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GOP Senator: ‘Let States Legalize Medical Marijuana, But Don’t Change Federal Law’

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A Republican U.S. senator from Arkansas thinks that states like his own should be able to implement medical marijuana laws, but he’s not in favor of changing federal policy so that they can actually do so without Justice Department interference.

“I think right now what we’re seeing across the states is exactly what our federalist system is designed to do, to allow the states to experiment and see what may work and what doesn’t work,” Sen. Tom Cotton said.

But he added, “I don’t think we should, in Congress, change the laws that would essentially not just decriminalize or even legalize marijuana but allow it to be commercialized because of all of the negative side effects that would have.”

Under current federal law, marijuana is illegal whether or not a state allows it in some form. The only thing preventing the Department of Justice from arresting and prosecuting patients and providers is a temporary rider in funding legislation that must be renewed annually.

Arkansas voters approved a medical cannabis ballot measure in 2016 that is still in the process of being implemented. It allows commercial sales of marijuana to qualified patients through dispensaries.

Cotton said he doesn’t think the federal government will try to prevent implementation of local medical cannabis policies like the one in his state.

“I don’t anticipate the Department of Justice will take steps to interfere with states like Arkansas that have taken the somewhat modest, restrained step of adopting a medical marijuana program that is going to be very tightly regulated,” he said.

But U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions moved in January to rescind Obama-era guidance that has allowed states to enact their own marijuana laws without federal interference, and he asked congressional leaders not to extend the budget rider that protects local medical cannabis policies.

Cotton, in a Sunday appearance on Talk Business & Politics, was responding to a question about two new studies last week that showed states with legal marijuana access see reduced opioid prescriptions.

He also said that while he “respect that decision that the voters of Arkansas have made” to allow medical cannabis, he has deep reservations about broader recreational legalization.

“It’s a state decision, which is the decision that the people of Arkansas made in a referendum a couple of years ago, but also there’s a real difference between saying an adult who is addicted to opioids or maybe has advanced cancer and wants to use marijuana for pain management. That’s a very different decision from saying we’re going to commercialize marijuana and make it easily available to teenagers where the science shows it can have very detrimental effects on that. I do worry about that impact on our communities.”

“Now for those states that legalized and commercialized marijuana, I can’t speak to what will happen in those states. I think that would be an unwise step to take for Arkansas’s kids and families and communities,” he said.

Photo courtesy of Michael Vadon.

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 20-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

GOP Senator Shares Photo Of His Dad Harvesting Hemp Decades Ago

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A U.S. senator appears to be taking a hit at the governor of his home state over a disagreement on hemp legalization, and he’s using a decades-old picture of his own father growing the crop to do it.

Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) shared a photo on Facebook last month showing his dad harvesting the crop in South Dakota about 80 years ago. While it might seem benign, some political observers believe the post was a subtle dig at Gov. Kristi Noem (R), who vetoed legislation earlier this year to re-legalize industrial hemp in the state.

The senator referenced the picture during a telephone town hall event, where he was asked about the potential of hemp in the textile industry. Rounds said the plant was used to make ropes for the Navy during World War II.

“It’s of my dad (Grandpa Don, left) as a young boy working in a South Dakota hemp field,” he wrote of the photo. “We believe it was taken sometime in the late 1930s/early 1940s.”

The implication seems to be that the crop has a long history in South Dakota and that generations have relied on it prior for its federal prohibition. But even after hemp and its derivatives were federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill, Noem has maintained that it should remain criminalized under state law.

The Argus Leader first connected the Facebook post with Noem’s hemp opposition.

Marijuana Moment reached out to Rounds’s office for comment, but a representative was not immediately available.

In March, the governor rejected legislation that arrived on her desk to legalize industrial hemp, arguing that the reform move would pave the path toward legalization of adult-use marijuana. The Senate didn’t have enough support to override the veto.

Lawmakers have said they plan to introduce similar legislation next year, but Noem pledged in September to veto it again.

As far as Rounds is concerned, South Dakota should be allowed to experiment with industrial hemp. He told the Sioux City Journal last month that “I personally don’t see a problem with at least trying it” and he voted in favor of the Farm Bill last year.

Despite Noem’s opposition to the non-intoxicating form of cannabis, activists in the state are moving ahead with efforts to more broadly legalize marijuana for medical and recreational purposes. Signatures on two reform initiatives were submitted to the secretary of state last month and, once verified, the issues are expected to be decided by voters during next year’s election.

Both measures are being backed by national advocacy groups, and the adult-use legalization proposal is being sponsored by a former federal prosecutor.

Vermont Should Legalize Marijuana Sales, Top Health Department Official Says

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Killer Mike Credits Bernie Sanders For Inspiring Marijuana Legalization Movement

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Rapper Killer Mike says that the national push to reform marijuana laws in recent years can be largely attributed to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

Sanders, who became the first major presidential candidate to call for cannabis legalization during his 2016 run, has continued to raise the issue as he campaigns for the 2020 Democratic nomination. In the years since he first proposed the policy change, numerous states have pursued reform and pro-legalization stances are increasingly commonplace, especially among Democratic lawmakers.

