Democrats reclaimed control of the House on Tuesday, in the process seizing some seats held by Republicans lawmakers who were leaders on marijuana reform on Capitol Hill. Advocates have mixed feelings about what that could mean for cannabis in the 116th Congress.
Marijuana-friendly Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Scott Taylor (R-VA), Mike Coffman (R-CO) and Jason Lewis (R-MN) lost their reelection bids, among others. And while the Democratic victors of those midterm battles are generally supportive of efforts to reform federal marijuana laws, the loss of Republicans who’ve embraced cannabis reform could complicate efforts to move the ball forward on bipartisan legislation.
Here’s how the outgoing GOP congressmen contributed to marijuana reform:
Rohrabacher—Arguably the most vocal marijuana supporter on the Republican side of the House, Rohrabacher has sponsored an amendment that prohibits the Department of Justie from using federal funds to intervene in state legal medical marijuana programs since the early 2000s. He’s also introduced standalone legislation to amend the Controlled Substances Act to exempt individuals acting in compliance with state cannabis laws.
Curbelo—The congressman is the lead sponsor of a bill meant to amend an Internal Revenue Service code that bars marijuana businesses from making legitimate business deductions or receiving tax credits. This summer, Curbelo also became the lead GOP cosponsor of a bill that directs the federal government to study the impact of state legalization efforts on things like crime and public health.
Taylor—Though he’s taken less of a leadership role on the issue than Rohrabacher or Curbelo, Taylor has cosponsored a few marijuana reform bills, including the marijuana business tax legislation and another that would effectively end the federal prohibition of cannabis. He’s also said that legal marijuana can help lift rural Virginia communities out of poverty.
Coffman—Coffman, from legalized Colorado, has cosponsored numerous marijuana-related bills over the last seven years, including one to legalize industrial hemp and another to exempt individuals acting in compliance with state marijuana laws from the CSA and also federally reschedule cannabis.
Lewis—The congressman has criticized the war on drugs, believes that states should have the right to legalize medical cannabis and has cosponsored several bills aimed at reforming federal marijuana laws.
Don Murphy, director of federal policies at the Marijuana Policy Project and a former Republican state lawmaker from Maryland, is concerned about the loss of the GOP allies on Capitol Hill. He told Marijuana Moment that he expects House Democrats to “load up” cannabis legislation with “deal killing amendments the GOP Senate and President Trump won’t accept.”
He also said the message voters sent to pro-reform Republicans who lost on Election Day was that supporting cannabis reform alone isn’t enough to win the hearts of left-leaning reform advocates. It made it “difficult to suggest that drug policy is both good policy and good politics,” Murphy said. “Liberals will still hate you, but they’ll hate you less.”
That said, “Marijuana policy reform is still the right thing to do and is often more popular than the pols it shares the ballot with, so in that respect, it is also the right thing to do politically,” Murphy added.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who’s worked with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to promote marijuana reform and last month released a plan for Democrats to federally legalize cannabis in 2019, doesn’t think Tuesday’s losses will stop the bipartisan momentum that’s been building.
“I think we will continue to see more bipartisan progress because Republicans members of Congress, after the election results, I think are going to look for ways that they can support what their public wants and engage in bipartisan problem-solving,” Blumenauer told Marijuana Moment during a press call on Wednesday. “And we’ll give them opportunities for bipartisan problem-solving.”
“We’ve always embraced a bipartisan approach to this. I will continue to that—to reach out, to provide opportunities.”
Where Murphy, Blumenauer and others do agree, however, is that there will continue to be some Republican leadership on the issue, in spite of the fact that some of the more recognizable Republican faces of reform are leaving. Both pointed to Rep. David Joyce (R-OH), who earlier this year introduced an amendment to protect legal medical cannabis states from federal interference, as an example of someone who they expect to pick up the torch in a bigger way.
And having someone like Joyce lead the charge on marijuana from the GOP side of the aisle—as opposed to a lawmaker marred by controversy over Russia ties like Rohrabacher—could ultimately bolster reform efforts, giving Republicans a more palatable champion for cannabis legislation.
