The U.S. House’s top Republican on criminal justice issues is calling on the new Democratic majority to pass legislation to let states legalize marijuana without federal interference.
“The legal status of cannabis in the United States is in disarray. It is incumbent on Congress to clarify these issues and reform our federal laws,” Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), the ranking minority member on the House Judiciary Committee, wrote in a letter to the panel’s chairman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), on Wednesday.
“More than 30 states and the District of Columbia have legalized the medicinal and/or recreational use of cannabis. Other states have opted to decriminalize cannabis possession, or to legalize the consumption of certain cannabis-derived extracts. Some states still prohibit cannabis use of any kind,” Collins wrote, along with Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), who co-signed the letter. “Given that the substance is still a Schedule I drug under federal law, this conflicting patchwork of state and federal laws has created a unique set of legal challenges.”
The Republican lawmakers are endorsing the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, a bill to shield state cannabis laws from federal intervention.
“We believe this Committee and this Congress must act to clarify the rights and responsibilities, relative to cannabis, of individuals, physicians, businesses, medical patients, and law enforcement officials,” they wrote. “We support the STATES Act, which was recently re-introduced in the 116th Congress, and we urge you to promptly hold a legislative hearing on legislative solutions that will resolve the confusion surrounding the legality of cannabis in the United States.”
The STATES Act was introduced in both the House and Senate on Thursday. If enacted, it would block the federal government from punishing people for actions that are in compliance with state laws “relating to the manufacture, production, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration or delivery” of marijuana.
President Trump voiced support for a previous version of the cannabis bill filed last year by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Cory Gardner (R-CO), which garnered nine other Senate cosponsors by the end of 2018. A companion House version had 45 members signed on.
Advocates are increasingly hopeful that the new legislation, or similar far-reaching marijuana reforms, are achievable this year.
Already, the House Financial Services Committee moved last month to approve a bill to increase marijuana businesses’ access to banks with a bipartisan vote of 45 to 15.
And Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), the chairman of the powerful Rules Committee predicted in an interview last week that the House will pass legislation like the STATES Act “within the next several weeks.”
The road to passage of the bill on the floor begins in the Judiciary Committee, hence the GOP lawmakers’ letter to Nadler.
Support from a top Republican like Collins adds to pressure on Democrats to prioritize moving marijuana reforms, which are supported by a growing majority of voters, according to polls. Meanwhile, all of the Democratic party’s major presidential candidates have endorsed legalization.
The support for the STATES Act marks a shift for Collins, who was the lead sponsor of criminal justice reform legislation signed into law by President Trump late last year but has opposed most marijuana reforms that have come before the House since he joined Congress in 2013.
In 2015, for example, he voted against a floor amendment to prevent the Department of Justice from interfering with state marijuana laws as well as narrower proposals covering only medical cannabis programs that year and in 2014.
And whereas the STATES Act would ease the issue of marijuana businesses’ access to banks, Collins also opposed a 2014 amendment to shield financial services providers from being punished for working with the cannabis industry.
Between 2014 and 2016, he voted three times to oppose amendments that would allow military veterans to receive medical cannabis recommendations from their Department of Veterans Affairs doctors. And while Collins opposed two hemp amendments in 2014, he did back two similar measures in 2015. He also supported a 2015 amendment to shield people from being punished by the Justice Department for activity in compliance with state laws allowing limited access to CBD medical cannabis preparations.
The endorsement of far-reaching cannabis legislation by Collins, who has never before proactively signed his name onto a marijuana reform bill as a cosponsor, marks perhaps one of the biggest and most important conversions on Capitol Hill yet for legalization supporters.
A staffer for Collins said in January that he would be “unlikely to support” a move by Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), who worked with the Georgia Republican on the successful criminal justice reform legislation called the First Step Act, to include language descheduling marijuana in a followup sentencing reform bill tentatively called the Next Step Act.
While the legislation Collins is endorsing wouldn’t technically remove marijuana from the schedules of the Controlled Substances Act, it would specifically exempt anyone following a state cannabis law from being punished under the law.
“The STATES Act is a bipartisan solution to the biggest issue facing the cannabis industry today, which is the conflict between federal and state law and all of the negative repercussions that come with it,” Neal Levine, CEO of the Cannabis Trade Federation, said. “Rep. Collins is highly respected on both sides of the aisle, a true constitutional conservative and comes from a state with no industry.”
