Senate Amendment Requires Feds To Study Marijuana Legalization’s Impact

Senate Amendment Requires Feds To Study Marijuana Legalization’s Impact

The U.S. Senate may consider an amendment next week that would require federal agencies to conduct a study on how marijuana legalization is impacting states that have adopted it.

The measure, filed on Thursday by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), would direct the Departments of Justice, Labor and Health and Human Services to contract with the National Academy of Sciences for a 10-year examination of “monetary amounts generated” by legal cannabis tax revenue, as well as “rates of medicinal use” and “rates of overdoses with opioids and other painkillers” in states with some form of legalization, among other datapoints.

“The need for Congress to pull its head from the sand regarding the implications of functional regulated marijuana markets is dire,” Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “No senator can intellectually justify remaining willfully ignorant to the results of successful state-legal programs and the National Academy of Sciences can prove to be the neutral arbitrator in assessing the real world impact that is happening in 31 medical or adult-use states throughout the country.”

The Senate amendment’s text is similar to standalone House legislation that Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI, Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) and others filed last month.

Watch Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard And Other Federal Reps File New Marijuana Bill

The senator is seeking to attach the language to a bill to fund parts of the federal government, including the Departments of Defense, Labor, Education and Health and Human Services, for Fiscal Year 2019. The legislation has been on the floor this week, with consideration expected to resume on Monday.

Menendez’s Senate proposal isn’t identical to Gabbard’s House bill, as it leaves out directives from the earlier legislation for federal agencies to study legalization’s impact on criminal justice and employment. Advocates said that those sections weren’t germane to the title of the appropriations bill the senator is seeking to amend, and therefore had to be excluded.

Separately from the amendment, the senator plans to file a standalone companion bill containing the full text of the Marijuana Data Collection Act, his communications director, Patricia Enright, told Marijuana Moment in an email.

“Senator Menendez believes that as more and more states, including New Jersey, legalize medical or recreational marijuana, it makes good sense that we provide for independent, science-based research and analysis of current legalization policies and their impacts on communities,” she said. “If federal policy-makers are going to be a productive part of the conversation moving forward, it’s important that they be informed by objective, evidence-based data.”

For now, it is not clear if the Menendez amendment will be debated or receive a vote on the Senate floor before the body finalizes the spending legislation.

See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:

Senate Amendment Requires Feds To Study Marijuana Legalization’s Impact

Marijuana Ballot Measures Could Affect Key U.S. Senate Elections

Marijuana Ballot Measures Could Affect Key U.S. Senate Elections

Control of the U.S. Senate could hinge on the outcome of elections in states where voters will also decide on marijuana ballot initiatives this November.

Conventional political wisdom holds that cannabis on the ballot drives voter turnout by young people and progressives who are likely to back Democrats, but is that really the case? Hard evidence to date is slim at best, and the results of this year’s midterms could help shed light on the question.

Republicans currently enjoy the barest of majorities in Congress’s upper house, with 51 seats to 47 Democrats (and two independents who caucus and vote with Democrats).

In order to gain control of the Senate, and perhaps finally see cannabis bills called for hearings, Democrats need to eke out electoral victories in places like Nevada, where a booming recreational marijuana marketplace is entering its second year. And, they must also hold onto seats in states like Missouri and North Dakota, deeply conservative areas won by President Donald Trump in 2016 that CNN placed on a list of the ten Senate seats most likely to flip.

In Missouri, voters will decide on three separate medical cannabis measures. And in North Dakota, where medical marijuana won a shock, longshot victory in 2016, voters have the chance to legalize recreational marijuana.

For most of the past decade, cannabis has enjoyed relatively consistent and sometimes overwhelming success in American elections.

Four out of five legalization measures before voters in 2016 won. On the same day, medical marijuana was legalized in red states like Arkansas, North Dakota and Florida, where more than 71 percent of voters approved the ballot measure. And in June, voters in Oklahoma approved medical cannabis despite the fact that supporters were heavily outspent by opponents.

Both the turnout and the result of these upcoming Senate elections could provide a clue to marijuana’s true power in drawing voters to the polls, and demonstrate both mainstream political parties’ appetite to embrace cannabis as a campaign issue.

In Missouri, according to recent polling, Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill is in a dead heat with Republican challenger Josh Hawley, the state attorney general. By contrast, the same poll showed medical marijuana ahead by a solid 54 percent to 35 percent margin.

It’s not exactly clear what would happen if more than one of the three marijuana measures on the ballot win, but in the poll, voters indicated their clear preference for some change in state law to allow medical use of the drug.

McCaskill said in a recent interview that she will support at least one of the cannabis initiatives. “I do think medical marijuana should be passed,” she said.

But for now, the Missouri Democratic Party apparatus is choosing not to highlight McCaskill’s support for the popular medical cannabis issue. Their reasoning is not known.

Meanwhile, for his part, Hawley announced on Wednesday that he is “inclined to support” at least one of the marijuana initiatives.

