Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Senate Minority Leader to introduce bill to deschedule marijuana

95ff435c240b91016a0f6a70670077ffVice News has this notable new story under the headline "Sen. Chuck Schumer to introduce bill to 'decriminalize' marijuana." Here are the details:

In an exclusive interview with VICE News, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) confirmed he is putting his name on legislation that he said is aimed at “decriminalizing” marijuana at the federal level.

For Schumer, this is a shift. While he has backed medical marijuana and the rights of states to experiment with legal sales of pot, what he is proposing is a seismic shift in federal drug policy . “Ultimately, it’s the right thing to do. Freedom. If smoking marijuana doesn’t hurt anybody else, why shouldn’t we allow people to do it and not make it criminal?” Schumer said....

The legislation, which Schumer’s office expects will be released within the next week, has six main points. First, it would remove marijuana from Drug Enforcement Administration’s list of controlled substances, which would end federal prohibition and leave it up to states to decide how to regulate the drug. Schumer stopped short of calling it legalization, but de-scheduling would essentially make marijuana legal at the federal level.

His bill would also would create some funding for minority and women-owned marijuana businesses, provide money for research into overall effects of marijuana and it’s specific effect on driving impairment.  And lastly, it would “maintain federal authority to regulate marijuana advertising in the same way it does alcohol and tobacco,” which Schumer said is to make sure marijuana businesses aren’t targeting children with their ads.

Schumer went further saying that he would support legalization in his home state of New York as well as any other state that wants to move in that direction.  “My personal view is legalization is just fine,” he said. “The best thing to do is let each state decide on its own.”

While this looks like an obvious election year-play, Schumer claimed it wasn’t about he looming 2018 or 2020 elections.  “I’m doing it because I think it’s the right thing to do.  I’ve seen too many people’s lives ruined by the criminalization,” he said.  “If we benefit, so be it.  But that’s not my motivation.”

When asked if he had ever smoked weed before, Schumer said no, but when pressed on whether he might be willing to try it he said, “Maybe, I’m a little old, but who knows?”

April 19, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 26, 2018

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announces plans for new hemp bill to remove plant from CSA

Pjimage-34As reported in this new AP article, the "U.S. Senate’s top leader said Monday he wants to bring hemp production back into the mainstream by removing it from the controlled substances list that now associates it with its cousin — marijuana." Here is more:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told hemp advocates in his home state of Kentucky that he will introduce legislation to legalize the crop as an agricultural commodity. The versatile crop has been grown on an experimental basis in a number of states in recent years. “It’s now time to take the final step and make this a legal crop,” McConnell said.

Kentucky has been at the forefront of hemp’s comeback. Kentucky agriculture officials recently approved more than 12,000 acres (4,856 hectares) to be grown in the state this year, and 57 Kentucky processors are helping turn the raw product into a multitude of products.

Growing hemp without a federal permit has long been banned due to its classification as a controlled substance related to marijuana. Hemp and marijuana are the same species, but hemp has a negligible amount of THC, the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana users a high.

Hemp got a limited reprieve with the 2014 federal Farm Bill, which allows state agriculture departments to designate hemp projects for research and development. So far, 34 states have authorized hemp research, while actual production occurred in 19 states last year, said Eric Steenstra, president of the advocacy group Vote Hemp. Hemp production totaled 25,541 acres (10,336 hectares) in 2017, more than double the 2016 output, he said.

The crop, which once thrived in Kentucky, was historically used for rope but has many other uses, including clothing and mulch from the fiber, hemp milk and cooking oil from the seeds, and soap and lotions. Other uses include building materials, animal bedding and biofuels.

Hemp advocates fighting for years to restore the crop’s legitimacy hailed McConnell’s decision to put his political influence behind the effort to make it a legal crop again. “This is a huge development for the hemp industry,” Steenstra said. “Sen. McConnell’s support is critical to helping us move hemp from research and pilot programs to full commercial production.”

Brian Furnish, an eighth-generation tobacco farmer in Kentucky, has started making the switch to hemp production. His family will grow about 300 acres (120 hectares) of hemp this year in Harrison County. He’s also part owner of a company that turns hemp into food, fiber and dietary supplements. Furnish said hemp has the potential to rival or surpass what tobacco production once meant to Kentucky. “All we’ve got to do is the government get out of the way and let us grow,” he told reporters.

McConnell acknowledged there was “some queasiness” about hemp in 2014 when federal lawmakers cleared the way for states to regulate it for research and pilot programs. There’s much broader understanding now that hemp is a “totally different” plant than its illicit cousin, he said. “I think we’ve worked our way through the education process of making sure everybody understands this is really a different plant,” the Republican leader said.

McConnell said he plans to have those discussions with Attorney General Jeff Sessions to emphasize the differences between the plants. The Trump administration has taken a tougher stance on marijuana. The Department of Justice’s press office did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

McConnell said his bill will attract a bipartisan group of co-sponsors. He said the measure would allow states to have primary regulatory oversight of hemp production if they submit plans to federal agriculture officials outlining how they would monitor production. “We’re going to give it everything we’ve got to pull it off,” he said.

In Kentucky, current or ex-tobacco farmers could easily make the conversion to hemp production, Furnish said. Equipment and barns used for tobacco can be used to produce hemp, he said. Tobacco production dropped sharply in Kentucky amid declining smoking rates.

March 26, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Reviewing the work of Representative Pete Sessions to block marijuana reform efforts in Congress

ThPolitico has this extended new article on federal marijuana reform focused on a Sessions who is even more important than AG Jeff.  The full title of the article explains: "Washington’s Most Powerful Anti-Pot Official Is Named Sessions. It’s Not Who You Think: Rep. Pete Sessions has quietly used his chairmanship of the House Rules Committee to stifle popular amendments that would protect legal marijuana." I recommend this lengthy piece in full, and here are highlights:

[W]hile the nation’s top law enforcement officer has made it abundantly clear over the years that he views marijuana as a scourge equal to heroin, it turns out the unofficial title of Washington’s most powerful marijuana opponent belongs to someone else named Sessions: Pete, the longtime congressman from Texas’ 32nd district in Dallas. No relation to the attorney general, Pete Sessions nevertheless shares the former Alabama senator’s unforgiving attitudes toward all things cannabis.

“Marijuana is an addictive product, and the merchants of addiction make it that way,” Pete Sessions said in January. “They make it to where our people, our young people, become addicted to marijuana and keep going.” In February, at an opioid summit at the University of Texas Southwestern, Rep. Sessions stretched scientific fact when he said, today’s product is “300 times more powerful” than when he went to high school. (Later, his communications director confirmed that he meant three times more powerful.)

What Pete Sessions has, however, that Jeff Sessions doesn’t have is the power to change laws. Very quietly, but with implacable efficiency, Pete Sessions has used his position as the chair of the House Rules Committee to stymie or roll back amendments that protected legal marijuana in the 29 states that have approved it (30 states if you count Louisiana). States that have grown increasingly dependent on tax revenue from newly legal marijuana businesses, and investors who are pumping millions into an industry that is projected to hit $28 billion globally by 2024, have sought assurances that federal authorities wouldn’t try to invoke national drug law that still classifies marijuana as one of the most serious of all illegal drugs. Short of changing federal drug law, legislators in the states with forms of legal pot have sought the next best protection: using the power of the purse to curtail enforcement. But Sessions, with the approval of House leadership, has thwarted his colleagues. He neutralized one amendment that sailed through with a comfortable bipartisan majority and smothered others that would pass if they were ever allowed to see the light of day.

