This afternoon, the House of Representatives voted 231 to 192 in favor of the Heck-Perlmutter-Lee-Rohrabacher Amendment, which will restrict Treasury Department and SEC funds from being spent to penalize financial institutions for providing services to marijuana related business that operate according to state law. This proposal amends H.R. 5016, a spending bill for fiscal year 2015 that funds the Internal Revenue Service, Treasury Department, and Securities and Exchange Commission.
The amendment reads:
“None of the funds made available in this Act may be used, with respect to the States of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, or Wisconsin or the District of Columbia, to prohibit, penalize, or otherwise discourage a financial institution from providing financial services to an entity solely because the entity is a manufacturer, producer, or person that participates in any business or organized activity that involves handling marijuana or marijuana products and engages in such activity pursuant to a law established by a State or a unit of local government.”
This vote comes on the heels of another recent historic vote in the House of Representatives, that restricted Department of Justice and DEA funds from being used to interfere in state approved medical marijuana programs. That measure is still awaiting action in the US Senate. This measure, HR 5106, will now be sent to the Senate as well.
“The recent votes in the House of Representatives demonstrate bi-partisan support at the federal level to allow states to experiment with new marijuana policies, free from federal interference,” stated NORML Communications Director Erik Altieri, “If implemented, this amendment will help alter the current untenable status quo that forces otherwise law abiding businesses to operate on a cash only basis, making them a target for criminal actions and unduly burdening their operations.”
In a memo obtained by NORML, released in late May, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) clarified their drug policy in light of the growing number of states legalizing marijuana for medical and recreational use.
In response to inquiries regarding the department’s policy for employees in states that approved recreational or medical use of marijuana, the USDA strongly reaffirmed that their drug testing policies concerning marijuana are still very much in effect, regardless of state law changes.
The memo states that, “use of Marijuana for ‘recreational’ purposes is not authorized under Federal law nor the Department’s Drug Free Workplace Program policies.” It then elaborates that, “accordingly, USDA testing procedures remain in full force and effect.”
This policy is largely still being enforced due to marijuana’s current status as a Schedule I drug at the federal level. The USDA described their current ongoing policy by stating that “USDA agencies test for the following class of drugs and their metabolites: (a) Marijuana, Opiate (Codeine/Morphine, Morphine, 6-Acetylmorphine) and PCP; and (b) Cocaine, Amphetamines (AMP/MAMP, Methamphetamine, MDMA). These drugs are listed in the Controlled Substances Act (CSA)…as Schedule I and Schedule II drugs, respectively. Schedule I drugs are substances, or chemicals defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. They are considered the most dangerous of all the drug schedules and invite potentially severe psychological or physical dependence.”
Citing the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Medical Review Officer Manual for Federal Agency Workplace Testing Programs, the USDA also made clear this policy applies equally whether marijuana is being used for recreational use or medical purposes:
“State initiatives and laws, which make available to an individual a variety of illicit drugs by a physician’s prescription or recommendation, do not make the use of these illicit drugs permissible under the Federal Drug-Free Workplace Program. These State initiatives and laws are inconsistent with Federal law and put the safety, health, and security of Federal works and the American public at risk. The use of any substance included in Schedule I of the CSA, whether for non-medical or ostensible medical purposes, is considered a violation of Federal law and the Federal Drug-Free Workplace Program.”
“The USDA’s stance on testing employees for marijuana use, regardless of the laws of the state in which they live, is unfortunate,” stated NORML Communications Director Erik Altieri, “Patients will be denied effective medicine and individuals will be denied civil liberties being given to their fellow state citizens. This situation highlights the fact that the existing, inherent conflict between state laws seeking to legalize and regulate cannabis for recreational or medical purposes and federal policy, which classifies the substance as illicit, are ultimately untenable. To resolve this conflict there must be a change in marijuana’s federal classification. Without such a change, we will consistently have a lack of clarity and ongoing conflict between public sentiment, state law, and federal policy.”
You can read the full USDA memo here.
Legislation that allows for the therapeutic use of cannabis by qualified patients, Assembly Bill 6357, was approved today by members of the New York state Assembly in a 95-38 vote. The debate now moves to the Senate where members are expected to take up companion legislation, Senate Bill 4406, in the coming days.
These measures would allow for the therapeutic use of cannabis by qualified patients who possess a recommendation from their physician. They are being supported by a bi-partisan coalition of more than 50 lawmakers.
Under these measures, state-registered patients diagnosed with one of over a dozen serious medical conditions — including cancer, HIV, post-traumatic stress, arthritis, diabetes, or epilepsy — would be allowed to possess up to 2 and one-half ounces of cannabis. The measure also allows for the establishment of licensed not-for-profit and for-profit facilities to produce and distribute cannabis to qualified patients. Non-registered patients would be able to present an affirmative defense of medical necessity at trial.
New York voters strongly support allowing patients to have access to marijuana therapy. According to a 2013 Sienna Research Institute poll, 82 percent of New Yorkers — including 81 percent of Democrats and Republicans — endorse the use of marijuana when authorized by a physician. This is an increase in support of 21 percent since pollsters last asked the question in 2012.
