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Where Presidential Candidate Pete Buttigieg Stands On Marijuana

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South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg announced that he was competing for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination on April 14, 2019 and dropped out on March 1, 2020.

If elected, he would have been the first openly gay and youngest president, and he’s supportive of marijuana legalization and drug decriminalization.

While the candidate hadn’t spoken extensively about cannabis reform prior to officially announcing his presidential bid, nor did he act on any marijuana legislation during his time in the mayor’s office, he’s quickly evolved on the issue. Here’s a look at where Buttigieg stands on marijuana.

This piece was last updated on March 2, 2020 to include the candidate’s statements and policy actions on marijuana since joining the race.

Legislation And Policy Actions

As mayor, Buttigieg does not appear to have signed legislation directly related to marijuana. He did, however, approve an ordinance in 2017 that prohibited businesses in the city from selling synthetic cannabinoids.

“Getting less attention [than opioids] nationally is the issue of synthetic cannabinoids, sometimes called synthetic marijuana,” he said in a press release commending the city council for approving the ordinance. “These products, sometimes available in convenience stores and gas stations, are much more dangerous than actual marijuana.”

Buttigieg has faced criticism over a report about racially disparate marijuana arrests in South Bend during his time as mayor. A campaign spokesperson said that “mayors don’t make the law related to drug possession.”

At a presidential debate, he was confronted about the enforcement data and said, “On my watch, drug arrests in South Bend were lower than the national average—and specifically to marijuana, lower than Indiana.” He added that there’s “no question” that systemic racial bias has been a factor in cannabis arrests.

On CNN, the candidate said, “All of us are implicated in these problems, and I take responsibility for everything good, bad and indifferent that we did.”

He similarly acknowledged racial disparities in marijuana enforcement in South Bend during an event in Nevada.

On The Campaign Trail

Like most of his opponents for the Democratic nomination, Buttigieg favors marijuana legalization—but he’s also one of the only candidates who’s backed broad drug decriminalization.

In July 2019, the mayor released a racial justice plan that included policies to legalize cannabis and remove criminal penalties for possession of all drugs.

“We will, on the federal level, eliminate incarceration for drug possession, reduce sentences for other drug offenses and apply these reductions retroactively, legalize marijuana and expunge past convictions,” the plan states.

In a separate plan aimed at addressing mental health issues in the country, the candidate explicitly said he would pursue “decriminalizing all drug possession” during his first term in office if elected.

The plan also includes proposals to reduce sentences for drug offenses other than possession, increase access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone and make it easier to implement syringe exchange programs.

“Eliminate incarceration for drug possession, reduce sentences for other drug offenses and apply these reductions retroactively, legalize marijuana, and expunge past convictions,” his campaign website states.

Buttigieg talked about his drug reform agenda during a visit to a dispensary in Las Vegas in October 2019, which Marijuana Moment attended.

During that trip, the former mayor told Marijuana Moment that doctors at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) should be able to recommend medical cannabis to military veterans. He also said that “legitimate medical use of cannabis should be covered” by health insurance.

To mark Veterans Day, Buttigieg released a plan calling for “legislation that will empower VA physicians to issue medical cannabis recommendations to augment a veterans’ broader treatment plan, in accordance with the laws of states where it is legal.”

He would also encourage VA to “conduct studies on the use of marijuana to treat pain.”

If Congress fails to act on cannabis reform, Buttigieg said in February 2020 that he would board Air Force One and “fly it directly into the home district of a member who is standing in the way” in order to pressure them to heed the will of voters.

At a Democratic presidential debate in February 2020, the candidate was pressed on his drug decriminalization plan. He took issue with the use of the word “decriminalization” to describe his proposal and said he simply wants to “end the use of incarceration as a response” to possession cases.

While major drug policy reform groups define decriminalization as a policy where the penalty for simple possession does not include incarceration, at least for a first offense, Buttigieg has been reluctant to embrace the term.

