From Oregon to Pennsylvania, voters around the country participated in another round of primary elections on Tuesday.
What could the results mean for marijuana reform? Here’s a glance at where winning gubernatorial nominees, plus victors in a handful of non-governor races, stand on cannabis.
Pennsylvania Gubernatorial Primary
Democratic winner: Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf
The incumbent backed and signed a bill to legalize medical cannabis into law in 2016.
Wolf has also voiced support for decriminalizing marijuana possession. But when it comes to full legalization, the governor has been declined to lend his support. In a statement to a Philadelphia CBS affiliate in January, a spokesperson said Wolf remained “focused on implementing Pennsylvania medical marijuana program.”
The governor regularly personally announces details about the implementation of medical marijuana, for example listing dispensaries that started to sell legal cannabis to qualified patients in February.
Many of you have waited years for this moment. Medical marijuana is legal, safe, and now available to PA patients. Proud of the work so many have devoted to making #MMJ a reality in PA. https://t.co/bfDBbSluzt
— Governor Tom Wolf (@GovernorTomWolf) February 13, 2018
Wolf has also pushed back against potential federal intervention in the state’s cannabis law, for example when U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded Obama-era protections. He said he wouldn’t “stand for backwards attacks on the progress made in Pennsylvania to provide medicine to those in need,” the York Daily Record reported. He’s also called on Congress to act to protect states where marijuana is legal from federal intervention.
— Governor Tom Wolf (@GovernorTomWolf) September 6, 2017
Republican winner: Pennsylvania Sen. Scott Wagner
All three of the Republican primary candidates for governor, including Wagner, said they support the state’s medical marijuana legalization program. Wagner is on the record saying he’s “not a fan” of recreational cannabis legalization.
Nebraska Gubernatorial Primary
Democratic winner: Nebraska Sen. Bob Krist
Krist made a series of strategic moves to become a viable contender against incumbent Gov. Pete Ricketts (R), shifting his party affiliation from Republican to Independent and, finally, to Democrat in February. Krist voted in favor of a measure to legalize medical marijuana in the state.
Republican winner: Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts
The incumbent governor is decidedly anti-legalization, writing in a blog post that he opposed an effort in the state legislature to legalize medical cannabis for a number of reasons, calling marijuana a “dangerous drug.” Ricketts claimed he spoke to Colorado officials who warned him that legalization caused an uptick in criminal activity. He also expressed concerns about the lack of FDA approval and said cannabis use impairs cognitive function.
Though her chances were never considered particularly strong, it’s worth mentioning that Ricketts’s Republican primary challenger Krystal Gabel, who pulled in about 20 percent of the Nebraska GOP vote on Tuesday, campaigned on a promise to support cannabis reform.
Amanda Jajoo says she doesn't think Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts has done a good job. She voted for his opponent in the Republican primary, Krystal Gabel, in part because Gabel supports medical marijuana. pic.twitter.com/Uac23ZLa42
— AP Central U.S. (@APCentralRegion) May 15, 2018
Idaho Gubernatorial Primary
Democratic winner: former Idaho Rep. Paulette Jordan
Jordan is friendly to cannabis reform, supporting legislation to decriminalize marijuana during her time in the state House. During a televised debate last month, she said that wanted to see marijuana legalized for the health benefits and because it would bring in “millions” in tax revenue to the state.
Last year, I worked on a bill to decriminalize recreational marijuana. I do not believe that marijuana possession is a crime that should determine whether a person can find employment, pursue higher education, or be considered for scholarship or financial aid opportunities. (1/4)
— Paulette Jordan (@PauletteEJordan) April 19, 2018
“This is a natural medicine that grew here for thousands of years,” she said, according to the Associated Press. “Unfortunately, we’re seeing it being replaced by the opioid drugs through the opioid industry, which are far more impactful, hurtful, harmful to rural communities in Idaho, and they are destroying our communities. And opioids are the gateway drug to heroin and methamphetamines.”
If elected, Jordan will become Idaho’s first female governor and the nation’s first Native American governor.
Republican winner: Idaho Lt Gov. Brad Little
Little said that he supported an executive order that set up a system to provide access to CBD oils for children suffering from epilepsy, but that’s about as far as he’s willing to go, MagicValley.com reported. He opposes any further legalization.
Oregon Gubernatorial Primary
Democratic winner: Oregon Gov. Kate Brown
The incumbent governor is pro-legalization and vowed to protect Oregon’s legal marijuana program from federal intervention after Sessions rescinded the Cole memo. In a statement from January, Brown wrote: “Over 19,000 jobs have been created by the market Oregon worked carefully to build in good faith and in accordance with the Cole Memorandum. The federal government must keep its promise to states that relied on its guidance.”
“States are the laboratories of democracy, where progressive policies are developed and implemented for the benefit of their people,” she continued. “Voters in Oregon were clear when they chose for Oregon to legalize the sale of marijuana and the federal government should not stand in the way of the will of Oregonians.”
