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Democrats Forming Consensus On Marijuana Legalization

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Support for marijuana legalization is quickly becoming a mainstream consensus position in the Democratic Party.

Two of the party’s leading potential 2020 presidential candidates joined together this week in support of far-reaching legislation that would end the federal prohibition of cannabis and encourage states to legalize the drug.

“Legalizing marijuana isn’t a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) said about the legislation, the Marijuana Justice Act, which he introduced last August.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who signed onto the bill as a cosponsor on Wednesday and did a Facebook Live chat with Booker about it, called cannabis legalization “a social justice issue and a moral issue that Congress needs to address.”

The vocal pro-legalization support from the two senators, who are widely considered to be weighing campaigns for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, signals that a shift toward marijuana reform advocacy that has been underway in the party for some time is elevating to a near consensus.

And polling shows that Democratic voters are in support of the move.

Gallup found last year that 72 percent of Democrats back marijuana legalization, and a Quinnipiac University survey last month showed that 95 percent of the party’s voters support medical cannabis.

The latter poll also showed that just 12 percent of Democrats want the federal government to interfere with the implementation state marijuana laws.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with Democrats, also supports legalization. The senator, who introduced legislation to deschedule marijuana during his nearly successful campaign for the party’s 2016 presidential nomination, is reportedly considering another run in 2020.

Last week, Sanders’s campaign organization launched an online petition calling for an end to marijuana prohibition and the broader “war on drugs.”

Democrats’ march toward legalization seems to have been accelerated by the Trump administration’s anti-cannabis moves.

While Trump pledged during the campaign that he would respect local marijuana laws if elected, Attorney General Jeff Sessions last month to tore up Obama-era guidance that has generally allowed states to implement their own laws without federal interference.

A large number of members of Congress from both parties, but Democrats in particular, immediately criticized the Justice Department reversal.

“The Attorney General’s decision to rescind the Cole memo was a very bad one & I oppose it,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (NY) tweeted. “I believe that the States should continue to be the labs of democracy when it comes to recreational & medical marijuana. Jeff, this is one place where states’ rights works. Let each state decide.”

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi also slammed the move, tweeting, “Attorney General Sessions, your unjust war against Americans who legally use #marijuana is shameful & insults the democratic processes that played out in states across the country.”

But while most Democratic lawmakers tend to vote in support of marijuana proposals in Congress, the party is by no means unanimous on the issue.

Longtime Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), for example, is one of Congress’s most ardent opponents of marijuana law reform, and has voted against amendments to protect her state’s medical cannabis law from Justice Department intervention. She also vigorously campaigned against marijuana reforms at the state level.

And some Democrats were upset that congressional leaders chose Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-MA), who opposes legalization, to deliver the party’s response to President Trump’s first State of the Union address last month.

As a member of Congress, Kennedy has not only opposed his state’s move to legalize marijuana, but has voted against amendments to shield state medical marijuana laws from federal interference, allow military veterans to access medical cannabis and protect children who use non-psychoactive cannabidiol extracts to treat severe seizure disorders.

Kennedy knows that his views on cannabis are out of step with the party.

“I come at it a little bit differently, obviously, than the vast majority of my colleagues,” he said in an interview. “I think the party is clearly moving in that legalization direction. It might already be there.”

But legalization isn’t strictly a Democratic issue.

Several Republican lawmakers have taken leadership roles in efforts to end federal cannabis prohibition.

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), for example, has gone so far as to actively block Justice Department nominees from being confirmed in protest of Sesssion’s move. In a speech this week, Sessions called the dispute “frustrating” and implied that Gardner is prioritizing marijuana over national security.

While support for marijuana law reform is growing across party lines — Gallup’s recent poll found for the first time that a bare majority of Republicans now back ending prohibition — Democratic voters and elected officials are so far more likely to favor legalization.

But although the party’s platform adopted in 2016 included a plank calling for “a reasoned pathway for future legalization,” that year’s Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, only went as far as voicing vague support for respecting state laws and slightly downgrading cannabis’s federal status.

And not all rumored 2020 contenders have embraced legalization like Booker, Gillibrand and Sanders have. At least not yet.

While another potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), like Sanders, also recently launched an online petition about marijuana, she hasn’t yet added her name onto any bills to change cannabis’s status under federal law.

Her position does seem to be evolving, though.

In 2014, as state attorney general, Harris simply laughed in a reporter’s face when asked about her position on legalization. But now she is signing letters calling on the federal government to respect state laws and cosponsoring legislation to allow banks to serve state-legal cannabis businesses.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) — another potential 2020 contender — is also cosponsoring the banking bill and has signed onto broader legislation to allow states to implement medical marijuana policies.

A lot can happen before the 2020 Democratic National Convention, but it’s a safe bet that the party’s next presidential nominee will at least have a more far-reaching marijuana reform position than that of their 2016 candidate.

This piece was first published by Forbes.