“Possession should not be dealt with through incarceration,” he said in a post-debate interview, adding that some cases could be treated as misdemeanor offenses but that the “point is that we have learned through 40 years of a failed war on drugs that criminalizing addiction doesn’t work.”

Buttigieg was asked in February how he would exercise the authority in light of President Trump’s move to pardon or commute the sentences of a former Illinois governor, a former New York City police commissioner and a financier, among others.

“I would start with nonviolent drug offenders caught up in the racial disparities of the failed war on drugs,” Buttigieg replied. “I actually think presidential clemency power can be an important part of how we decarcerate a country that is shockingly over-incarcerated. If incarceration made a country safe we’d be the safest country in the world, but we’re not.”

Legalizing marijuana and ending incarceration for simple drug possession would be part of his proposal to reduce incarceration by 50 percent, which he pledged to do during a speech at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition Convention in July.

“We cannot incarcerate ourselves out of this public health problem,” the plan says.

The drug policy proposals are part of Buttigieg’s plan to reduce “incarceration in this country without an increase in crime.”

He expanded on his plan at the Iowa State Fair in August, stating that he would reduce the prison population “using clemency powers, working with states, ending incarceration as a response to drug possession, and when we legalize marijuana—which we ought to do—we ought to have expungements as well for people whose incarceration is doing more harm than the original offense did, creating a whole generation of kids who have experienced the incarceration of a parent, which is a devastating experience to have.”

During a campaign stop in South Dakota in May, the candidate discussed his support for legalizing marijuana, abolishing private prisons and ending mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders.

After the governor of Iowa vetoed a bill in June that would have expanded the state’s medical cannabis program, Buttigieg wrote that thousands of patients “are struggling thanks to a limited medical marijuana program that doesn’t meet their health care needs” and that the veto “will only prolong their suffering.”

Buttigieg told an Iowa radio station that he supports reform in part because “a lot of nonviolent drug offenses, where the way we responded to it, the incarceration, is actually doing more harm to society and costing us more than the offense itself did.”

In Council Bluffs, @okayhenderson asked Pete Buttigieg if he supports legalizing marijuana– he told Kay, “I would,” adding, “we’ve just hit the point as a country, where there are a lot of offenses …doing more harm to society and costing us more than the offense itself did.” pic.twitter.com/eqj0CYNgI2

— DJ Judd (@DJJudd) July 20, 2019

“When it comes to American drug policy,” he added, “I don’t think anyone can look at it and say it’s looking well, and when you add to that the racial disparities around the way it’s been applied, we clearly have to take a very deep redesign about the way we think about this and many other drugs.”

During an interview with The Des Moines Register’s editorial board, Buttigieg said that “while there continue to be all kinds of harms associated with drug possession and use, it’s also the case that we have created—in an effort to deal with what amounts to a public health problem—we have created an even bigger problem. A justice problem and its form of a health problem.”

A former White House drug czar from the 1980s reacted to his support for broad decriminalization and said that the candidate’s plan will encourage more substance misuse.

In January 2020, Buttigieg talked about his support for drug policy reform and also said that the country would “be much better off, frankly, with regular marijuana” compared to synthetic cannabinoids that are available on the marketplace.

Buttigieg said that he would be open to forming a strategic partnership with Mexico and send in American troops to deal with drug cartels if American lives were at risk and the country solicited that assistance.

“By the way, a lot of this is a question of the demand side on the United States. Part of what we do is make drug trafficking less profitable by walking away from the failed war on drugs here in the United States,” he said. “That is a policy that we know through experience hasn’t worked. We have got to do our part here at home, and partner with countries abroad.”

Previous Quotes And Social Media Posts

Prior to his official campaign announcement, Buttigieg seldom discussed cannabis issues.

“I think even in Indiana, criminal justice reform, including marijuana [legalization]. We’re probably there,” he told Indianapolis Monthly in November 2018. “Maybe not a 70 percent majority, but a majority.”

