Trump’s Cabinet on Cannabis

February 3rd, 2017 by Tom Angell

Most MassRoots readers probably already know that President Trump pledged on the campaign trail that he would respect state marijuana laws. You probably also know that Trump’s nominee to head the Justice Department has a long history of speaking out against legalization.

But where do other incoming top Trump administration officials stand on cannabis? We’ve compiled everything you need to know right here.

Just in case you haven’t followed all the latest news from Capitol Hill, let’s start with attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions, a Republican senator from Alabama: Last year Sessions said “good people don’t smoke marijuana” and repeatedly criticized the Obama administration’s approach of generally respecting the right of states to set their own cannabis policies. Since being nominated as attorney general, however, he has been much more guarded in response to questions about how the federal government should react to local policies.

During a confirmation hearing, Sessions called existing guidelines on how states can avoid interference “valuable,” but indicated that compliance probably isn’t being tracked as closely as it should be, saying he wouldn’t commit to never enforcing federal law. In answers to follow-up written questions, he said he would “review and evaluate those policies, including the original justifications for the memorandum, as well as any relevant data and how circumstances may have changed or how they may change in the future.”

About a week and a half before the inauguration, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that even if Sessions personally disagreed with the president on respecting state laws, “When you come into a Trump administration, it’s the Trump agenda that you are implementing, not your own. And I think that Senator Sessions is well aware of that.”

Vice President Mike Pence, while serving as a member of the U.S. House, voted six times against amendments to prevent the Justice Department from interfering with state medical marijuana laws.

Treasury secretary nominee Steven Mnuchin said in response to a written question from a senator that banking and tax concerns facing marijuana businesses are “a very important issue,” committing to “work with Congress and the President to determine which provisions of the current tax code should be retained, revised or eliminated to ensure that all individuals and businesses compete on a level playing field.”

At his confirmation hearing, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly conceded that prohibition enforcement will never completely eliminate the consumption of drugs. However, he added that in his view there is no such thing as “nonviolent” drug use because proceeds go into supporting a criminal market where violence is often used to settle disputes. While serving in a past military role, Kelly regularly testified before Congress that legalization in U.S. states made it harder for him to get cooperation from other countries in the international drug war. But he has also expressed openness to medical cannabis.

David Shulkin, who Trump nominated to head the Department of Veterans Affairs, also seems somewhat open to increasing military veterans’ access to medical marijuana, writing in a letter last year that he “wholeheartedly agree[s] that VA should do all it can to foster open communication between Veterans and their VA providers, including discussion about participation in state marijuana programs.”

But Scott Pruitt, Trump’s pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, is certainly not a fan of medical cannabis or of letting states set their own laws on the issue. As Oklahoma attorney general, he’s currently involved in a lawsuit over a proposed medical marijuana ballot measure. In a filing last month he argued that state cannabis laws are preempted by federal prohibition. “[The Oklahoma initiative] requires State officials to conspire…to violate federal drug laws by issuing licenses that will break federal law if certain preconditions are met, and to arguably share in the profits for breaking federal law by taxing the sale of marijuana,” he wrote. Alarmingly, Pruitt called the Obama approach to state cannabis laws “tenuous,” adding, “the prior [Bush] presidential administration vigorously enforced the law…and the incoming presidential administration may take the same course.” Pruitt previously sued neighboring Colorado over its legalization law in a case that the U.S. Supreme Court refused to take up.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, during his confirmation hearing, took a verbal beating from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) for refusing to criticize the deadly drug war in the Philippines.

Energy secretary nominee Rick Perry, a former Texas governor and presidential candidate, personally opposes legalization but has repeatedly spoken out in favor of the right of states to set their own cannabis laws without federal interference.

Congressman Mick Mulvaney (R-SC), Trump’s pick to lead the Office of Management and Budget, has voted in favor of several U.S. House amendments on marijuana, including ones to prevent the Justice Department from spending money to interfere with state medical cannabis or full legalization laws.

Congressman Ryan Zinke (R-MT), Trump’s pick to lead the Department of the Interior, voted for the state medical marijuana amendments but against the full legalization ones.

Congressman Tom Price (R-GA), the nominee to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, voted against both the medical marijuana and full legalization protections for states.

Housing and Urban Development nominee Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon and former presidential candidate, has given mixed signals on marijuana, endorsing its medical benefits but also saying that recreational use can cause flashbacks.

Trump hasn’t officially nominated someone to lead the Food and Drug Administration yet, but two people floated in the press as possible picks are seen as favorable to cannabis law reform: Jim O’Neill was once a board member for a legalization organization, and Balaji Srinivasan tweeted about the racially disparate impact of marijuana law enforcement.

All told, the Trump team is very much a mixed bag when it comes to cannabis policy, and the views of some department and agency heads will be more important than others when it comes to determining the federal government’s approach to marijuana. But what matters most at the end of the day is whether the president sees it as politically important enough to follow through on his campaign pledge to respect state laws, or if he would allow the Justice Department to undermine those promises in line with the views of a less-friendly attorney general. Stay tuned.


Source:  MassRoots

AUSTIN — Physicians and patients came out in full force Tuesday to support a proposed medical cannabis bill that will be considered in the Texas Legislature next year.

Senate Bill 269, which was filed Tuesday morning, would allow patients with debilitating or chronic conditions to receive medical cannabis under their doctor’s recommendation. The bill would expand on a 2015 Texas law that allows patients to receive certain forms of cannabis if they have intractable epilepsy.

Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, who authored the proposed bill, said the law is helpful but excludes many Texans who have other conditions that could benefit from cannabis treatment.

Twenty-eight states have legalized medical cannabis, but Menéndez said Texans should not have to leave the state to get care.

“Why are we forcing Texans to become medical refugees?” Menéndez asked. “If that’s what they’ve come to find that works for them, they should be able to live in their state and be able to have access to the medicine that their doctor feels is best for them.”

Debbie Tolany, a mother to a child with autism and intractable epilepsy, said her son has tried multiple different medications that have not worked for him.

“I can assure you that when you witness these things in your child and you know that it is because of the medication that you have given him, you wrestle with many emotions,” Tolany said. “These are harmful band aids and do nothing to address the physiological sources of my son’s pain and suffering.”

 Menéndez co-authored the bill that allowed for limited cannabis use for people with epilepsy, and also filed another bill in 2015 that would have extended medical cannabis use to more health condition

Marijuana Wins Big on Election Night


California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada Legalize Marijuana, As Florida, Arkansas, Montana and North Dakota Approve Medical Marijuana Measures

TELECONFERENCE Tomorrow (Wednesday) at 12:30pm (ET) / 9:30am (PT): What Do Election Results Mean for Marijuana Law Reform?

This Election Day was a watershed moment for the movement to end marijuana prohibition, with the results expected to accelerate efforts to legalize marijuana in states across the U.S., at the federal level, and internationally.  Overall, legalization initiatives prevailed in four out of five states, and medical marijuana initiatives prevailed in all four states this year.

Votes are still being counted for legalization initiatives in Maine and Arizona, as well as for a medical marijuana measure in Montana to improve the state’s existing medical marijuana law.  Maine and Montana look headed for victory and Arizona for defeat.  If those results hold, legalization initiatives will have prevailed in four out of five states, and medical marijuana initiatives will have prevailed in all four states this year.

“Marijuana reform won big across America on Election Day – indeed it’s safe to say that no other reform was approved by so many citizens on so many ballots this year,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.  “But the prospect of Donald Trump as our next president concerns me deeply.  His most likely appointees to senior law enforcement positions – Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie – are no friends of marijuana reform, nor is his vice president.”

“The momentum for ending marijuana prohibition took a great leap forward with the victories in California and elsewhere, but the federal government retains the power to hobble much of what we’ve accomplished.  The progress we’ve made, and the values that underlie our struggle – freedom, compassion, reason and justice – will be very much at risk when Donald Trump enters the White House.”

The most significant victory was California’s Proposition 64, which legalizes the adult use of marijuana and enacts across-the-board retroactive sentencing reform for marijuana offenses, while establishing a comprehensive, strictly-controlled system to tax and regulate businesses to produce and distribute marijuana in a legal market. Experts are calling Prop. 64 the new “gold standard” for marijuana policy because of its cutting edge provisions to undo the most egregious harms of marijuana prohibition on impacted communities of color and the environment as well as its sensible approaches to public health, youth protection, licensing and revenue allocation.

“With its carefully crafted provisions for helping to heal the damage caused by the war on marijuana to poor communities and people of color, Prop 64 represents the new gold standard for how to legalize marijuana responsibly,” said Lynne Lyman, California state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. “This not only protects youth from accessing marijuana products, it also protects them from being harmed by the criminal justice system. Young people can no longer be arrested for marijuana offenses, which data consistently show us is a primary gateway to the criminal justice system. And with hundreds of thousands of residents eligible to have their records cleared, Prop 64 is a major victory for Californians who care about justice.”

By shifting away from counterproductive marijuana arrests and focusing instead on public health, states that have legalized marijuana are diminishing many of the worst harms of the war on drugs, while managing to raise substantial new revenues. A recent Drug Policy Alliance report found that Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon have benefitted from a dramatic decrease in marijuana arrests and convictions, as well as increased tax revenues, since the adult possession of marijuana became legal.  At the same time, these states did not experience increases in youth marijuana use or traffic fatalities.

Tuesday’s results also have monumental international ramifications, as momentum grows to end marijuana prohibition in Europe and the Americas.  Over the past two years, Jamaica has enacted wide-ranging marijuana decriminalization; Colombia and Puerto Rico issued executive orders legalizing medical marijuana; and medical marijuana initiatives have been debated in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Italy. In 2013, Uruguay became the first country in the world to legalize marijuana on a national level, and Canada’s governing Liberal Party has promised to do the same.

Among the highlights of Tuesday’s results:

