President Trump proposed ending an existing policy that protects state medical marijuana programs from Justice Department interference as part of his fiscal year 2021 budget plan released on Monday.
The rider, which has been renewed in appropriations legislation every year since 2014, stipulates the the Justice Department can’t use its funds to prevent states or territories “from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.”
This isn’t the first time that an administration has requested that the rider be stricken. Trump’s last two budgets omitted the medical cannabis protections language, and President Obama similarly asked for the policy to be removed. In all cases, Congress has ignored those requests and renewed the protections in spending bills.
During last year’s appropriations season, the House approved an even more expansive amendment that would have provided protections for all state and territory marijuana programs, rather than just medical cannabis systems. But the Senate did not follow suit and the provision was not included in final fiscal year 2020 legislation sent to Trump’s desk.
When Trump signed that large-scale spending legislation in December, he attached a statement that said he is empowered to ignore the congressionally approved medical cannabis rider, stating that the administration “will treat this provision consistent with the President’s constitutional responsibility to faithfully execute the laws of the United States.”
Cannabis is also mentioned in several other places in Trump’s new budget proposal for next year. For example, it contains another long-standing rider that blocks Washington, D.C. from using local tax dollars to legalize marijuana sales.
Separately, the plan requests that funds be set aside to help the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) invest “in priority activities,” including the “regulation of cannabis and cannabis derivatives.” FDA is actively developing regulations for CBD since hemp and its derivatives were federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill.
“FDA recognizes the potential opportunities that cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds may offer, and acknowledges the significant interest in these possibilities,” the agency said in a summary. “FDA is aware that companies market products containing cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds in ways that violate the law and may put consumer health and safety at risk.”
“Questions remain regarding the safety of these compounds,” it continued. “FDA is committed to protecting the public health and improving regulatory pathways for the lawful marketing of cannabis and cannabis-derived products within the agency’s jurisdiction.”
FDA said it was important to fund these regulatory efforts because it’s an example of an issue with “rising public health needs as growing
markets outpace increases to Agency resources.”
The agency requested $5 million to “continue enforcing the law to protect patients and the public while also providing potential regulatory pathways, to the extent permitted by law, for products containing cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds.”
“FDA is seeing a significant increase in activity relating to the marketing of unlawful cannabis-derived products, especially those containing cannabidiol (CBD), since the Farm Bill passed. In many cases, product developers make unproven claims to treat serious or life-threatening diseases, and patients may be misled to forgo otherwise effective, available therapy and opt instead for a product that has no proven value or may cause them serious harm.”
It also outlined how it intends to use the funds across four different branches within FDA.
About $4 million will be allocated to an initiative designed to “better regulate the usage of cannabis-derived substances, such as cannabidiol (CBD), in FDA-regulated products such as dietary supplements and when used as unapproved food additives.”
It will also “support regulatory activities, including developing policies and continue to perform its existing regulatory responsibilities including review of product applications, inspections, enforcement, and targeted research.”
Half a million dollars will go toward FDA’s Animal Drugs and Feeds Program in order to “strengthen its capacity to evaluate scientific data related to the safe use of cannabis and cannabis derivatives in animal products.”
FDA’s Office of Regulatory Affairs would receive $2 million to help “regulate and inspect establishments manufacturing FDA regulated products containing cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds.”
“The initiative will support regulatory activities, including developing policies and continue to perform its existing regulatory responsibilities including review of product applications, inspections, enforcement, and targeted research,” the agency said. “FDA must support oversight of increasing numbers of marketed FDA-regulated products containing cannabis-derived substances that may put the public at risk.”
Another “priority component” of the budget is to fund cleanup efforts for illicit marijuana grows on federal public lands.
The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) would also take a serious budget hit under the president’s proposal. If enacted, ONDCP’s funding would go from the $425 million it was allotted for 2020 to just $29 million for 2021—an approximately 90 percent cut. Trump included a similar request in prior budgets, but Congress rejected the cuts
Some of those dollars for ONCDP would be transferred to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to “improve coordination of drug enforcement efforts among Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies in the U.S.” through the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, the document states. Other dollars for grants to local anti-drug groups would be moved to the Department of Health and Human Services.
