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.
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)
Police in Florida’s largest county will soon have the option to cite, rather than arrest, minor marijuana offenders.
Commissioners for Miami-Dade county voted 10 to 3 this week in favor of a countywide ordinance to treat marijuana possession offenses involving 20 grams or less as a civil infraction, punishable by a $100 fine — no arrest, no criminal prosecution, no incarceration, and no criminal record. The new ordinance takes effect late next week.
Under state law, minor marijuana possession offenses are classified as a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. According to an analysis by the ACLU, an estimated 60,000 Floridians are arrested for cannabis possession violations annually — the third highest statewide total in the nation.
According to a countywide analysis by CBS, misdemeanor marijuana arrests accounted for 10 percent of all cases filed in the Miami-Dade criminal court system between the years 2010 and 2014. While African Americans comprise just 20 percent of the county’s population, they comprised over half of all of those arrested for marijuana possession offenses.
Senior county officials have not yet provided details in regard to how police will implement the new law or what criteria they will use to determine whether to issue a citation or make an arrest.
Shona Banda suffers from Crohn’s disease, and has found, as have many Crohn’s sufferers, that medical marijuana provides her with effective relief and allows her to manage her illness and live a somewhat normal life. Specifically, Banda uses cannabis oil.
The problem is she lives in, Garden City, Kansas, a state that does not yet recognize the medical uses of marijuana. And when her 11-year old son spoke up in his drug education class to challenge some of the anti-marijuana allegations being taught to the children – and shared the fact that his mother uses cannabis to manage her Crohn’s disease – Banda’s son was removed from her custody by the Kansas Department for Children and Families.
Her home was subsequently raided, and Banda is now facing three drug felonies (possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance within 1,000-feet of a school; endangering a child; and unlawful manufacture of a controlled substance) for the cannabis oil found in her home, and she faces a possible jail term in excess of 30-years. Banda first used cannabis oil to manage her disease when she lived in Colorado for a period of time, before returning to her home in Kansas.
Banda is being represented by attorney Sarah Swain, who publicly has promised an aggressive defense that will challenge every facet of the prosecution’s case, including the questioning of the 11-year-old son without either of his parents present; the search warrant issued for their home based on that questioning; and the federal classification of marijuana as a Schedule I substance with no medical usefulness.
This case is just the latest from states around the country that illustrate the incredibly harsh and unjustified consequences of marijuana prohibition, the unsustainable differences in the manner in which we treat our most vulnerable citizens from one state to another, and the absolute moral impairative that we stop treating seriously ill patients as criminals, regardless of where they may call home.
Surely this immediate situation could have been handled by reasonable people in a manner based on compassion and concern for the welfare of this serious ill mother, striving to find a way to lead a full life and raise her young son. The school could have exercised some discretion and common sense and accepted the comments made by her young son as reflecting the reality of his and his mother’s life, and this would not have become a matter of public concern. And the Garden City police should not have questioned the young child without his parent’s consent, and did not have to seek a questionable search warrant, based on the child’s statements, to invade Banda’s home and violate her privacy. And finally, the local prosecutor, Finney County Attorney Susan Richmeier, with even a wit of compassion and understanding, could have exercised her discretion and refused to file criminal charges, bringing this embarrassing episode to a close, and allowing this seriously ill woman a chance to live a normal life.
But at each level, the civic institutions in Kansas failed their responsibility to serve the best interests of the citizens of Kansas, ignoring the obviously compelling factual situation, and blindly pursuing the war on drugs, despite the horrendous repercussions of that choice.
Rather they have reminded us of the enduring harm caused by marijuana prohibition, and the damage it has done not just to the victims of this misguided war, but also to those in civic positions of trust who have lost their moral compass in their blind support for prohibition.
Shame on everyone who had anything to do with allowing this case to get to this point, and who failed to stand up and publicly question the appropriateness of this entire witch-hunt. These are people who are either incredibly ignorant of the important and sometimes life-altering benefits medical marijuana provides to tens of thousands of seriously ill patients across this country (37 states now permit at least limited medical use of marijuana), or they are truly mean-spirited people who simply do not care.
