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Feds Should Research Medical Marijuana For Veterans, Lawmakers Say

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A group of ten U.S. House members is pushing the Trump administration to begin researching medical marijuana’s potential benefits for military veterans struggling to cope with war wounds.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) “is uniquely situated to pursue research on the impact of medical marijuana on veterans suffering from chronic pain and PTSD given its access to world class researchers, the population it serves, and its history of overseeing and producing research resulting in cutting-edge medical treatments,” the group of lawmakers who sit on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs wrote on Thursday in a letter to VA Sec. David Shulkin.

Recently, medical cannabis advocates and veterans groups like the American Legion have increased pressure on VA to stop blocking federally-approved researchers from recruiting veterans for research on medical cannabis.

One such study on marijuana’s effects on PTSD has been prevented from reaching veterans at the VA hospital in Phoenix.

“This study needs 50 more participants and the Phoenix VA is in the best possible position to assist by simply allowing principle investigators to brief [VA] medical staff on the progress of the study, and by allowing clinicians to reveal the existence of the study to potential participants,” the Legion wrote to Shulkin last month. “Your immediate attention in this important matter is greatly appreciated. We ask for your direct involvement to ensure this critical research is fully enabled.”

Shulkin has not yet responded to the Legion’s letter, a representative of the group said.

“Time and time again I have heard the stories of veterans who have used marijuana medicinally to help them cope with physical and psychological injuries sustained during their service,” Congressman Tim Walz (D-MN), the highest ranking enlisted servicemember ever to serve Congress, said in a statement about the lawmakers’ new letter to Shulkin. “After hearing from and meeting with veterans and veterans’ advocates from communities across the country, I now know for a fact that research and access to medical marijuana has become a critically important veterans’ issue.”

A number of recent studies indicate that legal marijuana access is associated with reduced opioid overdose and addiction rates.

“At no period of time has research into medical marijuana been as critically important as it is now, as there isn’t a single community in America that hasn’t come face-to-face with our nation’s tragic opioid epidemic,” Walz said. “Few populations have been as hurt by the opioid epidemic as our veterans.”

 

Shulkin has on a number of occasions indicated that he does see medical potential for marijuana but has consistently incorrectly claimed that Congressional action is needed before he can do anything to increase veterans’ access or expand research.

The House lawmakers, all Democrats, are asking him to respond by November 14.

This piece was first published by Forbes.

Politics

Marijuana Is Safer Than Alcohol, Tobacco Or Sugar, Americans Say In New Poll

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Americans think marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol, tobacco or sugar. That’s according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Friday.

When asked in a survey which substance is most harmful to health, 41 percent chose tobacco, 24 percent said alcohol and 21 percent flagged sugar.

Just nine percent believe cannabis is the most dangerous of the four options.

The poll also asked about American’s views on legalizing marijuana in their state, with 60 percent saying they would favor the policy.

When the news organizations polled the same question in 2014, 55 percent were on board.

The new numbers are in line with other recent polls showing growing support for ending cannabis prohibition.

In October, a Gallup poll found that 64 percent of Americans back legalizing marijuana.

Earlier this month, in the wake of the Trump administration’s decision to rescind Obama-era guidance that has generally allowed states to implement their own marijuana laws, three separate national polls found broad opposition to federal interference in local cannabis policies.

On Marijuana, Voters Want Feds To Butt Out Of State Laws, Polls Find

See the full NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll below:

18033 NBCWSJ January Poll (1!19!18 Release) by Carrie Dann on Scribd

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Politics

Government Shutdown Would Let Sessions Attack Medical Marijuana

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The federal government will shut down at midnight on Friday, barring an unexpected, last-minute bipartisan deal. That puts medical marijuana patients and providers at risk of being arrested, prosecuted and sent to prison by Jeff Sessions’s Justice Department.

Here’s why:

Under a shutdown scenario, an existing budget provision that prevents the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and other agencies from spending money to interfere with state medical cannabis laws would expire. But federal drug enforcement and prosecution actions, which are exempted from furloughs, would continue.

Why Might The Government Shut Down?

A bill to extend federal funding levels and policy riders like the marijuana one through February 16 was approved by the House on Thursday. But a heated dispute over immigration issues has jeopardized its passage in the Senate, where a significant number of Democrats are refusing to support any bill that does not provide protections to people who were brought to the U.S. as children.

Earlier this month, Attorney General Sessions rescinded Obama-era guidance that has generally allowed states to implement their own cannabis laws without federal intervention. That has left recreational marijuana businesses and consumers without a key protection they’ve relied on since 2013, but the ongoing existence of the medical cannabis spending rider has continued to keep patients and providers safeguarded from federal attacks.

Until now.

An unintended consequence of Senate Democrats’ move to block the funding extension bill and shut down the government over immigration issues is that medical marijuana patients and industry operators would be at much greater risk, as soon as this weekend.

Why Would Drug Enforcement Continue Under A Shutdown?

