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What Joe Biden’s Presidential Victory Means For Marijuana In 2021

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Joe Biden has been projected to have won the presidential election by several major news organizations. If that sticks when all the votes are certified, and if he fulfills a key campaign promise once he gets to the White House, federal marijuana reform will be part of his administration’s legacy.

Although the Democratic former vice president has embraced decriminalizing cannabis possession, expunging past records and other modest moves, he has faced criticism over his record pushing punitive anti-drug legislation during his time in the Senate. And reform advocates have similarly taken him to task over his refusal to join the majority of U.S. voters and a supermajority of those in his own party in embracing broad adult-use marijuana legalization.

But the political dynamics that will define marijuana policy in 2021 go beyond the presidency. Despite the stated pro-reform positions of both Biden and his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA)—who has her own questionable record on cannabis criminalization but became the sponsor of a comprehensive legalization bill in 2019—the fate of reform still rests largely on Congress.

But it’s unclear at this point which party will control the Senate next year, with news outlets still not ready to project the results of several races and two Georgia seats appearing to be headed for January runoffs.

Democratic leaders have pledged an end to federal marijuana prohibition, and if the party wins the majority, the stage will be set for far-reaching reform.

But if Republicans maintain control of the Senate, there will be serious doubt about what kind of pull a Biden administration could have in moving marijuana legislation—even if he prioritized the issue, which remains to be seen. The past two years have shown time and again that the GOP-controlled chamber is simply unwilling to address the issue in a meaningful way.

Unlike President Trump, Biden has said on the campaign trail that his administration will pursue marijuana decriminalization and expungements for people with prior cannabis convictions. He also favors medical cannabis legalization, modestly rescheduling marijuana under federal law and letting states set their own policies without federal intervention.

“We should decriminalize marijuana,” he said during a town hall event last month, adding, “I don’t believe anybody should be going to jail for drug use.”

But at that same event, he again offered his vision for an alternative to incarceration for drug crimes that many advocates oppose: forced drug treatment.

In any case, the likelihood of marijuana reform under a Biden administration seems more promising than if Trump were to be reelected, if not for anything but the lack of clear commitments the incumbent has made on the issue during his last four years.

While Trump has voiced support for medical cannabis and said he is in favor of bipartisan legislation to protect states that legalize marijuana from federal intervention, he has not pledged any specific reforms himself. Nor does it seem he has pushed Republican lawmakers to prioritize the issue.

As noted, Biden will also be joined by Harris when he enters the Oval Office. The senator—who has been criticized over her former prosecutorial record pursuing low-level cannabis cases as a California district attorney and for campaigning against legalization in her own state—became the lead Senate sponsor of a comprehensive bill to end federal prohibition last year.

She made much of the need to legalize cannabis during her own unsuccessful run for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. However, her statements on the issue have been tempered since she agreed to run alongside Biden, choosing instead to focus on his more limited decriminalization and expungements plan.

Harris said last month that she has a “deal” with Biden to candidly share her perspective on a range of progressive policies he currently opposes, including legalizing marijuana, but she hasn’t indicated that she would proactively push him in that direction. The senator also said that month that the administration would have “a commitment to decriminalizing marijuana and expunging the records of people who have been convicted of marijuana offenses.”

Even so, given Biden’s former hostile approach to drug policy as a legislator and his ongoing obstinance on marijuana legalization at a time when polls show that the overwhelming share of Democrats favor the policy change, there remains some skepticism about his willingness to make good on his campaign promises to prioritize decriminalization or the other reforms he’s discussed.

He did proudly author the infamous 1994 Crime Bill—legislation that increased penalties for drug-related crimes and is considered a main facilitator of mass incarceration—after all, as well as several 1980s-era anti-drug bills. That record is a point that Trump’s reelection campaign had seized on, calling Biden the “architect” of the drug war.

Biden, for his part, has conceded that his work on punitive anti-drug legislation was a “mistake.”

That said, shortly after becoming the party’s 2020 nominee, the former vice president’s ongoing opposition to recreational legalization is suspected of being at least partly behind the Democratic National Committee platform committee’s vote against adding the reform as a 2020 party plank in July.

So it may be incumbent upon Congress to advance broad legalization after he takes office. And the likelihood of that happening will hinge largely on the makeup of the Senate.

If Democrats reclaim control of the chamber, those chances will be significantly bolstered. Senate leadership in this current Congress has been opposed to taking up reform. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), for example, is an adamant opponent of loosening laws on marijuana, all but ensuring that reform bills would not stand a chance in his chamber even as he has championed hemp legalization. Even modest House-passed legislation focused on banking access for cannabis businesses never received a vote.

With Democrats back at the reigns, they would be positioned to bring any number of cannabis bills that have been introduced to the floor, including those calling for the end of federal marijuana prohibition. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the current top Democrat in the chamber, who would be expected to be installed as the majority leader come January if the party wins enough of the outstanding races, said last month that he will put his own descheduling bill “in play” and that “I think we’ll have a good chance to pass it.”

Leadership in the House, which is expected to maintain a Democratic majority, albeit a reduced one, has already signaled their intention of advancing cannabis reform.

The chamber was expected to hold a floor vote on a comprehensive legalization bill—the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act—in September, but it was ultimately postponed after certain centrist Democrats argued the optics of passing the bill would be bad for them before approving another coronavirus relief package. Leadership has since committed to voting on the legislation, which also contains provisions to fund programs to repair some of the harms of the war on drugs, later this fall.

With a Democratic-controlled Senate and the party still in control of the House, it stands to reason that cannabis reform would move in the 117th Congress, even if the pace of that reform and the administration’s role in promoting it remain uncertain.

But if Republicans maintain their majority, the party’s approach to cannabis to date does not indicate leaders would be ready to embrace far-reaching reforms such as the MORE Act. That said, it is possible that banking-focused marijuana legislation—which despite its having stalled so far in the Senate, has significant bipartisan support among the rank and file in both chambers—could move.

It is also not entirely out of the question that a scaled-down proposal to simply protect people complying with state marijuana laws from federal interference—likely without the social equity and restorative justice components of Schumer’s bill or the MORE Act—could see the light of day. That possibility is boosted by the fact that voters in several Republican and swing states approved cannabis ballot measures on Election Day. Sen. John Thune (R-SD), the party’s whip, for example, now represents constituents who voted to legalize both recreational and medical marijuana by solid margins.

That said, the most vocal GOP advocate for marijuana reform in the Senate won’t be returning to Capitol Hill next year. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), who unsuccessfully led efforts to convince his party to allow cannabis legislation to come to the floor for a vote in the 116th Congress, lost his reelection bid. With him not being around to prod McConnell to consider the issue, it would be up to other lawmakers—perhaps Sens. Steve Daines (R-MT), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) or Rand Paul (R-KY)—to make the case to leaders that the issue is a winning one worth advancing.

Outside of Congress, Biden could also make moves to advance cannabis reform administratively.

He could, for example, reinstate a version of the Obama-era Justice Department memo that directed federal prosecutors to generally not interfere with state marijuana laws, which was rescinded by the Trump administration in 2018. It is also within the power of the executive branch to reschedule marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act. Biden has pledged to make a move to Schedule II, though that would not achieve many of the changes advocates seek.

The president has the unilateral authority to grant acts of clemency, including pardons and commutations, to people who have been convicted of federal marijuana or other drug offenses. He also gets to appoint an attorney general, drug czar and other officials who will make decisions on how the federal government handles the issue—though many of those officials will be subject to Senate confirmation.

For his part, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) told Marijuana Moment in August that “the Biden administration and a Biden Department of Justice would be a constructive player” in advancing legalization.

But in the end, while Biden has come around to the idea of removing criminal penalties for marijuana possession, and he is now advocating for clearing the records of those who’ve been punished for such crimes, his longstanding record of opposing reform and embracing punitive drug policies continue to leave questions about what actions he’ll be willing to take post-election.

He remains out of step with the majority of his party and U.S. voters more broadly on the question of legalization, and it doesn’t seem likely that cannabis reform would be at the top of his agenda. That said, his recent pivot in favor of decriminalization and medical cannabis legalization indicates that he recognizes that a tough-on-crime approach to drugs is no longer politically acceptable to voters and signals that further evolution in his position on cannabis is possible.

Seven In Ten Americans Support Marijuana Legalization, New Gallup Poll Shows

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.

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Alabama House Approves Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill That Already Passed The Senate

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The Alabama House of Representatives on Thursday approved a Senate-passed bill to legalize medical marijuana in the state.

After previously clearing two House committees last month, it passed the full chamber by a vote of 68-34.

The win came after opponents staged a lengthy filibuster on the floor earlier this week, drawing out the process by making a series of speeches and asking questions until the end of the day’s session at midnight approached. Those stalling tactics did not continue on Thursday.

Sponsored by Sen. Tim Melson (R), the bill would allow people with qualifying conditions to access cannabis for therapeutic purposes. The full Senate approved the legislation in March.

To qualify for the program, patients would have to be diagnosed with one of about 20 conditions, including anxiety, sleep disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and intractable pain. Regulators would not be able to independently add additional conditions, leaving that decision up to lawmakers in future sessions.

