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Lawmakers React To Sessions Anti-Marijuana Move

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A bipartisan collection of members of Congress and state officials are pushing back on U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s move to rescind Obama-era guidance that has generally allowed states to implement their own marijuana laws without federal interference.

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO):

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY):

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK):

Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee (D):

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D):

Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission:

Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (D-CA):

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY):

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D):

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R):

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker (I):

“I remain committed to upholding the will of Alaskans on this issue, and maintaining our State’s sovereign rights to manage our own affairs while protecting federal interests.”

Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman (R):

Congressman Denny Heck (D-WA):

Congressman Mike Coffman (R-CO):

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK):

Today’s action by the Department of Justice — which contradicts previous statements by the President that this is an issue best left to the states, and adds new confusion and uncertainty for numerous states and communities — could be the impetus necessary for Congress to find a permanent legislative solution for states that have chosen to regulate the production, sale and use of marijuana. As we move forward, I will be examining new and existing legislative proposals and working to ensure the rights of Alaskans and the State of Alaska are protected.”

Congressman Don Young (R-AK):

“Today’s decision announced by the Department of Justice (DOJ) is a direct violation of states’ rights. Rolling back the Cole Memo without a responsible replacement to protect individuals and the states they live in is unacceptable.”

Congressman Carlos Curbelo (R-FL):

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT):

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA):

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI):

Congressman Ted Lieu (D-CA):

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT):

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH):

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT):

Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) and Congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN):

“This change takes us in the wrong direction and is another step by the Trump Justice Department toward rolling back the sensible and more effective prosecution policies established by the Justice Department under President Obama. The Judiciary Committee should conduct hearings on these issues so that we may develop better strategies for preventing drug abuse and focusing the Justice Department’s efforts on those who pose the most serious threats to public safety.”

Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA):

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR):

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R):

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum (R):

We support states’ rights when deciding whether medical marijuana should be legalized, and North Dakota voters have spoken.”

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ):

Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-FL):

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D):

Congressman Rod Blum (R-IA):

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D):

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosello (NPP):

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD):

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV):

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA):

Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA):

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR):

Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND):

States are really determining how this issue will be handled now and going forward, and I don’t think this policy decision will change that.”

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA):

“It seems to be the absolute opposite direction from where our country’s headed.”

Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN):

Congressman Kevin Cramer (R-ND):

Congress should act on this and make it clear that … this a states’ rights issue, that it should be up to states to determine whether they want to allow marijuana.”

Congresswoman Dina Titus (D-NV):

Congressman Jason Lewis (R-MN):

Congressman Scott Tipton (R-CO):

“The announcement by the Department of Justice is a drastic departure from the Attorney General’s previous commitment to Senator Cory Gardner during the confirmation process that he would uphold the Obama Administration’s treatment of marijuana enforcement and President Trump’s comments that he would leave it to the states. Furthermore it creates even greater confusion and uncertainty by leaving enforcement decisions up to federal prosecutors. The Department of Justice should provide guidance on enforcement of marijuana for states that have voted to legalize it. The people of Colorado voted to legalize marijuana in the state, and I am committed to defending the will of Coloradans.”

California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D):

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R):

Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR):

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC):

Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA):

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI):

Congressman Thomas Massie (R-KY):

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY):

Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV):

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND):

“I’m going to continue to follow this situation to see how it will impact our state, especially after North Dakotans made their voices heard and voted to legalize medical marijuana.”

Congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN):

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson (D):

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA):

Congressman Ro Khanna (D-CA):

Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO):

Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE):

Devoting our limited resources to prosecuting medical marijuana use that is permitted under Delaware state law is a poor allocation of federal time, money, and manpower that should be focused on more important things, such combating violent crime on our streets.”

Congressman Justin Amash (R-MI):

Congressman Beto O’Rourke (D-TX):

Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA):

Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-ME):

Congressman Derek Kilmer (D-WA):

“This action by Attorney General Sessions would silence the voices of the majority of Washington state’s voters. No matter how you feel about the legalization of marijuana, this decision by the federal government to meddle in a state issue settled by public referendum is particularly troubling and would create tremendous uncertainty. It’s the wrong decision and is in direct conflict with the Attorney General’s long career of advocating for more autonomy for state and local governments.”

Congressman Seth Moulton (D-MA):

Congressman Darren Soto (D-FL):

Congressman Hank Johnson (D-GA):

Congressman Tim Walz (D-MN):

Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez (D-NY):

Congressman Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY):

Washington, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine (D):

Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt (R):

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh (D):

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO):

Congressman Mark Takano (D-CA):

Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (D-WA):

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy (D):

“Especially during the midst of a national opioid crisis, medical marijuana provides an important alternative to opioids and is counted on for relief by 22,000 Connecticut residents. Rather than diverting critical federal resources and infringing on the will of the American people, Attorney General Sessions would do well to take a leaf out of Connecticut’s book, where our marijuana policies have allowed law enforcement professionals to focus on reducing violent crime, with demonstrated success. We will continue to follow Connecticut law regarding marijuana policy despite this short-sighted decision.”

Congresswoman Suzan DelBene (D-WA):

Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR):

Congresswoman Julia Brownley (D-CA):

Congressman Mike Thompson (D-CA):

Congressman Ed Perlmutter (D-CO):

Congressman Joe Crowley (D-NY):

Congressman Ryan Cosetllo (R-PA):

Congressman Ruben Gallego (D-AZ):

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (D):

Congresswoman Jacky Rosen (D-NV):

Congressman Peter Welch (D-VT):

Congressman Tom Garrett (R-VA):

Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI):

Congressman Adam Lowenthal (D-CA):

Congressman John Delaney (D-MD):

“The Cole Memo provided clear guidance to an otherwise conflicting situation. Revoking the Cole Memo will restore that confusion and undermines the will of the voters in several states.”

Congressman Ruben Kihuen (D-NV):

Congressman Adam Smith (D-WA):

Colorado Senate Democrats:

This post will be updated as more reactions come in.

If you value staying updated on cannabis news, please start a monthly Patreon pledge to support Marijuana Moment!

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

Voters In Key Congressional Districts Support Marijuana Legalization, Poll Says

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With many key congressional races rated as “toss ups” by political observers, either major party could end up controlling of the U.S. House of Representatives after this November’s midterm elections.

A new poll identifies one thing that can help Republican or Democratic candidates come out ahead: Embracing marijuana legalization.

The polling firm Lake Research Partners surveyed 800 likely 2018 general election voters in 60 so-called “battleground districts,” finding that 60 percent support ending cannabis prohibition. Only 36 percent are opposed.

Medical marijuana is even more popular, with 79 percent of voters in these swing districts on board.

More to the point for politicians looking to win elections, the survey showed that 44 percent of battleground voters say they would be more more likely to vote for a candidate who supports legalization, including 26 percent who say they would be “much” more likely. Only 33 percent said they would be less likely to back a pro-legalization candidate.

The survey was conducted in February but is being released on Tuesday at Washington, D.C. event sponsored by MedMen Enterprises, a cannabis dispensary chain that commissioned the poll.

Another key finding is that 55 percent of voters say they would be “more likely” to vote if a marijuana initiative was on the ballot in their state.

The survey also tested the effectiveness of various arguments concerning legalization, determining that “the strongest pro-legalization message frame highlights how we need legalization to repair the financial and moral damage of the failed war on drugs,” according to a polling memo prepared by the firm.

Several other recent national polls have found majority support for marijuana legalization, but the new results narrowed down to key swing districts are likely to warrant special attention from candidates and political operatives.

Support for Marijuana Legalization At Record High, New Survey Shows

Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

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Politics

Congressional Committee Blocks Marijuana Votes (Again)

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Lawmakers on a key congressional committee once again blocked colleagues in the full House from being able to vote on marijuana-related amendments.

One proposed measure, filed last week, would have allowed Washington, D.C. to legally tax and regulate retail marijuana sales and another would have prevented federal regulators from penalizing federal banks from working with businesses and individuals in the legal cannabis industry.

But on Monday evening, the Republican-controlled Rules Committee, led by Congressman Pete Sessions (R-TX), continued its recent tradition of preventing floor votes on any and all measures to scale back federal cannabis prohibition.

“Everyone who knows that Congress has a responsibility to at least debate these issues should unite and help Pete Sessions find another line of work,” Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who cosponsored both cannabis measures, told Marijuana Moment in a statement.

Sessions’s Texas district, which Hillary Clinton won in 2016, is currently considered a “toss up” by political analysts in this November’s midterm elections.

Before Monday, his panel had blocked at least 34 other cannabis-related amendments from reaching the floor for votes during the current Congress. The full House of Representatives has not been allowed to consider marijuana reform proposals since the spring of 2016.

Analysis: GOP Congress Has Blocked Dozens Of Marijuana Amendments

Bipartisan groups of lawmakers cosponsored both new cannabis measures, which they were seeking to attach to legislation to fund parts of the federal government through Fiscal Year 2019.

