Tag: trump administration

Sessions Rescinds Cole Memo, Which Protected State-Legal Cannabis From Feds

Editor’s note: This story will be updated throughout the day Thursday following reports that US Attorney Jeff Sessions is rescinding the Cole memo, an Obama-era policy that protected state-legal medical cannabis from interference by federal law enforcement.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is rescinding the Cole memo, an Obama-era policy that had paved the way for legalized marijuana to flourish in states across the country, two people with knowledge of the decision told The Associated Press. Sessions will instead let federal prosecutors where cannabis is legal decide how aggressively to enforce federal marijuana law, the people said.

The people familiar with the plan spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it before an announcement expected Thursday.

Trump’s personal views on marijuana remain largely unknown.

The move by President Donald Trump’s attorney general likely will add to confusion about whether it’s OK to grow, buy or use marijuana in states where cannabis is legal, since long-standing federal law prohibits it. It comes days after adult-use cannabis shops opened in California, launching what is expected to become the world’s largest market for legal recreational marijuana and as polls show a solid majority of Americans believe the drug should be legal.

While Sessions has been carrying out a Justice Department agenda that follows Trump’s top priorities on such issues as immigration and opioids, the changes to policy reflect his own concerns. Trump’s personal views on marijuana remain largely unknown.

Sessions, who has assailed marijuana as comparable to heroin and has blamed it for spikes in violence, had been expected to ramp up enforcement. Cannabis advocates argue that legalizing the drug eliminates the need for a black market and would likely reduce violence, since criminals would no longer control the marijuana trade.

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The Obama administration in 2013 announced it would not stand in the way of states that legalize marijuana, so long as officials acted to keep it from migrating to places where it remained outlawed and out of the hands of criminal gangs and children. Sessions is rescinding that memo, written by then-Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole, which had cleared up some of the uncertainty about how the federal government would respond as states began allowing sales for recreational and medical purposes.

The cannabis business has since become a sophisticated, multimillion-dollar industry that helps fund schools, educational programs and law enforcement. Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use, and California’s sales alone are projected to bring in $1 billion annually in tax revenue within several years.

Sessions’ policy will let U.S. attorneys across the country decide what kinds of federal resources to devote to marijuana enforcement based on what they see as priorities in their districts, the people familiar with the decision said.

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Sessions and some law enforcement officials in states such as Colorado blame legalization for a number of problems, including drug traffickers that have taken advantage of lax marijuana laws to hide in plain sight, illegally growing and shipping the drug across state lines, where it can sell for much more. The decision was a win for legalization opponents who had been urging Sessions to take action.

“There is no more safe haven with regard to the federal government and marijuana, but it’s also the beginning of the story and not the end,” said Kevin Sabet, president and CEO of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, who was among several anti-marijuana advocates who met with Sessions last month. “This is a victory. It’s going to dry up a lot of the institutional investment that has gone toward marijuana in the last five years.”

Threats of a federal crackdown have united liberals who object to the human costs of a war on cannabis with conservatives who see it as a states’ rights issue. Some in law enforcement support a tougher approach, but a bipartisan group of senators in March urged Sessions to uphold existing marijuana policy. Others in Congress have been seeking ways to protect and promote legal cannabis businesses.

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Jeff Sessions Leaves the Cole Memo Intact, For Now

Marijuana advocates quickly condemned Sessions’ move as a return to outdated drug-war policies that unduly affected minorities.

Sessions “wants to maintain a system that has led to tremendous injustice … and that has wasted federal resources on a huge scale,” said Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “If Sessions thinks that makes sense in terms of prosecutorial priorities, he is in a very bizarre ideological state, or a deeply problematic one.”

A task force Sessions convened to study cannabis policy made no recommendations for upending the legal industry but instead encouraged Justice Department officials to keep reviewing the Obama administration’s more hands-off approach to marijuana enforcement, something Sessions promised to do since he took office.

The change also reflects yet another way in which Sessions, who served as a federal prosecutor at the height of the drug war in Mobile, Alabama, has reversed Obama-era criminal justice policies that aimed to ease overcrowding in federal prisons and contributed to a rethinking of how drug criminals were prosecuted and sentenced. While his Democratic predecessor Eric Holder told federal prosecutors to avoid seeking long mandatory minimum sentences when charging certain lower level drug offenders, for example, Sessions issued an order demanding the opposite, telling them to pursue the most serious charges possible against most suspects.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Bush-Era Attorney General Cautions Against Cannabis Crackdown

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions has far more important things to do than crack down on state-legal cannabis, the US attorney general under President George W. Bush told Newsweek in recent interview.

“We’ve got other priorities we ought to be spending our resources on.”

Alberto Gonzales, former US attorney general

“With respect to everything else going on in the US, this is pretty low-priority,” former US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said, adding that because the Department of Justice has limited enforcement resources, prioritization is essential.

“To prosecute an act that is otherwise lawful under state law,” he continued, “one could make the argument [that] as a matter of policy, we’ve got other priorities we ought to be spending our resources on.”

While Sessions has yet to take action to dismantle legal cannabis programs in 29 US states and the District of Columbia, he’s repeatedly lashed out at both medical and adult-use legalization.

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Late last month, for example, he doubled-down on the false claim that cannabis is largely responsible for the current opioid crisis. “When you talk to police chiefs, consistently they say much of the addiction starts with marijuana. It’s not a harmless drug,” he said. “We’ve got to re-establish, first, a view that you should just say no.”

It was a startling claim, especially given that his immediate predecessor, Obama-era AG Loretta Lynch, said most opioid addiction affects “individuals that started out with a prescription drug problem, and then because they need more and more, they turn to heroin.”

“It isn’t so much marijuana is the step right before using prescription drugs or opioids,” she said.

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For his part, Gonzales has long been a personal supporter of state-legal cannabis. Asked by CNN in late 2012 about federal prohibition of cannabis, he said, “I personally believe it’s a mistake.”

“Being a former state official of Texas,” he added, “I certainly believe in the rights of states to make these kinds of decisions for their own people.”

Sessions has yet to come down hard on state-legal cannabis despite his sharp criticism of legalization. His office is currently reviewing the Cole memo, a Department of Justice guidance document that sets a policy of noninterference with state-legal cannabis markets.

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One thing worth keeping in mind: Sessions doesn’t necessarily have the final say. As Gonzales told Newsweek, “What people often fail to understand or appreciate is that the attorney general works for the president.”

This could help explain why Sessions so far has been ranting against legal cannabis rather than filing legal actions against it. Trump may simply have Sessions on a short leash. After all, it’s not entirely clear where the president stands on legalization (he’s made conflicting statements) and, besides Sessions, his administration has been largely silent on cannabis. Trump, unlike Sessions, seems to share Gonzales’ view that the country has bigger fish to fry.

It’s also hard to justify a crackdown at a time when the bulk of Americans are against it. Nearly three-quarters of Americans opposed a federal crackdown in a recent survey—and 94% supported medical cannabis.

“The optics just aren’t very good, quite frankly,” Gonzales said.

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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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.