Researchers could have access to retail cannabis as part of the infrastructure bill passed in the Senate last week.
What does marijuana have to do with infrastructure? Well, nothing, sort of. The provision included in the bill would require the US transportation secretary to develop a public report on the risk of cannabis-impaired driving within two years. As part of creating that report, researchers would have access to high-quality cannabis from state-approved dispensaries.
Scientists studying marijuana have been limited to notoriously poor-quality cannabis from the government-run research facility out of the University of Mississippi. The provision in the infrastructure bill would enable researchers to study the actual marijuana that people are consuming.
Additionally, the public report must include advice to lawmakers on how to set up a “national clearinghouse to collect and distribute samples and strains of marijuana for scientific research that includes marijuana and products containing marijuana lawfully available to patients or consumers in a state on a retail basis.”
In states that haven’t legalized either medical or recreational marijuana, this clearinghouse would ensure scientists’ access to high-quality cannabis from dispensaries in legal states.
If the new marijuana reform rules pass, states with legal medical or recreational marijuana would be required to develop programs to “educate drivers regarding the risks associated with marijuana-impaired driving” and “to reduce injuries and deaths resulting from individuals driving motor vehicles while impaired by marijuana.”
Senator John Hickenlooper (D-CO) sponsored the marijuana reform amendment that was included in the infrastructure bill.
“Colorado led the way on marijuana legalization,” Hickenlooper said in a press release. “The federal government needs to catch up by lifting outdated restrictions on the scientific study of cannabis so we can prevent driving while high.”
The Senate approved the infrastructure bill containing the marijuana reform provision by a 69-30 vote. Next, the bill will go to the House for approval before heading to President Biden’s desk for his signature.
Instead of cheering for U.S. track sensation Sha’Carri Richardson later this month during the Tokyo Olympics, Americans won’t be able to see the 21-year-old compete at all.
Richardson dusted the competition in the women’s 100-meter race at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene, Oregon. However, following her qualifying race, Richardson tested positive for THC. According to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), the positive test disqualified her from competing—despite zero evidence that marijuana enhances athletic ability. Plus, Richardson used cannabis in Oregon, a state where it’s legal.
“Richardson’s competitive results obtained on June 19, 2021, including her Olympic qualifying results at the Team Trials, have been disqualified, and she forfeits any medals, points, and prizes,” a statement from the USADA said.
Richardson was banned for 30 days, which means she’ll miss the 100-meter race in Tokyo. There was some hope that she would still run during the women’s 4×100-meter relay, but she wasn’t on the roster released by USA Track and Field (USATF).
“First and foremost, we are incredibly sympathetic toward Sha’Carri Richardson’s extenuating circumstances and strongly applaud her accountability — and will offer her our continued support both on and off the track,” a statement from officials at USATF said.
“While USATF fully agrees that the merit of the World Anti-Doping Agency rules related to THC should be reevaluated, it would be detrimental to the integrity of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Track & Field if USATF amended its policies following competition, only weeks before the Olympic Games.
There has been widespread criticism of disqualifying Richardson, including a petition signed by more than half a million people to allow Richardson to compete.
Members of the House Subcommittee on Civil Rights & Civil Liberties sent a letter calling on officials to reverse the ban.
“We urge you to reconsider the policies that led to this and other suspensions for recreational marijuana use, and to reconsider Ms. Richardson’s suspension. Please strike a blow for civil liberties and civil rights by reversing this course you are on,” the letter read. “The divergent treatment of recreational alcohol and marijuana use reflects obsolete stereotypes about cannabis products and a profound misunderstanding of the relative risks of both substances.”
On December 4, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to end federal marijuana prohibition.
Under the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, cannabis would be decriminalized and removed as a scheduled substance.
The MORE Act would expunge federal marijuana convictions and create a reinvestment program to support individuals most impacted by the War on Drugs. A 5% federal tax on cannabis would go toward services such as job training, legal aid, and literacy and health education programs.
Rep. Ed Blumenauer (D-OR), who has long advocated for marijuana legalization, said that the bill is “going to make a huge difference for people all across America as Congress starts to catch up to where the American public is.”
“There’s a whole range of things that the MORE Act fixes,” Blumenauer said. “But most important is it stops this failed war on drugs that is so unfair to Americans of color, particularly black and brown. It will stop the federal interference with research. It’ll allow this emerging market to thrive, make it possible for more people to participate and be able to get on with their lives.”
The bill passed by a vote of 228 to 164, with 222 Democrats, five Republicans, and one Independent voting in support.
At a press event following the bill’s passage, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) said that this “really is a moment for racial justice. We know that this year has put inequality and systemic racism to the forefront of our attention, and there’s no better way to close out this year than to really begin to atone for the destructive policies brought on by the failed war on drugs.”
