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Sessions: Obama Marijuana Policy Remains In Effect

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Obama-era guidance that allows states to legalize marijuana without federal interference remains in effect, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Tuesday during a congressional hearing. He also conceded that cannabis is not as dangerous as heroin and that a current budget rider prevents the Department of Justice from prosecuting people who are in compliance with state medical marijuana laws.

“Our policy is the same, really, fundamentally as the Holder-Lynch policy, which is that the federal law remains in effect and a state can legalize marijuana for its law enforcement purposes but it still remains illegal with regard to federal purposes,” Sessions said, referring to his attorney general predecessors during the Obama administration.

Sessions made the comments in response to a question from Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) during a House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing.

Later, Sessions said, “I¬†think that’s correct,” when¬†Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) argued that cannabis isn’t as dangerous as heroin. Under current federal law, both are classified under Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, a category that’s supposed to be reserved for drugs with a high potential for abuse and no medical value.

As attorney general, Sessions has the power to reschedule cannabis.

Also during Cohen’s line of questioning, the attorney general said, “I¬†believe we are bound by” a federal budget rider that bars the federal government¬†from spending money to interfere with state medical cannabis laws. A federal court ruled last year, over Justice Department objections, that the rider specifically bars prosecution of patients and providers who are acting in accordance with those laws.

Earlier this year, Sessions, sent a letter to congressional leadership asking that they not continue the annual rider into the next fiscal year.

Sessions, a longtime vocal opponent of marijuana legalization, has previously said that the separate Obama policy on state marijuana laws remains in effect while the Department of Justice reviews potential changes, but has not before so clearly tied the Trump administration approach to that of his predecessors.

Under the so-called¬†‚ÄúCole Memo,‚Ä̬†named after the former Eric Holder deputy who authored it in 2013, the federal government set out certain criteria that, if followed, would allow states to implement their own laws mostly without intervention.¬†Those criteria concern areas like youth use, impaired driving and interstate trafficking.

On the campaign trail, then-candidate Donald Trump repeatedly pledged to respect state marijuana laws.

But in April, Sessions directed a Justice Department task force to review the Obama administration memo and make recommendations for possible changes.

However, that panel did not provide Sessions with any ammunition to support a crackdown on states, according to the Associated Press, which reviewed excerpts of the task force’s report to the attorney general.

Sessions did not refer to any ongoing consideration of enforcement policy changes during the House hearing.

Also at¬†Tuesday’s hearing, Cohen pressed Sessions on his comment last year that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”

“Is John Kasich a good person?” the congressman asked. “George Pataki, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, George Bush, Arnold Schwarzenegger or Judge Clarence Thomas ‚ÄĒ which of those are not good people?”

Sessions attributed the remark to “a¬†cultural thing,” noting how he¬†became a federal prosecutor in the 1980s “and the drugs were being used widely, over a period years it became unfashionable, unpopular, and it was seen as such that good people didn’t use marijuana. That was the context of that statement.”

During a Senate hearing last month, the attorney general said that¬†allowing more researchers to¬†legally grow more marijuana¬†for scientific studies would be “healthy.”

He has yet to respond to pending written questions stemming from that hearing about a federal budget rider that prevents the Justice Department from interfering with state medical cannabis laws.

This story was first published by Forbes.

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.

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 20-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.)

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Amazon Endorses GOP-Led Bill To Federally Legalize Marijuana

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Amazon, the second largest private employer in the U.S., is backing a Republican-led bill to federally legalize, tax and regulate marijuana.

The company’s public policy division said on Tuesday that it is “pleased to endorse” the legislation from Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC), who filed the States Reform Act in November as a middle-ground alternative to more scaled back GOP proposals and wide-ranging legalization bills that are being championed by Democrats.

“Like so many in this country, we believe it‚Äôs time to reform the nation‚Äôs cannabis policy and Amazon is committed to helping lead the effort,” the company, which previously expressed support for a separate, Democratic-led legalization bill, said.

Amazon has worked to adapt to changing marijuana policies internally as it’s backed congressional reform, enacting an employment policy change last year to end drug testing for cannabis for most workers, for example.

