All posts tagged: Trump administration

Why federal cannabis crackdown may be a blessing in disguise for legal weed

Dont panic, legalization advocates say: Jeff Sessions anti-marijuana policy will have little practical impact and may even hasten the formal end of prohibition

Now that the dust has settled around attorney general Jeff Sessions promise of harsher federal marijuana enforcement, advocates of legalization have largely exchanged their initial disappointment over the move for one of long-term optimism.

I think there was a knee-jerk reaction of something approaching panic, but once everyone calmed down, theyve come to realize that practically this is going to have little impact, said Patrick Moen, a former Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agent who now works as council to an investment firm in the nascent legal marijuana industry.

Some, like Moen, even believe the decision could be the best thing for the growing marijuana movement, hastening the formal end of weed prohibition in the US.

There will probably a short term chilling effect, but this could ultimately be the best thing thats ever happened to accelerate the pace of change, Moen said.

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California’s marijuana muddle video explainer

The markets have reflected this somewhat counterintuitive sentiment. The United States Marijuana Index, which tracks 15 leading publicly traded legal marijuana-related companies, initially dropped 21% on the heels of the Department of Justice (DoJ) announcement, but it turned out to be a blip. By early this week the index had rebounded to within a few points of its one-year high.

Sessions announcement formally rescinded guidance, known as the Cole Memo, issued by the Obama-era DoJ that essentially told federal prosecutors to respect state laws with regards to marijuana. Importantly, though, Sessions decision did not direct or incentivize US attorneys to pursue marijuana cases, it just allowed them to if they so choose.

The Cole Memo guidance was eminently reasonable and was a common sense good policy, Moen said. I think that despite the fact that its been formally rescinded, federal prosecutors will effectively continue to abide by it.

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Donald Trump with attorney general Jeff Sessions. Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP

One of the primary reasons concern has been tempered is that Sessions announcement is not actually likely to ensnare individual marijuana users into the criminal justice system.

Federal prosecutors almost never pursue simple possession charges against recreational users, whether in states where it is legal or not.

According to the Bureau of Justice statistics, 99% of those serving federal sentences for marijuana-related crimes were convicted of trafficking offenses, which typically relate to quantities far in excess of what individual recreational users would have.

It is unlikely that this will affect them in any tangible negative way, other than depriving of the ability to buy marijuana legally, said Justin Strekal, Political Director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (Norml).

The Sessions memo is unlikely to trigger a nationwide dragnet of marijuana users, and is also unlikely to cause wide-scale disruptions to legal cultivators, Moen notes.

If federal prosecutors decide to go rogue and start charging otherwise compliant state businesses, theres going to be repercussions with regard to their relationships with the local [law enforcement], Moen said.

Strekal notes, however, that because of civil-forfeiture laws, local law enforcement would have one very good reason to work with federal agents seeking to enforce marijuana laws on legal weed businesses. Although local law enforcement cant bust those businesses on their own they arent breaking any state or local laws by joining with feds to enforce federal law, they get to claim a portion of any assets seized in a potential drug raid.

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The Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance protests the Jeff Sessions decision to rescind the Obama-era policy. Photograph: Brian Snyder/Reuters

In an area where you have a prohibitionist minded sheriff or a law enforcement agency, they will look at state-lawful marijuana facilities and see a big pile of money, Strekal said.

The 4 January move by Sessions was sandwiched by two major wins for legalization advocates. On the first of the month, recreational weed became legal in California, after more than a decade of a quite lax medical marijuana program. Then on 10 January, Vermont became the first US state to legalize the substance with an act of legislation, rather than a popular referendum, as has been the case in states like California, Colorado and Oregon.

The decision may ultimately precipitate another win, as Moen observed. Within hours of Sessions announcement, a bipartisan group of legislators had come out against the decision and some, including Hawaii senator Brian Schatz, announced that legislation was already being crafted that could overrule Sessions, by changing the extent to which Marijuana is classified as illegal at the federal level.

Its great that weve had a number of members of Congress over the course of the last six days last week step up and say what the attorney general did is wrong. Now time for every single one of those members of Congress to put their names on the pending legislation, Strekal said.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Marissa SafontWhy federal cannabis crackdown may be a blessing in disguise for legal weed
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Jeff Sessions to crack down on legalized marijuana, ending Obama-era policy

Attorney general to end lenient enforcement of federal marijuana laws, days after new legalization measure took effect in California

The US attorney general, Jeff Sessions, is rescinding an Obama-era policy that paved the way for legalized marijuana to flourish in states across the country, creating new confusion about enforcement and use just three days after a new legalization law went into effect in California.

Instead of the previous policy of lenient federal enforcement begun under former attorney general Eric Holder in 2013, Sessions new stance will instead let federal prosecutors where marijuana is legal decide how aggressively to enforce longstanding federal law prohibiting it. Guidance issued on Thursday depicted the change as a return to the rule of law.

It is the mission of the Department of Justice to enforce the laws of the United States, and the previous issuance of guidance undermines the rule of law and the ability of our local, state, tribal, and federal law enforcement partners to carry out this mission, Sessions said in a statement.

Sessions plan drew immediate strong objection from the Republican senator Cory Gardner of Colorado, one of eight states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use.

Gardner said in a tweet that the justice department has trampled on the will of the voters in Colorado and other states. He said the action would contradict what Sessions had told him before the attorney general was confirmed and that he was prepared to take all steps necessary to fight the step including holding up the confirmation of justice department nominees.

The move by Trumps attorney general is sure to add to confusion about whether its OK to grow, buy or use marijuana in states where the drug is legal. It comes just after shops opened in California, launching what is expected to become the worlds largest market for legal recreational marijuana.

This instability will only push consumer dollars away from these state-sanctioned businesses and back into the hands of criminal elements. With nearly two-thirds of Americans, including an outright majority of Republicans, Democrats and Independents supporting marijuana legalization, this is not just bad policy, but awful politics and the Trump administration should brace itself for the public backlash it will no doubt generate, said Erik Altieri, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Altieri also noted that the announcement throws the jobs of more than 150,000 Americans employed in the budding legal marijuana industry into limbo.

For politicians who purport to believe in small government and states rights, this is a wildly incongruous move, said Jesselyn McCurdy, deputy director at the American Civil Liberties Union.

While Sessions has been mostly been carrying out a justice department agenda that follows Trumps top priorities on such issues as immigration and opioids, the changes to marijuana policy reflect his own long-held concerns. Trumps personal views on marijuana remain largely unknown.

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A budtender assists a customer at the Higher Path medical marijuana dispensary in Los Angeles, California. Photograph: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Sessions,though,has assailed marijuana as comparable to heroin and has blamed it for spikes in violence, had been expected to ramp up enforcement. His personal crusade against the substance has been well documented throughout his political career, including his over a decade in the Senate. He once famously quipped that he admired the KKK until he found out they smoked marijuana.

The Obama administration in 2013 announced it would not stand in the way of states that legalized marijuana, so long as officials acted to keep it from migrating to places where it remained outlawed and keep it out of the hands of criminal gangs and children. Sessions is rescinding that memo, written by the then deputy attorney general, James M Cole, which had cleared up some of the uncertainty about how the federal government would respond as states began allowing sales for recreational and medical purposes.

The marijuana business has since become a sophisticated, multimillion-dollar industry that helps fund some government programs. Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use, and Californias sales alone are projected to bring in $1bn annually in tax revenue within several years.

Sessions and some law enforcement officials in states such as Colorado blame legalization for a number of problems, including drug traffickers who have taken advantage of lax marijuana laws to illegally grow and ship the drug across state lines, where it can sell for much more. The decision was a win for marijuana opponents who had been urging Sessions to take action.

There is no more safe haven with regard to the federal government and marijuana, but its also the beginning of the story and not the end, said Kevin Sabet, president and CEO of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, who was among several anti-marijuana advocates who met with Sessions last month. This is a victory. Its going to dry up a lot of the institutional investment that has gone toward marijuana in the last five years.

Threats of a federal crackdown have united liberals who object to the human costs of a war on pot with conservatives who see it as a states rights issue. Some in law enforcement support a tougher approach, but a bipartisan group of senators in March urged Sessions to uphold existing marijuana policy. Others in Congress have been seeking ways to protect and promote legal pot businesses.

Marijuana advocates quickly condemned Sessions move as a return to outdated drug-war policies that unduly affected minorities.

It also cannot go unnoted that this policy will have a disproportionate and disastrous impact on people of color, McCurdy said.

Although black people and white people use marijuana at similar rates, black people are almost four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession.

