Medical Marijuana Research Hits Wall of U.S. Law

By SERGE F. KOVALESKIAUG. 9, 2014

    Above: Suman Chandra checking marijuana plants at a federal marijuana facility at the University of Mississippi in Oxford. Credit Lance Murphey for The New York Times

    Nearly four years ago, Dr. Sue Sisley, a psychiatrist at the University of Arizona, sought federal approval to study marijuana’s effectiveness in treating military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. She had no idea how difficult it would be.

    The proposal, which has the support of veterans groups, was hung up at several regulatory stages, requiring the research’s private sponsor to resubmit multiple times. After the proposed study received final approval in March from federal health officials, the lone federal supplier of research marijuana said it did not have the strains the study needed and would have to grow more — potentially delaying the project until at least early next year.

    Then, in June, the university fired Dr. Sisley, later citing funding and reorganization issues. But Dr. Sisley is convinced the real reason was her outspoken support for marijuana research.

    “They could never get comfortable with the idea of this controversial, high-profile research happening on campus,” she said.

    Dr. Sue Sisley said the University of Arizona had fired her because of her outspoken support for marijuana research. Credit Laura Segall for The New York Times

    Dr. Sisley’s case is an extreme example of the obstacles and frustrations scientists face in trying to study the medical uses of marijuana. Dating back to 1999, the Department of Health and Human Services has indicated it does not see much potential for developing marijuana in smoked form into an approved prescription drug. In guidelines issued that year for research on medical marijuana, the agency quoted from an accompanying report that stated, “If there is any future for marijuana as a medicine, it lies in its isolated components, the cannabinoids and their synthetic derivatives.”

    Scientists say this position has had a chilling effect on marijuana research.

    Though more than one million people are thought to use the drug to treat ailments ranging from cancer to seizures to hepatitis C and chronic pain, there are few rigorous studies showing whether the drug is a fruitful treatment for those or any other conditions.

    A major reason is this: The federal government categorizes marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, the most restrictive of five groups established by the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Drugs in this category — including heroin, LSD, peyote and Ecstasy — are considered to have no accepted medical use in the United States and a high potential for abuse, and are subject to tight restrictions on scientific study.

    CONTINUE READING ON NYT…

    Study: Arrests For Marijuana Offenses Increasing In Many States –

    by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director July 30, 2014

     

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    Law enforcement in many states are making a greater number of marijuana arrests than ever before despite polling data showing that the majority of Americans believe that the adult use of the plant ought to be legal.

    According to a just published report, “Marijuana in the States 2012: Analysis and Detailed Data on Marijuana Use and Arrests,” which appears on the newly launched RegulatingCannabis.com website, police made an estimated 750,000 arrests for marijuana violations in 2012 – a 110 percent increase in annual arrests since 1991. Yet, despite this doubling in annual marijuana arrests over the past two decades, there has not been any significant reduction in marijuana consumption in the United States the report found.

    In 2012, marijuana arrests accounted for almost half (48.3 percent) of all drug arrests nationwide. Marijuana arrests accounted for two-thirds of more of all drug arrests in five states: Nebraska (74.1 percent), New Hampshire (72 percent), Montana (70.3 percent), Wyoming (68.7 percent) and Wisconsin (67.1 percent).

    From 2008 to 2012, seventeen state-level jurisdictions experienced an average annual increase in marijuana arrests, the report found. South Carolina (11.6 percent) and the District of Columbia (7.7 percent) experienced the highest overall percentage increase in arrests during this time period. By contrast, annual marijuana arrests fell nationwide by an average of 3.3 percent from 2008 to 2012.

    Overall, the study reported that the five state-level jurisdictions possessing the highest arrest rates for marijuana offenses are the District to Columbia (729 arrests per 100,000 citizens), New York (577), Louisiana (451), Illinois (447) and Nebraska (421). District of Columbia lawmakers decriminalized the adult possession of marijuana earlier this month.

