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GOP Congressman Warns of Mexican Marijuana Nukes

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

An Arizona Republican congressman has defended the notion of building a border wall by claiming it could prevent a nuclear weapon being smuggled into the United States concealed in a bale of marijuana.

Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) made the comments Wednesday in a discussion with CNN's Brianna Keilar about President Trump's proposed $21 billion border barrier.

"The reality, Brianna, is that we have to measure all of the costs, ancillary and otherwise, and make the best decision that we can. But I can suggest to you that there are national security implications here for a porous border. We sometimes used to make the point that if someone wanted to smuggle in a dangerous weapon, even a nuclear weapon, into America, how would they do it? And the suggestion was made, 'Well, we'll simply hide it in a bale of marijuana,'" Franks said.

"So the implications of a porous border have national security dimensions that are very significant and that bear a lot of conversation when we talk about costs," he said.

Franks pointed to no evidence of loose nuclear weapons floating around Mexico, nor did he explain why presumed nuke-smugglers would choose to try to hide their weapon in something the US Border Patrol is already looking for, as opposed to, say, a semi-trailer truck going through a port of entry with a load of legal commodities or a boat simply sailing into the Houston Ship Channel.

Still, the Mexican marijuana nuke threat is one that Franks has addressed before. As his website notes, he raised the specter of Hezbollah smuggling marijuana nukes into the US in a House floor speech back in 2012.

"Specifically imagine for a moment, Mr. Speaker, the scenario of Hezbollah, one of Iran's terrorist proxies, gaining possession of just two nuclear warheads and bringing them across the border into the United States concealed, say, in bales of marijuana," he said, "then transporting them into the heart of two different, crowded, unnamed cities. Then calling and telling the White House exactly when and where the first one will be detonated, and then following through 60 seconds later."

That's right: Hezbollah is going to attack us with nuclear bombs hidden inside bales of Mexican brick weed. You can't make this stuff up.

Here's Franks' exchange with Keilar, via CNN:

Chronicle AM: Trump Could Cut Drug Czar Office, Thousands Protest Duterte's Drug War, More... (2/20/17)

The drug czar's office could be on Trump's chopping block, asset forfeiture reform advances in two states, a Washington state legislator tries to sic the Justice Department on Seattle, and more.

Marijuana Policy

California Bill to Protect Kids From Weed Would Allow Cops to Inspect Pot Businesses. Assemblyman Adam Gray (D-Merced) has filed Assembly Bill 729, which he said is aimed at putting "safeguards in place" to keep marijuana out of the hands of children. Among its provisions are allowing law enforcement to enter and conduct inspections of pot businesses, requiring retailers to "maintain an unobstructed view for law enforcement into their establishment," and allowing underage sting operations aimed at retailers.

Colorado Bill Would Allow Home Delivery of Weed. A bill filed last week would allow for the home delivery of recreational and medical marijuana. Senate Bill 192 is modeled after Oregon's newly launched home delivery regulations. "This hopefully solves some of the problems as it relates to people concerned about marijuana DUIs or sick patients who don't have access to dispensaries," said lead cosponsor Rep. Jonathan Singer (D-Longmont).

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas House Approves Bill Banning Military Members from Becoming Registered Caregivers. The body approved House Bill 1451 last Thursday. Bill sponsor Rep. Douglas House (R-North Little Rock) said federal law prevents military members from acting in that capacity. The measure now goes to the Senate.

Arkansas Bill Would Ban Smoking Medical Marijuana. State Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway) last Thursday filed Senate Bill 357, which would make it illegal to consume medical marijuana by smoking it. The bill also removes a provision in the current law that bars landlords from prohibiting the use of non-smoked medical marijuana, leaving renters wondering if landlords will just bar any use of medical marijuana.

Kentucky Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. Freshman Rep. John Sims (D-Fleminsburg) has filed a medical marijuana bill, House Bill 411, which would give doctors the ability to recommend medical marijuana for patients. Sims said he saw the bill as a tool for reducing opioid addiction in his state.

Wyoming Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign Ends. Medical marijuana will not be on the ballot next year. Organizers of a signature-gathering campaign failed to hand in signatures to the secretary of state's office by the Valentine's Day deadline. Organizers said they will continue to fight to bring medical marijuana to the Cowboy State.

Asset Forfeiture

Federal Bill Would Use Seized Cartel Assets to Build Border Wall. Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) has filed House Resolution 1067, which would order the Justice Department to issue a report on Mexican drug trafficking organization profits and how the DOJ could "increase assets seized by such cartels" to build President Trump's promised border wall. He's even got a name for the bill that creates a nifty acronym: the "Build Up Illegal Line Defense With Assets Lawfully Lifted (BUILD WALL) Act of 2017.

Arizona Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Advances. A bill that would require prosecutors to set a higher evidentiary standard -- from "preponderance of the evidence" to "clear and convincing evidence" -- is advancing in the House. House Bill 2477 cleared the Federalism, Property Rights & Public Policy by a 9-0 vote last Tuesday, and passed the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee by the same margin last Wednesday.

North Dakota Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Advances. A bill that would end civil forfeiture in most cases has passed the House Judiciary Committee. House Bill 1170 now heads for a House floor vote.

Drug Policy

White House Could Cut Funding for Drug Czar's Office. The New York Times reported last Friday that the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) is on an Office of Management and Budget "hit list" of programs that could be eliminated to reduce federal spending.

Harm Reduction

Washington State Republican Asks Justice Department to Block Seattle Safe Injection Sites. State Sen. Mark Miiloscia (R-Federal Way) has sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions asking him to block Seattle and King County from opening supervised injection sites for drug users. An avowed opponent of the harm reduction measure, Miloscia has already authored a bill in the legislature to block it.

International

More Than a Dozen Dead in Mexico Border Town Shoot-Outs. More prohibition-related violence broke out in Reynosa over the weekend, with at least 13 people killed in gun battles between cartel members and in fighting between authorities and the cartels.

Thousands March in Manila Against Duterte's Drug War. Thousands of Filipino Catholics gathered in Manila Sunday in a "show of force" to protest extrajudicial killings carried out in the name of President Rodrigo Duterte's drug war. Organizers estimated the crowd at 20,000, the largest rally yet against the mass killings.

Chronicle AM: AL Bill Has Mandatory Life w/o Parole for Possessing Ounce of Fentanyl, More... (2/17/17)

The Alabama legislature ponders harsh drug sentences not seen since the last century, decriminalization is picking up some support in Texas, China announces scheduling controls on fentanyl, and more.

An Alabama bill would make possession of as little as an ounce of fentanyl a mandatory life sentence without parole.
Marijuana Policy

Cannabis, Drug Policy Reform Advocates Commend Congressional Members on Formation of Congressional Cannabis Caucus. In a joint statement Thursday, major marijuana and drug reform groups commended congress members for forming the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, led by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO), and Don Young (R-AK). After commending the representatives, the joint statement noted that "the establishment of a Cannabis Caucus will allow members from both parties, who represent diverse constituencies from around the country, to join together for the purpose of advancing sensible cannabis policy reform. It will also facilitate efforts to ease the tension between federal prohibition laws and state laws that regulate cannabis for medical and adult use."

Texas Decriminalization Bill Picks Up Some Support. Law enforcement officials joined House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee Chairman Joe Moody (D-El Paso) at the capitol Thursday to express support for a measure to decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of weed, House Bill 81. The bill is currently before the committee. Harris County, the state's most populous, just announced plans to institute decriminalization there.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Senate Passes Medical Marijuana Bill, But Advocates Say It's a Step Backwards. The Senate Thursday approved Senate Bill 16, but advocates said it was a retreat because it lowers the amount of allowable THC in cannabis oil from 7% to 3%. Some senators wanted to reduce it to 1%. The bill now goes to the House, where Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon), who wrote the original CBD bill, said he hopes to rewrite it to restore the 7% figure.

Utah Medical Marijuana Research Bill Wins Committee Vote. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee voted Thursday to approve House Bill130, which would allow universities in the state to do research on the medicinal effects of marijuana. The bill has already passed the House and now awaits a Senate floor vote.

Hemp

Arizona Industrial Hemp Bill Advances. A bill that would legalize the production and processing of industrial hemp has passed two key committees. Senate Bill 1337 passed the Public Safety Committee on a 6-1 vote Monday and the Appropriations Committee Tuesday on a 10-0 vote. It still needs to go before the Senate Rules Committee before it heads for a floor vote.

Asset Forfeiture

North Dakota Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Advances. The House Judiciary Committee approved House Bill 1170 on an 11-4 vote Thursday. The bill would require a criminal conviction before property could be seized in most situations and bans prosecutors from circumventing state law by handing cases off to the federal government. The measure now heads for a House floor vote.

Sentencing

Alabama Bills Would Increase Heroin, Fentanyl Sentences. Under bills currently before the state legislature, prison sentences would go up for people who possess or sell heroin and fentanyl. Under one bill, anyone convicted of their possession would face mandatory prison sentences, and under another, Senate Bill 154, people possessing as little as one ounce of fentanyl would face a mandatory sentence of life without parole. The state instituted sentencing reforms several years back; some legislators worry these bills would undo those efforts.

International

China Announces Scheduling Controls of Carfentanil and other Fentanyl Compounds. China announced Thursday that it will begin scheduling controls of four fentanyl-class substances -- carfentanil, furanyl fentanyl, valeryl fentanyl, and acryl fentanyl -- beginning March 1. Chinese pharmaceutical factories have been identified as major producers of the synthetic opioids, which are linked to thousands of drug overdose deaths in the US.

Chronicle AM: House Passes Unemployment Drug Test Bill, Houston Decriminalizes, More... (2/16/17)

The House approves a bill that could open the door to states drug testing people seeking unemployment benefits, harsh sentencing bills advance in Ohio and Kentucky, Houston decriminalizes marijuana possession (in most cases), and more.

The House has approved a bill that would allow states to expand drug testing of people seeking unemployment benefits. (wikimedia
Marijuana Policy

Arizona PAC Plans to File 2018 Legalization Initiative. A political action committee called Safer Arizona was set to file a marijuana legalization initiative with state officials Thursday. Arizona voters narrowly devoted a similar measure last year, but organizers say this one will have some differences, including requiring that people be at least 21 before they can buy it. They will have to gather 150,000 valid voter signatures by July to qualify for the 2018 ballot.

Guam Legalization Bill Gets Hearing. In a hearing Tuesday on a marijuana legalization measure, Bill 8-34, representatives of the judiciary said they took no position on the bill, but cautioned that implementing legalization would require a review of the island territory's entire criminal code. Guam Customs and Quarantine acting chief, Maj. Phillip Taijeron also testified, saying he supported the will of the people. "If the will of the people is to enact Bill 8-34, then I am in support of Bill 8-34," Taijeron said.

New York State Assembly Passes Landmark Legislation to Seal Past Marijuana Possession Convictions. The Assembly voted Tuesday in favor of Assembly Bill 2142, which would seal the criminal records of people who have been unjustly and unconstitutionally arrested for simple possession of marijuana in public view. The vote was 95 in favor and 38 opposed.This sealing legislation has taken on increased importance amid the Trump Administration’s rhetoric and actions targeting immigrant communities. On the national level, simple marijuana possession is the fourth most common cause of deportation, according to the report "Secure Communities and ICE Deportations: A Failed Program?" Sealing records will provide a measure of protection for immigrants by making it difficult or impossible for immigration authorities to meet their legal burden of proof for a judge to find a lawful permanent resident deportable. Additionally, sealing will guard against the Trump administration's Executive Order targeting noncitizens with any criminal arrests and/or convictions for deportation. If the arrest is also sealed and the sealed information is not shared with the FBI, these individuals may be at lower risk of becoming an enforcement target.

Houston to Decriminalize Marijuana Possession. The nation's fourth largest city is ready to decriminalize small-time marijuana possession. As of March 1, under a new "Misdemeanor Marijuana Diversion Program," in most circumstances people caught with an ounce or less will face no jail, no tickets, no court appearances and no criminal record. Houston and surrounding Harris County have spent $200 million prosecuting 100,000 pot possession cases in the past decade, with "no tangible public safety benefit," said District Attorney Kim Ogg (D), who took office this year.

Medical Marijuana

Indiana Senate Passes Limited CBD Bill. A measure that would allow people with epilepsy to use low-THC cannabidiol oil passed the Senate Tuesday. The measure, Senate Bill 15, now moves to the House.

Virginia Republicans Kill CBD Expansion Bill. Patient advocates burst into tears Wednesday night as six House Republicans voted to kill a major expansion of the state's CBD law, which limited its use to people with epilepsy. Senate Bill 1298 would have expanded the law to allow its use for treatment for 13 more conditions, but the bill was killed by a 5-6 party line vote in the subcommittee that writes criminal law.

Asset Forfeiture

Colorado Cops Lobby Hard, Defeat Asset Forfeiture Reform. A proposal to expand oversight of police seizures of property was defeated in a party line vote in a Senate committee Wednesday, with Republicans casting all the "no" votes. The measure, Senate Bill 17-136, would also have prevented law enforcement agencies from turning property over to the federal government to get around state restrictions unless the property was worth more than $50,000. The vote came after a parade of law enforcement officers testified against the bill.

Drug Testing

House Approves Measure Aimed at Expanding Drug Testing of People Who File for Unemployment Assistance. The House approved H.J. Res 42, which would repeal a recently finalized Department of Labor rule that interpreted a 2012 federal law that permits states to drug test people who file for unemployment insurance in certain circumstances. Advocates see the repeal of the Department of Labor rule as a first step by some Republicans in Congress at undoing federal restrictions on states conditioning receipt of unemployment and other forms of public assistance on a drug test. The measure now goes before the Senate.

Sentencing

Kentucky Senate Passes Bill Toughening Penalties for Heroin, Fentanyl Sales. The Senate voted unanimously Thursday to approve a bill increasing penalties for people trafficking even the smallest amounts of heroin and fentanyl. The measure, Senate Bill 14, rolls back sentencing reforms enacted in 2011. Under those reforms, trafficking less than House Bill 4, which reverses a state Supreme Court ruling that only the weight of actual cocaine -- not filler -- be used when imposing stiffer sentences for possession and trafficking. Under the bill, prosecutors would be able to sentence defendants based on the weight of the entire mixture. Under the bill, a pound of powder that contained only a gram of cocaine would be considered a pound of cocaine for sentencing purposes. The bill now moves to the Senate.

Medical Marijuana Update

It's all red state medical marijuana news this week, reflecting the slow spread of acceptance to even the most conservative corners of the country.

Arkansas

Last Wednesday, a batch of medical marijuana "fix" bills were moving. Six medical marijuana-related bills moved out of committees to face floor votes in their respective chambers. The House Rules Committee advanced five bills, while the Senate Education Committee advanced one bill. More bills are still in committee. Many of the bills deal with technical "fixes," but some of them would alter the way the program is intended to work. Click on the link for a complete rundown on the bills.

On Monday, two of the bills passed the House. The House voted to approve two bills authored by Rep. Doug House (R-North Little Rock). They are House Bill 1371, which requires that Arkansans hold 60% ownership interest in pot businesses in the state, and House Bill 1298, which requires that persons, not corporations, hold the licenses. The bills now head to the Senate.

Kansas

Last Wednesday, a medical marijuana bill was filed. State Sen. David Haley (D-Kansas City) has filed Senate Bill 155, which would allow patients with specified diseases or conditions to grow and possess medical marijuana, or have a caregiver grow it for them. The bill also envisions the creation of state regulated and taxed "compassion centers" or dispensaries.

Oklahoma

Last Friday, a medical marijuana bill was filed. State Rep. Eric Proctor (D-Tulsa) has filed a medical marijuana measure, House Bill 1877. The bill would allow the use of medical marijuana for a list of specified illnesses and conditions and is modeled on the successful medical marijuana initiative passed next door in Arkansas in November.

South Dakota

On Tuesday, a CBD bill advanced. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted to approve Senate Bill 95, which would reschedule CBD as a Class 4 drug in the state and remove it from the definition of marijuana under state law. The bill would legalize the possession and use of CBD, but only upon approval by the FDA. That requirement was added in committee.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Chronicle AM: House GOP Wants to Drug Test for Unemployment Benefits, More... (2/15/17)

Vermont's GOP governor throws up an obstacle to marijuana legalization, the House GOP is set to vote to force unemployed workers to take drug tests before receiving their earned benefits, the rightist mayor of South America's largest city turns his back on harm reduction, and more.

House Republicans want laid off workers to have to undergo suspicionless drug tests before receiving their earned benefits.
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Bill Would Limit Pipe, Bong Sales to Pot Shops. Minority whip Rep. Jodi Hack (R-East Salem) has filed a bill that would only allow pot paraphernalia to be sold a licensed marijuana shops. Hack said the measure, House Bill 2556, was aimed at stopping minors from buying the stuff at gas stations, minimarts, and tobacco shops. But smoke shop operators and other retailers are vowing a fight.

Vermont Governor Demands Tough Driving Provisions Before He Will Support Legalization. Gov. Phil Scott (R) says he will not support a legalization bill before the legislature unless it has provisions allowing police to determine is someone is driving while impaired. "Certainly it's still problematic from the standpoint of public safety," said Scott. "I want to make sure that we address those concerns I talked about on the campaign trail in terms of impairment on our highways." He also acknowledged that current tests don't provide clear evidence of impairment, but used that uncertainty to say Vermont should wait and see how other states deal with the issue.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Medical Marijuana "Fix" Bills Advance. The House voted Monday to approve two bills aimed at tidying up the state's new medical marijuana law. The measures, both authored by Rep. Doug House (R-North Little Rock) are House Bill 1371, which requires that Arkansans hold 60% ownership interest in pot businesses in the state, and House Bill 1298, which requires that persons, not corporations, hold the licenses. The bills now head to the Senate.

South Dakota CBD Bill Advances. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Tuesday to approve Senate Bill 95, which would reschedule CBD as a Class 4 drug in the state and remove it from the definition of marijuana under state law. The bill would legalize the possession and use of CBD, but only upon approval by the FDA. That requirement was added in committee.

Drug Testing

House to Vote on Drug Testing the Unemployed. The House was prepared to vote as early as today on House Joint Resolution 42, which would undo Obama administration limits on drug testing people seeking unemployment benefits. Under a compromise to extend unemployment benefits in 2012, the Obama administration agreed to limited drug testing, but only once the Labor Department had identified industries and sectors that "regularly require drug tests." People receiving unemployment benefits are people who have been laid off from work, not people who have been fired for cause, including drug use. People who are fired for cause don't qualify for unemployment benefits.

Arkansas Senate Approves Bill Making Welfare Drug Testing Permanent. The Senate Tuesday approved Senate Bill 123, which would make permanent a welfare drug testing pilot program approved two years ago, even though the pilot program had only two people fail a drug test and 11 decline to take it out of more than 3,000 people who applied for welfare last year. Under the Arkansas law, the children of people who fail a drug test lose their benefits unless their parent undergoes drug treatment at his or her own expense. The bill now goes to the House.

International

Sao Paulo's New Mayor Turns Back on Successful Harm Reduction Program. New Mayor Joao Doria will scale back a successful harm reduction program that provided housing and jobs to people with problematic crack cocaine use and replace it with a coercive and abstinence-based program. The Restart program Doria likes involves the involuntary "hospitalization and confinement of those who are victims of crack so that with medical treatment, they can stay away from drugs," he explained.

Venezuela VP Shrugs Off US Drug Sanctions. The Venezuelan government Tuesday condemned US sanctions imposed a day earlier on Vice President Tareck El Aissami as a "highly dangerous" infringement of Venezuelan sovereignty, while El Aissami himself called it a "miserable and defamatory aggression" that wouldn't distract him from his job. The US accuses El Aissami of facilitating cocaine shipments while he was a provincial governor.

Chronicle AM: Los Angeles Pot Shop Vote Looms, NM Legalization Bill Stalls, More... (2/13/17)

Los Angeles voters go to the polls next month to decide on permitting dispensaries and pot shops, a New Mexico legalization bill hits a bump in committee, an Ohio bill would restore tough cocaine sentences based on the weight of filler -- not actual cocaine -- and more.

Los Angeles dispensaries (and adult pot shops) would be permitted under Measure M, before the voters next month. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

New Mexico Legalization Bill Stalled in Committee. Even though Democrats have a majority in both houses of the legislature, dissent among key Democrats may kill a legalization measure, Senate Bill 278. The bill stalled in the House Judiciary Committee after legal concerns were raised, and one key lawmaker, Sen. Clemente Sanchez (D-Grants) said he would not support. Sanchez is chair of another committee the bill would have to pass through, and his no vote added to Republican no votes in the committee could sound the death knell for the bill.

Los Angeles to Vote on Regulating Pot Shops Next Month. Voters in the nation's second largest city will vote March 7 on whether to adopt Measure M, the Cannabis Activity Permits and Regulations Ordinance. The measure was put on the ballot by the city council and would give the city the power to permit the 135 medical marijuana dispensaries approved by voters under the earlier Measure D, as well as to permit recreational pot shops and marijuana businesses.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. State Rep. Eric Proctor (D-Tulsa) has filed a medical marijuana measure, House Bill 1877. The bill would allow the use of medical marijuana for a list of specified illnesses and conditions and is modeled on the successful medical marijuana ,initiative passed next door in Arkansas in November.

Sentencing

Ohio Bill Would Revive Stiffer Sentences for Cocaine Dealers. State Rep. John Rogers (D-Mentor on the Lake) has filed House Bill 4, which would stiffen sentences by not requiring that the weight of the drug measure only actual cocaine and not inert filler. In a case last year, the state Supreme Court threw out cocaine sentences based on the weight of the filler, saying the state must prove the weight of actual pure cocaine in setting sentences. "Ohio's recent court decision sets a new, dangerous trajectory for our state by allowing drug dealers to buy and sell more cocaine with reduced consequences," Rogers said in a statement. "Instead of effectively handcuffing law enforcement from keeping dangerous drug dealers off our streets, I believe that we should be handcuffing the criminals who make our state and communities less safe with dangerous drugs." The bill includes an emergency provision that would allow it take effect immediately upon passage.

Asset Forfeiture

Kansas Legislature Punts on Asset Forfeiture Reform. After hearing testimony in the House Judiciary Committee last month on several asset forfeiture reform proposals and receiving an audit last summer that concluded police are taking advantage of vague state laws on how they should report and user seized property, the committee has decided not to act. Instead it has asked a judicial advisory group to review any potential changes.

International

Sinaloa Cartel Internal Power Struggle Behind Uptick in Cartel Violence, Mexican Official Says. Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos said Saturday that rising violence in parts of northern Mexico is most likely linked to an internal power struggle in the Sinaloa Cartel, which has fractured since its leader, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, was first jailed in Mexico, then extradited to the United States. "In the absence of their leader, (rival factions) are fighting over who will control the organization," he said. "I think that's what is happening." More soldiers were to be sent there beginning today and military forces already there will be reorganized, he said.

In the Time of Trump, Can Congress Take the Lead on Marijuana Policy? [FEATURE]

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

While the marijuana community -- consumers, industry, and advocates alike -- eyes with trepidation the reign of avowed drug warrior Jeff Sessions at the Justice Department, the Trump executive branch isn't the only game in town when it comes to making marijuana policy. Congress is back in session, and after last November's legalization and medical marijuana victories at the polls, the pot state delegation is larger than ever.

Congressional Cannabis Caucus co-chair Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) (house.gov)
And at least some of those senators and congressmen and women representing the 28 states (and the District of Columbia) that have embraced medical marijuana and the eight states plus DC that have so far gone for adult legalization, are gearing up to fight for reform at the Capitol.

A nascent congressional Cannabis Caucus formed in December is preparing a plethora of bills for the current session, and its members say they are optimistic about their chances, even in the time of Trump -- and Republicans holding every committee chair in both houses. It's because Congress is riding the marijuana wave, too, said caucus founder and co-chair Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).

"This Congress is going to be a little better than last Congress, and last Congress was better than the one before that," he said in an interview this week with The Cannabist. "It's very interesting watching the momentum build."

That momentum derives from public opinion polls consistently showing nationwide majorities favoring legalization and, more importantly, the actual victories at the polls in November, where legalization went four for five and medical marijuana went four for four.

"It's easier for people to embrace much of what we're doing legislatively," he said. Fixing industry-critical concerns such as the lack of operating expense deductions or access to financial services for state-legal businesses or barriers to medical marijuana research are now mere "housekeeping" issues, he added.

Nonetheless, fixes still have to get through the Congress. They haven't so far, and it's a long way between filing a bill and seeing it signed into law. Still, Blumenauer and colleagues will be pushing harder than ever.

He is joined in the Cannabis Caucus by co-chairs Reps. Jared Polis (D-CO), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), and Don Young (R-AL). The bipartisan grouping is notably made up of representatives from vanguard legalization states, but by no means all of them -- California alone has 53 House members -- and there is certainly room for more to come on board.

"I'm more hopeful than ever before that we can move legislation like the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act," Polis told The Cannabist, referring to last session's H.R. 1013, which picked up 19 cosponsors and was referred to a slew of subcommittees, but never even got a hearing.

Caucus member Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) (house.gov)
That bill was one of about two dozen pot-related proposals filed in the last session, and they're already starting to pile up again this session. While Blumenauer told The Cannabist more were to come, here's what's on the table so far:

H.R. 331 -- Filed by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), the States' Medical Marijuana Rights Protection Act would block federal civil asset forfeiture aimed at the owners of state-legal medical marijuana operations.

H.R. 714 -- Filed by Rep. H. Morgan Griffith (R-VA), the Legitimate Use of Medicinal Marihuana Act would move marijuana to the Controlled Substance Act's Schedule II, opening the door to more research and, potentially, doctors' ability to prescribe (as opposed to recommend) marijuana for patients. It would also bar the use of that act or the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to interfere with medical marijuana in states where it is legal.

H.R. 715 -- Also filed by Rep. Griffith, the Compassionate Access Act would reschedule marijuana, provide for its medical use under state laws, and remove CBD (cannabidiol) from the definition of marijuana.

H.R. 975 -- Filed by Cannabis Caucus co-chair Rep. Rohrabacher, the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act would exempt people and entities from certain provisions of the Controlled Substances Act if they are acting in compliance with state laws. Rohrabacher authored similar legislation in the last Congress, garnering 20 cosponsors, including seven Republicans.

There is no outright federal marijuana legalization bill out there yet this session, but expect to see Rep. Polis come back with his bill or perhaps Bernie Sanders reviving his bill to end federal marijuana prohibition, or both. Given political realities on the Hill, though, the Cannabis Caucus will likely save its political capital for fights it might be able to win, such as fixing the tax and banking problems facing the industry.

Another key battleground -- and one where marijuana advocates have actually won before -- is the appropriations process. The Justice Department and the DEA can't go after marijuana in legal states if Congress bars them from spending any federal funds to do so, and that's exactly what Congress did when it approved the Rohrabacher-Farr Medical Marijuana Amendment last session.

If a similar amendment were to succeed again, even if Attorney General Sessions wanted to call out the cavalry, he couldn't buy the horse feed, and it wouldn't matter how many nasty memos his deputies wrote.

And while his past pronouncements are indeed worrisome, he was quite coy at his nomination hearings, saying that he "won't commit to never enforcing federal law," but adding that enforcement priorities are "a problem of resources for the federal government."

Sessions did add later in the hearings that it's not "the attorney general's job to decide what laws to enforce," but suggested that his former colleagues could settle things once and for all.

Does new Attorney General Jeff Sessions want to punt pot policy back to Congress? (senate.gov)
"I think one obvious concern is that the United States Congress has made the possession of marijuana in every state and distribution of it an illegal act," he said. "If that something is not desired any longer, Congress should pass the law to change the rule."

And then there's Sessions' boss, President Trump. While he projects a law and order image and has campaigned against "drugs," the drugs he seems most concerned about are heroin and the prescription opioids -- not pot. He's also suggested in the past a willingness to let states experiment on marijuana policy, and he has a lot of other things on his plate. It's not at all clear he would let Sessions unleash a war on weed even if he wanted to.

Earl Blumenauer doesn't think Trump wants to charge into this particular melee.

"This is a struggle and will continue to be, but this is something where I honestly don't think the new administration, which has probably enough controversy on its hands, is going to knowingly pick a fight with what, almost without exception, was approved by local voters," Blumenauer said.

To ensure that Sessions doesn't strike out, "we need to make the case directly to Trump" about the economic potential of the marijuana industry, said Polis. But until federal marijuana prohibition is ended, "the industry really exists at the discretion of the president and the attorney general, and that's a dangerous place to be," he added.

Well, and Congress, too. It holds the purse strings, after all.

Marijuana policy is going to be at play in the 115th Congress. Ending federal prohibition remains the Holy Grail, but in the meantime, there are concrete actions Congress can take to protect medical and legal marijuana and the industry it's creating. Now, let's see if the Cannabis Caucus can lead the way to some victories.

Chronicle AM: Drug Warrior Jeff Sessions is AG, NY Gov Calls Marijuana Gateway Drug, More... (2/9/17)

A man who thinks marijuana users aren't "good people" is now the US attorney general, New York's Democratic governor cites the gateway theory as he opposes marijuana legalization, North Dakota lawmakers kill a welfare drug testing bill, and more.

Meet the new boss: Attorney General Jeff Sessions takes office. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

New York Governor Calls Marijuana "Gateway Drug," Rejects Legalization. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said Wednesday that marijuana is "a gateway drug, and marijuana leads to other drugs and there's a lot of proof that that's true... There's two sides to the argument. But I, as of this date, I am unconvinced on recreational marijuana."

Washington Bill Would Bar State From Helping Any Federal Crackdown. A bipartisan bill sponsored by Rep. David Sawyer (D-Lakewood) and three others would attempt to protect the state's legal marijuana industry by "prohibiting the use of public resources to assist the federal government in any activity that might impede or interfere with Washington state's regulation of marijuana and marijuana-related products." The measure is House Bill 1895, which is now before the House State Government, Elections, and Information Technology Committee.

Medical Marijuana

Kansas Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. State Sen. David Haley (D-Kansas City) has filed Senate Bill 155, which would allow patients with specified diseases or conditions to grow and possess medical marijuana, or have a caregiver grow it for them. The bill also envisions the creation of state regulated and taxed "compassion centers" or dispensaries.

Drug Policy

Jeff Sessions Confirmed As Attorney General, Drug Policy Reformers React. The Senate confirmed Alabama Republican Senator Jeff Sessions as Attorney General on a near party-line vote Wednesday night. The marijuana and drug reform communities -- among many others -- are nervous about how Sessions might deviate from the Obama administration's hands-off policy on marijuana in the states, as well as broader criminal justice issues. "Jeff Sessions and President Trump are stuck in the 1980s when it comes to drug policy, while most of the country knows by now that we need alternatives to the failed drug war," the DPA's Bill Piper said. "If the Administration tries to roll back marijuana reform or to undermine criminal justice reform they will find themselves even less popular than they are now."

Drug Testing

North Dakota Senate Kills Welfare Drug Testing Bill. The Senate killed Senate Bill 2279, which would have required mandatory "addiction screening" of people receiving food stamps, with those identified as being "at risk" of drug use being forced to undergo drug treatment. The measure died on a 20-26 vote after legislators pointed out that similar welfare drug testing programs have found only a tiny number of people.

International

Peru Government Will Present Medical Marijuana Bill. The administration of President Pedro Kuczynski said it will present a bill allowing for the use of medical marijuana to the legislature, which is dominated by the opposition. The move comes in the wake of a public uproar after police raided a Lima house where a group of parents grew marijuana to make cannabis oil to treat their children's epilepsy and other diseases.

Medical Marijuana Update

This article has been updated with additional cases, due to a change in our publishing schedule this week. Material appearing in the original version of this article is unchanged.

Arkansas legislators are trying to ban medical marijuana smoking and edibles, a new Florida bill seeks to revamp that state's medical marijuana system, and more.

Arkansas

On January 25,a lawmaker filed a bill to ignore the voters' will until federal law changes State Sen. Jason Rapert (R-District 18) filed a bill that would delay the voter-approved medical marijuana law until marijuana is legal under federal law. The measure is Senate Bill 238, which has been referred to the Senate Committee on Public Health, Welfare, and Labor.

Last Monday, legislators filed three more bills to restrict the voter-approved initiative. Republicans in Little Rock have filed three more bills that would tighten up the state's new law. One would ban the smoking of medical marijuana (House Bill 1400), one would ban edibles (House Bill 1392), and would require previous local zoning to be in place before licenses for dispensaries or grows are issued (House Bill 1391). HB1391 and HB1392 have been sent to Committee on House Rules while HB1400 has only been filed.

Colorado

Last Monday, a bill to add PTSD as a qualifying condition advanced. The Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee unanimously approved Senate Bill 17-017. The measure would add post-traumatic stress disorder as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana. The bill is now on the Senate's "consent calendar," meaning it should move through the Senate with little debate. Then it's on to the House.

Florida

Last Wednesday,a bill to overhaul the state's restrictive medical marijuana system was filed. State Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) filed Senate Bill 614. The bill would scrap the state's existing system and replace it with a new set of rules. The move is supported by the people behind the successful Amendment 2 initiative. "Sen. Brandes' bill does an excellent job of establishing a comprehensive, tightly regulated medical marijuana system in Florida," said United For Care campaign manager Ben Pollara on Wednesday. "The two most essential pieces of implementation are maintaining the primacy of the doctor-patient relationship, and expanding the marketplace to serve patient access. SB 614 does both in a well-regulated, well thought out manner."

New Hampshire

Last Wednesday, legislators heard testimony on adding new qualifying conditions. The House Human Services, Health, and Elderly Affairs committee heard testimony on a series of bills that would add chronic pain, opioid addiction, fibromyalgia and post-traumatic stress disorder qualifying conditions to receive medical marijuana. The bills are sponsored by Rep. Joseph Lachance (R-Manchester), a medical marijuana card holder since 2015 who says "cannabis saved my life."

Oklahoma

On Monday, a medical marijuana bill was filed. State Rep. Eric Proctor (D-Tulsa) introduced House Bill 1877. It would allow patients suffering from a specified list of conditions to use medical marijuana without fear of arrest or other penalty as long as they comply with the rules and regulations of the envisioned medical marijuana program. Patients could grow their own or have caregivers grow it for them, and state-licensed dispensaries and grow operations would be allowed.

Utah

On January 25, lawwmakers said they were scaling back plans for a medical marijuana bill. Legislators said last Friday they were retreating from plans to expand the state's CBD-only medical marijuana law and will instead call for more research. They also said they wanted to see what the Trump administration was going to do before they moved forward with a broader medical marijuana bill.

Last Monday, a medical marijuana study bill advanced. The House Health and Human Services Committee unanimously approved House Bill 130 Monday. The measure would allow universities in the state to study medical marijuana. The bill is supported by the Utah Medical Association, which has opposed medical marijuana bills saying more study is needed. It now heads for a House floor vote.

Washington

Last Friday, a bill to allow medical marijuana use at school won a committee vote. The House Health Care and Wellness Committee approved "Ducky's Bill," House Bill 1060, on a 13-3 vote. The bill is named after an elementary school student who can only attend half-days of class because of intractable epileptic seizures. It would require school districts to allow students to use medical marijuana on school grounds, on a school bus, or while attending a school-sponsored event. A companion measure has been filed in the Senate, but has not moved yet.

Wisconsin

On Monday, a pair of medical marijuana bills were filed. State Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) and Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) have filed a pair of bills aimed at legalizing medical marijuana in the state. The first bill, the Compassionate Cannabis Care Act, would legalize medical marijuana, while the second bill would authorize a statewide referendum allowing citizens to vote on whether they support medical marijuana. The bills are not yet available on the legislative web site.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

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