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.
Increase military veterans’ access to access medical cannabis. Shield state marijuana laws from federal interference. Protect industrial hemp growers’ water rights. Allow marijuana businesses to be taxed fairly and to access banking services.
That describes just some of the nearly three dozen cannabis-related amendments that Republican leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives has blocked from even being voted on during the current Congress, a new analysis by Marijuana Moment finds.
On at least 34 occasions, lawmakers—Democrats and Republicans alike—filed marijuana and drug policy reform proposals only to be stymied by the powerful Rules Committee, which decides which measures can advance to the House floor.
One Man Is The Biggest Obstacle To Congressional Marijuana Reform.
That panel, led by Congressman Pete Sessions (R-TX), has for the past several years instituted an effective roadblock to cannabis law reform by refusing to make any amendments dealing with the plant “in order.” That means the full 435-member roster of House never even gets an opportunity to vote on the measures.
This analysis only covers the current 115th Congress, which began in January 2017. Republican leaders have made a practice of blocking cannabis amendments since the previous summer.
The last time the House was allowed to vote on marijuana, in May 2016, a measure to allow military veterans to get medical cannabis recommendations from Department of Veterans Affairs doctors was approved by a overwhelming vote of 233 to 189. Several other marijuana measures were approved on the House floor in the two years preceding that, including proposals to let marijuana businesses store their profits in banks and to protect state medical cannabis laws from Justice Department interference, the latter of which made it into federal law and is still on the books.
In June 2015, an amendment to expand that protection to prevent the Department of Justice from interfering with all state marijuana laws—including those allowing recreational marijuana use and sales—came just nine flipped votes short of passage.
Since that time, the number of states with legal marijuana has more than doubled, meaning that far more legislators now represent constituents who would stand to be protected. Advocates are confident they could get the measure approved if given another opportunity, but the cannabis blockade by Sessions’s Rules Committee has meant that no more votes on it have been allowed.
While House Republicans have instituted a broader policy of blocking amendments deemed to be “controversial” after floor disputes on gay rights and gun policy measures threatened the passage of several spending bills in 2015, Sessions, who is not related to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, seems to have a particular problem with marijuana.
“I, as probably everybody in this rooms knows, have a strong opinion on drugs, illegal drugs, alcohol,” he said just before stymying a measure to prevent federal intervention in state cannabis laws earlier this year. “Marijuana is an addictive product, and the merchants of addiction make it that way. They make it for addiction. They make it to where our people, our young people, become addicted to marijuana and keep going.”
On another occasion, Sessions claimed that cannabis is now more potent than it was when he was a young man—by a mathematically impossible factor.
“When I went to high school…in 1973, I graduated, marijuana, on average, is 300 times more powerful,” he said. “That becomes an addictive element for a child to then go to the next thing.”
Legalization Supporters Target Sessions For Defeat.
Sessions, like all members of the House, is up for reelection this year. The Cook Political Report, which tracks congressional races, moved his seat—Texas’s 32nd congressional district—from being rated “Lean Republican” to the closer “Toss Up” status last month. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won the district.
Sensing an opportunity, marijuana reform advocates are targeting Sessions for defeat in 2018.
Six of the amendments blocked by Sessions and his committee concerned military veterans’ access to medical cannabis. Five had to do with marijuana businesses’ ability to use banking services. Seven would have allowed states and Washington, D.C. to implement their own marijuana laws without federal interference.
“These are not controversial measures. They have bipartisan support,” Blumenauer told Marijuana Moment in an emailed statement. “By blocking our amendments, Sessions is standing in the way of progress, commonsense, and the will of the American people—and that includes Republican voters.”
Sessions faces Democrat Colin Allred, a former NFL player, in November.
“I support the use of medical marijuana as an alternative to the habit-forming opioids that have become a national crisis,” the challenger told Politico. “This common-sense approach to alternative treatments has been opposed by Pete Sessions, and is something I will fight to expand.”
It is unfortunate that Pete Sessions refuses to acknowledge that medical marijuana can help our veterans coming back from war who are struggling with PTSD and chronic pain. https://t.co/NxpfE55Xzr
The willingness to see Sessions go extends even to dedicated Republicans who could risk seeing control of the House tipped to Democrats in what is expected to be a very close midterm election overall.
