Tag: trump administration

Maine Lawmakers Can Save the State’s Marijuana Law

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Maine lawmakers are returning to Augusta on Monday following Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of a bill to regulate and tax the sale of marijuana.

A two-thirds vote of lawmakers present Monday evening will determine whether or not the veto stands. The bill that establishes rules for the retail sale of recreational marijuana was previously approved with a veto-proof, two-thirds majority in the Senate, but not in the House.

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LePage urged lawmakers to go back to the drawing board. He has cited concerns including how the Trump administration is going to treat the federal-state conflict in the proposal.

“If we keep delaying it, the grey market is going to get entrenched.”

Eddie DuGay , medical marijuana consultant

LePage has also said he’d need assurances from the Trump administration before establishing a new industry and regulations. Proponents of legal cannabis, which passed a public referendum a year ago, say it’s time to put a regulatory structure in place.

“If we don’t stem the tide of all the grey market going on in the state, we keep delaying it, the grey market is going to get entrenched,” said Eddie DuGay, a medical marijuana consultant.

Nov. 3 was the last day for LePage to veto bills to regulate the sale of cannabis, and he did.

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Maine Lawmakers Address Key Issues on Adult-Use Cannabis

The House and Senate had approved a cannabis bill in October after it was proposed by a bipartisan legislative panel. Panel members spent months rewriting the law to allow local communities to opt-in to recreational marijuana sales. Other changes included adding an excise tax to the existing 10 percent sales tax on recreational cannabis.

House Republican Leader Rep. Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, said on Monday that the Legislature also needs to focus on extending the current moratorium on sales of recreational marijuana. The moratorium is set to expire on Feb. 1, 2018, and Fredette said there’s no way all of the necessary rules will be in place by then.

He has tried unsuccessfully to extend the moratorium to July 1, 2018, or Jan. 1, 2019.

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“Regardless of what action the Maine Legislature takes today regarding recreational marijuana, it’s simply not realistic to think that the necessary rules will be in place by February 1,” Fredette said. “The Legislature needs to do the responsible thing and extend this moratorium today or as soon as we return for the new session beginning in January.”

‘I Spent the Next Day and a Half in Bed’: The Week in Cannabis Quotes

This week, we hear from a bevy of celebrities about cannabis, from long-time Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek trippin’ hard on some potent potables edibles, Larry Flint lashing out at the Trump administration, Bill Nye the Science Guy throwing shade at stoned ultimate frisbee players, and Woody Harrelson revealing which of his dinner companions was so narcissistic, he had to smoke a joint to get through the meal.

Plus, President Macron’s got a healthy nose, Chris Christie whinges about cannabis for the umpteenth time, and Singapore’s Home Affairs Minister is not impressed with Colorado’s legalization experiment. Here’s a roundup of quotes from the past week.

“Trump’s failure to mention Big Pharma is like attacking gambling and extortion rackets without mentioning the Mafia, or crystal meth without mentioning Mexican drug cartels. The President’s plan will address all of the symptoms, but not the root cause of the problem: Big Pharma’s greed and deception. Instead he’s letting his throwback attorney general wage war against the one cheap, totally safe alternative to these highly addictive and deadly drugs—cannabis. Oh, and guess which state has the highest rate of prescription opioid use in America: none other than Sessions’ own Alabama.”

– Hustler founder Larry Flynt, who issued a statement criticizing President Trump’s anemic declaration of a national opioid emergency while Attorney General Jeff Sessions continues to “[wage] federal war on states tha thave legalized marijuana for recreational consumption.” Flynt cited a study funded by the National Institutes of Health that showed legal medical marijuana states have experienced a reduction in opioid overdose deaths.

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“So, there are some of you who do not only smoke cigarettes, huh?”

– French President Emmanuel Macron, who detected the scent of cannabis in the air during his visit to French Guiana. He joked to the crowd, “I still have a nose,” and advised, “That will not help with your schoolwork.”

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Marijuana legalization will lead to more drug use, not less drug use, will lead to more death not less death, and the national institute of drug abuse has proven it. There is no reason, if I told you today that anything would make your child two and a half time more likely to be addicted to opioids, you would be getting them as far away from it as you possibly could.”

– New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who was the keynote speaker at an annual conference in Indiana that focuses on the state’s opioid and prescription drug crisis. Christie is famously anti-cannabis.

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“Colorado has chosen not to measure the outcomes of legalised marijuana, paying more attention to the commercialisation…People have referenced this as the grand experiment…and the only outcome they measure is the tax revenue, and that’s shameful and a disgrace.”

