DelBene Introduces Bill to Protect State Enforcement of Marijuana Laws

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: Congresswoman Suzan DelBene (WA-01) this week introduced the State Marijuana And Regulatory Tolerance (SMART) Enforcement Act to protect medical patients, recreational users and businesses in states that have legalized marijuana from being prosecuted now or retroactively in the future.

“My bill will fix the conflict between state and federal law by giving the U.S. Attorney General authority to waive the Controlled Substances Act for states that are effectively regulating marijuana themselves, such as Washington,” DelBene said. “It also resolves the banking issues that currently force dispensaries to operate on an unsafe, all-cash basis. These waivers will ensure people in states that have different laws than the federal government on marijuana are protected from prosecution, provided they meet certain requirements, as more and more states work to regulate marijuana in their own borders.”

Twenty-three states and Washington, D.C., have legalized some form of marijuana. Of those, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Alaska and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational use of marijuana, while others have approved medical use of marijuana. And more are expected to vote on legalization in 2016. Yet, marijuana possession or use for any purpose is still prohibited under the federal Controlled Substances Act, leaving every participant in the state markets — including cancer patients — at risk of prosecution. Washington’s First District has more than a dozen state-licensed marijuana dispensaries.

States are currently unable to regulate as effectively as possible because they are hamstrung by federal preemption problems. The SMART Enforcement Act would fix this issue, while adhering to current U.S. Department of Justice guidance on marijuana enforcement and recognizing the shared role states have traditionally played in policing marijuana offenses. It authorizes a waiver from the Controlled Substances Act for states that implement robust regulatory regimes to address key federal priorities such as preventing the distribution of marijuana to minors, violence or use of firearms in cultivation and distribution of marijuana, and drugged driving. Additionally, this legislation would sunset all waivers after three years, allowing continued oversight and reevaluation of the success of this approach by Congress.

“According to a recent Pew poll, an estimated 60 percent of Americans agree that the government should not enforce federal marijuana laws in states that allow use. The SMART Enforcement Act acknowledges this voter sentiment while also ensuring states are operating in a safe and responsible manner,” said Paul Armentano, NORML’s Deputy Director. “Public sentiment and common sense are driving necessary and long overdue changes in state-level marijuana policies; America’s longstanding federalist principles demand that we permit these changes to evolve free from federal interference.”

City Attorney Holmes To Seek Dismissal Of All Pot-Use Tickets

WASHINGTON: Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, reacting to one police officer’s personal campaign to write citations for public marijuana use, will announce Monday that he will seek dismissal of more than 85 tickets issued during the first seven months of the year, according to two City Hall sources.

Holmes, who is set to discuss the decision at a briefing of the City Council on Monday morning, will go beyond Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole’s request to dismiss tickets written by bicycle Officer Randy Jokela and include all infractions, out of fairness to everyone who was cited, according to the sources and briefing materials provided to The Seattle Times.

Jokela, who issued about 80 percent of the $27 tickets for public pot use during the first half of the year, wrote on many of them “*Attn: Petey Holmes*.”


Report: Madison WI Pot Arrests Higher For Blacks

WISCONSIN:  Police in Madison arrest or cite blacks for marijuana offenses at about 12 times the rate they punish whites, according to data analyzed by the Wisconsin State Journal.

The State Journal examined 18 months of police drug arrests for its report Sunday. The newspaper said the disparity comes despite national surveys that show blacks and whites use pot at about the same rate. The State Journal also noted that blacks in Madison make up more than half the people arrested or cited on marijuana charges, despite accounting for only about 7 percent of the city population.

Police Chief Mike Koval called the numbers evidence of racial disparities in the criminal justice system, and said he supports legalizing marijuana.

“The crusade on marijuana has been a palpable failure; an abject failure,” he said. “So let’s acknowledge the failure for what it is, and rededicate ourselves to … a better way to deal with people who have addictions.”

House Votes To Allow Marijuana-Related Banking

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA:  The House voted Wednesday in support of making it easier for banks to do business with legal pot shops and providers of medical marijuana.

The 236-186 vote rejected a move by Rep. John Fleming, R-La., to block the Treasury Department from implementing guidance it issued in February telling banks how to report on their dealings with marijuana-related businesses without running afoul of federal money-laundering laws.

Marijuana dealing is still against federal law so banks who do business with marijuana dispensaries could be accused of helping them launder their money. Federal money laundering convictions can mean decades in prison.

The Treasury guidance was intended to give banks confidence that they can deal with marijuana businesses in states where they’re legal. Many banks are still reluctant to do so.


Odds are increasing that D.C. Will Vote On Legalizing Marijuana — Despite Congress

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: Sixteen years ago, D.C. activists gathered signatures to let voters decide if the District should be among the first in the nation to legalize medical marijuana. Then Congress stepped in, and city officials were not even allowed to count the ballots that voters had cast.

Inside a rented house in Northwest Washington, behind a shaggy bear skin rug strung up as a makeshift curtain and amid rollaway beds set up for signature gatherers who have come from as far away as California and Colorado, there’s growing anxiety that history is about to repeat itself.

Organizers for Initiative 71, a measure that would fully legalize possession of marijuana in the District, plan to announce this week that they are closing in on 60,000 signatures — a comfortable buffer over the 22,600 needed to ensure the measure qualifies for the November ballot.

Having voters decide if the city should follow Colorado and Washington state in legalizing marijuana seemed – at least until last week – like a logical progression in the District.

House Committee Passes ‘Rider’ To Halt Marijuana Decriminalization In D.C.

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA:  A Republican-led congressional committee voted Wednesday to block implementation of legislation that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in the nation’s capital.

The move came in the form of an amendment to a major spending bill and was sponsored by Rep. Andy Harris, Maryland Republican, who argued that marijuana use can negatively affect the brain development of children.

“Congress has the authority to stop irresponsible actions by local officials, and I am glad we did for the health and safety of children throughout the District,” said Mr. Harris, a doctor representing Maryland’s Eastern Shore. “When I became a physician, I took an oath to do no harm, and decriminalizing marijuana will harm D.C. residents, especially youth.”

Mr. Harris also argued that the city’s law was poorly crafted, saying a similar law passed this year decriminalizing marijuana in Maryland included provisions that refer teen violators for drug treatment and include progressively more serious penalties for repeat offenders.


Marijuana Industry Delegation’s Pitch On Legalized Pot: It’s Just Good Business

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA:  The delegation from the National Cannabis Industry Association made a point of dressing well for its day on Capitol Hill, sporting mostly dark suits, lots of ties and plenty of the group’s signature lapel pins, which feature a sun rising over vibrant fields of marijuana.

Marijuana advocates have come to lobby Washington before, often to argue for more lenient treatment under federal law. But on Thursday, buoyed by a flurry of state decisions that have expanded the legal use of marijuana, the cannabis crowd came less as social activists than as entrepreneurs, asking Congress to remove some of the obstacles that stand in the way of their fledgling businesses.

They met with staff members to ask for changes to the tax code, which prohibits the businesses from taking standard deductions for expenses. And they huddled in congressional offices to make the case for other changes that would encourage banks to work with legal cannabis businesses.


Washington Post’s View: Marijuana Likely To Be Decriminalized In D.C.

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: Before long, smoking a joint in the nation’s capital might get you in even less trouble than parking on the wrong side of the street on street-cleaning day.

Ten of 13 members of the D.C. Council and Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) have endorsed a plan to make small-time marijuana possession a civil rather than a criminal offense. [Read more…]