Congressional Committee Considers Marijuana Amendments

By Tom Angell | July 12, 2017

The U.S. House Judiciary Committee briefly debated — but did not vote on — two marijuana reform amendments on Wednesday.

As the panel considered a bill to give the U.S. attorney general new powers to unilaterally classify synthetic drugs for extended periods of time, a bipartisan group of lawmakers took the opportunity to try to attach cannabis law reform language to the legislation.

First, Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-FL) offered an amendment that would have expanded research on marijuana’s potential medical benefits.

Due to its current status as a Schedule I drug, scientists who wish to study cannabis must overcome extra procedural hurdles that don’t exist for research on other substances.

“It seems ludicrous to me that any notion of conservative limited government would put the federal government between someone who was ailing in pain and something that could potentially help them,” said Gaetz, who is also cosponsoring a separate standalone bill to move marijuana to Schedule III.

He then told the story of how he sponsored and enacted CBD medical cannabis legislation as a Florida state lawmaker after hearing from the family of a young girl with severe epilepsy.

Calling current federal policy “idiotic,” “arcane,” and “indefensible,” Gaetz said it is “functionally impossible” for many researchers to study cannabis. “This should not be a partisan issue,” he argued.

But, in deference to Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), who pledged to separately work with Gaetz on expanding access to marijuana research, the freshman legislator agreed to withdraw the proposal instead of insisting on a vote.

“I’d be happy to work with him on the issue of research into therapeutic benefits from the cannabis plant,” Goodlatte said. (At another hearing earlier this year, Goodlatte, criticized the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration for roadblocks it has erected in the way of state industrial hemp programs.)

Next, Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), introduced an amendment to remove marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act — the most restrictive category, which is supposed to be reserved for substances with a high potential for abuse and no medical value.

“The idea that citizens of California who are complying with the state law would nevertheless be subject to federal prosecution is very troubling,” she said. “The fact that this is on Schedule I creates other problems.”

She went on to describe how many state-legal cannabis businesses operate on a cash-only basis due to federal restrictions that make it difficult for them to get bank accounts, which puts them at increased risk of being robbed.

But Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) raised a point of order, arguing that the amendment was not germane to the overall bill on synthetic drugs. Goodlatte agreed, and the proposal was not brought to a vote.

Gaetz invited Lofgren to consider supporting his standalone rescheduling bill, and she pledged to take a look at it.

Separately at the hearing, Congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN) took the opportunity to argue for cannabis rescheduling, calling its current status under Schedule I  “insane.”

Congress is expected to consider at least one additional — and possibly more — marijuana amendments this week.

On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee will vote on a proposal to allow military veterans to received medical cannabis recommendations through U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs doctors.

Also on Thursday, the House Appropriations Committee will consider two spending bills that have in the past been vehicles for marijuana amendments. It is possible that bill funding the U.S. Department of Justice could spur committee-level amendments restricting the federal government’s ability to interfere with state medical cannabis and/or recreational marijuana laws.

And separately, the panel’s consideration of a bill funding the U.S. Treasury Department as well as the government of the District of Columbia could see amendments concerning banking access for cannabis businesses and Washington, D.C.’s ability to spend its own money regulating legal marijuana sales.

In years past, those amendments have been considered on the House floor, with some success.

See the full text of Gaetz’s and Lofgren’s marijuana amendments below:

Tom Angell

Tom Angell is a senior political correspondent for MassRoots. A 15-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he serves as chairman of the nonprofit Marijuana Majority and is editor of the daily Marijuana Moment newsletter.

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