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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.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

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 founded 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

Hawaii Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Decriminalization Bill In Joint Committee Hearing

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Two Hawaii Senate committees approved a bill to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana in a joint hearing on Tuesday.

The vote comes two weeks after the full House passed the amended legislation, which makes possession of three grams or less of cannabis a civil offense instead of a crime punishable by jail time. As approved by that full chamber, a first the offense was punishable by a $200 fine under the bill, but the Senate committees lowered it to $30 instead.

While the quantity of marijuana is significantly less than in other states have decriminalized, the development was welcomed by reform advocates in the state.

“[W]e embrace the move from criminalization that the bill still represents, and particularly applaud the provisions to dismiss pending charges and expunge convictions related to cannabis offenses,” the reform organization Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, said in written testimony. “While we support full-scale legalization of adult use cannabis, this bill then also begins to reverse the brutal impact of the decades’ long, needless criminalization of this substance.”

The Senate Committee on Judiciary adopted the House recommendation without objection and advanced the bill. The Senate Committee on Public Safety, Intergovernmental, and Military Affairs didn’t immediately have a quorum during the joint hearing, so that panel didn’t formally take its vote until later in the day.

Besides decriminalizing low-level cannabis possession, the legislation would provide for the expungement of prior convictions cocerning three grams or less.

It would also establish a marijuana evaluation task force to “examine other states’ laws, penalties, and outcomes pertaining to marijuana use, other than marijuana use for medical purposes, and make recommendations on amending marijuana use penalties and outcomes in the State.”

Advocates are cautiously optimistic that Gov. David Ige (D) will sign the bill if it arrives on his desk. While he’s expressed concerns about adult-use legalization, he put his name on decriminalization legislation as a state senator in 2013.

On that note, a separate legalization proposal that advanced further than similar legislation has ever gone in Hawaii after it was approved by a Senate committee last month did not receive consideration in another panel before the deadline to proceed through the legislative process, which effectively killed the bill.

Elsewhere, New Mexico lawmakers sent a more wide-ranging decriminalization bill to the desk of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) over the weekend. The pro-legalization governor is expected to sign the legislation.

New Jersey Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Legalization Bill

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First Congressional Marijuana Vote Of 2019 Officially Scheduled For Next Week

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A bipartisan bill designed to protect banks that service the marijuana industry from being penalized by federal regulators will get a vote in a key congressional committee next week.

The legislation, which was discussed during the first cannabis-related hearing of the 116th Congress last month, will go before the House Financial Services Committee on Tuesday.

Reps. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) Denny Heck (D-WA), Steve Stivers (R-OH) and Warren Davidson (R-OH) are the chief sponsors of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act. It was formally filed earlier this month, and currently has 138 cosponsors—more than a quarter of the House.

“For six years, Congress has failed to act on the issue of cannabis banking, putting thousands of employees, businesses and communities at risk,” Perlmutter said in a statement emailed to Marijuana Moment. “However, the issue is finally receiving the attention it deserves with the first-ever congressional hearing and now a scheduled committee vote.”

‘Among the cosponsors is the chair of the committee herself, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), who spoke about addressing banking issues in the cannabis industry shortly before assuming the position. Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-MA), have also signed onto the legislation—demonstrating its support among powerful Democratic leaders of the House.

All of this sets the stage for a potentially game-changing vote, as Republican leadership during the last Congress consistently blocked marijuana-related bills from even being considered. With Democrats in control and leading lawmakers embracing the legislation, it stands a good chance of heading to the full House and then on to the Senate.

Resolving banking problems for marijuana companies was one of several legislative goals that Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) outlined in a blueprint to end federal marijuana prohibition he sent to his party’s leaders last year.

“The banking issue is just one aspect of the failed policy of federal marijuana criminalization. In order to truly bring the marijuana industry out of the shadows, actions need to be taken by Congress to amend this, and many others, outdated and discriminatory practices,” Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, said in a statement. “This will certainly not be the last hearing of this Congress to discuss marijuana prohibition and we expect a full hearing on prohibition to be scheduled in the months to come.”

There were several changes made to the banking bill since it was last introduced in the 115th Congress. For example, the legislation clarifies that protections are extended to financial institutions that work with ancillary cannabis business—not just those that directly sell marijuana or marijuana products.

“[P]roceeds from a transaction conducted by a cannabis-related legitimate business shall not be considered as proceeds from an unlawful activity solely because the transaction was conducted by a cannabis-related legitimate business,” the bill states.

It also calls on the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council to implement “uniform guidance and examination procedures for depository institutions that provide financial services to cannabis-related legitimate businesses.”

There have been widespread calls to tackle the banking problem, including from members of Congress and representatives of cannabis businesses. With this vote, it seems those calls are at least starting to be answered.

Meanwhile, Nadler has signaled that his Judiciary Committee may also take up broader marijuana legislation soon.

“With 97.7 percent of the U.S. population living in a state where voters have legalized some form of adult recreational, medical or limited-medical use of marijuana, congressional inaction is no longer an option,” Perlmutter said. “And with broad, bipartisan support in the House, I look forward to the SAFE Banking Act continuing to move forward in the Financial Services Committee and on the floor of the House.”

This story has been updated to include statements from Perlmutter and NORML.

Congressional Committee Could Take Up Marijuana Reform ‘Fairly Soon,’ Chairman Says

Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

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Feds Ramp Up Calls For Research Into Marijuana Treatment For Chronic Pain

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A federal health agency is seeking the public’s help in identifying studies that explore the potential benefits and harms of using marijuana instead of opioids for chronic pain treatment.

In three separate notices published in the Federal Register on Tuesday, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) said it is in the process of reviewing existing research on chronic pain—specifically alternatives to opioid-based painkillers—and requested “supplemental evidence and data submissions” from the public.

The agency provided guidelines for what exactly it was interested in learning. One notice called for studies on the “comparative effectiveness” of using non-opioid therapies, “including marijuana,” instead of opioids. The studies should explore differences in “outcomes related to pain, function, and quality of life.” The filing also includes a prompt for evidence about utilizing cannabis in tandem with opioids, including how the harms of the prescription pain medications vary for patients who also use marijuana.

In another notice, AHRQ, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said it wants help completing its review of non-invasive and non-pharmacologic chronic pain treatments such as exercise, mindfulness, acupuncture—and yes, medical marijuana. The request specified that the agency is interested in research on “any formulation” of cannabis.

Finally, a third notice included marijuana in a list of non-opioid pharmacologic treatment options that AHRQ is interested in exploring. The public is encouraged to submit studies and data on the risk of “overdose, misuse, dependence, withdrawals due to adverse events, and serious adverse events” for medical cannabis, as well as more conventional oral and topical treatments.

Altogether, the package of solicitations demonstrates that while marijuana remains a Schedule I drug (meaning the federal government does not recognize it as having medical value), there are federal agencies that are compelled by the prospect that cannabis effectively treats pain without the risks posed by opioids.

And there are any number of studies that AHRQ might want to take into consideration. For example, there are surveys that show patients often use marijuana as a substitute for opioid painkillers and other pharmaceuticals, as well as several comprehensive studies indicating that states with legal cannabis access experience lower opioid overdose rates and have fewer opioid prescriptions compared to non-legal states.

The deadline to submit studies and data for all of the new notices is April 18.

These are the latest in a series of notices that AHRQ and other federal agencies have published in recent months. Last year, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health hosted a workshop that specifically addressed barriers to cannabis research while the substance remains federally prohibited.

Anti-Legalization GOP Congressman Slams DEA Over Marijuana Research Blockade

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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