Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

With Rep. Marino out, it is time again to ask "Does Marijuana Stand a Chance With New DEA Chief?"

Images (2)The big news this morning in the federal drug law and policy space is reported in the first paragraph of this new NPR piece: "Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa., has withdrawn his name from consideration as America's drug czar, President Trump said Tuesday. Marino is stepping back days after reports that a bill he sponsored hindered the Drug Enforcement Administration in its fight against the U.S. opioid crisis."  Here is more of the interesting backstory:

A joint report by The Washington Post and 60 Minutes found that Marino's bill "helped pump more painkillers into parts of the country that were already in the middle of the opioid crisis," as NPR's Kelly McEvers said earlier this week. The bill had been opposed by the DEA and embraced by companies in the drug industry.

Marino was a main backer of the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act; among other things, the measure changed the standard for identifying dangers to local communities, from "imminent" threats to "immediate" threats. That change cramped the DEA's authority to go after drug companies that didn't report suspicious — and often very large — orders for narcotics.

After the Post and 60 Minutes reports on the bill emerged, several members of Congress called for the White House to pull Marino's nomination as drug czar. Sen. Joe Machin, D-W.V., said he was "horrified" by the story, adding that he "cannot believe the last administration did not sound the alarm on how harmful that bill would be for our efforts to effectively fight the opioid epidemic."

In a letter to the president, Manchin wrote about the ability of wholesale drug distributors to send millions of pills into small communities: "As the report notes, one such company shipped 20 million doses of oxycodone and hydrocodone to pharmacies in West Virginia between 2007 and 2012. This included 11 million doses in one small county with only 25,000 people in the southern part of the state: Mingo County. As the number of pills in my state increased, so did the death toll in our communities, including Mingo County."

After Marino's name was withdrawn, Manchin tweeted to Trump, "thanks for recognizing we need a drug czar who has seen the devastating effects of the problem." Manchin is a co-sponsor of a bill to repeal the changes made by the 2016 law, along with Sen. Clarie McCaskill, D-Mo., and Sen. Margaret Wood Hassan, D-N.H.

In the Senate, the bill was sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah — who also saw it through the markup process. In Congress and on Twitter, Hatch has defended his role this week, calling the Post story "flawed" and "one-sided." Hatch also said the bill was supported by patient groups who "were concerned about DEA's unfettered enforcement authority."

"I spent months negotiating with DEA and with DOJ until they were at a point where they were comfortable allowing the bill to proceed," Hatch said on Capitol Hill Monday. "If they had asked me to hold the bill or to continue negotiations, I would have done so." Hatch noted via Twitter, "President Obama signed this bill into law. DEA and DOJ, who work for the President, could have urged him to veto it. They did not."...

The president had nominated Marino to lead the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. In his tweet announcing Marino's decision to withdraw Tuesday morning, Trump added, "Tom is a fine man and a great Congressman!"

The opioid story was revealed by whistleblower Joe Rannazzisi, a former high-ranking DEA official, who told 60 Minutes, "This is an industry that allowed millions and millions of drugs to go into bad pharmacies and doctors' offices, that distributed them out to people who had no legitimate need for those drugs." Of Marino's nomination, Rannazzisi said he was in "total disbelief" after the White House announced Trump's pick. He added, "The bill was bad. Him being the drug czar is a lot worse."

With the head of the DEA now uncertain, this Newsweek story from last month, headlined "Does Marijuana Stand a Chance With New DEA Chief?", becomes timely once again. Here is a segment from that piece:

Many hope the change could serve as a blank slate for the agency and a chance to pick the right battles in the war on drugs, like focusing on the deadly opioid epidemic, which has skyrocketed in recent years and left more than 52,000 dead in 2015.

Despite the troubling statistics, law enforcement has continued to target pot consumers, even though more and more states are moving toward legalization. Nearly 30 states allow the drug for medical use, and eight have legalized it recreationally. The FBI released data this week that showed an increase in the number of people arrested last year on a marijuana possession charge. Nearly 600,000 were charged, and experts say this cost taxpayers billions of dollars as offenders made their way through the criminal justice system.

"I hope that whoever is next will deal with the reality that a lot of states have legalized [marijuana] and it's not a good use of resources for police to be arresting these people and ruining lives," said Bill Piper, a senior director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "These are proven failed ways to approach this issue."

Under Rosenberg, more than two dozen applications to simply research the plant have been blocked, a policy that is unlikely to change, said Sanho Tree, director of the Drug Policy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. Attorney General Jeff Sessions opposes marijuana legalization, even for medicinal purposes, and has called the plant "only slightly less awful" than heroin.... All in all, if Rosenberg's replacement does try to enact new policies or steer the department toward change, it could be difficult. "I'm not optimistic at all," Tree said. "Not during this administration."

October 17, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Al Sharpton makes the case for "decriminalization of marijuana [as] a civil rights cause"

2017-06-18T12-33-13-3Z--1280x720_video_512x342The controversial former Prez candidate Al Sharpton has this notable new commentary in The Guardian under the (anglicized) headline "Why the decriminalisation of marijuana is a civil rights cause." Here are excerpts:

There is no greater act of resistance than continuing to march towards the sweeping, systemic victories that have changed our nation’s trajectory for the better: voting rights, anti-employment discrimination measures, and most recently, President Obama’s success in securing health coverage for the 20 million Americans who were previously denied this universal human right.  Determined to punish the rising majority of Americans he thinks have slighted him, our president may erode these freedoms, but he will not succeed in taking them.

This is why I am proceeding undaunted towards our country’s next transformative victory – a fight I planned to pick under a Democratic administration, but one we should pursue just as vigorously in the reactionary Trump era: decriminalization of marijuana.  It is a civil rights cause that we should not postpone, but accelerate during these dark and difficult times.

For Democrats and progressives, the arguments have always been clear: generations of Americans, overwhelmingly people of color, have been imprisoned and starved of access to higher education, housing, and economic opportunities, and stripped of their inalienable right to vote thanks to non-violent acts.  Billions of dollars in funding have been diverted from healthcare, jobs, and schools and have entrenched a prison-industrial complex built on a foundation of racism.

But in truth, the conservative case for marijuana decriminalization is no less resonant. Archaic drug laws have fueled wasteful government spending, and made millions of Americans who dream, achingly, of being their family’s breadwinner dependent on the charity of others. And they have given rise of the epidemic of opiate drugs – often legally manufactured and prescribed – devastating communities that pundits have taken to calling the ‘white working class.’

The often-repeated reference to the ‘white working class’ has grown counterproductive as it focuses on a narrowly defined group instead of using more broader, inclusive categories. It also stifles the creative thinking and organizing needed to guide our efforts for the remainder of this presidency.  On the issue of medical marijuana, a more accurate term for the residents of these hard-hit towns and regions – many of whom voted for President Trump – would be natural allies to the movement to decriminalize marijuana.

