Congress is going to make marijuana moves

Congress is going to make marijuana moves
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Despite majority public support in favor of marijuana legalization, and super-majority support in favor of medical cannabis access, members of Congress have nonetheless been reticent to move forward with any significant changes to federal pot policy. That is, until now.

Following last week’s midterm election results, legislative leaders in both the House and Senate appear ready to take on the cannabis issue.

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On Friday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDems ready aggressive response to Trump emergency order, as GOP splinters Green New Deal Resolution invites big picture governing ‘Contingency’ spending in 3B budget deal comes under fire MORE (R-Ky.) pledged that language lifting the federal government’s longstanding ban on industrial hemp will be included in the engrossed version of HR 2: The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (the farm bill) — must-pass legislation that is currently being finalized in conference committee.

Speaking with reporters, the GOP leader said: “If there’s a Farm Bill, it’ll be in there. I guarantee that. … I don’t want to overstate this – I don’t know if it’s going to be the next tobacco or not – but I do think it has a lot of potential. And as all of you already know, in terms of food and medicine but also car parts. I mean, it’s an extraordinary plant.”

The hemp-specific provisions — which were approved in the Senate’s version of the farm bill, but were not included in the House’s language — amend federal regulations to expand and facilitate state-licensed hemp production, research, and commerce.

The language also for the first time amends the federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970 so that industrial hemp plants containing no more than 0.3 percent THC are no longer classified as a schedule I controlled substance. This change would green light states to regulate the crop’s production and retail sale free from federal interference. It’s a common-sense policy change that is long overdue. According to the Congressional Research Service, “The United States is the only developed nation in which industrial hemp is not an established crop.”

Also on Friday, incoming House Rules Committee Chair Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said that he anticipates several pieces of marijuana reform legislation to move in the Democratic-led House of Representatives in 2019. As reported by "The Boston Globe," McGovern promised to permit federal lawmakers to debate and vote on marijuana-related amendments when he assumes control of the Committee in January. “Unlike my predecessor, I’m not going to block amendments for marijuana,” he said. “Citizens are passing ballot initiatives, legislatures are passing laws, and we need to respect that. Federal laws and statutes are way behind.”

Rep. McGovern replaces outgoing Rules Chair Pete SessionsPeter Anderson SessionsGOP House super PAC targets two freshman Dems with new ads Top 10 events of 2018 that shaped marijuana policy Washington braces for lengthy shutdown MORE (R-Texas), who lost his re-election bid to Democrat Colin Allred. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the American Academy of HIV Medicine — Trump, Congress prepare for new border wall fight The Memo: Trump and McCabe go to war McCabe book: Sessions once said FBI was better off when it 'only hired Irishmen' MORE used his position as chairman of the House Rules Committee to block House floor members from voting on over three-dozen marijuana-related amendments during his leadership tenure. His actions single-handedly killed a number of popular, bipartisan-led reforms — such as facilitating medical cannabis access to military veterans and amending federal banking laws so that licensed marijuana businesses are treated like other legal industries.

Rep. McGovern indicated that he would prioritize legislative measures that limit federal interference in legal marijuana states, expand medical cannabis access for veterans, and amend federal banking restrictions on the legal cannabis industry.

“This just seems like common-sense stuff,” McGovern said. “Especially on the issue of medical marijuana — people who are opposed to that are just on the wrong side of public opinion, overwhelmingly. It’d be nice if, every once in a while, Congress acted in a way that people wanted. I know that may seem like a radical idea, but come on.”

Paul Armentano is the deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. He is the co-author of the book, Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink? and the author of the book, The Citizen’s Guide to State-By-State Marijuana Laws.