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Key Senator Has Tough Cannabis Questions For Sessions

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U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions faced questions at a hearing last week about the Justice Department blocking marijuana research.

Now, in written follow-up queries about his appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, a key lawmaker is pressing Sessions on broader cannabis policy issues.

“Heroin overdoses killed 15,400 people in 2016 and opioid overdoses killed more than 33,000 people in 2015. Meanwhile, not a single death from overdosing on marijuana has ever been reported,” U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), wrote to the attorney general on Wednesday.

“Do you stand by your recently stated view that ‘marijuana [is] only slightly less awful then heroin?'”

In prepared remarks for speech in March, Sessions said he is “astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana – so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that’s only slightly less awful.”

As a preface to his question, Leahy cited research showing that “opioid overdoses are significantly lower in states with legal medical marijuana programs.”

In a second marijuana query, the Vermont lawmaker, who recently sponsored a successful committee amendment to continue federal protections for state medical cannabis laws, pressed Sessions about the provision.

“If a business with a license to cultivate and sell marijuana for medical purposes under state law was involved in money laundering or other conduct not allowed under a state medical marijuana law, such as shipping marijuana out of state, would this amendment prevent the Department from investigating or prosecuting such individuals?” Leahy asked, in a fairly transparent attempt to get the attorney general to say on the record that the measure provides no protections for operators who aren’t in strict compliance with state policies.

In a letter in May, Sessions asked Congressional leaders not to extend the provision, which must be renewed each year as part of the annual appropriations process.

“I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime,” he wrote. “The Department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives.”

Now, Leahy wants to know: “Is there any example of the Department not being able to pursue a prosecution of a suspected money launderer or other bad actor purporting to be acting in compliance with a state medical marijuana law…?”

At last week’s Judiciary Committee hearing, Sessions, when pressed by U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), said that allowing more researchers to grow marijuana for medical studies would be “healthy.”

But this week, in appearances on talk radio and at the Heritage Foundation, the attorney general hinted at — but did not describe — potential marijuana enforcement plans and argued that cannabis use is a precursor to drug addiction.

It is unclear when Sessions will respond to Leahy’s written questions.

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Politics

Marijuana Opponent Kennedy Reconsiders State Legalization Protections

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A Democratic congressman who has acknowledged he is out of step with his party on marijuana policy now says that he doesn’t necessarily support federal crackdowns on states with legalization, even though he has repeatedly voted to allow such enforcement actions.

“The federal government policy on this is incoherent, and the federal government needs to get far more coherent on this,” Congressman Joe Kennedy III (D-MA) said in an interview this week. “For states that have put in place the proper safeguards and procedures, I’d be inclined to support those states.”

Legalization supporters were upset when Democrats tapped Kennedy last month to deliver the party’s response to President Trump’s State of the Union address.

As a member of Congress, Kennedy has not only opposed his state’s move to legalize marijuana, but has voted against amendments to shield state medical marijuana laws from federal interference, allow military veterans to access medical cannabis and protect children who use non-psychoactive cannabidiol extracts to treat severe seizure disorders.

One of only a handful of Democrats to oppose those proposals, Kennedy knows that his views on cannabis are out of step with the party.

“I come at it a little bit differently, obviously, than the vast majority of my colleagues,” he said in a separate interview this month. “I think the party is clearly moving in that legalization direction. It might already be there.”

But in the new interview this week, Kennedy made clear that he still has a lot of concerns about legalization, which he campaigned against in Massachusetts.

“There’s a pretty robust voice in the addiction community that points out some of the challenges and how it has had negative impacts on folks,” he said. “Those voices should be listened to as well.”

He also isn’t sold on medical cannabis, which voters legalized in his state in 2012.

“If we are going to treat something like a medicine, it needs to go through the proper medical trials,” he said. “We’re not going through that process.”

But although Kennedy has repeatedly voted in Congress to allow the Department of Justice to arrest and prosecute medical cannabis patients and providers, he says he doesn’t necessarily want the DEA to launch large-scale raids.

“Assuming there are communities that are doing this in a safe and effective way, I certainly could see myself allowing that go forward,” he said. “I don’t want to upend the access to care that these patients need.”

Although he’s “not proposing a crackdown on it,” Kennedy acknowledged that his overall skepticism about cannabis is “not necessarily reflective of the voters of Massachusetts.”

“I want to make sure that we go about this in the right way with the right safeguards in place to not end up in a circumstance where we can get ourselves in trouble,” he said.

Kennedy’s grandfather, former U.S. Attorney General Bobby Kennedy, criticized the hypocrisy underlying marijuana criminalization half a century ago.

Bobby Kennedy Questioned Marijuana Criminalization 50 Years Ago

Photo courtesy of Martin Grondin.

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Joe Arpaio Supports Medical Marijuana, “Kind Of”

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A former sheriff known for disregarding the rights of immigrants, Latinos and people convicted of drug crimes — and who recently received a pardon from President Trump for his own criminal contempt of court — is voicing support for medical marijuana.

“I wish there was something more we could do with the medical dispensaries to help our veterans [and] people who are sick. I still can’t understand why you can’t go to a drug store on a prescription and get this type of drug,” Joe Arpaio, now a U.S. Senate candidate in Arizona, said. “The medical dispensaries, I kind of support it if it can help the sick people.”

Arpaio was answering a question from Larry King.

This isn’t the first time the former sheriff has spoken in support of medical cannabis.

In 2015, he appeared at an event aimed at educating senior citizens about medical marijuana.

“If this is one thing that really will help them, the medical part of it, and is done legitimately, no diversion, I don’t know, what’s the difference going to the drug store and getting a prescription,” he said at the time.

The opinion of the former Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs special agent appears to have shifted over time. In 2010, he campaigned against Arizona’s medical cannabis ballot measure, which ultimately eked out a narrow victory on Election Day.

But while Arpaio sees medical potential for marijuana, he doesn’t support its broader legalization.

“I don’t support using or selling marijuana across our nation,” he said in the new interview with King. “Actually it’s against the law. It’s against the federal law anyway.”

Last year, Arpaio was found in contempt of federal court after refusing to obey a judge’s order to stop racial profiling practices. He also, at one point, got a tank from the Army and decorated it with “Sheriff Arpaio’s War on Drugs” written on the sides.

Congresswoman Martha McSally, who is also running for the Republican nomination for the Arizona Senate seat, voted against amendments to protect state medical cannabis and marijuana legalization laws from federal interference.

Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat running for the seat, voted in favor of both measures.

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.

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Senate Measure Shields Immigrants From Deportation For Marijuana

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The U.S. Senate could soon vote on whether immigrants should be deported for marijuana activity that follows state laws.

As Congress considers proposals to address immigration policy and border security this week, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) filed an amendment to shield people who use cannabis or work in the industry in legalized states from being deported or denied visas.

It reads:

SA 1983. Mr. WYDEN submitted an amendment intended to be proposed by
him to the bill H.R. 2579, to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986
to allow the premium tax credit with respect to unsubsidized COBRA
continuation coverage; which was ordered to lie on the table; as
follows:

At the appropriate place, insert the following:

SEC. ___. PROHIBITION ON INADMISSIBILITY OR DEPORTATION OF
ALIENS WHO COMPLY WITH STATE LAW.

(a) Prohibition on Inadmissibility.–Section
212(a)(2)(A)(i)(II) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8
U.S.C. 1182(a)(2)(A)(i)(II)) is amended by inserting “other
than an act involving marijuana that is permitted under the
laws of a State or the law of an Indian tribe, as defined in
section 4 of the Indian Self-Determination and Education
Assistance Act (25 U.S.C. 5304), that has jurisdiction over
the Indian country, as defined in section 1151 of title 18,
United States Code, in which the act occurs” after
“802)),”.

(b) Prohibition on Deportation.–Section 237(a)(2)(B)(i) of
the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C.
1227(a)(2)(B)(i)) is amended by striking “marijuana,” and
inserting “marijuana or an offense involving marijuana that
is permitted under the laws of a State or the law of an
Indian tribe, as defined in section 4 of the Indian Self-
Determination and Education Assistance Act (25 U.S.C. 5304),
that has jurisdiction over the Indian country, as defined in
section 1151 of title 18, United States Code, in which the
offense occurs”.

Under current law, immigrants “who at any time after admission” are convicted of a violating any state, federal, or foreign drug law, “other than a single offense involving possession for one’s own use of 30 grams or less of marijuana,” are considered deportable. Those committing certain drug crimes are also ineligible to receive visas or be admitted to the U.S.

Wyden’s amendment would provide exemptions for people who handle marijuana in accordance with state laws.

It is unknown when or if the proposal will receive a vote on the floor.

Photo courtesy of JD Lasica.

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