Attorney General Holder Invited to Hearing Scheduled for September 10
By Steve Elliott
Senator Patrick Leahy (D–VT) on Monday invited Attorney General Eric Holder to a September 10 hearing to clarify the federal response to states that have passed marijuana laws in conflict with federal policy.
"It is important, especially at a time of budget constraints, to determine whether it is the best use of federal resources to prosecute the personal or medicinal use of marijuana in states that have made such consumption legal," Leahy, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said on Monday, reports US News.
"I believe that these state laws should be respected," Leahy said. "At a minimum, there should be guidance about enforcement from the federal government."
Twenty states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, and Colorado and Washington last year became the first places in the world to legalize and regulate marijuana for personal use.
Holder has been saying that an announcement clarifying the federal response to these new state laws would be coming “soon” since last year. In the meantime, the federal government has continued to crack down on medical marijuana providers, leaving states and local communities unsure how best to proceed.
By Steve Elliott
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's proposal to dial back mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenders will likely find a receptive audience among Americans, whose attitudes towards marijuana use are the most relaxed they've ever been. Americans, research shows, are highly skeptical of the value of enforcing marijuana laws.
A March survey from the Pew Research Center found that 72 percent of Americans believe enforcing the marijuana laws costs more than they are worth, reports Andrea Caumont at Pew. Sixty percent said the federal government should not enforce federal laws against cannabis in states where it is legal.
There is broad agreement across partisan and demographic groups that enforcing the marijuana laws is not worth the cost. While some partisan differences exist, 78 percent of independents, 71 percent of Democrats and 67 percent of Republicans said marijuana enforcement costs more than it is worth.
Older Americans are less likely to say enforcing the marijuana laws is too costly: 63 percent of those older than 65 say this, compared with 72 percent of those aged 50-64, 73 percent of those aged 30-49 and 76 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds.
Bipartisan Support Grows In Congress for Overhauling U.S. Drug Laws
By Steve Elliott
In a Monday speech to the American Bar Association, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is expected to announce major federal sentencing changes, including dropping the use of mandatory minimum sentencing in certain drug cases, expediting the release of certain nonviolent elderly prisoners, leaving more offenses to state courts to deal with, and working with Congress to pass bipartisan sentencing reform.
In the future, many low-level charges against dealers not judged to be part of a large gang or cartel will no longer detail how much they were caught with, side-stepping the federal minimum sentencing laws, reports Dan Roberts at The Guardian. A memo outlining the new policy will be sent out to U.S. Attorneys by the Justice Department, reports CBS This Morning
Bi-Partisan Support Grows In Congress for Overhauling U.S. Drug Laws
Drug Policy Alliance Urges Administration to Think Big and Leave a Lasting Legacy
In an interview with NPR that aired on Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Holder said there are too many people in prison and it is time for federal sentencing reform. He could announce major changes as early as next week.
In the NPR interview Holder said: “The war on drugs is now 30, 40 years old. There have been a lot of unintended consequences. There’s been a decimation of certain communities, in particular communities of color.”
“Attorney General Holder is clearly right to condemn mass incarceration and racial disparities in the criminal justice system,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “Both he and the president have an opportunity to leave a lasting legacy by securing substantial, long overdue drug policy reform.”
A team of lawyers at the Justice Department is reportedly working on proposals that Holder could present as early as a speech next week. Some of the proposals could include de-prioritizing low-level drug offense.
Sen. Murray, Sen. Cantwell, and five U.S. Reps. emphasize the need to address the serious banking issue plaguing legitimate businesses
By Steve Elliott
In a June 17 letter, seven members of the Washington Congressional delegation urged U.S. Attorney Eric Holder and the Department of Justice to “respect the will of the voters” and honor Colorado and Washington’s right to tax and regulate marijuana sales to adults.
Seven months after the historic passage of Initiative 502 in Washington and Amendment 64 in Colorado, the Department of Justice has yet to indicate its intentions regarding the laws; the letter cites the expense already incurred by both states in implementation and the lost potential for economic advancement as two compelling reasons the delegation desires a statement be made without further delay.
Recreational marijuana sales in Washington are expected to begin in early 2014 unless DOJ does something to stop that from happening.
"We urge DOJ to expeditiously announce a course of action that will respect the will of these voters, and to work cooperatively with our states during the implementation of these laws," the lawmakers wrote.