– Singapore’s Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam, speaking at a forum about combating drug use

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“Now when I played ultimate frisbee very seriously, these guys I would play with would get high and they sucked when they were high.”

– Bill Nye the Science Guy talking to Now This about the need to push for more cannabis research (while also citing poor ultimate frisbee skills as a negative effect of cannabis consumption). He admitted he doesn’t like cannabis or the smell of it but encourages those of us who do to “knock [our]selves out.”

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“It was brutal. It was brutal. Uh, I’d never met a more narcissistic man. He talked about himself the whole time…I had to walk out like halfway through, smoke a joint, just to, just to like, steel myself for the rest of the dinner. It was brutal.”

– Woody Harrelson recounting to Bill Maher about the time he had dinner with Donald Trump

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“I had just arrived in California and went to a friend’s house for dinner, and there were brownies. I love brownies—I’m a chocoholic—and I didn’t realize that they were hash brownies. And… whoa. That threw me for a loop. I took down about a half-dozen. The dinner party was on a Friday, and I was not able to leave that house until Sunday afternoon. I spent the next day and a half in bed. It was not a good trip, and I have not done any of that stuff since!”

Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek to The Daily Beast, in which he recounts the time he first arrived in California and attended a “swanky party at a friend’s house” that had some extremely potent edibles available for consumption

Trump Declares Opioid Health Emergency; Sessions Blames Cannabis

President Donald Trump on Thursday declared the opioid crisis a nationwide public health emergency — a step that won’t bring new dollars to fight a scourge that kills nearly 100 Americans a day, but will expand access to medical services in rural areas, among other changes.

“This epidemic is a national health emergency,” Trump said in a speech at the White House, where he bemoaned a crisis he said had spared no segment of American society.

“As Americans we cannot allow this to continue,” he said.

“If we can teach young people, and people generally, not to start, it’s really, really easy not to take ’em.”

President Donald Trump

Administration officials have made clear that the declaration, which lasts for 90 days and can be renewed, comes with no dedicated dollars. But they said it will allow them to use existing money to better fight the crisis. Officials also said they would urge Congress, during end-of-the year budget negotiations, to add new cash to a public health emergency fund that Congress hasn’t replenished for years.

The Public Health Emergency Fund currently contains just $57,000, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, a negligible amount. Officials would not disclose how much they were seeking.

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Sessions Blames Cannabis

Meanwhile, across town at a forum hosted by the Heritage Foundation, Attorney General Jeff Sessions pinned the blame on cannabis and advised Americans to heed the advice Nancy Reagan gave in the 1980s. Americans, he said, should “just say no” to drugs.  

“I do think this whole country needs to not be so lackadaisical about drugs,” Sessions said. “When you talk to police chiefs, consistently they say much of the addiction starts with marijuana. It’s not a harmless drug.”

“We’ve got to to reestablish, first, a view that you should just say no,” he said. “People should say no to drug use.”

Buzzfeed’s Dominic Holden reported on Sessions’s Heritage Foundation speech, which was scheduled to focus on Constitutional law. Holden pointed out that numerous studies found that the ‘Just Say No’ programs of the 1980s were abysmal failures. Holden writes:

Exposure to abstinence-based drug programs of the era such as D.A.R.E. — which also promoted the notion that students should simply say no — have been abandoned by many school districts amid reports the curriculum failed to reduce drug initiation or use.

A 1994 study by the Research Triangle Institute, which was funded in part by the Justice Department, found that the program had little to no impact on drug use. And in 2011, the National Institute of Justice rated D.A.R.E. as having “no effects,” adding that there was “no statistically significant impact on drug use or attitude towards drug” for students involved.

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Pelosi: All Talk, No Action

Critics of the White House policy complained that today’s action by Trump consisted of no action at all. 

Leading up to the announcement, Trump had said he wanted to give his administration the “power to do things that you can’t do right now.”

“How can you say it’s an emergency if we’re not going to put a new nickel in it?” said Dr. Joseph Parks, medical director of the nonprofit National Council for Behavioral Health, which advocates for addiction treatment providers. “As far as moving the money around,” he added, “that’s like robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi also was critical, calling the new declaration “words without the money.”

Trump’s audience Thursday included parents who have lost children to drug overdoses, people who have struggled with addiction, and first responders whose have used overdose reversal drugs to save lives. He also echoed Sessions’s back-to-the-80s advice: 

“The fact is, if we can teach young people, and people generally, not to start, it’s really, really easy not to take them,” the president said of drug use, after detailing his brother’s struggles with addiction. “And I think that’s going to end up being our most important thing. Really tough, really big, really great advertising. So we get to people before they start so they don’t have to go through the problems of what people are going through.”

“There is nothing desirable about drugs,” Trump added later. “They’re bad.”

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There’s an Ad Campaign?

Trump also spoke personally about his own family’s experience with addiction: His older brother, Fred Jr., died after struggling with alcoholism. It’s the reason the president does not drink.

Trump described his brother as a “great guy, best looking guy,” with a personality “much better than mine”

“But he had a problem, he had a problem with alcohol,” the president said. “I learned because of Fred.”

Trump said he hoped a massive advertising campaign, which sounded reminiscent of the 1980s “Just Say No” campaign, might have a similar impact.

“If we can teach young people, and people generally, not to start, it’s really, really easy not to take ’em,” he said.

Candidate Trump: Opioid Crisis a Priority

Leading up to the announcement, Trump had said he wanted to give his administration the “power to do things that you can’t do right now.” As a candidate, he had pledged to make fighting addiction a priority, and pressed the issue in some of the states hardest hit.

“When I won the New Hampshire primary, I promised the people of New Hampshire that I would stop drugs from pouring into your communities. I am now doubling down on that promise, and can guarantee you we will not only stop the drugs from pouring in, but we will help all of those people so seriously addicted get the assistance they need to unchain themselves,” Trump told a crowd in Maine weeks before last November’s election.

Once in office, Trump assembled a commission, led by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, to study the problem. The commission’s interim report argued an emergency declaration would free additional money and resources, but some in Trump’s administration disagreed.

Chris Christie: This Is ‘Bold Action’

Christie, in a statement, said Trump was taking “bold action” that shows “an unprecedented commitment to fighting this epidemic and placing the weight of the presidency behind saving lives across the country.”

Officials said the administration had considered a bolder emergency declaration, under the Stafford Act, which is typically used for natural disasters like hurricanes. But they decided that measure was better suited to more short-term, location-specific crises than the opioid problem. Drug overdoses of all kinds kill an estimated 142 Americans every day.

As a result of the public health emergency declaration, officials will be able to expand access to telemedicine services, include substance abuse treatment for people living in rural and remote areas. Officials will also be able to more easily deploy state and federal workers, secure Department of Labor grants for the unemployed, and shift funding for HIV and AIDs programs to provide more substance abuse treatment for people already eligible for those programs.

Obamacare Medicaid Pays for Treatment

Trump also directed other departments and agencies to exercise their own available emergency authorities to address the crisis.

But Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), said the effort falls far short of what is needed and will diverts staff and resources from other vital public health initiatives.

“Families in Connecticut suffering from the opioid epidemic deserve better than half measures and empty rhetoric offered seemingly as an afterthought,” he said in a statement. He argued, “An emergency of this magnitude must be met with sustained, robust funding and comprehensive treatment programs.”

Democrats also criticize Trump’s efforts to repeal and replace the “Obamacare” health law. Its Medicaid expansion has been crucial in confronting the opioid epidemic.

Adopted by 31 states, the Medicaid expansion provides coverage to low-income adults previously not eligible. Many are in their 20s and 30s, a demographic hit hard by the epidemic. Medicaid pays for detox and long-term treatment.

Sessions: ‘Do Our Best’ To Enforce Laws

Also today, Attorney General Jeff Sessions went on Hugh Hewitt’s conservative talk radio show to discuss a number of issues. Cannabis, of course, came up:

Hugh Hewitt: Let me turn to marijuana, Mr. Attorney General. A lot of states are just simply breaking the law. And a lot of money is being made and banked. One RICO prosecution of one producer and the banks that service them would shut this all down. Is such a prosecution going to happen?

Jeff Sessions: I don’t know that one prosecution would be quite as effective as that, but we, I do not believe that we should, I do not believe there’s any argument, because a state legalized marijuana that the federal law against marijuana is no longer in existence. I do believe that the federal laws clearly are in effect in all 50 states. And we will do our best to enforce the laws as we’re required to do so.

HH: But one prosecution that invokes a supremacy clause against one large dope manufacturing concern, and follows the money as it normally would in any drug operation and seizes it, would shut, would chill all of this. But I haven’t seen one in nine months, yet. Is one coming?

JS: Really analyze all those cases, and I can’t comment on the existence of an investigation at this time, Hugh, you know that, so, but I hear you. You’re making a suggestion. I hear it.

HH: I’m lobbying.

JS: (laughing) You’re lobbying.