Months after making that change‚ÄĒand following the introduction of the States Reform Act‚ÄĒMace met with Amazon and received the company’s endorsement, Forbes reported.

‚ÄúThey don‚Äôt want to sell it,‚ÄĚ the freshman congresswoman said, adding that Amazon is primarily interested in backing the reform for hiring purposes instead of as a way to eventually sell cannabis. “It opens up the hiring pool by about 10 percent.‚ÄĚ

Brian Huseman, Amazon‚Äôs vice president of public policy, said the bill “offers comprehensive reform that speaks to the emergence of a bipartisan consensus to end the federal prohibition of cannabis.‚ÄĚ

Amazon’s drug testing decision was widely celebrated by reform advocates and industry stakeholders. Initially, the company only talked about ending the policy going forward. But it later disclosed that the policy change would also be retroactive, meaning former workers and applicants who were punished for testing positive for THC will have their employment eligibility restored.

The reason for the move away from marijuana testing was multifaceted, Amazon said at the time. The growing state-level legalization movement has made it ‚Äúdifficult to implement an equitable, consistent, and national pre-employment marijuana testing program,‚ÄĚ data shows that drug testing ‚Äúdisproportionately impacts people of color and acts as a barrier to employment‚ÄĚ and ending the requirement will widen the company‚Äôs applicant pool.

The GOP congresswoman’s bill already has the support of the influential, Koch-backed conservative group Americans for Prosperity.

The measure would end federal cannabis prohibition while taking specific steps to ensure that businesses in existing state markets can continue to operate unencumbered by changing federal rules.

Mace’s legislation has been characterized as an attempt to bridge a partisan divide on federal cannabis policy. It does that by incorporating certain equity provisions such as expungements for people with non-violent cannabis convictions and imposing an excise tax, revenue from which would support community reinvestment, law enforcement and Small Business Administration (SBA) activities.

Marijuana Moment first reported on an earlier draft version of the bill in November, and it quickly became apparent that industry stakeholders see an opportunity in the Republican-led effort.

The reason for that response largely comes down to the fact that there‚Äôs skepticism that Democratic-led legalization bills‚ÄĒincluding the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act that Amazon has also endorsed‚ÄĒwill be able to pass without GOP buy-in. While Democrats hold majorities in both chambers, in addition to controlling the White House, the margins for passage are slim.

The MORE Act did clear the House Judiciary Committee in September, and a previous version passed the full House during the last Congress. Senate leadership is preparing to file a separate legalization proposal after unveiling a draft version in July.

Virginia House Committee Pushes Back Psychedelics Decriminalization Bill Until 2023, But Senate Proposal Still Pending

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Virginia House Committee Pushes Back Psychedelics Decriminalization Bill Until 2023, But Senate Proposal Still Pending

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A bill to decriminalize a wide array of psychedelics in Virginia was taken up by a House of Delegates panel on Monday, only to be pushed off until 2023. But there’s still a separate but similar reform proposal that’s pending in the Senate.

Advocates were hopeful that a House Courts of Justice subcommittee would advance the reform, especially after an amendment from the sponsor was adopted to more narrowly apply decriminalization to medical practitioners and people using psychedelics in treatment with a practitioner.

But following some discussion of Del. Dawn Adams’s (D) bill, members approved a motion to carry it over to next year to give the legislature more time to refine it and build support. It was a disappointment for activists, and there was particular surprise that the delay motion was made by House Minority Leader Charniele Herring (D)‚Äé, who is well known for championing marijuana legalization in the state.

Adams said in her opening remarks before the subcommittee that she has “spent considerable time hearing from researchers, meeting with both local and nationwide community advocates, speaking with veterans and personally reading dozens of publications and studies about the benefits of plant medicine.”

“What I’ve been able to learn is that there is strong evidence to support plant medicines‚ÄĒonce thought dangerous‚ÄĒthat really are effective and safe treatments,” she said.

There seemed to be some confusion among certain members about what the legislation would actually do.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,000 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

One member asked whether doctors would be able to prescribe psychedelics and whether the state would “see peyote stores and psilocybin stores basically popping up.”

