U.S. Senate Committee Votes to Prohibit Justice Department From Interfering in State Medical Marijuana Laws


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The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee approved a measure 20-10 on Thursday that is intended to prevent the federal government from interfering in state medical marijuana laws.

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Sen. Barbara Mikulski

The amendment, offered by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) to the Senate version of the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, prohibits the Justice Department, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, from using funds to interfere in the implementation of state laws that allow the cultivation, distribution, and use of marijuana for medical purposes. It mirrors the amendment sponsored by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) that was approved last week in the House of Representatives. Passage of identical amendments in the House and Senate typically indicates it will be included in the final spending bill Congress sends to President Obama.

This was the first time the amendment had been offered in the Senate. The House has passed it in each of the last two years, and it was codified in the so-called “CRomnibus” funding measure that became law last year. The amendment is similar to the operative provisions of the CARERS Act, introduced in March by Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Kirstin Gillibrand (D-NY).

This is the second time in as many months that the Senate Appropriations Committee has approved a marijuana policy reform measure. On May 21, the committee voted to allow doctors within the Veterans Affairs system to formally recommend medical marijuana to veterans.

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Eric Holder “Cautiously Optimistic” in Regards to Legal Marijuana


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According to CNN, outgoing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said he is “cautiously optimistic” when it comes to Colorado and Washington’s implementation of regulated and legal adult marijuana control systems.

Eric Holder

“We don’t want to put into the federal system, low level people who are simply there for possessory offenses,” Holder stated Monday in an interview with CNN’s Evan Perez.

Last year, the DOJ chose eight enforcement areas that the department would concentrate on in a move aimed at calming nerves in Colorado and Washington. The eight “priority areas” have focused on the Justice Department’s attempts to prevent marijuana distribution to minors, as well as inter-state trafficking and violence associated with the illegal trade.

However, Holder noted in his interview Monday that the Justice Department could reverse its non-interventionist stance if Colorado and Washington’s regulatory frameworks are not up to par.

“What I’ve told the governors of those states is that if we’re not satisfied with their regulatory scheme that we reserve the right to come in and sue them. So we’ll see,” Holder said.

It remains to be seen how the new attorney general will treat states that decide to end marijuana prohibition going forward, but supportive lawmakers continue to push legislation that will finally protect states from federal interference and allow them to determine their own marijuana policies.

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Department of Justice to Create Marijuana Industry Banking Regulations


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Attorney General Eric Holder

On Thursday, Attorney General Eric Holder announced his intent to craft regulations that would allow banking services for legitimate marijuana businesses throughout the country. Banks and credit card companies have been wary of working with marijuana businesses for fear of federal prosecution and loss of licensing, causing serious issues with public safety and hampering the growth of the industry. Advocates are hopeful that this statement directly from Holder, proposing regulations instead of guidance memos, signals a growing tolerance of marijuana policy reform among the states.

MPP’s Dan Riffle discussed the issues facing marijuana businesses on Marketplace on NPR this morning.

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Colorado Passes Proposition AA Tax Measure


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On November 5, Colorado passed Prop AA, a measure that outlines the specific taxes to be imposed on the sale of recreational marijuana. The measure works in conjunction with Amendment 64, the ballot measure passed last year that taxes and regulates marijuana for adult use. Prop AA is an important step to establish taxes to fund the regulation of the marijuana industry.  Although Colorado has ended their prohibition of marijuana, it is still illegal under federal law. The DOJ announced in July that it will not interfere in Colorado’s CO flagimplementation of a regulated marijuana industry, but only if it adheres to the regulations set out in Amendment 64 with a fully-funded regulatory body, among other criteria.

In order to pay for regulation and oversight, Prop AA establishes a 15% excise tax imposed on the sale of marijuana from a cultivation facility and a 10% sales tax imposed when a consumer purchases marijuana from a retail store. This tax revenue will allow the state to monitor marijuana sales and implement the regulations set out in Amendment 64. The revenue will also go toward the Building Excellent Schools Today program, which will improve infrastructure, technology, and construction of new facilities for Colorado Public Schools.

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New DOJ Charging Policy to be Applied to Pending Cases


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Attorney General Eric Holder

In August, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the DOJ would avoid prosecuting low-level, non-violent drug offenders with harsh charges that carry mandatory minimums.

