Marijuana has enjoyed some tail winds lately, even as regulating it faces an uncertain future in the Trump administration.
Over the past week, Trump promised not to go after marijuana suppliers and users who are obeying their state laws, former House speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced his formerly icy views toward the drug have thawed, and top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell pushed harder for legalizing the farming of hemp, pot's non-psychoactive relative.
Marijuana legalization advocates say they’re cheered by the recent developments — and particularly by the president’s statements last week, which provided some clarity into how aggressively his Justice Department might go after states that have defied the federal prohibition on marijuana use.
“This news should make states more comfortable implementing their legalization programs,” said Don Murphy, director of conservative outreach for the Marijuana Policy Project, a group that advocates for removing criminal penalties for pot use. “It should also serve as a rallying cry for lawmakers to pass comprehensive legislation that leaves marijuana policy to the states permanently.”
In January, Attorney General Jeff Sessions set his sights on the several dozen states where medical or recreational marijuana is legal, announcing federal prosecutors can decide for themselves whether to press cases against growers, sellers or users for violating federal law. The posture outraged lawmakers whose states have legalized marijuana, including Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who swore to block Trump’s Justice Department nominees in retribution.
But Gardner has backed down, saying Trump promised him that despite the Sessions memo, federal prosecutors would not target the marijuana industry in Colorado. The president’s assurances to Gardner directly contradict Sessions’s posture, revealing yet another rift between Trump and members of his administration.
“Since the campaign, President Trump has consistently supported states' rights to decide for themselves how best to approach marijuana,” Gardner said in a statement.
Bloomberg's Steven Dennis:
On a normal day, Trump backing legislation enshrining states' right to fully legalize marijuana would be your lead story.— Steven Dennis (@StevenTDennis) April 14, 2018
A journalist with Marijuana Moment:
Obama and Dems absolutely should’ve solved the federal marijuana issue years ago. Now Trump is going to swoop in and look like a bipartisan hero.— Tom Angell 🌳📰 (@tomangell) April 13, 2018
Some Democrats say they’re still not convinced the marijuana industry — whose revenue and reach have exploded in recent years — is safe, considering Sessions’s long-held opposition to the substance. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), co-founder of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, called it a “head-spinning moment.”
“We should hope for the best, but not take anything for granted,” he said. “Trump changes his mind constantly, and Republican leadership is still in our way.”
It’s true that revising the federal ban on marijuana isn’t on Congress’s horizon — at least not yet. But the House and Senate are filled with an unprecedented number of pro-pot lawmakers from a record number of states where the marijuana industry legal. And there are glimmers that GOP leaders, past and present, are softening on marijuana sale and use, as well as the products related to it.
McConnell has supported hemp cultivation for at least four years -- in 2014, he backed a provision in the farm bill to permit a hemp cultivation pilot program in his home state of Kentucky. Now he is the lead sponsor of a bill removing hemp from the federal government’s schedule of controlled substances, enthusiastically rolling out the measure on the Senate floor last week.
“As the tobacco industry has changed, some farmers in states like Kentucky have been searching for a new crop that can support their families and grow our agricultural economy,” McConnell said. “And many believe they've found such a product: industrial hemp. But the federal government has stood in the way. Mr. President, it's time to change that.”
It's time the federal gov changes the way it looks at #hemp, which is why Senator @RonWyden and I, along with @SenJeffMerkley, are introducing legislation that will modernize federal law in this area & empower American farmers to explore this promising new market.— Leader McConnell (@SenateMajLdr) April 12, 2018
The Post's Erica Werner:
Who says bipartisanship is dead. Hemp is bringing people together as McConnell and Wyden extol its virtues on the Senate floor.— Erica Werner (@ericawerner) April 12, 2018
And Boehner, who once said he was “unalterably opposed” to decriminalizing marijuana use, announced last week that he had joined the board of directors of Acreage Holdings, a company that grows and sells the drug in 11 states.
Boehner had said in 2011 that he was worried legalizing marijuana would result in increased abuse of a variety of drugs, including alcohol, but wrote last week that he has changed his mind because of the promise pot holds for medical treatment for veterans.
“I have concluded descheduling the drug is needed so that we can do research and allow VA to offer it as a treatment option in the fight against the opioid epidemic that is ravaging our communities,” he wrote.
