Archive for the ‘federal’ category

House Approves Amendment to Allow Financial Institutions to Work With Marijuana Businesses

July 16th, 2014

This afternoon, the House of Representatives voted 231 to 192 in favor of the Heck-Perlmutter-Lee-Rohrabacher Amendment, which will restrict Treasury Department and SEC funds from being spent to penalize financial institutions for providing services to marijuana related business that operate according to state law. This proposal amends H.R. 5016, a spending bill for fiscal year 2015 that funds the Internal Revenue Service, Treasury Department, and Securities and Exchange Commission.

The amendment reads:

“None of the funds made available in this Act may be used, with respect to the States of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, or Wisconsin or the District of Columbia, to prohibit, penalize, or otherwise discourage a financial institution from providing financial services to an entity solely because the entity is a manufacturer, producer, or person that participates in any business or organized activity that involves handling marijuana or marijuana products and engages in such activity pursuant to a law established by a State or a unit of local government.”

This vote comes on the heels of another recent historic vote in the House of Representatives, that restricted Department of Justice and DEA funds from being used to interfere in state approved medical marijuana programs. That measure is still awaiting action in the US Senate. This measure, HR 5106, will now be sent to the Senate as well.

“The recent votes in the House of Representatives demonstrate bi-partisan support at the federal level to allow states to experiment with new marijuana policies, free from federal interference,” stated NORML Communications Director Erik Altieri, “If implemented, this amendment will help alter the current untenable status quo that forces otherwise law abiding businesses to operate on a cash only basis, making them a target for criminal actions and unduly burdening their operations.”

The White House Opposes Congressional Attempts to Hinder DC Marijuana Reform

July 14th, 2014

In a Statement of Administration Policy, released today, President Obama’s administration took a firm stance against recent efforts by Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) to restrict the District of Columbia from using any of its funds towards reducing the penalties for, or legalizing, marijuana for recreational use.

The memo states that “the Administration strongly opposes the language in the bill preventing the District from using its own local funds to carry out locally- passed marijuana policies, which again undermines the principles of States rights and of District home rule. Furthermore, the language poses legal challenges to the Metropolitan Police Department’s enforcement of all marijuana laws currently in force in the District.”

“It is encouraging to see the White House stand up for DC’s right to pursue the reformation of their marijuana laws,” stated NORML Communications Director Erik Altieri, “Prohibition is a failed policy and we are pleased to see President Barack Obama beginning to act in accordance with the view of an overwhelming majority of Americans that states and localities should be free to pursue new approaches to marijuana, free from federal incursion.”

You can read the full text of the memo here.

You can click here to quickly and easily contact your elected officials and encourage them to oppose this amendment.

USDA Releases Official Workplace Policy on Marijuana, Highlights State and Federal Law Conflict

June 25th, 2014

In a memo obtained by NORML, released in late May, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) clarified their drug policy in light of the growing number of states legalizing marijuana for medical and recreational use.

In response to inquiries regarding the department’s policy for employees in states that approved recreational or medical use of marijuana, the USDA strongly reaffirmed that their drug testing policies concerning marijuana are still very much in effect, regardless of state law changes.

The memo states that, “use of Marijuana for ‘recreational’ purposes is not authorized under Federal law nor the Department’s Drug Free Workplace Program policies.” It then elaborates that, “accordingly, USDA testing procedures remain in full force and effect.”

This policy is largely still being enforced due to marijuana’s current status as a Schedule I drug at the federal level. The USDA described their current ongoing policy by stating that “USDA agencies test for the following class of drugs and their metabolites: (a) Marijuana, Opiate (Codeine/Morphine, Morphine, 6-Acetylmorphine) and PCP; and (b) Cocaine, Amphetamines (AMP/MAMP, Methamphetamine, MDMA). These drugs are listed in the Controlled Substances Act (CSA)…as Schedule I and Schedule II drugs, respectively. Schedule I drugs are substances, or chemicals defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. They are considered the most dangerous of all the drug schedules and invite potentially severe psychological or physical dependence.”

Citing the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Medical Review Officer Manual for Federal Agency Workplace Testing Programs, the USDA also made clear this policy applies equally whether marijuana is being used for recreational use or medical purposes:

“State initiatives and laws, which make available to an individual a variety of illicit drugs by a physician’s prescription or recommendation, do not make the use of these illicit drugs permissible under the Federal Drug-Free Workplace Program. These State initiatives and laws are inconsistent with Federal law and put the safety, health, and security of Federal works and the American public at risk. The use of any substance included in Schedule I of the CSA, whether for non-medical or ostensible medical purposes, is considered a violation of Federal law and the Federal Drug-Free Workplace Program.”

“The USDA’s stance on testing employees for marijuana use, regardless of the laws of the state in which they live, is unfortunate,” stated NORML Communications Director Erik Altieri, “Patients will be denied effective medicine and individuals will be denied civil liberties being given to their fellow state citizens. This situation highlights the fact that the existing, inherent conflict between state laws seeking to legalize and regulate cannabis for recreational or medical purposes and federal policy, which classifies the substance as illicit, are ultimately untenable. To resolve this conflict there must be a change in marijuana’s federal classification. Without such a change, we will consistently have a lack of clarity and ongoing conflict between public sentiment, state law, and federal policy.”

You can read the full USDA memo here.

US House Votes to Prohibit DOJ From Interfering With State Medical Marijuana or Industrial Hemp Programs

May 29th, 2014

After a long debate that had the US House of Representatives in session until after midnight, the lower chamber of Congress cast a historic 219 to 189 vote to restrict the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration from using taxpayer funds to interfere in state-sanctioned medical marijuana programs in the 20+ states that have enacted them.

This measure was co-sponsored by Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.), Reps. Rohrabacher (R-Calf.), Don Young (R-Alaska), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Paul Broun (R-Ga.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Steve Stockman (R-Texas), and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.). You can read the full text of the amendment here.

170 Democrats and 49 Republicans voted in favor of the amendment, 172 Republicans and 17 Democrats voted against it. You can view the full vote breakdown here.

“It would be hard to overstate the importance of tonight’s vote,” said NORML Communications Director Erik Altieri, “Approval of this amendment is a resounding victory for basic compassion and common sense.”

Added NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano, “This vote marks one of the first times since the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 that a majority of the members of a chamber Congress have acted in a manner that significantly alters federal marijuana policy.”

“The conflicting nature of state and federal marijuana laws has created an untenable situation,” co-sponsor Rep. Blumenauer said just before the House debate. “It’s time we take the federal government out of the equation so medical marijuana business owners operating under state law aren’t living in constant fear of having their doors kicked down in the middle of the night.”

The House also approved amendments that prohibit the DOJ and DEA from using funds to interfere with state sanctioned industrial hemp cultivation.

In February, members of Congress approved language (Section 7606) in the omnibus federal farm bill authorizing states to sponsor hemp research absent federal reclassification of the plant. Since then, five states — Hawaii, Indiana, Nebraska, Tennessee, and Utah — have enacted legislation authorizing state-sponsored hemp cultivation. (Similar legislation is pending in Illinois and South Carolina.) In total, more than a dozen states have enacted legislation redefining hemp as an agricultural commodity and allowing for state-sponsored research and/or cultivation of the crop

These amendments were made to the 2015 Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Bill, which now must be approved by the Senate and then signed by President Obama.

NORML will keep you updated on this evolving situation.

Kentucky Sues Feds Over Confiscated Hemp Seeds

May 17th, 2014

Earlier this week, the Drug Enforcement Administration ordered that 250 pounds of hemp seed be seized at Louisville Airport in Kentucky. The seeds were being imported by the Kentucky government from Italy to plant at state universities in their hemp pilot program. Kentucky legalized industrial hemp in 2013 and the federal government approved legislation this year that allowed states to engage in limited hemp cultivation.