The bill as amended wouldn’t legalize psychedelics for medical or recreational use. It would simply make it so practitioners and people participating in psychedelics treatment would face a $100 fine for possessing peyote, ibogaine, psilocybin or psilocyn. Currently, such possession is considered a Class 5 felony.

Any dollars collected from psychedelics possession violations would go to the state’s Drug Offender Assessment and Treatment Fund, which supports substance misuse treatment programs and drug courts.

But following testimony from advocates and researchers, Herring said that “there’s a lot of issues have been raised” and that she’d like to see a “prescription element” built into the legislation. Of course, because the psychedelics are federally controlled substances, doctors are precluded from prescribing them, but they could theoretically make recommendations, as is done in medical cannabis states.

In any case, the motion carried and that bill has now been set aside until next year. Now advocates are eager to see what happens with a separate, more limited reform measure that was considered in the Senate Judiciary Committee last week.

At that meeting, there was bipartisan support‚ÄĒincluding from the GOP minority leader‚ÄĒbut also talk about making the decriminalization proposal more medically focused. The sponsor, Sen. Ghazala Hashmi (D), agreed to go back and make revisions so that the panel could reconsider it at a future meeting. The expectation was that it would be taken back up this week, but it’s not currently listed on the panel’s agenda for Wednesday.

The bill is scaled back compared to the House version because, as drafted, it would only decriminalize psilocybin and psilocyn by adults 21 and older. It’s unclear what kind of amendments the sponsor might offer when the committee takes up the legislation again.

At a recent virtual event organized by the reform group Decriminalize Nature Virginia, the sponsors of both bills participated as hosts, sharing their perspectives about the growing body of research indicating that psychedelics could be powerful tools to combat conditions like treatment-resistant depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

If the legislature does approve the legislation, it could face resistance from the state’s incoming Republican governor, Glenn Youngkin, who has expressed concerns about implementing a commercial marijuana market in line with what the Democratic legislature and outgoing governor approved last year.

These psychedelics reform proposals are some of the latest to be introduced in state legislatures this session as the decriminalization movement spreads.

For example, two Republican Oklahoma lawmakers recently filed bills meant to promote research into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin, and one of the measures would further decriminalize low-level possession of the psychedelic.

A GOP Utah lawmaker also introduced a bill last week that would set up a task force to study and make recommendations on the therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs and possible regulations for their lawful use.

In Kansas, A lawmaker also recently filed a bill to legalize the low-level possession and cultivation of psilocybin mushrooms.

A Republican Missouri lawmaker introduced a bill this month to give residents with serious illnesses legal access to a range of psychedelic drugs like psilocybin, ibogaine and LSD  through an expanded version of the state’s existing right-to-try law.

California Sen. Scott Wiener (D) told Marijuana Moment in a recent interview that his bill to legalize psychedelics possession stands a 50/50 chance of reaching the governor’s desk this year. It already cleared the full Senate and two Assembly committees during the first half of the two-year session.

In Michigan, a pair of state senators introduced a bill in September to legalize the possession, cultivation and delivery of various plant- and fungi-derived psychedelics like psilocybin and mescaline.

Washington State lawmakers¬†also introduced legislation this month¬†that would legalize what the bill calls ‚Äúsupported psilocybin experiences‚ÄĚ by adults 21 and older.

In Vermont, a broad coalition of lawmakers representing nearly a third of the House introduced a bill to decriminalize drug possession.

New Hampshire lawmakers filed measures to decriminalize psilocybin and all drugs.

Last year, the governor of Connecticut signed legislation that includes language requiring the state to carry out a study into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin mushrooms.

At the congressional level, bipartisan lawmakers sent a letter to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) this month, urging that the agency allow terminally ill patients to use psilocybin as an investigational treatment without the fear of federal prosecution.

Oklahoma Republicans File Bills To Decriminalize Psilocybin And Encourage Research On Medical Benefits

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Mississippi Lawmakers Reach Deal To Send Medical Marijuana Bill To Governor This Week

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Mississippi House and Senate lawmakers have reached an agreement to send a bill to legalize medical marijuana to the governor’s desk this week. Following Senate action on Tuesday, the bill will now go to a bicameral conference committee to finalize details of the legislation, with votes in both chambers for final passage expected on Wednesday.

Sen. Kevin Blackwell (R) and Rep. Lee Yancey (R) discussed the agreement at a press conference on Tuesday. There was an opportunity for a concurrence vote in the Senate‚ÄĒwhere the bill originated and advanced to the House this month and was then amended‚ÄĒbut following pushback from the Mississippi Municipal League (MML) over a House change related to zoning rules for cannabis businesses, the Senate voted against concurrence and will instead move the measure to conference.

This comes more than 14 months after voters in Mississippi passed an initiative to legalize medical cannabis‚ÄĒa law the state Supreme Court later overturned. And the bill that’s being tweaked again is the result of months of negotiations and last-minute changes to a nearly 450-page bill.

“This has been a long journey, and it‚Äôs nice to be in a place where everyone is in agreement,” Yancey said on Tuesday. “It looks like we will finally be able to provide relief to those people with debilitating illnesses who so badly need it. Medical cannabis will now be an option for them as soon as we get the conference report signed and sent to the governor.”

While the overall bill will remain largely the same as an earlier version passed by the Senate this month, the recent House amendments reduced the overall monthly amount of cannabis products available to patients, removed the Department of Agriculture and Commerce from oversight of the industry and expanded zoning allowances for cannabis cultivators and processors.

Only the zoning allowances provision will change. Instead of allowing cultivators and processors to operate in commercial zoning areas, as would have been allowed under the bill as amended by the House, they would only be permitted in industrial or agriculture zoned areas, satisfying MML.

Assuming that conference goes as planned, the legislature will then formally transmit the bill to Gov. Tate Reeves (R), who then has five days, excluding Sundays, either to sign it into law or return it with objections. Both the Senate and House, however, have passed the legislation with veto-proof majorities. If the governor doesn’t take any action by the deadline, the bill will become law without his signature.

Reeves has been wary of legalization in recent months, at one point threatening to veto a draft bill if it made it to his desk. Since then, proponents in the legislature have worked to balance the voter-approved initiative’s more permissive proposals against the governor’s calls for tighter restrictions.

The governor said last week that the measure has become ‚Äúbetter‚ÄĚ with every revision and rightly predicted further amendments by the House.

Provided the bill becomes law, dispensaries would be licensed about six months later, meaning Mississippi’s medical cannabis program could be up and running, at least in limited form, by the end of the year.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,000 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

The bill, SB 2095, draws heavily from provisions negotiated by lawmakers in the second half of last year, as legislative leaders prepared a bill for an anticipated special session last summer that the governor never called. Supporters say the lengthy proposal represents a middle ground between the more permissive plan approved by voters and the narrower approach preferred by Reeves and some lawmakers.

The legislation as amended by the House would allow patients with about two dozen qualifying medical conditions to purchase the equivalent of 3.5 grams of marijuana (or 1 gram of cannabis concentrate) per day, with a maximum monthly limit of 3 ounces. Voters approved a monthly limit of 5 ounces in 2020, and the bill as passed by the Senate last week would have allowed 3.5 ounces, but that was further scaled back by the House earlier this week.

Qualifying conditions under the bill include cancer, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, muscular dystrophy, glaucoma, spastic quadriplegia, HIV, AIDS, hepatitis, Alzheimer’s, sickle-cell anemia, Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, neuropathy, spinal cord disease or severe injury as well as chronic medical conditions or treatments that produce severe nausea, cachexia or wasting, seizures, severe or persistent muscle spasms or chronic pain.

Further conditions could be added later by regulators via petition. State-issued patient registration cards would cost $25, though some people could qualify for a lower price.

Registered patients would be subject to purchase limits that would restrict them to no more than one ‚Äúmedical cannabis equivalency unit‚ÄĚ per day, which the bill defines as 3.5 grams of cannabis flower, one gram of concentrate or up to 100 milligrams of THC in infused products. While those limits are significantly lower than in most states where cannabis is legal for medical patients, Reeves said last year the program should allow only half those amounts.

Patients or caretakers would be forbidden from growing their own cannabis under the proposal. Products from state-licensed companies, meanwhile, would be limited to 30 percent THC for cannabis flower and 60 percent for concentrates.

There would be no limit on the number of licensed businesses under the plan.

Medical marijuana would be taxed at a wholesale rate of 5 percent, and purchases would also be subject to state sales tax.

While smoking and vaping cannabis is allowed for patients, both would be illegal in public and in motor vehicles. It would still be a crime for patients to drive under the influence.

The legislation would task the Mississippi Department of Health to oversee the new industry and establish a nine-member advisory committee to make recommendations on issues such as patient access and industry safety.

Previous versions of the bill also tasked the state Commission of Agriculture and Commerce with regulatory duties, but the House removed the agency through an amendment. Commissioner Andy Gipson, who for months had pushed back against the plan, thanked House Speaker Philip Gunn and other lawmakers for making the change in a statement issued last week.

‚ÄúThe best place for a truly medical program is under the Department of Health, which reflects the will of the voters in Initiative 65,‚ÄĚ Gipson said, according to SuperTalk Mississippi. ‚ÄúThis change is good policy for Mississippi agriculture and allows us to focus on our core mission. It is also good policy for the taxpayers of Mississippi because it achieves greater efficiency in the use of funds by reducing the number of agencies involved in the program.‚ÄĚ

Licensing of cannabis businesses other than dispensaries‚ÄĒincluding cultivators, processors, transporters, disposal entities, testing labs and research facilities‚ÄĒwould begin 120 days after the bill‚Äôs passage, with the first licenses issued about a month after that. The dispensary licensing process would kick off 150 days after passage, with the first licenses coming a month later.

Cannabis businesses may have to get seek local approval to operate, and municipalities can adopt zoning and land use restrictions.¬†In general, local governments could not ban medical cannabis businesses outright or ‚Äúmake their operation impracticable,‚ÄĚ the bill says, but a separate provision would allow local governments to opt out of the program altogether within 90 days of the bill‚Äôs passage. In such cases, citizens could then petition to put the question to a vote.

Mississippi voters decisively approved¬†a broad legalization initiative in November 2020. The state Supreme Court overturned the measure on procedural grounds last May‚ÄĒsimultaneously doing away with the state‚Äôs entire initiative process.

For much of last year, it appeared lawmakers were set to pass a medical marijuana bill during a special legislative session, but the governor ultimately decided against calling the special session after reaching an impasse with lawmakers. Those who supported legalization said at the time that responsibility for the failure rested with Reeves.

Later that month, Reeves dodged questions from patient advocates about why he‚Äôd failed to call the special session. Then in late December, he said on social media that he had ‚Äúrepeatedly told the members of the Legislature that I am willing to sign a bill that is truly medical marijuana,‚ÄĚ but stressed that there should be ‚Äúreasonable restrictions.‚ÄĚ

Last week, before the House floor vote, Yancey, who chairs the House Drug Policy Committee and who’s been working on the legislation with Blackwell, said that he never imagined he’d be in the position to legalize cannabis. But he said he worked to ensure the bill was focused on providing medicine to patients, not paving a route to a recreational program as critics have claimed.

‚ÄúWhen I got involved in this bill, I said, ‚ÄėHow can we build a wall around this program so the people who get it are the people who need it the most, and only the people who need it the most?‚ÄĚ Yancey said. ‚ÄúThis is not for everybody out on the street. This is not for a bunch of kids. This is for hurting people with debilitating conditions.‚ÄĚ

A poll released in June found that a majority of Mississippi voters support legalizing marijuana for both medical and recreational use, with 63 percent saying they want the legislature to pass a bill that mirrors the ballot measure that was nullified by the Supreme Court.

New York Doctors Can Now Recommend Medical Marijuana To Patients For Any Condition They See Fit

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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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