President Barack Obama signed spending legislation into law on Tuesday that includes provisions limiting the Justice Department’s ability to take criminal action against state-licensed individuals or operations that are acting are in full compliance with the medical marijuana laws of their states.
Specifically, an amendment sponsored by California Reps. Dana Rohrbacher and Sam Farr to the $1.1 trillion spending bill states, “None of the funds made available in this act to the Department of Justice may be used … to prevent … states … from implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.”
Said Farr following Congress’ passage of the legislation: “The federal government will finally respect the decisions made by the majority of states that passed medical marijuana laws. This is great day for common sense because now our federal dollars will be spent more wisely on prosecuting criminals and not sick patients.”
Similar language prohibiting the Justice Department from undermining state-sanctioned hemp cultivation programs was also included in the bill.
Also contained in the appropriations measure is a rider sponsored by Maryland Republican Andy Harris that seeks to limit DC officials’ ability to fully implement a November 2014 municipal initiative depenalizing the personal adult possession and cultivation of cannabis. At this time however, it remains unclear whether the enacted language is written in a manner that can actually do so. On Saturday, The Washington Post reported that DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson “plans to ignore the provision” and that he will “send a bill implementing Initiative 71 to Congress in January for a 30-day review, during which federal lawmakers can veto it or let it stand.” Such a review is necessary before any DC initiative can become law.
Washington DC’s Initiative 71, which was approved by 70 percent of District voters, removes criminal and civil penalties regarding the adult possession of up to two ounces of cannabis and/or the cultivation of up to six plants.
In a completely unexpected move by the Obama Administration, the US Department of Justice released a memo on October 28 indicating to Native American tribes that they can engage in cannabis commerce–cultivation, processing and retail sales–as long as they comport with the existing eight rules put forward in a previous August 2013 Obama Administration memo allowing states the autonomy to develop cannabis-based businesses in states where voters have passed binding ballot initiatives or elected policymakers have passed reform legislation.
- Distribution of marijuana to minors
- Revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, gangs and cartels
- Diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal to states where it remains illegal
- State-authorized marijuana activity being used as a cover for trafficking other illegal drugs or activity
- Violence or the use of firearms as part of cultivation and distribution of marijuana
- Drugged driving or the exacerbation of other negative health consequences associated with marijuana use
- Growing marijuana on public lands
- Marijuana possession or use on federal property
US News writes that “there are 326 federally recognized American Indian reservations, according to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Many reservations are in states that don’t allow marijuana for medical or recreational use, such as Oklahoma, Utah and the Dakotas. Others are located near major East Coast cities and far from legal pot stores in the West.
“The tribes have the sovereign right to set the code on their reservations,” U.S. attorney for North Dakota Timothy Purdon, chairman of the Attorney General’s Subcommittee on Native American Issues, told the Times.
In a statement, the Department of Justice said U.S. attorneys will review tribal marijuana policies on a case-by-case basis and that prosecutors retain the right to enforce federal law.
“Each U.S. attorney will assess the threats and circumstances in his or her district, and consult closely with tribal partners and the Justice Department when significant issues or enforcement decisions arise in this area,” the statement says.
Read the DOJ memo allowing Native American tribes to regulate cannabis-related businesses here.
A detailed map of Native American tribes is found here.
As written, the rider seeks to restrict the District from utilizing federal or local funds to “to enact or carry out any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801 et seq.) or any tetrahydrocannabinols derivative.” A summary of the provision posted on the House Appropriations Committee website acknowledges that the language is intended to prevent any funds from being used to “implement a referendum legalizing recreational marijuana use in the District.”
Washington DC’s Initiative 71 was approved by over 70 percent of District voters in November. The initiative seeks to legalize the adult possession of up to two ounces of marijuana and cultivation of three mature and three immature plants.
“This rider is an affront to the concept of democracy,” commented NORML Communications Director Erik Altieri, “Seven out of ten voters in Washington, DC cast their ballot in favor of ending prohibition and legalizing the adult possession and limited cultivation of marijuana, this attempt by members of Congress to flout the will of the people is a gross injustice to these voters and to the democratic system.”