    The two states possessing the lowest marijuana arrest rates are California and Massachusetts, the report found. Both states decriminalized marijuana possession offenses in recent years.

    Stated the report’s author, Shenondoah University professor Jon Gettman, “After a generation of marijuana arrests, nearly 19 million and counting since 1981, the results are that marijuana remains widely used, not perceived as risky by a majority of the population, and widely available. The tremendous variance in use and arrests at the state level demonstrate why marijuana prohibition has failed and is not a viable national policy.”

    Full text of the report is available on the NORML website here or from: RegulatingCannabis.com.

    – See more at: http://blog.norml.org/2014/07/30/study-arrests-for-marijuana-offenses-increasing-in-many-states/#sthash.l9sfun7e.MOcw3eNJ.dpuf

    The Required White House Response on Marijuana

     

     

     

    By David Firestone, New York Times – Tuesday, July 29 2014

    When the White House issued a statement last night saying that marijuana should remain illegal — responding to our pro-legalization editorial series — officials there weren’t just expressing an opinion. They were following the law. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy is required by statute to oppose all efforts to legalize any banned drug.

    It’s one of the most anti-scientific, know-nothing provisions in any federal law, but it remains an active imposition on every White House. The “drug czar,” as the director of the drug control policy office is informally known, must “take such actions as necessary to oppose any attempt to legalize the use of a substance” that’s listed on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act and has no “approved” medical use.

    Marijuana fits that description, as do heroin and LSD. But unlike those far more dangerous drugs, marijuana has medical benefits that are widely known and are now officially recognized in 35 states. The drug czar, though, isn’t allowed to recognize them, and whenever any member of Congress tries to change that, the White House office is required to stand up and block the effort. It cannot allow any federal study that might demonstrate the rapidly changing medical consensus on marijuana’s benefits and its relative lack of harm compared to alcohol and tobacco.

    “It’s a complete Catch-22,” said Representative Steve Cohen, Democrat of Tennessee, who has introduced legislation to change the requirement. “They should be giving Congress and the American people the benefit of the latest research, and yet by statute, they’re prohibited from doing so. They have no choice but to say they’re against it. Joseph Heller should be working there.”

    – Read the entire article at New York Times.

    SOURCE: Cannabis Culture

     

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    http://kentuckymarijuanaparty.wordpress.com/2014/07/30/response-to-the-new-york-times-editorial-boards-call-for-federal-marijuana-legalization/

    Response to The New York Times Editorial Board’s Call for Federal Marijuana Legalization

     

     

    Posted by ONDCP Staff on July 28, 2014 at 06:40 PM EDT

    The New York Times editorial board opined in its Sunday July 27, 2014 edition that the Federal government should legalize marijuana for adults aged 21 years and older. The New York Times editorial board compares Federal marijuana policy to the failure of alcohol prohibition and advocates for legalization based on the harm inflicted on young African American men who become involved in the criminal justice system as a result of marijuana possession charges. We agree that the criminal justice system is in need of reform and that disproportionality exists throughout the system.  However, marijuana legalization is not the silver bullet solution to the issue.

    In its argument, The New York Times editorial team failed to mention a cascade of public health problems associated with the increased availability of marijuana. While law enforcement will always play an important role in combating violent crime associated with the drug trade, the Obama Administration approaches substance use as a public health issue, not merely a criminal justice problem.

    The editorial ignores the science and fails to address public health problems associated with increased marijuana use. Here are the facts:

    • Marijuana use affects the developing brain. A recent study in Brain reveals impairment of the development of structures in some regions of the brain following prolonged marijuana use that began in adolescence or young adulthood.[1] Marijuana use is associated with cognitive impairment, including lower IQ among adult chronic users who began using marijuana at an early age.[2]
    • Substance use in school age children has a detrimental effect on their academic achievement. Students who received earned D’s or F’s were more likely to be current users of marijuana than those who earned A’s (45% vs. 10%).[3]
    • Marijuana is addictive. Estimates from research suggest that about 9 percent of users become addicted to marijuana. This number increases to about 17 percent among those who start young and to 25-50 percent among people who use marijuana daily.[4]
    • Drugged driving is a threat to our roadways. Marijuana significantly impairs coordination and reaction time and is the illicit drug most frequently found to be involved in automobile accidents, including fatal ones.[5]

    The editors of The New York Times may have valid concerns about disproportionality throughout our criminal justice system.  But we as policy makers cannot ignore the basic scientific fact that marijuana is addictive and marijuana use has harmful consequences.  Increased consumption leads to higher public health and financial costs for society. Addictive substances like alcohol and tobacco, which are legal and taxed, already result in much higher social costs than the revenue they generate. The cost to society of alcohol alone is estimated to be more than 15 times the revenue gained by its taxation.[6] For this reason, the Obama Administration and the Office of National Drug Control Policy remain committed to drug use prevention, treatment, support for recovery, and innovative criminal justice strategies to break the cycle of drug use and associated crime. This approach is helping improve public health and safety in communities across the United States.

    Research also indicates that policies making drugs more available would likely not eliminate the black market or improve public health and safety, as promoted by marijuana advocates. Reports from the nonpartisan RAND Institute found that the potential economic benefits from legalization had been overstated, citing that:

    • Marijuana legalization would not eliminate the black market for marijuana.[7]
    • Dramatically lowered prices could mean substantially lower potential tax revenue for states.[8]

    We are also keeping a close eye on the states of Washington and Colorado in conformance with the directive provided by the Attorney General in August 2013.

    Any discussion on the issue should be guided by science and evidence, not ideology and wishful thinking. The Obama Administration continues to oppose legalization of marijuana and other illegal drugs because it flies in the face of a public health approach to reducing drug use and its consequences. Our approach is founded on the understanding of addiction as a disease that can be successfully prevented and treated, and from which people can recover. We will continue to focus on genuine drug policy reform – a strategy that rejects extremes, and promotes expanded access to treatment, evidence-based prevention efforts, and alternatives to incarceration.


    [1] Zalesky A, et al. 2012. Effect of long-term cannabis use on axonal fibre connectivity. Brain: A Journal of Neurology. 135 (7): 2245-2255. Available at http://brain.oxfordjournals.org/content/135/7/2245.full.pdf+html

    [2] Meier et al., “Adolescent-onset cannabis and neuropsychological health.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  

    [August 27, 2012]. Available: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2012/08/22/1206820109

    [3] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Health and Human Services. Alcohol and Other Drug Use and Academic Achievement. 2010. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/health_and_academics/pdf/alcohol_other_d…

    [4] Anthony, JC; Warner, LA, Kessler, RC.  1994.  Comparative epidemiology of dependence on tobacco, alcohol, controlled substances, and inhalants: Basic findings from the National Comorbidity Survey.  Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology 2:244-268.

    [5] Brady JE, Li G (2014) Trends in Alcohol and Other Drugs Detected in Fatally Injured Drivers in the United States, 199-2010,” American Journal of Epidemiology [Epub ahead of print].

    [6] Ellen E. Bouchery, Henrick J. Harwood, Jeffrey J. Sacks, Carol J. Simon, Robert D. Brewer. Economic Costs of

    Excessive Alcohol Consumption in the U.S., 2006. American Journal of Preventive Medicine – November 2011

    (Vol. 41, Issue 5, Pages 516-524, DOI: 10.1016/j.amepre.2011.06.045). Available:

    http://www.ajpmonline.org/article/S0749-3797(11)00538-1/fulltext xiii Kilmer, Beau, et al., Reducing Drug Trafficking Revenues and Viol

    [7] Kilmer, Beau, et al., Reducing Drug Trafficking Revenues and Violence in Mexico: Would Legalizing Marijuana

    in California Help? RAND Corporation. [2010]. Available:

    http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/occasional_papers/2010/RAND_OP…

    [8] Kilmer, Beau, et al., Altered States? Assessing How Marijuana Legalization in California Could Influence

    Marijuana Consumption and Public Budgets. RAND Corporation. [2010]. Available:

    http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/occasional_papers/2010/RAND_OP…

    CONTINUE READING…

    Colorado attorney general backs firing of medical-marijuana patient

    By John Ingold
    The Denver Post

    The state attorney general’s office says Coloradans do not have a right to use marijuana off-the-job, siding with a satellite television company in its firing of a medical-marijuana patient.

