Archive for the ‘Department of Justice’ category

Congress Passes Historic Medical Marijuana Amendment as Part of Federal Spending Bill

December 15th, 2014

The bill includes an amendment that prohibits the Department of Justice — which includes the Drug Enforcement Administration — from using funds to interfere with state medical marijuana laws. A similar amendment has been offered seven times in Congress,Congress logo failing in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2012. The House finally approved it in May when it was offered by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) as an amendment to the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act. 
The federal spending bill also prohibits the U.S. Justice Department from interfering with state-level hemp laws.
Unfortunately, the bill also contains a provision that is meant to interfere with the implementation of Washington, D.C.’s recently approved marijuana initiative, and effectively blocks the District from regulating marijuana.

Obama to Native Americans: Marijuana Legalization Is A-OK

December 12th, 2014

In a completely unexpected move by the Obama Administration, the US Department of Justice released a memo on October 28 indicating to Native American tribes that they can engage in cannabis commerce–cultivation, processing and retail sales–as long as they comport with the existing eight rules put forward in a previous August 2013 Obama Administration memo allowing states the autonomy to develop cannabis-based businesses in states where voters have passed binding ballot initiatives or elected policymakers have passed reform legislation.

  • Distribution of marijuana to minors
  • Revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, gangs and cartels
  • Diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal to states where it remains illegal
  • State-authorized marijuana activity being used as a cover for trafficking other illegal drugs or activity
  • Violence or the use of firearms as part of cultivation and distribution of marijuana
  • Drugged driving or the exacerbation of other negative health consequences associated with marijuana use
  • Growing marijuana on public lands
  • Marijuana possession or use on federal property

It's NORML to smoke pot

US News writes that “there are 326 federally recognized American Indian reservations, according to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Many reservations are in states that don’t allow marijuana for medical or recreational use, such as Oklahoma, Utah and the Dakotas. Others are located near major East Coast cities and far from legal pot stores in the West.

“The tribes have the sovereign right to set the code on their reservations,” U.S. attorney for North Dakota Timothy Purdon, chairman of the Attorney General’s Subcommittee on Native American Issues, told the Times.

In a statement, the Department of Justice said U.S. attorneys will review tribal marijuana policies on a case-by-case basis and that prosecutors retain the right to enforce federal law.

“Each U.S. attorney will assess the threats and circumstances in his or her district, and consult closely with tribal partners and the Justice Department when significant issues or enforcement decisions arise in this area,” the statement says. 

Read the DOJ memo allowing Native American tribes to regulate cannabis-related businesses here.

A detailed map of Native American tribes is found here.

Congress Poised to Pass Historic Medical Marijuana Amendment

December 10th, 2014

After 11 years of MPP lobbying and attending receptions on Capitol Hill, Congress is finally poised to pass an amendment that would prohibit the U.S. Justice Department — which includes the DEA — from interfering with state-level medical marijuana laws.Capitol

The U.S. House rejected the amendment in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2012. Finally, in May of this year, the House passed the amendment, which was introduced by Congressmen Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Sam Farr (D-CA).

Last night, the amendment was included in the annual spending bill that Congress is expected to pass today or tomorrow. It will then be the law through September 30, at which time it would need to be renewed each fall.

Unfortunately, a bad amendment to block local legalization in D.C. was also included in the spending bill. The D.C. mayor and council had been planning to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol in our nation’s capital, which they’ll no longer be allowed to do.

That said, the medical marijuana and decriminalization laws in D.C. will remain in effect.

And it is MPP’s opinion that the ballot initiative that 70% of D.C. voters passed on November 4 will be allowed to move forward. This initiative — which removes penalties for adult possession and home cultivation — would take effect in approximately March (unless Congress affirmatively blocks the initiative).

The federal spending bill also prohibits the U.S. Justice Department from interfering with state-level hemp laws.

Finally, marijuana has become a big issue on Capitol Hill, which is a precursor to ending federal prohibition.

Two Thirds of Americans Want Congress to Exempt States from Federal Marijuana Enforcement

December 10th, 2014

A new study shows that an overwhelming majority of Americans want the federal government to stay out of state-level affairs associated with changes in marijuana law.

According to The Washington Post, that is one of the conclusions of a survey on legal marijuana recently commissioned by Third Way:

The survey found Americans split on the question of full legalization, with 50 percent supporting versus 47 percent opposed. However, the poll did find that six in ten respondents said that states, not the federal government, should decide whether to make marijuana legal. Moreover, 67 percent of Americans said Congress should go further and specifically carve out an exemption to federal marijuana laws for states that legalize, so long as they have a strong regulatory system in place.

How this would work for marijuana is detailed in an exhaustive forthcoming study in the UCLA Law Review. In short, Congress could allow states to opt out of the Controlled Substances Act provisions relating to marijuana, provided they comply with regulatory guidelines issued by the Department of Justice.

This is already the de-facto federal policy toward Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon, although it cannot become a formal policy without an act of Congress. Third Way heartily endorses this approach, as it represents a “third way” between the current policy of outright prohibition, and the full legalization route favored by marijuana reform activists.

It is time for Congress to get out of the way and let states determine what marijuana policies work best for them.

Obama’s Nominee to Lead the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division Supports the Decriminalization of Marijuana

October 15th, 2014
Vanita Gupta

According to the Washington Post, President Obama plans to nominate top lawyer from the American Civil Liberties Union, Vanita Gupta, to head to the civil rights division of the Department of Justice.

Gupta is a longtime civil rights lawyer and deputy legal director of the ACLU, as well as the director of the Union’s Center for Justice.

She stated in a New York Times op-ed about ending mass incarceration:

“Those who seek a fairer criminal justice system, unclouded by racial bias, must at a minimum demand that the government eliminate mandatory minimum sentences, which tie judges’ hands; rescind three-strikes laws, which often make no distinction between, say, armed assault and auto theft; amend “truth in sentencing” statutes, which prohibit early release for good behavior; and recalibrate drug policies, starting with decriminalization of marijuana possession and investment in substance-abuse prevention and treatment.”

According to administration officials, Gupta will be appointed acting head of the civil rights division Wednesday by Attorney General Eric Holder.

H/T Tom Angell

Outgoing Attorney General’s Drug Policy Record Racked with More Failures than Accomplishments

October 1st, 2014

The impending departure of Eric Holder from the attorney general’s office has had many people analyzing his actions regarding the drug war during his tenure at the Department of Justice. Despite being present for some meaningful reforms, many think that Holder could have done so much more. According to Eric Sterling’s critique of Eric Holder’s drug policy record:

Eric Holder

“Since Holder’s resignation yesterday, many advocates of drug policy reform are giving Holder high marks for his accomplishments, especially when compared to his recent predecessors. But taken on his own terms, Holder was a weak attorney general, and late to push for what he probably knew in his heart to be the right course of action. He failed to use his very close relationship with the president to improve and rationalize the criminal justice system and US drug policy sufficiently that these reforms would have acquired a permanence and acceptance—and that would have ensured his legacy. Holder’s legacy is more words than deeds.”

Read the rest of the critique here.

New York Requests Federal Permission to Import Out-of-State Medical Marijuana

September 30th, 2014

According to WSHU.org, New York’s health department is asking permission from the federal government to import out-of-state medical marijuana until its own program is able complete the regulatory process.

The program requires the health department to establish rules and license marijuana production companies. The health department, however, says that it will take until 2016 to get the program started.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Until then, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration has requested the Department of Justice to permit importation of medical marijuana from states with existing functional programs.

Although the federal government could potentially grant such a waiver, or simply exercise prosecutorial discretion, patients in the Empire State should not hold their breath.

MPP’s Rachelle Yeung says the federal government has been slow to recognize the medical benefits of marijuana, and that Gov. Cuomo has been equally slow to implement medical marijuana.

“I don’t want to speculate as to his motivations, but as governor of the state of New York, there are ways to expedite the process without asking for special permission from the federal government.”

Furthermore, Yeung relays that it typically takes years for the federal government to allow researchers access to medical marijuana. To avoid this delay, she and other marijuana advocacy groups are urging Cuomo’s administration to accelerate the regulatory and production processes within the state.

Workers’ Compensation to Cover Medical Marijuana in New Mexico

September 9th, 2014

According to the Courthouse News Service, medical marijuana recommended by a physician for an injured patient’s pain must be paid for by the patient’s employer and insurer, the New Mexico Court of Appeals ruled.

Despite marijuana’s federal classification as a controlled substance, the court concluded that New Mexico law grants Gregory Vialpando reimbursement for medical marijuana to treat the high-intensity pain that followed failed spinal surgeries caused by a workplace back injury. As the ruling states, Vialpando met the required threshold for payments under New Mexico’s workers’ compensation laws when his physician diagnosed medical marijuana as reasonable and necessary for his treatment. The August 29 decision is based on a lower court finding that Vialpando’s participation in the New Mexico Department of Health’s Medical Cannabis Program constitutes reasonable and necessary medical care, the requirement set for reimbursement by the state’s Workers’ Compensation Act.

Vialpando’s employer at the time of the incident, Ben’s Automotive Services, and health care provider, Redwood Fire & Casualty, argued that medical marijuana should be treated as a prescription drug. If it were, it would require a pharmacist or health care provider to dispense, which New Mexico’s medical marijuana program does not have, and thus, could not be paid for by worker’s compensation.

However, the appeals court found that although “medical marijuana is not a prescription drug,” if it were, “our analysis would lead to the same conclusion.” “Indeed, medical marijuana is a controlled substance and is a drug. Instead of a written order from a health care provider, it requires the functional equivalent of a prescription – certification to the program. Although it is not dispensed by a licensed pharmacist or health care provider, it is dispensed by a licensed producer through a program authorized by the Department of Health,” the court wrote.

Vialpando’s employer and insurer also argued that reimbursements would force them to commit a federal crime, or at least violate federal public policy. The appeals court rejected that, as well.

“Although not dispositive, we note that the Department of Justice has recently offered what we view as equivocal statements about state laws allowing marijuana use for medical and even recreational purposes.”

In terms of the next steps for New Mexico’s medical marijuana policies, the state is heading in the right direction considering legalization.

 

Delaware Governor Needs to Ease Plant Limits

December 23rd, 2013
Markell

Gov. Jack Markell

MPP welcomed Delaware Gov. Jack Markell’s August announcement that he would implement the compassion center program, but our enthusiasm was tempered by the fact that he did so on the condition that the program was initially limited to one compassion center that could grow only 150 plants. Since his announcement, the Department of Justice has released new guidance, which makes it clear that these restrictions are unnecessary. If you are a Delaware resident, please call the governor’s office and urge him to remove this limit.

The plant limit will surely result in shortages, leaving patients without access to their medicine. Even states like New Mexico, where there are 23 dispensaries, have experienced shortagesPatients in Delaware need a viable program.

The medical marijuana law already limits the number of compassion centers to three for the entire state. The Department of Justice has indicated that plant numbers and size of dispensaries will not be triggers for enforcement action and other states have proven that these tax-paying entities can be properly regulated. The cap does nothing but jeopardize patient access.

John McCain Ready for Legalization?!?

September 6th, 2013

According to Talking Points Memo, Sen. John McCain made some comments Thursday that some may find surprising:

McCain_Sept2013

McCain’s comments could not have been better timed. Next week, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the Justice Department’s new policy allowing states to move forward with taxing and regulating marijuana. Arizona’s other senator, Jeff Flake, is a member of that committee. Sen. Flake will have the opportunity to question Justice Department officials and help shape the future of federal policy on marijuana.