u.s. senate

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U.S.: House, Senate Bills Aim To Remove Barriers To Marijuana Research

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Bipartisan, Bicameral Medical Marijuana Research Legislation Introduced in House and Senate

By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

There's a major development in federal cannabis legislation this week. Congressmen Andy Harris, M.D. (R-MD), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), H. Morgan Griffith (R-VA), and Sam Farr (D-CA) will be introducing the Medical Marijuana Research Act of 2016. This bill heeds the calls of the medical research community to address the burdensome processes that currently impede legitimate medical research on marijuana.

The bill is a bipartisan and bicameral solution that removes barriers inhibiting medical marijuana research. Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Chris Coons (D-DE), and Thom Tillis (R-NC) are introducing a similar bill in the Senate.

“As a physician who has conducted NIH sponsored research, I can’t stress enough how critical this legislation is to the scientific community," said Dr. Harris. "Our drug policy was never intended to act as an impediment to conducting legitimate medical research.

U.S.: Senate Committee Allows Banks To Provide Services To Legal Marijuana Stores

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Fourth Straight Senate Victory for Marijuana Reform

Senate Bill Would Also Allow D.C. to Tax and Regulate Marijuana

By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday voted 16 to 14 to allow banks to provide services to marijuana businesses. Currently, because marijuana is illegal under federal law, both medical and non-medical marijuana businesses are unable to access banking services like any other business. The amendment was offered by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon).

Consequently, many marijuana businesses operate on a cash-only basis, leading to huge public safety issues as businesses become the target of robberies, and are forced to hire armed security to protect their takings.

“One of the motivations for legalizing marijuana is to eliminate the illicit market and put marijuana in the hands of a legitimate regulated market,” said Michael Collins, deputy director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “Whether you are for or against legalization, you have to recognize that having marijuana businesses handling huge amounts of cash with nowhere to deposit the money is a public safety concern that Congress has to tackle.”

U.S.: Senate To Hold Homeland Security Hearing On Alternatives To Drug War

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The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs will hold an unprecedented roundtable hearing on Wednesday morning, June 15, 2016, entitled "America's Insatiable Demand for Drugs: Examining Alternative Approaches." The hearing comes at a time where the country is struggling to tackle the opioid epidemic, and policy makers are in search of innovative solutions that avoid the mistakes of the War On Drugs.

Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), will lay out his vision for ending the war on drugs and forging ahead with new policies based on science, health and human rights. In his written testimony, Nadelmann affirms that "A new approach is needed, one that reduces both the harm caused by drugs and the harm caused by current drug control policies."

“I’ve waited a very long time to be invited by Congress to testify on these issues,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “I think it’s a positive sign that political leaders, not just in the states but even on Capitol Hill, now recognize both the failure of the drug war and the need to think outside the box in addressing our country’s drug problems.”

U.S.: Veterans Group Weed For Warriors Praises House Passage of VA Marijuana Measure

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Decorated disabled Iraq War veteran Brandon Wyatt on Thursday applauded Congress for passing a measure today that will help veterans in states where medical marijuana is legal get the medicine they need to fight their battle with post traumatic stress disorder and other ailments.

“This is a significant step forward in our cause,” said Wyatt, a lawyer and activist, who staged a groundbreaking free cannabis giveaway last month outside the Veterans Administration clinic in Washington, D.C., for patients suffering from PTSD. “We appreciate the support and efforts of all involved.

"Nevertheless, the job is not finished, because this legislation does not allow all veterans to be provided with the quality healthcare they need in order to be free of the fear of having to self-medicate," Wyatt said. "Easier access doesn’t equate to equal access.”

The amendment, sponsored by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, (D-Oregon), only applies to states where cannabis is legal; it doesn't allow for the distribution or use of cannabis at VA clinics or any federal facilities; and it doesn't allow for the VA to cover the costs.

U.S.: Senate Committee Prevents DEA From Undermining Medical Marijuana Laws

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Vote Comes Just a Week After Committee Voted to Allow Veterans Administration Doctors to Recommend Marijuana to Veterans

Nationwide Bipartisan Momentum for Drug Policy Reform Grows Stronger

In yet another huge victory for marijuana reform, the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday voted by 21 to 8 to approve an amendment offered by Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Maryland) to protect state medical marijuana laws from federal interference by the Department of Justice and Drug Enforcement Administration.

“Marijuana reforms are repeatedly winning votes in Congress,” said Bill Piper, senior director of National Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “Letting states set their own marijuana policies is now a mainstream, bipartisan issue.”

After decades of inactivity on marijuana reform, Congress has moved at lightning pace to advance marijuana reform in recent years.

Last week the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to allow Veterans Administration doctors to recommend marijuana. The Committee approved similar amendments last year as well as an amendment to allow state-legalized marijuana businesses to access banks and other financial services.

The Mikulski Amendment is expected to pass the full Senate as well as the House. Similar amendments were passed by Congress last year and the year before.

U.S.: Blumenauer Applauds Passage of Senate VA Medical Marijuana Amendment

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U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer of Oregon on Thursday applauded the Senate Committee on Appropriations for passing the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Marijuana Amendment for the second consecutive year.

This amendment, offered by Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Steve Daines (R-MT), would allow VA physicians to provide recommendations regarding the participation of a veteran in a state medical marijuana program.

“For the second time, the Senate has taken action to do what’s right for our veterans," Representative Blumenauer said. "I commend Senators Merkley and Daines for leading this fight in the Senate, and I look forward to pushing it across the finish line in the House.”

“All in all, today’s vote by the Senate Appropriations Committee is very encouraging as we advocate for passage of simple and commonsense measures to reform our marijuana laws,” Congressman Blumenauer said.

U.S.: DEA Plans Decision On Rescheduling Marijuana By Mid-Year

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

The Drug Enforcement Administration plans to decide whether marijuana should be reclassified under federal law "in the first half of 2016," according to a letter from the DEA to senators.

The agency was responding to a 2015 letter from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and seven other Democratic senators urging the federal government to stop blocking research into the medicinal benefits of cannabis.

If marijuana is reclassified at all, it would have to be moved to a "less dangerous" category, because it is currently considered Schedule I under federal law, the category of drugs considered the most dangerous of all. Schedule I drugs, by definition, supposedly have no medical value and a high potential for abuse. The insanity of including cannabis -- which, of course, can be used to treat hundreds of conditions -- should be obvious.

There are five categories (schedules) classifying illegal drugs. Marijuana has been considered Schedule I since Nixon's War On Drugs kicked off in 1971. That means the federal government officially considers marijuana to be just as dangerous as heroin -- and it means the government thinks pot is less dangerous than either cocaine or methamphetamine, both of which are considered Schedule II drugs.

U.S.: Senate To Hold Sham Hearing On Marijuana Legalization Tuesday

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Reform Advocates Denounce Hearing as One-Sided “Prohibitionist Party”

Senator Grassley Stacks the Deck with Known Anti-Legalization Zealots and Ignores Benefits of Legalization, Such as Massive Drop in Marijuana Arrests and Prohibition-Related Violence, as well as New Tax Revenue

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) will hold a hearing in the Caucus on International Narcotics Control titled “Is the Department of Justice Adequately Protecting the Public from the Impact of State Recreational Marijuana Legalization?” The hearing is ostensibly a response to a recent GAO report that criticized DOJ for a lack of oversight of states that have legalized marijuana. However, the hearing is likely to be nothing more than a prohibitionist party.

U.S.: NCIA Calls On Sen. Grassley To Hold Hearings On Marijuana Legislation

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As Grassley holds outdated prohibitionist hearing, he continues to obstruct bipartisan efforts to help medical marijuana patients and providers

The National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) on Monday called on Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) to respect the will of the voters and bipartisan members of his own committee by holding hearings on the CARERS Act.

The CARERS Act is bipartisan legislation, originally introduced by Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Rand Paul (R-KY), that would allow patients access to medical marijuana in states where it is legal without fear of federal prosecution and open up new avenues for research into marijuana's medical potential.

