Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

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Moritz College of Law

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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

"What’s Next for Pot in Congress?"

CannabisHill_FB.4aabffc9fb3c5e7bfef73acc5067e886The question in the title of this post is the headline of this notable new article at CQ Roll Call.  Here are excerpts:

Activists cheered a House vote last month to bar the federal government from interfering with state medical marijuana laws.  It was a watershed moment for pro-marijuana advocates — and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle — who have been waiting for years for Congress to take an affirmative up-or-down vote on any related issue.

But in the afterglow of this long-sought legislative victory, it’s not clear just what comes next.  Will bipartisan support for the measure, adopted as an amendment to the House’s fiscal 2015 Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill, inspire future action in the chamber?  Will the Senate, poised in the weeks ahead to consider its own C-J-S bill, follow the House’s lead?...

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, one of the biggest stalwarts of legalizing marijuana, doesn’t agree that this will be the last word on the subject before the end of the 113th Congress.  The Oregon Democrat, who co-sponsored the House amendment, told CQ Roll Call he has had “several conversations” with senators who might champion a medical marijuana amendment in consideration of the C-J-S bill.  Plus, senators marked up their version of the spending measure in the Appropriations Committee last week, and adopted language blocking the Justice Department from using funds to deter research on industrial hemp.

Blumenauer also thinks two stand-alone measures he’s introduced could pass.  A bill that would allow legal marijuana businesses to benefit from tax deductions could become an amendment to a tax extenders package.  Another measure, which would permit such businesses to hold bank accounts, could hitch a ride on financial services legislation.   “There are number of things I think can happen between now and the end of this congressional session,” Blumenauer said. “I’m not at all discouraged.”...

A week after the dust settled, the “Vote Medical Marijuana” campaign housed within the advocacy group Americans for Safe Access demonstrated what else it could do with [House voting]  information.   On June 5, the organization announced it would air 30-second TV spots on MSNBC in Maryland and South Florida to target two members who voted “no” on the C-J-S amendment — Republican Andy Harris and Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Americans for Safe Access spokesman Kris Hermes said the group hopes to run ads against other members leading up to the Nov. 4 midterm elections.   “I’m not going to say people shouldn’t vote for Wasserman Schultz or Harris, but I think it should weigh heavily on their decision on who to vote for, and our goal is to have a federal legislature, a Congress, that is voting consistently with the interests of its constituents,” Hermes explained.

Wasserman Schultz and Harris responded to the ads by defending their positions in written statements.   “I do not believe, regardless of the issue, that it is appropriate to limit the Executive Branch’s ability to enforce current federal law at their discretion,” said Schultz, who is also the Democratic National Committee chairwoman.  “As a cancer survivor, mother and lawmaker, I am acutely empathetic to the suffering of people with terminal illnesses and chronic pain.”

Harris, who was an anesthesiologist before coming to Congress in 2011, had a more technical gripe.   “The term ‘medical marijuana’ implies that marijuana is like any other medication that a physician, like myself, would prescribe,” Harris said. “It’s not.”

Whatever happens, there are members who support expanding access to marijuana who refuse to be daunted by political realities in the face of an exciting time to be working on the issue.   Count Colorado Democrat Jared Polis, another co-sponsor of the medical marijuana amendment, among them.   “History was made by politicians from both sides of the aisle, as we now have a majority of Congress on the record saying that states have the prerogative to regulate marijuana as they see fit,” Polis, whose state recently legalized marijuana for all purposes, said in an emailed statement. “I don’t know where this bill is going, but it sends a message.”

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/marijuana_law/2014/06/whats-next-for-pot-in-congress.html

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