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Senators Debate Marijuana Use By Judges

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How many times should judicial nominees be allowed to consume marijuana before they are confirmed to the federal bench?

That’s a question United States senators spent roughly half an hour debating on Thursday.

“Over time, there’s been an evolving attitude in our society towards marijuana,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) said. “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.”

The statement is significant, coming from Grassley, long one of Congress’s most vocal opponents of cannabis law reform. He has, for example, blocked bipartisan medical marijuana bills from even getting a hearing in his committee.

The Judiciary panel, which held a business meeting on Thursday, is preparing to pare back a long-held standard on prior marijuana use by judicial nominees.

Previously, any use of marijuana after passing a bar exam would disqualify a nominee under the committee’s rules, though waivers have sometimes been granted, seemingly depending on which party controls the Senate and the White House.

“I thought that standard and that unwritten rule in the committee was unfair, unwise” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) said. “I saw…how good people because of a mistake they made in a young part of their lives were disqualified from a lifetime of federal service on the bench. I just think it was wrong.”

Durbin recounted previous cases where President Obama’s nominees were blocked under the rule by objecting GOP senators.

“I know of some who would have been top-notch federal judges [and] were disqualified and stopped by Republican senators,” he said.

Now, he pointed out, Republicans seem to be in favor of a “more permissive standard for President Trump’s judicial nominees… I’m not opposed 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.”

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) shared the concern.

“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,” he said.

Grassley replied that he hopes waivers aren’t “related to who’s president, but I don’t blame you for drawing that conclusion.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) who, along with Grassley has been one of Congress’s most ardent drug warriors, said she too supports easing committee’s policy.

“The rule has had real consequences,” she said. “For my part, and I was opposed to legalization of marijuana in California, I believe that the rule should change.”

(As an aside, Feinstein incorrectly stated several times during the meeting that 29 states have legalized marijuana for recreational purposes. Grassley attempted to correct her by rightly pointing out that that’s the number of states that allow medical cannabis use, but added further confusion by saying only two states have legalized recreational marijuana. The correct number is eight.)

The committee hasn’t finalized the new standard yet, but the public discussion by its members provided an indication of where they may end up.

Durbin asked Grassley whether they would set a “reasonableness standard that has some flexibility or are we going to set a numeric standard?”

The chairman replied that he’s “aware of the ranking member [Feinstein] having a view, that it ought to be a very hard rule, and I probably have taken a rule of a reasonable approach.”

Feinstein seemed somewhat taken aback by the comment, and Grassley then told her, “I thought your rule was a little harder than my rule.”

After an interlude from Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) about using “discretion” in enforcing rules, Feinstein said, “My understanding is that we have agreement that the post-bar reasonable standard is one to two uses [of marijuana].”

Grassley confirmed, “That is so.”

It is unclear when the committee will finalize and formally announce the new policy.

In 1987, Supreme Court nominee Douglas Ginsberg was forced to withdraw his name from consideration after it was revealed that he had smoked marijuana.

If you value staying updated on cannabis news, please start a monthly Patreon pledge to support Marijuana Moment!

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

People With Marijuana Convictions Should Know About National Expungement Week

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Marijuana legalization is a solid first step, but there’s still a lot of work to be done to resolve  socioeconomic and racial inequities brought about by the war on drugs.

Hence, we now have National Expungement Week. The first-of-its-kind campaign, supported by a coalition of cannabis and social justice organizations called the Equity First Alliance, is taking place from October 20-27.

The organizations will offer “expungement and other forms of legal relief to some of the 77 million Americans with convictions on their records,” according to the campaign website. “These convictions can restrict access to housing, employment, education, public assistance, and voting rights long after sentences have been served.”

In an open letter, the alliance also said it was “largely unsupported by the cannabis industry and by the traditional funders of equity work.” While a main argument in support of legalization is that it would help to repair drug war damages, which have disproportionately affected communities of color, the laws and markets created by the successful movement haven’t necessarily lived up to its name, the alliance wrote.

To that end, the campaign has organized events across the country—from Los Angeles to Boston—to provide legal services to those whose criminal records are able to be reduced or expunged. You can check out the full list of events here.

The alliance’s agenda touches on numerous reform policies, including using marijuana tax revenue to fund communities that have been impacted by prohibition, implementing social equity programs, ensuring corporate responsibility for businesses that profit off cannabis and providing affordable medical cannabis for low-income patients, among other policies.

“We believe that we have a short but vital window of opportunity to change the course of the cannabis industry—and by doing so, we can prevent further harms to the most impacted communities and create a model of reparative economic and criminal justice.”

Adam Vine, co-founder of Cafe-Free Cannabis and an organizer with the campaign, told Marijuana Moment that the campaign is necessary “because millions of Americans have been harmed by the war on drugs and continue to face collateral consequences for convictions that may have happened years ago.”

“These consequences restrict people’s access to employment, housing, education, and social services, so our coalition decided to do something about it,” he said. “We are coordinating these events to provide free legal relief and to say that as states move towards cannabis legalization, expungement needs to be the first priority.”

Marijuana Use Will No Longer Be Prosecuted In Manhattan

Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

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Chris Christie Finally Recognizes Marijuana Legalization As States’ Rights Issue

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Famously anti-marijuana former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) isn’t jumping on the pro-legalization train any time soon—but new comments suggest he might be softening his opposition a smidge, recognizing marijuana reform as a states’ rights issue.

Speaking at Politicon on Saturday, Christie took a question about his cannabis stance from YouTuber Kyle Kulinski, who asked him to weigh in on studies showing that states with legal marijuana programs experience lower rates of opioid addiction and overdoses compared to non-legal states. He was quick to dismiss the research, contending that other studies show the “exact opposite.”

“I just don’t believe when we’re in the midst of a drug addiction crisis that we need to legalize another drug,” Christie said, echoing comments he’s made as chair of President Donald Trump’s opioids committee.

Then he pivoted, acknowledging that some will push back on his anti-legalization position by pointing out that alcohol is legal. “I get that,” he said, “but I wasn’t here when we legalized alcohol.”

Kulinski seized on that point and asked the former governor if he’d vote to ban alcohol.

“No, I wouldn’t ban it. You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube, and that’s a big, important argument about marijuana because once you legalize this, that toothpaste never goes back in the tube.”

Christie stood out among other Republican and Democratic contenders during his 2016 presidential run by maintaining that in addition to personally opposing legalization, he’d crack down on legal cannabis states and enforce federal laws nationwide if elected.

“If you’re getting high in Colorado today, enjoy it,” Christie said in 2015. “As of January 2017, I will enforce the federal laws.

So it came as something of a surprise when the former governor went on to say in the Politicon appearance that “states have the right to do what they want to do on this,” signaling a modest shift in his anti-marijuana rhetoric. States should have that right even though, as Christie put it, “broad legalization of marijuana won’t, in my view, alleviate or even minimize the opioid crisis.”

It’s unclear what’s behind the apparent shift from hardline prohibitionist to wary federalist, but who knows… maybe Christie experienced an epiphany at a Melissa Etheridge concert he attended earlier this month.

Etheridge, who recently spoke with Marijuana Moment about her cannabis advocacy and use of the drug for medicinal purposes, reacted to a tweet showing Christie at one of her recent performances, where he reportedly knew every word of her songs and sang along.

Christie, for his part, replied that he “enjoyed every minute of a great performance and a truly wonderful group of fans.”

Hm…

GIF by #ActionAliens

Melissa Etheridge Talks Art, Culture and Marijuana Advocacy In The Legalization Era

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.

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Politics

Marijuana Support Grows: Two Out Of Three Americans Back Legalization, Gallup Says

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Two-thirds of Americans now support legalizing marijuana, the highest percentage ever in Gallup’s ongoing decades-long series of national polls on the topic.

The new survey released on Monday shows that U.S. adults back ending cannabis prohibition by a supermajority margin of 66 percent to 32 percent. That’s more than a two-to-one ratio.

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 Jurassic Blueberries.

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