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Congressional Lawmakers Ask Supreme Court To Hear Marijuana Lawsuit Against DEA

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Seven members of Congress and a slew of marijuana reform groups have submitted legal documents urging the U.S. Supreme Court to take up a lawsuit against the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) refusal to change the federal classification of cannabis.

In an amicus brief filed on Tuesday, the lawmakers sided with the plaintiffs and said the prohibition of marijuana is unconstitutional and should be resolved by the Court. The Schedule I status of cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act “creates an unconstitutional framework that unfairly burdens their constituents,” the brief states.

The original lawsuit against DEA was filed in 2017 by a coalition of medical cannabis patients and activists, including Alexis Bortell and former NFL player Marvin Washington. It was rejected in a series of rulings by lower courts, but attorneys for the plaintiffs said those decisions made it clear their only source of acceptable relief would come from the Supreme Court.

That’s because both a U.S. District Court and U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit previously determined that advocates would have to first seek administrative relief through existing channels such as a petition asking DEA directly to reclassify cannabis. But the plaintiffs said they wouldn’t go that route because they believe the request would be denied by DEA and because the agency would, at best, reclassify marijuana as a Schedule II drug, which they say could create additional harms in terms of patient access to the plant.

It’s not clear whether the Supreme Court will take the case, but the batch of amicus briefs could give added weight to the case, particularly when members of Congress are calling for action. The nine justices are scheduled to discuss whether to grant a hearing during a private October 9 conference.

“The submission of an amicus brief by seven members of Congress is significant, not only because it adds legitimacy to our petition, but more importantly, because it provides critical support for one of the central points of our appeal—that the only realistic means of resolving the issue of legalization is through the courts,” Michael Hiller, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, told Marijuana Moment.

The lawmakers wrote that because “many states have legalized medicinal (and recreational) uses of cannabis, the continued rigid federal criminalization of any cannabis use creates a system that infringes on Constitutional rights—the right to interstate travel, to participate in civic life, to contract and engage in interstate commerce, to make life-saving and life-sustaining medical decisions without government intervention, and to make decisions guided by a clear, nationally-consistent regulatory scheme.”

“This Court must take action to remedy the unconstitutional system that has unfairly burdened Petitioners and similarly-situated patients who lawfully use medical marijuana under the supervision of a physician and pursuant to state law. While a legislative solution is theoretically possible, various unsuccessful Congressional attempts to deschedule marijuana have made clear that legislative action is made practically impossible by complicated political realities. Because the current federal scheme violates federal law and infringes on Constitutional rights, the Court should grant certiorari to resolve this matter.”

Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Jared Huffman (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Jamie Raskin (D-MD) each signed the amicus brief.

That makes the language of the filing as it concerns “complicated political realities” preventing legislative change somewhat curious, as Blumenauer and Lee are cochairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus and have expressed confidence that a bill to federally legalize marijuana that’s due for a House vote next week will pass. Blumenauer went so far as to say on Tuesday that he feels it even stands a chance of clearing the GOP-controlled Senate.

If the legislation does advance through at least one chamber of Congress prior to the justices’ discussion of the case next month, that could undermine the legal argument that the courts are the only place where advocates stand a reasonable chance of forcing a change to marijuana’s federal scheduling.

Additional briefs in support of the lawsuit have been filed by NORML, International Cannabis Bar Association, National Cannabis Industry Association, Arcview Group, Last Prisoner Project, Americans for Safe Access, Minority Cannabis Business Association and others.

“The submission of nine amicus briefs from 19 organizations, two leading experts in cannabis science, and seven members of Congress reinforces our arguments,” Hiller said. “Today, 70 percent of American jurisdictions maintain some form of legalization. We believe that the issue is fully ripe for determination by the Supreme Court and remain hopeful that the Justices will see fit to grant cert.”

The Justice Department, in a short filing on Monday, declined an opportunity to respond to the petition.

“In my experience, the federal government generally waives its opposition to cert petitions, and it would have been quite unusual for the federal government not to have done so here,” Hiller said. “Consequently, we were not the least bit surprised that the federal government waived its opposition.”

DEA has on numerous past occasions denied petitions to change marijuana’s status under the CSA, most recently in 2016.

The current case isn’t the only cannabis-related lawsuit DEA has faced in recent years. Scientists sued the agency last year, alleging that it had deliberately delayed approving additional marijuana manufacturers for research purposes despite pledging to expand the number of those facilities in 2016.

A court mandated that DEA take steps to make good on its promise, and that case was dropped after DEA provided a status update.

In March, DEA finally unveiled a revised rule change proposal that it said was necessary due to the high volume of applicants and to address potential complications related to international treaties to which the U.S. is a party.

The scientists behind the original case filed another suit against DEA, claiming that the agency used a “secret” document to justify its delay of approving manufacturer applications.

That was born out when the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel document was released in April as part of a settlement in the case, revealing, among other things, that the agency feels that its current licensing structure for cannabis cultivation has been in violation of international treaties for decades.

Separately, a federal court recently ruled that California regulators must comply with a DEA subpoena demanding information about marijuana businesses that they are investigating.

Read the lawmakers’ amicus brief on the marijuana lawsuit against DEA below:

Amicus Brief DEA suit by Marijuana Moment

This story has been updated to include comment from Hiller.

House Marijuana Vote In Question Following Leadership Remarks, But ‘Schedule Hasn’t Changed’

Photo elements courtesy of rawpixel and Philip Steffan.

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.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

Politics

Alabama Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill

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The Alabama Senate on Wednesday approved a bill to legalize medical marijuana in the state.

Weeks after the chamber’s Judiciary Committee advanced the legislation, it cleared the full floor in a vote of 21-8 following a brief, 15-minute discussion.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Tim Melson (R), would allow people with qualifying conditions to access cannabis for therapeutic purposes.

Melson is the same lawmaker who sponsored a similar bill that was approved by the full Senate last year but which later died without a House vote amid the coronavirus pandemic.

This latest proposal would establish an 11-member Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission to implement regulations and oversee licensing.

To qualify for the program, patients would have to be diagnosed with one of about 20 conditions, including anxiety, sleep disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and intractable pain. Regulators would not be able to independently add additional conditions, leaving that decision up to lawmakers.

Advocates say they’re encouraged that medical cannabis reform is advancing in Alabama, but they’ve raised concerns about a number of aspects of the bill.

One problematic provision, they say, is that patients with chronic or intractable pain could only be recommended medical marijuana in cases where “conventional therapeutic intervention and opiate therapy is contraindicated or has proved ineffective.”

The bill also prohibits raw cannabis, smoking, vaping and candy or baked good products. Patients would instead be allowed to purchase capsules, lozenges, oils, suppositories and topical patches.

Patients would be allowed to purchase and possess up to “70 daily dosages of medical cannabis.” Under an amendment approved on the floor, the maximum daily dose was reduced from 75 to 50 milligrams. However, the amendment’s sponsor said it could be increased to 75 milligrams in some circumstances.

The revision also calls for a label on marijuana products to indicate that cannabis can cause drowsiness.

It also calls for a nine percent gross proceeds tax on medical marijuana sales. After covering implementation costs, 60 percent of revenue would go to the state’s general fund and 30 percent would go to research into the medical potential of cannabis.

Patients, caregivers and and medical cannabis businesses would receive legal protections under the proposal, preventing them from being penalized for activities authorized by the state.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 700 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

For physicians to be able to recommend cannabis to patients, they would have to complete a four-hour continuing education course and pass an exam. The course would cost upwards of $500 and doctors would also be required to take refresher classes every two years.

Under the bill, regulators would be tasked with developing restrictions on advertising and setting quality control standards. Seed-to-sale tracking and laboratory testing would be mandated.

Other changes approved on the floor would add language to stipulate that gelatinous cannabis products cannot be sugar coated and insert provisions promoting good manufacturing practices and tamper-evident packaging.

A separate amendment that cleared the chamber added sickle cell anemia as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana.

