Senator Ron Wyden has introduced an amendment to Senate Bill 3240, the Senate version of this year’s federal farm bill, that requires the federal government to respect state laws allowing the cultivation of industrial hemp. Hemp is a distinct variety of the plant species cannabis sativa that contains only trace (less than one percent) amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis.
The amendment language mimics the “Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2013,” which remains pending as stand-alone legislation in both the House and Senate but has yet to receive a legislative hearing. Senator Wyden’s provision to the Senate’s Farm Bill amends the Controlled Substances Act to exclude industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana. The measure grants state legislatures the authority to license and regulate the commercial production of hemp as an industrial and agricultural commodity.
“For me, what’s important is that people see, particularly in our state, there’s someone buying it at Costco in Oregon,” Senator Wyden previously stated in support of this Act, “I adopted what I think is a modest position, which is if you can buy it at a store in Oregon, our farmers ought to be able to make some money growing it.”
Eight states – Colorado, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia – have enacted statutory changes defining industrial hemp as distinct agricultural product and allowing for its regulated commercial production. Passage of this amendment would remove existing federal barriers and allow these states and others the authority to do so without running afoul of federal anti-drug laws.
Senator Wyden’s amendment is co-sponsored by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has also expressed his support for this proposal.
According to a Congressional Research Service report, “The United States is the only developed nation in which industrial hemp is not an established crop.”
Click here to quickly and easily contact your Senator in support of industrial hemp.
Representative Steve Cohen (D-TN) has introduced federal legislation that would establish a National Commission on Federal Marijuana Policy. The proposed commission, inspired by the 1971 Shafer Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse, would be tasked with undertaking a comprehensive review of how federal policy should interact with state laws that make marijuana legal for medicinal and personal use, the cost of our current marijuana prohibition and potential revenue from marijuana regulation and taxation, the impact of federal banking and tax laws on marijuana related businesses, the health benefits of risk of marijuana use, the public safety and criminal justice implications of marijuana prohibition compared with regulation, and the effects of marijuana prohibition and potential regulation on our international relationships and treaties.
“Regardless of your views on marijuana, it’s important that we understand the impact of current federal policy and address the conflict with those state laws that allow for medicinal or personal use of marijuana,” said Congressman Cohen. “This conflict is only going to continue to grow over the next few years and we must provide certainty to the millions of individuals and businesses that remain caught in a web of incompatible laws. A national commission would provide us with the information we need to create sensible policy going forward.”
Representative Steve Cohen is joined by Representatives Jared Polis (D-CO), Earl Blumenhauer (D-OR), Jim Moran (D-VA), and Sam Farr (D-CA).
During an interview with Barbara Walters in December of 2012, President Obama stated, “…what we’re going to need to have is a conversation about, how do you reconcile a federal law that still says marijuana is a federal offense and state laws that say that it’s legal?”
Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske stated in January of this year that, “Coming out of the recent election, it is clear that we’re in the midst of a serious national conversation about marijuana.”
“The Obama administration has repeatedly stated that a national conversation is needed when it comes to our country’s marijuana policies, but so far that conversation has been largely one sided,” stated NORML Communications Director Erik Altieri, “It is time for federal lawmakers to listen to the voice of the majority of Americans who want to see change to our nation’s marijuana laws and for them to take part in that dialogue. NORML is pleased to have worked with Representative Cohen and his staff on this important legislation that would provide a public and professional venue for that conversation to take place. A majority of Americans agree that it is time for the United States to end it’s fruitless and expensive war on cannabis consumers and pursue policies of regulation and taxation. Enjoining this national commission would be a pragmatic and productive step towards assessing the true costs of our current prohibition and creating a framework for a functional federal policy on marijuana.”
Join NORML and federal legislators in calling for a “serious national conversation” on regulating marijuana.
Click here to quickly and easily contact your Representative and urge him or her to support this legislation.
Today, Representatives Jared Polis and Earl Blumenauer introduced two legislative measures that would end the federal prohibition on marijuana and permit for the regulated production and retail sales of cannabis to adults in states that have legalized its consumption.
Representative Polis’ legislation, The Ending Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2013, would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, transfer the Drug Enforcement Administration’s authority to regulate marijuana to a newly renamed Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Marijuana and Firearms, require commercial marijuana producers to purchase a permit, and ensure federal law distinguishes between individuals who grow marijuana for personal use and those involved in commercial sale and distribution.