Prior to the vote on final passage, the House considered several floor amendments.

The body rejected proposals to place a limit of 10 milligrams of THC per dose for medical cannabis products, to remove depression as a qualifying condition and to enact a zero tolerance policy for drivers with THC in their systems. Another amendment that would have repealed the state program if marijuana is federally rescheduled, so that people would get medical cannabis from pharmacies instead of dispensaries, was also defeated.

Lawmakers did accept an amendment changing local control provisions from opt out to make it so that cities and counties would have to opt in to allowing medical cannabis businesses. They also made a change to name the bill after the deceased son of a lawmaker who previously sponsored medical marijuana legislation.

Because the Senate-passed measure has been revised in the House, it will have to go back to the the other chamber for additional consideration before being sent to the desk of Gov. Kay Ivey (R).

Melson is the same lawmaker who sponsored similar legislation that was approved by the full Senate last year but which later died without any House votes amid the coronavirus pandemic.

This latest proposal, SB 46, would establish an Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission to implement regulations and oversee licensing.

The House Judiciary Committee approved 10 amendments to the legislation during a hearing last month. For example, members agreed to scrap provisions providing reciprocity for out-of-state patients and reducing the percentage of marijuana tax revenue that would go to cannabis research from 30 to 15 percent.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,100 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

Later, in the Health Committee, members approved a change that would add an annual registration fee for physicians who recommend cannabis. Another would give the state attorney general’s office access to a patient registry database.

That panel further accepted an amendment to remove fibromyalgia and menopause from the list of qualifying conditions and another to expand the number of institutions that are eligible for grants to research marijuana. A revision to develop a uniform flavor for all cannabis products was also attached.

Additionally, an amendment was approved to require dispensaries to have 24-hour security cameras operating in their facilities.

Advocates say they’re encouraged that medical cannabis reform is advancing in Alabama, but they’ve raised concerns about a number of aspects of the bill.

One problematic provision, advocates say, is that patients with chronic or intractable pain could only be recommended medical marijuana in cases where “conventional therapeutic intervention and opiate therapy is contraindicated or has proved ineffective.”

The bill also prohibits raw cannabis, smoking, vaping and candy or baked good products. Patients would instead be allowed to purchase capsules, lozenges, oils, suppositories and topical patches.

Patients would be allowed to purchase and possess up to “70 daily dosages of medical cannabis.” Under an amendment approved on the Senate floor, the maximum daily dose was reduced from 75 to 50 milligrams. However, the amendment’s sponsor said it could be increased to 75 milligrams in some circumstances.

The revision also calls for a label on marijuana products to indicate that cannabis can cause drowsiness.

It also calls for a nine percent gross proceeds tax on medical marijuana sales.

Patients, caregivers and and medical cannabis businesses would receive legal protections under the proposal, preventing them from being penalized for activities authorized by the state.

For physicians to be able to recommend cannabis to patients, they would have to complete a four-hour continuing education course and pass an exam. The course would cost upwards of $500 and doctors would also be required to take refresher classes every two years.

Under the bill, regulators would be tasked with developing restrictions on advertising and setting quality control standards. Seed-to-sale tracking and laboratory testing would be mandated.

Other changes approved earlier in the Senate would add language to stipulate that gelatinous cannabis products cannot be sugar coated and insert provisions promoting good manufacturing practices and tamper-evident packaging.

Applications for cannabis business licenses would have to be accepted starting September 1, 2022 and then proceeded within 60 days.

The commission would be required to approve at least four cultivators, up to four processors, up to four dispensaries for the first year of implementation (more could be approved after that point depending on demand) and as many as five vertically integrated operators.

This bill’s reintroduction had been greatly anticipated by advocates. The Senate approved a separate medical cannabis bill in 2019, but the House later severely compromised it. The legislation as enacted would not have legalized patient access; rather, it set up a study commission to explore the issue and make recommendations.

The commission came back with its report in December 2019, with members recommending that medical marijuana be legalized.

There has been additional pressure on the legislature to enact legalization given that voters in neighboring Mississippi approved a medical cannabis reform initiative during the November election.

Separately, the Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill in March to decriminalize possession of up to two ounces of cannabis, making it punishable by a $250 fine without the threat of jail time. But the measure later failed a procedural motion on the Senate floor.

Kansas Lawmakers Approve Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill In Committee

Photo by davide ragusa on Unsplash.

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Texas House Approves Psychedelics Research Bill As Marijuana Reform Measures Also Advance

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The Texas House of Representatives on Thursday approved to a bill that would require the state to conduct a study into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics like psilocybin and MDMA. This comes as numerous marijuana reform measures move through the legislature.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Alex Dominguez (D), passed by a vote of 134-12. It had advanced on second reading via a voice vote a day earlier. It now heads to the Senate.

The House Public Health Committee passed the bill with amendments last week. Members revised the measure to limit the scope of the state-funded study to focus on military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), rather than a broader list of conditions attached to the initial bill.

“We lose about 6,000 veterans every year—and since 2001, we have lost 114,000 of our veterans to PTSD and suicide,” Dominguez said on the floor before the second reading vote.

The legislation will do something that’s “sorely needed, and that’s taking a fresh look at what we can do to save the lives of our servicemen and women that have given their lives to this country,” he said. “We can make a difference, and we can send a message to Washington that they need to be doing more.”

The bill would require the state to study the medical risks and benefits of psilocybin, MDMA and ketamine for veterans in partnership with Baylor College of Medicine and a military-focused medical center. It was also amended to mandate a clinical trial into psilocybin for veterans with PTSD, in addition to a broader review of the scientific literature on all three substances.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,100 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

The Health and Human Services Commission would have to submit quarterly reports on their progress, with a full report on the panel’s findings be due by December 2024.

Former Gov. Rick Perry (R), who also served as U.S. energy secretary, has called on lawmakers to approve the psychedelics legislation.

This is the latest drug policy reform bill to move through the legislature this session.

Last week, the House approved a bill to decriminalize marijuana possession, sending it to the Senate. It would make possession of up to one ounce of cannabis a class C misdemeanor that does not come with the threat of jail time.

Texas lawmakers have also recently passed proposals to expand the state’s medical marijuana program and reduce penalties for possessing cannabis concentrates.

The House approved a cannabis decriminalization bill in 2019, but it did not advance in the Senate that session.

Lawmakers last week also sent Gov. Greg Abbott (R) a bill to clarify that a positive marijuana test alone is not sufficient criteria for removing a child from their home.

On Tuesday, the House approved legislation that would make certain changes to the state’s hemp program, including imposing rules related to the transportation and testing of consumable hemp products.

But most of these proposals face an uphill battle in the Senate, where it remains to be seen whether legislators will have the same appetite for reform or what kind of changes they might push for in any particular bill. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), who presides over the Senate, has killed prior efforts to enact cannabis reform in the state, raising questions about the prospects of far-reaching changes advancing in the chamber.

For example, shortly after the House approved a decriminalization bill in 2019, Patrick declared the measure “dead in the Texas Senate,” stating that he sides with lawmakers “who oppose this step toward legalization of marijuana.”

That same year, a spokesperson for the lieutenant governor was asked about a medical cannabis expansion bill and reiterated that he is “strongly opposed to weakening any laws against marijuana [and] remains wary of the various medicinal use proposals that could become a vehicle for expanding access to this drug.”

That’s all to say that, unless Patrick has a change of heart on the issue, there’s still a risk that he could singlehandedly quash the reform measures. But other legislative leaders do seem to be warming on the policy.

House Speaker Dade Phelan (R) said during a Texas Young Republicans event in March that while he wouldn’t be able to distinguish marijuana from oregano, he said, “I understand the issue.”

The speaker said that he voted for a limited medical cannabis legalization bill during his freshman year in the legislature, and his support for the reform is partly based on the fact that he has a “sister with severe epilepsy, and small amounts of CBD oil makes a big difference in people’s lives.”

Phelan also noted that he was a “joint author—no pun intended” of cannabis decriminalization legislation last session.

“I was able to go back home and explain it, and it wasn’t a big deal,” he said. “To me, it’s a reasonable criminal justice reform issue.”

Texans’ support for legalizing marijuana has grown significantly over the past decade, according to a poll released last month.

Sixty percent of state voters now back making cannabis legal “for any use,” the University of Texas and Texas Tribune survey found. That compares to just 42 percent who said the same back in 2010.

And while Patrick’s record on the issue is a source of concern for advocates, he and other legislative leaders have recently indicated that they anticipate more modest proposals to be taken up and potentially approved this session, particularly as it concerns expanding the state’s limited medical cannabis program.

Patrick said flatly, “sure, that will be looked at this session” when asked about the prospect of expanding access to medical marijuana in January.

“We’re always listening on the health issues, but we’re not going to turn this into California,” he said, “where anybody can get a slip from the doctor and go down to some retail store and say, ‘You know, I got a headache today so I need marijuana,’ because that’s just a veil for legalizing it for recreational use.”

Phelan said he thinks “the House will look at” reform measures this year, including bills to legalize for adult use. He said the lawmakers will likely “review those again, and some will get traction, some will not.” However, the Senate remains an obstacle for comprehensive reform.

