Episode 367 – Are the Feds Ready for Legalization?

Heather Sullivan and first-time guest Brian Adams join host Ben Larson to talk about the just-announced federal legalization bill the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (or “CAOA”), introduced by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). Produced by Shea Gunther.

Photo: Marketeering Group/Flickr

How Native Tribal Cannabis Can Beat States To Legalization

South Dakota is a small place, and the town of Flandreau is even smaller. About 2,400 people located 40 minutes’ drive away from Sioux Falls, the state’s largest city and de-facto cultural capital, Flandreau is the largest settlement on the Flandreau Santee Sioux Reservation — which at 2,356 acres of gently rolling plains near the Minnesota border, is the smallest Native tribal reservation in the state. But on the morning of July 1 — the day of the grand opening of the Native Nations Cannabis Dispensary, the first legal medical cannabis dispensary in the state as well as South Dakota’s first Native tribal cannabis business — Flandreau was possibly the most famousplacein the state. And as an example of what cannabis can do for Native tribes, Flandreau might have been the most important reservation in the country.  

Through the grand opening over the July 4 weekend, the tribe registered about 1,000 patients, according to Seth Pearman, the tribe’s attorney general, all of whom were then free to shop at the dispensary. (More importantly: There was no repeat of 2015, when threats from law enforcement thwarted the tribe’s first crack at the cannabis business). 

Elsewhere on the reservation, about 10,000 well-tended cannabis plants oozed terpenes in tribal grow houses, waiting for when harvest can net the tribe as much as $1 million a month — or maybe more, if the tribe also becomes the first adult-use cannabis dispensary within driving distance of Sioux Falls, as well asmuch larger cities like Minneapolis, about three and a half hours away.

With Native Nations Cannabis, the Flandreau Santee Sioux were not the first tribe to enter the marijuana industry. Native tribal cannabis businesses are in operation in California and Nevada, and with marijuana legalization sweeping the East Coast and the South as well as the West, tribes in places like Long Island, New York are also pursuing commercial cannabis. 

But in a reversal of the federal model that thwarts other cannabis companies from becoming nationwide powerhouses, the Flandreau Santee Sioux are demonstrating how tribes can use U.S. federal law to create unprecedented economic opportunity for indigenous Americans — and skip the headaches that are thwarting other legacy operators in states shut out from legal cannabis. If all goes well, the Flandreau Santee will provide a model for Native tribal cannabis in other states to follow — and be the first in their states to seize a foothold in the billion-dollar U.S. marijuana industry. And as Congress inches closer towards presenting a federal legalization plan to President Joe Biden, cannabis may prove itself more valuable than tribal casinos — maybe, even, the best economic opportunity for indigenous Americans, ever.

“I think [federal legalization] will include the tribes,” predicted Pearman, who envisioned a future where Native tribal cannabis is available in every state, on and off of reservations — and at a price that can break the market. 

First Nations First, Finally 

South Dakota became the first state in the U.S. to legalize medical and adult-use cannabis at the same time in November. Voters approved both Measure 26, which legalized medical marijuana, as well as Constitutional Amendment A, which ended criminal penalties for limited amounts of cannabis for all adults, by comfortable margins. (The Flandreau Santee Sioux were invested in the outcome: The tribe donated $100,000 in favor of legalization, campaign contribution records show.) Shortly thereafter, South Dakota also became the first state to have its elected and law-enforcement officials stage a revolt to overturn the voters will and maintain deeply unpopular drug prohibition. 

With Republican Gov. Kristi Noem’s political support (and with taxpayer-funded legal resources from the state), leading police officials sued to cancel Measure A. A lower court agreed and declared the measure unconstitutional; an appeal to the state Supreme Court is still pending. 

Meanwhile, though the state’s medical-marijuana law went into effect on July 1, state health officials have said that medical cannabis recommendations won’t be issued until the fall. And dispensaries where patients could legally access cannabis might not open until next summer.

But what happens in Sioux Falls doesn’t matter too much in Flandreau, which is governed by a 1934 federal law that declares reservations “sovereign nations” — with their own laws, police forces and courts. 

All 574 federally recognized tribes enjoy the same sovereign rights — but as the Flandreau Santee found in 2015, there can be exceptions.

False Start

That year, the Flandreau Santee Sioux tribal council voted 5 to 1 to legalize marijuana on the reservation. Work began converting a 10,000-square foot building near the tribal casino into what was believed to be the “first marijuana resort in Indian Country and the United States”— ahead of South Dakota, and well ahead of the federal government. 

“Aside from making money, this is about sovereignty,” Kenny Weston, a council member, said at the time. “We have sovereignty, and we have to assert it. The goal for many tribes is to become self-sustaining. Revenue from the marijuana venture will help us to get closer to this.” 

The tribe believed it was within its rights. On top of tribal sovereignty, the Flandreau Santee Sioux also had a 2014 letter from the federal Department of Justice. In what’s known as the Wilkinson memo — similar in language and scope to the Cole memo, which says state-legal cannabis businesses aren’t priorities for federal law enforcement — the DOJ said that legal cannabis operations on native reservations shouldn’t attract trouble from federal law enforcement. Since the dispensary would be legal under tribal law, so would the Flandreau Santee Sioux’s Native cannabis business.

Or not. Tribal leaders were summoned to Washington, D.C., where Justice Department officials said sales of cannabis to non-Native people — and the Flandreau Santee’s source of seeds —would pose problems. Fearing a raid, the tribe decided to cancel its plans. The tribe burned its entire cannabis supply in November 2015. 

However, everything else — like the grow facilities — were simply mothballed, deactivated but carefully preserved for when the winds changed again. As soon as cannabis could be considered legal off of the reservation in South Dakota, the Flandreau Santee Sioux would return to the Native tribal cannabis industry.

The Best Cannabis Equity

And that’s why Native Cannabis opened on July 1. South Dakota law enforcement must respect medical-cannabis patients throughout the state. Anyone with a qualifying condition can pay $50 to get a card at Native Cannabis, which also recognizes medical-marijuana recommendations from any other state. And as soon as Measure A wins its court challenge and adult-use cannabis is legal, the Flandreau Santee Sioux’s tribal cannabis industry will welcome all adults 21 and over, Pearman said.

In this way, Native tribal cannabis is also demonstrating what may be the best model of equity for the rest of the country. Sold as a make-good for the demonstrably racist drug war, marijuana legalization hasn’t uplifted the non-white communities hurt hardest by overpolicing and incarceration, since these same communities have the least access to capital. 

But tribes own and operate their own real-estate and run their own regulations. They don’t need to beg for expensive startup capital just to pay a licensing fee. In other words, they’re set up to start making money from legalization almost immediately — a huge advantage for rural tribes for whom casinos are not an option, who can be free from a “white male monopoly back there pulling strings,” said Joseph Dice, co-founder of Tribal Cannabis Consulting, who works with tribes in California and Nevada.

“When you get a small tribe that has nothing, and you build this infrastructure, it opens up a lot of doors,” said Dice, who offered the example of the Lovelock Pauite tribe in Nevada. A poor tribe with just over 600 members with 20 acres of reservation left, the tribe opened a dispensary — and “within a year people had jobs,” he said. 

“It’s about sustainability and self-determination,” he added. “You’re no longer relying on the federal government.”

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Key House committee sends marijuana legalization bill to floor for vote

A key House committee advanced a bill to federally legalize marijuana on Wednesday, clearing its path to a floor vote that leadership said will come on Friday.

