Story by Jeff Gee
Over the past 20 years, the legislative record regarding bills that have to do with cannabis in the United States Congress has doubled with the number of bills going from 28 to 59. This is the raw count whether the legislation went anywhere or not. Most were not friendly to cannabis, no way. Though these days, the pendulum is swinging the opposite direction.
In 1996, Californians voted Proposition 215 into law. Shortly thereafter, Washington State, Oregon and Alaska voters enacted their own medical marijuana laws setting into motion a whole chain of events resulting in well over 30 states enacting some kind of support for the use of cannabis as medicine.
At that time, in the mid-1990s, the emergence of medical marijuana was the driver for the rise in bills both for and against in the US congress. In 1996, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) was the primary House of Representatives proponent of bills to support medical patients’ consumption of cannabis. From that time, a battle has ensued with bills supporting medical marijuana and bills specifically denouncing it.
As legislation goes, any representative or senator can introduce legislation. It does not mean it goes anywhere, quite the contrary. Yet looking back, what this does show is the progression of the American citizen driving policy through state initiative into the legislative dialog at the federal level. It had only been four years prior to 1996 that the US Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, were using cannabis as a tool to incarcerate.
Today, the 114th Congress (2015-2016) is shaping up to becoming a congress of cannabis. According to congress.gov, there are 59 pieces of legislation that have been introduced from both the House and Senate in this session. Again, the battle continues between the plutocracy. But, there are changes in tone and in support from the Republicans. More and more Republicans in states where some kind of state law has been in place for over a decade are coming aboard. And, the American populous appears to be moving beyond medicinal. The inertia is now with recreational. This creates a load of problems at the federal level as the driver for change has been by the people, not the politicians representing them. Even if bills supportive to cannabis do not go anywhere, and depending on the term, the sponsors are likely to be around next year to continue their slog forward.
Much has been written about the bipartisan House and Senate bills for the Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act of 2015 (H.R. 2076 and S.1726) and Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2015 (H.R. 525 and S.134) for this session.
There are, however, many other bills in play that reflect a particular pattern.
Despite this, there are still aggressive bills being introduced many of which mirror an irritation and angst coming from the far right of American politicians and the red states they represent.
As an example is S.1984 - KIDs Act of 2015, sponsored by Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) . This bill, which has no cosponsors as of this writing, takes direct aim at Native American tribes. Primarily, the cultivating, manufacturing or distributing of cannabis on tribal lands. The Senator’s fear may be that states where there are no laws favorable to cannabis, may find loopholes by way of Native Americanreservation lands, which fall under federal jurisdiction, not state. It is no secret that border states to Colorado are encapsulated in fear and frustration.
But, the tone changes even among the most conservative.
Sen. Orin Hatch (R-UT) added a consciously astute amendment to the 2016 budget in s.Amdt.534, “to establish a deficit-neutral reserve fund relating to preventing access to marijuana edibles by children in States that have decriminalized marijuana.” This rider passed the Senate unanimously.
Sen. Hatch’s wording of the amendment concedes to the fact that change is happening. The nature of the amendment is quite proper, however and Sen. Hatch has the right intention. Although work in the Utah legislature didn’t succeed this year to support an oil only policy for epileptic patients, the state is on the cusp of a medicinal cannabis program and even at such a restricted level, there is progress even in the most conservative places.
From this session’s introduced legislation, a pattern is emerging amongst Republicans where support for CBD oil and respecting states rights is emerging.
In March 2016, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) introduced H.R.4779 - CBD Oil Act of 2016. This legislation aims to, “amend the Controlled Substances Act to prevent Federal prosecutions for certain conduct, relating to CBD oil, that is lawful under State law, and for other purposes.” Rep. Chaffetz’s bill has gathered a handful of co-sponsors.
Rep. Dana Rohrbacker (R-CA) introduced H.R.1940 - Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2015. This bill aims to, “amends the Controlled Substances Act to provide that provisions of such Act related to marihuana shall not apply to any person acting in compliance with state laws relating to the production, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration, or delivery of marijuana.”
Rep. Rohrbacker is not alone in legislation states rights. There are a number of bills in play from his Democratic counterparts aiming to achieve the same thing.
H.R.3746 - State Marihuana And Regulatory Tolerance Enforcement Act introduced by Rep Suzan K. DelBene (D-WA) seeks to accomplish a similar goal.
S. 683 Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States Act of 2015 introduced by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) is much more comprehensive that the two above, but contains language supporting states rights.