Although a growing body of research suggests that medical marijuana is a powerful tool in preventing opioid addiction, lowering opioid dosages, and helping opioid-addicted patients move off the powerful painkillers, there was no mention of cannabis at today’s White House event.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

Tom Marino Out as Trump’s Drug Czar Nominee, Again

WASHINGTON (AP) — Rep. Tom Marino, President Donald Trump’s nominee to be the nation’s drug czar, is withdrawing from consideration following reports that he played a key role in weakening the federal government’s authority to stop companies from distributing opioids.

Marino “has informed me that he is withdrawing his name from consideration as drug czar,” Trump tweeted Tuesday. “Tom is a fine man and a great Congressman!”

Trump’s announcement comes a day after the president raised the possibility of nixing the nomination following reports by The Washington Post and CBS News. The reports detailed the Pennsylvania lawmaker’s involvement in crafting a 2016 law, signed by President Barack Obama, that weakened the Drug Enforcement Administration’s authority to curb opioid distribution.

Interviewed on Tuesday by Fox News Radio’s Brian Kilmeade, Trump said Marino told him that “if there’s even a perception that he has a conflict of interest … he doesn’t want anything to do with” the job. Trump did not say when he and the congressman spoke.

“He felt compelled. He feels very strongly about the opioid problem and the drug problem and Tom Marino said, ‘Look, I’ll take a pass,’” Trump added.

Trump had told reporters during a news conference in the White House Rose Garden on Monday that he will look “very closely” at the news reports. He added: “If I think it’s 1 percent negative to doing what we want to do, I will make a change,” he said.

Democrats had called on Trump to withdraw the nomination. Marino could not immediately be reached Tuesday for comment.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Marino’s decision was the “right decision.”

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, whose home state of West Virginia has been among the hardest-hit by the opioid epidemic, welcomed the news.

“We need a drug czar who has seen these devastating effects and who is passionate about ending this opioid epidemic,” Manchin said Tuesday.

Manchin had scolded the Obama administration for failing to “sound the alarm on how harmful that bill would be for our efforts to effectively fight the opioid epidemic,” which kills an estimated 142 people a day nationwide.

In a letter to Trump, Manchin called the opioid crisis “the biggest public health crisis since HIV/AIDS,” and said, “we need someone leading the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy who believes we must protect our people, not the pharmaceutical industry.”

60 Minutes Did Him In

The Washington Post and 60 Minutes reported Sunday that the drug industry worked behind the scenes with lobbyists and key members of Congress, including Marino, pouring more than a million dollars into their election campaigns. The major drug distributors prevailed upon the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Justice Department to agree to the industry-friendly law, which undermined efforts to restrict the flow of pain pills that have led to tens of thousands of deaths.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the bill’s lead Senate sponsor, defended the measure Monday, calling allegations that he or Marino “conspired” with drug companies “utterly ridiculous.” Hatch, a 40-year veteran of the Senate, said he was “no patsy” of the drug industry.

The language affecting DEA enforcement authority was suggested by DEA and the Justice Department, Hatch said, adding that the agencies could have tried to stop the bill at any time — or recommended that Obama veto the measure.

“Let’s not pretend that DEA, both houses of Congress and the Obama White House all somehow wilted under Representative Marino’s nefarious influences,” Hatch said.

A White House commission convened by Trump and led by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has called on Trump to declare a national emergency to help deal with the growing opioid crisis. An initial report from the commission in July noted that the approximate 142 deaths each day from drug overdoses mean the death toll is “equal to September 11th every three weeks.”

Trump has said he will officially declare the opioid crisis a “national emergency” but so far has not done so. He said Monday he will make the designation next week.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said Monday she will introduce legislation to repeal the 2016 law.

DEA Head Chuck Rosenberg Resigns. Now Who Takes Over?

The Washington Post and New York Times have reported that Chuck Rosenberg, acting head of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), will resign at the end of this week. The Times attributed Rosenberg’s departure to his growing conviction that President Trump “had little respect for the law.”

Rosenberg was no fan of cannabis. Two years ago he called medical marijuana ‘a joke.’

Rosenberg, who will step down on October 1, was a holdover from the Obama Administration. He’s been running the agency in an acting capacity since 2015, when he took over for then-DEA Administrator Michelle Leonhart. Leonhart resigned over her mishandling of a scandal involving DEA agents and prostitutes. Leonhart had also disagreed strongly with how President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder handled state-legal marijuana.

Rosenberg moved over to guide the DEA after serving as chief of staff to then-FBI Director James Comey. Comey was fired by President Trump earlier this year, and the action did nothing to improve the relationship between the President and his acting DEA administrator. When Trump suggested that police “please don’t be too nice” when handling criminal suspects, Rosenberg rejected his comments in an email sent to DEA employees. “We have an obligation to speak out when something is wrong,” he wrote.