“All agents in DEA field organizations are excepted from furlough because they support active counternarcotics investigations. This encompasses 21 domestic divisions, 7 regional foreign divisions, critical tactical support groups including the El Paso Intelligence Center and the Special Operations Division, forensic sciences, and technical surveillance support,” a Justice Department shutdown contingency plan says. “DEA investigations need to continue uninterrupted so that cases are not compromised and the health and safety of the American public is not placed at risk.”

The same goes for federal prosecutors.

“As Presidential Appointees, U.S. Attorneys are not subject to furlough,” the shutdown document reads. “Excepted employees are needed to address ongoing criminal matters and civil matters of urgency throughout the Nation. Criminal litigation will continue without interruption as an excepted activity to maintain the safety of human life and the protection of property.”

Politics Of Marijuana And Immigration Collide

Democrats, especially those considering 2020 presidential bids, are facing enormous pressure from their progressive base not to go along with yet another bill in a series of short-term funding extensions that do not include protections for young immigrants known as “DREAMers.” Because Republicans hold only 51 seats in the chamber, and a handful of GOP members are also opposing the spending resolution, leaders need support from Democrats to reach the critical 60-vote threshold to advance legislation.

The medical cannabis budget rider was first enacted into law in late 2014, and has since been extended for each subsequent fiscal year. Last May, Sessions sent a letter to congressional leaders asking them not to continue the medical marijuana rider into Fiscal Year 2018.

“I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime,” he wrote. “The Department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives.”

Setting aside the important question of whether the medical cannabis rider will be included in full Fiscal Year 2018 spending legislation that congressional leaders continue to negotiate — and it is a big question, since House leaders blocked lawmakers from even voting on whether to include the policy in that chamber’s version of Justice Department spending legislation — the current budget brinksmanship on Capitol Hill means the medical marijuana protections could disappear as soon as Saturday morning.

A Shutdown Allows Old Federal Marijuana Prosecutions To Resume

If the provision lapses, it wouldn’t just allow new actions against people violating federal marijuana laws. It would also allow earlier medical cannabis prosecutions that were suspended under to the rider to resume.

A federal judge in a California case last August, for example, wrote that the prosecution of two marijuana growers would be “stayed until and unless a future appropriations bill permits the government to proceed. If such a bill is enacted, the government may notify the Court and move for the stay to be lifted.”

The failure to enact a new bill continuing the protections would have the same effect under a shutdown scenario, given that enforcement of federal drug laws would still continue.

Long-Term Status Of Marijuana Protections Unclear

The Senate Appropriations Committee voted in July to include the medical cannabis rider in its version of the 2018 Justice Department funding bill. But without the provision being approved on the House side, its long-term continuance will be determined behind closed doors by a bicameral conference committee that merges the two chambers’ proposal into a single bill to be sent to President Trump.

Advocates have also pushed to expand the protection to encompass all state marijuana laws, not just those focused on medical access. A measure to do that came just nine flipped votes of passage on the House floor in 2015, and the number of states with legalization has doubled since then. However, Republican congressional leaders have blocked subsequent cannabis measures from advancing to floor consideration, including as recently as this week.

Bipartisan Lawmakers Push For Marijuana Protections In Funding Bill

In the meantime, medical cannabis patients and providers will wait to see if Jeff Sessions and his DEA agents will regain the ability to come after them for the first time since 2014 this weekend.

Portions of this post were first published by Forbes.

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California Lawmakers Pressure Sens. Harris And Feinstein On Marijuana

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A group of ten U.S. House members from California are calling on the state’s two senators to do more to push back on the Trump administration’s decision to rescind protections for state marijuana laws.

“As you know, in November 2016, the people of California spoke up and voted in favor of Proposition 64, which legalized recreational cannabis… The recent action by the Attorney General put the industry in jeopardy,” the bipartisan group of ten members of Congress wrote to U.S. Sens. Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein, both Democrats.

“To increase pressure, we are calling on you to block nominations to the Justice Department until the Attorney General reinstates the Cole Memo,” the House lawmakers said.

While Feinstein has long been one of Congress’ most ardent opponents of marijuana legalization, Harris has in recent weeks repeatedly criticized the move by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to tear up Obama-era guidance that has generally allowed states to implement their own marijuana laws without federal interference.

But despite tweeting a lot about marijuana and starting an online petition on the issue through which her campaign apparatus is able to collect e-mail addresses, Harris hasn’t yet added her name as a cosponsor of a single one of the various cannabis reform bills her Senate colleagues have introduced.

Now, the House members, led by Reps. Lou Correa (D) and Dana Rohrabacher (R), are asking her and Feinstein to prevent Sessions from being able to confirm new U.S. attorneys or other Justice Department nominees until he reverses the anti-marijuana move.

“The legalization of cannabis will spur economic growth and provide sales tax revenues,” they write.

Within hours of Sessions’s announcement of rescinding the marijuana protections, Republican Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado vowed to place a hold on all Justice Department nominations over the issue.

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