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Jeff Sessions

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director June 8, 2018

    President Donald Trump on Friday expressed verbal support for recently introduced, bi-partisan legislation that seeks to codify legal protections for state-sanctioned marijuana-related activities.

    In response to a question from reporters, the President acknowledged that he “probably will end up supporting” The Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act of 2018, sponsored by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Corey Gardner (R-CO). Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has also reportedly promised to permit a vote on the legislation.

    The bill mandates that the federal Controlled Substances Act “shall not apply to any person acting in compliance” the marijuana legalization laws of their state. It also amends federal law to explicitly remove industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana. A bipartisan House companion bill, sponsored by Reps. David Joyce (R-OH) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), is pending in the House of Representatives.

    Also today, Governors from 12 states: Alaska, California, Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington sent a letter to Congressional leadership urging passage of the STATES Act.

    In April, Sen. Gardner acknowledged that he had spoken with the President regarding the intent of his bill and that Trump “assured me that he will support a federalism-based legislative solution to fix this states’ rights issue once and for all.”

    Click here to send a message to your lawmakers in support of the States Act. 

  • by Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director March 21, 2018

    Marijuana medicineUpdate: The omnibus passed the House of Representatives on Thursday.

    Update #2: The omnibus passed the Senate and was signed into law on Friday, 3/23/18.

    As part of the newly proposed appropriations package known as an omnibus bill, a spending restriction upon the Department of Justice from prosecuting state-legal medical marijuana programs will remain in place through the end of September.

    Known as the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, it explicitly states that federal funds cannot be used to prevent states from “implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana.”

    The amendment has been in place since 2014, as part of annual spending bills. Because the provision was initially approved as a budgetary amendment, it must be explicitly re-authorized by Congress as part of either a continuing resolution or a new fiscal year appropriations bill in order to maintain in effect.

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants nothing more than to see these protections go away. In a letter he sent to Congressional leadership last year, he wrote: “I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of a historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime.”

    In the past month, NORML has worked with Representatives Rohrabacher and Blumenauer in recruiting 60 additional members of Congress to co-sign a letter of their own to Congressional leadership, which states, “We respectfully request that you include language barring the Department of Justice from prosecuting those who comply with their state’s medical marijuana laws. We believe such a policy is not only consistent with the wishes of a bipartisan majority of the members of the House, but also with the wishes of the American people.”

    Last year, the language was initially included as part of a Senate appropriations bill thanks to Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) yet was absent from the House’s funding proposal because House Rules Committee Chair Peter Sessions (R-TX) refused to allow House members to vote on it. As a result, it was left to House and Senate leadership to ultimately decide on the amendment’s fate when the two chambers’ appropriations bills were reconciled.

    In the past two days as the negotiations reached their peak, over 10,000 members of NORML contacted their federal officials to urge them to maintain these protections.

    Additional language was stripped from the Senate version of the bill, known as the Veterans Equal Access amendment. Originally passed last year in the Senate appropriations committee by a vote of 24-7, Republican Congressional leadership thought it prudent to deny American military veterans the ability to participate in state-lawful medical marijuana programs through their VA doctors.

    Rep. Earl Blumenauer, namesake on the amendment and the co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus said “While I’m glad that our medical marijuana protections are included, there is nothing to celebrate since Congress only maintained the status quo. These protections have been law since 2014. This matter should be settled once and for all. Poll after poll shows that the majority of Americans, across every party, strongly favor the right to use medical marijuana.”

    He continued, “Instead, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is doubling down on the failed War on Drugs and Republican leadership in Congress—led by Chairman Pete Sessions—is stonewalling. They’re ignoring the will of the American people by blocking protections for state adult-use laws and cannabis banking. They even refused our veterans access to lifesaving medicine.

    The fate of this spending bill has yet to be made clear but is deemed a “must pass” piece of legislation as the federal government is set to shut down on March 23rd at midnight if action is not taken.

    We will keep you posted as this story develops.

