Veterans Cannabis Congress

1/20/20 BY DAN ULLOA

Last Wednesday there was a congressional cannabis hearing held before the Health Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

It was a comprehensive hearing that reviewed five bills regarding cannabis before Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) who chaired the subcommittee meeting. For medical researchers in the field, the approval process is exceedingly difficult and the cannabis they get is poor in quality.

Energy and Commerce Chairman Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) spoke in favor of reform at the subcommittee entitled “Cannabis Policies for the New Decade:”

“Today the Subcommittee will have an important hearing about federal cannabis policies.  While state laws and public perception around cannabis and its derivatives have evolved over the years, much of the federal framework that regulates cannabis has stayed the same,” Pallone said.

He continued, saying, “In my home state of New Jersey, for example, state law allows for the use of medical cannabis and, at the end of last year, state lawmakers passed a referendum that will put the question of legalizing adult cannabis use to New Jersey voters on the 2020 ballot.

“Given the evolving landscape in the states, these bills are worthy of further discussion.  I am particularly interested in hearing about how federal agencies are reducing barriers to research and enabling research on cannabis to thrive.  I am also interested in how the agencies are working together to regulate a cannabis derivative recently removed from the Controlled Substances Act, cannabidiol,” he said. Pallone had trouble pronouncing “cannabidiol” and joked about it.

Ranking Member Michael Burgess (R-TX) seemed to acknowledge that there are benefits in reform. “I am concerned there is a lack of research on the benefits and risks,” he said. It’s time to get the data and let the decision by the data.” However, he later that he was wary of the idea because of a few bad reports.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-Or) were leading the fight for legalization as Co-Chairs of the bipartisan Cannabis Caucus at the cannabis hearing.

“This is a critical debate,” Congressman Joseph Kennedy III said that the bill “acknowledges people are unjustly imprisoned and patients.” Kennedy recently became a sponsor of the MORE Act.

Congressman Morgan Griffith (R-VA) had an interesting take on it.

“When I was a young man in the 1980s, some of my friends were smuggling it into the hospital for a friend dying of cancer. That informed my policy that we need a rational policy bill,” Griffith said, explained he has been publicly in favor of medical cannabis since 1998. Giffith added that while in Congress he held a town hall at a high school where a student said: “They did for my daddy too.”

Congressman Greg Walden (R-OR) wanted the hearing and acknowledged the difficulty of problems of seeking to do proper research. He brought up the issue of a child somehow getting an infused cookie. Unlike Burgess though, he seemed more open to reform.

“The research and science lag far behind the market and the agencies are failing to catch up,” Walden said, adding more data was needed before rescheduling and thus does not support it “at this time”.

Representatives from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) testified as well on their experience.

“Cannabis is the most widely used illicit drug in the world and the United States,” said NIDA Director Nora Volkow. She explained that people have an endocannabinoid system which helps the body deal with many processes.

However, Volkow later seemed to come out against it, declaring it was bad for minors and the probabilities that it could aggravate psychosis. In the end, she acknowledged our understanding of cannabis is incomplete.

One of the reviewed bills at the cannabis hearing was the Marijuana Opportunity and Expungement (MORE) Act sponsored by Congressman Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) will get a hearing after it passed the Judiciary Committee last year. Being a far-reaching bill, multiple committees have jurisdiction over it, a rarity in Congress. It would deschedule cannabis.

The Small Business Committee, for example, waived its jurisdiction over this bill.

Even if the bills pass the House, they likely will die the Senate, like much of the other pieces of legislation the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives has passed thus far. 

The SAFE Banking Act has massive bipartisan support among politicians and interest groups across the country is being held up in the Banking Committee since its Chair Mike Crapo (R-ID) is from a prohibitionist state.

According to the Health and Human Services (HHS) survey on drug use, 43 million Americans reported using cannabis last year.

Other Schedule 1 drugs including LSD, heroin, ecstasy and are said to have no medical value and said to possess a high potential for abuse.

Cannabis Hearing and Pallone

Advocates have been urging Pallone to publicly announce his support for the initiative.

Pallone sent a letter to the then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions last year telling him to back off cannabis prohibition and defending New Jersey’s step toward legalization when it looked like Sessions might take action against the state legalized cannabis markets.

“Residents of states like Colorado, California, Oregon, and others that have moved to legalize marijuana should have the peace of mind to know that they can engage in legal intrastate commerce without the threat of federal enforcement actions,” he said in the letter.

When Congress was under Republican control during the Obama Administration, Pallone beat out now Health Subcommittee Chair Member Anna Eshoo (D-CA) to be Ranking Member of the Committee in a well-publicized fight. When the Democrats took control of the House of Representatives, the Ranking Members became Committee Chairs. 

When Pallone is introduced when campaigning across New Jersey, the powerful influence he brings as House Energy and Commerce Chair is often touted by party leaders introducing him. He is a more progressive Democrat who has always been pro-environment.

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