Legislators in the state prefiled more than a dozen pieces of cannabis legislation ahead of the new session. That includes bills that would legalize recreational marijuana, allow high-THC cannabis for medical use and decriminalize low-level possession of marijuana.

Don’t Punish Universities That Study Marijuana, Bipartisan Lawmakers Urge In Letter To Congressional Leaders

Image courtesy of Kristie Gianopulos.

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Don’t Punish Universities That Study Marijuana, Bipartisan Lawmakers Urge In Letter To Congressional Leaders

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Universities that engage in cannabis research should not have to fear losing their federal funds just for doing science, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers recently said in a letter to congressional leaders.

The letter, led by Reps. Joe Neguse (D-CO) and Kelly Armstrong (R-ND), requests that language be included in the base bill of forthcoming appropriations legislation stipulating that funds from the Department of Education cannot be withheld solely because a given institution is “conducting or is preparing to conduct research” into marijuana.

“The issue at hand is whether the federal government’s prohibition of cannabis as a Schedule I controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) should be a basis for federal agencies to withhold funds from higher education institutions that seek to provide a base for cannabis-specific research,” the letter, which was signed by 15 other lawmakers joining Neguse and Armstrong, states. “This risk is particularly worrying for institutions in those states and in the District of Columbia that have taken steps to legalize both the medicinal and recreational use of cannabis, and the majority of U.S. states that presently authorize and regulate the issue of medical cannabis by statute.”

“Currently, there are a multitude of higher education institutions conducting a range of cannabis related research, including many in our districts, who prefer for future developments to occur through an accredited educational setting,” it continues. “Formal research is especially important as more states legalize medical marijuana. We need medical professionals who are equipped with the knowledge and certification to discuss competently issues surrounding cannabis and health.”

“Evidence-based research regarding cannabis ought to be encouraged in academic settings, not discouraged. Although many schools and universities have expressed an interest in conducting scientific and observational research on the cannabis plant, they remain hesitant to do so because of a fear of potentially losing eligibility to receive federal grants from the Department of Education… Our constitutional framework has afforded the whole nation the chance to allow states to differ on many matters of public policy, including cannabis. As a result, that same framework should be extended to the protection of research of cannabis at higher education institutions.”

The lawmakers want leaders in the House Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee to insert language into an upcoming spending bill that specifically protects colleges that allow marijuana to be researched at their institutions.

The proposed rider reads:

“None of the funds provided by this Act or provided by previous Appropriations Acts to the Department of Education shall be withheld from an institute of higher education solely because that institute is conducting or is preparing to conduct research on marihuana as defined in 21 U.S.C. § 802 (16).”

The subcommittee included a similar rider in an appropriations bill that was introduced last year and passed by the House, so it’s not unlikely that it will do so again. That said, the Senate under Republican control did not follow suit last time and the language did not make it into final appropriations legislation that was signed into law. It remains to be seen if the new Democratic Senate will advance the cannabis provision this time.

Beside Neguse and Armstrong, signatories on the new letter are: Reps. Steve Cohen (D-TN), Salud Carbajal (D-CA), Ken Buck (R-CO), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Peter Welch (D-VT), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Eric Swalwell (D-CA), Don Young (R-AK), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Dina Titus (D-NV), Diana DeGette (D-CO), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Lou Correa (D-CA), Ted Lieu (D-CA) and Jared Huffman (D-CA).

Neguse, Armstrong and and 25 colleagues wrote a similar letter to House leadership in 2019, stating that “there are a multitude of higher education institutions conducting a range of cannabis-related research, including many in our districts, who prefer for future developments to occur through an accredited educational setting.”

This is the second cannabis-related letter to be sent by congressional lawmakers to appropriators this session—and there’s increased optimism among advocates that the requests will be honored given that Democrats now control both chambers of Congress and the White House.

Last month, a bipartisan group of legislators joined a sign-on letter urging leaders of a key committee to include provisions protecting all state, territory and tribal marijuana programs from federal interference in upcoming annual spending legislation when it is introduced.

That sign-on letter—led by Congressional Cannabis Caucus co-chairs Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Barbara Lee (D-CA), along with Reps. Tom McClintock (R-CA) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC)—notes the growing number of states that have legalized cannabis for medical or recreational purposes and argues that the Department of Justice should be barred from enforcing prohibition against citizens who comply with those local policies.

Read the letter on university protections for marijuana research below: 

Cannabis Research Letter by Marijuana Moment

Colorado Governor Signs Bill To Expand Medical Marijuana Access For Students In Schools

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