“If he can get behind the STATES Act, that only reinforces what we’ve been saying: this is the only piece of legislation that ends the untenable conflict between federal and state law that has a chance to pass into law during this Congress,” Levine said.
For his part, Nadler, the Judiciary Committee chairman, said earlier this year that his committee might be taking up the issue of marijuana “fairly soon.” Although he did not cosponsor last Congress’s version of the STATES Act, he has signed onto other legislation to end federal marijuana prohibition in years past.
He also suggested in an interview last year that he might support legalizing drugs beyond marijuana. “Certainly the softer drugs like marijuana, there’s no good reason at all that they cannot be legalized and regulated properly,” he said, distinctly using the plural term “drugs.”
Gaetz, who coauthored the new letter with Collins, is one of a handful of congressional Republicans who have played an especially active role in pushing his party to evolve on cannabis issues. A bill he sponsored to increase research on medical cannabis was approved by the Judiciary Committee last year when the House was under GOP control.
Berkeley City Council Considers Decriminalizing Psychedelics This Week
A resolution to decriminalize psilocybin and other psychedelics will go before a Berkeley, California City Council committee on Wednesday.
Decriminalize Nature, the group behind the measure, also led the charge to successfully get a measure decriminalizing entheogenic plants and fungi approved by the City Council in neighboring Oakland last month.
In Berkeley, the Public Safety Committee will discuss the proposal and can either decide to hold it for a future meeting or advance it to the full Council. The public is able to attend Wednesday’s special meeting and share their perspective on the resolution, but Decriminalize Nature stressed in a tweet that this “is a small meeting, so you do NOT need to attend.”
Is it time for #DecriminalizeNature #Berkeley? Agenda 4 at the public safety meeting this Wed. July 17, with the Decriminalize Nature team! This is a small meeting, so you do NOT need to attend. But if you live in Berkeley, write your City Council! https://t.co/gMSDkegMPU
— Decriminalize Nature (@DecrimNature) July 15, 2019
However, city residents are being encouraged to write to their Council members and urge them to vote in favor of the measure, which would codify that “no department, agency, board, commission, officer or employee of the city, including without limitation, Berkeley Police Department personnel, shall use any city funds or resources to assist in the enforcement of laws imposing criminal penalties for the use and possession of Entheogenic Plants by adults of at least 21 years of age.”
The resolution defines the covered substances as “plants and natural sources such as mushrooms, cacti, iboga containing plants and/or extracted combinations of plants similar to ayahuasca; and limited to those containing the following types of compounds: indoleamines, tryptamines, phenethylamines.”
Councilmembers Rigel Robinson and Cheryl Davila are sponsoring the resolution, which does not allow for commercial sales or manufacturing.
The lawmakers provided background information on the measure in a report to their colleagues and the mayor, describing the medical potential of various psychedelics as well as the success of decriminalization measures in Denver and Oakland.
“It is intended that this resolution empowers Berkeley residents to be able to grow their own entheogens, share them with their community, and choose the appropriate setting for their intentions instead of having to rely exclusively on the medical establishment, which is slow to adapt and difficult to navigate for many,” they wrote.
While efforts to eliminate criminal penalties associated with psilocybin and other psychedelics have so far centered in jurisdictions that have historically embraced marijuana legalization and broader drug reform, the conversation around decriminalizing psychedelics is spreading nationally.
Shortly after Oakland approved its measure, Decriminalize Nature received inquiries from activities in cities from across the country. The group has kept track of each city where organizers are pursuing decriminalization.
Nature lovers are organizing coast to coast (and Hawaii)! Is your city on the map? Connect to join with your local community, or if you have the motivation to propose a similar initiative in your city/town/county, let’s start growing! contact [email protected] #DNUSA pic.twitter.com/38UxLKK9RN
— Decriminalize Nature (@DecrimNature) July 2, 2019
On Monday, a conversation around changing laws governing psychedelics reared during a City Council meeting in Columbia, Missouri. One resident implored the body to take up a resolution to decriminalize the natural substances, pointing to their therapeutic benefits.
Councilmember Mike Trapp said that the student’s proposal should be considered and that a government advisory board on public health should provide input on the medical potential of psychedelics, describing it as “very promising.”
Colorado Governor And USDA Official To Discuss CBD At Hemp Event
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) and a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) official will speak at a hemp conference next month to discuss policy and regulations concerning hemp-derived dietary supplements.
