Cannabis Law Prof Blog

Editor: Franklin G. Snyder
Texas A&M University
School of Law

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Congressman: "We're completely on our asses" on marijuana

AaaRep. Tom Garrett (R-Va) wants Congress to get off its collective derrière and resolve the problem of marijuana legalization by turning it over to the states.  Earlier this year he introduced the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017 (H.R. 1227), which would remove cannabis (both marijuana and hemp) from the Controlled Substances Act entirely and turn regulation over to the states.

It's basically the same bill that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) introduced a couple of years ago.  In a story on PJ MediaGOP Lawmaker on U.S. Pot Policy: ‘We’re Completely on Our Asses,’ he has some blunt words about why he favors the approach:

On Monday, Garrett doubled down on the legislation, explaining the reasons he supports state discretion over medical marijuana policy. After he outlined his reasoning to his constituents, Garrett said at the Cato Institute, “I didn’t have anyone vehemently opposed.”

 

The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017 would remove marijuana from the list of federally controlled substances, bringing it in line with alcohol and tobacco standards. Decriminalization would eliminate a justice system that Garrett believes disproportionately disenfranchises the poor and politically weak, would allow medical professionals rather than the federal government to make key decisions for conditions like epilepsy, and would allow states to realize hundreds of millions of dollars in economic revenue annually.

 

Garrett’s district grows about seven-eighths of all tobacco in Virginia, and his state, Kentucky and Tennessee, he said, could be economic “monsters” in the industry of agricultural hemp due to climate advantages if marijuana were decriminalized.

 

.  .  .

 

“You should be free to do what you so choose to do so long as it’s not an impact on others that’s negative. That’s easy, and that’s who we’re supposed to be as a nation,” he said, adding that the government closest to the people – local government – governs the most efficiently.

 

Garrett, a former prosecutor, described the Republican Party as “AWOL” when it comes to marijuana policy. At the same time, he said that more dangerous drugs like heroin should be treated differently for their rapid and widespread destruction.

 

“I am not pro-marijuana. I’m not anti-marijuana,” he said. “I’m pro-Constitution. I’m pro-liberty. I’m pro-government that enforces its laws.”

 

September 13, 2017 in Drug Policy, Federal Regulation, Legislation, Medical Marijuana, Politics, Recreational Marijuana | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 7, 2017

House Rules Committee nixes medical marijuana spending amendment

 

Without legislation, states would lose protection they have enjoyed for the past four years, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions could begin his long-sought crackdown on the rapid expansion of legalized pot.  

 

 

Fellow Californian Rep. Duncan Hunter told The Hill that after Rohrabacher “talked about it this morning in conference,” GOP leaders said “it splits the conference too much so we’re not going to have a vote on it.”

 

Rohrabacher had pled with his colleagues in a Tuesday night floor speech to allow the vote.

 

“The status quo for four years has been the federal government will not interfere because the Department of Justice is not permitted to use its resources to supercede a state that has legalized the medical use of marijuana,” Rohrabacher said.

 

He said that without his amendment, “we’re changing the status quo in a way that undermines the rights of the states and the people … to make their policy.”

Rohrabacher’s amendment, co-sponsored with Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer (Ore.), was included in the previous four Commerce-Justice-Science funding measures, when President Obama was in the White House. It was also included in an omnibus funding bill signed by President Trump earlier this year that expires at the end of the month.

 

This doesn't mean that the Amendment is dead, however.  Its language was previously included in the Senate version of the bill, and given the fairly strong support it's had in the past few years, it may well find itself in the final conference bill despite yesterday's action.

 

 

September 7, 2017 in Drug Policy, Federal Regulation, Law Enforcement, Legislation, Medical Marijuana, News, Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Which states are next for recreational marijuana?

AaaNew Jersey, Vermont, and Rhode Island--at least according to predictions from John Schroyer at Marijuana Business Daily.  He offers a good rundown of what's up for state legislatures in 2018.

“You will hear about some wins through the legislative process, and there will be wins at the ballot. So I do expect the strong movement forward to continue” in 2018, said Bryan Meltzer, a New York-based attorney who tracks potential new business opportunities and markets for roughly two dozen cannabis industry clients.

Also upbeat about the chances for further legalization victories through legislatures next year are Marijuana Policy Project’s executive director, Rob Kampia, and the Drug Policy Alliance’s senior director of national affairs, Bill Piper.