So far, the only people who have complained are the legislators whose amendments he has torpedoed and pro-marijuana lobbyists. That criticism has never troubled Sessions in his 21-year career (representing two districts). But recent polling indicates that 83 percent of Texas voters now favor legalizing medical marijuana, and that seems to be feeding a nascent campaign to use Sessions’ anti-marijuana influence against him in the 2018 midterm election. Even some Texas Republicans think his zealousness on the issue violates essential conservative principles of less government. “He’s got this personal viewpoint; he’s just personally against it. And there’s nothing that’s going to change his mind,” said Zoe Russell, of Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP). “That’s the absolute worst of big government.”

The only thing that has prevented Pete Sessions from completely wiping out protections for medical marijuana, and freeing Jeff Sessions’ Department of Justice to execute the crackdown he seems to pine for, is Congress’ own dysfunction. Because Congress could not agree on a budget, Rohrabacher-Farr has remained alive through a series of never-ending continuous resolutions. In addition, the Senate hasn’t been quite so willing to stifle its members’ wills on this issue; Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has proposed a companion amendment to Rohrabacher-Farr, which passed the Senate’s appropriations committee by acclamation....

The question of whether the appropriations conference committee will approve the Senate version with the Leahy amendment or the House version that killed Rohrabacher-Farr remains to be answered. The current continuing resolution ends on Friday at midnight. Don Murphy, director of conservative outreach for the Marijuana Policy Project, bemoaned the fact that the Republican Party has surrendered ownership of marijuana reform as Democratic support for the issue gains steam: “What had once been a GOP effort known simply as ‘Rohrabacher’ after [Republican Dana Rohrabacher’s] decade-long sponsorship, will now be known as ‘the Leahy Amendment.’ It’s a missed opportunity for the GOP.”

When he speaks publicly about marijuana, Pete Sessions often positions himself as a bulwark against just that kind of Republican accommodation, insisting even against mounting evidence to the contrary that marijuana is a gateway drug to the opioid epidemic. This is a viewpoint shared by Jeff Sessions but not by the American Society of Addiction Medicine, generally an anti-marijuana group, which acknowledges “the observed drop in opioid overdose death rates in states where marijuana use is legal for medicinal purposes. One study found that states with ‘medical marijuana’ laws had a 24.8 percent lower average annual opioid overdose death rate compared to states without similar laws.”...

The signs that the Drug War is thawing even in deep-red Texas are hard to miss In 2015, the Texas legislature passed an extremely limited medical marijuana program that grants access to non-psychoactive CBD concentrates to Texans suffering from epilepsy. Given that the Drug Enforcement Administration still considers non-psychoactive CBD to be a drug with no medicinal value, Texas’ tiptoe into the waters of medical marijuana legalization has been an act of civil disobedience against a federal drug enforcement policy that is staunchly defended by the likes of Pete Sessions. In Dallas County, where the majority of Sessions’ constituents reside, police no longer arrest people caught with up to a quarter pound of marijuana, opting instead for a cite-and-release program meant to unclog the jails and judicial system, following the example of similar programs in San Antonio, Houston and Austin.

Against this backdrop, Sessions finds himself defending his congressional seat in 2018 in a district that Hillary Clinton won by nearly 2 percentage points just two years ago. The Cook Political Report rates the race as leans Republican, but does Sessions’ opposition to marijuana law reform make him more vulnerable to a Democratic challenger in November? Some Republicans fear that medical marijuana might be an effective wedge issue that could steer Republican voters toward a Democrat who supports marijuana law reform at the national level....

“Pete Sessions has made himself the No. 1 target of drug policy reformers in the 2018 general election,” Don Murphy of MPP told POLITICO Magazine. “Defeating Pete Sessions in 2018 will send a message to Washington that even the tone-deaf GOP can’t miss.” In fact, Murphy’s prediction appears to be taking shape in Texas. “It doesn’t matter which Democrat wins. Either way, we’re going to un-elect him,” said Rob Kampia, the former executive director of MPP. Kampia’s new venture is the Marijuana Leadership Campaign and its companion Marijuana Leadership PAC. “Our invitation-only launch meeting was held in Dallas,” he told POLITICO Magazine, “and I can safely say we'll be spending $500,000 on this singular congressional race.”

March 21, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 16, 2018

"Evaluating ballot initiative support for legalised marijuana: The case of Washington"

The title of this post is the title of this interesting new piece authored by Loren Collingwood, Ben Gonzalez O’Brien and Sarah Dreier published int The International Journal of Drug Policy. Here is the abstract:

Background

In 2012, Washington and Colorado became the first U.S. states to legalise recreational marijuana. By 2016, eight states and the District of Columbia had legalised recreational marijuana, with more expected to consider it in 2018. Despite this trend, little academic research explains what drives ballot-initiative vote choice on marijuana legalisation.

Methods

This paper uses a pre-election random sample voter survey to examine the individual characteristics that correlated with Washington voters’ support for legal recreational marijuana.

Results

We find that voting on marijuana ballot initiatives largely reflects public opinion about marijuana and is particularly shaped voters’ political ideology, party affiliation, religious affiliation and practice, and education. Notably, we find that those reporting experiences (i.e., someone they know) with the criminal justice system are more supportive of legalisation than those who do not.

Conclusion

We conclude that marijuana legalisation voting behavior generally aligns with public opinion on the issue. However, one key aspect of Washington’s legalisation campaign–the criminal injustices of marijuana illegality–helped shape Washington state voting behavior. Further research is needed to examine if, when, and in what contexts criminal justice campaign themes are likely to strengthen or undermine future states’ marijuana legalisation efforts.

March 16, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 11, 2018

New US Attorney for Southern District of West Virginia talking up efforts to "enforce laws against marijuana aggressively - AGGRESSIVELY"

I have just seen via my twitter feed this notable recent tweet posted by US Attorney Mike Stuart, the newly confirmed U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia:

Without getting into the particulars of the gateway drug debate, I am eager here to highlight how easy it would be for this new US Attorney to ramp up federal marijuana enforcement relative to what has existed in recent years.  Based on some (too) quick research of US Sentencing Commission data, it seems that there have only been a handful of federal marijuana prosecutions each year in this district.  USA Stewart could "aggressively" increase the federal caseload just by bringing a few more cases each year.

It will be interesting to see if the Southern District of West Virginia does end up having many more marijuana prosecutions in the months ahead, though these statements likely are to be most significant with respect to West Virginia's development of its recently passed medical marijuana legislation.   This local article, headlined "Time runs out on bill making changes to WV's medical cannabis program," suggests that the rescission of the Cole Memo and related concerns about federal prohibition may already be slowing down the state's regulatory efforts.

