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)
As I finish my first month as a NORML staff member, I am in awe of the incredible group of individuals that comprise NORML’s network; I’m also in awe of the political momentum that we presently enjoy.
NORML held a Legislative ‘Fly-In’/Lobby Day in Washington, DC just before I began my tenure here. Attendees visited with their US Senators and urged them to vote in favor of the Veterans Equal Access Amendment, permitting veterans the ability to utilize medical cannabis. The vote marked the first time the U.S. Senate had voted in favor of medical marijuana.
House members have also held important votes in recent weeks, including passing the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which limits the Justice Department’s ability to take criminal action against state-licensed operations that are acting in full compliance with the medical marijuana laws of their states.
A couple weeks ago, Senators Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Diane Feinstein (D-CA), often known for their opposition to marijuana law reform, held a hearing calling for expedited cannabis research. U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse Director Nora Volkow testified at the hearing and acknowledged the need for systemic federal changes, including the allowance of non-government sources of cannabis for clinical research.
Significant changes in cannabis policy are also afoot at the state level. Oregon enacted their voter approved legalization measure on July 1st and became the fourth state to permit adults to legally possess limited quantities of marijuana for their own personal use. (Separate legislation recently enacted by the Oregon legislature also defelonizes various marijuana-related offenses and provides for the expungement of past marijuana convictions.) Delaware lawmakers recently elected to decriminalize minor marijuana possession offenses, while Louisiana lawmakers have just amended their toughest-in-the nation repeat offender laws. A marijuana decriminalization measure is awaiting approval from the Governor in Illinois, while legislation to permit medical marijuana dispensaries in Hawaii also awaits final passage. Florida’s largest county, Miami-Dade, also recently approved a civil citation program for minor marijuana offenses, becoming the first county to do so in the state.
I choose to highlight these recent successes because they were made possible, in part, by you and your donations to NORML’s Political Action Committee. As we head into election season, the role NORML PAC will play in electing politicians who support sensible marijuana law reform policies will grow to a record level. But we need your help getting there. Please donate $25 or more to the NORML PAC today and understand you have contributed to bringing an end to marijuana prohibition by helping to elect responsible, marijuana friendly politicians who will support legislation that you care about.
NORML is now receiving more requests for funding from elected officials and political hopefuls than ever before. By making a donation to the NORML PAC, you are strengthening our ability to help elect these cannabis friendly politicians and to support our allies at the local, state and federal level.
I’d like to thank you in advance for making your contribution to NORML PAC and I hope you continue to reflect on the importance of electing those who share in NORML’s goals of ending marijuana prohibition.
Members of the United States House of Representatives are anticipated to vote this week (perhaps as earl as Tuesday night) on a series of amendments to a Justice Department spending bill. These amendments seek to limit the federal government’s intrusion in states that have regulated various aspects of marijuana production and access.
Specifically, Representatives Tom McClintock (R-CA) and Jared Polis (D-CO) are introducing an amendment intended to halt the federal prosecution of individuals involved in marijuana-related activities that are in compliance with the laws of their states. Last year, Congressional members approved an amendment to the DOJ funding bill that restricted the Department from interfering in activities specific to state medical marijuana programs. (That measure is also up for re-authorization; to learn more click here.) This year’s McClintock/Polis amendment is broader in its scope as it seeks to halt Justice Department interference among individuals and businesses engaged in state-compliant transactions particular to both the medical or recreational use of cannabis.
Please call your US Representative today via NORML’s Take Action Center here to support the McClintock/Polis amendment. Let them know that this amendment is supported by a majority of voters. According to a 2015 nationwide Pew Research poll, 59 percent of Americans agree that the government should not enforce federal marijuana laws in states that allow its use. Majorities of both Democrats and Republicans endorse this position.
Twenty-three states now permit the medical use of cannabis, while four states now regulate the plant’s production and sale to all adults. Tell Congress that federal officials should not stand in the way of these state policies and to vote ‘yes’ on the McClintock/Polis amendment.
You can also e-mail your House member and tell them to vote ‘yes’ on the McClintock/Polis amendment by clicking here.
For those not able to attend NORML’s Legislative Fly-in, I have put together a list of marijuana-related bills currently pending in Congress as well as the names and Twitter accounts associated with members of specific committees that we plan to target during our social media campaign. By using social media, we will be able to add another layer to our lobbying efforts and will also provide each and every one of our members a chance to have their voice heard on these issues. I encourage all of you to start promoting our Twitter campaign to your networks as soon as possible.
