Cloud Of Uncertainty Over Legalized Pot As Feds End Obama-Era Accommodation

January 12, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Three days after California businesses began selling marijuana for recreational use, a policy change by the federal government has sparked uncertainty about the future of legalized cannabis and provoked sharp reactions from officials in the state and around the nation.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions Thursday rescinded an Obama-era policy that discouraged federal prosecutors from cracking down on the sale and consumption of pot. Sessions issued a memo directing prosecutors to enforce federal marijuana laws to “disrupt criminal organizations, tackle the growing drug crisis and thwart violent crime across our country.”

The Obama administration’s hands-off approach had paved the way for a growing number of states to legalize cannabis use and boosted the multibillion-dollar marijuana industry.

U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a tweet that Sessions’ decision was “shameful” and an insult to the democratic process.

California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom tweeted that Sessions had “destructively doubled down on the failed, costly, and racially discriminatory war on drugs, ignoring facts and logic, and trampling on the will of CA voters.” Newsom pledged to “pursue all options to protect our reforms and rights.”

The attorney general’s announcement did not clarify whether prosecutors would pursue federal charges against marijuana businesses or seek to disrupt the rapidly expanding market. Despite the new policy, California planned to continue issuing licenses to businesses that want to sell pot for recreation. The chief of the state’s new Bureau of Cannabis Control, Lori Ajax, said she plans to defend California’s law and continue efforts to implement regulations both for medicinal and recreational marijuana.

“We expect the federal government to respect the rights of states and the votes of millions of people across America, and if they won’t, Congress should act,” Ajax said.

Any effort to enforce federal law could undercut California’s carefully elaborated marijuana regulations and give rise to an illicit market, warned Josh Drayton, spokesman for the California Cannabis Industry Association, which represents 400 pot-related businesses. “We have worked very hard for the past few years to regulate this industry,” he said. “Allowing the federal government to come in … is going to affect the public safety and public health for the constituents of California.”

A total of 29 states have legalized marijuana for medical use.
Source: National Conference of State Legislatures.

The health effects of the drug and its legalization are widely debated. Advocates say that cannabis can relieve pain, ease chemotherapy-related nausea for cancer patients and stimulate the appetites of AIDS patients — arguments that have helped propel states to allow marijuana for medicinal purposes.

But critics cite a rise in emergency room visits and impaired driving in states where marijuana is legal for recreational use. In addition, marijuana can affect cognitive functioning, and people who use it long term can suffer from an obscure illness that causes extreme abdominal pain and vomiting.

Drayton said businesses “are trying not to get into a panic” about the policy shift announced by Sessions. MedMen, which operates marijuana stores in New York and California, saw a steep increase in business in California this week with the start of recreational sales, according to company spokesman Daniel Yi. He said the “reality on the ground” has not changed with Thursday’s federal announcement. “It has created more uncertainty, but it hasn’t created certainty that there will be a crackdown.”

State and federal laws have conflicted on marijuana for many years. It remains illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act, despite the fact that many states have substantially decriminalized its use. Eight states and Washington, D.C., have legalized marijuana for recreational purposes, although the District of Columbia continues to ban sales. A total of 29 states have legalized marijuana for medical use

The federal government’s shift to a more marijuana-adverse stance is unlikely to have a big impact on states that have legalized marijuana, said Robert Mikos, a law professor at Vanderbilt University and an expert on drug law and federalism. That’s because Sessions left it up to the country’s individual U.S. attorneys, who must decide whether to go after the marijuana industry. Mikos said many U.S. attorneys will be reluctant to crack down on popular marijuana reforms, especially if they have plans to run for higher office.

They also may hesitate to redirect funds from other key priorities, including the opioid crisis, he said.

Mark A.R. Kleiman, a professor at New York University, agreed that not much would change despite Thursday’s policy change. The federal government simply lacks the resources to suppress cannabis production and consumption, said Kleiman, co-author of the book “Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs To Know.”

The decision by Sessions did not come as a surprise to legislators and others, since he has been openly critical of marijuana legalization. However, President Donald Trump has said in the past that legalization of marijuana was up to the states. On Thursday, his press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said that the Justice Department’s move “simply gives prosecutors the tools to take on large-scale distributors and enforce federal law.”

Opponents of legalized marijuana said that the federal U-turn could stem the growth of the marijuana industry and curb mass marketing.

“It is a good day for public health,” said Kevin Sabet, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Florida. Sabet said the Sessions policy is not aimed at individual users but rather the marijuana industry as a whole.

Governors in several states where marijuana is legal issued statements saying that Sessions’ new policy subverted the will of voters and committing themselves to uphold their state laws.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, said the state has a well-regulated system that keeps “criminal elements” out. “We will vigorously defend our state’s laws against undue infringement,” he said.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, also a Democrat, said the voters in her state were clear when they decided to legalize marijuana, and the federal government shouldn’t stand in their way.

“My staff and state agencies are working to evaluate reports of the Attorney General’s decision and will fight to continue Oregon’s commitment to a safe and prosperous recreational marijuana market,” Brown said.

In Alaska, Gov. Bill Walker, an independent, said in a statement that he was disappointed by Thursday’s memo and remained committed to “maintaining our state’s sovereign rights to manage our own affairs while protecting federal interests.”

“I will continue to work with the U.S. Department of Justice and our congressional delegation to prevent federal overreach into Alaska,” he said.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, said his state has created a comprehensive regulatory and enforcement system that prioritizes public health and safety. “We are expanding efforts to eliminate the black market and keep marijuana out of the hands of minors and criminals,” he said. “Today’s decision does not alter the strength of our resolve in those areas, nor does it change my constitutional responsibilities.”

Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit substance in the United States, and the trend of states bucking its prohibition in favor of taxing and regulating it reflects a broad cultural shift toward greater acceptance. That could make it even harder for the federal government to enforce its laws, Kleiman said.

“Cannabis prohibition is over,” he said. “We are where we were with alcohol in 1930.”

A Gallup poll from late last year found that 64 percent of Americans believed cannabis should be legal. A February survey by Quinnipiac University found that 71 percent of U.S. voters want the federal government to respect state marijuana laws. In that survey, majorities of Republicans, Democrats, independents and every age group agreed the feds should not enforce prohibition on states that have legalized marijuana.

Carmen Heredia Rodriguez contributed to this story. This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, which publishes California Healthline, an editorially independent service of the California Health Care Foundation.




Calif. Delegation Meets With Dreamers

October 19, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

California members of Congress were in Los Angeles Wednesday where they held a roundtable discussion with young immigrants currently protected from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and by Temporary Protected Status (TPS).

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA-12) — joined by Congress members Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40), Judy Chu (CA-27), Jimmy Gomez (CA-34) and other local leaders — said during a post-discussion press conference at the headquarters of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights CHIRLA, that federal lawmakers are working to pass  “clean” legislation that would give the young immigrants, often referred to as “dreamers,” permanent legal status, but not tied to construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Pelosi and the Democrats said by the end of the year they hope to have the votes needed to pass the Dream Act 2017, a bipartisan bill introduced by Roybal-Allard, a Democrat, and Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican.

“All we need is to vote,” said Pelosi, adding that “dreamers” have led a dignified crusade to get support for the bill. “The president must support this legislation because the American people are supporting it,” Pelosi said.

Twenty Republican votes are needed to move the Dream Act forward, according to Pelosi, who pointed out that some of the votes belong to Republicans from California. She said it’s a “marathon race” to the goal, suggesting that a vote could come before Thanksgiving Day.

Roybal-Allard said failure to pass the Dream Act would cause dreamers, who “have lived in this country” … and “built their lives here,” to “continue to live in fear of deportation, and … to “live in a world where they will not be able to grow and to contribute to their communities.”

“They gave their information, they signed up for DACA, believing in this country. And to do anything else but to protect them by passing the Dream Act is a betrayal, and would be a disgrace and a very ugly mark on this country,” Roybal-Allard said.

For Congressman Jimmy Gomez, who represents a large number of dreamers, Pelosi’s remarks are not only about a political strategy but also about public opinion in the country, including among conservatives.

“We know that 82 percent of Americans support ‘dreamers’, the debate will not end until this bill has been approved,” Gomez said.

“Definitely, the only weapon is to put pressure on these (Republican) congressmen who have already expressed their support and are repenting,” said DACA recipient and roundtable participant Mariana Villafaña.

Although Villafaña is not completely convinced public opinion can change the minds of Republicans, she believes the key is to target districts whose legislators are at risk of losing their seat to a Democrat.

CHIRLA Executive Director Angélica Salas asked that the immigrant community to not miss this “crucial” moment and to continue the struggle for “dreamers.”

Pelosi said she understands the frustration of dreamers who say they reject any strategy to legalize their status that does not also include legalization for all 11 million immigrants in the country without authorization, but stressed that as of now there is not enough “political capital” to achieve that goal.

“I would have liked to hear a little more force in the demands of the conservatives, but I understand that this is a strategy and we have no choice but to continue this struggle. December is the goal,” said Villafaña.

Democrats have threatened to block in the coming months any legislation Congress needs to keep the government going, such as the new federal budget for which Trump needs the support of Liberals if he wants to avoid a government shutdown.

Pelosi was optimistic Wednesday, going so far as to say she is “confident that President Trump will accept the negotiations and sign the law.”

Pelosi Busca Con ‘Soñadores’ Estrategia Para Una Legalización ‘Limpia’

October 18, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

La líder demócrata de la Cámara de Representantes, Nancy Pelosi, discutió el miércoles con jóvenes protegidos por la Acción Diferida (DACA) una estrategia que permita una legislación “limpia” que otorgue un estatus migratorio permanente a los “soñadores”.

Los beneficiados con este programa, a los que se les llama “soñadores”, han visto con preocupación las exigencias del presidente Trump de ligar cualquier tipo de beneficio migratorio de carácter permanente a su favor, que se discute en el Parlamento, con la construcción de un muro en la frontera con México.

No obstante, Pelosi y los demócratas aseguran que las posibilidades no están languideciendo y que los votos necesarios para aprobar el proyecto de ley bipartidista Dream Act 2017, presentado por las congresistas Lucille Roybal-Allard (demócrata) y Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (republicana) se pueden conseguir para fin de año.

“Todo lo que necesitamos es votar, porque los ‘soñadores’ ya condujeron esta cruzada y lo hicieron de una forma digna, y el presidente debe apoyar esta legislación porque los estadounidenses la están apoyando”, señaló Pelosi.

Para el congresista Jimmy Gomez, que acudió a la reunión y representa un distrito electoral con un gran número de soñadores, las observaciones de Pelosi no sólo tienen que ver con una estrategia política sino con el sentir de la opinión pública del país, incluidos los conservadores.

“Sabemos que el 82 por ciento de los estadounidenses apoyan a los ‘soñadores’, el debate no se terminará hasta que este proyecto de ley no se haya aprobado”, sentenció Gómez.

“Definitivamente la única arma es presionar a estos congresistas (republicanos) que ya habían expresado su apoyo y se están arrepintiendo”, dijo a EFE la joven Mariana Villafaña, amparada con DACA y una de las asistentes al encuentro celebrado en la sede de la Coalición por los Derechos Humanos de los Inmigrantes (CHIRLA), en Los Ángeles.

Fotografiado de izquierda a derecha: el congresista Jimmy Gomez, la directora ejecutiva de CHIRLA, Angelica Salas, la líder demócrata de la Cámara Nancy Pelosi, la congresista Lucille Roybal-Allard y la congresista Judy Chu participan en una conferencia de prensa luego de una discusión con "soñadores". (Oficina de la Congresista Lucille Roybal-Allard)

Fotografiado de izquierda a derecha: el congresista Jimmy Gomez, la directora ejecutiva de CHIRLA, Angelica Salas, la líder demócrata de la Cámara Nancy Pelosi, la congresista Lucille Roybal-Allard y la congresista Judy Chu participan en una conferencia de prensa luego de una discusión con “soñadores”. (Oficina de la Congresista Lucille Roybal-Allard)

Aunque Villafaña no está muy convencida que la opinión pública influya en la decisión final de los republicanos, cree la clave está en los distritos cuyos legisladores están en riesgo de perder el escaño frente a su correspondiente rival demócrata.

Pelosi señaló que para sacar adelante la iniciativa restan 20 votos, todos de la bancada republicana, algunos de los cuales representantes por California, y por ello propuso una “carrera maratónica” para asegurar el objetivo e incluso habló de poder tener una votación antes del Día de Acción de Gracias (fines de noviembre).

Por su parte, la congresista Roybal-Allard, autora del proyecto, alentó a los asistentes tras asegurar que de no aprobarse la iniciativa legislativa “el país quedaría con una marca muy fea”.

La directora de CHIRLA, Angélica Salas, pidió que la comunidad inmigrante no desaproveche este momento “crucial”, esta “ventana que se abre” y que continúe la lucha por los “soñadores”.

Ante el descontento de muchos jóvenes soñadores, que rechazan su legalización a menos que incluya al total de once millones de indocumentados, Pelosi aseguró que entiende la frustración e incluso los abucheos y los gritos de “mentirosa” que sufrió hace unas semanas en San Francisco, pero recalcó que por ahora no existe el “capital político” para lograr esa meta.

“Me hubiera gustado escuchar un poco más de fuerza en la exigencia a los conservadores, pero entiendo que esto es una estrategia y no nos queda otra que seguir esta lucha. Diciembre es la meta”, dijo Villafaña.

Los demócratas han amenazado con bloquear en los próximos meses cualquier ley que el Congreso necesite aprobar para que el Gobierno siga funcionado, como es el caso del nuevo presupuesto fiscal para el que Trump necesita el apoyo de los liberales si quiere evitar un fatídico cierre.

Pelosi se mostró el miércoles optimista y llegó a decir que “tiene confianza que el presidente Trump acepte las negociaciones y firme la ley”.

Dems, Trump Discuss Deal to Protect ‘Dreamers’

September 13, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

WASHINGTON – Democratic leaders in Congress said following a Wednesday night meeting with President Donald Trump that they have agreed to work together to provide legal protection to the 800,000 undocumented youths known as “Dreamers.”

They also agreed, according to the Democrats’ version, to negotiate a budget package to finance border security that is “acceptable to both parties,” and therefore excludes funding for Trump’s proposed border wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

“We had a very productive meeting at the White House with the President. The conversation centered on DACA and we agreed to quickly enshrine DACA protections in a law,” said Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Democratic Leader, Nancy Pelosi, (D-Calif.) who dined with Trump on Wednesday.

The White House, on its own behalf, also gave its version of the meeting in a statement that did not speak of “agreements” of any kind with Schumer and Pelosi.

According to the White House, Trump and the Democratic leaders spoke at a “constructive” dinner of the current “legislative priorities,” including tax reform, border security, DACA (Dreamers), infrastructure and trade, in that order.

The Trump administration said the meeting was a “positive step” toward reaching “bipartisan solutions” to the problems affecting all Americans and expressed its desire to “continue these talks” with the Democratic leaders.

If an agreement has in fact been reached, it would be second deal in a week the Republican president has reached with Congressional Democratic leadership; the first being a short-term increase in the debt ceiling  that shocked GOP leaders.

Despite his campaign rhetoric promising to end DACA on his first day in office, and to deport all immigrants in the country illegally, the president has signaled an increasing willingness to find a legislative solution that will allow young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children to remain legally in the U.S.

The president has said on several occasions that he will treat the young undocumented immigrants, most often referred to as Dreamers, with “heart.”

Last week, one day after announcing the end of DACA and giving Congress a six-month window to come up with a legislative solution, he tweeted that young undocumented immigrants protected under DACA should not fear deportation, adding he would “revisit’ the issue if the Congress failed to act.

Critican Veto Contra Transexuales

July 27, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

WASHINGTON –  Activistas, miembros de la comunidad LGBT, políticos y congresistas criticaron duramente la decisión anunciada el miércoles por el presidente, Donald Trump, de prohibir que los transexuales sirvan en las Fuerzas Armadas del país.

Las Fuerzas Armadas estadounidenses quedaron abiertas “con efecto inmediato” a los transexuales en junio de 2016 por decisión del Gobierno del entonces presidente Barack Obama, pero el reclutamiento de personas transgénero debía empezar en enero próximo tras un proceso de previsión.

Trump, que anunció su decisión en Twitter, no ha precisado cuándo ni cómo se aplicará la prohibición y de qué manera afectará a los transexuales que ya están dentro de las Fuerzas Armadas.

El líder de la minoría demócrata en el Senado, Chuck Schumer, resaltó precisamente que ya hay estadounidenses tránsgenero que “sirven de manera honorable” en las Fuerzas Armadas y agregó: “Estamos con estos patriotas”.

Mientras, la líder de los demócratas en la Cámara de Representantes, Nancy Pelosi, sostuvo en un comunicado que la decisión de Trump, “cruel y arbitraria”, está diseñada para “humillar” a los transexuales que “dieron un paso al frente” para servir al país.

“Todos los estadounidenses patriotas que están calificados para servir en nuestras fuerzas armadas deberían poder servir. ¡Y punto!”, enfatizó, por su parte, el ex vicepresidente Joseph Biden.

En la misma línea se pronunció el senador republicano John McCain, quien preside el Comité de Servicios Armados del Senado.

“Todos deberíamos guiarnos por el principio de que todos los estadounidenses que quieran servir a nuestro país y sean capaces de cumplir con los estándares deberían tener la oportunidad de hacerlo y de ser tratados como los patriotas que son”, indicó McCain en un comunicado en el que agregó que el anuncio de Trump es “confuso”.

A juicio del exsecretario de Defensa Ashton Carter, quien anunció en junio de 2016 la apertura de las Fuerzas Armadas a los transexuales, la decisión de Trump envía “la señal equivocada a una generación más joven que está pensando en el servicio militar”.

Por otro lado, la exsoldado Chelsea Manning, la primera gran fuente de WikiLeaks y quien durante su condena a cárcel reveló que se sentía mujer, pidió que dejasen de llamarle Bradley y se sometió a tratamiento para cambiar de sexo, comentó en su cuenta de Twitter que la prohibición de Trump “suena a cobardía”.

Y la Unión para las Libertades Civiles de América (ACLU) calificó la acción de Trump de “desesperada y escandalosa”, al subrayar que existe un “consenso claro” en cuanto a que no hay “ningún costo o desventajas de preparación militar” asociados a permitir que los transexuales sirvan en las Fuerzas Armadas.

Trump ha justificado su decisión, que dice haber tomado tras consultar con sus “generales y expertos militares”, en que las Fuerzas Armadas “no pueden ser lastradas con los enormes costos médicos y la perturbación que implicarían los tránsgenero”.

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