  • California voters approved Prop 64, which allows adults 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants at home. The initiative also legalizes the industrial cultivation of hemp. The Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation will be renamed the Bureau of Marijuana Control, and will oversee 19 different licenses for businesses and cultivation. The initiative does not allow large-scale cultivation for the first five years, so small farmers have an advantage. A 15% excise tax on marijuana sales and a cultivation tax will be used to pay for the regulatory structure. Additional revenue will go toward youth substance abuse prevention, medical marijuana research, environmental protection and remediation, and local governments. The initiative also allocates substantial resources toward economic development and job placement for neighborhoods most in need, and creates a system for sentences to be retroactively reduced and past marijuana convictions to be expunged.The Drug Policy Alliance and its lobbying arm, Drug Policy Action, played a key leadership role in the California campaign — co-drafting the initiative, coordinating the political mobilization, social media, public relations and more, and raising over $5 million to fund the effort.
  • Massachusetts voters approved Question 4, allowing adults 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, and grow up to six plants in their home. The initiative establishes a Cannabis Control Commission to oversee the licensing of marijuana retail stores, as well as cultivation, manufacturing, and testing facilities. It enacts a 3.75% excise tax on marijuana sales used to pay for the regulatory structure. Additional revenue will be deposited into Massachusetts’ General Fund. While public consumption of marijuana would not be allowed, if a city or town permits it by vote, this law would allow for the consumption of marijuana on the premises where sold or on a limited basis at special events. The new law provides support for communities disproportionately harmed by the drug war, by requiring the new regulating agency to adopt procedures and policies to promote and encourage full participation in the marijuana industry by people from communities that have previously been disproportionately harmed by marijuana prohibition and enforcement. It also requires the agency to develop policies to positively impact those communities, such as education, job training, and placement programs.  The law also states that a prior conviction solely for a marijuana-related offense will not disqualify an individual from being employed in the newly legal marijuana industry or from getting a license to operate a marijuana business, unless the offense involved distribution to a minor.The Drug Policy Alliance and its lobbying arm, Drug Policy Action, supported this initiative with assistance on the drafting, as well as financial support for the campaign.
  • Maine voters approved Question 1, which allows adults 21 and older to possess up to 2 ½ ounces of marijuana, and grow up to six flowering plants and 12 nonflowering plants. The initiative instructs the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry to regulate and control the cultivation, manufacture, distribution and sale of marijuana.  It also provides for the licensure of retail social clubs where marijuana may be sold for consumption on the premises to adults 21 and older. The initiative enacts a 10% excise tax on marijuana sales that will be deposited into Maine’s General Fund. The Drug Policy Alliance’s lobbying arm, Drug Policy Action, supported Maine’s initiative with financial support for signature collection.
  • Nevada voters approved Question 2, allowing adults 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana. Those who do not live within 25 miles of a retail marijuana store may grow up to six plants in their home. The initiative instructs the Nevada Department of Taxation to oversee the licensing of marijuana retail stores, as well as cultivation, manufacturing, and testing facilities. It also establishes a 15% excise tax on marijuana sales used to fund schools, and the marijuana regulatory structure.  The Drug Policy Alliance and its lobbying arm, Drug Policy Action, supported Nevada’s initiative with assistance on the drafting, as well as financial support for the campaign.
  • A marijuana legalization initiative in Arizona was narrowly defeated. The Arizona opposition raised $1 million from Discount Tire Company and another $500,000 from a pharmaceutical firm that produces the powerful synthetic opioid, fentanyl. Their strategy by and large depended on deceptive messaging designed to stoke fears of change.
  • Florida voters approved Amendment 2, legalizing medical marijuana. The initiative instructs the Department of Health to register and regulate centers that produce and distribute marijuana for medical purposes, and issue identification cards to patients and caregivers. Individuals with cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, PTSD, ALS, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, or other debilitating medical conditions as determined by a physician will be able to purchase and use medical marijuana. Florida requires 60% of the vote to pass – a similar initiative in 2014 was defeated despite winning 57.6% of the vote. The Drug Policy Alliance and its lobbying arm, Drug Policy Action, supported this initiative with assistance on the drafting, as well as financial support for the campaign.
  • Arkansas voters approved the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, Issue 6, will allow seriously ill patients who have a certification from their doctor to obtain medical marijuana from dispensaries. Patients are prohibited from ever cultivating at home. The program is overseen by a new medical marijuana commission and the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control.  Arkansas joins Florida as the first states in the South to approve medical marijuana. DPA’s lobbying arm, Drug Policy Action, provided financial support for the campaign.
  • North Dakota voters approved Measure 5, which legalizes the medical use of marijuana for conditions such as cancer, AIDS, hepatitis C, ALS, glaucoma, and epilepsy, and other debilitating medical conditions. Patients will be permitted to possess up to 3 ounces of marijuana. The initiative instructs the Department of Health to issue ID-cards for qualified patients and regulate non-profit compassion centers which will serve as dispensaries for patients. Individuals living more than 40 miles from a dispensaries will be permitted to grow up to eight plants in their home. DPA’s lobbying arm, Drug Policy Action, provided financial support for the campaign.
  • A Montana medical marijuana measure was approved. In 2004 Montana passed a ballot initiative to allow for the production, possession and use of marijuana by patients with debilitating medical conditions. But the legislature subsequently restricted the medical marijuana law to make it practically unworkable. I-182 would restore Montana’s medical marijuana law to ensure that patients have meaningful access to their medicine. DPA’s lobbying arm, Drug Policy Action, provided financial support for the campaign.

A nationwide Gallup poll released last month found that a record 60 percent of respondents support legalizing marijuana. In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first two U.S. states – and the first two jurisdictions in the world – to approve ending marijuana prohibition and legally regulating marijuana production, distribution and sales. In the 2014 election, Alaska and Oregon followed suit, while Washington D.C. passed a more limited measure that legalized possession and home cultivation of marijuana (but did not address its taxation and sale due to a federal law passed by Congress in 2014 that bars D.C. from pursuing taxation and regulation).  After today’s victories, there are now 28 states with medical marijuana laws, eight of which have also approved legal regulation of marijuana for adults 21 and over.

DPA will hold a teleconference tomorrow (Wednesday) at 12:30pm ET / 9:30am PT to discuss the national implications of today’s votes.


Tommy McDonald, 510-338-8827,
Tony Newman, 646-335-5384,

Source:  Drug Policy Alliance

2016 Is “Biggest Year Ever” for Marijuana Reform, Advocates Say

Sunday, 30 October 2016 00:00By Michael Corcoran, Truthout | Report
Marijuana grows at a legal collective in the hills near Clearlake Oaks, Calif., July 11, 2014. Should any of these ballot initiatives pass, they will be the latest in a 20-year run of progressive reforms on this issue. (Photo: Jason Henry / The New York Times)

Marijuana grows at a legal collective in the hills near Clearlake Oaks, California, July 11, 2014. Should any of these ballot initiatives pass, they will be the latest in a 20-year run of progressive reforms on this issue. (Photo: Jason Henry / The New York Times)

If the unthinkable occurs and Donald Trump is elected president on November 8, residents of a handful of states may soon be able to legally smoke weed to cope.

Legalization of recreational use of marijuana is on the ballot in five states, and medical marijuana laws are up in another four. In legalization states, it may be a clean sweep: recent polls in Arizona, Alaska, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada all show significant public support for legalization, and there is a wide margin of support in some of these states. Support for medical marijuana is strong in Arkansas,Florida and North Dakota, although a ballot question seeking to improve already existing medical marijuana laws in Montana lags in the polls.

This year’s “marijuana election,” as Newsweek described it, comes just four years after Washington and Colorado became the first states to legalize and regulate cannabis and reflects the US’s growing acceptance of marijuana. These developments have advocates optimistic that, as Mike Ludwig reported in 2014, “the end of America’s marijuana prohibition is finally in sight.”

“The 2016 election may be a tipping point for marijuana reform,” said Morgan Fox, a spokesperson for the Marijuana Policy Project in an interview with Truthout. “This is by far the biggest year we have ever seen on this issue.”

Polling on legalizing marijuana has shown strong support for legalization in Arizona (poll done by Arizona Republic/Morrison/Conkite), Alaska (Ivan Moore), Maine (Portland Press Herald), Massachusetts (WBUR) and Nevada (Suffolk University). *A poll released on the same day (Dittman Research) found conflicting information in Alaska (43 support, 53 oppose, 7 undecided). (Credit: Michael Corcoran / Truthout)

Polling on legalizing marijuana has shown strong support for legalization in Arizona (poll done by Arizona Republic/Morrison/Conkite), Alaska (Ivan Moore), Maine (Portland Press Herald), Massachusetts (WBUR) and Nevada (Suffolk University). *A poll released on the same day (Dittman Research) found conflicting information in Alaska (43 support, 53 oppose, 7 undecided). (Credit: Michael Corcoran / Truthout)

California to Colorado: 20 Years of Progress

Should any of these ballot initiatives pass, they will be the latest in a 20-year run of progressive reforms on this issue. The first major victory was in 1996 when California voters passed Proposition 215, legalizing marijuana for medical use for the first time. Since then 24 more states and Washington, DC, have passed similar laws.

Medical marijuana was a stepping stone to other reforms. And in time 20 states decriminalized non-medical cannabis, making possession of small amounts punishable only as a civil offense — like a parking ticket. These changes proved to be very effective, according to the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ).

“As a result [of decriminalization], many fewer young people in the former states are suffering the damages and costs of criminal arrest, prosecution, incarceration, fines, loss of federal aid, and other punishments,” concluded CJCJ’s 2015 study on five states that decriminalized cannabis. “Meanwhile, no harmful consequences appear to be materializing.”

The report, however, concluded that “staggering racial disparities” did not improve even after decriminalization. While decriminalization greatly reduced arrests for marijuana, it did not abolish them; arrests still occur depending on the weight possessed and how the marijuana is packaged, among several other factors. “One particularly striking finding is that post-reform marijuana arrest rates for African Americans across these [decriminalization] states remain considerably higher (251.9) than pre-reform rates for people of all other races (167.7),” the reportconcluded.

The report, in light of these lingering issues, suggested the states “move toward full legalization.” And, as the 2012 election showed, legalization is where the movement is headed.

“The Sky Hasn’t Fallen”: Two Case Studies in Legalization

The legalization of marijuana in the states of Colorado and Washington was obviously a watershed moment for the movement to end prohibition. But more than that, these first states also functioned as valuable case studies showing the potential impacts of legalization. The results have debunked the doomsday scenarios predicted by the opposition.

“I would say that the rollout was extremely smooth: the sky hasn’t fallen like some had predicted, and we’re moving forward and trying to fine-tune this regulatory model,” said Ron Kammerzell, the director of enforcement at the Colorado Department of Revenue, in an interview with Vox. This quote is proudly shared byadvocates of yes votes in states where legalization is on the 2016 ballot.

As the Marijuana Policy Project reported in a July 2016 study, marijuana cases in Colorado plummeted 77 percent, eliminating a lot of wasted time and money. Meanwhile, the industry created almost 30,000 jobs, especially since retail saleslocations opened in 2014 and tourism boomed. In 2015 Forbes named Denver as the best city in America for “business and careers.”

Furthermore, while many opponents of legalization have argued that it would increase drug use among children, trends suggest otherwise. A 2016 study from theWashington School of Medicine has concluded that “rates of marijuana use by young people are falling despite the fact more U.S. states are legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana use and the number of adults using the drug has increased.”

What is arguably most inviting to voters is the tax revenue that has been collected. The Tax Foundation reported in 2016 that “Marijuana tax collections in Colorado and Washington have exceeded initial estimates.” Colorado collected over $135 million in fees and taxes from marijuana businesses, including $35 million that was earmarked for school construction. Washington State, likewise, is expected to collect$270 million annually in revenue from taxes on marijuana. Given that these laws were passed in the aftermath of the Great Recession when states suffered from depleted tax bases and huge budget shortfalls, this added revenue is especially important.

Marijuana and the Political Establishment

While marijuana advocates are thrilled about recent developments, it is worth noting that these citizens are winning despite a political and media establishment that is “way behind the public on this issue,” as Fox told Truthout. “Many politicians are still afraid of being considered ‘soft on drugs,'” he said.

In Massachusetts, for instance, the most powerful politicians in both major parties oppose the referendum, including the governor and the mayor of Boston. In Florida, which must meet a 60 percent threshold to pass the medical marijuana ballot initiative, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) just filed a lawsuit against a county election supervisor for allegedly leaving the medical marijuana question off the ballots in Broward country.

On the federal level marijuana is still illegal, with the White House’s website devoting a sizable section to express opposition to legalization. It is worth noting, however, that the presidential candidates are more open to reforming marijuana laws than many politicians on the state level. The Marijuana Policy Project grades each candidate for president, and gave Hillary Clinton a B+ for saying that reforms in the states for both medical marijuana and recreational use “need to be supported.” Trump has given conflicting statements and received a C+. Both Jill Stein and Gary Johnson have As.

The Return of “Reefer Madness”?

The 80th anniversary of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, the first law to prohibit marijuana in the United States, will come in October 2017. The law was passed after Henry J. Anslinger’s absurd and openly racist campaign, “Reefer Madness,” which alleged marijuana was a “burning weed with roots in hell,” that could cause one tokill their own family members.

The campaign was so bizarre — and unintentionally hilarious — that the Reefer Madness film has a cult following. Yet, in 2016 one can still watch prime-time cable news and hear almost identical ruminations. In 2014 Nancy Grace famously said“people on pot” “shoot,” “kill” and “strangle” each other, and even “kill whole families.” This kind of language is almost identical to the absurdities expressed in the Anslinger days.

Of course, Grace does represent the extremes. CNN’s Sanjay Gupta, for example,reversed his past opposition to medical marijuana in 2013 and now calls for a “medical marijuana revolution.” Still, even “serious” commentators, like The New York Times’ David Brooks, argue that states that legalize marijuana are “nurturing a moral ecology in which it is a bit harder to be the sort of person most of us want to be.” And Brooks, like so many other opponents of legalizing marijuana, does so without even trying to reconcile opposition to a drug that is non-fatal and relatively benign, with his acceptance of legal alcohol, which is potentially fatal and far more dangerous.

Despite Marijuana Reform, Drug War Rages On

Whatever the trajectory of marijuana laws, it cannot be forgotten that it is just one sliver of a much larger injustice: the country’s failed “War on Drugs.” This war rages on — with complicity from the Obama White House — at a steep price to our country, and especially to people of color, who face institutionalized racism at every level of the criminal justice system. Every year well over a million Americans are arrested for drug offenses, often resulting in life-long consequences, including, in many states,losing the right to vote.

“Any changes in the war on drugs will require continued organizing and agitation, because history has shown that one step forward has also resulted in two steps back [for] communities of color,” David Simon, creator of HBO’s “The Wire,” told In These Times in 2013. “Changing the laws in two states, while a step forward, does not cut off the legs of this broader system.”

But since then, Oregon and Washington, DC have legalized marijuana. The 2016 election offers the chance for voters to take the biggest step toward ending marijuana prohibition in the nation’s history. It is possible that by 2017, eight states (plus DC) could be added to the list. And the momentum seems likely to continue into the future. Efforts for more ballot questions in 2018 are already under way.

Copyright, Reprinted with permission

Alaska opens up!

Alaska made history and opened it’s very first legal Cannabis shop today!

Alaska’s first marijuana retailer opens to throngs of customers

By Yvette C. Hammett

VALDEZ, Alaska, Oct. 30 (UPI) — They weren’t giving away marijuana, but that didn’t stop dozens from lining up hours in advance for the opening of Alaska’s first pot shop on Saturday.

Residents of Valdez are calling their community “the highest little town at sea level,” KTVA reported.

People in Alaska see the opening of Herbal Outfitters as a historic event in their state.

Mike Holcombe was chosen to be the first inside the shop, and called the moment “monumental.”

“I didn’t think it would happen in my lifetime that it would be legalized,” Holcombe said of his opportunity to purchase marijuana legally. “I’ve been waiting 46 years for pot to be legal.”

It was worth the wait, said those who braved the chill and drizzling rain to encircle the store’s entrance.

“We wanted to be part of the crowd that bought the first legal weed in Alaska,” Christopher Front told The Alaska Journal. He traveled from Anchorage with his wife Hannah and dog, Daisy.

“She wanted to be the first dog,” he added.

Herbal Outfitter manager Derek Morris said he was as surprised as anyone to learn the first shop would open in Valdez instead of in Anchorage or Fairbanks.

“We never anticipated that we’d be the first legal sale,” Morris said. “That’s still a little bit of a shock to us.”

Valdez’s previous claim to fame was as the site of the infamous Exxon Valdez oil spill. That spill funneled federal disaster relief funding into Alaska when it was undergoing an oil-driven economic recession, similar to the one Alaska has now, only worse.

Now, it is part of an industry raking in hundreds of millions of dollars in Colorado, Oregon and Washington.




Support for Legal Marijuana Use Up to 60% in U.S.

by Art Swift


  • Highest percentage of support recorded in 47-year trend
  • Favoring legalization is up among all age groups in the past decade
  • Large majorities of Democrats, independents favor legalization

WASHINGTON, D.C. — With voters in several states deciding this fall whether to legalize the use of marijuana, public support for making it legal has reached 60% — its highest level in Gallup’s 47-year trend.

Americans' Views on Legalizing Marijuana

Marijuana use is currently legal in four states and the District of Columbia, and legalization measures are on the ballot in five more — California, Arizona, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada — this November. As a result, the percentage of Americans living in states where pot use is legal could rise from the current 5% to as much as 25% if all of these ballot measures pass.

When Gallup first asked this question in 1969, 12% of Americans supported the legalization of marijuana use. In the late 1970s, support rose to 28% but began to retreat in the 1980s during the era of the “Just Say No” to drugs campaign. Support stayed in the 25% range through 1995, but increased to 31% in 2000 and has continued climbing since then.

In 2013, support for legalization reached a majority for the first time after Washington and Colorado became the first states to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Since then, a majority of Americans have continued to say they think the use of marijuana should be made legal.

Today’s 60% is statistically similar to the previous high of 58% reached in 2013 and 2015, so it is unclear whether support has stabilized or is continuing to inch higher.

Support Up From a Decade Ago Among All Age Groups

Support for legalizing marijuana use has increased among most subgroups in the past decade, but more so among certain groups than others. For example, support is up 33 percentage points to 77% among adults aged 18 to 34, while it is up 16 points among adults aged 55 and older to 45%.

Support for the Legalization of Marijuana, by Age Group
2003 and 2005 2016
% %
National adults 35 60
18-34 44 77
35-54 35 61
55+ 29 45
Note: Analysis combines data from 2003 and 2005 because each survey asked the question of a half-sample of respondents

Democrats and Independents Soar to Majorities Favoring Legalization

Additionally, support is up more among independents and Democrats than it is among Republicans, partly because of the older age skew of the last group. Seventy percent of independents and 67% of Democrats support legal pot use, a major increase since the combined survey of 2003 and 2005 when 46% of independents and 38% of Democrats supported the idea. While less than a majority of members in any political party backed legalizing marijuana in 2003 and 2005, Democrats and independents have fueled the recent nationwide surge in support.

Support for the Legalization of Marijuana, by Political Party
2003 and 2005 2016
% %
National adults 35 60
Republicans 20 42
Independents 46 70
Democrats 38 67
Note: Analysis combines data from 2003 and 2005 because each survey asked the question of a half-sample of respondents

Republicans’ support has doubled from more than a decade ago, yet only 42% of GOP members now support legal marijuana use.

Bottom Line

If recreational marijuana use becomes legal in California this year, many other states will likely follow, because the “Golden State” often sets political trends for the rest of the U.S. As more states legalize marijuana, the question of whether the drug should be legal may become when it will be legal. The transformation in public attitudes about marijuana over the past half-century has mirrored the liberalization of public attitudes about gay rights and the same-sex-marriage movement, the latter of which the U.S. Supreme Court deemed legal last year. It is possible that it might take a Supreme Court case to settle this matter, too.

Historical data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Oct. 5-9, 2016, with a random sample of 1,017 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 60% cellphone respondents and 40% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View survey methodology, complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.


Source: Gallup

So Far, So Good: What We Know About Marijuana Legalization in Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Oregon and Washington, D.C.

In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first two U.S. states – and the first two jurisdictions in the world – to approve ending marijuana prohibition and legally regulating marijuana production, distribution and sales. In the 2014 election, Alaska and Oregon followed suit, while Washington D.C. passed a more limited measure that legalized possession and home cultivation of marijuana (but did not address its taxation and sale due to D.C. law).

The report’s key findings include:

  • Marijuana arrests have plummeted in the states that legalized marijuana, although disproportionate enforcement of marijuana crimes against black people continues.
  • Statewide surveys of youth in Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon found that there were no significant increases in youth marijuana use post-legalization.
  • Tax revenues in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon have all exceeded initial revenue estimates, totaling $552 million.
  • Legalization has not led to more dangerous road conditions, as traffic fatality rates have remained stable in Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon.

Read the report here.


These 5 industries are the reason why marijuana is still illegal

We’ve seen some big, public pushes for marijuana policy reform from certain legislators and pro-marijuana organizations in recent years. But we hear less from the other side —  the groups fighting to keep marijuana illegal. That’s probably because these anti-marijuana lobby groups are interested in preserving the War on Drugs for their own financial interests.

Here are the top 5 anti-marijuana lobby groups:

1. Pharmaceutical corporations

Pharmaceutical companies stand to lose a lot of market share if marijuana is legalized because cannabis would offer a cheap, safe alternative to their products, according to Republic Report.

Howard Wooldridge, a retired police officer who now lobbies the government to relax marijuana prohibition laws, told Republic Report that next to police unions, the “second biggest opponent on Capitol Hill is big PhRMA” because marijuana can replace “everything from Advil to Vicodin and other expensive pills.”

Drug manufacturers gave nearly $21.8 million to various federal candidates and committees as well as the parties in the 2012 elections. And in 2013 alone PhRMA spent nearly $18 million on lobbying, according to OpenSecrets.

2. Police unions

Police unions donate heavily to anti-legalization efforts, probably because ending the War on Drugs would translate to decreased police funding.

Ending marijuana prohibition would not only disrupt federal awards to police departments ($2.4 billion in 2014), it would also cut into marijuana-related asset forfeitures, as reported by The Nation’s Lee Fang.

But this is how Jim Pasco, the executive director of The National Fraternal Order of Police, defends the pushback against marijuana legalization efforts, as reported byPolitico:

“The sentiment within the law enforcement community, which has to deal with the effects of addictive drugs, is that we’re not going to sit on our hands and watch these people misrepresent.”

“The country is going to hell in a handbasket. … People are worried about their Social Security and health care, and these people are worried about getting high.”

3. Private prison corporations

Private prisons are another industry that would obviously be disrupted by legalizing marijuana.

Fewer people being sentenced for marijuana crimes translates directly into fewer bodies private prison corporations can reap incarceration profits from.

OpenSecrets reports that the two largest private prison operators, Corrections Corporation of America and GEO, have been lobbying heavily against policies that would reduce incarceration. Corrections Corporation of America has spent at least $970,000 a year on lobbying since 2008, and GEO has spent anywhere from $250,000 to $660,000 a year on lobbying.

According to The Intercept, private prison companies aren’t just funding conservative politicians’ campaigns, they’re also contributing to campaigns for perceived progressive politicians, like 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

4. Prison guard unions

States that legalize marijuana are more likely to see declines in prison populations, which will reduce the need for the government to utilize private prison companies and correctional officers, according to OpenSecrets.

For example, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association gave $1 million to the campaign that successfully defeated Proposition 5 in 2008, which would have reduced parole sentencing for nonviolent drug offenders as well as emphasizing drug treatment and rehabilitation programs as an alternative to incarceration.

Another politically active labor union representing many prison guards and donating to the campaign against drug reform is the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

More from OpenSecrets:

In the 2012 campaign cycle AFSCME gave more than $13 million to candidates, parties and committees at the federal level. In 2013, AFSCME spent almost $2.7 million on lobbying efforts.

5. Alcohol and beer companies

Alcohol interests are lobbying to keep marijuana illegal because they just don’t want the competition for Americans’ leisure spending, according to Republic Report.

For example, the California Beer & Beverage Distributors contributed $10,000 in campaign contributions to a committee working to prevent Proposition 19, which would have legalized and taxed marijuana, from passing back in 2010, as reported by LA Weekly. Needless to say, Proposition 19 failed to pass.


Source:  Extract

Congress Turning a New Leaf on Marijuana

Burgeoning business in states with legal sales sparks momentum for reform

Just two years ago, pot lobbyist Michael Collins was a pariah on Capitol Hill.

Marijuana reform was too much of a risk.

Lawmakers wouldn’t meet with him.

Not anymore.

“I’ve got offices reaching out to me,” said Collins, the deputy director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, a nonprofit group that supports the legalization of marijuana. “It’s definitely a big change.”

Marijuana-related legislation was on a fast track to nowhere until 2014. That was the year Republicans and Democrats alike approved a measure that kept federal authorities from interfering in states that allowed marijuana use for medical purposes.

Since then, both houses of Congress have seen a flood of similar proposals.

Lobbyists, policy experts and lawmakers who spoke to Roll Call said the trajectory is clear: Congress is leaning toward decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level — and it’s going to happen soon.

That could happen as early as the next Congress, to some time within the next 10 years.

To be sure, there are still many skeptics and stalwart opponents to the idea.

Kevin Sabet, a drug policy adviser in three presidential administrations, including Obama’s, said reform advocates have worked for decades to create the sense that legalization is inevitable.

“They have said it so many times that some of them probably believe it,” he said. “I don’t think that it’s the case at all.”

Sabet is the co-founder of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, an organization that compiles arguments against legalization. He said several high-profile Democrats also have reservations about legalization, including Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and California Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

But members of Congress today face a different political reality. More states are likely to legalize marijuana soon. That will make it harder for other states to keep it out.

Much like the gay marriage movement, the momentum to legalize marijuana is driven by pressure at the state level. Four states and the District of Columbia have legalized the sale of recreational marijuana by a popular vote, and an additional 25 allow medical marijuana or have decriminalized possession, according to the Tax Foundation, a nonprofit tax policy research organization.

That puts the number of states without some form of legalization in the minority.

This fall, nine states are voting on marijuana-related ballot measures, more than ever before. Five of those nine measures, including one in the political bellwether of California, would legalize full recreational use.

The new state laws are a direct challenge to the federal stance on the drug.

Federal law bans the medical use of marijuana and most research. The sale, possession and cultivation of marijuana is a federal crime.

“This is the year that the issue crests,” said Oregon Democratic Rep Earl Blumenauer, a longtime advocate for legalization. “When several or more of these pass, the floodgates will open.”

Pushing pot

Already, legal marijuana has created a burgeoning industry with its accompanying lobbyists and millions of dollars in tax revenue, in spite of confusing and often contradictory state and federal regulations.

For now, marijuana growing and distribution is mostly a mom-and-pop operation. But larger businesses with political clout are ever more likely to get in on the action.

The Takoma Wellness Center, a tightly regulated medical dispensary, is one of a handful of marijuana-related businesses operating in Washington, D.C. It’s among thousands of similar businesses across the nation that are resolutely pushing pot into the American mainstream.

This distinctly herbal-smelling office suite is a few blocks from a soon-to-open Starbucks coffee shop. Clients who have been referred by a doctor and approved by the District’s department of health can browse dozens of strains of locally grown buds with names like Merry N’Berry, a pun on the name of D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, who, as a councilmember, led the decriminalization movement in the District.

Owners Stephanie and Jeffrey Kahn run the business with their son and daughter-in-law. Stephanie is a nurse and former hospital administrator. Jeffrey is a rabbi.

They pointedly follow federal regulations that apply to patient rights, even though the product they sell is technically against federal law.

Banks shy away from businesses like theirs. Unable to get a bank account or accept credit cards, transactions are cash-only. That, Jeffrey Kahn said, makes them feel like “drug traffickers.”

Voters have approved recreational use in the District, but Congress has used appropriations bills to effectively ban general sales. So some competitors have tried providing it as a gift with an unrelated purchase, or in exchange for a “donation.”

“I’m sure it’s the total antithesis of what Congress wanted to do,” Stephanie Kahn said.

Five to six times a day, the Kahns must turn away people from other states.

“They call us and often write tear-provoking emails about their stories and all we can say is we are not permitted by law to serve anyone other than D.C. residents with department of health-issued medical marijuana calls — and that breaks my heart,” Stephanie Kahn said.

A legal disconnect

The disconnect between local and federal regulations is also felt keenly by their clients.

Meredith Bower, 39, was an occasional recreational user until a car accident 10 years ago that almost killed her. Her recovery left her with titanium throughout her body, an amputated lower leg and the chronic sensation that her missing foot is being crushed.

Marijuana helps more than narcotics and has allowed her to cut her opioid use in half, she said. But it is not covered by insurance and costs exponentially more.

Without medical research to guide her, she has relied on trial and error to determine what dosages and strains keep her pain at bay but still allow her to function.

“This is really like the Wild, Wild West right now, and we’re all fumbling through it,” she said.

Businesses like the Kahns’ have provided a raft of anecdotes for lawmakers and reform advocates.

Americans spent $5.7 billion on legal medical and recreational marijuana in 2015, up from $4.6 billion the previous year, according to Arcview Market Research. The group projected sales to top $22 billion by 2020.

Tax revenues in states with legal adult use have exceeded estimates. In Colorado, for example, revenues have grown every year since retail sales began in 2014. They are on track to exceed $140 million in 2016 — more than double original estimates of $70 million, according to the Tax Foundation.

Studies have found that painkiller use and abuse has fallen in states with legalized pot.

And polls consistently show that a majority of Americans support legalization: 58 percent said so in a 2015 Gallup poll, up from 36 percent in 2005.

Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican House member from California and a legalization advocate, said such statistics are bound to increase the number of conservatives in Congress voting for reform measures.

Others have been convinced by arguments that Congress should not interfere with democratically approved measures in the states, he and other observers said.

“More Republicans are beginning to understand that, at least on medical marijuana, they are totally out of sync with their constituents,” Rohrabacher said.

Rep. Andy Harris is often described in the media as one of Congress’s biggest foes of legalized pot. But this summer, the Maryland Republican co-sponsored a bill, with Rohrabacher and California Democrat Sam Farr, to facilitate medical research on the drug.

Harris said that he remains a staunch opponent of legalization but believes that conducting more research is “a common-sense approach.”

He said he believes opposition in Congress and the states will increase if research shows that marijuana is not the most effective treatment for most medical conditions.

“We need to take a hard look at whether it’s a good idea to legalize marijuana,” he said. “I’ve taken a look at it, and I’ve realized it’s not worth the risk.”

Sabet, the Obama administration drug policy consultant, said proponents like to focus on the medical argument because that’s an easier sell. In reality, he said, businesses — and the well-financed lobbyists that represent them — are looking for a bigger market that includes recreational users.

“This isn’t about medical marijuana,” he said.  “It’s about money.”

A sea change

Lawmakers in favor of marijuana reform have been proposing bills to that effect since 1995, but never with the expectation that they would accomplish anything beyond forcing their colleagues to put their stance on the controversial issue on the record, Rohrabacher and other members said. Most never made it out of committee.

The medical marijuana legislation first proposed in 2007 by Rohrabacher and former New York Democratic Rep. Maurice D. Hinchey was no different.

That first year, it failed by a vote of 165-262. It failed again the next five years, but every year the number of lawmakers who voted yes inched up.

By 2014, Farr had signed on as a co-sponsor. He was sitting on the House floor, watching the vote tally, when he realized that the medical marijuana amendment to the appropriations bill would pass, he said.

“At first I thought it was all a mistake,” he said. “Did people realize what they were voting on? Was it some other bill?”

The amendment passed 219-189. It remained in the omnibus bill that passed both houses of Congress and was signed into law by President Obama.

The Drug Enforcement Administration ignored the amendment and continued to prosecute patients and providers in California until a federal court ordered it to stop.

The amendment, which must be renewed annually, has passed with increasing support from both Houses every year since then.

It has also been joined by dozens of bills and resolutions addressing other aspects of federal prohibition. Twenty-seven pieces of legislation reference the drug so far this term. That’s the highest number by far for any Congress, going back at least to 1997.

“I think Congress is ready to take more steps,” Farr said. “I think it could break in the next session.”

In the Senate, Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky and Democrats Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York proposed the first marijuana reform bill in 2015. The bill, called the CARERS (Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States) Act, now has a bipartisan group of 19 co-sponsors.

That bill would increase federal protections for medical marijuana users in states where it is legal, remove many of the restrictions on medical research on the drug, allow VA doctors to recommend marijuana to patients in states where it is legal, and reform federal banking laws to allow banks to do business with pot providers.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, who has likened marijuana to heroin, has not allowed the bill to have a hearing in the Judiciary Committee.

Both houses of Congress this spring approved amendments to a spending bill that would have allowed Veterans Health Administration doctors to authorize medical marijuana use for patients. The amendment was stripped from the bill in conference.

“We’re now at a stage where there are almost too many pieces of legislation out there,” said Collins, the lobbyist from the Drug Policy Alliance.

John Hudak, who studies marijuana policy at the Brookings Institution, cautioned that recent Congresses have struggled to pass even routine legislation. But he noted that support for legislative changes has grown dramatically, particularly for changes in tax and banking restrictions that have hampered businesses in states where it is legal.

“If you talk to lobbyists, members of Congress, they’ll tell you those issues are the easy sells,” he said. “If legal businesses are going to continue, they have to be able to function properly. Those are two issues we’ll see the first real movement on in the coming years.”

Source: Roll Call