There’s not much that the U.S. Senate’s top Republican and top Democrat agree on. But one of the few things that fosters bipartisan cooperation in Washington, D.C. these days is cannabis.
On Friday, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced that he’s signing on as a cosponsor of a hemp legalization bill introduced last month by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
“It’s a crock,” Schumer said, referring to current federal law. “It makes no sense that the DEA is the primary regulator, and that they stop farmers and investors from growing hemp. Why are we buying hemp from other countries, when we have hundreds of acres that could be grown right here in our backyard?”
Hemp products like clothing and foods are legal to buy and sell in the U.S., but its cultivation is prohibited, meaning that those consumer goods must be made from imported crops.
McConnell’s legislation, which already has 10 other senators signed on, would remove hemp from the definition of marijuana, its psychoactive cousin, under the Controlled Substances Act.
Advocates are hopeful that the teaming up of the usually quarreling party leaders on hemp bodes well for further cannabis reforms.
“In a world where Senators McConnell and Schumer agree on almost nothing, having both Senate party leaders sponsoring legislation to end the federal prohibition of hemp only further reinforces the need for bipartisan legislation to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act entirely,” Justin Strekal, political director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), said in an interview.
In reality, industrial hemp is an oyster with a pearl of opportunities that could mean millions in economic revenue while also helping to support new local jobs, like NY's Sullivan, Orange and Ulster counties.
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) May 5, 2018
Industrial Hemp can be used to make everything from paper, to clothing, to plastics which is why it so important we fix this outdated law as soon as possible. All good reasons why I'm cosponsoring tr bipartisan Hemp Farming Act of 2018.
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) May 5, 2018
McConnell has already announced plans to attach the language of his standalone hemp legislation to the larger Farm Bill, which sets agriculture and food policy for the nation. That proposal is expected to move through Congress this month.
“As the majority leader, I’m in charge of what we schedule, and we’re going to be scheduling the Farm Bill very soon after it comes out of the Agriculture Committee, and I expect that to happen in May,” he said in a recent interview.
McConnell’s hemp bill would remove restrictions on banking access, water rights and other roadblocks that hemp farmers and processors currently face. The U.S. Department of Agriculture would receive oversight plans from states, and then state departments of agriculture would regulate local production. The bill would also make USDA research funding available to farmers, and hemp plants would be eligible for crop insurance.
McConnell has often touted the economic benefits that hemp cultivation can bring to rural areas, including in his home state of Kentucky.
“We all are so optimistic that industrial hemp can become sometime in the future what tobacco was in Kentucky’s past,” he said when first announcing the bill.
McConnell already successfully inserted more limited hemp language to the last version of the Farm Bill, enacted in 2014, which shields state industrial hemp research programs from federal interference but does not entirely legalize the crop in the way the new proposal would.
Schumer, for his part, announced last month that he supports legalizing marijuana and would soon be introducing a bill to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act altogether. The move took many advocates by surprise, because the top Senate Democrat has long been a supporter of the war on drugs.
“The legislation is long overdue,” he said when announcing his new position. “I’ve seen too many people’s lives ruined because they had small amounts of marijuana and served time in jail much too long.”
McConnell hasn’t yet publicly commented about Schumer’s pending broader marijuana legislation, which hasn’t yet been formally introduced, but the cannabis cooperation behind the hemp bill could signal the start of more robust bipartisan efforts to further scale back federal prohibition.
Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), for example, are expected to introduce legislation this month to amend federal law so that states can implement their own marijuana laws without interference, a move that President Trump agreed to support last month.
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.
Andrew Yang Contrasts Rampant Opioid Prescribing With Marijuana Criminalization
Andrew Yang contrasted the widespread prescribing of opioids with the ongoing criminalization of marijuana on Wednesday.
In a tweet, the entrepreneur and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate said there were “more opiate prescriptions in the state of Ohio than people in Ohio,” yet “marijuana is still classified as a schedule 1 drug” under the federal Controlled Substances Act.
#DidYouKnow – There were more opiate prescriptions in the state of Ohio than people in Ohio. But marijuana is still classified as a schedule 1 drug.
— Andrew Yang🧢 (@AndrewYang) December 11, 2019
He’s brought that point up before, at a presidential debate in October. Asked about his proposed to decriminalize possession of opioids to combat the drug overdose crisis, Yang brought up the statistic and criticized the government for failing to take action against pharmaceutic companies that aggressively marketed addictive painkillers.
“If the government turned a blind eye to this company, spreading a plague among its people, then the least we can do is put a resource into work in our communities so that people have a fighting chance to get well, even though this is not a money problem,” he said at the time.
— Andrew Yang🧢 (@AndrewYang) October 16, 2019
NBC News confirmed that, in 2010, federal data shows there were 102.4 opioid prescriptions in Ohio for every 100 persons. That’s decreased since then, with 2017 data showing 63.5 opioid prescriptions for every 100 persons in the state.
Yang, who supports comprehensive marijuana legalization, has also embraced other harm reduction policies. Beyond decriminalizing opioids, he said in an interview published last week that he’s in favor of providing federal funding for the establishment of safe injection facilities, where individuals can use illicit drugs under medical supervision and receive assistance getting into treatment.
Yang has not yet called for decriminalization of substances beyond opioids and cannabis, however. That policy is backed by rival contenders South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI).
Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, also presidential candidates, have called for the establishment of safe injection sites.
Photo courtesy of ABC News.
Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed In Virginia Ahead Of Attorney General’s Cannabis Summit
The attorney general of Virginia held a cannabis summit on Wednesday, with representatives of states that have legalized marijuana sharing their insights as lawmakers in the Commonwealth prepare to push reform legislation in the coming session.
This event came one day after a lawmaker prefiled a bill to legalize marijuana for adult use and expand the state’s existing limited medical cannabis program.
The event featured panels on marijuana decriminalization, social equity, public health, hemp, CBD and creating a pathway for eventual legalization. The goal was to answer policy questions and inform legislation, which Attorney General Mark Herring (D) hopes will start with decriminalization and expungements and later adult-use legalization.
Herring: “I don’t believe Virginia’s current system of needlessly criminalizing cannabis is working. The negative consequences of the current approach fall disproprtionately on African Americans and other people of color.”
— Martin Austermuhle (@maustermuhle) December 11, 2019
“I don’t believe that Virginia’s current approach of criminalizing cannabis is working,” Herring said in his opening remarks. “It is needlessly creating criminals and burdening Virginians with convictions.”
Today we're bringing together legislators, stakeholders, and policy experts to plot a course for a smarter, fairer, more just cannabis policy in VA. For me, that means decriminalizing now, resolving past convictions, & moving to legal, regulated adult use.https://t.co/aqWxQCVPIg
— Mark Herring (@MarkHerringVA) December 11, 2019
“The human and social costs are enormous, in addition to the millions of dollars it costs Virginia taxpayers. And the negative consequences of the current approach fall disproportionately on African Americans and people of color,” he said. “It’s clear to me that the time for cannabis reform has come. Justice demands it. Virginians are demanding it. And I’m going to help make sure we get this right.”
Watch video of the Virginia Cannabis Summit below:
Representatives from Colorado and Illinois discussed law enforcement and equity in regulated marijuana markets.
The prospects of passing reform measures greatly increased in Virginia after November’s election, which saw Democrats reclaim control of both chambers of the General Assembly for the first time in decades. Herring said the timing is right to “plot a course for a smarter, fairer, more just cannabis policy” in the state.
Sen. Dave Marsden (D), co-founder of the legislature’s recently established Cannabis Caucus, said at the summit that ensuring that the legal market is equitable is paramount.
.@SenDaveMarsden, who co-founded the new Cannabis Caucus, says focusing on equity will be important. “We can’t substitute a civil process for a criminal one and not expect it to lead to disparities,” he says of decriminalization, noting how people of color still impacted most.
— Martin Austermuhle (@maustermuhle) December 11, 2019
“We can’t substitute a civil process for a criminal one and not expect it to lead to disparities,” he said.
