- Published on 11 September 2013
- Written by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director
Washington, DC: United States Deputy Attorney General James Cole reaffirmed that the Justice Department is unlikely to challenge statewide marijuana legalization efforts, provided that these efforts impose "robust regulations" which discourage sales to minors and seek to prevent the diversion of cannabis to states that have not yet legalized its use.
"We will not ... seek to preempt state ballot initiatives," Cole told members of the US Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, adding that state "decriminalization [laws] can co-exist with federal [drug] laws."
In an August 29 Department of Justice memorandum, Deputy Attorney General Cole had previously directed the US Attorneys in all 50 states not to interfere with the implementation of state marijuana regulations, unless such activities specifically undermined eight explicit federal law enforcement priorities.
In response to a question from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Cole also stated that federal prosecutors should utilize similar discretion and not interfere with the activities of state-compliant cannabis dispensaries, as long as their actions "are not violating any of the eight federal enforcement priorities" outlined in the agency's August 29th memo. Rhode Island is one of six states, as well as Washington, DC, that presently licenses the production and distribution of medical cannabis. Six additional states are expected to enact similar licensing regulations in the coming months.
Several Senators and witnesses questioned whether the Justice Department would consider amending federal financial regulations that presently inhibit state-compliant cannabis businesses from taking standardized tax deductions and partnering with conventional financial institutions. Deputy Attorney General Cole responded that such proposed changes in law were arguably the responsibility of Congressional lawmakers, not the Justice Department.
Commenting on the hearing, NORML Communications Director Erik Altieri said, "For the first time in modern history, members of the US Congress and the Justice Department were not discussing furthering cannabis prohibition, but instead were testifying to the merits of cannabis legalization and regulation."
The hearings marked the first time that members of Congress have explicitly weighed in on the conflict between state and federal marijuana laws since voters in Colorado and Washington elected to legalize the retail production and sale of the plant this past November. The hearing was called for by Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who acknowledged that the federal government "must have a smarter approach to marijuana policy." Witnesses at Tuesday's hearing also included King County, Washington Sheriff John Urquhart – a vocal supporter of the state's new legalization law – and Jack Finlaw, Chief Legal Council for the Colorado Governor's Office.
- Published on 06 September 2013
- Written by Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director
Washington, DC: Friday, September 6, 2013 marks the 25-year anniversary of an administrative ruling which determined that cannabis possesses accepted medical utility and ought to be reclassified accordingly under federal law.
The ruling, issued in 1988 by US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Chief Administrative Law Judge Francis Young "In the Matter of Marijuana Rescheduling," determined: "Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man. By any measure of rational analysis marijuana can be safely used within a supervised routine of medical care."
Young continued: "It would be unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious for DEA to continue to stand between those sufferers and the benefits of this substance in light of the evidence in this record."
Judge Young concluded: "The administrative law judge recommends that the Administrator conclude that the marijuana plant considered as a whole has a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, that there is no lack of accepted safety for use of it under medical supervision and that it may lawfully be transferred from Schedule I to Schedule II [of the federal Controlled Substances Act]."
Judge Young's ruling was in response to an administrative petition filed in 1972 by NORML which sought to reschedule cannabis under federal law. Federal authorities initially refused to accept the petition until mandated to do so by the US Court of Appeals in 1974, and then refused to properly process it until again ordered by the Court in 1982. In 1986, 14-years after NORML filed its initial petition, the DEA finally held public hearings on the issue before Judge Young, who rendered his decision two years later.
However, then-DEA Administrator John Lawn ultimately rejected Young's determination, and in 1994, the Court of Appeals allowed Lawn's reversal to stand – maintaining marijuana's present classification as a Schedule I prohibited substance with "no accepted medical use," and a "lack of accepted safety ... under medical supervision."
In July 2011, the DEA rejected a separate marijuana rescheduling petition, initially filed in 2002. This past January, a three-judge panel for the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia affirmed the DEA's decision, ruling that insufficient clinical studies exist to warrant a judicial review of cannabis' federally prohibited status.
- Published on 30 August 2013
- Written by Paul Armentano, NORML
Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy is demanding Congressional hearings in September to address the growing divide between state and federal marijuana laws.
With twenty states now having legalized the medical use of cannabis — and two additional states having legalized non-medical marijuana production and retail sales — Congress and the Obama administration have little choice but to acknowledge this rapidly changing reality.
The general public has ‘evolved’ on the issue of cannabis and cannabis policy. Their political leaders will soon little choice but to follow.
Writing in a recently published report by the Washington, DC think-tank The Brookings Institute, authors E.J. Dionne and William Galston concluded, “In less than a decade, public opinion has shifted dramatically toward support for the legalization of marijuana. … Demographic change and widespread public experience using marijuana imply that opposition to legalization will never again return to the levels seen in the 1980s. The strong consensus that formed the foundation for many of today’s stringent marijuana laws has crumbled.”
It certainly has. Never in modern history has there existed greater public support for ending the nation's nearly century-long experiment with pot prohibition and replacing it with a system legalization and regulation. The proof is in the polls – and at the ballot box.
In November, 55 percent of voters in two states, Colorado and Washington, decided in favor of measures legalizing the personal use, commercial production, and retail sales of cannabis to adults over the age of 21. Perhaps most notably, in Colorado, pot proved to be far more popular with voters than did the President! In the months since these historic votes, national public support for marijuana law reform has only gained momentum.
According to a recent Reason Magazine-Rupe nationwide survey, more than nine out of ten US adults say that people who possess or consume small quantities of cannabis should not face jail time.
A May 2013 nationwide Fox News telephone poll reported that 85 percent of voters support allowing adults to use cannabis for therapeutic purposes. The total is an increase in support of four percent since Fox last polled the question in 2010 and is the highest level of public support for the issue ever reported in a scientific poll.
Moreover, a highly publicized national survey recently commissioned by the Pew Research Center reports that 72 percent of Americans now believe that "government efforts to enforce marijuana laws cost more than they are worth.” Sixty percent of Americans say that the government should no longer enforce federal anti-marijuana laws in states that have approved of its use.
Likewise, a December 2012 Angus Reid national sampling of US voters, 66 percent of Americans say that they expect cannabis to be legal within the next ten years.
But Americans may not have to wait that long. Ballot measures to legalize and regulate the plant’s adult use are expected in several additional states, including Alaska, California, Maine, and Oregon. Voters in these and other states are already on board. Recently published polls by survey leaders Gallup, Pew, Quinnipiac University, and Public Policy Polling all find that far more Americans now favor legalizing marijuana for adults than believe in its continued prohibition. Why the dramatic shift in public opinion? The answer should be obvious. The ongoing enforcement of cannabis prohibition financially burdens taxpayers, encroaches upon civil liberties, engenders disrespect for the law, impedes legitimate scientific research into the plant's medicinal properties, and disproportionately impacts communities of color. Furthermore, the criminalization of cannabis simply doesn't work.
Despite more than 70 years of federal prohibition, Americans' consumption of and demand for cannabis is here to stay. It is time for America’s public policies to reflect this reality. Unlike the federal government, which continues to stubbornly define cannabis as an illegal commodity that is as equally dangerous as heroin, a majority of voters now recognize that pragmatic regulatory framework that allows for the licensed commercial production and sale of cannabis to adults but restricts use among young people best reduces the risks associated with the plant’s use or abuse. The public has gotten message. Next month we’ll learn whether or not the administration has also received the memo.
Marijuana legalization is no longer a matter of ‘if’; it’s a matter of ‘when.’