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Democratic Senator Pulled Out As Marijuana Bill Cosponsor, Sources Say

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Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) was expected to be an original cosponsor of newly filed bipartisan legislation to shield legal marijuana states from federal intervention. But when it was unveiled on Thursday, the senator’s name was nowhere to be found—even though she signed on to a nearly identical bill last year.

Two lobbyists who work on cannabis issues on Capitol Hill told Marijuana Moment that Feinstein’s staff added her name to the bill, but that in the days leading up to its introduction the senator removed herself at the last minute—for reasons that aren’t entirely clear.

The lobbyists did not wish to be named in this story so that they could talk freely about the development, and Feinstein’s office did not respond to several requests for comment on the reasoning behind her decision or whether the senator plans to cosponsor the legislation at a later date.

When Feinstein was announced as a cosponsor of a previous version of the legislation last year, it was a big deal. She has a track record of opposing drug policy reform—including California’s 2016 cannabis legalization measure as well as congressional measures to shield state cannabis laws from federal interference—but she’d suddenly reversed that position. And as the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, her newfound support could have been critical in advancing the legislation.

Advocates are both disappointed and suspicious, questioning whether politics, rather than an earnest conviction about the need to change the country’s drug laws, motivated her past cosponsorship of the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act.

At the time that her cosponsorship of the earlier bill was announced, the senator was facing a reelection challenge from a progressive contender, California State Sen. Kevin de Leon (D).

“By refusing to get on this year’s version of the STATES Act, it shows how obvious Senator Feinstein’s flirtation with putting an end to federal marijuana was just an effort protect her seat,” Michael Liszewski, principal of The Enact Group, a lobbying and consulting firm that focuses on cannabis issues, argued. “It’s remarkable that Feinstein will back marijuana reform to save her job but then refuse to do when it comes to protecting her constituents from federal prosecution.”

Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, put it this way: “It’s remarkable when you expect nothing and are still disappointed.”

Feinstein’s reversal on the STATES Act stands in contrast to that of Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), who sent a letter to the chair of the House Judiciary Committee endorsing the legislation this week. Collins has also opposed various marijuana reform measures during his tenure in Congress but is now calling on the House Democratic majority to advance the new cannabis bill.

Aside from Feinstein, all of the other cosponsors of the last version of the STATES Act who are still in the Senate remained on board for the new version—with the exception of Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), who is sponsoring separate, more far-reaching legislation called the Marijuana Justice Act, which contains provisions addressing the harms of past cannabis enforcement. (Feinstein has not signed onto Booker’s bill or any other cannabis legislation filed in the 116th Congress.)

Two additional senators—Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Kevin Cramer (R-ND)—joined as new original cosponsors of this year’s STATES Act.

“It’s disappointing to see Senator Feinstein flip flop on this issue,” Michael Collins, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, told Marijuana Moment. “We thought she had turned the corner, but it appears not to be the case.”

Marijuana Moment reached out to the offices of Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), chief sponsors of the Senate’s STATES Act, for details about Feinstein declining to be a cosponsor this time around. Representatives were not immediately available to comment.

While the senator hasn’t said she opposes the STATES Act and could still add her name to the list of cosponsors at a later time, being an original cosponsor would have signaled that Feinstein was making cannabis reform a priority for the 116th Congress. And her position as the ranking member on a committee that will play a central role in the legislation’s fate would have made that all the more important.

“While it’s disappointing that Sen. Feinstein is not an original cosponsor of the STATES Act in the 116th Congress, it is our understanding that is not a signal that she opposes the legislation. Just that it’s not a priority,” Neal Levine, CEO of the Cannabis Trade Federation, said. “We are excited about the additions of Sen. Wyden and Sen. Cramer, and expect Sen. Feinstein to ultimately protect the burgeoning legal cannabis industry in California by voting in favor of the STATES Act.”

Even if Feinstein does ultimately lend her support, getting the bill passed in the Senate will be a challenge. The chair of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said this week that he’s “not very excited about” about the legislation.

“It’s time Senator Feinstein accepts the inevitability of cannabis legalization and cosponsors the STATES Act,” Michael Correia, director of government relations for the National Cannabis Industry Association, told Marijuana Moment. “This balanced approach and common sense solution helps address the federal/state conflict on cannabis laws, while providing protection for a multi-billion dollar industry.”

“She was elected to defend her state,” Correia said. “This bill does that.”

Top GOP Congressman Presses Democratic Majority To Pass Marijuana Bill

Photo courtesy of Neon Tommy.

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.

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Andrew Yang Contrasts Rampant Opioid Prescribing With Marijuana Criminalization

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Andrew Yang contrasted the widespread prescribing of opioids with the ongoing criminalization of marijuana on Wednesday.

In a tweet, the entrepreneur and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate said there were “more opiate prescriptions in the state of Ohio than people in Ohio,” yet “marijuana is still classified as a schedule 1 drug” under the federal Controlled Substances Act.

He’s brought that point up before, at a presidential debate in October. Asked about his proposed to decriminalize possession of opioids to combat the drug overdose crisis, Yang brought up the statistic and criticized the government for failing to take action against pharmaceutic companies that aggressively marketed addictive painkillers.

“If the government turned a blind eye to this company, spreading a plague among its people, then the least we can do is put a resource into work in our communities so that people have a fighting chance to get well, even though this is not a money problem,” he said at the time.

NBC News confirmed that, in 2010, federal data shows there were 102.4 opioid prescriptions in Ohio for every 100 persons. That’s decreased since then, with 2017 data showing 63.5 opioid prescriptions for every 100 persons in the state.

Yang, who supports comprehensive marijuana legalization, has also embraced other harm reduction policies. Beyond decriminalizing opioids, he said in an interview published last week that he’s in favor of providing federal funding for the establishment of safe injection facilities, where individuals can use illicit drugs under medical supervision and receive assistance getting into treatment.

Yang has not yet called for decriminalization of substances beyond opioids and cannabis, however. That policy is backed by rival contenders South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI).

Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, also presidential candidates, have called for the establishment of safe injection sites.

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Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed In Virginia Ahead Of Attorney General’s Cannabis Summit

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The attorney general of Virginia held a cannabis summit on Wednesday, with representatives of states that have legalized marijuana sharing their insights as lawmakers in the Commonwealth prepare to push reform legislation in the coming session.

This event came one day after a lawmaker prefiled a bill to legalize marijuana for adult use and expand the state’s existing limited medical cannabis program.

The event featured panels on marijuana decriminalization, social equity, public health, hemp, CBD and creating a pathway for eventual legalization. The goal was to answer policy questions and inform legislation, which Attorney General Mark Herring (D) hopes will start with decriminalization and expungements and later adult-use legalization.

“I don’t believe that Virginia’s current approach of criminalizing cannabis is working,” Herring said in his opening remarks. “It is needlessly creating criminals and burdening Virginians with convictions.”

“The human and social costs are enormous, in addition to the millions of dollars it costs Virginia taxpayers. And the negative consequences of the current approach fall disproportionately on African Americans and people of color,” he said. “It’s clear to me that the time for cannabis reform has come. Justice demands it. Virginians are demanding it. And I’m going to help make sure we get this right.”

Watch video of the Virginia Cannabis Summit  below: 

Representatives from Colorado and Illinois discussed law enforcement and equity in regulated marijuana markets.

The prospects of passing reform measures greatly increased in Virginia after November’s election, which saw Democrats reclaim control of both chambers of the General Assembly for the first time in decades. Herring said the timing is right to “plot a course for a smarter, fairer, more just cannabis policy” in the state.

Sen. Dave Marsden (D), co-founder of the legislature’s recently established Cannabis Caucus, said at the summit that ensuring that the legal market is equitable is paramount.

“We can’t substitute a civil process for a criminal one and not expect it to lead to disparities,” he said.

“Following several years of forming consensus around medical cannabis products, we have to be ready to take action in the upcoming legislative session to further reform our laws in this arena,” he said in a press release. “This effort will include a more robust medical cannabis program and Attorney General Herring’s summit is a big step in ensuring we are knowledgeable on the issue and prepared to do this right.”

“Virginia is ready for evidence-based reform and that is what we will provide.”

Del. Stephen Heretick (D) said the summit “is a great opportunity for me and my fellow legislators to learn from the experiences of other states as we consider how to create more fair, just, equitable, and effective cannabis laws here in Virginia.”

Decriminalization is the first proposal on the agenda when the next session starts, the attorney general said. That would fulfill a campaign promise of Gov. Ralph Northam (D), who ran on the issue in 2017 and talked about in his State of the Commonwealth address this year.

“It’s time for public policy to catch up with public opinion, and NORML applauds Attorney General Herring for his efforts to foster and advance evidence-based cannabis laws,” Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML said. “We look forward to supporting the attorney general and the Virginia Cannabis Caucus in their work reforming marijuana laws for a safer Commonwealth.”

While Northam hasn’t voiced support for recreational legalization, Herring said last week that Wednesday’s summit is one resource that will help the state move toward comprehensive reform.

“Based on my conversations, he supports decriminalization,” Herring, who is also running for governor in 2021, said. “Like a lot of people, I think they’d like to get more information about what legalization and what regulated, adult-use would look like.”

A bill to decriminalize marijuana and make possession of up to one ounce punishable by a maximum $50 civil penalty was prefiled in the legislature last month.

This latest legalization bill, introduced by Del. Lee Carter (D), will likely be a heavier lift. It would allow adults 21 and older to possess and purchase cannabis from licensed retailers, and it would impose a 10 percent tax, revenue from which would go toward a veterans fund, transportation and local municipalities that allow marijuana businesses to operate.

“While a majority of Virginians agree with Attorney General Herring that marijuana should be legal for responsible use by adults, it may take a bit more work to convince the Virginia General Assembly to send such a bill to the governor’s desk,” Michelle Pedini told Marijuana Moment. “Todays summit is an important, and historic, step toward that goal, and NORML is proud to be a part of it.”

Vermont Should Legalize Marijuana Sales, Top Health Department Official Says

Photo courtesy of Nicholas C. Morton.

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Thailand Prime Minister Uses Medical Marijuana At Event With Ganja Mascot

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Top officials in Thailand are getting the word out about medical marijuana—in part by distributing cartoon cannabis dolls and publicly using marijuana oils.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha announced the launch of the government’s medical cannabis education site on Wednesday and appeared at an event alongside a person wearing a spectacled marijuana leaf costume called Dr. Ganja. Children were also present, carrying their own Dr. Ganja dolls.

Prayut argued in favor of the therapeutic use of cannabis, stating that it represents a potential treatment option for low-income people in particular. According to The Nation Thailand, he also demonstrated marijuana products, inhaling an oil and applying some to the back of his ears. The prime minister also said he plans to purchase some oils himself.

The government’s education site features information about where to find cannabis clinics, what kinds of products are available and infographics laying out basic research into marijuana.

Via MedCannabis.

Thai lawmakers have made clear their excitement about medical cannabis, with several filmed participating in a ritual dance in August to celebrate the first batch of marijuana oil.

Months after Thailand opted to legalize medical marijuana, the ruling party unveiled draft legislation in September that allows individuals to cultivate up to six cannabis plants for personal use.

GOP Senator Shares Photo Of His Dad Harvesting Hemp Decades Ago

Photo courtesy of Bhumjaithai Party.

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