In a deal hammered out Tuesday evening, the leaders of the House and Senate appropriations committees agreed on a budget bill that includes a measure curbing Justice Department enforcement efforts in states where medical marijuana is legal. The measure, in the form of an amendment offered by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), passed the House back in May.
[image:1 align:right caption:true]The bill also includes similar language barring the use of Justice Department funds to interfere with hemp research authorized under the already approved Agricultural Act of 2014.
The hemp industry hasn't responded yet, but medical marijuana supporters are pleased.
"This is great news for medical marijuana patients all across the country," said Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA), one of the co-authors of the House measure. "This amendment protects patients while the federal government catches up with the views of the American people. Patients will have access to the care legal in their state without fear of federal prosecution. And our federal dollars will be spent more wisely on fighting actual crimes and not wasted going after patients."
The relevant section of the bill, Section 538, lists all the states that have some form of legalized medical marijuana and says, "None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used… to prevent such States from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana."
"We applaud this Congress for doing the right thing by protecting the rights of patients, and ending a years-long attack on the medical marijuana community," said Mike Liszewski, government affairs director for Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the medical marijuana advocacy group that has been championing the measure for years. "By approving this measure, Congress is siding with the vast majority of Americans who are calling for a change in how we enforce our federal marijuana laws."
"Congressional leaders seem to have finally gotten the message that a supermajority of Americans wants states to be able to implement sensible marijuana reforms without federal interference," said Tom Angell, executive director of Marijuana Majority. "This legislation greatly reduces the chances that costly and senseless DEA raids will come between seriously ill patients and the doctor-recommended medicine they need for relief."
If the omnibus budget bill is approved, the spending curb could well halt several pending federal criminal cases, including the case of the Kettle Falls Five, who are being prosecuted in Washington, a state where not only medical but recreational marijuana is legal, for growing medical marijuana within state guidelines. It would also severely cramp the style of the DEA, which has conducted hundreds of over-the-top aggressive raids in medical marijuana states. And it could mark an end to numerous civil asset forfeiture cases brought by US Attorneys in California against dispensaries in Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco, and Orange County.
"We now have a solid foundation from which to establish a more comprehensive public health policy at the federal level," said ASA's Liszewski. "We're excited to be able to work with a Congress that is more in line with the will of the people, and more determined to roll up its sleeves and get things done on the issue of medical marijuana."
Before it becomes law, the budget bill must now be approved by the full House and Senate and then signed into law by President Obama. Those congressional votes are expected later this week, and there is little likelihood the bill will be defeated or that President Obama would seek to veto it.
Chronicle AM: DC Pot Battle Unsettled, Federal Racial Profiling Ban, Budapest Drug Testing, More (12/8/14):
DC's marijuana reforms remain under threat from congressional Republicans, Washington state's pot-sellers are feeling burdened by taxes, California doctors reject denying transplants to medical marijuana patients, the Justice Department issued racial profiling guidelines for federal law enforcement, and more. Let's get to it:
[image:1 align:left caption:true]Marijuana Policy
Nancy Pelosi Pledges Support for DC Autonomy as Possible Battle Over Marijuana Reforms Looms. At a press conference last Friday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she supported the District's autonomy, but stopped short of saying any Republican moves to block the implementation of decriminalization or legalization would be a "deal breaker" on agreement for a broader appropriations package. "I have expressed concerns about treating the District of Columbia in a fair way, respecting home rule," Pelosi said. "I'm not saying any one of them is a deal breaker, but I'm saying this is an array of concerns that we have: clean air, good food standards, workplace safety, fairness to the District of Columbia, how the top line dollar is allocated within the legislation." Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) is leading a House effort to block federal funds being used for pot law reforms, and the Rep. Harold Rodgers (R-KY), head of the House Appropriations Committee wants to see Harris's amendment included in the appropriations bill. Stay tuned.
Tax Issues Fueling Concerns Among Washington State Pot Retailers. The state's 25% excise tax and the federal government's refusal to let pot businesses to deduct legitimate business expenses -- such as state taxes -- is putting the squeeze on the state's fledgling retail industry. That's helping to contribute to retail marijuana prices that are higher than black market prices, but still not enough to be profitable under the weight of the state and federal taxes. There could be a fix coming in the state legislature; efforts are also underway to change the federal tax code to recognize legal pot businesses.
California Doctors Reject Denying Organ Transplants to Medical Marijuana Patients. The California Medical Association (CMA) voted unanimously this past weekend to urge transplant clinics in the state against removing patients from organ transplant lists based on their medical marijuana status or use. The CMA House of Delegates was in San Diego for its annual meeting, and voted Saturday on Resolution 116-14 in support of patients' ability to remain on transplant lists despite their medical marijuana use. "I am very proud of my colleagues at the CMA, who once again endorsed the principle that medical decision for the benefit of patients be based on science and not moralistic prejudices," said Dr. Larry Bedard, a retired Marin General Hospital emergency physician and 30-year CMA delegate who currently serves on its Marijuana Technical Advisory Committee.