The House might be as far as legalizing marijuana goes for now, however. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the Senate Majority Leader, is against ending cannabis prohibition. McConnell, also known as the Grim Reaper when it comes to killing legislation, is expected to block any marijuana bills from getting a vote in the Senate. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris (D-CA) is the lead sponsor of the Senate version of the bill.
Last Thursday, a bill was introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives that would enable marijuana businesses to apply for coronavirus relief programs.
The Emergency Cannabis Small Business Health and Safety Act was introduced by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) and has been co-sponsored by fourteen members of the House, including Colorado representatives Ed Perlmutter (D), Jason Crow (D), Joe Neguse (D), and Diana DeGette (D).
Although cannabis businesses have been deemed essential in legal states, the federal government’s prohibition on marijuana means that marijuana businesses are not eligible for federal aid.
The bill would enable cannabis companies to have the same access to federal money through the Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster loans.
However, there’s not much chance of the bill passing in the Senate without being part of a larger Coronavirus relief package. The good news is that there does appear to be bipartisan support for including marijuana businesses in the next coronavirus stimulus bill.
On April 17, a bipartisan group of 34 members of Congress sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) urging them to allow cannabis businesses to access federal disaster relief.
“Workers at state-legal cannabis businesses are no different from workers at any other small business — they show up to work every day, perform their duties, and most importantly, work to provide for their families,” lawmakers said in the letter. “This lack of access will undoubtedly lead to unnecessary layoffs, reduced hours, pay cuts, and furloughs for the workers of cannabis businesses who need support the most.
“The state-legal cannabis industry is a major contributor to the U.S. economy and workforce, employing over 240,000 workers across 33 states and four territories, and generating $1.9 billion in state and local taxes in 2019,” lawmakers wrote. “State-legal cannabis businesses need access to CARES Act programs to ensure they have the financial capacity to undertake the public health and worker-focused measures experts are urging businesses to take.”
The House Education & Labor Committee approved a bill that would repeal a law that prevents students with drug convictions from receiving financial aid. Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) sponsored the Financial Aid Fairness for Students Act with over 30 co-sponsors.
In 1998, Congress amended the Higher Education Act by adding the Aid Elimination Penalty (AEP), cutting off students with drug convictions from receiving federal financial aid.
As a result of the change, a question about past drug convictions was added to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Students looking for help paying for college must fill out a FAFSA to be eligible for loans, grants, and work-study programs. After the drug offense question was added to the form, more than 41,000 students were denied financial aid each year, not including students who didn’t bother applying because of marijuana or other drug offenses.
“The best possible intervention for a young person struggling in their relationship with drugs is a quality education,” Betty Aldworth, executive director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), said in an interview with Forbes. “Evidence demonstrates that denying them access only harms the students and their communities.
In 2006, Congress amended the AEP to only cut off financial to students convicted of drug offenses while receiving aid. Students convicted for possession are denied aid for one year for the first offense, two years for the second offense, and permanently for the third offense. Students convicted for selling are denied aid for two years for the first offense, and indefinitely if there is another offense.
The change to the AEP rules reduced the number of rejected applications to about 1,000 per year, though the question about past drug convictions is still on the FAFSA application.
If the Financial Aid Fairness for Students bill is approved by Congress, it would remove the question about past drug convictions from the FAFSA entirely.
Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), a co-sponsor of the bill, said, “This policy unfairly targets poor and minority students and costs society more in terms of crime and lost economic productivity.”
Graham Boyd, director of the ACLU’s Drug Law Reform Project, says punishing students for drug offenses is discriminatory and furthers inequality. “If a student is convicted of a drug offense and her family can afford to pay for college, she will be unaffected by the legislation, while those who are already in danger of being forced to society’s margins will be further disempowered,” he said.
Aldworth says that denying financial aid to students convicted with marijuana or other low-level drug offenses is part of a larger problem. “Young people of color are disproportionately impacted by these policies just as people of color are disproportionately targeted for enforcement of drug laws in general,” Aldworth said. “This is one part of a massive system of systemic discrimination against communities, with collateral consequences that reach far beyond a single person’s education.”
Last week the House of Representatives passed the Secure and Fair (SAFE) Banking Act of 2019, which could finally make access to banking and financial institutions a reality for the cannabis industry.
The SAFE Banking Act would protect banks that work with the cannabis industry from being penalized or from violating federal anti-money laundering and illicit finance laws. For years the cannabis industry has struggled to gain access to even the most basic banking services.
“We applaud the House for approving this bipartisan solution to the cannabis banking problem, and we hope the Senate will move quickly to do the same,” said Neal Levine, chief executive officer of the Cannabis Trade Federation, which lobbied in support of the bill.
