Anti-marijuana Attorney General Jeff Sessions tendered his resignation on Wednesday, one day after Republicans lost control of the House.
That left cannabis policy observers scrambling to find out where the temporary replacement at the top of the Department of Justice, Sessions’s Chief of Staff Matthew Whitaker, stands on marijuana.
Here’s what Marijuana Moment found in our initial review.
During a 2014 primary debate for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination from Iowa, Whitaker sympathized with patients who benefit from marijuana ingredient cannabidiol (CBD). But, he also voiced concerns about the disconnect between state legalization efforts and the enforcement of federal law under the Obama administration.
During the debate, hosted by Iowa Public Television, he was asked about the state’s recent passage of a CBD-only medical cannabis law.
“First of all, I know a couple of families that are going to be positively impacted by what has happened in the state senate today,” he said. “And I applaud them for helping those families who need that help.”
Whitaker then turned to the Justice Department’s marijuana policy under President Barack Obama’s attorney general, Eric Holder.
“But what we have is we have an attorney general that is telling state attorney generals, ‘if you disagree with a law, you don’t have to enforce it.’ And I am gravely concerned that we are now going to go back and forth between who’s in the White House and what their drug enforcement policy is, and you’ll see under what we have now—where you have Colorado and other states legalizing it really with no federal interference—and then when we come back, we may have a different regulatory scheme.”
Well, then, what should Congress do to resolve those differences?
“I think Congress should regulate things that harm people, and that is the hard drugs and the like that dramatically hurt citizens, cause violent crime in our communities, and those should be regulated,” he said.
“But not marijuana?” the debate moderator asked.
“For me, I saw the impact of marijuana on our border,” he said, presumably referring to his time as a U.S. attorney. “And if you go to any of the counties in Texas where there’s an illegal importation of marijuana, there’s a tremendous amount of violence.”
Marijuana reform advocates have generally applauded the announcement of Sessions’s resignation, as the now former attorney general has a long history of demeaning cannabis consumers, disregarding research about the benefits of medical marijuana and upholding federal prohibition.
“Attorney General Jefferson Sessions was a national disgrace, NORML hopes he finds the time during his retirement to seek treatment for his affliction of 1950’s reefer madness,” NORML executive director Erik Altieri said in a press release.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) called the move a “major step forward for marijuana reform,” also noting that Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), who has obstructed votes on marijuana-related legislation as chair of the House Rules Committee, was defeated in Tuesday’s midterm elections. The two are not related despite sharing the same last name and a disdain for cannabis.
Losing two Sessions, Jeff and Pete, in 24 hours is a major step forward for marijuana reform. https://t.co/ykR8eT8Rid
However, there’s also an argument to be made that Sessions’s departure from the office could ultimately pose threats to the legal cannabis movement. Sessions and President Donald Trump have had a contentious relationship almost from the start of the administration, and the attorney general’s reluctance to crack down on legal cannabis states could theoretically be attributed, in part, to that dynamic. The next attorney general could enjoy some more flexibility when it comes to enforcing federal marijuana laws.
For his part, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) said on Tuesday that he’s looking forward to “continuing to work with the President to fulfill his campaign position to leave the regulation of marijuana to the states.”
With respect to new leadership at DOJ, I will remain committed to defending the rule of law and the rights and decisions of Coloradans. I look forward to continuing to work with the President to fulfill his campaign position to leave the regulation of marijuana to the states.
Trump has already said he’s actively pursuing a permanent replacement for Sessions, so it’s unclear what, if anything, Whitaker could achieve during his temporary stint as acting attorney general, or how long his tenure will last.
Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) said in an interview on Wednesday that the exchange took place during Senate’s tax reform debate earlier this year, and he executed a pretty uncanny impression of McConnell in the retelling.
Asked by Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call to share his favorite story about McConnell, Gardner said the two struck up a conversation on the Senate floor about marijuana and small business tax issues.
At the time, the Colorado senator was pushing an amendment to undo the provision in federal tax law known as 280E that prevents marijuana businesses from writing normal expenses off of their returns.
Gardner pressed McConnell on the issue, telling him that “47-plus states have legalized some form of marijuana, medical marijuana, CBD… Even Utah is most likely gonna legalize medical marijuana this year.”
“And McConnell looks at me and he goes, ‘Utah?’ And just this terrified look. Right as he says that, [Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT)] walks up, and Mitch looks at Orrin, and he says, ‘Orrin, is Utah really gonna legalize marijuana?’”
Then, looking at his feet, hands folded, the Mormon senator from Utah deadpanned: “First tea, then coffee, and now this.”
Though McConnell isn’t quite the face of cannabis reform in Congress, he’s taken a leadership role in the fight to legalize industrial hemp—successfully securing a provision to accomplish just that in the Senate-passed version of the Farm Bill, which is now being reconciled with a proposal from the House that contains no hemp language.
Marijuana reform will likely be on the Trump administration’s agenda after the midterm elections, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) said on Thursday.
In an interview with Fox Business, Rohrabacher said he’s been “talking to people inside the White House” and members of President Donald Trump’s inner circle about ending cannabis prohibition. The congressman said he’s been “reassured that the president intends on keeping his campaign promise” to protect local marijuana policies from federal interference.
Though Rohrabacher didn’t point to specific legislation that the president is reportedly interested in advancing, he said that details would likely begin to take shape after November 6.
“I would expect after the election we will sit down and we’ll start hammering out something that is specific and real.”
Trump has previously voiced support for a bipartisan bill, introduced by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Cory Gardner (R-CO), which would amend the Controlled Substances Act to protect states that legalize cannabis from federal interference. He also embraced medical cannabis during his presidential campaign, saying that he knows people who have benefited from using it.
Rohrabacher, in the new interview published Thursday, laid out a vague timeline for anticipated congressional action on marijuana reform.
“It could be as early as spring of 2019, but definitely in the next legislative session,” he said.
What remains to be seen is which party will ultimately take the lead on marijuana after the midterms. Though Democrats are generally more supportive of cannabis reform and multiple bills have been introduced to achieve that end, a top House Democrat recently conceded that the party hasn’t been actively discussing plans to pass marijuana legislation.
Asked last month whether Democrats would bring cannabis legislation to the floor if the party retakes the House in November, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) admitted “[w]e haven’t talked about that.”
And House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who is expected to seek the speakership again if Democrats win control of the chamber in the midterms, indicated that the prospects for marijuana legislation would depend on support from the president.
“I don’t know where the president is on any of this,” she said. “So any decision about how we go forward would have to reflect where we can get the result.”
Based on polling, either party stands to benefit from taking on a marijuana friendly agenda. Fewer Republican voters support full legalization, compared to Democrats, but when it comes to medical cannabis, there’s sizable majority support on both sides of the aisle.
See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:
Gardner said at the press conference that he spoke to President Trump about marijuana on Thursday morning and that he remains supportive of an approach that respects state laws.
“We can’t go backwards. We can only go forwards,” the president said, according to Gardner.
Warren told the Boston Globe that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) “has pledged to allow a vote on the bill.”
She added that that it was Sessions’s move to rescind the Obama-era guidance that spurred lawmakers to work across the aisle to find a solution to enact statutory protections for local cannabis policies.
“Outdated federal marijuana laws have perpetuated our broken criminal justice system, created barriers to research, and hindered economic development,” Warren said in a press release. “States like Massachusetts have put a lot of work into implementing common sense marijuana regulations – and they have the right to enforce their own marijuana policies. The federal government needs to get out of the business of outlawing marijuana.”
“In 2012, Coloradans legalized marijuana at the ballot box and the state created an apparatus to regulate the legal marijuana industry. But because of the one-size-fits-all federal prohibition, state decisions like this put Colorado and other states at odds with the federal government,” Gardner added. “The federal government is closing its eyes and plugging its ears while 46 states have acted. The bipartisan STATES Act fixes this problem once and for all by taking a states’ rights approach to the legal marijuana question. The bipartisan, commonsense bill ensures the federal government will respect the will of the voters – whether that is legalization or prohibition – and not interfere in any states’ legal marijuana industry.”
Our bill does not legalize marijuana. Instead, it allows the principle of federalism to prevail as the founding fathers intended and leaves the marijuana question up to the states. Learn more here: https://t.co/gRckNUKSic
Companion legislation is also being filed in the House by Congressman David Joyce (R-OH) and Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), along with 14 other cosponsors.
“We should trust the people of the states, like Ohio, who have voted to implement responsible common-sense regulations and requirements for the use, production, and sale of cannabis,” Joyce said in a press release. “If the people of these states have decided to provide help for those veterans and others suffering from pain and other health issues, we should allow them access without government interference.”
We should trust the people of the states, like Ohio, who have voted to implement responsible common-sense regulations & requirements for the use, production, & sale of cannabis. Proud to introduce the STATES Act with Rep. Blumenauer @CoryGardner@SenWarrenhttps://t.co/t5eKgVuQzq
“For too long the senseless prohibition of marijuana has devastated communities, disproportionately impacting poor Americans and communities of color. Not to mention, it’s also wasted resources and stifled critical medical research,” Blumenauer argued. “It’s past time to put the power back in the hands of the people. Congress must right this wrong.”
For far too long, lives & resources have been wasted because of the failed War on Drugs. Congress must right this wrong & end marijuana prohibition. Proud to have been part of this effort. https://t.co/UDKI0piZp9
In a news advisory, Warren’s office said the legislation will “ensure that each state has the right to determine for itself the best approach to marijuana within its borders.” It also “extends these protections to Washington D.C., U.S. territories, and federally recognized tribes, and contains common-sense guardrails to ensure that states, territories, and tribes regulating marijuana do so safely.”
Earlier on Thursday, Warren and Gardner discussed their cannabis bill in an appearances on MSNBC and Fox News.
By outlawing marijuana, the federal government puts communities of color, small businesses, & public health & safety at risk. My new bill with @SenCoryGardner will let states, territories, & tribes decide for themselves how to regulate marijuana – without federal interference.
No veteran with chronic pain, child with a rare disease, or person struggling with a terminal illness should be denied the treatment they need. Millions of Americans currently access medical marijuana under state law. My new bill with @SenCoryGardner will help protect them.
No qualified scientist should have to struggle to conduct basic research on marijuana. Their findings could spur medical advances or counter the opioid epidemic. I'm introducing a new bill with @SenCoryGardner that could make it easier to study marijuana’s medical uses.
“Thanks to the leadership of Senators Gardner and Warren, the movement to end the federal government’s failed policy of cannabis criminalization has truly become a bipartisan effort,” Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, said in an interview. “Given that a majority of states now regulate marijuana use and six out of ten voters endorse legalizing the plant’s use by adults, it is time that members of Congress take action to comport federal law with majority public opinion and the plant’s rapidly changing legal and cultural status. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions must be restrained from having the ability to infringe on the rights of states that have successfully implemented marijuana legalization, be it for medical or responsible adult use.”
It is unclear if or when the new legislation will be voted on, but the development adds to significant momentum for cannabis reform on Capitol Hill and in states in recent weeks.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) filed a bill to legalize industrial hempand fast-tracked it on the calendar, skipping the committee process, and said he intends to attach the language to the larger Farm Bill.
President Trump said on Friday that he “really” supports new marijuana legislation filed by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Cory Gardner (R-CO).
“I really do. I support Senator Gardner,” he said when a reporter asked whether he backs the bill.
“I know exactly what he’s doing. We’re looking at it,” Trump said during an impromptu press conference on the White House lawn as he prepared to board Marine One to head to G-7 summit in Canada. “But I probably will end up supporting that, yes.”
“It is a positive sign that President Trump’s first cannabis comment as the Commander in Chief was support for the STATES Act. The real question is how will Speaker Ryan and Leader McConnell react,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal told Marijuana Moment in an interview. “The burden is now on the congressional gatekeepers to pass the bill so we can finally end Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s legal ability to infringe upon the progress we have made in 46 states and unshackle state-lawmakers to end criminalization once and for all.”
Nine U.S. states have legalized marijuana for adults over 21 years of age. Many other states allow patients to use some form of medical cannabis.
In a tweet, Congressman David Joyce (R-OH), who is sponsoring a companion bill to the Warren-Gardner proposal in the House, said that Trump’s comments represented “big news for the rights of our state voters and those suffering.”
See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below: