Over the course of his more than 17 years in the U.S. Senate, Delaware Democrat Tom Carper has never before cosponsored a marijuana reform bill. Nor did he add his name to any piece of cannabis legislation during the 10 years he served in the U.S. House.
But that changed on Monday, when Carper became a co-sponsor of a far-reaching bill to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act so that states can implement legalization without federal interference.
What’s new this year? Aside from marijuana reform’s general political ascendancy—more states are deleting their prohibition laws and a growing majority of voters now support legalization—Carper is facing an unexpectedly tough primary challenge from a progressive insurgent candidate.
That contender, Kerri Evelyn Harris, has praised Canada’s legalization of marijuana and said that Delaware should make similar moves to deal with its prison overcrowding issues.
A recent Washington Post profile of the race featured this vignette in which Harris spoke about her support for legalization to a pair of voters who were smoking a joint:
“During a Friday night canvass in Wilmington, Harris spent 30 minutes talking to two men who had been passing a joint between them and were intrigued by her support for legal marijuana. By the end of the talk, one had agreed to come to her office to learn about volunteering.”
“We welcome Senator Carper’s support for the federal descheduling of cannabis and cosponsorship of the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal told Marijuana Moment. “It has been a long time coming, but given the public support for outright legalization in Delaware and across the country, the senator’s support for policies like expungement and reparative justice is another important mile-marker on the road to victory.”
While the only poll in the race to date, conducted in July, showed Carper leading Harris by a wide margin of 51 percent to 19 percent, political observers have flagged the race as one to watch in the wake of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s upset Democratic primary victory over New York Congressman Joe Crowley in June.
Carper’s move to sponsor cannabis legislation amid a fierce primary is similar to how Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), a longtime vocal legalization opponent, evolved earlier this year during the course of her own renomination effort. The senator now says she supports the right of Californians to comply with the state’s marijuana laws without being sent to federal prison. That announcement came as state Senator Kevin de León (D) continually highlighted his own support for legalization as a contrast to incumbent Feinstein. The two Democrats will face off in November’s general election since they both advance under the state’s top-two primary system.
The Delaware primary between Carper and Harris will be held on September 6.
Recent polls indicate support for medical cannabis legalization is hovering around 90% amongst American voters, likely making it the most popular issue in the country this election cycle. Increasing numbers of Congressmen – perhaps a majority in the House of Representatives – have pledged to support medical cannabis legalization for a host of reasons ranging from states’ rights to criminal justice reform to economic growth.
We believe it’s time for Congress to vote on medical cannabis legalization and right an injustice that has plagued this nation for decades. The prospect of having this vote before the midterm elections makes even the most ardent supporters nervous. Echoing the arguments made against Women’s Suffrage, the Civil Rights Movement, and Marriage Equality, many contend that it’s not the right time to force a vote – if we’re just patient, in a few years, the time will come.
For the millions of predominately African American and Hispanic Americans imprisoned for cannabis-related offenses, for the thousands of dispensary owners being taxed out of existence by 280e, and for the tens of millions of patients being denied effective treatment by outdated laws, there is no comfort in, “the time will come.” For them, justice delayed is justice denied.
MassRoots is launching #LegalizeNow, a docuseries covering the progression of medical cannabis legalization in the United States, including the movement for a discharge petition on the STATES Act. Should 218 members of the House of Representatives sign this discharge petition, the STATES Act to legalize medical cannabis will be brought to a vote this fall.
We’re calling on all Americans to leave a video testimonial at LegalizeNow.com on the reasons you support medicinal cannabis legalization and the impact cannabis has had on your life.
We recognize this movement is a long-shot: Congress has never voted on medical cannabis legalization and some critics say it will never happen. However, all great movements start with a small group of passionate supporters working tirelessly against all odds.
For the patients, prisoners, activists, and entrepreneurs of the legalization movement, let’s #LegalizeNow!!!
An organization representing the 3,069 county governments across the U.S. is calling on the federal government to allow states to legalize marijuana without interference.
“The federal government should largely be responsible for regulating and enforcing against illegal drug trafficking, while respecting states’ right to decriminalize cannabis under state law,” reads a new platform plank adopted on Monday by the National Association of Counties (NACo).
“NACo urges Congress to enact legislation that promotes the principles of federalism and local control of cannabis businesses with regard to medical and adult-use of cannabis under state law,” a related provision says. “Congress should allow and encourage state and local governments to enact and implement cannabis laws, regulations, and policies that appropriately control production, processing, sales, distribution and use, as well as promote public and consumer safety, should they choose to decriminalize and regulate cannabis under state law.”
The group is also calling on the federal government to make moves to expand banking access for marijuana businesses and broaden research on cannabis’s medical effects.
“The United States Conference of Mayors urges the White House, U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to immediately remove cannabis from the schedule of the CSA to enable U.S. federal banking regulators to permanently authorize financial institutions to provide services to commercial cannabis businesses, and increase the safety of the public,” one of the mayoral group’s positions says.
A powerful congressional subcommittee approved legislation this week that would continue preventing the city of Washington, D.C. from moving to broaden its current marijuana legalization law. The bill would also add a new restriction on the use of funds to support opening safe consumption facilities where people could consume illegal drugs under the supervision of medical professionals.
The provisions, contained in Fiscal Year 2019 funding legislation approved on Thursday by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government continue a long tradition of Republican-controlled Congresses interfering in the ability of officials in the nation’s capital to set local cannabis and drug policies.
The marijuana provision, which continues current law, reads:
SEC. 809. (a) None of the Federal funds contained in this Act may be used to enact or carry out any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801 et seq.) or any tetrahydrocannabinols derivative.
(b) No funds available for obligation or expenditure by the District of Columbia government under any authority may be used to enact any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801 et seq.) or any tetrahydrocannabinols derivative for recreational purposes.
D.C. voters approved a ballot initiative to legalize low-level marijuana possession and limited homegrow of cannabis plants in 2014. But despite City Council support for building on that measure with a system of legal, taxed and regulated marijuana production and retail sales, the District hasn’t been able to move forward with those plans because of the ongoing congressional prohibition.
Separately, the House subcommittee’s bill, which is expected to go before the full Appropriations Committee next month, would ban the use of federal funds to support safe consumption facilities for illegal drug users.
SEC. 807. None of the Federal funds contained in this Act may be used to distribute any needle or syringe for the purpose of preventing the spread of blood borne pathogens in any location that has been determined by the local public health or local law enforcement authorities to be inappropriate for such distribution, or used for the operation of a supervised drug consumption facility that permits the consumption of any substance listed in Schedule I of section 202 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 812) onsite.
The ban on the use of funds for certain needle or syringe exchange programs in the provision has been law for years, but the clause about supervised drug consumption sites is new.
While no such aboveground site yet exists in the U.S., the addition of the new funding prohibition language comes as public health advocates and officials in a number of states across the country are endorsing the idea.
Whereas the ban on further marijuana legalization in D.C. applies to both the use of federal funds and those raised locally by the District, the safe consumption site ban only covers federal funds. So D.C. would presumably still be able to use local tax dollars to pay for the facilities.
But the funding issue aside, the mere legality of the proposed sites, which are sometimes called safe injection facilities (SIFs), is itself in question.
Vermont’s U.S. attorney, for example, said in a statement last year that such sites would send the “wrong message to children in Vermont: the government will help you use heroin.” He further wrote:
“Of equal importance, the proposed SIFs would violate several federal criminal laws, including those prohibiting use of narcotics and maintaining a premises for the purpose of narcotics use. It is a crime, not only to use illicit narcotics, but to manage and maintain sites on which such drugs are used and distributed. Thus, exposure to criminal charges would arise for users and SIF workers and overseers. The properties that host SIFs would also be subject to federal forfeiture.”
Advocates, on the other hand, say the facilities save lives by making sure drug consumers can receive medical attention from on-site personnel in the event of overdoses.
A study of a safe injection site operating in Vancouver, Canada found that overdose deaths dropped much more sharply in the neighborhood surrounding the facility as compared to the rest of the city.
A press release from the office of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) mentioned the marijuana provision in the new funding bill but was silent on the drug consumption site language.
Hundreds of marijuana reform bills have been filed in Congress in recent years, but none have ever been given a vote, until now.
In an historical first, a House committee approved cannabis law reform legislation on Tuesday. While legalization supporters have previously scored victories in the form of amendments attached to larger legislation, none of their standalone bills have ever advanced before.
Though the current proposal is fairly limited in scope — it would encourage the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to conduct research on marijuana’s medical benefits — it comes at a time of unprecedented bipartisan support for cannabis reform and likely signals more action to come on Capitol Hill.
“The tide is turning on cannabis, and today’s vote is the latest example,” Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) told Marijuana Moment. “We still have a long way to go, but we are one step closer to helping our veterans get the care they want and deserve. Now is our moment. Now is the time to redouble our efforts.”
Filed by Veterans’ Affairs Committee GOP Chairman Phil Roe of Tennessee and Congressman Tim Walz of Minnesota, the top Democrat on the committee, along with 52 other cosponsors, the bill would encourage the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to “conduct and support research relating to the efficacy and safety” of medical cannabis “on the health outcomes of covered veterans diagnosed with chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other conditions.”
The committee approved the bill by a voice vote after a brief discussion.
Sens. Jon Tester (D-MT) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK) introduced a companion bill in the Senate on Monday.
Under the bill as introduced, VA research would be conducted on whole plant marijuana as well as extracts, and involve “at least three different strains of cannabis with significant variants in phenotypic traits and various ratios of tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol in chemical composition.”
Studies would examine “varying methods of cannabis delivery, including topical application, combustible and noncombustible inhalation, and ingestion.”
The legislation would require VA to preserve all data collected from the studies and issue a report to Congress within 180 days that includes a plan for implementation of research. The department would also have to send updates no less than annually for a period of five years.
Separately, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee called on VA to expand medical cannabis research on Tuesday. In the report attached to legislation to fund VA for Fiscal Year 2019, the panel wrote:
“Cannabis research.—The Committee recognizes that continued focus on the discovery of treatment alternatives for veterans diagnosed with various conditions such as chronic pain and PTSD are essential to reducing the number of veteran suicides. For this reason, the Committee urges VA to utilize funds, in an amount deemed appropriate by the Secretary, to prioritize investments in research on the efficacy and safety of cannabis usage among the veteran population for medicinal purposes. The Committee also requests a report, within 180 days after the enactment of this Act, by the Secretary containing a detailed plan on how the Department expects to pursue this research. The Committee also urges VA to ensure any research conducted or supported by VA on cannabis therapy is preserved in a manner that will facilitate further research.”
While VA is already allowed to participate in cannabis research under current law, its leadership has been reluctant. Former Sec. David Shulkin, for example, repeatedly claimed in public remarks that Congress needs to act before the department can refer veterans to cannabis studies.
“While this bill is certainly modest in its immediate impact, we believe that it is a necessary first step toward building bipartisan support for broader cannabis reform legislation in Congress,” the Veterans Cannabis Coalition said in a statement. “Hundreds of thousands of veterans, like the millions of other Americans who have medicated with cannabis, have experienced profound and sustained relief or elimination of underlying conditions. Many of those conditions–prominently traumatic brain injuries (TBI), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and chronic pain–are poorly managed with current medication models, with health providers offering few or no alternatives to powerful pharmaceuticals like opioids, stimulants, and tranquilizers to patients.”
Legalization activists say that the research bill doesn’t go nearly far enough. They want Congress to force the VA to begin letting its doctors issue recommendations for military veterans in states where it is legal.
“The VA has been instrumental in cutting edge research to improve the lives of those who serve our country,” Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “With nearly 1 in 4 veterans reporting that they consume cannabis to alleviate their ailments, it is absolutely imperative that the VA reform their policies to both conduct research and allow VA doctors to recommend therapeutic cannabis when they see fit.”
Before approving the research bill, the Veterans Affairs Committee adopted an amendment that alters some of its reporting requirements and other provisions.
See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below: