All posts tagged: US politics

Neil Young faces US citizenship delay over marijuana use

The Canadian songwriter is pursuing dual citizenship in order to vote my conscience on Donald J Trump in the 2020 election

Neil Young is facing a delay in his application for US citizenship after honestly answering a question about his marijuana use.

In a letter to fans posted on his website, the Canadian songwriter said that he passed the test for citizenship, but that he has been called to take another test due to my use of marijuana and how some people who smoke it have a problem.

The US Citizenship and Immigration Services added a policy in April 2019, proposed by Jeff Sessions during his period as attorney general, which states: An applicant who is involved in certain marijuana related activities may lack GMC (Good Moral Character) if found to have violated federal law, even if such activity is not unlawful under applicable state of foreign laws.

Sessions has supported the repeal of the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment so that the justice department could prosecute suppliers of medical marijuana, despite President Trumps support for its legalisation.

Young wrote: I sincerely hope I have exhibited good moral character and will be able to vote my conscience on Donald J Trump and his fellow American candidates, (as yet un-named).

Young is widely known as a figurehead of the Los Angeles 1960s-70s Laurel Canyon scene. In October, he told the LA Times: Im still a Canadian; theres nothing that can take that away from me. But I live down here; I pay taxes down here; my beautiful family is all down here theyre all Americans, so I want to register my opinion.

Young has been critical of Trumps presidency, refusing him permission to use his 1989 hit Rockin in the Free World at campaign events, and criticising his stance on the November 2018 California wild fires, in which Young lost his home.

He recently told AP: I hope that people vote him out and I hope theres somebody reasonable to put back in there when they get rid of him.

Colorado, Youngs latest album with band Crazy Horse, was released in October.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

adminNeil Young faces US citizenship delay over marijuana use
read more

‘I’mnot convinced we will have fair elections in America’: Stacey Abrams’ fight against voter suppression

Abrams lost the race for Georgia governor, and she believes voter suppression played a central role so shes leading a nationwide voting rights campaign

One year ago, at an election night party in downtown Atlanta, Stacey Abrams took the stage and delivered a speech that could well have been made 60 years ago, when this city was known as the cradle of the civil rights movement.

Democracy only works when we work for it. When we fight for it. When we demand it, she said, the microphone peaking under the power of her voice. In a civilized nation, the machinery of democracy should work for everyone, everywhere. Not just in certain places. And not just on a certain day.

Abrams was then the Democratic candidate for Georgia governor, attempting to become the countrys first black female state executive.

The race captivated America not only for its potential to make history. It also dredged up the countrys darkest past. African Americans in the deep south were once disenfranchised with literacy tests and other racist laws, and in recent years a surge in restrictive voting legislation, including voter identification laws and sweeping electoral roll purges, has ushered in an era described by some as a neo-Jim Crow.

Abrams did not win that night. Her opponent, the Trump-endorsed Republican Brian Kemp, eventually edged to victory by a thin, 55,000-vote margin. Abrams believes that voter suppression played a central role, which has led her to her next chapter: she has announced that for the next year, she will lead a nationwide voting rights campaign.

box 2

Her goal is to export lessons she learned fighting voter suppression in Georgia, and to mobilize a base of progressives and marginalized communities to help Democrats win the White House in 2020. While many had urged her to consider a run for the presidency herself, she believes the new mission may be a more formidable undertaking.

I am not convinced at all that we will have free and fair elections unless we work to make it so, she said in August, during the first of several conversations with the Guardian. In America, we have the theory of free and fair elections, but unfortunately weve seen, particularly over the last 20 years, an erosion of the ability to access that right.

Play Video
5:08
‘Trump relies on voter suppression’: Stacey Abrams on her fight for voting rights video

The turning point came in a 2013 supreme court ruling that gutted the civil rights movements crowning achievement, the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The ruling paved the way for a raft of state laws that have made voting harder across the country.

The vote is the most powerful nonviolent instrument of transformation we have in our democracy, said the Georgia civil rights veteran and US congressman John Lewis last year. There are forces trying to make it harder and more difficult for people to participate. And we must drown out these forces.

This is why today, the Guardian is launching The Fight to Vote, a series that will investigate why it is so hard for growing numbers of Americans to cast a ballot. In the run-up to the 2020 election, it will scrutinize compromised electoral systems, give a platform to voices silenced at the polls, and reveal how voter suppression is already shaping the 2020 election.

We are in a different era of voter suppression, Abrams says. But unfortunately it is a continued lineage of voter suppression that began with the inception of our country.

Former
Stacey Abrams meets Georgia voters in Metter, Monday November 5, 2018. Photograph: Melina Mara/The Washington Post/Getty Images

****

We first meet on a bright and humid summers afternoon in an upmarket Atlanta suburb a few blocks from the headquarters of her new national voting rights campaign, Fair Fight 2020.

The campaign is now in its infancy, but aims to create a vast voter protection drive across the country, supporting teams in 20 battleground states to aid with registration and boost turnout among minority groups next year.

In September she appeared on stage at a concert with the pop artist Lizzo in New York, delivering a rousing speech urging young attendees to become part of the campaign. This was part of a broader goal of engaging younger communities of color by pushing the voting rights struggle into popular culture.

Every one of you is responsible for finding a rule that is wrong, she told the crowd. I want you to break that rule and write a new one.

Abrams sees this work, and her gubernatorial election last year, as the continuation of a struggle that has spanned generations. We believe in the right to vote, but, from the very beginning, communities have been distanced from it, she says.

Communities like her own. Born in the small, coastal city of Gulfport, at the southern tip of Mississippi, Abrams and her five siblings were taught about the critical importance of voting from a young age. Her parents, both Methodist ministers, were involved in the civil rights movement as teenagers her father was arrested for assisting voter registration in black communities while still in high school.

My parents took us with them when they voted, she says. They talked about why politics mattered. They made certain we watched the news and asked questions, because they wanted us to understand that our engagement, our ability to shape our communities, was directly tied to our votes, and they were very clear that they expected us to be voters.

Stacey
Stacey Abrams in Atlanta on 27 August 2019. Photograph: Peyton Fulford/The Guardian

The voting rights struggle has shifted significantly since her parents days. While voter suppression laws in various states no longer explicitly target particular groups, the method is more insidious, using carefully constructed policy to make it harder to register, to cast a vote and to have a ballot counted. It has fundamentally changed the electoral landscape in the United States.

Abrams home state of Georgia is an incubator for these new suppression tactics, and Kemp, her opponent last year, is a primary instigator. Beginning in 2010, he served as Georgias secretary of state, overseeing voting and elections, and controversially declined to step down from the post while he ran for governor, meaning he effectively oversaw his own election.

Since the landmark supreme court decision, which allowed states to impose new voting laws without federal approval, Georgia has enacted a swath of voter suppression laws, from rapidly purging the voter rolls of those deemed inactive, to the closure of hundreds of polling places, often in poorer black neighbourhoods. It introduced a new law terminating voter registration four weeks before the 2018 election day, preventing an estimated 87,000 people from voting.

The state also introduced a controversial exact match law requiring that details on new voter applications match precisely with government-issued documents meaning an errant hyphen or a changed married name can block the registration process. This system proved contentious last year after 53,000 applications mostly from African Americans were revealed to have stalled less than a month before election day.

We saw an implementation of almost every possible iteration of voter suppression, Abrams says. Yes, we became an incubator, but we also became a singularity where almost every one of those pieces [of suppression] was implemented by the person who would go on to become governor of the state.

Abrams accepts she cannot prove empirically that these policies altered the election outcome. But she also refuses to rule it out, and she has not formally conceded the election, a move Kemps campaign branded a disgrace to democracy. It is a slur she shrugs off as hypocritical posturing. Kemp, privately educated and wealthy, is to her a representative of the sort of conservative, white patriarchal power she has spent much of her career fighting against.

Attendees
Attendees look at a laptop computer during an election night watch party for Stacey Abrams in Atlanta, Georgia on Tuesday, November 6th 2018. Photograph: Kevin D. Liles/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Brian Kemp is emblematic of what is happening across this country, which is that a community that has enjoyed a certain hegemony finds their control of power weakening, she says.

Critics have leveled the same charge at Donald Trump, who himself has spent much of his presidency casting false and inflammatory allegations of widespread illegal voting, the central justification for many voter suppression laws across the country. The president even appeared with Kemp during the 2018 campaign and reiterated a number of the conservative attacks on Abrams: that she had encouraged undocumented migrants to vote, would support widespread firearms confiscation, and was at the helm of a radical agenda across other areas of public life.

Nonetheless Abrams success at mobilizing a progressive base means that many observers now see Georgia, a Democratic stronghold until the late 90s, as a swing state once again.

She galvanized the most Democratic voters weve ever seen in Georgia, says Tharon Johnson, a veteran Democratic strategist in the state. She was able to get a lot of sporadic voters who historically dont come out in gubernatorial races, to turn out. She went to low-propensity voters folks that have moved or maybe fell off the voting rolls. I think the operation and apparatus she built then will be used to help elect a Democrat [next year].

She always had plans and knows what she wants to do

I
I became more and more afraid, reluctant to do the work of campaigning because I didnt want to pick up the phone and hear another person I admired tell me my skin color and gender would be my undoing. Photograph: Peyton Fulford/The Guardian

Abrams began to find her own political voice in the early 1990s, while studying at the historically black Spelman College in Atlanta.

She led organizing efforts when an unarmed black man, Rodney King, was assaulted by Los Angeles police in 1991. She appeared on TV news, dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, alongside the citys first black mayor, Maynard Jackson, where the two sparred over Atlantas policing tactics. Jackson later gave Abrams her maiden job in politics as a research assistant for the city.

It was also at Spelman that Abrams begin to organize her life into a series of formal goals. Spurred by a romantic breakup at the time, she started entering her ambitions into a spreadsheet. By 24, she aimed to write a bestselling spy novel. By 30, she would become a millionaire. And at 35, the mayor of Atlanta. Her goals shifted over time she published eight romance novels rather than spy novels, and she was elected to the Georgia house of representatives in 2007.

Stacey has always been very, very direct, says her youngest sister, Jeanine Abrams McLean. She always had plans and knows what she wants to do and develops plans to make sure it gets done.

As leader of the Democratic minority, Abrams earned bipartisan respect for her practical approach to governance..

She may be the most brilliant woman or person Ive ever met, says Allen Peake, a former Georgia house Republican who supported Kemp in 2018. She is incredibly intelligent, incredibly quick on her feet, incredibly well prepared for every political battle she enters.

Peake mentions the time Abrams rallied Democrats to support a medical marijuana bill he worked on, as well as numerous GOP budgets passed with her support. She was very pragmatic, he says. Even so, he remains critical of her 2018 platform, which he characterizes as radical.

Kemps tenure as governor, meanwhile, has proved disastrous for progressive causes in the state, among the most rapidly diversifying in the country. He signed one of the most restrictive abortion laws in America and has refused to expand healthcare provisions, despite polling indicating a majority of Georgians disapproved of both decisions.

Abrams describes this as a tyranny of the minority suppressing the vote, she argues, has led to the suppression of the views of the majority.

A
A mural featuring the face of Stacey Abrams in Atlanta, Georgia. Photograph: Elijah Nouvelage/The Washington Post via Getty Images

It is not possible to win by only talking to those weve talked to before

There is an arresting passage in Abrams autobiography, Lead from the Outside, describing the doubts she battled as she announced her gubernatorial candidacy. Some of her closest friends and mentors declined to back her bid. Their message was blunt: Georgia was not ready to elect a black woman to high office. Abrams almost dropped out of the primary after one close mentor, who she does not name, declined to support her.

I became more and more afraid, reluctant to do the work of campaigning because I didnt want to pick up the phone and hear another person I admired tell me my skin color and gender would be my undoing, she writes in the book, which was published before last years election.

Even though she is pouring her energy into fighting voting suppression, and has been touted as a potential running mate for Joe Biden, those feelings are still devastating.

It remains a reason that I have people I thought were friends that I acknowledge now werent true friendships. A number of them came back after I won the primary, but its a conversation that helped me understand that this is not simply a trope held by those who oppose me as a Democrat. It was a trope held by those who just didnt believe in the capacity of communities of color to hold power.

The Democrats are hoping to win back the mostly white voters who swung to Trump in 2016, yet Abrams argues that embracing ostracized communities of color is essential.

Identity politics is good politics for Democrats, she says. It is not possible to win and to build the coalitions we need to build by only talking to those weve talked to before.

Abrams laughs a little awkwardly when asked if she has been approached by any of the candidates. No one has rung my phone yet. But she remains open. I think it would be fantastic to be invited to be someones running mate, but you cant plan your life around someone elses wishes.

Meanwhile, Abrams still maintains those spreadsheets she started writing back at university. She last updated one in February of this year. She struck off Governor of Georgia by 2018 from the list, and updated it to include her forthcoming work on voting rights.

But she didnt touch one goal that has been on there for years : president of the United States by 2028. Its still on there, but for later, she says.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

admin‘I’mnot convinced we will have fair elections in America’: Stacey Abrams’ fight against voter suppression
read more

Joint support: left and right in rare agreement on cannabis

Two-thirds of the US favor marijuana legalization, making it one of the least divisive issues in the country

With the US weeks away from the most contentious midterm election in at least a generation, Americans of all political persuasions increasingly want marijuana to be legal.

Two-thirds of the country favor recreational legalization and polls consistently show support for medical use well above 80%. In 1996 when California became the first state to allow medical use, roughly one in four Americans wanted to legalize the drug. Since then there has been a seismic shift, and today, according to the data site FiveThirtyEight, support for legalization is among the least divisive issues in the country.

Refreshingly, public opinion on marijuana policy refuses to conform to the countrys familiar red state/blue state divide. While legalization is somewhat more popular with Democrats, it has long attracted supporters from the libertarian right.

With public opinion strongly in favor of legalization, it has become the default position for Democrats, while political realities have pushed Republicans in the same direction.

Now that 31 states allow medical use, support for legalization has climbed amid perceptions that cannabis may be a treatment option for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and could be an exit drug for people addicted to opioids. The evidence that marijuana relieves these overlapping scourges is still more anecdotal than scientific, but both have been hard-felt in conservative, rural areas. Hope for relief has led veterans, a traditionally right-leaning constituency, to overwhelmingly support medical marijuana research.

31
Thirty-one states allow medical use, and polls suggest voters in conservative Utah will pass a stricter medical marijuana law on election day, despite initial opposition from the Mormon church. Illustration: Sam Morris

The dynamic was apparent in June, when voters in deep-red Oklahoma approved a permissive medical marijuana law. Polls suggest voters in conservative Utah will comfortably pass a stricter medical marijuana law on election day, despite initial opposition from the Mormon church, the states most important institution. The religion, which doesnt permit consumption of alcohol or caffeine, has become comfortable with doctor-supervised medical marijuana use but not recreational use, whether legal or not.

In November, legalization proponents hope to unseat Congressman Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican who has blocked votes on modest measures like allowing Veterans Administration doctors to recommend medical marijuana in states where its legal. Sessions (no relation to the anti-legalization US attorney general, Jeff Sessions) is in a competitive race and recently met with mothers who advocate for research into cannabis as a treatment for autism.

Sessions opponent, Colin Allred, is a civil rights attorney and former NFL player who supports medical marijuana legalization. (Former NFL players who suffer severe chronic health problems, are a small but influential constituency that has advanced acceptance of medical marijuana.)

One unusual aspect of the legalization debate as it plays politically is that with few exceptions, neither supporters nor opponents are especially eager to discuss marijuana and the consequences of legalization.

The cannabis industry sees itself as an engine for creating jobs and offering the public a safer alternative to alcohol, but very few public officials are willing to go that far. Instead both Democrats and Republicans emphasize the potential benefits for veterans, and oppose harsh penalties for minor marijuana offenses. Ive yet to hear a politician say it will be a net benefit to society when every American adult has access to weed. Substantial campaign donations await whoever is willing to make the case.

Legal, commercial marijuana may yet prove to be beneficial. But as access becomes easier, its also likely to become clear that there are drawbacks to many more Americans spending much more of their lives high. When that happens its possible to imagine Democrats calling for tighter control of legal cannabis and the industry gravitating to the anti-regulation GOP.

Until then, politicians of both parties have absorbed the lesson: no one wins votes by taking away the peoples weed.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

adminJoint support: left and right in rare agreement on cannabis
read more

Mormon church backs deal to legalize medical marijuana in Utah

Ranking global leader Jack Gerard said they were thrilled to be part of effort to alleviate human pain and suffering

The Mormon church joined lawmakers, the governor and advocates to back a deal on Thursday that would legalize medical marijuana in conservative Utah after months of fierce debate.

The compromise comes as people prepare to vote in November on an insurgent medical marijuana ballot initiative that held its ground despite opposition from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Utah governor, Gary Herbert, said he would call lawmakers into a special session after the midterm election to pass the compromise into law regardless of how the initiative fared. If it passes, it will be revised under the terms of the deal. It if fails, the legislature would consider a law under the new framework.

The agreement in such a conservative state underscores the nations changing attitude toward marijuana. Medical use is now legal in more than 30 states and is also on the November ballot in Missouri. So-called recreational marijuana goes before voters in Michigan and North Dakota. If passed, it will be a first for a midwestern state.

Sign up for the US morning briefing

The Utah-based faith had opposed the ballot proposal over fears it could lead to more broad use, but its ranking global leader, Jack Gerard, said leaders were thrilled to be a part of the effort to alleviate human pain and suffering.

Though it still must go to a vote, the deal has the key backing of both the church and leaders of the Republican-dominated state legislature, who said the regulations in the hard-won agreement had their seal of approval. Unlike the ballot initiative, the compromise wont allow people to grow their own marijuana if they live too far from a dispensary. It also doesnt allow certain types of edible marijuana that could appeal to children, like cookies and brownies.

I will do everything in my power to ensure this compromise passes in the special session, said the Utah senate president, Wayne Niederhauser.

Medical marijuana advocates are backing the deal to avoid wrangling and uncertainty that could continue if the ballot initiative passes.

There will be medical cannabis here in our day in Utah, said the advocate DJ Schanz. The two sides agreed to scale back media campaigns supporting and opposing the ballot measure known as Proposition 2.

Not all medical marijuana advocates were convinced: Christine Stenquist with the group Truce said she remained skeptical about the deal and urged continued support for the ballot proposal.

Smoking marijuana would not be allowed under the ballot proposal. It instead allows edible forms, lotions or electronic cigarettes.

While the church opposed the ballot measure, leaders also made their first-ever public statement supporting the use of medical marijuana if prescribed by a doctor and dispensed by a pharmacy. The churchs positions carry outsized sway in its home state.

The faith had long frowned upon medical marijuana use because of a key church health code called the Word of Wisdom, which prohibits coffee as well as alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

adminMormon church backs deal to legalize medical marijuana in Utah
read more

Joint support: left and right in rare agreement on cannabis

Two-thirds of the US favor marijuana legalization, making it one of the least divisive issues in the country

With the US weeks away from the most contentious midterm election in at least a generation, Americans of all political persuasions increasingly want marijuana to be legal.

Two-thirds of the country favor recreational legalization and polls consistently show support for medical use well above 80%. In 1996 when California became the first state to allow medical use, roughly one in four Americans wanted to legalize the drug. Since then there has been a seismic shift, and today, according to the data site FiveThirtyEight, support for legalization is among the least divisive issues in the country.

Refreshingly, public opinion on marijuana policy refuses to conform to the countrys familiar red state/blue state divide. While legalization is somewhat more popular with Democrats, it has long attracted supporters from the libertarian right.

With public opinion strongly in favor of legalization, it has become the default position for Democrats, while political realities have pushed Republicans in the same direction.

Now that 31 states allow medical use, support for legalization has climbed amid perceptions that cannabis may be a treatment option for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and could be an exit drug for people addicted to opioids. The evidence that marijuana relieves these overlapping scourges is still more anecdotal than scientific, but both have been hard-felt in conservative, rural areas. Hope for relief has led veterans, a traditionally right-leaning constituency, to overwhelmingly support medical marijuana research.

