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What Tuesday’s Primary Elections Mean for Marijuana

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The results from Tuesday’s congressional and gubernatorial primary elections are in, and while the candidates campaigned on wide-ranging platforms, some of the results could mean a lot for state and federal marijuana reform.

Marijuana Moment put together a recap, examining where several of the primary winners stand on cannabis. While a number of other House primary elections took place throughout the country, the list below includes races where marijuana issues were relatively prominent.

Indiana U.S. Senate Primary

Republican winner: Mike Braun

During a debate last month, Braun said: “I think if a state wants to go to medical marijuana, it ought to be their prerogative.” But he also said that he was still “out on the issue” when it comes to his personal support for medical cannabis. It’s not clear based on that statement whether the businessman meant that he was undecided or opposed to reform, but he went on to say that “states are a great laboratory,” indicating that if elected to the Senate he would support efforts to scale back federal prohibition, at least when it comes to medical use.

“It’s happening right in front of us,” Braun said during the debate. “We’ll see what happens.”

Marijuana Moment reached out to Braun’s campaign office for clarification. This story will be updated if a response is received.

Of note is that Braun beat out two Republican challengers who have voiced steadfast opposition to marijuana legalization and have consistently voted against reform amendments as U.S. House members.

Democratic incumbent: Sen. Joe Donnelly

The incumbent senator earned a “D” rating from the pro-legalization group NORML due to his consistent failure to support federal legislation to reform marijuana laws. In 2007, during his time in the House, he voted against a measure to prevent federal interference in states where marijuana is legal. According to Civilized, Donnelly has said that it would not be “prudent” to legalize or decriminalize cannabis.

Ohio Gubernatorial Primary

Democratic winner: Richard Cordray

Cordray, the former director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, has been sheepish about his personal stance on marijuana legalization. However, he’s been critical of Ohio’s medical marijuana program, which he feels was poorly implemented.

In a statement sent to Marijuana Moment last week, a spokesperson for Cordray said that he’d “fix the botched implementation” of the program” if elected and would also respect “voters’ right to propose a new [recreational marijuana legalization] referendum” and “follow the will of the voters if it comes to a vote.” The spokesperson declined to comment on Cordray’s personal feelings about recreational legalization.

Republican winner: Mike DeWine

While DeWine, Ohio’s attorney general, has been relatively quiet about his stance on medical marijuana, he did say in 2014 that he thinks legalizing the plant for recreational purposes would be “a mistake.”

At a press conference with law enforcement, he acknowledged that legalization could take the substance off the black market and lead to fewer deaths from gang violence. That said, he still felt legalization would send a bad message to youth, saying that experts informed him that cannabis was a gateway drug to heroin “in some cases” and expressing concern that full legalization would mean “more people killed by someone who is high on marijuana” on highways. He’s also rejected several petitions to change that state constitution with respect to cannabis reform—though he’s attributed those rejection decisions to issues with the language of the petitions, not the underlying policy issue.

Ohio U.S. Senate Primary

Republican winner: U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci

The U.S. congressman hasn’t said much about marijuana, and he also hasn’t supported federal legislation to reform the country’s cannabis laws—including measures to protect legal states from federal interference, provide marijuana businesses with banking access, or allow Department of Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend cannabis to patients.

In a recent interview with the Dayton Daily News, he did provide some insights into his perspective on the issue. Renacci said that he was “closely watching” Ohio’s medical marijuana program and voiced clear opposition to recreational marijuana legalization.

Democratic incumbent: U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown 

Like many career politicians on Capitol Hill, Brown’s position on cannabis has evolved over the years. But that hasn’t necessarily been reflected in terms of introducing or co-sponsoring reform legislation.

Earlier, this year, when U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole memo—which offered some protections against federal intervention in states where marijuana had been legalized—he spoke out, arguing that the Sessions should “mind the store on other things” and “put his efforts into this terrible addiction issue about opioids and worry less about medical marijuana.” However, Brown has also peddled the debunked gateway drug theory that marijuana leads users to harder drugs, and he’s said that he felt concerned that legalization would increase youth consumption. Brown is on the record defending the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes, stating that “the evidence is in that [marijuana] works for a number of patients.”

West Virginia U.S. Senate Primary

Republican winner: Patrick Morrisey

The West Virginia attorney general has said that it was important to be “open-minded” about medical marijuana legalization because it “may provide some relief to those who truly may be in need and hurting.” However, Morrisey was clear during a debate hosted by local television station WSAZ last month that he was “opposed to it for recreational use.”

Morrisey said that recreational marijuana was “another gateway into this terrible drug problem.” 

Democratic winner: U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin

Though Manchin has faced criticism over his opposition to the legalization of cannabis—most recently during an April 5 town hall event where the senator was booed for suggesting that the substance was a gateway drug—he did reportedly cast a voice vote in support of a spending amendment that prevents federal intervention in state medical cannabis laws.

According to NORML, Manchin also said that he “would lean more to listen to the doctors, the professionals who are responsible for our health,” with respect to marijuana reform.

West Virginia U.S. House Primary (District 3)

Democratic winner: Richard Ojeda

The state senator and former Army veteran is decidedly pro-legalization. He sponsored a bill to legalize medical marijuana in West Virginia last year, which was signed into law by the governor on April 19, 2017. A statement on Ojeda’s campaign site makes his stance clear:

“Through comprehensive cannabis legislation, encompassing decriminalization, medical, and industrial use, we can utilize one of the most medically beneficial and economically viable plants on Earth to fight the opioid epidemic, generate revenue to fund new education and infrastructure initiatives, and address the problem of overpopulation within our state correctional facilities,” it states. “With a comprehensive approach to cannabis policy, we can put West Virginia on a path to a prosperous future and grow a new economy that will benefit the people of our state for generations to come.”

These States Will Probably Vote On Marijuana In 2018

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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

Hawaii Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Decriminalization Bill In Joint Committee Hearing

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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.

New Jersey Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Legalization Bill

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First Congressional Marijuana Vote Of 2019 Officially Scheduled For Next Week

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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.

“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.

Congressional Committee Could Take Up Marijuana Reform ‘Fairly Soon,’ Chairman Says

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Feds Ramp Up Calls For Research Into Marijuana Treatment For Chronic Pain

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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.

Anti-Legalization GOP Congressman Slams DEA Over Marijuana Research Blockade

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