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Trump Considers Replacing Sessions With Another Marijuana Opponent

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President Trump is reportedly weighing a plan to fire U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and potentially replace him with Scott Pruitt, who currently leads the Environmental Protection Agency.

Marijuana industry operators and consumers might initially breathe a sigh of relief at the prospect of Sessions leaving the Justice Department, since it is difficult to imagine a more hostile opponent of legalization than the current attorney general.

But a look at Pruitt’s record on cannabis, and the prospect of him taking on oversight of federal drug law enforcement, will likely alarm many in the cannabis community.

Pruitt’s Anti-Marijuana Record

As Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt filed a federal lawsuit against neighboring Colorado’s marijuana policies. While the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately decided not to take the case, briefs from Pruitt and his Nebraska co-plaintiff made clear a personal disdain for cannabis legalization.

Trying to draw a connection to previous environmental disputes between states, one brief called legal marijuana a “state-authorized pollutant.”

“Colorado authorized the generation of a harmful, illegal substance that by the foreseeable operation of users and abusers inevitably enters and causes injury in Nebraska and Oklahoma,” it said. “Nebraska and Oklahoma can no more prevent Colorado’s marijuana from crossing its borders than it can prevent its winds from blowing and rivers from flowing.”

Pruitt and his Nebraska counterpart also compared the possibility that the Supreme Court wouldn’t overturn Colorado’s marijuana law to “saying that a tavern keeper cannot be held responsible for the drunk who kills a family with his car even though he knowingly sold the drunk ten beers in two hours.”

In a separate instance of prohibitionist legal advocacy, Pruitt attempted to rewrite the ballot title for a medical cannabis measure in his own state.

“This measure legalizes the licensed use, sale, and growth of marijuana in Oklahoma,” he edited the language to read, in what appeared to be a fairly transparent move to make voters think it was a recreational initiative. “There are no qualifying medical conditions identified.”

Advocates sued, and the state Supreme Court ultimately overturned the attorney general’s changes. But the delay meant that the measure was bumped from the 2016 general election ballot to this year’s June 26 primary.

Perhaps even more alarming from a potential U.S. attorney general, filings from Pruitt’s office in the Oklahoma case assert that states don’t have the right to enact their own cannabis laws in contravention of federal prohibition. He even went so far as to imply that local officials charged with implementing legalization policies could be prosecuted under federal law.

“A state may not establish its own policy that is directly counter to federal policy against trafficking in controlled substances,” read one brief. “[The Oklahoma initiative] requires State officials to conspire…to violate federal drug laws by issuing licenses that will break federal law if certain preconditions are met, and to arguably share in the profits for breaking federal law by taxing the sale of marijuana.”

Separately, Pruitt moved last year as EPA administrator to block approval of pesticides for use on marijuana in states where it is legal.

“Any economic, social or environmental costs associated with pesticide use on cannabis would not be reasonable or justified in light of the fact that such use is in furtherance of an illegal act,” he wrote, referring to federal law.

Trump Wants To Dump Sessions

Trump is upset with Sessions over his decision to recuse himself from the investigation into Russia’s attempts to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election, a move that the president believes made him vulnerable to scrutiny by special prosecutor Robert Mueller.

Now, amidst a broader administration shakeup that has already led to the dismissal of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Trump may take the opportunity to show Sessions the door, Vanity Fair reported on Wednesday.

“According to two Republicans in regular contact with the White House, there have been talks that Trump could replace Sessions with E.P.A. Administrator Scott Pruitt, who would not be recused from overseeing the Russia probe,” the magazine wrote. “Also, as an agency head and former state attorney general, Pruitt would presumably have a good shot at passing a Senate confirmation hearing.”

In January, Politico reported Pruitt “told friends and associates that he’s interested in becoming attorney general.”

Pruitt Confirmation Not A Sure Thing

Sessions, a longtime legalization opponent, moved in January to rescind an Obama-era memo that has generally allowed states to implement their own marijuana laws without federal interference.

That led Sen. Cory Gardner, Republican of Colorado, to block Department of Justice nominations in protest.

After public back-and-forth between the senator and attorney general, as well as closed-door meetings, Gardner agreed to lift holds on select positions.

