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California Gov. Brown Rejects Slew of Marijuana And Drug Reform Bills

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A bill that would have allowed California marijuana merchants to give product away free of charge to low-income people was one of a slew of drug policy reform proposals rejected over the weekend by Gov. Jerry Brown, who is approaching the end of his 50-year career in public service on a prohibitionist, obstructionist note.

Despite California’s reputation as a progressive, forward-leaning state on issues like climate change—a pet issue of the governor—Brown, a Democrat, in recent days has rejected bills that would have provided for:

*safe-injection sites to alleviate the opiate overdose crisis;

*licensed commercial cannabis retailers to deduct business expenses;

*schools to allow children medical marijuana access on campus;

*multiple licensed marijuana businesses to share in common required resources like breakrooms and lobbies and

*an expansion of the California Marijuana Research Program.

Brown did sign bills over the weekend that allow for an expansion of hemp farming and for the removal or reduction of prior cannabis convictions.

One of the proposals the governor rejected, Senate Bill 829, introduced by state Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), would have authorized licensed cannabis retailers to “offer free cannabis or cannabis goods” to medical marijuana patients. But Brown said no, on the basis that it violated California’s voter-approved recreational marijuana law, Prop. 64.

Under current state law, licensed medical-cannabis retailers are prohibited from giving away samples free-of-charge.

That’s a break from past practices pre-legalization, when medical marijuana dispensaries often provided free or steeply discounted cannabis to low-income patients, whose government-subsidized health insurance would pay for pharmaceutical drugs like opiates, but not cannabis.

“Providing free cannabis to a person with only a doctor’s recommendation undermines the intent of the voters,” Brown wrote in his Sept. 30 rejection message.

The governor’s excuse confused and infuriated cannabis advocates, who dismissed Brown’s reasoning as unsound or dishonest.

“With most of these bills, at least the administration gave us the rationale—maybe they can be fixed through the regulatory process, maybe they’re at least acceptable in their eyes,” Josh Drayton, spokesman for the California Cannabis Industry Association, told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview.

But with SB 829, “I was left a little shell-shocked,” Drayton said. “There was no rationale behind it, other than it violates statute. That one really took me by surprise.”

Dale Gieringer, executive director of California NORML called Brown’s veto message “off-point and outrageous.”

“Nowhere does Prop. 64 say that it is intended to impede free donations of medicine to needy patients,” he wrote in an email on Monday.

“The purposes and intents section of the initiative is clear that it pertains only to adult-use marijuana, and does not override Prop 215 [California’s original medical marijuana law, passed in 1996],” he added. “This state could use a new Governor. Fortunately we’re in luck on that score.”

In a tweet on Monday, Wiener, SB 829’s sponsor, vowed to try again next year.

The frontrunner to replace the term-limited Brown is current Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who was an early endorser of marijuana legalization and has accepted campaign donations from cannabis interests.

For marijuana industry insiders and advocates tired of the incumbent, Newsom is seen as vast improvement.

But it would be hard work for any politician to appear less marijuana-friendly than Jerry Brown, who has seen fit to dismiss cannabis or its consumers even when off-topic.

In a recent interview with The New York Times on the subject of climate change, for example, Brown suggested that marijuana legalization was somehow distracting from the task of reducing carbon emissions.

“We either do nothing and smoke marijuana because it’s legalized, or we put our shoulder to the plow and do everything we can,” the governor said, apropos of nothing (aside from whatever was on his mind at the moment, which was evidently marijuana).

The remark was just the latest in a string of gratuitous insults lobbed at the cannabis community by Brown over the years.

It’s not entirely clear what’s behind Brown’s obvious distaste for marijuana legalization and related reforms. He has not shared his reasoning, nor is there any particular incident from his decades in public service that is revelatory on the matter.

California Gov. Jerry Brown Keeps Saying Mean Things About Marijuana Consumers

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.

Chris Roberts is a reporter and writer based in San Francisco. He has covered the cannabis industry since 2009, with bylines in the Guardian, Deadspin, Leafly News, The Observer, The Verge, Curbed, Cannabis Now, SF Weekly and others.

Politics

Senate Votes To Send Hemp Legalization To President Trump’s Desk

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The Senate approved a far-reaching agriculture bill that includes a provision to legalize industrial hemp on Tuesday.

The vote gets the U.S. one step closer to ending its decades-long prohibition of a non-psychoactive plant in the cannabis family, empowering farmers to cultivate and sell a lucrative crop that can be used to create an exceptional range of products—from cosmetics to concrete.

The Senate and House Agriculture Committees had reconciled their respective versions of the 2018 Farm Bill last month, and lawmakers said they hoped to get it passed before the year’s end.

It seems Congress is positioned to meet that projection. The bill passed 87-13 in the Senate, and the House is expected to take it up soon. If the House approves the bill, it will be sent to President Donald Trump’s desk to be signed into law.

While debate on the legislation extended over several months, it quickly became apparent that the hemp legalization provision had bipartisan support. Separately, a compromise was reached over a provision that would ban people with felony convictions from participating in the hemp industry. The ban would be lifted after 10 years under the current legislation.

Hemp would no longer be controlled by the Justice Department if it’s ultimately approved. Instead, the U.S. Department of Agriculture would lightly regulate the crop.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and others cheered the inclusion of legal hemp in the Farm Bill.

