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  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Executive Director May 23, 2017

    Duterte_delivers_his_message_to_the_Filipino_community_in_Vietnam_during_a_meeting_held_at_the_Intercontinental_Hotel_on_September_28If the latest comments and memos coming out of Attorney General Sessions’ Department of Justice didn’t raise concerns about the Trump Administration’s potential plans to reignite our nation’s failed war on drugs, his recent call with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte should sound alarm bells.

    A reminder: President Duterte has extrajudicially executed thousands of his own citizens on drug charges during his tenure leading the country.

    The Washington Post received a transcript of the phone call and describes Trump’s comments on Duterte’s drug “policy” as follows:

    …in their call [Trump] praised Duterte for doing an “unbelievable job on the drug problem.”

    “Many countries have the problem, we have the problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that,” Trump said, according to the transcript.

    After Duterte replied that drugs are the “scourge of my nation now and I have to do something to preserve the Filipino nation,” Trump appeared to take a swipe at his predecessor, Barack Obama, who had canceled a bilateral meeting with Duterte after the Philippines leader insulted him.

    “I understand that and fully understand that and I think we had a previous president who did not understand that,” Trump said.

    Read the full story in The Washington Post here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director April 27, 2017

    Cannabis PenaltiesA recently released white paper published by the National District Attorneys Association is calling for the federal government to strictly enforce anti-cannabis laws in states that have regulated its production and distribution for either medical or recreational purposes.

    The working group, which consists of D.A.s and prosecutors from more than a dozen states (including representatives from adult use states like California and Colorado), hopes to influence the Trump administration to set aside the 2013 Cole memorandum. That memorandum, authored by former US Deputy Attorney General James Cole, directs state 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.

    “To maintain respect for the rule of law, it is essential that federal drug enforcement policy regarding the manufacture, importation, possession, use and distribution of marijuana be applied consistently across the nation,” the NDAA paper concludes.

    Predictably, authors repeat numerous falsehoods about marijuana and marijuana policy in an effort to bolster their call for a federal crackdown. Specifically, authors allege that cannabis damages the brain to a far greater extent than alcohol and that statewide regulations have increased young people’s access to the plant. Both claims are demonstrably false.

    The NDAA opines, “[Marijuana] is not like alcohol … because alcohol use does not cause the same type of permanent changes to teens’ ability to concentrate and learn.” Yet, well controlled studies dismiss the contention that cannabis exposure causes permanent structural damage to the brain.

    Specifically, a 2015 study assessed brain morphology in both daily adult and adolescent cannabis users compared to non-users, with a particular focus on whether any differences were identifiable in the nucleus accumbens, amygdala, hippocampus, and the cerebellum. Investigators reported “no statistically significant differences … between daily users and nonusers on volume or shape in the regions of interest” after researchers controlled for potentially confounding variables. In contrast to marijuana, researchers acknowledged that alcohol “has been unequivocally associated with deleterious effects on brain morphology and cognition in both adults and adolescents.”

    The NDAA further claims, “Legalization of marijuana for medical use and recreational use clearly sends a message to youth that marijuana is not dangerous and increases youth access to marijuana.”

    But data from the US Centers for Disease control reports that young people’s access to marijuana has fallen by 13 percent since 2002. The agency further reports, “Since 2002, the prevalence of marijuana use and initiation among U.S. youth has declined” – a finding that is consistent with numerous prior studies.

    Moreover, state-specific post-legalization data published in March by the Colorado Department of Public Health concludes: “[M]arijuana use, both among adults and among youth, does not appear to be increasing to date. No change was observed in past 30-day marijuana use among adults between 2014 (13.6 percent) and 2015 (13.4 percent). Similarly, there was no statistically significant change in 30-day or lifetime marijuana use among high school students between 2013 (lifetime: 36.9 percent, 30-day: 19.7 percent) and 2015 (lifetime: 38.0 percent, 30-day: 21.2 percent).” 2016 data compiled by Washington State Department of Social and Health Services similarly finds that “rates of teen marijuana use have remained steady” post legalization.

    The National District Attorneys Association is the largest and oldest prosecutor organization in the country. Their mission is to be “the voice of America’s prosecutors and strives to support their efforts to protect the rights and safety of the people in their communities.”

    The full text of the their paper, entitled “Marijuana Policy: The State and Local Prosecutors’ Perspective,” is available online here.

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Executive Director April 14, 2017

    Trump_signing_Executive_Order_13780
    The Trump Administration is widely expected to pick Representative Tom Marino for Drug Czar.

    Representative Marino is a longtime, rabid drug warrior who has a consistent record of voting against marijuana law reform legislation — a position that runs counter to that of the majority of voters and his own constituents. His appointment to this office highlights the fact that this administration remains committed to the failed 1980s ‘war on drugs’ playbook.

    The Trump administration promised to eliminate bureaucratic waste. It should start by eliminating the office of the Drug Czar.

    The White House Drug Czar is required, by statute, “to oppose any attempt to legalize the use of a substance that is listed in Schedule I” and to “ensure that no Federal funds … shall be expended for any study or contract relating to the legalization (for a medical use or any other use) of a substance listed in Schedule I.” This narrow-minded, Flat Earth mentality refuses to acknowledge the reality that the majority of the country is now authorized to engage in the use of medical cannabis and it mandates that US drug policy be dictated by rhetoric and ideology rather than by science and evidence.

    NORML opposes Marino’s appointment to the position of Drug Czar and we further call for this anti-science agency to be abolished entirely.

    Click here to send a message to President Trump – End the charade of the Drug Czar by abolishing the position.

    The Drug Czar’s office is a remnant of a bygone era when US drug policy was framed as a ‘war’ fueled largely by rhetoric and ideology. In 2017 we can do better and we must. The majority of Americans view drug abuse as a public health issue, they favor regulating cannabis as opposed to criminalizing it, and they are demanding policy changes based on facts.

    Tell President Trump: There is no place for ‘Czars’ in today’s American government, particularly those like Marino who still cling to outdated and failed drug war policies that embody misplaced ideologies of the past.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director February 23, 2017

    CongressWhite House Press Secretary Sean Spicer today said that the Trump administration may engage in “greater” efforts to enforce federal anti-marijuana laws in jurisdictions that have legalized and regulated its adult use.

    In response to a question regarding how the administration intends to address statewide marijuana legalization laws, Spicer indicated that the administration views the regulation of marijuana for medical purposes as distinct from laws governing its adult use.

    He said: “I’ve said before that the President understands the pain and suffering that many people go through who are facing, especially, terminal diseases and the comfort that some of these drugs, including medical marijuana, can bring to them.” He then added, But “there’s a big difference between that and recreational marijuana. I think that when you see something like the opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country, the last thing we should be doing is encouraging people.”

    On the latter topic, he concluded, “I do believe you will see greater enforcement” of anti-marijuana laws from the Department of Justice.

    While campaigning, President Trump voiced support for the authority of individual states to impose regulatory policies specific to the use and dispensing of medical cannabis, but was somewhat less clear with regard to whether he believed that state lawmakers ought to be able to regulate the adult use of cannabis absent federal interference. For instance, he stated that changes in the law in Colorado — one of eight states to legalize the adult use of marijuana — had led to “some big problems.”

    Senator Jeff Sessions, now US Attorney General, has been historically critical of marijuana policy reforms, stating: “[M]arijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized. … [I]t’s in fact a very real danger.” He also opined, “Good people don’t smoke marijuana,” and previously endorsed legislation to execute marijuana traffickers.

    During his testimony before members of the Senate Judiciary Committee in January, Sessions indicated that as US Attorney General he may take a more aggressive approach than did the Obama administration with regard to states that have enacted recreational use laws.