But if Trump were to move to replace Sessions with another hardcore cannabis prohibitionist — one who has actually sued Gardner’s own state over the issue, no less — it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which the Colorado senator would support confirmation. And even if he didn’t block a floor vote outright, which he very well may be willing to do, his individual support for the nomination would be crucial in a Senate that is narrowly divided along party lines by just a two-seat margin.

Pruitt’s views on the ability of states to legalize marijuana would also likely draw skepticism from other Republican senators who have been active on the issue, such as Rand Paul of Kentucky and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

Confirmation Vote Might Not Be Needed

But even if Pruitt’s confirmation by the Senate seems precarious, Trump may have another option. Under the 1998 Vacancies Reform Act, presidents can appoint any previously Senate-confirmed official to other posts for limited periods of time. Because Pruitt was approved as EPA administrator last year, he’s eligible.

While that means Pruitt could be installed as attorney general without another Senate vote, he wouldn’t be able to keep the job permanently.

“Under the VRA, such a person could serve as acting attorney general for only 210 days—plus another 210 days if Trump eventually gets around to nominating someone,” Politico reported.

And 420 days is a lot of time to build on Sessions’s anti-marijuana moves and do further damage to the businesses and consumers that are complying with state laws.

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 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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Congressional Committee Asks JUUL For Documents On Marijuana Partnerships

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Is the e-cigarette company JUUL planning on expanding its stake in the marijuana industry?

That’s one question the chair of a congressional subcommittee asked the company in a letter concerning JUUL’s role in the “youth e-cigarette epidemic” earlier this month.

Lawmakers have frequently criticized JUUL for making products—specifically flavored e-cigarette cartridges—that allegedly appeal to young people at a time when rates of cigarette use are steadily declining. But while JUUL was developed by the cannabis vaporizer company PAX, it hasn’t announced plans to further partner with marijuana companies.

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), who chairs the House Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, apparently sees the possibility on the horizon, though.

In a letter sent to JUUL on June 7, the congressman said his panel was investigating youth e-cigarette usage and, specifically, how the company’s marketing tactics might be exacerbating the issue. He requested documents on everything from clinical trials on how JUUL devices divert people away from traditional cigarettes to communications on the company’s rationale for the nicotine concentration of JUUL pods.

Tucked within the extensive request is a question about potential marijuana partnerships. Krishnamoorthi asked for:

“All documents, including memoranda and communications, referring or relating to proposals, plans, and/or intended partnerships or collaborations between JUUL and any cannabis-related companies, including but not limited to Cronos Group.”

It’s not clear where the Cronos-specific mention comes from, but the company has perviously caught the interest of the tobacco industry. The maker of Marlboro cigarettes, Altria Group, invested almost $2 billion in the Canada-based cannabis company in December. Two weeks later, Altria invested $13 billion in JUUL.

Marijuana Moment reached out to JUUL, Cronos and Krishnamoorthi’s office for comment, but representatives did not respond by the time of publication.

If a partnership does emerge, it would likely be met with some controversy, as opponents and proponents of marijuana reform alike have long expressed concern that the tobacco industry would take over the cannabis market and commercialize it in a way that mirrors how it peddled cigarettes.

Of course, given that tobacco use is declining and tobacco companies generally have the infrastructure that would make a pivot to cannabis relatively simple, such a partnership would not be especially surprising.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has made the case several times that tobacco farmers in his state could leverage the federal legalization of industrial hemp and its derivatives by growing the crop to offset profit losses from declining tobacco sales.

Read Rep. Krishnamoorthi’s full letter to JUUL below:

2019-06-07.Krishnamoorthi t… by on Scribd

Americans Want CBD Available Over-The-Counter, Poll Finds

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.

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New York Lawmakers Might Actually Vote On Marijuana Legalization This Week

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With just days left before the end of the legislative session, efforts to legalize marijuana in New York have been revived, with a possible vote this coming week.

Though momentum to pass a legalization measure seemed to largely die off after lawmakers in neighboring New Jersey announced they wouldn’t move forward with plans to end cannabis prohibition through the legislature, advocates are increasingly optimistic that a deal in the Empire State is imminent.

Democratic members in both the Senate and Assembly held conferences last week to discuss details of the legislation. Spectrum News reported that the meetings went well, with members indicating that there’s support for the measure.

That’s just one of several positive signs that a proposal many observers thought was dead for the year has new life.

On Saturday and Sunday, staff for legislative leaders from both chambers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) met to negotiate provisions of a revised legalization plan.

On Wednesday, an earlier Senate version of the bill was assigned “same as” status in the Assembly version. That means the current proposals in each chamber lined up with identical language and is considered to be an indicator that the legislation could pass.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D) said on Friday that his party has yet to determine whether they’ll bring the bill to the floor, but he added that “I think there is support in the conference.”

He also characterized the window of time until the end of the session on Wednesday as “an eternity.”

Cuomo, who said late last month that passing legalization remains a top 10 priority, has said that lawmakers who fail to approve items on his agenda, including ending cannabis prohibition, “should all be primaried, because that is a failure of a basic progressive agenda.”

On the flip side, the chairman of New York’s Democratic Party said earlier this month that if the Senate approves the legalization bill, they run to risk of alienating voters in certain areas such as Long Island and upstate New York. But that argument neglects to account for recent polling that shows voters in those regions strongly support legalization.

Notably, the measure’s most vocal opponents with the anti-legalization Smart Approaches to Marijuana have been sending email blasts in recent days urging their supports to call senators and voice opposition to the bill, giving the impression that the group is anticipating a vote.

Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D), sponsor of the legalization legislation, seemed to confirm that suspicion on Friday, stating that after “conversations with my co-sponsor and colleague in the Senate, I am even more confident of a path for victory.”

But despite that confidence, the fate of legalization in New York remains murky. An analysis earlier this month found that legalization was two votes short of a needed majority in the Senate.

Meanwhile, a number of key elected officials are calling on the governor and lawmakers to not only push legalization over the finish line but to include certain key provisions in the final legislation.

State Attorney General Letitia James (D) sent a letter urging that the bill expunge prior cannabis records.

“Before we create a booming business for legal marijuana, we must provide relief to those individuals that have paid much more to society than what was due,” she wrote.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D), a 2020 presidential candidate, also pushed for expungements and said in a Twitter thread that legalization should “empower local business and not big corporations.”

And the Manhattan and Albany County district attorneys co-authored an op-ed calling leaders to “correct staggering inequities and promote public safety by passing” legalization.

 

The Buffalo News reported on Sunday afternoon that there were still a number of outstanding issues left to be settled between lawmakers, including whether or not home cultivation of cannabis would be allowed, how tax revenue would be allocated and whether localities would have to proactively opt in to allowing marijuana businesses or if there would instead be an opt out provision for those wanting to ban cannabis commerce.

The session ends on Wednesday, and so far no vote has been scheduled in either chamber.

Meanwhile, lawmakers early on Monday morning filed what appears to be backup legislation to expand the decriminalization of marijuana and to provide a process to expunge or vacate prior cannabis convictions. And others support putting legalization on the ballot through a referendum that voters can decide on.

The situation is very fluid, and over the next few days advocates will be stepping up the push for action in Albany. On Sunday, they held a rally outside Cuomo’s Manhattan office.

Bill Allowing Interstate Marijuana Commerce Heads To Oregon Governor’s Desk

This post has been updated to include the latest developments as well as comment from a number of elected officials.

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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Texas Governor Signs Bill To Expand State’s Medical Marijuana Program

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The governor of Texas signed a bill into law on Friday that significantly expands the state’s medical cannabis program.

The legislation, which was overwhelmingly approved by lawmakers last month, adds multiple medical conditions to the list of disorders that qualify patients of low-THC marijuana. Currently only patients with intractable epilepsy qualify under the CBD-focused program.

New qualifying conditions include epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, terminal cancer, autism, spasticity and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed the bill with little fanfare.

Reform advocates said the legislation is a big step in the right direction, even though it doesn’t go as far as they’d hoped. A 0.5 THC cap on marijuana products remained in the bill, for example, and a section that would have established a research program to study the therapeutic potential of cannabis was removed.

“Cannabis is effective medicine for many patients suffering from debilitating medical conditions,” Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, told Marijuana Moment. “HB 3703 represents a positive step toward a functional medical cannabis program, but sadly, it still leaves behind millions of Texas families that could benefit from legal access.”

Also this legislative session, the House of Representatives approved bills to more comprehensively expand the medical cannabis program and to decriminalize marijuana possession, but they died in the Senate.

Abbott signed a hemp legalization bill earlier this week.

Bill Allowing Interstate Marijuana Commerce Heads To Oregon Governor’s Desk

Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

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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