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It’s Time for a Congressional Vote on Medical Cannabis

It’s Time for a Congressional Vote on Medical Cannabis

Recent polls indicate support for medical cannabis legalization is hovering around 90% amongst American voters, likely making it the most popular issue in the country this election cycle. Increasing numbers of Congressmen – perhaps a majority in the House of Representatives – have pledged to support medical cannabis legalization for a host of reasons ranging from states’ rights to criminal justice reform to economic growth.

We believe it’s time for Congress to vote on medical cannabis legalization and right an injustice that has plagued this nation for decades. The prospect of having this vote before the midterm elections makes even the most ardent supporters nervous. Echoing the arguments made against Women’s Suffrage, the Civil Rights Movement, and Marriage Equality, many contend that it’s not the right time to force a vote – if we’re just patient, in a few years, the time will come.

For the millions of predominately African American and Hispanic Americans imprisoned for cannabis-related offenses, for the thousands of dispensary owners being taxed out of existence by 280e, and for the tens of millions of patients being denied effective treatment by outdated laws, there is no comfort in, “the time will come.” For them, justice delayed is justice denied.

MassRoots is launching #LegalizeNow, a docuseries covering the progression of medical cannabis legalization in the United States, including the movement for a discharge petition on the STATES Act. Should 218 members of the House of Representatives sign this discharge petition, the STATES Act to legalize medical cannabis will be brought to a vote this fall.

We’re calling on all Americans to leave a video testimonial at LegalizeNow.com on the reasons you support medicinal cannabis legalization and the impact cannabis has had on your life.

We recognize this movement is a long-shot: Congress has never voted on medical cannabis legalization and some critics say it will never happen. However, all great movements start with a small group of passionate supporters working tirelessly against all odds.

For the patients, prisoners, activists, and entrepreneurs of the legalization movement, let’s #LegalizeNow!!!

To Victory,

Isaac Dietrich

Founder and CEO, MassRoots, Inc.

Congress Debates Marijuana Legalization And Impaired Driving

Congress Debates Marijuana Legalization And Impaired Driving

A congressional committee looking at drug-impaired driving repeatedly turned to the question of marijuana legalization and its potential impact on U.S. roadways on Wednesday.

Several witnesses took questions from members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on ways to reduce drug-impaired driving, but the experts generally agreed that it’s difficult to identify a direct link between cannabis reform efforts at the state-level and rates of traffic incidents.

What’s more, the kind of technology that enables law enforcement officials to determine the level of intoxication of a driver who consumed alcohol does not currently exist for marijuana. Drug tests can find inactive metabolites of THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, but there aren’t any devices that can demonstrate active impairment. Those inactive ingredients can also show up in drug tests for as long as a month for marijuana, compared to just days for other drugs such as cocaine, so their presence does not necessarily indicate that someone is high behind the wheel.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) mentioned that Illinois law enforcement departments are “experimenting with a new swab test” for various drugs, but that for the time being, results of those tests are “unlikely to be admissible in court.”

The experts echoed the congresswoman’s skepticism about the utility of existing drug testing technology such as blood alcohol content (BAC) tests for marijuana. Dr. Robert DuPont, president of the Institute for Behavior and Health and a former director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said that “there is no fixed relationship between blood and impairment for other drugs” besides alcohol.

“Alcohol is the exception—not marijuana—in this, and we’re going to have exactly that problem with every single drug. It cannot be fixed with additional research.”

One simple way to minimize marijuana use behind the wheel would be to impose a zero-tolerance policy for individuals under 21, similar to alcohol, DuPont recommended. But that would lead to widespread criminalization of minors who use marijuana but don’t necessarily drive under the influence, and could even sweep up young people who use medical cannabis.

Colleen Sheehy-Church, president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), called for additional research to establish evidence-based drug testing technology but acknowledged that alcohol remains the deadliest and costliest factor in traffic fatalities.

“What we don’t know, however, is the role of [other] drugs as a causal factors in traffic crashes,” she said. “This is why more research is needed.”

