A key congressional committee advanced a series of marijuana-related amendments on Tuesday, including a rider seeking to block the Department of Justice (DOJ) from interfering in all state-legal cannabis programs. The measures, which also include proposals shielding tribal marijuana laws and allowing military veterans to receive medical cannabis recommendations from government doctors, will now move to the House floor for consideration.
More than a dozen drug policy amendments came before the House Rules Committee, with the panel approving several for potential attachment to a large-scale bill funding parts of the federal government for Fiscal Year 2020.
Reform advocates were most interested in ensuring that the proposal seeking to prohibit DOJ agencies such as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) from using funds to intervene in state-legal marijuana activities advanced. The committee didn’t disappoint, ruling it in order for a vote by the full House.
Advocates are optimistic that the measure, sponsored by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), will be approved because a similar amendment came just nine flipped votes short of passage on the House floor in 2015. Since then, the number of states with legalization has more than doubled, meaning that there are a lot more lawmakers who now represent constituents who would be covered by the proposal’s protections than was the case at the time of the prior vote.
State medical cannabis laws are currently shielded from Department of Justice interference under a similar but narrower spending rider than has been enacted and extended annually since 2014.
Blumenauer’s broader amendment seeking to expand protections to local laws allowing recreational marijuana use and sales is cosponsored by Reps. Tom McClintock (R-CA) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC).
In an interview with Marijuana Moment, the Oregon congressman was reluctant to predict a specific number of votes for the measure on the floor, but did note that he was confident of its passage and said the tally would be “an indication of where we’re going with the overall reform effort.”
A big week ahead for cannabis reform. With every committee hearing and amendment introduced, we are one step closer to ending the senseless prohibition of cannabis and the failed war on drugs.
— Earl Blumenauer (@repblumenauer) June 19, 2019
If the House does approve the measure when the bill comes to the floor, expected later this week, it would not necessarily be enacted into law, as the Senate has not yet begun its consideration of companion spending legislation.
Another amendment cleared for floor consideration would allow Indian tribes to implement their own marijuana policies without the threat of Justice Department intervention. That measure is sponsored by Blumenauer and Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM), one of the first two Native American women ever elected to Congress.
Blumenauer said he is “optimistic” about that proposal’s chances on the floor.
Another key amendment cleared for a vote would let Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) doctors to issue medical cannabis recommendations to military veterans in states where it is legal. In years past, both the House and Senate have approved similar measures, but the rider has never been enacted into law.
Other proposals advancing toward votes by the full House include ones focused on CBD regulations, adding a U.S. territory to the list of jurisdictions protected by an existing medical cannabis rider and shifting money away from DEA and toward drug treatment.
These amendments were cleared for floor action:
STATES AND TERRITORIES: Blocks DOJ from interfering with marijuana laws in states, territories and Washington, D.C.
USVI: Adds U.S. Virgin Islands to list of jurisdictions shielded from DOJ medical cannabis interference.
TRIBES: Blocks DOJ from interfering with tribal marijuana laws.
VETERANS: Blocks VA from punishing doctors for recommending medical cannabis in states that have legalized or from denying benefits to veterans for participating in medical cannabis programs.
CBD: Directs FDA to set a safe CBD level for foods and dietary supplements.
TREATMENT FUNDING: Moves $5 million from DEA to an opioid treatment program.
While the Rules Committee had made it a practice to block all marijuana amendments under the leadership of then-Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX) during the last several years of Republican House control, new Chairman James McGovern (D-MA) has pledged to let cannabis measures advance under the chamber’s Democratic majority.
“I’m not going to block marijuana amendments,” he said shortly after his party took back control of the House in last year’s midterm elections. “People ought to bring them to the floor, they should be debated and people ought to vote the way they feel appropriate.”
Last week, when considering a separate funding bill, McGovern’s panel advanced an amendment put forth by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortz (D-NY) aimed at removing roadblocks to research on Schedule I drugs like marijuana, psilocybin and MDMA, but it went on to be soundly defeated on the House floor.
The committee, citing procedural issues, blocked a separate measure on the earlier spending legislation from Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA) aimed at shielding colleges and universities from being punished by the Department of Education for allowing medical cannabis on campus.
Several amendments filed on the current appropriations bill before the committee on Tuesday were withdrawn by their sponsors before the panel could make a decision about floor consideration, in some cases because they had similar measures they decided to press forward with.
These amendments were withdrawn by sponsors:
SAFE CONSUMPTION SITES: Blocks DOJ from preventing states and localities from establishing and implementing safe consumption sites for illegal drugs.
TRIBES: Blocks DOJ from interfering with tribal medical cannabis laws.
TRIBES: Blocks DOJ from interfering with tribal marijuana laws in states that have legalized.
TRIBES: Blocks DOJ from interfering with tribal medical cannabis laws in states that have legalized.
VETERANS: Blocks DOJ from punishing VA doctors or employees for recommending medical cannabis in states that have legalized.
STATES AND TERRITORIES: Blocks DOJ from interfering with state marijuana and those in Washington, D.C. and U.S. territories.
Though advocates are backing several pieces of standalone marijuana legislation, reform proposals are increasingly being pursued through the appropriations process. Several recent committee reports have called for the expedition of policies to regulate CBD, implement hemp regulations, lift barriers to marijuana research, prevent impaired driving and protect veteran benefits for those using cannabis in compliance with state law.
The House Appropriations Committee also advised the federal government to consider updating its policy concerning employees who use marijuana in accordance with state law.
Last week, the same panel approved a spending bill that includes language providing protections for banks that service state-legal marijuana business while also removing a longstanding rider that has blocked Washington, D.C. from using its own local tax dollars to legalize and regulate cannabis sales.
And cannabis reform activity is heating up in Congress beyond appropriations.
On Wednesday, the House Small Business Committee will hold a hearing on issues facing small businesses in the marijuana industry. And on Thursday, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee will consider several bills focused on medical cannabis and military veterans.
Meanwhile, a standalone bill to increase marijuana businesses’ access to banks was cleared by the House Financial Services Committee in March. Blumenauer told Marijuana Moment that he anticipates a floor vote on that legislation next month.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
New York Legal Marijuana Push ‘Effectively Over’ For 2020, Governor Says
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) conceded on Saturday that it’s unlikely marijuana will be legalized in the state this year.
“Marijuana and the gig economy were two of the more complicated initiatives that we wanted to work through that we didn’t get a chance to do,” he said in response to a question about which policy issues he would’ve liked to tackle in the annual budget bill that passed this week.
“Is the session effectively over? It’s up to the legislature, but I think it’s fair to say it’s effectively over,” he added, noting that several state lawmakers have been infected with coronavirus.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Congresswoman Wants Ban On DC Marijuana Sales Lifted Through Coronavirus Legislation
A congresswoman is calling on the government to end a policy prohibiting Washington, D.C. from legal marijuana sales, arguing that the jurisdiction is in particular need of tax revenue from cannabis commerce due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) has repeatedly condemned the congressional rider barring the District of Columbia from allowing retail sales that has been extended each year since 2014, shortly after local voters approved a ballot measure to legalize low-level possession and home cultivation. But given the need for resources to combat the pandemic, she said a reversal of the provision should be included in the next COVID-related relief bill.
“At this moment of unparalleled need, D.C. should be able to collect tax revenue from all available sources, like every other jurisdiction, including from recreational marijuana, which is believed to be widely used in the District,” the congresswoman said in a press release on Friday, adding that D.C. was shorted in the last stimulus because Congress treated it as a territory rather than a state.
“While I am working for a retroactive fix in the next coronavirus bill, it is imperative that Congress also repeal the D.C. recreational marijuana commercialization rider in the next bill to help D.C. shore up its finances,” she said. “It is beyond unreasonable that congressional interference keeps only the District from commercializing recreational marijuana, while all other jurisdictions are free to do so.”
— Eleanor Holmes Norton (@EleanorNorton) April 3, 2020
“Bringing the District in line with other jurisdictions would create a critical source of tax revenue in our time of need.”
Last year, the House approved an appropriations bill that excluded the D.C. rider, but it was included in the Senate version and ultimately made its way into the final package that the president signed. The cannabis commerce ban was also included in President Trump’s budget proposal earlier this year.
“True to form, Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton continues to be one of the best allies to the cannabis reform movement,” Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “During this unprecedented COVID-19 outbreak, it is critical that lawmakers analyze and reform any and every aspect of public policy to mitigate the health crisis and build a foundation for a strong recovery.”
“As the majority of states that regulate cannabis have deemed the industry essential to the continued functioning of their jurisdictions, the continued congressional prohibition of the District of Columbia enacting it’s own adult-use program becomes even more ridiculous,” he added.
Norton, in an interview about her push, said that the congressionally mandated prohibition on sales doesn’t prevent people from accessing cannabis but does block the city from collecting tax revenue.
“You can buy two ounces but, by the way you’ve got to do that on the black market,” she told WUSA-TV. “But there’s nobody to tax it. And I’m simply trying to get the taxes the District is due for merchandise, in this case marijuana that’s being consumed readily in the District of Columbia.”
🟢🟢 LEGALIZING COMMERCIAL MARIJUANA IN D.C. 🟢🟢
I spoke to D.C.'s Delegate @EleanorNorton
She's pushing for fully legal commercial marijuana sales in the District in a 4th Congressional stimulus package.
The District needs the money.
And people are smoking weed anyway. pic.twitter.com/PL9yoDKlrj
— Adam Longo (@adamlongoTV) April 3, 2020
Legislative priorities for Congress have shifted significantly as lawmakers attempt to address the outbreak, and that’s meant putting some reform efforts on hold. However, the issue isn’t being ignored entirely, and it’s possible that other members may look to attach modest marijuana proposals to additional coronavirus legislation.
For example, Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) said this week that U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs policy preventing its doctors from recommending medical cannabis in legal states puts service members at risk in Massachusetts because the state is shuttering recreational shops (but not medical dispensaries) and some veterans fear registering as patients out of concern that they could lose federal benefits.
Eleven senators wrote a letter to Appropriations Committee leadership asking that they allow small cannabis businesses to access federal loans and disaster relief programs. While the lawmakers said it should be enacted through an annual spending bill, advocates have argued that the policy change should be pursued through coronavirus legislation since these businesses are facing challenges just like those experienced by many other companies during the pandemic.
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.
North Dakota Activists Say Marijuana Legalization Initiative Unlikely In 2020 Due To Coronavirus
North Dakota activists announced on Thursday that they are suspending their campaign put marijuana legalization on the November ballot due to the coronavirus outbreak.
In a Facebook post, Legalize ND said “we are going to have to face a few hard realities going forward” as businesses are shuttering, public events are being cancelled and individuals are encouraged to shelter in place. The pandemic means in-person signature gathering can’t take place, and the state does not allow for alternative signing options such as by mail or online.
“Due to the virus all of our major avenues for signature collection have been cancelled or indefinitely postponed, and going door to door is not safe for both those knocking and those getting knocked,” the group said. “Businesses will continue to collect, but we don’t want to create another vector for the coronavirus. As a result, at this time if something major doesn’t change we will not be able to make the 2020 ballot.”
Legalize ND said there’s no way for state policies related to signature gathering to be changed ahead of the November election. They needed to collect 13,452 valid signatures from voters before July 6 in order to qualify. In all likelihood, the campaign said it would have to shift its focus to the July 2022 primary election.
“This isn’t the solution we want, but given the situation it is what will have to happen,” the post states. “Stay safe, and hopefully we can make a major push when the quarantine ends.”
The proposed initiative would allow individuals to purchase and possess up to two ounces of cannabis. Unlike a much more far-reaching measure the same group pushed in 2018 that included no possession or cultivation limits, which voters rejected, this version would prohibit home growing, impose a 10 percent excise tax and establish a regulatory body to approve licenses for marijuana businesses.
North Dakota voters approved a medical cannabis initiative in 2016.
The coronavirus outbreak has dealt several blows to drug policy reform efforts in recent weeks.
Likewise in Washington, D.C., advocates for a measure to decriminalize psychedelics asked the mayor and local lawmakers to accept online signatures for their ballot petition.
In Oregon, advocates for a measure to decriminalize drug possession and a separate initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes have suspended in-person campaign events amid the pandemic.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) recently conceded that legalization was “not likely” going to happen through the budget, as he hoped. Coronavirus shifted legislative priorities, and comprehensive cannabis reform seems to have proved too complicated an issue in the short-term.
Idaho activists announced on Thursday that they are suspending their campaign, though they are still “focusing on distributing petitions through online download at IdahoCann.co and encouraging every volunteer who has downloaded a petition to get them turned in to their county clerk’s office by mail, regardless of how many signatures they have collected.”
Finally, in Arizona, a legalization campaign is petitioning the state Supreme Court to instruct the secretary of state to allow individuals to sign ballot petitions digitally using an existing electronic system that is reserved for individual individual candidates seeking public office.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.