While he continues to obstruct any action to help critically ill patients and the providers who care for them, Senator Grassley is holding a Monday hearing designed to conjure up outdated prohibitionist fear-mongering.

Kentucky: Press Conference To Push Senator McConnell To Schedule Criminal Justice Bill

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Over 30,000 Signatories Demand a Vote on Criminal Justice Reform

On the afternoon of March 29, Kentucky advocates, including faith leaders and students, will hold a press conference outside the Lexington office of Sen. Mitch McConnell, to demand that he bring an important criminal justice reform bill to the Senate floor for a vote.

The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, spearheaded by Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, expand the federal "safety valve” (which allows judges to use their discretion to sentence people below statutory mandatory minimums), and expand reentry programming and early release, among other things.

The bill has broad bipartisan support, with 29 Republican and Democratic Senators currently sponsoring. The bill was passed by the Senate’s Judiciary Committee last October, and is now awaiting a vote on the floor. House Speaker Paul Ryan recently promised to bring criminal justice reform legislation up for a vote, but Mitch McConnell has not made the same commitment.

Advocates will deliver a petition that was organized by Drug Policy Alliance, Change.org, #cut 50, and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. The petition was signed by over 30,000 people, and calls for McConnell to schedule a vote on the bill.

Who:
Rev. Dean W. Bucalos, Program Coordinator, Mission Behind Bars and Beyond.
Reverend D. Anthony Everett, Pastor, Wesley United Methodist Church (Lexington, KY), Commissioner At Large, Kentucky Commission on Human Rights

U.S.: Senate Bill Would Reinstate College Aid To Students With Drug Convictions

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Hundreds of Thousands Have Lost Access to Education Since Aid Elimination Penalty Enacted in 1998

By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators is pushing to repeal a Higher Education Act provision that strips college financial aid from students with drug convictions.

The Stopping Unfair Collateral Consequences from Ending Student Success (SUCCESS) Act, introduced by Sens. Bob Casey (D-PA), Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) on Thursday, would eliminate the drug conviction question on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Advocates pointed out that this student aid policy is another unfair and counterproductive example of the numerous collateral consequences that follow a drug law conviction and needlessly complicate the lives of people who are trying to recover from the twin challenges of criminalization and addiction.

Communities of color are also more likely to be impacted by this student aid policy in the same way that communities of color are disproportionately arrested and incarcerated for drug law violations. A diverse coalition comprised of several hundred education, treatment, civil rights, religious, and criminal justice reform groups have advocated for the repeal of this policy since it took effect in 2000.

U.S.: Members of Congress Tell VA To Allow Veterans Medical Marijuana

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

A broad group of legislators from both parties on Wednesday sent a letter to the Veterans’ Administration (VA) demanding a change in policy to allow veterans to access medical marijuana. Currently, veterans are prevented from having full conversations about medical marijuana with VA doctors, and the same VA physicians are prohibited from recommending medical marijuana, even in states where medical marijuana is legal.

“Vets have served their country, and the least we can do is give them the care they require,” said Michael Collins, deputy director of National Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “It is shameful that the VA prevents veterans from accessing a treatment for pain relief and PTSD.”

“Current VA policy is doing a disservice to veterans by preventing their doctors from exploring all possible treatment options," said Robert Capecchi, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). "We trust VA physicians to prescribe painkillers and other prescription drugs that are far more addictive and infinitely more lethal. Why can’t we trust them to recommend medical marijuana to the patients who they believe could benefit from it?

U.S.: Criminal Justice Bill Reducing Mandatory Minimums Clears Senate Judiciary Committee

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Bipartisan Bill Reduces Mandatory Minimums, Increases Early Release and Returns Some Discretion to Judges

Legislation Heads for the Senate Floor Amid Public Demands to End the Drug War and Mass Incarceration

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday voted 15 to 5 to advance the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act. The bill, introduced by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and sponsored by 10 other Senators, would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, expand the federal "safety valve” (which allows judges to use their discretion to sentence people below statutory mandatory minimums), expand reentry programming and early release, and make many of the sentencing reductions retroactive.

