Bipartisan hemp and marijuana bills hit US Congress

By Phillip Smith,

A marijuana policy trifecta hit Capitol Hill in February 2013 regarding recreational marijuana, medical marijuana, and hemp.

Early in the month, reformist House members filed bills to end federal cannabis prohibition and tax the trade, and in mid month a bill to legalize hemp. By the end of the month, legislators had filed bills to protect medical marijuana patients and providers, and US senators filed a companion bill to legalize industrial hemp.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who earlier sponsored a marijuana tax bill, rolled out House Resolution 689, the “States’ Medical Marijuana Protection Act;” Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA) introduced House Resolution 710, the “Truth in Trials Act;” and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and three co-sponsors filed the “Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2013,” a companion bill to House Resolution 525.

Blumenauer’s bill, introduced with bipartisan co-sponsorship, would grant federal recognition to medical use and remove marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. Regulating medical marijuana would be left to the states, and people complying with state medical marijuana laws would be exempt from federal arrest and prosecution.

“There is a plethora of scientific evidence establishing marijuana’s medical safety and efficacy and public polling for marijuana law reform is skyrocketing,” said Jasmine Tyler, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “However, when it comes to marijuana and the federal government, old fashioned politics routinely trumps modern science. The States’ Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act offers us hope we will see significant change with its passage.”

Farr’s “Truth in Trials Act” attempts to restore fairness in federal medical marijuana prosecutions. Because the federal government refuses to recognize marijuana as anything other than a proscribed controlled substance, medical marijuana defendants and their attorneys are barred from even mentioning it or their state laws allowing its use in federal court. That has repeatedly resulted in state law-abiding medical marijuana growers and providers being convicted as drug dealers in federal courts, and sentenced accordingly.

“Congress has the opportunity to establish a sensible public health policy on medical marijuana, and do what the Obama Administration has been afraid or unwilling to do,” said Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA. “Patient advocates intend to push Congress to take heed of the abundant scientific evidence showing marijuana’s medical value, and act in accordance with the overwhelming popular support this issue receives.”

With Sen. Wyden’s introduction of a Senate bill, there are now hemp bills in both houses. In addition to Wyden and Democratic and fellow Oregonian Sen. Jeff Merkley (D), the Senate hemp bill has the support of Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Senate party leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), both of whom have support from the ultra-right wing “Tea Party” faction, also endorsed hemp legislation back home in Kentucky.

“I am proud to introduce legislation with my friend Rand Paul and Senate colleagues, that will allow Kentucky farmers to harness the economic potential that industrial hemp can provide,” McConnell said. “During these tough economic times, this legislation has the potential to create jobs and provide a boost to Kentucky’s economy and to our farmers and their families.”

The House version of the hemp bill was introduced earlier by Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) and has 28 cosponsors. The bills would remove federal restrictions on the domestic cultivation of industrial hemp. Specifically, the bill would remove hemp with less than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) from CSA Schedule I, and define it as a non-drug.

“Unfortunately, there are some dumb regulations that are hurting economic growth and job creation, and the ban on growing industrial hemp is certainly among them,” Wyden said. “The opportunities for American farmers and businesses are obvious here. It’s time to boost revenues for farmers and reduce the costs for the businesses around the country that use hemp.”

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