ONDCP, which is an office within the White House, applauded Trump’s request for $35.7 billion to fund “counter-drug efforts” in a press release. Jim Carroll, the offices’s director, said “President Trump has brought a relentless, whole-of-government approach to combating the crisis of addiction in our country.”
“The FY 2021 budget request sends a strong message that, although we’ve seen signs of real progress, the Trump Administration will not let up in our efforts to save American lives,” he said. “Whether it is going after drug traffickers, getting people struggling with addiction the help they need, or stopping drug misuse before it starts, this budget request ensures our partners will have the resources needed to create safer and healthier communities across the Nation.”
The budget also prioritizes funding for the implementation of a domestic hemp program since the crop was legalized. It calls for $17 million for 2021 for the program, which “provides a national regulatory framework for commercial production of industrial hemp production in the U.S. through regulations and guidance.”
“In addition to those regulated under USDA plans, USDA approves state and Tribal nation plans to provide licensing services, technical assistance, compliance, and program management support,” the budget states. “In 2021, USDA will administratively implement fees to cover the Government’s full cost for providing services to beneficiaries of this program.”
Another current rider that prohibits the Justice Department from contravening an industrial hemp research program was proposed to be removed. However, that provision is essentially redundant under the new agriculture law, which transferred jurisdiction of the crop from DEA to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
This story has been updated to include additional information about cannabis-related funding for FDA.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
New Congressional Resolution Condemns Police Brutality And War On Drugs
Twelve House members introduced a resolution on Friday condemning police brutality in light of the recent law enforcement killings of two black individuals that have galvanized mass protests. The measure specifically notes the racial injustices of the war on drugs.
The resolution is partly motivated by the killings of George Floyd in Minnesota, where a police officer suffocated him to death, and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, where she was fatally shot by police during a botched drug raid.
Protests have erupted across the U.S. this week, with calls for justice and law enforcement accountability. The new House measure, if adopted, would formally align the body with that sentiment, condemning police brutality, racial profiling and excessive use of force.
The drug war has contributed to those problems, the lawmakers said, with people of color being more likely to be arrested for drug offenses than white people despite similar rates of consumption.
The “system of policing in America, and its systemic targeting of and use of deadly and brutal force against people of color, particularly Black people, stems from the long legacy of slavery, lynching, Jim Crow laws, and the War on Drugs in the United States and has been perpetuated by violent and harmful law enforcement practices,” a provision of the resolution states.
In addition to condemning “all acts of brutality, racial profiling, and the use of excessive force by law enforcement officers and calls for the end of militarized policing practices,” the resolution urges the Justice Department to investigate individual cases of police violence and racial profiling and establish all-civilian review boards to provide community oversight of policing.
The measure also “calls for the adoption of sound and unbiased law enforcement policies at all levels of government that reduce the disparate impact of police brutality and use of force on Black and Brown people and other historically marginalized communities.”
Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Karen Bass (D-CA) and Barbara Lee (D-CA) led the resolution. Other cosponsors include Reps. Joaquin Castro (D-TX), Katherine Clark (D-MA), James McGovern (D-MA), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Joseph Kennedy III (D-MA).
The resolution @Ilhan & I are introducing today aims to ensure that those responsible are held accountable and calls for systemic reforms at all levels of government to end the scourge of police brutality in our society. #SaveLivesNow https://t.co/8vlMiY4j83
— Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (@RepPressley) May 29, 2020
“From slavery to lynching to Jim Crow, Black people in this country have been brutalized and dehumanized for centuries,” Omar said in a press release. “The war on drugs, mass criminalization, and increasingly militarized police forces have led to the targeting, torture and murder of countless Americans, disproportionately black and brown.”
We can’t just continue to watch our communities be brutalized by the police.
I am proud of my sisters in Congress for joining me in condemning police brutality and look forward passing this resolution. https://t.co/qeSaRB5dMZ
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) May 29, 2020
“The murder of George Floyd in my district is not a one-off event. We cannot fully right these wrongs until we admit we have a problem,” she said. “As the People’s House, the House of Representatives must acknowledge these historical injustices and call for a comprehensive solution. There are many steps on the path to justice, but we must begin to take them.”