Two members of the committee—Reps. Larry Bucshon (R-IN) and Leonard Lance (R-NJ)—voiced their opposition to recreational marijuana legalization during the hearing. Bucshon, who is also a heart surgeon, said that his experience as a medical professional led him to oppose reform efforts because he worried about the potential health impact on the brains of young users.

Lance said that he was “open to expanding access for medicinal use of marijuana,” but opposes broader legalization.

“I’m especially worried about the legalization of recreational marijuana’s effects on our roadways,” Lance said. “New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the nation.”

But while the conversation over marijuana legalization and drug-impaired driving during the hearing was largely centered on methods that can be used to mitigate the risk, there was no mention of the growing body of research that contradicts the notion that legalization leads to increased traffic incidents.

For example, a 2017 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found “changes in motor vehicle crash fatality rates for Washington and Colorado were not statistically different from those in similar states without recreational marijuana legalization.”

A similar study published in the National Bureau of Economic Research concluded that “states that legalized marijuana have not experienced significantly different rates of marijuana- or alcohol-related traffic fatalities relative to [states that haven’t legalized].”

Senate Committee Ignores Key Facts About Marijuana And Driving

See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:

Congress Debates Marijuana Legalization And Impaired Driving

A Key Senate Committee Is Becoming Less Marijuana-Friendly

A Key Senate Committee Is Becoming Less Marijuana-Friendly

For the past several years, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee has been more responsible for marijuana reform victories in Congress than any other panel of lawmakers.

Bipartisan measures to protect state medical cannabis laws, allow medical marijuana for military veterans and shield state industrial hemp research programs from the feds have all advanced there.

Those wins have been especially valuable for legalization supporters because in the other chamber, the House Rules Committee has blocked cannabis-related amendments from advancing to the floor over the same period of time.

But in recent weeks the Senate committee, which handles funding levels and spending riders covering federal agencies, has begun to make a number of anti-cannabis moves.

Last week, for example, it prevented a measure to allow marijuana businesses to access banks from advancing by a vote of 21-10. Nearly identical amendments were approved by the committee in 2015 and 2016, but this time several Democrats who position themselves as supporters of cannabis law reform spoke out against the proposal on procedural grounds.

Earlier this month the panel released a report incorrectly alleging an increase in impaired driving in states that have reformed their cannabis laws.

In a separate report this month the committee expressed concern about illegal marijuana cultivation on public lands, singling out states with legalization.

And now, in a new development that hasn’t yet been reported elsewhere, the committee is making moves to block Washington, D.C. from further legalizing marijuana.

“No funds available for obligation or expenditure by the District of Columbia government under any authority may be used to enact any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801 et seq.) or any tetrahydrocannabinols derivative for recreational purposes,” reads a provision of the Financial Services and General Government funding bill approved by the committee on Thursday.

Unlike the House Appropriations Committee, which has consistently moved to block cannabis reform in the nation’s capital, the Senate panel for the past several years has kept its version of funding bill free of marijuana-related D.C. riders (though the spending bans have been enacted into law anyway because the House language has prevailed in bicameral conference committees that reconcile both chambers’ bills into final legislation).

Now that the Senate committee has moved to adopt the D.C. cannabis prohibition as well, its continuance into Fiscal Year 2019 is a virtual certainty, meaning that local officials will not be able to spend locally raised funds adding a system of taxed and regulated marijuana sales to the city’s existing law that allows low-level possession and home cultivation.

“I am disappointed that the committee chose to depart from their past practice of not including anti-D.C. riders,” Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) said in a press release. “I will be fighting here in the House and Senate to strike all anti-D.C. riders and prevent any new riders from being included in the final spending bill.”

Also, committee report attached to the new funding bill also goes out of its way to wag its finger at Indian tribes that might be considering entering the marijuana industry.

“The Committee expects the CDFI Fund to ensure no funding is allocated to tribes to support marijuana production, manufacturing, or distribution and report to the Committee on any Tribe who engages in such activities and receives funding appropriated by this act,” the report says, referring to the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund, which focuses on economic revitalization in distressed communities.

None of this is to say that the Senate panel has defeated all recent marijuana reform measures. For example, this month it opted to continue protecting states where medical marijuana is legal from federal interference and approved an amendment that would allow Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) doctors to issue medical cannabis recommendations to veterans. And last month, it directed the Department of Agriculture to set aside half a million dollars to build a hemp seedbank.

Significantly, the language protecting state medical cannabis laws was included in the initial Justice Department bill as introduced by Republican leaders for the first time, whereas its enactment in past years has required a specific votes on amendments to add it.

But, in other ways noted above, the committee has clearly become less friendly to marijuana law reform efforts in recent months, and one major factor is its new chairman.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) ascended to the top position on the panel in April, following the retirement of Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS). While Cochran was not exactly a champion of cannabis legalization, he left advocates with the sense that he just didn’t care much about the issue by allowing amendments to be voted on without applying significant behind-the-scenes pressure.

Shelby, on the other hand, who for years served alongside U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in representing Alabama in the Senate, has made it clear that he doesn’t like the idea of attaching policy riders — marijuana or otherwise — to spending bills.

“Chairman Shelby was very anti-amendments this year,” Michael Liszewski of the Enact Group, told Marijuana Moment. “If you watched this year’s hearings, you probably noticed a decrease in the number of amendments offered. That’s because Shelby made it clear that he had very little tolerance for legislating through approps.”

And, he appears to be making deals with Democrats to accomplish his goal of reducing the number of policy riders on appropriations legislation.

That’s the conclusion that can reasonably be drawn from an exchange between Shelby and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who has been a champion of marijuana law reform efforts in the committee, that could be faintly heard on the committee’s audio feed just moments after the Vermont Democrat helped lead the charge to kill the cannabis banking measure last week:

SHELBY: “Thank you, Pat.”

LEAHY: “I told you I would.”

While Leahy said during a debate before the vote to table the measure that he objected to its advancement on procedural grounds concerning the alleged inappropriateness of legislating policy on spending bills, the fact is that Leahy himself is more responsible than any other senator for the continuance of the separate rider preventing Justice Department interference in state medical cannabis laws, so his public argument seems at least a little disingenuous.

Advocates who did not wish to be quoted for this story speculated that Democrats may have extracted some concessions on immigration policy in exchange for not pushing the marijuana banking rider, but that could not be immediately confirmed.

Another key change on the appropriations panel is the fact that Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), a vocal cannabis opponent, recently became chair of its Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee, which handles Washington, D.C.

His ascendancy to the subcommittee chairmanship likely explains the panel’s inclusion of anti-marijuana language in the relevant funding bill for the first time in years. (Of note, however, the Senate bill covering D.C. doesn’t contain language from the House version of the legislation that would add a new restriction on the use of funds to support opening safe consumption facilities where people could consume illegal drugs under the supervision of medical professionals.)

Justin Strekal of NORML told Marijuana Moment in an interview that the committee’s seeming shift away from support for marijuana law reform in recent weeks may, perhaps counterintuitively, have to do with cannabis legalization’s growing political support.

“We’ve gained more momentum,” he said, referring to the fact that numerous lawmakers — including party leaders like Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) — are embracing legislation that would provide more permanent fixes to the federal-state cannabis law gap than annual appropriations riders can.

“The stark realities are much crisper now,” he said. “Every amendment that tinkers with [cannabis enforcement] is still dancing around the fact that we still live under a regime of complete prohibition.”

“It’s increasingly going to be more difficult to get lawmakers to be OK with cutesy little fixes when the need for comprehensive reform is crystalizing.”

But in order to enact broader solutions, it’s going to take movement by committees that set federal drug policy and enact authorizations for relevant federal agencies.

Unfortunately, those panels — the House and Senate Judiciary Committees — at least for now, are controlled by ardent legalization opponents. But with a midterm election coming up that observers believe could reverse party control of one or both chambers, anything can happen in 2019.

