Steady strides

Recent federal changes could pave the way for cannabis reform in 2019


With some important changes at the federal level the past couple months, 2019 could shape up to be a big year for national cannabis reform.

With Democrats in control of one of the legislative chambers for the first time since cannabis has gained popularity and CBD descheduled, stepping stones have been laid toward increased access and understanding around the new industry.

Former House Rules Committee Chairman Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), an avid opponent to cannabis legalization with no relation to the former attorney general, lost his campaign for re-election in November.

Sessions' seat is now occupied by Colin Allred, a former Tennessee Titan linebacker and young civil rights attorney. With Sessions no longer in control of which bills make it to the House floor, the idea is that representatives will see a lot more cannabis bills.

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts) is slated to take over the chairman position. He told the Boston Globe he intends to let the house spend a lot more time debating cannabis reform.

With that door open, some important bills could make their way to the House floor.

Bipartisan efforts could see greater access for veterans through Veterans Affairs. Many Republicans, like Martha McSally, who oppose recreational legalization, still support access to medical cannabis for veterans.

Also potentially bipartisan, banking reform efforts could lead to cannabis companies finally gaining access to the country's financial infrastructure. Bringing cannabis into the financial fold could decrease crimes related to cash robberies and offer greater regulation in fear of money laundering.

And perhaps not as bipartisan, taking cannabis off the Drug Enforcement Administration's schedule has been on the Democrats' agenda for years, particularly Oregon Democratic Congressman Earl Blumenauer's.

Taking cannabis off the schedule would open the door for scientists to conduct studies of cannabis to better determine its benefits and how we can best utilize them.

The Senate passed the 2018 Farm Bill Dec. 12, which removed CBD from the schedule. So, at least scientist can study half the primary molecules in cannabis. Even that can lead to experiments that demonstrate the need to study cannabis further.

The cause gains further traction with the dismissal of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who stymied applications for federal cultivation licenses for years after announcing he'd expand the number of organizations that could grow cannabis for scientific study.

But his replacement, William Barr, isn't much better. Barr served as AG under President George H.W. Bush in the early '90s and is credited with escalating the drug war and mass incarceration. Fingers crossed he'll be too busy with Mueller to turn his sights on cannabis.

Of course, the hiccup to any cannabis reform going through the House will be its eventual fate in the Senate. The House will serve as a proving ground for bills to test whether they're bipartisan enough to escape the Republican-controlled Senate.

Hopefully House Democrats will try to do more than make a statement by passing bills that only Democrats support. Though it'll likely require unproductive debate and compromise, something is better than nothing.