The House will vote on the final version of the omnibus bill in the next couple days and then it must be approved by the Senate. This rider has no impact on the District’s current decriminalization or medicinal marijuana policies. NORML will keep you updated as the situation develops and what precisely this means for legalization in the nation’s capital.
Six out of ten voters believe that states, not the federal government, should authorize and enforce marijuana policy, according to national polling data reported this week by the Washington, DC think-tank Third Way.
When presented with the option, 60 percent of respondents said that state officials ought to possess the authority to “control and decide whether to legalize marijuana.” Only 34 percent of those polled said that the federal government ought to enforce marijuana laws.
Similarly, a super-majority of voters (67 percent) agreed, “Congress should pass a bill giving states that have legalized marijuana a safe haven from federal marijuana laws, so long as they have a strong regulatory system.”
Overall, 50 percent of voters said that they support legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes while 47 percent opposed the notion. However, among those opposed to legalization, 21 percent endorsed the idea of Congress providing a “safe haven” from federal prohibition in those states that have chosen to legalize the plant’s use and sale.
“The fact that state legalization of marijuana violates federal law and creates an untenable policy situation was clear – and the voters we polled responded not with ideological proclamations but by supporting a middle-ground, pragmatic policy which would ease that conflict as the legal landscape continues to quickly shift,” representatives for the think-tank stated in a media release. “This means marijuana is not an issue of absolutes for many Americans – rather, it requires a nuanced balancing of values and interests.”
Nationwide, voter support for cannabis legalization was highest among Democrats (64 percent), Millennials (61 percent), and non-white/Hispanic voters (61 percent). A majority of women voters and self-identified Republicans opposed legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes. By contrast, majority support (78 percent) for the legalization of cannabis for medicinal purposes extended throughout all demographics.
Among respondents, 54 percent expressed a favorable view of those who used cannabis therapeutically, while only 36 percent said that they possessed a favorable view of social consumers.
When it came to the issue of how to most effectively influence voters’ opinions on marijuana law reform, authors reported that neither negative nor positive messaging “moved voters substantially in either direction.” Specifically, authors’ reported that many respondents failed to sympathize with the idea that the drug war was overly punitive or that the federal government might once again begin cracking down on state-compliant cannabis consumers and providers.
Authors concluded, “As opponents lean heavily into values-based arguments regarding teenage marijuana use and highway safety, more research still needs to be done to identify a compelling value for legalizing recreational marijuana – the way that compassion underlies support for medical marijuana.”
Researchers collected opinion data over the course of several months in two separate waves – first with a late summer focus group and then with an October poll of 856 registered voters, conducted online.
Full text of the Third Way report is online at here.
State Public Health Department officials have recommended over $7 million dollars in grant funding to pay for a series of state-sponsored clinical trials to assess the safety and efficacy of cannabis and cannabinoids.
The proposed studies include a pair of clinical trials to evaluate the use of cannabidiol (CBD), a nonpsychotropic plant cannabinoid, for patients with pediatric epilepsy. Two additional trials will assess the use of cannabis for patients suffering from post-traumatic stress. Other studies will assess the efficacy of either cannabis or CBD in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, brain tumors, ulcerative colitis, and pain management. (More specific summaries of all eight proposed studies are available online here.)
Grant funding for the proposed studies requires final approval by the state Board of Health in December.
Following funding approval, researchers will still be required to gain additional federal approval in order to obtain access to research-grade cannabis or CBD.
The state of California previously sponsored a similar series of clinical trials assessing the safety and efficacy of marijuana. Those studies evaluated the use of whole-plant cannabis in patients with neuropathy, multiple sclerosis, and autoimmune deficiencies. A summary of those trials, published in 2012, concluded, “Based on evidence currently available the Schedule I classification is not tenable; it is not accurate that cannabis has no medical value, or that information on safety is lacking.”