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Congressional GOP Blocks Marijuana Votes (Again)

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Republican leaders in Congress really, really don’t want their fellow lawmakers to have the chance to vote on marijuana amendments.

In the latest in a long series of roadblocks thrown up in front of developments on the issue over the past several years, a key House panel prevented four cannabis measures from reaching the floor on Wednesday night.

Three of the proposals concerned military veterans’ ability to access medical cannabis without punishment or hardship, and one was about water rights for marijuana and hemp growers.

All four were blocked by the Rules Committee and its chairman, Pete Sessions (R-TX).

One of the amendments, a move to allow veterans to receive medical cannabis recommendations from their Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) doctors, has previously been approved by both the full House and Senate, but has never been enacted into law.

Sessions and fellow Republicans did not allow the measure to advance to the floor this year.

Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) who led the push for the amendment, along with at least 17 cosponsors, said that too many veterans have been “shamefully treated by the VA,” which forces them to seek medical marijuana recommendations from outside doctors who are often expensive and don’t know their health histories.

“It’s in keeping with trying to discourage free flow of ideas here in the House,” Blumenauer told Marijuana Moment in an interview earlier on Wednesday, anticipating the Rules Committee’s continuing cannabis blockade. “Pretty miserable legacy, and this is an example something that the overwhelming majority of people in both the House and the Senate support. There’s bipartisan support for it. There’s no reason that it shouldn’t be debated.”

The Oregon Democrat predicted that Republicans would find themselves on the wrong side of the politics of marijuana.

“It’s ultimately going to be self-defeating because we are going to win on this,” he said. “I don’t think it helps the Republican leadership to be on the wrong side of history of something that even a majority of Republicans support. But it’s a symbol of how far out of touch they are and how narrowly controlling.”

But he did note that a growing number of rank-and-file GOP members are taking pro-cannabis-reform positions in contravention of their party’s leadership.

“I think you’re watching that Republicans are changing,” he said. “They know that what Sessions is doing is not good for them politically.”

Another amendment that the Rules Committee blocked on Wednesday would have protected veterans from losing access to their VA benefits as a punishment for medical marijuana use.

A third would have shielded VA employees who are veterans and who use marijuana in accordance with state law from being fired.

The last would have prevented the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation from enforcing a rule that denies access to water rights for cannabis cultivators.

None were allowed for consideration by the full House.

Supporters were seeking to attach the proposals to legislation to fund parts of the federal government for Fiscal Year 2019, namely the VA and military construction efforts, as well as energy and water programs. Also being considered as part of the “minibus” spending bill are funds for the legislative branch.

Separately, the Senate Appropriations Committee is expected to consider a version of the veterans medical cannabis recommendation amendment on Thursday.

Sessions, who is not related to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has made a practice of blocking any and all cannabis amendments over the course of the past several years.

Last month, for example, the Rules Committee prevented a series of hemp-related amendments to the Farm Bill from being considered.

Matt Laslo contributed reporting from Washington, D.C.

The full text of all four amendments blocked by the Rules Committee can be seen in Marijuana Moment’s previous coverage:

Congress Will Consider These Marijuana Amendments Next Week

Photo courtesy of David.

If you value staying updated on cannabis news, please start a monthly Patreon pledge to support Marijuana Moment!

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.)

Politics

Watch: Senator’s Spot-On Impression Of Mitch McConnell Talking About Marijuana

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was apparently taken aback when he heard that the red state of Utah is likely to legalize medical marijuana in November.

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) said in an interview on Wednesday that the exchange took place during  Senate’s tax reform debate earlier this year, and he executed a pretty uncanny impression of McConnell in the retelling.

Asked by Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call to share his favorite story about McConnell, Gardner said the two struck up a conversation on the Senate floor about marijuana and small business tax issues.

At the time, the Colorado senator was pushing an amendment to undo the provision in federal tax law known as 280E that prevents marijuana businesses from writing normal expenses off of their returns.

Gardner pressed McConnell on the issue, telling him that “47-plus states have legalized some form of marijuana, medical marijuana, CBD… Even Utah is most likely gonna legalize medical marijuana this year.”

“And McConnell looks at me and he goes, ‘Utah?’ And just this terrified look. Right as he says that, [Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT)] walks up, and Mitch looks at Orrin, and he says, ‘Orrin, is Utah really gonna legalize marijuana?'”

Then, looking at his feet, hands folded, the Mormon senator from Utah deadpanned: “First tea, then coffee, and now this.”

“It was just hysterical,” Gardner said.

You can watch the full Roll Call interview here.

Though McConnell isn’t quite the face of cannabis reform in Congress, he’s taken a leadership role in the fight to legalize industrial hemp—successfully securing a provision to accomplish just that in the Senate-passed version of the Farm Bill, which is now being reconciled with a proposal from the House that contains no hemp language.

Gardner, meanwhile, has embraced reforms sought by the legal cannabis industry in the years since Colorado became the first state to end marijuana prohibition in 2012.

Win Or Lose At The Polls, Medical Marijuana Is Coming To Utah Under New Deal

Photo courtesy of RollCall.

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Man Sends Marijuana Samples To Feds… To Make A Legal Point

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Mailing numerous cannabinoid samples to U.S. courts and the Department of Justice was a key part of one man’s convoluted lawsuit strategy against the federal government that relied on an obscure Confederate-era statute, court filings show.