Blumenauer also said he expects new Republican faces to get behind federal cannabis reform now that anti-marijuana Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) has lost and will no longer control the House Rules Committee, where he’s repeatedly blocked votes on common sense marijuana legislation.
“I think when the House is able to have the Congress function in its role of oversight and legislation, more and more Republicans will take the opportunity to be on the side of their public,” he said.
Sessions’s loss in general represents one of the best pieces of news from the midterm elections for reform advocates, particularly for members of Congress on both sides who’ve been interested in passing legislation that would allow marijuana businesses to make valid tax deductions or extend protections against federal interference in legal medical cannabis states, for example.
It’s too early to tell how lawmakers will navigate marijuana reform after the new Congress is seated in January, but things could speed up quickly if outgoing Rohrabacher’s prediction comes true—that reform will be on the White House agenda now that the midterms are over. Blumenauer seemed to back up his colleague’s claim on the the call, telling another reporter that he’s also had “informal and formal” talks with White House officials that’s led him to a similar conclusion.
President Trump will push for marijuana legalization after the upcoming elections, according to former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci.
“I do. I think he’s going to legalize marijuana,” Scaramucci told Succeed.com founder Charles Peralo in an interview this week. “I think he’s waiting for after the midterms. I think he’s on the side of legalization.”
Whether Scaramucci is basing his prediction on a hunch or insider knowledge is unclear. He might have only lasted 10 days at the White House, but he still claims to talk with the president on occasion. In any case, “The Mooch,” as he is known, did not respond to a Marijuana Moment request for clarification via Twitter DM.
If he is right, though, he didn’t reiterate his previously expressed concerns about legal cannabis leading to a “zombie apocalypse.”
What they leave out is the the overuse of these drugs is creating a zombie apocalypse in their cities https://t.co/UowggluLvM
Other GOP Insiders Say Federal Marijuana Reform Is Coming Soon.
The Mooch isn’t alone in his belief. Last month, marijuana-friendly Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) said in an interview that cannabis reform would be on the White House agenda after the midterms and that legislation would be in the works “as early as spring of 2019.”
“I would expect after the election we will sit down and we’ll start hammering out something that is specific and real,” the congressman said.
Federal criminal cases focused on marijuana have fallen sharply since states began legalizing cannabis, even though drug crimes continue to consume the bulk of the federal caseload, new data shows.
A report from the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) released on Tuesday revealed that drug crimes remain the most common type of federal criminal cases, accounting for about 30 percent. The USSC reported that 92 percent of these drug cases involved trafficking.
Even so, 1,301 federal drug cases “involved a conviction for the simple possession of a drug.”
The report, which does not include information about state criminal prosecutions, showed a downward trend in federal criminal cases overall. That includes drug cases, which dropped about four percent since fiscal year 2016—the fifth year in a row that drug cases have declined. Drug crimes involving cocaine and methamphetamine were up slightly, but those involving marijuana fell sharply.
“The number of marijuana cases [3,854] represents a 25.3 percent decline from the year before. Marijuana cases have declined by 45.8 percent since fiscal year 2013.”
Another interesting decline concerns mandatory minimum sentences. About 44 percent of drug offenders were convicted of crimes that carried a mandatory minimum—the lowest percentage since the USSC began collecting that data in 1993. Marijuana offenders were generally given the shortest sentences, averaging 29 months of imprisonment.
But what accounts for the substantial decline in marijuana cases?
Several factors may be at play. Federal marijuana cases have dropped almost 50 percent since 2013—the same year that former U.S. Deputy Attorney General James Cole issued a memorandum, colloquially known as the “Cole memo,” to federal prosecutors on marijuana enforcement priorities. The document has generally been interpreted as a message to U.S. attorneys not to prosecute people complying with state cannabis laws.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded that memo in January, but he later said it wouldn’t necessarily lead to an increase in federal marijuana cases. The Justice Department doesn’t have the resources to take on “routine cases,” he said.
Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment that he viewed the trend as a reflection of “shifting federal priorities among both U.S. drug enforcement and border agents” and “may also be attributable to the reality that international drug trafficking organizations in recent years, following the advent of legalization in several U.S. jurisdictions have largely shifted their efforts away from marijuana.”
In other words, more of the market for cannabis is now being supplied by people following new state laws, so there are fewer people for the feds to prosecute in marijuana trafficking cases.
According to a separate 2018 DEA report, federal seizures of indoor and outdoor grown marijuana fell 37 percent from 2016 to 2017.
“As more and more states move toward regulating domestic cannabis, one can presume that the market for imported cannabis will continue to decline and that the U.S. cannabis market will become of even less interest to [drug trafficking organizations],” Armentano said.
It should be noted that federal marijuana cases account for a small fraction of cannabis enforcement in the United States overall, the bulk of which is done on the state and local levels. For example, there were more than 580,000 arrests for marijuana nationwide in 2016.
See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is facing questions from lawmakers about marijuana for his second day in a row of appearances on Capitol Hill, but he remains unwilling to give states a signal that they will be allowed to implement legalization without federal interference.
“Let’s be frank. What they’d like is a statement that they’ve been provided a safe harbor. I don’t believe I can give that,” he said. “They’ll just have to look and make their own decision about how they conduct a marijuana enterprise.”
Sessions was responding to a question from Congressman Derek Kilmer (D-WA) during a Thrusday hearing of the House Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee.
“The state of Washington and other states have either eliminated or virtually eliminated marijuana restrictions, some for medicine only and some for so-called recreational use,” Sessions said. “It remains a violation of federal law. That’s not off the books. The federal law is still enforceable throughout the country and I have felt it not appropriate for me to somehow give a safe harbor or protection to areas around the country where it still remains a violation of federal law.”
The attorney general made a point of saying he doesn’t think cannabis use is without harm.
“My view is that marijuana is not a healthy substance,” he said. “Whenever we talk about legalization and other such issues we need to make clear that we are not in any way suggesting that the consumption of marijuana is not harmful.”
But Sessions also noted that the Department of Justice was mostly focused on other drugs, such as fentanyl, heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin, as well as unlawful use of prescription medications, which he said lead to “addiction and death.”
But federal prosecutors are still free to enforce marijuana prohibition, he pointed out.
“United States attorneys in your home state and every state have been instructed to use their financial resources and capabilities and their judgement, after meeting with local law enforcement and local leaders, to pursue the case they think are important and worthy, and I can’t exclude marijuana from that,” Sessions said. “I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to do so.”
On Wednesday, during an appearance before a Senate committee, Sessions acknowledged that “there may well be some benefits from medical marijuana” and said that the Department of Justice would soon take steps to license more entities to legally grow marijuana for research.
See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:
The full U.S. House of Representatives hasn’t voted on any marijuana amendments since 2016, and it’s largely because of one man.
In his capacity as chairman of the House Rules Committee, Congressman Pete Sessions (R-TX) has enormous power over which measures make it to the floor for consideration by his colleagues.
Despite continued efforts from a large group of bipartisan representatives, Sessions’s panel has consistently blocked all cannabis proposals from advancing over the course of nearly two years.
In wide-ranging comments at a federal event on Tuesday, Sessions revealed the extent to which he disapproves of marijuana use and misunderstands scientific research about its effects.
“If addiction is the problem and we have marketers of addiction that include marijuana — because all you have to do is go to any of the stores in Colorado and they can give you high to low to medium to chocolate — we ought to call for it what it is,” he said, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “If it were nicotine, it would have been outlawed; well, it would have been handled differently. But this is a political issue.”
Saying he thinks there are “better alternatives [than marijuana to treat medical conditions],” Sessions’s view is that “we don’t have to go to that.”
And implying that marijuana use causes young people to do other drugs as well, he asked, “Where do they start? If it’s marijuana, we ought to stand up and be brave in the medical community to say this political direction is not right.”
Numerous studies have shown that cannabis has medical value for people suffering from a variety of conditions, and research has routinely debunked the so-called “gateway theory” about marijuana leading to use of other drugs.
Also at the event, hosted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Sessions claimed that the potency of marijuana has risen dramatically since he was a young man.
“I referred to marijuana as merchants, this is a merchants of addiction, they are making it more powerful and more powerful and more powerful,” he said, according to the Star-Telegram. “When I went to high school … in 1973, I graduated, marijuana, on average, is 300 times more powerful. That becomes an addictive element for a child to then go to the next thing.”
While studies have shown that the THC concentrations in cannabis have generally risen over the past several decades, the “300 times more powerful” figure isn’t supported by the research base. Taken at face value, the math would mean that cannabis plants are comprised of more than 100 percent THC, a physical impossibility.
Sessions Blocks All Marijuana Amendments
After years of trying and failing to pass cannabis amendments in Congress, reformers scored their first big federal legislative victory in 2014, when the House of Representatives passed a measure to block the Justice Department from interfering with state medical cannabis laws. The measure was enacted into law, and also approved the following year with an even bigger bipartisan margin of victory on the House floor.
The last time the full House voted on marijuana, in May 2016, it approved a measure to allow military veterans to receive medical cannabis recommendations from U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs doctors.
But the next month, Sessions’s Rules Committee began its cannabis blockade by preventing measures on marijuana banking and letting Washington, D.C. spend its own money to regulate cannabis from advancing.
Since then, the panel has consistently blocked any and all marijuana amendments from moving to the floor, including ones to extend the existing medical cannabis protections and to allow marijuana providers to take tax deductions that are available to businesses in other industries.
The committee has also shut down measures to extend the existing state medical cannabis protections to cover laws that allow for recreational marijuana use. In 2015, that amendment came just nine flipped votes short of passage on the floor. The number of states with legalization has more than doubled since the last vote on it, so the proposal would almost certainly pick up support now that many more members of Congress represent businesses and consumers who would be protected by it.
But Sessions’s blockade has ensured that his colleagues haven’t been given another opportunity to consider it again.
While the decision to stop letting the House vote on marijuana measures came at the same time as leaders began shutting down amendments on other issues deemed to be controversial, such as gun control and LGBT rights, Sessions’s new comments at the HHS event show he has a particular concern about cannabis policy changes.
Personal Experience Informs Sessions’s Anti-Marijuana Views
Last month, just before blocking a new version of the amendment to protect broad state marijuana laws from advancing, the Texas Republican spoke about his distaste for marijuana.
“I, as probably everybody in this rooms knows, have a strong opinion on drugs, illegal drugs, alcohol,” he said. “Marijuana is an addictive product, and the merchants of addiction make it that way. They make it for addiction. They make it to where our people, our young people, become addicted to marijuana and keep going.
And his position seems to be informed by the experiences of people who are close to him.
“A dear friend of mine, David Siegel, a wealthy man, one of the wealthiest men in America, had an 18-year-old daughter who was in treatment, I believe for marijuana and maybe cocaine,” Sessions said. “She met a boy there and within three weeks after being out she was dead. She came back and did what she had been doing after being off it.”
Sessions later told of a Boy Scout he knew in Lake Highland, who went off to school at Texas A&M, and fell into heavy drug use started by smoking marijuana. “Never had smoked marijuana,” Sessions said. “At the end of the first year, he was well into it; the second year, he was into heroin. The drive for addiction with some of our children is insatiable. You just never know when you’re looking at a kid what drives them. But parents are desperate.”
Sessions, like all members of the House, is up for reelection this year. The Cook Political Report, which tracks congressional races, currently rates the district as “Lean Republican.”
In the meantime, Sessions faces fellow Republican Paul Brown in a March 6 primary. Brown’s campaign website says the federal government “should not legislate…narcotics. Those should be legislated by states or localities if they are to be legislated at all.”
Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), one of the House’s leading advocates for marijuana policy reform, announced last year that his political action committee would pay to put up billboards in Sessions’s district criticizing his cannabis blockade.