  • by Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director February 17, 2018

    Valentines Day week 2018 saw a tremendous amount of activity when it came to addressing our nations failed policy of marijuana prohibition. From new federal legislation being introduced to two federal lawsuits having hearings, plus a number of members of Congress, old allies and new stepping up to demand the Trump Administration continue to allow the states that have reformed their laws be respected by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

    Rick “Not Pro-Pot But Pro-Civil Liberties” Steves Went To Washington: Bestselling guidebook author and travel host Rick Steves held two briefings to address marijuana prohibition to a gathering of members of Congress and their staff. Inspired by Europe’s pragmatic approach to drug policy, with success measured by harm reduction rather than incarceration, Steves said that he is motivated to speak in favor of legalization because of its impact on civil liberties.

    “ There are so many reasons to end the prohibition on marijuana. Whether you’re concerned about the well-being of children, fairness for minority communities, redirecting money away from criminals and into state’s coffers, stemming the horrific bloodshed in Mexico, or civil liberties; it is clearly time for a new approach,” said Rick Steves. You can read more about his day at Capitol Hill here.

    New Legislation: Representative Lou Correa (D-CA) has introduced the Sensible Enforcement Of Cannabis Act which would codify the protections that were outlined in the now-rescinded Cole Memo.

    Upon the introduction, Rep. Correa said, “To date, eight states have legalized recreational cannabis, and twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia, representing more than half of the American population, have enacted legislation to permit the use of cannabis. Attorney General Sessions’ decision to rescind the “Cole Memo” created great uncertainty for these states and legal cannabis businesses, and put citizens in jeopardy for following their state laws.

    In my state of California, voters want legal cannabis. It boosts our economy and is a strong medical tool. By 2020, revenues from cannabis sales taxes could reach $1 billion annually for California. This bill will protect California and other states from federal overreach and ensure the will of the American voter is respected.”

    Essentially, the Sensible Enforcement Of Cannabis Act would give peace of mind to lawmakers, regulators, 149,000 workers, and the millions of patients and consumers who are dependent on the normalization of lawful marijuana markets. The most essential component in creating a stable business environment to meet consumer demand is certainty and that is what states would have with Reps. Correa’s legislation to protect state-lawful programs from militant marijuana prohibitionist Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

    Click here to send a message to your Representative to urge them to co-sponsor the Sensible Enforcement of Cannabis Act. 

    Lawsuit Against Attorney General Jeff Sessions: On February 14th, Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York heard oral arguments on the motion to dismiss Washington, et.al v. Sessions, et.al, a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Schedule I classification of cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act. The federal government argued to have the case dismissed. Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein of the U.S. District Court Southern District of New York reserved the decision.

    Lawyers for the plaintiffs in the case are Michael Hiller and Lauren Rudick of Hiller, PC, and include NORML Legal Committee member Joseph Bondy and Empire State NORML Director David Holland.

    Click here to read more.

    HIA Against The DEA: A case brought forward by the Hemp Industries Association against the DEA regarding the classification of CBD had a hearing on Thursday. You can read more about that effort here.

    Banking On Mnuchin: Congressman and co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus Earl Blumenauer pressed Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin on the need for certainty for the banks that are currently providing services for legal, state-regulated marijuana businesses. You can watch the video by clicking HERE and send a message to your federal lawmakers to support the SAFE Banking Act.

    Letter To Senate Appropriators: This week, a bipartisan group of 18 Senators signed a letter to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the powerful Appropriations Committee to demand that in the process of directing funding for the Department of Justice, the lawmakers should restrict the DoJ from being able to interfere with lawful state-regulated programs.

    The senators wrote that rescinding years of guidance has created “disruption, confusion, and uncertainty throughout the country. Citizens who have been acting in good faith based on federal and state assurances now feel exposed. This disruption may deny medications to the sick, push individuals back into illicit markets, and nullify the previously-effective regulations – all while thwarting the democratically-expressed will of the states.”

    “It is our hope that the fiscal year 2018 appropriations will alleviate the turbulence the Attorney General’s abrupt decision has caused and that the appropriations will help preserve the strong regulatory frameworks the states have created,” the senators continued. “Doing so will provide the opportunity to pursue federal legislation that both protects the legitimate federal interests at stake and respects the will of the states – both those that have liberalized their marijuana laws and those that have not.”

    The letter include U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Rand Paul (R-WV), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Tammy Duckworth (D-WI), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Maria Cantwell(D-WA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Edward Markey (D-MA).

    Click here to read the letter and click here to send a message to your federal officials in support of pending legislation to deschedule marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act. 