Today, a vicious cycle of poverty, criminality, and incarceration traps too many Americans and weakens too many communities. However, many aspects of our criminal justice system may actually exacerbate this problem, rather than alleviate it.

Now, the DOJ has taken another step and announced that the new policy will also apply to persons who have been charged but not yet tried and persons who have been tried but not yet sentenced. The attorney general instructed his prosecutors to re-file charges in these cases so that low-level offenders will not be subjected to disproportionate sentences.

I am pleased to announce today that the department has issued new guidance to apply our updated charging policy not only to new matters, but also to pending cases where the defendant was charged before the policy was issued but is still awaiting adjudication of guilt. 

This announcement comes in the wake of a statement by the DOJ last month that the federal government would allow states to continue with their plans to regulate and tax marijuana without interruption, so long as they meet certain criteria.

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MPP’s Dan Riffle on Fox Business Network


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On Tuesday, MPP director of federal policy Dan Riffle spoke with Fox Business Network about the Department of Justice announcement last week that the federal government will not interfere with the implementation of legal marijuana businesses in Colorado and Washington.

Here is the segment from “Markets Now”:

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Rob Kampia: What Can We Learn from DOJ Memo?


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Last week, the Department of Justice announced that it would not prioritize marijuana enforcement against businesses that were following state law and adhering to a set of criteria established by Deputy Attorney General James Cole. Given the administration’s history with marijuana policy, there is a lot of speculation about what this memo will mean for the future of reform efforts and the legal marijuana industries in Colorado and Washington, as well as the 20 states and the District of Columbia that allow marijuana for medical purposes.

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Rob Kampia

Here is an excerpt from an in-depth analysis by MPP’s executive director Rob Kampia in the Los Angeles Times:

The Cole memo was the equivalent of no policy at all, since the federal government goes after very few individual marijuana users. In 2012, it sentenced only 83 marijuana-possession offenders to probation or prison, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission. Meanwhile, the DEA raided more medical marijuana providers during Obama’s first term in office than it did during the eight years under President George W. Bush.

So what can we learn from the Obama administration’s words and actions?

The key lesson is to write state-level marijuana laws correctly. There have been hundreds of outrageous DEA raids on medical marijuana clinics in California, Montana and Washington state, but these three states’ laws don’t explicitly authorize the clinics in the first place. (These states simply authorize patients and caregivers to grow their own.)

In contrast, there have been zero DEA raids on clinics in Arizona, Colorado, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico, Rhode Island and Vermont. In these states, plus the District of Columbia, there has been a clear licensing process for medical marijuana businesses.

Read the full article here.

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Jailing Medical Marijuana Patients Costs Taxpayers a Fortune


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The imprisonment of Jerry Duval, a seriously ill medical marijuana patient convicted of distributing the drug, could cost taxpayers upwards of $1.2 million, reports the Huffington Post.

Duval suffers from Type 1 diabetes. He has received both a kidney and a pancreas transplant, and he also lives with glaucoma and neuropathy. Consequently, he has a strict medical regime, which prior to his arrest included medical marijuana.

Despite the fact that Duval was a registered Michigan medical marijuana cardholder acting in compliance with state law, the Department of Justice (DOJ) brought the ailing farmer to court.

During the trial, Duval was not allowed to refer to his medical condition or the fact that he was acting in accordance with Michigan law, and in April 2012, he was found guilty of drug trafficking and given a 10-year sentence, which he will serve in a federal medical facility.

Now, Duval’s healthcare falls on taxpayers.

“The annual cost to preserve my kidneys and pancreas alone tops $100,000,” wrote Duval in a request for compassionate release.

“In addition, I require treatment for coronary artery disease and diabetic retinopathy, which has forced me to undergo nearly two-dozen eye surgeries. These expensive optical procedures will likely need to be repeated several times during the decade that I am in BOP custody.”

Once again, the DOJ’s refusal to acknowledge state laws has devastated a family and misused taxpayer dollars.

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Harborside targeted by feds while Leader Pelosi stresses importance of federal action on medical marijuana


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The Associated Press is reporting that Harborside Health Center, which has been called California’s largest non-profit medical marijuana dispensary, is being targeted by federal prosecutors in California. According to Harborside spokesperson Gaynell Rogers, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag’s office has threatened to seize the property on which Harborside’s two locations operate: one in Oakland and the other in San Jose.