You can read the full text of the hemp legalization provisions in the Farm Bill here.

Next House Agriculture Committee Chair Might Grow Hemp On His Farm

Photo courtesy of Brendan Cleak.

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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Trump Threatens Government Shutdown, Raising Concern For Legal Marijuana Industry

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President Donald Trump is threatening to shut down the government if Democrats refuse billions of dollars in funding for a border wall—but the consequences of that action would extend far beyond border security.

If the president makes good on his promise to withhold his signature from essential appropriations bills this time, that could inadvertently leave the legal marijuana industry vulnerable to federal drug enforcement actions. A spending bill rider that has protected state medical cannabis programs from federal intervention since 2014 would expire, while the Justice Department and prosecutors would generally remain operational.

That’s because the Department of Justice has a contingency plan in place in the event of a government shutdown, and it exempts many employees, including U.S. attorneys and those who work for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), from furlough.

“Criminal litigation will continue without interruption as an activity essential to the safety of human life and the protection of property,” the Justice Department explains in its contingency plan. U.S. attorneys are protected because they’re presidentially appointed and “are needed to address ongoing criminal matters and civil matters of urgency throughout the nation.”

“All agents in DEA field organizations are excepted from furlough because they support active counternarcotics investigations,” the document says.

The so-called Rohrabacher-Farr amendment would not be exempted, though. The legislation—which bars the Justice Department from using federal funds to interfere with state medical cannabis laws—is part of the the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) appropriations bill. While five out of the 12 annual appropriation bills for Fiscal Year 2019 have already been signed into law by the president, the CJS bill is yet to receive House of Senate floor votes.

Typically, the deadline to get appropriations passed is the end of the preceding fiscal year, September 30. But rather than hold a vote or allow federal departments to lose funding, lawmakers have passed a series of continuing resolutions this year, providing temporary funding and pushing back the deadline. The most recent two-week continuing resolution passed on December 7, so the new deadline is December 21.

It lawmakers don’t pass, or President Trump doesn’t sign, either a full-year or temporary extension of funding by then, the medical cannabis rider will expire, but federal drug enforcement capabilities will not. And that would leave medical marijuana patients and the businesses that serve them in a dicey position.

Similar concerns about the prospect of federal marijuana enforcement have been repeatedly raised under the Trump administration. In January, things seemed especially precarious, as the president’s threat of a government shutdown came weeks after then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded an Obama-era memo that provided guidance on federal cannabis enforcement practices.

That decision stoked fears that a shutdown would empower the Justice Department to act on the attorney general’s vehement opposition to marijuana reform. But after fewer than three days, a continuing resolution passed and state-legal marijuana activities continued unimpeded.

This time around, as the deadline approaches, the Justice Department head is Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who had served as Sessions’s chief of staff. Whitaker has said he sympathizes with medical cannabis patients, but he’s also criticized the Obama administration for its marijuana enforcement policies.

There’s no telling at this point whether Whitaker, the DEA or federal prosecutors would take advantage of broad exemptions from furlough and crack down on legal medical marijuana states in the event of a shutdown. But as always, the possibility puts the cannabis industry is an uncomfortable position.

Bipartisan Lawmakers Push For Marijuana Protections In Funding Bill

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.
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Lawmakers From Both Parties Celebrate Hemp Legalization In The Farm Bill

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Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle are celebrating a hemp legalization provision that made it into the final version of the 2018 Farm Bill.

Perhaps no one is more pleased than Senate Majority Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who fought for the provision over months of debate on the wide-ranging agriculture legislation. He even signed the conference report finalizing the bill language with a hemp pen on Monday.

In opening remarks from the Senate floor on Tuesday, McConnell said the inclusion of hemp legalization is “a victory for farmers and consumers throughout our country.” It builds on the progress of the hemp pilot program he helped put in the 2014 Farm Bill, the results of which he said “have been nothing short of extraordinary.”

“Now American-grown hemp can be found in your food, in your clothes and even in your car dashboard,” he said. “The results mean jobs, economic growth and new opportunity.”

“At a time when farm income is down and growers are struggling, industrial hemp is a bright spot of agriculture’s future.”

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) helped McConnell secure hemp legalization in the agriculture legislation and said “the outrageous and outdated ban on growing hemp has hamstrung farmers in Oregon and across the country” in a press release Tuesday.

“Hemp products are made in America, sold in America, and consumed in America,” Wyden said. “Now, hemp will be able to be legally grown in America, to the economic benefit of consumers and farmers in Oregon and nationwide.”

Fellow Oregon lawmaker Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) also cheered the “good news” that the provision made the cut.

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) touted hemp legalization in a tweet Tuesday.

“The finish line is in sight,” Bennet wrote. “Now Congress needs to do what’s right for Colorado & send this bill to [President Trump’s] desk by the end of the year.”

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) celebrated the hemp provisions as well.

As did Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO).

Lawmakers are hoping to put the Farm Bill to a full House and Senate vote and deliver the legislation to the president this week. McConnell said on Tuesday that members of Congress should be prepared to work through the holiday break to make sure this and other bills, including criminal justice reform and legislation to fund parts of the federal government for Fiscal Year 2019, are seen all the way through.

Next House Agriculture Committee Chair Might Grow Hemp On His Farm

Via YouTube/Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

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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