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GOP Senate Candidates Debate Medical Marijuana

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Three contenders vying for the Republican nomination for one of Indiana’s U.S. Senate seats discussed medical cannabis at a debate on Sunday night.

“I don’t want a federal government that’s big enough to tackle this problem,” said Congressman Luke Messer. “I think it’s a problem that’s probably best handled at the state level.”

“That’s the reason we need to, from a medical perspective, look at it,” said Congressman Todd Rokita, citing his son Teddy, who has a rare disability. “But we have got to remove THC.”

“I think if a state wants to go to medical marijuana, it ought to be their prerogative,” said former state Rep. Mike Braun. “I’m still out on that issue, but to me, states are a great laboratory. It’s happening right in front of us. We’ll see what happens.”

But even though the candidates varyingly acknowledged cannabis’s medical potential and spoke about letting states lead the way, the two sitting congressman took the opportunity to raise concerns about marijuana.

“At a time when we have an opioid epidemic that’s at crisis levels across our state, I don’t know why we would be opening the door to one of the biggest gateway drugs that could lead to an even bigger crisis,” Messer added.

“I associate with Mr. Messer on that,” Rokita said.

The two U.S. House members have consistently opposed marijuana law reform measures.

Along with Braun, they are vying in the May 18 primary for a chance face incumbent Sen. Joe Donnelly (D) in November.

Debate moderator Brooke Martin of WISH-TV said cannabis is “one of the most-asked-about questions on our Facebook page.”

The candidates previously discussed marijuana policy at a debate in February.

GOP Senate Candidates Voice Support For Medical Marijuana, But Voted Against It

“If medical marijuana helps, we should let people do it,” Rokita said at the time.

“It’s important that we empower patients, and where there are legitimate medical concerns and someone is legitimately a chronic patients that has a terminal illness and this is helping them, then that is of course one area of policy,” Messer said.

But in Congress, the two have repeatedly voted against amendments to remove the threat of federal arrest, prosecution and incarceration for people who use medical marijuana in accordance with state laws.

Rokita, who entered Congress in 2011, voted three times against measures to prevent the Department of Justice from spending money to interfere with state medical marijuana laws.

Messer, who has served in the house since 2013, voted against that proposal twice.

The two Indiana GOP lawmakers also voted three times against amendments to let military veterans get medical cannabis recommendation through their Department of Veterans Affairs doctors.

And despite Rokita implying during both debates that he supports allowing access to nonpsychoactive cannabidiol extracts, he and Messer voted against a measure to protect limited state programs allowing such CBD use from federal interference.

As a member of the House from 2007 to 2013, Democrat Donnelly did not have the opportunity to vote on most of the amendments that GOP lawmakers vying to replace him opposed.

However, in 2007 he voted against the measure to protect state medical cannabis laws from federal interference. He was not present during a 2013 roll call vote on the amendment, and also also missed other votes on unrelated issues that took place on the same day.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) gave Donnelly a “D” in its congressional report card, the same grade awarded to Messer and Rokita.

Indiana currently has a limited CBD medical cannabis law.

Two more debates are scheduled between the Republican candidates. For the final one, on April 30, people can submit proposed questions to the Indiana Debate Commission.

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

Hemp Legalization Is Officially Headed to President Trump’s Desk For Signature

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The 2018 Farm Bill, which would legalize industrial hemp, is officially headed to President Donald Trump’s desk. The House passed the legislation on Wednesday, one day after the Senate approved it.

It’s been decades since the ban on hemp was imposed—a byproduct of the federal government’s war on marijuana and other drugs. The ban, it seems, will be lifted in a matter of days.

The House passed the bill, 369-47.

The votes come after months of debate over other aspects of the wide-ranging agriculture bill. But the hemp legalization provision, shepherded by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), has received bipartisan support at every step of the legislative process.

Hemp legalization made it through a conference committee where the Senate and House Agriculture Committees reconciled their respective versions of the bill. McConnell marked the occasion this week by signing the conference report with a hemp pen, which he said on Wednesday that the president was free to use to sign the bill into law.

The hemp provision would allow U.S. farmers to grow, process and sell the crop. The Justice Department would no longer have jurisdiction over hemp under the legislation; rather, the U.S. Department of Agriculture would lightly regulate it.

One element of the hemp language created tension between lawmakers and advocates. The original Senate-passed bill prohibited people with felony drug convictions from participating in the hemp industry, but a compromise was reached last week that limited that ban in the final version to 10 years after the last offense.

House Democrats in the Agriculture Committee listed hemp legalization as one of several reasons they were calling for a “yes” vote on the legislation.

According to VoteHemp, if the president signs the bill before the year’s end, it will take effect on January 1, 2019.

Mitch McConnell Says Trump Can Borrow His Hemp Pen To Sign Farm Bill Into Law

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.
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Marijuana Industry Border Issues Would Be Solved Under New Congressional Bill

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Marijuana can really mess up border and immigration issues for people who partake in consumption or participate in the industry, but that would change if a new bill being introduced in Congress this week is enacted.

Under current U.S. laws, people who admit to past cannabis use or who work for or invest in marijuana businesses can be barred from visiting the country under certain circumstances. And marijuana consumption, even if it is legal under state law, can lead to an immigrant being deported.

The new legislation, the Maintaining Appropriate Protections For Legal Entry Act, would provide exceptions for conduct that “was lawful in the State, Indian Tribe, or foreign country in which the conduct occurred” or that was “subsequently made lawful under the law or regulation of such jurisdiction,” according to a draft obtained by Marijuana Moment.

The bill, known as the MAPLE Act for short—surely a nod to the leaf on Canada’s flag—is being filed on Wednesday by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).

U.S. border policies on entry by marijuana industry participants were slightly loosened just ahead of the launch of Canada’s legal marijuana market in October to clarify that people working for cannabis businesses are generally admissible to the U.S., with the caveat that “if a traveler is found to be coming to the U.S. for reason related to the marijuana industry, they may be deemed inadmissible.”

And that’s a key exception. Several Canadians traveling to a cannabis industry conference in Las Vegas last month were detained for hours, with one investor being given a lifetime ban from visiting the U.S.

While there is almost certainly not enough time for Blumenauer’s proposal to be considered and voted on by the end of the year, its language could easily be adopted into new legislation after the 116th Congress is seated in January.

In October, the congressman laid out a plan for a step-by-step approach to federally legalizing marijuana in 2019 in a memo to fellow House Democrats.

Marijuana Moment supporters on Patreon can read the full text of the new MAPLE Act below:

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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.
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Chicago Mayor Wants Legal Marijuana Revenue To Fund Pensions

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Tax revenue from legal marijuana sales should be earmarked to fund pension programs, the mayor of Chicago said on Wednesday.

“Illinois legislators will be taking a serious look next year at legalizing recreational marijuana,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) said in a speech to the City Council. “Should they follow that course, a portion of that revenue could go toward strengthening our pension funds and securing the retirement of the workers who depend on them.”

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 Daniel X. O’Neil.

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.
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