Attorney General William Barr recently received two letters from senators that stress the importance of expanding the number of federally authorized growers of marijuana for research purposes.
Adding such facilities would not represent a violation of international treaties, one of the letters argued, while the other focuses more broadly on delays in processing applications for additional cultivators.
A letter signed by Sens. Brian Schatz (D-HI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Christopher Coons (D-DE) and Tim Kaine (D-VA), describes how the U.S. currently has just one facility that’s authorized to produce cannabis for federal research purposes and how the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) created a process to license additional manufacturers in 2016.
“Our nation’s need for meaningful federally sanctioned research is critical,” the senators wrote in the letter, which was delivered on Tuesday. “Research and medical communities should have access to research-grade materials to answer questions around marijuana’s efficacy and potential impacts, both positive and adverse. Finalizing the review of applications for marijuana manufacturing will assist in doing just that.”
The Department of Justice under Barr’s predecessor, Jeff Sessions, blocked the DEA from acting on more than two dozen cultivation applications it has received.
To avoid further delays, the senators asked Barr’s office to answer these six questions by April 23:
1. What is the current status of each marijuana manufacturer application?
2. What steps have both DEA and DOJ taken to review each marijuana manufacturer application currently pending?
3. By what date do you estimate the DEA will have completed its review of all the marijuana manufacturer applications and commence registration of new marijuana manufacturers?
4. Please share DOJ’s analysis of the Single Convention and if the opinion of the Justice Department is the same or similar to that of DEA’s.
5. If there are legal barriers to licensing multiple schedule I marijuana manufacturers under the Single Convention, please identify and explain them.
6. What impact, if any, did the enactment of the 2018 Farm Bill have on the pending applications? If any of the pending applications were to manufacture hemp-derived CBD for research purposes, does DOJ intend to notify those applicants that a bulk manufacturer registration is no longer needed? If so, when? If not, why not?
Beyond including questions about restrictions under an international treaty (“the Single Convention”) in that letter, Schatz and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), a presidential candidate, sent a separate letter to the attorney general last week that specifically zeroes in on the issue.
After repeatedly insisting that the Single Convention blocks the government from increasing the number of marijuana manufacturers, the DEA ultimately determined that it would be permissible under the treaties to open up applications for additional providers, the senators wrote.
The State Department reached the same conclusion in 2016, finding that “[n]othing in the text of the Single Convention, nor in the Commentary, suggests that there is a limitation on the number of licenses that can be issued.”
The senators voiced their opposition to “any attempt to reinterpret” the country’s obligations under the treaties. They said that “any changes will unnecessarily hinder the advancement of research on the effects of marijuana for medicinal or therapeutic purposes.”
“We believe the licensed production of marijuana for research is critically important,” the senators wrote. “After over two and a half years of delay, it is imperative that you advance the process for registering new manufacturers of research-grade marijuana.”
Barr said in January that he supports expanding the number of research-grade cannabis manufacturers in the U.S. and committed to reviewing existing applications. But he hasn’t offered his interpretation of how international treaties might affect those efforts.
“In addition to being a crucial component for growing great marijuana, sunshine in politics can serve as the best disinfectant,” Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment.
“Senator Schatz is leading the way in holding the new attorney general’s feet to the fire as we prepare for a substantial shift in public policy,” he added, referring to the fact that the senator led both sign-on letters.
In other news about federal impediments to expanded cannabis science, the head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse said on Tuesday that the Schedule I status of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act made it difficult to research—in part because of the limited supply of substances that are available to study.
Read the senators’ marijuana letters to Barr below:
Senators Press DOJ On Marij… by on Scribd
AOC Calls For Decriminalizing The Use Of All Drugs
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) voiced support for decriminalizing the use of all drugs on Sunday.
The freshman congresswoman tweeted that drug decriminalization, as well as marijuana legalization, are “matters of public health.”
Marijuana should be legalized, and drug consumption should be decriminalized.
These are matters of public health.
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) November 18, 2019
This marks a development in Ocasio-Cortez’s drug policy platform. Previously, she called for decriminalizing the use and research of psychedelics, emphasizing the therapeutic potential of the substances.
To that end, she introduced an amendment to a spending bill in June that would remove a rider that advocates argue has inhibited research into the potential therapeutic benefits of Schedule I drugs such as psilocybin and LSD. The House rejected that measure in a floor vote, however.
There’s a growing push to decriminalize the personal possession of drugs beyond cannabis. South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), both Democratic presidential candidates, are in favor of the policy. Entrepreneur Andrew Yang supports decriminalizing opioids as a means to combat the drug overdose crisis.
Ocasio-Cortez recently gave her endorsement to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). But while the senator was the first major presidential candidate to back marijuana legalization during his 2016 run, he said this year he’s “not there yet” on broader drug decriminalization. It’s not clear if the congresswoman’s role as a surrogate on his campaign will ultimately influence him to adopt the policy.
But as more candidates debate the best way forward on various drug reform proposals, with cannabis legalization being a given for almost all contenders, former Vice President Joe Biden remains several paces behind. He opposes adult-use legalization and said on Saturday that marijuana may be a gateway to other, more dangerous substances.
Photo courtesy of C-SPAN.
Key Congressional Committee Officially Schedules Vote On Marijuana Legalization Bill
A key House committee has officially announced that a vote on a comprehensive marijuana legalization bill is scheduled for this week.
The House Judiciary Committee said on Monday that the panel will mark up legislation introduced by Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), which would federally deschedule cannabis and address social equity, on Wednesday at 10:00 AM ET. The announcement confirms what sources familiar with the planned development told Marijuana Moment last week.
Nadler’s Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act has been lauded by advocates for its emphasis on restorative justice for communities most impacted by the drug war.
It calls for a five percent federal tax on marijuana sales, and that revenue would be used to fund programs such as job training, legal aid for those affected by prohibition and small business loans for individuals who are socially and economically disadvantaged. The bill also seeks to lift barriers to licensing and employment in the industry.
Additionally, the legislation would expunge the records of those with prior cannabis convictions, provide for resentencing, block federal agencies from denying public benefits or security clearances as a result of marijuana use and protect immigrants from being denied citizenship over cannabis.
Committee on the Judiciary – DemocratsH.R. 5038, the “Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019”; H.R. 3884, the “Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019” or the “MORE Act of 2019”; H.R. ___, the “Satellite Television Community Prot… https://t.co/v4pSa4OVgR
— House Committee Press Releases (@PressreleaseB) November 18, 2019
“A supermajority of Americans, including majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and independents, support regulating the use of marijuana by responsible adults,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said in a press release. “Thanks to the leadership of the House Judiciary chairman, never in history have we been closer to ending the failed policy of marijuana criminalization and providing pathways to opportunity for our brothers and sisters who have suffered under its oppressive reign.”
“The MORE Act is the most comprehensive marijuana policy reform bill ever introduced in Congress and is backed by a broad coalition of civil rights, criminal justice, drug policy, and immigration groups. Those who oppose this legislation moving forward are defenders of a failed status-quo that ruins the lives of otherwise law-abiding adults on a daily basis, overwhelming enforced against the poor and communities of color.”
Text of an amendment in the nature of a substitute from Nadler that Judiciary members will take up was also released on Monday. It includes a new “findings” section that discusses racial disparities in marijuana enforcement, the growing state-level legalization movement and the challenges that individuals from disadvantaged communities face in participating in the market.
“The communities that have been most harmed by cannabis prohibition are benefiting the least from the legal marijuana marketplace,” one provision reads. “A legacy of racial and ethnic injustices, compounded by the disproportionate collateral consequences of 80 years of cannabis prohibition enforcement, now limits participation in the industry.
Much of the language of the new section is borrowed from a resolution that Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, introduced last year.
“The data speaks for itself—low-income communities and communities of color have disproportionately borne the brunt of the devastation brought on by marijuana prohibition,” Queen Adesuyi, policy manager of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a press release. “The MORE Act is the most robust bipartisan legislation so far not only to end federal marijuana prohibition, but also to ensure that the communities that have been hardest hit by prohibition are not left behind.”
“It would be a tragic mistake to have the only marijuana reform bill that passes this Congress be one that solely benefits the industry, despite both the unprecedented support for legalization nationally amongst Americans and all the harm that we know federal prohibition has caused to individuals and communities across this country,” she said. “Fortunately, by ensuring the MORE Act moves forward, several leaders in the House are showing that they understand that this is a matter of fundamental justice that the US Congress needs to address.”
BIG NEWS: @HouseJudiciary will meet Wednesday to vote on the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment & Expungement Act.
Good. It's past time to address the decades of harm faced by communities of color & low-income communities due to failed marijuana policies. https://t.co/4glbu733Dq
— The Leadership Conference (@civilrightsorg) November 18, 2019
Advocates have been eagerly awaiting a committee vote on the MORE Act, especially since the House overwhelmingly passed a bill to protect banks that service the cannabis industry in September. Some groups, including the ACLU, had implored leadership to delay the banking vote until the chamber passed legislation like the MORE Act that addresses social equity.
Committee members on both sides of the aisle will be able to introduce amendments to the legislation, but it’s generally expected to advance out of the panel and onto the floor. That said, its fate in the Republican-controlled Senate is far from certain.
Read the full text of the new amendment to the MORE Act below:
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
Biden Says Marijuana Might Be A Gateway Drug
Former Vice President Joe Biden (D) said on Saturday that he’s not sure if marijuana is a gateway drug that leads to the use of other, more dangerous substances.
“The truth of the matter is, there’s not nearly been enough evidence that has been acquired as to whether or not it is a gateway drug,” the 2020 presidential candidate claimed at a town hall meeting in Las Vegas. “It’s a debate, and I want a lot more before I legalize it nationally. I want to make sure we know a lot more about the science behind it.”
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)