Apply pressure on members of the House Subcommittee on Health, the Senate Committee on the Judiciary and the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations by engaging them through a coordinated social media campaign using specific messaging and hash tags to track our activity. Using the #NORML hash tag gives us the power to bring attention to and mobilize a larger and more diverse coalition of social media activists to support and/or join our efforts. Also, it’s important that we stay on message so please avoid altering the language provided. By maintaining a consistent message, we will be able to present a coordinated and disciplined effort.
Simply cut and paste the Twitter handle and language provided below into your Twitter account and hit send. Please make sure that you use the directory so that you contact each representative directly. I’ve provided an example of what each tweet should look like for each bill. I recommend coordinating specific times with your organization and its membership to maximize our efforts.
H.R. 1013: “[Insert Twitter Handle] I urge you to support House Resolution 1013, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act. It’s time for a new approach! #NORML”
S.683: “[Insert Twitter Handle] I urge you to support the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States Act. America is ready! #NORML”
H.R. 667: “[Insert Twitter Handle] I urge you to support House Resolution 667, the Veterans Equal Access Act. America’s veterans deserve better! #NORML
Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations
Members & Twitter Accounts:
- Chairman – Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (@JimPressOffice) – WI
- Rep. Steve Chabot (@RepSteveChabot) – OH
- Rep. Randy Forbes (@Randy_Forbes) – VA
- Rep. Ted Poe (@JudgeTedPoe) – TX
- Rep. Jason E Chaffetz (@jasoninthehouse) – UT
- Rep. Trey Gowdy (@TGowdySC) – SC
- Rep. Raúl Labrador (@Raul_Labrador) – ID
- Rep. Ken Buck (@RepKenBuck) – CO
- Rep. Rob” Bishop (@RepRobBishop) – UT
- Rep. Rep. Jackson Lee (@JacksonLeeTX18) – TX
- Rep. Pedro Pierluisi (@pedropierluisi) – PR
- Rep. Judy Chu (@RepJudyChu) – CA
- Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (@RepGutierrez) – IL
- Rep. Karen Bass (@RepKarenBass) – CA
- Rep. Cedric Richmond (@RepRichmond) – LA
Committee on the Judiciary
Members & Twitter Accounts:
- Chairman – Chuck Grassley (@ChuckGrassley) – IA
- Senator Patrick Leahy (@SenatorLeahy) – VT
- Senator Orrin G. Hatch (@OrrinHatch) – UT
- Senator Dianne Feinstein (@SenFeinstein) – CA
- Senator Jeff Sessions (@SenatorSessions) – AL
- Senator Lindsey Graham (@GrahamBlog) – SC
- Senator John Cornyn (@JohnCornyn) – TX
- Senator Michael S. Lee (@SenMikeLee) – UT
- Senator Ted Cruz (@SenTedCruz) – TX
- Senator Jeff Flake (@JeffFlake) – AZ
- Senator David Vitter (@DavidVitter) – LA
- Senator David Perdue (@Perduesenate) – GA
- Senator Thom Tillis (@ThomTillis) – NC
- Senator Richard Blumenthal (@SenBlumenthal) – CT
- Senator Christopher A. Coons (@ChrisCoons) – DE
- Senator Al Franken (@alfranken) -MN
- Senator Amy Klobuchar (@amyklobuchar) – MN
- Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (@SenWhitehouse) – RI
- Senator Dick Durbin (@SenatorDurbin) – IL
- Senator Charles Schumer (@SenSchumer) – NY
Subcommittee on Health
Members & Twitter Accounts:
- Chairman – Rep. Dan Benishek (@CongressmanDan) – MI
- Rep. Gus Bilirakis (@RepGusBilirakis) – FL
- Rep. Phil Roe (@DrPhilRoe) – TN
- Rep. Tim Huelskamp (@CongHuelskamp) – KS
- Rep. Mike Coffman (@RepMikeCoffman) – CO
- Rep. Beto O’Rourke (@RepBetoORourke) – TX
- Rep. Ann McLane Kuster (@RepAnnieKuster) – NH
- Rep. Raul Ruiz (@CongressmanRuiz) – CA
- Rep. Brad Wenstrup (@RepBradWenstrup) – OH
- Rep. Ralph Abraham (@RepAbraham) – LA
- Rep. Mark Takano (@RepMarkTakano) – CA
- Rep. Julia Brownley (@JuliaBrownley26) – CA