Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Jeff Sessions: ‘Medical marijuana has been hyped, maybe too much’

RICHMOND — Attorney General Jeff Sessions has repeatedly condemned the recreational use of marijuana. On Wednesday he went a step further, casting doubt on medical marijuana use.

“I think medical marijuana has been hyped, maybe too much,” he told reporters in Richmond after an event about violent crime. “Dosages can be constructed in a way that might be beneficial, I acknowledge that, but if you smoke marijuana, for example, where you have no idea how much THC you’re getting, it’s probably not a good way to administer a medicinal amount. So forgive me if I’m a bit dubious about that.”

Sessions also cast doubt, as he has before, on the use of marijuana to curb opioid addiction.

Studies have shown that medical marijuana laws and access to medical marijuana dispensaries are associated with fewer opioid deaths and less prescription painkiller abuse.

During his campaign, President Trump said he was “100­ percent” in favor of medical marijuana. White House spokesman Sean Spicer recently confirmed that the president sees a “big difference” between using marijuana for medical and recreational purposes.

“The problem is that you’re seeing now a disagreement between Sessions and the president on the issue of medical marijuana,” said Michael Collins of the Drug Policy Alliance. “It’s concerning because the administration, the White House themselves, have sort of committed themselves to not going after medical marijuana. Sessions is out casting doubt on that.”

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Smoking is a necessary way to consume medical marijuana, he said, because chronic pain sufferers need the instantaneous relief other forms of the drug cannot provide. The dosage concern doesn’t make sense, he said, because there’s no evidence of fatal marijuana overdoses.

A congressional provision prevents the Justice Department from spending money to interfere with state-level medical marijuana programs. However, that appropriations amendment must be reauthorized this year. Twenty-eight states, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico have medical marijuana programs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Collins said the federal government could easily do research into marijuana efficacy, but that opponents of legalization are standing in the way.

“The people complaining that more research needs to be done are the very people in a position to do the research,” he said. “But they’ll never do it, because they know the research will show the positives.”

Independent studies have generally found marijuana to be effective for treating chronic pain, nausea and vomiting in cancer patients, and muscle spasticity in multiple sclerosis patients. But the Drug Enforcement Administration, which operates under the Justice Department, maintains that marijuana has no medical value.


Source

How Jeff Sessions wants to bring back the war on drugs

Steven H. Cook

When the Obama administration launched a sweeping policy to reduce harsh prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, rave reviews came from across the political spectrum. Civil rights groups and the Koch brothers praised Obama for his efforts, saying he was making the criminal justice system more humane.

But there was one person who watched these developments with some horror. Steven H. Cook, a former street cop who became a federal prosecutor based in Knoxville, Tenn., saw nothing wrong with how the system worked — not the life sentences for drug charges, not the huge growth of the prison population. And he went everywhere — Bill O’Reilly’s show on Fox News, congressional hearings, public panels — to spread a different gospel.

“The federal criminal justice system simply is not broken. In fact, it’s working exactly as designed,” Cook said at a criminal justice panel at The Washington Post last year.

The Obama administration largely ignored Cook, who was then president of the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys. But he won’t be overlooked anymore.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has brought Cook into his inner circle at the Justice Department, appointing him to be one of his top lieutenants to help undo the criminal justice policies of Obama and former attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr. As Sessions has traveled to different cities to preach his tough-on-crime philosophy, Cook has been at his side.

Sessions has yet to announce specific policy changes, but Cook’s new perch speaks volumes about where the Justice Department is headed.

Law enforcement officials say that Sessions and Cook are preparing a plan to prosecute more drug and gun cases and pursue mandatory minimum sentences. The two men are eager to bring back the national crime strategy of the 1980s and ’90s from the peak of the drug war, an approach that had fallen out of favor in recent years as minority communities grappled with the effects of mass incarceration.

Crime is near historic lows in the United States, but Sessions says that the spike in homicides in several cities, including Chicago, is a harbinger of a “dangerous new trend” in America that requires a tough response.

“Our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs is bad,” Sessions said to law enforcement officials in a speech in Richmond last month. “It will destroy your life.”

Advocates of criminal justice reform argue that Sessions and Cook are going in the wrong direction — back to a strategy that tore apart families and sent low-level drug offenders, disproportionately minority citizens, to prison for long sentences.

“They are throwing decades of improved techniques and technologies out the window in favor of a failed approach,” said Kevin Ring, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM).

But Cook, whose views are supported by other federal prosecutors, sees himself as a dedicated assistant U.S. attorney who for years has tried to protect neighborhoods ravaged by crime. He has called FAMM and organizations like it “anti-law enforcement groups.”

The records of Cook and Sessions show that while others have grown eager in recent years to rework the criminal justice system, they have repeatedly fought to keep its toughest edges, including winning a battle in Congress last year to defeat a reform bill.