“I really think a state-wide campaign in Indiana would do well, especially on the criminal justice stuff,” he added. “To find common cause between the younger, Libertarian right that’s not so sure about the Republican party as an institution. And a more traditional, progressive coalition. I think you can get there on drugs. I think you can get there on a lot of things related to criminal justice.”

“The safe, regulated, and legal sale of marijuana is an idea whose time has come for the United States, as evidenced by voters demanding legalization in states across the country,” he told The Boston Globe.

Buttigieg also said that he believes voters in his home state of Indiana, which doesn’t even yet have a comprehensive medical cannabis law, are ready to legalize marijuana.

During an interview on the radio program The Breakfast Club one month before formally announcing his presidential bid, Buttigieg brought up criminal justice reform and stressed the importance of supporting individuals who are released from prison for non-violent drug offenses as the country moves toward ending the war on drugs.

“We know the war on drugs is important, right?” he said. “What are we going to do about—if we decide that it actually doesn’t make sense to incarcerated for unbelievably long amounts of time for non-violent drug offenses, what are we going to do for the people we already did that to?”

“Are they going to have an experience that’s not so different from the experience of the end of slavery that says, ‘OK, I took off your chains so I’m sure things are going to go great for you,’” he said. “Are we going to do the same thing to people coming out of incarceration and say, ‘OK, that’s over. Good luck.’ Or are we going to have some intention around lifting them up and empowering them to contribute and thrive in our communities and our society?”

Personal Experience With Marijuana

Some of Buttigieg’s most extensive public comments about marijuana are related to his own personal experience with cannabis and law enforcement and, specifically, how it’s shed light on the concept of white privilege.

During an interview at South By Southwest, the mayor talked about how he was caught with a joint while a student at Harvard University.

“I was standing outside my dorm. I was on my way home from a party or something,” he said. “I ran into a friend and he had an acquaintance with him, and we were chatting, and at some point I noticed that she was smoking a joint. And just out of curiosity—there was like a little bit left—I was like ‘Oh, is that…’ And she handed it to me.”

“At exactly, precisely this instant, a police car drives by—university police—and I thought, well, that’s gotta go over the shoulder,” he said.

The officer apparently berated Buttigieg, swearing at him and calling Harvard students arrogant.

“And then my hands are on the back of his trunk and he’s going through my pockets to see if I’ve got anything more on me,” he said. “He yells a few more obscenities, and just as I’m getting read to take a ride with him, he drives off. And that was it. It’s a funny story I can tell about my college days.”

But there was also an unfunny lesson to be learned, which has informed Buttigieg’s position on cannabis reform.

“A lot of people probably had the exact same experience, and would not have been believed, and would have been a lot worse than yelled at, and would not have slept in their own beds that night—and maybe would have been derailed in their college career because of it,” he said. “It’s one of many reasons why I think we have to end the war on drugs and move towards the legalization of marijuana.”

He also said that the odds of him facing more serious, lifelong consequences over the joint would be much greater if he wasn’t white.

“Think about that: That’s a funny story to me,” he said. “That can be a funny story to me. And if I were not white, the odds of that having been something that would have derailed my life are exponentially higher. So that’s one of many moments when I learned a thing or two about privilege.”

Separately, Buttigieg addressed how many times he has consumed cannabis in his book: “not many, but more than zero.”

That being said, he’s clearly abstaining on the campaign trail. He didn’t buy any marijuana during his trip to the Las Vegas dispensary, and he even declined a hit of an imaginary joint that was “passed” to him during an interview.

Marijuana Under A Buttigieg Presidency

Despite lacking a legislative history on cannabis reform, Buttigieg has grown increasingly comfortable identifying problems in federal drug policy and laying out specific solutions throughout his campaign. He’s made clear that his administration would support legalization if elected, and he’s gone further than many other candidates by backing broader drug decriminalization. His perspective on drug reform is also informed by an understanding of how these issues relate to mental health and racial justice.

Where Presidential Candidate Beto O’Rourke Stands On Marijuana

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

United Nations To Vote On Marijuana Rescheduling And CBD Issues This Week, With U.S. Backing Some Reforms

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A key United Nations (UN) commission will vote on a series of World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations concerning international marijuana reform this week. And the U.S. is in favor of the boldest policy change.

UN’s Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) has held numerous meetings on the proposals—including removing cannabis from the most restrictive global drug scheduling category under a global treaty—since WHO made its six recommendations last year. Now, after several delays, CND is finally scheduled to meet to decide on the measures on Wednesday.

Advocates are generally encouraged by the development, arguing that a vote in favor of the reforms will promote research into the therapeutic potential of cannabis. However, they say removing marijuana from its current international Schedule IV status does not go far enough and means that many member nations will continue to criminalize the plant.

Here are each of WHO’s cannabis recommendations:

1. Remove marijuana from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention.

2. Add THC and dronabinol (synthetic THC medication) to Schedule I of the 1961 Convention and, if approved, delete them from Schedule II of the 1971 Convention.

3. If the second recommendation is adopted, add tetrahydrocannabinol to Schedule I of the 1961 Convention and, if approved, delete it from Schedule I of the 1971 Convention.

4. Delete “extracts and tinctures of cannabis” from Schedule I of the 1961 Convention.

5. Add footnote to clarify that CBD products containing no more than 0.2 percent THC are not subject to international control.

6. Add “preparations containing dronabinol” to Schedule III of the 1961 Convention.

Last month, the U.S. government said it is backing the WHO recommendation to remove marijuana from the most restrictive global drug scheduling category—though it’s opposing separate cannabis reform proposals, including the one to clarify that CBD is not under international control.

John Walsh, director of drug policy for Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), told Marijuana Moment that this upcoming vote is “momentous,” especially as “this is the first time that the UN scientific bodies has assessed placing cannabis and drug control schedules.”

‘And it’s extremely significant that the United States is supporting a recommendation to remove cannabis from Schedule IV, which strongly discourages medical uses of cannabis, even if it doesn’t outright prohibit it,” he said.

Of principal concern to advocates is that while marijuana would be removed from Schedule IV under the 1961 Single Convention—the most strict international category—it would maintain its status as a Schedule I controlled substance if the panel accepts the recommendation. (The international scheduling system differs from that of the U.S. in that the country’s most restrictive category is Schedule I.)

But despite supporting that recommendation, the U.S. circulated a proposed joint statement to other member states that claims consensus on the notion “that cannabis is properly subject to the full scope of international controls of the 1961 Single Convention, due in particular to the high rates of public health problems arising from cannabis use and the global extent of such problems, as identified in the critical review by WHO.”

It also stipulates that “no Party shall be precluded from adopting measures of control more strict or severe than those required as a result of this decision, if such measures in its opinion are necessary or desirable for the protection of the public health or welfare.” The language seems to attempt to leave room for countries to continue enforcing more restrictive cannabis policies regardless of international rules.

In an email obtained by Marijuana Moment, a State Department official said that the U.S. “believes, to demonstrate unity, every CND member and observer could ideally join the statement below, regardless of how their government will vote.” They also plan to proceed with filing the statement even if no other member states join them.

The statement represents a “disconnect” from the country’s planned vote in favor of removing marijuana from the international body’s most restrictive drug classification, Walsh said.

“Civil society had called for, and welcomed, this long overdue review process—but many have been critical of some of the recommendations,” drug policy reform advocates said in a media advisory. “While recommendations on medical cannabis and CBD are certainly positive steps, profound concerns have been raised around leaving cannabis in Schedule I of the 1961 Convention.”

“This recommendation is at odds with The Who Expert Committee on Drug Dependence’s clear finding that cannabis was less harmful than other drugs included in that schedule (heroin and cocaine),” the advisory, prepared by advocacy groups Transform Drug Policy Foundation, Transnational Institute, International Drug Policy Consortium and WOLA, said.

“Regardless of the outcome of the votes on 2 December, this historic review process has demonstrably failed to implement a much-needed modernization of an outdated and malfunctioning system, and to resolve key scientific, political, institutional and human rights challenges related to cannabis and its status in the international drugs control system,” they said.

Numerous health and drug policy reform groups have advocated for the more modest changes WHO proposed.

A coalition of drug policy groups told member nations in a sign-on statement that patients worldwide are “counting on you to seize the opportunity offered by WHO to update the treaties, doing all you can to ensure access to all useful medicines. Including cannabis medicines.”

“Adopting WHO’s recommendations would lead to better medications being developed and more tools for doctors to alleviate suffering while simultaneously reinforcing the UN’s relevance,” they said.

The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies also weighed in in favor of the recommendations.

While the WHO’s CBD recommendation would simply offer clarification that cannabidiol products containing no more than 0.2 percent THC isn’t a controlled substance under international treaties, the U.S. came down against that and several other cannabis-related proposals.

It should be noted that none of WHO’s recommendations would promote the legalization of cannabis in any country, but advocates nonetheless seem that as a step forward from the status quo.

“This is super, super meaningful. But I don’t want to overstate it,” Michael Krawitz, a U.S. Air Force veteran and legalization advocate who has spent years working to reform international drug treaties, told Marijuana Moment. “I’ve been cautioning really hard to member states to not fall into this trap that the opposition fell into on [on California’s 1996 medical cannabis initiative] of overstating what this does in an effort to try to stop it—and then vicariously creating expectations in people’s minds that this actually does much more than it does.”

But the U.S.’s expected support for the proposal to remove marijuana from Schedule IV represents a departure from its position as articulated in a government document that Marijuana Moment obtained earlier this year. The document stated that it’s “possible that civil society, the media, and the general public will view deleting cannabis from Schedule IV as a first step toward widespread legalization of marijuana use, especially without proper messaging.”

Meanwhile, if the recommendation on CBD is adopted, it could potentially have far-reaching implications in the U.S. In 2018, the FDA determined that CBD does not meet the criteria for federal control—except for the fact that international treaties to which the U.S. is party could potentially be construed as requiring it.

The U.S. does intend to back the fourth WHO recommendation on deleting cannabis extracts and tinctures from Schedule I of the 1961 Convention, according to advocates familiar with the delegation’s thinking.

FDA has on several occasions solicited public input to shape the government’s position on the international scheduling of marijuana and cannabinoids. The agency initially requested feedback on the proposal in March 2019 and then reopened that comment period five months later.

House Leaders Propose Changes To Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill Up For Floor Vote This Week

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House Leaders Propose Changes To Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill Up For Floor Vote This Week

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A key House committee has scheduled a Wednesday hearing to advance a bill to federally legalize marijuana toward a full floor vote, which could then happen as soon as Thursday. Meanwhile, leaders in the chamber are proposing an amendment that would make several changes to the cannabis legislation.

Among the most significant revisions would be to the tax-related provisions of the bill.

The Rules Committee’s move to take up the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act follows Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) announcement that the chamber would be holding a floor vote on the bill before the end of the year.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), the lead sponsor of the bill, transmitted it to Rules with the series of modifications—many of them technical in nature. But beyond the tax changes, the newly proposed language also reaffirms the regulatory authority of certain federal agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and clarifies that cannabis can still be included in drug testing programs for federal workers.

Other members of the House are likely to file proposed amendments as well, though the Democratic majority of the Rules panel will determine which ones can be made in order for floor votes later this week.

As originally drafted, the legislation would have imposed a five percent tax on marijuana products, revenue from which would be used in part to fund a grant program to support communities disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs. In Nadler’s amendment, that language is being removed and replaced with text that more closely reflects a separate descheduling bill, the Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act.

The modified tax provisions of the MORE Act would make it so cannabis would be federally taxed at five percent for the first two years after implementation and then increased by one percent each year until reaching eight percent. After five years, taxes would be applied to marijuana products based on weight rather than price.

At its core, the MORE Act would federally deschedule cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and expunge the records of those with prior marijuana convictions. The descheduling provisions would be retroactive.

The bill would also create a pathway for resentencing for those incarcerated for marijuana offenses, as well as protect immigrants from being denied citizenship over cannabis and prevent federal agencies from denying public benefits or security clearances due to its use.

A new Cannabis Justice Office under the Justice Department would be responsible for distributing funds providing loans for small cannabis businesses owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals. The bill also seeks to minimize barriers to licensing and employment in the legal industry.

While the bill still calls for the establishment of a Community Reinvestment Grant Program, the new leadership amendment would remove a line calling for it to specifically fund “services to address any collateral consequences that individuals or communities face as a result of the War on Drugs.”

Tax dollars appropriated to that program would instead more generally go to job training, legal aid for criminal and civil cases such as those concerning marijuana-related expungements, literacy programs and youth recreation and mentoring services, among other programs.

The definition of people impacted by the drug war who could be eligible for aid is also being changed to narrow the scope. At first it included those who have “been arrested for or convicted of the sale, possession, use, manufacture, or cultivation of cannabis or a controlled substance,” but now it only extends to marijuana and not other illicit drugs.

Other changes included in Nadler’s latest revision include one requiring FDA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to hold public meetings on “regulation, safety, manufacturing, product quality, marketing, labeling, and sale of products containing cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds” within one year of the bill’s enactment.

The language is also being updated to reflect the current number of states where marijuana is legal for medical or recreational purposes, clarify that FDA and HHS maintain their authorities to regulate cannabis products and stipulate that federal agencies can continue to include cannabis in employee drug testing. A conforming amendment would clarify that the U.S. Department of Transportation could continue to require drug testing for workers in safety sensitive positions.

The revised version also stipulates that funding can be made available to “connect patients with substance use disorder services” and apply to “individuals who have been arrested for or convicted of the sale, possession, use, manufacture, or cultivation of a controlled substance other than cannabis (except for a conviction involving distribution to a minor).”

The proposal also deletes from the definition of substance misuse treatment language stating that it would be an “evidence-based, professionally directed, deliberate, and planned regimen including evaluation, observation, medical monitoring, harm reduction, and rehabilitative services and interventions such as pharmacotherapy, mental health services, and individual and group counseling, on an inpatient or outpatient basis, to help patients with substance use disorder reach remission and maintain recovery.”

There are also a number of technical and conforming changes in the proposal, as well as the removal of the word “most” from “individuals most adversely impacted by the War on Drugs” when it comes to determining eligibility for the new programs and services created by the legislation.

In a new report on the bill that was submitted by the Democratic majority in Judiciary, members said cannabis enforcement “has been a key driver of mass criminalization in the United States” and the “drug war has produced profoundly unequal outcomes across racial groups, manifested through significant racial disparities throughout the criminal justice system.”

“The higher arrest and incarceration rates for communities of color do not reflect a greater prevalence of drug use, but rather the focus on law enforcement on urban areas, lower income communities, and communities of color,” they wrote.

Further, the “collateral consequences of even an arrest for marijuana possession can be devastating, especially if a felony conviction results.”

“Those arrested can be saddled with a criminal conviction that can make it difficult or impossible to vote, obtain educational loans, get a job, maintain a professional license, secure housing, secure government assistance, or even adopt a child,” the report states. “These exclusions create an often-permanent second-class status for millions of Americans. Like drug war enforcement itself, these consequences fall disproportionately on people of color. For non-citizens, a conviction can trigger deportation, sometimes with almost no possibility of discretionary relief.”

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), GOP ranking member on the panel, wrote the minority opinion in the report.

He argued that the MORE Act “disregards established science” and “would open the floodgates to marijuana cultivation, distribution, and sale within the United States—allowing bad actors and transnational criminal organizations to further exploit America’s addiction crisis.”

The congressman complained that the legislation—which he called “an extreme and unwise measure”—wouldn’t impose limits on THC concentration or ban flavored cannabis products, and he said it “fails to funnel any tax revenue towards a public awareness campaign to discourage teen use of marijuana, modeled on successful anti-tobacco campaigns.”