Speaking on the bill, Rep. Polis stated, “This legislation doesn’t force any state to legalize marijuana, but Colorado and the 18 other jurisdictions that have chosen to allow marijuana for medical or recreational use deserve the certainty of knowing that federal agents won’t raid state-legal businesses. Congress should simply allow states to regulate marijuana as they see fit and stop wasting federal tax dollars on the failed drug war.”
Representative Blumenauer’s legislation is aimed at creating a federal tax structure which would allow for the federal government to collect excise taxes on marijuana sales and businesses in states that have legalized its use. The Marijuana Tax Equity Act, would impose an excise tax on the first sale of marijuana, from the producer to the next stage of production, usually the processor. These regulations are similar to those that now exist for alcohol and tobacco. The bill will also require the IRS to produce a study of the industry after two years, and every five years after that, and to issue recommendations to Congress to continue improving the administration of the tax.
“We are in the process of a dramatic shift in the marijuana policy landscape,” said Rep. Blumenauer. “Public attitude, state law, and established practices are all creating irreconcilable difficulties for public officials at every level of government. We want the federal government to be a responsible partner with the rest of the universe of marijuana interests while we address what federal policy should be regarding drug taxation, classification, and legality.”
You can use NORML’s Take Action Center here to easily contact your elected officials and urge them to support these measures.
These two pieces of legislation are historic in their scope and forward looking nature and it is likely you have many unanswered questions. NORML has compiled the below FAQs to hopefully address many of these inquiries.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Q: Would this make marijuana legal everywhere?
A: No, but it would allow states who wish to pursue legalization to do so without federal incursion. Currently, the federal government claims that state laws which have legalized medical and recreational marijuana use are in conflict with federal law. It is under this claim that they raid medical marijuana dispensaries, arrest consumers, etc. If these measures were to pass, marijuana law would be the domain of the states. If a state choses to legalize and regulate its use, it can do so in the way it would any other product and the federal government would issue permits to commercial growers and sellers and collect tax revenue. If a state choses to retain marijuana prohibition, they may as well, and the federal government would assist in stopping flow of marijuana into the state’s borders, as transporting marijuana from a legalized state into one retaining prohibition would still be illegal under this legislation.
Q: What does this mean for scheduling?
A: Marijuana would be removed from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and be listed under Title 27 of the US Code, alongside the provisions for intoxicating beverages.
Q: What does this mean for Washington and Colorado?
A: Colorado and Washington would be empowered to continue moving forward with implementing their marijuana legalization laws and no longer have to worry about federal intervention. Once cultivators and retailers were operational in those states, Rep. Blumenauer’s bill would allow the federal government to collect excise tax from those commercial entities and issue them permits.
Q: What happens to the DEA?
A: The DEA would no longer oversee marijuana law enforcement in this country. Control of marijuana enforcement would move to the newly named Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Marijuana, and Firearms and the Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Bureau.
Q: What about home cultivation?
A: If you live in a state, like Colorado for example, that passes laws permitting citizens to grow for personal use you would be allowed to do so without running afoul of state or federal law. Federal permits and taxation apply to those engaged in commercial marijuana enterprises.
In a 28-page decision, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has denied petitioners request to overturn the July 2011 denial by the Drug Enforcement Administration to initiate proceedings to reschedule marijuana under federal law.
In October 2002, the Coalition to Reschedule Cannabis, a coalition of reform organizations including NORML, ASA, Patients Out of Time and High Times, among others, petitioned the DEA to reschedule marijuana as a Schedule III, IV, or V drug. Following years of administrative delay, on July 8, 2011, the DEA denied the petition, finding that “[t]here is no currently accepted medical use for marijuana in the United States,” and that “[t]he limited existing clinical evidence is not adequate to warrant rescheduling of marijuana under the CSA.”
Petitioners then sought review in the federal Court of Appeals, alleging the decision by the DEA was arbitrary and capricious when it concluded that marijuana lacks a “currently accepted medical use” and has a “high potential for abuse.” They ask this court to remand the case to the DEA for reconsideration of its decision.
Written by Senior Circuit Judge Edwards, the decision ruled “On the record before us, we hold that the DEA’s denial of the rescheduling petition survives review under the deferential arbitrary and capricious standard. The petition asks the DEA to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule III, IV, or V drug, which, under the terms of the CSA, requires a ‘currently accepted medical use.’ The DEA’s regulations, which we approved in Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics v. DEA, 15 F.3d 1131 (D.C. Cir. 1994), define ‘currently accepted medical use’ to require, inter alia, ‘adequate and well-controlled studies proving efficacy.’ Id. at1135. We defer to the agency’s interpretation of these regulations and find that substantial evidence supports its determination that such studies do not exist.