“I feel pretty bullish overall,” Piper said. “(Legalization efforts are) being driven by strong demand from the public, and all the work that activists – including business owners – are doing at the local level is having an impact.”

Kampia, however, was lukewarm and chose to hedge his bets on potential legislative moves.

“If you ask me about my level of optimism in August of any year, my level of optimism is about the same,” he said. “You maybe pick off one or two, and sometimes you get lucky.”

The piece goes into a good deal of detail and is well worth a read.

 

September 5, 2017 in Legislation, Politics, Recreational Marijuana, State Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Reactions To Senator Booker’s Marijuana Bill That He May Not Want To See

Cory BookerSenator Cory Booker of New Jersey wants to remove the federal ban on marijuana partly because he thinks law enforcement unfairly targets members of minority communities for using the drug. But groups that oppose Booker's proposal have launched efforts to correct what they see is an incorrect premise. They argue that in fact there's no difference in minority impacts in states where marijuana is legal.  From NJ.com:

Instead, minority youth still are being disproportionately arrested for using marijuana when they're under age, or being stopped for drugged driving, they said.

"We want to highlight the false promise that legalization of marijuana will serve social justice," said Kevin Sabet, president and chief executive of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, an anti-legalization group whose advisers include former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), a Brigantine resident who sits on the presidential opioid commission chaired by Gov. Chris Christie.

Separately, Colorado Christian University's Centennial Institute launched a online petition drive against legalization.

September 2, 2017 in Drug Policy, Federal Regulation, News, Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 1, 2017

How Nevada's Gambling Regulators Plan to Separate from the Marijuana Industry

Las VegasIn Nevada, gambling regulators are refusing to collaborate with the marijuana industry.  Taking a harsh stand, the Nevada Gaming Commission disclaimed that there will be no place for marijuana in Nevada casinos as long as the federal government views its consumption and possession as a felony, according to a piece in the Insurance Journal

 

Commissioners said the reputation of the gaming industry is at stake and there needs to be clear separation.

 

“On one hand you have the gaming industry and on the other hand you have the marijuana industry … The two shall not meet,”

Commission Chairman Tony Alamo said.

 

Commissioners did, however, spend more than an hour discussing what Alamo said would be the least controversial aspects of potentially bringing marijuana into casino resorts – third-party and business associations between licensees and individuals and companies involved in the marijuana industry.

 

That aspect was shot down, though. No votes were taken, but commissioners unanimously concluded that licensees should be discouraged from hosting shows or conferences that promote the use, sale, cultivation or distribution of marijuana.

 

Licensees also shouldn’t maintain business relationships with marijuana companies, including landlord-tenant arrangements.

 

Commissioners also said licensees should not receive financing from or provide financing to an individual, entity or establishment that sells, cultivates or distributes marijuana.

 

September 1, 2017 in Business, Legislation, Medical Marijuana, News, Politics, State Regulation, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 20, 2016

Maryland's Harris Sponsoring MMJ Research Legislation

AThe White House doesn't have much interest in medical marijuana legalization, but support is now coming from a surprising Congressional source.  Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), a physician who strongly opposed D.C.'s legalization last year, is now leading efforts to ease restrictions that prohibit research on marijuana's medicinal benefits.  From the Baltimore Sun:

 

Harris, a Johns Hopkins-trained anesthesiologist who hangs a white lab coat in his waiting room on Capitol Hill, has been working for roughly a year to build a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers who want to ease restrictions on marijuana for the purpose of studying its effect on debilitating diseases.

 

Harris and other lawmakers intend to introduce legislation this week to create a less cumbersome process for marijuana researchers seeking Department of Justice approval to work with the drug.

 

Among other changes, the measure would require federal regulators to approve or deny research applications within two months.

 

. . .

 

“Part of my frustration in the entire debate around legalizing medical marijuana is that there really isn’t good scientific evidence about what it’s good for and what it’s not good for,” Harris, who still practices medicine, told The Baltimore Sun. “We really don’t have good data supporting widespread use.”

 

That position is uncontroversial — even some proponents of looser marijuana laws have lamented a lack of peer-reviewed research. The American Medical Association calls for “further adequate and well-controlled studies” in the opening lines of its formal policy on medical marijuana.

 

There is anecdotal evidence that the drug has helped patients who are suffering from seizures, Parkinson’s and other complex conditions. But Harris and others say states are making decisions about which types of disease can be treated with marijuana without a clear sense of the drug’s efficacy.