Despite this widespread public support, Senate Co-Leader Dean Skelos (R-Nassau County) has stated his opposition to the measure. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo stated he opposed the measure, but was keeping an “open mind” on the issue.
If you live in New York, it is imperative that your elected officials hear from you. Please take a minute and click here to quickly and easily contact your State Senator, Senate Co-Leader Skelos, and Governor Cuomo and tell them to stand with the overwhelming majority of New Yorkers by supporting this important legislation.
NORML will continue to update you in the coming weeks as this proposal moves forward. You can track the progress of marijuana law reform legislation in other states via NORML’s ‘Take Action’ page here.
In October of 2011, the White House issued an official response to a petition NORML submitted via their We the People outreach program on the topic of marijuana legalization. Despite being one of the most popular petitions at the site’s launch, the answer we received was far from satisfactory. Penned by Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske, the response featured most of the typical government talking points. He stated that marijuana is associated with addiction, respiratory disease, and cognitive impairment and that its use is a concern to public health. “We also recognize,” Gil wrote, “that legalizing marijuana would not provide the answer to any of the health, social, youth education, criminal justice, and community quality of life challenges associated with drug use.”
Well, just over a year later, the White House has responded again to a petition to deschedule marijuana and legalize it. The tone this time is markedly different, despite being penned by the same man.
Addressing the Legalization of Marijuana
By Gil Kerlikowske
Thank you for participating in We the People and speaking out on the legalization of marijuana. Coming out of the recent election, it is clear that we’re in the midst of a serious national conversation about marijuana.
At President Obama’s request, the Justice Department is reviewing the legalization initiatives passed in Colorado and Washington, given differences between state and federal law. In the meantime, please see a recent interview with Barbara Walters in which President Obama addressed the legalization of marijuana.
Do you think that marijuana should be legalized?
Well, I wouldn’t go that far. But what I think is that, at this point, Washington and Colorado, you’ve seen the voters speak on this issue. And as it is, the federal government has a lot to do when it comes to criminal prosecutions. It does not make sense from a prioritization point of view for us to focus on recreational drug users in a state that has already said that under state law that’s legal.
…this is a tough problem because Congress has not yet changed the law. I head up the executive branch; we’re supposed to be carrying out laws. And so what we’re going to need to have is a conversation about how do you reconcile a federal law that still says marijuana is a federal offense and state laws that say that it’s legal.
When you’re talking about drug kingpins, folks involved with violence, people are who are peddling hard drugs to our kids in our neighborhoods that are devastated, there is no doubt that we need to go after those folks hard… it makes sense for us to look at how we can make sure that our kids are discouraged from using drugs and engaging in substance abuse generally. There is more work we can do on the public health side and the treatment side.
Gil Kerlikowske is Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy
No tirade about protecting our children. No alarmist claims about sky rocketing marijuana potency and devastating addiction potential. Just a few short paragraphs stating we are “in the midst of a serious national conversation about marijuana” and deferring to an interview with the President where he stated arresting marijuana users wasn’t a priority and that the laws were still being reviewed. While far from embracing an end to marijuana prohibition, the simple fact that America’s Drug Czar had the opportunity to spout more anti-marijuana rhetoric and instead declined (while giving credence to the issue by stating it is a serious national conversation) it’s at the very least incredibly refreshing, if not a bit aberrational. We can only hope that when the administration finishes “reviewing” the laws just approved by resounding margins in Washington and Colorado, they choose to stand with the American people and place themselves on the right side of history.
“We the People” are already there.
President Obama Breaks His Silence on Marijuana Legalization: We’ve Got Bigger Fish to Fry Than Cannabis UsersDecember 14, 2012
Breaking his silence on the topic of marijuana legalization since two states approved ballot initiatives to regulate cannabis, President Barack Obama addressed the issue in an interview with Barbara Walters this week.
While the administration’s broader policy is still being developed, the president stated that arresting recreational users in these states would not be a priority.
“We’ve got bigger fish to fry. It would not make sense for us to see a top priority as going after recreational users in states that have determined that it’s legal. – President Obama
The president also clarified that he personally is not in favor of leglization, but that it is a more complex issue than his own view on it:
“This is a tough problem, because Congress has not yet changed the law. I head up the executive branch; we’re supposed to be carrying out laws. And so what we’re going to need to have is a conversation about, how do you reconcile a federal law that still says marijuana is a federal offense and state laws that say that it’s legal?” – President Obama
One line stands out as particularly interesting, during his answer he says:
“What I think is, that at this point, in Washington and Colorado, you’ve seen the voters speak on this issue. – President Obama
This is a great start and an encouraging sign that the federal government doesn’t intend to ramp up its focus on individual users. Though considering it is extremely rare for the federal government to handle possession cases (only a few percent of annual arrests are conducted by the federal government), and that this is the same stance he took on medical cannabis before raiding more dispensaries than his predecessor, his administration’s broader policy will be the one to watch and according to his Attorney General Holder that pronouncement may come soon. Speaking yesterday in Boston, Attorney General Holder stated that:
“There is a tension between federal law and these state laws. I would expect the policy pronouncement that we’re going to make will be done relatively soon.” – Attorney General Eric Holder
UPDATE: Politico has now posted President Obama’s interview for viewing. Check it out below.