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Just-Retired Top US Global Narc: Marijuana Rescheduling Likely

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Until last month, he was the top international anti-drug official in the U.S. Now he says it is likely that the federal government will have to reclassify marijuana as more states enact legalization.

“Let the experiment advance. Consider its positive and negative effects,” William Brownfield, who resigned only weeks ago as Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, said in a new interview.

“Let’s see how many other states advance in this direction because we are a democracy and for the moment we do not have a consensus position. In California, the most populous state, they voted for legalization, but in Texas, the second most populous state, they have not even wanted to consider it. When the conclusions are drawn, it is likely that substances may be reclassified.”

That’s a remarkable statement coming from someone who was in charge of representing the U.S.’s position in the global drug war for more than six years, as Brownfield was until a few weeks ago.

But even as he acknowledges it may soon be time for the government to remove marijuana from Schedule I — the most restrictive category in federal law, which is supposed to be reserved for substances with a high potential abuse and no medical value — don’t mistake Brownfield for an anti-prohibition activist.

“I am not a fan of legalization,” he said in the new interview with Colombian newspaper El Tiempo.

Brownfield did acknowledge, however, that legalization is an “experiment that allows us to observe and learn.”

Even while citing traffic accidents and emergency room visits allegedly associated with cannabis, and arguing that local governments’ desire to generate revenue from legal marijuana sales “doesn’t seem like anything healthy,” he clarifies that he’s “not saying that [legalization] is a failure.”

“But,” he says, “I insist that we must be able to adjust policies to ensure that they do the least possible harm.”

Brownfield, who previously served as U.S. ambassador to Colombia, Venezuela and Chile during the Bush administration, made headlines in recent years by shepherding along a new U.S. posture on drugs under President Obama. While the country historically pressured other nations into maintaining a prohibition approach, that became more difficult once U.S. states started legalizing marijuana.

“How could I, a representative of the government of the United States of America, be intolerant of a government that permits any experimentation with legalization of marijuana if two of the 50 states of the United States of America have chosen to walk down that road?” Brownfield asked in 2014, when Colorado and Washington were the only states to have ended prohibition. That number has since quadrupled.

Also in the new interview, Brownfield sharply criticized comments his former boss, President Trump, made about Colombia’s role in the war on drugs.

Trump threatened to “decertify” the country as a partner in drug policy last month, a move that could have harsh consequences for fiscal aid and trade between the two nations.

To decertify Colombia would have been “a fundamental error, counterproductive, false, and very stupid,” Brownfield said, adding that it would be “nonsense, an insult, an insult to the hundreds of Colombians who have given their lives” in the drug war.

All Brownfield quotes in this story were automatically translated by Google and then cleaned up with the help of a few fluent Spanish speakers.

Photo courtesy of M a n u e l.

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Politics

Federal Medical Marijuana Amendment Author Dies At 79

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If you’ve only been paying close attention to marijuana policy for a few years, Maurice Hinchey’s name is one you may not recognize.

But if you are a patient who relies on medical cannabis or an entrepreneur in the legal marijuana industry, you owe Hinchey, who died this week, a debt of gratitude.

As a Democratic congressman from New York, Hinchey was the original sponsor of the federal spending provision that now protects state medical cannabis laws from Department of Justice interference.

First introduced in 2001 and then periodically after that, the measure wasn’t even enacted until after Hinchey retired from Congress in 2013.

The next year, after repeatedly failing on the floor of the House of Representatives, the measure was finally approved with a bipartisan vote and was included in a Fiscal Year 2015 spending bill signed into law by then-President Obama in late 2014.

Here’s a video of Hinchey introducing and debating the measure for the first time, in July 2001:

(Scroll to 10:08:20.)

In 2001, only eight states had legalized medical cannabis, a far cry from the 29 state laws that are now on the books.

Instead of insisting on a vote that would almost certainly have lost, Hinchey withdrew the amendment following a passionate debate.

Two years later, Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher of California teamed up with the Democrat on the officially rebranded Hinchey-Rohrabacher measure.

That lost, by a vote of 152 to 273:

(Scroll to 10:14:05.)

The bipartisan duo teamed up on the amendment several more times in subsequent years, losing each time.

(Scroll to 2:56:05.)

(Scroll to 6:36:00.)

