DOJ Misled Congress to Influence Medical Marijuana Vote


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In a Marijuana.com exclusive, Tom Angell reports that the Department of Justice intentionally misled Congress to discourage2000px-Seal_of_the_United_States_Department_of_Justice.svg passage of a budget restriction that would prevent them from spending funds to interfere with state implementation of medical marijuana programs.

 

Justice Department officials misinformed members of Congress about the effects of a medical marijuana amendment being considered by the U.S. House of Representatives, according to an internal memo obtained by Marijuana.com.

The amendment, which lawmakers approved in May 2014 by a vote of 219-189 despite the Obama administration’s objections, is aimed at preventing the Department of Justice from spending money to interfere with the implementation of state medical cannabis laws.

But in the days leading up to the vote, department officials distributed “informal talking points” warning House members that the measure could “in effect, limit or possibly eliminate the Department’s ability to enforce federal law in recreational marijuana cases as well,” according to the document. [Emphasis added.]

The newly obtained memo, drafted by Patty Merkamp Stemler, chief of the Criminal Division’s Appellate Section, admits that the talking points were “intended to discourage passage of the rider” but do not “reflect our current thinking.”

Basically, the DOJ told Congress that a piece of legislation they did not like would have more impact than intended. Now that it has been enacted, despite their efforts, they are saying that it does less than intended!

Please take the time to read the full report.

We need laws based on facts. Congress should be able to count on law enforcement to give them accurate information, not propaganda to support their policy preferences.

If you would like to tell the DOJ what you think about these tactics, you can contact the DOJ Office of Legislative Affairs at (202) 514-2141 or via email.

 

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Louisiana Gov. Signs Two Improvements to Marijuana Laws


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Earlier this week, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal signed two positive marijuana-related bills into law — a penalty reduction bill and a flawed medical marijuana program.

The first, HB 149, significantly reduces penalties for marijuana possession! Although penalties will still be harsh for possessing a substance safer than alcohol, HB 149 is an important step forward — it shaves months, and in some cases years, off of cannabis consumers’ sentences. This law is effective immediately.

220px-Bobby_Jindal,_official_109th_Congressional_photo
Gov. Bobby Jindal

While first offense marijuana possession remains a misdemeanor, the penalty for possessing 14 grams or less is now far less severe than it was. The maximum jail sentence is reduced from six months to 15 days while the maximum fine is reduced from $500 to $300. HB 149 also significantly reduces the sentences for second and subsequent marijuana possession charges.

Gov. Jindal also signed into law a bill that could, in the future, support a compassionate medical marijuana program for Louisianans, although it will not allow patients to use the medicine in smokable form.

SB 143 allows Louisiana physicians to prescribe medical marijuana in accordance with FDA and DEA guidelines. Since these federal guidelines don’t exist, this law is not currently operable. Physicians risk losing their prescription license if they use it to prescribe marijuana. But hope remains for future regulatory improvement. Overall, both new laws signed by Gov. Jindal represent improvements for Louisiana’s marijuana policies.

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Louisiana Medical Marijuana Bill Making Progress


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Wednesday afternoon, the Louisiana House Health and Welfare Committee approved a bill that is intended to stop the cruel criminalization of seriously ill patients who benefit from medical marijuana. The bill, which has already passed the Senate with a 22-13 vote, now moves to the full House for a vote. If you are a Louisiana residentplease take a moment today to write your representative in support of this compassionate bill — SB 143.

Fred Mills Jr Louisiana
Sen. Fred Mills, Jr.

SB 143, filed by Sen. Fred Mills, Jr. (R), would amend a 1991 law that allows Louisiana’s physicians to prescribe medical marijuana in accordance with FDA and DEA guidelines. Since these guidelines don’t exist, this law has never been operable. Sen. Mills’ proposal requires the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy to develop regulations governing distribution of medical marijuana.

Fortunately, the Health and Welfare Committee replaced the requirement that physicians “prescribe” medical marijuana with one stating that they “recommend” its use. This change was necessary as no physician — even in medical marijuana states — can “prescribe” medical marijuana because of federal law. While this is an important improvement, we are still concerned that the proposed program relies on pharmacies to dispense medical marijuana, which they are very unlikely to do because they are regulated by the DEA and distributing marijuana is a federal crime.

The Associated Press reports that Gov. Bobby Jindal has “no concerns” about the bill.

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DEA Director Michele Leonhart Expected to Resign


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Michele Leonhart is expected to resign from her position as head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, according to a report from CBS News.

Leonhart
Michele Leonhart (Photo: Reuters)

The Marijuana Policy Project called for Leonhart’s resignation last year in a Change.org petition which now has more than 46,000 signatures. Read the rest of this entry »

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House Approves Amendment to Help Marijuana Businesses


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Denny Heck
Representative Denny Heck (D-WA)

The House of Representatives approved an amendment Wednesday that will facilitate marijuana businesses in working with banking institutions, International Business Times reports. The Heck Amendment, named after its sponsor Rep. Denny Heck (D-WA), was approved by a vote of 231-192. The amendment effectively blocks the SEC and Treasury Department from penalizing banks who lend money to legitimate marijuana businesses in areas where they can legally do business. The Heck Amendment was supported by both parties and represents growing bipartisan support of marijuana businesses, especially after the recent vote by Congress to defund the DEA’s ability to interfere with medical marijuana patients and businesses that are in compliance with state law. If the Heck Amendment is implemented, it will be a major victory in the effort to allow legitimate businesses to control the marijuana market.

In the past, many financial institutions have shied away from assisting marijuana businesses for fear that the federal government will go after them for it, forcing most to operate on a cash-only system. Because of this, they are required to transport thousands of dollars physically, making them targets for robberies and other crimes. Wednesday’s vote is the first step towards allowing legitimate marijuana businesses to utilize alternative forms of payment, such as credit cards and bank accounts, like all other businesses.

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Senate to Vote On Medical Marijuana Amendment


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Rand Paul
Sen. Rand Paul
Cory Booker
Sen. Cory Booker

Last month, we made history by passing an amendment in the U.S. House of Representatives intended to prevent the DEA from spending any money raiding and arresting medical marijuana patients and providers in states where it’s legal. Now, in order to get it to President Obama’s desk, we need to pass it in the Senate.

Please take two minutes to call both of your U.S. Senators and urge them to support the Paul/Booker medical marijuana amendment!

The good news is we will get a vote thanks to two courageous senators who are taking a stand for medical marijuana patients and respecting state laws. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) are sponsoring an amendment identical to the one that passed in the House last month. The amendment was filed yesterday and could be voted on at any time.

 

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Arizona Judge Approves Medical Marijuana as Treatment for PTSD


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Shedden Thomas
Judge Thomas Shedden

An Arizona judge issued a decision Friday claiming that State Health Director Will Humble acted illegally by denying PTSD patients access to medical marijuana, reports the Arizona Daily Sun. According to Judge Thomas Shedden, Humble utilized the dearth of scientific studies regarding PTSD and marijuana usage as grounds for denying medical marijuana to patients, many of whom are veterans. Shedden claims that Humble should have listened to testimony from medical professionals who claimed medical marijuana had helped their patients.

Arizona passed a ballot initiative making medical marijuana legal in 2010, but PTSD was not included in the qualifying conditions. Proponents of adding PTSD tried to do so in 2012, and then again in 2013. Following the 2012 proposal, Humble contracted the University of Arizona to study the effects of marijuana in conjunction with PTSD, which produced results of “varying quality.” Humble responded to Judge Shedden’s decision saying,

“There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence. At the hearings that we had, one family after the next came up and personally testified that they believed that marijuana provided relief for their PTSD. But throughout my entire career I’ve really focused on using scientific evidence really as the cornerstone of good, effective decision making when it comes to public policy,” he said. “And that evidence is not there.”

Unfortunately, the federal government has a history of making it very difficult to study marijuana, unless the purpose of the study is to determine negative effects. In 2011, Dr. Sue Sisley at the University of Arizona was denied permission to research the effects of marijuana on PTSD in veterans. A new study is awaiting final approval from the DEA.

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Congress Votes to End War on Medical Marijuana


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You read that correctly — Congress just voted to end the federal government’s war on medical marijuana!

During a debate regarding a Justice Department funding bill, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), a longtime MPP ally, offered an amendment intended to block DEA raids on medical marijuana dispensaries. It passed by a surprisingly wide margin — 219-189. The amendment will not become law until it is signed by the president, but we’re well on our way.

MPP played a key role in building support for this measure, and we couldn’t have done it without our supporters.

We have had a lot of victories since MPP was founded in 1995, but this is one of the biggest — not just in the organization’s history, but in the history of the marijuana policy reform movement.

Rep. Rohrabacher with MPP's Rob Kampia and Dan Riffle
Rep. Rohrabacher with MPP’s Rob Kampia and Dan Riffle

We worked with Congressman Rohrabacher and former Congressman Maurice Hinchey on this amendment for more than a decade, and our lobbying presence in Congress has never been stronger. This year alone, we met with staffers from more than 100 congressional offices, as well as dozens of members in person.  With this victory, even more doors will be open to us in the future.

 

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Tennessee Governor Signs CBD Bill


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Bill Haslam
Gov. Bill Haslam

On May 16, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam signed a limited medical marijuana bill into law. SB 2531 proposes creating a four-year study on the benefits of cannabidiol, often referred to as “CBD,” a non-psychoactive component of marijuana. Unfortunately, the many limitations placed on the bill by lawmakers mean it is unlikely to result in relief for seriously ill patients in the state. MPP will not be counting Tennessee as a “medical marijuana state.”

The law unrealistically depends on the Drug Enforcement Administration authorizing the cultivation of marijuana within Tennessee for study. The DEA has maintained a monopoly on the cultivation of marijuana for research in Mississippi, and has steadfastly refused to allow other producers in the past 50 years. Even if it weren’t for that problem, laws that limit patient access to CBD leave most seriously ill patients behind. For a more detailed look at the bill and its many limitations, click here.

Under the bill, Vanderbilt University would conduct the study and Tennessee Tech would theoretically grow marijuana. As in Maryland, we hope Tennessee will move beyond its ineffective medical marijuana law and quickly pass a workable law that will help seriously ill patients in Tennessee.

 

 

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Eric Holder Reigns in DEA Chief Michele Leonhart for Undermining Obama’s Position on Marijuana Sentencing


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Left, Michelle Leonhart; right, Eric Holder
Left, Michele Leonhart; right, Eric Holder

In recent talks with Attorney General Eric Holder, DEA Chief Michele Leonhart was encouraged to tone down the Drug War propaganda she has been advancing since the Obama administration did not sue the state of Colorado for legalizing marijuana. Since then, she has taken several public stands against the administration’s rhetoric on marijuana legalization and, more recently, lessening the punishment of people who commit federal drug crimes.

According to Huffington Post’s Ryan Reilly and Ryan Grim, Leonhart was “called in” by Holder for a “one [on] one chat about her recent insubordination.” As a 34-year bureaucrat of the DEA, Leonhart is having a hard time shifting her tone away from the DEA’s aggressive stance against illegal drugs.

Since the talks, Leonhart has said she “supports the Attorney General’s sentencing reform initiative to ensure those sentences are imposed appropriately” through legislation like the Smarter Sentencing Act. This type of legislation would save taxpayers billions of dollars and keep thousands of people out of jail for certain types of nonviolent crimes, like marijuana use, by eliminating mandatory minimum sentencing.

Michele Leonhart’s alignment with the Obama administration’s stance on drug sentencing and marijuana policy creates cautious optimism for change in the prosecution of unnecessary federal arrests.

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