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GOP Senator Seeks To Attach Marijuana Reform To Criminal Justice Bill

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When criminal justice reform legislation comes to the Senate floor for a vote next week, a key member of the body’s Republican leadership team will seek to attach a far-reaching amendment to end federal cannabis prohibition, Marijuana Moment has learned.

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), the lead GOP cosponsor of standalone legislation to allow states to implement their own marijuana laws without federal interference, plans to file the text of that bill as an amendment to the prison and sentencing reform bill, three cannabis and drug policy lobbyists said.

“The conflict in federal and state law is untenable and Congress must act,” Neal Levine CEO of the Cannabis Trade Federation, said in an interview. “The only solution that resolves the conflict between federal and state law that we’ve heard could even potentially pass the U.S. Senate—and the president said he would sign it into law— is the STATES Act.”

Gardner’s standalone bill, the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States Act (STATES Act) which he filed in June with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and a bipartisan group of cosponsors, has received verbal support from President Trump. The proposal would exempt state-legal marijuana activity from the federal Controlled Substances Act.

It is unclear if Gardner’s amendment will actually receive a Senate floor vote and, if so, could garner enough support in the body to pass.

Other lobbyists expressed skepticism about the move, which could inject greater contention into an already tenuous criminal justice reform effort that only just days ago received a go-ahead from a reluctant Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

Calling the broader legislation a “finely crafted deal that’s been months in the making,” Drug Policy Alliance Director of National Affairs Michael Colins said, “I can’t see a situation where they’re going to add something like marijuana reform—a bill that hasn’t even had a hearing.”

“That’s certainly not the type of amendment that will be getting into the final bill, though I’m glad that Senator Gardner is trying to move the ball on this.”

Another marijuana lobbyist, who requested anonymity to weigh in candidly, criticized Gardner for  “grandstanding” on cannabis issues without an actual plan to enact reform.

“It’s frustrating that the senator waited until beyond the 11th hour to grandstand when this could gave been addressed at an earlier date,” the lobbyist told Marijuana Moment, saying that the Colorado senator’s move is  “similar to his rhetoric surrounding the tax reform bill.”

Earlier this year, Gardner made somewhat of a push to attach an amendment to pull back the reach of a federal provision that prevents state-legal cannabis businesses from deducting some expenses from their taxes. But it was never brought to a vote or debated on the Senate floor, a situation that frustrated some advocates who saw Gardner generating good headlines for himself without, in their view, actually cashing in political capital with leadership to make a vote happen.

But Levine, of the Cannabis Trade Federation, called that analysis “completely 100 percent false speculation,” pointing to the fact that Gardner stood up for marijuana reform by placing a hold on Justice Department nominees earlier this year in protest of then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s rescission of Obama-era protections for state legalization laws.

“I’ve been working on this issue since early 2003 and no one to my memory in the U.S. Senate has ever put their neck on the line like Senator Gardner has for us,” he said.

Gardner only released the nominations hold after getting a verbal commitment from President Trump to back marijuana reform legislation, which he did publicly in June.

Trump Says He “Really” Supports Senate Marijuana Legislation

Levine also gave Gardner credit for filing cannabis amendments at all when other senators aren’t, a process he said helps to build support for eventually passing marijuana legislation.

“This proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is a very important piece of legislation for Senator Gardner,” he said, of the new amendment. “He’s committed to doing whatever he can to pass it into law, whether in the lame duck session or in the next Congress.”

Gardner’s staff did not respond to Marijuana Moment’s request for comment prior to time of publication.

The Senate is expected to vote on the the criminal justice bill and consider amendments next week.

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.

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

Trump Says Marijuana Makes People “Lose IQ Points” In Secret Recording

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President Trump could be heard saying that using marijuana makes people “lose IQ points” in a secretly recorded conversation released on Saturday.

“In Colorado they have more accidents,” the president said in the clip captured by Lev Parnas, an associate of Trump attorney Rudolph Giuliani, who is at the center of the Ukraine scandal that led to the president’s impeachment. “It does cause an IQ problem.”

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 YouTube/White House.

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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Austin Police Chief Says Marijuana Arrests Will Continue Despite City Council Vote

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Chief Brian Manley said he would continue to enforce marijuana laws the day after the city council unanimously approved stopping arrests and tickets for low-level cases.

By , The Texas Tribune

The day after the Austin City Council approved a resolution to stop arresting or ticketing people for most low-level marijuana possession offenses, the police chief made clear he had no plans to do so.

“[Marijuana] is still illegal, and we will still enforce marijuana law if we come across people smoking in the community,” Chief Brian Manley said during a news conference Friday afternoon.

Though cracking down on those in possession of small amounts of marijuana has never been a priority for the department, he said, police will continue to either issue tickets under the city’s “cite-and-release” policy or arrest people if officers “come across it.”

The difference, according to City Council member and resolution sponsor Greg Casar, is that the council’s move now guarantees those actions will come with no penalty. Tickets will be meaningless pieces of paper and any arrests will result in a quick release with no charges accepted from prosecutors, he told The Texas Tribune after the news conference.

“What has changed since yesterday is that enforcement, almost in virtually all cases, is now handing someone a piece of paper with no penalty or no court date,” Casar said.

The move by the City Council came as a direct result from Texas’ new hemp law which complicated marijuana prosecution across the state. Last summer, when lawmakers legalized hemp, they also changed the definition of marijuana from cannabis to cannabis that contains more than 0.3% THC, the psychoactive ingredient in the plant.

Many prosecutors, including those in Austin’s Travis County, now won’t accept pot cases based on look and smell alone, requiring lab testing to determine THC levels before accepting a case. Such testing is not yet available in public crime labs, though some counties and cities have spent money to obtain test results from private labs.

The council’s resolution prohibited using city funds or personnel to conduct such testing in non-felony marijuana cases. It also directed the elimination, to the furthest extent possible, of arrests or citations for cannabis possession. As Manley also noted, the resolution clarifies it can’t technically decriminalize marijuana, since that is state law.

The resolution gave the city manager until May 1 to report back to the council on how police were trained in this new resolution, and Casar said he hopes Manley reviews his policies before then.

Manley said in the news conference that he would continue to review the resolution, as well as police policies.

But, he assured, “a City Council does not have the authority to tell a police department not to enforce a state law.”

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Austin City Council Approves Measure To End Most Marijuana Arrests

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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Andrew Yang Wants To Legalize Psychedelic Mushrooms For Military Veterans

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Andrew Yang says he wants to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for military veterans to help them combat mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

During a town hall event at an Iowa college on Thursday, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate was asked whether he would take initiative and allow veterans to access medical marijuana if elected. Yang replied he “will be so excited to be that commander-in-chief” that he would not only end federal cannabis prohibition but would go one step further by legalizing the psychedelic fungus for veterans as well.

“We need to get marijuana off of the Controlled Substances Act and legalize it at the federal level, make it freely available,” he said. “I say this because I’ve talked to hundreds of veterans and other Americans who benefit from marijuana as a pain relief treatment, and it’s much less deadly than the opiates that many, many people are using for the same conditions.”

“I’ve talked to veterans who’ve also benefited from psilocybin mushrooms,” he added. “They said it was the only thing that actually has helped combat their PTSD. I’m for legalizing psilocybin mushrooms for veterans as well. Pretty much if it’s going to help a veteran, we should make it easier, not harder, for them to get access to it.”

Yang’s drug policy reform platform is unique in that respect. While the majority of Democratic candidates support marijuana legalization, he’s pushed unique proposals such as decriminalizing possession of opioids and making psilocybin mushrooms “more freely available” for therapeutic purposes. The candidate also wants to invest federal funds in safe injection facilities where individuals can use prohibited drugs in a medically supervised environment and receive help getting into treatment.

He hasn’t gone so far as embracing the decriminalization of all drugs, as former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg has, however.

That said, Yang did signal that he’s open to legalizing and regulating “certain drugs” beyond cannabis, which he argued would disrupt international drug cartels. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) recently said she backs “legalizing and regulating” currently illegal controlled substances to protect public safety and combat the illicit market.

At the Iowa town hall, Yang went on to say that he’s particularly interested in legalizing marijuana, and he again pledged to “pardon everyone who’s in jail for a non-violent marijuana-related offense because they shouldn’t be in jail for something that’s frankly legal in other parts of the country.”

“And I would pardon them all on April 20, 2021, high-five them on the way out of jail and be like, ‘things got a lot better in the last year,'” he said, referencing the unofficial cannabis holiday 4/20.

Tom Steyer Calls For Marijuana Legalization And Opioid Decriminalization

Photo element courtesy of Gage Skidmore.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Andrew_Yang_(48571382196).jpg

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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