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Policy

  • by Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director February 17, 2018

    Valentines Day week 2018 saw a tremendous amount of activity when it came to addressing our nations failed policy of marijuana prohibition. From new federal legislation being introduced to two federal lawsuits having hearings, plus a number of members of Congress, old allies and new stepping up to demand the Trump Administration continue to allow the states that have reformed their laws be respected by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

    Rick “Not Pro-Pot But Pro-Civil Liberties” Steves Went To Washington: Bestselling guidebook author and travel host Rick Steves held two briefings to address marijuana prohibition to a gathering of members of Congress and their staff. Inspired by Europe’s pragmatic approach to drug policy, with success measured by harm reduction rather than incarceration, Steves said that he is motivated to speak in favor of legalization because of its impact on civil liberties.

    “ There are so many reasons to end the prohibition on marijuana. Whether you’re concerned about the well-being of children, fairness for minority communities, redirecting money away from criminals and into state’s coffers, stemming the horrific bloodshed in Mexico, or civil liberties; it is clearly time for a new approach,” said Rick Steves. You can read more about his day at Capitol Hill here.

    New Legislation: Representative Lou Correa (D-CA) has introduced the Sensible Enforcement Of Cannabis Act which would codify the protections that were outlined in the now-rescinded Cole Memo.

    Upon the introduction, Rep. Correa said, “To date, eight states have legalized recreational cannabis, and twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia, representing more than half of the American population, have enacted legislation to permit the use of cannabis. Attorney General Sessions’ decision to rescind the “Cole Memo” created great uncertainty for these states and legal cannabis businesses, and put citizens in jeopardy for following their state laws.

    In my state of California, voters want legal cannabis. It boosts our economy and is a strong medical tool. By 2020, revenues from cannabis sales taxes could reach $1 billion annually for California. This bill will protect California and other states from federal overreach and ensure the will of the American voter is respected.”

    Essentially, the Sensible Enforcement Of Cannabis Act would give peace of mind to lawmakers, regulators, 149,000 workers, and the millions of patients and consumers who are dependent on the normalization of lawful marijuana markets. The most essential component in creating a stable business environment to meet consumer demand is certainty and that is what states would have with Reps. Correa’s legislation to protect state-lawful programs from militant marijuana prohibitionist Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

    Click here to send a message to your Representative to urge them to co-sponsor the Sensible Enforcement of Cannabis Act. 

    Lawsuit Against Attorney General Jeff Sessions: On February 14th, Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York heard oral arguments on the motion to dismiss Washington, et.al v. Sessions, et.al, a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Schedule I classification of cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act. The federal government argued to have the case dismissed. Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein of the U.S. District Court Southern District of New York reserved the decision.

    Lawyers for the plaintiffs in the case are Michael Hiller and Lauren Rudick of Hiller, PC, and include NORML Legal Committee member Joseph Bondy and Empire State NORML Director David Holland.

    Click here to read more.

    HIA Against The DEA: A case brought forward by the Hemp Industries Association against the DEA regarding the classification of CBD had a hearing on Thursday. You can read more about that effort here.

    Banking On Mnuchin: Congressman and co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus Earl Blumenauer pressed Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin on the need for certainty for the banks that are currently providing services for legal, state-regulated marijuana businesses. You can watch the video by clicking HERE and send a message to your federal lawmakers to support the SAFE Banking Act.

    Letter To Senate Appropriators: This week, a bipartisan group of 18 Senators signed a letter to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the powerful Appropriations Committee to demand that in the process of directing funding for the Department of Justice, the lawmakers should restrict the DoJ from being able to interfere with lawful state-regulated programs.

    The senators wrote that rescinding years of guidance has created “disruption, confusion, and uncertainty throughout the country. Citizens who have been acting in good faith based on federal and state assurances now feel exposed. This disruption may deny medications to the sick, push individuals back into illicit markets, and nullify the previously-effective regulations – all while thwarting the democratically-expressed will of the states.”

    “It is our hope that the fiscal year 2018 appropriations will alleviate the turbulence the Attorney General’s abrupt decision has caused and that the appropriations will help preserve the strong regulatory frameworks the states have created,” the senators continued. “Doing so will provide the opportunity to pursue federal legislation that both protects the legitimate federal interests at stake and respects the will of the states – both those that have liberalized their marijuana laws and those that have not.”

    The letter include U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Rand Paul (R-WV), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Tammy Duckworth (D-WI), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Maria Cantwell(D-WA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Edward Markey (D-MA).

    Click here to read the letter and click here to send a message to your federal officials in support of pending legislation to deschedule marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act. 

    New Justice Supporter: This week, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York added her name as a cosponsor to The Marijuana Justice Act, making her the 3rd member of the Senate to be on the bill. Specifically S. 1689 and HR 4815 would (1) remove marijuana from the US Controlled Substances Act, thereby ending the federal criminalization of cannabis; (2) incentivize states to mitigate existing and ongoing racial disparities in state-level marijuana arrests; (3) expunge federal convictions specific to marijuana possession; (4) allow individuals currently serving time in federal prison for marijuana-related violations to petition the court for resentencing; (5) and create a community reinvestment fund to invest in communities most impacted by the failed War on Drugs. Click here to send a message to your lawmakers in support of the Marijuana Justice Act. 

    Additionally, Senator Cory Booker added the language of the Marijuana Justice Act as an amendment to the criminal justice bill that is moving, however, that effort was unsuccessful.

    DoJ Nominees Move Forward: Senator Gardner has backed down from his threat to the Department of Justice to block Senate-confirmable nominees after Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the longstanding guidance memos including the 2013 Cole Memo.

  • by Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director February 15, 2018

    Representative Lou Correa (D-CA) has introduced the Sensible Enforcement Of Cannabis Act which would essentially codify the protections that were outlined in the now-rescinded Cole Memo.

    Upon the introduction, Rep. Correa said, “To date, eight states have legalized recreational cannabis, and twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia, representing more than half of the American population, have enacted legislation to permit the use of cannabis. Attorney General Sessions’ decision to rescind the “Cole Memo” created great uncertainty for these states and legal cannabis businesses, and put citizens in jeopardy for following their state laws.

    In my state of California, voters want legal cannabis. It boosts our economy and is a strong medical tool. By 2020, revenues from cannabis sales taxes could reach $1 billion annually for California. This bill will protect California and other states from federal overreach and ensure the will of the American voter is respected.”

    Essentially, the Sensible Enforcement Of Cannabis Act would give peace of mind to lawmakers, regulators, 149,000 workers, and the millions of patients and consumers who are dependent on the normalization of lawful marijuana markets. The most essential component in creating a stable business environment to meet consumer demand is certainty and that is what states would have with Reps. Correa’s legislation to protect state-lawful programs from militant marijuana prohibitionist Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

    Click here to send a message to your Representative in support of the Sensible Enforcement Of Cannabis Act. 

  • by Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director February 14, 2018

    Steves House Briefing

    Yesterday on Capitol Hill, bestselling guidebook author and travel host Rick Steves held two briefings to address marijuana prohibition to a gathering of members of Congress and their staff. Inspired by Europe’s pragmatic approach to drug policy, with success measured by harm reduction rather than incarceration, Steves said that he is motivated to speak in favor of legalization because of its impact on civil liberties.

    “ There are so many reasons to end the prohibition on marijuana. Whether you’re concerned about the well-being of children, fairness for minority communities, redirecting money away from criminals and into state’s coffers, stemming the horrific bloodshed in Mexico, or civil liberties; it is clearly time for a new approach,” said Rick Steves.

    The discussion on marijuana policy covered the current issues stemming from the current tension between federal prohibition and the ever-evolving patchwork of marijuana law reforms at the state level.

    “It’s not 2010, we have years of data that is showing from my home state of Washington that regulation works,” said Steves.

    Steves Senate Briefing

    One of the nation’s leading voices to end the prohibition of marijuana, Rick Steves serves as a member of the board of NORML and has advocated extensively in support of the successful legalization efforts in Maine, Massachusetts, Oregon, and his home state of Washington.

    The events were organized by NORML in cooperation with the recently formed bipartisan Congressional Cannabis Caucus. The Cannabis Caucus bills itself as “to develop and promote sensible cannabis policy reform and work to ease the tension between federal and state cannabis laws.”

    “Rick Steves has worked for decades to shine a light on the impact of our outdated marijuana laws. He has been a tireless advocate to end cannabis prohibition,” said Rep. Blumenauer, co-chair of the Cannabis Caucus. “We are thrilled to welcome him to Capitol Hill as we continue to educate Members and their staff about the importance of addressing this issue now.”

     

    Click here to send a message to your federal officials and demand that they reform our nations marijuana laws.

  • by Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director February 9, 2018

    Marijuana medicineAfter a brief government shutdown, congressional leadership voted to enact a six-week continuing resolution that maintains present federal spending levels and priorities through March 23, 2018. The resolution extends medical cannabis patient protections imposed by the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment until that date.

    The amendment, which has been in place since 2014, maintains that federal funds cannot be used to prevent states from “implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana.”

    Without these protections, medical cannabis cultivators and dispensaries exist with a greater threat than normal of federal enforcement of national prohibition, yet the certainty that these protections will be honored have been in doubt throughout the entire Trump administration.

    When President Trump signed the first Continuing Resolution in 2017, he issued a signing statement regarding the amendment:

    “Division B, section 537 provides that the Department of Justice may not use any funds to prevent implementation of medical marijuana laws by various States and territories. I will treat this provision consistently with my constitutional responsibility to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”

    Essentially stating that his administration believes they can ignore these protections if they do not view them to be Constitutional.

    Under this mentality, Attorney General Jeff Sessions could move in to shut down medical marijuana facilities at any point. Should Sessions crackdown, we are confident that we would win a court challenge, given previous rulings on this very question. However, it would be a reactive exercise after an enforcement action, and during that process, the patients who relied on a supply chain to get them their medication would not have a lawful means to do so.

    So now, the government reopens under another CR, the protections are back in place, and we are right back where we were; in an uneasy détente. The threat of Sessions on one side and medical patients in a state-lawful system trying to alleviate their suffering.

    Further, Congressional leadership must reauthorize this language as part of the forthcoming appropriations in order for the provisions to stay in effect in any new spending deal. Last July, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) offered identical language before the Senate Appropriations Committee, which approved it. However, House Rules Committee Chair Peter Sessions (R-TX) has refused to allow House members to vote on similar language. The provision will now be considered by House and Senate leadership when the two chambers’ appropriations bills are reconciled, should Congress ever set a FY18 budget, of which is already over a third of the way behind us.

    Click here to send a message to your lawmakers and tell them to retain these protections.

  • 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)

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