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New Congressional Bill Would Enshrine Rescinded Marijuana Memo Into Federal Law

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A bipartisan group of federal lawmakers on Friday filed legislation that, if enacted, would essentially revive the Obama-era marijuana enforcement memo that was rescinded by then-U.S Attorney General Jeff Sessions last year.

The full text of the Sensible Enforcement of Cannabis Act, sponsored by Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA) and six other House members, is not yet online. But Correa’s communications director told Marijuana Moment in an email that the legislation is “identical to the bill we introduced last session.”

That legislation, which had the same title as the new proposal, specifies that the attorney general “shall not prosecute for any conduct that concerns marihuana for medicinal or recreational use and is authorized by the laws of the State involved.”

The bill also carves out several exceptions for areas where the Justice Department could continue to enforce federal anti-cannabis laws, such as:

  • Distribution of marijuana to minors.
  • Revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to  criminal enterprises, gangs, and cartels.
  • Diversion of marijuana from States where it is legal under State law in some form to other States.
  • State-authorized marijuana activity from being used as a cover or pretext for the trafficking of other illegal drugs or other illegal activity.
  • Violence and the use of firearms in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana.
  • Drugged driving and the exacerbation of other adverse public health consequences associated with marijuana use.
  • The growing of marijuana on public lands and the attendant public safety and environmental dangers posed by marijuana production on public lands.
  • Marijuana possession or use on Federal property.

Those provisions closely mirror the so-called Cole Memo that was issued by the Obama Justice Department in 2013 to essentially direct federal prosecutors to respect state marijuana laws by not interfering with their implementation except in certain circumstances.

But Sessions formally revoked the guidance last January, a move that generated broad bipartisan pushback in Congress.

“The Department’s ill-conceived decision adversely affects California and other states that in ‘good faith’ implemented regulatory frameworks that relied on the memo,” Correa said in remarks inserted into the Congressional Record on Friday. “The repeal of the Cole Memo contravenes the will of the American public. Furthermore, this decision will negatively affect numerous Americans who utilize cannabis for medical purposes.”

“We need to provide consumers, patients, businesses, and regulators with certainty.”

Lawmakers that have so far signed onto Correa’s new proposal include Reps. Steve Cohen (D-TN), Don Young (R-AK), Dina Titus (D-NV), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and Salud Carbajal (D-CA). It has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

The version that Correa filed last Congress did not receive a hearing or a vote.

The new legislation is the fourth standalone cannabis bill that has been filed so far during the 116th Congress, which began last week.

One bill, H.R. 420, would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and instead regulate cannabis like alcohol.

The other two pending House proposals concern access to medical cannabis.

No cannabis bills have yet been introduced in the Senate this year, though a staffer for Sen. Cory Booker’s (D-NJ) told Marijuana Moment that he would “soon” file comprehensive medical cannabis legislation.

New Congressional Cannabis Caucus Takes Shape

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.)

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AOC Calls For Decriminalizing The Use Of All Drugs

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Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) voiced support for decriminalizing the use of all drugs on Sunday.

The freshman congresswoman tweeted that drug decriminalization, as well as marijuana legalization, are “matters of public health.”

This marks a development in Ocasio-Cortez’s drug policy platform. Previously, she called for decriminalizing the use and research of psychedelics, emphasizing the therapeutic potential of the substances.

To that end, she introduced an amendment to a spending bill in June that would remove a rider that advocates argue has inhibited research into the potential therapeutic benefits of Schedule I drugs such as psilocybin and LSD. The House rejected that measure in a floor vote, however.

There’s a growing push to decriminalize the personal possession of drugs beyond cannabis. South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), both Democratic presidential candidates, are in favor of the policy. Entrepreneur Andrew Yang supports decriminalizing opioids as a means to combat the drug overdose crisis.

Ocasio-Cortez recently gave her endorsement to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). But while the senator was the first major presidential candidate to back marijuana legalization during his 2016 run, he said this year he’s “not there yet” on broader drug decriminalization. It’s not clear if the congresswoman’s role as a surrogate on his campaign will ultimately influence him to adopt the policy.

But as more candidates debate the best way forward on various drug reform proposals, with cannabis legalization being a given for almost all contenders, former Vice President Joe Biden remains several paces behind. He opposes adult-use legalization and said on Saturday that marijuana may be a gateway to other, more dangerous substances.

Biden Says Marijuana Might Be A Gateway Drug

Photo courtesy of C-SPAN.

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Key Congressional Committee Officially Schedules Vote On Marijuana Legalization Bill

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A key House committee has officially announced that a vote on a comprehensive marijuana legalization bill is scheduled for this week.

The House Judiciary Committee said on Monday that the panel will mark up legislation introduced by Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), which would federally deschedule cannabis and address social equity, on Wednesday at 10:00 AM ET. The announcement confirms what sources familiar with the planned development told Marijuana Moment last week.

Nadler’s Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act has been lauded by advocates for its emphasis on restorative justice for communities most impacted by the drug war.

It calls for a five percent federal tax on marijuana sales, and that revenue would be used to fund programs such as job training, legal aid for those affected by prohibition and small business loans for individuals who are socially and economically disadvantaged. The bill also seeks to lift barriers to licensing and employment in the industry.

Additionally, the legislation would expunge the records of those with prior cannabis convictions, provide for resentencing, block federal agencies from denying public benefits or security clearances as a result of marijuana use and protect immigrants from being denied citizenship over cannabis.

“A supermajority of Americans, including majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and independents, support regulating the use of marijuana by responsible adults,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said in a press release. “Thanks to the leadership of the House Judiciary chairman, never in history have we been closer to ending the failed policy of marijuana criminalization and providing pathways to opportunity for our brothers and sisters who have suffered under its oppressive reign.”

“The MORE Act is the most comprehensive marijuana policy reform bill ever introduced in Congress and is backed by a broad coalition of civil rights, criminal justice, drug policy, and immigration groups. Those who oppose this legislation moving forward are defenders of a failed status-quo that ruins the lives of otherwise law-abiding adults on a daily basis, overwhelming enforced against the poor and communities of color.”

Text of an amendment in the nature of a substitute from Nadler that Judiciary members will take up was also released on Monday. It includes a new “findings” section that discusses racial disparities in marijuana enforcement, the growing state-level legalization movement and the challenges that individuals from disadvantaged communities face in participating in the market.

“The communities that have been most harmed by cannabis prohibition are benefiting the least from the legal marijuana marketplace,” one provision reads. “A legacy of racial and ethnic injustices, compounded by the disproportionate collateral consequences of 80 years of cannabis prohibition enforcement, now limits participation in the industry.

Much of the language of the new section is borrowed from a resolution that Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, introduced last year.

“The data speaks for itself—low-income communities and communities of color have disproportionately borne the brunt of the devastation brought on by marijuana prohibition,” Queen Adesuyi, policy manager of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a press release. “The MORE Act is the most robust bipartisan legislation so far not only to end federal marijuana prohibition, but also to ensure that the communities that have been hardest hit by prohibition are not left behind.”

“It would be a tragic mistake to have the only marijuana reform bill that passes this Congress be one that solely benefits the industry, despite both the unprecedented support for legalization nationally amongst Americans and all the harm that we know federal prohibition has caused to individuals and communities across this country,” she said. “Fortunately, by ensuring the MORE Act moves forward, several leaders in the House are showing that they understand that this is a matter of fundamental justice that the US Congress needs to address.”

Advocates have been eagerly awaiting a committee vote on the MORE Act, especially since the House overwhelmingly passed a bill to protect banks that service the cannabis industry in September. Some groups, including the ACLU, had implored leadership to delay the banking vote until the chamber passed legislation like the MORE Act that addresses social equity.

Committee members on both sides of the aisle will be able to introduce amendments to the legislation, but it’s generally expected to advance out of the panel and onto the floor. That said, its fate in the Republican-controlled Senate is far from certain.

Read the full text of the new amendment to the MORE Act below: 

MORE Act by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

Biden Says Marijuana Might Be A Gateway Drug

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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Biden Says Marijuana Might Be A Gateway Drug

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Former Vice President Joe Biden (D) said on Saturday that he’s not sure if marijuana is a gateway drug that leads to the use of other, more dangerous substances.

“The truth of the matter is, there’s not nearly been enough evidence that has been acquired as to whether or not it is a gateway drug,” the 2020 presidential candidate claimed at a town hall meeting in Las Vegas. “It’s a debate, and I want a lot more before I legalize it nationally. I want to make sure we know a lot more about the science behind it.”

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.)

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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