Congressional Committee Urges DOJ To Study ‘Adequacy’ Of State Marijuana Laws And Address Federal Research Barriers

Congressional Committee Urges DOJ To Study ‘Adequacy’ Of State Marijuana Laws And Address Federal Research Barriers

A congressional committee is urging the Justice Department to study the effectiveness of state regulatory frameworks for marijuana—and the panel is also pushing for researchers to be able to study the cannabis products that consumers purchase in legal states.

The House Appropriations Committee included the cannabis language in spending bill reports that were released last week as lawmakers work to pass appropriations legislation for multiple federal agencies.

For the bill covering Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS), there’s new report language that hasn’t been incorporated into earlier versions. It says that the committee is aware that more than 20 states have legalized adult-use marijuana, while a vast majority allow for medical cannabis, and it’s imploring the DOJ to work with the Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) and other agencies “to coordinate an assessment of the adequacy of these States’ marijuana regulatory frameworks, including commonalities and novel approaches to enforcement and oversight.”

Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, tried to get similar language added to a different spending bill report in July, proposing an alternative version that would’ve prompted the White House to work with other agencies to assess state cannabis regulatory frameworks. The Appropriations Committee rejected the congressman’s amendment at the time, but leaders apparently opted to adopt a section giving DOJ that responsibility.

The report language is consistent with Joyce’s broader goal of getting the federal government prepared for eventual legalization. He’s separately sponsored standalone legislation to require the attorney general to create a commission tasked with studying state cannabis markets and making recommendations on a regulatory system for marijuana that models what’s currently in place for alcohol.

The CJS bill report, along with a separate report for appropriations legislation covering Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (LaborH), also contain sections dealing with marijuana research, with a focus on standardized tests for impaired driving.

The LaborH version is more concise, expressing support for the “development of an objective standard to measure marijuana impairment and a related objective field sobriety test to improve highway safety” and urging the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to “continue supporting a full range of research on the health effects of marijuana and its components, including research to understand how marijuana policies affect public health issues such as drug-impaired driving.”

It also says the committee is “aware that most of the Federal research has been limited to a single strain of marijuana.” That gets at a common concern among scientists and lawmakers about the lack of diversity in cannabis products that have been federally authorized for research—but it overstates the limitations, as Drug Enforcement Administration- (DEA) registered marijuana manufacturers have cultivated different varieties, just not at a scale that represents the wide range of products of differing cannabinoid concentrations that are available in state markets.

Nevertheless, the committee says it “encourages NIH to support research that encompasses the diversity, quality, and potency of commonly available cannabinoid strains,” and it further “continues to support the development of an objective standard to measure marijuana impairment and a related objective field sobriety test to ensure highway safety.”

The report requests NIH inform the committee of its “efforts to study marijuana, including expanding researcher access to different marijuana strains, within 120 days of enactment of this Act.”

The CJS version contains similar language, conveying the committee’s continued support for “the development of an objective standard to measure marijuana impairment and a related objective field sobriety test to improve highway safety.” And it also makes a reference to a Department of Transportation (DOT) mandate included in an infrastructure bill President Joe Biden signed in 2021 for the secretary to submit a report to Congress on research barriers inhibiting the development of such a standardized test.

DOT, in consultation with DOJ and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), is required to issue that report later this month. Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-CO), whose amendment to the infrastructure bill mandated the report, pressed DOT for an update last year.

“The Committee emphasizes the need for research that encompasses the diversity, quality, and potency of products commonly available to patients or consumers in States on a retail basis,” the CJS report says.

The panel further referenced other previous appropriations report language on marijuana research barriers and directed DOJ to provide an update in a briefing to that end within 60 days of the bill’s enactment and “in advance of the publication” of the DOT report and recommendations required under the infrastructure legislation.

The LaborH report, meanwhile, separately contains a section on harm reduction drug policy, stating that the committee does not support research into harm reduction practices or policies” and that “no funds are provided for any research related to harm reduction.”

The report language for the bills comes as lawmakers in both chambers work to advancing the underlying legislation to fund federal agencies for the 2024 fiscal year—and this session has seen numerous drug policy reform amendments filed, though the GOP-controlled House Rules Committee has prevented many from receiving floor consideration.

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That panel still has additional amendments to decided on, including a recently filed bipartisan measure to the CJS bill that would protect all state marijuana programs from federal intervention and another led by a longtime GOP prohibitionist to block the Biden administration from rescheduling cannabis.

There’s also a CJS amendment on the table, led by Rep. Robert Garcia (D-CA), that would block funding to drug test federal job applicants for marijuana. The congressman has filed numerous versions of the reform to various spending bills this year, so far without avail.

In an interview with Marijuana Moment last week, Garcia said he believes federal legalization is long overdue, and in the meantime he’s using his past experience reforming city-level workplace cannabis policy as mayor of Long Beach to inform his congressional efforts.

The congressman is also behind another CJS amendment to protect jurisdictions that legalize psilocybin for therapeutic use that was filed alongside Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), a founding member of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus who recently announced he won’t be seeking reelection next year.

While the measure’s prospects in the GOP-controlled Rules Committee are uncertain, the panel has allowed separate, GOP-led psychedelics measures to receive floor consideration as part of another appropriations bill that ultimately passed the full House.

One of those House-passed amendments would allow VA doctors to issue medical cannabis recommendations to veterans, and the other would encourage research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics like psilocybin and MDMA.

The Senate approved a bill last week that also includes a similar provision to allow VA to issue medical marijuana recommendations to veterans living in legal states—setting the stage for conference with the House.

A pair of psychedelics research measures, as well as an amendment on creating federal labeling requirements related to marijuana interactions with prescription drugs, were also approved by the House in September as part of a Department of Defense (DOD) spending bill.

Over in the Senate, lawmakers passed defense legislation in July that contains provisions to bar intelligence agencies like the CIA and NSA from denying security clearances to applicants solely due to their past marijuana use. But other cannabis proposals, such as one from Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) to allowed medical marijuana use by veterans, did not advance as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

More than a dozen marijuana and psychedelics amendments to the House version of the NDAA were blocked by the Rules Committee in July. That includes a measure introduced by Garcia that would have prevented security clearance denials for federal workers over prior cannabis use.

However, in September the House Oversight and Accountability Committee passed a standalone bipartisan bill that would prevent the denial of federal employment or security clearances based on a candidate’s past marijuana use.

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