January was a big month for marijuana politics. The month started out with California, the world’s 8th largest economy, launching its legal recreational marijuana market. Just days later, Jeff Sessions trashed the Cole Memo sparking an uproar from lawmakers nationwide. But the mood quickly turned as New Hampshire decriminalized possession and Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana via a legislative action as opposed to a voter referendum. And that’s just the first week…
Here are some highlights and a timeline of some of the reforms taking place around the country in January.
Jan. 3, 2018 – Sessions Trashes Cole Memo
U.S Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent shockwaves through the cannabis industry early Thursday morning, rescinding the state-level protections that have allowed legal marijuana to spread since Colorado and Washington passed recreational-use laws in 2013.
“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,” says Sessions’ letter repealing the Cole memo. “Therefore, today’s memo on federal marijuana enforcement simply directs all U.S. Attorneys to use previously established prosecutorial principles that provide them all the necessary tools to disrupt criminal organizations, tackle the growing drug crisis, and thwart violent crime across our country.”
Jan. 9, 2018 – NH Lawmakers Vote To Decriminalize MJ
Just five days after the Trump administration’s attempts to revoke the federal guidelines protecting state cannabis laws, the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted to decriminalize marijuana.
Under the bill, adults over 21 will be able to legally own up to three-quarters of an ounce of cannabis and will be allowed to grow up to three mature marijuana plants at home. However, the bill does not allow for the establishment of retail sales locations.
Jan. 10, 2018 – DOJ Memo Officially Repeals State Protections
The Department of Justice announced in a memo the repeal of state marijuana protections. Sessions stated his policy in plain English in an appearance on radio’s Hugh Hewitt Show. “I do not believe there’s any argument, because a state legalized marijuana that the federal law against marijuana is no longer in existence,” Sessions told Hugh Hewitt. “I do believe that the federal laws clearly are in effect in all 50 states. And we will do our best to enforce the laws as we’re required to do so.”
But Sessions’ move drew a chorus of criticism from lawmakers — even Republicans — and little or no support from his traditional congressional allies.
Jan. 10, 2018 – Dept. of VA Lightens Up on MMJ
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs implemented a new policy encouraging doctors to talk more about marijuana with veterans. Doctors are still not able to directly recommend cannabis, but, as the directive states, they can “discuss with the Veteran marijuana use, due to its clinical relevance to patient care, and discuss marijuana use with any Veterans requesting information about marijuana.”
The policy still echoes the department’s position of compliance with the Federal laws, such as the Controlled Substances Act. Therefore, “providers are prohibited from completing forms or registering Veterans for participation in a State-approved marijuana program.”
Jan. 12, 2018 – GA Begins Work on 2 MMJ Bills
The Georgia Assembly opened its new session with two bills which could further expand medical marijuana in the state. Led by Republican Rep. Allen Peake, the proposed legislation, known as HB 645 and HR 36, would permit cultivation, production, and dispensing of the cannabis while allowing regulation of the production and state sales tax. The new laws could create a licensing structure similar to other states with medical marijuana programs.
Jan. 13, 2018 – KY Working on MMJ Bill
A pair of Democratic lawmakers in Kentucky filed bill HB-166, which would allow residents with certain medical conditions access to medical marijuana. The bill, if passed, would allow patients with medical conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, terminal illnesses, or diabetes to have access to medical marijuana with a doctor’s prescription.
Under the bill, a three-tiered system of cultivators, distributors, and retailers would be regulated by the Kentucky Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. The proposal includes a scheme to generate tax revenue for the state’s ailing pension systems.
Jan. 13, 2018 – House Resolution 4799 Announced
Representatives Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Don Young (R-AK) filed a resolution, calling upon the federal government to refrain from taking punitive action against legitimate marijuana business operators in states where the use and distribution of marijuana has been legalized.
HR 4779 “protects individuals in states that have laws which permit the use of cannabis” for either medical or recreational purposes. Specifically, HR 4779 bars federal funding for any efforts that seek to “detain, prosecute, sentence, or initiate civil proceedings against an individual, business, or property that is involved in the cultivation, distribution, possession, dispensation, or the use of cannabis in accordance with the law or regulation of the state or unit of local government in which the individual is located.”
Dubbed “The R.E.F.E.R. Act,” HR 4779 also prohibits the federal government from taking any punitive action against a financial institution involved in state-sanctioned marijuana-related activities.
Jan. 13, 2018 – McClintock-Polis Seek Amendment to Their Amendment
In response to Sessions’ dumping the Cole Memo, 69 U.S. representatives proposed a spending bill amendment which would ensure protections for states that have legalized marijuana. The letter asked for the inclusion of a provision known as the McClintock-Polis Amendment, which would simply remove the word “medical” from the current Rohrabacher-Blumenauer language.
The amendment requires that “any forthcoming appropriations or funding bill” include the following language:
None of the funds made available by this act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to any of the States of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, to prevent any of them from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of marijuana on non-Federal lands within their respective jurisdictions.
The representatives said the intention of the proposed provision is to force the Federal government to respect the constitutional authority of states to regulate commerce within their own borders.
Jan. 17, 2018 – NJ Gov. Elect Pledges Legalization
Newly inaugurated New Jersey Governor, Phil Murphy tweeted, “A stronger and fairer New Jersey embraces comprehensive criminal justice reform including a process to legalize marijuana.”
Marijuana legalization and the economic and social justice that come with it were a large part of Murphy campaign pledges. The office of the governor’s newly revamped website now claims the administration’s desire to “end mass incarceration by pursuing the legalization of marijuana and comprehensively reviewing all criminal sentencing laws,” will be acted upon summarily.
New Jersey Senate president, Stephen Sweeney, a staunch supporter of legalizing marijuana, says he is ready and eager to pass an RMJ bill and intends to have one on Murphy’s desk within the administration’s first 100 days.
Jan. 17, 2018 – Sen. Warren Announces Upcoming Bill
A new bipartisan bill floated by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in January will attempt to give states more power in deciding on their own marijuana laws.
According to MassLive.com, Warren said at a press conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts, “I’m working with a bipartisan group to try to roll back the changes that the attorney general has made so that the states can make their own determination about their marijuana laws and how they want to enforce them.”
Warren is a vocal opponent of Attorney General Jeff Sessions who earlier this month rescinded the Cole Memo – a move which has mobilized lawmakers from marijuana states to take action to fight Federal prohibition. Warren called the move “an incredibly destructive thing to do.”
Jan. 19, 2018 – House Dems Officially Introduce Marijuana Justice Act.
House Democrats introduced a bill legalizing marijuana and expunging federal arrests and incarceration for marijuana use and possession.
Reps. Barbara Lee and Ro Khanna of California, along with 12 other Democrats, introduced the bill. The House bill is a companion to the Marijuana Justice Act introduced by Sen. Cory Booker in August of 2017.
The proposed legislation would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substance Act while investing resources in communities disproportionately impacted by Clinton’s 1994 Crime Bill, which has faced criticism over the years for its contribution to mass incarceration.
The legislation also calls for a decrease in funding for federal law enforcement, as well as the construction of prisons in states where low-income citizens or people of color are disproportionately arrested or convicted of marijuana-related crimes.
Jan. 22, 2018 – Illinois Student Wins Right To Medicate at School
In a first-of-its-kind case, a student in Schaumburg, Illinois who has been prescribed medical marijuana to control her seizures won the right to use her medication in school.
Although the landmark ruling was just an emergency measure at the moment, it could potentially impact the way in which schools across the country deal with children who have prescriptions for medical marijuana.
Jan. 22, 2018 – Vermont Lawmakers Legalize MJ in Historic Act of Legislation
In a historic move, Vermont officially became the first US state to legalize marijuana via an act of the Legislature rather than a voter referendum. Governor Phil Scott signed the legalization bill into law on January 22, making Vermont the ninth US state to have legalized both medical and recreational marijuana.
Although it will permit the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and up to six plants beginning July 1, the law has no provisions for building a regulated market.
Scott declined a bill signing ceremony saying, “some people don’t feel that this is a momentous occasion.”
Jan. 23, 2018 – Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment Gets Short Reprieve
The Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment got yet another reprieve as Senate Democrats and Republicans agreed to end the federal government shutdown on Monday afternoon. The temporary spending measures will keep the government running – and extend the protections for medical marijuana patients and caregivers – for another 17 days, until February 8. If an agreement on further funding does not materialize before that date, another shutdown is possible.
“I expect that during this time period, we will be maneuvering on the cannabis issue and the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment,” Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) told Leafly. “So this is a time for people to make sure that they contact their own member of Congress to make sure that they get behind the amendment for the final bill.”
We’re keeping our eye on this one.
Jan. 27, 2018 – Lawmakers Send Letter to Trump
A bipartisan group of 54 lawmakers sent a letter to President Trump urging him to call off Attorney General Jeff Sessions who seems intent on harassing states which have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational purposes.
Co-author of the letter, Mass. Sen. Elizabeth Warren has harshly criticized Sessions and the Department of Justice, saying that their actions are “reckless” and said that this action “disrupts the ability of states to enforce their own drug policies and puts our public health and safety at risk.”
We write with urgent concern regarding the recent steps taken by the Department of Justice (DOJ) to disrupt state efforts to implement their own marijuana enforcement policies.
As a candidate, you stated: ‘I really believe we should leave [marijuana] up to the states’ and that ‘it’s got to be a state decision.
We trust that you still hold this belief, and we request that you urge the Attorney General to reinstate the Cole Memorandum.