The House Appropriations Committee voted Thursday to continue blocking the Justice Department from interfering in state medical marijuana laws.
On a voice vote, the committee approved an amendment offered by Rep. David Joyce (R-OH) to the base FY2019 Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) Appropriations bill, prohibiting the Justice Department from using funds to interfere in the implementation of state laws that allow the cultivation, distribution, and use of marijuana for medical purposes. The bill will now be considered by the full House.
Such a provision has been in effect since 2014, but this is the first time it has been added to the base CJS Appropriations bill in committee. In previous years, the measure, which was known as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment (and subsequently the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment), was added to the bill as a floor amendment, but last year Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) blocked it from receiving a floor vote.
CONGRESS — In March, MPP helped coordinate the congressional advocacy effort that succeeded in renewing the federal policy that prevents Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Justice Department from interfering in state medical marijuana programs. This is an extremely important protection for patients and caregivers across the country.
VERMONT — Years of MPP-led advocacy work in the Green Mountain State yielded a major victory in January, when the legislature became the first ever to enact a marijuana legalization law legislatively (as opposed to a ballot initiative). We continue to work in Vermont with the goal of passing a law next year that will allow regulated and taxed sales (the current law only allows possession and home cultivation).
SOUTH CAROLINA — MPP, working with allied patients and loved ones, is maintaining an aggressive push for medical marijuana in the state legislature. Our bill was recently sent to the Senate floor, and we now have majority support in the House, leaving us well-positioned for passage in 2019.
MASSACHUSETTS — After winning the 2016 ballot initiative campaign and defending the law from political interference in 2017, we have remained engaged in the year-long implementation process in the Bay State. MPP has also been pushing back against local marijuana business bans. As a result of MPP’s work in Massachusetts, the licensing process for marijuana businesses just started, and the first adult-use marijuana stores in New England will open later this year.
CONNECTICUT — Since last year, MPP has led the advocacy effort to legalize and regulate marijuana in Connecticut. Last Thursday, for the first time ever, a committee approved a legalization bill, sending it to the full House.
MPP is also playing a leading role in two ballot initiative campaigns:
There is no shortage of work ahead in 2018 but, with your support, MPP can and will continue to win. Thank you for your commitment to the Marijuana Policy Project mission.
As MPP's role in national and state marijuana policy reform efforts continues to grow and evolve, our leadership structure must also evolve. As such, MPP founder Rob Kampia is stepping down as executive director and will be assuming a new role in the organization.
We would like to thank Rob for his leadership and his continued work to end marijuana prohibition. Rob released the following statement:
I am excited to announce that I will be transitioning to the new position of director of strategic development with the Marijuana Policy Project.
Matthew Schweich, who joined MPP as the director of state campaigns in early 2015, will serve as interim executive director as the organization searches for a permanent executive director.
Back in 1993, I moved to D.C. three days after graduating from Penn State for the sole purpose of legalizing marijuana. Fully 19 years later, in 2012, MPP stunned the world by legalizing marijuana in Colorado, and in the four years since then, MPP legalized marijuana in four more states, being responsible overall for five of the eight states’ legalization laws.
When I co-founded MPP in 1995, medical marijuana was illegal in all 50 states, and it had been a decade since a good marijuana bill was even pending in Congress. Since 1995, MPP has passed half of the 29 states’ medical marijuana laws, and MPP was the lead organization that successfully lobbied Congress in 2014 to block the Justice Department from interfering with those state laws, and that amendment from Congressman Dana Rohrabacher is still the law nationwide.
I’m looking forward to spending more time on Capitol Hill to help craft and pass the best possible legalization law nationally. I also want to focus on legalizing marijuana in three of the 10 most populous states – Texas, New York, and Michigan.
Just yesterday, our Michigan campaign submitted a sufficient number of signatures to that state government, virtually guaranteeing that Michigan will be the only state to vote in November 2018 on a statewide ballot measure to legalize marijuana.
I'm honored to have served as executive director, I'm excited the board chose the person I nominated to serve as interim executive director, and I'm energized to help identify a new executive director to finish the job of ending marijuana prohibition in the U.S.
In an interview with Rolling Stone published Nov. 29, President Barack Obama spoke candidly about how he thinks marijuana should be treated:
You can now buy marijuana legally on the entire West Coast. So why are we still waging the War on Drugs? It is a colossal failure. Why are we still dancing around the subject and making marijuana equivalent to a Schedule I drug?
Look, I’ve been very clear about my belief that we should try to discourage substance abuse. And I am not somebody who believes that legalization is a panacea. But I do believe that treating this as a public-health issue, the same way we do with cigarettes or alcohol, is the much smarter way to deal with it. Typically how these classifications are changed are not done by presidential edict but are done either legislatively or through the DEA. As you might imagine, the DEA, whose job it is historically to enforce drug laws, is not always going to be on the cutting edge about these issues.
[Laughs] What about you? Are you gonna get on the cutting edge?
Look, I am now very much in lame-duck status. And I will have the opportunity as a private citizen to describe where I think we need to go. But in light of these referenda passing, including in California, I've already said, and as I think I mentioned on Bill Maher's show, where he asked me about the same issue, that it is untenable over the long term for the Justice Department or the DEA to be enforcing a patchwork of laws, where something that's legal in one state could get you a 20-year prison sentence in another. So this is a debate that is now ripe, much in the same way that we ended up making progress on same-sex marriage. There's something to this whole states-being-laboratories-of-democracy and an evolutionary approach. You now have about a fifth of the country where this is legal.