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.

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

Federal Court Dismisses Suit Against DEA Over Marijuana Growing Applications

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A federal court dismissed a lawsuit against the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) on Friday after determining that the agency had fulfilled a requirement to process applications for research-grade marijuana manufacturers.

DEA was sued in June after declining to act on the more than two dozen applications that it received for approval to cultivate cannabis for research purposes. It’s been more than three years since the agency first announced it was opening the process to consider additional producers.

The suit, brought by the Scottsdale Research Institute (SRI), argued that the marijuana grown at the University of Mississippi—currently the only facility that’s federally authorized to cultivate the plant—is of poor quality, does not reflect the diversity of products available on the commercial market and is therefore inadequate for clinical studies.

Indeed, that’s a point that several policymakers have made, and it’s bolstered by research demonstrating that the federal government’s cannabis is genetically closer to hemp than marijuana that consumers can obtain in state-legal markets.

In July, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ordered DEA to respond to the legal challenge within 30 days—and as that deadline approached in August, the agency published a notice in the Federal Register stating that it was taking steps to approve the pending applications.

Due to the volume of the applications, DEA said it would have to develop alternative rules to process them. And on Friday the court said that DEA had fulfilled its obligations and that the suit “is now moot.” While no applications have been approved to date, there’s a public comment period that will last until October 28 and then the agency will have an additional 90 days to take action on the inquiries.

“The Court dismissed our case because, according to the Court, DEA gave us the relief we had requested,” attorney Matt Zorn, who was involved in the suit, told Marijuana Moment. “Last week, on October 11, DEA published a correction to the notice it had previously published on August 26, two days before it had to respond to the Court’s order. The Court said this second notice meant there was nothing more the Court could give us.”

“The Court also declined to maintain jurisdiction over the case, because it did not find a history of chronic delay or bad faith in the record,” Zorn said. “But it also indicated that we could return to court if DEA significantly delays going forward.”

Sue Sisley, a researcher with SRI, said that despite the case being dismissed, it “moved the ball forward for everyone.”

“We would have liked to take the case one step further to ensure that all 33 applications are processed promptly—protecting the health and welfare of our nation’s medically ill patients ought to be a national priority for this administration,” she said. “By delaying these 33 applications, the administration has prevented our US scientists from investigating the clinical efficacy of real-world cannabis to treat combat veterans with PTSD. Fortunately, the Court’s order today allows us to return to court for additional relief if Trump’s DOJ/DEA continues to violate the law and put public health at risk through delay or otherwise.”

In a separate case in May, another federal court ordered DEA to “promptly” consider applications to reschedule cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act.

Read the appeals court’s ruling on the DEA marijuana application case below: 

DEA court ruling by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

CDC Official Pushes Back Against Congressman Linking Legal Marijuana To Vaping Deaths

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Former VA Secretary Who Oversaw Marijuana Research Blockade Now Backs Cannabis Studies For Veterans

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Former U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary David Shulkin is officially on board with having the department research medical marijuana—a development that comes a year after he was in a position to actually make that happen.

In an interview with Task & Purpose that was published on Thursday, Shulkin said that “the time is now” for VA to facilitate studies into the therapeutic potential of cannabis for veterans.

“I believe that the VA should be involved in research on anything that could potentially help veterans and improve their health and well-being,” he said.

That appears to represent a notable departure from the position he held while he headed the department.

For example, VA under his leadership refused to provide assistance to an Arizona-based research facility that was soliciting veterans to participate in a federally approved clinical trial looking at the potential benefits of cannabis in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“Federal law restricts VA’s ability to conduct research involving medical marijuana, or to refer veterans to such research projects,” a VA official told Air Force Times in 2017. “The researcher is free to work with veterans service organizations and state veterans officials who may not face such restrictions to identify candidates for her study.”

But according to the Brookings Institute, that’s not an accurate assessment because “doctors and researchers at the VA or in VA hospitals could conduct research into the medical efficacy of marijuana while remaining completely compliant with federal laws, regulations, and the United States’ obligations under international agreements.”

While the former secretary still said during this latest interview that congressional action is necessary to prompt VA research efforts, he seems to have become decidedly more vocal about the importance of such studies as compared to his time in office.

“In particular, with the VA’s focus on suicide as the top priority, people just don’t take their lives because of no reason,” he said. “They take their lives, often because of issues related to chronic pain, depression, substance abuse, and there is growing evidence that medical marijuana—I’m not talking about recreational marijuana—but properly prescribed, may have some real benefits in anxiety improvement, in pain management, and potentially, in the issue of substance abuse.”

“And therefore, I believe it’s extremely appropriate for VA to be researching and developing therapies that can help veterans, particularly in areas where we don’t have enough good therapies or answers,” he said.

Task & Purpose followed up to ask about potential obstacles such to having VA conduct research into the issue, and Shulkin said that because marijuana is a federally controlled substance, “the challenge of doing research with the regulations, and the hoops that you have to go through, are making it too difficult to do for many of the researchers.”