 

In that sense, both supporters of expanding the use of medical marijuana and opponents can find reasons to back the legislation. Both sides agree that one of the reasons there is so little data is because it’s been difficult for researchers to get their hands on the drug.

June 20, 2016 in Drug Policy, Federal Regulation, Legislation, Medical Marijuana, News, Politics, Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, January 16, 2016

And now for something different . . . .

AaWe naturally tend to focus on pro-legalization stuff here.  But it's important to remember that there are still intelligent and well-meaning folks who strongly oppose legalization.  One of them is Frank Rapier, a 30-year Treasury Department agent who now runs the Appalachia HIDTA (High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area).  He's got a new op-ed in the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader, entitled Don’t fall for the lies from Big Marijuana

    In response to the column, “Stop waste of money, lives in criminalizing pot,” let me say that I agree with Sen. Perry B. Clark on one point: America is being bamboozled.

    We are being bamboozled by Big Marijuana.

    For several years now, we have witnessed a highly financed, deceptive campaign to legalize marijuana. It started with the premise that marijuana is medicine. Marijuana may contain medical components, but so does opium. We don’t smoke opium to get the pain-killing effects of morphine. How could you dose smoked marijuana?

    While it is entirely possible that the marijuana plant does contain elements that would be useful in treating specific disorders, there needs to be research and a process of approval like all potentially helpful medicines. The Food and Drug Administration performs this procedure daily. Let’s give that a shot before we can get serious about marijuana as medicine.

    Big Marijuana has lied for years in stating that the prisons are filled with people arrested for possession of small amounts of marijuana. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    With the current opiate addiction crisis in Kentucky and other states, law enforcement is too busy to bother with casual marijuana users. A survey by the Bureau of Justice Statistics showed that 0.7 percent of all state inmates were behind bars for marijuana possession only (with many pleading down from more serious crimes).

    In total, one-tenth of one percent (0.1 percent) of all state prisoners in the U.S. were marijuana-possession offenders with no prior sentences, according to a 1999 report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

    Colorado’s passage of a responsible adult marijuana-use law has also resulted in other issues.

    A report by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area compared studies of the two-year average of marijuana use during full legalization (2013-14) to the two-year average just prior to legalization (2011-12).

    The latest results show Colorado youth, aged 12 to 17 years old, ranked No. 1 in the nation for past month marijuana use, up from No. 4. Their usage was 74 percent higher than the national average. College-aged adults, 18 to 25, increased 17 percent. This was 62 percent higher than the national average.

    Legalization is about one thing and one thing only: Making a small number of business people very rich. There is indeed some bamboozling going on. Kentuckians shouldn’t fall for legalizing marijuana.


Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/opinion/op-ed/article54768230.html#storylink=cpy

 

January 16, 2016 in Decriminalization, Drug Policy, News, Politics, State Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 8, 2016

Vermont Governor Announces Support of Legislative Legalization

ADemocratic Governor Peter Shumlin has now decided to back legalization in the Green Mountain State.  In his State of the State message, Shumlin said he'll back legalization for the state, which decriminalized weed in 2013 but does not have a licensed market.  His "key requirements" for a bill from the legislature include:

have protections in place to keep adolescents from buying;

feature taxes modest enough to keep prices low, and hence put black-market sellers out of business;

provide tax revenue to expand addiction prevention programs;

strengthen existing DUI laws;

and finally, ban the sale of edible marijuana products that have proven vexing in Colorado and elsewhere, at least until the state can figure out how to regulate them properly.

Not a bad list, although the "modest" taxation thing runs counter to the "provide tax revenue" goal; any tax significant enough to raise a chunk of money is probably significant enough to keep the black market going.   There will probably be a lot of jockeying for special favors in whatever bill comes out of the legislature, but it will be interesting to see what emerges.

January 8, 2016 in News, Politics, Recreational Marijuana, State Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Libertarian Prez Candidate Supports Legalization (Again)

AFormer New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, who ran for president as a Libertarian in 2012, says he’s running again.  The Daily Caller is excited:

His entrance is undoubtedly a game-changer for the marijuana policy discussion, as he represents the most permissive approach to marijuana so far. Rather than simply opposing the drug war or maintaining that the federal government should not interfere with state legalization policies, Johnson is the only candidate to come out and say that marijuana should be legal on the federal level.

Actually, I’m kind puzzled why the Governor’s entry is a "game changer," since (a) he was the Libertarian nominee in 2012, and (b) haven't pretty much all Libertarian Presidential candidates been in favor of legalization since 1970 or so?