Checkmate, feds.

Oh, right. This requires some explanation. So, it’s not entirely clear what the end-game in this case was meant to be, but the essential facts are as follows: a man named Jeffrey Nathan Schirripa filed suit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, alleging that the government failed to hold up its end of a contract that, in a roundabout way, he attempted to force upon it.

Schirripa first sent cannabinoid samples to the Justice Department and a U.S. district court in 2015 to lay the groundwork for a theoretical “contract” between himself and the government, according to the filings. But the court “dismissed the complaint for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.”

Then, in an apparent effort to “prove the existence” of a contract, Schirripa attached unspecified parts of marijuana to 18 copies of a confidential petition for rehearing this year. Schirripa seemed to believe that he was creating “subject matter jurisdiction,” a necessary component of an implied unilateral contract that he said the government violated.

The court did not agree that unsolicited mailings of controlled substances constituted the relevant subject matter in an implied contract, though. On Monday, it filed this order:

“The Clerk of Court is directed to transmit these 18 documents to the U.S. Marshals Service for appropriate disposition or alternate action within the purview of the U.S. Department of Justice.”

The judges explained that the specific U.S. statute that Schirripa used as the basis of his subject matter claim was enacted in 1861, and it was exclusively designed to “weaken the Confederate States by authorizing the President to seize property aiding the Confederacy in its insurrection.” In other words, it didn’t apply here.

In his petition for rehearing, Schirripa included a flow chart visualizing of his intended logic.

It starts with the fact that he sent prototypes of “neuroprotecting antioxidants” to members of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Schirripa admits that sending the “gifted” substances directly violated the Controlled Substances Act. So far, so good.

But from there, the petitioner seems to suggest that in both possible scenarios he presents—that the law can be enforced against him for mailing a controlled substance or that it can’t and so the cannabinoids are therefore “subject to prize/capture”—he’s proven to be an “interested party,” thereby validating his claim that the government breached an implied unilateral contract.

hilarious the hangover GIF

“I don’t fully understand the Schirripa’s flow chart, but it appears to be a boot-strap version a catch-22 for the court—the type of argument that you might figure out while high,” Dennis Crouch, a law professor at the University of Missouri School of Law, wrote in a blog post about the case.

The court seemed to agree. The statutes upon which Schirripa rested his contract theory “have no relation to any contract theory or any government bid or procurement practice,” the judges ruled in their denial of his rehearing. “The Court of Federal Claims thoroughly considered Mr. Schirripa’s arguments and theories, and fully explained their inapplicability.”

The appeals process might not have worked out, but it’s hard to imagine that Schirripa will be totally deterred. This marks his third appeal on “related actions” since 2014, court documents show. The legal logic of an implied unilateral contract didn’t hold up this time, but Schirripa—who has described himself as “the world’s most qualified expert in the realm of Cannabinoid Reform”—seems to be nothing if not tenacious.

Thousands Respond To FDA’s Marijuana Rescheduling Comment Request

Photo courtesy of Nicholas C. Morton.

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Marijuana And Other Drugs Should Be Legalized, Likely Next House Judiciary Chair Says

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A Democratic lawmaker who many political observers believe will likely be the next chairman of the powerful U.S. House Judiciary Committee implied in an interview on Wednesday that he supports legalizing other currently illicit drugs in addition to marijuana.

“From everything we have learned, people are going to do drugs. And certainly the softer drugs like marijuana, there’s no good reason at all that they cannot be legalized and regulated properly,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said.

“The major effect of the war on drugs has been to fill our prisons with huge numbers of people to no great effect except to waste money and to ruin lives.”

In the comments, which Nadler made during an interview with WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show, the congressman did not specify with substances he believes should be legalized, but his use of the pluralized phrase “softer drugs like marijuana” and the word “they” suggests his anti-prohibition views extend beyond just cannabis.

There is no precise definition of what constitutes a “soft drug” as compared to a “hard drug,” but some analysts categorize substances like LSD, psilocybin and MDMA in the former category in light of their lack of addictive potential.

Nadler is currently the top ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, which has oversight of the Drug Enforcement Administration and other federal law enforcement agencies involved in drug enforcement and prosecution. If Democrats take control of the House in the midterm elections, as many poll watchers predict, he would likely ascend to the panel’s chairmanship and have the power to bring marijuana and other drug reform bills up for a vote.

Also in the radio interview, Nadler called the war on drugs an “abject failure” that is “not succeeding in reducing crime or doing anything else.”

“We ought to look at drugs as a public health issue.”

The comments came shortly after another key Democrat, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), released an eight-page memo to fellow party members laying out a step-by-step strategy for how they can accomplish federal marijuana legalization in 2019 if they take control of one or both chambers of Congress. The plan includes a hearing on marijuana descheduling before the Judiciary Committee.

When it comes to marijuana, Nadler sees it as “far less damaging than nicotine to people’s health and we should probably regulate it similarly,” he said in the interview, adding that its current restrictive Schedule I status “doesn’t make any sense.”

Congressman Issues ‘Blueprint To Legalize Marijuana’ For Democratic House In 2019

Photo courtesy of David.

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