Votes Signal Growing Support In Congress For Legalized Marijuana Protections

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA:  Congress‘ openness toward marijuana use continues to grow, with the House voting Wednesday to prevent the Justice Department from meddling in states that allow medicinal use of the drug and signaling growing support for even broader protections of legalized pot.

The chamber voted to lay off medical marijuana, 242-186, for the second year in a row, and a bid to stop meddling in states that allow recreational use fell shy of a majority. Both votes showed support has grown.

The House voted amid debate on the Justice Department’s annual spending bill, which controls federal law enforcement.

Marijuana legalization advocates said the level of support indicates that the time has come for broader consideration of rewriting drug policy.

Two California Lawmakers Challenge Justice Department On Medical Marijuana

CALIFORNIA:  Two members of Congress from California who were authors of an amendment blocking the Justice Department from interfering with state medical marijuana laws are disputing Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr.’s narrow interpretation of the provision.

The Justice Department said last week that the bipartisan legislation to protect legal medical marijuana laws did not restrict federal prosecution of individuals or organizations that sell pot.

“As the authors of the provision in question, we write to inform you that this interpretation of our amendment is emphatically wrong,” the two lawmakers told Holder.


New Law Could Affect Criminal Sentences In Marijuana Cases

CALIFORNIA:  In a sharp reversal of federal drug policy, Congress has prohibited the Justice Department from interfering with laws in California and other states that allow the medical use of marijuana. And the turnabout caught the immediate attention of federal judges, who want to know its impact on some recent criminal convictions under the federal law that classifies pot as one of the most dangerous drugs.

A day after President Obama signed the new law last week as part of a government spending bill, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer of San Francisco asked a federal prosecutor whether the change would affect the sentencing of a Mendocino County pot grower, who pleaded guilty to charges requiring at least five years in prison.

Not at all, replied Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Barry, because defendant Matthew Graves “was not growing (his crop) for patients. … He was growing it for money.”

But Breyer wouldn’t take Barry’s word for it, and rescheduled the sentencing for February.

Obama’s Nominee For A Top DOJ Slot Has Said States Should Legalize Marijuana

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA:  The Post’s Sari Horwitz reports that Obama intends to nominate Vanita Gupta, currently director of the ACLU’s Center for Justice, to lead the civil rights division of the Justice Department. Gupta also currently leads the ACLU’s National Campaign to End Mass Incarceration. Horwitz writes:

Gupta, 39, who was born in the Philadelphia area to immigrant parents, has been praised by a wide array of political activists for her civil rights work, especially on prison reform, an issue on which liberals and conservatives have found common ground.

Given her background, the move to the civil rights division is in many ways a natural one. And interestingly, much of her interest in disparities reflects concern over racial disparities in the war on drugs.

Gupta has been an outspoken opponent of mandatory minimum sentencing laws, particularly their application in drug offenses. Last month, she penned an op-ed for CNN centered around a man sentenced to life in prison for buying marijuana.


Justice Department To Clarify Bank – Marijuana Company Transaction Rules

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: The Justice Department is drafting legal guidance to help clarify how the banking industry can do business with newly legal marijuana businesses in states such as Colorado, according to people familiar with the matter.

The planned legal memo won’t draw clear lines about what banks can and can’t do, but will instead emphasize that prosecutors’ priorities are to go after businesses that use local, retail marijuana sales as part of a larger criminal activity, such as diverting pot to states where it is still illegal, use the proceeds of such sales to fund illegal activity, or use the pot business as cover for other illegal activity, according to a person familiar with the draft. The person cautioned the language of the document is still being revised and could take weeks or months until it is finalized. [Read more…]

The News Tribune Opinion: From Justice, a serious approach to legal pot

WASHINGTON: After taking its own sweet time — almost 10 months — to respond to initiatives that legalized marijuana in Washington and Colorado, the Obama administration finally got it right. [Read more…]

With Holder In The Lead, Sentencing Reform Gains Momentum

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: Sit down with the attorney general to ask him about his priorities, as NPR did earlier this year, and he’ll talk about voting rights and national security. But if you listen a bit longer, Eric Holder gets to this: “I think there are too many people in jail for too long and for not necessarily good reasons.” [Read more…]