Despite recent comments made by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer that go as far as comparing cannabis to heroin, and suggesting that there is a lot of violence surrounding the cannabis industry, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security says that it’s not really something they are all that worried about when it comes to the War on Drugs. It was during a Meet the Press interview on Sunday morning with DHS Secretary John Kelley when host Chuck Todd asked him whether or not legalization would help or hurt their work at the border to keep drugs out of the country that prompted Kelley to make this comment.
“Yeah, marijuana is not a factor in the drug war,”
Rather, Kelley cited three drugs in particular as issues at the Mexican border and further south – including heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine. He claims that almost all the methamphetamine and heroin are being produced in Mexico and that cocaine is produced further south in Latin America – and that those are their main focuses. “You cannot put a price on human misery,” Kelley said, explaining further that those three drugs in particular lead to the deaths of around 52,000 people each year – and they also end up costing the United States about $250 billion a year.
Another part of the interview that gives hope to many activists who have been fighting against the drug war for years now is the fact that he appears to realize that incarceration is not the answer to the problems in the U.S., suggesting we focus on rehabilitation and reducing the demand for these drugs before we worry about law enforcement. After all, getting the drug dealers off the streets is a practically never ending situation because as long as people are still looking for drugs someone will be there to supply them.
“The solution is not arresting a lot of users,”
“The solution is a comprehensive drug demand reduction program in the United States that involves every man and woman of goodwill. And then rehabilitation. And then law enforcement. And then getting at the poppy fields and the coca fields in the South.”
However, the current policies of jailing are not the way to go when trying to treat addicts – rehabilitation is, and it’s good to see someone who is closely involved with the war on drugs to be bringing attention to this for a change. While the Department of Justice is set to review and consider adopting new marijuana enforcement policies, perhaps they will take the words of Secretary Kelley into consideration, remembering that there are much more harmful substances that we need to be worried about.
Originally published: The Marijuana Times
In a historic move, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer ruled to protect those medical marijuana dispensaries which operate in accordance with state law. A rider attached to the omnibus spending bill, passed by Congress in 2014, withdrew permission for the department of justice to spend federal funds to raid lawfully operating medical marijuana dispensaries.
This is the first ruling to defend marijuana dispensaries under an amendment approved through Congress, and therefore it is huge news for those in the legal medical cannabis industry. Although the spending bill was approved in 2014, the department of justice was still ignoring the new law by continuing to raid dispensaries until at least April 2015.
“It defies language and logic for the government to argue that it does not prevent California from implementing its medical marijuana laws by shutting down these … heavily regulated medical marijuana dispensaries,”
Judge Breyer said.
While many argue that closing down one or more dispensaries will not prevent the growth of the medical marijuana industry in California, the San Francisco judge claims the evidence that medical marijuana supplies in general have been substantially impeded by the closing of dispensaries.
In 1996, with the approval of Proposition 215, California became the first to legalize medical marijuana, and now new laws regulating the industry were just approved in the Golden State.
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?
Last week, two lawmakers in Washington, D.C. expressed their frustration over the fact that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has continued to prosecute patients in states where medical cannabis is legal — in open defiance of a congressional amendment passed last December that protects patients and dispensaries. California Representatives Dana Rohrabacher (a Republican) and Sam Farr (a Democrat), co-sponsors of the amendment that prohibits federal interference in states where medical cannabis is legal, sent a letter to the DOJ demanding that prosecutions of patients and providers cease.
Wrote the representatives in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder:
“We respectfully insist that you bring your Department back into compliance with federal law by ceasing marijuana prosecutions and forfeiture actions against those acting in accordance with state medical marijuana laws.”
The Justice Department, however, in a very narrow interpretation of the law, has issued statements reflecting its belief that the amendment does not apply to cases against individuals or organizations (such as dispensaries that are currently being prosecuted in California). Patrick Rodenbush, a spokesperson for the DOJ, said the law only stops the department from “impeding the ability of states to carry out their medical marijuana laws.”
Congressmen Rohrabacher and Farr, in their letter to Holder, said that the DOJ’s interpretation of the amendment was “emphatically wrong.” They went on to state that the purpose of the amendment was to prevent the DOJ from wasting law enforcement resources on prosecutions of “medical marijuana patients and providers, including businesses that operate legally under state law.”
These “enforcement resources” are outlined in a 2013 report by Americans for Safe Access. The report illustrated that the Obama administration has spent more than $80 million per year — equal to about $200,000 per day — to prosecute medical marijuana users, cultivators, and dispensaries. The crackdown has been justified by the fact that cannabis is, alongside heroin and meth, a Schedule I drug, giving it an official status of “no currently accepted medical use.”
Separate legislation has been introduced to Congress that would reclassify cannabis to Schedule II, preventing the crackdown by the DOJ and DEA in states with legal medical marijuana. It would also allow much needed research into the plant’s medical efficacy. While passage of this rescheduling is uncertain, it would go beyond the existing federal amendment and offer broader, less ambiguous protections for individuals and retail outlets.
The only thing that seems certain currently is the DOJ’s defiance of the existing amendment and its continued prosecution of patients and dispensaries in places like the San Francisco Bay area and the state of Washington. However, given the strict interpretation of the amendment and defiant stance of the DOJ, patients and providers in all 23 states where medical cannabis is legal are subject to fear, federal scrutiny, and prosecution.
Cannabis consumers and those who advocate medical marijuana are excited. As they should be.
Nearly half the states in the nation now allow some form of legal marijuana for medical purposes. Four states (Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska) and the District of Columbia now enjoy legal recreational herb with a variety of restrictions, from the ban on outdoor growing in Colorado to the prohibition of personal cultivation of any type in Washington.
Laws to legalize recreational and medical use of cannabis are popping up across the nation — even in typically conservative states like Arizona, Illinois, and Ohio.
However, much of this progress is accompanied by a backlash. While states like California and Colorado are commonly considered models of safe access that provide an alternative to the black market, it’s not all peaches and cream. Dozens of communities in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington have banned sales of both medical and recreational herb in an effort to prevent this plant-based medicine from becoming established within their borders.
What About Everyone Else?
If this type of backlash is being experienced in the country’s most progressive states, what about other areas? Plenty of cannabis consumers are excited in the Buckeye State, where an investment group/political action committee called ResponsibleOhio is gathering signatures for a November ballot issue that would legalize medical and recreational cannabis. If it becomes law, the legislation would impose a highly regulated infrastructure for the cultivation, sale, medical dispensation, and use of pot.
However, when one digs into the details of the bill, it becomes apparent that the governor, John Kasich — a conservative Republican with a history of opposing high-speed rail, safe access to abortions, and teacher’s unions — could really put a dent in the plans of ResponsibleOhio.
Under the proposed legislation, Kasich would appoint a board of seven members to regulate and manage Ohio’s cannabis industry. The only problem: Kasich is staunchly opposed to cannabis legalization for any reason. If he chooses to defy the spirit of the law and appoints oppositional figures to manage Ohio’s pot business, they may purposefully drag their feet or impose overly restrictive regulations that leave many entrepreneurs and consumers feeling cheated and without medicine.
Because ResponsibleOhio was able to gather enough signatures to make the November ballot, conservative legislators in Columbus have been scrambling. Recently, lawmakers put on the ballot a bill that would prevent monopolies from becoming enshrined in the state’s constitution. Because of the way the two bills are written, the anti-monopoly law would go into effect immediately, whereas cannabis legalization ala ResponsibleOhio would go into effect in 30 days, on December 3 — meaning it would be instantly nullified, regardless of by how wide a margin it might win.
Whether Ohio’s politicians are motivated most by a disdain for legal cannabis or a true aversion to state-sponsored monopolies is uncertain. What is obvious is that opponents of ResponsibleOhio are using every trick in the book to stop it in its tracks. Will conservative senators and representatives similarly attack future voter initiatives to legalize recreational cannabis that don’t involve monopolies?
Despite a federal ban that prohibits the Department of Justice from interfering with the states where medical marijuana is legal, the feds continue to bust medical dispensaries in California, Washington, and other states. DOJ officials have gone on record saying they believe their actions are legal and that they are simply enforcing the federal-level ban on marijuana.
Even ResponsibleOhio’s plan to allow adults to grow up to four mature plants would, technically, go against national law and expose growers to the possibility of prosecution at the federal level. Even more intimidating for citizen gardeners: Ohio would require growers to register with the state, a database that could potentially get into the hands of the feds. This is especially possible if Kasich and his seven appointees decided they wanted to play mean. While it’s unlikely that someone growing three plants to avoid the black market would come under the eye of the feds, it’s certainly possible.
In July, Congress killed a bill intended to allow limited research of medical cannabis. The effort was apparently snuffed 0ut by the House Judiciary Committee, which is led by Virginia Republican Robert Goodlatte. This is the definition of conservative backlash and epitomizes the culture war over cannabis: The bill would have limited such research to studies conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) under guidance from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
Some in Congress, like Virginia Rep Robert Goodlatte and Maryland Congressman Andy Harris (a physician), are so opposed to objective, scientific studies of cannabis that they will not allow even their own drug war warriors, the DEA, to manage their own medical research organization, the NIH, for very limited studies. This latest Congressional opposition to cannabis studies of any type illustrates the fact that robust, productive research of the herb in the treatment of conditions like cancer, muscular dystrophy, arthritis, and anxiety will not occur until cannabis is reclassified as Schedule II or lower under the Controlled Substances Act.
While many will analogize cannabis legalization to same-sex marriage and LGBT issues, it is more akin to climate change. By refusing to perform cannabis research itself and blocking all other clinical studies in the United States by maintaining the Schedule I status of cannabis, the nation’s legislators are burying their collective heads in the sand.
This is the dark side at its best. And the Force is strong, well funded, and mostly opposed to any form of cannabis legalization.
Make no mistake, as more progress is made at the state level, Congress, corporate interests, and the leaders in D.C. won’t simply sit back and watch prohibition crumble around them. As more states jump on the legalization bandwagon, federal and state opposition will become increasingly vocal and threatening. Unlike in Canada, where medical marijuana exists at the federal level, no national protections are in force for medical or recreational cannabis consumers in the United States.