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.
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.
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.
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:
President Trump is considering naming a Republican congressman who supports the right of states to set their own marijuana laws as head of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
The Associated Press reported on Thursday that Congressman Brian Mast (R-FL), a veteran who lost both of his legs as a result of war wounds inflicted in Afghanistan, is a candidate to replace recently fired VA Sec. David Shulkin.
Mast on several occasions has made clear that he doesn’t want the federal government interfering with local marijuana laws. As VA secretary, he would be in a position to allow the department’s doctors to finally begin recommending medical cannabis to military veterans in states where it is legal, something that Shulkin and previous secretaries have refused to do.
“I speak about states’ rights even when they’re things that most people would assume that I would not agree with the issue because I’m a Republican,” Mast, who was elected to the House in 2016, said in a town hall meeting shortly after taking office last year. “[Marijuana] is not an issue where I differ on states’ rights.”
But while he referred to the Food and Drug Administration approval process, which cannabis proponents have not yet been able to fully navigate, he also said he is a “proponent for alternative forms of medicine in our VA that don’t exist, whether you’re talking about our veterans having access to get chiropractic care, or a great deal of other things. I think there are a lot of things out there that are not supported, but should be.”
Similarly, in a debate shortly before the 2016 election, Mast said, “I simply don’t want the federal government involved in places where they shouldn’t be involved… Marijuana is one of those issues that’s not covered in the Constitution. I would not like to see the federal government playing a role in deciding whether it’s something that should be allowed by each one of the states.”
On the same day Mast won his congressional race, Florida voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure to legalize medical cannabis.
Despite voicing support for states’ rights to set their own cannabis laws when asked, Mast has not yet added his name as a cosponsor of any of the dozens of marijuana reform bills that are pending in the House.
Meanwhile, legislation to encourage the VA to study the medical benefits of cannabis is advancing in Congress, with the House Veterans Affairs committee approving the bill this week.