The federal government would be required to study the impact of state marijuana legalization laws under an amendment to a spending bill that Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) wants his colleagues to consider this week.
The measure, which would be attached to appropriations legislation funding the Department ofJustice and other government agencies for the 2020 fiscal year, lists several criminal justice-related aspects of legalization that the attorney general would have to review.
Menendez filed a similar cannabis research amendment last year, but the study objectives were different. Whereas this latest version calls for an analysis of data focused primarily on issues such as marijuana arrests and criminal justice costs, the previous measure would have ordered the Justice Department to study revenue from legal cannabis sales, opioid-related overdoses and hospitalization and the experience of patients using medical cannabis in legal states.
The former amendment did not receive a vote, so it didn’t make it into final 2019 appropriations legislation. It’s yet to be seen whether this latest version will be allowed for consideration on the Senate floor.
The new proposal asks for a review of “rates of marijuana-related arrests for possession, cultivation, and distribution, and of these arrests, the percentages that involved a secondary charge unrelated to marijuana possession, cultivation, or distribution.”
That information would have to be broken down into different categories accounting for demographics such as age, race, gender and ethnicity.
Further, the measure requires research into “rates of arrests at the Federal and State levels for unlawful driving under the influence of a substance, and the rates of such arrests involving marijuana” as well as the “total monetary amounts expended for marijuana-related enforcement, arrests, court filings and proceedings, and imprisonment before and after legalization.”
The senator also wants to know how often individuals who are prosecuted for marijuana-related offenses in the federal justice system argue that their activity was legal under state law.
In addition to those specific questions, the report must also “include a national assessment of average trends across States with such programs in relation to the effects on economy, public health, criminal justice, and employment in the respective States.”
The attorney general would have to conclude the study within 18 months of the bill’s enactment and then submit a report on the findings to Congress. The document would have to address any barriers the Justice Department faced in gathering the relevant data, make recommendations on how to resolve those limitations and propose best practices for future data collection.
“If the Senate is sincere about wanting to assess the implications of the majority of states regulating marijuana sales, then adopting this amendment would be a step in the right direction,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal told Marijuana Moment. “Now more than ever, we must reduce the barriers for successful reform efforts to operate as intended and end the waste of taxpayer dollars being used to arrest and incarcerate marijuana consumers.”
While not identical, the amendment is similar to the Marijuana Data Collection Act, a standalone House bill filed by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) that would also require the federal government to study the impact of state cannabis laws.
It’s not certain that Menendez’s measure will ultimately be attached to the spending bill; so far, there are three unrelated amendments that the Senate is scheduled to consider on Monday, including a proposal concerning a food distribution program and another that addresses funding for an agriculture relending program.
Last month, Senate committees approved spending bill riders to protect state medical cannabis programs from federal intervention and providing funds to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to implement hemp and CBD regulations. A rider that blocks D.C. from using its local tax dollars to establish a legal marijuana sales program remained in one piece of appropriations legislation, however.
This summer, the House voted in favor of a spending bill that included, for the first time, an amendment that would extend existing protections for medical cannabis programs to all state marijuana markets. It’s possible that the more expansive measure will be taken up by a bicameral conference committee but, given that appropriations leaders have agreed in principle not to add new policy riders to spending bills this year, it’s far from certain that the House-passed language will be included in the final version that makes it to President Trump’s desk.
Read the full marijuana study amendment from Menendez below:
SA 991. Mr. MENENDEZ submitted an amendment intended to be proposed by him to the bill H.R. 3055, making appropriations for the Departments of Commerce and Justice, Science, and Related Agencies for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2020, and for other purposes; which was ordered to lie on the table; as follows: At the appropriate place, insert the following: SEC. __. REPORT CONCERNING THE EFFECTS OF STATE LEGALIZED MARIJUANA PROGRAMS. (a) In General.--The Attorney General shall-- (1) to complete a study, not later than 18 months after the date of enactment of this Act, on the effects of State legalized marijuana programs on criminal justice in the respective States; and (2) upon the completion of the initial study pursuant to paragraph (1), to prepare or update a report on the results of such study and submit such report to the Congress. (b) Study Considerations.--The study pursuant to subsection (a)(1) shall consider the effects of State legalized marijuana programs with respect to criminal justice, including the following: (1) The rates of marijuana-related arrests for possession, cultivation, and distribution, and of these arrests, the percentages that involved a secondary charge unrelated to marijuana possession, cultivation, or distribution, including-- (A) the rates of such arrests at the Federal level, including the number of Federal prisoners so arrested, disaggregated by sex, age, race, and ethnicity of the prisoners; and (B) the rates of such arrests at the State level, including the number of State prisoners so arrested, disaggregated by sex, age, race, and ethnicity. (2) The rates of arrests and citations at the Federal and State levels related to teenage use of marijuana. (3) The rates of arrests at the Federal and State levels for unlawful driving under the influence of a substance, and the rates of such arrests involving marijuana. (4) The rates of marijuana-related prosecutions, court filings, and imprisonments. (5) The total monetary amounts expended for marijuana- related enforcement, arrests, court filings and proceedings, and imprisonment before and after legalization, including Federal expenditures disaggregated according to whether the laws being enforced were Federal or State laws. (6) The total number and rate of defendants in Federal criminal prosecutions asserting as a defense that their conduct was in compliance with applicable State law legalizing marijuana usage, and the effects of such assertions. (c) Report Contents.--The report pursuant to subsection (a)(2) shall-- (1) address both State programs that have legalized marijuana for medicinal use and those that have legalized marijuana for adult non-medicinal use and to the extent practicable distinguish between such programs and their effects; (2) include a national assessment of average trends across States with such programs in relation to the effects on economy, public health, criminal justice, and employment in the respective States, including with respect to the items listed in subsection (b); and (3) describe-- (A) any barriers that impeded the ability to complete or update aspects of the study required by subsection (a)(1) and how such barriers can be overcome for purposes of future studies; and (B) any gaps in the data sought for the study required by subsection (a)(1) and how these gaps can be eliminated or otherwise addressed for purposes of future studies. (d) Best Practices for Data Collection by States.--Best practices developed pursuant to this section shall consist of best practices for the collection by States of the information described in the items listed in subsection (b), including best practices for improving-- (1) data collection; (2) analytical capacity; (3) research integrity; and (4) the comparability of data across States.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.