March 11, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Highlighting the perspectives of governors in dynamic marijuana reform times

News-8Rolling Stone has this lengthy new article on modern state marijuana reforms focused on how governors are reacting to Attorney General Jeff Sessions' latest policy directives to federal prosecutors.  The piece is  headlines "Sorry, Jeff Sessions – Governors Are Moving Ahead with Pot: At their annual meeting, pro-pot governors say the AG isn't stopping them from advancing plans for medical and recreational legalization." Here are excerpts:

Over the past few days, most of the nation's governors descended on Washington for their annual meeting with administration officials and the president. As the governors mingled about and chatted in between sessions, many of them were exchanging ideas and best practices on how to roll out a successful regulatory regime on marijuana. But hanging over their talks was the specter of Attorney General Jeff Sessions who would like to clamp down on the nation's burgeoning, though disparate, marijuana industry.

Some Democratic governors say they were denied a private meeting with Sessions to discuss his anti-marijuana stance. And besides attending the formal Governors' Ball on Sunday night, the attorney general only made one appearance to the group, at a White House briefing on opioids. Some say they're frustrated they couldn't pick his brain on his controversial move to rescind an Obama-era memo that directed the nation's top prosecutors to prioritize other offenses over marijuana in states where it's legal. "I tried, but I couldn't get called on," Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) tells Rolling Stone. "He only took about six questions. There were probably 40 governors in the room."

Even though there's fear that Sessions wants to go after legal marijuana business owners, many states are moving ahead with efforts to either launch a new medicinal marijuana industry, expand an existing one or to legalize weed for recreational purposes. And governors say so far Sessions' opposition hasn't had an impact on the ground. "It has not impacted us and we believe it will not, although that doesn't mean we're not paying attention," Gov. Phil Murphy (D-NJ) tells Rolling Stone.

Murphy, who was elected last year, campaigned aggressively on marijuana legalization. For him, it's a criminal-justice issue because his state has the largest racial disparity in its prison population of any state in the nation, and many of those convicts are serving terms for nonviolent drug offenses. While he's received some pushback from his legislature on his plan to legalize pot, he's moving ahead on expanding medicinal marijuana because currently there are only five dispensaries in a state with nine million people. "We're proceeding apace, again, beginning to make sure we get the medical piece right because it's life or death," Murphy says. "And then we will deliberately and steadily get to the recreational side."

The nation's other newly seated governor, Ralph Northam (D-VA), also campaigned on marijuana. He faces more headwinds from Republicans who control his state's House of Delegates, but he's still calling for marijuana decriminalization. As a physician, Northam is also vocal about the medicinal benefits of weed, though he says more research is needed. For that he's calling on Congress to reclassify pot, since it's currently listed as a Schedule I narcotic, making it extremely difficult to study in any official capacity. "I think that it would be great if at the federal level they could change the schedule of marijuana so that we can get more data on it – do more research," Northam tells Rolling Stone. "I remind people all the time that probably over 100 medicines that we use routinely in health care come from plants, so let's be a little bit more open minded and look at potential uses for medicinal marijuana."...

While the movement on medical marijuana is steadily picking up steam in red and blue states alike, the recreational effort is going more slowly but some governors say there's starting to be an air of certainty that eventually marijuana will be viewed as the same as alcohol in most every state.

Back in 2011, Gov. Dan Malloy (D-CT) moved to decriminalize marijuana and set up a medicinal marijuana regime. While he hasn't come down one way or another on recreational marijuana, he says it's just a matter of time before it happens in Connecticut because efforts to legalize weed are sweeping the entire northeast corridor. "As Canada moves in that direction, as Massachusetts and Vermont, it's going to be a neighborhood thing, and I understand that," Malloy tells Rolling Stone. While he remains lukewarm on recreational marijuana, he did pen a blunt letter to Sessions on it.

"I told him to stop messing around with marijuana, because it really isn't important," Malloy says. "I have not taken the opportunity to endorse marijuana, but that's very different than spending resources trying to combat marijuana use. And, quite frankly, if you're going to be serious about opioids, you can't be screwing around with marijuana."

While many governors are now rushing out new marijuana regulations, they're still keeping one eye on Jeff Sessions. Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA) says during this visit he was rebuffed when he asked for a private meeting with the attorney general to discuss his state's recreational marijuana marketplace, but he says his offer for Sessions to come out west and tour his state's pot businesses still stands. "It's a shame that he has a closed mind, and he's much more attentive to his old ideology than to the new facts," Inslee tells Rolling Stone. "The fears that he might have had 30 years ago have not been realized, and we wish he would just open his eyes to the reality of the situation. If he did, I think he would no longer try to fight an old battle that the community and the nation is moving very rapidly forward on."

February 27, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Interesting interview with the "Cannabis Czar" of Los Angeles

1518463390123-unnamedIn this post from last summer, I flagged the announcement from the office of the Mayor of Los Angeles that Mayor Eric Garcetti had appointed Cat Packer as Executive Director of the newly-established Los Angeles Department of Cannabis Regulation. This news was so very pleasing and exciting because Director Packer was a 2015 graduate of The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, and as a star student in my marijuana seminar in Spring 2015, she has impressively and swiftly vindicated my representation to students that they could become leaders in the field of marijuana law and policy relatively quickly.

Director Packer's vision and activities are sure to have a profound impact on marijuana reform realities in California, and this new Vice piece headlined "LA's 'Pot Czar' Cares Who Cashes in on Legal Weed," provides a Q&A perspective on her work. Here is the piece's start and excerpts:

As cannabis laws across America continue to soften, states and local communities are beginning to come to terms with the destruction wreaked by the war on drugs, especially on black communities. Some cities are already beginning to make amends by going beyond mere legalization. They have started the process of overturning thousands of cannabis-related convictions. These policies would never manifest, however, without the help of activists who take their passion for social justice from the protests outside of city halls to the offices within them.

Cat Packer, who was recently appointed as the executive director of Los Angeles’s newly formed Department of Cannabis Regulation, has been given a unique opportunity to help create pot policy for one of the largest cities on the planet. As a woman of color with a background in drug policy reform, Packer is hyper-aware of the negative impact of past drug laws and the challenges those miscarriages of justice will present for her going forward.

I spoke to Packer to discuss how she plans to navigate the bureaucratic era of legal pot through the lens of activism and empathy.

LA is now the largest pot-friendly city in America. With that distinction and the rest of the country’s eyes on us, what sort of expectations or pressures are you fielding from others or putting upon yourself?

It's not really secret that Los Angeles has an opportunity to be a leader in cannabis policy. It’s going to be interesting because, as the largest city to take on this regulatory responsibility, and as a place that’s often regarded as the largest cannabis market in the world, we understand that cannabis and its impact are probably going to be felt the heaviest here.

We have communities here who have had very negative experiences, not only with cannabis policy, but are looking for a way forward. Voters across California and in the city of Los Angeles have voted overwhelmingly in support of responsible regulation and moving away from criminalization. That’s a huge shift in public opinion, and it’s a huge shift in public policy, and it’s going to take us some time to implement this policy effectively, but we’ve been given directions from voters, so we want to do everything we can to set up a responsible framework.

With many [dispensaries] having operated in a legally gray area for so long, what kind of resistance to this regulatory shift are you encountering and what are you doing to ensure it isn't just favoring large entities with the funds to quickly become compliant and crushing the small businesses currently operating in LA’s cannabis space?

There are folks on all sides of the spectrum, as to be expected. There are folks who are frustrated with the process, folks who are excited about the economic opportunity that comes from business ownership and jobs and opportunity. But I think that folks are realizing that this is a first-time policy for the city of Los Angeles, and we’re trying to make sure we do it the right way. One of the things we’re prioritizing is social equity.

We’re making sure that within these new cannabis laws and policies, we take a moment to look at these issues through a social justice lens. We have an opportunity to, at the very least, address the harm that communities here have experienced as a part of the enforcement of the war on drugs and as a part of the disproportionate enforcement of cannabis laws against certain communities.  So we want to take a moment to acknowledge those communities and do what we can, as a city, to give folks meaningful access to what is going to be a multimillion dollar industry.

February 25, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Senator Gardner apparently stopping much of his DOJ blockade in response to rescinded Cole Memo

According to this new AP article, "Colorado’s Republican U.S. senator will stop blocking nominees for some Justice Department jobs over concerns about the marijuana industry, saying Thursday that federal officials have shown good faith in recent conversations on the department’s pot policy."  Here is more:

Cory Gardner used his power as a senator last month to freeze nominations for posts at the agency after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded Obama-era protections for states like Colorado that have broadly legalized recreational marijuana.  It was a dramatic move by a Republican senator against his own party’s attorney general and came after Gardner said Sessions had promised him there wouldn’t be a crackdown.  Gardner said he was placing holds on nominees until Sessions changed his approach.

The holds have created friction both with Sessions, who has complained that critical posts are going unfilled, and some of Gardner’s fellow GOP senators who want key law enforcement officials in their states confirmed.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Gardner said Thursday that he’s discussed the issue with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and has been pleased with progress so far. Department leaders have “shown in good faith their willingness to provide what I think will be hopefully the protections we sought, and as sort of a good faith gesture on my behalf I’ll be releasing a limited number of nominees,” Gardner said.  He will release his holds on nominees for U.S. attorneys in a dozen federal districts, U.S. marshals in every district and on John Demers, who was nominated to head Justice’s national security division.... 

Gardner will continue to hold the nominations of seven top Department of Justice nominees. He’s also working with a bipartisan group of members of congress to pursue legislation protecting states that have legalized marijuana.

A few prior related posts:

February 15, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Justice Department seemingly impacted more by rescission of Cole Memo than marijuana industry

Gardner-sessionsThis new Denver Post piece, headlined "Cory Gardner’s siege of the Justice Department over marijuana enters second month," provides an interested accounting of the current impact and import of the decision last month by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to rescind Obama-era marijuana enforcement guidance.  Here are excerpts:

It’s been a month since the pot blockade began, and U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner is standing firm in his vow to jam all appointments to the Department of Justice until Attorney General Jeff Sessions softens his stance on marijuana.

So far, his siege to protect both Colorado’s cannabis industry and the state’s sovereignty has prevented as many as 11 nominees from getting a Senate floor vote — the last major step before they can start work — and there is little indication that Gardner, R-Colo., and Sessions are any closer to finding common ground. “It may never resolve itself,” said U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who chairs the committee in charge of getting these nominees to the floor.

If that happens, the consequences would extend far beyond the 11 nominees that Gardner has put on ice. More than 20 other candidates are in the congressional pipeline for Justice-related jobs, including U.S. marshals and U.S. attorneys assigned to states across the country. One even hails from Colorado: David Weaver, a former Douglas County sheriff in line to become the state’s next U.S. marshal....

“Senator Gardner does a real disservice to the nation as a whole and we urgently ask him to reconsider his rash and ill-advised obstructionism,” said Chuck Canterbury, president of the National Fraternal Order of Police. “Policy differences should be worked out by a dialogue and not turn into hostage situations.”

At the root of the fight is a decision last month by Sessions to rescind an Obama-era policy that generally left alone states such as Colorado that have legalized marijuana, which remains illegal on a federal level. While the change hasn’t led to federal raids on pot dispensaries — and business largely has continued as usual — the move still sent shock waves through the fledgling cannabis industry.

Gardner wasn’t able to convince Sessions to reconsider when the two Republicans met last month, though aides to the Colorado lawmaker said the two sides haven’t given up on negotiations. “Our staff and DOJ staff continue to talk and meet to discuss a path forward which recognizes Colorado’s state’s rights and ensures law enforcement has the authority and tools needed to protect our communities,” said Casey Contres, a Gardner spokesman, in a statement. “These discussions continue to be necessary and we appreciate their willingness to have them.”...

[Debate over congressional spending bills mean] it could be another month or more before there’s a chance to resolve the issue — and another month in which Gardner is expected to keep up the pot blockade. “He opposed the legalization of marijuana in 2012 but is not going to sit back and let Colorado’s rights be trampled on by the federal government,” Contres said.

Under Senate rules and tradition, lawmakers are allowed to put a hold on nominees put forward by the White House — a tactic that’s often used to extract concessions from the executive branch. These holds can be overridden, but doing so requires party leaders to chew up valuable time on the Senate floor.

For the time being, Gardner’s hardball approach hasn’t caused much public strife among his Senate Republican colleagues. “I can understand why he did it,” said Grassley, who nonetheless disagreed with Gardner’s argument for states’ rights. “I’m an advocate for federal law under the Supremacy Clause of the constitution that federal law overrides state law.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky also is awaiting a floor vote for a U.S. marshal candidate in his state. Aides to McConnell did not respond with comment, though Grassley said it’s up to him to broker a solution and end the siege. Said Grassley of the nomination process: If McConnell “isn’t willing to intervene then you know it all stops.”

February 7, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Noticing that some politicians are finally noticing that marijuana reform could be winning political issue

Download (8)Long-time readers know I have often posted articles and commentaries suggesting that politicians would be wise to see the potential to attract younger and independent voters by showing interest in marijuana reform.  This new Politico article suggest some folks running for Congress are finally getting this message.   The full headline of the lengthy piece highlights its themes: "These Red-State Democrats Think Legal Marijuana Can Help Them Win: With sky-high approval rates, pot is an issue challengers say will cure the Democratic malaise in Trump country."  Here are excerpts that everyone interested in the politics of marijuana reform should read in full:

Not so long ago — like maybe last cycle — a Democratic challenger in a state this conservative wouldn’t have been caught dead making an unqualified endorsement of a drug federal authorities still consider as dangerous as heroin by categorizing it as Schedule 1.  But attitudes about marijuana, not to mention state laws, have changed so quickly and so broadly across the country that Democrats even in deeply red states like Indiana not only don’t fear talking about the issue, they think it might be a key in 2018 to toppling Republican incumbents.  The numbers, they say, are on their side, not the side of the politicians who either duck the subject or endorse Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ apparent desire to return federal marijuana policy back to the “Just Say No” days of the Reagan administration.

In a 2016 poll of Indiana residents, approval for medical marijuana was at 73 percent.  In a state struggling, like so many others, with a massive opioid crisis, there’s been no sign that support for legalizing marijuana has waned. A 2012 survey from the Bowen Center of Public Affairs showed that 78 percent of Hoosiers supported taxing marijuana like alcohol and cigarettes, far above the 55 percent who supported then-governor Mike Pence — a sign that support for marijuana law reform in Indiana is no statistical blip.  In fact, according to [congressional candidate Dan] Canon, it has only gotten stronger, and not just in blue bubbles like Bloomington but in rural and suburban communities, too. That’s why, in December, Canon released a web video ad declaring his stance clearly, “Here’s one simple solution that’s long overdue: We need to legalize medical marijuana nationwide.” He even got some international press out of it.

Subsequently, his chief primary opponent, law school professor Liz Watson, instead of criticizing Canon’s position, posted a detailed pro-medical marijuana position on her website to eliminate any daylight between her and Canon on this issue. “In Southern Indiana, we are battling a raging opioid epidemic.  The last thing we need is for the federal government to punish people for turning to non-addictive alternatives to opioids,” she told POLITICO Magazine.  “We also do not need the federal government restricting study into the medical uses of marijuana.  Federal law currently categorizes marijuana as a Schedule 1 narcotic, along with heroin, while oxycodone is Schedule 2. That makes no sense.” Watson’s stance nearly guarantees that no matter who survives the primary to face Trey Hollingsworth in the general, the Democrat in the race will be on the record as in favor of medical marijuana.

The candidates of Indiana’s 9th are not alone in their desire to use marijuana as a rallying flag. House races in Kentucky, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, plus Senate races in Texas and Nevada all feature Democratic candidates who have taken strong stands in favor of changing the federal marijuana laws, and running against Republican incumbents who have not.

“There’s nationwide support for recreational marijuana, and support for medical marijuana is even higher than that,” Al Cross, the director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky, told POLITICO Magazine.  According to Cross, there’s not much difference in the support for marijuana legalization in rural Southern states than in the Western blue states more commonly associated with marijuana.  “For some voters, marijuana could be a defining issue. We just don’t know how many that’s going to be yet.”...

It won’t be known for some months yet whether legalization has the power to take out sitting Republicans, but there’s no question that it is potent enough to change the complexion of primary races, at least in districts that have large college populations.

Take a look at what’s happening across the Ohio River from the Indiana 9th, in Kentucky’s 6th Congressional district, which includes both the University of Kentucky and Eastern Kentucky University.  The Democratic field to unseat the three-term Republican incumbent Andy Barr has developed into an interesting portrait of the current Democratic Party coalition: a black state senator, a female veteran, and a gay mayor.  State Senator Reggie Thomas, who represents a portion of Lexington in the Kentucky Senate, was first in the race to come out in favor of medical marijuana.  In a web video he states, “The evidence is clear. Medical marijuana helps those with chronic pain and other medical conditions.” In the same 60-second video, Thomas announced he was signing on as a co-sponsor of a medical marijuana bill in the state Senate.  Asked by POLITICO Magazine if there was a campaign strategy associated with his advocacy of medical marijuana in order to differentiate himself from his primary opponents, Thomas wouldn’t take the bait, saying only that, “it’s just the right thing to do.”...

There are few places where marijuana politics are more exciting than in West Virginia, thanks to state senator (and retired U.S. Army major) Richard Ojeda, who is currently a candidate for Congress in West Virginia’s 3rd with a position on medical marijuana that has given him strong statewide name recognition.  “Anyone with half a brain should know that marijuana should never be Schedule I,” Ojeda told POLITICO Magazine over the phone, sounding more like Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey than his own state’s Democratic senator, Joe Manchin.

Medical marijuana is as popular in West Virginia as Donald Trump. Nearly 68 percent of West Virginians voted for Trump in 2016, but after a year in office, the average of his 2017 approval rating according to the Gallup tracking poll has slid to 61 percent.  Conversely, West Virginia’s acceptance of medical marijuana has risen from 61 percent in early 2017 to 67 percent today, according to an Orion Strategies poll released last month.

Not merely an advocate for medical marijuana, Ojeda (pronounced oh-JEH-dah) criticizes the federal law that requires mandatory prison sentences for criminal marijuana cultivation: “One to five years? That’s garbage,” he told me. Instead, Ojeda, 47, believes that outlaw marijuana growers shouldn’t go to prison at all.  He thinks it should be a misdemeanor for a first offense, and that the harshest sentence for a repeat offender should be home confinement.  Those positions were once far outside the Democratic Party mainstream, but it’s difficult for Ojeda’s opponents to characterize him as a liberal who is soft on crime when he served three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In 2016, Ojeda ran for a West Virginia state Senate seat against a longtime incumbent Democrat and won the primary by 2,000 votes.  In his opening act as a freshman legislator, Ojeda sponsored a medical marijuana bill and quarterbacked it through both chambers, making West Virginia the 29th state to legalize it.  This was a stunning turn of events, even for marijuana advocacy groups, who had spent no money to support Ojeda’s effort. “There wasn’t a single penny spent, and we won,” Ojeda told POLITICO Magazine.  “We did it because I got up and started speaking about it. And then the phone lines [in the legislature] lit up because the people of West Virginia know.”...

These red-state Democrats have found strong footing on a position to the left of their party’s leadership in Washington, D.C., and it seems to be working for them. None of them seem shaken by Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recent announcement he would end the Obama administration’s hands-off approach to prosecuting marijuana crimes in states that had legalized it. Ojeda told POLITICO Magazine: “I think we are on the verge of eventually voting in favor of marijuana [at the national level],”

February 6, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 26, 2018

Dreaming of what Prez Trump could say (but surely won't) in State of the Union about marijuana policy

The ever-astute John Hudak of the Brookings Institute has this lengthy new commentary about federal marijuana policy headlined "Trump’s 1st State of the Union: His chance to be a states’ rights president." The piece merits are full read, and here are excerpts:

When President Trump delivers his State of the Union address next week, there will be plenty of issues to cover. One likely to be overlooked, but in need of presidential clarity, is marijuana policy.  It is not the most high-profile issue, but a few sentences would help reconcile the president’s campaign promises with the actions of his administration....

If Mr. Trump truly believes in the promises he made during the campaign, his speech next week is an opportunity to scold Attorney General Jeff Sessions for rescinding the Cole Memo that offered protections to states that have legalized recreational marijuana (and companies within those states who are playing by the state rules).  He can publicly oppose Mr. Sessions’ explicit request to Congress to rescind the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment that restricts the Justice Department from spending funds to enforce against state-legal medical marijuana operations.  He can ask Congress to rescind the Harris Amendment that prevents the District of Columbia from implementing its recreational legalization initiative — a congressional decision that has left D.C. with a legal homegrow system but no power to construct a regulatory system for commercial sales.

Mr. Trump can go further and signal to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin — who will likely be sitting a few yards in front of him — that the Treasury Department should strengthen protections for banks working to keep the marijuana industry accountable and transparent, and he can ask Congress to put those protections into law.  Mr. Trump knows better than any president in history how important access to financial services are for an individual starting and building a business.

Mr. Trump can talk about marijuana research. He can disavow his VA Secretary’s recent statements about medical research. Secretary Shulkin first said — incorrectly — that his department was restricted from studying marijuana’s medical efficacy.  He subsequently and messily “cleaned up” his statement by saying that studying marijuana was too bureaucratically difficult for his department to pursue.  As a vocal supporter of our troops and someone committed to helping our injured veterans, President Trump can demand that the VA Secretary change his tune.