Not a Fan of ‘Smoking the Leaf’

The DEA head was certainly no friend of the legal cannabis industry. Rosenberg once allowed that cannabis was “probably not” as dangerous as heroin, while also stating that “marijuana is not medicine.” In late 2015, several patient advocates called for his resignation after Rosenberg called medical marijuana “a joke.”

Here are a few of his further comments during that 2015 Q&A with reporters: “What really bothers me is the notion that marijuana is also medicinal — because it’s not. We can have an intellectually honest debate about whether we should legalize something that is bad and dangerous, but don’t call it medicine — that is a joke.” Rosenberg added: “There are pieces of marijuana — extracts or constituents or component parts — that have great promise. But if you talk about smoking the leaf of marijuana — which is what people are talking about when they talk about medicinal marijuana — it has never been shown to be safe or effective as a medicine.”

Eight months into his term, President Trump has yet to nominate a candidate to head the DEA. While Rosenberg’s presence in no way prevented the White House from doing so, his absence may put a bit more pressure on the administration to fill the post. The DEA is an agency of the Justice Department, which is overseen by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Colorado to Sessions: Cannabis Industry Working, Can Do Better

DENVER (AP) — Colorado’s legal marijuana industry is working — and can work better with federal collaboration, the state’s governor and Republican attorney general told U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a letter Thursday.

Gov. John Hickenlooper and Attorney General Cynthia Coffman urged Sessions to collaborate with recreational cannabis states on law enforcement and on providing the industry access to the federal banking system.

“We stand ready to work with our federal partners to fortify what we have built.”

The cannabis industry relies on cash because the federal government considers the drug illegal.

They told Sessions, who has floated the idea of a crackdown on marijuana legalization, that Colorado’s first-in-the-nation recreational industry is robust. The state has taken steps to crack down on black market sales, diversion to other states, and youth use, they said.

“Colorado’s system has become a model for other states and nations,” Hickenlooper and Coffman wrote. Voter-approved sales began in 2014.

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Sessions recently sent letters to the governors of Colorado, Alaska, Oregon and Washington — the first four states to legalize recreational marijuana — detailing his concerns with how effective state regulatory efforts are. All have defended their efforts.

Hickenlooper and Coffman addressed several of Sessions’ concerns:

—Diversion: They noted that Colorado has sophisticated seed-to-sale tracking, has capped individual plant cultivation, banned cannabis growing cooperatives and provided $6 million this year for local police actions targeting the black market.

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—Minors: They insisted that several surveys suggest marijuana consumption by youth has not increased since legalization — and that one federal report, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, suggests it has declined. Colorado has spent more than $22 million on education, they said.

—Motor vehicle fatalities: Hickenlooper and Coffman reported the number of drivers considered by the state’s highway patrol to be cannabis-impaired dropped by 21 percent over the first six months of 2017, compared to the same period last year.

“We stand ready to work with our federal partners to fortify what we have built,” they wrote.

Oregon Governor and Police Superintendent Slam Sessions’ Memo

Top Oregon officials this week lashed out at US Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recent attack on the state’s legal cannabis system, saying Sessions’ criticism relied on inaccurate data and drew conclusions that were flat-out wrong.

Sessions has sent memos to state officials in Washington, Colorado, Alaska, and Oregon identifying what his office claims are problems with the states’ legal cannabis systems, which operate in defiance of federal law. But in letters sent this month to Sessions, Gov. Kate Brown and Oregon State Police Superintendent Travis Hampton defended Oregon’s legal cannabis program, saying a police report that Sessions’ memo relied on contained numerous flaws.

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“The Oregon State Police determined that the draft report required significant additional work and revision because the data was inaccurate and heavily extrapolated conclusions were incorrect,” Brown wrote. “It is important to understand that this draft report does not (and frankly does not purport to), reflect ‘on the ground’ reality in Oregon in 2017.”

Earlier this month, state police Superintendent Travis Hampton wrote a letter to Sessions distancing his department from its own report. According to Oregon Live, the agency, which received federal money for an analyst to collect and examine cannabis data, “denounced the draft” when they learned the news organization had obtained a copy of it.

Hampton said that the data Sessions used was “not accurate, not validated and outdated,” Oregon Live reported.

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In his letter to Oregon officials, Sessions wrote that the state was still a major player in the country’s illegal cannabis market, with Oregon-grown cannabis being diverted elsewhere in the US. He also claimed that overall cannabis production in the state far outweighs demand, and he argued that hash oil manufacturing has fueled a rise in home explosions and other serious injuries.

Officials from other legal-cannabis states have also pushed back against Sessions’ claims. In Washington,  which Sessions also claimed has seen numerous explosions related to cannabis extraction, Gov. Jay Inslee and state Attorney General Bob Ferguson corrected Sessions’ claim that “in 2014 alone, 17 THC extraction labs exploded.”

The Washington officials replied: “In three years of legalization, no licensed extraction business has exploded. The incidents referred to in Sessions’ letter were black or gray market facilities, often using butane in an enclosed space rather than a lab.”

Speaking to the Seattle Times, Ferguson said of Sessions, “Honestly, it’s hard to take him seriously if he relies on such outdated information.”

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Oregon, Gov. Brown wrote to Sessions, has actually seen a number of benefits from the cannabis industry.

“Despite the concerns surrounding legalization of marijuana, there can be no denying that Oregon has benefited from this industry,” she wrote. “Oregon has already realized $60.2 million in revenue and created over 16,000 jobs for Oregonians. Tax revenue from the marijuana industry is used to fund schools, to provide mental health and drug treatment and to assist both state and local law enforcement.”

The governors of Oregon, Colorado, Washington and Alaska wrote to Sessions and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin in April, warning that altering the Cole memorandum, which restricts federal marijuana law enforcement in states where pot is legal, “would divert existing marijuana product into the black market and increase dangerous activity in both our states and our neighboring states.”

Sessions, however, then wrote to congressional leaders, opposing an amendment that prevents the Justice Department from using appropriated funds to interfere with states’ medical marijuana.

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Oregon Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer, who co-wrote the amendment with California Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, told The Associated Press recently that Congress is becoming more pro-marijuana, and that more legalization will tamp down the black market.

“The more that we go down the path of legalization, regulation and taxation, diversion becomes less and less of a problem,” Blumenauer said.

Brown told Sessions in her letter that Oregon’s medical and recreational marijuana industry has raised over $60.2 million in revenue and created over 16,000 jobs.

She said her staff looks forward to continuing its work with Session’s office and his representative in Oregon “to end black market marijuana operations, and to provide mutual education and support of our legal and regulated marketplace.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Governors of 2 Cannabis States Push Back on Trump Administration

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Governors in at least two states that have legalized recreational marijuana are pushing back against the Trump administration and defending their efforts to regulate the industry.

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, a one-time Republican no longer affiliated with a party, sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions this week asking the Department of Justice to maintain the Obama administration’s more hands-off enforcement approach to states that have legalized the drug still banned at the federal level.

“Given the diversity of public sentiment regarding marijuana throughout the country, marijuana regulation is an area where states should take the lead.”

Jahna Lindemuth, Attorney General of Alaska

It comes after Sessions sent responses recently to the governors of Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington, who asked him to allow the legalization experiments to continue in the first four states to legalize recreational marijuana. Sessions detailed concerns he had with how effective state regulatory efforts have been or will be.

Washington state also responded to Sessions this week. Gov. Jay Inslee said the attorney general made claims about the situation in Washington that are “outdated, incorrect, or based on incomplete information.”

“If we can engage in a more direct dialogue, we might avoid this sort of miscommunication and make progress on the issues that are important to both of us,” Inslee and that state’s attorney general wrote to Sessions.

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Since taking office, Sessions has promised to reconsider cannabis policy, providing a level of uncertainty for states that have legalized the drug. A task force assembled by Sessions encouraged continued study of whether to change or rescind the approach taken under former President Barack Obama.

In Alaska, Walker said he shared Sessions’ concerns about the dangers of drug abuse but said state rules for marijuana businesses address federal interests, including public health and safety concerns. The governor said Sessions cited a 2015 state drug report in raising questions about Alaska’s regulations but noted that the first retail shops didn’t open until late last year.

The state is taking “meaningful” steps to curb illegal cannabis use, especially by those who are underage, Walker and state Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth wrote in the letter obtained through a public records request.

In a separate letter, Lindemuth was more pointed.

“Given the diversity of public sentiment regarding marijuana throughout the country, marijuana regulation is an area where states should take the lead,” she wrote.

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Alaska political leaders have long pushed back on issues where they think the federal government is overstepping its bounds. The state’s lone U.S. House member, Republican Rep. Don Young, said he’s never smoked pot but supports states’ rights.

The state voted on it, “and the federal government should stay out of it,” he told the AP last year.

The largest voting bloc in the state is not affiliated with a political party, though President Donald Trump won with just over 50 percent of the vote last fall. Voters in 2014 approved recreational marijuana, with about 53 percent support.