By Steve Elliott
Attorney General Eric Holder encountered an unhappy crowd of dozens of pro-marijuana protesters at the University of California Berkeley's campus on Saturday when he visited to address the graduating law school class.
During Holder's visit to campus, an airplane circled above Berkeley's Greek Theater for more than two hours, pulling a banner reading "Holder: End Rx Cannabis War #Peace4Patients," reports Carly Schwartz at The Huffington Post. As the Attorney General's limo turned toward the graduation ceremony, demonstrators were waving signs reading "Fight Crime, Not Cannabis."
"There's no doubt we got the A.G.'s attention," said California NORML President Dale Gieringer. "He can't come to Berkeley and not be reminded of his department's bad faith with respect to marijuana."
Holder and the Obama Administration have been harshly criticized for the stepped-up federal crackdown on the medical marijuana industry in California and other states which allow the medicinal use of cannabis.
Though medical marijuana was legalized by California's voters through Proposition 215, a 1996 ballot initiative, cannabis remains illegal for any purpose under federal law.
By Steve Elliott
Law enforcement's eradication of marijuana plants has plunged by more than 60 percent in the last few years, from a record high of more than 20 million plants in 2009 and 2010 to fewer than 4 million plants in 2012, according to newly released federal statistics.
The number of cannabis plants eradicated dropped to 6,735,511 in 2011 and 3,933,950 in 2012, far less than goal of 9 million plants that the Drug Enforcement Administration had hoped to destroy, report Ryan J. Reilly and Matt Sledge at The Huffington Post.
Red-faced DEA officials blamed the steep decline in part on California, claiming in the agency's 2014 budget proposal that the Golden State's financial troubles resulted in "the decreased availability of local law enforcement personnel to assist in eradication efforts."
The DEA also claimed that "drug trafficking organizations" are shifting their cultivation efforts from public lands to private grow areas, and that those who do still grow in parks and on other public land tend to locate in "vast mountainous regions, which are more difficult for law enforcement to detect and reach."
By Steve Elliott
Marijuana legalization on Tuesday got its first hearing in the Oregon Legislature when the House Judiciary conducted a brief hearing on House Bill 3371, which would license producers, processors and sellers of cannabis.
Under HB 3371, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission would have the authority to tax marijuana, but unlike Washington state's Initiative 502, home cultivation would still be permitted, reports Peter Wong of the Salem Statesman Journal.
"Marijuana legalization is coming to Oregon sooner rather than later," said activist Anthony Johnson of New Approach Oregon. "It makes sense to regulate marijuana like alcohol and for the Legislature to take the lead on the issue and make sure sensible regulations are in place."
A survey conducted last week by DHM Research of Portland showed that support for legalization is around the 50 percent mark in Oregon. "It sends a signal to where the voters' attitudes are heading," said John Horvick of DHM.
Predictably, the Oregon State Sheriffs Association is stuck in the past, and opposes legalization, preferring to keep the broad powers over otherwise law-abiding citizens given to law enforcement by the marijuana laws.
States' moves reflect 'new era' of acceptance
By William M. Welch and Donna Leinwand, USA TODAY
LOS ANGELES — James Gray once saw himself as a drug warrior, a former federal prosecutor and county judge who sent people to prison for dealing pot and other drug offenses. Gradually, though, he became convinced that the ban on marijuana was making it more accessible to young people, not less.
"I ask kids all the time, and they'll tell you it is easier to get marijuana than a six-pack of beer because that is controlled by the government," he said, noting that drug dealers don't ask for IDs or honor minimum age requirements.
So Gray — who spent two decades as a superior court judge in Orange County, Calif., and once ran for Congress as a Republican — switched sides in the war on drugs, becoming an advocate for legalizing marijuana.
"Let's face reality," he says. "Taxing and regulating marijuana will make it less available to children than it is today."
Green is their signature color. Medicinal marijuana gardeners throughout the state of Oregon enjoyed a plentiful harvest last fall, and look to 2010 as a year of growth, and change.