In the coming weeks, I will be joining Decode Cannabis, a powerful new alliance of faith leaders, criminal justice reformers, healthcare practitioners, medical marijuana industry leaders and labor unions.  For years, these groups have labored toward shared goals, but have too often done so in their respective silos.  This initial coalition is impressive, but it is not enough to succeed.  At least not on its own.

To notch proactive policy wins in the Trump era, we must not retreat to the comfort of those of share our viewpoints.  We must enter the lion’s den – even uninvited – to confront and cultivate the prospective allies who will mutually benefit from this cause.  We must not allow the unique opportunities resulting from the intensifying rift between the White House and conventional Republicans to be squandered.

September 28, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Interesting perspectives on the (not-so?) inclusive marijuana movement and industry

I noticed this morning these two very different articles looking at issues of inclusiveness in the marijuana reform space in two very  different ways:

From Slate here, "By Excluding LGBTQ People, the Growing Cannabis Industry Is Betraying Its Roots"

An excerpt:

The burgeoning industry has one glaring problem: The gatekeepers of cannabis’ culture and commerce are overwhelming white, cis, straight, and male — not to mention downright bro-y. White-appropriated rasta colors and women clad in weed-leaf bikinis abound, and on the buttoned-up side of things, the ubiquitous influence of the tech-bro is essentially turning the cannabis industry into the next Silicon Valley — a space not exactly known for its inclusivity.

Thankfully, there is an ongoing push for diversity of color and gender, to varying degrees of success. Women now make up 36 percent of leadership roles in the cannabis industry (compared to just 5 percent in the rest of the business world) and municipalities across the country are attempting to build reparations into their practices and policies for the communities of color that have been disproportionately negatively affected by the criminalization of cannabis. This includes the city of Oakland’s Equity Permit Program, which reserves a portion of permits for people of color and those convicted of marijuana-related crime; Washington, D.C.’s, local effort to give local minority-owned companies a preference when applying for licenses to operate medical marijuana businesses; and the Minority Cannabis Business Association’s plan to create template legislation that addresses issues of inclusion to distribute to states and local municipalities.

But there’s another marginalized group that has largely been left out of the diversity conversation, and stigmatized in the cannabis industry: the LGBTQ community. Brewing within the bro culture of mainstream weed is a big dose of homophobia, and no one knows this better than Jay Jackson, aka Laganja Estranja, the choreographer, drag queen, and cannabis activist best known for competing in the sixth season of RuPaul's Drag Race. As suggested by the name, Laganja Estranja is a pro-weed queen who often dons marijuana-leaf prints and pendants and speaks about the need for gay visibility within the cannabis community

From Leafy here, "Can an Inclusive Cannabis Industry Include Roger Stone?"

An excerpt:

Whatever Roger Stone’s personal beliefs, he’s very clearly made a career out of delivering the “hateful little shit” vote to guys like Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan — who both loved nothing more than busting hippies and minorities for weed. In fact, Stone’s done his job so well that the hateful little shits of the world now feel like they own the place.

Keep in mind, there’s long been a conservative wing of the marijuana legalization movement (Limited Government! Free Enterprise! Personal Liberty!), identified with principled voices like William F. Buckley and Milton Friedman on up to Gary Johnson and Grover Norquist.  There are currently bipartisan cannabis bills in Congress, sponsored by a bipartisan Congressional Cannabis Caucus.  So this rift at the expo isn’t about electoral politics or ideology. And it isn’t even really about Roger Stone—as much as he loves the attention....

And therein lies Roger Stone’s true political genius.  Through long practice, he’s perfected a signature blend of hyper-partisan politics, spectacle-grade entertainment and absolute gutter fighting that’s really hard to ignore.  His persona comes across like an evil wisecracking Pro Wrestling manager in a fancy suit who’s forever throwing sand in your eyes and smiling.

September 27, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 22, 2017

"Why Medical Marijuana Research Is Gaining Support From the GOP"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Rolling Stone article. Here is a snippet:

Senator Orrin Hatch ... is among a frustrated set of the nation's policy makers who are up in arms over a Washington Post report that Sessions' Justice Department is blocking the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) from approving about two dozen proposals for experts to research the effects of marijuana.  Not to legalize weed.  Not to sell it.  Not even to smoke it. Merely to study it – just as is allowed with deadly and highly addictive opioids, booze and even cigarettes – to find out if 38 states and the District of Columbia have made grave mistakes by allowing marijuana to be used either medicinally or recreationally, or whether those states are actually on to something.

At 83, Hatch agrees with his former Senate colleague Jeff Sessions on much of his prohibitionist stance on weed – but he says the attorney general and his DOJ are basically out of touch when it comes to medicinal marijuana, which can be ingested as an oil or a baked good or even developed into high-grade pharmaceuticals. "I think it's a mistake.  We ought to do the research," Hatch continues.  "They're worried about a widespread abuse of the drug, which is something to worry about because it is a gateway drug that's a very big problem. But there's a difference between smoking marijuana – using it illegally – and using it to alleviate pain and suffering."

Pot remains listed by the DEA as a Schedule I drug, which is a classification that by definition means the government sees no medicinal benefit to it, along with the likes of LSD, ecstasy and peyote.  But now 30 states have embraced marijuana for a varying degree of medicinal purposes, but there isn't good, peer reviewed research on it because many researchers don't want to risk a DEA raid or being cut off from future federal grants.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers on the Senate Appropriations Committee are working to enact what eventually could become a national standard for marijuana quality, and they want to start by allowing testing of pot already seized by the DEA.  That's why a handful of lawmakers are trying to pressure Sessions into relaxing his own personal war on marijuana that seems to be tying the hands of officials at the DEA.  "There's really only one reason to sit on a request: Because you suspect that perhaps the science will show that medical marijuana does have some therapeutic benefit and therefore disprove the need for the failed war on marijuana," Colorado Democrat Jared Polis tells Rolling Stone.

September 22, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, September 21, 2017

AG Sessions' latest (measured?) comments on marijuana legalization

Tom Angell has this Forbes report on the latest comments by Attorney General Jeff Sessions concerning marijuana reform.  The piece's headline, "Jeff Sessions Slams Marijuana Legalization (Again)," strikes me as more alarming than what Tom reports as the AG's actual comments. Here are the details:

The nation's top law enforcer is continuing to speak out against marijuana legalization. "I've never felt that we should legalize marijuana," U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Wednesday. "It doesn't strike me that the country would be better if it's being sold on every street corner. We do know that legalization results in greater use."

While not giving a clear answer about the enforcement of federal prohibition laws in states that have changed their cannabis policies, Sessions, a longtime legalization opponent, said, "Federal law remains in effect."

Last week, U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made fairly ominous comments about marijuana policy reform, adding that the Trump administration is still deciding whether or not to reverse Obama-era guidance that generally allows states to legalize cannabis without federal interference....

Sessions' new comments came in response to a reporter's question following a San Diego press conference about large-scale Coast Guard seizures of cocaine and heroin.

At the risk of seeming to defend AG Sessions, I find these latest comments relatively measured. First, the AG is giving his opinion that his is personally opposed to marijuana legalization, and that is a view still shared by most establishment politicians on both sides of the political aisle. Second, I think most people would agree that selling marijuana on literally "every street corner" would not make our country better. The same, of course, could be said about many legal consumer products --- e.g., it doesn't strike me that the country would be better if doughnuts or guns or beer or golf clubs were being sold on "every street corner." Being against widespread and excessive commercialization of a product does not necessarily mean that one favors (or will be eager to pursue) punitive prohibition policies. Finally, it is true that federal marijuana prohibition remains, for now, the law of the land.

I say all this not to assert or even suggest that AG Sessions is disinclined to engineer a federal crackdown on state marijuana reforms. Rather, given that AG Sessions has not been reserved or modest in his pursuit of and advocacy for other controversial policy agendas while serving as the nation's top law-enforcement officer, I still think it telling and quite important that he has not yet really put marijuana enforcement on the front burner for his Department of Justice.

September 21, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, September 15, 2017

Deputy AG Rosenstein hints about lingering concerns about sticking with Cole memo federal prosecution policies

As reported in this Forbes piece by Tom Angell, the "Trump administration is continuing to weigh whether or not to reverse Obama-era guidance that generally allows states to legalize marijuana without federal interference, the Justice Department's number two official said on Thursday." Here is more:

"We are reviewing that policy.  We haven't changed it, but we are reviewing it. We're looking at the states that have legalized or decriminalized marijuana, trying to evaluate what the impact is," Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in an appearance at the conservative Heritage Foundation.  "And I think there is some pretty significant evidence that marijuana turns out to be more harmful than a lot of people anticipated, and it's more difficult to regulate than I think was contemplated ideally by some of those states," he said.

Under the so-called "Cole Memo," named after the former Obama Justice Department official who authored it in 2013, the federal government set out certain criteria that, if followed, would allow states to implement their own laws mostly without intervention.  Those criteria concern areas like youth use, impaired driving and interstate trafficking.

In April, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a longtime legalization opponent, directed a Justice Department task force to review the memo and make recommendations for possible changes.  But that panel did not provide Sessions with any ammunition to support a crackdown on states, according to the Associated Press, which reviewed excerpts of the task force's report to the attorney general.

In his new remarks, Rosenstein expressed concern that people are misinterpreting the still-in-effect memo.  "That's been perceived in some places almost as if it creates a safe harbor, but it doesn't. And it's clear that it doesn't," he said.  "That is, even if, under the terms of the memo you're not likely to be prosecuted, it doesn't mean that what you're doing is legal or that it's approved by the federal government or that you protected from prosecution in the future."...

Citing ongoing federal prohibition laws, Rosenstein said,  "Marijuana is illegal, and it's a controlled substance and there are no authorized uses for it, with very limited exceptions for research approved by DEA."  Without saying when a decision or announcement might be made, he said that the administration will "take that all into consideration and then make a determination whether or not to revise that policy."

September 15, 2017 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)

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

"Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch rolls a bunch of pot puns into his case to expand medical marijuana research"

Reaxspeech311488640x360This Daily News report on a notable marijuana reform proposal put forward on Capital Hill by a notable GOP Senator captured in its headline and substance the highlight of the story:

Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch didn’t spare the puns in announcing Wednesday that it was “high time” for the government to delve “into the weeds” of medical marijuana research. Hatch, in a press release filled with pot-related double entendres [available here], announced that he’d introduced the Marijuana Effective Drug Study Act that’s intended to encourage more research into the medical benefits of marijuana.

“It’s high time to address research into medical marijuana,” Hatch, a Republican said. “Our country has experimented with a variety of state solutions without properly delving into the weeds on the effectiveness, safety, dosing, administration, and quality of medical marijuana.”

Hatch said current government regulations often do more harm than good by making hard for researchers to obtain and conduct studies on pot. “To be blunt, we need to remove the administrative barriers preventing legitimate research into medical marijuana, which is why I’ve decided to roll out the MEDS Act.”

Among other steps, Hatch’s bill would streamline the federal registration process for marijuana research and make pot more available for legitimate scientific and medical studies. It would also require the National Institute on Drug Abuse to develop recommendations for good manufacturing practices for growing and producing marijuana for research.

“I am strongly against the use of recreational marijuana,” Hatch said in a preview of remarks he was planning to give on the Senate floor Wednesday. “I worry, however, that in our zeal to enforce the law, we too often blind ourselves to the medicinal benefits of natural substances like cannabis.”

Advocates for medical marijuana said Hatch’s bill was a good step but they remained concerned that the federal government will seek to undermine medical pot programs already underway in many states. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is a fierce opponent of marijuana use, advocates have noted. “This is a modest step in the right direction but doesn't solve the most important issue - protecting state medical marijuana programs from federal interference,” said Bill Piper of the Drug Policy Alliance.

September 13, 2017 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, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Surprising new marijuana lobbyist, a bombastic NY Republican, might be especially significant in the age of Trump

Senate-damato

This new New York Post article, headlined "Former New York senator who opposed smoking pot joins marijuana lobbying group," reports on a very interesting and shrewd hire by the Marijuana Policy Project. Here are the details:

Alfonse D'Amato is going from Senator Pothole to Senator Pot.  The former Republican U.S. senator from New York has been hired as a senior adviser by the Marijuana Policy Project, a national pro-pot group that for the first time is starting an affiliate in the Empire State.

The MPP says it was founded in 1995 to advocate nationally for “sensible and compassionate” laws governing pot use.  In New York, the group will initially focus on promoting ways to strengthen the state's existing medical marijuana program, though D'Amato didn't rule out the idea that the group will be part of any future discussions about legalizing the recreational use of pot for adults.

In addition to D'Amato, the MPP also hired attorney and community organizer Landon Dais to serve as its New York political director.  Both D'Amato — who served in the Senate from 1981 to 1999 — and Dais said that after a slow start, New York's medical marijuana program can be transformed into a national leader.  "The (state) Health Department and the governor's office have come a long way in making the utilization of medical marijuana easier, better, more professional," D'Amato said. "That's a work in progress."