And he can do much more.  He can tell the HHS Secretary to review and remove the barriers that hinder our nation’s most talented medical and scientific researchers from studying marijuana’s efficacy, dosing, and side effects. He can demand that Attorney General Sessions stop stalling with the approval of new licenses for regulated, research-grade facilities to grow marijuana for use in federally approved research — breaking the monopoly currently held by the University of Mississippi’s marijuana farm.  He can tell Congress that because most of their constituents live in states with medical marijuana programs, they should increase funding for such research, including promising research into whether medical marijuana can be used to combat the opioid crisis.

This is, of course, a lot to ask of a president on an issue that does not command top-tier attention.  What’s more, because his administration seems to have no interest in this policy area — and several appointees explicitly oppose marijuana—there does not seem to be an agency head or cabinet member who will lobby the White House to include language on marijuana policy in the speech.  Without having a high-level ally on the issue, marijuana is unlikely to be addressed.

Prez Obama was an (in)famous marijuana user in high school and yet never thought marijuana policy could justify any real attention in any of his speeches, let along the State of the Union. Consequently, I would by shocked if Prez Trump used his first State of the Union speech to speak really for the first time on this divisive issue. But, of course, Prez Trump sometimes seems to like to be shocking, so I will still be listening closely.

January 26, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Keeping up with the latest notable news with the help of Marijuana Moment

Regular readers are used to me regularly referencing Tom Angell great marijuana newsletter titled Marijuana Moment and his similarly titled news portal available here.  Because I have been busy on many other fronts this week, I have not been able to keep up with some notable news, and so I will link to Tom's particular recent postings that struck me as especially worth highlighting:

The last of these listed items discusses a notable new Ninth Circuit ruling that I am hoping to blog more about before too long.

January 25, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 22, 2018

Vermont now officially the ninth US state to legalize marijuana ... and the first to do so through traditional legislation

VermontAs reported in this AP piece, headlined "Vermont governor signs pot bill with 'mixed emotions'," a small state finalized some big marijuana reform news this afternoon. Here are the details:

Gov. Phil Scott on Monday privately signed Vermont's marijuana bill into law, making the state the first in the country to authorize the recreational use of the substance by an act of a state legislature. The law, which goes into effect July 1, allows adults to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana, two mature and four immature plants.

Vermont will become the ninth state in the country, along with Washington, D.C, to approve the recreational use of marijuana. The other states and Washington authorized the recreational use of marijuana through a vote of residents. Vermont law contains no mechanism that allows for a citizen referendum.

The Republican governor had until the end of the day Monday to sign the bill. His office issued a statement Monday afternoon saying he had signed the bill. "Today, with mixed emotions, I have signed" the bill he said. "I personally believe that what adults do behind closed doors and on private property is their choice, so long as it does not negatively impact the health and safety of others, especially children."

The law contains no mechanism for the taxation or sale of marijuana, although the Legislature is expected to develop such a system.

Vermont's move is an incremental reform that will have little impact for most people in the state, said Matt Simon, New England political director for the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project. "I think the vast majority of Vermonters won't notice any change at all," Simon said. "It's simply eliminating a fine and eliminating a penalty for growing a small number of plants."

The new law is unlikely to prompt people who don't now smoke marijuana to take it up, said Robert Sand, a Vermont law school professor and former county prosecutor who has advocated for years to change the state's drug laws. "Realistically anyone who wanted to try it has tried it," Sand said....

The Vermont Legislature passed a similar proposal last spring, but Scott vetoed it, citing practical concerns. Lawmakers revised the proposal to do more to protect children and enhance highway safety. The revised bill passed both chambers this month.

Recreational use of marijuana already has passed in Maine and Massachusetts, and both states are awaiting the implementation of systems to tax and regulate marijuana. New Hampshire's House gave preliminary approval to a bill earlier this month that would allow adults to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana and to cultivate it in limited quantities, even though a commission studying the issue won't finish its work until next fall.

Scott said last week he was declining to hold a bill signing ceremony because "some people don't feel that this is a momentous occasion."

January 22, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Interesting new data on the latest economics of marijuana reform politics

636518826214405336-Contributions-OnlineUSA Today has this interesting new article with interesting new data under the headline "Marijuana money increasingly flowing to Republican lawmakers." Here are excerpts:

Marijuana business owners are increasingly pouring their profits into lobbying lawmakers as they face a federal crackdown from the Trump administration.

A USA TODAY survey found hundreds of thousands of dollars flowing from the cannabis industry into campaign finance accounts of both lawmakers and political action committees, with emphasis this year on Congressional Republicans who are trying to stop the Trump administration from targeting marijuana businesses.

Combined, medical and recreational marijuana marketplaces across the country are worth a staggering $8 billion, and last year generated at least $2 billion in taxes, said Matt Karnes of cannabis data firm GreenWave Advisors. It’s no surprise those businesses want to protect what they’ve built, experts say.  “These are legitimate, taxpaying businesses that want and deserve to be heard, and lawmakers at every level of government have become more comfortable with accepting their contributions,” said Mason Tvert, a cannabis activist who helped lead Colorado’s legalization effort in 2012.

Politicians are increasingly willing to accept those contributions from an industry that remains illegal at the federal level and now faces even more scrutiny after Attorney General Jeff Sessions earlier this month rolled back Obama administration policies not to interfere with state laws allowing people to use recreational marijuana....

Money is also flowing at the state level, where legislators and regulators decide on details about packaging, testing and even who can get business licenses. Legalization ballot initiatives across the country have also been backed by millions of dollars, particularly in California.

Cannabis lobbying groups, including the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) and National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), have long lobbied lawmakers, but now marijuana business owners themselves are contributing — and letting everyone know it.

John Lord, the CEO of Colorado-based LivWell Enlightened Health, whose company employs more than 600 people, has donated nearly $23,000 to federal lawmakers in the past four years, and another $10,000 to Colorado politicians and issue committees. Increasingly he’s been giving to Republicans at the federal level. "It would be rather imprudent if I didn’t,” Lord said.

Lord's donations make him one of the biggest individual donors in cannabis campaign contributions nationally, at least among those who admit where the money comes from. While campaign donors are supposed to disclose their employer, many black-market marijuana growers simply say they're self-employed or a consultant, obscuring the source of the money.

Democrats have typically been the largest recipients of marijuana campaign money in the past, but Republicans are now taking the lead in accepting those donations, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which analyzed contributions at the request of USA TODAY. Experts say the recent shift is largely attributable to the belief by marijuana businesses that Republicans who support states' rights are their best allies today.

Because marijuana contributions make up such a small percentage of campaign donations and lobbying spending, it's hard to track exactly how much money is flowing to candidates.

Industry groups with political action committees are the biggest donors, among them the MPP, NORML and the National Cannabis Industry Association, which combined have donated about $327,000 to candidates over the past three Congressional election cycles, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. By comparison, the National Beer Wholesalers Association donated about $1.5 million to candidates in the past year alone.

While the marijuana contributions represent a proverbial drop in the bucket compared to traditional businesses like brewers, grocers, manufacturers or liquor stores, the increasing flow from cannabis entrepreneurs suggests the industry won’t willingly let the federal government slow this fast-growing juggernaut.