Cannabis States Try to Curb Smuggling, Fend off Administration

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Well before Oregon legalized marijuana, its verdant, wet forests made it an ideal place for growing the drug, which often ended up being funneled out of the state for big money. Now, officials suspect cannabis grown legally in Oregon and other states is also being smuggled out, and the trafficking is putting America’s multibillion-dollar marijuana industry at risk.

In response, pot-legal states are trying to clamp down on “diversion” even as U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions presses for enforcement of federal laws against marijuana.

Tracking legal cannabis from the fields and greenhouses where it’s grown to the shops where it’s sold under names like Blueberry Kush and Chernobyl is their so far main protective measure.

In Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown recently signed into law a requirement that state regulators track from seed to store all marijuana grown for sale in Oregon’s legal market. So far, only recreational marijuana has been comprehensively tracked. Tina Kotek, speaker of the Oregon House, said lawmakers wanted to ensure “we’re protecting the new industry that we’re supporting here.”

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“There was a real recognition that things could be changing in D.C.,” she said.

The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board says it’s replacing its current tracking Nov. 1 with a “highly secure, reliable, scalable and flexible system.”

California voters approved using a tracking system run by Lakeland, Florida-based Franwell for its recreational cannabis market. Sales become legal Jan. 1.

Franwell also tracks marijuana, using bar-code and radio frequency identification labels on packaging and plants, in Colorado, Oregon, Maryland, Alaska and Michigan.

“The tracking system is the most important tool a state has,” said Michael Crabtree, who runs Denver-based Nationwide Compliance Specialists Inc., which helps tax collectors track elusive, cash-heavy industries like the marijuana business.

But the systems aren’t fool-proof. They rely on the users’ honesty, he said.

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“We have seen numerous examples of people ‘forgetting’ to tag plants,” Crabtree said. Colorado’s tracking also doesn’t apply to home-grown plants and many noncommercial marijuana caregivers.

In California, implementing a “fully operational, legal market” could take years, said state Sen. Mike McGuire, who represents the “Emerald Triangle” region that’s estimated to produce 60 percent of America’s marijuana. But he’s confident tracking will help.

“In the first 24 months, we’re going to have a good idea who is in the regulated market and who is in black market,” McGuire said.

Oregon was the first state to decriminalize personal possession, in 1973. It legalized medical marijuana in 1998, and recreational use in 2014.

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Before that, Anthony Taylor hid his large cannabis crop from aerial surveillance under a forest canopy east of Portland, and tended it when there was barely enough light to see.

“In those days, marijuana was REALLY illegal,” said Taylor, now a licensed marijuana processor and lobbyist. “If you got caught growing the amounts we were growing, you were going to go to prison for a number of years.”

Taylor believes it’s easier to grow illegally now because authorities lack the resources to sniff out every operation. And growers who sell outside the state can earn thousands of dollars per pound, he said.

Still, it’s hard to say if cannabis smuggling has gotten worse in Oregon, or how much of the marijuana leaving the state filters out from the legal side.

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Chris Gibson, executive director of the federally funded Oregon-Idaho High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, said the distinction matters less than the fact that marijuana continues to leave Oregon on planes, trains and automobiles, and through the mail.

“None is supposed to leave, so it’s an issue,” Gibson told The Associated Press. “That should be a primary concern to state leadership.”

“Marijuana has left Oregon for decades. What’s different is that now we have better mechanisms to try to control it.”

US Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR)

On a recent morning, Billy Williams, the U.S. attorney in Oregon, sat at his desk in his office overlooking downtown Portland, a draft Oregon State Police report in front of him. Oregon produces between 132 tons (120 metric tons) and 900 tons (816 metric tons) more marijuana than what Oregonians can conceivably consume, the report said, using statistics from the legal industry and estimates of illicit grows. It identified Oregon as an “epicenter of cannabis production” and quoted an academic as saying three to five times the amount of cannabis that’s consumed in Oregon leaves the state.

Sessions himself cited the report in a July 24 letter to Oregon’s governor. In it, Sessions asked Brown to explain how Oregon would address the report’s “serious findings.”

Pete Gendron, a licensed marijuana grower who advised state regulators on compliance and enforcement, said the reports’ numbers are guesswork, and furthermore are outdated because they don’t take into account the marijuana now being sold in Oregon’s legal recreational market.

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A U.S. Justice Department task force recently said the Cole Memorandum , which restricts federal marijuana law enforcement in states where marijuana is legal, should be reevaluated to see if it should be changed.