Politico's Jake Sherman:
7 years ago congress was entering a summer from hell. Fiscal negotiations w Obama and gop congress— Jake Sherman (@JakeSherman) April 11, 2018
Now John Boehner is an advocate for legalized marijuana. Eric cantor is an out-of-public-view Wall Street banker. And the nations fiscal picture is again worsening.
What a town!
The Post's Christopher Ingraham:
>> Boehner's joining the marijuana industry— Christopher Ingraham (@_cingraham) April 12, 2018
>> McConnell wants to legalize hemp pic.twitter.com/6Et2JTWdb2
Founding partner of CB1 Capital:
John Boehner, Mitch McConnell and Orin Hatch have all turned supporter of cannabis or hemp (MM). Let that sink in for a moment. 96% support ahead of massively important mid-term elections. It's happening.#cannabinoid #wellness— Todd Harrison (@todd_harrison) April 11, 2018
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AHH: Patients with advanced lung cancer lived significantly longer when they received an immunotherapy drug along with standard chemotherapy compared with those who received chemo alone, our colleague Laurie McGinley reports. After a median follow-up time of 10.5 months, patients who took both drugs in a trial were 51 percent less likely to die compared with patients in the chemo-only group. The findings were presented yesterday at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in Chicago.
The report underscores the increasingly important first-line role that immunotherapy -- which unleashes the immune system to destroy cancer cells -- is taking against lung cancer, the second-most common malignancy in the United States. “Most patients diagnosed with advanced lung cancer — disease that has spread beyond its original site — initially receive chemotherapy, which provides only marginal benefit," Laurie writes. "But the disease is so lethal that many patients don’t survive long enough to try second- or third-line treatments, so researchers are trying to develop and use more effective approaches earlier.”
OOF: There's a petition circulating for Apple, Google and Amazon to remove an app by Bravo Kids Media called “Beauty Clinic Plastic Surgery” that turns cosmetic surgery into a game, The Post's Hayley Tsukayama reports. Many of the cosmetic surgery games promote European beauty ideals as the idea look. Some games, including “Plastic Surgery Simulator,” let players perform double-eyelid surgery — a procedure some Asian women undertake to look more Caucasian.
“By making cosmetic surgery apps available for download, Apple, Google and Amazon are allowing companies to stoke and profit from the insecurities of children,” says a petition addressed to the companies from Endangered Bodies, a group devoted to promoting positive body image. It’s one of eight petitions the group is promoting across the world. The petition in the United States gathered more than 119,000 signatures during the year-long campaign.
OUCH: When Boehner joined Acreage Holdings, he repeated a myth — that the U.S. has “filled up our jails” with nonviolent people whose only crime was that they possessed marijuana. The Post's Fact-Checker Glenn Kessler explains why he's giving Boehner four "Pinocchios" for this statement.
In state prisons, only 3.4 percent of prisoners are in jail for all types of drug possession; in contrast, 54.5 percent are in prison for violent crimes such as murder, rape and robbery and another 11.6 percent are in prison for public order offenses. In the federal system, the numbers for marijuana possession are also astonishingly low. Only 92 people in 2017 were sentenced for marijuana possession in the federal system out of a total of nearly 20,000 drug convictions. Out of all of the drug possession charges, marijuana possession made up 43 percent of all of the drug possession cases, Glenn explains.
"Under no stretch of the imagination has the United States 'literally filled up our jails with people who are nonviolent,'" Glenn writes. "Very few people end up in prison for marijuana possession, and those who do are probably there for another complicating factor. Boehner says he doesn’t personally indulge, inhaling only Camel cigarettes. But either way, he’s blowing smoke here."
— Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar has been discharged from an Indianapolis hospital after an overnight stay and plans to return to Washington today, the agency said yesterday. Officials said Azar was “fully functional” during his hospitalization and was in “regular contact” with other department leaders. HHS had announced Sunday that Azar was being treated with intravenous antibiotics for an infection.
