling be stayed.
The judge denied the state’s request to stay the order, so the signature gathering for the school funding campaign can proceed on July 9. The state has since filed an emergency motion with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to challenge the lower court’s ruling.
“The district court order severely and unquestionably disrupts Idaho’s election,” the state deputy attorney general wrote in the motion.
The deadline to submit 55,057 signatures to qualify the cannabis initiative passed on May 1, shortly after the group announced it was suspending petitioning activities because of the health crisis and the stay-at-home social distancing measures the state enacted. The cannabis campaign said it has about 45,000 raw signatures on hand at this point, and they’re confident that can fill the gap if they get the deadline extension and electronic petitioning option.
Under the proposed measure, patients with qualifying conditions could receive medical cannabis recommendations from physicians and then possess up to four ounces of marijuana and grow up to six plants.
While advocates say passing medical marijuana in one of the remaining states without such policies on the books would be a victory for patients in its own right, it could also have outsized federal implications. A House-passed bill to protect banks that service state-legal cannabis businesses from being penalized by federal regulators is currently sitting in limbo in a Senate committee chaired by a senator who represents the state.
Creating a medical marijuana program in Idaho, which is one of small handful of states that don’t yet even have limited CBD laws, could put additional pressure on Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) to move the financial services legislation in Congress.
Summer Dreams Of Marijuana-Infused Slushies Are Melted By Oklahoma Regulators
Bad news for Oklahoma medical marijuana patients trying to beat the summer heat with a marijuana-infused slushy: State regulators say the icy beverages “are unlikely to meet requirements set forth in Oklahoma statutes and rules” for cannabis products.
As the weather heats up, THC-infused slushy machines have been popping up at more and more Oklahoma dispensaries. Made by companies such as Glazees, which offers flavors such as watermelon and blue raspberry, the THC-infused drinks sell for about $12-$15.
But despite their popularity with some patients, regulators say the slushies fail to comply with a number of state rules, such as a requirement that products be packaged in child-resistant containers. Dispensaries themselves also “are not allowed to alter, package, or label products,” regulators said.
State rules further require that all medical marijuana products be tested in their final form. “In this instance, the finished product is the slushy mixture to be dispensed to patients/caregivers, not the syrup,” regulators said. “If water, ice, or any other substance is added to the product, additional testing is required to ensure the product is safe for consumption and final-product labeling is accurate.”
The OMMA has received multiple inquiries regarding the processing and dispensing of marijuana-infused slushies on-site at medical marijuana dispensaries. Learn more here: https://t.co/3b6XFzYe2f pic.twitter.com/MPq4Z3PWft
— Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority (@OMMAOK) July 2, 2020
Regulators didn’t specify how adding water or ice to cannabis products could affect consumer safety, however.
The Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority (OMMA) issued the update on Thursday in what it called a “slushy-machine guidance” memo. The office said it had received “multiple inquiries regarding the processing and dispensing of marijuana-infused slushies on-site at medical marijuana dispensaries.”
It’s not the first obstacle encountered by Oklahoma marijuana businesses, which began popping up across the state voters passed a medical marijuana law in 2018.
Earlier this year, lawmakers passed a wide-ranging medical cannabis expansion bill, which would have allowed out-of-state residents to obtain temporary licenses, permitted licensed businesses to deliver marijuana to customers and eliminated jail time for for first-time possession convictions. But Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) then vetoed the bill, and lawmakers didn’t hold a vote to override the action.
Oklahoma activists also filed a proposed marijuana legalization ballot measure in December, but it’s unlikely the campaign can gather enough signatures to put the measure before voters this November. Their signature-gathering was largely delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, and only last week did the state Supreme Court rule that the campaign could initiate petitioning. Supporters now have about 90 days to gather nearly 178,000 signatures from registered voters.
Photo courtesy of Max Pixel
Virginia Lawmakers Announce Plans To Legalize Marijuana, One Day After Decriminalization Takes Effect
Only a day after a new marijuana decriminalization law took effect in Virginia, top state lawmakers are announcing that they’re already looking ahead to full legalization.