31
Thirty-one states allow medical use, and polls suggest voters in conservative Utah will pass a stricter medical marijuana law on election day, despite initial opposition from the Mormon church. Illustration: Sam Morris

The dynamic was apparent in June, when voters in deep-red Oklahoma approved a permissive medical marijuana law. Polls suggest voters in conservative Utah will comfortably pass a stricter medical marijuana law on election day, despite initial opposition from the Mormon church, the states most important institution. The religion, which doesnt permit consumption of alcohol or caffeine, has become comfortable with doctor-supervised medical marijuana use but not recreational use, whether legal or not.

In November, legalization proponents hope to unseat Congressman Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican who has blocked votes on modest measures like allowing Veterans Administration doctors to recommend medical marijuana in states where its legal. Sessions (no relation to the anti-legalization US attorney general, Jeff Sessions) is in a competitive race and recently met with mothers who advocate for research into cannabis as a treatment for autism.

Sessions opponent, Colin Allred, is a civil rights attorney and former NFL player who supports medical marijuana legalization. (Former NFL players who suffer severe chronic health problems, are a small but influential constituency that has advanced acceptance of medical marijuana.)

One unusual aspect of the legalization debate as it plays politically is that with few exceptions, neither supporters nor opponents are especially eager to discuss marijuana and the consequences of legalization.

The cannabis industry sees itself as an engine for creating jobs and offering the public a safer alternative to alcohol, but very few public officials are willing to go that far. Instead both Democrats and Republicans emphasize the potential benefits for veterans, and oppose harsh penalties for minor marijuana offenses. Ive yet to hear a politician say it will be a net benefit to society when every American adult has access to weed. Substantial campaign donations await whoever is willing to make the case.

Legal, commercial marijuana may yet prove to be beneficial. But as access becomes easier, its also likely to become clear that there are drawbacks to many more Americans spending much more of their lives high. When that happens its possible to imagine Democrats calling for tighter control of legal cannabis and the industry gravitating to the anti-regulation GOP.

Until then, politicians of both parties have absorbed the lesson: no one wins votes by taking away the peoples weed.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

adminJoint support: left and right in rare agreement on cannabis
read more

Mormon church backs deal to legalize medical marijuana in Utah

Ranking global leader Jack Gerard said they were thrilled to be part of effort to alleviate human pain and suffering

The Mormon church joined lawmakers, the governor and advocates to back a deal on Thursday that would legalize medical marijuana in conservative Utah after months of fierce debate.

The compromise comes as people prepare to vote in November on an insurgent medical marijuana ballot initiative that held its ground despite opposition from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Utah governor, Gary Herbert, said he would call lawmakers into a special session after the midterm election to pass the compromise into law regardless of how the initiative fared. If it passes, it will be revised under the terms of the deal. It if fails, the legislature would consider a law under the new framework.

The agreement in such a conservative state underscores the nations changing attitude toward marijuana. Medical use is now legal in more than 30 states and is also on the November ballot in Missouri. So-called recreational marijuana goes before voters in Michigan and North Dakota. If passed, it will be a first for a midwestern state.

Sign up for the US morning briefing

The Utah-based faith had opposed the ballot proposal over fears it could lead to more broad use, but its ranking global leader, Jack Gerard, said leaders were thrilled to be a part of the effort to alleviate human pain and suffering.

Though it still must go to a vote, the deal has the key backing of both the church and leaders of the Republican-dominated state legislature, who said the regulations in the hard-won agreement had their seal of approval. Unlike the ballot initiative, the compromise wont allow people to grow their own marijuana if they live too far from a dispensary. It also doesnt allow certain types of edible marijuana that could appeal to children, like cookies and brownies.

I will do everything in my power to ensure this compromise passes in the special session, said the Utah senate president, Wayne Niederhauser.

Medical marijuana advocates are backing the deal to avoid wrangling and uncertainty that could continue if the ballot initiative passes.

There will be medical cannabis here in our day in Utah, said the advocate DJ Schanz. The two sides agreed to scale back media campaigns supporting and opposing the ballot measure known as Proposition 2.

Not all medical marijuana advocates were convinced: Christine Stenquist with the group Truce said she remained skeptical about the deal and urged continued support for the ballot proposal.

Smoking marijuana would not be allowed under the ballot proposal. It instead allows edible forms, lotions or electronic cigarettes.

While the church opposed the ballot measure, leaders also made their first-ever public statement supporting the use of medical marijuana if prescribed by a doctor and dispensed by a pharmacy. The churchs positions carry outsized sway in its home state.

The faith had long frowned upon medical marijuana use because of a key church health code called the Word of Wisdom, which prohibits coffee as well as alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

adminMormon church backs deal to legalize medical marijuana in Utah
read more

Mormon church backs deal to legalize medical marijuana in Utah

Ranking global leader Jack Gerard said they were thrilled to be part of effort to alleviate human pain and suffering

The Mormon church joined lawmakers, the governor and advocates to back a deal on Thursday that would legalize medical marijuana in conservative Utah after months of fierce debate.

The compromise comes as people prepare to vote in November on an insurgent medical marijuana ballot initiative that held its ground despite opposition from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Utah governor, Gary Herbert, said he would call lawmakers into a special session after the midterm election to pass the compromise into law regardless of how the initiative fared. If it passes, it will be revised under the terms of the deal. It if fails, the legislature would consider a law under the new framework.