Still, this could potentially be a problem for Republicans trying to win this November, and also for the legalization movement. How? Well, if Rand Paul is the GOP nominee, Govenor Johnson could siphon enough of the pro-marijuana vote in swing states to throw the election to Hillary Clinton.

January 7, 2016 in Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Should we expect any major federal marijuana reform developments in 2016?

ADoug Berman asks that question over at Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform.  My answer is the same as his.  No.  Here's his quick take:

But while 2016 could prove historic for marijuana reform on the state level, I am inclined to predict that this year could well be a huge nothingburger on the federal front.  Absent some unexpected developments, I would be shocked if an essentially lame-duck President Obama or his Department of Justice will see any reason to significantly alter its present Cole-memo, leave-the-states-mostly-alone prosecutorial policies.  And though there are lots of marijuana reform proposals and bills kicking around Capitol Hill, I have no reason to believe or expect any leaders in either the House of the Senate have any real interest in moving any marijuana bills forward (or even having hearings on the topic).  

He's hoping he's "missing something" in that assessment, but I don't believe he is.  I don't see anybody at the federal level moving to do anything this year.

The Administration?  President Obama has had seven years to start the process of rescheduling cannabis, and has shown absolutely no interest in doing it.   Given that he's spending his last year doing a victory lap of world capitals and top golf courses (and spending whatever political capital he has left on making it harder for people other than drug lords and gangbangers to get guns), it's hard to see him suddenly get interested.  Attorney General Lynch is an old-line drug warrior whose troops are still busy denying that Rohrabacher-Farr amendment limits them from prosecuting medical marijuana growers.  Think she'll suddenly see the light?

Congress?  It's an election year, which means that despite lots of promises to various constituent groups, virtually nothing will get done.

The presidential candidates?  On the Democratic side, Hillary is an old drug warrior who had eight years as First Lady, eight in the Senate, and four as Secretary of State to do something about it, and has never made the slightest attempt to do anything.  Sure, for enough money she'd come out in favor of it, but compared to investment banks and Silicon Valley, the marijuana industry is small potatoes.  As for Bernie, he'd probably support it as President, but he doesn't seem capable of even talking about any issue that isn't out of Class Warfare 101.

On the GOP side, many of the candidates are conservative drug warriors who are philosophically opposed to legalization.  Of the others, I suspect that they took note of the huge boost that coming out for legalization did not give to Rand Paul.  The number of Republic primary voters whose choice will depend on the candidate's position on marijuana is probably somewhere between "almost none" and "zero."  And in the general election, issues like immigration, the Islamic State, Obamacare, North Korean hydrogen bombs, and Hillary's record will trump (no pun intended) minor stuff like marijuana.  Again, enough campaign cash could change that, but it's hard to see how the industry could come up with enough to make it worthwhile. 

So I'm even less optimistic than Doug.  Of course, if Rand Paul does win the Republican nomination, and a brokered Democratic convention gives us Rocky de la Fuente, things might change.

January 6, 2016 in Decriminalization, Drug Policy, Federal Regulation, Legislation, News, Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 4, 2016

DOJ Still Prosecuting Over Medical Marijuana

Jacob SullumNo, the federal government did not legalize medical marijuana in recent omnibus budget bill.  The bill reiterated language from last year's omnibus bill, known as the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, which prohibits using federal funds to prevent a state from "implementing" its medical marijuana laws.  But while various news sites trumpeted this as effectively ending the federal ban on medical marijuana, Reason's Jacob Sullum, in a piece titled The Federal Ban on Medical Marijuana Was Not Lifted, argues that the ambiguous language in the Amendment isn't stopping the Justice Department from prosecutions.

The problem with the Amendment is its language.  The Justice Department interprets it to mean that it cannot use federal funds to prosecute state employees who are involved in medical marijuana licensing, taxation, and regulation -- that is, those who are actually implementing the state program.  There seems to be a difference between implementing a law (for example, being a state employee who sets or enforces speed limits) and merely obeying a law (a driver who follows the speed limit).  If Congress had wanted to ban individual prosecutions, the most natural way to do so would have been to bar DOJ from prosecuting individuals and businesses who are licensed by state medical marijuana offices and who are in compliance with those regulations.  While it's true that the authors of the Amendment hoped it would ban individual prosecutions (and while one federal judge has said it does) the DOJ argument is, from a pure statutory construction perspective, perfectly reasonable.

