Members of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, lead by Senate Judiciary Chairman, Chuck Grassley (R-IA) gathered this morning for a hearing titled, “Is the Department of Justice Adequately Protecting the Public from the Impact of State Recreational Marijuana Legalization?”
Invited participants at today’s hearing included an advisory board member for a national anti-marijuana organization and the Nebraska Attorney General who sought to overturn Colorado’s marijuana regulation laws by filing a lawsuit with the Supreme Court. Clearly, Senator Grassley and co-chair, Senator Feinstein (D-CA) did not gather lawmakers to discuss how to move marijuana policy reform forward, but backwards.
Senator Grassley’s hearing appeared, by and large, to be an effort to try and shame the Department of Justice into taking action to overturn the regulatory laws of states that are presently regulating marijuana production and sale. The panelists presented a laundry list of purported dangers that they claimed to be the result of changes in marijuana laws, such as supposed spikes in teenage use and traffic collisions.
There was, however, one highlight for marijuana reformers during today’s hearing. When witness Benjamin B. Wagner, U.S. Attorney of the Eastern District of California, Sacramento, California was asked by Sen. Grassley as to why the Department of Justice isn’t challenging adult use marijuana state laws, he responded: “The decision to intervene would not be solely based on data. If we took out regulation of the market and just left decriminalization, it may leave a more chaotic system than it is now.”
By contrast, arguably the hearing’s lowlight came from Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), who spoke longingly of about the decade of ‘Just Say No’ and claimed, “[G]ood people don’t smoke marijuana.”
The hearing’s tone, while predictable, is nonetheless disappointing. That is because the CARERS Act, bipartisan legislation to strengthen statewide medical marijuana protections, is pending before the US Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Grassley. To date, the senator has pledged not to hear the bill, despite the fact that medical marijuana legalization is supported by 80 percent of his own constituents and an estimated 78 percent of voters nationwide.
If you live in Iowa, you can contact Senator Grassley and urge him to hold hearings on the CARERS Act here. If you don’t live in Iowa, you can urge your own elected officials to support the CARERS Act here.
To view an archived video of today’s Congressional hearing, please visit: http://www.drugcaucus.senate.gov/hearings.
Do you know what your members of Congress think about marijuana legalization? Do you know how they have voted on pending federal marijuana measures? Being a member of the NORML network automatically puts you ahead of most in staying up-to-date on marijuana-related legislation and activism. But we could all use a little help staying on top of our elected officials when it comes to the causes we care about most, right?
That is why we are eager and excited to announce that, for the past six months, NORML has been working on an extensive project with YOU in mind. Congress largely created the mess that is Marijuana Prohibition back in 1937, and all of these years later they’re singularly in the best position politically to actually fixing the problem for federal and state governments.
When 2016 comes around, we want all of our members and supporters to know exactly where their Representatives and Senators stand on the issue of marijuana legalization.
Knowing so will be easy with NORML’s Congressional Scorecard. This scorecard will be an all-encompassing database that assigns a letter grade A through F to every single member of Congress based on how proactive they have been at ending the federal prohibition of marijuana. The grade a member of Congress receives will be based on a number of different factors such as how they have voted on marijuana related legislation, the number of marijuana related bills they have introduced or sponsored, and any public comments they have made on the subject. Here’s an example:
It’s time we focus on Congress and show them that we are paying attention to their actions! If your elected official receives a low grade then you know it’s time to kick the activism into gear and start making your voice heard!
We want as many people as possible to know about this Scorecard and we especially want Congress to know that they are being graded based upon what they are (or are not) doing to end the federal prohibition of marijuana. But we need your help to do that! We are fundraising so we can advertise this scorecard in an outlet we otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford. Would you consider donating $50 or more to our PAC (Political Action Committee) so we can make this happen?*
In return for your donation of $50 or more, we will send you a new custom designed just for NORML snapback from our friends over at California Grassroots!
*The NORML PAC is a separate, segregated fund of NORML, and under federal law, we can only raise PAC funds from NORML members. Therefore, if you wish to contribute to the NORML PAC, and you are not currently a NORML member, the first $25 of your contribution will be applied to your membership dues.
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)
Members of the United States Senate Appropriations Committee voted by a margin of 2 to 1 today in favor of language limiting 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. The provision was offered as an amendment by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) in the Senate version of the Fiscal Year 2016 Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill.
The Senate amendment mirrors language approved by the House last week in their version of the CJS bill.
Passage of the provision reauthorizes protections signed into law last year, but which are set to expire this September.
A vote by the full Senate and reconciliation with the House is necessary before the 2016 spending bill is transmitted to the President.
The majority of the US Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday cast votes in favor of expanding medical cannabis access to United States veterans. The committee vote marks the first time that a majority of any body of the US Senate has ever decided in favor of increased cannabis access.
Committee members voted 18 to 12 in favor of The Veterans Equal Access Amendment, sponsored by Republican Senator Steve Daines of Montana and Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon. It was added in committee to a must-pass military construction and veterans affairs spending bill (the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act). The bill is “certain” to pass on the Senate floor, according to a Drug Policy Alliance press release.
Weeks ago, House members narrowly killed a similar amendment in the House version of the Appropriations Act by a floor vote of 210 to 213. Once the Senate version of the act is passed by the Senate floor, House and Senate leaders will need to reconcile the two versions.
The Daines/Merkley amendment permits physicians affiliated with the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to recommend cannabis therapy to veterans in states that allow for its therapeutic use. Under current federal law, VA doctors are not permitted to fill out written documentation forms authorizing their patients to participate in state-sanctioned medical cannabis programs.
Stand-alone legislation (HR 667) to permit VA physicians to recommend cannabis therapy is pending in the US House of Representatives, Committee on Veterans Affairs: Health Subcommittee. A similar provision is also included in Senate Bill 683/HR 1538, The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act.
NORML coordinated its 2015 legislative ‘fly-in’ and lobby day in Washington, DC this past week, where many attendees visited with US Senators and urged them to vote for the Daines/Merkley amendment, among other pending reform legislation. Archived presentations from the conference are online here.
To learn and/or to contact your elected officials in regard to other pending marijuana law reform legislation, please visit NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ here.