“He told me he would have some respect for states’ right on these things,”

“He told me he would have some respect for states’ right on these things,” Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), told Politico. “And so I’ll be very unhappy if the federal government decides to go into Colorado and Washington and all of these places. And that’s not [what] my interpretation of my conversation with him was. That this wasn’t his intention.”

 

Elizabeth Warren demands Jeff Sessions respect state marijuana law

Posted 1:57 PM, March 4, 2017, by Tribune Media Wire

By Ese Olumhense

States need ‘immediate assurance’ from Sessions and Department of Justice

A bipartisan group of senators sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday, urging their former colleague not to undo a 2013 policy permitting states to set their own recreational marijuana regulations.

Led by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the push is a response to recent mixed messages from the Trump administration on whether it will enforce federal law which still bars recreational marijuana use, or leave the decision to implement the federal policy to the states.

Sessions, speaking to the National Association of Attorneys General on Tuesday, had said he was “dubious about marijuana.” Less than a week before, at a White House briefing, Press Secretary Sean Spicer cautioned that “greater enforcement” of the federal statute could come and later likened recreational pot use to the opioid addiction crisis happening across the country.

For some senators, however, the possibility of “greater enforcement” signals an intrusion into states’ rights in a way that is concerning.

“It is essential that states that have implemented any type of practical, effective marijuana policy receive immediate assurance from the [Department of Justice] that it will respect the ability of states to enforce thoughtful, sensible drug policies in ways that do not threaten the public’s health and safety,” the group wrote.

Though legal in some states, marijuana remains a Schedule I drug

Eight states and Washington, D.C. have legalized the recreational use of marijuana. Twenty-eight states in total have comprehensive medical marijuana laws, and 17 have limited use or limited criminal defense laws for marijuana that is used for a medicinal purpose.

Federal law, however, still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, one with “no currently accepted medical use.” As recently as August, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) refused to change that designation — meaning the federal government is still armed with the authority to arrest, charge, and prosecute pot growers, buyers, or sellers in states where marijuana is legal.

Sessions has been a fierce opponent of marijuana for any use and his confirmation prompted fears that the DOJ would follow the example set by former Attorney General John Ashcroft, who served under George W. Bush, and target dispensaries in places where recreational pot use is legal.

Sessions did little to quell those fears on Tuesday, slamming the argument made by pot proponents that marijuana has medical benefits.

“Give me a break,” Sessions said, referring to a Washington Post article on marijuana as a treatment for opiate addiction. “This is the kind of argument that’s been made out there, just almost a desperate attempt to defend the harmlessness of marijuana, or even its benefits. I doubt that’s true. Maybe science will prove I’m wrong, but at this point in time you and I have a responsibility to use our best judgment.”

Senators’ concerns of overreach may be overblown

Though the senators’ letter was celebrated by some constituents on social media, the concern may be overblown.

Politico reported Thursday that behind closed doors prior to his confirmation Sessions assured some GOP senators that Department of Justice will not be implementing “greater enforcement” measures for recreational marijuana. The attorney general’s previous comments had bothered some conservative officials, who felt that a decision to crack down on legal pot would be an unwelcome overreach.

“He told me he would have some respect for states’ right on these things,” Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), told Politico. “And so I’ll be very unhappy if the federal government decides to go into Colorado and Washington and all of these places. And that’s not [what] my interpretation of my conversation with him was. That this wasn’t his intention.”

Upending the Obama-era legal pot directive would not only be unpopular with some senators, but unfavorable to the majority of Americans. It would also be difficult, as the DEA only has about 4,600 employees, which would likely need to coordinate big, costly operations in states in which law enforcement has no laws against marijuana to enforce. A federal crackdown in the courts might also eliminate many of the regulations and oversight set by states which permit the use of marijuana.

On the flip side, making marijuana legal for recreational use nationwide would generate millions in tax revenue, advocates claim, and allow for more oversight into a growing industry. Just one year after becoming the first state to allow the purchase and sale of marijuana, Colorado raked in $53 million in revenue

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Paul vows to return to Capitol Hill on Sunday to block bill, end NSA spying

Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul says he’ll try to block last-ditch efforts Sunday to renew NSA and other anti-terrorist and surveillance programs.

