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Congressional Republicans Block Marijuana And Drug Policy Reforms In DC

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A powerful congressional subcommittee approved legislation this week that would continue preventing the city of Washington, D.C. from moving to broaden its current marijuana legalization law. The bill would also add a new restriction on the use of funds to support opening safe consumption facilities where people could consume illegal drugs under the supervision of medical professionals.

The provisions, contained in Fiscal Year 2019 funding legislation approved on Thursday by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government continue a long tradition of Republican-controlled Congresses interfering in the ability of officials in the nation’s capital to set local cannabis and drug policies.

The marijuana provision, which continues current law, reads:

SEC. 809. (a) None of the Federal funds contained in this Act may be used to enact or carry out any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801 et seq.) or any tetrahydrocannabinols derivative.

(b) No funds available for obligation or expenditure by the District of Columbia government under any authority may be used to enact any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801 et seq.) or any tetrahydrocannabinols derivative for recreational purposes.

D.C. voters approved a ballot initiative to legalize low-level marijuana possession and limited homegrow of cannabis plants in 2014. But despite City Council support for building on that measure with a system of legal, taxed and regulated marijuana production and retail sales, the District hasn’t been able to move forward with those plans because of the ongoing congressional prohibition.

Separately, the House subcommittee’s bill, which is expected to go before the full Appropriations Committee next month, would ban the use of federal funds to support safe consumption facilities for illegal drug users.

SEC. 807. None of the Federal funds contained in this Act may be used to distribute any needle or syringe for the purpose of preventing the spread of blood borne pathogens in any location that has been determined by the local public health or local law enforcement authorities to be inappropriate for such distribution, or used for the operation of a supervised drug consumption facility that permits the consumption of any substance listed in Schedule I of section 202 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 812) onsite.

The ban on the use of funds for certain needle or syringe exchange programs in the provision has been law for years, but the clause about supervised drug consumption sites is new.

While no such aboveground site yet exists in the U.S., the addition of the new funding prohibition language comes as public health advocates and officials in a number of states across the country are endorsing the idea.

As the New York Times editorial board recently wrote, “Seattle and San Francisco are both on track to open sites, and Philadelphia recently approved the idea as well. Boston, Ithaca and New York City are considering their own facilities.”

Whereas the ban on further marijuana legalization in D.C. applies to both the use of federal funds and those raised locally by the District, the safe consumption site ban only covers federal funds. So D.C. would presumably still be able to use local tax dollars to pay for the facilities.

But the funding issue aside, the mere legality of the proposed sites, which are sometimes called safe injection facilities (SIFs), is itself in question.

Vermont’s U.S. attorney, for example, said in a statement last year that such sites would send the “wrong message to children in Vermont: the government will help you use heroin.” He further wrote:

“Of equal importance, the proposed SIFs would violate several federal criminal laws, including those prohibiting use of narcotics and maintaining a premises for the purpose of narcotics use. It is a crime, not only to use illicit narcotics, but to manage and maintain sites on which such drugs are used and distributed. Thus, exposure to criminal charges would arise for users and SIF workers and overseers. The properties that host SIFs would also be subject to federal forfeiture.”

Advocates, on the other hand, say the facilities save lives by making sure drug consumers can receive medical attention from on-site personnel in the event of overdoses.

A study of a safe injection site operating in Vancouver, Canada found that overdose deaths dropped much more sharply in the neighborhood surrounding the facility as compared to the rest of the city.

A press release from the office of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) mentioned the marijuana provision in the new funding bill but was silent on the drug consumption site language.

Photo courtesy of Ted Eytan.

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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

O’Rourke And Cruz Clash On Marijuana And Drugs At Senate Debate

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Candidates in one of the most contentious U.S. Senate races in the country this year clashed about the issues of marijuana legalization and drug policy reform during a debate on Friday night.

“I want to end the war on drugs and specifically want to end the prohibition on marijuana,” Democratic Congressman Beto O’Rourke said in response to an attack on his drug policy record from Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, whom he is seeking to unseat in November.

During one of the most heated exchanges of the hour-long debate, the GOP incumbent slammed O’Rourke for sponsoring an amendment as an El Paso city councilman in 2009 that called for a debate on legalizing drugs as a possible solution to violence along the Mexican border.

“I think it would be a profound mistake to legalize all narcotics and I think it would hurt the children of this country,” Cruz argued.

He also criticized a bill the Democrat filed in Congress to repeal a law that reduces highway funding for states that don’t automatically suspend drivers licenses for people convicted of drug offenses. “That’s a real mistake and it’s part of pattern,” he said.

“There’s a consistent pattern when it comes to drug use, that in almost every single instance, Congressman O’Rourke supports more of it.”

Calling the issue “personal to me,” Cruz spoke about his older sister, who died of a drug overdose.

“To be clear, I don’t want to legalize heroin and cocaine and fentanyl,” O’Rourke countered.

“What I do want to ensure is that where, in this country, most states have decided that marijuana will legal at some form—for medicinal purposes or recreational purposes or at a minimum be decriminalized—that we don’t have another veteran in this state, prescribed an opioid because the doctor at the VA would rather prescribe medicinal marijuana but is prohibited by law from doing that,” he said.

Enumerating other potential beneficiaries of cannabis reform, the Democrat also referenced an “older woman with fibromyalgia” and “an African-American man, because more likely than not, that’s who will be arrested for possession of marijuana, to rot behind bars, instead of enjoying his freedom and the opportunity to contribute to the greatness of this country.”

Cruz, who called O’Rourke, “one of the leading advocates in the country for legalizing marijuana,” said that he thinks ending cannabis prohibition “is actually a question on which I think reasonable minds can differ.”

“I’ve always had a libertarian bent myself,” he said. “I think it ought to be up to the states. I think Colorado can decide one way. I think Texas can decide another.”

But despite his support for letting states set their own cannabis laws, which he also voiced during his failed candidacy for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, Cruz hasn’t cosponsored a single piece of legislation during his time in the Senate that would scale back federal marijuana prohibition.

Earlier in the debate, the two sparred over the killing this month of Botham Jean, an African-American man shot in his own apartment by a Dallas police officer, a subject about which O’Rourke recently made headlines by calling out in a fiery speech to a black church.

Marijuana In Texas: Where Ted Cruz And Beto O’Rourke Stand On Legalization

Photo courtesy of NBC News.

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Lawmaker Pushes For Marijuana Legalization In Kenya

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A Kenyan lawmaker is introducing legislation to legalize marijuana nationwide.

Member of Parliament Kenneth Okoth wrote a letter to the National Assembly speaker on Friday, requesting help to prepare the legislation so that it can be published.

The bill would decriminalize cannabis possession and use, clear criminal records of those with prior cannabis-related convictions, enact a legal and regulated commercial sales program and impose “progressive taxation measures” in order to “boost economic independence of Kenya and promote job creation.”

Currently, marijuana (or “bhang,” as it’s locally known) is illegal in Kenya—as it is in most of Africa.

Another provision of the draft legislation concerns “research and policy development.” Okoth wants the country to conduct studies on the medical, industrial, textile and recreational applications of cannabis. And that research would have a “focus on the preservation of intellectual property rights for Kenyan research and natural heritage, knowledge, and our indigenous plant assets,” according to the letter.

“It’s high time Kenya dealt with the question of marijuana like we do for tobacco, miraa, and alcohol,” Okoth wrote on Facebook.

“Legalize, regulate, tax. Protect children, eliminate drug cartels, reduce cost of keeping petty offenders in jail. Promote research for medical purposes and protect our indigenous knowledge and plants before foreign companies steal and patent it all.”

Okoth’s push for legalization in Kenya comes days after South Africa’s Constitutional Court ruled that individuals can grow and use marijuana for personal purposes. The court determined that prohibition violated a person’s right to privacy, effectively legalizing cannabis in the country.

It’ll take a while for Okoth’s bill to move forward. The legislation will need cabinet approval, then it must be published so that all interested parties can review the proposal before it enters into parliamentary debates. Whether Okoth’s fellow lawmakers will embrace the legislation is yet to be seen.

Don’t Legalize Marijuana, UN Drug Enforcement Board Warns Countries

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.

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Governor Signs Marijuana Legalization Bill, Making History In US Territory

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With a governor’s signature on Friday, the latest place to legalize marijuana in the U.S. isn’t a state. It’s the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI)—a tiny Pacific territory with a population of just over 50,000.

Under the new law signed by Gov. Ralph Torres (R), adults over 21 years of age will be able to legally possess up to one ounce of marijuana, as well as infused products and extracts. Regulators will issue licenses for cannabis producers, testing facilities, processors, retailers, wholesalers and lounges. Home cultivation of a small number of plants will be allowed.

Please visit Forbes to read the rest of this piece.

(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)

Photo courtesy of Max Pixel.

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