On Friday, President Donald Trump ousted his acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, and replaced him with Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC).
Meadows has consistently opposed efforts to scale back the federal war on marijuana as a member of Congress.
Just last month, he was one of 12 GOP lawmakers to send a letter thanking a Senate committee chairman for delaying consideration of a House-passed bill to increase marijuana businesses’ access to banks.
“We remain opposed to liberalizing drug laws (including around banking), and we see these as some of our areas of greatest concern,” Meadows and his colleagues wrote. “We must protect our youth by preventing investment into companies that would prey upon them.”
Days after then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions revoked Obama-era guidance directing federal prosecutors to generally respect state marijuana laws in 2018, Meadows was one of only a small handful of lawmakers to defend the move.
“There comes a point where you allow states to affect federal policy instead of the other way around and I think that that’s troubling, he said in a Fox News Channel appearance. “So I support Attorney General Sessions in this move.”
When it comes to his record in Congress, Meadows has consistently voted against amendments and bills to scale back federal prohibition since becoming a member of the House of Representatives in 2013.
He opposed floor amendments to prevent the Department of Justice from interfering with the implementation of state marijuana legalization laws in 2015 and 2019, and also voted against more limited measures focused on protecting local medical cannabis polices in 2014 and 2015.
Meadows even opposed a 2015 amendment to protect children and families relying on very limited CBD-only state laws from Justice Department enforcement actions.
In 2019, he opposed an amendment to remove roadblocks to scientific research on psychedelic drugs.
Meadows has never cosponsored legislation to reduce marijuana penalties, but he did sign on to a 2015 bill—the “No Welfare for Weed Act”—to clarify that people can not use food stamps to buy cannabis products.
Meadows’s appointment comes at a time when Trump’s position on marijuana remains unclear. While he has consistently voiced support for letting states enact their own cannabis laws when asked, his administration has taken a number of steps to undermine that position.
Beyond the move by Sessions’s to rescind the Obama marijuana memo, Trump’s budget proposals to Congress have requested the deletion of a separate provision that shields state medical cannabis laws from federal interference—the same one that Meadows has consistently voted against in the House. And when he has signed spending bills into law that contain the provision, the president has issued statements arguing that he has the right to ignore it.
Last month, a top Trump reelection campaign spokesman said that the administration’s position is that marijuana must be “kept illegal.”
Legalization advocates reacted to Meadows’s new appointment with varying degrees of concern.
“If the president wanted to send a signal that he opposes cannabis reform in 2020, tapping Mark Meadows to be the chief of staff is the way to do it,” Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, said. “With his long record of actively supporting marijuana criminalization and further discriminatory measures against cannabis consumers, Meadows embodies everything that is wrong with the prohibitionist mentality.”
The two major Democratic presidential candidates still left in the 2020 race have differing views on marijuana.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has pledged to enact nationwide cannabis legalization on his first day in office, though some legal experts have questioned whether a president has the power to do so.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, who as a senator led the charge to enact punitive drug laws, opposes legalizing marijuana but has endorsed more modest reforms such as decriminalizing possession, expunging past records and letting states set their own policies.
Don Murphy, federal policies director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said that he’s not worried that the anti-cannabis record of the new White House chief of staff bodes poorly for reform efforts, especially in light of the political opportunity presented by Biden’s decades of drug war advocacy if he is the Democratic nominee.
Meadows’s anti-marijuana votes in the House “were more consistent with those of the primary voting Republicans who sent him to Congress,” Murphy argued.
“In spite of his past record, Meadows will juxtapose Biden’s record on criminal justice and the drug war with Trump’s and it won’t be pretty,” he said. “He might not help us directly, but Meadows will pick at the scab that is Biden’s history and that will be good news for drug policy reformers.”
Ultimately, the personal cannabis views of the chief of staff may not matter much when it comes to administration policy.
“One thing we’ve learned over the past three years is that the only position that matters in the Trump Administration is Trump’s,” Murphy said.
Indeed, during his time a member of the House of Representatives, Mulvaney, the outgoing acting White House chief of staff, consistently voted for marijuana reform amendments—many of the same ones that his successor Meadows opposed—and also proactively signed onto several standalone cannabis bills.
But Mulvaney’s personal support for marijuana reform didn’t translate into positive administration actions on the issue. So while Meadows’s opposition could make somewhat of a difference in terms of what kind of information or decision points make their way to the president’s desk, his personal opposition to legalization might not necessarily mean that additional large-scale anti-cannabis actions are on the way from the administration.
Photo courtesy of YouTube/White House.
