NEWS: VA Secretary admits VA can research medical marijuana, then punts to Congress; Rep. Barbara Lee introduces the Marijuana Justice Act; GUEST: Dr. Jahan Marcu from Americans for Safe Access on government shutdown and effect on DOJ vs. medical marijuana states; RANT: Project SAMUEL is getting desperate in its latest poll.
Medical marijuana patients and providers at risk of being arrested, prosecuted and sent to prison by Jeff Sessions’s Justice Department after midnight tonight. The federal government will shut down at midnight on Friday, barring an unexpected, last-minute bipartisan deal. Under a shutdown scenario, an existing budget provision that prevents the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and other agencies from spending money to interfere with state medical cannabis laws would expire. But federal drug enforcement and prosecution actions, which are exempted from furloughs, would continue. If the provision lapses, it wouldn’t just allow new actions against people violating federal marijuana laws. It would also allow earlier medical cannabis prosecutions that were suspended under to the rider to resume.
A top official with the U.S. Treasury Department says the Trump administration is currently reviewing whether to keep or rescind Obama-era banking guidance for banks to serve the marijuana industry without running afoul of federal regulators. “We are reviewing the guidance in light of the attorney general’s recent decision to revoke a Justice Department memorandum on this issue,” Sigal Mandelker, the department’s deputy secretary, said at a Senate hearing on Wednesday. However, she added that the Treasury guidance “remains in place,” at least for now. “We’re taking a look at it in light of the Justice Department’s announcement.” Earlier this month, U.S. Attorney General Sessions rescinded a 2013 memo that has generally allowed states to implement their own cannabis laws without federal interference. Documents released by FinCEN last month showed that the number of banks willing to work with the marijuana industry has steadily grown over time.
President Donald Trump is planning to slash the budget of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, in what marks his administration’s second attempt to gut the top office responsible for coordinating the federal response to the opioid crisis. The plan would shift the office’s two main grant programs, the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas grant and the Drug Free Communities Act, to the Justice and Health and Human Services departments, respectively, multiple sources in the administration and others working with the government on the opioid crisis told POLITICO. The move would result in a reduction of about $340 million, or 95 percent of the ONDCP’s budget. Trump administration officials say the office would still serve as the White House’s drug policy shop, while the grants would be administered by larger agencies. Trump also hasn’t appointed a permanent director or “drug czar,” to lead ONDCP or asked Congress for additional funding states say is needed to tackle the crisis.
Vermont Gov. Phil Scott says he has decided to sign H. 511, the marijuana legalization bill before Monday’s deadline. But the signing will not take place in a public ceremony. Scott said he “isn’t shying away from it,” nor will be allow the bill become law without his signature. He added that he recognizes the measure is controversial and he wants to be respectful of other views. The bill arrived on the governor’s desk from the Legislature earlier this week. It is now being reviewed for technical errors by the governor’s legal counsel. Scott said feels signing the bill into law in private is more appropriate. The measure will allow adults 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana, and grow up to two mature plants at home, starting July 1. The bill does not allow for retail or private sales of marijuana, nor does it collect any tax revenue. H. 511 also creates a new crime of furnishing marijuana to a minor. With Scott’s signature, Vermont will become the first U.S. state to legalize recreational use of marijuana through legislative process.
At least 63 of the 146 companies that didn’t win Ohio medical marijuana cultivator licenses plan to appeal the state’s decision through an administrative hearing process. The list of businesses seeking a hearing includes 47 companies that applied for a large-scale grow license and 16 companies that applied for a small-scale grow license. The number could grow because the Ohio Department of Commerce staggered mailing notices to rejected applicants, and applicants have 30 days to respond. One losing company has filed suit against the state for awarding two grow licenses to lower-scoring companies that were majority owned or operated by a minority. PharmaCann Ohio LLC, which also filed an administrative appeal, argues Ohio’s law requiring 15 percent of marijuana business licensees be issued to minority applicants is unconstitutional.