D'Amato said the MPP will push for Gov. Cuomo to sign into law a bill making medical marijuana available to veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. D’Amato said the group will also seek to educate the public and medical community on the value of medical marijuana.  "I'm happy to see we have really moved in the right direction in New York," D'Amato said.

The former senator-turned lobbyist and consultant said the state should also start discussing whether to legalize pot for adults.  While he hasn't yet taken a stand on the issue, D'Amato said "if we want to be realistic, you've got to look at the nation, what is taking place around us.  It's been implemented in (seven) states."...

D'Amato's linkage to a marijuana group is a change for a man who for most of his life was against the use of pot. He said he began evolving on the issue during a discussion with radio personality Howard Stern in 2009.  "I think I'm a conservative, but I don't think I'm a right wing kook," he said.

D'Amato also knocked U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, with whom he served in the Senate, for wanting the federal government to crack down on states that have legalized recreational- and even medicinal- marijuana.  "It's a ridiculous position," he said. "I say how can you on the one hand be for states’ rights and on the other hand say the states that have legalized the use of marijuana, that you're not going to recognize that. You can't be a states’ rights person only when you like what the states are doing and not what the feds are doing.  It's one or the other."

State Conservative Party Chairman Michael Long, who backed D’Amato during his three terms in the Senate, said “I hope the former senator doesn’t partake in a move that would open the door for legalization of marijuana.”  But he said he wasn’t particularly surprised D’Amato hooked up with the Marijuana Policy Project. “He’s a lobbyist now, certainly a person who opens the door for a lot of people,” Long said.

As this article highlights, former Senator D'Amato has a little history from his time in the Senate with current AG Jeff Sessions.  But I think even more important is D'Amato's history as a successful bombastic New York Republican politician.  In various ways, he seems cut from the same cloth as President Donald Trump, and the two surely have some relationship given that D'Amato was a leading New York political figure during the 1980s and 1990s when Trump was building his NYC real estate empire.  In addition, I am sure D'Amato is able to get the ear of still-very-important New York political figures ranging from Rudy Giuliani to Michael Bloomberg to Chuck Schumer.

September 13, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Limit on DOJ funding for medical marijuana prosecutions extended to December 2017 in stop-gap spending bill

As reported in this prior post, last week early developments in the US House of Representatives made uncertain the prospects for continuation of the spending rider that currently blocks the US Justice Department from going after state-compliant medical marijuana actors.  But, as this Cannabist article reports, another stop-gap spending bill keeps the DOJ spending limit in place for at least another three months.  The article is headlined "Rohrabacher-Blumenauer medical marijuana protections extended by debt limit deal," and here are the details:

Existing federal protections for medical marijuana states are expected to continue through at least Dec. 8.  The $15.3 billion disaster aid package, debt limit increase and government spending extension approved by Congress on Friday includes the existing Rohrabacher-Blumenauer provision, which prevents the Justice Department from using funds to interfere with the 46 states that have legalized some form of medical marijuana.

The aid bill, which was sent to President Donald Trump, extends the omnibus legislation passed in May and will fund the government through Dec. 8.  The short-term spending fix is also a short-term victory for Rohrabacher-Blumenauer sponsors, which were dealt a blow by the House Rules Committee earlier this week. The legislative committee nixed the amendment from House consideration for the fiscal year 2018 funding bill.

“We have at least three months of certainty now, but the fight isn’t over,” officials for Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, told The Cannabist on Friday.  That fight includes efforts to land the provision in the final spending bill, officials said, noting the language was included in the Senate Appropriations Committee’s approved version of the bill.

September 10, 2017 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, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

GOP leaders apparently blocking vote on amendment to limit DOJ funding for medical marijuana prosecutions

As reported here by The Hill, "lawmakers said Wednesday that GOP leaders won’t allow the full House to vote on an amendment that bars the Justice Department from pursuing states that have legalized medical marijuana."  Here is more:

At a Wednesday morning closed-door briefing of House Republicans, California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R) implored his GOP colleagues to press House leaders to allow a vote on his amendment.  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 esources 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.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) offices did not respond to requests for comment.

September 6, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Representative Rohrabacher explains why "fellow conservatives should protect medical marijuana"

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This new Washington Post commentary authored by Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican who represents California's 48th District in the US House of Representatives, seeks to make the case for the federal government to stay out of state medical marijuana reform efforts. The piece is headlined "My fellow conservatives should protect medical marijuana from the government." Here are excerpts:

With my Democrat friend Sam Farr, the now-retired California congressman, I wrote an amendment to spending bills that prohibits the federal government from prosecuting medical marijuana cases in states where voters have legalized such treatment. The amendment passed two consecutive years, the second time with a wider margin than the first, and has been extended through continuing resolutions and an omnibus spending bill.

Surprisingly, given the Obama administration’s generally liberal approach to marijuana, its Justice Department tried to interpret the amendment in such a convoluted way as to allow counterproductive raids on marijuana dispensaries. The courts — most recently the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit — repeatedly ruled that our amendment meant exactly what it said.

Unfortunately, my longtime friend Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, has urged Congress to drop the amendment, now co-sponsored by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.). This, despite President Trump’s belief, made clear in his campaign and as president, that states alone should decide medical marijuana policies.

I should not need to remind our chief law enforcement officer nor my fellow Republicans that our system of federalism, also known as states’ rights, was designed to resolve just such a fractious issue. Our party still bears a blemish for wielding the “states’ rights” cudgel against civil rights. If we bury state autonomy in order to deny patients an alternative to opioids, and ominously federalize our police, our hypocrisy will deserve the American people’s contempt.

More than half the states have liberalized medical marijuana laws, some even decriminalizing recreational use. Some eighty percent of Americans favor legalization of medical marijuana. Only a benighted or mean-spirited mind-set would want to block such progress.

Despite federal efforts to restrict supply, studies continue to yield promising results.  And mounting anecdotal evidence shows again and again that medical marijuana can dramatically improve the lives of people with epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder, arthritis and many other ailments.  Most Americans know this.  The political class, not surprisingly, lags behind them.  Part of the reason is the failure of too many conservatives to apply “public choice economics” to the war on marijuana.  Common sense, as well as public choice theory, holds that the government’s interest is to grow, just as private-sector players seek profit and build market share.

The drug-war apparatus will not give ground without a fight, even if it deprives Americans of medical alternatives and inadvertently creates more dependency on opioids. When its existence depends on asset seizures and other affronts to our Constitution, why should anti-medical-marijuana forces care if they’ve contributed inadvertently to a vast market, both legal and illegal, for opioids?

I invite my colleagues to visit a medical marijuana research facility and see for themselves why their cultural distaste might be misplaced.  One exists near my district office at the University of California at Irvine, another at the University of California at San Diego.