The agreement in such a conservative state underscores the nations changing attitude toward marijuana. Medical use is now legal in more than 30 states and is also on the November ballot in Missouri. So-called recreational marijuana goes before voters in Michigan and North Dakota. If passed, it will be a first for a midwestern state.

Sign up for the US morning briefing

The Utah-based faith had opposed the ballot proposal over fears it could lead to more broad use, but its ranking global leader, Jack Gerard, said leaders were thrilled to be a part of the effort to alleviate human pain and suffering.

Though it still must go to a vote, the deal has the key backing of both the church and leaders of the Republican-dominated state legislature, who said the regulations in the hard-won agreement had their seal of approval. Unlike the ballot initiative, the compromise wont allow people to grow their own marijuana if they live too far from a dispensary. It also doesnt allow certain types of edible marijuana that could appeal to children, like cookies and brownies.

I will do everything in my power to ensure this compromise passes in the special session, said the Utah senate president, Wayne Niederhauser.

Medical marijuana advocates are backing the deal to avoid wrangling and uncertainty that could continue if the ballot initiative passes.

There will be medical cannabis here in our day in Utah, said the advocate DJ Schanz. The two sides agreed to scale back media campaigns supporting and opposing the ballot measure known as Proposition 2.

Not all medical marijuana advocates were convinced: Christine Stenquist with the group Truce said she remained skeptical about the deal and urged continued support for the ballot proposal.

Smoking marijuana would not be allowed under the ballot proposal. It instead allows edible forms, lotions or electronic cigarettes.

While the church opposed the ballot measure, leaders also made their first-ever public statement supporting the use of medical marijuana if prescribed by a doctor and dispensed by a pharmacy. The churchs positions carry outsized sway in its home state.

The faith had long frowned upon medical marijuana use because of a key church health code called the Word of Wisdom, which prohibits coffee as well as alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

adminMormon church backs deal to legalize medical marijuana in Utah
read more

Joint effort: cannabis lobby heads to Washington to woo US lawmakers

Industry leaders descended on the capital this week amid hopes the country at large is slowly embracing legalization

More than 200 cannabis industry leaders descended upon Washington this week in the hopes of persuading the US Congress to embrace the growing movement for marijuana legalization.

The marijuana business owners and advocates bustled between the hallways of the House and Senate, meeting with hundreds of congressional offices and rallying on the Capitol lawn over a three-day lobbying tour organized by the National Cannabis Industry Association.

The event, which brought members representing 23 states and the District of Columbia, was not the first of its kind. But the advocates hailed a new front in the battle for federal marijuana reform against the backdrop of a rapid evolution on how the issue is perceived in the nations capital.

Theres an air of legitimacy around our group that makes me hopeful that the stigma is going to fall away, said Blake Mensing, a cannabis attorney from Massachusetts who helps clients obtain local permits and state licenses for adult use cannabis businesses.

With public opinion polls showing record support among Americans for marijuana legalization, its little surprise that the high has spread to Congress.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have taken a flurry of actions in recent months that signal the shifting tides.

Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate majority leader, fast-tracked a bill in April that would legalize industrial hemp. The historical ban on hemp, which is derived from the cannabis plant, has long imposed barriers on the agriculture industry.

McConnell found an ally in his daily sparring partner Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, who announced his support for the proposal this month.

The marijuana industrys efforts include pushing for legislation that would grant legal marijuana businesses access to financial services, among other measures to prevent the federal government from prosecuting businesses that are in compliance with state laws.

The states have already proven that replacing the criminal marijuana markets with tightly regulated and transparent small businesses is working, said Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA). Now the responsibility falls on Congress to reform federal laws so that the legal cannabis industry can be treated fairly, like any other legitimate business sector.

The
The National Cannabis Industry Association points to economic benefits for states which tax and regulate marijuana. Photograph: Mark Leffingwell/Reuters

To further its case, the NCIA released a report highlighting economic benefits in the five states Alaska, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Washington that taxed and regulated the commercial production and sale of marijuana in 2017.

Those states collected more than $790m in state tax revenue that year, the report found, with tax revenue reaching $247m in Colorado alone. The analysis also cited a 445% increase in the number of marijuana industry job postings in 2017, according to the job placement firm ZipRecruiter, compared with an increase of 18% the year before.

Even longtime foes of marijuana legalization efforts have joined the bandwagon.

Last month the former House speaker John Boehner sent shockwaves through Washington by joining the board of Acreage Holdings, a firm that cultivates, processes and dispenses marijuana in 11 US states. The move marked a stunning reversal for the Ohio Republican, who once said he was unalterably opposed to decriminalizing marijuana.

In a statement provided to the Guardian, Boehner said there were a number of issues that had prompted the change. My thinking, like that of millions of other Americans, has evolved as Ive learned more about the issue, he said, pointing to the use of medical marijuana to treat patients of opioid addiction and the countrys veterans.

Descheduling the drug, Boehner added, will reduce the conflict between federal policy and state programs.

Even Donald Trumps administration has shown signs of easing its proposed crackdown on states that have legalized marijuana.

The US attorney general, Jeff Sessions, rescinded an Obama-era policy of non-interference with marijuana-friendly state laws, raising alarms of a forthcoming federal crackdown.