“If hard-line means that my focus is on protecting communities from violent felons and drug traffickers, then I’m guilty,” Cook said in a recent interview with The Post. “I don’t think that’s hard-line. I think that’s exactly what the American people expect of their Department of Justice.”

When asked for a case that he was proud to work on during his three-decade career as a prosecutor, Cook points to when his office went after a crack ring operating in Chattanooga housing projects between 1989 and 1991.

This was during the height of the crack epidemic and the drug war. After the cocaine overdose of black basketball star Len Bias in 1986, Congress began passing “tough on crime” laws, including mandatory minimum sentences on certain drug and gun offenses. In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed one of the toughest-ever crime bills, which included a “three strikes” provision that gave mandatory life sentences for repeat offenders.

Federal prosecutors such as Cook applauded their “new tools” to get criminals off the street.

Cook said last year: “What we did, beginning in 1985, is put these laws to work. We started filling federal prisons with the worst of the worst. And what happened next is exactly what Congress said they wanted to happen — and that is violent crime began in 1991 to turn around. By 2014, we had cut it in half.”

To bring down the Chattanooga drug ring’s leader, Victor Novene, undercover federal agents purchased crack from Novene’s underlings. Prosecutors then threatened them with long prison sentences to “flip” them to give up information about their superiors.

Cook said in March: “We made buys from individuals who were lower in the organization. We used the mandatory minimums to pressure them to cooperate.”

Cook’s office also added gun charges to make sentences even longer, another popular tool among prosecutors seeking the longest possible punishments.

With the mandatory minimum sentences and firearms “enhancements,” Novene received six life sentences. Many of his lieutenants were sentenced to between 16 and 33 years in federal prison.

But sentencing reform advocates say the tough crime policies went too far. The nation began incarcerating people at a higher rate than any other country — jailing 25 percent of the world’s prisoners at a cost of $80 billion a year. The nation’s prison and jail population more than quadrupled from 500,000 in 1980 to 2.2 million in 2015, filled with mostly black men strapped with lengthy prison sentences — 10 or 20 years, sometimes life without parole for a first drug offense.

Obama, the first sitting president to visit a federal prison, launched an ambitious clemency initiative to release certain drug offenders from prison early. And Holder told his prosecutors, in an effort to make punishments more fairly fit the crime, to stop charging low-level nonviolent drug offenders with offenses that imposed severe mandatory sentences. He called his strategy, outlined in an August 2013 report, “Smart on Crime.”

Cook has called it “Soft on Crime” and said the Chattanooga case would have been much more difficult to make, “if possible at all,” in recent years.

“We were discouraged from using mandatory minimums,” Cook said about Holder’s 2013 charging and sentencing memo to prosecutors. “The charging memo handcuffed prosecutors. And it limited when enhancements can be used to increase penalties, an important leverage when you’re dealing with a career offender in getting them to cooperate.”

Cook has also dismissed the idea that there is such a thing as a nonviolent drug offender.

“Drug trafficking is inherently violent. Drug traffickers are dealing in a heavy cash business,” he said on the “O’Reilly Factor” last year. “They can’t resolve disputes in court. They resolve the disputes on the street, and they resolve them through violence.”

Winning on the Hill

Cook and Sessions have also fought the winds of change on Capitol Hill, where a bipartisan group of lawmakers recently tried but failed to pass the first significant bill on criminal justice reform in decades.

The legislation, which had 37 sponsors in the Senate, including Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), and 79 members of the House, would have reduced some of the long mandatory minimum sentences for gun and drug crimes. It also would have given judges more flexibility in drug sentencing and made retroactive the law that reduced the large disparity between sentencing for crack cocaine and powder cocaine.

The bill, introduced in 2015, had support from outside groups as diverse as the Koch brothers and the NAACP. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) supported it, as well.

But then people such as Sessions and Cook spoke up. The longtime Republican senator from Alabama became a leading opponent, citing the spike in crime in several cities.

“Violent crime and murders have increased across the country at almost alarming rates in some areas. Drug use and overdoses are occurring and dramatically increasing,” said Sessions, one of five members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who voted against the legislation. “It is against this backdrop that we are considering a bill . . . to cut prison sentences for drug traffickers and even other violent criminals, including those currently in federal prison.”


Cook testified that it was the “wrong time to weaken the last tools available to federal prosecutors and law enforcement agents.”

After GOP lawmakers became nervous about passing legislation that might seem soft on crime, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declined to bring the bill to the floor for a vote.

“Sessions was the main reason that bill didn’t pass,” said Inimai M. Chettiar, the director of the Justice Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “He came in at the last minute and really torpedoed the bipartisan effort.”

Now that he is attorney general, Sessions has signaled a new direction. As his first step, Sessions told his prosecutors in a memo last month to begin using “every tool we have” — language that evoked the strategy from the drug war of loading up charges to lengthen sentences.

And he quickly appointed Cook to be a senior official on the attorney general’s task force on crime reduction and public safety, which was created following a Trump executive order to address what the president has called “American carnage.”

“If there was a flickering candle of hope that remained for sentencing reform, Cook’s appointment was a fire hose,” said Ring, of FAMM. “There simply aren’t enough backhoes to build all the prisons it would take to realize Steve Cook’s vision for America.”

Sessions is also expected to take a harder line on the punishment for using and distributing marijuana, a drug he has long abhorred. His crime task force will review existing marijuana policy, according to a memo he wrote prosecutors last week. Using or distributing marijuana is illegal under federal law, which classifies it as a Schedule 1 drug, the same category as heroin, and considered more dangerous than cocaine and methamphetamine.

In his effort to resurrect the practices of the drug war, it is still unclear what Sessions will do about the wave of states that have legalized marijuana in recent years. Eight states and the District of Columbia now permit the recreational use of marijuana, and 28 states and the District have legalized the use of medical marijuana.

But his rhetoric against weed seems to get stronger with each speech. In Richmond, he cast doubt on the use of medical marijuana and said it “has been hyped, maybe too much.”

Sessions directs federal prosecutors to target the nation’s most violent offenders]

Sessions’s aides stress that the attorney general does not want to completely upend every aspect of criminal justice policy.

“We are not just sweeping away everything that has come before us.” said Robyn Thiemann, the deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Policy, who is working with Cook and has been at the Justice Department for nearly 20 years. “The attorney general recognizes that there is good work out there.”

Still, Sessions’s remarks on the road reveal his continued fascination with an earlier era of crime fighting.

In the speech in Richmond, he said, “Psychologically, politically, morally, we need to say — as Nancy Reagan said — ‘Just say no.’ ”


Source

Monday, April 17, 2017

How Republicans and Democrats in Congress are joining forces to defeat Sessions’ war on weed

Rep. Carlos Curbelo is a two-term Republican from a South Florida district that was once the epicenter in the country’s war on drugs. But last month Curbelo, one of a new generation of Cuban-Americans in Congress, did something that, not too many years ago, would have been unthinkable. He co-sponsored a bill that is the top priority for the nation’s booming marijuana industry.

Dubbed the Small Business Tax Equity Act, Curbelo’s bill would let legal pot dealers take advantage of the same tax deductions and credits as any other business, a move that industry experts say would slash the effective tax rates for weed dispensaries in half.

“One of my goals in Congress is to ensure the law treats all enterprises with fairness and equity,” he said in a statement explaining his decision to join a liberal Oregon Democrat, Earl Blumenauer, in co-sponsoring the measure.

It didn’t hurt Curbelo that his move won instant plaudits from influential GOP tax reform guru Grover Norquist — a longtime champion of legalized pot — who decries the “arbitrary and punitive” treatment of legal marijuana dealers in the tax code. Nor is it likely to hurt Curbelo back home: Last November, 71 percent of Florida voters approved a medical marijuana measure on the ballot, making the Sunshine State one of the latest in a long line of states that have either legalized pot altogether or allow it to be sold for medicinal purposes.

“Look — it’s increasingly clear people in our country are accepting of marijuana,” Curbelo said in an interview with Yahoo News. “Millions and millions of voters have decided they want marijuana use to be legal for medical purposes or, in some cases, for recreational purposes. For those of us who are small-“c” conservatives who believe in the Tenth Amendment, we should defer to the people of Florida and other states … we shouldn’t get in the way.”

The efforts of Republicans like Curbelo and Norquist are one reason why Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ hopes of reimposing strict enforcement of federal marijuana laws are likely to meet strong bipartisan resistance — and may ultimately go nowhere. Ever since he took over the Justice Department, the 70-year-old Sessions, an unrepentant drug warrior, has made clear his disdain for pot. “I don’t think America is going to be a better place when people of all ages, and particularly young people, are smoking pot,” he told reporters in February shortly after being sworn in.

And now Sessions seems to be doing something about it. He released a memo to the country’s U.S. attorneys unveiling a Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety whose mission is to review department policies on charging, sentencing and the current enforcement of marijuana laws.

“Everything is on the table; we’ll be looking at everything,” said a senior department official when asked what the task force’s goals will be when it comes to marijuana enforcement. The official, however, declined to offer any clues to what Sessions specifically has in mind, saying little more than “we may be able to say something more by June.”

To be sure, the sale and even possession of marijuana remains a federal crime, punishable by prison time and hefty fines — even in states that have repealed their own pot prohibitions. But just how far Sessions will be able to go in implementing his anti-pot agenda is far from clear, given the shifting political winds on the issue. Thanks to changing cultural attitudes and the steady march of legalization initiatives at the state level, the pro-pot cause is only gaining momentum, making it increasingly harder for foes like Sessions to slow it down, much less stop it.

