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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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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 serves as chairman of 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

Opposition Group’s Marijuana Poll Shows Strong Support for Legalization

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A new survey of Michigan voters, funded by an organization opposed to the state’s marijuana legalization initiative, showed large support for reform and weaning support for prohibition.

The survey of 800 Michigan residents, which was conducted from May 1 to May 6, was orchestrated by Healthy and Productive Michigan.

Before being prompted with arguments for and against the initiative—which surpassed the required signatures to qualify for the state’s November ballot last month—respondents favored full cannabis legalization 48 percent to 42 percent, with 11 percent remaining undecided, according to the survey.

Arguments in favor of the proposed initiative, including increased tax revenue for public programs such as education funding and infrastructure, caused opposition to the initiative to drop to 36 percent. Support remained at 48 percent.

And then, even after the polling firm Victory Phones provided arguments opposing the initiative, support for legalization grew by one percent to 49 percent. Opposition ended up at 38 percent.

“Previous polls showing majority support didn’t pass the smell test. When polling, it is always important to review how the questions are asked and what size of audience responds,” Healthy and Productive Michigan’s President Scott Greenlee said in a press release. “Our poll pointed out arguments on both sides of the issue in a consistent and unbiased manner, and the fieldwork was conducted by the highly respected Victory Phones, who have a nearly 10 year track record of accurately measuring election results in Michigan.”

But the truth is that the prohibitionist organization’s poll showed that support for the legalization measure outweighs opposition, and that’s even more true after voters hear prohibitionist’s best arguments.

The share of voters who said they planned to vote against the measure dropped seven percentage points after they were read Healthy and Productive Michigan’s reasons for wanting to defeat it. Support rose one percentage point.

The proposed Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act would permit adults 21 and older to legally possess, grow and consume small amounts of marijuana. Specifically, adults would be allowed to grow up to 12 total cannabis plants in a single residence, and possess 2.5 ounces outside their homes and store 10 ounces at home.

Healthy and Productive Michigan did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.

See the full poll below:

Michigan Marijuana Poll by tomangell on Scribd

Michigan Marijuana Legalization Ballot Measure Has Enough Signatures

Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

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Marijuana Isn’t Addictive, Former A.G. Eric Holder Says

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The nation’s former top law enforcement officer is not worried that the legalization of marijuana will lead to addiction.

“I’ve never seen any scientific evidence that points you to concerns about addiction through the use of marijuana,” former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in an interview published on Friday by NY1.

The comments by the former A.G. call into question cannabis’s current status as a Schedule I drug. That category is supposed to be reserved only for substances with no medical value and a high potential for abuse. In fact, it would mean that marijuana should be moved to at least Schedule III, where drugs with “moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence” are categorized.

Although Holder did not move to reclassify cannabis when he had the power to do so as attorney general, he did specifically endorse such a change just months after leaving office.

“I certainly think it ought to be rescheduled,” he said in a 2015 interview with PBS.

And he still feels the same way.

“We need to move marijuana from Schedule I, so research can be done,” Holder said in the new NY1 interview. “It is classified now on the same level as heroin is, and clearly that is inappropriate.”

While he did nothing to officially recategorize marijuana as attorney general — and continually passed the buck to Congress when asked about the issue — Holder’s Justice Department did issue guidance, known as the Cole Memo, which generally allowed states to implement their own cannabis laws without federal interference.

Current Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded that memo earlier this year.

In the new interview, Holder said he thinks the federal government should continue letting states implement their own legalization laws.

“Let those be laboratories to see where we want to be,” he said. “I think if you allow the states to experiment we’ll ultimately come to a national consensus about what it is we ought to do with regard to marijuana.”

He also spoke about unfair enforcement of cannabis criminalization.

“One of the things that I am concerned about, though, is the racial disparity you see in the enforcement of marijuana laws,” he said. “You see African Americans, Latinos using marijuana at just about the same rates as whites, and yet seeing rates of arrest four, five times as great as it is for whites. That is something that I think is extremely troubling.”

Photo courtesy of US Embassy New Zealand.

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Congressional Committee Protects Medical Marijuana From Jeff Sessions

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A powerful congressional panel voted on Thursday to continue shielding medical marijuana patients and providers who comply with state laws from prosecution by the federal government.

While the provision has been federal law since 2014, when it was first attached to legislation that funds the U.S. Department of Justice, its continuance has been in question because of recent efforts by Republican leadership to prevent votes on cannabis amendments. But in a stunning bipartisan move, the House Appropriations Committee voted to add the provision as a rider to legislation funding U.S. Attorney General Jeff Session’s department for Fiscal Year 2019.

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.)

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