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Senators Include Medical Marijuana Protections In Justice Department Bill

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For the first time ever, a provision protecting state medical marijuana laws is being included in base funding legislation for the U.S. Department of Justice.

While the provision in question has been federal law since 2014, in years past its enactment has required votes on the House floor or in a Senate committee. But now, in a dramatic sign of the rapidly changing politics of cannabis, the budget rider is part of the initial spending bill for the Justice Department as introduced by Republican Senate leaders.

“It’s taken years of hard work by patients and their advocates, but we’ve finally reached the point where even in a U.S. Senate controlled by Republicans, a medical marijuana provision is not considered a poison pill and its support requires no further debate,” Don Murphy, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in an interview.

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies approved Fiscal Year 2019 spending legislation including the measure on Tuesday. A full committee vote on the overall bill is expected on Thursday.

The House Appropriations Committee inserted the medical marijuana protections into its version of the Justice Department bill by a voice vote last month. That means the provision is all but certain to end up in the final FY19 appropriations legislation that is sent to President Trump for his signature later this year, clearing the way for states to keep implementing medical marijuana programs without federal interference through at least September of next year.

“The Senate Appropriations Committee finally read the writing on the wall and accepted the inevitable, that allowing the Department of Justice to interfere with state-legal medical marijuana programs is bad policy and losing politics,” Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, said in an interview. “Looking at the scorecard, today it’s medical freedom: 1; Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his reefer madness ways: 0.”

While the rider does not protect recreational marijuana consumers or the businesses that serve them, it does continue to shield patients and medically-focused providers in the 46 states that now allow some form of legal cannabis for therapeutic use. And that is a much-appreciated measure of relief in light of the fact that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions earlier this year rescinded Obama-era protections that generally allowed states to implement cannabis laws without harassment from the Justice Department.

Meanwhile, Republican and Democratic lawmakers are teaming up on separate legislation to change federal law to permanently let states set their own marijuana laws without fear of federal intervention — and President Trump is on board.

“I really do. I support Senator Gardner,” the president said on Friday of when asked if he supports the bill, filed last week by Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

The legislation, the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Entrusting States (STATES) Act, would exempt state-legal marijuana activity from the provisions of the federal Controlled Substances Act. It would also protect banks that work with legal cannabis businesses and allow industrial hemp cultivation.

Before the Tuesday appropriations subcommittee vote on the Justice Department legislation, Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), said he was “surprised to see the medical marijuana language.”

Lankford, who recently filmed a television commercial opposing the medical cannabis ballot measure that voters in his state will consider during this month’s primary election, called it “conflicting here that we’re spending millions of dollars focused on fighting opioids and yet leaning into pushing in the base bill towards the medical marijuana piece.”

“The FDA still considers marijuana as a gateway drug to opioid abuse,” he said.

In fact, numerous studies show a correlation between legal marijuana access and reduced opioid issues.

Democrats cheered the move, however,

“This bill again contains language preventing the Justice Department from interfering with states that have medical marijuana laws, ensuring that the prescribing and dispensing of medical marijuana in those states is both legal and regulated,” Senate Appropriations Committee Democrats wrote in a summary of the provision, somewhat overstating its impact because it actually only prevents federal officials from spending money to enforce the prohibition on medical cannabis without actually repealing it. “Patients and doctors in states that have approved medical marijuana need to know that they are safe from arrest and prosecution by the federal government.”

This piece was first published by Forbes.

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

California Gov. Jerry Brown Keeps Saying Mean Things About Marijuana Consumers

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During his two stints as California governor—between 1975 and 1983, and 2011 and next January, when he is termed out and may finally retire from almost 50 years of public life—Jerry Brown has become known for several character traits.

He is frugal, to the point of parsimony. He is attentive to issues that are way out there. He is concerned about climate change. And he cannot stop making negative, non-germane non sequiturs about marijuana, his state’s biggest cash crop.

In 2014, he suggested that neither California nor the United States could be a great economic power if marijuana was legalized, thanks to the shiftiness of “the potheads.”

“The world’s pretty dangerous, very competitive,” he said during an appearance on NBC’s Meet The Press. “I think we need to stay alert, if not 24 hours a day, more than some of the potheads might be able to put together.”

Giving his reasoning why he opposed marijuana legalization, he mused, “how many people can get stoned and still have a great state or a great nation?”

Now, in a New York Times profile published on Tuesday, while speaking on the subject of climate change, Brown reached deep into his pocket for a very off-topic cannabis-themed barb.

“We either do nothing and smoke marijuana because it’s legalized, or we put our shoulder to the plow and do everything we can,” he told the paper on a recent afternoon (one of 23 interviews he gave that same day, according to the Times). “I don’t know if I’m an optimist. I’m a realist.”

Links between recreational marijuana use and some vague “dumbing-down” of the populace are unfounded, and are reminiscent of the spurious, race-baiting tactics employed by former drug czar Harry Anslinger.

The source of Brown’s opprobrium towards marijuana is not immediately clear.

Before his election in 2010, Brown offered laconic yet incoherent reasoning for his adamant anti-legalization stance.

“You know, the number one drug on the street is marijuana. The cartels are increasingly taking over. This is a serious problem,” he told an interviewer with GQ.

(At the time, California had a thriving medical cannabis industry. Legalized marijuana was later found to compel drug-traffickers to exit trade in the drug and seek other forms of income.)

“I think it’s more prudent for California not to embrace a legalization strategy,” he added. “I don’t think fostering chemicals is a smart move.”

He declined to engage with the interviewer when asked if he’d support a policy of prohibiting alcohol.

Brown’s stance puts the 80-year-old at odds with most of his fellow California Democrats—chief among whom must be Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.

After opposing marijuana legalization in 2010, Newsom quickly hopped on board the cannabis bandwagon following Colorado and Washington’s votes to end cannabis prohibition in 2012, and was the most prominent political backer of 2016’s Prop. 64, which legalized recreational marijuana in California.

Newsom briefly mounted a bid for California governor a decade ago before he was boxed out by the better-funded and better-prepared elder statesman.

In recent years, Brown did eventually sign into law a package of bills that set up a regulated and taxed commercial cannabis industry in the state. But his outdated Reefer Madness views about people who consume marijuana seem to persist, if this week’s Times interview is any indication.

Teen Marijuana Use Is Down In California Following Legalization, State-Funded Study Shows

Photo courtesy of Bob Tilden.

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Legalizing Psilocybin Could Be The Next Frontier In Drug Policy Reform After Marijuana

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Drug policy reform isn’t likely to end with marijuana legalization—and if you’re wondering what the next step in the broader movement could be, it’s worth looking into psilocybin, the active ingredient in “magic mushrooms.”

Earlier this month, state- and city-level campaigns to change psilocybin laws made small advancements. Organizers in Denver submitted two initiatives to decriminalize the psychedelic compound, which would appear on a citywide ballot in May 2019 if both or either receive enough signatures.

And in Oregon, a measure that would legalize psilocybin-assisted treatment entered the signature gathering stage. That measure would appear on a state ballot in 2020 if the effort succeeds.

“We’re excited to gather signatures in support of establishing a community-based service framework, in which licensed providers, along with licensed producers of psilocybin mushrooms, can blaze new trails in Oregon in accordance with evolving practice standards,” psychotherapist Tom Eckert, who is a chief petitioner for the measure, said in a press release.

Though there’s still a lot of work to do on the marijuana reform front—and advocates haven’t exactly joined arms with the psilocybin movement yet—the efforts share several parallels. For example, both cannabis and psilocybin are federally banned as Schedule I drugs, meaning the government considers them to have a high potential for abuse and to be medically useless.

Research disputes that position for both substances. While an admittedly larger body of research has demonstrated various therapeutic benefits of marijuana, several studies have found compelling evidence that psilocybin can provide relief for individuals suffering from conditions such as depression and addiction—and research is ongoing.

“To be clear, there’s no scientific basis for psilocybin’s continued inclusion on Schedule I,” Angela Bacca, a strategist for the Psilocybin Service Initiative of Oregon, said. “It is imperative we change the law to match the reality and science because people are suffering who could otherwise benefit from this safe and uniquely effective service.”

Neither the Denver nor Oregon measures would create a legal retail system for psilocybin, as has been seen throughout the U.S. for marijuana. And in Denver, organizers submitted two separate decriminalization initiatives in order to test the waters, seeing if there’d be enough support to include cultivation in the language of their primary decriminalization measure.

If that initiative fails, the group Denver for Psilocybin will put their energy toward a similar initiative that simply decriminalizes low-level possession and personal use.

“It’s a natural right. It’s a human right,” Kevin Matthews, campaign director for Denver for Psilocybin, told Westword. “This one is our Hail Mary victory shot.”

Organizers in California recently attempted to get a psilocybin decriminalization initiative on the 2018 ballot, but that effort failed.

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard Talks Marijuana And Psychedelics With Joe Rogan

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Mädi.

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Beto O’Rourke Slams Drug War And Police Killing Of Botham Jean At Dallas Event

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Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX), who is running for U.S. Senate this year, spoke before an animated crowd at a Baptist church in Dallas on Friday, decrying the war on drugs and calling for the end of marijuana prohibition.

The candidate, who’s made a strong showing in his race against incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), also commented on the recent killing of an unarmed black man, Botham Jean, at the hands of a Texas police officer.

“How can it be in this day and age—in this very year, in this community—that a young man, African American, in his own apartment, is shot and killed by a police officer?” O’Rourke asked. “And when we all want justice and the facts and the information to make an informed decision, what is released to the public? That he had a small amount of marijuana in his kitchen? How can that be just in this country?”

“How can we continue to lose the lives of unarmed black men in the United States of America at the hands of white police officers? That is not justice. That is not us. That can and must change. Are you with me on this?”

The audience responded with a resounding standing ovation.

See O’Rourke’s marijuana and criminal justice comments roughly 31 minutes into his Facebook video below:

O’Rourke spent several minutes outlining how the drug war disproportionately impacts communities of color despite the fact that white people use and sell drugs at roughly the same rate.

“It has kept people out of civic life in this country, it has kept them from their freedoms, it has kept them from democratic life in this country.”

Resolving racially discriminatory drug enforcement efforts starts with ending cannabis prohibition, O’Rourke said, noting that he co-sponsored congressional legislation that would do just that. But importantly, the second step is to expunge “the arrest records for anyone arrested for possession of marijuana so they can get on with their lives, live to their full potential, contribute to their maximum capacity.”

One of the congressman’s most salient points contrasted marijuana policies in Texas and fully legal states like California.

“Let me ask you this: in a country where the majority of the states in the union have already decided to make marijuana legal in one form or another—where people in California and Colorado and the Northwest are getting filthy rich legally selling marijuana today—who is going to be the last African American boy or man to rot behind bars in Texas for something that’s legal in almost every other single part of the country?”

“Let’s lead the way on reforming our drug laws,” O’Rourke said. “Let’s end that war on drugs right now because it’s a war on people.”

Cruz has attempted to frame his opponent’s drug reform stance as dangerous, promoting misleading statements attributed to O’Rourke in campaign ads and arguing that he’d exacerbate the opioid epidemic if elected in November.

Which message will ultimately more resonant with Texas voters is yet to be determined—but the race is looking close.

Marijuana In Texas: Where Ted Cruz And Beto O’Rourke Stand On Legalization

Photo courtesy of Facebook/Beto O’Rourke.

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