“I will force the expiration of the NSA illegal spy program,” Paul, also a 2016 presidential candidate, said Saturday. “I am ready and willing to start the debate on how we fight terrorism without giving up our liberty.”

The Libertarian-minded Paul led a filibuster-like effort over the Memorial Day weekend that helped block legislation to extend federal surveillance efforts but suggested upon leaving the Senate chambers that he might reconsider.

“It depends,” he said. “Sometimes things change as deadlines approach.”

Barring a last-minute deal in Congress, three post-Sept. 11 surveillance laws used against spies and terrorists will expire when Sunday turns into Monday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has called back the upper chamber for a rare Sunday session to decide on whether to accept a House-passed bill that extends the programs. Congress would then send the measure to President Obama to sign before midnight.

The House’s USA Freedom Act passed overwhelmingly in the Republican-controlled chamber but fell three votes short of the 60 needed to proceed in the Senate. And efforts in the upper chamber to extend the current law also have failed.

Much of the debate has focuses on the National Security Agency’s collection of Americans’ telephone calling records, authorized under one of the expiring provisions, Section 215 of the Patriot Act.

Independent evaluations have cast doubt on that program’s importance, and even law enforcement officials say in private that losing this ability would not carry severe consequences.

Yet the fight over those records has jeopardized other surveillance programs that have broad, bipartisan support and could fall victim to congressional gridlock.

The FBI uses Section 215 to collect other business records tied to specific terrorism investigations.

A separate section in the post-9/11 Patriot Act allows the FBI to eavesdrop, via wiretaps, on suspected terrorists or spies who discard phones to dodge surveillance. A third provision, targeting "lone wolf" attackers, has never been used and thus may not be missed if it lapses.

If the Freedom Act becomes law, the business-records provision and the roving-wiretap authority would return immediately. The NSA would resume collecting American telephone records for a six-month period while shifting to a system of searching phone company records case by case.

If no agreement is reached, all the provisions will expire.

A third possibility is a temporary extension of current law while lawmakers work out a deal, but House members have expressed opposition.

“I have fought for several years now to end the illegal spying of the NSA on ordinary Americans,” Paul also said in a statement released Saturday. “Let me be clear: I acknowledge the need for a robust intelligence agency and for a vigilant national security. I believe we must fight terrorism. …  But we do not need to give up who we are to defeat them.”

Failure to pass the legislation would mean new barriers for the government in domestic, national-security investigations, at a time when intelligence officials say the threat at home is growing.

Government and law enforcement officials, including Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, have said in recent days that letting the wiretap and business records provisions expire would undercut the FBI’s ability to investigate terrorism and espionage.

Lynch said it would mean "a serious lapse in our ability to protect the American people." Clapper said in a statement Friday that prompt passage by the Senate of the House bill "is the best way to minimize any possible disruption of our ability to protect the American people."

And President Obama used his weekly radio and Internet address Saturday to accuse opponents of hijacking the debate for political reasons. "Terrorists like al Qaeda and ISIL aren’t suddenly going to stop plotting against us at midnight tomorrow, and we shouldn’t surrender the tools that help keep us safe," he said, using an acronym for the Islamic State group.

Civil liberties activists say the pre-Sept. 11 law gives the FBI enough authority to do its job. To bolster their case, they cite a newly released and heavily blacked out report by the Justice Department’s internal watchdog that examined the FBI’s use up to 2009 of business record collection under Section 215.

"The government has numerous other tools, including administrative and grand jury subpoenas, which would enable it to gather necessary information," in terrorism investigations, the American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement.

Section 215 allows the FBI to serve a secret order requiring a business to hand over records relevant to a terrorism or espionage investigation. The FBI uses the authority "fewer than 200 times a year," Director James Comey said last week.

The inspector general’s report said it was used in "investigations of groups comprised of unknown members and to obtain information in bulk concerning persons who are not the subjects of or associated with an authorized FBI investigation."

