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.”
Photo courtesy of Neon Tommy.
New York And Connecticut Governors Talk Marijuana Legalization On Fishing Trip
The governors of New York and Connecticut went fishing and talked about marijuana legalization on Tuesday.
The conversation comes after lawmakers in both states were unable to pass legalization legislation before their respective sessions’ ends this year, despite having the support of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D).
“We talked about policy issues like the marijuana issue, which is obviously also relevant to contiguous states,” Cuomo said at a press conference following the fishing trip. “What Connecticut does on marijuana is relevant to New York, what New York does is relevant to Connecticut so we talked about that and a lot of issues. So we had fun.”
Watch Cuomo’s marijuana comments at about 5:00 into the video below:
Cuomo had described legalization as a top legislative priority for 2019 and included it in his state budget proposal. But after months of negotiations with lawmakers, the plan fell through, due in part to disagreements about how to allocate tax revenue and whether to allow individual jurisdictions to opt out of allowing cannabis businesses.
The governor did sign legislation in July that expands the state’s marijuana decriminalization policy and provides a pathway for expungements of past marijuana convictions.
Over in Connecticut, Lamont campaigned on legalization during his election bid last year and described it as one of his administration’s “priorities” after he took office. But as with neighboring New York, the legislature failed to advance a legalization bill beside multiple successful committee votes and hearings throughout the year.
The specifics of what the governors talked about during their fishing expedition on Lake Ontario aren’t clear, but both are presumably gearing up for another round of legislative efforts marijuana over the coming year and could take lessons from each other as reform talks continue.
Another East Coast state, New Jersey, has also struggled to move legalization legislation forward, with lawmakers saying that the issue should be taken up by voters in 2020 rather than pushed through the legislature, though there has been discussion lately about another try at moving a bill before year’s end. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) did sign a decriminalization and expungements bill in May, however.
Photo courtesy of CBS 6.
GOP Congressman Will Meet Attorney General To Discuss Expanding Marijuana Research
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) said on Monday that he will soon be speaking with the U.S. attorney general about expanding marijuana research.
The congressman, a close ally of President Trump, is a vocal proponent of medical cannabis and has argued that the federal drug scheduling system is hampering research into the plant’s therapeutic potential.
“I will be meeting with Attorney General Bill Barr in the coming weeks to discuss the Department of Justice’s approach to unlocking more research grants so that we can have American innovation applied to our health care in a way that can get people off of some of these devastating opioids and painkillers, and on to a more natural product,” he said following a radio town hall event.
Even under the framework of prohibition, the Justice Department is able to promote research by, for example, approving additional marijuana manufacturers—something the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said it would do three years ago.
Barr has voiced support for expanding the number of federally authorized cannabis manufacturers.
“I think we’re going to move forward on it,” the attorney general said in April. “I think it’s very important to get those additional suppliers.”
Earlier this year, Gaetz joined congressional colleagues in leading a letter addressed to Barr and the head of DEA expressing frustration that the Justice Department has declined to take action despite its pledges. The lawmakers implored DEA to “do whatever you can to speed up and improve the research application process.”
Gaetz also introduced legislation that would force DEA to approve additional facilities to produce research-grade cannabis. A version filed last year cleared the Judiciary Committee in a voice vote, and he reintroduced the bill in January but it has not yet been acted upon.
Listen to Gaetz’s new cannabis comments, about 1:20 into the audio below:
DEA is facing two lawsuits regarding its approach to marijuana, including one that concerns the lack of diversity of research-grade cannabis since only one manufacture is currently authorized. The agency was ordered to respond to the suit by August 28.
Separately, a group of patients and advocates sued DEA over marijuana’s Schedule I status under the Controlled Substances Act, with a federal court directing the agency to “promptly” consider reclassifying cannabis.
Gaetz also spoke about the need to more broadly reform cannabis laws during the Monday remarks.
“The federal government listing marijuana as a Schedule I drug impairs financial transactions, it impairs research and it stops us from being able to unlock cures for some of America’s most vulnerable people,” the congressman said, adding that he’s a cosponsor of legislation that would deschedule marijuana that was introduced by Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY).
Gaetz, who is also a member of the Judiciary Committee, said he is requesting that the panel hold a hearing on cannabis legislation. That’d mark the second such meeting after a Judiciary subcommittee convened last month to discuss paths to ending federal prohibition.
The congressman’s staff wasn’t able to provide Marijuana Moment with additional details regarding the meeting with Barr.
Photo courtesy of Meredith Geddings.
Elizabeth Warren’s Criminal Justice Plan Involves Legalizing Marijuana And Safe Injection Sites
Legalizing marijuana, granting clemency to people convicted of drug offenses and investing in harm reduction programs such as safe injection sites are part of a criminal justice reform plan that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) released on Tuesday.
The 2020 Democratic presidential candidate stressed that the war on drugs has been carried out in a racially discriminatory manner, writing that it’s unfair that “a kid with an ounce of pot can get thrown in jail, while a bank executive who launders money for a drug cartel can get a bonus. It’s long past time for us to reform our system.”
“This failure [of the drug war] has been particularly harmful for communities of color, and we need a new approach,” she said. “It starts with legalizing marijuana and erasing past convictions, and then eliminating the remaining disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentencing.”
What’s more, the drug war “has criminalized addiction, ripped apart families—and largely failed to curb drug use” when a more effective system would treat addiction as a public health issue.
Next, we have to rethink what we choose to criminalize. That starts with repealing the 1994 crime bill—the bulk of which needs to go—and legalizing marijuana. Overcriminalization has filled prisons and devastated communities—and it's time for it to end.
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) August 20, 2019
That includes diverting people who’ve been convicted of non-violent drug offenses to treatment programs and providing evidence-based resources for people suffering from addiction. For example, Warren’s plan calls for safe injection sites where people can use illicit drugs under the supervision of medical professionals who can help prevent fatal overdoses and get people into treatment. She also said needle exchange programs and expanding access to buprenorphine would reduce the opioid crisis.
“Instead of locking up people for nonviolent marijuana crimes, I’ve proposed putting pharmaceutical executives on the hook to report suspicious orders for controlled substances that damage the lives of millions.”
She also called for the abolition of certain mandatory minimum sentences and said that “people who struggle with addiction should not be incarcerated because of their disease.”
“Mass incarceration has not reduced addiction rates or overdose deaths, because substance abuse disorder is a public health problem — and it’s long past time to treat it that way,” the plan says. “We know that diversion programs are both more humane and a better investment than incarceration — for every dollar we invest in treatment programs, we can save $12 in future crime and health care costs.”
“And rather than incarcerating individuals with substance abuse disorders, we should expand options that divert them into programs that provide real treatment.”
Like Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Warren’s criminal justice reform proposal also mentions executive actions she could unilaterally take.
Specifically, she wrote that the Justice Department should not hold authority to make clemency recommendations and it should instead be left up to an independent clemency board so that those eligible for a pardons and commutations are more quickly identified.
The president can grant clemency and pardons herself. I'll empower a clemency board to make recommendations directly to the White House, identifying broad classes of potentially-deserving individuals for review, such as those serving mandatory minimums that should be abolished.
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) August 20, 2019
“I’ll direct the board to identify broad classes of potentially-deserving individuals for review, including those who would have benefited from retroactivity under the First Step Act, individuals who are jailed under outdated or discriminatory drug laws, or those serving mandatory minimums that should be abolished,” she said.
The plan’s unveiling comes two days after Sanders released his criminal justice reform proposal, which also called for marijuana legalization and the implementation of harm reduction policies such as safe consumption facilities.
Buttigieg’s plan stands out from his fellow Democratic candidates in at least one regard: the mayor said drug possession should broadly be decriminalized.
Warren also released a separate plan for Indian tribes last week that involves protecting tribal cannabis programs from federal intervention.
Photo courtesy of Edward Kimmel.