Tag Archives: Department of Justice

Obama’s Nominee to Lead the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division Supports the Decriminalization of Marijuana

Vanita Gupta

According to the Washington Post, President Obama plans to nominate top lawyer from the American Civil Liberties Union, Vanita Gupta, to head to the civil rights division of the Department of Justice.

Gupta is a longtime civil rights lawyer and deputy legal director of the ACLU, as well as the director of the Union’s Center for Justice.

She stated in a New York Times op-ed about ending mass incarceration:

“Those who seek a fairer criminal justice system, unclouded by racial bias, must at a minimum demand that the government eliminate mandatory minimum sentences, which tie judges’ hands; rescind three-strikes laws, which often make no distinction between, say, armed assault and auto theft; amend “truth in sentencing” statutes, which prohibit early release for good behavior; and recalibrate drug policies, starting with decriminalization of marijuana possession and investment in substance-abuse prevention and treatment.”

According to administration officials, Gupta will be appointed acting head of the civil rights division Wednesday by Attorney General Eric Holder.

H/T Tom Angell

Outgoing Attorney General’s Drug Policy Record Racked with More Failures than Accomplishments

The impending departure of Eric Holder from the attorney general’s office has had many people analyzing his actions regarding the drug war during his tenure at the Department of Justice. Despite being present for some meaningful reforms, many think that Holder could have done so much more. According to Eric Sterling’s critique of Eric Holder’s drug policy record:

Eric Holder

“Since Holder’s resignation yesterday, many advocates of drug policy reform are giving Holder high marks for his accomplishments, especially when compared to his recent predecessors. But taken on his own terms, Holder was a weak attorney general, and late to push for what he probably knew in his heart to be the right course of action. He failed to use his very close relationship with the president to improve and rationalize the criminal justice system and US drug policy sufficiently that these reforms would have acquired a permanence and acceptance—and that would have ensured his legacy. Holder’s legacy is more words than deeds.”

Read the rest of the critique here.

New York Requests Federal Permission to Import Out-of-State Medical Marijuana

According to WSHU.org, New York’s health department is asking permission from the federal government to import out-of-state medical marijuana until its own program is able complete the regulatory process.

The program requires the health department to establish rules and license marijuana production companies. The health department, however, says that it will take until 2016 to get the program started.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Until then, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration has requested the Department of Justice to permit importation of medical marijuana from states with existing functional programs.

Although the federal government could potentially grant such a waiver, or simply exercise prosecutorial discretion, patients in the Empire State should not hold their breath.

MPP’s Rachelle Yeung says the federal government has been slow to recognize the medical benefits of marijuana, and that Gov. Cuomo has been equally slow to implement medical marijuana.

“I don’t want to speculate as to his motivations, but as governor of the state of New York, there are ways to expedite the process without asking for special permission from the federal government.”

Furthermore, Yeung relays that it typically takes years for the federal government to allow researchers access to medical marijuana. To avoid this delay, she and other marijuana advocacy groups are urging Cuomo’s administration to accelerate the regulatory and production processes within the state.

Workers’ Compensation to Cover Medical Marijuana in New Mexico

According to the Courthouse News Service, medical marijuana recommended by a physician for an injured patient’s pain must be paid for by the patient’s employer and insurer, the New Mexico Court of Appeals ruled.

Despite marijuana’s federal classification as a controlled substance, the court concluded that New Mexico law grants Gregory Vialpando reimbursement for medical marijuana to treat the high-intensity pain that followed failed spinal surgeries caused by a workplace back injury. As the ruling states, Vialpando met the required threshold for payments under New Mexico’s workers’ compensation laws when his physician diagnosed medical marijuana as reasonable and necessary for his treatment. The August 29 decision is based on a lower court finding that Vialpando’s participation in the New Mexico Department of Health’s Medical Cannabis Program constitutes reasonable and necessary medical care, the requirement set for reimbursement by the state’s Workers’ Compensation Act.

Vialpando’s employer at the time of the incident, Ben’s Automotive Services, and health care provider, Redwood Fire & Casualty, argued that medical marijuana should be treated as a prescription drug. If it were, it would require a pharmacist or health care provider to dispense, which New Mexico’s medical marijuana program does not have, and thus, could not be paid for by worker’s compensation.

However, the appeals court found that although “medical marijuana is not a prescription drug,” if it were, “our analysis would lead to the same conclusion.” “Indeed, medical marijuana is a controlled substance and is a drug. Instead of a written order from a health care provider, it requires the functional equivalent of a prescription – certification to the program. Although it is not dispensed by a licensed pharmacist or health care provider, it is dispensed by a licensed producer through a program authorized by the Department of Health,” the court wrote.

Vialpando’s employer and insurer also argued that reimbursements would force them to commit a federal crime, or at least violate federal public policy. The appeals court rejected that, as well.

“Although not dispositive, we note that the Department of Justice has recently offered what we view as equivocal statements about state laws allowing marijuana use for medical and even recreational purposes.”

In terms of the next steps for New Mexico’s medical marijuana policies, the state is heading in the right direction considering legalization.

 

Delaware Governor Needs to Ease Plant Limits

Markell
Gov. Jack Markell

MPP welcomed Delaware Gov. Jack Markell’s August announcement that he would implement the compassion center program, but our enthusiasm was tempered by the fact that he did so on the condition that the program was initially limited to one compassion center that could grow only 150 plants. Since his announcement, the Department of Justice has released new guidance, which makes it clear that these restrictions are unnecessary. If you are a Delaware resident, please call the governor’s office and urge him to remove this limit.

The plant limit will surely result in shortages, leaving patients without access to their medicine. Even states like New Mexico, where there are 23 dispensaries, have experienced shortagesPatients in Delaware need a viable program.

The medical marijuana law already limits the number of compassion centers to three for the entire state. The Department of Justice has indicated that plant numbers and size of dispensaries will not be triggers for enforcement action and other states have proven that these tax-paying entities can be properly regulated. The cap does nothing but jeopardize patient access.