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What Tuesday’s Election Results Mean For Marijuana

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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.

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potential federal intervention in the state’s cannabis law, for example when U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded Obama-era protections.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.

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.

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.

“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.

“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.”

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.

What Tuesday’s Primary Elections Mean for Marijuana

Photo courtesy of Democracy Chronicles.

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

Hemp Farmers Guaranteed Federal Crop Insurance Through Disaster Bill Amendment

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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.

Mitch McConnell Touts Hemp As He Proposes Raising Tobacco Purchase Age Limit

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Congressional Report Urges DEA Action On Marijuana Cultivation Applications

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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

Presidential Candidates Are Cosponsoring A New Marijuana Descheduling Bill

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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House Committee Approves Immigration Bill With Marijuana Protections

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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.

New Congressional Bill Aims To Resolve Marijuana Industry Border Issues

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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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