In North Dakota, state elections officials announced on Monday that a legalization measure has qualified for the ballot.

Polling in that state’s Senate race is inconsistent, but one June estimation gave Republican challenger Kevin Cramer a four-point edge over incumbent Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp.

Heitkamp’s victory in 2012 was by a single percentage point, and she was the first Democrat to win statewide election there in almost a decade. Those two factors fueled Roll Call’s decision to declare the race tilting in Cramer’s favor.

For his part, Cramer, who is currently a member of the U.S. House, said he would vote against the legalization ballot measure. In 2015, he supported a floor amendment to shield state medical cannabis programs from federal interference, but opposed a broader measure to protect recreational laws.

Might Heitkamp gamble on cannabis to give her an edge, considering her state’s embrace of medical cannabis two years ago? She dodged the question in a recent interview with MyNDNow.com, but has said that marijuana is a state issue that should be free of federal interference.

She is also cosponsoring Senate legislation to let cannabis businesses access banks.

poll earlier this year showed that North Dakota voters favor cannabis legalization 45 percent to 39 percent.

In two months’ time, if Heitkamp still trailing Cramer in the polls, she could probably do worse than to fully embrace a popular issue like marijuana legalization, regardless of any turnout effect the measure’s appearance on the ballot might have.

See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:

Marijuana Ballot Measures Could Affect Key U.S. Senate Elections

Photo by Arnaud Jaegers on Unsplash

A Key Senate Committee Is Becoming Less Marijuana-Friendly

A Key Senate Committee Is Becoming Less Marijuana-Friendly

For the past several years, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee has been more responsible for marijuana reform victories in Congress than any other panel of lawmakers.

Bipartisan measures to protect state medical cannabis laws, allow medical marijuana for military veterans and shield state industrial hemp research programs from the feds have all advanced there.

Those wins have been especially valuable for legalization supporters because in the other chamber, the House Rules Committee has blocked cannabis-related amendments from advancing to the floor over the same period of time.

But in recent weeks the Senate committee, which handles funding levels and spending riders covering federal agencies, has begun to make a number of anti-cannabis moves.

Last week, for example, it prevented a measure to allow marijuana businesses to access banks from advancing by a vote of 21-10. Nearly identical amendments were approved by the committee in 2015 and 2016, but this time several Democrats who position themselves as supporters of cannabis law reform spoke out against the proposal on procedural grounds.

Earlier this month the panel released a report incorrectly alleging an increase in impaired driving in states that have reformed their cannabis laws.

In a separate report this month the committee expressed concern about illegal marijuana cultivation on public lands, singling out states with legalization.

And now, in a new development that hasn’t yet been reported elsewhere, the committee is making moves to block Washington, D.C. from further legalizing marijuana.

“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,” reads a provision of the Financial Services and General Government funding bill approved by the committee on Thursday.

Unlike the House Appropriations Committee, which has consistently moved to block cannabis reform in the nation’s capital, the Senate panel for the past several years has kept its version of funding bill free of marijuana-related D.C. riders (though the spending bans have been enacted into law anyway because the House language has prevailed in bicameral conference committees that reconcile both chambers’ bills into final legislation).

Now that the Senate committee has moved to adopt the D.C. cannabis prohibition as well, its continuance into Fiscal Year 2019 is a virtual certainty, meaning that local officials will not be able to spend locally raised funds adding a system of taxed and regulated marijuana sales to the city’s existing law that allows low-level possession and home cultivation.

“I am disappointed that the committee chose to depart from their past practice of not including anti-D.C. riders,” Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) said in a press release. “I will be fighting here in the House and Senate to strike all anti-D.C. riders and prevent any new riders from being included in the final spending bill.”

Also, committee report attached to the new funding bill also goes out of its way to wag its finger at Indian tribes that might be considering entering the marijuana industry.

“The Committee expects the CDFI Fund to ensure no funding is allocated to tribes to support marijuana production, manufacturing, or distribution and report to the Committee on any Tribe who engages in such activities and receives funding appropriated by this act,” the report says, referring to the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund, which focuses on economic revitalization in distressed communities.

None of this is to say that the Senate panel has defeated all recent marijuana reform measures. For example, this month it opted to continue protecting states where medical marijuana is legal from federal interference and approved an amendment that would allow Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) doctors to issue medical cannabis recommendations to veterans. And last month, it directed the Department of Agriculture to set aside half a million dollars to build a hemp seedbank.

Significantly, the language protecting state medical cannabis laws was included in the initial Justice Department bill as introduced by Republican leaders for the first time, whereas its enactment in past years has required a specific votes on amendments to add it.

But, in other ways noted above, the committee has clearly become less friendly to marijuana law reform efforts in recent months, and one major factor is its new chairman.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) ascended to the top position on the panel in April, following the retirement of Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS). While Cochran was not exactly a champion of cannabis legalization, he left advocates with the sense that he just didn’t care much about the issue by allowing amendments to be voted on without applying significant behind-the-scenes pressure.

