In the wake of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to rescind Obama-era guidance that protected legal marijuana businesses, legislators in Massachusetts have introduced a bill that would prohibit state and local police from participating in federal cases against people or licensed operators who follow state marijuana laws. The bill also serves as a response to the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts, Andrew Lelling, who declined to ensure that that his office would uphold the will of Massachusetts voters, calling marijuana a “dangerous drug” and refusing to limit potential prosecutions to illicit dealers.
The State Police and the Boston and Worcester Police Departments have indicated that they will not participate in federal interdiction, but other smaller departments may still be tempted by the prospect of receiving unencumbered funds from civil asset forfeitures. This legislation, if passed, will make it much more difficult for federal agents to disrupt state-legal commerce. Representatives Dave Rogers and Mike Connolly introduced the bill, calling it the “Refusal of Complicity Act.” According to Rep. Rogers, “We have a state law, it’s valid, and we think it should be respected. If federal law enforcement has something different in mind, they can use their own resources, because Massachusetts taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay to do something that goes against our laws.”
MPP’s Will Luzier, a leader of the Yes on 4 campaign, helped to conceive the bill. “I think it will help local law enforcement agencies to have clear parameters regarding their involvement with federal actions against lawfully permitted cannabis establishments,” said Jim Borghesani, an MPP spokesman.
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.
Continuing its support for sensible marijuana policies, The New York Times published an editorial Thursday asking Congress and the president to support a bill, introduced this week by Sen. Bernie Sanders, that would allow states to determine their own marijuana laws.
Support for making marijuana legal is increasing around the world, and that is a good thing. Earlier this week, the Mexican Supreme Court opened the door to legalizing the drug by giving four plaintiffs the right to grow cannabis for personal use.
In Canada, the newly sworn in prime minister, Justin Trudeau, has said he intends to change the law so people can use the drug recreationally; medicinal use is already legal in that country. And in the United States, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for president, recently introduced a bill that would let states decide if they want to make the drug legal without worrying about violating federal law.
Laws banning the growing, distribution and possession of marijuana have caused tremendous damage to society, with billions spent on imprisoning people for violating pointlessly harsh laws. Yet research shows that marijuana is far less harmful than alcohol and tobacco, and can be used to treat medical conditions like chronic pain.
What’s needed now is responsible leadership from President Obama and Congress. They ought to seriously consider the kind of legislation Mr. Sanders has proposed.
On Monday, President Obama announced the commutation of 46 prisoners who were convicted of non-violent drug offenses.
From The New York Times:
President Obama announced on Monday that he was commuting the sentences of 46 federal drug offenders, more than doubling the number of nonviolent criminals to whom he has granted clemency since taking office.
“These men and women were not violent criminals, but the overwhelming majority had been sentenced to at least 20 years; 14 of them had been sentenced to life for nonviolent drug offenses, so their punishments didn’t fit the crime,” Mr. Obama said in a video released on the White House Facebook page, in which he is shown signing the commutation letters. “I believe that America, at its heart, is a nation of second chances, and I believe these folks deserve their second chance.”
Mr. Obama’s action on Monday brought the total number of commutations he has issued to 89, exceeding that of any president since Lyndon B. Johnson, who commuted 80 sentences during his tenure. It also meant that he has commuted more sentences than the last four presidents combined.
While it is unclear how many of those people were in prison for marijuana charges, this is a good sign that the administration, and the greater public, is open to substantive drug policy and criminal justice reform.
Most marijuana arrests do not result in jail time, but the collateral consequences can be still negatively impact a person for life.
However, there are a number of people serving long sentences for nonviolent marijuana offenses, some of them for life. The Department of Justice needs to reexamine these cases immediately.
For more information on the recent commutation, visit Whitehouse.gov.
Last month, we made history by passing an amendment in the U.S. House of Representatives intended to prevent the DEA from spending any money raiding and arresting medical marijuana patients and providers in states where it’s legal. Now, in order to get it to President Obama’s desk, we need to pass it in the Senate.
Please take two minutes to call both of your U.S. Senators and urge them to support the Paul/Booker medical marijuana amendment!
The good news is we will get a vote thanks to two courageous senators who are taking a stand for medical marijuana patients and respecting state laws. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) are sponsoring an amendment identical to the one that passed in the House last month. The amendment was filed yesterday and could be voted on at any time.
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.
In a profile published this week by The New Yorker magazine, President Barack Obama acknowledged the fact that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol for the consumer. Yet federal law classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, a category the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) considers "the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules." It’s time for that to change.
The Controlled Substances Act gives the executive branch, led by President Obama, the legal authority to remove marijuana from the DEA's schedule of drugs. That authority should be exercised immediately.
Please sign our Change.org petition calling on President Obama to remove marijuana from the DEA's schedule of drugs. Then share it widely with your friends and relatives, and encourage them to sign and share it, too.
The president clearly recognizes that marijuana is safer than alcohol — which is not a scheduled drug — so he should do everything he can to ensure our federal laws reflect that fact. Actions speak louder than words, and it’s time for the president to take action.
Sign our petition now and tell President Obama to remove marijuana from the DEA's schedule of drugs. Marijuana is objectively less harmful than alcohol, and it is time for our government to start treating it that way.
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”:
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.
Ray Kelly, who has spent the last 12 years as New York City’s police commissioner, has been a topic of discussion recently for the upcoming vacancy for the Secretary of Homeland Security. In a recent interview, Obama said of Mr. Kelly, “[He might be very happy where he is, but if he’s not I’d want to know about it.” He went on to add that Kelly would be “very well qualified” for the job.
Kelly spent 12 years instituting unreasonable and racially insensitive systems of arrest and harassment via his unpopular “Stop and Frisk” measures. The program searched more black men in 2011 than actually lived in New York City, as reported by the New York Civil Liberties Union. Despite NYC marijuana decriminalization, Ray Kelly instituted policies that were used to deceive citizens into accidentally “violating” more serious statutes than a civil matter like private marijuana possession.
The New York Times opinion page discusses the pros and cons of Kelly’s potential nomination, taking note of his tenure being marked by much controversy. The Drug Policy Alliance found that under Kelly’s leadership, 1,000,000 hours of police work were dedicated to making 440,000 marijuana possession arrests in 11 years in New York City.
If you agree with us that Ray Kelly’s job performance would be as damaging at the federal level as it clearly has been at the municipal level, then please sign this petition to stop his nomination before if can be considered further.