While several amendments to the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act were submitted to the Rules Committee, most were not deemed in order for floor consideration. A manager’s amendment offered by the bill’s sponsor, Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), will be attached under the rule approved by the panel, however.

This was the last step before the bill is taken up by the full chamber, and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said in a briefing with reporters that it will start with debate on Thursday, a day ahead of the final vote.

Under the rule approved by the panel in a voice vote, the legislation will be closed to further amendments on the floor, and members defeated a Republican proposal to keep the bill open to changes.

There will be one hour of debate on the bill in the House, and that time will be “equally divided and controlled by the chair and ranking minority member” of the Judiciary Committee.

The bill’s consideration was a historic development for cannabis reform advocates. If the Democratic-controlled House ultimately approves the legislation, it would mark the first time that a chamber of Congress voted not just to protect state marijuana programs from federal interference but to formally deschedule the plant.

Watch the Rules Committee hearing on the MORE Act below:

Rules Chairman Jim McGovern (D-MA) said in his opening remarks that the legislation “will reform the disastrous war on drug laws,” and its advancement “is a testament to the many Americans who have pushed Congress to decriminalize cannabis at the federal level for many years now.”

It also “brings restorative justice to so many Americans while providing resources to those harmed by the war on drugs,” he said.

“Some have wondered why we are acting on this now,” he said. “Well, I think it’s long past time and, in the words of Martin Luther King, ‘the time is always right to do what is right.’”

The MORE Act “really is designed to eliminate decades of bad law and decades of discrimination,” Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), a cosponsor of the bill, said. “The cannabis laws were arbitrarily added to our statutes back in 1970 without any study, without any real effort to determine whether there were benefits or detriments of whatever. And thousands and thousands and thousands of people have been incarcerated ever since.”

Rep. Rob Woodall (R-GA) said that he opposes the legislation but agrees that the federal-state marijuana policy conflict needs to be resolved one way or another.

“It is easy to talk about these issues at town hall meetings,” he said. “It is hard to legislate on these issues.”

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) said that it “is with a great sense of relief that I am supporting this long overdue measure and encourage the rest of my colleagues to do so as well.”

“This is not to promote drug use. It is not to undermine law enforcement. But rather to bring justice to millions of Americans,” she said.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), citing recent state-level votes to legalize cannabis and the consequences of prohibition, said this “is an opportunity for this Congress to move in the right direction, to listen to those concerns and to allow the states to move forward.”

“This is an opportunity for the federal government to get in step with what has happened in states across the country,” he said.

After the majority leader announced that the body would take up the MORE Act this week, the Rules Committee placed a revised version of the legislation, transmitted by Nadler, on its schedule.

While most the changes included in the Rules Committee Print are technical in nature, one significant revision concerns the proposed tax structure for cannabis sales outlined in the bill.

As originally drafted, the legislation would have imposed a five percent tax on marijuana products, revenue from which would be used in part to fund a grant program to support communities disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs. In the most recent version, that language was removed and replaced with text that more closely reflects a separate descheduling bill, the Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act.

The modified tax provisions of the MORE Act would make it so cannabis would be federally taxed at five percent for the first two years after implementation and then increased by one percent each year until reaching eight percent. After five years, taxes would be applied to marijuana products based on weight rather than price.

Nadler’s separate manager’s amendment stipulates that the heads of the Transportation Department and Coast Guard may continue to include marijuana in drug testing programs for safety-sensitive positions. It also clarifies that the bill’s expungement provisions only apply to “non-violent marijuana offenders” and bars so-called “kingpins” from obtaining expungements. Finally, the amendment from the Judiciary Committee chairman would direct the federal government to study the use of marijuana by military veterans.

Several other lawmakers also submitted amendments for Wednesday’s meeting, but none were cleared for consideration on the floor.

An amendment filed by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) would have deleted provisions creating programs that provide grants for restorative justice and community reinvestment, as well as a new Cannabis Justice Office in the Department of Justice. It would also have eliminated a requirement to collect data on diversity within the cannabis industry. Gaetz is the only GOP House cosponsor of the MORE Act—and while he said this summer that he would be supporting it, he challenged these components.

An amendment from Rep. Justin Amash (L-MI) would have stricken the entire bill and replaced it with language that still deschedules cannabis and prohibits discrimination against marijuana consumers and businesses. However, it would have removed the creation of a federal cannabis tax and the programs its revenue would fund.

Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) introduced an amendment that would have broadened the types of expenses covered by a provision providing waivers for cannabis business license application fees.

Rep. Dan Bishop (R-NC) proposed an amendment to delay the enactment of federal marijuana descheduling and other reforms until the Department of Transportation develops “best practices for the recognition and testing of drivers impaired by marijuana.”

Advocates celebrated the advancement of the historic cannabis legislation.

“Members of the U.S. House of Representatives on both sides of the aisle now have the opportunity and responsibility to come together and pass this important piece of legislation,” Marijuana Policy Project Executive Director Steve Hawkins said. “The prohibition and criminalization of marijuana has led to decades of injustice and devastating consequences, and it’s clear that a strong majority of Americans do not support the status quo. It is past time for Congress to take real action.”

Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, said that “the historic nature of today’s progress cannot be overstated.”

“For the first time in American history, the public will see the ‘People’s House’ vote to end the senseless, cruel, and racist policy of marijuana criminalization and prohibition,” he said.

Overall, the MORE Act would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and expunge the records of those with prior marijuana convictions. The descheduling provisions would be retroactive.

The bill would also create a pathway for resentencing for those incarcerated for marijuana offenses, as well as protect immigrants from being denied citizenship over cannabis and prevent federal agencies from denying public benefits or security clearances due to its use.

A new Cannabis Justice Office under the Justice Department would be responsible for distributing funds providing loans for small cannabis businesses owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals. The bill also seeks to minimize barriers to licensing and employment in the legal industry.

While the bill still calls for the establishment of a Community Reinvestment Grant Program, the revised version Nadler filed would remove a line calling for it to specifically fund “services to address any collateral consequences that individuals or communities face as a result of the War on Drugs.”

Tax dollars appropriated to that program would instead more generally go to job training, legal aid for criminal and civil cases such as those concerning marijuana-related expungements, literacy programs and youth recreation and mentoring services, among other programs.

Advocates are optimistic about this latest development and the likely House vote, but it should be noted that its prospects in the GOP-controlled Senate this session are dim. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is a champion of the hemp industry but staunchly opposes further marijuana reform.

That said, a symbolic vote for legalization could send a strong signal to the incoming Biden administration.

Given Biden’s former approach to championing punitive anti-drug legislation as a senator and his ongoing obstinance on marijuana legalization at a time when polls show that a clear majority of Americans favor the policy change, there remains some skepticism about his willingness to make good on his campaign promises to achieve more modest reforms he has endorsed, such as decriminalizing possession and expunging records.

A transition document the incoming Biden-Harris administration released this month left out mention of those cannabis pledges.

That said, the president-elect has conceded that his work on punitive anti-drug legislation during his time in Congress was a “mistake.”

For his part, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) told Marijuana Moment in August that “the Biden administration and a Biden Department of Justice would be a constructive player” in advancing legalization.

Meanwhile, the Congressional Research Service released an analysis of the MORE Act last month, finding that the bill’s passage could “reverse” the current cannabis policy gap that exists between states and the federal government.

