The Buzz: Congressional Hearing on Cannabis Set; MORE Act Moves Forward
House Panel to Host Cannabis Hearing
U.S. lawmakers will examine the future of federal marijuana legislation when select members of the House Committee on Energy & Commerce meet next Wednesday to discuss “Cannabis Policies for the New Decade."
The Congressional hearing, led by Health Subcommittee Chairwoman Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA), will be held at 10:00 a.m. EST on January 15, 2020. The meeting will include discussion on decriminalization as members debate whether to remove marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.
“As public opinion continues to evolve and cannabis policies change at all levels of government, it’s important to bring federal agency officials together to discuss current and future federal cannabis policies,” Eshoo said in a joint statement with Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone.
Numerous polls conducted throughout 2019, including surveys from the Pew Research Center, Gallup and Fox News, routinely found that two-thirds of Americans are in favor of legalizing cannabis for recreational use.
“We’re particularly interested in examining the implications of changing marijuana’s schedule listing, the potential of cannabis research, and federal efforts to review and approve cannabidiol products,” Eshoo and Pallone added.
MORE Act Clears Another Hurdle
Next week’s cannabis hearing will take place roughly two months after the U.S. House Judiciary Committee approved the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act by a vote of 24-10.
That bill, introduced by Jerrold “Jerry” Nadler (D-NY) last July, would deschedule cannabis and require federal courts to expunge cannabis-related offenses within one year of its passage. It would also establish a 5% sales tax on marijuana products.
It’s unclear if the Health Subcommittee will specifically address the language in the MORE Act or other federal cannabis bills such as the SAFE Banking Act or the “Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act.”
There are 33 members of the Subcommittee on Health, including 20 democrats and 13 republicans.
Notably, Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-MA), who previously opposed cannabis reform, became the 67th House member to cosponsor the MORE Act this week. Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL) also cosponsored the bill on January 7, 2020, exactly seven days after cannabis sales began in Illinois.
Meanwhile, according to Natalie Fertig, a cannabis policy reporter with Politico, the House Small Business Committee waived its jurisdiction over the MORE Act on Monday.
“With this action, the MORE Act is one step closer to becoming the first bill to end cannabis prohibition to pass the House of Representatives,” NORML political director Justin Strekal said via a statement. “Never have we been closer to ending federal marijuana criminalization. Thanks to the work of the Small Business Committee and Chairwoman Velazquez, the emerging legal cannabis industry will ultimately become more inclusive to small businesses and entrepreneurs.”
According to GovTrack, the MORE Act now has a 50% chance of being enacted.
New York, Virginia Governors Call for Cannabis Reform
During his State of the State address on Wednesday night, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo vowed to legalize marijuana for adults 21 years and older in 2020.
“For decades, communities of color were disproportionately affected by the unequal enforcement of marijuana laws,” he said. “Last year, we righted that injustice and we decriminalized possession. This year, let’s work with our neighbors -- New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania -- to coordinate a safe and fair system, and let’s legalize adult use of marijuana.”
As part of his plan, Gov. Cuomo has proposed that New York create an “Office of Cannabis Management” which would specialize in cannabis regulation and oversee the state’s medical, recreational and hemp programs.
“The proposal will administer social equity licensing opportunities, develop an egalitarian adult-use market structure and facilitate market entry through access to capital, technical assistance and incubation of equity entrepreneurs,” according to his website.
Gov. Cuomo has called for “stringent quality and safety controls” as part of the legalization effort, and estimates the state could haul in $300 million in taxes once the plan is fully implemented.
Additionally, Gov. Cuomo also proposed the establishment of a research center in partnership with SUNY that would be tasked with studying cannabis, hemp and cannabinoids.
“Until now, the cannabinoid industry has gone unregulated and unchecked, and there is a dearth of independent research on the science, the safety risks, and the dangers/benefits associated with its potential use,” his plan states. “With New York providing global leadership, this Center will approach this complex arena with the attention, sophistication, and granularity it deserves.”
If successful, New York would become the 12th U.S. state to legalize adult-use marijuana.
Meanwhile, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam also called for marijuana reform during his State of the State address on Wednesday.
“We also need to take an honest look at our criminal justice system to make sure we’re treating people fairly and using taxpayer dollars wisely,” he said, noting that “not every offense deserves a life sentence.”
“This means decriminalizing marijuana possession,” he said to applause. “And clearing the records of people who’ve gotten in trouble for it.”
Elsewhere, Mississippi residents will have a chance to vote on legalizing medical marijuana in November.
According to multiple outlets, Mississippians for Compassionate Care, the group campaigning for the ballot initiative, submitted more than 105,000 signatures in an effort to put the measure before voters.
After a review by the Secretary of State’s office, Ballot Initiative 65 was officially filed with the Mississippi Legislature on Tuesday.
“Patients in MS who suffer from debilitating conditions are a step closer to having access to this alternative treatment option,” the group tweeted.