See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:

A Key Senate Committee Is Becoming Less Marijuana-Friendly

Lawmakers And Advocates React To Bipartisan Trump-Supported Marijuana Bill

Lawmakers And Advocates React To Bipartisan Trump-Supported Marijuana Bill

On Thursday, U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) announced plans to introduce legislation to let states enact their own marijuana laws without federal interference, a proposal that President Trump told Gardner he supports.

Senators File Marijuana Bill Following Trump Pledge To Respect State Legalization

House members are filing a companion bill.

Here’s what other lawmakers and advocates are saying about the bill…

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO):

U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV):

Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA):

Congresswoman Diana DeGette (D-CO):

Officials with Competitive Enterprise Institute, Americans for Tax Reform, Taxpayers Protection Alliance and other groups:

“Though we vary in our opinions on marijuana legalization, the signatories to this letter are in strong accord when it comes to the matter of the level of government to which this question should be left. We believe the STATES Act appropriately addresses the conflict between state and federal marijuana laws without asking Congress to take a stance on whether marijuana should be legalized—Congress need only get out of the way of state legislatures and their voters, who are best positioned to decide questions about marijuana legalization. As noted, the undersigned groups believe this right must be restored to the states.”

NORML Political Director Justin Strekal:

“With the introduction of The STATES Act by Senators Warren and Gardner, the movement to end the federal government’s failed policy of cannabis criminalization has truly become a bipartisan effort. The majority of states now regulate marijuana use and more than six out of ten voters endorse legalizing the plant’s use by adults, making it time for the federal government to no longer stand in the way of this progress at the state level. President Trump made a commitment to Senator Gardner that he would support a federalist approach to state marijuana laws. Now Congress must do its part and swiftly move forward on this bipartisan legislation that explicitly provides states with the authority and autonomy to set their own marijuana policies absent the fear of federal incursion from a Justice Department led by militant cannabis prohibitionist Attorney General Jeff Sessions.”

Don Murphy, conservative outreach director for the Marijuana Policy Project:

“The STATES Act is the most significant piece of marijuana-related legislation ever introduced in Congress. With its bipartisan backing in the Senate, it symbolically signals the eventual end of marijuana prohibition at the federal level. This legislation reflects the position President Trump took on marijuana policy during his campaign, and it comes shortly on the heels of the positive comments he made to Sen. Gardner. The president has a unique opportunity to get behind historic legislation that enjoys solid support on both sides of the political spectrum. While we look forward to the day when there is full acceptance of cannabis at the federal level, we heartily embrace the states’ rights approach proposed by this bill. As an organization, we have been at the forefront of changing state marijuana laws for more than 20 years. It is time for those laws to be respected by and protected from the federal government.”

Jolene Forman, staff attorney at the Drug Policy Alliance:

“The STATES Act represents a landmark moment in the movement to end the decades-long war on marijuana,” said. It creates a workable framework for approaching the future of marijuana policy. “The STATES Act is a first step toward ending the harms of marijuana prohibition. This bipartisan proposal clears the way for states to develop their own marijuana policies without fear of federal intervention. This will give states more opportunity to restore communities that have borne the brunt of the drug war and mass criminalization.

Inimai Chettiar, director of the Brennan Center’s Justice program:

“This new bill introduced by Senators Warren and Gardner safeguards states’ ability to set their own reasonable policies about marijuana against the punitive and ineffective approaches preferred by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. In the face of outdated federal policy, this bill defends the ability and responsibility of states to create and test the best marijuana policies for the American people, and will decrease the number of people in our country who are unnecessarily incarcerated.”

Veterans Cannabis Project Founder and Executive Director Nick Etten:

“This bill is an important sign of bipartisan respect for the will of voters across the country, but it does nothing to help the millions of veterans who rely on a federal VA health system that bans veterans from access to state-legal medical cannabis. Millions of veterans want legal access to medical cannabis as a treatment option and that won’t be possible until Congress and President Trump change federal law to remove cannabis from its current Schedule 1 classification.”

New Federalism Fund:

“We applaud Senator Gardner, Senator Warren, Congressman Joyce, Congressman Blumenauer, and the rest of the cosponsors for their bipartisan leadership on the STATES Act. Conflicts between federal and state law are creating untenable issues for the state-licensed and regulated cannabis industry. The STATES ACT amends the Controlled Substances Act to bring federal drug policy back into alignment with the 10th Amendment, allowing each state to determine the best cannabis policy for their citizens. This is as the Founders would have intended, making the STATES Act an important step towards a humane and constitutional federal cannabis policy.”

National Sheriffs’ Association, Major County Sheriffs’ Association, Major Cities Chiefs Association, National Narcotics Officers’ Associations’ Coalition and other law enforcement groups:

“The fact is, gangs and cartels have been making liberal use of legalization to provide cover for their illegal activities. These gangs have ties to Mexican, Cuban, Vietnamese, and Russian cartels. The gangs often purchase homes in residential neighborhoods, wire in extra electricity and water capacity, and convert them into multi-million dollar grow houses in suburban neighborhoods. These gangs are also trafficking in other illegal drugs, organized crime, and prostitution. Crime has been steadily increasing in Colorado in all categories since legalization, including violent crimes.”

Smart Approaches to Marijuana’s Kevin Sabet:

“Four years ago, as a member of the House, Cory Gardner voted against these very same provisions. Now that the pot industry has expanded in Colorado, normalizing use and advertising THC-laced candies to youth, he is singing a different tune. If enacted, this bill would pave the way for the commercialization of the marijuana industry and the creation of the next Big Tobacco. It is a shame that Senator Gardner has chosen to put political donations and expediency ahead of public health and safety. We are seeing communities across the country fight back and SAM applauds New Hampshire, Connecticut, Vermont, and other states who have recently rejected Big Marijuana. We won’t stop amplifying the voices of families and individuals affected by these lax policies.”

Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:

Lawmakers And Advocates React To Bipartisan Trump-Supported Marijuana Bill

Congressional Black Caucus Pushes Major Marijuana Reforms

Congressional Black Caucus Pushes Major Marijuana Reforms

Leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) introduced a 1,227-page bill on Thursday that calls for the removal of marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act—among many other far-reaching proposals—as part of an effort to foster racial justice and stimulate job growth in the United States.

Not only is the caucus, headed by Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA), seeking federal cannabis reform, the Jobs and Justice Act would also establish a “reinvestment fund” for communities adversely impacted by the war on drugs. That would include grants for job training, funds to clear past cannabis convictions, public libraries and community centers, according to the text of the bill.

The Jobs and Justice Act would also eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for federal drug offenses. It’s comprehensive in scope, including numerous provisions such as prohibiting racial profiling, abolishing the federal death penalty, raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour and making mid-term and presidential elections federal holidays.

“2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr,” a statement from the CBC reads. “While Dr. King is well known for his efforts to champion social justice issues, he and many other civil rights activists of the day fought for economic justice as well. In addition to voting rights and equal protections under the law, every man, woman, and child deserves equal access to economic opportunities.”

The new bill comes as the Marijuana Justice Act, which was introduced with a similar intent to end racially disproportionate enforcement of marijuana laws across the country, is gaining momentum. The legislation, filed by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ)—and co-sponsored by several other potential 2020 Democratic presidential contenders such as Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and most recently, Kamala Harris (D-CA)—would end the federal prohibition of cannabis and penalize states with disproportionate marijuana enforcement.

Though the Jobs and Justice Act appears unlikely advance in the current Congress, it serves as the latest signal that federal marijuana politics are shifting at a rapid pace—and Democrats certainly seem to be working to capitalize on the issue’s popularity among voters.

https://massroots.wpengine.com/news/kamala-harris-officially-marijuana-legalization/

See the full text of the Jobs and Justice Act below:

[scribd id=378936072 key=key-CNOQ5Cat9zSmW3D4xU8J mode=scroll]

See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:

Congressional Black Caucus Pushes Major Marijuana Reforms

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