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Marijuana Weekly Review: Conservatives Push To Protect Medical Marijuana

By Rick Schettino
Jun 13, 2018

Conservative leaders in the Senate this week pushed a provision through committee protecting state medical marijuana laws as part of the Fiscal Year 2019 spending legislation for the U.S. Department of Justice. The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies approved it on Tuesday, with a full committee vote on the bill itself expected on Thursday.

The provision has been part of federal law, continually since 2014. Each time it was tagged onto a bill which required votes on the House floor or in a Senate committee. However, in what has been a dramatic week for cannabis legislation in the United States, beginning with the introduction of the STATES Act into the Senate, the language is now included in the initial spending bill for the Justice Department. The House Appropriations Committee added the same protections onto its version of the Justice Department bill by a voice vote last month.

According to a report in Forbes, the provision is now “all but certain” to end up in the final appropriations legislation which will be sent to President Trump for his signature later this year. "It's taken years of hard work by patients and their advocates, but we've finally reached the point where even in a U.S. Senate controlled by Republicans, a medical marijuana provision is not considered a poison pill and its support requires no further debate," said Don Murphy, Director of Federal Policies for the Marijuana Policy Project in an interview.

Other advocacy groups showed similar excitement, with Justin Strekal, Political Director of NORML, telling Forbes that the committee is finally accepting the inevitable. “Allowing the Department of Justice to interfere with state-legal medical marijuana programs is bad policy and losing politics. Looking at the scorecard, today it's medical freedom: 1; Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his reefer madness ways: 0.”

Although the rider does continue to shield medical patients and providers in 46 states, it does not protect recreational marijuana consumers or the businesses that serve them, according to the report in Forbes. Still, the move came as a pleasant surprise to Senate Democrats.

"This bill again contains language preventing the Justice Department from interfering with states that have medical marijuana laws, ensuring that the prescribing and dispensing of medical marijuana in those states is both legal and regulated,” Senate Appropriations Committee Democrats wrote in a summary of the provision. “Patients and doctors in states that have approved medical marijuana need to know that they are safe from arrest and prosecution by the federal government."

Boehner Tells Federal Government To Butt Out

Once known for his opposition to cannabis reforms, former House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) thinks the federal government should leave the regulation of marijuana up to the states. Back in April of this year, Boehner made headlines when he joined the board of cannabis company Acreage Holdings. Since then he has been lobbying to have marijuana removed from the DEA list of Schedule I Controlled Substances to help further research efforts.


Former House Speaker John Boehner

"If the states decide they want to do this, this is up to them, but I am not going to be an advocate on what the states should and should not do. That's clearly up to them," Boehner told a Cincinnati TV station on Monday. "When you look at kids with epilepsy ... they're taking the non-psychotic part of this plant and reducing the number of seizures they have."

Boehner also touted the 25 percent reduction in opioid addictions in medical marijuana states as well as the potential benefits for veterans, adding, “Even with chronic pain, or veterans with [post-traumatic stress disorder] PTSD, they ought to be able to have access to medical marijuana because we believe it actually helps them.”

State-by-State

According to KTVZ in Central Oregon, beginning July 1, Oregon Senate Bill 1544 will require all medical marijuana program growers with three or more patients to be registered with both the Oregon Liquor Control Commission and the Oregon Health Authority. The system enables the OHA to track medical grows the same way the OLCC tracks recreational grows, said KTVZ’s report.

Carol Yann, section manager for OHA, said Tuesday, "Being able to track it from seed through sale is a whole different level then what we've had. So yes, I think it will definitely help."  

OLCC spokesman Mark Pettinger said the tracking system works in much the same way as systems that track produce from the farm to the grocery store. A number and a bar code is assigned to each seedling and can be used to track the plant from seed to sale. Pettinger claims that the tracking system assists law enforcement to reduce illegal grows.

"The expectation is we will be able to detect illegal activity," Pettinger said. "And then those illegal grows are just taking place on their own. That will enable law enforcement to focus on those, keeping that cannabis that is produced illegally out of the illegal market."

Also included in the bill is a provision which allows state inspectors to visit growing operations to assure they comply with OHA standards.

***

Out of Alaska, the Municipality of Anchorage is considering raising its marijuana sales tax, according to Anchorage Daily News. City officials say a "tremendous" amount of resources are being spent to regulate the city's fledgling cannabis industry. Demand for cannabis is high in Anchorage. Consumers have spent tens of millions of dollars since Anchorage's first marijuana shop opened in late December 2016. From January 2017 to March 2018 consumers spent $36.8 million bringing the city $1.8 million in sales tax revenue.

Currently, Anchorage adds a five percent cannabis sales tax at the register and is expected to bring in $3.5 million this year. The measure introduced on Tuesday at the Anchorage Assembly meeting would increase it to seven percent adding $1.4 million in additional revenue.

Anchorage is allowed to increase its tax rate every two years by up to two percent up to a maximum of 12 percent. The deadline to change the tax rate is July 1. If the city misses that deadline, it would have to wait two years to try again.

The state of Alaska also adds a flat-rate excise tax of $50 per ounce of bud or flower, and $15 per ounce of trim, according to the report. The ordinance is slated for a vote on June 26. Assuming it passes, the tax rate will increase starting July 1.

Tweet Of The Week

Senator Kamala Harris (D-California) recognizes the racial disparity in low-level marijuana arrests in an effort to push for federal legalization of marijuana.

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