Numerous Republican members of Congress criticized House Democrats over the planned legalization vote, dismissing the significance of the issue and arguing that it’s an inappropriate time to take it up. They were publicly joined by one House Democrat, Rep. Conor Lamb (D-PA), who said this “isn’t the right way” to advance reform and lawmakers should instead be focused on COVID-19 relief.

There were certain centrist Democrats like Lamb who also took issue with advancing the bill when the House first announced plans to hold a vote in the chamber in September. There were concerns about the optics of approving marijuana reform before passing another coronavirus bill, and they convinced leadership to postpone the vote.

That said, several of those same lawmakers ended up losing their seats on the same Election Day as voters in conservative states approved marijuana legalization ballot measures, calling into question their strategic thinking on the politics of cannabis.

This story was updated to include quotes and actions from the hearing.

Featured image by Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

This article has been republished from Marijuana Moment under a content-sharing agreement. Read the original article here.

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New Data: Feds Prosecuted Fewer Cannabis Cases in 2019 as more States go Legal

Federal prosecutions for marijuana trafficking declined again in 2019, and drug possession cases overall saw an even more dramatic decline, according to a new report published by the U.S. Sentencing Commission on Monday.

While drug cases still represent the second most common category of crimes in the federal criminal justice system, the data indicates that the bulk of those instances are related to methamphetamine trafficking, which has steadily increased over the past decade.

But for marijuana, a different kind of trend has emerged. As more states have moved to legalize cannabis, federal prosecutions have consistently declined since 2012. To illustrate the shift, marijuana trafficking cases represented the most common drug type that was pursued in 2012, with about 7,000 cases. As of fiscal year 2019, those cases are now the second least common, with fewer than 2,000 cases.

Notably, the year of that peak, 2012, was when Colorado and Washington State became the first to legalize for recreational purposes. Though the report doesn’t attempt to explain why cannabis cases are on the decline, advocates have postulated that state-level marijuana reform has helped curb illicit trafficking by creating a regulated market for consumers to obtain the products.

“Twenty-five percent of the public now live in jurisdictions where the sale of marijuana to adults is legal,” Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “Of course there will be a corresponding drop in the number of illegal sales.”

Another possibility is that evolving public opinion and state policies have contributed to a shift in perspective among prosecutors, who may no longer wish to prioritize enforcing cannabis prohibition in the era of legalization. While all marijuana sales—even in states with legalization laws—remain federally prohibited, the Trump administration has in practice continued the Obama-era approach of generally not interfering with the implementation of local policies even though then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions formally rescinded a memo on the topic from the prior administration.

In any case, the new U.S. Sentencing Commission report also shows a broader decline in drug possession cases in general. In fact, the most significant reduction in crime category for 2019 was drug possession, which fell from 777 federal cases the previous year down to 563 — a 28 percent drop.

It was just 2017 when drug offenses account for the majority of federal prosecutions. Two years later, that position is now occupied by immigration cases. Put another way, the report shows that 38.4 percent of crimes were related to immigration, compared to 26.6 percent for drug offenses.

While marijuana trafficking cases decreased, the average sentence for a conviction increased by two months, from 29 to 31.

Overall, drug trafficking prosecutions did increase by about 1,000 cases in 2019, though again that’s largely attributable to an increase in methamphetamine-related prosecutions.

Featured image by Justin Cannabis/Shutterstock

This article has been republished from Marijuana Moment under a content-sharing agreement. Read the original article here.

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Bernie Beats Biden on Pot

Following Super Tuesday, there are now only two serious contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination: progressive Vermont senator Bernie Sanders and, in the lead, centrist former vice president and Delaware senator Joe Biden. For voters concerned with cannabis legalization, the choice may seem an obvious one. But neither candidate has an entirely clean record, and it is worth examining the details. 

Sanders: Legalization by Executive Order? 

Sanders released his plan for cannabis legalization last October, setting a goal of removing the plant from the Controlled Substances Act within his first 100 days after taking office. There was also a pledge of conviction expungement and provisions to keep Big Tobacco from colonizing the new industry.  

The plank is on his website, under the prominent and forthright title, Legalizing Marijuana. Speaking at a rally outside Dallas on Feb. 14, Sanders upped the ante — essentially pledging day-one legalization by executive order.

“By executive order, I can and will legalize marijuana in every state in this country,” Sanders said, according to Newsweek. “We will expunge the records of those arrested for possession of marijuana.”

To cheers from the crowd, Sanders promised to “end the so-called War on Drugs” and mass incarceration. “It is not acceptable to me that we have more people in jail in America than any other country on earth including China, [with a population] four times our size.”

“We are going to end private prisons and detention centers,” he added. “Corporations should not be making millions of dollars in profit for locking up fellow Americans.” 

While actually following through on his executive-order pledge is another matter (it could face challenge in the courts), Sander’s plan is about the most audacious pro-legalization position possible from an American presidential candidate.

Biden: From Audacity of Hope to Timidity of Dope 

Biden’s stance is extremely timid by comparison to Sanders’s. The “audacity of hope” may have been the slogan of Biden’s ticket when he was Obama’s running mate 12 years ago, but his position on cannabis now displays precious little audacity.

Biden’s website includes no cannabis plank. And while he has come around to a pro-decriminalization position, he still opposes legalization. 

This earned him some jibes at the candidates’ debate in Atlanta on Nov. 21, 2019. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) won guffaws from the crowd when he quipped of the ex-veep: “This week I heard him literally say ‘I don’t think we should legalize marijuana.’ I thought you might have been high when you said it.”  

Booker cast the issue in terms of racial justice, adding: “Marijuana in our country is already legal for privileged people.” 

As Politico noted after the debate, Biden supports moving cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule II — a less restrictive category under the Controlled Substances Act. But Schedule II substances, including most opioids, are still very highly restricted.  

Among the Democratic field, which was then much wider, Biden had the most conservative position on cannabis. 

“Joe Biden’s platform lacks imagination,” Queen Adesuyi, policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, told Politico. “He’s competing against people who have single-handedly changed the conversation in Congress.”

Just three days before the November 2019 debate, Biden had tweeted about his stance on Marijuana Laws. The brief statement said “No one should be in jail for marijuana use.” But it only called to federally legalize medical marijuana and allow states to legalize “recreational” use. It also said he would “decriminalize recreational marijuana use and automatically expunge prior convictions, and “reschedule marijuana so researchers can study its health impacts.”

So even his cautious call to reschedule is couched in terms that smack of Reefer Madness.

‘Gateway’ Gaffe Haunts Biden

And Biden’s position wasn’t always even this progressive. He is still being dogged by his past comments on the cannabis question.

In 2010, when asked by ABC News‘s George Stephanopoulos about his views on cannabis, he responded: “I still believe it’s a gateway drug. I’ve spent a lot of my life as chairman of the [Senate] Judiciary Committee dealing with this. I think it would be a mistake to legalize. The punishment should fit the crime. But I think legalization is a mistake.”

When reminded of this comment at a public event in Las Vegas on Nov. 16, 2019, Biden stuck to his guns. 

“The truth of the matter is, there’s not nearly been enough evidence that has been acquired as to whether or not it is a gateway drug,” he said, according to The Hill. “It’s a debate, and I want a lot more before I legalize it nationally. I want to make sure we know a lot more about the science behind it.”

But two weeks later, and after the Atlanta debate, a Nevada Independent reporter called Biden for clarification on the question and he was quick to walk it back. 

“I don’t think it is a gateway drug. There’s no evidence I’ve seen to suggest that,” Biden said. He actually denied that he said it was a gateway drug: “I said some say it’s a gateway drug.” 

And while that is technically true of his comment in Vegas two weeks earlier, it is definitely not true of what he said in 2010.

This just came up again on March 3, when Biden sat down for an interview in South Carolina with the online news show, “The Shade Room.” He again tried to walk it all back. 

“When you talk about marijuana, everybody says, ‘Biden says it’s a gateway drug,’” he said. “I don’t think it’s a gateway drug.”  

He went on to add: “I think we should totally decriminalize the use of marijuana and possession of marijuana. Not only decriminalize it, but if you’ve ever been convicted of anything having to do with marijuana possession or use, your record is wiped clean… When you go for a job application and they say ‘have you ever been arrested or been in prison,’ you can legally say no. When I say wiped clean, I mean wiped clean.” 

In the very next breath, however, he was adding caveats: “But this is where it gets confused. There are some scientists who say it may have an impact on mental health for some people. I don’t think we should criminalize it at all, but we should at least study it, since it makes a difference.” 

Both Voted for Cannabis Death Penalty 

The Shade Room also asked Biden about the crime bill that he helped write as a senator 25 years ago, which had also been assailed by Booker and other Democratic contenders as having contributed to mass incarceration. With dizzying cynicism, even President Donald Trump attacked Biden on Twitter for his involvement in crafting the law. 

The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 earmarked billions for states to build new prisons, and to train and hire additional police. It expanded the federal death penalty and instated a federal “three-strikes” life sentence mandate.

In a little-noted measure, it also actually imposed the death penalty for dealing cannabis in very large quantities. Large-scale cannabis cultivators and traffickers — meaning at least 60,000 plants or kilos — can be sentenced to death under the Federal Death Penalty Act, which was an amendment to the 1994 crime bill. There has been some fear among state-legal big dispensary operators that Trump’s Justice Department could actually use this measure to send them to Death Row. 

But why, you may ask, was it falling to Cory Booker and Kamala Harris to call out Biden on his support for the 1994 crime bill rather than to Sanders? Because the Vermont independent also voted for the law. 

This was noted by Vox back in 2016, when then-candidate Hillary Clinton was being hounded by activists over her support for the bill signed into law by her husband. As Vox stated, “one thing that’s seldom noted — or only acknowledged as a footnote in stories about the 1994 law — is that  Sanders, Clinton’s opponent in the Democratic primary, supported the 1994 crime law too. And while Clinton wasn’t in a position to vote for the bill as first lady, Sanders was in Congress and he did actually vote for it. 

Sanders may look like the best bet for cannabis voters, but they’d be wise to temper their enthusiasm with a realistic sense of the compromises their man will have to make if he ever gets to the Oval Office — itself a daunting enough prospect.

TELL US, who do you support?

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Trump Campaign Official Says Pot Should be ‘Kept Illegal’

If the Democrats cannot figure out their strategy for dominating the upcoming election, there is a fair chance that we could see President Trump weaseling his way back into the White House for a second term. And while some cannabis advocates would be pleased as punch with this turn of events others believe that any other candidate, and we do mean any, would be better for the sanity of the United States.

But ask toking Trumpsters why it is that they have grown so keen on reelecting the Donald and they’ll tell you, “He’s the only president so far that has said he would legalize marijuana at the federal level.” Ah, yes, we remember the comment. It was just two years ago, ahead of the G-7 summit in Canada, when Trump told reporters that he would “probably” support a long since dead cannabis bill known as the STATES Act. Since then, Trump supporters have believed that “their president” sides with them with respect to legalizing marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol.

Well, not so fast, maverick.

Just weeks after a secret tape surfaced, revealing that Trump seriously thinks that marijuana is leading to the dumbing down of America, a new interview with his Director of Strategic Communications, Marc Lotter, shows that Trump doesn’t support the legalization of marijuana at the national level. Earlier this week, Lotter told Las Vegas CBS affiliate KLAS-TV that President Trump is still dedicated to keeping the prohibition standard in this country.

“I think the president has been pretty clear on his views on marijuana at the federal level. I know many states have taken a different path,” Lotter said. “I think what the president is looking at is looking at this from a standpoint of a parent — of a parent of a young person — to make sure that we keep our kids away from drugs. They need to be kept illegal. That is the federal policy.”

But, Trump said he would…

Yeah, yeah, we know what he said. You see, the confusion over whether Trump is pro-pot or not really stems from statements made during his 2016 campaign. That’s when he professed to the nation that marijuana legalization should be allowed to move forward as a state’s rights issue. Trump never came out and said that the old U.S. of A needs to be legalizing some weed. It wasn’t until 2018 that he made comments about supporting the STATES Act, which was not precisely designed to legalize the leaf at the federal level, but to — yep, you guessed it  — strengthen the cause in terms of state’s rights. The bill, which is deader than a doornail at this point, simply aimed to actually give states the freedom to legalize however they see fit without federal interference. It was one of those toe-in-the-water bills that Congress likes to noodle with on occasion. Many journalists wrote that the passing of such a measure would have effectively legalized weed nationwide, but that wasn’t exactly true. There would have been no major changes to the Controlled Substances Act, and marijuana would have remained illegal at the federal level.

So, yeah, Trump said he might support that two years ago. It was no skin off his back. After all, most law-abiding cannabis operations in the 40 odd states that have them are being left alone, anyway.

But ahead of the 2020 campaign, political analysts predicted that President Trump might come out in favor of marijuana legalization as a way to stay competitive with all of the Democrats that have done the same. All except for Joe Biden and Michael Bloomberg support bringing down pot prohibition once and for all. Hell, even Congressional Democrats suspected that Trump would eventually get behind legal weed to get reelected. If we look back a ways, Representative Earl Blumenauer of Oregon wrote in his 2018 “Blueprint to Legalize Marijuana in the 116th Congress” that “if we fail to act swiftly, I fear as the 2020 election approaches, Donald Trump will claim credit for our work in an effort to shore up support — especially from young voters.”

Welp, it seems like everyone was wrong.

Listen, I’m going to be honest with you folks, this situation with Trump creates even more trouble for legal weed. Right now, the Democrats are trying to develop a plan that would allow them to regain control of the Senate, as well as the presidency. But if they had to choose one, they are really frothing at the mouth over the possibility of laying claims to the upper chamber. It’s the reason that some predict Democrat Bernie Sanders — a candidate that has sworn to legalize marijuana nationwide on his first day in office — will fail to get the nomination again this year. Some are worried that his socialist ideals will turn off suburban America and cause an uprising in Republicans to make noise at the polls.

In a perfect, pot-friendly world, we would see the Democrats taking both the Senate and the presidency in 2020. This scenario would allow the most potential for marijuana legalization to strike nationwide in 2021. But if Democrats lose the Senate and win the presidency, legal weed could still be six or more years away. Then again, if they win the Senate and President Trump gets reelected, marijuana is probably still going to be delayed for another four years. No matter what marijuana-related measure a Democratic-controlled Congress pushes through, Trump is not likely to support it. Really, the only chance we have at seeing full-blown legalization soon is if voters decide by November that they would rather support the path of the Dems rather than Republicans.

Right now, however, the country is split. Around 28% of the nation identifies as Democrat, 28% Republican and 41% independent.

TELL US, do you think America will ever legalize marijuana nationwide?

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Bernie Sanders said he’d Legalize Marijuana on day one. Can he?