The move prompted Senator Cory Gardner, a Republican from Colorado, to block all of Trumps nominees to the justice department in a bid to compel the administration to reverse course. Last month, the president agreed his administration would not target the marijuana industry in Gardners home state, ending a three-month standoff.

Sessions even acknowledged the potential for some benefits from medical marijuana in a recent Senate hearing.

Charles Smith, a New York attorney and cannabis regulatory and compliance consultant, said the Trump administration had largely maintained the status quo on the drug.

The rescinding of the [Obama-era] guidance did cause a chilling effect, he added. There were deals lost, there were investors that backed out.

But we havent seen it on the ground where theyre carrying out enforcement actions, despite what the attorney general has said.

Some critics nonetheless view the evolution of Boehner and other former proponents of so-called tough-on-crime policies as cashing in on what is now a burgeoning industry.

Shanita Penny, president of the board of directors at the Minority Cannabis Business Association, said: Its not enough to just participate in this industry from a stance of wanting to make money.

Penny reiterated a similar message to lawmakers this week as she implored action on criminal justice reform.

Pennys group is focused on removing barriers that prohibit those with previous marijuana convictions from participating in the industry as a patient, employee or operator. Among the most pressing issues, from their vantage point, is reinvesting in the communities that have been disproportionately affected by the mandatory sentencing laws of years past.

You have to be willing to look at the harm that was done to communities that were over-policed, that were over-sentenced, that was destroyed because of the war on drugs and be ready to do some of the work to heal, Penny said.

We need the industry to start thinking about social responsibility and not let this be something that we address in hindsight.

  • This article was amended on 24 May 2018 to correct Shanita Pennys name and to remove a reference to pins marijuana business owners and advocates wore.



Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

adminJoint effort: cannabis lobby heads to Washington to woo US lawmakers
read more

Why federal cannabis crackdown may be a blessing in disguise for legal weed

Dont panic, legalization advocates say: Jeff Sessions anti-marijuana policy will have little practical impact and may even hasten the formal end of prohibition

Now that the dust has settled around attorney general Jeff Sessions promise of harsher federal marijuana enforcement, advocates of legalization have largely exchanged their initial disappointment over the move for one of long-term optimism.

I think there was a knee-jerk reaction of something approaching panic, but once everyone calmed down, theyve come to realize that practically this is going to have little impact, said Patrick Moen, a former Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agent who now works as council to an investment firm in the nascent legal marijuana industry.

Some, like Moen, even believe the decision could be the best thing for the growing marijuana movement, hastening the formal end of weed prohibition in the US.

There will probably a short term chilling effect, but this could ultimately be the best thing thats ever happened to accelerate the pace of change, Moen said.

Play Video
2:19
California’s marijuana muddle video explainer

The markets have reflected this somewhat counterintuitive sentiment. The United States Marijuana Index, which tracks 15 leading publicly traded legal marijuana-related companies, initially dropped 21% on the heels of the Department of Justice (DoJ) announcement, but it turned out to be a blip. By early this week the index had rebounded to within a few points of its one-year high.

Sessions announcement formally rescinded guidance, known as the Cole Memo, issued by the Obama-era DoJ that essentially told federal prosecutors to respect state laws with regards to marijuana. Importantly, though, Sessions decision did not direct or incentivize US attorneys to pursue marijuana cases, it just allowed them to if they so choose.

The Cole Memo guidance was eminently reasonable and was a common sense good policy, Moen said. I think that despite the fact that its been formally rescinded, federal prosecutors will effectively continue to abide by it.

Donald
Donald Trump with attorney general Jeff Sessions. Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP

One of the primary reasons concern has been tempered is that Sessions announcement is not actually likely to ensnare individual marijuana users into the criminal justice system.

Federal prosecutors almost never pursue simple possession charges against recreational users, whether in states where it is legal or not.

According to the Bureau of Justice statistics, 99% of those serving federal sentences for marijuana-related crimes were convicted of trafficking offenses, which typically relate to quantities far in excess of what individual recreational users would have.

It is unlikely that this will affect them in any tangible negative way, other than depriving of the ability to buy marijuana legally, said Justin Strekal, Political Director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (Norml).

The Sessions memo is unlikely to trigger a nationwide dragnet of marijuana users, and is also unlikely to cause wide-scale disruptions to legal cultivators, Moen notes.

If federal prosecutors decide to go rogue and start charging otherwise compliant state businesses, theres going to be repercussions with regard to their relationships with the local [law enforcement], Moen said.

Strekal notes, however, that because of civil-forfeiture laws, local law enforcement would have one very good reason to work with federal agents seeking to enforce marijuana laws on legal weed businesses. Although local law enforcement cant bust those businesses on their own they arent breaking any state or local laws by joining with feds to enforce federal law, they get to claim a portion of any assets seized in a potential drug raid.

The
The Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance protests the Jeff Sessions decision to rescind the Obama-era policy. Photograph: Brian Snyder/Reuters

In an area where you have a prohibitionist minded sheriff or a law enforcement agency, they will look at state-lawful marijuana facilities and see a big pile of money, Strekal said.