    In a brief filed with the state Supreme Court last month, the Colorado attorney general’s office argues that giving workers a right to use marijuana off-duty "would have a profound and detrimental impact on employers in the state."

    "Contrary to popular perception, Colorado has not simply legalized marijuana for medical and recreational purposes," state attorneys write in the brief. "Instead, its citizens have adopted narrowly drawn constitutional amendments that decriminalize small amounts of marijuana."

    The Colorado Court of Appeals — the state’s second-highest court — last year upheld Dish Network’s firing of a quadriplegic medical-marijuana patient for a positive drug test. Though there is no allegation that Brandon Coats was stoned at work, the company said it has a zero-tolerance policy on marijuana.

    Coats say his off-the-job marijuana use should be protected by Colorado’s Lawful Off-Duty Activities Statute, which prevents companies from firing employees for doing things outside of work — like smoking cigarettes — that are legal. Dish Network argues that marijuana use can’t be considered lawful while cannabis remains illegal federally.

    In its brief supporting Dish Network, the state attorney general’s office says zero-tolerance policies ensure that employees are able to perform their jobs competently. Requiring employers to prove that workers are stoned on the job before they can be fired would require companies to conduct "intrusive investigations into the personal life of an employee."

    "Simply put, zero tolerance policies provide businesses with an efficient means of avoiding difficult employment decisions and even litigation," the attorney general’s brief states.

    Coats’ case is the first time Colorado’s highest court has taken up questions about the scope of marijuana legalization in the state, and it has drawn at least six outside groups filing briefs in support of either Coats or Dish.

    The Colorado Mining Association, the Colorado Defense Lawyers Association and the Colorado Civil Justice League — which claims an allegiance with several businesses and groups including the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce — have filed briefs on behalf of Dish. The Colorado Plaintiff Employment Lawyers Association and the Patient and Caregivers Rights Litigation Project have filed briefs supporting Coats.

    The Supreme Court has not yet announced when it will hear the case.

    John Ingold: 303-954-1068, jingold@denverpost.com or twitter.com/john_ingold

    Read more: Colorado attorney general backs firing of medical-marijuana patient – The Denver Post http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_25897526/colorado-attorney-general-backs-firing-medical-marijuana-patient#ixzz33hxw3Xnp
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    Five Washington State Medical Marijuana Patients Face Federal Trials

    Prosecutions contradict Obama Administration statements, policy against targeting sick patients

    SPOKANE, WA — Family members from a rural area of eastern Washington are expected to go to trial next month on federal marijuana charges, despite the Obama Administration’s repeated claims that it does not target seriously ill patients.

    The federal trial of the “Kettle Falls 5″ is scheduled for May 12th, pending several pretrial motions which will be heard on April 22nd before U.S. District Judge Fred Van Sickle in Spokane, Washington. Because of marijuana’s illegal status under federal law, patients like the “Kettle Falls 5″ are typically prohibited from raising a medical necessity or state law defense in federal court.

    Federal agents raided the property of Larry Harvey, 70, and his wife, Rhonda Firestack-Harvey, 55, at their rural family home near Kettle Falls, Washington in August 2012.

    Federal agents raided the property of Washington State medical marijuana patients Larry Harvey, 70, and his wife, Rhonda Firestack-Harvey, 55, at their rural family home near Kettle Falls, Washington in August 2012.

    Federal agents raided the property of Larry Harvey, 70, and his wife, Rhonda Firestack-Harvey, 55, at their rural family home near Kettle Falls, Washington in August 2012.