“In its scientific and medical evaluation,” the court held, “DHHS concluded that marijuana lacks a currently accepted medical use in the United States. In reaching this conclusion, DHHS applied the DEA’s established five-prong test, which requires a known and reproducible drug chemistry, adequate safety studies, adequate and well-controlled studies demonstrating efficacy, acceptance of the drug by qualified experts, and widely available scientific evidence.”
“We will not disturb the decision of an agency that has ‘examine[d] the relevant data and articulate[d] a satisfactory explanation for its action including a rational connection between the facts found and the choice made.’”
In this case, we need only look at one factor, the existence of “adequate and well-controlled studies proving efficacy,” to resolve Petitioners’ claim.
At bottom, the parties’ dispute in this case turns on the agency’s interpretation of its own regulations. Petitioners construe “adequate and well-controlled studies” to mean peer-reviewed, published studies suggesting marijuana’s medical efficacy. The DEA, in contrast, interprets that factor to require something more scientifically rigorous.
In making this assessment, we must “remind ourselves that our role in the Congressional scheme is not to give an independent judgment of our own, but rather to determine whether the expert agency entrusted with regulatory responsibility has taken an irrational or arbitrary view of the evidence assembled before it.
The DEA’s construction of its regulation is eminently reasonable. Therefore, we are obliged to defer to the agency’s interpretation of “adequate and well-controlled studies.” Judged against the DEA’s standard, we find nothing in the record that could move us to conclude that the agency failed to prove by substantial evidence that such studies confirming marijuana’s medical efficacy do not exist.”
Petitioners are considering their legal options at this time.
In October of 2011, the White House issued an official response to a petition NORML submitted via their We the People outreach program on the topic of marijuana legalization. Despite being one of the most popular petitions at the site’s launch, the answer we received was far from satisfactory. Penned by Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske, the response featured most of the typical government talking points. He stated that marijuana is associated with addiction, respiratory disease, and cognitive impairment and that its use is a concern to public health. “We also recognize,” Gil wrote, “that legalizing marijuana would not provide the answer to any of the health, social, youth education, criminal justice, and community quality of life challenges associated with drug use.”
Well, just over a year later, the White House has responded again to a petition to deschedule marijuana and legalize it. The tone this time is markedly different, despite being penned by the same man.
Addressing the Legalization of Marijuana
By Gil Kerlikowske
Thank you for participating in We the People and speaking out on the legalization of marijuana. Coming out of the recent election, it is clear that we’re in the midst of a serious national conversation about marijuana.
At President Obama’s request, the Justice Department is reviewing the legalization initiatives passed in Colorado and Washington, given differences between state and federal law. In the meantime, please see a recent interview with Barbara Walters in which President Obama addressed the legalization of marijuana.
Do you think that marijuana should be legalized?
Well, I wouldn’t go that far. But what I think is that, at this point, Washington and Colorado, you’ve seen the voters speak on this issue. And as it is, the federal government has a lot to do when it comes to criminal prosecutions. It does not make sense from a prioritization point of view for us to focus on recreational drug users in a state that has already said that under state law that’s legal.
…this is a tough problem because Congress has not yet changed the law. I head up the executive branch; we’re supposed to be carrying out laws. And so what we’re going to need to have is a conversation about how do you reconcile a federal law that still says marijuana is a federal offense and state laws that say that it’s legal.
When you’re talking about drug kingpins, folks involved with violence, people are who are peddling hard drugs to our kids in our neighborhoods that are devastated, there is no doubt that we need to go after those folks hard… it makes sense for us to look at how we can make sure that our kids are discouraged from using drugs and engaging in substance abuse generally. There is more work we can do on the public health side and the treatment side.
Gil Kerlikowske is Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy
No tirade about protecting our children. No alarmist claims about sky rocketing marijuana potency and devastating addiction potential. Just a few short paragraphs stating we are “in the midst of a serious national conversation about marijuana” and deferring to an interview with the President where he stated arresting marijuana users wasn’t a priority and that the laws were still being reviewed. While far from embracing an end to marijuana prohibition, the simple fact that America’s Drug Czar had the opportunity to spout more anti-marijuana rhetoric and instead declined (while giving credence to the issue by stating it is a serious national conversation) it’s at the very least incredibly refreshing, if not a bit aberrational. We can only hope that when the administration finishes “reviewing” the laws just approved by resounding margins in Washington and Colorado, they choose to stand with the American people and place themselves on the right side of history.
“We the People” are already there.