Determined to eliminate the uncertainty created by Jeff Sessions and the White House, Rep. Thomas Garrett introduced H.R. 1227 (the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017) in the House of Representatives last week. The bill very simply removes (not reschedules) “marihuana” and “tetrahydrocannabinols” from the list of Schedule 1 controlled substances in the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). It also adds some language to the CSA that gives states the ability to prohibit the sale of marijuana into and out of their respective states.
Our Take: I doubt this will move any time soon and the chances are low of ending prohibition in this Congress. Only 3 Members have signed on as co-sponsors of the bill so far, although its still pretty early. The Congressional Cannabis Caucus hasn’t officially weighed in, but Jared Polis is signed on as one of the co-sponsors.
If the Department of Justice begins to take significant action against businesses in states that have existing cannabis laws, the list of co-sponsors will grow along with the momentum for actually ending prohibition. However, it’s highly unlike that we’ll see major movement on this bill in the next 12 months .
In what may be the first shot from the Department of Justice in their effort to start cracking down on cannabis, the Reno Gazette-Journal posted a warning letter from U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden to the Moapa Paiute Tribe. Referring to the upcoming Cannabis Cup to be held this week outside of Las Vegas, the letter states that the “transport, possession, use and distribution of controlled substances, including marijuana, is prohibited by 21 U.S.C. 841.”.
What’s notable about the letter is the specific reference to the Cole Memo, which Bogden clarifies should only be interpreted as providing guidance for decision making and does not at all preclude the enforcement of federal law. The letter also goes on to clarify that nothing precludes the Department of Justice from taking action to enforce the Controlled Substances Act in “Indian Country” or on tribal lands.
Our Take: If you’re headed to the Cannabis Cup this week, don’t bring any greens. It seems like there is a strong likelihood the feds will come knocking and might look to send a strong message here.
There’s a big difference between that (medical marijuana) and recreational marijuana, and I think when you see something like the opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country, the last thing we should be doing is encouraging people.
In the daily White House Press Briefing today, Sean Spicer provided the first glimpse into how the administration will handle the enforcement of marijuana laws. The comments sent immediate shockwaves through the industry, with the Marijuana Policy Project providing an instantaneous press release denouncing the comments.
It seems clear from Spicer’s comments that the administration will not take significant action in states where medical marijuana has been legalized. However, he repeatedly differentiated between medical and recreational marijuana, and indicated that the Department of Justice would be looking further into the recreational market.
I do believe that you’ll see greater enforcement of it (recreational marijuana)
Our Take: Even though medical marijuana shops may be breathing a sigh of relief right now, this is very bad news for the recreational cannabis industry. It appears there will be a sea change here, and any possibility of a memo similar to the Cole Memo that includes recreational cannabis is all but dead. This will be extremely disheartening to anybody involved in the recreational industry. Recreational businesses should prepare for the worst here, and make sure they’re fully in compliance with all state laws at a minimum.
It seems like a crazy fight for the administration to pick against an industry that is increasingly organized and has public opinion on its side. Just today, Quinnipiac University released a poll saying that that 71% of voters think that “The government should not enforce federal laws against marijuana in states that have legalized medical or recreational marijuana use”. With all of the other priorities facing the nation right now, it’s baffling to see this rise on the priority list.
It’s now up to Congress to change the laws regarding recreational marijuana because it’s clear this administration plans on enforcing the current prohibition of marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug. The Congressional Cannabis Caucus couldn’t have had better timing.
See a clip of Spicer’s comments here
The implementation of recreational cannabis in Massachusetts may still be a ways off. Back in December, the legislature rushed through a bill that would delay implementation by at least six months (until July 2018). This week, the Massachusetts House and Senate created a new “Committee on Marijuana Policy” to rewrite the recreational marijuana laws that were passed by ballot initiative.
Because the ballot initiative (Question 4 aka the Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act) was codified as statute and not an amendment to the Massachusetts Constitution, lawmakers are free to make any changes to the act that they desire. Governor Charlie Baker has requested a comprehensive bill to be on his desk by June 2017.
Among the changes being considered by the Committee on Marijuana Policy are a reduction in the number of plants that can be grown at home from twelve to six, a 2-year ban on edibles, and an increase in the tax assessed on marijuana products.
Our Take: This seems like a contentious mess. Even though the ballot initiative passed convincingly, lawmakers seem determined to change the laws significantly. Other groups would rather repeal the law entirely. Implementation will likely be on hold as lawmakers go through the sausage making. Once changes are enacted, it will take a while to create the regulations, systems, and processes needed for implementation. We’d be surprised if they are fully ready to go on July 1st 2018.
An Arizona group called “Safer Arizona 2018” is collecting signatures for a recreational marijuana ballot initiative for 2018. Recall that Arizona only narrowly failed to pass Proposition 205 last year. The Marijuana Policy Project is not actively supporting or contributing money to the 2018 effort though because they feel the turnout in mid-term elections won’t be sufficient.
Our Take: Mid-term elections are tough for controversial ballot initiatives. This may inform public opinion and improve the changes for legislation or a 2020 ballot initiative, but this one seems unlikely to pass, especially without active support for MPP.
A formal, bi-partisan caucus representing marijuana interests now exists in Congress. Representatives Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Don Young (R-AK) and Jared Polis (D-CO) held a brief press conference to officially kick off the Congressional Cannabis Caucus and identify their goals.
The main focus of the press conference was to prevent federal interference into state laws. Each of the four members comes from a state that has passed a ballot initiative to allow for recreational marijuana. The group made it clear that the current laws are broken, and that it’s the job of Congress to fix them. Rather than relying on the whims of the President and the Attorney General, their objective will be to pass new laws to regulate the sale and use of marijuana. They will set out initially to de-schedule marijuana from the list of “Schedule 1” drugs such as heroin, fix unfair taxation issues, create a way for marijuana businesses to have access to banks instead of dealing with large amounts of cash, and prevent federal authorities from interfering with state laws.
The group noted that 95% of the US public now lives in a state with some form of access to marijuana. In Colorado, underage use is down and crime is down, according to Rep. Polis. “The Colorado model is working”.
Our Take: This is very important. Having a credible bi-partisan group that can educate other Congressman and that will actively move to introduce legislation will make a big difference. Over time, the cannabis industry will get more and more effective with their lobbying, and having allies in Congress is key.
Watch the Congressional Cannabis Caucus press conference below.
Following a legal request by Americans for Safe Access, the DEA removed “factually inaccurate” information from their website.
The DEA’s removal of these popular myths about cannabis from their website could mean the end of the Washington gridlock.
This is a victory for medical cannabis patients across the nation, who rely on cannabis to treat serious illnesses. The federal government now admits that cannabis is not a gateway drug, and doesn’t cause long-term brain damage, or psychosis. While the fight to end stigma around cannabis is far from over, this is a big first step.
-Steph Sherer, Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access
Our Take: Although this seems like a small victory, this is big news. Legislators and the public at large use the DEA’s site as a crutch to form talking points that inform legislation and public policy. In order to continue to shift public opinion about cannabis, it’s important for the industry to debunk the myths and stigma around it.