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Top House Democrat Peddles Gateway Theory To Justify Marijuana Legalization Opposition

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The second highest ranking Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives wrote on Monday that he remains wary of supporting the legalization of marijuana because he believes it is a gateway to “harder, very harmful drugs.”

In the letter from Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), which was shared with Marijuana Moment by a constituent of the congressman, the top Democrat cited his record of embracing more modest cannabis reform proposals but stopped short of pledging to back adult-use legalization.

“I support the legalization of medical marijuana, as I am aware that it does have an ameliorating effect on pain and other circumstances that may be useful for patients,” he said, adding that he voted in favor of an amendment to protect medical cannabis states from federal interference. Hoyer more recently cast a vote for a measure that extends that protection to all legal marijuana states, though his letter does not mention it.

He also said he was in favor of Maryland’s decision to decriminalize marijuana possession in 2014, “as I do believe that there are too many non-violent offenders suffering in prison from a criminal conviction over possession.”

When Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke (D) first floated the idea of legalizing drugs as a means to curb drug-related violence and other issues related to prohibition in the late 1980s, Hoyer wrote that he was was “initially amenable” to cannabis legalization.

But in the decades since, he’s backpedalled—apparently so much so that he’s offering an argument against legalization in 2019 that even staunch prohibitionists have begun to distance themselves from.

“I still have concerns on this after speaking to people who deal with drug abuse and rehabilitation issues and particularly after learning of the drug’s harmful consequences as a threshold drug that leads to the use of harder, very harmful drugs,” Hoyer wrote, using alternative language to describe the widely criticized gateway drug theory.

Evidence doesn’t bear out the gateway theory, as it ignores the fact that marijuana is the most widely used illicit substance and would therefore logically be one of the first drugs that a person uses in many cases. It also conflates causation with correlation, as the same principle could be used to argue that any commonly used drug like nicotine or alcohol leads people to use substances like heroin or cocaine.

What’s more, a growing body of research has demonstrated that for some people, cannabis serves as an offramp, used as an alternative to addictive prescription medications and illicit drugs.

“Rep. Hoyer is showing himself to be a relic of a bygone era who is far out of touch with the majority of Americans on marijuana policy,” Erik Altieri, executive director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “Marijuana legalization and regulation has been proven, in the real world not in Hoyer’s imaginary one, to lead to a decrease in youth use and to help people struggling with opioid addiction.”

“By sticking to the long debunked myth of marijuana as a gateway drug, Hoyer is denying actual science and failing his constituents by advancing talking points straight from the Reefer Madness era,” Altieri said. “It is time he joined the rest of us on the right side of history or for his district to find new representation.”

After Marijuana Moment originally published this story, Mckayla Wilkes, who is running against Hoyer in a primary challenge for his congressional seat, criticized the incumbent in a tweet in which she stated her support for legalizing cannabis and expunging past convictions.

 

Hoyer made similar remarks last year, acknowledging that voters are largely in favor of legalization and that it “probably makes sense” but stating that he’s “not so sure that it’s not a gateway drug to using other drugs.”

Robert Capecchi, the constituent who wrote to Hoyer about legalization, told Marijuana Moment that he while he doesn’t dislike the congressman and voted for him, “it’s incredibly disappointing to see opposition to cannabis policy reform—beyond accommodating medical cannabis laws—based on the debunked ‘gate-way theory,’ especially from one of the most senior members of Democratic Leadership.”

“I sincerely hope that Rep. Hoyer and other members of the House Democratic Leadership team take a page from their Judiciary Chair and start taking the need to reform our failed federal marijuana laws with the seriousness it deserves,” Capecchi wrote, referencing legislation Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) introduced last month to federally deschedule cannabis.

Other Democratic leaders in Congress such as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) are also on board with reform plans, with the pair having introduced companion bills to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act in May.

“This is not about use; people use and will continue to use cannabis regardless of federal law,” Capecchi said. “It’s about safety, it’s about equity, it’s about compassion, and it’s about responsible regulation and accurate education.”

At a time when numerous cannabis legalization bills are being filed and a majority of Democratic presidential candidates are vocally supporting broad reform, it’s unusual to see a party leader openly peddle what most consider an outdated and inaccurate theory, even if that position is couched in less familiar language (i.e. “threshold” versus “gateway”).

But it’s not entirely unheard of, as Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, similarly subscribes to the gateway drug theory and didn’t shy away from saying so during an appearance on C-SPAN last year.

Read Hoyer’s letter below: 

August 26, 2019

Dear Mr. Capecchi,

Thank you for your letter regarding the legalization of marijuana. I appreciate your taking the time to make me aware of your concerns on this important matter.

I support the legalization of medical marijuana, as I am aware that it does have an ameliorating effect on pain and other circumstances that may be useful for patients. In the past, I have voted for an amendment in the Commerce Justice and Science appropriations bill that would prevent the Federal Government from impeding on Maryland’s ability to implement its medical marijuana laws. I also supported the decision made by Governor O’Malley and the Maryland General Assembly in 2014 to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana in Maryland as I do believe that there are too many non-violent offenders suffering in prison from a criminal conviction over possession.

As you may know, I was initially amenable to the idea of the legalization of marijuana when Kurt Schmoke was Mayor of Baltimore and advocating for drug decriminalization. However, in the 30 years since, I still have concerns on this after speaking to people who deal with drug abuse and rehabilitation issues and particularly after learning of the drug’s harmful consequences as a threshold drug that leads to the use of harder, very harmful drugs.

Should legislation regarding the legalization of marijuana come before the full House of Representatives, please be assured that I will keep your thoughts in mind.

Thank you again for sharing your thoughts with me. I encourage you to visit my website at www.hoyer.house.gov. While there, you can sign up for the Hoyer Herald, access my voting record, and get information about important public issues. If I can be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me.

With kindest regards, I am

Sincerely yours,

Steny H. Hoyer

DEA Announces It Will Finally Take Action On Marijuana Grower Applications

This story was updated to include comment from Wilkes.

Image element courtesy of Tim Evanson.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

Politics

Bipartisan Lawmakers Circulate Letter Urging FDA To Back Off CBD Companies

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A bipartisan pair of lawmakers are circulating a sign-on letter asking colleagues to join them in urging the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to back off companies that are selling CBD products in a responsible manner.

The “Dear Colleague” letter, which is being led by Reps. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) and James Comer (R-KY), emphasizes that hemp and CBD were federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill and argues that the lack of regulations for such products is creating industry uncertainty that’s inhibiting economic opportunities.

The letter was first reported by the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, which is asking its supporters to encourage their representatives to sign on.

FDA has said it is in the process of developing rules for the non-intoxicating compound, including a potential alternative regulatory pathway allowing for CBD to be added to the food supply and as dietary supplements. That could take years, however, as former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has noted.

In the meantime, the agency is being selective about enforcement action against companies that make unsanctioned claims about their products while also maintaining that all businesses selling CBD food items are violating the law.

The lawmakers aren’t satisfied. They described FDA’s regulatory timeframe as “untenable,” particularly because the U.S. Department of Agriculture is expected to release its rules for hemp “any day now,” and an official revealed this month that its draft regulations are currently undergoing final White House and Department of Justice review.

The members of Congress added that FDA’s current approach to CBD has “created significant regulatory and legal uncertainty for participants in this quickly evolving industry.”

“Given the widespread availability of CBD products, growing consumer demand, and the expected surge in the hemp farming in the near future, it’s critical that FDA act quickly to provide legal and regulatory clarity to support this new economic opportunity,” they wrote.

“Please join us in signing this bipartisan letter to Acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless urging the agency to adopt a risk-based policy of enforcement discretion that targets bad actors while eliminating uncertainty for responsible industry stakeholders and consumers. Additionally, we are requesting that FDA to issue an interim final rule to regulate CBD as a dietary supplement and food additive.”

In the letter to Sharpless that Pingree and Comer are asking fellow lawmakers to sign, they laid out two requests for FDA.

First, the agency should “promptly issue guidance announcing a policy of enforcement discretion that maintains FDA’s current risk-based enforcement approach towards hemp-derived CBD products.” And second, it should “consider issuing an interim final rule, pending issuance of a permanent final rule, to establish a clear regulatory framework for CBD as a dietary supplement and food additive.”