But from 2007 to 2009, the report said, none of that material had cracked a specific terrorism case.

The report analyzed several cases, but most of the details are blacked out. In some cases, the FBI agent pronounced the 215 authority "useful" or "effective," but the context and detail were censored.

Fox News’ Chad Pergram and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Paul begins Patriot Act filibuster

Presidential hopeful Sen. Rand Paul took to the Senate floor Wednesday, in what the Kentucky Republican’s staff is calling a long-anticipated filibuster of extending the Patriot Act.

"I will not let the Patriot Act, the most unpatriotic of acts, go unchallenged," the Kentucky Republican said from the Senate floor. "The bulk collection of all Americans phone records all of the time is a direct violation of the fourth amendment."

Separately, Paul tweeted that he had taken to the Senate floor "to begin a filibuster of the Patriot Act renewal."

Paul suggested that the agency’s phone collection program could be the "tip of the iceberg" of the government’s surveillance practices. He said Americans must "decide as a country whether we value our Bill of Rights … or if we are willing to give that up so we feel safer."

The Kentucky Republican also slammed President Obama for not shutting down the NSA’s program in the wake of the a court ruling that determined the program is illegal.
"Where is the executive?" Paul asked. "How come the press gives him a free pass?

The Senate is currently debating "fast-track" trade legislation, with a procedural vote expected Thursday, so Paul is actually blocking his Senate colleagues from offering, debating and voting on amendments to that bill — something Democrats were quick to highlight.

Still, Paul appears poised to deliver a long speech from the floor that could tie up the Senate for hours.

Paul has made his opposition to NSA surveillance one of the cornerstones of his presidential campaign, and has pledged that he would end the "unconstitutional" program on his first day in the White House.

As he began Wednesday’s speech, Paul’s campaign blasted out an email on the NSA speech to supporters, seeking to build momentum.

"I will not rest. I will not back down. I will not yield one inch in this fight so long as my legs can stand," Paul wrote in the email.

The note to supporters included a link to Paul’s campaign website where supporters could "join the filibuster" by filing out their name, email and zip code.

Paul has used the Seante floor to his advantage before, famously staging a 13-hour filibuster of CIA nominee John Brennan in 2013. On Wednesday, Paul suggested that without his speech, there wouldn’t be a real debate in Congress on the Patriot Act.

"We are mired in a debate over trade. There’s another debate over the highway bill and the word is, we won’t actually get any time to debate if we’re going to abridge the Fourth Amendment," he said.

Senators are facing a looming deadline for action on the Patriot Act, with key provisions set to expire June 1.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has pledged a vote on the USA Freedom Act, which would end the NSA’s collection of bulk phone records. Under the bill, the agency would have to ask private companies for a narrow set of phone records tied to a particular case. The NSA would also no longer hold the phone records in a government database.

Still, it’s not clear whether the USA Freedom Act can garner the needed 60 votes in the Senate.
McConnell and other top Republicans oppose the USA Freedom Act and are pushing to pass a "clean" extension of the Patriot Act, including Section 215, which the NSA uses to justify its phone records program.

If both bills fail, the Senate could be forced to pass a short-term extension of the spy powers — though it’s unclear whether a stopgap measure could pass muster with the House, which passed the USA Freedom Act last week in a resounding vote.

— This story was updated at 2:42 p.m.

Tags: Rand Paul, National security, Mass surveillance, Filibuster, National Security Agency, Patriot Act

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A new Senate bill maps out how weed will eventually become legal in the U.S.

Gillibrand, Booker, Paul

 

A trio of high-profile senators this week unveiled a package of drug reforms that would effectively end the federal war on medical marijuana once and for all. The bill, from Republican Rand Paul and Democrats Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand, wouldn’t legalize medical weed across the country, but it would remove the threat of federal prosecution for patients who use it in states where it is legal. It would also represent a federal acknowledgment of weed’s medicinal potential—something the U.S. government has repeatedly refused to concede since Richard Nixon launched the war on drugs in the 1970s.

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City.

The legislation is bipartisan, sound, and long overdue. Frustratingly albeit unsurprisingly, then, it is unlikely to make it very far in the current Congress, a reality even the nation’s chief weed advocates have readily admitted. Its short-term fate notwithstanding, though, the bill is a clear sign of just how quickly the drug debate is evolving in Washington—and may just foretell how nationwide legalization will eventually come to pass.

That Paul, Booker, and Gillibrand have teamed up on the bill is telling, and the good news for the pro-pot crowd comes in both the chicken-and-egg variety. On the one hand, as rising stars on the national stage, all three will have ample opportunity to further their cause—particularly Paul, who is expected to officially jump into the race for the GOP presidential nomination later this year. On the other, it’s unlikely that the trio would have made this a priority if they were the least bit nervous that their efforts would come back to bite them. And they have good reason to be confident in that regard: A majority of Americans back full-scale marijuana legalization, and even those who don’t tend to believe that it’s simply a matter of when, not if, the nation’s eight-decade-long prohibition of pot comes to an end.

Still, believing legalization is inevitable doesn’t make it so. The question, then, is how we get from the present—with Congress bullying Washington, D.C., officials in a bid to stop them from following the will of voters and making weed legal—to full, nationwide legalization?

The Senate legislation offers just such a road map. The bill’s most important provision would change how pot is classified under the Controlled Substances Act, the 1970 law that is the backbone of federal drug policy. Currently, the government labels marijuana a Schedule I drug, a classification that puts it in the same category as heroin, LSD, ecstasy, and a handful of other heavyweights. Those drugs, according to the federal definition, have “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” The Senate bill would drop weed to Schedule II, a classification for drugs that still have a significant potential for abuse, although less than their more restricted brethren. More importantly, the Schedule II classification is reserved for drugs with some medical benefits—things like methadone and Adderall—meaning placing pot in that category would be a de facto admission that weed does indeed have a role to play for some patients.

The path from legal medical weed to the recreational stuff isn’t as straight of a line, although the two are clearly connected.

It’s hard to overstate just how much that would change the way the federal government deals with pot. It would open the door wider for universities to research medical uses for marijuana without fear that Drug Enforcement Administration agents are seconds away from kicking down their doors, while also giving the green light to doctors at Veterans Affairs hospitals to prescribe medical marijuana to veterans. In many ways, the reclassification would represent the biggest change in the government’s attitude toward pot since Nixon decided that weed was what was fueling his counterculture critics. (Or, as he famously put it, “They’re all on drugs.”)

To date, 23 states, along with the District of Columbia, have legalized medical marijuana, siding with the medical consensus that cancer patients and others can benefit from marijuana use and against the federal ban that has always been more about politics than science. (Another 12 states, meanwhile, have legalized the limited use of low-THC, high-CBD pot for those with prescriptions.) A change in classification would be the first major domino to fall in the fight to end federal prohibition. Not only would it allow medical marijuana to more easily flourish in those states where it is already legal, it would also make other states where medical weed is not yet legal more likely to follow suit.

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Rand Paul: Marijuana users lose IQ points and lack motivation

By Eric W. Dolan / Monday, June 17, 2013 22:18 EDT

Rand Paul screenshot

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) said Monday he did not support the legalization of marijuana, though he did support some form of decriminalization.

“What I think is that if your kid or one of his friends goes out and gets caught with marijuana, sticking them in prison is a big mistake,” he told Peter Robinson of the Hoover Institution. “So I don’t really believe in prison sentences for these minor non-violent drug offenses, but I’m not willing to go all the way to say it is a good idea either. I think people who use marijuana all the time lose IQ points, I think they lose their drive to show up for work.”

Paul, however, added that he believed individual states should be allowed to decide whether they wanted to legalize marijuana or not.

Much to the chagrin of his libertarian supporters, Paul has said he doesn’t support drug legalization. Despite Paul’s lack of support for legalization, many drug policy reformers view him as an ally because of his support for legislation to scale back the war on drugs.

During the Hoover Institution interview, Paul also said he supported overturning the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade ruling. He said abortion as well as same-sex marriage should be issues for the states to decide.

Watch video, courtesy of the Wall Street

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