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.”
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.
Wednesday evening, the Delaware Senate Judiciary Committee voted 4-2 to approve legislation that would stop the state’s ineffective and cruel practice of jailing individuals for possessing a small amount of marijuana — a substance that is safer than alcohol. The bill can now be voted on as early as tomorrow. Since the House has already approved the bill, a positive Senate vote will send it to the governor for final approval.
If you are a Delaware resident, please email your state senator today and encourage her or him to support this sensible proposal tomorrow.
Introduced by Rep. Helene Keeley, HB 39 would make possession of up to one ounce of marijuana by adults a civil violation punishable by a $100 fine with no possibility of jail. Under current Delaware law, possession of up to one ounce of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $575 fine and up to three months in jail. More than two-thirds of Delaware voters support this policy.
Just after midnight last night, a law making marijuana legal for adults quietly went into effect in the Nation's Capital.
Initiative 71, which was approved 70-30 by D.C. voters in November, allows adults 21 years of age or older to possess up to two ounces of marijuana; grow up to six marijuana plants in their homes (of which no more than three can be flowering at a time) and possess the yield of those plants in the location where it was grown; and transfer without payment (but not sell) up to one ounce of marijuana to other adults 21 years of age or older. It will remain illegal to use marijuana in public.
Certain members of Congress attempted to halt implementation of this law, even going so far as to threaten D.C. leaders with arrest. Others offered their support, asserting that the District is well within its legal rights to stop punishing adults for using a substance that is safer than alcohol.
MPP will continue to work with the D.C. Council to pass legislation regulating marijuana similarly to alcohol.
“We are hopeful that Congress will not stand in the way of D.C.’s efforts to regulate and tax marijuana,” said Robert Capecchi, MPP's Deputy Director of State Policies. “Members of the District Council are clearly interested in adopting such a system, and they appear ready to move forward if Congress doesn’t interfere.”
The Hawaii House of Representatives will soon vote on legislation that downgrades the penalty for possession of up to 20 grams of marijuana to a civil violation punishable by a $100 fine.
The Senate has already passed its own version of this bill. Should the House approve S.B. 472, HD 1, a conference committee will be appointed to work out differences in the legislation before passing a final version on to Gov. Neil Abercrombie.
As of yesterday, April 1, 2013, possession of up to an ounce of marijuana is no longer subject to an arrest, a criminal charge, or the threat of jail time under Rhode Island law! Thanks to legislation sponsored by Sen. Josh Miller and Rep. John “Jay” Edwards and signed into law by Gov. Lincoln Chafee, individuals found in possession of up to an ounce of marijuana will now be given a civil citation of $150. Those under 18 will also have their parents notified and will be required to attend an alcohol and drug education course and perform community service. Third and subsequent violations within 18 months are still grounds for a misdemeanor.
This MPP-led effort is yet another step towards rational marijuana policy. Until marijuana is regulated and taxed similarly to alcohol, sales will remain uncontrolled, and they will continue to prop up drug cartels instead of legitimate Rhode Island businesses. Repealing criminal penalties for marijuana possession slows the bleeding, but repealing marijuana prohibition will heal the wound.
If you are a Rhode Island resident, please email your lawmakers and urge them to support the Marijuana Regulation, Control, and Taxation Act.
Senate Concurrent Resolution 112 (PDF) is set for a final vote on the Idaho House floor. Already approved by the Senate, if passed it would officially proclaim that the current Idaho Legislature opposes marijuana legalization “for any purpose.” What a curious way to spend their time and residents' tax dollars considering a February 2011 poll found that nearly three quarters of Idahoans favor allowing “terminally and seriously ill patients to use and purchase marijuana for medical purposes.” Apparently, the author of the bill, Sen. Chuck Winder (R-Boise), thinks reform is a problem and he wants none of it in Idaho.
The good news is – even if passed – this resolution can’t stop the will of the people from prevailing. In fact, the group Compassionate Idaho has just released a new petition to place a medical marijuana initiative on the November 2014 ballot! If they gather enough signatures by April of next year, the voters will be able to teach their lawmakers a thing or two about compassion.
[caption id="" align="alignright" width="240"] "DON'T book 'em, Danno."[/caption]
Tuesday, the Hawaii Senate unanimously voted to approve a decriminalization bill, sending it to the House of Representatives. S.B. 472, SD 1, would replace Hawaii’s current criminal penalties — including possible jail time — for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana with a civil fine of $1,000. The bill originally called for a fine of $100, but it was amended up in committee.
If you live in Hawaii, please email your representative and ask that she or he work with marijuana policy advocates to bring the fine back down to a more reasonable level and craft a bill that will be agreeable to all parties.
While the Senate was passing S.B. 472, SD 1, the House was also approving legislation to improve Hawaii’s marijuana policies. The House passed H.B. 667 (allowing out-of-state patients and making other improvements) and H.B. 668 (transferring the medical marijuana program from the public safety department to the health department). The two bills now move to the Senate for committee hearings.