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Jeff Sessions

  • 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)

  • by Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director January 25, 2018

    On Wednesday, January 24th, fifty-four members of Congress representing both political parties sent a letter to President Trump denouncing the recent rescinding of the Cole Memo by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

    Led by Senator Elizabeth Warren on the Senate side and Representative Jared Polis in the House, the signers stated:

    “These new policies have helped eliminate the black market sale of marijuana and allowed law enforcement to focus on real threats to public health and safety. This action by the Department of Justice has the potential to unravel efforts to build sensible drug policies that encourage economic development as we finally move away from antiquated practices that have hurt disadvantaged communities.”

    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, directs 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.

    The signers further pointed out the during the course of the 2016 presidential campaign, then-candidate Donald Trump declared that “we should leave (marijuana) up to the states.” You can read the full letter by clicking here.

    At a time when the majority of states now are regulating marijuana use in some form, and when nearly two-thirds of voters endorse legalizing the plant’s use by adults, it makes no sense from a political, fiscal, or moral perspective for Attorney General Sessions to take this step.

    It is great to see leaders like Senator Warren and Representatives Polis, Blumenauer, and others step up to demand action to comport federal law with majority public opinion and to end the needless criminalization of marijuana — a policy failure that encroaches upon civil liberties, engenders disrespect for the law, and disproportionately impacts communities of color.”

    Should the Trump administration go through with a crackdown on states that have legalized marijuana, they will be taking billions of dollars away from regulated, state-sanctioned businesses and putting that money back into the hands of drug cartels.

    Send a message to your elected officials to speak out against AG Sessions. 

  • by Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director January 20, 2018

    Not much.

    Temporary medical cannabis patient protections that have been imposed by the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment have now expired with the rest of government spending.

    The amendment, which has been in place since 2014, maintains 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.”

    Without these protections, medical cannabis cultivators and dispensaries exist with a greater threat than normal of federal enforcement of national prohibition, yet the certainty that these protections would be honored have been in doubt throughout the entire Trump administration.

    When President Trump signed the first Continuing Resolution in 2017, he issued a signing statement regarding the amendment:

    “Division B, section 537 provides that the Department of Justice may not use any funds to prevent implementation of medical marijuana laws by various States and territories. I will treat this provision consistently with my constitutional responsibility to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”

    Essentially stating that his administration believes they can ignore these protections if they do not view them to be Constitutional.

    Under this mentality, Attorney General Jeff Sessions could have moved in to shut down medical marijuana facilities at any point. Should Sessions crackdown, we are confident that we would win a court challenge, given previous rulings on this very question. However, it would be a reactive exercise after an enforcement action, and during that process, the patients who relied on a supply chain to get them their medication would not have a lawful means to do so.

    So now, if the government reopens under another CR, then the protections will go back into place and we will be right back where we were in an uneasy détente. The threat of Sessions on one side and medical patients in a state-lawful system trying to alleviate their suffering.

    Further, Congressional leadership must reauthorize this language as part of the forthcoming budget in order for the provisions to stay in effect in any new spending deal. Last July, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) offered identical language before the Senate Appropriations Committee, which approved it. However, House Rules Committee Chair Peter Sessions (R-TX) has refused to allow House members to vote on similar language. The provision will now be considered by House and Senate leadership when the two chambers’ appropriations bills are reconciled, should Congress ever set a FY18 budget, of which we are already three and a half months in.

    Click here to send a message to your lawmakers and tell them to retain these protections.

  • by NORML January 19, 2018

    Attorney General and Anti-Marijuana Crusader Jeff Sessions

    Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-FL) held a bipartisan special order on Wednesday, January 17th to address the implications surrounding Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to rescind the Cole Memo. Simply put, a special order is a practice in Congress where a member is able to speak on any topic they wish after the House of Representatives has been adjourned for the day.

    Rep. Gaetz was joined by Representatives Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Lou Correa (D-CA), and Mark Sanford (R-SC) to articulate the case on behalf of the beneficiaries of the Cole Memo. The memo was originally drafted by former U.S. Attorney General James Cole in 2013 and was issued to attorneys in states where medical or recreational marijuana was legal. The memo stipulates that as long as the states follow certain rules – i.e. the prevention of distributing marijuana to minors – the states are able to regulate marijuana with very little federal interference.

    The Cole Memo signaled a shift away from the use of federal funds to regulate marijuana, giving states a more laissez-faire, states rights approach to cannabis. Marijuana is still illegal under federal law and is listed as a schedule one drug signaling to have no medical value and a high potential for abuse, both of which any follower of published research would know to not be true.

    In light of the increasing acceptance and legalization of both medical and adult use marijuana, AG Sessions’ decision puts the nascent cannabis industry in an increased state of anxiety and threatens medical marijuana users’ access to cannabis.

    Gaetz spoke on behalf of his constituents benefiting from medical marijuana and gave the floor to Curbelo, Correa, and Sanford who all unanimously pointed to the overwhelming advantages of the Cole Memo. The representatives remarked on Sessions’ decision as a move backwards for marijuana policy and medical marijuana recipients.

    Sessions defended his decision as a “return to the rule of law,” but the removal of the Cole Memo could result in increased profits for criminal enterprises in the illegal marijuana trade. Curbelo went so far as to say that the Attorney General “has actually done a great favor to those who operate outside the law and is punishing those who are actually trying to control this substance.”

    Sessions’ unprecedented move threatens the cannabis industry, legalization, and recipients of medical marijuana. The special order demonstrates a bilateral effort amongst Congress to preserve the rights and autonomy of states to regulate cannabis.

    Has your member of Congress spoken out yet? Click here to send them a message right now.

    Too often we don’t thank those who speak up on our behalf, so please also take the next step and call to thank the Representatives for taking to the floor of the House on behalf of protecting our progress by using this easy and short script:

    “Thank you for standing up and speaking on behalf of the states’ rights to regulate marijuana on January 17th.

    It’s encouraging to see your office take a leadership role in this debate and I encourage the Representative to continue to do so by co-sponsoring HR 1227, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act to protect the rights of the people and state legislatures that have reformed their cannabis laws.”

    Below are the phone numbers of the Representatives who spoke up on the floor during the special order:

    Matt Gaetz (R, FL-01), 202-225-4136

    Carlos Curbelo (R, FL-26), 202-225-2778

    Lou Correa (D, CA-46), 202-225-2965

    Mark Sanford (R, SC-01), 202-225-3176

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