Sullum concludes that even if the Amendment did bar DOJ from individual prosecutions, its effects are still very limited:

The rider has no impact in the 27 states that do not have medical marijuana laws, and it applies only to the Justice Department, so it has no effect on actions by the IRS or the Treasury Department that make it difficult for medical marijuana suppliers to pay their taxes and obtain banking services.

More fundamentally, the amendment, which has to be renewed every fiscal year, does not change the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), which continues to classify marijuana as a Schedule I substance with no legal uses. Because marijuana is still prohibited by federal law, people who grow and sell it, no matter the purpose and regardless of their status under state law, commit multiple felonies every day. If no one is trying to put them in prison right now, that is only thanks to prosecutorial forbearance that may prove temporary.

Anyone who provides services to marijuana businesses is implicated in their lawbreaking. Last week a Colorado credit union that wants to specialize in serving state-licensed marijuana businesses tried to persuade a federal judge that it is legally entitled to participate in the Federal Reserve's payment system, without which it cannot operate. The judge did not seem inclined to agree, saying, "I would be forcing the reserve bank to give a master account to a credit union that serves illegal businesses." The U.S. Postal Service announced last month that periodicals containing marijuana ads are "nonmailable," citing a CSA provision that makes it a felony to place ads promoting the purchase of illegal drugs. An accounting firm and a bonding company hired by a Colorado marijuana merchant recently paid $70,000 to settle a federal racketeering suit filed against them by a hotel whose owners were upset about plans to open a pot shop near their business.

Problems like these cannot be solved without changing marijuana's status under federal law. The Rohrbacher-Farr amendment does not do that, no matter how many hopeful headlines it generates.

January 4, 2016 in Decriminalization, Drug Policy, Federal Regulation, Law Enforcement, Legislation, Medical Marijuana, Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

11 states least likely to legalize marijuana

USAToday. . . is the headline of a story today reprinted in USA Today.  Even Texas has medical marijuana in 2016, and there are lots of stories about states moving toward legalization.  But here's the short version of the list (in alphabetical order) of states that probably won't be seeing much action on that front this year:

 Alabama
Arkansas
Georgia
Idaho
Indiana
Kansas
Oklahoma
South Dakota
Tennessee
Utah
Wyoming

 

 

January 4, 2016 in Decriminalization, Drug Policy, Medical Marijuana, News, Politics, Recreational Marijuana, State Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 12, 2015

Canada's Health Minister "Outraged" at Decision of "High" Court

Not everyone in Canada seems to be thrilled by the Supreme Court of Canada's decision that it, and not the Health Ministry or other agencies of government, is the final authority on what medicines it is appropriate for patients to take.  Initial reactions from Health Canada aren't supportive, according to this CTV piece:

    Health Minister Rona Ambrose says she is "outraged" by the Supreme Court of Canada decision that expands the definition of medical marijuana beyond dried leaves, to include cannabis oils, teas, brownies and other forms of the drug.

    In a unanimous decision Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that users should not be restricted to only using the dried form of the drug. They said the current rules prevent people with a legitimate need for medical marijuana from choosing a method of ingestion that avoids the potential harms of smoking it.

    But Ambrose says, despite recent court rulings in favour of the use of marijuana, her government maintains that cannabis has never been proven safe and effective as a medicine.

    "Marijuana has never gone through the regulatory approval process at Health Canada, which requires rigorous safety reviews and clinical trials with scientific evidence," she told reporters in Ottawa.

    "So frankly, I’m outraged by the Supreme Court."

    She said Thursday’s decision, as well as prior court rulings that permit the use of medical marijuana, give Canadians the impression that the drug has been shown to be effective, when it has not.

    "We have this message that normalizes a drug where there is no clear clinical evidence that it is, quote-unquote, a medicine," she said, adding that never in Canada’s history has a drug become a medicine "because judges deemed it so."

June 12, 2015 in International Regulation, Medical Marijuana, News, Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 8, 2015

Second Ohio Legalization Group Clears First Ballot Hurdle

The well-oiled crony-capitalist marijuana ballot initiative in Ohio may find itself with some competition come election time.  The Buckeye State'sattorney general has initially certified the "Legalize Marijuana and Hemp in Ohio" ballot initiative, sponsored by a group called  "Better for Ohio." which means it can now start collecting some 300,000 signatures by July 1 to qualify as a ballot initiative.

