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A Top House Republican Questions Jeff Sessions’s Anti-Marijuana Moves

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A top Republican leader in Congress is questioning U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s decision to rescind protections for local marijuana laws and says that letting states implement legalization means “we get to see the laboratories of democracy at work.”

The new comments from the fourth highest ranking GOP lawmaker in the House represent a big shift for Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), who has until now consistently opposed efforts on Capitol Hill to protect state cannabis laws from federal interference.

But in a new interview with local newspaper the Spokesman-Review, the Republican congresswoman says she “lean[s] against” Sessions’s move earlier this year to erase the Obama-era Cole Memo, which generally advised federal prosecutors not to interfere with state marijuana laws.

She also now says cannabis should “maybe” be rescheduled under the Controlled Substances Act.

As chair of the House Republican Conference since 2013, McMorris Rodgers is “responsible for electing the House Republican leadership, approving GOP Member committee assignments, managing leadership-driven floor debates, and executing a communications strategy,” according to the party’s official description of the role.

As such, her evolving position on cannabis is in stark contrast to other party leaders, such as Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX), who has consistently blocked marijuana amendments from even reaching the floor of the House for consideration over the past several years.

And McMorris Rodgers’s comments contradict her own voting record on the issue over a period of more than a decade.

Despite the fact that Washington State has had legal medical cannabis since 1998, McMorris Rodgers, who entered Congress in 2005, voted five times against floor amendments to bar the Department of Justice from interfering in her state and others with medical marijuana programs.

In 2015, she also opposed a broader measure to shield state with recreational marijuana laws from federal interference. Washington State voters legalized marijuana via a ballot initiative in 2012.

On three occasions from 2014 to 2016, McMorris Rodgers voted against amendments to let military veterans receive medical cannabis recommendations from their Department of Veterans Affairs doctors. While, she did support a narrow measure in 2015 to shield limited state CBD medical cannabis programs from federal interference, she opposed a 2014 amendment to protect banks that work with marijuana businesses from being punished by regulators. And she voted against a number of amendments to let states implement hemp programs.

In a 2016 interview with Roll Call, she expressed concern that legalization of marijuana is creating an “increased underground economy” and that cannabis is a gateway drug.

“Marijuana often is the entry to other types of substance abuse,” she said.

To be sure, the congresswoman’s new remarks this month are fairly measured, and it would be a mistake to count her as a converted legalization supporter.

“I continue to have concerns about especially recreational marijuana, and the impact it may have on children,” she said in the new interview.

But it is nonetheless remarkable that a Republican lawmaker outranked by only the speaker, majority leader and majority whip would call into question a major move by a presidential administration of her own party to rescind cannabis protections instituted by the former Democratic administration. And it is notable, in light of her voting record and the position of other GOP House leaders, that she would voice even tempered support for letting states implement their marijuana laws without federal interference.

“It appears that the leader of the pack is finally catching up to the pack,” Don Murphy, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment, referring to the growing number of rank-and-file Republicans who are embracing cannabis reform. “Not only is Rep. McMorris-Rodgers getting in step with many in her conference, but her constituents as well.”

“It has become increasingly difficult for Republicans who campaign on limited government, free markets and federalism to publicly oppose drug policy reform and defend the status quo. It is both inconsistent with those beliefs and the will of their voters.”

When McMorris Rodgers was asked at a town hall meeting roughly a year ago how she would react to the attorney general going after compliant marijuana businesses in legalization states, she said, “I would support his efforts.”

Now she’s singing a different tune.

The shift coincides with the increasing political popularity of marijuana law reform among voters as well as a growing sense that Democrats are poised to seize control of at least one chamber of Congress in November’s midterm elections.

McMorris Rodgers’s Democratic challenger in Washington’s 5th congressional district, Lisa Brown, told the Spokesman-Review that she supports ending federal marijuana prohibition.

The incumbent, who has won reelection by 20-to-30-point margins for the past several election cycles, seems to be a little more worried about retaining her seat this time amidst a rising national blue wave.

The Cook Political Report ranks the race as “lean Republican,” one step up from toss-up status.

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 15-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (Organization citations are for identification only and do not constitute an endorsement or partnership.)

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Senators Cite Marijuana Arrests Of U.S. Citizens In Border Patrol Oversight Request

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Three senators requested a review of Border Patrol immigration checkpoint actions on Tuesday, citing a past report that found a significant number of searches and seizures were executed against U.S. citizens for low-level marijuana possession.

The request to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) outlines a number of data points concerning checkpoint enforcement that the senators say are necessary to collect in order to assess compliance with the Fourth Amendment. That includes information on rationale for checkpoint stops, data collection and protocol for searches.

“In 2017, the GAO published a report that looked at, among other things, the Border Patrol strategy of placing and utilizing immigration checkpoints generally between 25 and 100 miles from the border,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) wrote in a letter to Comptroller General Gene Dodaro. “As a result of this review, the GAO found that 40 percent of checkpoint seizures were from U.S. citizens for one ounce or less of marijuana.”

Though the letter—which was also signed by Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Gary Peters (D-MI)—didn’t specifically request information on marijuana seizures, it did inquire about the number of U.S. citizens apprehended and the reason for their arrests. It also asks, “How frequently does the agency analyze trends in drug seizures and apprehensions to evaluate its priorities at each checkpoint?”

“Comprehensive data on who receives additional screening at checkpoints, and the reasonable suspicion that undergirds these encounters, searches, and seizures, is fundamental to understanding if and how Border Patrol abides by constitutional limits,” the letter states.

Leahy and Murray also called for the collection of data on “the quantities of drugs detected” during canine checkpoint searches in legislation the pair reintroduced last month.

“Unless a government agent has a legitimate reason to stop and search you—a reasonable suspicion or probable cause—Americans should not be subject to questioning and detention for merely going about their daily lives,” Leahy said in a press release. “The Trump administration cannot be trusted to use its finite resources in a way that protects our civil liberties and reflects our values.”

It’s not clear if cannabis seizures for U.S. citizens remain prominent at immigration checkpoints since the 2017 report was released, but one thing that the Customs and Border Protection has made clear is that it doesn’t matter if a stop takes place in a state that’s legalized marijuana—it enforces federal law.

That applies to instances of illicit drug trafficking across the border, too. But as more states like California have legalized cannabis, border agents have seized less and less marijuana.

GOP Congressman Will Meet Attorney General To Discuss Expanding Marijuana Research

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Congressman Tells Joe Rogan He Backs States’ Marijuana Rights But Actually Voted Against Them

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Joe Rogan debated the merits of marijuana legalization on Tuesday with a Republican congressman who ultimately conceded that medical cannabis should be federally legal and states should be empowered to set their own legalization policies.

But neither Rogan nor Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) mentioned the fact that he recently voted against a House amendment to shield state marijuana laws from federal interference and has not added his name as a cosponsor of several pending medical cannabis bills.

The congressman, a former Navy SEAL, didn’t rule out the possibility of coming around to endorsing adult-use legalization but voiced several concerns about the prospect, including underage usage, the lack of technology to detect impaired driving and reduced productivity.

“I can be convinced, but I’m not there yet,” he said on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast. “I’m definitely more open to just the federal legalization of medical marijuana and all the benefits that come with that. On the recreational side, I’m happy to leave that up to the states.”

“My issue with recreational marijuana still—and this is not a strong opinion I have, this is not a hill I’m dying on by any means—but if we’re going to change it, I want to understand what the point is, what the benefits are of it recreationally,” he said. “I understand the benefits medically very well, but I want to understand the recreational benefits and I want to see how this data plays out in places like California and Colorado.”

Rogan emphasized that alcohol is federally legal despite risks to young people, but Crenshaw, an avowed scotch fan, said his “counter is simply this: the alcohol issue is out of the bag” and that we’re “never going to put that back in.”

“My point is this: there’s a normalization that occurs when you legalize something,” the congressman said. “What you’ve done though is you normalized it for teenagers. There’s a lot of people who can just live their lives extremely productively and smoke pot a lot. And there’s a lot of people who can’t and there’s a lot of people who don’t.”

“Those people are lazy bitches,” Rogan said.

“Don’t you have to drink way more scotch to get even close to the basic cognitive incoherence that you’d be with just one bite of a brownie?” Crenshaw asked.

