One of Congress’s leading champions for marijuana law reform is going beyond just trying to pass legislation to push back against federal prohibition and is now actively working to defeat fellow lawmakers who are standing in the way of those bills.
“I’ve been working to try and give you a better Congress,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) said at a cannabis industry event on Tuesday night. “One of the other things we are doing is not just helping friends, but to help people who are against us find something else to do with their time.”
His first target is Congressman Pete Sessions (R-TX). As chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee, Sessions, who is not related to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has played a key role in preventing marijuana legislation from advancing.
In that capacity, Sessions has blocked a number of cannabis measures from even being considered on the House floor, including ones to protect state laws from federal interference, facilitate marijuana businesses’ access to banking services and allow Washington, D.C. to set its own legalization policies.
Perhaps Sessions’s most egregious move, in the eyes of advocates, was when he disallowed a vote on a measure to let military veterans get medical cannabis recommendations through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
“We’re going to be putting up some billboards in Pete Sessions’s district. It’s going to feature a veteran and ask the question why Pete Sessions doesn’t want him to have access to his medicine,” Blumenauer said. “We’re going to make the point that there are consequences. This is not a free vote. People are going to take a position one way or another. And if they are going to be part of an effort to deny people access to medicine that can be transformational…this is going to be part of the political landscape this year.”
Video captured by activist and journalist Russ Belville.
Blumenauer will pay for the billboards using funds from a new political action committee, called the Cannabis Fund, that he recently founded. In addition to going after marijuana reform opponents, the congressman said that the PAC will also proactively work to elect candidates who support cannabis issues on the federal, state and local levels.
“I don’t care where they are, who they are, what the district is,” he said. “There is part of the agenda that you care about that they ought to be able to support.”
Blumenauer was speaking at a National Cannabis Industry Association event in Portland, Oregon, an area he represents in Congress.
In the speech, he referred to one marijuana law reform opponent who no longer has a job on Capitol Hill. Last year, then-Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) spoke out against efforts to increase medical cannabis access for military veterans.
“I don’t think we have too few high veterans out there,” he said at the time.
Blumenauer argued that partially as a result of those “disparaging comments not just about medical marijuana but our veterans who need and depend upon it,” Kirk is now “now ex-Senator Kirk.”
Looking ahead, when it comes to his PAC’s first target of Sessions, Blumenauer said the billboards and other efforts should “make his life interesting.”
Later in the speech to the gathered cannabis industry leaders, Blumenauer said that the marijuana business will be “bigger than the NFL in five to ten years,” and decried how the league is “still is suspending people who self-medicate with medical marijuana to deal with the punishment that they go through” on football fields.
Marijuana Is Safer Than Alcohol, Tobacco Or Sugar, Americans Say In New Poll
Americans think marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol, tobacco or sugar. That’s according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Friday.
When asked in a survey which substance is most harmful to health, 41 percent chose tobacco, 24 percent said alcohol and 21 percent flagged sugar.
Just nine percent believe cannabis is the most dangerous of the four options.
The poll also asked about American’s views on legalizing marijuana in their state, with 60 percent saying they would favor the policy.
When the news organizations polled the same question in 2014, 55 percent were on board.
The new numbers are in line with other recent polls showing growing support for ending cannabis prohibition.
In October, a Gallup poll found that 64 percent of Americans back legalizing marijuana.
Earlier this month, in the wake of the Trump administration’s decision to rescind Obama-era guidance that has generally allowed states to implement their own marijuana laws, three separate national polls found broad opposition to federal interference in local cannabis policies.
See the full NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll below:
Government Shutdown Would Let Sessions Attack Medical Marijuana
The federal government will shut down at midnight on Friday, barring an unexpected, last-minute bipartisan deal. That puts medical marijuana patients and providers at risk of being arrested, prosecuted and sent to prison by Jeff Sessions’s Justice Department.
Under a shutdown scenario, an existing budget provision that prevents the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and other agencies from spending money to interfere with state medical cannabis laws would expire. But federal drug enforcement and prosecution actions, which are exempted from furloughs, would continue.
Why Might The Government Shut Down?
A bill to extend federal funding levels and policy riders like the marijuana one through February 16 was approved by the House on Thursday. But a heated dispute over immigration issues has jeopardized its passage in the Senate, where a significant number of Democrats are refusing to support any bill that does not provide protections to people who were brought to the U.S. as children.
Earlier this month, Attorney General Sessions rescinded Obama-era guidance that has generally allowed states to implement their own cannabis laws without federal intervention. That has left recreational marijuana businesses and consumers without a key protection they’ve relied on since 2013, but the ongoing existence of the medical cannabis spending rider has continued to keep patients and providers safeguarded from federal attacks.
An unintended consequence of Senate Democrats’ move to block the funding extension bill and shut down the government over immigration issues is that medical marijuana patients and industry operators would be at much greater risk, as soon as this weekend.
Why Would Drug Enforcement Continue Under A Shutdown?
“All agents in DEA field organizations are excepted from furlough because they support active counternarcotics investigations. This encompasses 21 domestic divisions, 7 regional foreign divisions, critical tactical support groups including the El Paso Intelligence Center and the Special Operations Division, forensic sciences, and technical surveillance support,” a Justice Department shutdown contingency plan says. “DEA investigations need to continue uninterrupted so that cases are not compromised and the health and safety of the American public is not placed at risk.”
The same goes for federal prosecutors.
“As Presidential Appointees, U.S. Attorneys are not subject to furlough,” the shutdown document reads. “Excepted employees are needed to address ongoing criminal matters and civil matters of urgency throughout the Nation. Criminal litigation will continue without interruption as an excepted activity to maintain the safety of human life and the protection of property.”
Politics Of Marijuana And Immigration Collide
Democrats, especially those considering 2020 presidential bids, are facing enormous pressure from their progressive base not to go along with yet another bill in a series of short-term funding extensions that do not include protections for young immigrants known as “DREAMers.” Because Republicans hold only 51 seats in the chamber, and a handful of GOP members are also opposing the spending resolution, leaders need support from Democrats to reach the critical 60-vote threshold to advance legislation.
The medical cannabis budget rider was first enacted into law in late 2014, and has since been extended for each subsequent fiscal year. Last May, Sessions sent a letter to congressional leaders asking them not to continue the medical marijuana rider into Fiscal Year 2018.
“I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime,” he wrote. “The Department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives.”
Setting aside the important question of whether the medical cannabis rider will be included in full Fiscal Year 2018 spending legislation that congressional leaders continue to negotiate — and it is a big question, since House leaders blocked lawmakers from even voting on whether to include the policy in that chamber’s version of Justice Department spending legislation — the current budget brinksmanship on Capitol Hill means the medical marijuana protections could disappear as soon as Saturday morning.
A Shutdown Allows Old Federal Marijuana Prosecutions To Resume
If the provision lapses, it wouldn’t just allow new actions against people violating federal marijuana laws. It would also allow earlier medical cannabis prosecutions that were suspended under to the rider to resume.
A federal judge in a California case last August, for example, wrote that the prosecution of two marijuana growers would be “stayed until and unless a future appropriations bill permits the government to proceed. If such a bill is enacted, the government may notify the Court and move for the stay to be lifted.”
The failure to enact a new bill continuing the protections would have the same effect under a shutdown scenario, given that enforcement of federal drug laws would still continue.
Long-Term Status Of Marijuana Protections Unclear
The Senate Appropriations Committee voted in July to include the medical cannabis rider in its version of the 2018 Justice Department funding bill. But without the provision being approved on the House side, its long-term continuance will be determined behind closed doors by a bicameral conference committee that merges the two chambers’ proposal into a single bill to be sent to President Trump.
Advocates have also pushed to expand the protection to encompass all state marijuana laws, not just those focused on medical access. A measure to do that came just nine flipped votes of passage on the House floor in 2015, and the number of states with legalization has doubled since then. However, Republican congressional leaders have blocked subsequent cannabis measures from advancing to floor consideration, including as recently as this week.
In the meantime, medical cannabis patients and providers will wait to see if Jeff Sessions and his DEA agents will regain the ability to come after them for the first time since 2014 this weekend.
California Lawmakers Pressure Sens. Harris And Feinstein On Marijuana
A group of ten U.S. House members from California are calling on the state’s two senators to do more to push back on the Trump administration’s decision to rescind protections for state marijuana laws.
“As you know, in November 2016, the people of California spoke up and voted in favor of Proposition 64, which legalized recreational cannabis… The recent action by the Attorney General put the industry in jeopardy,” the bipartisan group of ten members of Congress wrote to U.S. Sens. Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein, both Democrats.
“To increase pressure, we are calling on you to block nominations to the Justice Department until the Attorney General reinstates the Cole Memo,” the House lawmakers said.
While Feinstein has long been one of Congress’ most ardent opponents of marijuana legalization, Harris has in recent weeks repeatedly criticized the move by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to tear up Obama-era guidance that has generally allowed states to implement their own marijuana laws without federal interference.
But despite tweeting a lot about marijuana and starting an online petition on the issue through which her campaign apparatus is able to collect e-mail addresses, Harris hasn’t yet added her name as a cosponsor of a single one of the various cannabis reform bills her Senate colleagues have introduced.
Now, the House members, led by Reps. Lou Correa (D) and Dana Rohrabacher (R), are asking her and Feinstein to prevent Sessions from being able to confirm new U.S. attorneys or other Justice Department nominees until he reverses the anti-marijuana move.
“The legalization of cannabis will spur economic growth and provide sales tax revenues,” they write.
I’m calling on @SenFeinstein @SenKamalaHarris to block all @TheJusticeDept nominations until AGSessions reinstates the Cole Memo. #California voted to make #cannabis legal. AG Sessions’ decision ignores the will of Californians and places law-abiding citizens in jeopardy. pic.twitter.com/mPu4SRADHx
— Rep. Lou Correa (@RepLouCorrea) January 18, 2018
Within hours of Sessions’s announcement of rescinding the marijuana protections, Republican Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado vowed to place a hold on all Justice Department nominations over the issue.
.@SenCoryGardner on Attorney General Jeff Sessions' #marijuana policy change: "I will be holding all nominations for the Department of Justice. The people of Colorado deserve answers." pic.twitter.com/BnVEkA54ag
— CSPAN (@cspan) January 4, 2018
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