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Republican Rule Change Allows Marijuana Use By Judge Nominees

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For the past several decades, the U.S. Senate has blocked judicial nominees who have used marijuana after taking the bar exam from being confirmed. But now, under a rule change made quietly by Republicans, those restrictions are being scaled back. And Democrats, who say they have no problem in principle with the move, are criticizing their GOP counterparts for reducing judicial cannabis discrimination only now that Republicans control the Senate and the White House.

“Since at least the Clinton administration, Judiciary Committee Republicans did not clear background investigations of judicial nominees who reported to the FBI that they had ever used marijuana after taking the bar exam,” Democrats on the Judiciary Committee wrote in a new report. “Because of this Republican policy, a number of judicial nominees were either blocked or never nominated in the first place.”

But under a new policy enacted by Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), candidates to be judges can have consumed marijuana up to two times after taking the bar exam if the use was at least five years prior to the date of their nomination to the federal bench.

“While Democrats did not object to the policy change on the merits,” the minority party’s new report says, “Republicans only made this change because of a political change to Republican control of the presidency and Senate.”

The move was the subject of a debate during a Judiciary Committee meeting last November.

“Over time, there’s been an evolving attitude in our society towards marijuana,” Grassley said at the time, defending the rule change. “And I suppose as I’ve looked at it over a period of time in which I’ve had this absolute prohibition attitude that I’ve demonstrated maybe not in public but in private about it, I’ve come to the conclusion that sometime down the road — and we may be down the road there now — that we, if [marijuana use is] the sole judgement of whether somebody ought to have a judgeship or not, or maybe any other position, we may not be able to find people to fill those positions.”

Senators Debate Marijuana Use By Judges

Democrats argued that the timing of the change seemed too convenient for Republicans.

“I know of some who would have been top-notch federal judges [and] were disqualified and stopped by Republican senators,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) said, referring to Obama-era nominees. “I am not opposed to a different standard, but we should not have a double standard for nominees who are presented under a Democratic president and nominees that are presented under a Republican president. And we need to be transparent about what we are doing and why we are doing it.”

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) agreed, saying, “There’s seems to be one standard with a Republican administration [and] a different one with a Democratic administration. It’s tougher on the Democrats. I’m just saying, let’s have one standard. It may evolve.”

Democrats included their complaints about the marijuana use rule change as part of a larger 61-page report they issued on Thursday criticizing what they see as Republican efforts to “stack” federal courts.

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

Hemp Legalization Is Officially Headed to President Trump’s Desk For Signature

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The 2018 Farm Bill, which would legalize industrial hemp, is officially headed to President Donald Trump’s desk. The House passed the legislation on Wednesday, one day after the Senate approved it.

It’s been decades since the ban on hemp was imposed—a byproduct of the federal government’s war on marijuana and other drugs. The ban, it seems, will be lifted in a matter of days.

The House passed the bill, 369-47.

The votes come after months of debate over other aspects of the wide-ranging agriculture bill. But the hemp legalization provision, shepherded by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), has received bipartisan support at every step of the legislative process.

Hemp legalization made it through a conference committee where the Senate and House Agriculture Committees reconciled their respective versions of the bill. McConnell marked the occasion this week by signing the conference report with a hemp pen, which he said on Wednesday that the president was free to use to sign the bill into law.

The hemp provision would allow U.S. farmers to grow, process and sell the crop. The Justice Department would no longer have jurisdiction over hemp under the legislation; rather, the U.S. Department of Agriculture would lightly regulate it.

One element of the hemp language created tension between lawmakers and advocates. The original Senate-passed bill prohibited people with felony drug convictions from participating in the hemp industry, but a compromise was reached last week that limited that ban in the final version to 10 years after the last offense.

House Democrats in the Agriculture Committee listed hemp legalization as one of several reasons they were calling for a “yes” vote on the legislation.

According to VoteHemp, if the president signs the bill before the year’s end, it will take effect on January 1, 2019.

Mitch McConnell Says Trump Can Borrow His Hemp Pen To Sign Farm Bill Into Law

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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Marijuana Industry Border Issues Would Be Solved Under New Congressional Bill

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Marijuana can really mess up border and immigration issues for people who partake in consumption or participate in the industry, but that would change if a new bill being introduced in Congress this week is enacted.

Under current U.S. laws, people who admit to past cannabis use or who work for or invest in marijuana businesses can be barred from visiting the country under certain circumstances. And marijuana consumption, even if it is legal under state law, can lead to an immigrant being deported.

The new legislation, the Maintaining Appropriate Protections For Legal Entry Act, would provide exceptions for conduct that “was lawful in the State, Indian Tribe, or foreign country in which the conduct occurred” or that was “subsequently made lawful under the law or regulation of such jurisdiction,” according to a draft obtained by Marijuana Moment.

The bill, known as the MAPLE Act for short—surely a nod to the leaf on Canada’s flag—is being filed on Wednesday by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).

U.S. border policies on entry by marijuana industry participants were slightly loosened just ahead of the launch of Canada’s legal marijuana market in October to clarify that people working for cannabis businesses are generally admissible to the U.S., with the caveat that “if a traveler is found to be coming to the U.S. for reason related to the marijuana industry, they may be deemed inadmissible.”

And that’s a key exception. Several Canadians traveling to a cannabis industry conference in Las Vegas last month were detained for hours, with one investor being given a lifetime ban from visiting the U.S.

While there is almost certainly not enough time for Blumenauer’s proposal to be considered and voted on by the end of the year, its language could easily be adopted into new legislation after the 116th Congress is seated in January.

In October, the congressman laid out a plan for a step-by-step approach to federally legalizing marijuana in 2019 in a memo to fellow House Democrats.

Marijuana Moment supporters on Patreon can read the full text of the new MAPLE Act below:

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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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Chicago Mayor Wants Legal Marijuana Revenue To Fund Pensions

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Tax revenue from legal marijuana sales should be earmarked to fund pension programs, the mayor of Chicago said on Wednesday.

“Illinois legislators will be taking a serious look next year at legalizing recreational marijuana,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) said in a speech to the City Council. “Should they follow that course, a portion of that revenue could go toward strengthening our pension funds and securing the retirement of the workers who depend on them.”

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.)

Photo courtesy of Daniel X. O’Neil.

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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