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GOP Congressman Wants Trump To Help Legalize Medical Marijuana

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Rep. Matt Gaetz has been in Congress for less than a year, but the Florida Republican has already become one of the House’s foremost leaders working to reform federal marijuana policies. From pushing to protect state laws to advocating marijuana’s reclassification to pressuring the Justice Department on expanding studies into the drug’s medical benefits, Gaetz is pursuing cannabis reform on multiple fronts.

Just one problem: GOP leadership doesn’t seem especially interested in giving the issue a fair shake.

This year, Congressional Republicans have blocked numerous cannabis amendments from even being voted on, including ones to shield state laws from federal interference, to remove research roadblocks and even to allow military veterans increased access to medical marijuana.

Gaetz, who has been a sponsor or cosponsor of several of those measures, wants to turn up pressure on House leadership to get out of the way, and he thinks that advocacy effort could get a serious boost from none other than Donald Trump.

“We need presidential leadership,” Gaetz said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “President Trump made a commitment during the campaign to support medical marijuana, and we need the president to continue to be a force for good on this issue.”

Support for cannabis law reform is largely generational rather than partisan, the 35-year-old congressman argues.

“Many millennials voted for the president because they believed he was a new type of Republican on the marijuana issue,” he says. “The most dispositive factor in determining whether or not someone is likely to support cannabis reform is their age, not their party affiliation. It’s hard to find Republicans under the age of 40 that oppose medical marijuana research.”

Trump, 71, repeatedly pledged during the presidential election that he would respect state marijuana laws, going so far as to say he personally knows people who benefit from medical cannabis. But administration officials such as U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a longtime staunch legalization opponent, have sent concerning and at times conflicting signals about federal enforcement policy.

For now, it remains to be seen to what extent the president himself will step into the debate about marijuana, but Gaetz is continuing to press his fellow Republicans in Congress on the issue, with some signs of success.

In a hearing this month he got House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) to pledge on the record to work to make marijuana research easier.

Scientists have long complained that cannabis’s current status under Schedule I — a category that’s supposed to be reserved for substances with no medical benefits —  creates unnecessary hurdles that don’t exist for studies on other drugs.

“Chairman Goodlatte has made a commitment that we will liberalize access to medical marijuana for research purposes in universities and in medical facilities,” Gaetz says. “It’s my view that that cannot occur in a world in which the federal government takes the position that cannabis has no medical value. So in my mind, Chairman Goodlatte has committed to remove cannabis from the list of Schedule I drugs.”

Goodlatte’s commitment came during a debate on an amendment that Gaetz filed which would have forced Sessions to study the benefits of medical marijuana for police officers. He ended up withdrawing the proposal and not forcing a vote per Goodlatte’s request and in service of pursuing broader opportunities to expand research in partnership with the chairman.

It was the second time in recent months that Gaetz pulled a marijuana amendment from consideration in the committee, and he was visibly frustrated during the hearing that Goodlatte’s staff hadn’t yet followed through on their boss’s prior commitment to work on cannabis legislation the first time he forced a committee debate on the issue this summer.

“That frustration continues to grow because as I sit here two weeks from that commitment, the Judiciary staff hasn’t produced the first word of legislative text to fulfill the chairman’s commitment,” Gaetz says of the most recent hearing.

Beyond the committee, the Florida Republican has taken the fight for marijuana reform to the floor, for example delivering a passionate speech earlier this month about how medical cannabis can help people with breast cancer.

Gaetz, who is the only GOP member of Congress to have previously authored a state medical marijuana law, says he gets his passion for working on the issue from families who are directly impacted.

As a member of Florida’s House of Representatives he introduced and successfully fought to enact a limited program that allows certain patients to access medicines derived from cannabidiol, a component of marijuana.

“In Florida I’ve made promises to families enduring very complicated medical situations that I would fight for them, and I don’t feel relieved of that commitment just because I’ve been elected to Congress,” Gaetz says. “Much of the work I’ve done in Florida to liberalize access to medical cannabis will be for naught if we don’t create broader research opportunities and a clinical environment in which cannabis treatments can be administered When you work together with families on legislation that’s helped them, helped their children, helped their parents and grandparents, you create bonds with people. And those bonds are enduring.”

Last November, Florida voters went a step further by enacting a comprehensive program that will allow patients to have access to a broader array of medical marijuana products. And polls in the state now show that majority support exists for even broader legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes, but Gaetz isn’t there yet.

“That’s not my role in the movement,” he says. “My role in the movement is to focus on medical access, research and the improvement of healthcare outcomes. I think that my efforts are best focused on those issues.”

When asked if he would support a legalization proposal as a voter if it appeared on the state’s ballot, he demurred, saying that “there are so many alternate causalities I would have to consider regarding, particularly, adolescent access.”

But when it comes to medical cannabis, Gaetz is a proud champion and wants to use his own experience as an example for other members of Congress who still think the issue is a political liability.

“Too many Republicans hear that support for cannabis reform creates primary vulnerability. I’m the best example of why that isn’t true,” he says. “I’m in a district that’s blood red. And in my primary election, a very substantial amount of money was spent litigating the cannabis reform issue against me and I leaned into it and I won overwhelmingly.”

“And so I want to use my own political experience as a source of comfort to other members in deep red districts. The day has long lapsed when anyone is going to lose an election anywhere in America among any segment of the electorate because they support medical marijuana. But bridging the perception and the reality on that political question is a really important step to move cannabis reform.”

And Gaetz is very optimistic about medical marijuana’s future.

“It is not a matter of if but when medical cannabis readily accessible to every American,” he says. “My hope is that we set up a truly clinical paradigm to give people confidence in the medicine they take. Right now, the barriers to research really limit our ability to have the best healthcare outcomes. That’s ludicrous.”

This piece was originally published by Forbes.

Photo courtesy of Congressman Matt Gaetz’s office.

Politics

Vermont Governor Signs Marijuana Legalization Into Law

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Vermont is officially the ninth state to legalize marijuana, and the first to end cannabis prohibition through an act of lawmakers.

On Monday, Gov. Phil Scott signed the legalization bill into law.

Please visit Forbes to read the rest of this piece.

(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)

Photo courtesy of Harshil Shah.

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Politics

State Lawmakers Push Back On Federal Anti-Marijuana Moves

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This month the Trump administration tore up Obama-era guidance that has generally allowed states to implement their own marijuana laws without federal interference.

But states aren’t taking the change sitting down.

On Monday, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott (R) signed into law a cannabis legalization bill that legislators in his state approved just hours after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the federal marijuana protections.

New Hampshire’s House of Representatives also approved a legalization bill days after the Sessions move.

And in a number of other states, lawmakers have filed legislation or resolutions forcefully pushing back on what they see as a federal attack on their marijuana policy prerogatives.

In Arizona, California, Massachusetts and Washington State, lawmakers are considering bills to prevent state and local officials from assisting federal agents in any actions against legal marijuana businesses, effectively making them “sanctuary states” for cannabis.

On Friday, Hawaii senators introduced a bill claiming that “federal scheduling of cannabis as a controlled substance does not apply to the medical use of cannabis in Hawaii because the medical use of cannabis in Hawaii is currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.”

It is unclear how the U.S. Department of Justice would react to the state measure, which obviously does not have the power to change marijuana’s status under federal law.

But the claim by Hawaii lawmakers — as well as the other state bills to strip the federal government of any help it might hope for in moving against marijuana businesses and consumers — are just a small number of examples showing that local elected officials are prepared to strenuously oppose any cannabis crackdown that Sessions may launch.

Several state legislatures are also considering nonbinding resolutions that express the will of lawmakers that Trump administration should not interfere with local cannabis laws.

For example, last week, Iowa representatives filed a resolution calling on the federal government to reschedule marijuana.

Pennsylvania senators introduced a measure asking Congress to change gun laws to protect the Second Amendment rights of medical cannabis patients.

In Michigan, a pending resolution urges Sessions to “respect the people of Michigan’s constitutionally-protected right to regulate medical marihuana at the state level,” adding: “if he fails to do so, we call upon the President of the United States to replace him with a successor who will more faithfully fulfill this constitutional duty.”

An Alaska measure asks the Trump administration to “forbear any federal interference in marijuana policy of states where marijuana has been legalized.”

In Illinois, lawmakers concerned with the marijuana industry’s banking access issues are pushing a resolution urging Congress to “amend federal law to provide immunity from federal prosecution and regulatory protections for financial institutions legally providing services to cannabis-related businesses, licensees, and consumers pursuant to applicable state law.”

A more modest South Carolina Senate resolution wants Congress to remove “federal statutory and regulatory barriers that prevent” research on marijuana.

Kentucky representatives filed a measure asking Congress to remove hemp from the Controlled Substances Act, prevent the Drug Enforcement Administration from sending “agents onto farms and other sites where hemp is being grown, stored, and processed” and instruct the Food and Drug Administration to “accelerate clinical trials and other research on the health effects of cannabidiol (CBD) and other cannabinoids found in hemp.”

Georgia representatives want the feds to “reclassify marijuana so that its medical benefits and effects may be further researched.”