The American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) announced the lineup of their first-ever hemp and CBD conference last week. The two-day event is meant to “provide critical information for companies navigating the rapidly evolving legal, regulatory and financial landscapes to manufacture and market dietary supplement products with hemp or hemp-derived ingredients including cannabidiol (CBD).”
Following the legalization of hemp and its derivatives under the 2018 Farm Bill, lawmakers and stakeholders have been quick to highlight the industry’s potential and to call for an expedited rulemaking process so that CBD can be lawfully marketed in food items and dietary supplements.
This conference will focus on dietary supplements in particular, with presentations on the current regulatory landscape for such products, compliance issues for hemp businesses and market analysis.
Polis has been a vocal advocate for marijuana reform and pledged in his State of the State address in January that he would make “good on the promise of industrial hemp in Colorado.”
Longtime hemp industry supporter, former U.S. Congressman and current Colorado Governor Jared Polis to present at AHPA Hemp-CBD Supplement Congress — https://t.co/2wPOcvdkHr — #supplement #cbd #hemp #hempindustry @GovofCO pic.twitter.com/tYhqj8HFlx
— AHPA (@AHPAssociation) July 10, 2019
“With our world class universities like Colorado State and Adams State, which are at the forefront of hemp innovation with the leading hemp manufacturers and cultivators already here, we want to seize on this opportunity under the most recent national Farm Bill to help make Colorado the national leader in industrial hemp production,” Polis said at the time.
AHPA’s two-day event will also feature USDA Senior Marketing Specialist William Richmond, who will brief attendees with an update on the department’s progress developing regulations for CBD. The department said last month that it is aiming to release an interim final rule on hemp in August.
But while USDA has regulatory authority over hemp, businesses will also have to await guidance from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on marketing consumable CBD products. FDA said last week that it is “expediting” its rulemaking process and will release a report on its progress by early fall.
Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said that because CBD exists as an FDA-approved drug and hasn’t previously been added to the food supply or in dietary supplements, the agency will have to create an alternative regulatory pathway for the compounds, which could take years without congressional action.
In the meantime, it appears that both federal agencies are taking steps to increase transparency around their regulatory progress. Two days before the USDA official is set to appear at the AHPA conference, an FDA representative is scheduled to keynote a separate hemp industry summit to discuss related issues.
Marijuana Legalization Could Be On The Horizon For British Virgin Islands
The British Virgin Islands (BVI) could soon have a bill to legalize marijuana before the legislature, according to a government official.
Details are sparse, but Agriculture Minister Natalio Wheatley said on Saturday that the draft legislation under consideration would address concerns about youth consumption and impaired driving while ensuring that adults no longer face jail time for simple possession.
“We certainly know that marijuana, which contains THC, has an impact on your disposition. It has an impact on you being able to complete certain tasks,” he said, according to BVI News. “We don’t want to fool everyone into thinking that we think persons should be up and down smoking marijuana through the streets without any sort of regulation.”
He added that he hoped the legislation would make BVI a global model for legalization.
“We certainly support having a well-regulated industry, and the fact that we’re coming in late into this whole discussion of marijuana means that we don’t have to repeat the mistakes that some of our brothers and sisters made in other places,” he said.
The draft bill being circulated reportedly originated under the previous administration and is being improved upon. Wheatley said that residents, who he believes support legalization, should expect community meetings to be scheduled to discuss the proposal.
“Persons will no longer be incarcerated for the possession and consumption of something that is recognized to be a lot less detrimental to your health,” he said. “In fact, we’re speaking about the medicinal value of it than something like alcohol. It’s proven that alcohol is much more damaging to your health than marijuana.”
BVI’s cousin, the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), hasn’t taken the step to allow adult use of marijuana, but the territory’s governor did sign a bill legalizing medical cannabis in January.
The sponsor of the USVI legislation, former senator and current Agriculture Commissioner Terrance “Positive” Nelson, said that he plans to continue to pursue broader reform, and he commended BVI for moving toward a commercial cannabis model.
“I told you already it is not easy to stand up for cannabis. I still have some scars on my back relative to the push in [USVI],” he said. “Here in the British Virgin Islands, you are talking about legalization and I want for local leaders here to continue to be brave enough to move forward.”
“Yes, there is going to be pushbacks. But the truth in the matter is this: the truth is on your side,” he said. “The truth is on our side.”
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.