Better yet, they might travel to Israel — that political guiding light for religious conservatives — and learn how our closest ally in the Middle East has positioned itself on the cutting edge of cannabis research.  The Israeli government recently decriminalized first use, so unworried it is about what marijuana might do to its conscript military.

My colleagues should then return to Washington and keep my amendment intact, declaring themselves firmly on the side of medical progress.  Failing that, the government will keep trying to eradicate the burgeoning marijuana business, thereby fueling and enriching drug cartels. Trust me: Hugs from grateful supporters are infinitely better.

September 5, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Helpful review of possible reform states to watch in 2018 on initiative and legislative fronts

The folks at Marijuana Business Daily have recently put together a two-part series on state-level marijuana reform efforts likely to be making headlines in 2018. Part I looks at initiative campaigns, and Part II is focused on legislature-driven efforts:

"Multiple 2018 marijuana legalization campaigns already underway" discusses ballot campaigns afoot in Michigan, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Utah.

"Which state legislatures could legalize recreational, medical marijuana in 2018?" discusses New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont as possible recreational legalization states, and Louisiana, South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana and Texas as (mostly-long-)shots for medical marijuana reforms.

Though all of these potential reform states are interesting to watch, I think Michigan and New Jersey could prove to be especially important states for the future of recreational marijuana reforms nationwide.  (I also believe they are the states in which reform right now seems the most likely.)

Michigan is a state that went for Prez Trump along with other rust-belt states, and it seems certain to be an important state in the 2020 Prez campaign.  A vote in favor of full legalization in Michigan in 2018 could immediately impact how would-be 2020 Prez candidates talk about state marijuana reforms.

 New Jersey not only could be the first state to embrace recreational marijuana reforms through the traditional legislative process, but it also could have a marijuana industry that serves huge population centers ranging from New York City to Philadelphia to even Baltimore and Washington DC.   With probably a quarter of the nation's population less than an afternoon's drive from some part of New Jersey, a decision by the Garden State to start legalizing the gardening of marijuana for recreational purposes surely could have all sorts of national echoes.

September 3, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in 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)

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

New SAM report, asserting legalization states "​have ​not ​fulfilled ​the ​requirements ​of ​the ​Cole Memo," urges federal law enforcement to target big players in marijuana industry

Download (4)Smart Approaches to Marijuana, the leading public policy group advocating against most state-level marijuana reforms, has released today this new  report titled "The​ ​Cole​ ​Memo:​ ​4​ ​Years​ ​Later: Status Report on State Compliance of Federal Marijuana Enforcement Policy." Here are parts of this SAM report's introduction and conclusion:

On ​August ​29, ​2013, ​the ​U.S. ​Department ​of ​Justice ​(DOJ) ​issued ​guidelines ​to ​Federal prosecutors ​and ​law ​enforcement ​officials ​regarding ​where ​to ​focus ​their ​drug ​enforcement efforts ​in ​states ​that ​have ​passed ​laws ​legalizing ​the ​retail ​sales ​of ​marijuana. ​The ​so-called “Cole ​Memo” ​directs ​enforcement ​officials ​to ​focus ​resources, ​including ​prosecutions, ​“on persons ​and ​organizations ​whose ​conduct ​interferes ​with ​any ​one ​or ​more ​of ​[eight] ​priorities, regardless ​of ​state ​law.”...

According ​to ​the ​Department ​of ​Justice, ​the ​Federal ​“hands-off” ​approach ​to ​marijuana enforcement ​enumerated ​in ​the ​Cole ​Memo ​is ​contingent ​on ​its ​expectation ​that ​“states ​and local ​governments ​that ​have ​enacted ​laws ​authorizing ​marijuana-related ​conduct ​will ​implement strong ​and ​effective ​regulatory ​and ​enforcement ​systems ​that ​will ​address ​the ​threat ​those state ​laws ​could ​pose ​to ​public ​safety, ​public ​health, ​and ​other ​law ​enforcement ​interests. ​A system ​adequate ​to ​that ​task ​must ​not ​only ​contain ​robust ​controls ​and ​procedures ​on ​paper, ​it must ​also ​be ​effective ​in ​practice.”

Unfortunately, ​since ​Colorado ​and ​Washington ​became ​the ​first ​states ​to ​legalize ​the recreational ​sale ​of ​marijuana ​in ​2012, ​evidence ​has ​emerged ​that ​regulations ​intended ​to control ​the ​sale ​and ​use ​of ​marijuana ​have ​failed ​to ​meet ​the ​promises ​made ​by ​advocates ​for legalization. ​For ​example, ​states ​with ​legal ​marijuana ​are ​seeing ​an ​increase ​in drugged ​driving crashes ​and youth ​marijuana ​use. ​States ​that ​have ​legalized ​marijuana ​are ​also failing ​to ​shore up ​state ​budget ​shortfalls ​with ​marijuana ​taxes, ​continuing ​to ​see ​a ​thriving ​illegal black ​market, and ​are ​experiencing ​an unabated ​sales ​of ​alcohol, ​despite ​campaign ​promises ​from ​advocates promising ​that ​marijuana ​would ​be ​used ​as ​a ​“safer” ​alternative ​instead.

Moreover, ​state ​regulatory ​frameworks ​established ​post-legalization ​have ​failed ​to ​meet ​each ​of the ​specific ​DOJ ​requirements ​on ​controlling ​recreational ​marijuana ​production, ​distribution, ​and use. ​While ​long-term ​studies ​and ​research ​on ​the ​public ​health ​and ​safety ​impacts ​of ​marijuana legalization ​are ​ongoing, ​this ​report ​provides ​a ​partial ​census ​of ​readily ​available ​information that ​demonstrates ​how ​Colorado, ​Oregon, ​and ​Washington ​State ​- ​the ​jurisdictions ​with ​the most ​mature ​regulatory ​markets ​and ​schemes ​- ​have ​not ​fulfilled ​the ​requirements ​of ​the ​Cole Memo....

Federal ​resources ​should ​target ​the ​big ​players ​in ​the ​marijuana ​industry. ​Individual ​marijuana users ​should ​not ​be ​targeted ​or ​arrested, ​but ​large-scale ​marijuana ​businesses, ​several ​of ​which now ​boast ​of ​having ​raised ​over ​$100 ​million ​in ​capital, ​and ​their ​financial ​backers, ​should ​be ​a priority. ​These ​large ​businesses ​are ​pocketing ​millions ​by ​flouting ​federal ​law, ​deceiving Americans ​about ​the ​risks ​of ​their ​products, ​and ​targeting ​the ​most ​vulnerable. ​They ​should ​not have ​access ​to ​banks, ​where ​their ​financial ​prowess ​would ​be ​expanded ​significantly, ​nor should ​they ​be ​able ​to ​advertise ​or ​commercialize ​marijuana....

These ​large ​marijuana ​operations, ​which ​combine ​the ​tactics ​of ​Big ​Tobacco ​with ​black marketeering, ​should ​form ​the ​focus ​of ​federal ​law ​enforcement, ​not ​individual ​users. ​At ​the same ​time, ​the ​federal ​government ​along ​with ​non-government ​partners ​should ​implement ​a strong, ​evidence-based ​marijuana ​information ​campaign, ​similar ​to ​the truth® ​campaign ​for tobacco, ​which ​alerts ​all ​Americans ​about ​the ​harms ​of ​marijuana ​and ​the ​deceitful ​practices ​of the ​marijuana ​industry.

August 30, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

"A Conservative Approach to Smarter Federal Marijuana Policy"

Download (2)The title of this post is the title of this notable Cato Institute Capitol Hill Briefing slated for September.  Here is how the event is described from the Cato website:

Featuring Tom Garrett (R-VA-05), U.S. Congressman; Ilya Somin, Professor of Law, Antonin Scalia Law School, George Mason University; Trevor Burrus, Research Fellow, Center for Constitutional Studies, Cato Institute; moderated by Jonathan Blanks, Research Associate, Project on Criminal Justice, Cato Institute.

The legal sale of recreational marijuana remains limited to a handful of states, but 29 states plus the District of Columbia allow the prescription and distribution of medical marijuana.  Ten of those states — which represent 115 electoral votes — went for President Trump in the 2016 election.  National polling shows that just over half of Americans favor marijuana legalization, but a much larger majority want the federal government to leave marijuana alone in states where it is legal.

While candidate Trump promised to protect medical marijuana on the campaign trail, President Trump’s Justice Department wants to be more aggressive against state-legal marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).  Ultimately, Congress holds the reins on the Department of Justice’s ability to enforce particular provisions of the CSA and determines which substances should be under federal control.

While marijuana decriminalization is often thought to be a Democrat-friendly topic, some of the best arguments for federal recognition of state marijuana policy rest in traditional Republican values of federalism, deference to local policy choices, and a limited federal government.  Moreover, businesses that have no direct ties to cannabis cultivation or distribution like banks and financial institutions can benefit from clear federal rules that tolerate state-legal marijuana transactions.

Join us for a lunchtime discussion to explore several ways Congress can reshape federal marijuana policy in a manner that is more consistent both with public opinion and the conservative values of limited government, federalism, and local policymaking.

August 29, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 28, 2017

"Here's Why Trump Can't Beat Pot"

In this post from way back in December 2016, I suggested it could prove legally and practically difficult for the incoming Trump Administration to go aggressively after state-level marijuana reforms.  The post was titled "why I seriously doubt future AG Sessions will start a foolish new weed war federal offensive," and it outlined some challenges that might arise were the Trump Department of Justice to try to bring back an era of national federal pot prohibition enforcement by executive fiat.  This post's title, which is much more catchy than my Dec 2016 title, comes from the headline of this lengthy BuzzFeed News piece by Dominic Holden.  This BuzzFeed piece covers more effectively and systematically some of the issues and forces I had in mind back in December, and here are highlights:

Donald Trump said three times while campaigning that pot legalization should be left “up to the states.” But after five weeks in the White House, his former press secretary, Sean Spicer, announced that recreational marijuana — which was legalized by eight states without resulting in a crackdown by the Obama administration — has zero leeway under federal law. “I do believe you’ll see greater enforcement of it,” Spicer told the press corps.

Since then, lots of conventional wisdom says the White House can — and probably will — try to shut down America’s pot experiment. That wisdom looked particularly valid given that Trump’s chief law enforcement officer, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has sharpened the attacks. He said in February that distributing pot remains illegal “whether a state legalizes it or not,” and turned the screws in March by warning federal prohibition “applies in states where they may have repealed their own anti-marijuana laws.”...

How, exactly, the Trump administration will approach this is TBD.  The Justice Department is currently considering its options. At any time, though, Sessions and Trump could begin raids in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Nevada, and Washington state — where thousands of state-licensed pot businesses are already operating in the open. The administration could then argue in court that even issuing pot licenses is superseded by federal law.

Raiding farms and stores may seem simple, at first, but unlike federal pot busts in past years, targeting regulated state systems would present new legal disputes over states' rights.  BuzzFeed News' interviews with law enforcement, former federal prosecutors, state officials, and conservative leaders show a crackdown would give rise to a hydra that pulls Trump into logistical, political, and legal traps — replicating his most humiliating setbacks like the travel ban (legal) and Obamacare (political).

Not only is legalization unprecedentedly popular, a crackdown has grown even more unpopular — and Trump would be destroying jobs in rural districts that voted for him. Possibly most damaging for Trump, though, is that he can’t fully win, because state decriminalization of marijuana cannot be completely stopped.  “They have very limited tools, and I think none of them would be successful,” Jenny Durkan, who served as US attorney in Washington state in 2012 when legalization took hold there, told BuzzFeed News. “I just don’t think they can stick the genie back in the bottle.”

There are several paths Trump could take if he wanted to try anyway. Here's why each one would be difficult, or even impossible.

1.  Trump can’t bust all the legal pot businesses because there are way too many already. ...

2.  If Trump were to even threaten pot businesses, he would still end up in brutal court battles. ...

3.  Even if Trump only makes a few busts, the states will get involved and fight Trump, too. ...

4.  Trying to overturn state legalization laws themselves would be difficult and time-consuming — and could still fail. ...

5.  Fighting long legal battles would be unpopular for Trump, and it would grow more toxic by the day. ...

6.  Trump could never stop people from using and growing pot with impunity, even if he won in court. ...

The reporting and analysis in this article merits considerable attention, but I want to put a bit of extra emphasis and spin on the key final point.   Though aggressive enforcement actions and successful lawsuits would not enable federal officials to fully "beat pot," the feds still could bring down much of the modern commercial marijuana industry.  (And, importantly, there are even some folks supportive of marijuana reform who are not so supportive of the modern commercial marijuana industry.)  I continue to believe a new federal weed war remains unlikely, but I also believe there will be notable casualties is such a war still gets waged in some capacity in the coming months.

August 28, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (5)

Friday, August 25, 2017

Colorado sends its forceful response to letter from AG Sessions about marijuana reform concerns

As noted in this prior post, last month US Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent letters to the leaders of states with recreational marijuana laws detailing troublesome data that, in the words of these letters, raised "serious questions about the efficacy of marijuana 'regulatory structures'."  And, as reported in this prior post, last week Washington set a forceful response to AG Sessions.  This week, as reported here by HuffPost, Colorado sent its response in the form of this detailed five-page missive.  (Alaska and Oregon have also responded forcefully to the Sessions latter, but Colorado and Washington seem to me the most important states to watch because they have the most mature marijuana industries and the longest-in-place regulatory regimes.)  Here is part of the HuffPost summary of the letter:

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) and Attorney General Cynthia Coffman (R) mounted a vigorous defense of their state’s legalized and regulated marijuana program Thursday, replying to a critical letter from Attorney General Jeff Sessions that was directed at states that have legalized marijuana for recreational purposes.