Meanwhile, the ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives and congresswoman for nearby San Francisco, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, reaffirmed her support for the medical use of marijuana, telling a round table of bloggers that taking up and discussing federal legislation regarding medical marijuana would be “really important.” While she gave no firm promise to introduce specific legislation, her support for medical marijuana patients puts her at odds with the actions of President Barack Obama’s Justice Department.

President Obama would be wise to listen to his party’s ranking member in the House of Representatives as opposed to career drug warriors like DEA chief Michele Leonhart. While Leader Pelosi recognizes the real and growing evidence of marijuana’s medical efficacy, Agent Leonhart cannot even bring herself to admit that heroin is more harmful than marijuana. And if science isn’t something that the president and his circle are interested in listening to, they should at least listen to the 77% of the American public who support medical access to marijuana.

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Six National Drug Policy Organizations Call on President Obama to End Unnecessary Assault on Medical Marijuana Providers


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In the wake of recent attacks on medical marijuana providers and patients by multiple branches of the federal government, including Monday’s raids on Oaksterdam University in Oakland, CA, a coalition of six national drug policy reform organizations is appealing to President Obama and his administration to follow its own previously stated policies respecting state medical marijuana laws. In the letter, posted in full below, the organizations call on the Obama administration to bring an end to the federal government’s ongoing campaign to undermine state efforts to regulate safe and legal access to medical marijuana for those patients who rely on it.

The Obama Administration’s National Drug Control Strategy Report 2012, reportedly being released in the coming days, is expected to cling to failed and outdated marijuana policies which further cement the control of the marijuana trade in the hands of drug cartels and illegal operators, endangering both patients in medical marijuana states and citizens everywhere. The members of this coalition stand together with members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, current and former Latin American leaders whose countries are being ravaged by drug cartels, state officials from five medical marijuana states, and tens of millions of Americans in their call for a more rational approach to marijuana policy.

THE LETTER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA:

April 4, 2012

President Barack Obama

The White House

Washington D.C. 20500

Via Fax: 2024562461

Dear Mr. President:

Our coalition represents the views of tens of millions of Americans who believe the war on medical marijuana patients and providers you are fighting is misguided and counterproductive. As your administration prepares to release its annual National Drug Control Strategy, we want to speak with one voice and convey our deep sense of anger and disappointment in your lack of leadership on this issue.

Voters and elected officials in sixteen states and the District of Columbia have determined that the medical use of marijuana should be legal. In many of these states, the laws also include means for providing medical marijuana patients safe access to this medicine. These laws allowing for the cultivation and distribution of medical marijuana actually shift control of marijuana sales from the criminal underground to state-licensed, taxed, and regulated producers and distributors.

Instead of celebrating – or even tolerating – this state experimentation, which has benefited patients and taken profits away from drug cartels, you have turned your back as career law enforcement officials have run roughshod over some of the most professional and well-regulated medical marijuana providers. We simply cannot understand why you have reneged on your administration’s earlier policy of respecting state medical marijuana laws.

Our frustration and confusion over your administration’s uncalled-for attacks on state-authorized medical marijuana providers was best summed up by John McCowen, the chair of the Mendocino County (CA) board of supervisors, who said, “It’s almost as if there was a conscious effort to drive [medical marijuana cultivation and distribution] back underground. My opinion is that’s going to further endanger public safety and the environment – the federal government doesn’t seem to care about that.”

The National Drug Control Strategy you are about to release will no doubt call for a continuation of policies that have as a primary goal the ongoing and permanent control of the marijuana trade by drug cartels and organized crime. We cannot and do not endorse the continued embrace of this utterly failed policy. We stand instead with Latin American leaders, members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, and the vast majority of people who voted you into office in recognizing that it is time for a new approach on marijuana policy.

With approximately 50,000 people dead in Mexico over the past five years as the result of drug war-related violence, we hope that you will immediately reconsider your drug control strategy and will work with, not against, states and organizations that are attempting to shift control of marijuana cultivation and sales, at least as it applies to medical marijuana, to a controlled and regulated market.

Sincerely,

Drug Policy Alliance (DPA)

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP)

Marijuana Policy Project (MPP)

National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA)

National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML)

Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP)

cc:  Eric Holder, Attorney General, Department of Justice

James Cole, Deputy Attorney General, Department of Justice

Gil Kerlikowske, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy

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