President Trump is preparing to support far-reaching legislation to reform federal marijuana prohibition so that states can enact their own cannabis laws without interference.
“Since the campaign, President Trump has consistently supported states’ rights to decide for themselves how best to approach marijuana,” U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) said in a statement. “Late Wednesday, I received a commitment from the President that the Department of Justice’s rescission of the Cole memo will not impact Colorado’s legal marijuana industry. Furthermore, President Trump has assured me that he will support a federalism-based legislative solution to fix this states’ rights issue once and for all.”
In a briefing with reporters on Friday afternoon, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed the development, calling Gardner’s statement “accurate.”
“We’re always consulting Congress about issues including states’ rights, of which the president is a firm believer,” she said.
Sanders revealed that Trump and Gardner spoke about the issue several times in recent days, including on Friday.
The news of the legislative deal, which was first reported by the Washington Post, comes after Gardner placed a hold on Justice Department nominees in protest of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s rescinding of Obama-era guidance that has generally allowed states to implement their own marijuana laws without federal interference.
Now, things have changed.
“Because of these commitments [to support marijuana legislation], I have informed the Administration that I will be lifting my remaining holds on Department of Justice nominees,” Gardner said. “My colleagues and I are continuing to work diligently on a bipartisan legislative solution that can pass Congress and head to the President’s desk to deliver on his campaign position.”
A source close to the discussions, who was not authorized to speak on the record, told Marijuana Moment that Sessions was not a party to the new deal between the White House and Gardner.
Details of the legislation are yet to be announced, but in a Facebook Live interview with KDVR-TV in Denver, Gardner said it would be a “universal fix” for federal issues faced by cannabis businesses, including access to banks.
In an interview with The Cannabist, Gardner added that he “would envision this legislation taking care of” tax issues as well.
The Colorado senator also said that he and Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Rand Paul (R-KY) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) are close to finalizing a draft bill, which will be “hopefully moving soon.”
Neal Levine of the New Federalism Fund called the news a “game changer,” saying in an interview that “if we’re going to have legislation that ends prohibition on the federal level in any state that’s opted out of prohibition in some form, those issues [like banking] are all going to be resolved.”
Trump repeatedly pledged during the 2016 presidential campaign that he would respect state marijuana laws, a promise called into question when Sessions rescinded the Obama Justice Department’s memo in January.
A timetable hasn’t been set for the new marijuana legislation, though it will be crafted by a bipartisan working group of senators.
Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), one of the House’s leading champions for marijuana law reform, praised the news but urged caution.
“This is another head spinning moment. We should hope for the best, but not take anything for granted. Trump changes his mind constantly, and Republican leadership is still in our way,” he said in a statement. “Momentum is clearly building in the states and here in DC. The tide is changing. Now is the time to redouble our efforts.”
We can’t take anything for granted. Trump changes with the wind & GOP leadership is still in our way. We need to protect the integrity of state-legal marijuana programs by acting NOW.
— Earl Blumenauer (@repblumenauer) April 13, 2018
Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) also expressed some level of skepticism about the development.
Commitments mean little from President Trump.
The only way to truly protect states that have legalized marijuana is for Congress to act.
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) April 13, 2018
The federal government must respect the decision Oregonians made at the polls. I’m going to keep fighting to protect Oregon’s legal marijuana program and pushing for national reform. https://t.co/807gS9Jnf2
— Ron Wyden (@RonWyden) April 13, 2018
While confirming that Trump “does respect Colorado’s right to decide for themselves how to best approach this issue,” White House legislative affairs director Marc Short also told the Washington Post that the White House is frustrated with Gardner’s tactic of blocking presidential nominees.
“Clearly, we’ve expressed our frustration with the delay with a lot of our nominees and feel that too often, senators hijack a nominee for a policy solution,” he said. “So we’re reluctant to reward that sort of behavior. But at the same time, we’re anxious to get our team at the Department of Justice.”
Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.
Hemp Farmers Guaranteed Federal Crop Insurance Through Disaster Bill Amendment
The Senate approved a bill on Thursday that is mostly focused on providing relief aid to areas impacted by natural disasters—but it also includes a provision ensuring that hemp farmers qualify for federal crop insurance.
The hemp section was inserted into the legislation at the behest of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Though similar language already exists in the 2018 Farm Bill, which federally legalized hemp and its derivatives, the senator took an added measure to provide clarity to farmers who want access to the insurance option ahead of the 2020 planting season.
“Beginning not later than the 2020 reinsurance year, the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation shall offer coverage under the wholefarm revenue protection insurance policy (or a successor policy or plan of insurance) for hemp (as defined in section 297A of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 (7 U.S.C. 1639o)),” text of the provision states.
“Provided, That such amount is designated by the Congress as being for an emergency requirement pursuant to section 251(b)(2)(A)(i) of the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985,” it continues.
The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 85 to 8. The House is expected to approve the disaster legislation by unanimous consent by the end of the week, and President Donald Trump has offered assurances that he will sign it into law.
The legalization of hemp has sparked strong interest among farmers in states from Colorado to Kentucky, but it will still be some time until the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) develops and implements its federal regulatory guidelines.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said that while his department would not rush its rulemaking process, it still intends to implement the regulations before the 2020 planting season. After that point, USDA would be able to approve regulatory plans submitted by individual states.
McConnell, who championed the hemp legalization provision, has urged the quick and effective implementation of such regulations, and he’s suggested that he’d introduce standalone legislation to resolve any “glitches” in its rollout.
While not a standalone bill, the hemp-focused provision of the disaster legislation seems to indicate he plans to make good on that promise.