“This vital legislation will have an immediate and positive impact, not only on the state-legal cannabis industry but also on the many communities across the nation that have opted to embrace the regulation of cannabis. Allowing lawful cannabis companies to access commercial banking services and end their reliance on cash will greatly improve public safety, increase transparency, and promote regulatory compliance.”
This is the first time that the House of Representatives has passed standalone marijuana legislation. Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) sponsored the SAFE Banking Act, and it passed with a vote of 321-103. All but one Democrat and 91 Republicans voted in favor of the bill, giving it broad bipartisan support.
The bill still needs to pass in the Senate, and it’s unknown if or when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will call it to a vote. Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) said that he wants to vote on cannabis banking legislation by the end of the year.
Despite being a multibillion-dollar industry, marijuana businesses have largely been given the cold shoulder by banks and credit unions, leaving them holding literal bags of cash.
“If someone wants to oppose the legalization of marijuana, that’s their prerogative, but American voters have spoken and continue to speak, and the fact is you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. Prohibition is over,” Perlmutter said while speaking in support of the legislation. “Our bill is focused solely on taking cash off the streets and making our communities safe, and only Congress can take these steps to provide this certainty for businesses, employees and financial institutions across the country.”
While some cannabis advocates and legislators see the bipartisan support for the SAFE Banking Act as a step closer to federally legalizing cannabis, others would prefer comprehensive cannabis legislation that includes social and criminal justice reform.
“I am proud to bring this legislation to the Floor, but I believe it does not go far enough,” House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said. “This must be a first step toward the decriminalization and de-scheduling of marijuana, which has led to the prosecution and incarceration of far too many of our fellow Americans for possession.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other members of Congress are urging the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to speed up its guidance on hemp-derived CBD products. Specifically, Congress wants the FDA to issue formal “enforcement discretion” regarding CBD.
Hemp was legalized last year thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill, which made CBD legal as well. However, without guidance from the FDA, hemp and CBD are in a regulatory gray area. Lawmakers say that the FDA’s current approach to CBD has “created significant regulatory and legal uncertainty for participants in this quickly evolving industry.”
Currently, the FDA prohibits adding CBD to food or drinks marketed beyond a single state or to be added to food as a dietary supplement. Because of the regulatory confusion, some local governments have insisted that CBD is illegal in their state.
“Given the widespread availability of CBD products, growing consumer demand, and the expected surge in the hemp farming in the near future, it’s critical that FDA act quickly to provide legal and regulatory clarity to support this new economic opportunity,” lawmakers wrote.
The FDA has said it could take years to finalize CBD regulations. Congress isn’t waiting, and the US Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture is working on guidelines to submit to the FDA. According to U.S. Hemp Rountable, Congress is working on rules that would require the FDA to:
- Within 90 days, provide Congress a report outlining its efforts to develop an enforcement discretion policy on hemp CBD;
- Within 120 days, issue its formal enforcement discretion policy on hemp CBD;
- Keep the enforcement discretion policy in effect until the agency has implemented its final regulatory process; and
- Ensure that going forward, CBD manufacturers would be able share safety data through existing FDA notification procedures to be fully compliant with federal law and policy.
Lawmakers wrote that they appreciate that the FDA has pursued “enforcement actions against the worst offenders,” but that “it can do so while eliminating regulatory uncertainty for farmers, retailers, and consumers.”
“Without a formal enforcement discretion policy, anyone participating in the growing marketplace for legal hemp-derived products will continue to face significant legal and regulatory uncertainty.”
McConnell, who has been supportive of the hemp industry, does not support ending marijuana prohibition. Asked to comment of legalizing hemp but not cannabis, McConnell said that hemp is “a different plant. It has an illicit cousin which I choose not to embrace.”
According to a new poll released by Qunnipiac University, 63 percent of Americans think that marijuana should be legalized nationwide. To date, that’s the largest level of support for legal cannabis measured by the Qunnipiac survey. That’s up from 2012, when 51 percent of surveyed voters supported legalization.
“Voters are more favorable to legalizing marijuana than in any previous Quinnipiac University survey, and do not see its use as a gateway to more serious drugs,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll.
The numbers are even more dramatic when it comes to support for protecting states with legalized medical or recreational marijuana. Voters oppose 70 -23 enforcement of federal laws in states with legalized cannabis, and support 74 – 20 percent a bill protecting states that have ended marijuana prohibition.
The 11 marijuana-related survey questions were included as part of a federal bill query and represent the largest number of cannabis-related questions on a single Quinnipiac poll.
Below are the marijuana poll results:
Do you think that the use of marijuana should be made legal in the United States, or not?
- Yes: 63%
- No: 33%
- DK/NA: 4%
Do you support or oppose allowing adults to legally use marijuana for medical purposes if their doctor prescribes it?
- Support: 93%
- Oppose: 5%
- DK/NA: 1%
Keeping in mind that your answers are confidential, have you ever recreationally used marijuana or not?
- Yes: 43%
- No: 54%
- DK/NA: 2%
If you agreed with a political candidate on other issues, but not on the issue of legalizing marijuana, do you think you could still vote for that candidate or not?
- Yes: 82%
- No: 13%
- DK/NA: 5%
Would you support or oppose the government enforcing federal laws against marijuana in states that have already legalized medical or recreational marijuana?
- Support: 23%
- Oppose: 70%
- DK/NA: 7%
Is recreational marijuana legal in the state in which you live, or not?
- Yes/Legal: 22%
- No: 72%
- DK/NA: 5%
(If yes/legal) Do you think that legalizing recreational marijuana has been good for your state or bad for your state?
- Good: 48%
- Bad: 25%
- DK/NA: 26%
As you may know, legalizing recreational marijuana allows states to tax the sale of marijuana, which can result in increased revenue. Do you think that increasing revenue in your state is a good reason or a bad reason for recreational marijuana to be legalized?
- Good reason: 54%
- Bad reason: 42%
- DK/NA: 4%
Do you consider marijuana a so-called “gateway drug”, or not?
- Yes/Gateway drug: 31%
- No: 61%
- DK/NA: 8%
Do you think that legalizing marijuana will make people more likely to use opioids, less likely to use opioids, or don’t you think legalizing marijuana will have much impact either way?
- More likely: 20%
- Less likely: 20%
- Not much impact: 56%
- DK/NA: 5%
1,193 voters were surveyed nationwide between April 20 -24, with a margin of error of +/- 3.4 percentage points, including the design effect. Live interviewers call landlines and cell phones. Keep in mind, some results are also from states without legal marijuana laws.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is seeking public comment (yep, that means you) regarding the classification of marijuana as a Schedule I substance under both U.S. law and international drug agreements. The FDA is putting together a recommendation for the United Nations’ World Health Organization (WHO). WHO is currently reviewing the international classification of cannabis, including THC, CBD and other cannabinoids.
Cannabis was listed in the UN’s Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs as a Schedule I drug in 1961, and the WHO says that cannabis is “the most commonly used psychoactive substance under international control.” Schedule I drugs include LSD and heroin–drugs that are considered high risk for abuse and addiction and that have no currently accepted medical use.
The FDA is specifically looking for input regarding the “abuse potential, actual abuse, medical usefulness, trafficking and impact of scheduling changes on availability for medical use of” marijuana. The FDA will forward public comments to the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO). Recommendations from the WHO are used to inform public health policy and drug laws.
In December, the WHO released a preliminary review of CBD, a non-psychoactive compound found in marijuana, that said CBD should not be scheduled as a controlled substance. They concluded that CBD has a low potential for abuse and that it “has been demonstrated as an effective treatment of epilepsy in several clinical trials” and “is generally well tolerated with a good safety profile.”
The preliminary review also found that “there is no evidence of…any public health related problems associated with the use of pure CBD.”
The deadline to submit public comments to the FDA is April 23.
Want to support the declassification of cannabis, but you don’t know where to start? NORML has posted a pre-drafted comment on their website, and they will be hand delivering all comments to the FDA.
On Thursday, White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, told reporters that the Trump administration won’t be taking the same lax attitude towards marijuana as the Obama administration.
At the press conference, Spicer said, “I do believe that you’ll see greater enforcement.” He said that while federal law prohibits raids of medical marijuana operations, “that’s very different than the recreational use, which is something the Department of Justice, I think, will be further looking into.”
The marijuana industry has been unsure of what to expect from the new administration. During the presidential campaign, President Trump took wavering stances on cannabis, at times supporting states’ rights and acknowledging the benefits of medical cannabis use, while at others expressing skepticism and disapproval towards recreational marijuana. However, other members of the Trump cabinet have been vocal opponents of marijuana, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Vice President Pence.
The announcement is at odds with growing public support for marijuana legalization. A new Quinnipiac poll released Thursday found 71 percent of Americans would oppose a federal crackdown on legal marijuana, and 93 percent are in favor of medical marijuana, according to the survey of 1,323 voters nationwide.
“The president has said time and again that the decision about marijuana needs to be left to the states,” U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a Boulder Democrat, said in a statement about Spicer’s comments. “Now either the president is flip-flopping or his staff is, once again, speaking out of turn. Either way, these comments leave doubt and uncertainty for the marijuana industry, stifling job growth in my state.”
Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana. Medical marijuana is approved in forty-four states. Cannabis has become a multibillion dollar industry that creates jobs, supports state economies, and raises taxes for things like improving infrastructure and education.