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is making a bold promise: if elected president, he will legalize marijuana in all 50 states on his first day in office.

“We will end the destructive war on drugs,” the 2020 Democratic candidate said at rally days before this week’s Iowa caucus. “On my first day in office through executive order we will legalize marijuana in every state in this country.”

But while the pledge has been largely welcomed by reform advocates and cannabis enthusiasts, some experts question whether such immediate, sweeping action is legally or practically achievable.

The use of executive orders at the start of a presidency isn’t unprecedented — President Obama signed one aimed at shutting down the controversial Guantanamo Bay prison the day after he assumed office and President Trump issued an order scaling back Obamacare, for example — but there are unique challenges associated with a presidential move to unilaterally remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

To effectively end marijuana prohibition through the executive branch, according to a 2015 analysis from the Brookings Institution’s John Hudak, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) or an outside party would have to file a petition, which would then be reviewed by the attorney general, who has usually delegated that responsibility to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The attorney general can also initiate the process on their own, requesting a scientific review directly to HHS. Under HHS, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would then assess the scientific, medical and public health implications before submitting that review to the Justice Department.

“The recommendations of the Secretary to the Attorney General shall be binding on the Attorney General as to such scientific and medical matters, and if the Secretary recommends that a drug or other substance not be controlled, the Attorney General shall not control the drug or other substance,” the CSA states. “If the Attorney General determines that these facts and all other relevant data constitute substantial evidence of potential for abuse such as to warrant control or substantial evidence that the drug or other substance should be removed entirely from the schedules, he shall initiate proceedings for control or removal.”

Thus, changing marijuana’s classification under federal law without an act of Congress is far more complicated than a single stroke of a presidential pen. While Sanders could theoretically make supporting descheduling a condition of nominating candidates to be HHS secretary or attorney general, it’s virtually certain he would not have those officials installed on day one of his presidency.

The new day-one, executive action proposal is a far more ambitious plan than the one Sanders previously floated. Last year, the senator said he’d take a systematic approach to legalization that would involve naming cabinet members who will “work to aggressively end the drug war and legalize marijuana” within 100 days of his taking office.

But it appears the timetable has changed, with top aides reportedly including marijuana legalization in a list of possible executive orders — though Sanders has yet to formally sign off on them. Some experts are skeptical that this latest plan has legs, and some feel it reflects Sanders’s political desire to stand out as the most marijuana friendly candidate, rather than an earnest attempt to expedite the descheduling process.

Here are some of the issues they identified:

A president can’t change state marijuana laws

Federal descheduling wouldn’t directly repeal any state laws prohibiting marijuana, and so the prospect of swift legalization across 50 states is questionable.

“The question first is, would states be compelled to do this? That is, does the president have the power to do this? That’s the first step,” Hudak told Marijuana Moment. “The second step actually raises a more important question, and that is: can states continue to maintain a different schedule for a substance than a federal schedule? There’s plenty of evidence that a state could do that.”

While some state drug scheduling systems are tied to the federal system, it’s still the case that “the state has an opportunity to do something different, but it has to proactively do something different.”

“Does the president have the power to do this?”

John Hudak, Brookings Institution

“I think we typically don’t have situations in which the federal government is more lax and a state wants to be stricter on it, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that that would be something federal courts would allow states to do,” Hudak said.

What’s more, even if state-level prohibitions did end as a result of CSA descheduling, it would be without precedent for the federal government to dictate that they implement a regulated, commercial marijuana market. Instead, a situation could hypothetically emerge where cannabis would be legal, but there would be limited means of access, as is currently the case in Washington, D.C., where Congress has prohibited the district from using its local tax dollars to create a regulated system of sales.

“A president certainly cannot force that to be allowed in states by any kind of executive action,” he said. “It would really require an act of Congress to set up a commercial regulatory system nationwide, which, even then, you are on very shaky constitutional grounds to do that kind of thing.”

It’s also possible that Sanders could leverage federal funds to pressure states into adopting the policy change, requiring them to end cannabis prohibition as a condition of receiving certain dollars. That’s how Congress achieved setting a national drinking age minimum of 21, for example, by threatening to withhold 10 percent of federal highway construction funds if states didn’t comply.

The question of how to compel states to end their own cannabis criminalization laws aside, there are major hurdles to changing marijuana’s status under federal law by a president in the first place.

An Executive Order can’t get around regulatory requirements

“There are procedures that have to be followed to remove it,” Sam Kamin, a law professor at the University of Denver, told Marijuana Moment. “It might not take months or years, but it certainly won’t be the first afternoon of the Sanders presidency.”

Hudak agreed: 

“An executive order is not a means by which a president can do this. Presidents need to draw on statutory authority or constitutional authority in order to use an executive order to make some sort of policy change. The president is explicitly restricted by the Controlled Substances Act from doing this through a non-regulatory process, and the Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that Congress’s policy choices in the CSA are constitutional and within their power. It does not grant constitutional authority to the president in any of those rulings. No, President Sanders or President Anyone cannot do this by executive order.”

International drug treaties could complicate things

And then there’s the question of international law. Opponents of ending prohibition often point to global drug treaties to which the U.S. is a party that technically requires member nations to keep marijuana illegal.

A Sanders administration could hypothetically withdraw the U.S. from the treaties, as past presidents have done to advance policies that run counter to international agreements. President Bush withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missiles Treaty in 2001, for example, and while it was challenged in a lawsuit, a federal district court dismissed the case, setting a precedent.

A 2016 legal brief from the Congressional Research Service discussed the ambiguity of withdrawal procedures for Senate-approved treaties like the Single Convention on drugs. While the Senate is empowered to “advise and consent” in the drafting of treaties, the statute is “silent with respect the power to withdraw from them.” There have been past instances where “the President has unilaterally terminated treaties without any form of legislative approval,” but in other cases, Congress has either given advance authorization or approved a withdrawal after the fact.

All that said, there’s a more simple workaround to the treaty problem: Sanders could just ignore it altogether, as Canada and Uruguay have when they legalized marijuana nationwide. Because treaty obligations are sometimes flouted by the U.S. and other countries when they’re inconvenient and because they often lack enforcement capabilities, experts who spoke to Marijuana Moment broadly dismissed the notion that a Sanders presidency would be inhibited by international bodies like the United Nations (UN).

“The Single Convention has absolutely no impact on President Sanders’s or any president’s ability to do this — or Congress’s for that matter,” Hudak said. “Under that obligation, yes, the federal government is not supposed to do this. But also there’s really no enforcement mechanism in international organizations to do anything about it, and what we’ve seen is international organizations have not done anything about it. If the UN is not going to punish Uruguay, I don’t think they’re going to punish the United States.”

Sanders’s campaign won’t explain its plan

It’s possible that Sanders’s team could take some proactive steps to work around all of these statutory rules, including the treaty obligations. For example, it could work with incoming personnel for the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) during the transition between the election and inauguration day to draft a memo stipulating that the executive order can stand, and so when it’s issued on day one, the administration could point to that document and justify the action. It’s still possible that a court could later challenge the legal reasoning, however.

Marijuana Moment reached out several times to Sanders aides for specifics on exactly how the candidate plans to “legalize marijuana in every state in this country” via executive order on his first day in office, but they did not respond by the time of publication.

Warren Gunnels, a senior adviser on the senator’s campaign, wrote in a Twitter post on Sunday that not only would cannabis be legalized on day one, but the executive order would be signed at 4:20 PM, referencing the unofficial marijuana holiday 4/20 that is rumored to have been inspired by a group of high school students who met at that designated time to smoke in the early 1970s.

Even if unfeasible, Sanders’s pledge has political value

Despite these obstacles, some legalization advocates view Sanders’s promise as a politically important, if symbolic, proposal.

“There are open questions about if and how a president could technically deschedule, as opposed to reschedule, marijuana on Day 1 via a simple executive order,” Erik Altieri, executive director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “There is and will be much debate about the technicalities, but what is truly important about this recent pledge is that for the first time in political history we have a front-runner for a major party nomination treating marijuana policy as a top-tier issue.”

“With around 68% of all Americans supporting legalization, committing to quickly bring prohibition to an end upon entering office is good policy and good politics,” he said. “We greatly appreciate Sanders’s strong support for marijuana legalization and would hope all current candidates join us on the right side of history by making similar pledges.”

“Executive order or not, if we had a president who elevated marijuana policy and backed it using the bully pulpit in this way, it would undoubtedly apply even further pressure for Congress to take action on important pending legislation such as the MORE Act,” he said, referring to a bill to deschedule cannabis and promote social equity that was approved by the House Judiciary Committee last year.

Others aren’t so bullish on Sanders’s decision to pitch an expedited legalization agenda, arguing that it’s practically ambitious at best and politically dangerous at worst.

“I think frankly it’s political pandering,” Hudak said. “The Sanders [original 100-day plan] is a very effective administrative strategy to make sure that all the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed. To step away from that and effectively do a liberal version of President Trump’s behavior — and that is, ‘let me do this via executive order and be damned what the Constitution or statute say’ — is not something a lot of Democrats really have an appetite for right now.”

“I think, what’s worse, even if in a scenario where this were somehow upheld by an increasingly conservative federal judiciary, what is then-President Sanders doing? He’s setting up a system in which four or eight years later, a Republican president can come in and undo with the stroke of a pen,” he said. “I don’t think any cannabis reformer wants cannabis policy to be set in a way that drastically can change from presidency to presidency.”

“I understand the senator’s frustration that Congress hasn’t acted on this, but there are a lot of unintended consequences that come with unilateral action when that unilateral action is not thought through statutorily, constitutionally or in terms of just basic policy impact,” he added.

Kamin, the law professor in Denver, said that Sanders’s proposal “is not one that comports with the separation of powers and federalism.”

“Whether you call that symbolic or whether you call that metaphorical or whether you call that puffery, what Sanders is signaling is, ‘I want to be the federal legalization candidate.’ The race was once crowded with senators who had legalization plans. [Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)] is probably the principle person left in the race who has proposed legalization at the federal level. What I see there is Senator Sanders trying to claim that issue for himself.”

Steve Fox, president of VS Strategies, the public affairs consulting arm of the Vicente Sederberg LLP law firm, told Marijuana Moment that even if Sanders successfully moved to reclassify marijuana under federal law, it wouldn’t mean that the penalties against it would be automatically erased from the law books.

“I certainly appreciate the sentiment behind Senator Sanders’s pledge, but I believe he would not be able to go as far as he suggests through an executive order,” he said.

“I think rescheduling would be possible, given that a DEA administrative law judge recommended rescheduling in 1988 and that recommendation was never followed. But marijuana’s penalties under federal law are not connected to its scheduling,” Fox said. “The law provides specific penalties based on the amount of marijuana one possesses. As far as I understand, an executive order cannot be used to simply eliminate crimes from the U.S. Code that a president doesn’t like.”

“If marijuana is going to be legal at the federal level, it will take an act of Congress,” he said.

Douglas Berman, a professor at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law and author of the Sentencing Law & Policy blog, falls somewhere in the middle on the question of Sanders’s ability to actually achieve unilateral descheduling versus the political implications of simply pledging to do so.

“In many respects to me, this a version of ‘build a wall and have Mexico pay for it,’” Berman told Marijuana Moment, referring to an unfulfilled Trump campaign promise. “Nobody actually thinks we’re going to get Mexico to pay for it, but when you articulate it in these terms, you’re sending a signal that this is not just something that you’re committed to—but committed to with every fiber that you can muster.”

“I think, yes, that’s just politics, but it’s politics that has really important policy consequences if you were the standard-bearer for the Democratic party and ultimately president,” he said. “That’s why supporters of reform should be excited to hear, even if they know, ‘yeah, he can’t really get this done’” as proposed.

Featured image from Shutterstock 

This article has been republished from Marijuana Moment under a content-sharing agreement. Read the original article here.

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Sanders Says He Will Legalize Marijuana Nationwide

It has been said that if the issue of nationwide marijuana legalization was put up to a vote in the United States, the people — stoners, soccer moms, entrepreneurs, and even circus freaks — would come out in droves to make damn sure that it passed. After all, some of the most recent polls on the subject show that somewhere around 65% of the American population believes that pot should be part of a taxed and regulated system, the same as alcohol and tobacco. Vermont Senator and Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders is fully aware that cannabis is a hot issue in the 2020 election, so he is letting the people know that his administration plans to legalize the leaf in all 50 states as soon as he gets the keys to the White House.

“On my first day in office, through executive order, we will legalize marijuana in every state in this country,” Sanders told a ravenous crowd of his most loyal supporters at a rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa ahead of the caucus. “We will move forward to expunge the records of those arrested for possession of marijuana.

“We will make certain that the legalized marijuana industry is not controlled by a handful of corporations,” he continued, “but that those people — the African-American community, the Latino community, the Native American community — those people who have suffered the most will get help in order to make money through a legalized marijuana industry.”

Of course, the Iowa crowd went buck wild over the news that marijuana was as good as legal everywhere across the country if Sanders wins the presidency. What’s more is that presumably, millions of people marred by criminal records as a result of being caught with a little weed would have those offenses wiped clean, allowing them to, once again, join the ranks of upstanding citizens. And, and, and… the very communities ravaged by decades of racist drug war tactics, well, those folks will be the first in line for an opportunity to seize prosperity in the new American way that is growing and selling weed. In the immortal words of comedian Larry David, a man who closely resembles Sanders, all of this sounds pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good.

The only problem with Sanders’s masterplan, however, is he really doesn’t have the ability to wave a magic wand that will legalize marijuana at the federal level. So are his promises just a load of B.S.?

Well, kind of.

Although the President does have the power to initiate the process to get cannabis rescheduled within the Controlled Substances Act — but not without the help of the attorney general and the health secretary — he or she doesn’t appear to have much clout when it comes to outright legalization. It’s definitely not a move that Sanders could get done through an Executive Order on his first day in office. Furthermore, he’s probably not going to sign anything that achieves all the things he wants to do — legalize weed in all 50 states, expunge criminal records, and keep the cannabis industry from being swallowed up by a few corporations — in even the first 100 days. That is unless his team knows of some super sneaky method for doing it without Congressional support. But the CSA is designed to prevent the Executive Branch from going rogue and legalizing drugs. Therefore, Congressional approval is needed to end prohibition nationwide.

It should also be pointed out that even if a lone Sanders could get marijuana eliminated from the CSA and effectively legalize marijuana nationwide, neither he nor any arm of the federal government could force prohibition states to lift their ban on marijuana. Just like with the repeal of alcohol prohibition through the passing of the 21st Amendment (Congressional action, not some magic wand waving madness at the hands of President Roosevelt), some states maintained the booze ban regardless of the change in federal law. In fact, it took more than 30 years for all of the states in the union to get on board with the legalization of alcohol. Mississippi was the last to end prohibition, and that didn’t happen until 1966. While we hate to say it, the same resistance could easily occur across the country with respect to weed. So, no, Sanders cannot legalize marijuana in all 50 states. Another civil war would break out before that ever happened.