Azar tweeted this after leaving St. Vincent’s Hospital in Indianapolis:
I'm grateful for the incredible doctors & nurses who provided me with excellent care during my one-night stay at @StVincentIN. Also thankful for my wife, who insisted that I call my primary care doctor when I wasn't feeling well. Glad to be back at work for the American people.— Alex Azar (@SecAzar) April 16, 2018
— Final guidance expanding association health plans could be here soon. Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, speaking yesterday at a tax event with Trump in Florida, said he hopes to finalize the new regulations "by this summer." The plans — which would allow more Americans to buy leaner, cheaper coverage exempt from Obamacare rules — are a key way the president is claiming to have delivered on his health-care promises despite Congress's failure to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
“The individual mandate is gone,” Trump said. “That’s on Obamacare, which is about the end of Obamacare. So we had Obamacare beat and one senator decided to go thumbs down. Do you remember that evening? No, nobody remembers. Thumbs down.”
“It’s all right, because Alex Acosta has come up and this is the plan that a lot of people have wanted for a long time, associations,” the president continued. “Alex, when is that going to be ready where people can start signing and doing it in groups and through cooperatives, et cetera?”
“That’s right, Mr. President, we hope to have that by this summer,” Acosta replied.
“It’s going to be incredible, you’re going to get tremendous insurance at a very low cost,” Trump said.
— House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) underwent a follow-up procedure as part of his recovery from a shooting at congressional baseball practice last June. The procedure yesterday will keep him out of the Capitol for a few days, our colleague Paul Kane reports.
“I’m writing to let you know I will undergo that follow-up procedure this morning. I’m blessed to have made tremendous progress in my healing, and am grateful for your continued support,” Scalise wrote to his colleagues on the whip team. “I am eager to be back at the Capitol as soon as my doctors say I’m able.”
Scalise was shot in the hip and nearly died after a gunman opened fire ona Republican baseball practice in Alexandria, Va.
Scalise returned to the Hill in late September, and for many months used a scooter to get around the Capitol. But he has lately relied on crutches. “His health has improved enough that some Republicans have openly talked about Scalise succeeding House Speaker Paul Ryan, who announced last week that he will retire at the end of the year," Paul writes. "Scalise has endorsed Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy as Ryan’s successor."
— Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) underwent surgery for an intestinal infection related to diverticulitis, his office said yesterday, McCain, who has been undergoing treatment for brain cancer, was hospitalized at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix. The 81-year-old is in "stable condition," Paul reports.
"Over the last few months, Senator McCain has been participating in physical therapy at his home in Cornville, Arizona, as he recovers from the side effects of cancer treatment,” his office said in the statement. “He has remained engaged on his work as Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and has enjoyed frequent visits from his family, friends, staff and Senate colleagues."
— Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), who last week became the first sitting senator to deliver a child, has submitted a resolution to allow senators to bring children under 1-year-old to the floor during votes -- and Senate leaders seem prepared to approve it, Politico’s Jennifer Haberkorn reports.
Duckworth has been pushing to change Senate rules, which currently ban children from the floor. She argues the policy doesn’t support working parents and would make it difficult for her to vote, Jennifer writes. “I can’t be away from a newborn infant in the first three months for that long,” Duckworth told Politico before her daughter was born.
Duckworth’s chief of staff Kaitlin Fahey told Jennifer the proposal incorporated input from senators on both sides of the aisle and was introduced by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). The Senate Rules Committee is expected to move the resolution as soon as this week, which will then give the full chamber the chance to vote on it or approve the bill unanimously.
— A few more good reads from the Post and beyond:
- Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health holds a seminar on opioids and addiction.
- The acting director of the Indian Health Services testifies before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies.
- FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb testifies before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies.
- The National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation holds an event on “Stopping the Superbug Threat” on Wednesday.
- Brookings Institution holds an event on medical marijuana on Wednesday.
- House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies holds a hearing on the 2019 budget for HHS biodefense activities on Wednesday.
- The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education and Related Agencies on the budget for HHS on Thursday.
- The Tatia Oden French Memorial Foundation will host a hill briefing on two bills on making childbirth safer on Thursday.
- The Senate Finance Committee holds a hearing on the opioid epidemic on Thursday.
- The Better Medicare Alliance holds a briefing on improving consumer understanding of Medicare Advantage on Friday.
Here's how a poll of 1,000 people represents the entire country:
Stephen Colbert previews his interview with former FBI director James Comey: