A federal lawmaker who many observers expect will run for president in 2020 has some harsh words about U.S. drug policy.
“The war on drugs, our criminal justice system right now, is a cancer on the soul of our country,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) said on Saturday. “What is happening to so many communities is so against who we say we are — a nation of liberty and justice for all.”
Video captured by Marijuana Moment at the International Drug Policy Reform Conference.
Booker was speaking in a video message played at the International Drug Policy Reform Conference, during which he was given an award named after former Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke, who was one of the earliest and most prominent elected officials to call for drug legalization when he spoke out on the issue in 1988.
Hosted by the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), the biennial conference brings together thousands of activists, scientists, lawmakers and others concerned with the failed war on drugs.
“We who are patriots, who believe in these ideals, we have work to do,” Booker implored the gathered advocates. “We are the land of the free and yet we have a quarter of all the planet earth’s imprisoned people.”
This year’s conference, hosted in Atlanta, marked a big transition for DPA. Founder Ethan Nadelmann recently retired as executive director and was replaced by Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, formerly of Human Rights Watch.
While praising the pick of McFarland, Booker took a moment to pay homage Nadelmann’s work over the years, calling him a friend and jokingly saying he is “angry” about the former executive director’s retirement, even threatening to “go Jersey” on him for stepping down from his leadership role. Even without explicitly saying what be meant by that, conference attendees seemed to get the idea and responded with laughter.
Booker has introduced two far-reaching marijuana bills this year. One would allow states to set their own medical cannabis laws without federal interference. Another would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and punish states with racially disproportionate arrest and incarceration rates for cannabis.
“I can barely sit still when I know what’s going on right now in this nation,” Booker said in the message he taped for the DPA conference. “After the savage war on drugs has taken the American prison population and increased it 500 percent, how our precious resources as a society have not been poured into schools or in infrastructure, but it’s been poured into building more and more prisons to warehouse more and more potential.”
Photo courtesy of kellybdc.
Federal Medical Marijuana Amendment Author Dies At 79
If you’ve only been paying close attention to marijuana policy for a few years, Maurice Hinchey’s name is one you may not recognize.
But if you are a patient who relies on medical cannabis or an entrepreneur in the legal marijuana industry, you owe Hinchey, who died this week, a debt of gratitude.
As a Democratic congressman from New York, Hinchey was the original sponsor of the federal spending provision that now protects state medical cannabis laws from Department of Justice interference.
First introduced in 2001 and then periodically after that, the measure wasn’t even enacted until after Hinchey retired from Congress in 2013.
The next year, after repeatedly failing on the floor of the House of Representatives, the measure was finally approved with a bipartisan vote and was included in a Fiscal Year 2015 spending bill signed into law by then-President Obama in late 2014.
Here’s a video of Hinchey introducing and debating the measure for the first time, in July 2001:
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In 2001, only eight states had legalized medical cannabis, a far cry from the 29 state laws that are now on the books.
Instead of insisting on a vote that would almost certainly have lost, Hinchey withdrew the amendment following a passionate debate.
Two years later, Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher of California teamed up with the Democrat on the officially rebranded Hinchey-Rohrabacher measure.
That lost, by a vote of 152 to 273:
(Scroll to 10:14:05.)
The bipartisan duo teamed up on the amendment several more times in subsequent years, losing each time.
(Scroll to 2:56:05.)
(Scroll to 6:36:00.)
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Then, in 2014, after Hinchey retired, Democrat Sam Farr of California joined with Rohrabacher in sponsoring the measure. By that time, many more members of Congress represented places where constituents were using medical cannabis in accordance with state law.
Finally, the dam had broken. The Rohrabacher-Farr measure passed the House by a vote of 219 to 189. It got included in the final spending bill that year, and it was approved the next year, as well, by an increased tally of 242 to 186.
While House Republican leadership has since blocked floor votes on the measure and other cannabis amendments, it remains current law thanks to victories in the Senate Appropriations Committee and its language not being deleted from short-term federal funding extension bills to keep the government operating.
That’s the case at least until December 8, when current federal funding — along with policy riders like the medical cannabis protections — are set to expire.
In the meantime, advocates working to convince Congress to include the provision in Fiscal Year 2018 legislation should take a moment to consider the efforts of the late congressman whose work more than a decade and a half ago began to make the federal government take medical marijuana seriously.
Photo courtesy of the Hinchey Family.
Former Republican A.G. Warns Sessions Against Marijuana Crackdown
Current U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions would be wrong to crack down on state marijuana laws, one of his Republican predecessors says.
“To prosecute an act that is otherwise lawful under state law, one could make the argument [that] as a matter of policy, we’ve got other priorities we ought to be spending our resources on,” Alberto Gonzales, who served as attorney general during President George W. Bush’s administration, said in an interview with Newsweek.
“With respect to everything else going on in the U.S., this is pretty low priority,” he added.
And what’s more, cracking down on seriously ill people who rely on medical cannabis and their providers who are following state laws would look bad, Gonzales warned his successor.
“The optics just aren’t very good, quite frankly,” he said.
As a U.S. senator, Sessions was long one of Congress’s most vocal opponents of legalization, saying last year that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
But while deploying threatening and concerning comments about cannabis policy from time to time as attorney general, he hasn’t moved to rescind Obama-era guidance that generally allows states to implement their own marijuana laws without federal interference. At least not yet.
Last week, at a House hearing, Sessions testified that the previous administration’s approach remains in effect for now.
Gonzales, in the Newsweek interview, said that Sessions would probably clear any big cannabis moves with the White House first.
“What people often fail to understand or appreciate, is that the attorney general works for the president,” he said. “While the attorney general has a great deal of say about law enforcement policy, so does the White House. When Jeff Sessions makes something, he responds to the White House.”
On the campaign trail, President Trump repeatedly pledged to respect state marijuana laws, going so far as to say he personally knows people who benefit from medical cannabis.
Despite Gonzales’s apparent supporting for letting states enact their own marijuana polices today, his Justice Department argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2004 that it had the right to punish medical cannabis patients who were following local policies.
Top GOP Senator’s Bill Lets DC Legalize Marijuana Sales
Washington, D.C. would finally be allowed to legalize marijuana sales under a new bill authored by a powerful Republican senator.
Voters in the nation’s capital approved a ballot initiative that legalized cannabis possession and home cultivation in 2014. But under a current annual budget rider, the city is not allowed to spend its own money setting up a legal regulatory system for marijuana sales. As such, the city can’t earn tax revenue on recreational marijuana like Colorado and seven other states that have ended prohibition are.
That would change under legislation released on Monday by Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee.
The new bill, which funds various federal agencies and concerns appropriations covering the District of Columbia government, is totally silent on the matter of D.C. marijuana sales. That means that if its language is enacted as part of a Fiscal Year 2018 spending agreement, the ban in current law will disappear.
But, unfortunately for marijuana legalization advocates, it’s not that easy. The version of 2018 spending legislation approved by the House in September not only continues the current ban but actually broadens its language to close a potential loophole that advocates had urged D.C. officials to pursue in order to fund regulation of legal cannabis sales.
As a result, if the language in the new bill released by Cochran on Monday is approved by the Senate, the differences will need to be reconciled by a conference committee made up of a handful of members from either chamber. And at that stage, behind closed doors, anything could happen.
In 2015, Cochran made a similar move by excluding the D.C marijuana sales ban language in a chairman’s mark. But the House-passed ban was included in that year’s version of final spending legislation anyway.
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