There are also international drug treaties and a slew of other details that must be considered that makes federal marijuana legalization more convoluted than just a swipe of the President’s pen. Still, having a Democratic president in the White House pushing for legal weed would be good to have as part of the nation’s political arsenal, especially if Congress happens to find Democratic control in 2021. Marijuana legalization is one of those issues that could be swiftly negotiated with all parties — House, Senate, President — in complete agreement. It’s the kind of perfect storm that many hope will touch down here in the Land of the Free when voters hit the polls in November.

TELL US, which presidential candidate do you support?

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Lawmakers and Advocates React to Passage of Bill to End Federal Marijuana Prohibition

Drug policy reform advocates and lawmakers celebrated on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019, after a key congressional committee approved a bill to end federal marijuana prohibition for the first time in history.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 24-10, including two “aye” votes from Republican lawmakers, to advance the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act. Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) is the bill’s sponsor.

The legislation would federally deschedule cannabis, provide expungement and resentencing relief and impose a five percent federal tax on marijuana sales to support investments in communities most harmed by the drug war. It would also protect immigrants from being denied citizenship over cannabis and prevent federal agencies from denying public benefits or security clearance due to its use.

Here’s how people are reacting to the bill’s historic passage 

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD)

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY)

“I have long believed that the criminalization of marijuana has been a mistake, and the racially disparate enforcement of marijuana laws has only compounded this mistake,” Nadler said in a statement. “While states have led the way in reform, our federal laws have not kept pace with the obvious need for change. With the passage of the MORE Act today, the Judiciary Committee has taken long overdue steps to address the devastating injustices caused by the War on Drugs and to finally decriminalize marijuana at the federal level.”

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA)

“As more states legalize marijuana, millions of Americans with marijuana-related convictions continue to face overwhelming barriers to jobs, education, and housing,” Harris said in a statement. “That is why we must act to remove the burden of marijuana convictions and make sure these individuals have the support needed to move forward. It is also critical that everyone — especially people of color who have been disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs — has a real opportunity to participate in this growing industry. This is a matter of racial and economic justice. I am grateful for Chairman Nadler’s partnership on this issue and for his leadership in moving this legislation forward. I look forward to the House of Representatives passing our legislation soon.”

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ)

“After years of work in the Senate, our efforts to pair marijuana legalization with expungement and reinvestment in the communities most harmed by the War on Drugs have finally led us to today’s critical mark-up,” Booker said in a statement. “The war on drugs has systematically targeted people of color and the poor, harmed job prospects and access to housing for our nation’s most vulnerable communities, and destroyed countless lives.”

“The House Judiciary Committee’s decision to advance this bill is a significant step toward righting these wrongs and healing the wounds of decades of injustice,” he said.

“This is a significant tipping point. The Committee passage of this bill is an important step towards reversing decades of failed drug policy that has disproportionately impacted communities of color and low-income individuals. These draconian laws have sacrificed critical resources, violated our values, destroyed families and communities, and failed to make us safer,” Booker added in a separate press release. “This legislation continues us down the path towards justice and I’m excited to see momentum growing around the movement to fix our nation’s broken drug laws.”

Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee (D)

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA)

“This is really a defining moment on so many fronts as it relates to cannabis reform,” Lee told Marijuana Moment in an interview prior to the vote. “I have to salute and thank Chairman Nadler for being bold and for living up to his commitment and for making sure that this is a comprehensive bill that will address the different aspects of these very complicated issues.”

“For those who have been victimized by these unjust laws, I want to just say to them that we have to keep optimistic, keep hope alive and just know that their members of Congress worked to make sure that justice is served.”

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR)

Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO)

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI)

Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA)

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA)

Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA)

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN)

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA)

Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-PA)

Rep. Dwight Evans (D-PA)

Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME)

“Today’s vote is a historic step toward setting a federal cannabis policy that works in the 21st century. Eleven states including Maine have already legalized marijuana even though it remains illegal under federal law. The MORE Act will remove a major hurdle for states by removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act list. It will also provide incentives for this industry to grow and succeed with new grant programs,” Pingree said in a press release. “I’m especially pleased that this legislation will right the wrongs of the misguided ‘war on drugs’ which has for decades disproportionately harmed disadvantaged communities and communities of color. The MORE Act will reassess marijuana convictions, create programs for restorative justice, and promote equal participation in the legal marijuana industry.”

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI)

NORML Political Director Justin Strekal

“The passage of the MORE Act represents the first time that the Judiciary Committee has ever had a successful vote to end the cruel policy of marijuana criminalization,” Strekal said. “Not only does the bill reverse the failed prohibition of cannabis, but it provides pathways for opportunity and ownership in the emerging industry for those who have suffered most.”

“In 2018 alone, over 663,000 Americans were arrested for marijuana-related crimes, a three-year high,” he said. “Now that Chairman Nadler has moved the MORE Act through committee, it is time for the full House to vote and have every member of Congress show their constituents which side of history they stand on.”

NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri

“This is a truly historic moment in our nation’s political history,” Altieri said. “For the first time, a Congressional committee has approved far-reaching legislation to not just put an end to federal marijuana prohibition, but to address the countless harms our prohibitionist policies have wrought, notable on communities of color and other marginalized groups.”

“Opposition to our failed war on marijuana has reached a boiling point with over two-thirds of all Americans, including majorities of all political persuasions, now supporting legalization,” he said. “Congress should respect the will of the people and promptly approve the MORE Act and close this dark chapter of failed public policy.”

Drug Policy Alliance Executive Director Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno

“With today’s markup of the MORE Act, the United States is coming one step closer to ending the devastating harms of marijuana prohibition, which have fallen so heavily on Black and Brown people,” Sánchez-Moreno said.

“This legislation won’t make up for the full scale of harm that prohibition has caused to its victims. It’s not going to return anyone their lost dreams, time lost at the mercy of the criminal justice system; or the years spent away from their families,” she said. “But this legislation is the closest we’ve come yet to not only ending those harms at the federal level, but also beginning to repair them. Now it’s up to Congress to do the right thing and swiftly pass the bill to ensure justice is not delayed a moment longer.”

Cannabis Trade Federation CEO Neal Levine

“This committee vote is a historic step forward for cannabis policy reform at the federal level,” Levine said. The MORE Act would ensure cannabis consumers and businesses are treated fairly under the law. It would also bolster state and industry efforts to promote diversity within the cannabis business community, while helping communities and individuals adversely impacted by the war on drugs.”

“A solid majority of Americans support ending cannabis prohibition, and we’re finally seeing that reflected in a vote on Capitol Hill. These votes demonstrate the broad bipartisan support that exists in Congress for allowing states to determine their own cannabis policies,” he said. “There appears to be a consensus among both parties that the conflict between state and federal cannabis laws is untenable and needs to be resolved. We encourage our allies in the Democratic and Republican parties come together to find a bipartisan path forward and pass a law this Congress.”

Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association

“Today’s vote marks a turning point for federal cannabis policy, and is truly a sign that prohibition’s days are numbered,” Smith said. “Thanks to the diligent efforts of advocates and lawmakers from across the political spectrum, we’ve seen more progress in this Congress than ever before.”