(A third marijuana-related measure considered on Monday proposes shifting money away from forest and rangeland research toward “eradicating, enforcing, and remediating illegal marijuana grow operations on National Forest System land.” That measure was cleared for a floor vote, likely sometime this week.)

“Our federal laws are outdated. The people in this country want the law to treat marijuana as we do alcohol,” Congressman Denny Heck (D-WA), said in testimony about his marijuana banking amendment. “These large sums of cash make dispensaries an obvious target for robberies.”

He recounted the story of Travis Mason, a 24-year-old Marine veteran who was killed during a 2016 robbery at a Colorado marijuana dispensary where he was serving as a security guard.

“He managed to survive his service in the United States Marine Corps, but he didn’t survive his job guarding a store here at home,” Heck said.

“If we do nothing, this is bound to happen again.”

The D.C. measure was filed by Democratic Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, who represents the District of Columbia.

“This rider has unintentionally benefited violent drug gangs,” Norton said of current policy in her testimony before the Rules Committee. “For that reason, some refer to it as the ‘Drug Dealer Protection Act.’ As one marijuana dealer told the Washington Post, the rider is ‘a license for me to print money.’ Regulating marijuana like alcohol would allow D.C., instead of drug dealers, to control production, distribution, sales and revenues.”

Under a ballot measure approved by D.C. voters in 2014, low-level marijuana possession and home cultivation is legal. But because of an ongoing federal appropriations rider enacted in past years and included in the new FY19 bill, local officials have been prevented from adding a system of taxed and regulated cannabis sales.

Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO), a member of the Rules Committee, specifically moved during the meeting Monday night to make the amendment on cannabis businesses’ access to banks in order for a floor vote, but that was defeated by a party-line vote of 8 – 2.

The marijuana banking measure had 22 cosponsors, more than any of the 276 other measures the Rules Committee considered this week. Eighty-seven amendments were cleared for floor consideration.

Congress Could Vote On These Marijuana Amendments Next Week (Unless GOP Blocks Them Again)

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Sen. Jeff Merkley “Disappointed” That Democrats Blocked His Marijuana Banking Amendment

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One of the U.S. Senate’s foremost champions for marijuana law reform says he is “disappointed” that fellow Democrats recently joined with Republicans in blocking his amendment to increase cannabis businesses’ access to banks.

Last month, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) offered a measure that would have shielded banks that open accounts for state-legal marijuana businesses from being punished by federal regulators for that activity even though cannabis remains illegal under federal law.

While the Senate Appropriations Committee had approved two similar amendments in previous years, the panel this time voted to table the measure with a bipartisan vote of 21 – 10, with ranking member Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and other Democrats who normally support marijuana reform objecting on procedural grounds.

“I was disappointed,” Merkley said in an interview with BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith on Monday. “We had passed this twice before.”

“We need to establish banking for cannabis because a cash economy is an invitation to money laundering and theft and cheating your employees and cheating on your taxes [and] organized crime. All bad.”

“I accompanied the owner of a company who had $70,000 in his backpack to pay quarterly taxes,” Merkley recounted in response to the cannabis banking question on Monday, which was suggested to BuzzFeed by Marijuana Moment’s editor. “It’s so bizarre going down the freeway and talking about how they have to pay their employees in cash, have to pay their suppliers in cash. It’s a bad system.”

“Everyone should agree: States’ rights on this. Let the states have an electronic system to track what these businesses are doing, not billions of dollars floating around like this.”

Despite his disappointment with the measure being blocked, the Oregon Democrat, who is believed to be considering a 2020 presidential run, said that his colleagues “had a fair point to make on the policy front” in tabling the measure.

At the time, Leahy argued that spending bills such as the one before the committee should be kept “free of new controversial policy riders” and that a more appropriate forum would be an authorizing committee that sets banking laws.

“It wasn’t existing policy and therefore it was new policy,” Merkley acknowledged in the new interview.

But he pointed out that there are few other avenues available for senators to pursue the issue.

“Here’s the thing. Normally we could take these policy bills like I was putting forward [and] you could put it on the floor of the Senate as an amendment to something,” he said. “In 2017, outside of the budget process, not a single amendment was considered on the floor of the Senate… This is the end of the Senate really as a deliberative body on policy. So if you’re blocked in the Appropriations Committee, and you’re blocked on the floor, then it’s very hard to put ideas out there and say, ‘Hey vote on this. This matters.'”

The House Appropriations Committee also defeated a cannabis banking amendment last month.

See the video of Merkley’s remarks at about 19:15 into the clip below:

Photo courtesy of Senate Democrats.

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