The War on Marijuana, like the War on Drugs, has failed by almost every measure with the exception of successfully destroying communities of color, McCurdy added. Todays decision furthers entrenches the country in racially biased, fiscally irresponsible, and morally wrong drug policy.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Marissa SafontJeff Sessions to crack down on legalized marijuana, ending Obama-era policy
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Jeff Sessions is leading America back into Reefer Madness | Jamie Peck

The US attorney general is trying to undo the progress made in liberalizing marijuana consumption in the US. This will only lead to more people in jail

Once upon a time, the 1936 film Reefer Madness attempted to spread sensationalistic messages about marijuana to youths across the land. Just one toke, the film warned, and you could be setting off down the primrose path to murder, hallucinations, rape, suicide, and yes, the titular madness. Yikes!

Luckily for fans of the plant, we now know the worst effects of marijuana are smokers cough, laziness and a predilection for salty junk food. Furthermore, studies have shown it can be used to treat a vast array of health problems, from glaucoma to the nausea caused by chemotherapy.

The total number of fatal marijuana overdoses per year remains steady at zero. Why, its almost like pot is no big deal, and we should be allowed to have it if we want.

This knowledge, plus widespread social acceptance a recent Gallup poll found that one in eight US adults admits to smoking the stuff, and more than half have tried it have led to a gradual liberalization of marijuana laws on the state level, to the point where 29 states plus Washington DC have legalized medical marijuana.

Eight states have gone a step further and legalized it for recreational use, allowing people over the age of 21 to enjoy it responsibly. In 2016 alone, the citizens of eight states voted to relax their laws on recreational and/or medical marijuana, one of few progressive victories in an otherwise depressing election. (Perhaps because its one of a few issues that unites progressives and libertarian-leaning conservatives.) It would seem a critical mass of Americans is coming to accept the popular plant as the relatively harmless, potentially helpful substance it is.

But all that progress may soon come to a halt. As threatened back in February, Donald Trumps Department of Justice has plans to aggressively go after states that have legalized both recreational and medical marijuana the latter despite Sean Spicers promise that Trump sees a big difference between the two.

After making baseless statements that marijuana is only slightly less awful than heroin and that good people dont smoke marijuana, the attorney general, Jeff Sessions who once joked that he thought the violent white supremacists of the KKK were okay until I found out they smoked pot has established a task force to investigate the connection between marijuana and violent crime.

He might learn that legalizing marijuana has actually been shown to reduce violent crime in some instances and leave it unaffected in others. But, in case anyone thought he was waiting for the task forces findings to come in before acting, in May he wrote a letter to congressional leaders asking them to roll back protections put in place by the previous Congress. These use the power of the purse to keep the Department of Justice from prosecuting medical marijuana in states that have voted to legalize it.

In said letter, he referred to a historic drug epidemic, willfully conflating marijuana use with the crisis of opiate addiction plaguing our country. (Sessions either doesnt know or doesnt care that opiate deaths have actually decreased in states that have legalized medical marijuana, partly because it can serve as a gentler alternative to addictive prescription painkillers.)

He scapegoats marijuana for violent crime once more. He even claims marijuana is linked to an increased risk of psychiatric disorders such as psychosis, which sounds a lot like reefer madness to me. As with Trumps Muslim ban, Sessions notes this issue is too important to respect the rights of states to make their own laws. In Sessions bigoted eyes, states rights are only important when it comes to the passage of bills designed to discriminate against transgender people who wish to use the bathroom.

This approach is a departure from that of the Obama administration, whose relationship with the states on marijuana was more mixed. While Barack Obama raided growers in states that had legalized weed from time to time, the Department of Justice stated in a 2013 memo that it would not challenge state marijuana laws, provided the drug was adequately regulated. Obama also took some small steps to reform our criminal justice system, particularly where non-violent drug crimes were concerned.

While the fallout from legal marijuana is far from proven, the fallout from the ineffective war on drugs can be measured in lives ruined, particularly the lives of people of color. By 2001, there were 2 million people in our countrys prisons, and nearly one in three black men ages 20-29 was caught up in the deeply flawed criminal justice system.

Racial profiling, uneven enforcement, disparities in sentencing, and unequal access to lawyers have all helped ensure the majority of people in jail for drug offenses are black and Latino, despite the fact that black and white Americans use drugs at similar rates.

In rolling back states attempts at more sensible drug policy, Sessions seeks to bring us back to the days when misinformation and hysteria beat out science and reason, and the government used the war on drugs as an excuse to go after anti-war hippies and African-Americans, as a former Nixon official was once quoted admitting.

Our only hope is that the rollout of this policy is as botched as everything else the Trump administration has tried to do. Which, judging from recent history, is entirely possible.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jul/18/jeff-sessions-against-weed-reefer-madness-marijuana

Marissa SafontJeff Sessions is leading America back into Reefer Madness | Jamie Peck
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