    New Justice Supporter: This week, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York added her name as a cosponsor to The Marijuana Justice Act, making her the 3rd member of the Senate to be on the bill. Specifically S. 1689 and HR 4815 would (1) remove marijuana from the US Controlled Substances Act, thereby ending the federal criminalization of cannabis; (2) incentivize states to mitigate existing and ongoing racial disparities in state-level marijuana arrests; (3) expunge federal convictions specific to marijuana possession; (4) allow individuals currently serving time in federal prison for marijuana-related violations to petition the court for resentencing; (5) and create a community reinvestment fund to invest in communities most impacted by the failed War on Drugs. Click here to send a message to your lawmakers in support of the Marijuana Justice Act. 

    Additionally, Senator Cory Booker added the language of the Marijuana Justice Act as an amendment to the criminal justice bill that is moving, however, that effort was unsuccessful.

    DoJ Nominees Move Forward: Senator Gardner has backed down from his threat to the Department of Justice to block Senate-confirmable nominees after Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the longstanding guidance memos including the 2013 Cole Memo.

  • by Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director February 14, 2018

    Today, Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York heard oral arguments on the motion to dismiss Washington, et.al v. Sessions, et.al, a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Schedule I classification of cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act. The federal government argued to have the case dismissed. Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein of the U.S. District Court Southern District of New York reserved the decision.

    The lead attorney for the case, Michael Hiller released the following statement:

    First, we would like to thank Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein for taking the time to hear the important oral argument made today. We appreciate the time he took to hear from the plaintiffs we represent —  all whom have heartbreaking stories about how their everyday lives continue to be negatively impacted by the prohibition of cannabis.  

     

    Protecting our American values, way of life and civil and constitutional rights are who we are as Americans. To many, it is obvious, we are living in an era where we must remain vigilant and ask hard questions. If we look back at our collective history, this is not the first time we have seen some in the US government shamefully argue out-dated ideologies under a legal mask that is inevitably on the wrong side of history. We saw this with slavery, segregation, women’s right to vote, the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, gay marriage, and sadly, countless other times.  

     

    We’ve seen civil rights trampled on before, but we have also seen everyday Americans and leaders rise to the occasion and have our judicial branch recognize when an interpretation of the law is obviously tragically flawed and wrong.  

     

    The stated basis for the Controlled Substances Act was to help Americans’ lives. However, today, the federal government came to court to preserve the right to put Americans in jail, who use cannabis — even when it used as an alternative medicinal treatment to addictive opioids and powerful prescription drugs. Tragically, what the federal government has done is taken the Controlled Substances Act and turned it on its head. Sadly, the government is now using the ‘Act’ to hurt and oppress US citizens, rather to liberate, deliberate and help them treat their illnesses and diseases.  

     

    We firmly believe the federal government is prostituting and perverting the Controlled Substances Act as well as blatantly criminalizing behavior that they themselves are inducing. We look forward to standing on the right side of history and ensuring that cannabis is descheduled once and for all as well as to receiving Judge Hellerstein’s decision, and moving the case forward.

    Lawyers for the plaintiffs in the case include Michael Hiller and Lauren Rudick of Hiller, PC, NORML Legal Committee member Joseph Bondy, and Empire State NORML Director David Holland.

    A judge for the Federal District Court in Sacramento heard similar arguments in a 2014 legal challenge, also spearheaded by members of the NORML Legal Committee, but ultimately rejected them – opining: “At some point in time, a court may decide this status to be unconstitutional. But this is not the court and not the time.”

    Plaintiffs in the current lawsuit include a former NFL football player, a disabled military veterans, two children with severe movement disorders, and the non-profit group, the Cannabis Cultural Association. Plaintiffs argue that federal prohibition violates their civil and constitutional liberties, including their right to freely travel within the United States. They also argue that the federal prohibition of cannabis is “grounded in discrimination and [is] applied in a discriminatory manner.”

    Lawyers for the Justice Department argued today for a dismissal of the suit, opining: “There is no fundamental right to use marijuana, for medical purposes or otherwise. Because such a right is not ‘implicit in the concept of ordered liberty’ or ‘deeply rooted in this Nation’s history,’ the Court should reject such a claim.”

    The judge asked how anyone could say that the plaintiffs’ lives “have not been saved by marijuana.”