Idaho Medical Marijuana Activists ‘Likely’ To Seek Signature Gathering Relief After Court Ruling
A campaign to legalize medical marijuana in Idaho is preparing to potentially collect signatures again, as they are likely to seek the same relief that a federal court recently granted a separate campaign that found its petitioning efforts crippled by the coronavirus pandemic.
The judge said activists behind Reclaim Idaho, which is pushing an initiative on school funding, can start collecting signatures in-person and electronically for 48 days starting July 9. While the Idaho Cannabis Coalition wasn’t involved in that case, they feel the ruling will apply to them and they’re actively monitoring the situation.
“We are in the process of working with the local medical marijuana campaign to assess whether Judge Winmill’s order provides a route for the medical marijuana initiative to still qualify for the November ballot,” Tamar Todd, legal director for the New Approach PAC, which is lending support to the state cannabis effort, told Marijuana Moment.
“The medical marijuana campaign is similarly situated to the Reclaim Idaho campaign and will likely ask for a similar extension of time and permission to collect signatures electronically from the Secretary of State, and if necessary, from the District Court,” she said. “I don’t know the exact timeline as there are a number of moving pieces but it will be quick.”
On June 23, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill gave the state two options: either allow electronic signature gathering for 48 days or simply place the Reclaim Idaho initiative on the ballot regardless of the signature requirement. The state chose neither and proceeded to request that the ruling be stayed.
The judge denied the state’s request to stay the order, so the signature gathering for the school funding campaign can proceed on July 9. The state has since filed an emergency motion with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to challenge the lower court’s ruling.
“The district court order severely and unquestionably disrupts Idaho’s election,” the state deputy attorney general wrote in the motion.
The deadline to submit 55,057 signatures to qualify the cannabis initiative passed on May 1, shortly after the group announced it was suspending petitioning activities because of the health crisis and the stay-at-home social distancing measures the state enacted. The cannabis campaign said it has about 45,000 raw signatures on hand at this point, and they’re confident that can fill the gap if they get the deadline extension and electronic petitioning option.
Under the proposed measure, patients with qualifying conditions could receive medical cannabis recommendations from physicians and then possess up to four ounces of marijuana and grow up to six plants.
While advocates say passing medical marijuana in one of the remaining states without such policies on the books would be a victory for patients in its own right, it could also have outsized federal implications. A House-passed bill to protect banks that service state-legal cannabis businesses from being penalized by federal regulators is currently sitting in limbo in a Senate committee chaired by a senator who represents the state.
Creating a medical marijuana program in Idaho, which is one of small handful of states that don’t yet even have limited CBD laws, could put additional pressure on Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) to move the financial services legislation in Congress.
Summer Dreams Of Marijuana-Infused Slushies Are Melted By Oklahoma Regulators
Bad news for Oklahoma medical marijuana patients trying to beat the summer heat with a marijuana-infused slushy: State regulators say the icy beverages “are unlikely to meet requirements set forth in Oklahoma statutes and rules” for cannabis products.
As the weather heats up, THC-infused slushy machines have been popping up at more and more Oklahoma dispensaries. Made by companies such as Glazees, which offers flavors such as watermelon and blue raspberry, the THC-infused drinks sell for about $12-$15.
But despite their popularity with some patients, regulators say the slushies fail to comply with a number of state rules, such as a requirement that products be packaged in child-resistant containers. Dispensaries themselves also “are not allowed to alter, package, or label products,” regulators said.
State rules further require that all medical marijuana products be tested in their final form. “In this instance, the finished product is the slushy mixture to be dispensed to patients/caregivers, not the syrup,” regulators said. “If water, ice, or any other substance is added to the product, additional testing is required to ensure the product is safe for consumption and final-product labeling is accurate.”
The OMMA has received multiple inquiries regarding the processing and dispensing of marijuana-infused slushies on-site at medical marijuana dispensaries. Learn more here: https://t.co/3b6XFzYe2f pic.twitter.com/MPq4Z3PWft
— Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority (@OMMAOK) July 2, 2020
Regulators didn’t specify how adding water or ice to cannabis products could affect consumer safety, however.
The Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority (OMMA) issued the update on Thursday in what it called a “slushy-machine guidance” memo. The office said it had received “multiple inquiries regarding the processing and dispensing of marijuana-infused slushies on-site at medical marijuana dispensaries.”
It’s not the first obstacle encountered by Oklahoma marijuana businesses, which began popping up across the state voters passed a medical marijuana law in 2018.
Earlier this year, lawmakers passed a wide-ranging medical cannabis expansion bill, which would have allowed out-of-state residents to obtain temporary licenses, permitted licensed businesses to deliver marijuana to customers and eliminated jail time for for first-time possession convictions. But Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) then vetoed the bill, and lawmakers didn’t hold a vote to override the action.
Oklahoma activists also filed a proposed marijuana legalization ballot measure in December, but it’s unlikely the campaign can gather enough signatures to put the measure before voters this November. Their signature-gathering was largely delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, and only last week did the state Supreme Court rule that the campaign could initiate petitioning. Supporters now have about 90 days to gather nearly 178,000 signatures from registered voters.
Photo courtesy of Max Pixel
Virginia Lawmakers Announce Plans To Legalize Marijuana, One Day After Decriminalization Takes Effect
Only a day after a new marijuana decriminalization law took effect in Virginia, top state lawmakers are announcing that they’re already looking ahead to full legalization.
A group of Democratic legislators on Thursday announced plans to introduce a bill to legalize and regulate a commercial cannabis market in the state. While the measure isn’t set to be filed until next year, lawmakers framed legalization as necessary in the fight for social and racial justice.
“Decriminalizing marijuana is an important step in mitigating racial disparities in the criminal justice system, but there is still much work to do,” House Majority Leader Charniele Herring (D) said in a press release. “While marijuana arrests across the nation have decreased, arrests in Virginia have increased.”
Other lawmakers backing the broader legalization push include Sens. Adam Ebbin (D) and Jennifer McClellan (D), as well as Del. Steve Heretick (D).
On Wednesday, the state’s new marijuana decriminalization policy took effect. The law, approved by lawmakers earlier this year and signed by Gov. Ralph Northam (D), removes criminal penalties for low-level marijuana possession. Under the change, having up to an ounce of cannabis is now punishable by a $25 fine and no threat of jail time or a criminal record.
Prior Virginia law punished simple marijuana possession with up to 30 days in jail, a $500 fine and a long-term criminal record.
“This bill will prevent low-level offenders from receiving jail time for simple possession while we move toward legalization with a framework that addresses both public safety and racial equity in an emerging market,” Herring said of the new law, which she sponsored in the House of Delegates and Ebbin led in the Senate.
The decriminalization measure also contains a provision to study future legalization. It requires a bevy of executive agencies, including “the Secretaries of Agriculture and Forestry, Finance, Health and Human Resources, and Public Safety and Homeland Security,” to convene an expert working group to study the matter. That panel’s report is due in November.
A separate legislative agency, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee (JLARC), is also studying the impacts of possible legalization as the result of yet another resolution approved by lawmakers this year.
Lawmakers said on Thursday that the JLARC report, which is due in December, would inform how they shape legalization legislation they expect to file in 2021.
“Elements of the JLARC study include review of best practices from states such as Illinois that have developed a legal framework, testing and labelling recommendations, and measures to reduce illicit sales,” according to a press release from Ebbin’s office. “The study will also examine how best to provide redress and economic opportunity for communities disproportionately impacted by marijuana prohibition, and recommend programs and policies to reinvest in affected communities.”
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus doesn’t want to wait for the results of the two reviews, however, and is pushing fellow lawmakers to take up cannabis legalization during a special session in August. In addition, the caucus has said its members intend to file bills to implement automatic expungement, ban no-knock warrants, require courts to publish racial date on people charged with low-level offenses and enact other sweeping criminal justice reforms.
Jenn Michelle Pedini, development director for the legalization advocacy group NORML and executive director of the group’s Virginia chapter, said the organization, which has worked with lawmakers on past reforms, looks forward to continuing to bring evidence-based cannabis policy to Virginia.
“For far too long, young people, poor people, and people of color have been disproportionately impacted by cannabis criminalization, and Virginia must take immediate steps to right these past wrongs and undo the damage that prohibition has waged upon hundreds of thousands of Virginians,” Pedini said. “It is time to legalize and regulate the responsible use of cannabis by adults in the Commonwealth.”
Ebbin said that despite the meaningful step of decriminalization, the state still has a long way to go.
“Today Virginia is taking an important first step in reducing the harm caused by the criminalization of cannabis,” he said in a statement. “The prohibition of marijuana has failed and the consequence of this failure has been felt overwhelmingly by Virginians of color, but it has not ended. It will only end when it is replaced by a regulated adult-use market that emphasizes equity—making whole those who have been burdened most by making sure they have a seat at the table and access to the marketplace. We are looking forward to doing the hard work needed to get this right.”
In the meantime, the Senate Democratic Caucus has announced it will pursue a bill during the special session next month to end law enforcement searches of people or vehicles based solely on the smell of marijuana, which critics say is a recipe for discriminatory enforcement. The group also noted that the chamber approved legislation during the regular legislative session that would have expunged certain marijuana charges and convictions, but that those bills didn’t make it to the governor’s desk.