Regardless, it reminds me of how much work we still have ahead of us, and why I would never wish to live in rural Kansas.
It is hardly a secret to any long observing advocate for cannabis law reform to recognize early on in their efforts to end cannabis prohibition that if it were not for government–federal, state and local governments–spending, there would be relatively few examples of private money being employed in the last forty-five years to try to maintain the status quo of cannabis prohibition.
The tens of billions spent annually to keep the Reefer Madness going in America largely is taxpayer-funded bureaucracies such as the so-called drug czar’s office, DEA, NIDA, SAMHSA, DARE, PDFA…blah–blah–blah.
Even in the face of this tremendous waste of taxpayer dollars annually, still, a majority of the US public rejects the policy of cannabis prohibition.
Unbelievably, the drug czar’s office actually mandates that the office must use tax funding to publicly oppose cannabis legalization efforts–even though such is no longer a popularly supported public policy.
Add one more prime example of cannabis prohibitionists in government not yielding to the will of voters, and worse, rather than pool their own private funding to advance their no-longer-popular-views, they want the taxpayers to pick up the bill of their anti-cannabis advocacy.
Arizona voters approved a medical cannabis initiative in 2010. Many in the law enforcement community in the state, including prosecutors, have consistently opposed implementing the change of policies and/or still harass medical cannabis producers or patients.
They’re sore losers.
Now, consistent with large swaths of the country, Arizona voters are organizing once again in the state to place a full cannabis legalization initiative on the ballot for 2016.
What is the reaction from some in the law enforcement community in Arizona to the prospects of citizens again instructing their workers what public policies they want them to enforce?
Sure, law enforcement personnel are citizens too, and their opinions are as meaningful as any other citizens’, however, law enforcement personnel who oppose the public’s will on changes of public policy should never employ taxpayer funding to try to sway the populace or propagandize–on matters ranging from police wearing body cameras, to forfeiture reform to cannabis legalization.
Well that is not at all happening currently in Yavapai County Arizona, where the local prosecutor Shelia Polk thinks it wise and prudent to steer forfeiture money derived from the criminal justice system (with most of the proceeds coming to law enforcement from currently illegal drug profits seized in previous criminal filings) to propagandize to voters that they should not vote to end cannabis prohibition in the state.
Ever hear law enforcement roll out the tired ol’ line of “we don’t make the laws, we only enforce them?”
It’s largely a lie (I mean…prevarication).
Police and prosecutors (aided and abetted by fellow pot prohibitionists wearing white coats at NIDA, for example) regularly, using taxpayers’ money, actively seek to influence the outcome of public policy legislation, court cases and voter initiatives that seek to reform cannabis laws.
It is pretty simple at this point in the now five-decade-old public effort to end cannabis prohibition, if police and prosecutors want to defend the status quo of a failed and unpopular public policy, then, if they really cared about the issue, they’d put their own skin in the game by organizing as private citizens.
If prosecutors, cops, narcs, sheriffs and chiefs of police want to pony up their own money to try to stave off cannabis prohibition ending in their lifetimes–go for it.
Reformers will more than match them dollar-for-dollar and are always spoiling for a good debate about wisdom for rationale continuing cannabis prohibition…and we’ve got the public on our side, they no longer do.
What can not and should not happen anymore in the modern public policy debate about whether America should or should not continue another nearly eighty-years with cannabis prohibition enforcement are government officials and law enforcement personnel using their power of the purse and bully pulpit to try to persuade voters on ANY matters of public policy–let alone on policies where conflicts of interest are as obvious as prosecutors using government money to oppose the will of local voters who’re seeking to reform unpopular laws.
Cannabis law reformers can and will win a fair fight on cannabis legalization, but, the impending political victory will be delayed if government officials are permitted to continue to use taxpayer funding to oppose the very will of the voters.
Government for and by the people? Not when government officials are sore losers and want to use government funding to try to tip the scales of public opinion.
When government stops spending taxpayer dollars to keep cannabis prohibition going, the unpopular policy will die an ignominious and swift death.
Editor’s note: Thankfully, late yesterday AZ’s Attorney General came to reconsider this blundering policy of allowing government funding to be used to campaign against cannabis legalization efforts in the state.