Applications for cannabis business licenses would have to be accepted starting September 1, 2022 and then proceeded within 60 days.

The commission would be required to approve at least four cultivators, up to four processors, up to four dispensaries for the first year of implementation (more could be approved after that point depending on demand) and as many as five vertically integrated operators.

This bill’s reintroduction has been greatly anticipated by advocates. The Senate approved a separate medical cannabis bill in 2019, but the House later severely compromised it. The legislation as enacted would not have legalized patient access; rather, it set up a study commission to explore the issue and make recommendations.

The commission came back with its report in December 2019, with members recommending that medical marijuana be legalized.

The Senate’s president voted against medical cannabis in 2020 but said he is open to letting the issue advance again in the new session. Meanwhile, the House speaker said that “if the bill comes up and it has proper restrictions in it, then I’m open to at least debating it.”

There could be additional pressure on the legislature to enact legalization given that voters in neighboring Mississippi approved a medical cannabis reform initiative during the November election.

New York Marijuana Legalization Proposals Get First Joint Legislative Hearing Of 2021

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New York Marijuana Legalization Proposals Get First Joint Legislative Hearing Of 2021

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New York lawmakers on Tuesday held the first public hearing of the year on proposals to legalize marijuana, specifically focusing on budget implications.

In a joint session with members of the Senate Finance Committee and Assembly Ways & Means Committee, legislators heard testimony from two pro-legalization industry representatives and one opponent, Kevin Sabet of the prohibitionist group Smart Approaches to Marijuana.

Notably, despite their ideological differences when it comes to legalization in general, all three panelists were critical of the reform proposal that Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) included in his budget request.

NY Cannabis Growers and Processors Association President Allan Gandelman and NY Medical Cannabis Industry Association President Ngiste Abebe both said they favor a legalization measure out of the legislature—the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA)—arguing that its tax structure and social equity provisions are superior to the governor’s plan, even after Cuomo submitted amendments in hopes of shoring up support among skeptical lawmakers.

“We deeply appreciate the possibilities offered in the MRTA. New York will need to balance issues involving taxes, licensing and speed to market,” Gandelman said. “The MRTA does an excellent job allowing for social consumption, cannabis home grow, microbusinesses, home delivery and funding for social equity applicants. These policies should be, without question, integrated into any final legislation enacted by the state.”

Watch the joint public hearing on marijuana legalization in New York below: 

Cuomo did propose amending his legalization plan to add a home delivery option and specify how social equity grants for cannabis businesses would be distributed—but advocates say it still falls short of the MRTA, sponsored by Sen. Liz Kreuger (D), chair of the Finance Committee.

Abebe, who also serves as public policy director for Columbia Care, said that her organization believes “the governor’s proposal could be improved as well—and then, between the [Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act] and the MRTA, there is a pathway to effective legalization in New York.”

But the April 1 deadline to get those improvements included in Cuomo’s budget plan and pass the legislation is quickly approaching, and legislative leadership has indicated that they’d prefer to pass the MRTA first and then begin negotiations with the governor’s office.

“It is my hope and desire that New York will legalize adult-use of cannabis this current session in 2021,” Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D), who has been especially critical of the governor’s proposal, recently said.

Earlier this month, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) told Marijuana Moment in an interview that there would be room for revisions to the governor’s plan, stating that “much of it is going to be negotiated with the legislature, and all these details can be resolved with their input as well.”


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 700 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

Cuomo said that the changes in his bill reflect “the conversations we’ve had, but I’m hopeful that we can come to an agreement and we can get it done. He added that he believes, “because I’ve seen this movie before, “if we don’t get it done by April 1, we won’t get it done.”

This is the third year in a row that Cuomo has included a legalization proposal in his budget plan. The last two times, negotiations with the legislature stalled amid disagreements over certain components such as the tax structure for the market and funding for social equity programs.

Regardless of which direction the legislature ultimately goes on this issue, there’s growing recognition in the state that legalization is an inevitability.