Shelby, on the other hand, who for years served alongside U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in representing Alabama in the Senate, has made it clear that he doesn’t like the idea of attaching policy riders — marijuana or otherwise — to spending bills.

“Chairman Shelby was very anti-amendments this year,” Michael Liszewski of the Enact Group, told Marijuana Moment. “If you watched this year’s hearings, you probably noticed a decrease in the number of amendments offered. That’s because Shelby made it clear that he had very little tolerance for legislating through approps.”

And, he appears to be making deals with Democrats to accomplish his goal of reducing the number of policy riders on appropriations legislation.

That’s the conclusion that can reasonably be drawn from an exchange between Shelby and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who has been a champion of marijuana law reform efforts in the committee, that could be faintly heard on the committee’s audio feed just moments after the Vermont Democrat helped lead the charge to kill the cannabis banking measure last week:

SHELBY: “Thank you, Pat.”

LEAHY: “I told you I would.”

While Leahy said during a debate before the vote to table the measure that he objected to its advancement on procedural grounds concerning the alleged inappropriateness of legislating policy on spending bills, the fact is that Leahy himself is more responsible than any other senator for the continuance of the separate rider preventing Justice Department interference in state medical cannabis laws, so his public argument seems at least a little disingenuous.

Advocates who did not wish to be quoted for this story speculated that Democrats may have extracted some concessions on immigration policy in exchange for not pushing the marijuana banking rider, but that could not be immediately confirmed.

Another key change on the appropriations panel is the fact that Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), a vocal cannabis opponent, recently became chair of its Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee, which handles Washington, D.C.

His ascendancy to the subcommittee chairmanship likely explains the panel’s inclusion of anti-marijuana language in the relevant funding bill for the first time in years. (Of note, however, the Senate bill covering D.C. doesn’t contain language from the House version of the legislation that would 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.)

Justin Strekal of NORML told Marijuana Moment in an interview that the committee’s seeming shift away from support for marijuana law reform in recent weeks may, perhaps counterintuitively, have to do with cannabis legalization’s growing political support.

“We’ve gained more momentum,” he said, referring to the fact that numerous lawmakers — including party leaders like Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) — are embracing legislation that would provide more permanent fixes to the federal-state cannabis law gap than annual appropriations riders can.

“The stark realities are much crisper now,” he said. “Every amendment that tinkers with [cannabis enforcement] is still dancing around the fact that we still live under a regime of complete prohibition.”

“It’s increasingly going to be more difficult to get lawmakers to be OK with cutesy little fixes when the need for comprehensive reform is crystalizing.”

But in order to enact broader solutions, it’s going to take movement by committees that set federal drug policy and enact authorizations for relevant federal agencies.

Unfortunately, those panels — the House and Senate Judiciary Committees — at least for now, are controlled by ardent legalization opponents. But with a midterm election coming up that observers believe could reverse party control of one or both chambers, anything can happen in 2019.

See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:

A Key Senate Committee Is Becoming Less Marijuana-Friendly

Sanders Just Introduced Cannabis Reform Bill to US Senate

Sanders Just Introduced Cannabis Reform Bill to US Senate

In a historical move on Wednesday Nov. 4, Bernie Sanders introduced legislation to the Senate to remove cannabis from federal scheduling under the Controlled Substances Act. This is the first time a bill to end federal cannabis prohibition has been filed in the United States Senate.

The legislation, cited as ‘‘Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2015,” would remove cannabis from it’s current Schedule I status, and repeal certain cannabis related penalties. The bill amends the Controlled Substances Act to be void of “marihuana” and ‘‘tetrahydrocannabinols.’’ This means that cannabis and all derived concentrates would no longer be classified as having no medicinal value in the United States. This would leave it up to each individual state to choose whether or not to legalize without intervention from the federal government.

Should the legislation introduced by Sen. Sanders be approved, shipping and transporting cannabis would remain illegal. Anyone caught illegally transporting would face up to one year in prison and fines.

Veteran activist and founder of Marijuana Majority, Tom Angell, pointed out that the introduction of this legislation proves that the rejection of the legalization initiative, Issue 3, by Ohio voters on Tuesday had nothing to do with the overall support for cannabis policy reform in America.

“The introduction of this bill proves that the defeat of the Ohio marijuana monopoly measure that wasn’t widely supported in our movement isn’t doing anything to slow down our national momentum.”

Angell continued,

“This is the first time a bill to end federal marijuana prohibition has been introduced in the U.S. Senate. A growing majority of Americans want states to be able to enact their own marijuana laws without harassment from the DEA, and lawmakers should listen.”

The most recent Gallup Poll showed that the majority of American voters support ending cannabis prohibition in the United States with 58 percent of participants responding that the use of marijuana should be legal.

photo credit: NYULocal

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