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Should legalizing marijuana be left to the states? Congress not ready to say that’s OK

Should legalizing marijuana be left to the states? Congress not ready to say that’s OK

In a first test vote of its kind, the U.S. House on Wednesday narrowly voted down an amendment aimed at giving states the right to decide on their own whether marijuana should be legalized.

The failure of the amendment, which was co-sponsored by Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer, doesn’t have an immediate impact on Oregon and the three other states that have legalized the possession and sale of marijuana. 

The Obama administration has already laid out guidelines for states to follow to avoid facing federal action on a drug that remains prohibited under federal law.  However, the amendment was designed to prevent a future administration from interfering with states that legalize marijuana, said Bill Post, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance.

The amendment, defeated on a 206-222 vote, was supported by Oregon’s four Democratic House members and opposed by Republican Rep. Greg Walden.

Walden, whose 2nd Congressional District voters opposed the Measure 91 initiative legalizing the drug, could not be immediately reached for comment.

The House did pass three other amendments supportive of medical marijuana and the production of hemp, a non-psychoactive form of marijuana.

Representatives approved an amendment co-sponsored by Oregon Rep. Suzanne Bonamici that continues to prohibit the Drug Enforcement Administration from undermining laws in Oregon and other states that allow the production of hemp.

Also approved were amendments continuing a prohibition on federal interference with state medical marijuana laws and protecting state laws that allow the use of CBD oils from cannabis plants that have a variety of medical uses.

Blumenauer, a Portland Democrat and leading congressional proponent of legalizing marijuana, said in a statement that he was disappointed Congress didn’t allow Oregon and other states to”move forward with their voter approved adult-use marijuana programs…free of the threat of federal interference.”

But he said the close vote as well as the support for the other amendments marked “the latest victory in a quiet revolution underway across America to reform and modernize our marijuana laws.”

Bonamici said in a statement that the federal government should not be prohibiting the use of hemp.  “When law enforcement goes after industrial hemp, it does not further public safety; instead it deprives farm economies of a potentially multi-billion dollar crop that is used to make everything from rope to soap,” she said in a statement.

–Jeff Mapes




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Marijuana news: Jeff Merkley first U.S. senator to support legalizing pot

Marijuana news: Jeff Merkley first U.S. senator to support legalizing pot

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley plans to vote for Measure 91, which would legalize marijuana for recreational use in Oregon, making him the first U.S. senator to do so, according to Talking Points Memo.

“I lean in support of it,” the Democratic senator told Sahil Kapur, TPM’s senior congressional reporter last week. (Oregonian senior political reporter Jeff Mapes reported on Merkley’s stance earlier this month.)

“I think folks on both sides of the argument make a good case,” Merkley said. “And there is concern about a series of new products — and we don’t have a real track record from Colorado and Washington. But I feel on balance that we spend a lot of money on our criminal justice system in the wrong places and I lean in favor of this ballot measure.”

Other marijuana news worth a look this morning:

Mark Kleiman, the chief pot consultant to Washington, chimed in last week with his take on Oregon’s legalization measure. Bottom line: Measure 91 is imperfect and, if passed, should be fixed by the Oregon Legislature, but it’s worth a yes vote.

Of the measure’s shortcomings, Kleiman writes:

Measure 91 does not reflect a sophisticated understanding of the problems of illicit markets or a nuanced view about substance use disorder. Focusing on the goal of eradicating the illicit cannabis market in Oregon, it doesn’t pay enough attention to the risk that Oregon might become a source of illicit supply to neighboring states. Focusing exclusively on preventing use by minors, it neglects the risk of increasing dependency among adults.

The basic fact about a legal cannabis market is that the product will be remarkably cheap to grow; once competition and industrial-style production have taken effect, a legal joint would cost (before tax) about what a tea-bag costs, rather than the illegal or medical-dispensary price, which is 100 times as high. And the tax provided for in Measure 91 would add only about 50 cents to the price of a joint: not a high price to pay for two hours or more of being stoned.

And finally, marijuana is a hot topic in the tight race for Colorado governor, CBS News reports. 

— Noelle Crombie

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Marijuana news: Legalizing pot was ‘reckless,’ says Colorado governor

Marijuana news: Legalizing pot was ‘reckless,’ says Colorado governor

John Hickenlooper, Bob Beauprez, Manu Raju

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, right, gestures while his opponent, Republican candidate for governor Bob Beauprez, left, waits for his turn to speak, during a moderated by Politico reporter Manu Raju, center, in Denver, on Monday. Gov. Hickenlooper is facing one of the toughest re-election fights of his political career. Several polls suggest he’s in a close race against Beauprez, a former member of the U.S. House. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper during a debate Monday called the vote to legalize recreational marijuana in his state “reckless.”

Hickenlooper, a Democrat who opposed the 2012 constitutional amendment legalizing recreational marijuana, said voters lacked data to make an informed decision, reports the International Business Times.

Hickenlooper was asked at Monday’s Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce debate what he would tell other states considering legalizing marijuana.

“Any governor that looks at doing this before we see what the consequences are, I would view it as reckless,” he said.

 He was then asked if the voters were reckless for supporting the amendment.

“I think for us to do that without having all the data, there is not enough data, and to a certain extent you could say it was reckless. I’m not saying it was reckless because I’ll get quoted everywhere, but if it was up to me I wouldn’t have done it, right. I opposed it from the very beginning. In matter of fact, all right, what the hell — I’ll say it was reckless.”

Hickenlooper, according to the IBT, said he worries about the drug’s impact on young people.

The Huffington Post’s Matt Ferner reports on the governor’s remarks, adding this comment from Hickenlooper spokeswoman Kathy Green.

“In the face of inaction from the federal government, Colorado voters had no choice but to act on their own. While the governor believes it was reckless for Colorado to be the first state to violate federal drug laws, it is clear that Colorado voters saw no other choice — and we are committed to carrying out their will, as democracy demands.”

Mason Tvert, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Ferner that Hickenlooper’s remark was a “a pretty reckless statement.”

“Gov. Hickenlooper was elected by 51 percent of the state’s voters, whereas 55 percent approved the marijuana initiative in 2012,” Tvert told Ferner. “Some of them might now be thinking they made a pretty reckless decision when they voted him into office.”

A Quinnipiac University poll released in July found 54 percent of Colorado voters still support legal pot.

— Noelle Crombie

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