The top Republican in the New York Assembly said in December that he expects the legislature to legalize cannabis this coming session.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D) said in November that she also anticipates that the reform will advance in 2021, though she noted that lawmakers will still have to decide on how tax revenue from marijuana sales is distributed.

Cuomo also said that month that the “pressure will be on” to legalize cannabis in the state and lawmakers will approve it “this year” to boost the economy amid the health crisis.

The push to legalize in New York could also be bolstered by the fact that voters in neighboring New Jersey approved a legalization referendum in November.

Separately, several other bills that focus on medical marijuana have been filed in New York, and they touch on a wide range of topics—from tenants’ rights for medical cannabis patients to health insurance coverage for marijuana products.

Biden Cabinet Pick Defends Proposal To Use Marijuana Tax Dollars To Fund Schools

Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

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Biden Cabinet Pick Defends Proposal To Use Marijuana Tax Dollars To Fund Schools

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President Joe Biden’s pick for secretary of the Interior Department on Tuesday defended a past campaign promise to support marijuana legalization as a means to diversify her state’s economy and help fund public education.

Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM) was pressed on her 2018 remarks during a confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), the panel’s ranking member, asked whether it was still her position that tax revenue from cannabis sales could be used to support schools as a replacement for oil and gas royalties as part of a plan to shift away from fossil fuels.

“Well, I think the point of that, ranking member, was to say that we should diversify our funding streams for education and not just rely on one,” she replied.

“Is selling marijuana among what the Biden administration calls ‘better choices’ that the Biden administration has promised to give displaced oil and gas workers?” Barrasso asked. “Is that the better choice? Marijuana?”

“I honestly don’t know what President Biden’s stance is on cannabis currently,” the nominee said.

The president’s position on marijuana does depart with Haaland’s, as he has maintained an opposition to adult-use legalization and hasn’t signaled that he’d be interested in enacting the reform as a way to raise revenue for any particular initiative. He supports legalizing medical cannabis, decriminalizing low-level marijuana possession, modestly rescheduling the plant, expunging prior cannabis convictions and letting states set their own policies.

In any case, the senator—along with the Republican National Committee (RNC), which circulated Haaland’s 2018 comments ahead of the hearing—apparently feels that the marijuana position of his nominee to head Interior are damning, despite the bipartisan public support for legalization and broad sentiment that tax revenue from cannabis should be effectively utilized for public services.

“We know what your stances on replacing the revenue, the energy jobs, the jobs that power our economy and the energy that powers our country. And your preference is to turn to drugs is what you’ve recommended to the voters,” Barrasso said. “At a time when there’s high unemployment and energy workers lose their jobs—we’ve seen it in West Virginia, we’ve seen it around the country—there’s been an opioid crisis in this nation. And yet what I hear from you is the answer in a better choice world is marijuana.”

Later in the hearing, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) returned to the ranking member’s line of questioning and said “just to be clear on the marijuana issue, this isn’t a Seattle issue. Out of 39 counties, 20 to 25 counties in the state of Washington supported legalizing cannabis.”

“I don’t blame our legislature or others from getting revenue from that and put it towards public health issues in the state of Washington,” she said. “This is respecting the wishes of the voters and then putting it to good use.”

Watch Cantwell’s marijuana comments, starting around 55:45 into the video below: 

Marijuana also came up during Haaland’s initial committee confirmation hearing on Tuesday, with Rep. Don Young (R-AK) introducing Haaland and joking about her energy policy by saying that “anybody who thinks you’re going to cut off fossil fuel immediately is smoking pot—that’s legal in the state of Alaska, by the way.”

Watch Young’s cannabis comments, about 37:00 into the video below:

For advocates, while it’s encouraging to see administration nominees embrace pro-reform positions, this was not the most consequential cannabis comment during a confirmation session this week. On Monday, Merrick Garland, the president’s nominee for attorney general said it is not “a useful use of limited resources” to go after people who are complying with state marijuana laws. He also citied cannabis enforcement as an example of the racially discriminatory impact of the criminal justice system.

Another New Mexico House Committee Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill

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