Advocacy groups including the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Drug Policy Alliance, Color of Change, ACLU chapters and NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund have endorsed the resolution.
This measure is being introduced one week after 44 members of the House sent a letter to the Justice Department, calling for an independent investigation into a fatal police shooting of Taylor.
In that letter, the legislators cited prior excessive force incidents with two of the three officers involved in Taylor’s shooting—as well as prior alleged improper enforcement by the department’s SWAT team in a botched marijuana raid—as evidence of the need for an investigation.
“For too long, Black and brown bodies have been profiled, surveilled, policed, lynched, choked, brutalized and murdered at the hands of police officers,” Pressley said about the new resolution. “We cannot allow these fatal injustices to go unchecked any longer. There can be no justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, or any of the human beings who have been killed by law enforcement, for in a just world, they would still be alive. There must, however, be accountability.”
Joe Biden’s New Disability Plan Includes Boosting Medical Marijuana Research
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s new plan for people with disabilities involves promoting research into the therapeutic potential of marijuana.
The former vice president, who remains opposed to broader cannabis legalization, said he will “ensure people with disabilities have a voice in their government and are included in policy development and implementation.” That includes cannabis policy.
“A Biden Administration will prioritize the research needed to advance science-based federal policies related to the use of marijuana for medical conditions, chronic pain, and disabilities,” the plan, released on Thursday, states.
Thirty years ago, I proudly cosponsored the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act. It was an enormous step forward, but there's more work to do. So today, I’m releasing my plan to achieve full participation and equality for people with disabilities: https://t.co/psuNvKzYej
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) May 28, 2020
This is another example of Biden featuring marijuana issues in broader policy platforms. Earlier this month, he released a plan on racial justice that included his existing modest cannabis reform proposals for decriminalization and automatic expungements.
But while advocates agree with the need for those policy changes, they’ve remained disappointed about Biden’s ongoing opposition to adult-use legalization—something they argue should go hand-in-hand with the social justice principles he’s touted.
The presumptive nominee has argued that more research needs to be done on the potential risks and benefits of marijuana before he’s be open to legalization. In a recent interview, a host pushed back and said, anecdotally, there have been decades of research given that millions of people consume cannabis.
Biden agreed and said he knows “a lot of weed smokers” but, in agreeing to that premise, he seemed to signal the people he knows who consume marijuana have demonstrated the need to maintain prohibition.
While he’s given no indication that he’s willing to embrace legalization ahead of the November election, some are holding out hope that a criminal justice task force he formed with former rival Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) will push him in that direction. Most of the members of that group support legalization.
The former vice president does support legalizing medical marijuana, rescheduling cannabis under federal law, decriminalizing the plant, providing for automatic expungements and allowing states to set their own laws.
Federal Judge Gives Arkansas Marijuana Legalization Activists A Boost With Signature Gathering Ruling
Activists behind a marijuana legalization initiative in Arkansas are seeing glimmers of hope that they will be able to qualify for the November ballot despite serious setbacks caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
A federal judge ruled on Monday that the secretary of state must accept signatures that were not collected in-person or notarized, as has been required by existing policy, because of excessive burdens that imposes on campaigns amid the health crisis. Legalization advocates say the temporary injunction, which comes before a final ruling, gives them confidence their measure can qualify ahead of a July 3 deadline to submit signatures.
Now people can download, print and mail in signed petitions—significantly bolstering the chances the legal cannabis campaign can make up for the petitioning deficit created by stay-at-home orders and social distancing requirements enacted due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
In the April lawsuit that brought about the federal injunction (which was not filed by legalization activists but by another initiative campaign), plaintiffs also made the case that full-scale electronic signature gathering should be permitted. U.S. District Judge P. K. Holmes empathized with that request in his order, noting that in many scenarios outside the ballot process, officials have recognized the validity of digitally signed documents—including in legal proceedings he oversees.
“It is not that electronic signatures cannot similarly be determined to be genuine. In fact, electronic signatures are commonplace and accepted for all manner of official business, and not only by the State, but by this Court,” he said. “Counsel for Plaintiffs and the Secretary of State electronically signed the briefing on this very motion, and the Court has electronically signed this opinion and the order.”
