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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.

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Politics

VA Admits It “Can Look At Marijuana As An Option For Treating Veterans”

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Despite repeated claims to the contrary, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is now admitting that it “can look at marijuana as an option for treating Veterans.”

The stance, which comes in the form of new content uploaded to a VA webpage last week, contrasts with a letter that Veterans Affairs Sec. David Shulkin sent to members of Congress in December, less than two months ago.

“Federal law restricts VA’s ability to conduct research involving medical marijuana, or to refer veterans to such projects,” he claimed at the time.

There have been no changes to federal cannabis laws in the interim.

The VA Office of Research & Development’s webpage on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) now says that earlier research on medical cannabis “found limited evidence that marijuana use might alleviate neuropathic pain in some patients, and that it might reduce spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis, but found insufficient evidence to assess the effects of marijuana on PTSD.”

“VA is not currently able to prescribe medical marijuana to Veterans,” it continues, “but can look at marijuana as an option for treating Veterans.”

A cached previous version of the same page doesn’t mention marijuana at all.

The update to the webpage comes as Shulkin and the department are under increasing pressure on medical cannabis and completely unrelated issues.

A group of members of Congress are pushing the VA to allow its physicians to recommend medical cannabis, or at least to refer veterans to studies on the drug’s potential.

And a VA inspector general’s report released last week found that Shulkin made “serious derelictions” that resulted in improper use of taxpayer money to cover portions of an overseas trip he and his wife took to Denmark and the UK last year.

The report, which included portions of Shulkin’s travel agenda, happened to reveal that on July 19 he met with British officials to discuss medical cannabis as part of the trip.

Under an internal VA administrative directive, the department’s policy is that its “providers are prohibited from recommending, making referrals to or completing paperwork for Veteran participation in State marijuana programs.”

Shulkin has repeatedly tried to pass the buck to Congress when asked about the issue.

During a White House briefing last year, for example, he said that state medical cannabis laws may be providing “some evidence that this is beginning to be helpful, and we’re interested in looking at that and learning from that.” But he added that “until time the federal law changes, we are not able to be able to prescribe medical marijuana for conditions that may be helpful.”

The distinction between recommendation and prescription is an important one. No physician in the U.S. — government or private — can prescribe marijuana, because prescription is a federally-regulated process and cannabis currently falls under the Controlled Substances Act’s restrictive Schedule I, a category that is supposed to be reserved for drugs with a high potential for abuse and no medical value.

That’s why the 29 states with medical cannabis access allow doctors to simply recommend the drug, circumventing the prescription process.

Shulkin has the unilateral authority to rescind the internal ban and clear the way for VA doctors to recommend medical cannabis to veterans in states where it is legal, but he has repeatedly claimed that federal law — without citing a particular statute — blocks him from doing so.

The secretary’s unwillingness to move on marijuana goes beyond just letting doctors who work for him recommend it. He has also thus far refused to help lift institutional roadblocks preventing the department from participating in scientific research on cannabis’s uses.

In an interview last year, he said that it is “not within our legal scope to study that in formal research programs.”

That position has led to recruitment issues for researchers conducting trials. For example, one such study on marijuana’s effects on PTSD has been prevented from reaching veterans at the Phoenix, Arizona VA hospital.

“This study needs 50 more participants and the Phoenix V.A. is in the best possible position to assist by simply allowing principle investigators to brief [VA] medical staff on the progress of the study, and by allowing clinicians to reveal the existence of the study to potential participants,” the American Legion, which represents more than 2.4 million military veterans, wrote to Shulkin in September. “Your immediate attention in this important matter is greatly appreciated. We ask for your direct involvement to ensure this critical research is fully enabled.”

And John Hudak, a researcher with the Brookings Institution said that despite Shulkin’s claims, “doctors and researchers at the VA or in VA hospitals could conduct research into the medical efficacy of marijuana while remaining completely compliant with federal laws, regulations, and the United States’ obligations under international agreements.”

In December, VA issued an updated policy offers physicians greater encouragement to discuss cannabis with their patients.

The new directive urges government doctors to “discuss with the Veteran marijuana use, due to its clinical relevance to patient care, and discuss marijuana use with any Veterans requesting information about marijuana.”

But it maintains the longstanding departmental ban on physician recommendations.

V.A. Issues New Medical Marijuana Policy For Military Veterans

The new website language, however, and the revelation that Shulkin discussed the issue on his overseas trip, shows that VA’s opposition to cannabis is not necessarily set in stone, at least when it comes to research, though the implications aren’t immediately clear.

“No other arguments have worked in the past so this may be a breakthrough,” Sue Sisley, the researcher running the Arizona PTSD trial, told Marijuana Moment in an interview, referring to the webpage update. “VA can definitely be more helpful if they wanted to. There is nothing blocking them.”

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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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