January 21, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Unsurprisingly, Colorado congressional contingent contesting AG Sessions' decision to rescind Cole Memo

Images (5)Two new article from the Denver Post detail the various steps being taken by various members of Congress from Colorado in response to Attorney General Sessions' recent decision to rescind the Cole Memo (basics here and here).  Here are links to the stories and their leads:

"Colorado Congress members send letter to Sessions, urging reinstatement of Cole Memo: Democratic representatives Jared Polis, Diana DeGette and Ed Perlmutter, and Republican Rep. Mike Coffman signed the letter"

Colorado congressional legislators fired off a letter Tuesday to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, asking that he reconsider last week’s rescission of the Cole Memo and related marijuana guidance. Democratic representatives Jared Polis, Diana DeGette and Ed Perlmutter, and Republican Rep. Mike Coffman signed the letter to Sessions.  In it, they “strongly urge” the Department of Justice to reinstate the Cole Memo in order to ensure the Justice Department “is acting to uphold the will of Colorado voters and the rights of the states to regulate intrastate commerce.” 

"Colorado Rep. DeGette convenes delegation to respond to Sessions, discuss federal marijuana protections"

Colorado’s congressional delegation convened an emergency meeting Tuesday in Washington, D.C., to shore up protections for state-legal marijuana operations and, in turn, states’ rights. In the meeting, members advanced plans for federal marijuana protections and honed near- and long-term strategies to counter U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ rescission of the 2013 Cole Memo.

"Cory Gardner to meet with Jeff Sessions after doubling down on threats over marijuana enforcement change: Wednesday’s meeting follows threats Gardner made last week"

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner said he plans to press Attorney General Jeff Sessions on federal marijuana policy when the two Republicans meet Wednesday.

In an interview, the Republican from Colorado emphasized that he is prepared, if he doesn’t get his way, to block all nominees related to the Department of Justice, including U.S. marshals and U.S. attorneys from other states.  The comments build on threats that Gardner made last week after a decision by Sessions to rescind an Obama-era policy that left alone Colorado and other states that legalized marijuana in spite of federal laws against it.

“It’s my job to protect those states’ rights and states’ decisions,” Gardner said. “I would anticipate it being (Justice) officials.  I would anticipate it being U.S. marshals (and) U.S. attorneys.  But the bottom line is (that) this can be solved by the Department of Justice.”

I will be very interested to see and hear what becomes of Senator Gardner's meeting with AG Sessions.  I am certain the Trump Administration and AG Sessions in particular would not like to see all DOJ nominations blocked as the Senator has been threatening.  But I am also certain AG Sessions in particular would not be too keen on affording Senator Gardner a kind of "heckler's veto" over federal prosecutorial policies. Stay tuned.

Prior related posts:

January 9, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Louisiana Gov writes directly to Prez Trump urging him to urge Congress to preserve medical marijuana spending limit

I have been lately wondering if, when and how President Donald Trump might have something to say about federal marijuana policy in the wake of Attorney General Sessions' recent decision to rescinding the Cole Memo (basics here and here).   Though we have still not heard from the Prez on this matter, today I see that Louisiana Gov John Bel Edwards has written directly to Prez Trump to discuss medical marijuana in the Bayou State and to seemingly ask Prez Trump to push Congress to preserve the soon-to-expire spending limitation that prohibits the Justice Department from using government funds to go after state medical marijuana programs.

The short but still interesting letter from Gov Edwards to Prez Trump is available at this link.  The letter's concluding substantive paragraph reads:

Mr. President, for many people in my state, access to this treatment means a person could return to the workforce, return to school or simply lead a normal life.  Simply put, we would be failing the people we represent if we allow any funding bill to move through Congress without the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer language included.  This issue is critically important in Louisiana, and I hope we can partner together to ensure the safe distribution of this life-changing form of treatment.

January 9, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 8, 2018

US Attorney for Massachusetts refuses to provide more guidance on federal prohibition prosecution plans

As reported in this AP article, the "top federal prosecutor in Massachusetts offered no guarantees on Monday that he would take a hands-off approach to legalized pot, injecting a new layer of uncertainty and confusion into the commercial marijuana industry as it looked to gain a foothold in the state." Here is more:

U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said in a statement that while he understood the desire for guidance on the federal approach to the state’s voter-approved recreational marijuana law, he "cannot provide assurances that certain categories of participants in the state-level marijuana trade will be immune from federal prosecution." Such determinations would be made on a "case-by-case basis," he added.

The Yes on 4 Coalition, which spearheaded the 2016 ballot campaign, had publicly called for Lelling to provide "clear, unambiguous answers" to several questions, including whether his office would prosecute businesses that are granted licenses by state cannabis regulators to grow, produce, test or sell marijuana legally in Massachusetts....

Lelling took office in December after being nominated by President Donald Trump and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.  His comments on Monday expanded on an earlier statement last week that promised enforcement of serious federal crimes but did not directly address the recreational marijuana issue....

Jim Borghesani, a Massachusetts spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, called the prosecutor’s comments "ominous."  Pro-marijuana groups fear the change in tone from the Justice Department and federal prosecutors will send a chill through the nascent cannabis industry, discouraging those looking to start or invest in those businesses. "I don’t think any business would ever want to open its door and have fears on the first day that the FBI is going to be standing on their doorsteps," said Borghesani....

The Cannabis Control Commission, a five-member panel created to regulate marijuana in Massachusetts, has pledged to move forward with a process that foresees the first commercial pot shops opening in July. Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, who said last week that rescinding the Cole Memorandum was the "wrong decision," continued to support the commission’s work and would provide adequate funding for it, a spokeswoman said Monday.

The "Statement By U.S. Attorney Andrew E. Lelling Regarding Federal Marijuana Enforcement" is available at this link.  I understand fully why officials and reform advocates in Massachusetts would like to get some more clear and definitive enforcement guidance as the state moves forward with developing and implementing rules for voter-enacted marijuana reform.  But both the tone and seeming intent of the decision by Attorney General Session to rescind the Cole Memo suggests that the Department of Justice is eager to avoid giving clear guidance to state actors and the marijuana industry concerning enforcement plans and priorities in this arena.

January 8, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 5, 2018

Oklahoma medical marijuana initiative set for June vote

As reported in this press release, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin yesterday "set a June election date for the medical marijuana ballot measure." Here is more from the release:

Fallin filed an executive proclamation placing State Question 788 on the June 26 primary election ballot. The governor’s other option was to place the issue on the November general election ballot.

Supporters of an initiative petition asking voters to legalize medical marijuana gathered enough signatures in 2016 to schedule a statewide referendum on the measure. “Backers of this proposal to legalize medical marijuana followed procedures and gathered the more than 66,000 required signatures to submit the issue to a vote of the people,” said Fallin. “I’m fulfilling my duty as governor to decide when that election will occur this year.”

If approved by voters, the measure would permit doctors to recommend a patient, who is at least 18 years old, for a state-issued medical marijuana license. A license holder would be allowed to legally possess up to 3 ounces of the drug, six mature plants and six seedlings. These limits can be increased by individual counties or cities. 

Primary elections, typically, will bring out many fewer voters than general elections. But it seems elections involving marijuana ballot issues will bring out, sometime, at least a few more than the usual voters. It will be interesting to watch the turn out dynamics, as well as of course the outcome, in the Sooner State now that the Governor has called for a sooner vote.

January 5, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Some early thoughts and comments now that AG Sessions has rescinded the Cole Memo

I have so many thoughts about what might come next in the wake of today's big news that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has rescinding the Cole Memo (basics here and here).  Helpfully, Sam Kamin already has this effective Hill commentary astutely "Jeff Sessions's new pot policy: What happens now?". I recommend the piece in full, and here is just a snippet of its many notable thoughts:

In overturning the Cole memo, Sessions made it clear that the nation’s U.S. attorneys will be left to exercise their discretion over licensed marijuana businesses within their purview....

Allowing U.S. attorneys to exercise total discretion, however, could be particularly disruptive. Imagine California’s four U.S. attorneys each adopting a different policy with regard to the part of the state over which they have jurisdiction. A compliant marijuana business in the northern district, which covers Oakland and San Francisco, might be treated entirely differently than a similar one in Los Angeles, which falls in the central district. Until Sessions’s memo, compliance with state law essentially was a safe harbor for businesses and individuals. That's no longer true, though any attorney advising a client surely would tell them that it's better to be in compliance than out.

As to what the Justice Department actually can do about state marijuana conduct, the limits are more practical than legal. The authority of the federal government to crack down on marijuana conduct — even conduct legal under state law — is unquestioned.

The worst-case scenario for marijuana reform states is that the Drug Enforcement Administration could make arrests, seize assets and property, and seek long prison terms against those operating under state law. More realistically, prosecutors could send cease-and-desist letters to businesses (or their landlords) ordering them to stop violating federal law or face further consequences.

State governments need not participate in any crackdown on the industry. The anti-commandeering principle inherent in the 10th Amendment precludes state authorities from being pressed into the service of federal policy. But there is also very little that state lawmakers can do to protect their citizens from federal enforcement.

Several political options exist at the national level, however. Sessions has lobbed the ball squarely back into Congress’s court. Congress could vote to extend the spending rider both in time and scope. It could protect marijuana businesses past Jan. 19, when the current spending bill is set to lapse. It could also extend protection to anyone operating under the authority of state law, whether medical or recreational.

Congress could also change the legal status of marijuana more generally. It could move marijuana out of Schedule I (where it is categorized alongside heroin and LSD) to a more lenient category where it is permitted with a doctor’s prescription. Or, it could move marijuana out of the Controlled Substances Act entirely, treating it the way alcohol and tobacco are — a regulated but legal substance.

The announcement thus creates a significant test of Congress’s willingness to stand up to the administration on matters of state policy.

Speaking of "matters of state policy," I also found interesting and notable this short commentary by Charles C.W. Cooke at National Review headlined "Marijuana Is a Gateway Drug to Federalism." Here is an excerpt:

When I speak on college campuses about the need for a more robust federalism, I am often asked how conservatives should sell the idea to those who do not share their political goals....

My answer, for a while now, has been “marijuana.” “It will annoy many people,” I have suggested, “when the executive branch is staffed by drug warriors, and they decide to enforce federal law against states that have voted to legalize. When it happens, and when there’s a reaction, we should point it out.” ...

And here I am pointing it out.  There is no good reason for Washington D.C. to have a view on this.  If Colorado or Oregon want to legalize weed while Mississippi and Utah ban it, that’s fine. In fact, that is how the country is supposed to work.   The United States is a collection of . . . well, of states; it is not a giant centralized democracy with fifty regional departments. Congress should make it a priority to get the federal government out of this area, and to let the states, not the attorney general’s fealty, determine which rules are best for their citizenries. And conservatives, of all people, should celebrate that.   The Founders did not write the Constitution to impose uniformity on hemp.  Rarely will we get a better teaching moment than this one.

Meanwhile, shifting from matters of constitutional design to dollars and cents, I wonder if marijuana stores in various states across the nation are experiencing any uptick in business (or are even considering an increase in prices). I think a shrewd marijuana consumer, realizing the uncertainty that now defines federal marijuana enforcement, might want to frequent their favorite establishment while still certain its doors are open.

January 4, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

After new AG Sessions memo on marijuana enforcement, is marijuana industry now "in chaos"?

ImagesThe question in the title of this post is prompted by this new article in The Hill headlined "Marijuana industry thrown into chaos by Sessions decision." Here are excerpts:

The booming business of legal marijuana was thrown into chaos Thursday on the news that Attorney General Jeff Sessions is planning to roll back a key agreement that shielded the industry from federal prosecution in a handful of states.

Stock prices plummeted, investors worried and business owners wondered whether they would now be subject to federal prosecution as Sessions prepares to rescind an Obama-era provision, known as the Cole memo, that directed United States attorneys to deprioritize marijuana-related cases in states where marijuana is legal for recreational purposes.

Rolling back the Cole memo would allow each United States attorney, appointed by the Trump administration, to decide whether to prosecute legal marijuana businesses and business owners under federal law. “The first question that clients are asking, that we haven’t asked for so long, is, could I go to prison?” said Amy Margolis, a Portland-based attorney at Greenspoon Marder who advises cannabis clients. “People are afraid of how each United States attorney is going to respond to this.”...

Experts said state officials involved in regulating, licensing and taxing marijuana businesses are unlikely to be targeted by federal officials. But each U.S. attorney could decide to target businesses, creating the potential for a patchwork of prosecution policies in states like California, where several different offices oversee parts of the state.

“U.S. attorneys had discretion on prosecution priorities before the Cole memo, and they'll have that again now, so it's up to them,” said Rafael Lemaitre, a longtime official at the U.S. Office of Drug Control Policy under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama....

Sessions, a vocal critic of marijuana legalization, had long hinted he planned to roll back the Cole memo, implemented in 2013 during the Obama administration. Sessions had convened a panel to review Obama-era policies, and in 2017 the Office of National Drug Control Policy sent representatives to meet with officials in legalization states.

Several state leaders said they would explore options to fight the decision. “If news reports are accurate, today’s forthcoming announcement from Attorney General Sessions is the wrong direction for our state,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) said in a statement. “Make no mistake: As we have told the Department of Justice ever since I-502 was passed in 2012, we will vigorously defend our state’s laws against undue federal infringement.” “My staff and state agencies are working to evaluate reports of the Attorney General's decision and will fight to continue Oregon's commitment to a safe and prosperous recreational marijuana market,” Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) said.

Legalization advocates said they do not anticipate Sessions’s move stopping any states from creating new rules around marijuana. “I don’t think this is going to slow efforts to implement existing state marijuana laws and pass new ones,” said Tom Angell, the founder of Marijuana Majority and author of a daily tipsheet on the industry. “We didn’t want this to happen, but I don’t think this is the end of the world given how much momentum we had.”

But the industry took a beating with investors on Thursday. Stocks in Terra Tech, the largest legal marijuana business by market cap, had fallen by more than 25 percent as of midday Thursday. Many other marijuana businesses were down by 10 percent or more as trading continued....

Brian Darling, a lobbyist for WeedMaps who also formerly worked as an aide to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), said that the decision could have a "huge economic impact" and hurt the product in states where marijuana is legalized. “It’s really thrown a curveball at the industry because when you look at the big picture, it shows that the federal government, at least the Justice Department, is really intent on pushing to maybe prosecute individual states that allow adult use of marijuana,” Darling said. “You’re talking about a huge economic impact and it’s the opposite of what the Trump administration has stood for, is making America great again and making the economy great again and expanding jobs and expanding opportunity.”

January 4, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)