    In addition to seizing 44 premature marijuana plants, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) confiscated the family’s 2007 Saturn Vue, $700 in cash, medicated cookies and marijuana stored in the family freezer, along with legally owned firearms.

    The five federal defendants, including Mrs. Firestack-Harvey’s son, Rolland Gregg, and daughter-in-law, were all qualified patients in compliance with Washington state law. Defense attorneys say the cannabis being cultivated on a remote corner of the family’s 33-acre property was strictly for personal use.

    Nevertheless, Mr. Harvey, who suffers from numerous ailments including heart disease and severe gout, was jailed for several days and denied medical attention, which resulted in irreversible bodily harm.

    The imminent and rare federal trial comes after two Department of Justice (DOJ) directives were issued in June 2011 and August 2013, both of which underscore that individual patients are excluded from the agency’s enforcement strategy. In the latest memorandum, Deputy U.S. Attorney General James Cole claimed that it was “not an efficient use of federal resources to focus enforcement efforts on seriously ill individuals.”

    However, shortly before the raid on the Harvey home, U.S. Attorney for the eastern district of Washington Michael Ormsby stated his intent to “vigorously” target individuals “even if such activities are permitted under state law.”

    “This case is another glaring example of what’s wrong with the federal policy on cannabis,” said Kari Boiter, a supporter of the “Kettle Falls 5″ and the Washington State Coordinator with Americans for Safe Access, the country’s leading medical marijuana advocacy group. “If the Justice Department can continue to aggressively prosecute individual patients without any consequences from the White House, none of these DOJ memos are worth the paper they’re printed on.”

    Notably, these federal prosecutions of individual patients continue even after Washington voters approved Initiative 502 in November 2012, legalizing recreational use of marijuana in the state.

    Nevertheless, the “Kettle Falls 5″ were indicted in February 2013 and charged with six felonies each: conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana, manufacture of marijuana, possession with intent to distribute marijuana, distribution of marijuana, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime and maintaining a drug-involved premises.

     

    By Americans for Safe Access April 22, 2014

     

    CONTINUE READING…

    Indiana: Lawmakers To Debate Pair Of Marijuana Decriminalization Measures

    Two separate pieces of legislation that seek to significantly reduce marijuana possession penalties are expected to be debated during the 2013 legislative session.

    State Sen. Karen Tallian (D-Portage) has reintroduced legislation, SB 580, to reduce penalties for the adult possession of up to 3 ounces of marijuana to a fine-only, non-criminal violation. It also seeks to amend Indiana’s zero tolerance per se law regarding inactive cannabis metabolites. SB 580 has been assigned to the Senate Committee on Corrections and Criminal Law, but has yet to be scheduled for a hearing.

    Separately, Sen. Brent Steele (R-Bedford) has announced he intends to introduce legislation in 2013 that would make the possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana by adults a non-criminal offense. Senator Steele, who chairs the Senate committee on corrections, criminal and civil matters, told the Associated Press that he intends to include the marijuana provision in a bill that revamps the Indiana criminal code to align charges and sentencing in proportion to the offenses.

    Under present state law, the possessing of up to 30 grams marijuana is a Class A criminal misdemeanor punishable by up to one year incarceration, a $5,000 fine, and a criminal record. Possession of more than 30 grams is a Class D felony that carries a sentence of one to three years in prison and a maximum $10,000 fine.

    According to survey data compiled in 2012 by Bellwether Research & Consulting, a majority of Indiana voters support reforming the state’s criminal marijuana laws. Pollsters found that 54 percent of voters favored removing criminal penalties for first-time marijuana possession offenders and replacing them with the imposition of a civil fine. Only 37 percent of respondents opposed this idea.

    You can read NORML’s op/ed in the South Bend Tribune in favor of decriminalizing cannabis here.

    NORML will continue to update you in the coming weeks as these proposals move forward. Additional information on this legislative effort is available from Indiana NORML.

    Patrick Kennedy On Marijuana: Former Rep. Leads Campaign Against Legal Pot

    Reuters  |  Posted: 01/05/2013 2:11 pm EST

    By Alex Dobuzinskis

     

    Jan 5 (Reuters) – Retired Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy is taking aim at what he sees as knee-jerk support for marijuana legalization among his fellow liberals, in a project that carries special meaning for the self-confessed former Oxycontin addict.

    Kennedy, 45, a Democrat and younger son of the late "Lion of the Senate" Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, is leading a group called Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) that opposes legalization and seeks to rise above America’s culture war over pot with its images of long-haired hippies battling law-and-order conservatives.


    Project proposals include increased funding for mental health courts and treatment of drug dependency, so those caught using marijuana might avoid incarceration, get help and potentially have their criminal records cleared.

    Kennedy wants cancer patients and others with serious illnesses to be able to obtain drugs with cannabinoids, but in a more regulated way that could involve the U.S. Food and Drug Administration playing a larger role.

    The eight-term former congressman from Rhode Island and the group he chairs will put forth their plan on Wednesday with a media appearance in Denver.
    Their efforts follow the November election that saw voters in Washington state and Colorado become the first in the nation to approve measures to tax and regulate pot sales for recreational use. Kennedy’s group is seeking to shift the debate and reclaim momentum for the anti-legalization movement, in part by proposing new solutions with appeal to liberals, such as taking a public health approach to combat marijuana use.

    Legalization backers have argued that the so-called War on Drugs launched in 1971 by former President Richard Nixon has failed to stem marijuana use, and has instead saddled otherwise law-abiding pot smokers with criminal records that may block their avenues to landing a successful job.
    Kennedy faults the U.S. government for allocating too much of its $25 billion drug control budget to law enforcement rather than to treatment and prevention.
    "Yes, the drug war has been a failure, but let’s look at the science and let’s look at what works. And let’s not just throw out the baby with the bathwater," Kennedy, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2011, said in a telephone interview.

    The U.S. Department of Justice is still developing a policy in regard to the new state legalization measures.

    President Barack Obama said in an interview with ABC News last month that it did not make sense for the federal government to "focus on recreational drug users in a state that has already said that, under state law, that’s legal."

    BIPARTISAN APPROACH

    Conservative political commentator David Frum, a speech writer for former President George W. Bush, is also a board member on Project SAM, which lends it a bipartisan flavor.
    For his part, Kennedy is aiming many of his arguments toward liberals like himself. Polls show Democrats largely favoring legalizing marijuana, and among the 18 states that allow medical marijuana, several are in the West and Northeast and are heavily Democratic.

    "The fact is people are afraid on the (political) left to look like they’re not for an alternative to incarceration and criminalization, and they’re afraid they’re not going to look sympathetic to a cancer patient" who might use marijuana, Kennedy said. As a result, he said the legalization position mistakenly comes to be seen as "glamorous."

    Kennedy admits to having smoked pot but also said that, as an asthma sufferer, he "found other ways to get high."


    In 2006, he crashed his car into a security barrier in Washington, D.C., and soon after sought treatment for drug dependency. He said he was addicted to the pain reliever Oxycontin at that time and suffered from alcoholism. He added that he has been continuously sober for nearly two years.
    Kennedy, who was married for the first time in 2011, said he worries his 8-month-old son might be predisposed to drug abuse – due to a kind of genetic "trigger" – and that is part of his fight against legalization.

    He also said he wants to "reduce the environmental factors that pull that trigger," such as marijuana use being commonly accepted.
    Meanwhile, another prominent figure from Rhode Island, the newly crowned Miss Universe Olivia Culpo, is making waves by also objecting to legalization. She told Fox News this week there are "too many bad habits that go with the drug."

