A Dept. of Justice task force subcommittee on marijuana policy is not recommending any policy changes that would target state-legal marijuana programs or businesses operating in compliance with state laws, according to a report by the Associated Press. The task force asked for continued study and dialogue on the issue. The recommendations are meant to inform ongoing policy decisions and are non-binding.
Since August 2013, Dept. of Justice policy has been not to enforce federal marijuana laws against individuals or businesses in states that are complying with state medical or adult-use marijuana laws, provided that one of eight federal priorities is not implicated.
The Justice Department will continue to be prohibited from interfering in state medical marijuana laws under the federal spending bill passed Thursday in the Senate. The bill has already passed the House, and President Trump has said he will sign it.
The legislation includes a provision that is intended to prevent the department, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, from using funds to arrest or prosecute patients, caregivers, and businesses that are acting in compliance with state medical marijuana laws.
The provision stems from an amendment originally sponsored by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and former Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA), which was first approved by the House in May 2014. It was approved again by a larger margin in June 2015, then included in the continuing appropriations packages that have funded the federal government since October 2016.
Unfortunately, the spending package approved Thursday also includes a provision that prevents the District of Columbia from regulating the cultivation and distribution of marijuana for adult use. It was originally introduced by Rep. Andy Harris (R-Maryland) and approved in 2015, after District voters approved a ballot initiative to make possession and cultivation of limited amounts of marijuana legal for adults 21 years of age and older.
MPP's Robert Capecchi released the following statement:
“Congress appears to be growing increasingly comfortable with states adopting their own marijuana policies,” said Robert Capecchi, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project. “Unfortunately, spending prohibitions like these expire at the end of the fiscal year, so there is still a need for a long-term solution.
“The time is right for Congress to adopt permanent legislation that protects individuals from federal enforcement if they are in compliance with state laws,” Capecchi said. “It is difficult to understand what they’re waiting for. The vast majority of U.S. voters oppose the federal government interfering in state marijuana laws, and there is now near-universal support for legalizing medical marijuana.”
On Wednesday, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions was narrowly confirmed as the new Attorney General in a 51-47 vote, split largely along party lines.
MPP released the following statement from its federal policies director, Robert Capecchi:
"MPP remains cautiously optimistic that the Trump administration will refrain from interfering in state marijuana laws. When asked about his plans for marijuana enforcement, Attorney General Sessions said he ‘echo[es]’ the position taken by Loretta Lynch during her confirmation hearings. He repeatedly acknowledged the scarcity of enforcement resources, and he said he would ensure they are used as effectively as possible to stop illicit drugs from being trafficked into the country.
"President Trump has consistently said that states should be able to determine their own marijuana laws, and his spokesperson made it clear that the attorney general will be implementing the Trump agenda. We are hopeful that Mr. Sessions will follow the president’s lead and respect states’ rights on marijuana policy.
“A strong and growing majority of Americans think marijuana should be made legal, and an even stronger majority think the federal government should respect state marijuana laws. Eight states have adopted laws that regulate and tax marijuana for adult use, and 28 states now have laws that regulate marijuana for medical use. It would be shocking if the Trump administration attempted to steamroll the citizens and governments in these states to enforce an increasingly unpopular federal policy.”
Sessions was asked about marijuana policy on multiple occasions during the confirmation process. During his oral testimony, he conspicuously refrained from committing to enforce federal marijuana prohibition laws in states that are regulating marijuana for medical and adult use, noting the scarcity of resources available. In his written testimony, he said he “echo[es]” the comments made by former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, when she was asked about marijuana enforcement during her confirmation hearing.
President Donald Trump has consistently said that he supports legal access to medical marijuana and believes states should be able to determine their own marijuana policies. During a January appearance on Fox News Channel, Trump spokesman Sean Spicer signaled that Sessions would adhere to Trump’s position that states should be able to establish their own marijuana policies. “When you come into a Trump administration, it’s the Trump agenda you’re implementing and not your own,” he said. “I think Senator Sessions is well aware of that.”
When Trump’s pick for attorney general, anti-marijuana Senator Jeff Sessions, steps into office, he will not be able to go after lawful medical marijuana patients and entities for several months (if he opts to do so at all).
Since these protections are only temporary, we must push strongly to keep intact the current federal policy that allows states to regulate marijuana without intrusion by the federal government.
President-elect Trump's pick for the top law enforcement position is known for making some disturbing statements, particularly about marijuana, that have made activists extremely nervous about federal marijuana policy in the next administration. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama), who is likely to be confirmed as attorney general in the coming months, has been pretty clear that he is no fan of marijuana, legalization, or marijuana consumers.
The Week reports:
Sessions has called for more federal prosecutions of marijuana growers and businesses in states where it is legal. He said in April that it's important for the government to send a "message with clarity that good people don't smoke marijuana." He declared that "we need grownups in charge in Washington to say marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized, it ought not to be minimized, that it's in fact a very real danger."
One of the major difficulties in the burgeoning pot industry has long been the federal government's ability to prosecute businesses that the states say are legal. Making Sessions the head of the agency in charge of federal law enforcement and prosecutions has many in the cannabis community quite concerned.
Robert Capecchi, the director of federal policies at the Marijuana Policy Project, noted that Sessions would face at least one stumbling block: The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment to the annual appropriations bill (which has to be renewed annually) prohibits the Department of Justice and the DEA from using money to target or prosecute state-compliant medical marijuana businesses. But other than that hurdle, Capechhi said, the only thing standing between Sessions and a crusade against states' legal pot industries is "just DOJ policy." And policies are not laws. "There's nothing set in stone."
Capecchi, though, is holding out hope, noting that Trump had suggested on the campaign trail that he supported medical marijuana and the states' rights argument in favor of full legalization. "I think the business man in Mr. Trump can see if you go after these businesses you drive all this legal and regulated marijuana market back underground."
Many marijuana policy reform supporters, including MPP, are hopeful that Sessions will respect the rights of states to establish their own marijuana policies — a position President-elect Trump took during the campaign). Of course we will be closely monitoring the situation, defending the progress we have made so far, and continuing to pressure the administration and Congress to end marijuana prohibition.
In a decision released on August 16, a federal court ruled that the Department of Justice cannot spend funds to prosecute medical marijuana patients and providers who are in compliance with state law.
Time Magazine reports:
The ruling comes after a 2014 Congressional law that prohibited the DOJ from interfering in state implementation of marijuana laws. That law led people being prosecuted by the federal government to seek the dismissal of their charges, arguing they were in compliance with state law. On Tuesday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, sending their cases back to lower courts to determine if they were in compliance with state laws. Some of the defendants ran Los Angeles based marijuana stores and faced charges for distributing 100 marijuana plants.
Tuesday’s decision by a three-judge panel was unanimous. But in its opinion, the court warned Congress could change its mind and again allow federal funding for prosecution of state-sanctioned marijuana use. “DOJ is currently prohibited from spending funds from specific appropriations acts for prosecutions of those who complied with state law,” the Court wrote. “But Congress could appropriate funds for such prosecutions tomorrow.”
John Hudak at the Brookings Institute agrees that this ruling is a positive development, but warns against celebrating too much. You can read his detailed analysis here.
In a Marijuana.com exclusive, Tom Angell reports that the Department of Justice intentionally misled Congress to discourage 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.
U.S. Senate Committee Votes to Prohibit Justice Department From Interfering in State Medical Marijuana Laws
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.