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Thursday, March 29, 2018

National News - April 2018 - by Kathy Hess

Congress Protects Medical Marijuana From Sessions In Federal Spending Bill

WASHINGTON D.C.- MM patients and businesses that follow state laws will remain protected from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as well as federal drug agents that work for him, under a provision contained in new in the new budget revealed on Wednesday.

The policy (federal law since 2014) bars the U.S. Department of Justice from using funds to meddle with the execution of state medical marijuana laws. Its continuation was in question after Sessions explicitly asked Congress not to extend it and House leaders blocked a vote on the matter.

However the rider, which cleared a key Senate panel last year, is now attached to a bilateral deal to fund the federal government's operations through the rest of Fiscal Year 2018, which ends on September 30. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions annulled a separate Obama-era Justice Department memo, last January, which cleared the way for states to execute their own marijuana laws without federal interference.

The new bill also continues existing provisions shielding state industrial hemp research programs from federal interference. And it extends a current ban on Washington, D.C. using its own funds to legalize and regulate marijuana sales.  There is also a bipartisan group of Congress members who are organizing to include medical marijuana protection into the Fiscal Year 2019 spending legislation.

"We believe such a policy is not only consistent with the wishes of a bipartisan majority of the members of the House, but also with the wishes of the American people," 62 lawmakers wrote in a letter to House appropriations leaders last week.

“We are concerned about the Department of Justice enforcing federal marijuana law in a way that blocks implementation of marijuana reform laws in those states that have passed such reforms,” 59 House Republicans and Democrats wrote in a separate letter on Friday. “The issue at hand is whether the federal government’s marijuana policy violates the principles of federalism and the Tenth Amendment. Consistent with those principles, we believe that states ought to retain jurisdiction over most criminal justice matters within their borders. This is how the Founders intended our system to function.”

The current medical marijuana rider was first approved by a House floor vote of 219-189 in 2014 and then again in 2015 by a margin of 242-186. The Senate Appropriations Committee has also adopted the language in a series of bipartisan votes, most recently last summer.

The provision must be reapproved annually because it concerns specific years' spending bills.

Cannabis Activists Are The New NRA,

WASHINGTON DC-The gun lobby is close to finding itself in a financial face-off with marijuana activists, according to Julie Schauer, a retired millionaire who donated $1.3 million to the campaign against marijuana legalization in California in 2016, the pot lobby will soon "own" Democratic leaders "just as the NRA controls GOP."

In fact, the cannabis lobby has been contributing far more cash to Republicans - especially GOP lawmakers who oppose the Trump administration's efforts to crack down on state-legalized marijuana industries. 

Schauer's assertion also neglects the many Republican leaders who are fighting for legalization as an alternative to the "injustice" of the War on Drugs, which "has disproportionately affected young black males" and is little more than "an excuse to send people to prison and turn a mistake into a tragedy," to use the words of Republican Senator Rand Paul.

Sharon Cooper (R) - Chairwoman of the House's Health and Human Services Committee - recently told Congress to “get off their duffs and act” on cannabis reform for the sake of patients across the country. Her message mirrors the sentiments of Republican Bryan Terry, who chairs the House Health Subcommittee in Tennessee. 

Those patients have been sheltered from prosecution thus far thanks to the hard work of Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, whose name is on the budget amendment that prevents the DEA from spending any funds on enforcing federal prohibition against state-legalized MM industries.
Rohrabacher has also introduced legislation to guard state-legalized marijuana industries, as well as his GOP colleague Thomas Garrett of Virginia. At the state level, Republican lawmakers have legalized medical marijuana in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio recently.  Kentucky could soon join the fold if Republican Senator Dan Seum's legalization of cannabis bill gets passed.
So why would cannabis activists try to "own" Democrats when Republicans are getting just as much - if not more - done for the legalization movement? The efforts of Republican legislators show that legalization is a bipartisan issue.

Capital Punishment for Drug-Related Prosecutions

WASHINGTON D.C. - Attorney General Sessions issued the following memo to U.S. Attorneys on March 21st, providing guidance regarding the use of capital punishment in drug-related prosecutions:

"The opioid epidemic has inflicted an unprecedented toll of addiction, suffering, and death on communities throughout our nation. Drug overdoses, including overdoses caused by the lethal substance fentanyl and its analogues, killed more than 64,000 Americans in 2016 and now ranks as the leading cause of death for Americans under 50. In the face of all of this death, we cannot continue with business as usual.

"Drug traffickers, transnational criminal organizations, and violent street gangs all contribute substantially to this scourge. To combat this deadly epidemic, federal prosecutors must consider every lawful tool at their disposal. This includes designating an opioid coordinator in every district, fully utilizing the data analysis of the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit, as well as using criminal and civil remedies available under federal law to hold opioid manufacturers and distributors accountable for unlawful practices."

Leading Anti-Pot Official Is Named Sessions.

And it’s not Jeff.

TEXAS- In January, a year after he took office, Attorney General Jeff Sessions took his first shot at marijuana by repealing the Cole Memo. Though long-expected, revoking the Cole Memo nonetheless caused anxiety throughout the financially rocketing cannabis industry and established for most observers that he was the chief antagonist of legal marijuana in Washington.

The nation’s top law enforcement officer has made it clear over the years that he views marijuana as a curse equal to heroin.  However it turns out the unofficial title of Washington’s most powerful marijuana opponent belongs to someone else named Sessions: Pete, the longtime congressman from Texas’ 32nd district in Dallas. Pete Sessions holds no relations to the AG Sessions, although he shares his unforgiving attitudes toward all things cannabis.

“Marijuana is an addictive product, and the merchants of addiction make it that way,” Pete Sessions said in January. “They make it to where our people, our young people, become addicted to marijuana and keep going.” In February, at an opioid summit at the University of Texas Southwestern, Rep. Sessions stretched scientific fact when he said, today’s product is “300 times more powerful” than when he went to high school. (Later, his communications director confirmed that he meant three times more powerful.)

What Pete Sessions has that Jeff Sessions doesn’t is the power to change laws. Very quietly, but with implacable efficiency, Pete Sessions has used his position as the chair of the House Rules Committee to confound or roll back amendments that protected legal marijuana in the 29 states that have approved it. Short of changing federal drug law, legislators in the states with forms of legal pot have sought the next best protection: using the power of the purse to curtail enforcement. But Sessions, with the approval of House leadership, has thwarted his colleagues. He neutralized one amendment that sailed through with a comfortable bipartisan majority and smothered others that would pass if they were ever allowed to see the light of day.

Criticism has never troubled Pete, in his 16-year career. But recent polling indicates that 83 percent of Texas voters now favor legalizing medical marijuana, and that seems to be feeding a nascent campaign to use Sessions’ anti-marijuana influence against him in the 2018 midterm election. Even some Texas Republicans think his zealousness on the issue violates essential conservative principles of less government. “He’s got this personal viewpoint; he’s just personally against it. And there’s nothing that’s going to change his mind,” said Zoe Russell, of Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP). “That’s the absolute worst of big government.”

Since Pete Sessions halted congressional movement on marijuana legalization, the states have steam rolled ahead in perfect disregard of his personal beef with the plant. In November 2016, California, Nevada, Massachusetts and Maine approved full recreational use. Arkansas, Florida and North Dakota legalized medical marijuana by ballot measure, and Pennsylvania and Ohio approved medical marijuana by state legislation. In 2017, West Virginia became the 29th state to legalize medical marijuana. So far in 2018, Vermont implemented a full legal law, the first state to do so by state legislature. A legalization bill is currently working its way through the New Jersey legislature. In Michigan, full legalization is on the ballot in November, and voters in Missouri, Oklahoma and Utah will have the opportunity to vote their states into the medical marijuana club.

Signs the Drug War is thawing, even in deep-red Texas, are hard to miss.  In 2015, the Texas legislature passed an extremely limited medical marijuana program that grants access to non-psychoactive CBD concentrates to Texans suffering from epilepsy. Given that the Drug Enforcement Administration still considers non-psychoactive CBD to be a drug with no medicinal value, Texas’ testing the waters of medical marijuana legalization has been an act of civil disobedience against a federal drug enforcement policy that is staunchly defended by the likes of Pete Sessions. In Dallas County, where the majority of Sessions’ constituents reside, police no longer arrest people caught with up to a quarter pound of marijuana, opting instead for a cite-and-release program meant to unclog the jails and judicial system, following the example of similar programs in San Antonio, Houston and Austin.

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