    In Washington state, Alison Holcomb was campaign director for the legalization measure, which billed itself as having a public health element to help people dependent on marijuana.
    The measure, which is not set to go into full effect until after state regulators spend most of 2013 setting guidelines, would allow adults 21 and older to buy marijuana at special stores.
    Holcomb argued that drug dependency courts are more geared toward users of hardcore drugs, and that the approach her group put forward is the sensible one.
    "I don’t know what a public health approach without legalization looks like, if you’re still arresting people," she said.
    Taxes on marijuana sales would generate, at the high end of estimates, over $500 million a year with $67 million of that going to a state agency that provides drug treatment, said Mark Cooke, policy adviser for the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington state, which supported the campaign.

    Also included in the tax revenue would be $44 million for education and public health campaigns – including a phone line for people wanting to quit using marijuana, Cooke said. (Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Gunna Dickson)

    CONTINUE READING…

    Leahy Wants Clarification on State Marijuana Laws

  • By John Gramlich
  • Roll Call Staff
  • Dec. 13, 2012, 5:36 p.m
  • Leahy pressed the administration on how it will react to new state drug laws.

     

    Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy is asking the Obama administration to clarify its position on the recreational use of marijuana, which two states legalized by referendum Nov. 6 but remains illegal under federal law.

    The Vermont Democrat on Thursday released a letter he sent to Office of National Drug Control Policy Director R. Gil Kerlikowske on Dec. 6 asking how the agency intends to react to new state laws in Colorado and Washington that allow adults to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana for personal purposes. The states’ laws also allow adults to create licensing schemes for the cultivation and distribution of the drug. Marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law, with cultivation, possession and distribution punishable by prison time.

    Leahy pressed the drug control office, which is part of the White House, on how it intends “to prioritize federal resources” in light of the new state laws and whether the administration can guarantee that it will not prosecute state officials who are involved in the licensing process.

    “What assurance can and will the administration give to state officials involved in the licensing of marijuana retailers that they will not face federal criminal penalties for carrying out duties assigned to them under state law?” Leahy wrote.

    Leahy also said Thursday that he will call a Judiciary Committee hearing early next year on those questions and others involving marijuana policy.

    State-federal discrepancies over marijuana policy are nothing new. According to the Marijuana Policy Project, an advocacy group, 18 states and the District of Columbia now allow the use of medical marijuana, even though the federal government does not. For the most part, the Justice Department has not prosecuted violations of federal law in those states, but there have been notable exceptions in California and elsewhere.

    The new laws in Colorado and Washington go significantly further than the medical marijuana measures, however, and have raised concerns among state and federal lawmakers alike over how the legal differences will play out on the ground.

    State officials from Colorado and Washington have asked the administration for guidance, with the department so far saying only that its position “remains unchanged.”

    A bipartisan group of House members, meanwhile, is sponsoring legislation (HR 6606) that would prevent federal law from pre-empting state marijuana laws, an approach that sponsor Diana DeGette, D-Colo., has called a simple way to keep federal laws while respecting the state measures.

    In his letter Thursday, Leahy suggested that he could be open to supporting legislation like DeGette’s.

    “Legislative options exist to resolve the differences between federal and state law in this area and end the uncertainty that residents of Colorado and Washington now face,” he wrote. “One option would be to amend the Federal Controlled Substances Act to allow possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana, at least in jurisdictions where it is legal under state law.”

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    Senate to hold hearing on marijuana policy

    MM2_thumb

     

    By Steve Goldstein

    WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) — The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing early next year on federal marijuana policy, the head of the committee said Thursday. Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy said he intends to hold a hearing in light of recently passed state laws legalizing personal marijuana use. Given the fiscal constraints of federal law enforcement, Leahy asked in a letter to Office of National Drug Control Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske how the administration plans to use federal resources in light of new laws in Colorado and Washington State, as well as what recommendations the agency is making to the Department of Justice. He also asked the ONDCP director what assurances the administration can give to state officials to ensure they will face no criminal penalties for carrying out their duties under those state laws.

    CONTINUE READING….