“This vote today is a huge step toward ending the failed policies of the war on drugs,” said Michael Collins, policy manager at the Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs. “To see Republicans and Democrats join hands to pass this bill gives me great hope we’ll have legislation on the President’s desk very soon.”

The vote comes the day after an esteemed group of 130 law enforcement leaders called on Congress to reduce incarceration. The group will meet with President Obama on Thursday at the White House. The President also began a criminal justice tour on Wednesday, visiting West Virginia and highlighting alternatives to arrest and incarceration.

New York: Sen. Schumer Throws Weight Behind Federal Medical Marijuana Bill

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Senator Chuck Schumer Joins NY Senator Kirsten Gillibrand in Sponsoring the CARERS Act, a Bill that Would End Federal Prohibition of Medical Marijuana

New York Patients and Families Applaud Schumer for His Support

U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on Monday added his name to the Senate’s sweeping medical marijuana bill. The CARERS Act, introduced in March by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Rand Paul (R-KY), would end federal prohibition of medical marijuana, and remove barriers for research, veterans, and banking.

The move comes just days before New York State is expected to announce the names of five companies that will be allowed to produce medical marijuana in New York. New York’s medical marijuana program is expected to become fully operational in January 2016.

New York patients expressed their gratitude for Senator Schumer’s support.

“Chuck Schumer sided with patients and their families yesterday when he agreed to co-sponsor the CARERS Act,” said Kate Hintz of North Salem, N.Y., whose daughter Morgan suffers from a severe seizure disorder. “I’m proud to be from a state where both Senators – Gillibrand and Schumer – have recognized the importance of medical marijuana.

"Families, like mine, should be able to use medical marijuana when a doctor recommends it without having to worry about federal interference," Hintz said. "I hope the rest of our leaders in Washington will follow the lead of Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, act quickly to pass the CARERS Act, and help relieve patient suffering.”

U.S.: Senate Committee Allows Marijuana Legalization To Move Forward In Nation's Capital

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A key Senate committee on Thursday passed a bill allowing the nation’s capital to establish regulated marijuana stores and let banks provide financial services to state-legalized marijuana dispensaries.

These are just two of several marijuana reforms advancing in Congress, according to the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). Meanwhile, sentencing reform is gaining steam, and the U.S. is shifting towards treating drug use as a health issue instead of a criminal justice issue.

“The stage has been set to end the federal government’s failed war on marijuana,” said Michael Collins, policy manager at DPA’s Office of National Affairs. “A bipartisan consensus has emerged in favor of reform.”

Last November nearly 72 percent of D.C. voters approved a ballot measure making it legal to possess and grow marijuana for personal use. The campaign to pass Initiative 71 was driven by public demands to end racially-biased enforcement of marijuana laws and was seen as the first step at taking marijuana out of the illicit market.

A broad base of community support from multiple civil rights organizations, faith leaders and community advocacy groups supported Initiative 71, viewing it as an opportunity to restore the communities most harmed by the war on drugs.

U.S.: Senate Appropriations Committee Approves Marijuana Banking Measure

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Amendment to appropriations bill would prohibit the Treasury Department from using funds to punish banks that provide financial services to state-legal marijuana businesses

By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday approved a measure 16-14 that is intended to ensure marijuana businesses have access to banking services.

The amendment, offered by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) to the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill, would prohibit the Treasury Department and its enforcement arm, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network or FinCEN, from using federal funds to punish banks that provide financial services to marijuana businesses that are operating legally under state laws.

Many banks are currently unwilling to provide depository and other basic banking services to marijuana businesses because the substance is still illegal under federal law. Federal, state, and local law enforcement and other government officials say marijuana businesses need to have access to banking because operating entirely in cash raises significant public safety concerns.

A similar amendment was passed by the full House of Representatives in 2014, but was ultimately stripped out during the final omnibus budget negotiations conducted by the Senate. The House has not yet debated the Financial Services Appropriations bill in 2015, but a repeat of the cannabis banking amendment is anticipated if and when that debate takes place.

U.S.: Sen. Elizabeth Warren Pushes Feds To Ease Restrictions On Marijuana Research

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) wants to clear the roadblocks out of the way so that government-paid researchers can study marijuana -- and not just the negative side effects.