When the DEA refused to return the seeds under reasonable conditions, the Kentucky Agriculture Department filed suit against the Justice Department, the Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Attorney General Eric Holder.

On Friday, there was a preliminary hearing regarding the lawsuit. During the hearing, U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II stated that the DEA must explicitly state what would need to be done for those participating in the pilot program to have the seeds returned. Federal officials responded that the Kentucky Department of Agriculture must fill out a narcotics license in addition to providing memorandum of agreement with the departments of universities planning to cultivate the crop.

In an interview discussing the hearing with the Huffington Post, Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer stated, “It sounds like a victory, but I’m not going to declare victory until those seeds go in the ground. It was very positive today. But we’ve felt pretty good throughout this entire process over the last several weeks, and the DEA would come back and change again. I’m not celebrating. It will be a victory when I have those seeds in hand.”

Elected officials across the state have voiced their support for the hemp program and decried the actions of federal officials. US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) stated, “It is an outrage that DEA is using finite taxpayer dollars to impound legal industrial hemp seeds.”

According to the Congressional Resource Service, the US is the only developed nation that fails to cultivate industrial hemp as an economic crop. However, in February, members of Congress for the first time approved language in the omnibus federal Farm Bill allowing for the cultivation of industrial hemp in agricultural pilot programs in states that already permit the growth and cultivation of the plant.

The next court hearing is expected to occur on Wednesday, May 21. NORML will keep you updated as the situation evolves.

Federal Lawsuit Filed to Derail Washington State from Collecting Taxes on Marijuana Sales

May 12th, 2014
Martin Nickerson
Martin Nickerson, owner of Northern Cross Collective Gardens

Martin Nickerson has filed a federal lawsuit against the state of Washington, attempting to bar the state from collecting taxes on marijuana sales. Washington state officials are demanding that he pay taxes on those sales to the tune of $62,000. However, since Nickerson is under prosecution for the criminal sale of marijuana as a medical marijuana producer, he claims that forcing him to pay taxes on his sales would violate his constitutional right against self-incrimination.

Alison Holcomb, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union who was the main author of Washington State’s successful ballot initiative, said the lawsuit has a low probability of taking down the state’s legal marijuana system.

Suppliers like Nickerson have already made public their intent to break federal law, Holcomb said, so paying taxes on their proceeds would not do much to further incriminate them.

“Paying taxes on marijuana implicates you, but so does everything else about being engaged in this system,” she said.

Ultimately, the case brings into question whether federal laws trump state laws when it comes to collecting tax revenue generated from marijuana sales. The outcome of this case could have a significant impact on medical marijuana businesses around the country.

Representative Cohen Introduces the Unmuzzle the Drug Czar Act

February 13th, 2014

Representative Steve Cohen (D-TN) has introduced federal legislation, House Resolution 4046, to remove legal restrictions prohibiting the Office of National Drug Control Policy from researching marijuana legalization. These restrictions also require the office to oppose any and all efforts to liberalize criminal laws associated with the plant.

“Not only is the ONDCP the only federal office required by law to oppose rescheduling marijuana even if it is proven to have medical benefits, but it is also prohibited from studying if that could be even be true,” said Congressman Cohen. “The ONDCP’s job should be to develop and recommend sane drug control policies, not be handcuffed or muzzled from telling the American people the truth. How can we trust what the Drug Czar says if the law already preordains its position? My bill would give the ONDCP the freedom to use science—not ideology—in its recommendations and give the American people a reason to trust what they are told.”

These restrictions were placed on the Office of National Drug Control Policy by the Reauthorization Act of 1998, which mandates the ODCP director “shall ensure that no Federal funds appropriated to the Office of National Drug Control Policy shall be expended for any study or contract relating to the legalization (for a medical use or any other use) of a substance listed in schedule I of section 202 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 812) and take such actions as necessary to oppose any attempt to legalize the use of a substance (in any form) that–

(A) is listed in schedule I of section 202 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 812); and
(B) has not been approved for use for medical purposes by the Food and Drug Administration;”

You can quickly and easily contact your representative by clicking here.

New York’s Gov. Cuomo To Announce Support for Medical Marijuana, But Measure Does Not Go Far Enough

January 7th, 2014

This Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to announce an executive action creating a medical marijuana program. While it’s encouraging that he has realized patients should not be punished for using their medicine, unlike the medical marijuana bill sponsored by Assemblyman Richard Gottfried and Senator Diane Savino, Gov. Cuomo’s proposal would not create an effective program. The “State of the State” address will be streaming live at 11:30am ET on Wednesday.

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo

It appears the governor’s plan would only allow patients to access marijuana from a limited number of hospitals, which would dispense marijuana that was either obtained from a federally approved source or that is illegal to dispense under federal law. But the federal government has refused to provide marijuana even to some short-term FDA-approved studies, and there is no reason to think it will approve marijuana for longer-term patient access. Meanwhile, hospitals surely wouldn’t break federal law by distributing unapproved marijuana.

A similar medical marijuana law that passed in Maryland last year, by all accounts, just won’t work. If you live in New York State, let your legislators know the way to protect patients is by enacting a comprehensive medical marijuana bill.

New York patients who suffer from debilitating illnesses deserve protection from prosecution, and access to medical marijuana through a viable program — such as those that have passed in 20 other states, plus D.C. If you are a New York residentplease email your legislators today and urge them to support Assemblyman Gottfried and Senator Savino’s medical marijuana bill.

What the Michigan Local Ordinances Really Do

November 7th, 2013

While election day saw an overwhelming amount of media coverage surrounding marijuana issues, some of the details were confusing to people not living in those states, so here are the details for Michigan. Three cities in Michigan voted to remove criminal penalties associated with possession or transfer of up to one ounce of marijuana.  The ordinances apply to those 21 and over on private property.  Ferndale and Jackson voters passed city ordinances by 69% and 61% respectively, while voters in the capital city, Lansing, passed an amendment to their city charter with 63% of the vote.  Ferndale, Jackson, and Lansing all join the ranks of other Michigan cities like Detroit, Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, and Kalamazoo, which had previously removed criminal penalties associated with marijuana possession or set marijuana as the lowest law enforcement priority.Untitled

Law enforcement is still able to enforce state and federal laws against marijuana, but local cops have the option to follow these ordinances and not charge adults for possession of small amounts of marijuana. Activists will be playing close attention to whether or not they heed the will of the voters.

Banks Willing to Work With Marijuana Business, But Waiting for Federal Clarification

October 29th, 2013

Reported this week in the Daily Herald:

Community banks and credit unions are ready and willing to provide financial services to entrepreneurs in the state’s new legal pot industry. But they aren’t able to, at least not yet.

Marijuana businesses, even ones that will soon be legally licensed in this state, are considered criminal enterprises under federal law, which makes handling their money a crime in the eyes of the Department of Justice.

Until the agency changes its outlook or Congress changes the law — and efforts are under way to do both — those getting into the pot business can’t open a bank account, secure a line of credit or obtain a loan from a federally insured financial institution in their neighborhood.

Full Article

Fortunately, there is already a bill Congress could act upon to resolve this issue. Earlier this year, Representatives Ed Perlmutter (CO-07) and Denny Heck (WA – 10), along with a bipartisan group of 16 other Republicans and Democrats, introduced legislation that would reform federal banking laws relating to marijuana businesses. HR 2652: The Marijuana Business Access to Banking Act of 2013 updates federal banking rules to resolve conflicts between federal and state laws and would allow marijuana businesses acting in compliance with state law to access banking services.

Under current federal banking laws, many legal, regulated legitimate marijuana businesses that follow state law are prevented from opening bank accounts and operating as any other businesses would, which could ultimately lead to crime such as robbery and tax evasion in addition to the already onerous burden of setting up a legitimate small business.

Please take a minute of your time today to utilize NORML’s Take Action Center to contact your elected officials and urge them to support this important legislation. You can do so by clicking here.