“More often than not, elected officials respond to carrots and sticks. So if making Pete Sessions an electoral casualty is what it takes to advance drug policy reform, so be it,” Don Murphy, a Republican former Maryland state lawmaker who now serves as federal policies director for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), told Marijuana Moment. “If the GOP loses control of the House by one vote, it won’t be my fault. I tried to warn them.”
Former MPP executive director Rob Kampia says he’s aiming to raise half a million dollars to pour into the effort to defeat Sessions with his new outfit, the Marijuana Leadership Campaign, and a related political action committee.
More Cannabis Amendments Are Likely To Be Blocked Soon.
In the meantime, it seems likely that even more cannabis proposals will be added to the blocked tally when the Rules Committee considers a broad funding package this week which includes the Financial Services and General Government bill. Earlier versions of that annual appropriations legislation have been used as vehicles for measures concerning Washington, D.C.’s ability to spend its own money regulating marijuana and to allow cannabis growers, processors and retailers to access financial services.
Marijuana Moment’s analysis of blocked marijuana amendments relies heavily on a reportissued in late May by Rules Committee Democrats, which tallied all blocked amendments across issues up to that point. (Marijuana Moment identified several subsequent cannabis measures that were prevented from reaching the floor following the Democratic report’s release.)
“Shutting down amendments and preventing debate is bad for the Congress as an institution, but is even worse for the country,” the Rules Committee minority, led by Congressman James McGovern of Massachusetts, wrote. “The inevitable result is partisan legislation written by a small number of Members, staff and lobbyists, with many bipartisan priorities left out in the cold.”
“Blocking amendments shuts out members of Congress from offering their ideas to improve legislation, and in doing so silences the voices of the millions of Americans they are elected to represent. So far during this record-breaking closed 115th Congress, 380 Members have had at least one amendment blocked from consideration by the Republican-controlled Rules Committee and Republican Leadership.
“These districts account for 270 million Americans. In other words, Representatives from roughly 80 percent of the county have been blocked from offering an idea for debate on the House Floor – the ideas their constituents sent them to Congress to advocate for on their behalf.”
In the report, which dubs the 115th Congress “the most closed Congress in history,” Democrats call out Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), who pledged to “uphold the rights of the minority” and “have a process that is more open, more inclusive, more deliberative, more participatory.”
“You are the first Speaker in history to have never allowed a truly open rule, which would permit all Members to offer their ideas on the floor of the House,” McGovern and Democratic colleagues wrote.
“The People’s House is meant to operate as a deliberative body. Shutting out the voices of the representatives of hundreds of millions of Americans erodes the foundation of our democracy, and makes the job of governing increasingly more difficult.”
While the Democrats highlight several issue areas such as guns, immigration, the environment, veterans affairs and criminal justice reform in their report narrative, they do not specially discuss the blocked marijuana amendments, which are included in an appendix that lists every submitted measure not “made in order” by the Rules Committee.
Among the cannabis-related amendments impeded during this Congress were measures to reduce funding for the Drug Enforcement Administration’s marijuana eradication efforts, shield military veterans from losing their benefits due to cannabis use, expand research on marijuana’s medical benefits, allow Indian tribes to enter the cannabis industry and create a federal excise tax on marijuana sales.
There were also measures that would have granted an official congressional apology for the damage done by the war on drugs and ceased the practice of punishing states that don’t automatically revoke drivers licenses from people convicted of drug offenses.
At a time when marijuana law reform enjoys overwhelming support from voters, and more states are modernizing their cannabis laws, lawmakers in the so-called “People’s House” are not even allowed to vote on the issue.
Meanwhile, advocates this year for the first time advanced a marijuana amendment out the House Appropriations Committee, circumventing the Pete Sessions floor blockade. That measure, to shield state medical cannabis laws from federal interference, has historically required House floor votes—now impossible, thanks to Sessions—or Senate action to advance.
The ultimate fate of the various Senate-approved marijuana measures now rests with bicameral conference committees that will merge the two chambers’ bills into single proposals to be sent to President Trump’s desk.
For example, both the Senate and the House approved separate versions of large-scale food and agriculture legislation known as the Farm Bill this year, but only the Senate version has hemp legalization language in it. Sessions’s Rules Committee blocked a House vote. It will be up to the conference committee to decide which version prevails.
Regardless of which party controls the chamber when the 116th Congress is seated in January, Ryan, who is retiring, will be gone. And if legalization supporters have their way, so will Sessions.
See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:
Gardner said at the press conference that he spoke to President Trump about marijuana on Thursday morning and that he remains supportive of an approach that respects state laws.
“We can’t go backwards. We can only go forwards,” the president said, according to Gardner.
Warren told the Boston Globe that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) “has pledged to allow a vote on the bill.”
She added that that it was Sessions’s move to rescind the Obama-era guidance that spurred lawmakers to work across the aisle to find a solution to enact statutory protections for local cannabis policies.
“Outdated federal marijuana laws have perpetuated our broken criminal justice system, created barriers to research, and hindered economic development,” Warren said in a press release. “States like Massachusetts have put a lot of work into implementing common sense marijuana regulations – and they have the right to enforce their own marijuana policies. The federal government needs to get out of the business of outlawing marijuana.”
“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 added. “The federal government is closing its eyes and plugging its ears while 46 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.”
Our bill does not legalize marijuana. Instead, it allows the principle of federalism to prevail as the founding fathers intended and leaves the marijuana question up to the states. Learn more here: https://t.co/gRckNUKSic
Companion legislation is also being filed in the House by Congressman David Joyce (R-OH) and Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), along with 14 other cosponsors.
“We should trust the people of the states, like Ohio, who have voted to implement responsible common-sense regulations and requirements for the use, production, and sale of cannabis,” Joyce said in a press release. “If the people of these states have decided to provide help for those veterans and others suffering from pain and other health issues, we should allow them access without government interference.”
We should trust the people of the states, like Ohio, who have voted to implement responsible common-sense regulations & requirements for the use, production, & sale of cannabis. Proud to introduce the STATES Act with Rep. Blumenauer @CoryGardner@SenWarrenhttps://t.co/t5eKgVuQzq
“For too long the senseless prohibition of marijuana has devastated communities, disproportionately impacting poor Americans and communities of color. Not to mention, it’s also wasted resources and stifled critical medical research,” Blumenauer argued. “It’s past time to put the power back in the hands of the people. Congress must right this wrong.”
For far too long, lives & resources have been wasted because of the failed War on Drugs. Congress must right this wrong & end marijuana prohibition. Proud to have been part of this effort. https://t.co/UDKI0piZp9
In a news advisory, Warren’s office said the legislation will “ensure that each state has the right to determine for itself the best approach to marijuana within its borders.” It also “extends these protections to Washington D.C., U.S. territories, and federally recognized tribes, and contains common-sense guardrails to ensure that states, territories, and tribes regulating marijuana do so safely.”
Earlier on Thursday, Warren and Gardner discussed their cannabis bill in an appearances on MSNBC and Fox News.
By outlawing marijuana, the federal government puts communities of color, small businesses, & public health & safety at risk. My new bill with @SenCoryGardner will let states, territories, & tribes decide for themselves how to regulate marijuana – without federal interference.
No veteran with chronic pain, child with a rare disease, or person struggling with a terminal illness should be denied the treatment they need. Millions of Americans currently access medical marijuana under state law. My new bill with @SenCoryGardner will help protect them.
No qualified scientist should have to struggle to conduct basic research on marijuana. Their findings could spur medical advances or counter the opioid epidemic. I'm introducing a new bill with @SenCoryGardner that could make it easier to study marijuana’s medical uses.
“Thanks to the leadership of Senators Gardner and Warren, the movement to end the federal government’s failed policy of cannabis criminalization has truly become a bipartisan effort,” Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, said in an interview. “Given that a majority of states now regulate marijuana use and six out of ten voters endorse legalizing the plant’s use by adults, it is time that members of Congress take action to comport federal law with majority public opinion and the plant’s rapidly changing legal and cultural status. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions must be restrained from having the ability to infringe on the rights of states that have successfully implemented marijuana legalization, be it for medical or responsible adult use.”
It is unclear if or when the new legislation will be voted on, but the development adds to significant momentum for cannabis reform on Capitol Hill and in states in recent weeks.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) filed a bill to legalize industrial hempand fast-tracked it on the calendar, skipping the committee process, and said he intends to attach the language to the larger Farm Bill.
More than 200 cannabis industry leaders from almost half the states in the country are converging this week on Capitol Hill to tell lawmakers it’s time to modernize federal marijuana laws.
As part of the National Cannabis Industry Association’s (NCIA) lobby days, taking place Tuesday and Wednesday, marijuana business owners will hold at least 200 separate meetings with U.S. House and Senate offices. They are seeking support for a number of far-reaching bills that would limit or end the federal government’s interference with state cannabis laws and allow state-legal businesses to use banking services and be taxed more fairly.
Members of Congress from both parties spoke at a press conference hosted by the group outside the Capitol on Wednesday.
Following last year’s NCIA lobby days, several key pieces of marijuana legislation saw substantial upticks in the number of lawmakers signing on as cosponsors.
For example, one key concern for NCIA members is a bill to allow cannabis businesses to access banks. Within a little over a month from the 2017 lobby days, 18 new House members joined as cosponsors. Three of those signed up right away, on the first day of NCIA’s event.
The legislation, which is still pending, now has 90 cosponsors, the most of any standalone piece of marijuana reform legislation in history. Similar banking legislation filed in 2015 only garnered a total of 39 cosponsors by the end of the 114th Congress.
Companion marijuana banking legislation was filed in the Senate the day before NCIA’s activists took to Capitol Hill for the 2017 lobbying meetings. The initial cosponsor list of eight senators has steadily risen to a current 16. The earlier version of that bill closed out the 114th Congress with only 11 cosponsors.
Another priority for NCIA members is scaling back a federal law, known as 280E, that disallows them from taking tax deductions that are available to businesses in other industries. Legislation to repeal that provision’s application to state-legal cannabis operators got 12 new cosponsors within two months of the group’s last constituent lobbying effort. It now has 44 lawmakers signed on. An earlier version only got 18 cosponsors altogether.
On the Senate side, current companion legislation now has six cosponsors, one of whom signed on within days of NCIA’s last lobby days, whereas the previous Senate 280E bill only got four cosponsors by the time the 114th Congress adjourned in early 2017.
It is likely that these bills, as well as others that NCIA is targeting, will see additional cosponsor bumps after this week’s Capitol Hill effort, especially since more state legal marijuana programs have since come online or expanded since last year’s lobby days. As a result, more members of Congress now represent more constituents who are directly impacted by current policy.
The stepped-up effort from marijuana business owners comes as several other pieces of cannabis legislation are drawing record support from lawmakers.
A bill filed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to legalize hemp, for example, already has more than a fifth of the body signed on as cosponsors after little more than a month since it was introduced. That includes Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who typically doesn’t team up with his rival party leader on many issues.
Wide-ranging racial justice legislation filed this month by members of the Congressional Black Caucus includes a provision to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act. It already has 44 cosponsors, giving it the most support of any cannabis descheduling bill ever introduced in Congress.
A Senate bill that would deschedule marijuana and withhold federal funding from states with discriminatory enforcement now has five cosponsors, several of whom are expected to run for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
For now, businesses owners who are directly impacted by outdated federal cannabis laws are making their voices heard on Capitol Hill at a time when a growing number of lawmakers from both parties are already signing on to marijuana bills at a record pace.
“I do not have any plans to endorse legalization of marijuana,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said on Tuesday when asked about whether he is prepared to back a cannabis descheduling bill that Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said he will file soon.
“These are two entirely separate plants,” said the GOP leader, who recently filed his own legislation to remove industrial hemp from the federal definition of marijuana.
“There is a lot of confusion about what hemp is,” McConnell said. “It has an illicit cousin, which I choose not to embrace.”
Reporter Matt Laslo, who posed the cannabis query to McConnell, reported the news to Schumer moments later at a separate press conference.
“Aw come on, Mitch,” Schumer replied. “I think this is something that is long overdue. I would hope to see it happen. I would hope the feds would take the heavy hand off and let each state decide to do what it wants to do.”
See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below: