Three Democratic lawmakers poised to chair major House committees have each gone on the record saying marijuana reform will be on the agenda in the next Congress when they and fellow party members take control of the gavels.
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), who’s expected to chair the House Financial Services Committee, told The Wall Street Journal in an interview published on Tuesday that “it’s inevitable we are going to have to talk about” how federal prohibition contributes to banking issues in the legal cannabis industry.
Last year, an amendment brought before the committee, which would have protected banks that work with marijuana businesses from federal punishment, was blocked from a vote through a procedural move by House Republicans. The House did approve a similar amendment in 2014, in a 231-192 vote, but the provision was not included in the final language of annual appropriations legislation that year.
With Waters at the helm of the committee, there’s a strong likelihood that the issue will be taken back up after the Congress convenes in January.
Then, as Massachusetts launched its first day of adult-use cannabis sales on Tuesday, Reps. Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Joe Kennedy III (D-MA)—who made a surprise reversal on his opposition to legalization—called for federal marijuana reform. McGovern will be uniquely positioned to get that done as he takes over control of the powerful House Rules Committee from prohibitionist Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), who lost his reelection fight this month.
While Sessions has refused to let even broadly supported bipartisan marijuana amendments go to the House floor for votes, McGovern told MassLive that the committee will stop impeding progress on the issue.
“We’re going to have votes on marijuana reform,” he said. “I’m not going to block marijuana amendments like my predecessor has done.”
“As chairman of the Rules Committee, I’m not going to block marijuana amendments. People ought to bring them to the floor, they should be debated and people ought to vote the way they feel appropriate.”
McGovern, who also told the Boston Globe in a separate interview earlier this month that he would allow votes on cannabis proposals, cited policies barring military veterans from getting medical marijuana recommendations from their U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs doctors as an example of a problem “we ought to fix.”
Finally, over at the House Judiciary Committee, the expected incoming chairman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), recently said marijuana and other “softer drugs” should be legalized and regulated.
“From everything we have learned, people are going to do drugs,” Nadler said in an interview with WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show. “And certainly the softer drugs like marijuana, there’s no good reason at all that they cannot be legalized and regulated properly.”
“The major effect of the war on drugs has been to fill our prisons with huge numbers of people to no great effect except to waste money and to ruin lives,” he said.
The committee Nadler is set to run is responsible for oversight of the Drug Enforcement Administration and other federal law enforcement agencies. In his capacity in chairman, the congressman will have the means to bring cannabis legislation and other drug reform bills up for a vote.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), a leading proponent of marijuana reform on Capitol Hill, mentioned two of these committees—judiciary and financial services—as part of a comprehensive memo he recently sent laying out how Democrats can advance cannabis reform in 2019.
Lawmakers should hold a “hearing on descheduling marijuana” in the Judiciary Committee and also hold a hearing on “barriers to the safe access of banking services and capital as well as unnecessary and unwise barriers to banking services for state legal marijuana businesses,” he wrote. The memo also calls for hearings in a number of other House committees like the House Veterans Affairs Committee.
“For too long, under Republican leadership, these issues have not been allowed to be fully debated,” Blumenauer said. “We must change that approach. Almost every standing House committee has jurisdiction over some aspect of marijuana policy.”
Trump’s New White House Chief Of Staff Supports Marijuana Reform
President Trump announced on Friday that Mick Mulvaney will serve as his acting White House chief of staff, a move that could bode extremely well for federal marijuana reform efforts in 2019.
….I look forward to working with him in this new capacity as we continue to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! John will be staying until the end of the year. He is a GREAT PATRIOT and I want to personally thank him for his service!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 14, 2018
Mulvaney, who currently serves as director of the Office of Management and Budget and acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, was previously a member of the U.S. House, where he consistently voted to support marijuana reform amendments and cosponsored cannabis bills.
In 2015, for example, he voted for a floor amendment that would have barred the Justice Department from spending money to interfere with state marijuana laws. The proposal, which came just nine flipped votes short of passage, would have expanded on existing protections for state medical cannabis programs by covering recreational laws as well.
Mulvaney backed a 2014 amendment to prevent the Treasury Department from punishing banks that work with marijuana businesses.
He also signed his name on as a cosponsor of several pieces of standalone marijuana legislation, including a comprehensive bill to reschedule cannabis and protect state medical-use laws, a measure to allow banking access for marijuana businesses, a hemp legalization bill and two separate CBD proposals.
“Mulvaney’s history of opposing wasteful government spending and support for states’ rights, specifically when it comes to marijuana, makes him our strongest ally in the White House,” Don Murphy, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment.
Pointing to how the Office of Management and Budget under Mulvaney on several occasions has floated severe funding cuts for the Office of National Drug Control Policy, commonly known as the drug czar’s office, Murphy said that the new acting chief of staff “delivers our ‘more liberty/less spending’ position directly into the Oval Office on a daily basis, where it could bring the federal war on marijuana to an end by 2020.”
It is unclear how long Mulvaney will serve as acting chief of staff, or how frequently marijuana issues will come across his desk, but the fact that he—and not an ardent legalization opponent like Chris Christie, who was also under consideration for the job—will sit a door away from the Oval Office is likely to be seen as a positive development for cannabis reform supporters.
In his new capacity, Mulvaney will be party to conversations about which congressional legislation the president should back as well as discussions about potential marijuana enforcement policy changes at the Department of Justice under a new attorney general.
This story has been updated to include comment from MPP.
Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.
New York Governor Will Outline Plan To Legalize Marijuana On Monday
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) will lay out his agenda for the upcoming legislative session in a speech on Monday, and that will include details on his plan to get an adult-use marijuana legalization bill through the state legislature in 2019.
In an interview with radio station 1010 WINS on Friday, the governor confirmed that a proposal to end cannabis prohibition would be one of 15 pieces of legislation he’ll discuss in the speech. He said the current “political atmosphere” is “unlike anything we’ve ever seen before,” and the timing is ripe to promote a bold agenda.
Listen to Cuomo confirm plans to reveal marijuana legalization details on Monday, about 5:00 into the clip below:
(In the exchange, the host mistakenly asks about “medical” marijuana, which is already legal in New York.)
In a separate interview on WCNY’s Capitol Pressroom, Cuomo said the Monday speech “is going to get to the meat of the specific legislative issues. This is not going to be a lot of rhetoric and retrospective.”
“We have an incoming [Democratic majority] legislature and I wanted to say, ‘these are the 15 things I’m trying to get done this year, and these are the 15 bills you’re going to see.'”
While reforming marijuana laws hasn’t always been a top priority for the governor, who as recently as a year ago called cannabis a “gateway drug,” 2018 has seen Cuomo’s position on the issue evolve dramatically. In August, he formed a working group to draft a legalization bill after the state Department of Health released a report finding that the benefits of legal cannabis outweigh the consequences.
Cuomo is also rumored to be considering putting cannabis legalization in his 2019 budget, which is set to come out next month. If he did so, New York could have a “fiscal framework for the program” by April, according to Crain’s.
It remains to be seen whether Cuomo will talk about a proposal to use revenue from legal marijuana sales to improve New York City’s subway system—a notion that’s put some lawmakers and advocates at odds—or if he will address details such as cannabis businesses licensing structures or whether he believes home cultivation should be allowed.
Photo courtesy of Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Missouri Lawmaker Moves To Block Feds From Getting Medical Marijuana Patient Info
Missouri officials would be prohibited from sharing information about registered medical marijuana patients with the federal government under a new bill pre-filed by a state lawmaker on Thursday.
Voters in the state approved one of three competing medical cannabis initiatives during November’s midterm elections. So if the new legislation passes, patients enrolled in the program wouldn’t have to worry about the state outing them to the feds, who still regard cannabis as a strictly controlled illegal substance.
Any state official who did share medical marijuana patient info with a federal agency would be committing a felony under the proposal.
Missouri Rep. Nick Schroer (R) is sponsoring the bill, which states:
“1. Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, no state agency shall disclose to the federal government the statewide list of persons who have obtained a medical marijuana card.
2. Any violation of this section is a class E felony.”
Federal prosecution of medical marijuana patients or providers is rare—the Justice Department is barred from using federal dollars to enforce prohibition in medical cannabis states—but not entirely unheard of.
“It’s very, very unlikely that there’s going to be [federal] targeting of individual customers,” Tamar Todd, legal director for the Drug Policy Alliance, told PolitiFact earlier this year. “Many, many other targets would come first.”
Still, Schroer’s bill would at least provide a safeguard in the event that the government radically shifts its drug enforcement policy. And it sends a strong message that state officials want the feds to respect their rights to enact their own marijuana laws without any kind of interference.
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The new Missouri bill is one of several that have been pre-filed for 2019 in states from Nevada to Texas.