By Bonnie King, Salem-News
(SALEM, Ore.) - “After living through arrests in the past for growing marijuana, to be able to do it legally, it’s almost entirely stress-free compared to when it was illegal. So to be able to help the people that need this - it warms our hearts,” said Paul Stanford, Executive Director of The Hemp & Cannabis Foundation. The fear of breaking the law has stopped most people for seven decades from considering marijuana, or cannabis, to treat their ailments. That is no longer the rule of the day, as this medical marijuana garden clearly proves.
By Sam Pearson, State Hornet
When a student was caught smoking marijuana in the Tahoe National Forest, he might once have faced charges despite having a medical marijuana card. Instead, in this particular case, prosecutors dropped the charges because of recent changes in drug policy, said Roseville-based defense attorney Toni Carbone.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced Oct. 20 the federal government would stop prosecuting medical marijuana users in states that had passed medical marijuana laws, such as California and 12 other states, including Nevada and Oregon.
Carbone has already seen the effects of this change. Her client received no penalty even though park rangers ticketed him for having 1.2 grams of marijuana on federal land, where state medical marijuana laws do not apply.
California voters passed Proposition 215 in 1996, creating a program that allowed people to obtain doctors' recommendations to use marijuana and obtain it from dispensaries throughout the state.
State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, introduced a bill that would legalize and tax marijuana in California and held a hearing Oct. 28 at the state Capitol as part of the Public Safety Committee, which he chairs. It was the first-ever legislative hearing held on marijuana legalization.
By Carrie Johnson, Washington Post Staff Writer
The Obama administration delivered new guidance on medical marijuana to federal prosecutors Monday, signaling a broad policy shift that will mean fewer crackdowns against dispensaries and the people who use them.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. instructed government lawyers that in 14 states where medical marijuana use is legal, federal prosecutors should focus only on cases involving higher level drug traffickers or people who use the state laws as a cover story.
By Rick Bayer, MD
US Attorney General Eric Holder recently signaled federal changes in medical marijuana policy. Holder said, “The policy is to go after those people who violate both federal and state law”; but the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) will still target anyone who tries to “use medical marijuana laws as a shield” for other illegal activity. “Given the limited resources that we have, our focus will be on people, organizations that are growing, cultivating substantial amounts of marijuana and doing so in a way that’s inconsistent with federal and state law.”
“... federal and state law ...”
Many have been waiting for a statement regarding President Obama’s drug policy toward medical marijuana, since Candidate Obama repeatedly promised changes in federal policy toward medical marijuana states. Now, in Attorney General Holder’s statement, they have it. Graham Boyd, director of the American Civil Liberties Union drug law project, said Mr. Holder’s remarks create reasonable balance between conflicting state and federal law while finally ending the policy war over medical marijuana.
By Jeremy Jojola, Eyewitness News 4; Charlie Pabst, KOB.com
The federal government has said it intends to honor state laws legalizing medical marijuana, but organizations in the state’s marijuana program are still worried about federal raids.
Attorney General Eric Holder, the head of the country’s Justice Department, answered questions Friday about whether local growers have to worry about the feds.
New Mexico is one of 13 states where medical marijuana is legal. One state-approved grower is on the verge of dispensing the drug to Albuquerque patients, despite the fact that it’s illegal under federal law.
For two years, New Mexicans with a prescription to smoke have been doing so with fears that the federal government may knock on their door.
In California, even under the Obama administration, DEA agents raided some medical marijuana shops.
One New Mexico man, one of the first legally allowed to use medical marijuana, was arrested by a federal task force but never charged.
One Oregon activist said that "patients can live free from a certain level of fear that they've been living with for years"
By Megan Crepeau, The Oregonian Staff
Oregon's medical marijuana activists are buzzing over U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's statement this week that the federal government would no longer raid or prosecute medical marijuana dispensaries in states where they are legal.
"I'm just thrilled," said Paul Stanford, president of the Portland-based Hemp and Cannabis Foundation. "It means that patients can live free from a certain level of fear that they've been living with for years."
Holder said at a news conference Wednesday the new administration's policies will be consistent with statements President Barack Obama has made supporting the states' rights to make decisions about legalizing cannabis for medical purposes.
"What he said during the campaign is now American policy," Holder said in response to a question about DEA raids on dispensaries in California in January.
Marijuana is banned under federal law, but 14 states,, including Oregon, have passed laws approving it for regulated medical use. Obama made clear during his campaign that he would not prosecute medical marijuana users in states where medicinal cannabis is legal.