It’s not even clear Sessions will get the cooperation of his fellow cabinet members. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, questioned on “Meet the Press” Sunday, said that marijuana is “not a factor” in the country’s drug problems and that “arresting a lot of users” was not the answer.

“It’s absolutely powerful now. This is a political movement,” said Norquist, who is quietly lobbying to get Curbelo’s proposal slipped into the massive tax reform bill that President Trump wants Congress to pass by this summer. “There are now guys in coats and ties making the case — not just guys in tie-dyed T-shirts.”

The strength of that movement was underscored recently after White House press secretary Sean Spicer first suggested that the Trump administration was looking at “greater enforcement” of the marijuana laws. Within days, eight senators — led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska — fired off a letter to Sessions urging him to stand down and to stick with the Obama Justice Department policy, embodied in the so-called Cole memo (signed by former deputy attorney general James Cole) that, as a matter of prosecutorial discretion, urged U.S. attorneys to lay off legal pot dealers in states that have set up their own regulatory schemes to supervise them. Even as Sessions was about to sign his new memo earlier this month, four state governors (of Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington) launched a preemptive strike, sending their own letter to Sessions and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin making a similar request. “As governors, we have committed to implementing the will of our citizens,” they wrote.

“What we’ve seen is a lot of pushback from both sides of the aisle,” said Taylor West, communications director for the National Cannabis Industry Association, the major trade group for the country’s pot sellers. “A couple of times now, there have been statements coming out of the administration, from Sessions or Sean Spicer, that seemed ominous for legal marijuana programs. But when follow-up is done and questions are asked, there is not a clear statement of policy changes. The clearest thing to come out of these episodes is the opposition to the idea that they might change the policy.”

So far, eight states (Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Washington) and the District of Columbia have passed laws legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. Twenty-eight states plus the District of Columbia have medical marijuana laws. All this has led to a thriving, and steadily growing, domestic marijuana industry — meaning a new anti-pot crackdown would cost states tax revenue and jobs. A new study by Arcview, a market research firm, estimates there were $6.7 billion in sales of legal cannabis products in 2016, up 34 percent from the year before. Industry sales are projected to more than triple to $21.5 billion by 2021. The Arcview study notes that “there are only two obvious cases in recent decades” in which industries have experienced that kind of supercharged growth: “cable television in the 1980s … and broadband Internet access in the 2000s.”

The marijuana surge has produced an increasingly potent pro-pot lobby in D.C.: West’s National Cannabis Industry Association, which represents 1,200 legal pot sellers, employs high-profile lobbyists (Hillary Clinton super-bundler Heather Podesta was until recently under contract), has its own political action committee and throws fundraisers at a tony Capitol Hill wine bar where a growing number of members of Congress show up to schmooze and collect campaign checks. When the group recently announced it would be holding its annual “lobby day” this year on May 16, more than 300 members signed up to fly in — more than twice as many as last year — to press the industry’s case on Capitol Hill.

Part of this year’s pot industry “lobby day” agenda will be to play defense against any possible moves by Sessions. In the worst-case scenario, says West, the Justice Department could rescind the Cole memo and direct prosecutors to start “cherry-picking” businesses tied to the legalized pot trade — by suing landlords that lease to them, for example — or even raiding dealers themselves for violations of federal law. But she says her group’s members are not “panicking.” An even bigger part of this year’s agenda will be to play offense: pressing for changes in Treasury Department rules that would, for example, permit federally regulated banks to accept the business of marijuana dispensaries. (Right now, most won’t, out of fear of being accused of accepting income that is illicitly gained under federal law, forcing most dispensaries to do all their business in cash.)

The other top-of-the-agenda item is the Curbelo-Blumenauer tax bill — a big-ticket issue for the legal weed industry. As a result of a 1981 court case involving a convicted cocaine trafficker, businesses involved in selling illegal drugs under the Internal Revenue Service code are barred from taking the same standard deductions — for rent, office equipment, depreciation and the like — that any other business does. The pot industry badly wants that changed — and Norquist and Curbelo have a strategy to help them do it: Push the measure as part of a tax overhaul package, arguing that the current rule is a job-killer that amounts to a “35 percent sales tax” on legal weed. “I do think it’s a candidate for inclusion,” said Curbelo, who conveniently sits on the Ways and Means Committee and is positioned to make it happen. “This legislation is without question consistent with the goal of Ways and Means Republicans of simplifying the tax code and making it more coherent and more fair.” (A similar bill has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.)

Norquist even allows himself to hope that including the pot measure could bring some Democrats on board for a Trump tax reform bill. It may be far-fetched, but, Jeff Sessions notwithstanding, there are those who believe marijuana might turn out to be one issue on which a divided Washington can come together.


Source

End marijuana prohibition this 4/20

From The National Organization For The Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML):

It’s that time of the year again. Long recognized as the national marijuana holiday, April 20th presents us with an opportunity to make our voices heard:

When Jeff Sessions was nominated Attorney General, NORML worked with all of you to send out a “Thunderclap,” a powerful social media tool that enabled us to reach more than 2 million people with our #JustSayNoToSessions campaign. While we were unable to stop Sessions from being confirmed, he did hear the message loud and clear. Just last week, he said:

When they nominated me for Attorney General, you would have thought the biggest issue in America was when I said, ‘I don’t think America’s going to be a better place if they sell marijuana at every corner grocery store, (People) didn’t like that; I’m surprised they didn’t like that.

Now, with the establishment of the Cannabis Caucus and the introduction of the Ending Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017, we must make every member of Congress feel the same pressure.

NORML has been in this fight for over 47 years because we believe that responsible adults who choose to consume marijuana should not be be persecuted or stigmatized. Despite our recent victories, the forces of the prohibition-industrial complex remain strong and the government’s marijuana misinformation campaign that has spanned from Reefer Madness to D.A.R.E. is still deeply entrenched. However, just as we have for decades, we will fight on and not be deterred.

We must continue to educate our legislators and neighbors alike. That is why on this 4/20 we are calling upon Americans to contact their members of Congress and say “Enough is Enough” to marijuana prohibition.

Our work is powered by the generous support of thousands throughout the country who share our belief that adults should be able to consume marijuana free of any social stigma or criminal penalties. To ensure we continue to only represent the interests of marijuana consumers, not big money interests, we depend on small grassroots donations from people like you. This year, the average contribution to NORML was just $26.
Keep us going by making a contribution or signing up to be a monthly supporter to receive special updates and offers.

So thank you for all that you have done in the fight so far. Together, we will legalize marijuana nationwide.
The NORML Team


Click here to sign up for the Thunderclap and demand that Congress end marijuana prohibition.

Friday, April 14, 2017

We have his attention



Attorney General Jeff Sessions expressed shock at the swift public backlash to his fiery rhetoric on federal marijuana policy and his opposition to legalization.

Speaking on a range of issues at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona Tuesday, Sessions addressed his opposition to further easement of marijuana laws in states across the country. He also expressed confusion over the amount of attention his comments on marijuana during his confirmation hearing received, reports AZ Central.

Sessions, a stanch opponent of legalization, is currently reviewing the Cole Memorandum, a set of guidelines established in 2013 that direct DOJ to focus marijuana enforcement efforts on violent crimes and distribution in states without legalization laws.

“When they nominated me for attorney general, you would have thought the biggest issue in America was when I said, ‘I don’t think America’s going to be a better place if they sell marijuana at every corner grocery store,'” Sessions said Tuesday, according to AZ Central. “(People) didn’t like that; I’m surprised they didn’t like that.”

Sessions also touched on illegal immigration and border protection Tuesday, reiterating his belief that a wall and bolstered enforcement will greatly cut down on the flow of illegal drugs into the U.S.

Sessions claimed in February “there’s more violence around marijuana than one would think, and there’s big money involved.” It is unclear how aggressive the administration will ultimately be on the issue, but officials in states with legalization laws are preparing for the worst.

The governors of Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington, the first four states to legalize recreational marijuana, sent a letter to Sessions and Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin April 3, imploring them to leave marijuana policy to the states.

The governors say they previously opposed legal weed but argue the policy is boosting revenue and helping reduce the “inequitable incarceration” of minority groups.

Sessions and the Trump administration could cost the marijuana industry hundreds of thousands of jobs if they interfere with state pot laws. A report released in February by New Frontier Data projects that an unimpeded marijuana market will create more than 250,000 jobs by 2020. The booming projections for growth stand in stark contrast to manufacturing jobs, which are expected to crater by more than 800,000 by 2024.


Source

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Pro-marijuana bills gaining momentum in Congress

Rep. Matt Gaetz calls himself a "constitutional conservative." Joining other Republicans in rolling back environmental regulations wasn't enough for the 34-year-old freshman congressman from a conservative district in Florida. Not long after arriving on Capitol Hill, Gaetz introduced a bill that would get rid of the Environmental Protection Agency altogether.

That bill generated headlines but remains stuck in committee, and now Gaetz is looking to make another splash with a completely different issue: marijuana. Earlier this week, his office tweeted infographics listing different diseases that are treated with medical marijuana and posted another graphic detailing the social costs of marijuana prohibition on Facebook. The posts suggested that Gaetz and Rep. Darren Soto (D), a fellow Floridian, are preparing to introduce legislation that would take marijuana off the federal government's Schedule I list of drugs considered too dangerous to be legal for any purpose, including medicine.

Expanding access to marijuana is certainly not on the GOP's agenda, and has never been a top priority among congressional Democrats either. So, why is a self-described conservative sticking up for medical weed?

For years, even liberal lawmakers told marijuana advocates that while reform may be a good idea, the political will to make it happen did not exist, at least at the federal level. That is all starting to change now that legalization is becoming increasingly popular in the polls and more states are moving ahead with reforms, despite the Trump administration's pledges to crack down on illicit drugs, potentially including marijuana.

Gaetz is expected to propose placing marijuana on the government's Schedule II list, where it would still be considered to have a "high potential for abuse" but also accepted medical uses. Opioids such as fentanyl and morphine are currently categorized as Schedule II drugs. Marijuana is, of course, far less dangerous than morphine. Justin Strekal, the political director at the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said placing marijuana on Schedule II is timid compared others proposed reforms, but it's an encouraging sign.

"A Republican from Florida directing their office staff to make little memes about medical marijuana [on social media]…that's a good thing to see," Strekal told Truthout.

Will Jeff Sessions Target Legal Weed?

Gaetz, who previously ushered limited medical cannabis measures through the Florida legislature, is not the only lawmaker working on weed policy. Congress recently saw the creation of a bipartisan "Cannabis Caucus" along with a flurry of proposed marijuana reforms, including two bills that would legalize marijuana nationwide. Voters in eight states approved ballot measures legalizing either recreational or medical weed in last November's election, and legislation to decriminalize or legalize marijuana is on the move in cities and states across the country.

These efforts come amid widespread speculation over how Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the outspoken marijuana prohibitionist that President Trump picked to roll out his "law and order" agenda at the Justice Department, will proceed.

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, and both Sessions and the White House have sent mixed messages about federal marijuana enforcement, raising fears about a possible crackdown in states where the drug is legal for recreational use. On Thursday, Sessions issued a memo asking a new crime reduction task force created by the White House to review federal policies on marijuana enforcement and report back to him by July, providing advocates with a time frame in which to expect further policy moves by the Trump administration.

Under President Obama, the Justice Department adopted a policy that generally prevented federal raids on marijuana businesses that comply with state laws, while continuing to target unlicensed marijuana operations. As a result, the number of federal prison sentences for marijuana violations has dropped dramatically since 2012, according to NORML. Still, 3,000 people -- the overwhelming majority of them people of color -- received federal sentences in 2016 alone.

Sessions has called the Obama-era policy "valid" and may choose not to scrap it, but advocates warn that the attorney general has plenty of leeway to disrupt state-legal markets as long as marijuana remains prohibited at the federal level. The uncertainty has left states with legal marijuana programs anxious. On Monday, the governors of Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington sent a letter to the Justice Department asking Sessions to consult with them before making any changes to the policy established under Obama.

States that have legalized weed are now considering so-called "sanctuary" legislation to protect their legitimate marijuana businesses from the Trump administration. Last week, California Rep. Reggie Jones-Sawyer introduced a bill in the state's legislature that would bar state and local agencies from teaming up with federal law enforcement to take action against legitimate marijuana businesses, unless they receive a court order. Medical marijuana has been legal in California for years, and last year voters approved a ballot initiative for recreational use.

"I want to stop law enforcement from impeding on one of the best businesses we can start for the next millennium," Jones-Sawyer told reporters last week.

The Trump administration has indicated that it is not interested in going after medical cannabis, and Colorado lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow recreational marijuana businesses to reclassify their products as medical products "due to change in local, state or federal law enforcement policy."

"In the grand scheme of things, I think Sessions is [a] new catalyst for urgency for states and Congress to take action," Strekal said.

Congress Considers a Flurry of Marijuana Bills

In Congress, the legislation currently receiving the most attention is the Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act, a bill recently introduced by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colorado) that would remove marijuana from drug scheduling entirely and set up a basic federal taxation and regulatory structure, allowing states to establish their own polices free from interference by the Drug Enforcement Administration. The bill is part of a package from the Cannabis Caucus that would shield individual consumers from federal prosecution and remove tax and criminal penalties that have made it difficult for marijuana businesses to access banking and other financial services.

Perhaps the most important legislation for marijuana advocates is a bill and a separate pair of budget amendments that would protect states with legal weed from federal prosecution. The proposals are designed to stop Sessions from targeting states with legal weed, even if Trump's crime task force decides that a crackdown is a good idea.

A budget amendment preventing federal prosecution of state-legal medical marijuana activities passed last year, but another amendment protecting recreational marijuana narrowly failed. Strekal said the recreational measure, which was also introduced by Rep. Polis, has a much better chance this year now that more states have passed legalization measures. However, as a budget rider, it's only good for one year. That leaves Congress with more work to do if legalized states are to be protected from the Trump administration over the course of his term.

"We absolutely expect to see advancement of legislation in Congress, but will it be the end of prohibition in this Congress? Probably not," Strekal said. "But we are cautiously optimistic about a swelling of political will behind this."


Source

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Susan Rice spying scandal misses the point

From Campaign For Liberty:

When it comes to the Susan Rice spying scandal and unmasking the names of Trump staffers “incidentally” picked up in foreign surveillance, the pundits are missing the forest for the trees.

The moment Susan Rice chose to unmask the names of Americans, and likely leak the details of their conversation throughout the Obama administration, it’s clear she had sinister intent.

Some argue what she did wasn't illegal under the dramatically expanded powers Congress unconstitutionally handed intelligence agencies in the name of "fighting terrorism."

But that's exactly the problem!

The real point of this whole ordeal is whether or not the government should have the power to get this information at all.

There’s no denying anymore that the Deep State is being politically weaponized.

And it’s only a matter of time until all of us feel the crunch.

For years, Campaign for Liberty has fought back against the surveillance powers being accumulated under the executive branch.

We warned Congress and the American people that left to their own devices, the Deep State and the administration that oversees it would abuse its authority.

Power corrupts. And the tools the Congress has empowered America’s spy agencies with are simply too powerful to be allowed to continue.

Susan Rice spying on the incoming administration to gain valuable political intelligence ought to be a criminal offense.

That it may not be one at the moment should concern every American. . .

You see if the government is allowed to continue “incidentally” collecting conversations between Americans and foreign citizens, eventually it won’t just be political staffers’ conversations they’re monitoring.

It’ll be yours and mine!

While Section 702 explicitly prohibits intentional targeting of American citizens, the Susan Rice spying scandal shows exactly how the program can be used to catch them “incidentally.”

The NSA regularly intercepts information of innocent Americans without any probable cause or warrant.

In fact, several other instances of abuse exist outside of the Susan Rice spying scandal like,

>>> Employees monitoring communications of their ex-boyfriends and girlfriends -- it occurred so often it was assigned the name, “LOVEINT”;

>>> In one instance, a “programming error” confused the US area code 202 (Washington, D.C.) for the Egyptian country code “20” intercepting a “large number” of calls placed from Washington;

>>> In 2011, the FISA Court (intended to “oversee” the surveillance) ruled that NSA collection of Internet communications violated the 4th Amendment because, even with their “minimization procedures,” the agency was still collecting 56,000 American emails a year.

Section 702 is precisely the type of surveillance used against the colonists that led our Founding Fathers to fight a revolution over!

That’s why this summer, when Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act comes up for reauthorization, you and I must be ready to mobilize on this opportunity.

I’m preparing an all-out assault on the surveillance state, but I need to know you’re with me.

That’s why I’ve prepared a brief Statement of Support for you to sign.

It lets Dr. Paul and I know that you’ll stand with Campaign for Liberty and the members of Congress who lead the fight against renewing Section 702 this summer.

Our efforts in 2015 led to a temporary expiration of the controversial Patriot Act provisions, preventing Congress from further watering down the so-called “USA FREEDOM Act.”

Americans must demand that Congress stop the mass surveillance of innocent Americans’ communications and conduct a full Congressional investigation into the Susan Rice spying scandal.

I’ll be sure to follow-up with more information detailing our plans and how you can help to fight back against illegal spying.

But for now, I hope you’ll sign your Statement of Support and chip in $10 or even $20 to let us know you’re ready for a fight!

In Liberty,

Norm Singleton
President

P.S. The warrantless surveillance of Americans like that of the Trump staffers by political cronies like Susan Rice must be stopped!

Please sign your Statement of Support and chip in whatever you can afford today to help Campaign for Liberty prepare our all-out assault on the Deep State this summer.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

These ‘Path To Marijuana Reform’ Bills Can Make Cannabis Legal Nationally

Two Oregon Democratic lawmakers on Thursday introduced an aggressive package of bills that aims to protect existing state marijuana laws while at the same time paving the way for the federal regulation of the burgeoning cannabis industry.

Senator Ron Wyden and Representatives Earl Blumenauer introduced The Path to Marijuana Reform Act, which permit states to create and regulate their own regulatory policies free from federal interference. The bold legislation also calls for removing cannabis from the U.S. Controlled Substances Act.

“The federal government must respect the decision Oregonians made at the polls and allow law-abiding marijuana businesses to go to the bank just like any other legal business.” Wyden said. “This three-step approach will spur job growth and boost our economy all while ensuring the industry is being held to a fair standard.”

The three steps Wyden refers to are clearly outlined in the proposal:

Small Business Tax Equity Act

This legislation would repeal the tax penalty that singles out state-legal marijuana businesses and bars them from claiming deductions and tax credits.

Responsibly Addressing The Marijuana Policy Gap Act

This legislation would reduce the gap between Federal and State law by removing federal criminal penalties and civil asset forfeiture for individuals and businesses acting in compliance with state law. It would also reduce barriers for state-legal marijuana businesses by ensuring access to banking, bankruptcy protection, marijuana research, and advertising. It would protect individual marijuana consumers in states that have legalized marijuana, by providing an expungement process for certain marijuana violations, ensuring access to public housing and federal financial aid for higher education, and ensuring that a person cannot be deported or denied entry to the U.S. solely for consuming marijuana in compliance with state law. Finally, it would remove unfair burdens by ensuring veterans have access to state-legal medical marijuana, and protecting Native American tribes from punishment under federal marijuana laws.


Marijuana Revenue And Regulation Act

This legislation would responsibly deschedule, tax, and regulate marijuana. It would impose an excise tax on marijuana products similar to current federal excise taxes on alcohol and tobacco, escalating annually to a top rate equal to 25 percent of the sales price. Marijuana producers, importers, and wholesalers would be required to obtain a permit from the Department of Treasury, and the marijuana industry would be regulated in a manner similar to alcohol. Strict rules would prohibit sale or distribution of marijuana in states where it is illegal under state law.

The legislation “is another sign that the growing public support for ending our failed war on cannabis consumers nationwide is continuing to translate into political support amongst federal officials,” said Erik Altieri, executive director of NORML, a top marijuana reform group. “With marijuana legalization being supported by 60 percent of all Americans while Congress’ approval rating is in the low teens, ending our country’s disastrous prohibition against marijuana would not just be good policy, but good politics.”

Oregon is one of eight states where adult recreational marijuana is legal. There are 29 states that have medical marijuana programs. More than 60 million Americans over the age of 21 live in states that allow some form of marijuana consumption. And poll after poll consistently shows that about 60 percent of Americans support legalization of cannabis.

“Too many people are trapped between federal and state laws,” Blumenauer said. “It’s not right, and it’s not fair. We need change now – and this bill is the way to do it.”


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This is great. Let your Representative and Senators know about these reforms. Let them know you back them and that you want them to back them as well. The more of us they hear from the better.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Trump adviser advises Trump to leave marijuana to the states

Click to watch video

When President Trump was still Candidate Donald J. Trump, he made many remarks regarding honoring States Rights when it came to the individual States to decide on the issue of marijuana.

In the now famous November 23, 2015 GQ video, then Candidate Trump talks about legalized marijuana, and in it he said “Legalized marijuana is always a very difficult question . . . for medicinal purposes, for medical purposes . . . absolutely, its fine”.

Tens of millions of Liberty minded Americans believed him when he said this and took his message to heart, fully expecting him to end the ineffectual and wasteful War on Weed. Americans were not wrong to believe President Trump, as he was also on record a month earlier in the Washington Post, on October 29, 2015, being quoted as saying “”In terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state-by-state.”

These voters were relieved that is, until the position of Attorney General Jeff Sessions reached the public domain. While Jeff Sessions is an excellent jurist and an astute politician, he unfortunately is also an adherent to outmoded thinking on marijuana. As a product of the Religious South, it is natural that AG Sessions would take the dimmest view of marijuana, but there is little room left for debate as to the origin of the marijuana prohibition laws and how they were formulated as a tool to bludgeon both the poor and minorities, the largest consumers of the formerly legal plant. Perhaps Attorney General Sessions has forgotten his Genesis from the Old Testament:

“I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.” Genesis 1:29

Or perhaps he was never familiar with some of the lessor known quotes of Thomas Jefferson:

“If the people let government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny.” Thomas Jefferson

Jeff Sessions states his position plainly: “Good people don’t smoke marijuana”. This plainly false statement, made in all earnestness, clearly demonstrates how far from the mainstream Sessions is on this topic. Very few Americans would agree with him on this, as evidenced in the wave of legalization that washed over the United States over the past five years. More importantly, sick people use marijuana whose medicinal value is proven yet strangely still denied by the Federal Government.

In many States, the road to medical legalization was hard fought, often with State Constitutional amendments requiring over 60% of the popular vote. The Trump Administration should be mindful that the recreational marijuana measures that passed in several states all passed this same way, with overwhelming popular support. This was clearly the Will of the People. It is not Jeff Sessions place to prosecute his version of morality and President Trump should not allow him to do so.

Just the idea of Sessions re-ignites the marijuana drug war has caused consternation within the fledgling State Legal Marijuana Industry. Investments have floundered, confusion introduced, and little in the way of relief has been forthcoming from the White House. This chaos has opened the door for the Cartels. They were being driven out of shriveling black markets, but are now able to reconstitute their distribution networks, filling the gaps left open by patchwork Federal enforcement and by the industries fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

Cracking down on legalized marijuana will starve States out of much needed revenue streams. Colorado is a great success story when looked at from a tax base point of view, and much needed revenue is coming in to fund education and government services. Colorado generated over sixty-six million dollars in tax revenue in 2015 and has increased by double digits’ year over year since. Losing that money will put them deep into the red and cause a burden upon the whole State, as well as throwing thousands of people out of work while destroying a billion-dollar industry.

I urge President Trump to honor his word and keep his promise, irrespective of what his Cabinet members may say. There are so many other ways that law enforcement can be put to good use rather than to persecute harmless farmers and shopkeepers who are abiding by State law.


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