The governors of Oregon, Colorado, Washington and Alaska — where both medical and recreational marijuana are legal — wrote to Sessions and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin in April, warning altering the memorandum “would divert existing marijuana product into the black market and increase dangerous activity in both our states and our neighboring states.”

But less than a month later, Sessions wrote to congressional leaders criticizing the federal government’s hands-off approach to medical marijuana, and citing a Colorado case in which a medical marijuana licensee shipped cannabis out of state.

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In his letter, Sessions opposed an amendment by Oregon Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer and California Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher that prevents the Justice Department from interfering with states’ medical marijuana. Congress is weighing renewing the amendment for the next fiscal year.

In a phone interview from Washington, Blumenauer said the attorney general is “out of step” with most members of Congress, who have become more supportive “of ending the failed prohibition on marijuana.”

“Marijuana has left Oregon for decades,” Blumenauer said. “What’s different is that now we have better mechanisms to try to control it.”

Taylor believes cannabis smuggling will continue because of the profit incentive, which will end only if the drug is legalized across America. U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, introduced a bill in Congress on Aug. 1 to do just that.

Judge Halts Feds’ Cannabis Case, Citing Rohrabacher-Blumenauer

Still need a reason to care about that obscure federal spending provision known as the Rohrabacher–Blumenauer amendment? Here’s one: The congressional measure, currently set to expire next month, may be the only thing keeping a pair of California cannabis growers out of prison.

Federal prosecutors filed criminal charges against the growers, Anthony Pisarski and Sonny Moore, after raiding their Humboldt County property in 2012. But during the evidentiary process, the two argued that their operation followed California law and thus should be protected from federal prosecution under Rohrabacher–Blumenauer.

A quick refresher: Formerly known as Rohrabacher–Farr, Rohrabacher–Blumenauer is an amendment to a federal appropriations bill that bars the Justice Department from using resources to prosecute state-legal cannabis. In August 2016, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals—which includes cannabis-legal states of California, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Arizona, Montana, and Hawaii—ruled that the provision also protects individual businesses that comply with state law.

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“If DOJ wishes to continue these prosecutions,” the court wrote in the 9th Circuit case, US v. McIntosh, “Appellants are entitled to evidentiary hearings to determine whether their conduct was completely authorized by state law.”

Which brings us back to the Humboldt growers. Following an evidentiary hearing, US District Judge Richard Seeborg determined that Pisarski and Moore were indeed compliant with state law. “Their conduct strictly complied with all conditions imposed by California law on the use, distribution, possession and cultivation of marijuana,” Seeborg wrote. Earlier this week, he halted the federal government’s case against the growers, citing McIntosh.

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The defense attorney for the pair, Beverly Hills-based Ronald Richards, told the LA Weekly that the decision was unusual—and may help other cannabis entities going forward. “This is the first time in my 23-year career I’ve had a case stopped because of an appropriations rider,” he said. “It opens the door for people not to get scared.

Tamar Todd, director of the Drug Policy Alliance’s office of legal affairs, told the Weekly that the court’s stay of the case “shows that you can prevail—defendants in federal court could have their prosecutions halted.”

“It’s very encouraging,” she added. “It gives a lot of teeth to Rohrabacher–Farr.”

But while the case is closed for now, the government could seek to reopen it. Judge Seeborg’s stay of the case could be undone if Congress fails to renew Rohrabacher–Blumenauer next month.

US Attorney Jeff Sessions, a strict anti-drug advocate, asked lawmakers in May to end the protection, calling it “unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the [Justice] Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime.” But in late July a Senate Committee OK’d the amendment, adopting it as part of an appropriations bill set for discussion next month.

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Crucially, Rohrabacher–Blumenauer in its current form protects only medical cannabis programs—it offers no protection for adult-use cannabis. A nonbinding Justice Department memo issued under the Obama administration says prosecutors won’t interfere with state cannabis systems, but Sessions has said his office is reviewing that guidance.

Sessions also recently sent letters to state officials in Washington, Colorado, and Oregon in what appears to be an effort to show those states’ systems are failing to adequately regulate cannabis markets. Some state officials have since pushed back, accusing the statistics of having been cherry-picked in a deliberate attempt to mislead.

“Honestly it’s hard to take him seriously if he relies on such outdated information,” Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson told the Seattle Times.

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One Colorado state senator went further.

“Jeff Sessions needs to keep his reefer madness paranoia in Washington DC and let us handle a decision we’ve made,” Sen. Michael Merrifield told a local ABC affiliate. “I think these numbers are exaggerated or pulled out of somebody’s hat.”