Lawmakers Roll Out ‘Landmark’ Bill To Protect Legal Marijuana States From Federal Interference

Lawmakers Roll Out ‘Landmark’ Bill To Protect Legal Marijuana States From Federal Interference

[Canniseur: The STATES Act ensures the federal government will respect the will of voters. It’s exciting and possible 2019 will be the year of eliminating Federal interference.]

Will 2019 be the year that Congress blocks the federal government from enforcing prohibition in legal marijuana states? A bipartisan team of lawmakers in the House and Senate are optimistic that it will, and they introduced legislation on Thursday to accomplish that goal.

Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and David Joyce (R-OH) filed the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, appearing alongside cosponsors Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Joe Neguse (D-CO) at a press conference. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) filed the Senate version of the bill.

Watch the press conference below: 

The legislation would amend the Controlled Substances Act to protect people complying with state legal cannabis laws from federal intervention, and the sponsors are hoping that the bipartisan and bicameral nature of the bill will advance it through the 116th Congress.

President Trump voiced support for a previous version of the legislation last year.

“I’ve been working on this for four decades. I could not be more excited,” Blumenauer told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview.

While other legislation under consideration such as bills to secure banking access for cannabis businesses or study the benefits of marijuana for veterans are “incremental steps that are going to make a huge difference,” the STATES Act is “a landmark,” he said.

The congressman said it will take some time before the bill gets a full House vote, however. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) recently suggested that the legislation would advance within “weeks,” but Blumenauer said it will “be a battle to get floor time” and he stressed the importance of ensuring that legislators get the chance to voice their concerns and get the answers they need before putting it before the full chamber.

“We want to raise the comfort level that people have. We want to do it right,” he said. “There’s no reason that we have to make people feel like they’re crowded or rushed.”

Asked whether he’d had conversations with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) about moving cannabis bills forward this Congress, Blumenauer said there’s been consistent communication between their offices and that the speaker is “very sympathetic” to the issue and “understands the necessity of reform.”

There are 26 initial cosponsors—half Democrats and half Republicans—on the House version. Reps. Ro Khanna (D-CA), Lou Correa (D-CA), Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Don Young (R-AK) are among those supporters. The previous version ended the 115th Congress with 45 cosponsors.

On the Senate side, there are 10 lawmakers initially signed on: Warren and Gardner, along with Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Rand Paul (R-KY).

“Our federal marijuana laws are outdated and pose a threat to our public health and safety. Marijuana should be legalized, and we must reverse the harm of these failed policies by wiping clean the records of those unjustly jailed for minor marijuana crimes,” Warren said in a press release, although the STATES Act does not contain provisions addressing past cannabis convictions.

“Congress should take immediate action on these important issues by passing the bipartisan STATES Act and protecting states, territories, and tribal nations as they implement their own marijuana laws without federal interference,” she added.

“In 2012, Coloradans legalized marijuana at the ballot box and the state created an apparatus to regulate the legal marijuana industry. But because of the one-size-fits-all federal prohibition, state decisions like this put Colorado and other states at odds with the federal government,” Gardner said. “The federal government is closing its eyes and plugging its ears while 47 states have acted. The bipartisan STATES Act fixes this problem once and for all by taking a states’ rights approach to the legal marijuana question. The bipartisan, commonsense bill ensures the federal government will respect the will of the voters – whether that is legalization or prohibition – and not interfere in any states’ legal marijuana industry.”

For the most part, the latest versions of the legislation are identical to the previous Congress’s bills, though there are two exceptions. Previously, there was a provision exempting hemp from the definition of marijuana, but that was removed—presumably because it is no longer needed in light of the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, which federally legalized the crop.

The bigger change is that the new version contains a section that requires the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study on the “effects of marihuana legalization on traffic safety.”

Among other data points, the office would be directed to collect info on “traffic crashes, fatalities, and injuries in States that have legalized marihuana use, including whether States are able to accurately evaluate marihuana impairment in those incidents.” A report on those effects would be due one year after the law is enacted.

“This bipartisan legislation signals the eventual end of marijuana prohibition at the federal level,” Steve Hawkins, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a press release. “It reflects the position held by a strong majority of Americans that states should be able to develop their own cannabis policies without interference from the federal government.”

“It also reflects the position President Trump took on marijuana policy throughout his campaign, and we are hopeful that he will have the opportunity to sign it into law,” Hawkins said. “While we look forward to the day when Congress is ready to enact more comprehensive reform, we fully embrace the states’ rights approach proposed by this bill.”

The National Cannabis Industry Association, which represents marijuana businesses, also backs the legislation.

“The STATES Act is being reintroduced at a key moment when bipartisan support for cannabis policy reform is at historic levels in both chambers of Congress and among the general public,” said Aaron Smith, the group’s executive director. “Regulating cannabis is working well in the states that have enacted more sensible policies, and legitimate businesses are creating jobs and generating revenue while helping to replace the illicit market. Those businesses shouldn’t have to worry about being treated like criminals by the federal government and deserve clarity that is set in law as opposed to the whims of federal prosecutors.”

According to a press release circulated by Warren’s office, the bill is also supported by ACLU, American Bankers Association, Americans for Prosperity, Americans for Tax Reform, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Cooperative Credit Union Association, Credit Union National Association and National Conference of State Legislatures, as well as a number of Indian tribes.

Read the text of the newly filed STATES Act below:

Photo courtesy of Max Pixel.

Lawmakers Roll Out ‘Landmark’ Bill To Protect Legal Marijuana States From Federal Interference was posted on Marijuana Moment.

House Will Vote To End Federal Marijuana Prohibition Within ‘Weeks,’ Key Chairman Says

House Will Vote To End Federal Marijuana Prohibition Within ‘Weeks,’ Key Chairman Says

[Canniseur: Great news! Ending the Federal cannabis banking ban will go a long way to making dispensaries businesses much more safe. Hopefully passing the STATES Act is not too far off as well.]

The chair of a critical House committee said on Wednesday that his panel and the larger body will take up legislation to protect states with legal marijuana from federal intervention “in a relatively short time, within the next several weeks, and I think we will have a very strong vote.”

“We will guide it to the House floor for a vote, which I think it will pass with an overwhelming vote—Democrats and I think a lot of Republicans as well,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), whose Rules Committee decides how legislation is handled on the chamber’s floor. “If we have a strong bipartisan vote that will increase the pressure on the Senate to do something.”

In the interview with Boston Herald Radio, McGovern said he wasn’t familiar with President Trump’s position on cannabis.

“I hope he will sign whatever the House and Senate put together but I’m confident he will get a bill.” he said.

McGovern was answering a question about the the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, which his home state colleague Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) filed last year with Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO). The legislation, which Trump has said he “really” supports, died at the end of the last Congress and has not yet been formally reintroduced this year. The bill would exempt state-legal marijuana activity from the federal Controlled Substances Act.

“Whether it’s the Warren-Gardner bill or another configuration I would expect something would happen this year,” McGovern said.

Listen to McGovern’s marijuana comments, about 15:30 into the audio clip below:

McGovern also pointed out how his Republican predecessor at the helm of the key committee had a different perspective on marijuana.

“The previous chair of the Rules committee [Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX)] blocked everything cannabis-related. We’re in a new day,” he said. “We need to make sure that our federal laws don’t obstruct what states are doing, especially with regard to the banking issues, where everything now is being done in cash and this is not the way we want this to go. We need to make sure that the federal laws respect what the states are doing.”

Sessions lost his reelection bid in the November midterm elections, and Democrats took the House majority.

Now that he and his party are in charge of the chamber, McGovern is bullish about the prospects for marijuana reform.

“That’s going to happen, and I feel really confident that we’ll pass it in the House and I think that there is bipartisan support in the Senate on this as well,” he said.

Besides the Rules Committee, several other panels are expected to move on cannabis legislation soon.

The House Financial Services Committee, for example, is scheduled to vote on a marijuana banking bill on Wednesday.

On that topic, McGovern said it “doesn’t seem safe and it doesn’t seem sensible” to force marijuana businesses to use cash, which can make them targets for crime. He said people in Congress “don’t always deal with reality,” which is why it’s been slow to embrace legislation like the banking bill.

“My predecessor in the Rules committee I think had a moral objection to this and just wouldn’t let any amendments come to the floor to address this issue,” he said. “And I know former Attorney General [Jeff] Sessions was very much opposed to any legislation that would allow the federal government to respect state laws because he just had this—I don’t even quite even know what the objection was, but he just was against it.”

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said in January that his panel would also likely be voting on cannabis reform “fairly soon.”

In the radio interview, McGovern also spoke about how there’s “always a line of people” waiting to get into a marijuana retailer that is located close to his district office.

And his GOP counterpart’s prior blockade of cannabis legislation aside, the Democratic congressman argued that marijuana is not a partisan issue.

“I think that what we’re finding here is that the states that are moving forward on the issue of marijuana are not just Democratic blue states, they’re also Republican red states,” McGovern said. “You have liberal Democrats and you have conservative Republicans and you have everybody in between all understanding that it makes sense to update our laws.”

“I think there’s this consensus developing that the status quo is unacceptable,” he said.

House Will Vote To End Federal Marijuana Prohibition Within ‘Weeks,’ Key Chairman Says was posted on Marijuana Moment.

Texas Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Decriminalization In Committee Vote

Texas Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Decriminalization In Committee Vote

[Canniseur: What is this about cannabis and Texas? If they decriminalize, that will be a small first step. A very small step, but a step nevertheless. Let’s hope it passes. It’s out of committee and now gets a floor vote.]

A Texas House committee approved a marijuana decriminalization bill on Monday that would make simple possession punishable by a fine, with no jail time, and without having to go on an individual’s criminal record.

The legislation passed in a 5-2 vote out of the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee and now heads to a separate panel responsible for placing bills on the calendar for floor debates.

Possession of one ounce or less of cannabis would be punished with a $250 fine for the first two offenses. After that, possession would be considered a class C misdemeanor, which is still a lesser penalty compared to current law. As it stands, possession of two ounces or less is a class B misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $2,000 and up to 180 days in jail as well as a permanent criminal record, which carries steep collateral consequences.

Earlier this month, the committee held a hearing on the legislation and heard testimony about the long-term impacts of having a low-level cannabis conviction on a person’s record and how removing criminal penalties for possession can free up law enforcement resources so that officers can tackle more serious crimes.

Advocates are hopeful that the full House will embrace the modest reform measure, even as the legislature contemplates other cannabis policies such as expanding the state’s limited medical marijuana program.

“We are very optimistic about the chances of HB 63 passing on the floor of the Texas House,” Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, told Marijuana Moment. “Overall, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree that we shouldn’t be wasting valuable criminal justice resources arresting and prosecuting people for small amounts of marijuana. Texas is ready.”

While medical cannabis expansion, to say nothing of adult-use legalization, remains a dubious prospect in the conservative stronghold, removing the threat of jail time for possession has gained popularity among Texas Republicans. Delegates for the Republican Party of Texas adopted a platform plank last year that endorses marijuana decriminalization, for example.

“We support a change in the law to make it a civil, and not a criminal, offense for legal adults only to possess one ounce or less of marijuana for personal use, punishable by a fine of up to $100, but without jail time,” the plank states.

What’s more, the policy has even received a tentative green light from Gov. Greg Abbott (R), who has said he is open to legislation that would reduce penalties for simple possession.

During a gubernatorial debate last year, Abbot said he doesn’t want to see “jails stockpiled with people who have possession of small amounts of marijuana” and floated the idea of reducing the penalty for marijuana possession from a class B to a class C misdemeanor.

According to Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, the legislation currently has 32 authors or co-authors.

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

Texas Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Decriminalization In Committee Vote was posted on Marijuana Moment.

Where Presidential Candidate Pete Buttigieg Stands On Marijuana

Where Presidential Candidate Pete Buttigieg Stands On Marijuana

[Canniseur: Mayor Pete is capturing the spotlight these days. While it’s still very early in the campaign, Pete Buttigieg is making headlines.]

South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg is competing for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. If elected, he would be the first openly gay and youngest president, and he’s supportive of marijuana legalization to boot.

While the candidate has not spoken extensively about cannabis reform, nor did he act on any marijuana legislation during his time in the mayor’s office, he has commented that he supports efforts to end prohibition, which he views as a social justice issue. Here’s a look at where Buttigieg stands on marijuana.

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.”

Quotes And Social Media Posts

Compared with most of his Democratic opponents, Buttigieg has seldom talked about cannabis policy. That said, when asked about marijuana legalization, he consistently speaks favorably about pursuing reform.

“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.

“I think even in Indiana, criminal justice reform, including marijuana [legalization]. We’re probably there,” he told Indianapolis Monthly. “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.”

Personal Experience With Marijuana

Buttigieg’s most extensive public comments about marijuana are related to his own personal experience with cannabis and law enforcement and, specifically, how it 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.”

Marijuana Under A Buttigieg Presidency

Without a legislative history on cannabis reform or comprehensive statements laying out his policy position on the issue, it’s difficult to say how Buttigieg would approach marijuana as president. Of course, his stated support for legalization and recognition of the racial injustices of prohibition indicate that, at the very least, he wouldn’t obstruct efforts to change federal cannabis laws—and may in fact embrace them. But at this point there are no indications that marijuana reform would be a priority issue for Buttigieg, however.

Where Presidential Candidate Pete Buttigieg Stands On Marijuana was posted on Marijuana Moment.

Military Veterans Organizations Press Congress On Medical Marijuana Research

Military Veterans Organizations Press Congress On Medical Marijuana Research

[Canniseur: I’m a vet and it angers me when Congress waffles on the idea of medical research on cannabis and PTSD. I know a lot of ex-military as far back as Viet Nam who have PTSD. I’ve seen cannabis help, but there needs to be real research.]

U.S. military veterans from diverse backgrounds have been testifying before Congress in recent weeks about the need to expand Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) research into medical marijuana’s benefits.

At a series of joint House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearings, representatives of Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and other groups have discussed their legislative priorities for the 116th Congress—cannabis reform being one of them.

DAV included “Support VA research into the efficacy of cannabis for service-connected disabled veterans” as one of its asks in written testimony.

Vincent Lawrence, commander-in-chief of VFW, expanded on that position in his testimony to the committees.

He said that the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury among veterans “have been thrust into the forefront of the medical community and the general public in large part due to suicides and overmedication of veterans.” But it also demonstrates the need for the VA to study the potential benefits of medical cannabis, he said.

“For veterans who use medical cannabis and are also VA patients, they are doing this without the medical understanding or proper guidance from their coordinators of care at VA,” he wrote. “This is not to say VA providers are opting to ignore this medical treatment, but that there is currently a lack of federal research and understanding of how medical marijuana may or may not treat certain illnesses and injuries, and the way it interacts with other drugs.”

But Lawrence pointed out that preliminary research shows that “states that have legalized medical cannabis have also seen a 15-35 percent decrease in opioid overdose and abuse.”

“There is currently substantial evidence from a comprehensive study by the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academic Press that concludes cannabinoids are effective for treating chronic pain, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, sleep disturbances related to obstructive sleep apnea, multiple sclerosis spasticity symptoms, and fibromyalgia –– all of which are prevalent in the veteran population,” he wrote.

Lawrence encouraged Congress to pass legislation that would “require VA to conduct a federally funded study with veteran participants for medical cannabis,” including veterans with PTSD, chronic pain and cancer.

A number of bills have already been filed in Congress this year that would achieve that goal. The VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act specifically mandates that the VA conduct clinical trials on the effects of cannabis for conditions that commonly afflict veterans such as chronic pain and PTSD.

A prior version of that legislation became the first standalone marijuana bill ever to clear a congressional committee after the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee approved it last year, although it didn’t end up receiving a floor vote.

A separate version of similar legislation was subsequently filed by Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN), the ranking member on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. He said at a recent hearing that the VA is “where [cannabis] should be studied.”

Watch Roe discuss medical cannabis, about 1:33:34 into the video below:

“Let’s find out the risks, the benefits, the black box warnings and so on,” the congressman said. “I could not agree more with you there.”

Rep. Conor Lamb (D-PA) spoke about the opioid crisis and the need to pursue alternative treatment options to prescription painkillers.

In response, the VFW representative talked about the VA cannabis research bill and agreed that “alternate forms of pain management are going to be key.” That said, “we certainly don’t want to put ourselves in a position where we have veterans utilizing cannabis or other means that haven’t had an opportunity to go through the study and research process.”

Watch Lamb and VFW discuss medical cannabis, about 1:16:09 into the video below:

“At the end of the day, we have to know is this going to work, is it not going to work?” he said. “How is it going to affect veterans in their health or how is it not going to affect them? I think that’s the avenue we need to pursue aggressively.”

At another committee hearing, IAVA advocated for medical cannabis research for veterans. Citing a survey of its members, Jeremy Butler, the group’s CEO, said that 80 percent of veterans support the legalization of cannabis for medical purposes “yet our national policies are outdated, research is lacking and stigma persists.”

“The use of medical cannabis has been growing in support by the veteran population for quite some time. For years, IAVA members have sounded off in support of researching medical cannabis for the wounds of war and legalizing medical cannabis,” Butler added in written testimony. “Veterans consistently and passionately have communicated that cannabis offers effective help in tackling some of the most pressing injuries we face when returning from war.”

Watch IAVA discuss medical cannabis, about 43:12 into the video below:

Another group that voiced support for the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act was the Blinded Veterans Association, which included the bipartisan bill in a list of legislation that the group backs in written testimony.

Photo courtesy of YouTube.

Military Veterans Organizations Press Congress On Medical Marijuana Research was posted on Marijuana Moment.

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