Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), a longtime ardent marijuana legalization opponent, announced on Friday that he is stepping down as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee in order to take over a separate leadership position, potentially paving a path forward for cannabis legislation in the 116th Congress.
Next in line for the chairmanship of the panel, which plays a central role in drug policy legislation, is Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)—who certainly isn’t the most marijuana-friendly member of the Senate but is significantly more open-minded about medical cannabis and other common sense reform measures than the current chairman is.
I very much appreciate Senator @ChuckGrassley's leadership of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
He chaired the committee with a steady hand, sense of fundamental fairness, and resolve.
Whereas Grassley has refused to let any marijuana bills come to a vote as Judiciary chairman, Graham has made surprise appearances as a cosponsor of legislation to protect legal medical states from federal interference, reschedule cannabis and also remove cannabidiol (CBD) from the list of federally banned substances.
“Senator Graham chairing Judiciary is the best news reformers have heard since Pete Sessions lost reelection,” Don Murphy, director of federal policies at the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment, referring to the outgoing House Rules Committee chair who has consistently blocked marijuana legislation from votes.
The senator has “shown empathy for patients and is a vocal advocate of the Tenth Amendment,” Murphy said. Plus, he added, Graham’s relationship with President Donald Trump “also bodes well for passage” of key marijuana reform legislation.
“If I was in the industry, I’d be buying today.”
In 2015, Graham voted against an amendment that would have allowed the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to recommend cannabis to patients; but the next year he reversed himself and supported a similar proposal to expand access to medical marijuana for veterans.
Also in 2016, the South Carolina senator supported an amendment to prevent the Department of Justice from spending money to interfere with state medical cannabis laws.
Graham told Politico that same year that medical cannabis “could be life-changing” and that restrictions on research should be lifted.
At a CNN event in 2015 he said that while he’s “not a big fan of legalizing marijuana,” you can “count me in for medical marijuana” because he is “convinced that it helps people with epilepsy.”
Graham once referred to marijuana as “half as bad as alcohol” but added that didn’t “see a real need for me to change the law up here.”
Grassley, for his part, did cosponsor a limited CBD research bill, but that’s about as far as his openness to marijuana reform seems to extend.
“I’m cautiously optimistic about what can be accomplished with Senator Graham chairing Judiciary. He’s certainly more open-minded and dynamic when it comes to marijuana than Senator Grassley,” Michael Liszewski, principal of the cannabis-focused lobbying outfit The Enact Group, told Marijuana Moment. “However, as a former prosecutor he could be more insistent that DOJ enforce the letter of the existing law.”
It is also worth noting that Graham has not signed on to the current 115th Congress’s version of the far-reaching medical cannabis bill he previously cosponsored, nor has he gotten on board with growing bipartisan calls to more broadly amend federal marijuana law, something for which President Trump has voiced support.
“Moreover, he demonstrated some hyperbolic fears about state medical marijuana programs in a July 2016 subcommittee hearing,” Liszewski said, referring to a discussion on cannabis policy Graham chaired. “But even with all of that, we will have a better chance to move forward with legislation in the Senate than we had under Grassley.”
In all likelihood, medical cannabis legislation will be referred to the committee Graham is positioned to run during the next Congress. Bills referred to the Senate Judiciary in the 115th Congress include one to end federal marijuana prohibition, another that would remove CBD from the Controlled Substances Act (which Graham cosponsored) and the CARERS Act (a version of which he previously cosponsored). Grassley didn’t schedule hearings or votes on any of them.
Graham has made clear that marijuana isn’t a top priority for him, but his support for medical cannabis and his voting record suggest that the Judiciary Committee could become much more amendable sending reform bills to the Senate floor under his leadership at a time when advocates are more optimistic than ever about the prospects for federal change. At least, more amenable than it has been under Grassley.
And this latest development, combined with the fact that Democrats retook the House, adds to the increasingly favorable political landscape that marijuana reform advocates are entering in the next Congress.
In the meantime, Graham hasn’t yet been formally named as chairman, but he is next in the line of seniority among Republicans on the panel following Grassley’s switch to instead chair the Finance Committee and the retirement of Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT).
“As the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Lindsey Graham will have to make a choice when it comes to marijuana,” NORML political director Justin Strekal told Marijuana Moment. “Will he continue to perpetuate the failed policy of federal criminalization which resulted in over 659,000 Americans being handcuffed in 2017 alone, or will he be open to reform in a way the reflects the rapidly evolving nature of cannabis policy in the majority of states?”
“In the 116th Congress, there will be at least 66 Senators representing states with a regulated medical cannabis program,” Strekal added.
UPDATE: This story has been updated to include comments from representatives of NORML and the Marijuana Policy Project.
The Embassy also launched a frequently asked questions page, which responds to queries about how consuming marijuana or investing or working in the cannabis industry could impact admissibility to the U.S.
Perhaps of most interest to Canadians involved in cannabis businesses, the document reiterates and confirms that “a Canadian citizen working in or facilitating the proliferation of the legal marijuana industry in Canada, coming to the United States for reasons unrelated to the marijuana industry will generally be admissible to the United States.”
“However, if a traveler is found to be coming to the United States for reasons related to the marijuana industry, they may be deemed inadmissible,” it says.
While one of the questions—”Do you anticipate more American tourists crossing into Canada due to the change in legalization?—seems to acknowledge that many U.S. citizens support and would like to take advantage of Canada’s new marijuana laws, the Embassy doesn’t really provide a direct response.
The FAQ also covers issues related to visa applications.
“If you plan to use marijuana in the United States then you will be found ineligible for a visa based on intending to engage in unlawful activity in the United States,” it says. “It does not matter if you use doctor-prescribed marijuana. If you smoke cannabis in Canada, you may also be found ineligible…if a physician determines that you have a physical or mental disorder with associated harmful behavior – for example, impaired driving – or are a drug abuser or addict.”
When it comes to working or investing in the marijuana industry, the Embassy says it will only affect visas if the person is “found to be coming to the U.S. for reasons related to the cannabis industry.”
The page also says that while “legalization of cannabis in Canada will not have any impact on cannabis’s legality in the United States,” American officials “have discussed legalization of cannabis at various levels” with their Canadian counterparts.
Despite the relatively polite and level-headed response to the new legalization law of its neighbor to the north, the American government isn’t exactly excited about it.
A top U.S. Customs and Border Protection official, for example, said that Canada’s move to grant pardons for past marijuana offenses wouldn’t necessarily shield those individuals from being denied entry into the U.S.
It remains to be seen how President Trump himself, key White House staffers or Department of Justice officials will respond to Canada’s legalization of marijuana if asked about it publicly.
A marijuana research bill approved by a key U.S. House committee last month would have a “negligible” effect on direct federal spending, according a new analysis from Congress’s official fiscal analyst.
The legislation would force the Department of Justice to begin issuing more licenses to growers of cannabis to be used in scientific research, an issue that has been a contentious one between the Trump administration and members of Congress, including Republicans.
But its fiscal impact would be slim, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said in a two-page cost estimate released on Wednesday.
In the closing months of the Obama administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) created a process to expand on the sole approved cultivator that has had a monopoly on the U.S. supply of marijuana for studies for half a century. But under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Justice Department has refused to act on the more than two dozen applications filed through the new program by would-be legal growers.
The long-term projection is that “enacting the legislation would not increase net direct spending or on budget deficits in any of the four consecutive 10-year periods beginning in 2029,” CBO wrote in the new cost estimate about the bill.
Sponsored by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), the proposal hasn’t yet been scheduled for a floor vote. But while CBO is required to evaluate all bills approved by most congressional committees, the score’s release is a reminder that it’s being taken more seriously than most of the hundreds of other pieces of cannabis-focused legislation that have been filed on Capitol Hill over the years.
“CBO estimates that only a few new manufacturers would be registered each year,” the office reasoned, citing unspecified “information” from the Department of Justice.
“The administrative costs associated with publishing such recommendations within 6 months of enactment would be less than $500,000 over the 2019-2023 period,” CBO found.
A third section would authorize the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to refer military veterans to participate in clinical trials on marijuana’s potential medical benefits and encourage VA itself to conduct research on cannabis, two activities for which the department currently has authority but has been reluctant to pursue without more clear direction from Congress.
“Because VA already has those authorities under current law, CBO estimates that implementing this section would have insignificant costs,” the office’s report says.
The low-cost findings are similar to a previous memo the office released after separate legislation to encourage VA to study medical cannabis became the first standalone marijuana reform bill ever approved by a congressional committee earlier this year when it was reported out favorably by the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
In that case, CBO determined that the bill would “cost less than $500,000 over the 2019-2023 period, primarily to prepare and submit the necessary reports to the Congress” regarding updates on VA’s involvement in cannabis research.
The broader Gaetz legislation on research and cultivation licensing that the Judiciary Committee approved last month is only the second cannabis-focused bill to have cleared a congressional panel.
If enacted, “DOJ would collect registration fees of about $3,000 annually from each registrant,” CBO wrote in its new analysis. “Such fees are treated in the budget as reductions in direct spending, and DOJ is authorized to spend them without further appropriation.”
As a result, CBO also found that the bill would not “would not affect revenues” appreciably.
See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:
As patients and recreational cannabis consumers celebrate the wave of legalization sweeping the nation, federal authorities continue to apply whatever pressure is available to them to prosecute both individuals and marijuana-related businesses.
In May 2014, an amendment to an appropriations bill, Section 538, was introduced to Congress by Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican from California and Sam Farr, a Democrat from the same state. Prohibitionist opponents of the amendment and the Department of Justice (DOJ) at the time said that it would, “…in effect, limit or possibly eliminate the Department’s ability to enforce federal law in recreational marijuana cases….”
However, in an internal Department of Justice memo obtained by Marijuana.com, the Department stated that “This suggestion, which was intended to discourage passage of the rider, does not reflect our current thinking.” Andy Harris, a Republican from Maryland who is staunchly opposed to cannabis legalization of any type, said, “The amendment as written would tie the DEA’s hands beyond medical marijuana.”
The amendment, which passed, was intended to barr the DOJ from using federal funds to “prevent such States from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.” Unfortunately, based on the Department’s reversal in its interpretation of the language of the amendment, it claims that it prevents interfering only with states, not individuals or businesses.
According to the Justice Department, the law prevents it “from impeding the ability of States to carry out their medical marijuana laws, not from taking actions against particular individuals or entities, even if they are acting compliant with State law.”
However, this clearly isn’t the spirit of the law. In April, Rohrabacher and Farr sent a letter to then-Attorney General Eric Holder to clarify their position and the intent of the law. “As the authors of the provision in question, we write to inform you that this interpretation of our amendment is emphatically wrong.”
The letter stated:
“The implementation of state law is carried out by individuals and businesses as the state authorizes them to do so. For the DOJ to argue otherwise is a tortuous twisting of the text…and common sense and the use of federal funds to prevent these individuals and businesses from acting in accordance with state law is clearly in violation of Rohrabacher-Farr.”
Despite a request from Rohrabacher and Farr to the inspector general of the DOJ for an investigation, the Department has stood firm in its “new” interpretation of the law. The memo obtained by Marijuana.com states that the only effect of the Rohrabacher-Farr law is to stop the DOJ from pursuing cases in which “the State or state officials are a party.” This means that, unless a state is officially involved in such a case, the DOJ believes that it is simply doing its job by enforcing federal-level prohibition.
The defiance of the DOJ, clearly illustrated by its strong pre-passage talking points regarding how the bill would “limit or possibly eliminate” its ability to enforce federal law concerning marijuana prohibition, smacks of convenient fear-mongering designed simply to thwart its passage. Now that the bill is law, the DOJ is engaging in the unsportsmanlike (and arguably illegal) behavior of re-interpreting its language.
According to Rohrabacher and Farr, the Department is defying the spirit of the law each time it seeks to prosecute an individual or business in a state where medical or recreational cannabis is legal. Will new Attorney General Loretta Lynch step in and discipline the Department? Or will she maintain the status quo, either by officially supporting the defiance of the DOJ or simply looking the other way?
It is no secret that most of the progress made regarding both medical and recreational marijuana legalization across the nation has been made at the state level. While federal authorities and Congress block research efforts and the Department of Justice (DOJ) continues to bust dispensaries and families in California, Colorado, and Washington, states continue to push forward with progressive legislation.
The latest example of state efforts to decrease federal interference with state laws or policies has come from the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), which this week approved a resolution asking Congress that federal laws “be amended to explicitly allow states to set their own marijuana and hemp policies without federal interference.”
The preamble of the resolution explicitly refers to both hemp and marijuana and proclaims that the federal government has little power over states in terms of dictating whether and how they legalize all varieties of the plant — for any purpose.
“The federal government cannot force a state to criminalize cultivating, possessing, or distributing marijuana or hemp — whether for medical, recreational, industrial, or other uses — because doing so would constitute unconstitutional commandeering.”
The DOJ’s reliance on the Controlled Substances Act and the Schedule I status of cannabis — which legally defines the herb as totally lacking in medical benefit — has prevented cannabis-related businesses from activities such as utilizing banking services (regulated at the federal level) and claiming standardized business expenses on tax return filings.
Other legislative efforts, such as the CARERS Act sponsored by senators Cory Booker (New Jersey) and Rand Paul (Kentucky), are currently alive in Congress and would reclassify cannabis as Schedule II, allowing robust research and less federal interference. The CARERS Act would also allow cannabis businesses to utilize banking services, permit Veteran’s Administration physicians to recommend cannabis, and even legalize interstate commerce in CBD oil (which contains no THC and, thus, delivers no psychoactive effects to users, making it safe for children).
The NCSL resolution recognizes that states will disagree on the best way to legalize and regulate production and distribution of hemp, medical marijuana, and recreational cannabis. The resolution:
“…recognizes that its members have differing views on how to treat marijuana and hemp in their states and believes that states and localities should be able to set whatever marijuana and hemp policies work best to improve the public safety, health, and economic development of their communities.”
Tom Angell, Chairman of the Marijuana Majority, said of the resolution, “Overarching federal prohibition laws still stand in the way of full and effective implementation. These state lawmakers are demanding that the federal government stop impeding their ability to set and carry out marijuana laws that work best for their own communities.”