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Trump Administration Considering Marijuana Policy Changes, Sessions Says

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U.S. Department of Justice officials met to discuss potential changes to federal marijuana enforcement policy this week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced.

“We’re working on that very hard right now,” he said on Wednesday. “We had meetings yesterday and talked about it at some length. It’s my view that the use of marijuana is detrimental and we should not give encouragement in any way to it. And it represents a federal violation which is in the law and is subject to being enforced, and our priorities will have to be focused on all the things and challenges that we face.”

Sessions was responding to questions from reporters at a press conference about new initiatives to combat opioid trafficking.

“We’ve got fentanyl, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and prescription drugs and marijuana and other drugs. So we’ll be working our way through to a rational policy,” he said. “But I don’t want to suggest in any way that this Department believes that marijuana is harmless and people should not avoid it.”

The comments come just two weeks after Sessions testified before the House Judiciary Committee that the Trump administration was continuing, at least for now, an Obama-era policy of generally respecting the right of states to set their own cannabis laws without federal interference.

“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 at the time, referring to his attorney general predecessors during the Obama administration.

Sessions, a longtime vocal opponent of marijuana legalization, previously said that the Obama policy on state marijuana laws remains in effect while the Department of Justice reviews potential changes.

Under the so-called “Cole Memo,” 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.

Last week, Bush administration Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said it would be a mistake for Sessions to interfere with state marijuana laws.

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.

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Politics

GOP Congressman: Legal Marijuana Has “Possibility To Create Jobs”

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Legalizing marijuana might be a way to help lift rural areas of Virginia out of poverty, a Republican who represents part of the state in Congress says.

“The lands out in Southwest are conducive to be able to grow that for medicinal purposes, or whatever it is, for other research purposes, and even recreational use for some areas, if Virginia chooses to legalize it in that way,” Congressman Scott Taylor said on Wednesday. “And if Virginia goes that way I think there is the possibility to create jobs down in the Southwest.”

Taylor, who was answering a caller’s question during an appearance on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, added that he supports letting states set their own cannabis laws without federal interference.

“I think we should decriminalize it and leave it up to the states,” he said. “I do believe it’s a state decision, not a federal decision.”

Taylor, a freshman member of Congress, is a cosponsor of a pending House bill to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act.

“When I was in the state House we voted to legalize industrial hemp, which is also another product that would grow well in Southwest just as tobacco did,” Taylor added. “So I think there’s product there.”

Advocates believe that Virginia has a good chance of decriminalizing cannabis in 2018. Incoming Gov. Ralph Northam, A Democrat, spoke often about cannabis on the campaign trail, consistently describing criminalization’s impact in stark racial justice terms.

New Virginia Governor Pledges Marijuana Decriminalization

Republican Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment has announced he will file a decriminalization bill when the new legislative session begins in January.

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Vermont Will Legalize Marijuana Within Weeks, Officials Indicate

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Vermont appears poised to become the next state to legalize marijuana. And, according to top elected officials, it is likely to do so within a matter of weeks.

Last week, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, a Democrat, said she expects “it likely will pass in early January.” Days earlier, Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, said he is “comfortable” signing a cannabis legalization bill into law in early 2018. And on Thursday, Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe, a member of the Progressive Party, said he and his colleagues “look forward to working with the governor to make sure that that bill gets to the finish line.”

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 M a n u e l.

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Here’s What Jeff Sessions Discussed In Secret With Anti-Marijuana Activists

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Last week, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions held a behind-closed-doors meeting about marijuana with anti-legalization activists.

Now, thanks to the fact that Sessions inadvertently showed an agenda for the meeting to a TV camera that was in the room to capture introductions — along with some high-tech sleuthing — we know what the prohibitionists discussed in secret after reporters were kicked out.

A Twitter user with the handle @MentalMocean was able to enhance a screen capture of the document that Marijuana Moment posted.

Enhanced photo.

The document appears to read:

Agenda

Bertha Madras: Marijuana is not a substitute for opiates as a pain medication.

Dr. Hoover Adger: The harm from today’s marijuana.

Dr. Bob DuPont: The effect of marijuana on drugged driving.

David Evans: The role that the Food and Drug Administration can and should [obscured]

[obscured] The organizations you can speak for and what you and they are [obscured] people from recreational marijuana use.

[obscured] law enforcement thinks of the commercialization of [obscured] law enforcement would support an enforcement initiative.

[obscured] course of marijuana commercialization in the states if the [obscured] not intervene.

The enhanced photo makes clear that the anti-legalization activists made a concerted pitch during meeting to convince Sessions to launch a federal crackdown on states that have ended cannabis prohibition.

In attendance, according to video of the opening introductions captured by a pool photographer and posted by C-SPAN, were:

  • Edwin Meese III, U.S. attorney general under the Reagan administration
  • Kevin Sabet, president and CEO of Smart Approaches to Marijuana
  • Bertha Madras, a former Office of National Drug Control Policy staffer and a member of President Trump’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis
  • Robert DuPont, former director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse
  • David Evans, executive director of the Drug Free Schools Coalition
  • Dr. Hoover Adger, Johns Hopkins Hospital

“I think it’s a big issue for America, for the country, and I’m of the general view that this is not a healthy substance,” Sessions said at the beginning of the gathering. “I think that’s pretty clear. And then have the policy response that we and the federal government needs to be prepared to take and do so appropriately and with good sense.”

“I appreciate the opportunity to hear your analysis on marijuana and some of the related issues,” Sessions told the group. “I do believe, and I’m afraid, that the public is not properly educated on some of the issues related to marijuana. And that would be a matter that we could, all of us together, maybe be helpful in working on and that would allow better policy to actually be enacted.”

The group’s roundtable discussion itself, which took place after initial introductions, was closed to the press.

The gathering comes as the Justice Department’s overall position on marijuana policy remains uncertain. Sessions has in recent weeks sent mixed signals about his plans for federal marijuana enforcement under the Trump administration.

Last month, he testified before Congress that an Obama-era Justice Department memo that generally allows states to implement their own marijuana laws without interference remains in effect. But he separately told reporters at a briefing that his department is actively conducting talks about potential changes to the policy.

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.

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