A federal judge ruled Monday that a budget amendment approved by Congress prevents the Department of Justice from taking action against medical marijuana patients and providers who are operating in compliance with state laws.
Northern District of California Judge Charles Breyer
said that by enacting the so-called Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, “Congress dictated…that it intended to prohibit the Department of Justice from expending any funds in connection with the enforcement of any law that interfered with California’s ability” to implement its own state medical marijuana laws. The decision was prompted by U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag’s efforts to shut down the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana, a prominent San Francisco-area medical marijuana dispensary. Judge Breyer’s ruling is available here.
The Washington Post reports:
When the legislation was passed, advocates and lawmakers on both sides of the issue agreed that the bill basically prevented the DEA from going after medical marijuana dispensaries, provided that such dispensaries were acting in compliance with state law. The DEA, however, didn't see it that way. In a leaked memo, the Justice Department contended that the amendment only prevents actions against actual states -- not against the individuals or businesses or business that actually carry out marijuana laws. In their interpretation, the bill still allowed them to pursue criminal and civil actions against medical marijuana businesses and the patients who patronized them.
The DoJ's reading of the amendment infuriated its sponsors. They called for an investigation into the Department of Justice's "tortuous twisting of the text" of the bill, saying it violated common sense. Yesterday, judge Charles Breyer of the U.S. district court in northern California agreed.
Dan Riffle of the Marijuana Policy Project agreed. "This is a big win for medical marijuana patients and their providers," he wrote in a statement, "and a significant victory in our efforts to end the federal government’s war on marijuana. Federal raids of legitimate medical marijuana businesses aren’t just stupid and wasteful, but also illegal."
The ruling could discourage the DoJ from creative interpretations of the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment going forward, which should let medical marijuana businesses and their patients in 23 states breathe a sigh of relief.
MPP has been paying close attention to the slate of candidates running for president next year. Marijuana policy reform has been coming up more and more as the hopefuls try to adjust to increasing public support for ending prohibition, but could the issue have an impact on who is the next leader of the United States?
Last night, MPP's Dan Riffle spoke with Fox News about how marijuana initiatives could affect the 2016 presidential election.
Last week, Republican presidential candidates were asked about their positions on marijuana policy reform. While most of them responded that they would let states determine their own policies, they also stated their opposition to making marijuana legal for adults and revealed their serious misunderstandings of the relative harms of marijuana compared to alcohol and other drugs.
Here is the portion of the debate concerning marijuana policy:
Vice's coverage included some great comments from MPP's Dan Riffle:
Riffle added that he was disappointed that "scientifically incorrect" information mentioned during the debate was not challenged, particularly Christie's assertion that marijuana is a gateway drug.
"It's troubling to have presidential candidates to be so misinformed on marijuana," said Riffle. "The Institute of Medicine, the nation's foremost authority on science, medicine, and health, has said there's absolutely nothing about the physiological properties of marijuana that leads people to use other drugs."
Riffle noted that he agrees with former Hewlett-Packard executive Carly Fiorina's comment during the debate that young people are being misled "when we tell them that marijuana is just like having a beer," but not for the reasons she implied.
"It's not like having a beer," he said. "It's safer. And there's an abundance of medical and scientific research that has shown this."
Click here to see MPP's guide to the 2016 presidential candidates.
U.S. Senate Committee Approves Measure That Would Allow Veterans Affairs Physicians to Recommend Medical Marijuana
The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee approved a measure 18-12 Thursday that would allow Veterans Affairs physicians to recommend medical marijuana to veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, serious injuries, and other debilitating conditions.
The amendment, offered by Sens. Steve Daines (R-MT) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) to the Senate version of the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, would rescind a portion of a 2009 directive prohibiting VA doctors from recommending medical marijuana, even in states that have made it legal.
The amendment must now be reconciled with the House version of the bill. The House narrowly defeated a similar amendment 210-213 on April 30. A similar measure was defeated 195-222 in 2014.
According to MPP's Dan Riffle:
A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers came together and passed broadly supported marijuana policy reform. This is exactly how most Americans want Congress to handle this issue. Hopefully we are reaching a point at which it is becoming the norm, rather than the exception. The pace at which support appears to be growing in the Senate is particularly encouraging.
Doctors should never be prohibited from helping their patients obtain the best possible medical treatment. Many veterans are finding that medical marijuana is the most effective treatment for PTSD and other service-related medical conditions. Finally, Congress is working to remove barriers to accessing it rather than building them.
As MPP previously reported, Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) cosponsored an amendment to the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act that would make medical use of marijuana legal. MPP’s director of federal policies, Dan Riffle, commented on this amendment last week after predicting action on the bill would be forthcoming. “Poll after poll shows 70-80 percent of Americans support medical marijuana. Even among conservatives, most oppose enforcement of federal marijuana laws in states where marijuana is legal for some purpose. Having two rising stars like Rand Paul and Cory Booker team up to introduce this amendment just shows how popular the issue has become, and that our outdated federal marijuana laws are inevitably going to change.”
However, shortly after this statement, the bill started to run into snags, Denver Westword reports. The chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), delayed the main bill after claiming she felt “caught between White House veto threats and Republican amendments.” Riffle is confident that it isn’t the medical marijuana amendment that is causing the problems. He also expressed that, even without the current bill, the goal is to see a standalone piece of legislation for the medical use of marijuana.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has started taking control of the medical research for marijuana and is focusing more on marijuana use patterns rather than its potential benefits, Businessweek reports. NIDA currently serves as the gatekeeper for marijuana’s medical research. NIDA also provides oversight for the farms that grow the plants that can be used in clinical trials. However, advocates say that NIDA’s control over which plants can be used effectively makes it impossible to test the benefits of marijuana on ailments such as cancer-related nausea or epilepsy. Many believe that the supply should not be controlled entirely by one organization.
MPP’s director of federal policies, Dan Riffle, weighed in on this issue. He claimed that the federal researchers aren’t “set up to study potential medical benefits, so it’s inappropriate for NIDA to have a monopoly on supply.” MPP and other marijuana advocates are pushing for the DEA to grant additional growing permits so that marijuana can be researched in conjunction with other diseases. This is partly because of organizations, like the Epilepsy Foundation, that want end restrictions on research for marijuana’s effect on alleviating seizures. With NIDA controlling the supply, there is not enough marijuana to test all of its medical benefits.
The DEA has gone rogue. First, an agent describes marijuana regulation in Washington and Colorado as "reckless and irresponsible," contrary to the president's assertion that it's "important for it to go forward." Now, DEA administrator Michele Leonhart has criticized President Obama for, accurately, saying marijuana is no more harmful than alcohol to the consumer. In fact, the science says marijuana is dramatically safer than alcohol, for both the consumer and society.
It is unacceptable for our nation’s top drug cop to not understand the relative risks of America’s two most popular recreational drugs. That’s why we have started a Change.org petition calling on President Obama to fire Michele Leonhart and replace her with someone who will base decisions on science and evidence instead of politics and ideology.
This is the same person who once refused to answer the relatively simple question of whether marijuana is less harmful than heroin or crack cocaine. Her repeated refusal to recognize clear scientific evidence undermines the president’s mandate that "science and the scientific process guide decisions of [his] Administration." She’s got to go.
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.