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U.S.: Senators And Congressmen Who Support Marijuana Legalization

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By Derrick Stanley
Hemp News

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) this week released its 2016 congressional scorecard on marijuana policy. Twenty U.S. representatives and two senators received an 'A' grade, indicating that "this member has publicly declared his/her support for the legalization and regulation of marijuana for adults," according to NORML.

But NORML goes on to point out that Congress lags far behind the public when it comes to support for marijuana reform. Four states plus D.C. have already legalized the recreational use of marijuana, and this fall voters in five more will decide whether to legalize recreatiional weed.

"It is apparent that voters' views regarding marijuana policy have evolved significantly over the past decades," said Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML, in an email. "Yet, the positions of their federally elected officials have not progressed in a similar manner."

Of the 22 congressmen supporting full marijuana legalization only one, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R.-Calif.) is a Republican. Conversely, among the 32 most vocal opponents of marijuana reform only one, Sen. Tom Carper (D.-Del.) is a Democrat.

Here is the list of representatives and senators who support marijuana legalization:

Mike Honda (D.-Calif.)
Jared Huffman (D.-Calif.)
Barbara Lee (D.-Calif.)
Ted Lieu (D.-Calif.)

U.S.: Sen. Elizabeth Warren Urges Investigating Marijuana As Alternative To Pain Pills

ElizabethWarren[ElizabethWarrenWiki]

By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) this week asked the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to research how marijuana might help curb the opioid epidemic in America.

The U.S. is the largest consumer of prescription painkillers in the world, according to the National Institutes on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Even though Americans are just 5 percent of the global population, they gobble 75 percent of the planet's opioid medications.

Warren asked the CDC to conduct studies about alternatives to pain relief drugs, such as marijuana, reports Jackie Salo at International Business Times

In a letter sent Monday to CDC head Dr. Thomas Friedan, Warren urged the agency to finalize its guidance to doctors on prescribing oxycodone, fentanyl, and other pharmaceutical opioid painkillers, reports Alan Pyke at Think Progress.

In the letter, Warren mentioned the struggle her constituents in Massachusetts have faced with painkiller abuse. She said there were almost 1,100 confirmed cases of opioid overdose deaths in Massachusetts in 2014, which was a 65 percent increase from 2012.

U.S.: Senate Approves Funding Bill That Allows Veterans Access To Medical Marijuana

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Amendment Would Allow VA Doctors to Recommend Medical Marijuana to Their Patients in States Where It’s Legal

The Senate on Tuesday passed the FY2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs (MilCon-VA) Appropriations Bill, which includes language to allow Veterans Administration (VA) doctors to recommend medical marijuana to their patients in states where medical marijuana is legal. The language was included as an amendment in the Senate Appropriations committee in May.

“Veterans in medical marijuana states should be treated the same as any other resident, and should be able to discuss marijuana with their doctor,” said Michael Collins, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “It makes no sense that a veteran can’t use medical marijuana if it helps them and it is legal in their state.”

The Veterans Equal Access Amendment was sponsored by Republican Senator Steve Daines of Montana and Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon. It passed the Committee 18-12 in a bipartisan vote. The funding bill will now be negotiated with the House’s version as part of an omnibus spending bill.

"On this eve of Veterans/Armistice Day where we remember those who served in the military and the treaty agreement to reach peace concluding WWI, we see this victory as a step toward a peace treaty with the government we volunteered to defend with our lives and as a step toward restoring our first amendment rights and dignity as citizens of the United States," said TJ Thompson, a disabled Navy veteran.

U.S.: National Cannabis Industry Association Applauds Bernie Sanders' Legalization Move

BernieSandersPointing[MotherJones]

Sanders bill would remove marijuana from Controlled Substances Act, allow states to establish cannabis policies

The National Cannabis Industry Association on Thursday applauded new legislation to be introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) which would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and allow it to be regulated similarly to alcohol.

That approach would allow states that choose a legal, regulated approach to marijuana to move forward without federal interference and allow banking access and fair taxation to state-compliant cannabis businesses.

"Mr. President, too many Americans in this country have seen their lives destroyed because they have criminal records as a result of marijuana use," Sanders said on the Senate floor on Thursday. "That’s wrong. That has got to change."

"The time is long overdue for us to take marijuana off of the federal government’s list of outlawed drugs," Sen. Sanders said. (Read Senator Sanders’s prepared remarks here, delivered on the Senate floor on Thursday.)

“More than half of Americans now live in states where marijuana is legal in some form. And more than half of Americans now say marijuana should be fully legal,” said NCIA executive director Aaron Smith. “Federal law should respect these states, these voters, and the responsible cannabis businesses they support.

U.S.: Sen. Bernie Sanders To Introduce Legislation To End Federal Marijuana Prohibition

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First-Ever Bill Introduced In Senate To Legalize Marijiuana; Second Major Cannabis Reform Bill Introduced in the Senate This Year

Support for Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Continues to Grow

Democratic Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders is to announce at a Wednesday town hall meeting that he is introducing legislation in the Senate that would remove marijuana from the list of federally controlled substances, end federal marijuana prohibition, and let states set their own policies without federal interference.

The bill, which could be introduced as early as Thursday, is expected to be similar to a 2011 bill introduced in the U.S. House by Democrat Barney Frank and Republican Ron Paul known then as the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act. It would be the first bill ever introduced in the U.S. Senate to end the failed war on marijuana.

“Clearly Bernie Sanders has looked at the polls showing voter support for marijuana legalization,” said Michael Collins, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Action, the political arm of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “Marijuana reform was already moving forward in Congress but we expect this bill to give reform efforts a big boost.”

U.S.: Senate Spending Package Includes Major Marijuana Law Reforms

ThadCochran[SenateAppropriationsCommittee]

By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

A new package of spending bills from the Senate, intended to keep the federal government operational for the next year, includes several positive changes in marijuana law.

The bills were filed on Tuesday by Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and they've just been uploaded to Congress's website, reports Marijuana.com.

The new spending package put forth by the top Senate appropriator "includes, well, everything us marijuana law reformers could have reasonably hoped for this year," said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority.

“We won bipartisan votes on all of these issues this year on either the House floor, in the Senate Appropriations Committee or both, so this is a rare case of Congressional leadership actually listening to their members — and to the American people," Angell said.

"Just a few short years ago, politicians used to jump all over each other to be seen as the ‘toughest’ on drugs," Angell said. "But now that polls consistently show that a growing majority of Americans support legalization, more elected officials are beginning to realize that scaling back failed prohibition policies is not only the right thing to do, but that it’s politically smart."

If enacted, the bills would:

D.C.: Medical Marijuana Advocacy Group To Host 3rd Annual Conference

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Scientists, patients, doctors, advocates, lawyers, policymakers unite to further advance public health policy reforms

Medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access (ASA), will hold its third annual national Unity Conference, "Wellness is Winning," in Washington, D.C. on March 27-31, 2015.

The conference will highlight medical and legal experts, policymakers, and a wide array of workshops and panels focusing on scientific research, strategic planning, and skills building. On Tuesday, March 31, ASA will host a press conference at 11 a.m., followed by a lobby day with hundreds of patient advocates.

What: Third Annual National Unity Conference, "Wellness is Winning"
When: March 27-31, 2015, including a press conference at 11 a.m. on March 31
Where: Loews Madison Hotel, 1177 15th Street NW, Washington, D.C.; press conference will be on the Capitol grounds
Media is invited to attend the conference at no charge; participants are encouraged to register in advance.

"Patients and advocates are excited to be gathering this year after an historic victory in Congress, which paved the way for a very promising bill in the U.S. Senate," said ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer. "Hundreds of patients and advocates will gather in the nation's capitol next week with a unified goal to urge Congress to adopt sensible federal medical marijuana policy reform."

U.S.: Senate Confirms Michael Botticelli As White House Drug Czar

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Advocates Praise Botticelli for Taking Steps Toward Health-Based Approach to Drug Policy

The U.S. Senate on Monday evening confirmed President Obama’s nomination of Michael Botticelli to become the next Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), a position informally known as “drug czar.”

Botticelli has served as acting director of the ONDCP since March 2014, following the resignation of former drug czar R. Gil Kerlikowske. Botticelli previously served as ONDCP’s Deputy Director. Before joining ONDCP, Botticelli spent nearly two decades overseeing substance misuse programs at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

“Michael Botticelli represents, in many ways, a significant improvement on all his predecessors as drug czar,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “It’s not just that he comes from a public health background but that he seems truly committed to advancing more science-based and compassionate drug policies where the politics allow.

"What he most needs to do now is shed the political blinders that impel him both to defend marijuana prohibition and close his eyes to highly successful harm reduction measures abroad,” Nadelmann said.

U.S.: Rand Paul Says Marijuana Use A 'Mistake,' 'Not A Good Idea'

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

U.S. Senator and likely 2016 Presidential candidate Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) all but admitted in a Friday interview that he smoked marijuana in his youth, but called it a "mistake."

Paul said voters shouldn't confuse his push for reducing criminal penalties for drugs as an endorsement of drug use, reports the Associated Press.

"I think drugs, marijuana included, aren't good for you," Paul said in an interview with Louisville television station WHAS. "I don't want to be someone who is seen as being this person advocating for drug use. I think they're not a good idea."

"Let's just say I wasn't a choir boy when I was in college and that I can recognize that kids make mistakes, and I can say that I made mistakes when I was a kid," Paul said in the interview, broadcast Friday night.

Paul told a group of Northern Kentucky University law students last month that he wouldn't support lifting the federal ban on marijuana use, but said he didn't want the federal government to overturn state laws that legalize it.

U.S.: Senators To Introduce Groundbreaking Criminal Justice Reform Bill

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REDEEM Act Helps Formerly Incarcerated Seal Conviction Records, Eliminates Barriers to Employment, Public Assistance, and Re-Entry

Drug Policy Alliance: Criminal Justice Reform is Good Policy and Good Politics

Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rand Paul (R-KY) on Tuesday will introduce the REDEEM Act, groundbreaking bipartisan legislation that makes it easier for formerly incarcerated individuals to reintegrate into society and provides greater rights to juvenile offenders.

The amendment comes on the heels of an amendment offered several weeks ago by Senators Booker and Paul that would prohibit the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) from arresting and prosecuting people in compliance with their state medical marijuana laws. Senator Paul also has a bill with Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) that would provide federal judges more discretion in sentencing.

A bipartisan bill reforming mandatory minimums introduced by Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and Richard Durbin (D-IL) has already passed the Senate Judiciary Committee and is awaiting floor action.

“The fact that two young and rising stars of both parties, both rumored to be considering future White House runs, are so passionately embracing criminal justice reform shows how politically popular these issues have become,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “Voters want reform and smart elected officials know that. This legislation is good policy and good politics.”

U.S.: Senator John Walsh Offers Protections for Medical Marijuana Patient Gun Rights

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Amendment to Senate Appropriations Bill would deny funds to the ATF for enforcing ban on gun rights for medical marijuana patients

Sen. John Walsh (D-Montana) has offered an amendment to Senate appropriations bill S. 2347, which would prevent the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) from targeting state-legal medical marijuana patients for possessing firearms.

“Montanans take their Second Amendment rights very seriously and hunting is an important part of our heritage and culture,” said Chris Lindsey, legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). "Whether firearms are used for sport or to help sustain a family by putting food on the table, the federal government should not prevent Montanans from owning firearms simply because a hunter benefits from access to medical marijuana."

In 2011, the ATF issued a letter entitled “Open Letter to All Federal Firearms Licensees” which told licensees that according to Title 18, Section 922 of the United States Code, licensees are not allowed under to sell ammunition or firearms to individuals who use marijuana, even if the person uses it in compliance with state medical marijuana laws.

“We are pleased Sen. Walsh is sending a strong message to the federal government on behalf of Montanans: Stay away from the gun rights of our law-abiding citizens,” said Lindsey. “Marijuana is less harmful than alcohol and many prescription drugs, yet the federal government seems to have a persistent case of reefer madness.

U.S.: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid Says Marijuana Has Medical Value

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

The U.S. federal government's classification of marijuana as a Schedule I drug with no medical uses took another hit on Thursday, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, said cities in his state of Nevada should move toward making medicinal cannabis available.

"If you'd asked me this question a dozen years ago, it would have been easy to answer -- I would have said no, because (marijuana) leads to other stuff," Reid told the Las Vegas Sun. "But I can't say that anymore."

"I think we need to take a real close look at this," the Senate Majority Leader said. "I think that there's some medical reasons for marijuana."

Reid, who is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormon church), "is not one who normally rushes to embrace controversial substances," drily notes Karoun Demirjian of the Las Vegas Sun.

When asked about legalizing marijuana and regulating it like alcohol --which Colorado and Washington state voters have already done -- Reid stopped short of endorsing legalization, saying "I don't know about that; I just think we need to look at the medical aspects of it," but added, "I guarantee you one thing. We waste a lot of time and law enforcement going after these guys that are smoking marijuana."

Maine: Senate Candidate Supports Marijuana Legalization

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

Shenna Bellows, the Democratic candidate in the 2014 race for U.S. Senator from Maine, is the most prominent Senate candidate yet to support marijuana legalization.

Bellows, a carpenter's daugbhter who calls herself both a progressive and a libertarian, is a former director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maine, report Nicole Flatow and Scott Keyes at ThinkProgress. She supports action on climate change, boosting the minimum wage, and less government spying on citizens.

Bellows doesn't mind attracting controversy, because her opponent, Republican Sen. Susan Collins is one of the top five most popular Senators in the U.S. Collins is a formidable opponent, enjoying a 61 percent approval rating.

Rather than shying away from her involvement with the ACLU, Bellows said she's proud of that organization's leadership on cannabis legalization and other issues. She envisions herself as a potential Senate leader on marijuana reform.

"Right now on the Senate side, there doesn't seem to be a leader who has the courage to move that forward," Bellows told ThinkProgress. "I would be that leader."

U.S.: Wednesday Senate Hearing to Highlight Opposition to Mandatory Minimum Sentencing

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Hearing Builds on Bipartisan Patrick Leahy/ Rand Paul Legislation and Attorney General Holder’s Recent Call for Federal Sentencing Reform

As Opposition to Mass Incarceration Builds, Mandatory Minimums Face Increased Scrutiny From Across Political Spectrum

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday will hear testimony from four conservative witnesses who have concerns with the continued use of mandatory minimum sentencing, a costly and counterproductive cookie-cutter approach that binds a judge’s ability to apply a meaningful sentence that will address the offense and provide for public safety.

According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission and a recent report by the Congressional Research Service, mandatory minimums have significantly contributed to the overcrowding crisis in the Bureau of Prisons and drastic racial disparities in the criminal justice system. The BOP operates at nearly 140 percent of capacity -- one-fourth of the Justice Department’s budget.

Last month, Attorney General Eric Holder said there are too many people in prison and it is time for federal sentencing reform. In his remarks, Attorney General Holder encouraged a partnership between the legislative and executive branches to work to solve the issue.

With less than 5 percent of the world’s population -– but nearly 25 percent of the world’s prison population -– the U.S. leads the world in the incarceration of its own citizens.

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