Warren is leading a group of eight Democratic senators who are urging federal officials to correct the "data shortfall" on potential health benefits of medicinal cannabis by making it easier to study the herb, reports Sarah Ferris at The Hill.

“It is important that we make a concerted effort to understand how this drug works and how it can best serve patients through appropriate methods of use and doses, like any other prescribed medicine,” wrote the Senators in a letter to government officials. The letter was sent to the heads of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and the Office of National Drug Control Policy – all of which have some control over cannabis-related rules.

Since marijuana is still inexplicably classified as a Schedule I substance under federal law -- meaning it supposedly has no medical value and a high potential for abuse -- it remains difficult to study. Researchers are forced to go through multiple layers of approval to even test the stuff, and under current rules, it can only be grown at the University of Mississippi by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

U.S.: Marijuana Banking Bill Introduced By Bipartisan Group Of Senators

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Legislation Would Allow Marijuana Businesses Access to Financial Services

Marijuana Businesses Currently Operate as Cash-Only Causing Huge Public Safety Concerns

By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Michael Bennett (D-CO), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Ron Wyden (D-OR) on Thursday introduced the Marijuana Business Access to Banking Act, a bill that would allow banks to provide depository and other financial services to state-legal marijuana businesses.

Currently, because marijuana is illegal under federal law, both medical and non-medical marijuana businesses are unable to access banking services like any other business. Consequently, many cannabis businesses operate on a cash-only basis, leading to huge public safety issues as businesses become the target of robberies, and are forced to hire armed security to protect their takings.

“One of the motivations for legalizing marijuana is to eliminate the black market and put marijuana in the hands of a legitimate regulated market,” said Michael Collins, policy manager at Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs. “Whether you are for or against legalization, you have to recognize that having marijuana businesses handling huge amounts of cash with nowhere to deposit the money is a public safety concern that Congress has to tackle.”

California: Advocates To Hand-Deliver Medical Marijuana Petition To Sen. Feinstein

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Over 10,000 Signatories Tell Feinstein to Stop Opposing Medical Marijuana

Petition Follows Feinstein's Recent Vote Against Protecting Californian Residents from Federal Interference in Medical Marijuana Laws

A group of California-based advocates on Tuesday will hand-deliver a medical marijuana petition to the San Francisco office of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). Feinstein has been a leading opponent of cannabis reform, and recently spoke out against an amendment that would protect state medical marijuana programs from federal interference.

The amendment passed the Senate Appropriations Committee 21-9, with Feinstein as the only Democrat to oppose the measure, joining eight Republicans who voted in support.

California locals are fed up with Feinstein's well-documented opposition to medical marijuana, according to Amanda Reiman, manager, Marijuana Law and Policy, with the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA).

"California has allowed access to medical marijuana for 20 years and the vast majority of Californians support this," Reiman said. "It is disappointing that Senator Feinstein continues to be a lone voice of opposition from California when it comes to supporting medical marijuana patients."

U.S.: Senators Tell Federal Agencies To Remove Barriers To Medical Marijuana Research

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FDA and NIDA officials express support for ending NIDA’s DEA-mandated monopoly on marijuana available for research purposes

By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

At a Wednesday hearing, Senators Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand pressed federal officials to eliminate political barriers that are preventing research on the potential medical benefits of marijuana. The hearing, “Cannabidiol: Barriers to Research and Potential Medical Benefits,” was held by the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control.

Officials from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) echoed the Senators’ concerns and expressed support for removing barriers to research that have been created by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

NIDA has a DEA-mandated monopoly on the supply of marijuana available for research purposes, which is grown at the University of Mississippi. Researchers have repeatedly criticized the DEA for refusing to license additional marijuana producers, which they say is preventing the study of marijuana’s medical benefits and the development of marijuana-based medicines.

They have also criticized the poor quality and low potency of the scant marijuana that is currently available, which they say further hinders meaningful research. A DEA administrative law judge ruled that licensing additional producers would be in the public interest, but the DEA has refused to follow the non-binding ruling.

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