“I do think that the way forward is a legislative solution, much of what VA responds to are changes in the law, where medical research for veterans in this area could be streamlined and clarity around what regulations and rules need to be followed to be able to do this research, as well as guidance about the type of research that can and should be done, which reports back to Congress.”

He added that he doesn’t anticipate that President Trump would resist legislation empowering VA to study marijuana for veterans.

Brad Burge, director of strategic communication at the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), the group behind the study into cannabis for PTSD, told Marijuana Moment that they are “pleased that Shulkin has now expressed his support for medical marijuana research, even though that support would have been much more valuable when he was still in office.”

“Nevertheless we are looking forward to the VA’s support of marijuana research and see Shulkin’s change of stance as a promising sign for veterans suffering from PTSD,” Burge said.

It wasn’t just that Shulkin’s VA put up roadblocks to cannabis research, he also resisted providing veterans with access to marijuana by declining to change internal VA policy that could empower its doctors to issue recommendations in states where it’s legal.

The reasoning, he said in 2017, is that it’s “not within our legal scope to study that in formal research programs or to prescribe medical marijuana, even in states where it’s legal” because of federal law. But advocates argued that the only thing standing in the way of VA cannabis research is VA policy itself, which Shulkin could have amended.

Getting a VA cannabis reform bill passed as the former official is now recommending has already proved difficult this year, with current VA officials voicing opposition during a congressional committee hearing in June to modest proposals such as allowing their doctors to recommend cannabis or even surveying veterans about their marijuana use.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) said that same month that he pulled an appropriations amendment to allow for VA marijuana recommendations from floor consideration partly because of opposition from the department.

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Mexican Committees Unveil Marijuana Legalization Bill Ahead Of Supreme Court Deadline

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Several Mexican Senate committees unveiled draft legislation late on Thursday to legalize marijuana.

Leaders of the Health, Justice, Public Security and Legislative Studies Committees announced last week that they would remain in permanent session to finalize the legalization bill ahead of a coming Supreme Court deadline.

The court determined last year that the country’s ban on personal cannabis consumption and cultivation is unconstitutional, though lawmakers now want to go even further by legalizing commercial production and sales.

The committees are expected to formally vote on the legislation in the coming days, after which point it will head to the full Senate and then the Chamber of Deputies. Leaders said a vote in the legislature could occur before the end of the month, though it’s possible they could ask the Supreme Court for a deadline extension.

Cáñamo México first reported on the 42-page draft proposal on Friday.

Here are some of the key provisions, according to a translation: 

—Adults 18 and older can possess cannabis for personal use, cultivate up to four plants and purchase marijuana from licensed retailers.

—An independent body called the “Cannabis Institute” would be charged with issuing licenses, setting potency limits and monitoring the implementation of the law, among other responsibilities.

—Low-income individuals, small farmers and indigenous people would have licensing priority.

—Strict restrictions would be imposed on cannabis packaging. That includes requiring nondescript, standardized containers that do not feature depictions of real or fictional people or testimonials.

—Marijuana can only be consumed in private spaces.

—Only medical cannabis patients would be allowed to purchase infused edibles and beverages.

—Unregistered seeds or plants would be subject to forfeiture.

—No pesticides could be used on cannabis plants.

The bill seeks to “improve the living conditions of people living in the United Mexican States, combat the consequences of the problematic use of cannabis and reduce the crime incidence linked to drug trafficking [while] promoting peace, the security and well-being of individuals and communities,” according to the text.

Sen. Julio Menchaca Salazar, head of the Justice Committee, said in a tweet that “we are legislating to regulate the illicit market of the #marihuana and decrease the crime incidence linked to the #narcotráfico, promoting peace and security for all Mexicans.”

Lawmakers have said that the legislation is largely based on a proposal that Interior Secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero filed last year while still serving as a senator, but the committees are also merging in provisions from among more than a dozen other marijuana reform bills that since have been introduced.

“They all have something good that we can be translating into law,” Menchaca Salazar, who is a member of the ruling MORENA party, said.

Debate on the measure will also be informed by findings from a series of events the Senate organized to gather public input on marijuana legalization. That includes a panel led by a former White House drug czar, who stressed the need for “robust regulations” of a legal cannabis market.

The leader of the MORENA party in the Senate, Sen. Ricardo Monreal, said earlier this month that the chamber was set to vote on a legalization bill ahead of the October 24 deadline.

“It will undoubtedly be a great discussion with the elements we have and also with all the willingness to incorporate the opinions of legislators, but it would come out this month, there are the conditions for that to be,” Menchaca Salazar said.

Read the full text of the Mexican committees’ marijuana legalization proposal below: 

Predictamen para crear la ‘… by Tonalidades Verde on Scribd

This story is developing and will be updated.

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