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Judiciary Committee

  • by NORML September 13, 2018

    Members of the House Judiciary Committee voted today in favor of legislation (HR 5634: The Medical Cannabis Research Act of 2018) to facilitate federally-approved clinical trials assessing the efficacy of whole-plant cannabis. The vote marks the first time that lawmakers have ever decided in favor of easing existing federal restrictions which limit investigators ability to clinically study marijuana in a manner similar to other controlled substances.

    “The federal hurdles in place that currently discourage clinicians from engaging in clinical cannabis research have long been onerous and irrational,” NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said. “It is high time that lawmakers recognize this problem and take action to amend it so that investigators may conduct the same sort of high-quality clinical research with cannabis that they do with other substances.”

    Currently, federal regulations mandate that investigators participating in FDA-approved clinical trials involving cannabis must obtain marijuana from a single, federally-licensed source, the University of Mississippi. However, many of those familiar with their product have criticized its quality, opining that it possesses subpar potency, is often poorly manicured, and that it does not accurately reflect the wide variety of cannabis products and strains available to consumers.

    As the result of a lawsuit, DEA Administrative Law Judge Mary Ellen Bittner in 2007 ruled that expanding the pool of federally licensed providers would be “in the public interest.” The agency ultimately rejected that decision. In 2016, the DEA publicly changed its stance and amended regulations in a manner to permit additional applicants to apply for federal licensure to grow marijuana. However, the United States Attorney General’s office has failed to take action on any pending 25 applications submitted following the 2016 rule change.

    House Bill 6534, sponsored by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and 40 cosponsors mandates the Attorney General to take action on these pending federal applications, and to approve at least two additional marijuana manufacturers within a year. The measure also explicitly permits the Veterans Affairs office to engage in clinical trials involving the cannabis plant.

    While some Democrats on the Committee, as well as some drug policy reform organizations, expressed criticism with regard to a provision in the bill restricting applicants with a drug-related conviction, lawmakers indicated that they would consider revising this language prior to the bill receiving a vote on the House floor.

    Armentano concluded: “While this vote marks a step forward, it must also be acknowledged that despite existing barriers to research, ample studies already exist to contradict cannabis’ federal, schedule I status as a substance without medical utility, lacking acceptable safety, and possessing a high potential of abuse. More clinical research is welcome, but unfortunately science has never driven marijuana policy. If it did, the United States would already have a very different policy in place.”

  • by Carly Wolf, NORML Political Associate March 15, 2018

    I’m Carly, and I’ve been a Political Associate with NORML in Washington, DC for about 7 months now. I recently testified (for my first time ever!) before the Maryland House of Delegates Judiciary Committee in favor of House Bill 1264 – a constitutional amendment that would put a question on this November’s ballot to let the voters decide on the issue of marijuana legalization and retail sales.

    When I first found out I was going to testify, I was excited. I knew this was a unique opportunity that not everyone would have in their lives, and a chance to make my own voice heard before a committee of legislators in a state I felt a deep connection to – being a recent graduate of the University of Maryland, I spent some of the best years of my life living in College Park, MD.

    What was I going to say? How was I going to say it? Were they going to take me seriously, being so young? Is 2 minutes enough to communicate the extremely important message I was trying to convey? There was only one thing I knew for sure – I was really nervous.

    I arrived at the Maryland State House around noon that day, and was instantly greeted by my colleagues from Maryland NORML. Everyone brought positive vibes and good energy, which I needed. The hearing began at 1pm, and I thought it would only be a couple hours, at most, before they called our bill. Little did I know, this was all just a waiting game.

    Then came 5pm, 6pm, 7pm… and still no mention of HB 1264. By that time, I was losing energy and hope, wondering if the committee would even end up getting to our bill that day. Luckily, I was surrounded by an optimistic, upbeat group of activists that kept my spirits high. By the time 10pm rolled around, it was finally our turn.

    I entered the committee room, and Delegate Moon (the bill’s sponsor) had the microphone, explaining different provisions of the bill and answering a boatload of questions from the committee members, with a representative from the Marijuana Policy Project, and a former law enforcement officer joining him on the panel.

    My nerves were surprisingly eased as I sat in that room waiting for my turn to testify. The committee members were cracking light-hearted jokes – one of them even joked about Delegate Moon providing samples to the committee. This made me feel a lot more comfortable speaking in front of them. After all, they are just regular people, and concerned residents of MD like I once was.

    I was on the next panel, with Luke Jones, Director of Maryland NORML, and attorney Eric Sterling beside me. We each had our 2 minutes, and that was that. I felt confident in my testimony, focusing on the right to home cultivate and how perceived youth access to cannabis has declined in the states that have legalized.

    The other panels testifying in favor included victims of the current laws who were arrested for simple possession and a medical patient who had to revert to the black market because of high costs and poor accessibility.

    Then came the opposition panel. It consisted of two AAA representatives (as expected), along with another representative from the organization, Smart Approaches to Marijuana. They brought up concerns of impaired driving and youth access, which we had previously addressed. We left the committee room around 11:30pm feeling cautiously optimistic and eager to see how this would all play out.

    All in all, besides the anticipation of waiting for 10 hours, I had an incredibly positive experience testifying at the Maryland State House. I felt empowered, like I was making a difference. If there’s ever a hearing for a bill on an issue that you care about – go. Testify. I’m grateful I had the opportunity to do so, and as a result, Maryland is one step closer to ending the prohibition of marijuana.

    If you live in MD, tell your lawmakers to support HB 1264

  • 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)