A bipartisan group of 18 U.S. senators is asking congressional leaders to insert new far-reaching protections for state marijuana laws into a must-pass spending bill due next month.
“For the last several years, states have changed their regulatory regimes governing marijuana. What began with relatively isolated experiments has spread across the country as citizens have expressed their will through the democratic process,” the lawmakers, led by Colorado Sens. Cory Gardner (R) and Michael Bennet (D), wrote in a letter sent to the Senate’s top appropriations decisionmakers on Monday. “Today, the vast majority of states – 29 in all – have some form of reduced restrictions on marijuana. Other states have proposals to do the same. These states crafted serious, thoughtful regulatory regimes.”
An existing provision in federal spending law protects state medical cannabis laws from Justice Department interference, but it does not extend to policies allowing recreational use and sales, and its own continuance in upcoming legislation is in jeopardy after House leaders blocked a vote on it.
A current temporary spending bill — and its policy riders like the medical marijuana protections — is set to expire on March 23. Last month, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded Obama-era guidance that has generally allowed states to implement their own marijuana laws without federal intervention.
“Citizens who have been acting in good faith based on federal and state assurances now feel exposed,” the senators wrote. “This disruption may deny medications to the sick, push individuals back into illicit markets, and nullify the previously-effective regulations – all while thwarting the democratically-expressed will of the states.”
The bipartisan group wants congressional leadership to join them in crating new “precise language that will preserve state laws regarding marijuana regulation until we can establish a longer-term framework.”
The majority of states have some form of reduced restrictions on #marijuana. In light of AG Sessions rescinding critical guidance for federal-state regulations, we're urging Senate Approps to respect state laws & alleviate confusion for local govs & biz: https://t.co/WN4McIxlYb
— Michael F. Bennet (@SenBennetCO) February 13, 2018
“It is our hope that the fiscal year 2018 appropriations will alleviate the turbulence the Attorney General’s abrupt decision has caused and that the appropriations will help preserve the strong regulatory frameworks the states have created,” the wrote. “Doing so will provide the opportunity to pursue federal legislation that both protects the legitimate federal interests at stake and respects the will of the states – both those that have liberalized their marijuana laws and those that have not.”
Besides Gardner and Bennet, the letter’s other signatories are Sens. Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Rand Paul (R-KY), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Edward Markey (D-MA).
Read the senators’ marijuana letter below:
Hemp Legalization Is Officially Headed to President Trump’s Desk For Signature
The 2018 Farm Bill, which would legalize industrial hemp, is officially headed to President Donald Trump’s desk. The House passed the legislation on Wednesday, one day after the Senate approved it.
It’s been decades since the ban on hemp was imposed—a byproduct of the federal government’s war on marijuana and other drugs. The ban, it seems, will be lifted in a matter of days.
The House passed the bill, 369-47.
The votes come after months of debate over other aspects of the wide-ranging agriculture bill. But the hemp legalization provision, shepherded by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), has received bipartisan support at every step of the legislative process.
Hemp legalization made it through a conference committee where the Senate and House Agriculture Committees reconciled their respective versions of the bill. McConnell marked the occasion this week by signing the conference report with a hemp pen, which he said on Wednesday that the president was free to use to sign the bill into law.
The hemp provision would allow U.S. farmers to grow, process and sell the crop. The Justice Department would no longer have jurisdiction over hemp under the legislation; rather, the U.S. Department of Agriculture would lightly regulate it.
One element of the hemp language created tension between lawmakers and advocates. The original Senate-passed bill prohibited people with felony drug convictions from participating in the hemp industry, but a compromise was reached last week that limited that ban in the final version to 10 years after the last offense.
House Democrats in the Agriculture Committee listed hemp legalization as one of several reasons they were calling for a “yes” vote on the legislation.
The farm bill conference report legalizes industrial hemp. pic.twitter.com/2u5xxtKwaS
— House Agriculture Committee Democrats (@HouseAgDems) December 12, 2018
According to VoteHemp, if the president signs the bill before the year’s end, it will take effect on January 1, 2019.
Marijuana Industry Border Issues Would Be Solved Under New Congressional Bill
Marijuana can really mess up border and immigration issues for people who partake in consumption or participate in the industry, but that would change if a new bill being introduced in Congress this week is enacted.
Under current U.S. laws, people who admit to past cannabis use or who work for or invest in marijuana businesses can be barred from visiting the country under certain circumstances. And marijuana consumption, even if it is legal under state law, can lead to an immigrant being deported.
The new legislation, the Maintaining Appropriate Protections For Legal Entry Act, would provide exceptions for conduct that “was lawful in the State, Indian Tribe, or foreign country in which the conduct occurred” or that was “subsequently made lawful under the law or regulation of such jurisdiction,” according to a draft obtained by Marijuana Moment.
The bill, known as the MAPLE Act for short—surely a nod to the leaf on Canada’s flag—is being filed on Wednesday by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).
U.S. border policies on entry by marijuana industry participants were slightly loosened just ahead of the launch of Canada’s legal marijuana market in October to clarify that people working for cannabis businesses are generally admissible to the U.S., with the caveat that “if a traveler is found to be coming to the U.S. for reason related to the marijuana industry, they may be deemed inadmissible.”
And that’s a key exception. Several Canadians traveling to a cannabis industry conference in Las Vegas last month were detained for hours, with one investor being given a lifetime ban from visiting the U.S.
While there is almost certainly not enough time for Blumenauer’s proposal to be considered and voted on by the end of the year, its language could easily be adopted into new legislation after the 116th Congress is seated in January.
In October, the congressman laid out a plan for a step-by-step approach to federally legalizing marijuana in 2019 in a memo to fellow House Democrats.
Marijuana Moment supporters on Patreon can read the full text of the new MAPLE Act below:
Chicago Mayor Wants Legal Marijuana Revenue To Fund Pensions
Tax revenue from legal marijuana sales should be earmarked to fund pension programs, the mayor of Chicago said on Wednesday.
“Illinois legislators will be taking a serious look next year at legalizing recreational marijuana,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) said in a speech to the City Council. “Should they follow that course, a portion of that revenue could go toward strengthening our pension funds and securing the retirement of the workers who depend on them.”
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo courtesy of Daniel X. O’Neil.