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Leading Congressional Marijuana Opponent In Danger Of Losing Seat, Polls Find

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U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) is facing his first major congressional reelection challenge in over a decade, and his opponent, Democratic candidate Colin Allred, is hot on his trail, according to recent polling.

For marijuana reform advocates, it’s a race to follow.

Sessions, as chairman of the House Rules Committee, has systematically blocked votes on cannabis-related legislation by his colleagues on Capitol Hill. Measures on everything from expanding access to medical marijuana for veterans to protecting legal cannabis states from federal interference have been dead upon arrival. Even hemp is a no-go with Sessions at the helm of the powerful committee.

Not a single cannabis-related vote has been allowed on the House floor during the current Congress, thanks to Sessions.

The closest the GOP congressman has come to compromise on the issue in recent months seems to be his pledge to continue talks with a medical marijuana advocacy group. Members of the organization told Marijuana Moment earlier this month that the congressman was “very receptive” to their mission when they met—but Sessions has yet to commit to backing any specific legislation.

But in November, voters in Texas’s 32nd Congressional District will have an opportunity to elect a representative with starkly different attitude toward drug policy: Allred, a civil rights attorney and former NFL player, supports medical cannabis and decriminalizing simple possession of marijuana.

A new poll from The New York Times poll shows a surprisingly tight race.

The Times called more than 43,000 voters across District 32 over the past week to get a sense of voter sentiment heading into November, talking to 500 of them. The results of those calls showed 48 percent of respondents supporting Sessions to Allred’s 47 percent.

Via The New York Times.

Of course, 500 isn’t an especially large sample size and the margin of error is about five percentage points.

But another recent survey conducted by Public Policy Polling for a healthcare advocacy group showed Allred ahead of the anti-cannabis incumbent by five points (47-42 percent).

Accordingly, the race has been graded as a “toss-up” by the Cook Political Report.

The apparent closeness of the contest is noteworthy. Fewer voters seem to have formed strong opinions about Allred, with almost 50 percent of respondents telling the Times they couldn’t say whether they had a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the candidate. Sessions, a known quantity as a sitting elected official, had a higher favorable rating (42 percent) than Allred, but also a significantly higher unfavorable rating (44 percent).

Respondents in the Times survey were also asked to weigh in on the U.S. Senate race between Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX). Forty-nine percent of voters in Sessions’s district said they’d vote O’Rourke if the election was “being held today,” while 47 percent said they’d vote Cruz.

It’s hard to say how much each candidate’s position on cannabis will tilt the scales in November, but what is known is that a bipartisan majority of Texans side with Allred when it comes to marijuana reform. A 2017 survey found “83 percent of Texans support legalizing marijuana for some use,” for example.

Via the University of Texas/Texas Tribune.

More on Allred’s stance on marijuana policy.

Asked about his plans for veterans transitioning back to civilian life, who might be struggling with mental health issues, Allred said “[p]art of that care should be the legalization of medical marijuana and cannabis as a non-addictive alternative to opioids and to treat PTSD and other battlefield injuries.”

The candidate has also criticized Sessions for holding up cannabis legislation, writing it’s “unfortunate that Pete Sessions refuses to acknowledge that medical marijuana can help our veterans coming back from war who are struggling with PTSD and chronic pain.”

Marijuana In Texas: Where Ted Cruz And Beto O’Rourke Stand On Legalization

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.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

Politics

Mormon Church Faces Potential Lawsuit Over Medical Marijuana Opposition

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One week after Utah voters approved a medical marijuana ballot initiative, a lawyer representing patients and advocates has formally notified the Mormon church to preserve records ahead of a potential lawsuit concerning its alleged attempts to undermine the measure.

It’s no secret that the church opposed the medical cannabis initiative, which ultimately passed by roughly 52-46 percent, with some ballots still left to be counted. Though the organization said it supports medical cannabis reform, it vehemently resisted Proposition 2 and implored church members to vote against it.

Advocates and opponents reached a tentative compromise last month ahead of Election Day to have the Utah state legislature pass legislation during a special session ensuring access to medical marijuana. But not all legalization proponents felt encouraged by the deal, and the new legal notice to the church signals continued battles over exactly how the state’s patients will access legal cannabis.

Several Utah lawmakers, the Utah Patients Coalition and the Utah Medical Association were also named in the notice and asked to maintain records.

The church has “a long history of dominating and interfering with the government of the State of Utah, often dictating to state and municipal legislators what legislative measures or policies they are to support or oppose,” attorney Rocky Anderson, a former mayor of Salt Lake City, wrote in the notice, which was shared with Marijuana Moment.

“That dominance and interference is prohibited by the Utah Constitution.”

Whether or not there will be a lawsuit remains unclear, as Anderson wrote that it was up to the claimants who reached out to him to determine if that was the best course of action. Advocacy groups TRUCE and the Epilepsy Association of Utah, along with several patients, are listed as claimants in the document.

Brian Stoll, a reform advocate who has served as a spokesperson for TRUCE and is also a member of the church, told Marijuana Moment that he does expect a lawsuit to go forward.

“Speaking as myself, not TRUCE, I do believe that they have every intention of going forward with the lawsuit if only to get lawmakers under oath discussing the domination of the political process in Utah of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on record,” he said. “There have been many stories over the years about their undue influence, including some accounts published by lawmakers detailing how intimately involved they are in legislation regarding certain topics.”

“As you know, I’m an active member of The Church, and that will remain true. However, after having worked with the Utah legislature for the better part of three years where I saw this happen, and seeing all their work to thwart Prop 2 including having the ability to call a special session, I feel that it’s unethical and not right for them to have such an influence.”

If there is a lawsuit, the church is being implored to preserve a wide range of records, both physical and electronic. Anderson alleges that the church forced the special session “to radically undermine and alter the new law,” which he claims amounts to a constitutional violation.

“Vastly altering the law mandated by the people is contrary not only to the popular will, but contrary to the intention expressed in the Utah Constitution that the people can, through an initiative, directly exercise their constitutionally guaranteed legislative power,” he wrote.

In a statement provided to Marijuana Moment, a spokesperson for the Mormon church said “we have worked, from the outset, with medical professionals, law enforcement, educators and many other groups and prominent community leaders to seek the best for the people of Utah, to provide relief from human pain and suffering, especially where children are concerned.”

“Broad community engagement was the reason a workable, beneficial and safer medical cannabis program was put together at the direction of state leadership. We stand behind and look forward to the safe, responsible and  compassionate solution that will be considered by the state legislature,” the spokesperson said.

Read the full notice below.

Notice to Maintain Records – LDS Domination – Prop. 2 by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

UPDATE: This story has been updated to include comments from reform advocate and Mormon church member Brian Stoll, as well as a statement from the church. 

Utah Voters Approve Medical Marijuana Legalization Ahead Of Compromise Deal

Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

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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Colorado Governor Touts Marijuana Legalization’s Benefits

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After the 2012 election, which saw Colorado become the first state to legalize marijuana, Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) said he probably would have reversed the vote if he had a magic wand.

But with the perspective of a few years post-legalization, today he says he’d put that wand “back in the drawer.”

“I’m not quite there to say this is a great success, but the old system was awful,” Hickenlooper said at a forum hosted by the Economic Club of Chicago on Wednesday.

What’s more, “the things that we most feared—a spike in teenage consumption, a spike in overall consumption, people driving while high—we haven’t seen them,” he said.

“We had a little increase in teenage consumption, but then it went down. We do think that some of the teenage consumers are using it a little more frequently than they were five years ago before legalization. We have in many ways seen no demographic where there’s an increase in consumption, with one exception: senior citizens. I leave you to draw your own conclusions.”

Hickenlooper, who’s been floated as a potential 2020 presidential candidate, described the challenges his administration faced when Colorado voters approved an adult-use legalization measure. Elected officials and advisors were opposed to it, he said, and plus, “it’s no fun to be in conflict with federal law.”

But he pushed forward with implementation, recruiting the “smartest people” he could find to figure out the best approach to regulation and taxation. And Illinois, which recently elected pro-legalization J.B. Pritzker for governor, will likely be better off if they pursue reform because they can learn from the successes and failures of Colorado’s system, Hickenlooper said.

“Ultimately, I haven’t come to a final conclusion yet, but I think it’s looking like this is going to be—for all of the flaws and challenges we have—a better system than what we had. You guys are going to benefit, I think, having let us make a bunch of the mistakes and deal with it, I think you’re going to be able to have a much better system if indeed that is the direction that the state wants to go.”

Asked what advice he’d give to Pritzker if Illinois does elect to fully legalize cannabis, Hickenlooper offered three tips: 1) don’t overtax marijuana, or else the illicit marketplace will persist, 2) get data from law enforcement on the presence of cannabis metabolites in the blood after highway fatalities to establish “good baselines” for comparison and 3) set limits on THC concentrations in edibles.

“What they’re selling now, they tell me it’s 10-to-12 times more intense than what allegedly I smoked in high school,” Hickenlooper said, pausing before conceding, “I smoked pot in high school and I inhaled, but it was a fraction of the intensity of what these kids are getting now.”

Legal Marijuana Would Generate Hundreds Of Millions For Illinois, New Analysis Finds

Photo courtesy of YouTube/Economic Club of Chicago.

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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The DEA Just Got Scolded Over Its Marijuana Eradication Program

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The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) got a slap on the wrist from a federal watchdog agency over its management of a multi-million dollar marijuana eradication program.

In a report released on Wednesday, the non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) said the DEA had failed to adequately collect documentation from state and local law enforcement partners that received funds through the federal program. And that lapse could prevent the agency from being able to accurately assess “program performance.”

What’s more, the DEA “has not clearly documented all of its program goals or developed performance measures to assess progress toward those goals,” according to the report.

In other words, the agency expends about $17 million in funds to partners across the U.S. each year to help them get rid of illegal cannabis grows. That includes fully legal states like California, where enforcement efforts are generally limited to public lands—namely national forests. But due to inadequate record keeping, the DEA doesn’t really know if that money is serving its purpose.

To fix the problems, the GAO issued four recommendations:

1. The DEA Administrator should develop and implement a plan with specific actions and time frames to ensure that regional contractors are implementing DEA’s requirement for collecting documentation supporting participating agencies’ Domestic Cannabis Eradication And Suppression Program (DCE/SP) program expenditures in the intended manner.

2. The DEA Administrator should clarify DCE/SP guidance on the eradication and suppression activities that participating agencies are required to report, and communicate it to participating agencies and DEA officials responsible for implementing DCE/SP.

3. The DEA Administrator should clearly document all DCE/SP program goals.

4. The DEA Administrator should develop DCE/SP performance measures with baselines, targets, and linkage to program goals.

The DEA was able to review a draft of the GAO report ahead of its release and, in an October 17 letter, a Justice Department official said the agency concurred with all four of the recommendations and would take steps to address them.

You can listen to a podcast about the GAO report here:

Just because it’s the DEA’s program doesn’t mean it’s the only agency dropping the ball on marijuana eradication efforts. In April, a report from the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that agents weren’t adequately cleaning up public lands after cannabis busts, which can pose threats to humans, animals and the environment.

Feds Don’t Properly Clean Up After Marijuana Raids, Report Finds

Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

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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