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Senate Committee Ignores Key Facts About Marijuana And Driving

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A Senate committee that has historically supported marijuana reform measures released a report last week that included a misleading claim about the impact of cannabis legalization on road safety.

The Senate Appropriations Committee’s report on the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development funding bill for Fiscal Year 2019 contained a section on “impaired driving,” which reads, in part:

“The Committee remains concerned about the increasing rates of impaired driving, particularly in States that adopt measures to decriminalize marijuana.”

“The Committee recognizes the importance of impaired driving countermeasures at the community level in protecting public safety, and encourages [National Highway Traffic Safety Administration] to expand its efforts with law enforcement to increase awareness and use of Drug Recognition Expert [DRE] and Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement [ARIDE] training, particularly in States that have adopted recreational or medicinal marijuana laws,” the committee wrote.

While taking steps to reduce the rate of impaired driving seems like a no-brainer, the claim that states where marijuana has been legalized or decriminalized have seen increased incidents of driving under the influence ignores key facts, Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment.

“While some studies have identified a slight uptick in the prevalence of THC in the blood of motorists, there are several reasons for this change,” Armentano said. “Specifically, more adults are using cannabis now than in the recent past, THC possesses a prolonged detection period compared to many other controlled substances and, most importantly, law enforcement are engaging in greater efforts than ever before to assess drivers for drug use.”

“But, ultimately, this uptick in prevalence has not been associated with a corresponding increase in motor vehicle accidents.” 

That’s a key distinction. If you smoke a joint, THC or its inactive metabolite, carboxy THC, can show up in roadside drug tests for weeks after consumption. So the presence of those compounds in someone’s body does not necessarily indicate that they were high while behind the wheel.

There aren’t currently any reliable drug tests to detect active impairment—though researchers around the country are working to develop that technology. So law enforcement agencies often depend on officers trained as “drug recognition experts” to identify impaired driving.

That said, the Senate committee report overlooks a growing body of research that has failed to identify independent relationships between marijuana legalization and traffic accidents or fatalities.

For example, a paper published this year by the National Bureau of Economic Research determined that “states that legalized marijuana have not experienced significantly different rates of marijuana- or alcohol-related traffic fatalities relative to [states that haven’t legalized].”

And a 2016 study that looked at rates of traffic fatalities from 1985 to 2014 actually found that “[medical marijuana law] states had lower traffic fatality rates” compared to states that haven’t legalized medical cannabis. The researchers said it was “possible that this is related to lower alcohol-impaired driving behavior” in states with legal medical marijuana.

Anti-legalization proponents frequently flag concerns about the public health impact of cannabis reform measures, particularly when it comes to impaired driving. But the Senate Committee on Appropriations’s report on the issue stands out, as the committee has traditionally embraced marijuana reform efforts.

On Thursday, for example, the same committee upheld protections for states where marijuana is legal from federal interference.

The committee also voted in favor of an amendment last week that would allow Veterans Affairs (VA) doctors to issue medical cannabis recommendations to veterans.

In a separate report attached to the bill to fund the Department of Interior, released on Thursday, the committee expressed some concern about illegal marijuana cultivation on public lands, singling out states with legalization.

“The Committee is deeply concerned by reports of significant illegal marijuana grows on public lands, particularly those linked to transnational criminal organizations,” the panel wrote. “The Committee directs Forest Service Law Enforcement to prioritize working more closely with local law enforcement to identify, eradicate, and clean up illegal marijuana grows on public lands, particularly in those states that have legalized recreational marijuana.”

Senate Committee Keeps Medical Marijuana Protections In Place

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Kyle Jaeger is an LA-based contributor to Marijuana Moment. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE, and attn.

Culture

Border Patrol Reflects On Feds’ Friendlier Historical Approach To Marijuana

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Canada’s decision to legalize marijuana nationwide has stoked concerns that its citizens traveling across the U.S. border will risk temporary detention or even permanent visitation bans if they fess up having ever consumed cannabis, or even working in the industry.

Enforcement officials have told reporters that there’s no travel policy change in light of Canada’s end of prohibition, emphasizing that it remains illegal to bring cannabis across the border under federal law. Violating the policy “could potentially result in seizure, fines, and apprehension,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said in a recent statement.

But let’s take you back to a simpler time, courtesy of CBP.

“Did You Know… Marijuana Was Once a Legal Cross-Border Import?”

That’s the title of a 2015 blog post published by the federal agency—which seems to have gone mostly unnoticed until now—recalls how cannabis was historically recognized as a legal import by the government.

“One hundred years ago, the federal government was not overly concerned with marijuana, the common name for the Cannabis sativa L. plant,” the feds’ post reads.

Through the mid-1930s, the plant flew under the government’s radar, despite the fact that “several state governments and other countries had banned the drug.”

“The U.S. government hesitated, in part because therapeutic uses of Cannabis were still being explored and American industry profited from commercial applications of hemp fiber, seeds and oil.”

That all changed in the decades to come—first with the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act, which imposed taxes and regulations on cannabis imports, cultivation, distribution and possession, and then with full prohibition under the Nixon administration.

Up until that point, the Customs Agency Service (later rebranded as CBP) didn’t put too much stock in pot. Just before the Marihuana Tax Act passed, the agency described its cannabis policy here:

“Marihuana may be cultivated or grown wild in almost any locality. Inasmuch as this drug is so readily obtained in the United States, it is not believed to be the subject of much organized smuggling from other countries.”

It seems like pretty basic supply and demand, but federal prohibition changed the equation. Suddenly, marijuana wasn’t “so readily obtained” in the country—and even simple possession carried serious criminal penalties—so the legal supply dried up. In the absence of legal access, criminal organizations swooped in to meet the demand for marijuana in the United States.

Ergo…

“Today, however, marijuana trafficking is a major concern of CBP, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Drug Enforcement Administration,” CBP wrote. “Well over 3 million pounds of ‘pot’ were confiscated at our borders in 2011, making an impact on this multibillion-dollar illegal enterprise.”

The more you know!

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Here Are The DEA’s Newest Slang Terms for Marijuana: ‘Shoes,’ ‘My Brother’ And More

Photo courtesy of Gerald Nino, U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

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Why Congressional Democrats Deleted Their Anti-Marijuana Tweet

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A Democratic organization tasked with regaining the party’s control of the U.S. House of Representatives tweeted a bizarre anti-marijuana attack on a politically vulnerable Republican congressman this week, but the group meekly walked back the comments after being called out about it…by me and some of the lawmakers it represents.

It started with a tweet, posted on Monday by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).

“GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher…has a ‘cult-like fixation on marijuana,'” the supposedly progressive group tweeted, quoting an article from conservative magazine National Review bashing the California congressman.

“It’s why [Democratic opponent] @HarleyRouda needs your help flipping this seat Clinton won from #RedToBlue,” the party organ added.

I was immediately struck by the tweet when I saw it minutes after it was posted. The vast majority of Democratic voters support marijuana legalization, as do all of the party’s U.S. senators who are thought to be weighing 2020 presidential campaigns.

Whenever Rohrbacher’s amendment to protect state medical cannabis laws from federal interference has reached the House floor, the overwhelming majority of Democratic lawmakers have consistently voted for it.

“There are a lot of reasons why Democrats and progressives would wish for Rohrabacher to lose his reelection fight, aside from the fact that ‘flipping this seat from red to blue’ could make the difference in determining which party controls the House come January. But marijuana is not one of them,” I wrote in a Los Angeles Times op-ed on Thursday.

“The Democratic committee could have highlighted Rohrabacher’s position that homeowners should have the right to refuse to sell property to gay people — something mentioned by National Review in the same sentence as that cannabis quip. Or his position on climate change. Or healthcare.

“Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), who has cosponsored many marijuana measures with Rohrabacher, told me in an emailed statement that the campaign committee’s tweet was ‘stupid,’ adding that he expressed those sentiments directly to the organization itself.”

Hours after the publication of my piece, DCCC has deleted the offending tweet, without comment.

In addition to Blumenauer’s public blasting of the organization’s tweet in my op-ed, at least one other Democratic congressman raised the issue during the party’s House Steering and Policy Committee on Thursday, a lawmaker who was in the room, but wished not to be named, told me.

“Pure bad karma and politics,” the legislator said, of the DCC tweet.

Indeed, beyond just Democrats, a growing majority of voters overall, as well independents and even Republicans specifically now support legalization.

California’s 2016 legal cannabis measure won by a significant margin in Rohrabacher’s district, so it’s somewhat of a mystery as to why Democrats thought attacking him over his leadership on the issue was a smart strategy to win back the seat.

Rohrabacher himself seemed to revel in the Democrats’ stepping in it and having to walk back their attack.

GOP pollster Frank Luntz chimed in, too.

One fun note that I didn’t have space to include in my LA Times op-ed is the fact that DCCC’s own chairman, Congressman Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), himself voted three times on the House floor in favor of Rohrabacher’s medical cannabis amendment and even backed a broader measure from Congressman Tom McClintock (R-CA) that would have protected state recreational marijuana laws from federal interference.

Democrats should be campaigning on, instead of attacking, marijuana law reform.

Unless they want to remain the minority party.

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Major Alcohol Association Endorses States’ Rights To Legalize Marijuana

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For the first time ever, a major alcohol association has come out in support of ending federal marijuana prohibition so that states can legalize cannabis without interference.

The Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) announced “an official policy position in favor of a state’s right to establish a legal, well-regulated, adult-use cannabis marketplace,” in a press release on Thursday.

The announcement represented a significant departure from the association’s past statements on marijuana reform. Just two years ago, WSWA said in a sponsored advertisement that it was “neutral on the issue of legalization,” going on to caution congressional officials about the “dangers associated with the abuse and misuse of marijuana,” including drug-impaired driving.

Now the alcohol trade group is singing a different tune.

“The legal cannabis market continues to expand in the United States, generating $7.2 billion in economic activity in 2016,” Thursday’s press release reads. “WSWA believes that, similar to alcohol, the federal government should give states the power to legalize cannabis, but should ensure they meet an appropriate regulatory threshold.”

“Eight decades ago, Americans acknowledged that the Prohibition of alcohol was a failed policy. The state-based system of regulation, adopted after Prohibition, created a U.S. beverage alcohol market that is the safest, most competitive and best regulated in the world.” — WSWA Acting Executive Vice President for External Affairs Dawson Hobbs

WSWA went on to outline 13 policies it recommended for states that legalize recreational marijuana.

  • A minimum age of 21 for purchase, possession and use, along with penalties for providing cannabis to minors;
  • Establishment of Driving Under the Influence impaired driving standards;
  • Licensing of producers, processors, distributors and retailers; Policies to prevent vertical monopoly/integration;
  • Hours and days of sale parity with beverage alcohol;
  • Tax collection and enforcement; Measures to prevent diversion of cannabis to other states;
  • Restrictions on sale/common carrier delivery;
  • Labeling requirements that include potency and health requirements;
  • Testing of formulas to ensure product purity and consistency;
  • Advertising restrictions designed to discourage underage access and promote responsible consumption;
  • Restrictions on health claims on packaging;
  • Establishment of a designated agency overseeing cannabis industry regulation in each state;
  • Penalties for licensee violations on par with the state’s alcohol regulations;
  • and Regulations that ensure all products in market can be tracked/traced to source processor/producer.

So what changed from two years ago?

While the group’s sudden embrace of local cannabis legalization efforts might strike some as odd given the intrinsic, competitive dynamic that’s developed between alcohol and marijuana interests, one aspect of the press release reveals how the broader booze industry could stand to profit:

“Legalization should include regulations that set age restrictions on buyers, as well as license and regulate the supply chain of cannabis, including growers, distributors, retailers and testing laboratories.” [Emphasis added.]

In other words, marijuana legalization might take a bite out of alcohol sales—as recent studies have shown—but the cannabis industry has diverse roles for various players to fill. Ancillary operators such as distributors now working under the current three-tier model for alcohol could be used in states with legal, regulated marijuana markets.

Hobbs denied that the association was trying to help the alcohol industry cash in on legal cannabis during an interview with Fox Business on Thursday.

“No, what we’re talking about is just creating a pathway for states to have federal recognition of legalization by enacting appropriate regulation that creates a safe and reliable marketplace,” Hobbs argued. He also said that the association wouldn’t be lobbying Attorney General Jeff Sessions to take action on federal marijuana policy, but rather the group’s focus would be on Congress.

Marijuana Moment reached out to WSWA for comment, but a representative was not immediately available.

What remains to be seen is whether other alcohol associations will follow suit. After all, a handful of alcohol interests, including the Arizona Wine and Spirits Wholesale Association and the Boston Beer Company donated to campaigns opposing legalization efforts during the 2016 election.

With this latest development from a major alcohol association, it seems the industry is conceding: If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

Cuomo Administration Report Backs Marijuana Legalization In New York

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