The 4 January move by Sessions was sandwiched by two major wins for legalization advocates. On the first of the month, recreational weed became legal in California, after more than a decade of a quite lax medical marijuana program. Then on 10 January, Vermont became the first US state to legalize the substance with an act of legislation, rather than a popular referendum, as has been the case in states like California, Colorado and Oregon.

The decision may ultimately precipitate another win, as Moen observed. Within hours of Sessions announcement, a bipartisan group of legislators had come out against the decision and some, including Hawaii senator Brian Schatz, announced that legislation was already being crafted that could overrule Sessions, by changing the extent to which Marijuana is classified as illegal at the federal level.

Its great that weve had a number of members of Congress over the course of the last six days last week step up and say what the attorney general did is wrong. Now time for every single one of those members of Congress to put their names on the pending legislation, Strekal said.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

adminWhy federal cannabis crackdown may be a blessing in disguise for legal weed
read more

Jeff Sessions is leading America back into Reefer Madness | Jamie Peck

The US attorney general is trying to undo the progress made in liberalizing marijuana consumption in the US. This will only lead to more people in jail

Once upon a time, the 1936 film Reefer Madness attempted to spread sensationalistic messages about marijuana to youths across the land. Just one toke, the film warned, and you could be setting off down the primrose path to murder, hallucinations, rape, suicide, and yes, the titular madness. Yikes!

Luckily for fans of the plant, we now know the worst effects of marijuana are smokers cough, laziness and a predilection for salty junk food. Furthermore, studies have shown it can be used to treat a vast array of health problems, from glaucoma to the nausea caused by chemotherapy.

The total number of fatal marijuana overdoses per year remains steady at zero. Why, its almost like pot is no big deal, and we should be allowed to have it if we want.

This knowledge, plus widespread social acceptance a recent Gallup poll found that one in eight US adults admits to smoking the stuff, and more than half have tried it have led to a gradual liberalization of marijuana laws on the state level, to the point where 29 states plus Washington DC have legalized medical marijuana.

Eight states have gone a step further and legalized it for recreational use, allowing people over the age of 21 to enjoy it responsibly. In 2016 alone, the citizens of eight states voted to relax their laws on recreational and/or medical marijuana, one of few progressive victories in an otherwise depressing election. (Perhaps because its one of a few issues that unites progressives and libertarian-leaning conservatives.) It would seem a critical mass of Americans is coming to accept the popular plant as the relatively harmless, potentially helpful substance it is.

But all that progress may soon come to a halt. As threatened back in February, Donald Trumps Department of Justice has plans to aggressively go after states that have legalized both recreational and medical marijuana the latter despite Sean Spicers promise that Trump sees a big difference between the two.

After making baseless statements that marijuana is only slightly less awful than heroin and that good people dont smoke marijuana, the attorney general, Jeff Sessions who once joked that he thought the violent white supremacists of the KKK were okay until I found out they smoked pot has established a task force to investigate the connection between marijuana and violent crime.

He might learn that legalizing marijuana has actually been shown to reduce violent crime in some instances and leave it unaffected in others. But, in case anyone thought he was waiting for the task forces findings to come in before acting, in May he wrote a letter to congressional leaders asking them to roll back protections put in place by the previous Congress. These use the power of the purse to keep the Department of Justice from prosecuting medical marijuana in states that have voted to legalize it.

In said letter, he referred to a historic drug epidemic, willfully conflating marijuana use with the crisis of opiate addiction plaguing our country. (Sessions either doesnt know or doesnt care that opiate deaths have actually decreased in states that have legalized medical marijuana, partly because it can serve as a gentler alternative to addictive prescription painkillers.)

He scapegoats marijuana for violent crime once more. He even claims marijuana is linked to an increased risk of psychiatric disorders such as psychosis, which sounds a lot like reefer madness to me. As with Trumps Muslim ban, Sessions notes this issue is too important to respect the rights of states to make their own laws. In Sessions bigoted eyes, states rights are only important when it comes to the passage of bills designed to discriminate against transgender people who wish to use the bathroom.

This approach is a departure from that of the Obama administration, whose relationship with the states on marijuana was more mixed. While Barack Obama raided growers in states that had legalized weed from time to time, the Department of Justice stated in a 2013 memo that it would not challenge state marijuana laws, provided the drug was adequately regulated. Obama also took some small steps to reform our criminal justice system, particularly where non-violent drug crimes were concerned.

While the fallout from legal marijuana is far from proven, the fallout from the ineffective war on drugs can be measured in lives ruined, particularly the lives of people of color. By 2001, there were 2 million people in our countrys prisons, and nearly one in three black men ages 20-29 was caught up in the deeply flawed criminal justice system.

Racial profiling, uneven enforcement, disparities in sentencing, and unequal access to lawyers have all helped ensure the majority of people in jail for drug offenses are black and Latino, despite the fact that black and white Americans use drugs at similar rates.

In rolling back states attempts at more sensible drug policy, Sessions seeks to bring us back to the days when misinformation and hysteria beat out science and reason, and the government used the war on drugs as an excuse to go after anti-war hippies and African-Americans, as a former Nixon official was once quoted admitting.

Our only hope is that the rollout of this policy is as botched as everything else the Trump administration has tried to do. Which, judging from recent history, is entirely possible.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

adminJeff Sessions is leading America back into Reefer Madness | Jamie Peck
read more