“Marijuana decriminalization was something I never thought I’d see in my lifetime,” Killer Mike said in an interview on MSNBC on Sunday. “Yet within four years, I’ve seen a nationwide push for it, in big part to his campaign.”

Watch Killer Mike’s marijuana comments, starting around 1:25 into the video below: 

“How does that affect me as the father of a 17-year-old boy? If my son gets caught with marijuana, it could ruin his life for the rest of his life,” he said. “Now we have an environment where he literally will get scolded as a child and get a chance to be a fruitful adult without a felony on his record. I think that that resonates in our community.”

The rapper, who serves as a surrogate on Sanders’s campaign, also talked about the economic potential of legalization and the importance of social equity policies during a town hall event with the candidate in North Carolina in September.

“We have an opportunity this time to take the people that are exiting jail, have expunged records and creating a pathway as wide as this aisle directly to legal marijuana and creating economic sustainability in the same communities that were robbed of that opportunity,” he said at the time.

It’s not just Sanders who deserves credit for contributing to the cannabis reform movement, Killer Mike said at a panel on free speech in June. Rap artists have also played a key role, featuring the plant in music stretching back decades.

“We know that with national decriminalization of marijuana now, a lot of people are going to get credit for it—a lot of activists, a lot of workers,” he said. “But I can show you a line that leads straight back to Cyprus Hill, that leads straight back to Snoop Dogg, that leads straight back to people like Rick James.”

Some of the most impactful work that rappers have produced are songs inspired by social issues like the drug war, he and several other artists argued in a brief submitted to the Supreme Court earlier this year in defense of a rapper who was convicted for threatening Pittsburgh police officers in a song.

AOC Says She’ll Introduce More Psychedelics Legislation In Congress

Photo courtesy of MSNBC.

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Vermont Should Legalize Marijuana Sales, Top Health Department Official Says

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A top Vermont health official is endorsing the legalization of recreational marijuana sales.

During a radio interview on Monday, Cynthia Seivwright, director of the state Department of Health’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Programs, said that regulating cannabis commerce in the state would better protect public health than current policy does.

Monday’s discussion on WDEV’s Dave Gram Show included the relationship between marijuana-related health consequences and the state’s failure to regulate cannabis after lawmakers there became the nation’s first to legalize marijuana by an act of legislators in January 2018. Gov. Phil Scott (R) signed the bill, which allows low-level possession and home cultivation but continues to prohibit sales, later that month.

“Without the regulation, we don’t know what’s in it,” Seivwright said when asked whether a regulatory model that is similar to that for alcohol makes sense for cannabis. “We can’t control the potency of it. We can’t control the access, and we definitely don’t want children and adolescents to have access to it.”

“Even regulating how it’s tested,” she said, “should be done by an independent lab. Even the packaging. How do we regulate the packaging so that it isn’t desirable for children, to look like candy if it’s going to be edible? We at the Health Department support a regulated system.”

Listen to Seivwright’s marijuana legalization comments at about 1:07:00 into the audio below: 

The Department of Health’s support—a first for the state agency—was welcomed by Dave Silberman, an attorney and pro bono drug policy reform advocate from Middlebury.

“Vermonters of all political stripes are eager to enact a strong regulatory system that puts consumer safety at the forefront, and generates significant revenues for the Department’s broader addiction prevention and treatment efforts,” he told Marijuana Moment. “Rather than burying their heads in the sand and wishing for a drug-free America, the Department seems to finally be taking a facts-based approach to cannabis, rooted in harm reduction instead of stigma. That is a very good thing.”

Seivwright’s support also comes on the heels of renewed attention to the question of regulating marijuana commerce among Vermont legislators. In January, the state Senate approved a cannabis sales legalization bill. But as the legislative session came to a close in the spring, it became clear that the legislation would not reach the House floor for a vote despite having advanced at the committee level.

Although other Democratic leaders have insisted that a marijuana marketplace legalization bill will advance in 2020, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D) said there is no guarantee, VT Digger reports.

In particular, Johnson noted that if the bill is to see a floor consideration in the new year, it will need the 76 votes required for passage in the House—indicating that she doesn’t intend to put any muscle into rounding up the support needed to pass it. Concerns such as roadside safety, youth usage and the marijuana production’s impact on the environment must also be addressed, she said.

The speaker’s stance is in contrast to the Vermont Democratic Party, which adopted support for a legal marijuana marketplace as part of its platform last year.

And last year, when the legal marijuana marketplace bill failed to reach the House floor for a vote, Majority Leader Jill Krowinski (D) reaffirmed her party’s commitment to the legislation’s eventual passage, promising that lawmakers would “finish it early” in 2020.

Over the weekend, Krowinski doubled down on her prediction that the House will vote on the legislation in the upcoming session.

“A version of that will get to the floor,” Krowinski said, according to VT Digger.

Lawmakers File Resolution Demanding Congress Apologize For The Racist War On Drugs

Photo courtesy of Carlos Gracia.

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