A group of Democratic legislators on Thursday announced plans to introduce a bill to legalize and regulate a commercial cannabis market in the state. While the measure isn’t set to be filed until next year, lawmakers framed legalization as necessary in the fight for social and racial justice.
“Decriminalizing marijuana is an important step in mitigating racial disparities in the criminal justice system, but there is still much work to do,” House Majority Leader Charniele Herring (D) said in a press release. “While marijuana arrests across the nation have decreased, arrests in Virginia have increased.”
Other lawmakers backing the broader legalization push include Sens. Adam Ebbin (D) and Jennifer McClellan (D), as well as Del. Steve Heretick (D).
On Wednesday, the state’s new marijuana decriminalization policy took effect. The law, approved by lawmakers earlier this year and signed by Gov. Ralph Northam (D), removes criminal penalties for low-level marijuana possession. Under the change, having up to an ounce of cannabis is now punishable by a $25 fine and no threat of jail time or a criminal record.
Prior Virginia law punished simple marijuana possession with up to 30 days in jail, a $500 fine and a long-term criminal record.
“This bill will prevent low-level offenders from receiving jail time for simple possession while we move toward legalization with a framework that addresses both public safety and racial equity in an emerging market,” Herring said of the new law, which she sponsored in the House of Delegates and Ebbin led in the Senate.
The decriminalization measure also contains a provision to study future legalization. It requires a bevy of executive agencies, including “the Secretaries of Agriculture and Forestry, Finance, Health and Human Resources, and Public Safety and Homeland Security,” to convene an expert working group to study the matter. That panel’s report is due in November.
A separate legislative agency, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee (JLARC), is also studying the impacts of possible legalization as the result of yet another resolution approved by lawmakers this year.
Lawmakers said on Thursday that the JLARC report, which is due in December, would inform how they shape legalization legislation they expect to file in 2021.
“Elements of the JLARC study include review of best practices from states such as Illinois that have developed a legal framework, testing and labelling recommendations, and measures to reduce illicit sales,” according to a press release from Ebbin’s office. “The study will also examine how best to provide redress and economic opportunity for communities disproportionately impacted by marijuana prohibition, and recommend programs and policies to reinvest in affected communities.”
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus doesn’t want to wait for the results of the two reviews, however, and is pushing fellow lawmakers to take up cannabis legalization during a special session in August. In addition, the caucus has said its members intend to file bills to implement automatic expungement, ban no-knock warrants, require courts to publish racial date on people charged with low-level offenses and enact other sweeping criminal justice reforms.
Jenn Michelle Pedini, development director for the legalization advocacy group NORML and executive director of the group’s Virginia chapter, said the organization, which has worked with lawmakers on past reforms, looks forward to continuing to bring evidence-based cannabis policy to Virginia.
“For far too long, young people, poor people, and people of color have been disproportionately impacted by cannabis criminalization, and Virginia must take immediate steps to right these past wrongs and undo the damage that prohibition has waged upon hundreds of thousands of Virginians,” Pedini said. “It is time to legalize and regulate the responsible use of cannabis by adults in the Commonwealth.”
Ebbin said that despite the meaningful step of decriminalization, the state still has a long way to go.
“Today Virginia is taking an important first step in reducing the harm caused by the criminalization of cannabis,” he said in a statement. “The prohibition of marijuana has failed and the consequence of this failure has been felt overwhelmingly by Virginians of color, but it has not ended. It will only end when it is replaced by a regulated adult-use market that emphasizes equity—making whole those who have been burdened most by making sure they have a seat at the table and access to the marketplace. We are looking forward to doing the hard work needed to get this right.”
In the meantime, the Senate Democratic Caucus has announced it will pursue a bill during the special session next month to end law enforcement searches of people or vehicles based solely on the smell of marijuana, which critics say is a recipe for discriminatory enforcement. The group also noted that the chamber approved legislation during the regular legislative session that would have expunged certain marijuana charges and convictions, but that those bills didn’t make it to the governor’s desk.