However, the judge said there must be a balance that takes into account the state’s interest in ensuring the validity of signatures and so he’s doubtful the final ruling will provide for digital signatures.
In any case, the court’s temporary injunction bodes well for the marijuana reform campaign, Arkansans for Cannabis Reform, which says it was on the path to qualifying before in-person signature gathering was suspended. Melissa Fults, executive director of the group, told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview on Wednesday that she’s confident the new policies will help the initiative get placed before voters.
“I am still confident. We’re going to give a hard push these next four-and-a-half weeks—hoping and praying that we get signatures and get them turned in and get on the ballot,” she said. “And I think it’ll pass once it gets on the ballot.”
Arkansas voters approved a medical cannabis ballot measure in 2016.
As the state begins the process of reopening, Fults said the campaign will also be engaging in limited in-person collection with enhanced safety mechanisms in place, as well as “drive by” gathering for people to sign the initiative from their vehicles.
In order to make the ballot, the group needs to submit about 90,000 valid signatures from registered voters by July 3. Fults said they’ve collected roughly 20,000 so far, and so these last five weeks will prove critical.
Under the proposal, adults 21 and older would be able to purchase and possess up to four ounces of cannabis flower and grow up to six plants and six seedings.
A minimum of one dispensary must be licensed per county, and there must be at least 30 shops per congressional district.
Tax revenue from marijuana sales would first go toward implementation. After that, 60 percent would be used to fund public pre-K and after school programs and 40 percent would fund the operations of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
Another campaign that was working to put cannabis legalization on the state’s ballot told the Arkansas Democrat Gazette on Tuesday that it is ending its effort for the year and will shift its focus to 2022. An Arkansas True Grass spokesperson said “we weren’t able to do any of our spring events” because of the virus, leaving them without an opportunity to qualify.
Here’s a status update on other drug policy reform efforts throughout the country:
Activists in Montana and Nebraska have resumed signature gathering with new safety measures in place for campaigns to legalize adult-use marijuana and medical cannabis, respectively.
In Arizona, the organizers of a legalization effort asked the state Supreme Court to instruct the secretary of state to allow people to sign cannabis petitions digitally using an existing electronic system that is currently reserved for individual candidates seeking public office. That request was denied but in March the campaign expressed optimism that they had amassed enough signatures to qualify anyway.
Separate Oregon campaigns to decriminalize drug possession while significantly expanding substance misuse treatment and to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic purposes recently submitted more than enough raw signatures to qualify for ballot access, though they must still be verified.
Activists in Washington State are continuing to work on a drug decriminalization and treatment measure.
Washington, D.C. activists behind a psychedelics decriminalization campaign are more confident that they will be able to make the ballot after the District Council voted in favor of a series of changes to signature gathering protocol.
A federal judge recently ordered Ohio officials to accept electronic signature submissions to place local marijuana decriminalization measures on the ballot—a decision that could potentially have positive implications for a statewide legalization campaign in the works.
California activists had hoped to get a measure to legalize psilocybin on the state’s November ballot, but the campaign stalled out amid the coronavirus pandemic.
A California campaign seeking to amend the state’s cannabis law asked for a digital petitioning option, but state officials haven’t signed on.
A campaign to legalize cannabis in Missouri officially gave up its effort for 2020 due to signature collection being virtually impossible in the face of social distancing measures.
North Dakota activists said they plan to continue campaign activities for a marijuana legalization initiative, but it’s more likely that they will seek qualification for the 2022 ballot.
Idaho medical cannabis activists announced that they are suspending their ballot campaign, though they are still “focusing on distributing petitions through online download at IdahoCann.co and encouraging every volunteer who has downloaded a petition to get them turned in to their county clerk’s office by mail, regardless of how many signatures they have collected.”
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak and stay-at-home mandates, measures to legalize marijuana for medical and recreational purposes qualified for South Dakota’s November ballot.
The New Jersey legislature approved putting a cannabis legalization referendum before voters as well.
And in Mississippi, activists gathered enough signatures to qualify a medical cannabis legalization initiative for the ballot—though lawmakers also approved a competing (and from advocates’ standpoint, less desirable) medical marijuana proposal that will appear alongside the campaign-backed initiative.
Read the federal judge’s order on Arkansas signature gathering below: