New Bill Would End Federal War on Marijuana

February 8th, 2017 by Tom Angell

A bipartisan group of seven Republicans and six Democrats filed new Congressional legislation that would protect people who are acting in compliance with state marijuana laws from federal prosecution and punishment.

Titled the “Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2017,” the bill adds a new provision to the Controlled Substances Act that reads:

“Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the provisions of this subchapter related to marihuana shall not apply to any person acting in compliance with State laws relating to the production, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration, or delivery of marihuana.”

In a lengthy floor speech announcing the bill, chief sponsor Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) argued that the legislation falls in line with the principles of limited government and states’ rights that so many in his party profess to value:

“My bill would then make sure that Federal law is aligned with the States’ and the people in those States’ desires so that the residents and businesses wouldn’t have to worry about Federal prosecution. For those few States that have thus far maintained a policy of strict prohibition, my bill would change nothing. I think that this is a reasonable compromise that places the primary responsibility of police powers back in the States and the local communities that are most directly affected.”

“I happen to believe that the Federal Government shouldn’t be locking up anyone for making a decision of what he or she should privately consume, whether that person is rich or poor, and we should never be giving people the excuse, especially Federal authorities, that they have a right to stop people or intrude into their lives in order to prevent them and prevent others from smoking a weed, consuming something they personally want to consume.”

Rohrabacher, who ardently supported Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign and was reportedly considered as a possible secretary of state nominee, cited the new president’s pledges to respect state marijuana laws.

The California congressman then gave a bit of a history lesson, likening current federal policy impeding state laws to the British monarchy that U.S. founding fathers rebelled against, and comparing marijuana criminalization to the earlier failed prohibition of alcohol.

Turning one marijuana stereotype on its head, he decried the federal government’s “paranoia” regarding the truth about marijuana as evidenced by the DEA’s longstanding efforts to block research on its medical benefits.

And referencing the increasingly contentious debate about health care reform, Rohrabacher said:

“Remember, as we discuss people’s health care, Republicans over and over again say: You shouldn’t get in between a doctor and his patient. We believe in the doctor-patient relationship. That is true for medical marijuana as well. Do we believe in these principles?”

The new bill is the fourth piece of marijuana reform legislation to be introduced in the 115th Congress.

It is is identical to a bill Rohrabacher and others filed in the last Congress, which ended up garnering 20 co-sponsors but did not receive a hearing or a vote.

 Source:  MassRoots

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

First Look at New Marijuana Bills in Congress


Two new bills to reform federal marijuana laws were just introduced in Congress, and MassRoots has an exclusive first look at the proposals.

Both sponsored by Congressman Morgan Griffith (R-VA), H.R. 714 and H.R. 715 would reschedule cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

The first bill, also known as the Legitimate Use of Medicinal Marijuana Act (LUMA), would simply move cannabis from its status under Schedule I — the most restrictive drug category under federal law — to Schedule II. It would also ensure that provisions of the CSA would not “prohibit or otherwise restrict” state-authorized use, possession, transportation, production and distribution of medical marijuana.

The second bill, the Compassionate Access Act, is broader in scope, and is cosponsored by Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR). It also reschedules marijuana but doesn’t mandate a move to Schedule II specifically, leaving the door open for cannabis to be placed even lower in the CSA.

The bill also excludes cannabidiol (CBD) from the federal definition of marijuana, specifying that it is not to be treated as a controlled substance. Like LUMA, the legislation includes protections for state-authorized medical marijuana activities, but it adds further language covering parents or guardians of minors who are authorized patients and also has a provision covering marijuana testing labs.

Additionally, the legislation requires the Department of Justice to move authority for access to research-grade cannabis “to an agency of the Executive Branch that is not focused on researching the addictive properties of substances.” That’s a thinly-veiled dig at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which currently has such authority but has been repeatedly criticized for favoring studies on marijuana’s potential harms instead of its medical benefits.

The bill specifies that research done in accordance with state laws can be taken into account for future rescheduling decisions even if those studies did not use cannabis from federally-approved sources.

Both of Griffith’s new bills use the federally-loaded word “prescription” to qualify the type of state-legal medical marijuana activities that are protected, but define the term to mean “an instruction written by a medical physician in accordance with applicable State law,” indicating that current medical cannabis recommendations in accordance with state programs would likely qualify.

“There are countless reports of marijuana’s medicinal benefits in treating conditions including cancer, epilepsy and glaucoma,” Griffith said in a statement. “It is time to research this further, and, where legal, to allow real doctors and real pharmacists to prescribe or dispense marijuana for legitimate medical reasons for real patients.”

Blumenauer added, “For too long our federal marijuana policies have failed the American people. It’s past time for a change. The Compassionate Access Act will bring us closer to making sure federal law does not get in the way of doctors, researchers and business owners working to provide safer access to patients.”

Neither bill has yet been scheduled for a hearing or a vote.

These are the second and third pieces of marijuana legislation introduced so far in the new 115th Congress. The first was a proposal from Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA), in partnership with Blumenauer and a handful of other members, to protect properties and assets from being seized by the federal government just because they are involved with state-legal medical cannabis activities.

Many more marijuana bills are expected to be introduced on Capitol Hill in the coming weeks, and we’ll be here to keep you informed as details emerge.

 Source:  MassRoots

Trump’s Supreme Court Pick On Marijuana

February 1st, 2017 by Tom Angell

Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s pick for the U.S. Supreme Court, has issued a few interesting marijuana rulings over the years.

But Gorsuch, currently a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, hasn’t ever given a clear indication of how he’d rule on big cases about conflicts between state and federal marijuana laws that might arrive before the Supreme Court in the coming years.

In 2015 case, he ruled against a Colorado marijuana dispensary, saying that it must comply with IRS orders to disclose information about its operations.

While the case didn’t directly concern questions about the right of states to set their own cannabis laws, Gorsuch did offer some commentary on the uncertainty caused by continued federal prohibition:

“This case owes its genesis to the mixed messages the federal government is sending these days about the distribution of marijuana…

“[O]fficials at the Department of Justice have now twice instructed field prosecutors that they should generally decline to enforce Congress’s statutory command when states like Colorado license operations like THC. At the same time and just across 10th Street in Washington, D.C., officials at the IRS refuse to recognize business expense deductions claimed by companies like THC on the ground that their conduct violates federal criminal drug laws.

“So it is that today prosecutors will almost always overlook federal marijuana distribution crimes in Colorado but the tax man never will.”

In the opinion, Gorsuch seemed to take the federal government to task for in effect having contradictory positions on whether the marijuana store would be incriminating itself by describing its operations:

“Yes, the Fifth Amendment normally shields individuals from having to admit to criminal activity. But, the IRS argued, because DOJ’s memoranda generally instruct federal prosecutors not to prosecute cases like this one the petitioners should be forced to divulge the requested information anyway. So it is the government simultaneously urged the court to take seriously its claim that the petitioners are violating federal criminal law and to discount the possibility that it would enforce federal criminal law.”

He also raised questions about the protections that Obama-era enforcement memos ultimately provide for state-legal marijuana activities, writing, “[I]t’s not clear whether informal agency memoranda guiding the exercise of prosecutorial discretion by field prosecutors may lawfully go quite so far in displacing Congress’s policy directives as these memoranda seek to do. There’s always the possibility, too, that the next…Deputy Attorney General could displace these memoranda at anytime…”

In separate case, in 2010, Gorsuch ruled that a husband and wife charged with cannabis sales offenses couldn’t cite the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as a defense because, he said, they weren’t sincere in their claims that the cannabis was for legally protected spiritual purposes:

“[N]umerous pieces of evidence in this case strongly suggest that the [couple’s] marijuana dealings were motivated by commercial or secular motives rather than sincere religious conviction…

“[T]he record contains additional, overwhelming contrary evidence that the [couple was] running a commercial marijuana business with a religious front.”

In a 2013 case, Gorsuch took the position that what ended up being the fatal use of a taser by a police officer against someone fleeing a marijuana arrest was “reasonable”:

“[T]he illegal processing and manufacturing of marijuana may not be inherently violent crimes but, outside the medical marijuana context, they were felonies under Colorado law at the time of the incident… And Officer Harris testified, without rebuttal, that he had been trained that people who grow marijuana illegally tend to be armed and ready to use force to protect themselves and their unlawful investments.”

Shortly after Trump’s announcement on Tuesday night that he’d picked Gorsuch to fill the seat vacated by the late Antonin Scalia, the National Urban League tweeted its concern about the taser case in particular:

As demonstrated in the 2015 tax case against the dispensary, Gorsuch seem to be aware that the gap between federal and state marijuana laws is growing unsustainable.

But he hasn’t yet revealed much about his views on the power and ability of states to enact laws that require local officials to grant licenses for, and collect tax revenue from, activities that are in contradiction with the federal Controlled Substances Act.

Perhaps that’s something that members of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee will ask about when they hold confirmation hearings on his nomination in the coming weeks.

 Source:  MassRoots