The senator has made much of his pro-hemp agenda, arguing last month that his role in reforming hemp laws is at “the top of the list” of reasons why voters should reelect him in 2020. He also cited hemp as an agricultural alternative to tobacco when he introduced a bill this week to raise the minimum age requirement to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21.
Congressional Report Urges DEA Action On Marijuana Cultivation Applications
A congressional committee report attached a large-scale spending bill containing marijuana-related protections has been amended to include a call for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to finally act on long-pending applications for federal licenses to grow cannabis for research purposes.
The legislation itself, which was released by a House subcommittee last week, could still be further amended as it goes through the legislative process. But as approved by the full House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, the bill stipulates that none of the Fiscal Year 2020 funds it allocates may be used by the Justice Department to interfere in state-legal medical marijuana programs.
The provision has been federal law since 2014, but its inclusion in the initial subcommittee proposal as introduced is the earliest it has ever surfaced in the legislative process for the annual spending bill. While advocates hoped broader protections for adult-use cannabis states would also be included in the base legislation, that rider isn’t in the bill—at least not yet.
There was also a technical problem with the legislation that wasn’t resolved by the committee manager’s amendment, the text of which has not been posted but was obtained by Marijuana Moment. The medical cannabis provision lists the states and territories its protections apply to—but it left out the U.S. Virgin Islands, which legalized medical marijuana in January.
Similar errors have occurred in past versions of the legislation, when legal medical cannabis states North Dakota and Indiana were not included in an earlier version of the rider, and advocates hope that the language will be amended on the House floor.
But while that fix didn’t make it into the bill at the committee level, the directive to the DEA about cannabis cultivation licenses was added to the committee report attached to the bill via the manager’s amendment.
“The Committee urges the Drug Enforcement Administration to expeditiously process any pending applications for authorization to produce marijuana exclusively for us in medical research,” the revised report states.
The DEA has faced significant pressure from lawmakers, advocates and scientists to approve applications for additional marijuana manufacturers to produce research-grade cannabis. Currently there is only one federally authorized facility, and the quality of its product has long been criticized.
DEA announced a process to license additional cultivators during the final months of the Obama administration in 2016, but the Justice Department under then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions refused to act on more than two dozen pending applications. Current Attorney General William Barr has pledged to look into the matter, and has said he agrees that approving additional manufacturers is necessary.
Advocates hope that the new committee report language could help to finally spur movement at the department.
“The DEA is a disaster on marijuana and they need to stop obstructing research ASAP,” Michael Collins, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, told Marijuana Moment.
“It’s beyond ridiculous that they won’t act on these applications. Even prohibitionists like Project SAM agree,” he added, referring to the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana. “And when the guys who get their drug policy from the 1920s say you’re behind the times, that’s pretty embarrassing.”
Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, said that Sessions “was the only government official opposed to cannabis research, and he is no longer employed.”
“Now is the time for AG Barr to follow through on his commitment and allow researchers pathways to consumer-grade cannabis,” he said.
Another provision included in the appropriations bill would offer protections for states that have implemented industrial hemp pilot programs under the 2014 Farm Bill. The Justice Department wouldn’t be allowed to use its funds to interfere in such programs under the proposal.
Of course, the 2018 version of the agriculture legislation removed hemp and its derivatives from the Controlled Substances Act, shifting regulatory responsibility onto the U.S. Department of Agriculture instead of the Justice Department, so that provision may not be especially relevant going forward.
The bill will next head to the Rules Committee, which will decide the list of amendments—potentially including additional cannabis-related ones—that can be considered on the House floor.
Read the text of the manager’s amendment with the DEA marijuana language below:
Managers Amendment FINAL by on Scribd
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
House Committee Approves Immigration Bill With Marijuana Protections
A congressional committee voted in favor of a wide-ranging immigration bill on Wednesday, and the legislation includes marijuana-related protections for people who were brought to the U.S. as children.
Under the DREAM Act as approved, having low-level cannabis convictions, or engaging in state-legal cannabis-related activities such as working in the regulated marijuana industry, would not be counted against applications for permanent resident status for so-called Dreamers.
The House Judiciary Committee advanced the bill in a 19-10 vote, without specific discussion about the cannabis provisions.
The section concerning eligibility for permanent status stipules that having three or more misdemeanor convictions could be grounds for ineligibility—but the bill creates an exemption for “simple possession of cannabis or cannabis-related paraphernalia” or “any offense involving cannabis or cannabis-related paraphernalia which is no longer prosecutable in the State in which the conviction was entered.”
The text seems to indicate that immigrants who engaged in cannabis-related activities prior to a state reforming its marijuana laws would still be protected even if that activity was not state-legal at the time.
Similar language appears under a separate section about grounds for a provisional denial of an application for adjustment of status. Applicants would be exempted from such a denial if their conviction was for “simple possession of cannabis or cannabis-related paraphernalia” or “any offense involving cannabis or cannabis-related paraphernalia which is no longer prosecutable in the State in which the conviction was entered.”
A previous version of the legislation, filed in March, didn’t include the specific eligibility requirements related to certain criminal activity, nor did it contain any explicit marijuana protections. It’s possible that House Democrats thought up the exemptions during a brainstorming session earlier this month about potential bill revisions aimed at building more support.
The next likely stop for the DREAM Act will be the House Rules Committee before heading to a full floor vote.
There’s been growing interest in reforming marijuana policies as they apply to immigrants and visitors to the U.S.
Earlier this month, four congressional Democrats sent a letter to the head of the Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security to end the practice of rejecting naturalization applications solely because the applicant worked in a state-legal marijuana market. That came after the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) released a memo specifying that such activity could render them morally unfit for citizenship.
And last week, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced legislation aimed at resolving marijuana-related border issues, whereby visitors who admit to using cannabis or working in their country’s legal industry can be denied entrance.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.