“Supermajority public support for legalization, increasing recognition of the devastating impacts of prohibition on marginalized communities and people of color, and the undeniable success of state cannabis programs throughout the country are all helping to build momentum for comprehensive change in the foreseeable future,” he said.

Marijuana Policy Project Executive Director Steve Hawkins

“This vote is an encouraging indication that federal lawmakers are listening to the majority of Americans who support cannabis legalization,” Hawkins said. “Prohibition brings devastating and unjustifiable human and economic costs, and it is time for Congress to take action. We are hopeful that the House of Representatives and the Senate will cooperate to pass legislation to finally end the failed policy of prohibition.”

Americans for Safe Access Interim Director Debbie Churgai

“This groundbreaking legislation would eliminate barriers to cannabis research and provide access for patients throughout the entire country,” Churgai said. “It is time our federal government steps up to provide relief so that patients everywhere can medicate without fear of losing any of their civil rights and protections, including while in federal housing or healthcare settings, such as hospices.”

American Civil Liberties Union Policy Analyst Charlotte Resing

“The House Judiciary Committee’s consideration of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act is a significant step towards ending the failed war on drugs and correcting some of the harms that it has caused,” Resing said. “The bill not only deschedules marijuana at the federal level, but it also provides a roadmap for states to legalize in a just and equitable manner. The MORE Act also provides resentencing and expungement for those with marijuana convictions and mandates the inclusion of those most impacted by the criminalization of marijuana in the newly legal marijuana industry. The ACLU is pleased to support the MORE Act and its efforts to counter the over-criminalization, over policing, and mass incarceration stemming from the war on drugs.”

Maritza Perez, senior policy analyst for Criminal Justice Reform at the Center for American Progress

“We commend Chairman Nadler, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), and the House Judiciary Committee for voting the MORE Act out of committee today,” Perez said. “Along with the Marijuana Justice Coalition, CAP has called on Congress to enact marijuana legalization legislation centered on justice reform and equity. We are proud of the milestone reached today and ask that this bill now move swiftly to the House floor for a vote.”

Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights President Vanita Gupta

Feature image by Shutterstock. 

This article has been republished from Marijuana Moment under a content-sharing agreement. Read the original article here.

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Marijuana Legalization Bill Approved By Congressional Committee In Historic Vote

For the first time in history, a congressional committee has approved a bill to end federal marijuana prohibition.

The House Judiciary Committee passed the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act in a 24-10 vote on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019, setting the stage for a full floor vote.

The vote saw two Republicans — Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Tom McClintock (R-CA) — join their Democratic colleagues in support of the bill.

Debate on the bill generally followed two tracks: 

  • Republican lawmakers argued that the bill was being rushed and that it should be subject to additional hearings. 
  • Democratic members responded that there’s been enough debate on the issue and that there’s no time for delay in beginning to reverse decades of harms of prohibition enforcement.

On the other hand, some GOP members who recognized that the status quo is untenable pushed for legislative action on a separate piece of bipartisan cannabis legislation — the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act — which does not contain social equity elements or formally remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and would simply leave cannabis policy up to the states, arguing that a scaled-down approach would fare better in the Senate.

“We may need something a little less than MORE,” Gaetz said.

The approved legislation, introduced by Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), would federally deschedule cannabis, expunge the records of those with prior marijuana convictions and impose a five percent tax on sales, revenue from which would be reinvested in communities most impacted by the drug war.

It would also create a pathway for resentencing for those incarcerated for marijuana offenses, as well as protect immigrants from being denied citizenship over cannabis and prevent federal agencies from denying public benefits or security clearance due to its use.

“These steps are long overdue. For far too long we’ve treated marijuana as a criminal justice problem instead of a matter of personal choice and public health,” Nadler said in his opening remarks. “Arresting, prosecuting and incarcerating people at the federal level is unwise and unjust.”

“I’ve long believed that the criminalization of marijuana has been a mistake,” he said. “The racially disparate enforcement of marijuana laws has only compounded this mistake with serious consequences, particularly for minority communities.”

Lawmakers that have advocated for cannabis reform held a press conference on Tuesday to highlight the need for the federal policy change. And while Nadler said that it was possible that compromises could be made later in the legislative process, he doesn’t see the need to scale back the proposal’s reach at the onset and feels that bipartisan support will build around his bill.

He also told Marijuana Moment that he is optimistic the legislation will get a full floor vote before the end of the current Congress, and part of that confidence comes from the fact that his panel has been communicating with other committees where the bill has been referred in the hopes that they waive jurisdiction to expedite its advancement.

Watch the committee markup on the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act below:

Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), ranking member of the committee, said he does “believe we need to change our attitudes and our processes because the federal government has completely failed in this area,” but that he doesn’t support the MORE Act.

Several amendments were introduced during the markup.

Nadler put forth an amendment to his own bill, which was adopted, that simply adds a findings section noting the racial disparities in prohibition enforcement and the lack of equity for communities targeted by the war on drugs in the legal cannabis industry.

Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO) offered an amendment that would replace major provisions of the MORE Act with the STATES Act, but he didn’t request a roll call on it following its defeat on a voice vote. Nadler responded to the proposal by noting various issues such as banking and veterans’ access that the STATES Act doesn’t clearly address since it doesn’t deschedule cannabis.

“If we pass the bill that we want, and the Senate passes a different bill, we can negotiate,” the chairman said. “That’s what conference committees are for.”

Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA) filed an amendment that would expand the justice reinvestment provisions of the bill. The measure, which was meant to clarify that provisions aimed at helping people most harmed by the war on drugs are not limited to individuals but could also be used to invest in community-wide efforts such as mentorship programs, was approved.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) put forth a proposal, which was accepted without objection, to require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to conduct a study examining the demographic characteristics of people convicted of federal marijuana offenses.

Buck filed a second amendment requiring GAO to study the societal impact of legalization, and it was adopted on a voice vote.

Much of the conversation during the markup, even among Republican members, involved recognition that prohibition isn’t working and federal policy should change regardless of personal opinions about cannabis.

“I don’t sing the praises of marijuana, I simply recognize the limitation of our laws and also the limits on my ability to try and run everybody’s lives for them,” McClintock (R-CA) said.

McClintock introduced an amendment that would have divided tax revenue generated from legal cannabis sales between local law enforcement and the general revenue fund within the Treasury Department, but it was ruled not germane, with the chairman saying its provisions fall under the jurisdiction of the Ways and Means Committee.

The committee vote comes two months after the House approved a bill that would protect banks that service state-legal cannabis businesses from being penalized by federal regulators. That vote ignited a debate within advocacy circles about whether Congress should pursue incremental reform that might be more amenable to the Republican-controlled Senate first or instead focus their resources on passing comprehensive legalization legislation that addresses social equity from the outset.

Prior to the vote on the marijuana banking bill, several advocacy groups, including the ACLU, urged House leadership to delay the action until wide-ranging reform cleared the chamber.

Many observers expect the MORE Act to receive a favorable vote if it reaches the House floor. The bill’s fate in the Senate is much less certain, however, and may depend on the kind of compromises that Nadler said he hoped to avoid.

This markup garnered significant attention, as it represents the first of its kind that isn’t simply a debate about whether cannabis prohibition should be ended — which occurred in a House subcommittee over the summer — but an actual vote on a bill that would accomplish legalization.

Feature image by Shutterstock

This article has been republished from Marijuana Moment under a content-sharing agreement. Read the original article here. 

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