“You would, but not me,” Rogan said. “I smoke pot all the time. I could have smoked pot before this podcast and had the exact same podcast. I could have had several hits. If I gave you several hits, you’d be obliterated.”

“On a personal level, I’m just not opposed to what you’re saying at all,” Crenshaw said. “From a policy level though I just look at things different.”

That stance is reflected in the freshman congressman’s record. Despite voicing support for medical cannabis and leaving recreational legalization up to the states, he’s declined to cosponsor any legislation on the former issue and proactively voted against an amendment to protect states that legalize marijuana for adult use from federal intervention.

(On another drug policy issue near and dear to Rogan that didn’t arise during the interview, Crenshaw also voted against an amendment from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) that would have removed barriers to research on the benefits like psilocybin and MDMA.)

Crenshaw said his perspective wasn’t formed out of naivety and that he tried marijuana and didn’t like it. He also argued that cannabis “does reduce productivity I think more than alcohol does.”

“As a policymaker, I have to look at the whole situations. I see people like you and you’re like you’d be fine, why not?” he said. “But I do have to take into account the entirety of the situation and ask myself, ‘well, what is the benefit to society doing this?'”

Rogan said that marijuana facilitates community bonding and makes people happier—to which Crenshaw responded “I don’t know, I think alcohol is much more of a social lubricant—it definitely makes you meaner too—but I mean as far as getting along with people and interacting with human beings.”

“I’m not dying on this hill. I have questions, and those questions are unanswered,” he said, adding that the “bottom line is that’s a state decision” to legalize recreationally.

“As far as the battles that we should fight at the federal level, we’ve got to start with the medical side. I think the science is clear there,” he said.

“Another reason I’m a Republican is because I believe in somewhat slower policymaking too. These conversations have to play out in society and we don’t always need to solve the problem right away. I think the medical conversation is the one we should be fighting for. I think the recreational side is a few steps beyond that. We’ll get to know and we’ll know more.”

Later in the podcast, Crenshaw defended the broader war on drugs and argued that “you might feel like you’re losing all the time, but you’re mitigating” drug use through prohibition enforcement.

GOP Congressman Will Meet Attorney General To Discuss Expanding Marijuana Research

Photo courtesy of YouTube/Joe Rogan Experience.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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New York And Connecticut Governors Talk Marijuana Legalization On Fishing Trip

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The governors of New York and Connecticut went fishing and talked about marijuana legalization on Tuesday.

The conversation comes after lawmakers in both states were unable to pass legalization legislation before their respective sessions’ ends this year, despite having the support of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D).

“We talked about policy issues like the marijuana issue, which is obviously also relevant to contiguous states,” Cuomo said at a press conference following the fishing trip. “What Connecticut does on marijuana is relevant to New York, what New York does is relevant to Connecticut so we talked about that and a lot of issues. So we had fun.”

Watch Cuomo’s marijuana comments at about 5:00 into the video below:

Cuomo had described legalization as a top legislative priority for 2019 and included it in his state budget proposal. But after months of negotiations with lawmakers, the plan fell through, due in part to disagreements about how to allocate tax revenue and whether to allow individual jurisdictions to opt out of allowing cannabis businesses.

The governor did sign legislation in July that expands the state’s marijuana decriminalization policy and provides a pathway for expungements of past marijuana convictions.

Over in Connecticut, Lamont campaigned on legalization during his election bid last year and described it as one of his administration’s “priorities” after he took office. But as with neighboring New York, the legislature failed to advance a legalization bill beside multiple successful committee votes and hearings throughout the year.

The specifics of what the governors talked about during their fishing expedition on Lake Ontario aren’t clear, but both are presumably gearing up for another round of legislative efforts marijuana over the coming year and could take lessons from each other as reform talks continue.

Another East Coast state, New Jersey, has also struggled to move legalization legislation forward, with lawmakers saying that the issue should be taken up by voters in 2020 rather than pushed through the legislature, though there has been discussion lately about another try at moving a bill before year’s end. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) did sign a decriminalization and expungements bill in May, however.

Federal Data Shows Youth Marijuana Use Isn’t Increasing Under Legalization

Photo courtesy of CBS 6.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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