Hickenlooper and Coffman, in a response letter dated Thursday, tell Sessions that their state’s numerous marijuana laws and regulations are “effective.” They said the regulations work smoothly to prevent diversion of the drug outside of the state, block marijuana use by minors and protect the public’s safety and health. The pair also encourage the federal government to work with the state to “fortify” the robust program that it has already built....

“The State of Colorado has worked diligently to implement the will of our citizens and build a comprehensive regulatory and enforcement system that prioritizes public safety and public health,” the Colorado letter reads. “When abuses and unintended consequences materialize, the state has acted quickly to address any resulting harms. While our system has proven to be effective, we are constantly evaluating and seeking to strengthen our approach to regulation and enforcement.”

The Colorado officials detailed statistics that the state provided to the Department of Justice in a report in July, a document HuffPost obtained and previously reported on earlier this month, to back up their argument that state-level legalization of marijuana is effective.

Prior related posts:

August 25, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Interesting accounting and analysis of "America’s Marijuana Evolution"

2017_timelineAsset_1_4x-80_no_logoThe folks at Third Way have this notable new publication titled "America’s Marijuana Evolution." Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with the ground covered in this piece, but it still makes for an interesting read based on how legal and policy changes are discussed.  Here is one excerpt focused on state laws and political developments:

A detailed analysis of the ten states to most recently legalize medical marijuana legislatively finds that most bills passed with large majorities, regardless of the party controlling the chamber. In nine of those ten states, the measure passed with at least 60% of the vote in the lower chamber of the state legislature. And in all but Ohio, the upper house voted in favor of legalization with at least 58% of the vote. In several states, the bills passed with more than 80% or even 90% approval—making it clear that medical legalization on the state level has gained wide support across the ideological spectrum.

Marijuana is even less of a partisan issue on the state level than on the federal level, though Democratic policymakers at all levels of government remain more supportive of reform than Republicans. In every single one of the ten states to most recently legalize legislatively, the majority passing the bill through each chamber of the state legislature was bipartisan. And while in nine of those ten states the Governor signing the bill into law was a Democrat, in the three most recent — Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia — both chambers of the state legislature were controlled by Republicans. In fact, in Ohio Republican Governor John Kasich signed his state’s bill into law, making it the first to enact marijuana legalization through a process that was Republican-controlled at every stage. And the Democratic Governor of West Virginia who signed his state's bill into law earlier this year — Jim Justice — has since announced he is switching party affiliation to be a Republican.

When Vermont became the first state in the nation to pass a recreational legalization bill this spring, it did so with healthy majorities as well—20-9 in the Senate and 79-66 in the House. Though only a handful of Republicans voted for the bill in each chamber, when Republican Governor Phil Scott vetoed it, he said that he is not philosophically opposed to marijuana legalization and has since been working with the legislature on a new bill that addresses some specific concerns he had raised.

Increasingly, marijuana reform is becoming a bipartisan issue in state legislatures, regardless of the party in power. That’s especially true for medical legalization, which is now the law of the land in the majority of states.

We analyzed the state legislative and gubernatorial elections immediately following legalization in each of the ten states that most recently legislated medical marijuana, and we couldn’t identify a single instance of negative political consequences for elected officials who supported legalization of medical marijuana.

We could find no state legislative races in which voting in favor of a medical marijuana bill was detrimental. Only two state senates flipped party control after legalization—New York and Minnesota—but in both the medical marijuana vote had been overwhelmingly in favor and bipartisan. Only two state lower chambers flipped party control as well — Minnesota and New Hampshire — but in neither state was marijuana a major campaign issue. Not a single Governor in any of these ten states lost a reelection campaign because he or she signed a medical marijuana bill into law — in fact, only one Governor lost their reelection at all (Democrat Pat Quinn of Illinois), and it was to an opponent who did not oppose medical marijuana legalization.

It seems clear that legalizing medical marijuana is not a political liability for Governors or state legislatures. In fact, given the overwhelming popularity of medical marijuana, just the opposite may prove to be true going forward, especially as more states legalize and those that don’t are left behind.

State policymakers have led the way on marijuana reform. More than half of the 29 states that have legalized medical marijuana did so legislatively, and more are likely to follow. The growing bipartisan nature of state reforms and the absence of any major political consequences for those policymakers who enacted them illustrate that policymakers can feel comfortable publicly supporting legalization, regardless of party affiliation.

August 24, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

"Congress To Decide On State Marijuana Protections Soon"

The title of this post is the headline of this recent posting by Tom Angell at Massroots that provides a very helpful review of some coming opportunities for members of Congress to show whether they stand on various issues relating to marijuana reform.  I recommend the piece in full, and here are excerpts:

Here a some of the cannabis amendments that could be voted on in the House next month, if they are not blocked by leadership:

Protecting state medical cannabis laws: This is the big one. State-legal medical cannabis patients and providers have been protected from Justice Department interference since this rider was first enacted in late 2014. Since then it has been extended annually, and would almost certainly be approved by the House with a strong bipartisan margin again if allowed a vote. But even without a House vote, the language is already in the Senate bill and thus still alive for inclusion in the final spending legislation that will be sent to President Trump.

Protecting all state marijuana laws: In 2015, an amendment to broaden the medical cannabis protections to cover all state marijuana laws — including those allowing recreational use and sales — came just nine flipped voted shy of passing on the House floor. Since then, the number of states with legalization has doubled and a number of retiring prohibitionist lawmakers have been replaced by supporters. Advocates feel that if the measure is brought up this year it will likely pass. (The Senate has never voted on such a broad proposal, and that chamber’s Appropriations Committee did not consider it during their passage of 2018 Justice Department spending legislation.)

Letting Washington, D.C. legalize and regulate marijuana sales: In 2014, District of Columbia voters approved a ballot measure that legalized low-level cannabis possession and homegrow. But, thanks to Congressional meddling, they have no place to legally buy marijuana. Under annual amendments championed by Congressman Andy Harris (R-MD), D.C. government is prohibited from spending its own money to legalize and regulate cannabis sales. The bill coming to the floor next month continues a version of that rider that was expanded in scope by a spending bill signed into law by President Trump earlier this year....

