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Stop Jeff Sessions From Busting Medical Marijuana, Bipartisan Lawmakers Demand

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A bipartisan group of 62 members of Congress is asking House leaders to protect state medical marijuana policies and the patients and businesses that rely on them from federal enforcement agents and prosecutors.

“We respectfully request that you include language barring the Department of Justice from prosecuting those who comply with their state’s medical marijuana laws,” the lawmakers, led by Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), wrote in a letter sent to the top Republican and Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee on Friday. “We believe such a policy is not only consistent with the wishes of a bipartisan majority of the members of the House, but also with the wishes of the American people.”

The provision, which has been part of federal law since 2014, is a rider to appropriations legislation that prevents the Drug Enforcement Administration and other Justice Department agencies from spending money to interfere with the implementation of state policies allowing medical cannabis.

It was first approved by a House floor vote of 219-189 in 2014 and then again in 2015 by a margin of 242-186. It has also been adopted by the Senate Appropriations Committee in a series of bipartisan votes.

But it is at risk of expiring soon because it only concerns individual years’ spending bills and must be proactively renewed annually in order to remain in effect.

“We believe that the consistent, bipartisan support for such protections against federal enforcement, combined with the fact that similar language has been in place since December 2014, makes a strong case for including similar language in your base FY 2019 appropriations bill,” the lawmakers wrote in the new letter.

Although federal courts have ruled that the provision protects people who are using, producing or selling medical marijuana in accordance with state laws, its language does have some ambiguities and those rulings currently only cover certain states. Accordingly, the supportive legislators want its provisions to be clarified in the new funding bill.

“Because of parliamentary restrictions on what may be offered as a floor amendment to appropriations bills, the amendment has historically been narrowly structured,” the wrote. “To provide the Department of Justice, states, and the residents of those states additional clarity and stability, we request that you include slightly modified language that reads as follows:

“None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used to enforce federal prohibitions involving the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of marijuana for medical purposes that are permitted by the laws of the state, the District of Columbia, or US. territory where the act was committed, or to prevent states, the District of Columbia, or US. territories from implementing their own laws that permit the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of marijuana for medical purposes.”

In January, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded a separate Obama-era Justice Department memo that has generally cleared the way for states to implement their own marijuana laws without federal interference.

In light of the Sessions move, some lawmakers want to expand the existing medical cannabis protections even further so that they cover all state marijuana laws, including those that allow recreational use and sales. Last month, for example, a bipartisan group of 18 senators sent a letter to congressional leaders asking that they broaden the language.

Such a measure came just nine flipped votes short of passage on the House floor in 2015. Since then, the number of states with legalization has more than doubled, meaning that a lot more members of Congress now represent constituents who would stand to be protected by it. But House leaders have consistently blocked cannabis amendments from even being considered over the past year and a half, so supporters have not been able to get another vote on the broader protections.

The new letter from lawmakers concerns funding legislation for Fiscal Year 2019, which begins on October 1. Separately, however, there is a concern that the medical marijuana protections may expire as soon as next week. That’s because Congress has not yet finalized Fiscal Year 2018 spending bills and has funded the government through a series of short-term extensions, with the current one set to run out on Friday, March 23.

Congressional leaders are expected to reveal an omnibus spending bill covering the period through September as soon as this weekend. While the Senate version of 2018 Justice Department legislation contains the medical cannabis rider, the House version does not due to leaders’ blocking a vote on the measure. It is unknown whether the Senate language will make it into the final bill set to be released in the coming days.

In a separate letter sent to appropriations leaders, 14 members of Congress are asking to cut funding for the Drug Enforcement Administration’s cannabis eradication program.

“Throughout the country, states are increasingly turning away from marijuana prohibition and enacting alternative policies to lower crime rates, free up limited law enforcement resources, and keep drugs out of the hands of children,” the wrote. “Despite both the Cannabis Eradication Program’s proven ineffectiveness and the seismic shift in attitudes on marijuana policy within Congress and across our nation, the DEA continues to spend millions of taxpayer dollars on this program, spending $22 million in 2015 alone. There is no justification for spending this kind of money on an antiquated program never shown to be effective.”

Read the full text of the new medical marijuana from lawmakers below:

FY2019 Protect State Medical Marijuana Programs 03.16.2018[2] by tomangell on Scribd

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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 serves as chairman of 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.)

Business

Sen. Jeff Merkley “Disappointed” That Democrats Blocked His Marijuana Banking Amendment

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One of the U.S. Senate’s foremost champions for marijuana law reform says he is “disappointed” that fellow Democrats recently joined with Republicans in blocking his amendment to increase cannabis businesses’ access to banks.

Last month, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) offered a measure that would have shielded banks that open accounts for state-legal marijuana businesses from being punished by federal regulators for that activity even though cannabis remains illegal under federal law.

While the Senate Appropriations Committee had approved two similar amendments in previous years, the panel this time voted to table the measure with a bipartisan vote of 21 – 10, with ranking member Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and other Democrats who normally support marijuana reform objecting on procedural grounds.

“I was disappointed,” Merkley said in an interview with BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith on Monday. “We had passed this twice before.”

“We need to establish banking for cannabis because a cash economy is an invitation to money laundering and theft and cheating your employees and cheating on your taxes [and] organized crime. All bad.”

“I accompanied the owner of a company who had $70,000 in his backpack to pay quarterly taxes,” Merkley recounted in response to the cannabis banking question on Monday, which was suggested to BuzzFeed by Marijuana Moment’s editor. “It’s so bizarre going down the freeway and talking about how they have to pay their employees in cash, have to pay their suppliers in cash. It’s a bad system.”

“Everyone should agree: States’ rights on this. Let the states have an electronic system to track what these businesses are doing, not billions of dollars floating around like this.”

Despite his disappointment with the measure being blocked, the Oregon Democrat, who is believed to be considering a 2020 presidential run, said that his colleagues “had a fair point to make on the policy front” in tabling the measure.

At the time, Leahy argued that spending bills such as the one before the committee should be kept “free of new controversial policy riders” and that a more appropriate forum would be an authorizing committee that sets banking laws.

“It wasn’t existing policy and therefore it was new policy,” Merkley acknowledged in the new interview.

But he pointed out that there are few other avenues available for senators to pursue the issue.

“Here’s the thing. Normally we could take these policy bills like I was putting forward [and] you could put it on the floor of the Senate as an amendment to something,” he said. “In 2017, outside of the budget process, not a single amendment was considered on the floor of the Senate… This is the end of the Senate really as a deliberative body on policy. So if you’re blocked in the Appropriations Committee, and you’re blocked on the floor, then it’s very hard to put ideas out there and say, ‘Hey vote on this. This matters.'”

The House Appropriations Committee also defeated a cannabis banking amendment last month.

See the video of Merkley’s remarks at about 19:15 into the clip below:

Photo courtesy of Senate Democrats.

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Politics

County Officials From Across The U.S. Push Feds To Reform Marijuana Laws

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An organization representing the 3,069 county governments across the U.S. is calling on the federal government to allow states to legalize marijuana without interference.

“The federal government should largely be responsible for regulating and enforcing against illegal drug trafficking, while respecting states’ right to decriminalize cannabis under state law,” reads a new platform plank adopted on Monday by the National Association of Counties (NACo).

“NACo urges Congress to enact legislation that promotes the principles of federalism and local control of cannabis businesses with regard to medical and adult-use of cannabis under state law,” a related provision says. “Congress should allow and encourage state and local governments to enact and implement cannabis laws, regulations, and policies that appropriately control production, processing, sales, distribution and use, as well as promote public and consumer safety, should they choose to decriminalize and regulate cannabis under state law.”

The group is also calling on the federal government to make moves to expand banking access for marijuana businesses and broaden research on cannabis’s medical effects.

The county officials’ new stance is similar to resolutions adopted last month by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

“The United States Conference of Mayors urges the White House, U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to immediately remove cannabis from the schedule of the CSA to enable U.S. federal banking regulators to permanently authorize financial institutions to provide services to commercial cannabis businesses, and increase the safety of the public,” one of the mayoral group’s positions says.

Mayors From Across U.S. Call On Feds To Deschedule Marijuana

Marijuana Moment supporters on Patreon can read the full text of the new NACo marijuana positions below:

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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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