(Scroll to 10:31:25.)

(Scroll to 7:24:25.)

Then, in 2014, after Hinchey retired, Democrat Sam Farr of California joined with Rohrabacher in sponsoring the measure. By that time, many more members of Congress represented places where constituents were using medical cannabis in accordance with state law.

Finally, the dam had broken. The Rohrabacher-Farr measure passed the House by a vote of 219 to 189. It got included in the final spending bill that year, and it was approved the next year, as well, by an increased tally of 242 to 186.

While House Republican leadership has since blocked floor votes on the measure and other cannabis amendments, it remains current law thanks to victories in the Senate Appropriations Committee and its language not being deleted from short-term federal funding extension bills to keep the government operating.

That’s the case at least until December 8, when current federal funding — along with policy riders like the medical cannabis protections — are set to expire.

In the meantime, advocates working to convince Congress to include the provision in Fiscal Year 2018 legislation should take a moment to consider the efforts of the late congressman whose work more than a decade and a half ago began to make the federal government take medical marijuana seriously.

Photo courtesy of the Hinchey Family.

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Former Republican A.G. Warns Sessions Against Marijuana Crackdown

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Current U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions would be wrong to crack down on state marijuana laws, one of his Republican predecessors says.

“To prosecute an act that is otherwise lawful under state law, one could make the argument [that] as a matter of policy, we’ve got other priorities we ought to be spending our resources on,” Alberto Gonzales, who served as attorney general during President George W. Bush’s administration, said in an interview with Newsweek.

“With respect to everything else going on in the U.S., this is pretty low priority,” he added.

And what’s more, cracking down on seriously ill people who rely on medical cannabis and their providers who are following state laws would look bad, Gonzales warned his successor.

“The optics just aren’t very good, quite frankly,” he said.

As a U.S. senator, Sessions was long one of Congress’s most vocal opponents of legalization, saying last year that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”

But while deploying threatening and concerning comments about cannabis policy from time to time as attorney general, he hasn’t moved to rescind Obama-era guidance that generally allows states to implement their own marijuana laws without federal interference. At least not yet.

Last week, at a House hearing, Sessions testified that the previous administration’s approach remains in effect for now.

Gonzales, in the Newsweek interview, said that Sessions would probably clear any big cannabis moves with the White House first.

“What people often fail to understand or appreciate, is that the attorney general works for the president,” he said. “While the attorney general has a great deal of say about law enforcement policy, so does the White House. When Jeff Sessions makes something, he responds to the White House.”

On the campaign trail, President Trump repeatedly pledged to respect state marijuana laws, going so far as to say he personally knows people who benefit from medical cannabis.

Despite Gonzales’s apparent supporting for letting states enact their own marijuana polices today, his Justice Department argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2004 that it had the right to punish medical cannabis patients who were following local policies.

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Top GOP Senator’s Bill Lets DC Legalize Marijuana Sales

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Washington, D.C. would finally be allowed to legalize marijuana sales under a new bill authored by a powerful Republican senator.

Voters in the nation’s capital approved a ballot initiative that legalized cannabis possession and home cultivation in 2014. But under a current annual budget rider, the city is not allowed to spend its own money setting up a legal regulatory system for marijuana sales. As such, the city can’t earn tax revenue on recreational marijuana like Colorado and seven other states that have ended prohibition are.

That would change under legislation released on Monday by Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee.

The new bill, which funds various federal agencies and concerns appropriations covering the District of Columbia government, is totally silent on the matter of D.C. marijuana sales. That means that if its language is enacted as part of a Fiscal Year 2018 spending agreement, the ban in current law will disappear.

But, unfortunately for marijuana legalization advocates, it’s not that easy. The version of 2018 spending legislation approved by the House in September not only continues the current ban but actually broadens its language to close a potential loophole that advocates had urged D.C. officials to pursue in order to fund regulation of legal cannabis sales.

As a result, if the language in the new bill released by Cochran on Monday is approved by the Senate, the differences will need to be reconciled by a conference committee made up of a handful of members from either chamber. And at that stage, behind closed doors, anything could happen.

In 2015, Cochran made a similar move by excluding the D.C marijuana sales ban language in a chairman’s mark. But the House-passed ban was included in that year’s version of final spending legislation anyway.

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