With Democrats in control, Blumenauer's "Blueprint to Legalize Marijuana" comes centerstage

With Democrats making big gains and taking over the U.S. House of Representatives in the 2018 midterm elections, many cannabis advocates are now confident that federal cannabis policy reforms are imminent. However, there’s a lot of work ahead. One of the most comprehensive documents detailing the efforts of House leaders in this area was written last October by Rep. Earl Blumenauer. His memorandum entitled, "Blueprint to Legalize Marijuana," was sent to House leadership and also made public shortly before the election.

The day after the election, citing the fact that "three of the greatest obstructionists to progress are not coming back," Blumenauerenauer told reporters, "In terms of a victory for the continued momentum of cannabis legalization, it was a big night."

Democrats gained no less than 40 seats in Congress on election day — the biggest turnover in Congress since Watergate — putting them in control of not only the House but some very important House committees. Three House Democrats now chair major House committees have all pledged to put marijuana reform on the agenda in the next session of Congress.

Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern is taking the helm of the House Rules Committee. Post-election, McGovern told reporters, “Unlike my predecessor, I’m not going to block amendments for marijuana. Citizens are passing ballot initiatives, legislatures are passing laws, and we need to respect that. Federal laws and statutes are way behind.”

The hugely important committee was previously headed by infamous Texas Republican Pete Sessions who has been staunchly opposed to reforms. As head of the powerful committee Sessions has prevented any marijuana amendments from reaching the House floor for debate. Described as the “leading marijuana prohibitionist” by NORML, Sessions single-handedly killed almost 40 marijuana-related bills including popular bipartisan measures such as giving military veterans access to medical cannabis.

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Rep. Maxine Waters who is to chair the House Financial Services Committee told The Wall Street Journal in an interview that federal cannabis reform is “inevitable.” Waters has expressed that solving banking issues caused by federal prohibition is high on her list of priorities for the next Congress.

Expected to take the helm of the House Judiciary Committee, which is responsible for oversight of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), has made clear that he supports ending federal prohibition altogether. As chairman of the committee, Nadler has the power to assure that cannabis legislation comes up for a vote.

With Democrats taking charge of the House, now is a good time to revisit Blumenauer’s memorandum to see what action cannabis proponents might expect of the 116th Congress over the course of 2019 in the effort to repeal Federal prohibition of marijuana.

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Blumenauer’s “Blueprint to Legalize Marijuana”

In his memorandum, in order to make his point that Congress is “out of step with the American people and The States on cannabis,” Blumenauerenauer points out that national support for federal marijuana legalization is at an all-time high with 69 percent of voters supporting putting an end to Federal prohibition and 73 percent supporting expunging criminal records of those convicted of marijuana related-offenses under current cannabis laws. He also cites data suggesting that 20 percent of Americans live in states that have legalized recreational marijuana and a full 97 percent live in a state that has “legalized some form of cannabis.”

Blumenauer predicts that federal prohibition will end at some point very soon and that it’s Democrats should be leading the way. Otherwise, says Blumenauer, “I fear as the 2020 election approaches, Donald Trump will claim credit for our work in an effort to shore up support — especially from young voters.”

In the memorandum, Blumenauer laments the fact that issues related to cannabis have been blocked by Republican leaders who were previously in control of the House. Over the past two years, Republicans committee chairs have blocked floor votes on dozens of cannabis-related amendments.

"Almost every standing House committee has jurisdiction over some aspect of marijuana policy," he writes. "Within the first six months of the new Congress, these committees should hold hearings, bring in experts, and discuss potential policy fixes."

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Blumenauer’s memo outlines actions that he believes Democratic House majority should take should it wrest control of the House from Republicans in the 2018 midterm elections — which they did.

Blumenauer goes on to propose a timeline for action which spans the 2019 legislative session.

Democrats must seize the moment. — Rep. Earl Blumenauer.

Losing two Sessions, Jeff and Pete, in 24 hours is a major step forward for marijuana reform. https://t.co/ykR8eT8Rid

— Earl Blumenauer (@repblumenauer) November 7, 2018

January through March: Committee hearings

Blumenauer’s memorandum lays out a timeline for hearings that should take place between January and March of 2019. These include, among others:

  • A House Judiciary Committee hearing on descheduling marijuana
  • A House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on access to medical marijuana for U.S. veterans
  • A House Energy and Commerce hearing on marijuana research rules
  • A House Financial Services Committee hearing on banking reforms related to cannabis businesses
  • A House Ways and Means Committee hearing on taxation of marijuana

April through June: Refine legislation

Blumenauer urges lawmakers to use the Spring of 2019 to “continue the work needed to once and for all legalize marijuana at the federal level” and urges committees to start refining bills that would “narrow the marijuana policy gap,” before the end of the year. The marijuana policy gap refers to the gap between Federal and state cannabis rules.

Some of the measures that Blumenauer details include, among others:

  • Restorative justice measures
  • Access to medical marijuana for veterans
  • State’s rights and protections
  • Removal of barriers to research
  • Access to financial services

August through December: Pass federal cannabis reforms

Blumenauer encourages House leaders to set a goal of passing marijuana reform bills related to the above-mentioned issues by August of 2019 greatly diminishing the gap between state cannabis laws and Federal laws including a full descheduling bill and urges House leaders to “work with Senate allies to guide the bill through Senate passage.”

“Our chances in the Senate,” writes Blumenauer, “depend on both the November elections and increased public pressure following House passage.” He points out that while the Senate has been “slower on marijuana policy reform than the Gouse and the American people, it now has almost 20 introduced bills in an effort to catch up with the House,” and says House leaders “must build on this momentum.”

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By the end of 2019 Blumenauer hopes to see marijuana legalized at the federal level and the regulation of cannabis placed firmly in the hands of the states.

Over the last decade, I’ve worked to build understanding and consensus on the need for reform. We’ve organized a bipartisan coalition in Congress to support our efforts. The public is demanding action. Even Donal Trump has indicated that he would support a state-regulated approach. The only obstacle standing in our way is Republican leadership in Congress. Now is our moment. — Rep. Earl Blumenauer

The top priority for Blumenauer is to deschedule marijuana. “By the end of the 116th Congress, we must federally deschedule marijuana. Similar to the end of alcohol prohibition, state and local marijuana laws would not be affected,” states Blumenauer.

Federal cannabis legislative initiatives in the House of Representatives

At one point in 2018, there were more than 40 cannabis-related bills being circulated in the House covering a wide range of issues including banking, medical research, states rights, racial justice, federal penalties, drug scheduling, and much more. It’s a good bet that many of these efforts will now be consolidated into a comprehensive federal cannabis reform package.

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After listing his priorities and outlining his vision, Blumenauer’s memorandum goes on to list and summarize some of the measures that are currently being considered by House lawmakers. These include, among others,

  • The Marijuana Revenu and Regulation Act
  • The Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act
  • The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act
  • The Marijuana Justice Act
  • The Responsibly Addressing the Marijuana Policy Gap Act
  • The Marijuana Justice Act
  • The Veterans Equal Access Act
  • The Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting State Act (STATES act)
  • The Medical Marijuana Research Act
  • The VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act
  • The Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act (SAFE)

The climate in Washington seems to be turning. It’s a fairly safe bet to assume that the U.S. House of Representatives under Democratic control will make some headway on these issues in 2019. However, whether or not the Senate will follow suit remains a big question mark.


Header Image: U.S. Department of Agriculture

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