    Commenting on Spicer’s comments, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said: “The press secretary’s comments are hardly surprising and they are similar to comments made by the new US Attorney General Jeff Sessions during his vetting process when he made clear that any use of marijuana remains against federal law and that ‘it is not the Attorney General’s job to decide what laws to enforce.’

    “Ultimately, those who reside in jurisdictions that have legalized and regulated cannabis under state law will only truly be safe from the threat of federal prosecution when and if members of Congress elect to amend federal marijuana laws in a manner that comports with majority public opinion and the plant’s rapidly changing legal and cultural status. Certainly, Congressional passage of HR 975, ‘The Respect State Marijuana Laws Act,’ and/or re-authorization of the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment would be steps in the right direction to protect patients and others in legal states from undue federal interference.

    “If federal politicians were truly listening to the will of the electorate, they would move forward to enact these federal changes, which are strongly in line with voters’ sentiments. According to national polling data released today, 71 percent of voters — including majorities of Democrats, Independents, and Republicans — say that they “oppose the government enforcing federal laws against marijuana in states that have already legalized medical or recreational marijuana.” In short, undermining voters’ wishes and state laws in this regard not only defies common sense, it is also bad politics — particularly for an administration that is defining itself as populist in nature.”

    TAKE ACTION:
    Click here to email your member of Congress and urge them to support The Respect States’ Marijuana Laws Act.
    Click here to email your member of Congress to insist that they join the newly formed Cannabis Caucus.

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Executive Director January 10, 2017

    marijuana_gavelDuring his confirmation for the position of Attorney General, Senator Jeff Sessions failed to give a straight answer with regard to how the Justice Department should respond to states that have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use.

    The Alabama Senator was questioned by both Sens. Leahy (D-VT) and Lee (R-UT) with respect to whether the principles of federalism ought to apply to state marijuana laws.

    Senator Leahy: “Would you use our federal resources to investigate and prosecute sick people using marijuana in accordance with state law even though it might violate federal law?”

    Senator Sessions: “I won’t commit to never enforcing federal law, Senator Leahy, but absolutely it is a problem of resources for the federal government. The Department of Justice under Lynch and Holder set forth some policies that they thought were appropriate to define what cases should be prosecuted in states that have legalized, at least in some fashion marijuana, some parts of marijuana.”

    Senator Leahy: “Do you agree with those guidelines?”

    Senator Sessions: “I think some of them are truly valuable in evaluating cases, but fundamentally the criticism I think that is legitimate is that they may not have been followed. Using good judgment on how to handle these cases will be a responsibility of mine I know it wont be an easy decision but i will try to do my duty in a fair and just way.”

    Senator Leahy: “The reason I mention this, is because you have some very strong views, you even mandated the death penalty for second offense on drug trafficking, including marijuana, even though mandatory death penalties are of course unconstitutional.”

    Senator Sessions: “Well I’m not sure under what circumstances i said that, but I don’t think…”

    Senator Leahy: “Would you say it‘s not your view today?”

    Senator Sessions: “(laughs) It is not my view today.”

    Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) followed up with questions regarding how marijuana policy factors into federalism and asked if the way the Obama Administration has handled marijuana laws created any issues with separation of powers and states rights. Sessions replied that, “One obvious concern is the United States Congress has made the possession in every state and distribution an illegal act. If that’s something that’s not desired any longer Congress should pass a law to change the rule, it is not the Attorney General’s job to decide what laws to enforce.”

    So, after finally being put on the spot and questioned on the issue, we are no closer to clarity in regards to Sessions plans for how to treat state marijuana laws than we were yesterday. If anything, his comments are a cause for concern and can be interpreted as leaving the door open for enforcing federal law in legalized states. If Sessions wants to be an Attorney General for ALL Americans, he must bring his views in line with the majority of the population and support allowing states to set their own marijuana policies without fear of federal intervention.

    Clearly, the battle is just beginning to protect state legalization and medical marijuana laws. Can you contribute today to help us keep up our federal political actions and advance our efforts for state-level law reform?

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