Allowing marijuana businesses to access banks: Because of federal prohibition laws, many banks refuse to work with cannabis businesses. As a result, they often have to operate on a cash-only basis, which makes them targets for robberies....

August 23, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 17, 2017

"Why a Drug Policy Organization Needs to Speak Out Against White Supremacy"

The title of this post is the title of this notable and provocative little commentary authored by Megan Farrington, who is the director of digital communications for the Drug Policy Alliance.  Here is what Megan has to say: 

The drug war is a tool of racial oppression.  We see this in racial disparities in arrest and incarceration rates for drug offenses that exist even though white people and people of color use and sell drugs at about the same rates.

We see it in the way stop-and-frisk policies have been used to target communities of color.  We see it in the way allegations of drug use were raised as cover for the police killings of Philando Castile, Terence Crutcher, Keith Lamont Scott, Sandra Bland, and Trayvon Martin.

And we see it in the legal marijuana industry now taking shape, which risks excluding the communities that have been most subjected to drug war enforcement by making people with past drug law convictions ineligible for licenses.

Sometimes the racial implications of drug war policies are overt, and sometimes they are more insidious.  But the bottom line is that when we work to dismantle the drug war, we are working to end a tool of oppression.

So when white supremacists chant Nazi slogans and our president defends them, we have to speak out.  If we fight the racism inherent in the drug war but allow it to go unchecked elsewhere, our work may take down one tool only to see it replaced with another.

We saw this when the drug war replaced Jim Crow last century, and must fight to keep it from happening again. The only way to ensure that our drug policy reforms truly end the harms of drug prohibition is to support the fight against white supremacy wherever it is taking place.

August 17, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Silly(?!?) talk of marijuana reform as a "flash point" in the far-off 2020 Prez campaign

4463513_kanye2020_jpeg8c21a7f088d655dd3f1084a318fc8418As of this writing in mid-August 2017, we still do not really know the marijuana reform position of the current President of the United States.  But that reality has not prevented the folks at Politico from putting forth this new article about the 2020 Prez campaign headlined "Marijuana politics emerge as 2020 flash point: The debate over legalization is about to receive a full airing on the presidential campaign trail."  Though I think it silly to try to discuss too seriously the 2020 Prez campaign with still 15 months to go before the mid-term election of 2018, I cannot resist highlighting some notable passages in this Politico piece:

Marijuana legalization just moved from the fringes of the last presidential campaign to center stage in 2020.  Between a sweeping new package of legislation introduced last week by one of the top Democratic presidential prospects and, on the other end of the spectrum, Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ vigorous opposition to recreational use of marijuana, the debate over legalization of cannabis is about to receive a full airing on the presidential campaign trail.

While Bernie Sanders also supported medicinal use of marijuana and the decriminalization of recreational marijuana, drug policy stayed on the outskirts of the 2016 presidential debate, and growing action at the state level was barely acknowledged.

Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, a bipartisan nonprofit advocacy group, said New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker’s introduction of “the farthest-reaching bill ever proposed” will have a catalytic effect on the politics of legalized marijuana and the myriad criminal justice issues related to it.  “Booker is getting a ton of fantastic press about this,’’ he said. “And other candidates will notice that and will want to say, 'I agree — and I want to introduce a bill of my own.'”

Booker’s rollout of the Marijuana Justice Act — introduced to a wide audience via Facebook Live — was more than just a call for legalizing marijuana at the federal level. The measure also addresses withholding federal funds for the construction of jails and prisons from states whose pot laws are shown to disproportionately incarcerate minorities; expunging federal convictions for cannabis use; and mandating sentencing hearings for prisoners now serving time for pot offenses.  “You see these marijuana arrests happening so much in our country, targeting certain communities — poor communities, minority communities — targeting people with an illness,” Booker, the former mayor of Newark, said.

With Republicans in control of the House and Senate, the ambitious legislation is viewed as unlikely to pass.  But its attachment to a top prospective 2020 candidate — and the growing action on marijuana legalization at the state level — all but guarantees presidential contenders will need a fully formed position.

Several possible Democratic presidential candidates — including Booker and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand — have already signed on to a separate bipartisan medical marijuana bill.  In Massachusetts, where voters approved a ballot measure last year legalizing recreational marijuana, Sen. Elizabeth Warren has addressed the issues of creating legal and secure banking for the cannabis industry.

On the Republican side, Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky has called for a repeal on the pot prohibition — making him popular with young libertarians — and won some conservative backing with his strong stand for states’ rights on the issue....

Already, in the two governors races on the ballot in 2017 — New Jersey and Virginia — the Democratic nominees have staked out clear positions in favor of decriminalization.... 

After California officially became the largest legal cannabis market in the world last November with approval of Proposition 64, Nevada — a key Western swing state — followed last month to become the fifth state to legalize recreational use of the drug.  States are hungrily eyeing tax revenues from the cannabis market, where revenues topped $5.8 billion in 2016 and are expected to reach at least $7 billion by 2020, experts say.

Willie Brown, the former California House speaker and San Francisco mayor who successfully carried one of the nation’s first cannabis-related reform bills to decriminalize the drug in 1973, says the political climate has shifted markedly from the days when “we couldn’t talk legalization — hell no.” But he said Booker wasn’t the first Democrat to understand how deeply the issue of legal recreational cannabis resonated, especially with millennial voters.

“Gavin Newsom was the first,” he said, saying that the California Democratic lieutenant governor stepped out in front and backed legalization of recreational pot in the nation’s most populous state nearly two years ago.  Newsom’s strong endorsement and campaigning helped pass Proposition 64 — and set the stage for him to take the front-runner spot in the 2018 governor’s race, Brown noted.

In recent days, Newsom’s rival Antonio Villaraigosa, the former Los Angeles mayor, has edged toward a more liberal stance, saying at a public forum that “cannabis is going to be the new alcohol business.” State Treasurer John Chiang, another California gubernatorial candidate, has been holding statewide hearings on cannabis banking issues.

Even California Sen. Kamala Harris, a former prosecutor who has taken a more cautious stance on the issue, is on board for marijuana decriminalization. Harris, a first-term senator who is frequently mentioned as a prospective presidential candidate in 2020, told a progressive group last month: “While I don’t believe in legalizing all drugs ... we need to do the smart thing, the right thing, and finally decriminalize marijuana.”

This article's brief mention of marijuana reform in the 2017 races for Gov in New Jersey and Virginia merits, in my view, a lot more attention than the far-off 2020 Prez race. As I understand matters, I believe the Democratic candidate in New Jersey has endorsed full legalization of marijuana and the GOP candidate supports decriminalization. That reality, as well as Senator Booker's bold bill, highlights how mainstream significant marijuana reform has already become well before we get to gaming out who might be running against Prez Trump in 2020.

August 13, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)