Justice Department Unveils Racial Profiling Ban for Federal Law Enforcers. The Justice Department today issued guidelines that will ban federal law enforcement agents from profiling on the basis of race, religion, national origin, and other characteristics. The guidelines cover federal agencies within the Justice Department, including the FBI, the DEA, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. They also extend to local and state officers serving on joint task forces alongside federal agents. The new guidelines will not apply to security screeners in airports and at border checkpoints, nor are they binding on state and local police forces.
Budapest Mayor Wants Mandatory Drug Tests for Teenagers, More. Mayor Mate Kocsis wants mandatory annual drug testing for city teenagers, as well as for elected officials and journalists. He said the idea was to target "those most at risk, decision-makers and opinion-formers." Kocsis is a member of the governing Fidesz Party, whose parliamentary group will discuss his proposal today. In August, Kocsis managed to get a needle exchange program for injection drug users shut down. He has also introduced legislation to ban picking through garbage and sleeping on the streets.
The GOP is yet to give up the ghost on blocking DC marijuana reforms, NYC Mayor de Blasio's new no-arrest pot possession policy is having an impact, Florida Gov. Rick Scott's pet welfare drug testing bill gets rejected by a federal appeals court, and more. Let's get to it:
[image:1 align:right]Marijuana Policy
Republican Effort to Block DC Decriminalization, Legalization Still Lives. Key Republican House and Senate members are set to decide whether to accept a policy rider from Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) that would block federal funds from being used to legalize or reduce penalties for pot, Roll Call reports. The rider is the form of an amendment to the DC appropriations bill. "It seems like the marijuana issue has been kicked up to the 'big four.' So that'll get settled," Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-FL) said Tuesday, referring to the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Appropriations committees who are negotiating the spending package. Harris's amendment passed the House in June, but was not included in the Senate version of the bill.
Alaska Could Generate $7 Million in Pot Tax Revenues in First Year, Report Finds. A Legislative Research Service report commissioned by Alaska lawmakers estimates that the state could take in $7 million in marijuana taxes in its first year. But the report also noted that the cost of implementing rules and regulations to govern the newly legal industry could be about as much.
Georgia Lawmaker Files Legalization Initiative Bill. Sen. Curt Thompson (D-DeKalb County) has pre-filed Senate Resolution 6, which would, if passed, put a constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana before the voters. "I anticipate us having a discussion this session. I don't know where it will lead, but if you don't ask you don't get," Thompson said.
New York City Mayor Says Pot Arrests Down Dramatically With New Policy. In the first two weeks of a new policy directing the NYPD to merely ticket -- not arrest -- people for small-time marijuana possession, pot arrests have dropped more than 60%, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday.
Wyoming Not There Yet on Legalization. A University of Wyoming poll found that only 35% approved of the personal use of marijuana by adults, with 60% opposed. But, hey, that's up 12 points from a similar question asked by the same pollsters in 2000. Cowboy State residents, however, do come down in favor of medical marijuana, with 72% approving. That number is unchanged from the 2000 poll.
California Medical Marijuana Regulation Bills Filed. Legislators will try again next year to bring statewide regulation to the state's medical marijuana industry. Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) has filed Assembly Bill 26, which largely revives Tom Ammiano's failed AB 1894 from this year, while Rep. Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) has filed Assembly Bill 34, which is a one-sentence placeholder bill saying it is intended to regulate medical marijuana.
DC Council Passes Bill to Ban Pre-Employment Marijuana Testing. The council Tuesday approved a bill that will bar employers from drug testing potential new hires before a job offer is made. The bill is B20-0728, the "Prohibition of Pre-Employment Marijuana Testing Emergency Act of 2014." While the bill bars pre-employment testing for marijuana, it does allow for on-the-job testing for marijuana, noting that employees "must still adhere to the workplace policies set forth by their employer."
Federal Appeals Court Blocks Florida Welfare Drug Testing Law. The 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta has upheld a lower court ruling that Gov. Rick Scott's pet welfare drug testing law is unconstitutional. The ruling came in Lebron v. Florida Department of Children and Families and is in line with other federal precedent on the issue. The federal courts have held that, with few exceptions, suspicionless drug testing is a violation of the Fourth Amendment's protection against unlawful searches and seizures.
Michigan House Approves Suspicion-Based Welfare Drug Testing Bill. The House voted Wednesday to approve Senate Bill 275, which would create a pilot program mandating suspicion-based drug testing of welfare recipients. The measure has already passed the Senate, but now awaits a concurrence vote after the bill was amended in the House. One of those amendments stripped a provision from the bill that would have allowed the Department of Human Services to provide cash assistance to "an appropriate protective payee" for children if their parents lose benefits because of failing the drug test.
New Synthetic Drugs
Another Bill to Ban New Synthetic Drugs Filed in Texas. Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) Wednesday filed Senate Bill 199, which would add specified newly discovered synthetic drugs to the Texas Controlled Substances Act and create a provision designed to ban analogues as well. Two other bills aimed at new synthetics have already been filed for next year's session.