As first reported by Marijuana.com, a Justice Department internal memo distributed to U.S. House Representatives last year misinformed members on the scope of a medical marijuana amendment they were voting on.
Last year, lawmakers approved 219 to 189 an amendment aimed at prohibiting the Department of Justice from using funds to interfere with the implementation of state medical marijuana laws.
We have now learned that in the days before this vote, Justice Department officials distributed “informal talking points” incorrectly warning members that the amendment could “in effect, limit or possibly eliminate the Department’s ability to enforce federal law in recreational marijuana cases as well.” The realization came from a footnote contained in the memo stating that the talking points previously released were, “intended to discourage the passage of the rider but does not reflect our current thinking.”
The talking points seemed to have an effect on several members, who prior to the final vote on the amendment, argued against it claiming the “amendment as written would tie the DEA’s hands beyond medical marijuana.” Representative Andy Harris (R-MD) went on to claim, “The problem is that the way the amendment is drafted, in a state like Maryland which has medical marijuana, if we ever legalized it, the amendment would stop the DEA from going after more than medical marijuana.”
These statements coupled with the rest of the long debate that took place before the amendment, clearly signal that lawmakers on both sides of the argument believed the amendment to prohibit federal interference in states with medical marijuana.
However, in a very narrow interpretation of the amendment, the Justice Department memo claims that the restriction of federal funds for the use of interfering in state-sanctioned medical marijuana programs is strictly for states and state officials implementing the laws themselves. That is to say, the federal government would still be allowed to arrest and prosecute people who grow marijuana and operate dispensaries but the state officials issuing the licenses are protected from federal intrusion. This explains the continued action taken by the federal government against individuals in states with legal medical marijuana laws on the books.
The same amendment protecting medical marijuana states from federal intervention was passed again this year with a larger margin of support, 242-186.
Representatives Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Farr (D-CA) (sponsors of the medical marijuana amendment) requested last week the Department of Justice’s inspector general hold an internal investigation into the continued action taken by the federal government. They feel Congress has made it clear by passing the amendment two years in a row, federal funds should no longer be used to prosecute individuals acting in compliance with their state laws.
Currently 23 states and the District of Columbia have passed medical marijuana laws. Check out our State Info page to check on your state’s current marijuana laws.
Newly appointed head of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Chuck Rosenberg, says that marijuana is “probably” not as dangerous as heroin.
Rosenberg’s comments, issued Tuesday, are seemingly in conflict with marijuana’s Schedule I classification under federal law, which places it in the same category as heroin and is a lesser category than cocaine. The law defines cannabis and its dozens of distinct cannabinoids as possessing “a high potential for abuse … no currently accepted medical use, … [and] a lack of accepted safety for the use of the drug … under medical supervision.”
Predictably, Rosenberg did emphasize that he believed cannabis posed potential harms, stating:“If you want me to say that marijuana’s not dangerous, I’m not going to say that because I think it is. Do I think it’s as dangerous as heroin? Probably not. I’m not an expert.”
However, Rosenberg acknowledged that he has asked DEA offices “to focus their efforts and the resources of the DEA on the most important cases in their jurisdictions, and by and large what they are telling [him] is that the most important cases in their jurisdictions are opioids and heroin.”
Rosenberg’s predecessor, Michelle Leonhart vigorously defended marijuana’s Schedule I classification. She oversaw dozens of raids on medical marijuana providers, criticized the President on his remarks of marijuana’s safety in relation to alcohol, and rejected an administrative petition calling for marijuana rescheduling hearings. NORML is pleased that although the new DEA administrator, by his own admission is not “an expert” on cannabis, he apparently possesses a better grasp on marijuana and it’s evident differences compared to other schedule 1 substances.
Rosenberg’s comments, coupled with those of NIDA Director Nora Volkow publically espousing the safety of CBD indicate that it may no longer be a question of if the federal government will move to reclassify cannabis but when.
The director of the US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Nora Volkow, believes that cannabidiol (CBD) – a nonpsychotropic cannabinoid – is “a safe drug with no addictive effects.” Volkow made the comments in an op-ed published by The Huffington Post.
Volkow further acknowledged, “[P]reliminary data suggest that it may have therapeutic value for a number of medical conditions.”
Preclinical studies have documented CBD to possess a variety of therapeutic activities, including anti-cancer properties, anti-diabetic properties, and bone-stimulating activity. Clinical and observational trials have documented the substance to possess anxiolytic, anti-psychotic, and anti-seizure activity in humans. Safety trials have further concluded the substance to be “safe and well tolerated” when administered to healthy subjects.
To date, 15 states have enacted laws specifically permitting the possession of high-CBD formulated extracts for therapeutic purposes, primarily for the treatment of pediatric epilepsy.
In a recent Time Magazine op-ed, Democrat Sen. Diane Feinstein (CA) and Republican Sen. Charles Grassley (IA) encouraged the Obama administration to “definitively determine if CBD has scientific and medical benefits,” and to “look at expanding compassionate access programs where possible, to benefit as many children as possible.”
Under federal law, CBD — like cannabis — is defined as a Schedule I controlled substance with “a high potential for abuse … no currently accepted medical use, … [and] a lack of accepted safety for the use of the drug … under medical supervision.”
While America’s public support for domestic prohibition of marijuana appears increasingly waning, quantifying the types of marijuana law reforms internationally could constitute a full time job for the eager.
This day’s news alone from overseas about cannabis law reforms strongly suggests that the contagion to end pot prohibition is hardly an America-only phenomena:
Israel – The country’s deputy health minister announced today that medical cannabis will be made available for retail access via commercial pharmacies.
Italy – Cannabis law reform group in Italy claims 250 out of 945 members of Italian Parliament support ending pot prohibition, which is a little more than twenty-five percent of the country’s elected policymakers. Drafted by the Intergrupo Parlamentare Cannabis Legale, the legislation would allow anyone over the age of 18 to cultivate as many as five plants at home. Italians could also team up to form a “cannabis social club,” with each having a maximum of 50 people growing as many as 250 plants.
Surveys in Italy indicate that nearly eighty percent of citizens support the country adopting marijuana laws similar to American states Colorado and Washington.
United Kingdom – A twenty-five year old economics student in the United Kingdom has forced the hand of parliament to debate the issue of marijuana legalization by submitting a petition with over one hundred thousand signatures.
Australia’s Queensland – Joining New South Wales, the Australian state of Queensland took steps to formalize a system by which qualified medical patients can access cannabis products via a series of research trials.
Portugal – California’s Press Enterprise’s editorial board reminds all that the week marks the fourteenth anniversary of the first nation, Portugal, to entirely decriminalize drug use and possession, which is serving as a ‘harm reduction’ model for numerous countries.
Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee voted 16-14 today in favor of an amendment to allow state-compliant marijuana businesses to engage in relationships with financial institutions.
Sponsored by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D) of Oregon and Patty Murray (D) of Washington, the amendment to the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill prohibits the US Treasury Department from using federal funds to take punitive actions against banks that provide financial services to marijuana-related businesses that are operating legally under state laws.
Presently, most major financial institutions refuse to provide services to state-compliant operators in the marijuana industry out of fear of federal repercussions. Their refusal to do so presents an unnecessary risk to both those who operate in the legal marijuana industry and to those consumers who patronize it.
No industry can operate safely, transparently or effectively without access to banks or other financial institutions. Further, forcing state-licensed businesses to operate on a ‘cash-only’ basis increases the risks for crime and fraud.
It is time for Congress to change federal policy so that this growing number of state-compliant businesses, and their consumers, may operate in a manner that is similar to other legal commercial entities. Today’s Senate Committee vote marks the first step taken by Congress to address these federal policy deficiencies.
Although stand-alone legislation, The Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act of 2015, is pending in both the House and the Senate, it appears unlikely at this time that leadership will move forward with either bill. This means that the Merkley/Murray amendment is like to be reformer’s best opportunity this Congress to impose substantial banking reform.
Keep following NORML’s blog and Take Action Center for legislative updates as this and other relevant reform measures progress. To take action in support of the Merkley/Murray amendment, click here here.
The following Senators voted in favor of the Merkley/Murray amendment:
Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)
Bill Cassidy (R-LA)
Christopher Coons (D-DE)
Dick Durbin (D-IL)
Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
Steve Daines (R-MT)
Chris Murphy (D-CT)
Jack Reed (D-RI)
Patrick Leahy (D-VT)
Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)
Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
Patty Murray (D-WA)
Brian Schatz (D-HI)
Jon Tester (D-MT)
Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)
Tom Udall (D-NM)
And these Senators voted against the Merkley/Murray amendment:
Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
Roy Blunt (R-MO)
John Boozman (R-AK)
Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV)
Thad Cochran (R-MS)
Susan Collins (R-ME)
Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
John Hoeven (R-ND)
Mark Kirk (R-IL)
James Lankford (R-OK)
Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
Jerry Moran (R-KS)
Richard C. Shelby (R-AL)