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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

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 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.)

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Berkeley City Council Considers Decriminalizing Psychedelics This Week

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A resolution to decriminalize psilocybin and other psychedelics will go before a Berkeley, California City Council committee on Wednesday.

Decriminalize Nature, the group behind the measure, also led the charge to successfully get a measure decriminalizing entheogenic plants and fungi approved by the City Council in neighboring Oakland last month.

In Berkeley, the Public Safety Committee will discuss the proposal and can either decide to hold it for a future meeting or advance it to the full Council. The public is able to attend Wednesday’s special meeting and share their perspective on the resolution, but Decriminalize Nature stressed in a tweet that this “is a small meeting, so you do NOT need to attend.”

However, city residents are being encouraged to write to their Council members and urge them to vote in favor of the measure, which would codify that “no department, agency, board, commission, officer or employee of the city, including without limitation, Berkeley Police Department personnel, shall use any city funds or resources to assist in the enforcement of laws imposing criminal penalties for the use and possession of Entheogenic Plants by adults of at least 21 years of age.”

The resolution defines the covered substances as “plants and natural sources such as mushrooms, cacti, iboga containing plants and/or extracted combinations of plants similar to ayahuasca; and limited to those containing the following types of compounds: indoleamines, tryptamines, phenethylamines.”

Councilmembers Rigel Robinson and Cheryl Davila are sponsoring the resolution, which does not allow for commercial sales or manufacturing.

The lawmakers provided background information on the measure in a report to their colleagues and the mayor, describing the medical potential of various psychedelics as well as the success of decriminalization measures in Denver and Oakland.

“It is intended that this resolution empowers Berkeley residents to be able to grow their own entheogens, share them with their community, and choose the appropriate setting for their intentions instead of having to rely exclusively on the medical establishment, which is slow to adapt and difficult to navigate for many,” they wrote.

While efforts to eliminate criminal penalties associated with psilocybin and other psychedelics have so far centered in jurisdictions that have historically embraced marijuana legalization and broader drug reform, the conversation around decriminalizing psychedelics is spreading nationally.

Shortly after Oakland approved its measure, Decriminalize Nature received inquiries from activities in cities from across the country. The group has kept track of each city where organizers are pursuing decriminalization.

On Monday, a conversation around changing laws governing psychedelics reared during a City Council meeting in Columbia, Missouri. One resident implored the body to take up a resolution to decriminalize the natural substances, pointing to their therapeutic benefits.

Councilmember Mike Trapp said that the student’s proposal should be considered and that a government advisory board on public health should provide input on the medical potential of psychedelics, describing it as “very promising.”

Hawaii Governor Vetoes Two Cannabis Bills While Letting Decriminalization Become Law

Photo elements courtesy of carlosemmaskype and Apollo.

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Colorado Governor And USDA Official To Discuss CBD At Hemp Event

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Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) and a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) official will speak at a hemp conference next month to discuss policy and regulations concerning hemp-derived dietary supplements.

The American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) announced the lineup of their first-ever hemp and CBD conference last week. The two-day event is meant to “provide critical information for companies navigating the rapidly evolving legal, regulatory and financial landscapes to manufacture and market dietary supplement products with hemp or hemp-derived ingredients including cannabidiol (CBD).”

Following the legalization of hemp and its derivatives under the 2018 Farm Bill, lawmakers and stakeholders have been quick to highlight the industry’s potential and to call for an expedited rulemaking process so that CBD can be lawfully marketed in food items and dietary supplements.

This conference will focus on dietary supplements in particular, with presentations on the current regulatory landscape for such products, compliance issues for hemp businesses and market analysis.

Polis has been a vocal advocate for marijuana reform and pledged in his State of the State address in January that he would make “good on the promise of industrial hemp in Colorado.”

“With our world class universities like Colorado State and Adams State, which are at the forefront of hemp innovation with the leading hemp manufacturers and cultivators already here, we want to seize on this opportunity under the most recent national Farm Bill to help make Colorado the national leader in industrial hemp production,” Polis said at the time.

AHPA’s two-day event will also feature USDA Senior Marketing Specialist William Richmond, who will brief attendees with an update on the department’s progress developing regulations for CBD. The department said last month that it is aiming to release an interim final rule on hemp in August.

But while USDA has regulatory authority over hemp, businesses will also have to await guidance from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on marketing consumable CBD products. FDA said last week that it is “expediting” its rulemaking process and will release a report on its progress by early fall.

Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said that because CBD exists as an FDA-approved drug and hasn’t previously been added to the food supply or in dietary supplements, the agency will have to create an alternative regulatory pathway for the compounds, which could take years without congressional action.

In the meantime, it appears that both federal agencies are taking steps to increase transparency around their regulatory progress. Two days before the USDA official is set to appear at the AHPA conference, an FDA representative is scheduled to keynote a separate hemp industry summit to discuss related issues.

FDA Says It Is Speeding Up The CBD Regulation Process

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Marijuana Legalization Could Be On The Horizon For British Virgin Islands

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The British Virgin Islands (BVI) could soon have a bill to legalize marijuana before the legislature, according to a government official.

Details are sparse, but Agriculture Minister Natalio Wheatley said on Saturday that the draft legislation under consideration would address concerns about youth consumption and impaired driving while ensuring that adults no longer face jail time for simple possession.

“We certainly know that marijuana, which contains THC, has an impact on your disposition. It has an impact on you being able to complete certain tasks,” he said, according to BVI News. “We don’t want to fool everyone into thinking that we think persons should be up and down smoking marijuana through the streets without any sort of regulation.”

He added that he hoped the legislation would make BVI a global model for legalization.

“We certainly support having a well-regulated industry, and the fact that we’re coming in late into this whole discussion of marijuana means that we don’t have to repeat the mistakes that some of our brothers and sisters made in other places,” he said.

The draft bill being circulated reportedly originated under the previous administration and is being improved upon. Wheatley said that residents, who he believes support legalization, should expect community meetings to be scheduled to discuss the proposal.

“Persons will no longer be incarcerated for the possession and consumption of something that is recognized to be a lot less detrimental to your health,” he said. “In fact, we’re speaking about the medicinal value of it than something like alcohol. It’s proven that alcohol is much more damaging to your health than marijuana.”

BVI’s cousin, the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), hasn’t taken the step to allow adult use of marijuana, but the territory’s governor did sign a bill legalizing medical cannabis in January.

The sponsor of the USVI legislation, former senator and current Agriculture Commissioner Terrance “Positive” Nelson, said that he plans to continue to pursue broader reform, and he commended BVI for moving toward a commercial cannabis model.

“I told you already it is not easy to stand up for cannabis. I still have some scars on my back relative to the push in [USVI],” he said. “Here in the British Virgin Islands, you are talking about legalization and I want for local leaders here to continue to be brave enough to move forward.”

“Yes, there is going to be pushbacks. But the truth in the matter is this: the truth is on your side,” he said. “The truth is on our side.”

Hawaii Governor Vetoes Two Cannabis Bills While Letting Decriminalization Become Law

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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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