The Complexities of Cannabis in the Consolidated Appropriations Act

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It was down to the wire last week as the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which would among other things—and perhaps most importantly—give millions of Americans some much-needed (if modest) economic relief was finally signed by President Donald Trump. The massive spending bill was passed by both the House and the Senate on Dec. 21 and then eddied for a few days as Trump aligned with progressive Senators such as Bernie Sanders and Ed Markey arguing that the amount of relief should be increased to $2,000. 

That did not happen and on Dec. 27, Trump signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which was overall, a $900 billion legislative package explained across a 5,593-page bill that includes the $600 COVID-19 stimulus.

A closer look at the thousands of pages also reveals plenty of language regarding cannabis and cannabis-related policy. For example, the combination spending/stimulus bill still contains language from the infamous “Harris Rider,” which prohibits the use of local and federal funds to legalize cannabis in Washington D.C. On page 647, the bill reads, “no funds available for obligation or expenditure by the District of Columbia government under any authority may be used to enact any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801 et seq.) or any tetrahydrocannabinols derivative for recreational purposes.” 

Similar language applies to the country as a whole when it comes to federal funding: “None of the Federal funds contained in this Act may be used to enact or carry out any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801 et seq.) or any tetrahydrocannabinols derivative.”

The bill also features language preventing the mailing of e-cigarettes through the United States Postal Service, which as many vaping advocates have noted, also arguably includes vapes used for cannabis. On page 2670 of the bill, it refers to “electronic nicotine delivery system[s]” but then defines that as “any electronic device that, through an aerosolized solution, delivers nicotine, flavor, or any other substance to the user inhaling from the device.” Many are noting that the “any other substance” language could be used to include cannabis. 

In an interview with Marijuana Moment, chief executive officer for the National Cannabis Industry Association Aaron Smith said the language, “could have a significant effect on cannabis vaping products, even if the intent is clearly to curb nicotine products.”

Other language in the bill is more encouraging when it comes to cannabis. Namely, students applying for federal student loans won’t be disqualified from receiving them if they have past drug convictions anymore. The language that does this is fairly oblique but through an adjustment to the Higher Education Act which strikes the Aid Elimination Penalty subsection referring to drug offenses, those who were charged with drug convictions while receiving additional federal aid. 

Senator for Washington state, Patty Murray, who helped negotiate these adjustments to the Higher Education Act, released a statement noting these changes.

“Every single person in this country should be able to access and afford a quality higher education—and today we move substantially closer to that goal. For too long, students who are incarcerated, students who have been defrauded by for-profit colleges, and students who have drug-related offenses have been blocked from receiving federal aid,” Murray said. “But now, I’m incredibly pleased that these students will finally be able to access aid and begin and continue their education.”

The Drug Policy Alliance also weighed in: “Congress imposed these restrictions during the 1990s escalation of the drug war and tough-on-crime era, and in the years since, thousands of students who rely on federal aid have been denied educational opportunities increasingly essential to successful employment,” Grant Smith of the Drug Policy Alliance said in a press release. “Studies have confirmed time and again that these policies harm a person’s ability to successfully transition back into their communities and deny them the basic human right to learn and improve their quality of life.”

Image by CKA via Shutterstock

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