Lame duck or not, there are still more than 40 days for Pres. Obama to grant pardons or commute sentences for those convicted of federal marijuana violations. Please contact the White House and ask the president to use his remaining time in office to restore justice for the victims of marijuana prohibition.
According to Vox, just before U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder reported his resignation from the Justice Department, he stated in an interview with Yahoo News that it’s time to reconsider whether marijuana should be a Schedule I substance treated similarly to heroin.
“I think it’s certainly a question that we need to ask ourselves—whether or not marijuana is as serious a drug as in heroin,” Holder said. “The question of whether or not they should be in the same category is something that I think we need to ask ourselves, and use science as the basis for making that determination.”
The question, which goes to the core of U.S. drug policy, embraces Holder’s legacy of disapproval in regard to the war on drugs. However, Holder did clarify that he is still skeptical as to where he stands on eliminating the threat of arrest if caught in possession of marijuana, as well making marijuana legal. Although, he does think that efforts to make marijuana legal at the state level should provide a lesson for federal policymakers.
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.
U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Holds Hearing on 'Conflicts Between State and Federal Marijuana Laws'
The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing Tuesday regarding “Conflicts Between State and Federal Marijuana Laws.” The Justice Department announced on August 29 that it will not seek to stop Colorado and Washington from moving forward with implementation of voter-approved laws establishing state-regulated systems of marijuana cultivation and retail sales.
The truly amazing part was that the majority of those called to testify were in support of the DOJ policy. This included King County Sheriff John Urquhart of Washington and Jack Finlaw, chief legal counsel for Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. The only people who seemed to disagree with the DOJ not getting in the way of these states enacting the will of their voters were Sen. Chuck Grassley and Kevin Sabet, one of the founders of the disingenuous Project SAM.
The Marijuana Policy Project announced Monday it will support efforts to end marijuana prohibition in 10 more states by 2017. The announcement comes one day before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing at which it will address the U.S. Justice Department’s recent decision to allow states to regulate the cultivation and sale of marijuana.
MPP will work with local and national allies to pass voter initiatives in at least five states and bills in five state legislatures to end marijuana prohibition and replace it with systems in which marijuana is regulated and taxed like alcohol. MPP is currently supporting a petition drive led by Alaska activists to place an initiative on the August 2014 ballot, and it will work to pass initiatives in Arizona, California, Maine, and Nevada in the 2016 election. The organization is participating in lobbying and grassroots organizing efforts to pass bills in the Hawaii, Maryland, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont state legislatures by 2017. MPP has been responsible for changing most state-level marijuana laws since 2000, and it was the largest backer of the successful 2012 initiative to regulate marijuana like alcohol in Colorado.
“Most Americans are tired of seeing their tax dollars used to arrest and prosecute adults for using a substance that is objectively less harmful than alcohol,” said MPP executive director Rob Kampia. “Voters and state legislators are ready for change, and the federal government appears to be ready, as well.”
The Justice Department announced on August 29 that it will allow Colorado and Washington to move forward with implementation of voter-approved laws establishing state-regulated systems of marijuana cultivation and retail sales.
“Marijuana prohibition has been just as problematic and counterproductive as alcohol prohibition,” Kampia said. “We look forward to working with elected officials, community leaders, organizations, and other local and national allies to develop more effective and efficient marijuana policies.”
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.
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.
This week has seen a sudden explosion in DEA raids of medical marijuana businesses, leaving patients, caregivers, and activists reeling.
On Monday, 26 medical marijuana businesses throughout Montana were raided by task forces comprised of federal and local law enforcement. As usual, some arrests were made and anything of value seized as evidence under sealed warrants. Interestingly, these raids began within minutes of a vote that stalled the bill to repeal Montana’s voter-approved medical marijuana law. Patients and employees of medical marijuana businesses have been mobilizing with the help of Americans for Safe Access to respond to these strong-arm tactics.
This travesty was repeated Tuesday when the DEA and local law enforcement raided two West Hollywood dispensaries. This occurred shortly after a measure to tax medical marijuana businesses in Los Angeles passed, adding even more legitimacy to the industry there. (A video about the raids is at the bottom of this post, courtesy of ReasonTV.)
It should be noted that the Justice Department “Ogden Memo” instructs federal law enforcement not to spend resources going after medical marijuana businesses as long as they are following state law. Of course, the Justice Department thinks all these businesses were violating state law, but is that for them to decide, or the states?
From all accounts, the California dispensaries that were raided were model businesses. Unfortunately, Montana’s medical marijuana law is vague when it comes to dispensaries, but there are several bills currently being considered by the state legislature that would establish their legality and a system of tight controls. For the DEA to go in now like angry thugs, when the exact extent of the law is in a state of flux, is unacceptable.
The manner in which these raids are taking place is equally unacceptable. These businesses are trying to follow every law and pay their taxes like any other legitimate business. Yet, when their compliance is in question, the federal government attacks them with threats and violence, taking money and destroying property. Where else does this happen? If an automobile manufacturer accidentally miscalculates its taxes or unintentionally steps outside of an unclear law, charges are filed and the issue is dealt with in court peacefully. Federal agents don’t kick down the factory doors, destroy all the cars on the lot, or sell off the factory equipment. They don’t handcuff the autoworkers and force them to lie on the ground with guns in their faces.
This aggression toward medical marijuana businesses must stop.
Please click here to ask President Obama to stand by his promises and end the raids.