The lawmakers added that they appreciate that FDA has pursued “enforcement actions against the worst offenders,” but that “it can do so while eliminating regulatory uncertainty for farmers, retailers, and consumers.”

“Without a formal enforcement discretion policy, anyone participating in the growing marketplace for legal hemp-derived products will continue to face significant legal and regulatory uncertainty,” they wrote.

Though issuing guidance on a “policy of enforcement discretion” wouldn’t be a codified law allowing companies to market CBD in the food supply, it would demonstrate to the industry that some protections are in place while FDA continues to navigate the rulemaking process.

Lawmakers have until Tuesday to sign the letter to FDA.

Read the Dear Colleague invitation and CBD letter to FDA below:

Pingree Comer CBD Letter by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

GOP Senate Chair Says He Plans Marijuana Banking Vote

Photo by Kimzy Nanney.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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Marijuana Banking Bill Will Get A Full House Floor Vote This Month

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A bipartisan bill to protect banks that service marijuana businesses will get a House floor vote by the end of the month, the office of Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) confirmed to Marijuana Moment on Friday.

House leadership announced the decision to Democratic lawmakers at a closed-door meeting on Thursday.

“Mr. Hoyer said at the Whip meeting yesterday that he intends to move it this month,” a Hoyer staffer said in an email. “We’re discussing it with Members, but it hasn’t been scheduled just yet.”

Prior to confirmation from Hoyer’s office, four sources initially described the development to Marijuana Moment, with some saying the vote would be made under suspension of the rules—a procedure that is generally reserved for non-controversial legislation.

Voting on suspension would require two-thirds of the chamber (290 members) to vote in favor of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act in order for it to pass. The bill, which cleared the House Financial Services Committee in March, currently has 206 cosponsors, including 26 Republicans.

No amendments would be allowed to be added on the floor under the suspension process.

Problems could arise if lawmakers aren’t able to rally additional votes from conservative members or if there’s pushback over the strategy from progressive lawmakers, though it is unlikely Democratic leadership would advance the bill if they didn’t believe they have the votes for passage.

While interest in resolving the banking issue is generally bipartisan, it’s within reason to assume that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle might have wanted the opportunity to offer provisions such as extending protections to hemp businesses or adding language promoting social equity policies. That said, it is possible that leadership could file an entirely new piece of legislation that is similar to the SAFE Banking Act but contains modified provisions negotiated with key members and use that as the vehicle for floor action.

Many expected cannabis banking legislation to receive a floor vote before the August recess, but that did not come to fruition.

In any case, the development comes as the Senate Banking Committee is also preparing to hold a vote on marijuana banking legislation, with Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) announcing on Thursday that his panel is “working to try to get a bill ready.” He didn’t offer a timeline, however, other than saying he hoped to advance the legislation by the end of the year.

While sources told Marijuana Moment that Hoyer made his decision to allow cannabis banking vote following an earlier Wednesday meeting on the issue, it is likely that building momentum in the GOP-controlled Senate added to pressure on the House to act so that Democrats wouldn’t be seen as lagging behind Republicans on cannabis reform, an issue the party has sought to take political ownership of.

Following Crapo’s statement on advancing the banking legislation, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), chief sponsor of the SAFE Banking Act, told Marijuana Moment that he welcomes the senator’s “commitment to resolve the banking conflicts that have been created by the misalignment in state and federal law on the issue of cannabis.”

“I remain focused on passing the SAFE Banking Act out of the House and look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate as they take up the SAFE Banking Act or work to develop and pass similar legislation,” he said.

Banking access is largely seen as one of the most achievable pieces of cannabis legislation that stands to pass this Congress. Advocates and reform-minded lawmakers view it as one of the first steps on the path toward ending federal marijuana prohibition.

“We are seeing the blueprint in action and moving forward on critical legislation to protect state legal cannabis banking,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) told Marijuana Moment, referring to a memo he sent to House leadership last year outlining a committee-by-committee process for passing incremental cannabis bills leading up to major legislation to end federal prohibition. “Earlier this summer, the House passed protections for state and tribal cannabis laws. In the most cannabis friendly Congress in history, we need to keep up this momentum. There is still much to be done.”

There has been some disagreement within advocacy circles about whether it’s prudent to pass legislation viewed as primarily favorable to the industry before advancing comprehensive legislation that deschedules cannabis and takes steps to repair the harms of prohibition enforcement.

“It is our hope that after the successful passage of the SAFE Banking Act in the House, we will be able to advance legislation that ends the federal criminalization of cannabis once and for all,” Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “Now is our time to demonstrate that marijuana law reform is both good policy and good politics.”

“We will not stop until otherwise law-abiding Americans are no longer discriminated against or criminalized due to the past or future choice to consume cannabis,” he said.

Neal Levine, CEO of the Cannabis Trade Federation, told Marijuana Moment that the group is “delighted that the U.S. House of Representatives is on the brink of passing a landmark piece of cannabis policy legislation that modernizes our antiquated banking laws to reflect the will of the people.”

“This is welcomed and long overdue news for the over 200,000 employees that work in the industry, cannabis businesses, and for public safety in the communities in which we operate,” he said. “Once the SAFE Banking Act passes the U.S. House, we call on the U.S. Senate to move quickly to protect our businesses and our workers.”

Pressure has been building all year from stakeholders and policymakers alike to get the legislation passed. Endorsements aren’t just coming from reform groups, either; 50 state banking associations, the National Association of State Treasurers, the top financial regulators of 25 states, a majority of state attorneys general and bipartisan governors of 20 states have also voiced support for the SAFE Banking Act.

Earlier this month, the head of the American Bankers Association predicted that the bill would be passed in the House “as early as September.”

GOP Senate Chair Says He Plans Marijuana Banking Vote

This story was updated to add comment from Perlmutter and Hoyer’s office.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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New ‘Marijuana 1-to-3 Act’ Would Reclassify Cannabis Under Federal Law

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Another bill to reschedule marijuana was filed in Congress on Thursday.

Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL) introduced the legislation, which is titled the “Marijuana 1-to-3 Act.” True to its name, the bill would simply require the attorney general to move cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III under the Controlled Substances Act, with the aim of increasing research on the drug’s effects.

“As marijuana is legalized for medical and recreational use across the United States, it is important that we study the effects of the substance and the potential impacts it can have on various populations,” Steube said in a press release. “By rescheduling marijuana from a schedule I controlled substance to a schedule III controlled substance, the opportunities for research and study are drastically expanded.

“With this rescheduling, researchers can now access federal funds to research this substance and determine its medical value,” he said.

The press release came hours after a bipartisan pair of lawmakers introduced separate legislation to reschedule marijuana, also to Schedule III.

That bill contained additional provisions that would require federal agencies to develop research agendas for marijuana within one year of its enactment and also establish a system whereby universities could be designated as “Centers of Excellence in Cannabis Research” if they conducted comprehensive studies on issues related to marijuana.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), who is a sponsor of the broader research bill, is also cosponsoring Steube’s more focused rescheduling proposal.

It’s not clear why Steube chose to file his own reclassification bill or whether the other legislation’s additional provisions were a factor.

The congressman’s two-page bill states that “the Attorney General of the United States shall, by order not later than 60 days after the date of enactment of this section, transfer marijuana…from schedule I of such Act to schedule III of such Act.”

“We hear every day about the positive health benefits of marijuana,” Steube said. “Whether it’s young children with seizure disorders, or veterans suffering from chronic pain, it is clear that there are medical benefits to marijuana and I think it’s time we remove the bureaucratic red tape that prevents us from thoroughly studying this substance.”

While he emphasized that the intent of his legislation is to encourage research into marijuana, placing cannabis in Schedule III would also have implications for marijuana businesses, who are currently ineligible for federal tax deductions under an Internal Revenue Code section that applies to anyone “trafficking in controlled substances” in Schedule I or II.

Read the full text of the bill below: 

Marijuana 1-to-3[1] by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

Former Anti-Legalization Clinton Cabinet Official Files Marijuana Reclassification Bill In Congress

Photo by Ndispensable.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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