Famously anti-marijuana former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) isn’t jumping on the pro-legalization train any time soon—but new comments suggest he might be softening his opposition a smidge, recognizing marijuana reform as a states’ rights issue.
Speaking at Politicon on Saturday, Christie took a question about his cannabis stance from YouTuber Kyle Kulinski, who asked him to weigh in on studies showing that states with legal marijuana programs experience lower rates of opioid addiction and overdoses compared to non-legal states. He was quick to dismiss the research, contending that other studies show the “exact opposite.”
“I just don’t believe when we’re in the midst of a drug addiction crisis that we need to legalize another drug,” Christie said, echoing comments he’s made as chair of President Donald Trump’s opioids committee.
Kulinski seized on that point and asked the former governor if he’d vote to ban alcohol.
“No, I wouldn’t ban it. You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube, and that’s a big, important argument about marijuana because once you legalize this, that toothpaste never goes back in the tube.”
“If you’re getting high in Colorado today, enjoy it,” Christie said in 2015. “As of January 2017, I will enforce the federal laws.”
So it came as something of a surprise when the former governor went on to say in the Politicon appearance that “states have the right to do what they want to do on this,” signaling a modest shift in his anti-marijuana rhetoric. States should have that right even though, as Christie put it, “broad legalization of marijuana won’t, in my view, alleviate or even minimize the opioid crisis.”
It’s unclear what’s behind the apparent shift from hardline prohibitionist to wary federalist, but who knows… maybe Christie experienced an epiphany at a Melissa Etheridge concert he attended earlier this month.
Etheridge, who recently spoke with Marijuana Moment about her cannabis advocacy and use of the drug for medicinal purposes, reacted to a tweet showing Christie at one of her recent performances, where he reportedly knew every word of her songs and sang along.
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:
An amendment introduced to the U.S. Senate in early July that would allow marijuana-related businesses in states with legalized cannabis to utilize federally-regulated banking services passed the Senate Appropriations Committee on July 23.
In a near-tie vote of 16-14, members of the committee narrowly approved the amendment that would prohibit the U.S. Treasury Department from taking legal action against banks that provide services to cannabis-related businesses. Three of the approving votes were from Republicans, while Dianne Feinstein of California was the only Democrat to oppose it.
The positive progress of the bill, sponsored by Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley and Washington Democrat Patty Murray, is evidence that the federal government may be willing to give a nod to state’s rights and even do something positive for the burgeoning cannabis industry. To date, federal authorities have either openly opposed or, at best, been neutral with regard to the wave of cannabis legalization sweeping the nation.
If passed, such a bill would make a tremendous difference to thousands of dispensaries and retail outlets in states like Oregon, Washington, and Colorado — not to mention dozens of other states that regulate medical marijuana production facilities and dispensary networks serving millions of patients.
This amendment isn’t the only effort pending in Congress that would recognize a state’s right to legalize marijuana by permitting banking services to the businesses that serve the industry. The Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act of 2015 is a standalone bill that would accomplish the same basic goal. While it is pending in both the House and the Senate, it is unlikely to gain any movement during the current session of Congress.
Thus, in the near term, the amendment being sponsored by Merkley and Murray is the only viable solution to the banking and cashflow headaches that have plagued the marijuana industry since day one.
Passage of such a law would create major opportunities for entrepreneurs and ancillary services in an industry that has been relegated to dealing in cash or cryptocurrency, severely limiting opportunities for investments and compliance with tax regulations. A lack of banking services has also prevented dispensary customers from sliding a debit card at checkout instead of relying only on cold hard cash.
Formal banking services will also decrease the security burden of dispensaries and retail outlets, which current face the threat of theft due to the large amount of cash they handle.
This amendment exemplifies the fact that more than state-level legalization is necessary to allow a robust and thriving network of production facilities, manufacturing companies, medical dispensaries, retail outlets, and third-party service organizations.
On Monday, June 15, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled, in a 6-0 decision, that it is legal in the state for a company to fire any employee that tests positive for marijuana. The irony of the situation is obviously that Colorado has had legal medical cannabis since 2000 and has allowed recreational cultivation, possession, and consumption since January of 2014.
The Court justified its decision with the definition of the term “lawful” under Colorado’s Lawful Off-Duty Activities Statute. According to the justices, the existing state law refers to activities lawful under both state and federal law.
In his opinion, Justice Allison H. Eid wrote:
“Therefore, employees who engage in an activity, such as medical marijuana use, that is permitted by state law but unlawful under federal law are not protected by the statute.”
In the big picture, this is simply another case of outdated federal law trumping the more progressive policies of states like Colorado, California, and Oregon. In its decision — because there was no existing statute regarding the subject — the Colorado Supreme Court relied upon federal law. Cannabis is considered a dangerous drug with absolutely no medical value under the Controlled Substances Act, a legacy of the Nixon administration in the early 1970s.
Quadriplegic Patient Brandon Coats
In Colorado, Brandon Coats, an employee of Dish Network who is also a wheelchair-bound quadriplegic, was fully compliant with state law when he used marijuana to treat muscle spasms during his off hours at home. However, the state also enables companies to make — and enforce — their own drug policies. Unfortunately, Dish Network has a zero tolerance policy for drug use that resulted in Coats being fired in 2010.
The Coats case slowly navigated the court system, each time losing. It finally resulted in the Colorado Supreme Court’s recent decision. The Court’s reliance on federal law to interpret a case in a legal marijuana state is striking because of its sheer lack of logic and compassion. In a somewhat libertarian state that embraces medical cannabis, gay marriage, and the plight of the small businessperson, a company’s ability to fire employees for doing what is legal under state law is more than slightly ironic.
The case of Coats exemplifies how progressive states like Colorado and Oregon truly are ahead of antiquated federal laws and policies. This case goes beyond the issue of medical marijuana to expose the struggle of states to exercise autonomy and reflect the will of their citizens. The topic of state’s rights and the ability of a state or commonwealth to go counter to federal policy is the underlying legal framework of this issue. Until the federal government either reclassifies cannabis to Schedule II or passes at least limited legislation recognizing national medical or recreational use, cases like that of Coats will become increasingly common as more states adopt legalization that goes counter to federal prohibition.
Don’t Blame the Feds
The feds can’t be blamed for everything, though. In all fairness, it is Colorado that allows employers to establish their own drug policies. Instead of whining about federal policy and the fact that Coats was unfairly fired — and his state’s Supreme Court just told his employer that they were in the right — citizens of Colorado should petition their representatives to make employee drug testing for cannabis illegal. Simply prohibiting companies from testing for a legal substance under state law prevents future toking employees from being detected in the first place, let alone dismissed.
The Coats case also illustrates the fact that some employers are pushing drug testing even harder. In light of medical and recreational laws across the nation, companies and executives that are opposed to legalization are using more robust testing to “weed out” employees who have lifestyles that, while they may be legal, don’t comply with the company’s moral highground. Those living in states with any level of legal cannabis who consume, but also value their job, must make some tough decisions regarding their lifestyle.
Until Colorado steps up to the plate and prohibits companies from testing employees for cannabis, a substance that is fully legal to grow and consume in the state for any citizen 21 or older (the vast majority of the workforce), breadwinners will live in a world of fear and confusion. Otherwise happy Colorado cannabis consumers will be asking themselves: “I’m allowed to do this, but my boss can fire me for it just because the company doesn’t like it? But it’s legal!”
Photo credit: The Denver Post
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