A New Jersey resolution asks Congress to pass laws “that are fair and compassionate, permit states to set their own medical marijuana policies without federal interference, and make marijuana accessible to the millions of Americans who would benefit from its medicinal properties.”

A New Mexico representative wants his colleagues to approve a measure mandating that “formal request be made to the New Mexico congressional delegation to create new legislation protecting medicinal cannabis users in New Mexico from the threat of being sent to federal prison.”

California lawmakers already passed a resolution late last year urging federal legislators to reschedule marijuana “from a Schedule I drug to an alternative schedule, therefore allowing the legal research and development of marijuana or cannabis for medical use and allowing for the legal commerce of marijuana or cannabis so that businesses dealing with marijuana or cannabis can use traditional banks or financial institutions for their banking needs.” Now, they are considering a separate measure sending a message to federal prosecutors that “the enforcement priorities of the United States Department of Justice should not be undeservedly placed on California’s lawful and closely regulated cannabis industry.”

The state bills and resolutions are just one lens through which to view the overwhelming unpopularity of the Trump administration’s move to undo state marijuana protections.

A large number of members of Congress from both parties also swiftly slammed the decision, and several national polls showed that voters strongly support the right of states to set their own cannabis laws without federal interference.

Bipartisan Lawmakers Push For Marijuana Protections In Funding Bill

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Politics

Rand Paul Pushes Marijuana Amendments On Funding Bill

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As Congress works to end a federal government shutdown that began at midnight on Friday, a Republican senator is trying to insert marijuana into the process.

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky has filed two far-reaching cannabis amendments that he wants to be part of a deal to reopen the government.

One measure would prevent the Justice Department from interfering with state recreational legalization and medical cannabis laws, a big concern in the wake of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s recent rescission of Obama-era guidance that has generally allowed local marijuana policies to be implemented without federal harassment:

                                ______
                                 
  SA 1910. Mr. PAUL submitted an amendment intended to be proposed by 
him to the bill H.R. 195, to amend title 44, United States Code, to 
restrict the distribution of free printed copies of the Federal 
Register to Members of Congress and other officers and employees of the 
United States, and for other purposes; which was ordered to lie on the 
table; as follows:

       At the appropriate place, insert the following:
       Sec. __.  None of the funds made available by this Act to 
     the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to any of 
     the States of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, 
     Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, 
     Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, 
     Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, 
     Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New 
     York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, 
     Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, 
     Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, 
     Wisconsin, and Wyoming, to prevent the State from 
     implementing State laws that authorize the use, distribution, 
     possession, or cultivation of marijuana on non-Federal lands 
     within the respective jurisdiction of the State.
                                 ______

 

Paul’s other amendment concerns the ability of banks to open accounts for marijuana businesses without running afoul of federal regulators:

                                ______
                                 
  SA 1909. Mr. PAUL submitted an amendment intended to be proposed by 
him to the bill H.R. 195, to amend title 44, United States Code, to 
restrict the distribution of free printed copies of the Federal 
Register to Members of Congress and other officers and employees of the 
United States, and for other purposes; which was ordered to lie on the 
table; as follows:

       At the appropriate place, insert the following:
       Sec. __.  None of the funds made available by this Act may 
     be used by the Department of Justice for activities that are 
     not in compliance with the February 14, 2014, Department of 
     Justice memorandum from James M. Cole, Deputy Attorney 
     General, entitled ''Guidance Regarding Marijuana Financial 
     Crimes'', and the memoranda incorporated therein.
                                 ______

 

A top Treasury Department official testified before senators this week that the Trump administration is currently weighing whether to tear up an Obama-era memo on cannabis banking in line with Sessions’s move to rescind the broader Justice Department guidance on state marijuana laws.

Feds Reviewing Marijuana Banking Protections

It is unclear if either of Paul’s amendments will actually be considered and voted on as part of a deal to re-open the federal government following the Friday shutdown.

The lapse in spending legislation has put medical cannabis patients and providers at greater risk because an existing protection preventing the Justice Department from undermining medical marijuana laws has now expired, but drug enforcement has not. Under a federal contingency plan, anti-drug agents and prosecutors are exempt from furlough.

If Congress passes another bill to fund the government, the medical cannabis protections will go back into effect through whatever date to which the legislation continues spending levels. People complying with broader full-scale marijuana legalization laws will remain at risk of federal enforcement actions, however, unless Paul’s relevant amendment is adopted.

Earlier this week, House leaders effectively blocked an amendment to protect state marijuana laws from federal interference from being considered on the floor.

Congress Misses Opportunity To Vote On Marijuana Amendment

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.

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