President Trump is considering naming a Republican congressman who supports the right of states to set their own marijuana laws as head of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
The Associated Press reported on Thursday that Congressman Brian Mast (R-FL), a veteran who lost both of his legs as a result of war wounds inflicted in Afghanistan, is a candidate to replace recently fired VA Sec. David Shulkin.
Mast on several occasions has made clear that he doesn’t want the federal government interfering with local marijuana laws. As VA secretary, he would be in a position to allow the department’s doctors to finally begin recommending medical cannabis to military veterans in states where it is legal, something that Shulkin and previous secretaries have refused to do.
“I speak about states’ rights even when they’re things that most people would assume that I would not agree with the issue because I’m a Republican,” Mast, who was elected to the House in 2016, said in a town hall meeting shortly after taking office last year. “[Marijuana] is not an issue where I differ on states’ rights.”
But while he referred to the Food and Drug Administration approval process, which cannabis proponents have not yet been able to fully navigate, he also said he is a “proponent for alternative forms of medicine in our VA that don’t exist, whether you’re talking about our veterans having access to get chiropractic care, or a great deal of other things. I think there are a lot of things out there that are not supported, but should be.”
Similarly, in a debate shortly before the 2016 election, Mast said, “I simply don’t want the federal government involved in places where they shouldn’t be involved… Marijuana is one of those issues that’s not covered in the Constitution. I would not like to see the federal government playing a role in deciding whether it’s something that should be allowed by each one of the states.”
On the same day Mast won his congressional race, Florida voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure to legalize medical cannabis.
Despite voicing support for states’ rights to set their own cannabis laws when asked, Mast has not yet added his name as a cosponsor of any of the dozens of marijuana reform bills that are pending in the House.
Meanwhile, legislation to encourage the VA to study the medical benefits of cannabis is advancing in Congress, with the House Veterans Affairs committee approving the bill this week.
Photo courtesy of Congressman Brian Mast.
Leading Congressional Marijuana Opponent In Danger Of Losing Seat, Polls Find
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.
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).
.@ppppolls for @ProtectOurCare, Sept. 17-18:
– #TX07 (562 RVs, MOE +/-4.1%): @Lizzie4Congress 47%, @johnculberson 45% (Trump net approval: -3)
– #TX32 (555 RVs, MOE +/-4.2%): @ColinAllredTX 47%, @PeteSessions 42% (Trump net approval: -10)
— Patrick Svitek (@PatrickSvitek) September 24, 2018
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.
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.”
It is 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. https://t.co/NxpfE55Xzr
— Colin Allred (@ColinAllredTX) June 7, 2018
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.”
Canadians Involved In Marijuana Industry Not Welcome In US, Feds Confirm
As Canada inches closer to opening its retail marijuana market next month, U.S. border officials are officially laying out their policy of weeding out the country’s cannabis consumers as well as those who work or invest in the industry.
In a Friday press release, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) confirmed previous news reports and affirmed that border officials will continue to enforce U.S. federal law, which for decades has defined marijuana as having a high potential for abuse and no medical benefit.
“Canada’s legalization of marijuana will not change CBP’s enforcement of United States laws regarding controlled substances,” the statement reads.
But more than just stopping marijuana from crossing the border, the federal agency will also actively deny entry into the country by people who work in the legal cannabis industry.
“As marijuana continues to be a controlled substance under United States law, working in or facilitating the proliferation of the legal marijuana industry in U.S. states where it is deemed legal or Canada may affect admissibility to the U.S.,” reads the CBP statement.
Canada became the second nation in the world to legalize marijuana in June. Starting on October 17, Canadian adults will be able to purchase and consume cannabis legally.
Although 31 U.S. states and Washington, D.C. have legalized cannabis for medical use and nine states and D.C. allow recreational use—including Washington, Vermont and Maine, which sit along the Canadian border—CBP officials say that entering the country with marijuana, even into a legalized state, “may result in seizure, fines, and/or arrest and impact admissibility.”
CBP officials spoken about the anti-marijuana policy before, but with Friday’s press release it’s now officially in black and white.
In the eyes of the U.S. federal government, “we don’t recognize that as a legal business,” Todd Owen, executive assistant commissioner for CBP’s Office of Field Operations told Politico earlier this month.
The senior official also cautioned that travelers risk a “lifetime ban” if they lie about their past drug use. “Our officers are not going to be asking everyone whether they have used marijuana, but if other questions lead there—or if there is a smell coming from the car, they might ask,” he said.
Any traveler who admits to past use of illegal drugs, including marijuana, will not be allowed into the U.S. CBP will then keep a record of the traveler and prohibit them from returning, whether or not the individual has previously entered the country. If they wish to return, the traveler must apply for a waiver to lift the lifetime ban at a cost of $585, as reported by Politico.
In response, Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA) demanded that Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen clarify her department’s policy and how it would go about enforcing it.
In a draft letter obtained by Marijuana Moment this month, the congressman posed a list of questions including how, exactly, the Department of Homeland Security will “evaluate and determine that an authorized foreign national is associated with the cannabis industry.”
Photo courtesy of Gerald L. Nino, U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Idaho Gubernatorial Candidates Disagree On Marijuana Legalization
Marijuana is an increasingly prominent issue in many political races this year.
Even in campaigns where cannabis is not a central concern, the candidates are often taking strong positions on legalization when asked about it.
Here’s a look at where the major party contenders in Idaho’s gubernatorial contest stand on ending marijuana prohibition and related reforms.
Democrat: Paulette Jordan
While Jordan, a former state legislator and tribal council member, has focused more on decriminalization and medical cannabis during her campaign, she does support full marijuana legalization.
I believe that we need to move toward full legalization in Idaho as well. It will generate much-needed revenue for our state and it will make our criminal justice system more ethical. (3/4)
— Paulette Jordan (@PauletteEJordan) April 19, 2018
Jordan has touted her work on a decriminalization bill in the legislature, saying “I realize it’s baby steps in this state. But the fact of the matter remains that 70 percent of our borders are surrounded by states that have legalized marijuana.”
She tweeted, but later deleted, “I look forward to decriminalizing Cannabis and leading the way for medicinal cannabis as an alternative medicine that is taxed and well regulated.”
During a Democratic primary debate, she said there’s “nothing wrong” with legalization.
In a Facebook Live interview with the Idaho Statesman (roughly 10 minutes into the video below), she spoke about children who benefit from cannabidiol (CBD) oil, saying that marijuana is “a natural medicine that mother earth has created” and that has “been here for thousands of years, as long as my ancestors have been here.”
Addressing broader recreational legalization, she said, “the numbers that have been very beneficial to other states when it comes down to resources for education.”
Republican: Brad Little
Currently the state’s lieutenant governor and a former state lawmaker, Little opposes legalization but does support limited CBD medical cannabis access.
“I support existing Idaho law and oppose the legalization of marijuana,” he said during a Republican primary debate, criticizing a legislative proposal to expand on the existing CBD pilot program established by current Gov. Butch Otter (R).
“We are expanding the current quality controlled CBD oil treatment study taking place where CBD oil is being administered to children with epilepsy or seizure disorders, and the results seem to be proving very successful. I support this pilot, and I want to ensure that we get all the data and know that this treatment works,” he said. “As for this session’s CBD legislation, I think it was far too broad and had too many unintended consequences.”
The Idaho Republican Party tweeted about Little’s opposition (and Jordan’s support for) “fully legalizing all marijuana.”
We’re sure it was just an oversight they forgot to include:
Little NO, Jordan YES
Little NO, Jordan YES
Mandatory gun licensing & registration:
Little NO, Jordan YES
— Idaho GOP (@IdahoGOP) September 22, 2018