Republican winner: Oregon Rep. Knute Buehler
Unlike most GOP gubernatorial candidates in Tuesday’s primary elections, Buehler, who is also an orthopedic surgeon, has fully embraced the state’s decision to legalize marijuana. He also condemned statements from the White House and Justice Department insinuating a crackdown on legal cannabis states, and he said he believes marijuana can help patients suffering from a variety of medical conditions.
— Knute Buehler (@KnuteBuehler) February 24, 2017
“I just think we’ve had very successful implementation of marijuana access in Oregon and I think it’s important to educate and explain to the new administration and the Attorney General that this issue is being handled quite well in Oregon,” he told The Bulletin. “This is a model for states that choose to go this route.”
Two other races of note…
Pennsylvania Democratic Lieutenant Governor Primary
Winner: Braddock, Pennsylvania Mayor John Fetterman
In a significant upset, Mayor John Fetterman beat out three Democratic opponents, including incumbent Lt. Gov Mike Stack. Fetterman was endorsed by NORML PAC and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), in part because he’s strongly pushed to fully legalize marijuana in Pennsylvania’s marijuana laws.
“Mr. Fetterman has been an unrelenting champion for reversing Pennsylvania’s failed and draconic policies when it comes to marijuana,” NORML PAC executive director Altieri said in a statement. “He understands the absolute devastation prohibition has wrought on families across the state, most acutely in already marginalized communities.”
— John Fetterman (@JohnFetterman) April 26, 2016
Following the NORML PAC endorsement, Fetterman said that he would “never shy away from the doing the right thing, and fully legalizing marijuana is the right thing for Pennsylvania.”
“We should go full-on Colorado,” he said. “It’s a simple solution to the devastation I have seen first-hand of the Opioid Crisis, and the disproportionate impact of mass incarceration on communities of color. As Lt. Governor I will be the leading voice on this issue in Harrisburg.”
Pennsylvania Senate GOP Primary
Winner: U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA)
The congressman received a C- rating from NORML based on his voting record on marijuana amendments. In 2016 he did support the Veterans Equal Access Amendment, which would have expanded access to medical cannabis for military veterans. But he voted against amendments to protect state medical cannabis programs and broader marijuana legalization laws from federal intervention.
Marijuana Moment also compiled the cannabis records of winners in last week’s primary elections in other states.
Photo courtesy of Democracy Chronicles.
Hawaii Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Decriminalization Bill In Joint Committee Hearing
Two Hawaii Senate committees approved a bill to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana in a joint hearing on Tuesday.
The vote comes two weeks after the full House passed the amended legislation, which makes possession of three grams or less of cannabis a civil offense instead of a crime punishable by jail time. As approved by that full chamber, a first the offense was punishable by a $200 fine under the bill, but the Senate committees lowered it to $30 instead.
While the quantity of marijuana is significantly less than in other states have decriminalized, the development was welcomed by reform advocates in the state.
“[W]e embrace the move from criminalization that the bill still represents, and particularly applaud the provisions to dismiss pending charges and expunge convictions related to cannabis offenses,” the reform organization Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, said in written testimony. “While we support full-scale legalization of adult use cannabis, this bill then also begins to reverse the brutal impact of the decades’ long, needless criminalization of this substance.”
The Senate Committee on Judiciary adopted the House recommendation without objection and advanced the bill. The Senate Committee on Public Safety, Intergovernmental, and Military Affairs didn’t immediately have a quorum during the joint hearing, so that panel didn’t formally take its vote until later in the day.
Besides decriminalizing low-level cannabis possession, the legislation would provide for the expungement of prior convictions cocerning three grams or less.
It would also establish a marijuana evaluation task force to “examine other states’ laws, penalties, and outcomes pertaining to marijuana use, other than marijuana use for medical purposes, and make recommendations on amending marijuana use penalties and outcomes in the State.”
Advocates are cautiously optimistic that Gov. David Ige (D) will sign the bill if it arrives on his desk. While he’s expressed concerns about adult-use legalization, he put his name on decriminalization legislation as a state senator in 2013.
On that note, a separate legalization proposal that advanced further than similar legislation has ever gone in Hawaii after it was approved by a Senate committee last month did not receive consideration in another panel before the deadline to proceed through the legislative process, which effectively killed the bill.
Elsewhere, New Mexico lawmakers sent a more wide-ranging decriminalization bill to the desk of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) over the weekend. The pro-legalization governor is expected to sign the legislation.
Photo courtesy of Max Pixel.
First Congressional Marijuana Vote Of 2019 Officially Scheduled For Next Week
A bipartisan bill designed to protect banks that service the marijuana industry from being penalized by federal regulators will get a vote in a key congressional committee next week.
The legislation, which was discussed during the first cannabis-related hearing of the 116th Congress last month, will go before the House Financial Services Committee on Tuesday.
Reps. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) Denny Heck (D-WA), Steve Stivers (R-OH) and Warren Davidson (R-OH) are the chief sponsors of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act. It was formally filed earlier this month, and currently has 138 cosponsors—more than a quarter of the House.
After no action for 6 years, #SAFEBanking has received its first hearing and will see its first vote next week. Glad to have the support of 138+ cosponsors as we work to address the #cannabis banking issue and get cash off our streets. https://t.co/jylk1udqVQ
— Rep. Ed Perlmutter (@RepPerlmutter) March 19, 2019
“For six years, Congress has failed to act on the issue of cannabis banking, putting thousands of employees, businesses and communities at risk,” Perlmutter said in a statement emailed to Marijuana Moment. “However, the issue is finally receiving the attention it deserves with the first-ever congressional hearing and now a scheduled committee vote.”
‘Among the cosponsors is the chair of the committee herself, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), who spoke about addressing banking issues in the cannabis industry shortly before assuming the position. Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-MA), have also signed onto the legislation—demonstrating its support among powerful Democratic leaders of the House.
All of this sets the stage for a potentially game-changing vote, as Republican leadership during the last Congress consistently blocked marijuana-related bills from even being considered. With Democrats in control and leading lawmakers embracing the legislation, it stands a good chance of heading to the full House and then on to the Senate.
Resolving banking problems for marijuana companies was one of several legislative goals that Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) outlined in a blueprint to end federal marijuana prohibition he sent to his party’s leaders last year.
“The banking issue is just one aspect of the failed policy of federal marijuana criminalization. In order to truly bring the marijuana industry out of the shadows, actions need to be taken by Congress to amend this, and many others, outdated and discriminatory practices,” Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, said in a statement. “This will certainly not be the last hearing of this Congress to discuss marijuana prohibition and we expect a full hearing on prohibition to be scheduled in the months to come.”
There were several changes made to the banking bill since it was last introduced in the 115th Congress. For example, the legislation clarifies that protections are extended to financial institutions that work with ancillary cannabis business—not just those that directly sell marijuana or marijuana products.
“[P]roceeds from a transaction conducted by a cannabis-related legitimate business shall not be considered as proceeds from an unlawful activity solely because the transaction was conducted by a cannabis-related legitimate business,” the bill states.
It also calls on the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council to implement “uniform guidance and examination procedures for depository institutions that provide financial services to cannabis-related legitimate businesses.”
There have been widespread calls to tackle the banking problem, including from members of Congress and representatives of cannabis businesses. With this vote, it seems those calls are at least starting to be answered.
Meanwhile, Nadler has signaled that his Judiciary Committee may also take up broader marijuana legislation soon.
“With 97.7 percent of the U.S. population living in a state where voters have legalized some form of adult recreational, medical or limited-medical use of marijuana, congressional inaction is no longer an option,” Perlmutter said. “And with broad, bipartisan support in the House, I look forward to the SAFE Banking Act continuing to move forward in the Financial Services Committee and on the floor of the House.”
This story has been updated to include statements from Perlmutter and NORML.
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.
Feds Ramp Up Calls For Research Into Marijuana Treatment For Chronic Pain
A federal health agency is seeking the public’s help in identifying studies that explore the potential benefits and harms of using marijuana instead of opioids for chronic pain treatment.
In three separate notices published in the Federal Register on Tuesday, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) said it is in the process of reviewing existing research on chronic pain—specifically alternatives to opioid-based painkillers—and requested “supplemental evidence and data submissions” from the public.
The agency provided guidelines for what exactly it was interested in learning. One notice called for studies on the “comparative effectiveness” of using non-opioid therapies, “including marijuana,” instead of opioids. The studies should explore differences in “outcomes related to pain, function, and quality of life.” The filing also includes a prompt for evidence about utilizing cannabis in tandem with opioids, including how the harms of the prescription pain medications vary for patients who also use marijuana.
In another notice, AHRQ, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said it wants help completing its review of non-invasive and non-pharmacologic chronic pain treatments such as exercise, mindfulness, acupuncture—and yes, medical marijuana. The request specified that the agency is interested in research on “any formulation” of cannabis.
Finally, a third notice included marijuana in a list of non-opioid pharmacologic treatment options that AHRQ is interested in exploring. The public is encouraged to submit studies and data on the risk of “overdose, misuse, dependence, withdrawals due to adverse events, and serious adverse events” for medical cannabis, as well as more conventional oral and topical treatments.
Altogether, the package of solicitations demonstrates that while marijuana remains a Schedule I drug (meaning the federal government does not recognize it as having medical value), there are federal agencies that are compelled by the prospect that cannabis effectively treats pain without the risks posed by opioids.
And there are any number of studies that AHRQ might want to take into consideration. For example, there are surveys that show patients often use marijuana as a substitute for opioid painkillers and other pharmaceuticals, as well as several comprehensive studies indicating that states with legal cannabis access experience lower opioid overdose rates and have fewer opioid prescriptions compared to non-legal states.
The deadline to submit studies and data for all of the new notices is April 18.
These are the latest in a series of notices that AHRQ and other federal agencies have published in recent months. Last year, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health hosted a workshop that specifically addressed barriers to cannabis research while the substance remains federally prohibited.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.