“Following several years of forming consensus around medical cannabis products, we have to be ready to take action in the upcoming legislative session to further reform our laws in this arena,” he said in a press release. “This effort will include a more robust medical cannabis program and Attorney General Herring’s summit is a big step in ensuring we are knowledgeable on the issue and prepared to do this right.”
“Virginia is ready for evidence-based reform and that is what we will provide.”
Del. Stephen Heretick (D) said the summit “is a great opportunity for me and my fellow legislators to learn from the experiences of other states as we consider how to create more fair, just, equitable, and effective cannabis laws here in Virginia.”
Decriminalization is the first proposal on the agenda when the next session starts, the attorney general said. That would fulfill a campaign promise of Gov. Ralph Northam (D), who ran on the issue in 2017 and talked about in his State of the Commonwealth address this year.
“It’s time for public policy to catch up with public opinion, and NORML applauds Attorney General Herring for his efforts to foster and advance evidence-based cannabis laws,” Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML said. “We look forward to supporting the attorney general and the Virginia Cannabis Caucus in their work reforming marijuana laws for a safer Commonwealth.”
While Northam hasn’t voiced support for recreational legalization, Herring said last week that Wednesday’s summit is one resource that will help the state move toward comprehensive reform.
“Criminalizing marijuana possession is not working.” Attorney General @MarkHerringVA said he will host a #cannabis summit to advance decriminalization in Virginia. #CheddarLive pic.twitter.com/ecB4BSQo5w
— Cheddar (@cheddar) December 3, 2019
“Based on my conversations, he supports decriminalization,” Herring, who is also running for governor in 2021, said. “Like a lot of people, I think they’d like to get more information about what legalization and what regulated, adult-use would look like.”
A bill to decriminalize marijuana and make possession of up to one ounce punishable by a maximum $50 civil penalty was prefiled in the legislature last month.
This latest legalization bill, introduced by Del. Lee Carter (D), will likely be a heavier lift. It would allow adults 21 and older to possess and purchase cannabis from licensed retailers, and it would impose a 10 percent tax, revenue from which would go toward a veterans fund, transportation and local municipalities that allow marijuana businesses to operate.
“While a majority of Virginians agree with Attorney General Herring that marijuana should be legal for responsible use by adults, it may take a bit more work to convince the Virginia General Assembly to send such a bill to the governor’s desk,” Michelle Pedini told Marijuana Moment. “Todays summit is an important, and historic, step toward that goal, and NORML is proud to be a part of it.”
Photo courtesy of Nicholas C. Morton.
Thailand Prime Minister Uses Medical Marijuana At Event With Ganja Mascot
Top officials in Thailand are getting the word out about medical marijuana—in part by distributing cartoon cannabis dolls and publicly using marijuana oils.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha announced the launch of the government’s medical cannabis education site on Wednesday and appeared at an event alongside a person wearing a spectacled marijuana leaf costume called Dr. Ganja. Children were also present, carrying their own Dr. Ganja dolls.
The Thai government officially launches its medical cannabis "educational" website today.https://t.co/zhzZU61q3c
The Prime Minister gets a ganja doll, kids get a ganja doll, everybody gets a ganja doll!
Photo credit: Bhumjaithai Party pic.twitter.com/lVf1WTguqQ
— Prim Chuwiruch (@prim_chuwiruch) December 11, 2019
Prayut argued in favor of the therapeutic use of cannabis, stating that it represents a potential treatment option for low-income people in particular. According to The Nation Thailand, he also demonstrated marijuana products, inhaling an oil and applying some to the back of his ears. The prime minister also said he plans to purchase some oils himself.
The government’s education site features information about where to find cannabis clinics, what kinds of products are available and infographics laying out basic research into marijuana.
Thai lawmakers have made clear their excitement about medical cannabis, with several filmed participating in a ritual dance in August to celebrate the first batch of marijuana oil.
— Reuters Latam (@ReutersLatam) August 8, 2019
Months after Thailand opted to legalize medical marijuana, the ruling party unveiled draft legislation in September that allows individuals to cultivate up to six cannabis plants for personal use.
Photo courtesy of Bhumjaithai Party.