But there's not a lot of difference between the proposal already being pushed by "ResponsibleOhio," a group of rich and politically connected people who are trying to get a state-granted monopoly on weed built into the state constitution.  The LMHO initiative basically sticks to that monopoly -- even using the same 10 properties ResponsibleOhio plans to use for growing and processing weed -- but it does add the options for individuals to own a few plants of their own withpout state registration, which may make it more attractive to some voters.

There's also a strange provision that seems to allocated licenses based on serial numbers of several mysterious $100 bills now locked in a safe, but whose serial numbers would under the bill become part of the Constitution of Ohio.   Owners of those specific bills would apparently get the license.  I'm a lawyer and I find that part of the amendment baffling at first (and second) read -- and the backers don't seem to have offered an explanation about how at works. 

May 8, 2015 in Local Regulation, News, Politics, Recreational Marijuana, State Regulation, Voter Initiatives | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Decriminalization Bill Passes Louisiana Legislative Committee

Meanwhile, just on the other side of the Sabine River:  Marijuana sentencing reform clears first hurdle in Louisiana Legislature.  Details:

    A New Orleans lawmaker easily moved his bill reducing penalties for simple marijuana possession past its first hurdle in the Louisiana Legislature Wednesday (May 6).

    State Rep. Austin Badon's legislation, House Bill 149, drops the maximum sentence for second-offense marijuana possession from five years in prison to two years. It would also drop the maximum sentence for third-offense possession from 20 years to five. Subsequent convictions could allow for a maximum sentence up to eight years. 

    "This is a well-studied measure to produce reform and reduce recidivism," Badon said. 

    Badon has brought the same or similar legislation to the Legislature for nearly a half decade. It advanced Wednesday from the House's Administration of Criminal Justice by a vote of 10-4 and now heads to the House floor before moving to the Senate side for consideration. 

    Under current law, a first-time offender could be jailed up to six months -- that sentence would stay the same under Badon's proposal. Fines would be also be reduced. Maximum fines for second offenses would be reduced from $2,000 to $500; and for subsequent offenses from $5,000 to $2,000. 

    The bill could save taxpayers approximately $12 million over five years, Badon said. 

   . . .

    ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director Marjorie Esman said while she supports lowering marijuana penalties, she opposed Badon's bill because it "doesn't do enough." 

    "This will do nothing for the woman who testified about her son...whose serving 15 years at Angola," Esman said, noting the legislation is not retroactive would not apply to inmates who are already incarcerated based on the current law. 

    Directors of two influential lobby groups, the Louisiana Sheriffs' Association and the District Attorneys Association, appeared at Badon's side and complimented his collaboration with them to get the legislation is an acceptable posture. The groups took a neutral stance on the bill but removed their opposition. Opposition from those groups on criminal justice is a bill killer in many cases. 

    Badon said his amendment removing the habitual offender application was a compromise he made with the lobbying groups after he learned simple marijuana possession was rarely a factor in the application of three-strikes sentencing. 

    State Rep. Terry Landry, D-New Iberia, said the legislation most affects poor citizens of Louisiana. He commended the associations and Badon for working together and indicated further reform must occur. 

    "It's not working for us -- locking them up and throwing away the key. We have to be progressive, and we have to think outside the box," Landry said, to cheers from spectators at the hearing. 

    . . .

    Another bill on the Senate side, also sponsored by a New Orleans Democrat, seeks to lower penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana, as well. 

    J.P. Morrell's legislation, Senate Bill 241, carves out a new section of the law that deals strictly with possession of an ounce or less of marijuana or synthetic marijuana -- all the offenses would be considered misdemeanors.

    The maximum penalty for first-offense possession of an ounce or less would be a $100 fine. The maximum penalty for second offense possession would be a $500 fine and 30 days in jail; and the maximum penalty for a third "or subsequent" conviction would be a $1,000 fine and 90 days in jail. The bill has not yet been given an initial hearing. 

As in Texas, the Louisiana legislature is dominated by Republicans.  The fact that the bill got some GOP support at the committee level is a good sign.

BTW, I disagree with the ACLU's opposition to the bill.  It's not a great bill, certainly.  But it would keep at least some people from getting caught up in the disaster that is the nation's drug enforcement policy.  It seems to me the ACLU is willing to make those folks involuntary martyrs in the service of the ACLU's own larger  cause.

Me, I think we've had enough martyrs, and even a few less would be a good thing.