  • by Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director February 7, 2018

    On February 7th, Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee sent a letter to committee Chair Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), requesting a hearing on the recent revocation of the Cole Memo by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

    The Cole Memo, was a Justice Department memorandum, authored by former US Deputy Attorney General James Cole in 2013 to US attorneys in all 50 states, directing prosecutors not to interfere with state legalization efforts and those licensed to engage in the plant’s production and sale, provided that such persons do not engage in marijuana sales to minors or divert the product to states that have not legalized its use, among other guidelines.

    In their letter, the Democrats wrote:

    “We fear that the elimination of the Obama Administration’s marijuana enforcement guidance will promote an inefficient use of limited taxpayer resources and subvert the will of voters who have clearly indicated a preference for legalized marijuana in their states.”

    Rep. Goodlatte has refused to hold a hearing on marijuana since he took over as the Chair of the powerful Judiciary Committee, where any serious reform legislation would originate.

    Recently, Congressman Jerry Nadler was elected by his colleagues to be the ranking member of the minority party on the committee. Rep. Nadler has earned an “A+” rating on the NORML Scorecard for his support of ending the federal prohibition of marijuana, positive votes when given the opportunity, and his co-sponsorship of legislation including the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act in the previous session of Congress.

    The current Chairman of the committee is Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), a longtime opponent of marijuana reform who has earned a “D” on the NORML scorecard for voting against reform amendments when given the opportunity. However, Rep. Goodlatte had announced earlier this year that he will not be running for reelection, which will leave a wide-open race on the Republican side who will be the top member in the next Congress.

    Given the political climate, in order to secure hearings on legislation that would end prohibition, it is essential that the next Chairman of the Judiciary be willing to address the issue.

    In the meantime, we simply will have to wait and see how Rep. Goodlatte responds.

    You can reach Congressman Goodlattes DC office by phone at: (202) 225-5431. If you call his office, let us know what his staff said in the comments below.

    Here is the full letter by the Judiciary Democrats:


    The Honorable Bob Goodlatte
    Chairman
    House Committee on the Judiciary
    2138 Rayburn House Office Building
    Washington, D.C. 20515

    Dear Chairman Goodlatte:

    We are deeply concerned by the recent action by Attorney General Sessions rescinding Department of Justice (DOJ) marijuana enforcement guidance issued during the Obama Administration.  We write to request a hearing of the full Judiciary Committee regarding this decision.

    On January 4, 2018, Attorney General Sessions issued a memorandum to U.S. Attorneys eliminating marijuana enforcement priorities set forth under President Obama.  Previous memoranda issued during the Obama Administration, such as the memorandum issued in 2013 by then Deputy Attorney General James Cole (Cole Memo), made clear the considerations the federal government should use when deciding to prosecute violations of the Controlled Substances Act related to marijuana. Rather than targeting individuals in states that had legalized marijuana and consequently set up complex regulatory systems, the government focused on priorities that were significant to the federal government. These included preventing gangs and cartels from profiting from marijuana sales and ensuring that state-authorized marijuana was not used to hide other illegal activities.

    We fear that the elimination of the Obama Administration’s marijuana enforcement guidance will promote an inefficient use of limited taxpayer resources and subvert the will of voters who have clearly indicated a preference for legalized marijuana in their states.  Further, the January 4 memorandum by Attorney General Sessions fails to provide any evidence that prosecuting marijuana in states where it has been legalized will make Americans safer.  DOJ should instead pursue enforcement strategies that are sensible, effective, and enhance public safety, and the Judiciary Committee should be included in these discussions.

    The Judiciary Committee has a fundamental duty to conduct oversight on the Department of Justice.  It is critical that the members of our committee have an opportunity to ask questions about this recent rescission in a formal setting and evaluate potential legislation related to marijuana. Therefore, we respectfully request a hearing by the full Committee on these issues.

    Sincerely,

    Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY)
    Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA)
    Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX)
    Representative Steve Cohen (D-TN)
    Representative Hank Johnson (D-GA)
    Representative Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY)
    Representative David Cicilline (D-RI)
    Representative Eric Swalwell (D-CA)
    Representative Ted Lieu (D-CA)
    Representative Jamie Raskin (D-MD)
    Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA)

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