Senate Appropriations Committee Votes to Renew Protections for Medical Marijuana


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On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) approved an amendment in a voice vote that would continue to protect state medical marijuana programs from federal interference.

The amendment, introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), would add a clause to the CJS budget for Fiscal Year 2018 that prevents the Dept. of Justice from using resources to prosecute medical marijuana patients and providers that are in compliance with state law. A similar amendment was introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).

In 2014, Congress added a similar amendment to an omnibus spending bill that prevented the Dept. of Justice from spending any resources to target state-legal medical marijuana businesses. This amendment was subsequently renewed, but now stands to expire.

If the CJS budget is approved in the Senate, the amendment will go to a special conference committee to reach a compromise with the House. If no budget is approved by September 30, the previous amendment will be automatically renewed for another year.

MPP’s Don Murphy made the following statement:

“More than half the states have taken a stand and said they want their seriously ill residents to have safe and reliable access to medical marijuana, and today the Senate Appropriations Committee listened. What was expected to be a very successful vote passed on an overwhelming voice vote, while opposition to the Leahy amendment was literally a whimper. That sound we heard in the Senate was the sound of a waving white flag as the federal war on medical marijuana patients and providers winds down.”

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Medical Marijuana Bill Introduced in Iowa


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The Iowa Senate Appropriations Committee introduced a bill to establish a comprehensive medical cannabis program in the state. The bill already received unanimous support by a subcommittee at a hearing last week, and may receive a full Senate vote as early as this week.

The bill would allow patients suffering from cancer, PTSD, intractable pain, and a host of other aliments access to this life-saving treatment option if their doctors certify them for the program. The bill would not allow patients to smoke cannabis, but patients could still vaporize or consume their medicine in other forms. You can read more about the bill here.

The Iowa legislative session is almost over for the year, so in order to pass this bill, your lawmakers need to hear from you. If you are an Iowa resident, please contact your legislators.

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Vermont Bill to Make Marijuana Legal for Adults Poised for Full Senate Vote


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Today, the Vermont Senate Appropriations Committee voted 4-3 to approve S. 241, a bill that would end marijuana prohibition for adults and create a regulated and taxed system for marijuana production and sale. The bill has already been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Finance Committee.

Next, S. 241 will move to the Senate floor for a vote by the full Senate, which will probably happen later this week. If it passes there, it will go to the House of Representatives, and the committee process will begin anew after the legislature takes a break for Town Meeting Week (February 29 to March 4).

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Attorney General William Sorrell

Last week, Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell and two former attorneys general, Jerome Diamond and Kimberly Cheney, sent a letter to legislators encouraging them to move forward with the proposal to end prohibition and regulate marijuana.

Earlier today, Vermont Public Radio released the results of a new poll conducted by the Castleton Polling Institute that found 55% of Vermonters support passing a law to legalize and regulate marijuana for adult use. Only 32% said they are opposed. The survey of 895 Vermonters was conducted February 3-17.

If you are a Vermont resident, please send them an email urging them to support S. 241.

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Veterans One Step Closer to Getting Access to Medical Marijuana


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On this Veterans Day, MPP would like to thank those who served for their sacrifice, and we are excited to note that a Senate vote yesterday brought them one step closer to being able to access medical marijuana.

U.S. News reports:

On the eve of Veterans Day, the Senate passed legislation Tuesday that would for the first time allow Veterans Health Administrationheader-logo doctors to authorize medical marijuana use for patients.

The Veterans Health Administration currently does not allow its physicians to discuss marijuana as a treatment option with patients in the nearly two dozen states with medical pot laws, forcing veterans to turn elsewhere for guidance and the paperwork necessary to acquire the drug.

The Senate legislation won’t change the federal illegality of using marijuana as medicine or open the door to greater legal research through changing its classification as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act – which deems it without medical value – but it’s nonetheless a big win for reform advocates.

The Senate measure was adopted by the Senate Appropriations Committee in May by a vote of 18-12, with four Republicans joining Democrats in favor. The larger spending bill to which it was attached – funding veterans and military construction projects – passed the Senate without opposition Tuesday.

The medical marijuana language still must survive a negotiated spending deal between leaders of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The lower chamber narrowly rejected the proposal in April when it passed its own version of the bill.

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Senate Committee Approves Marijuana Banking Bill


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The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a measure Thursday that is intended to ensure marijuana businesses have access to banking services.

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Sen. Jeff Merkley

The amendment, offered by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) to the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill, would prohibit the Treasury Department and its enforcement arm, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network or FinCEN, from using federal funds to punish banks that provide financial services to marijuana businesses that are operating legally under state laws.

Many banks are currently unwilling to provide depository and other basic banking services to marijuana businesses because the substance is still illegal under federal law. Federal, state, and local law enforcement and other government officials say marijuana businesses need to have access to banking because operating entirely in cash raises significant public safety concerns.

From a statement released by MPP Director of Federal Policies Dan Riffle:

“Current federal laws are putting a bullseye on businesses that are operating legally under state laws, as well as their employees and customers. It’s almost as if some federal officials want to see marijuana businesses get robbed.

“Forcing these businesses to deal exclusively in cash makes it more challenging for states to collect taxes, monitor transactions, and enforce some regulations. Allowing these businesses to access basic banking services is a critical step toward letting states regulate marijuana as effectively and responsibly as possible.”

The House is unlikely to consider its own Financial Services bill, so it is unclear whether the amendment will be included in any final compromise legislation that is sent to the president.

Earlier this month, Sen. Merkley introduced the Marijuana Business Access to Banking Act, which would amend federal banking laws to prevent banks from being punished for providing services to state-legal marijuana businesses.

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U.S. Senate Committee Votes to Prohibit Justice Department From Interfering in State Medical Marijuana Laws


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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.

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Sen. Barbara Mikulski

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.

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