May 7, 2015 in Legislation, News, Politics, State Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Rohrabacher Reintroduces Bill to Require DOJ to Recognize State Marijuana Regimes

Rep. Daha Rohrabacher and ten of his colleagues have reintroduced a bill that would prevent the federal government from prosecuting people who are acting in compliance with state marijuana legalization laws.  The bill is a response to the Obama Administration's position that its operatives are not, in fact, bound by language passed in last year's appropriations bill and signed by the President, which prohibits use of federal funds to pursue those who are in compliance with state marijuana regulations.   From Matt Ferner at HuffPo:

    “The American people, through the 35 states that have liberalized laws banning either medical marijuana, marijuana in general, or cannabinoid oils, have made it clear that federal enforcers should stay out of their personal lives," Rohrabacher said in a statement Wednesday. "It’s time for restraint of the federal government’s over-aggressive weed warriors.”

        . . .

    And while a federal spending bill signed by President Barack Obama in December prohibits the Department of Justice from using funds to interfere in state-legal medical marijuana programs, the DOJ has said that it doesn't believe the congressional measure prohibits them from prosecuting individuals or businesses in violation of federal law.

    The House bill introduced by Rohrabacher would go further than those previous measures by amending the Controlled Substances Act so it would make an exception to federal law for states that have developed their own marijuana policies.

    Under the Obama administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration and several U.S. attorneys have raided hundreds of marijuana dispensaries and sent people to prison, even though they complied with state laws. According to a 2013 report from advocacy group Americans for Safe Access, the Obama administration has spent nearly $80 million each year targeting medical marijuana.

    The federal government has ignored the congressional action, also introduced by Rohrabacher, in ongoing federal asset forfeiture actions against multiple dispensaries in the San Francisco Bay Area. The congressman sent a letter to Holder slamming the DOJ's interpretation of his amendment, calling the department's interpretation "emphatically wrong."

Co-sponsoring the bill, H.R. 1940, are Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Dina Titus (D-Nev.), Mark Pocan (D. Wisc.), and Don Young (R-Alaska). 

The bill has been referred to the Committee on the Judiciary (where Rep. Cohen the ranking minority member of the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice), and the Committee on Energy and Commerce (where Ms. Schakowsky is ranking minority member of the Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade).

What's also interesting is the diversity of the sponsors.  Mr. Rohrabacher is a former Reagan speechwriter and a strong free-market proponent, while Mr. Amash is the head of the House Liberty Caucus and is usually regarded as a Tea Party favorite.  On the other hand, Ms. Schakowsky, Mr. Cohen, and Mr. Pocan are all active in the Congressional Progressive Caucus and are among the House's most liberal members.

That diversity, and the fact that a majority of Congress supported the restrictions that the Administration is now ignoring, means that the bill might have a much better  chance now than it did when last introduced in 2013.

 It will be interesting to see if President Obama, in light of his recent remarks, will make any effort to put Administration's support behind the bill.

April 23, 2015 in Drug Policy, Federal Regulation, Law Enforcement, Legislation, News, Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Marijuana Activists Cheer Michele Leonhart's Exit from the DEA"

That title of an article from BloombergPolitics from about sums up the general reaction among legalization advocates about Ms. Leonhart's ouster after fallout from sex-and-corruption scandals in the agency. 

Like most in the community, I hope that her replacement will be less of a hard-liner, but I don't see any evidence he or she is likely to be.  After all, President Obama knew exactly what she was about when he reappointed her five years ago, and he made no apparent attempts to restrain her even as armed DEA task forces descended like locusts on medical marijuana establishments.  Neither he nor Attorney General Eric Holder put a stop to that -- it took (weirdly enough) the  Republican-dominated House of Representatives to do that via an appropriations bill.

So while I hope that the new DEA head will be open to doing something the Administration has refused to do for six years -- move toward rescheduling and thus allowing research -- I fear that weed advocates may be in for a letdown.  This reaction, for example, is from the article linked above:

    [Marijuana Majority founder Tom] Angell said that advocates were disappointed and shocked that Obama reappointed Leonhart—a holdover from the Bush administration—to the job in 2010. Since then she's taken a very firm anti-marijuana stance that has alienated supporters of less strict drug laws. In 2011 she was criticized for saying that increased drug war violence in Mexico, including the deaths of over a 1,000 children, was “a sign of success in the fight against drugs.” During a 2012 House Judiciary subcommittee hearing, Leonhart refused to say whether marijuana is safer than crack. 

    Days after Obama, in January of 2014, told The New Yorker that marijuana is safer than alcohol, Leonhart reportedly criticized his comments and said that the lowest day of her 33 years in law enforcement was when a hemp flag flew over the nation’s capital. “Obviously we shouldn’t judge her based on her one comment, but it’s a very telling comment,” said [Marijuana Policy Project's Mason] Tvert.  Tvert accused Leonhart of being “an anti-marijuana zealot” and said the next DEA chair “must be willing and able to recognize the fact that marijuana is relatively less harmful than alcohol and other illegal drugs.” 

I very much respect Messrs. Angell and Tvert, but I'm afraid they may be giving too much credit to what President Obama says in an interview, and too little to what he does in office.  If he really believes what he's now saying about marijuana -- rather than just pandering to what he thinks millennials what to hear -- you'd think he would have done something about it at some point in the past six years.

I mean, seriously, after spending two and a half terms killing children in Mexico, throwing vast numbers of minority users into jail, smashing doors and burning property, did he wake up April 19 and suddenly think, "Oh, hey, I didn't know there was all this science stuff out there?  Maybe marijuana isn't so bad!"

That doesn't mean, of course, that he won't appoint someone who's less of a hard-liner, merely that he's shown considerable ability to say things in the media that do not reflect what he's actually doing.  So I agree with Mr. Angell that what he does now will give us a good idea of what his Administration really thinks about the issue:

    Angell noted that Obama now was a chance to prove his commitment to science over ideology. “The president always talks about how science should dictate public policy,” he said. “Well, now he has a chance to actually appoint someone who’s going to carry that through.” 

I certainly hope I'm being too pessimistic.

April 23, 2015 in Drug Policy, Law Enforcement, News, Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 17, 2015

Poll: Women, Hispanics Less Favorable to Legalization than White/Black Males

The Pew Research Center has released a survey that has some fascinating new look at polling data on  marijuana legalization.  There's a lot of information to chew on -- this is just one chart, which shows some stark differences in opinions on the subject based on race, sex, and age.

1

Note that men strongly favor legalization, while women are about equally split. 

April 17, 2015 in News, Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

I'd Buy That for a Dollar

On the game show The Price is Right, contestants have to guess the price of whatever consumer item is placed before them. The person who gets closest to the actual price wins, but if he or she goes over, that contestant automatically loses. There is often some crafty contestant who guesses the lowest possible price (usually $1.00), so that if everyone else is over, he  or she wins.

That is how I see this play by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie - claiming that if he were elected president, he would clamp down on the various forms of legalization (despite what the majority of Americans support). Sure, America has moved on and wants a new policy. But just in case all these other candidates are overplaying the marijuana card, he wants to be the guy that wins if everyone else loses.
 
From the Huffington Post story:

When asked by Hewitt if he would enforce federal drug laws in those states that have legalized and regulated cannabis, Christie responded unequivocally.

"Absolutely," Christie said. "I will crack down and not permit it."

Citing an "enormous addiction problem" in the U.S., Christie, who has not yet announced a presidential run but has launched a political action committee, said that a very clear message needs to be sent "from the White House on down through federal law enforcement."

"States should not be permitted to sell it and profit" from legalizing marijuana, he said.

Never mind that New Jersey is a medical marijuana state, or that this is a federalist system in which states get to make that decision. I'm sure both Nancy Reagan and Drew Carey would be proud of the strategy. Yeah, it's Drew now. Bob Barker retired. 

April 15, 2015 in Drug Policy, Law Enforcement, Medical Marijuana, Politics, Recreational Marijuana, State Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Hillary Clinton and Marijuana

Doug Berman at MLP&R links to a Vox article entitled "Democratic voters love marijuana legalization. Hillary Clinton doesn't.

The piece quotes Marijuana Policy Project's Dan Riffle:

    Clinton's stance to let states decide whether to legalize is "unnecessarily tepid for a Democrat [said Riffle].  There's nothing to lose and a lot to gain for her if she were to take a more aggressive position in favor of regulation.  By not doing so, she leaves the door open for a candidate like [former Maryland Gov. Martin] O'Malley, who is trying to outflank her with liberals and young voters, to make marijuana reform part of his platform."

I'm not a Democrat, but from an outsider's position I can't see any benefit for her to do anything controversial at this point.  Unless she's very, very afraid that marijuana will be the key issue for millennial, minority, and women voters in the primary -- and I don't see that being the case here -- why risk alienating older white voters, at least some of whom she'll need to win in the general election?  

Now, if the marijuana lobby were to cough up $100 million or so in contributions, there might be a good reason to do it.  But that seems unlikely.

April 14, 2015 in Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)