He also claimed it “does nothing to help the Federal government and scientific community to understand the effects of marijuana usage.”

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris (D-CA) is the lead sponsor of the Senate companion version of the MORE Act.

One provision of the bill requires that any uses of the words “marijuana” or “marihuana” in U.S. Code or regulations be replaced with the term “cannabis”—despite the fact that the legislation has “marijuana” in its own title.

The Congressional Research Service released an analysis of the MORE Act last week, finding that the bill’s passage could “reverse” the current cannabis policy gap that exists between states and the federal government.

That’s because the bill does not require states to stop criminalizing cannabis, and so jurisdictions with prohibition still on the books could continue to punish people over marijuana even as such activity is legalized at the federal level.

Even if the legislation does pass in the Democratic-controlled chamber, as it’s expected to with some bipartisan support, it remains unlikely that the Senate will follow suit. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is a champion of the hemp industry but staunchly opposes further marijuana reform.

That said, a symbolic vote for legalization could send a strong signal to the incoming Biden administration.

Given Biden’s former approach to championing punitive anti-drug legislation as a senator and his ongoing obstinance on marijuana legalization at a time when polls show that a clear majority of Americans favor the policy change, there remains some skepticism about his willingness to make good on his campaign promises to achieve more modest reforms he has endorsed, such as decriminalizing possession and expunging records.

A transition document the incoming Biden-Harris administration released this month left out mention of those cannabis pledges.

That said, the president-elect has conceded that his work on punitive anti-drug legislation during his time in Congress was a “mistake.”

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.

These States Could Have Marijuana Legalization On Their 2022 Ballots

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USDA Expands Hemp Crop Insurance Program For Farmers In More States

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced on Monday that it is expanding and improving a crop insurance program for hemp farmers.

The Multi-Peril Crop Insurance is one of several coverage programs for which hemp qualifies. Under the new expansion, farmers in certain counties of the additional states of Arizona, Arkansas, Nevada and Texas will be eligible, as will those in new counties of states already included in the program, such as Colorado, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, New Mexico, Tennessee and Virginia.

Broker contracts for hemp grain will also be allowed for the first time, and reporting and billing dates will be adjusted to match those for similar crops.

“We are pleased to expand the hemp program and make other improvements for hemp producers,” USDA Risk Management Agency Administrator Martin Barbre said in a press release. “Hemp offers exciting economic opportunities for our nation’s farmers, and we are listening and responding to their risk management needs.”

Crop insurance policies are one of many areas USDA has acted in following hemp’s legalization through the 2018 Farm Bill.

The department has approved nearly 70 state and tribal regulatory hemp proposals and recently awarded an advocacy group $200,000 to support America’s international hemp trade.

Last month USDA closed an extended public comment period on its proposed hemp regulations after temporarily reopening the feedback period due to strong pushback from stakeholders, many of whom said the policies were too restrictive. An initial comment round saw more than 4,600 submissions.

Due to the concerns, Congress approved a continuing resolution that extends a current hemp pilot program established in 2014 through September 2021. That program, which many in the industry feel is more flexible than USDA’s proposed rules, was initially set to expire in October.

The department announced last month that it is planning to distribute a national survey to gain insights from thousands of hemp businesses that could inform its approach to regulating the industry.

Also last month, USDA issued and then rescinded guidance on providing federal loans for hemp processors.

Several members of Congress sent a letter to USDA and other federal agencies this month, telling them to better coordinate their hemp policies.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, hemp industry associations pushed for farmers to be able to access to certain COVID-19 relief loans—a request that Congress granted in the most recent round of coronavirus legislation.

While USDA previously said that hemp farmers are specifically ineligible for its Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, that decision was reversed. While the department initially said it would not even reevaluate the crop’s eligibility based on new evidence, it removed that language shortly after Marijuana Moment reported on the exclusion.

These States Could Have Marijuana Legalization On Their 2022 Ballots

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