Lawmakers Push Biden To Help Another Medical Marijuana Patient In Russia As Griner’s Case Gets Attention | Big Indy News
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Lawmakers Push Biden To Help Another Medical Marijuana Patient In Russia As Griner’s Case Gets Attention

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As a Russian prison sentence handed down this week to U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner over cannabis vapes generates international outrage, a bipartisan group of House and Senate lawmakers is pushing the Biden administration to work to free a second American who is also incarcerated in the country over medical marijuana.

Griner, who was sentenced on Thursday to nine years in prison by a Russian court after pleading guilty to possessing vapes she said were recommended to her under Arizona’s medical cannabis law, has been deemed “wrongfully detained” by the U.S. government—an official status that gives her access to special diplomatic assistance. She is also part of a prisoner swap offer the Biden administration made, reportedly involving an arms trafficker that Russia wants freed.

But Marc Fogel, another U.S. citizen who was convicted for bringing what he also says was medical marijuana to Russia, has not been deemed to be “wrongfully detained” by his government, and he’s not part of the prisoner swap deal that’s been floated. He’s been sentenced to a 14-year sentence for just over half an ounce of cannabis.

On Wednesday, congressional lawmakers from Fogel’s home state of Pennsylvania sent a letter to “strongly urge” Secretary of State Antony Blinken to include him in “any potential exchange.”

“Mr. Fogel was detained on August 14, 2021, and is serving an exorbitant, 14-year hard labor sentence for possession of medical marijuana used to treat his severe back injury, a charge very similar to that of Brittney Griner,” the lawmakers, led by led by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA), wrote.

“Although he may not carry the notoriety of a celebrity WNBA athlete, we believe it is essential the Biden Administration work to bring Mr. Fogel safely home to his family,” the lawmakers said. “Brittney Griner’s wife received a call from President Joe Biden, but the family of Mr. Fogel has struggled to even receive a response from the State Department.”


Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,500 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

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Going forward, the House and Senate members are asking the Biden administration to classify Fogel “as wrongfully detained and ensure he is included in any negotiations to bring home American prisoners in Russia.”

Last month, a senior White House official said on a press call that the administration has been “looking at” Fogel’s case “for a while now”—but no announcements have been made and he is not a part of the since-offered prisoner swap deal involving Griner and Paul Whelan, who is serving a 16-year sentence over alleged espionage in Russia.

In addition to Toomey and Reschenthaler, the new letter was also signed by Reps. Brendan Boyle (D-PA), Mike Doyle (D-PA), Dwight Evans (D-PA), Fred Keller (R-PA), Mike Kelly (R-PA), Conor Lamb (D-PA), Dan Meuser (R-PA), Glenn Thompson (R-PA) and Susan Wild (D-PA).

Beyond the discrepancy in how the Biden administration has treated the Griner and Fogel cases, advocates have taken issue with the fact that the president is spending so much political capital to help one American who is detained for cannabis in Russia while refusing to take meaningful action to fulfill campaign promises to decriminalize marijuana domestically and free people who are incarcerated for it in U.S. prisons.

Biden did make his first public comment on marijuana policy since taking office last month, reiterating that he doesn’t believe people should be incarcerated over the plant.

But even with the executive authority to grant mass pardons to people with federal cannabis convictions, the administration is still in the process of exploring its clemency options, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said last week.

Russia, for its part, has taken a particularly strong stance against reforming cannabis policy at the international level through the United Nations. And it condemned Canada for legalizing marijuana nationwide.

The deputy of Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in March that legalization efforts in the U.S. and Canada are matters “of serious concern for us,” according to a social media post from the office’s official account. “It is worrisome that several Member States of the [European Union] are considering violating their drug control obligations.”

Congressman Says His Marijuana Expungements Bills Could Be ‘Adjunct’ To Reform Package With Banking

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Justice Department Asks Federal Court For More Time In ‘Complex’ Safe Drug Consumption Site Case

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The Justice Department is asking a federal court for more time to respond in a lawsuit surrounding the legality of safe drug consumption sites where people could use currently illicit substances in a medically supervised environment. And while the would-be operators of the overdose prevention center at the center of the case have agreed to prior delay requests, they said they “did not consent” to this latest one and will be filing a motion in opposition on Tuesday.

The case, which was raised after DOJ under the Trump administration blocked Philadelphia-based non-profit Safehouse from opening a harm reduction facility, has seen repeated delays over the past three years.

Now the department is asking the court for additional time to submit its response, stating in a motion on Monday that it “believes an additional two months are necessary to permit careful consideration of the government’s harm reduction and public safety goals.”

“The discussions to date, which have involved coordination among multiple constituencies addressing a novel and complex subject matter, have been and continue to be productive,” it said, noting that DOJ had a status conference with Safehouse attorneys last month and “provided an update” to the court.

In February, DOJ said that it was “evaluating supervised consumption sites, including discussions with state and local regulators about appropriate guardrails for such sites, as part of an overall approach to harm reduction and public safety.”

While Safehouse has agreed to past deadline extension for DOJ filings, touting “productive” conversations as the Biden administration continues to review its policy on the harm reduction program, it is opposed to this latest delay.

“We believed we were making progress when DOJ announced in February 2021 that it was ‘evaluating’ its policy toward supervised consumption services and talking to state and local regulators about ‘appropriate guardrails’ that could enable Safehouse and similar public health initiatives nationwide to offer such services without fear of federal criminal and civil enforcement,” Safehouse said in an email to supporters on Monday.

“Safehouse did not consent to today’s DOJ request for more time and will be filing a motion in opposition tomorrow morning,” it said. “We are long overdue for a timeline as to when DOJ evaluations will be complete so that a life-saving initiative can begin.”

“Three to four people die of overdose every day in Philadelphia. Last year’s 1,276 fatal overdoses represented a record high in the city, and those we lost were among more than 100,000 people nationwide who died of overdoses.

Safehouse has been in litigation with DOJ since 2019 in our effort to open overdose prevention centers that include supervised consumption. These centers save lives and provide critical pathways to treatment, housing, and social services.”

DOJ now says it is seeking to file its “Amended Counterclaims for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief” by February 6, 2023. It seems to have filed the request for another delay with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania one day after the most recent court-approved deadline of Sunday.

In October 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a request to hear a case on the legality of establishing the Safehouse facilities.

In a recent report, congressional researchers highlighted the “uncertainty” of the federal government’s position on safe drug consumption sites, while pointing out that lawmakers could temporarily resolve the issue by advancing an amendment modeled after the one that has allowed medical marijuana laws to be implemented without Justice Department interference.

While the Philadelphia facility is being held up amid litigation, New York City opened the first locally sanctioned harm reduction centers in the U.S. late last year, and officials have already reported positive results in saving lives.

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) pointed out the discrepancy, stating that while “DOJ actively opposed the operation of supervised consumption sites under the Trump Administration, to date the Biden Administration has not sought to invoke the [Controlled Substances Act] against such facilities.”

The report was published days after National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow tacitly endorsed the idea of authorizing safe consumption sites, arguing that evidence has effectively demonstrated that the facilities can prevent overdose deaths.

Volkow declined to specifically say what she would do if she were president and the Trump-era lawsuit was dropped, but she said that safe consumption sites that have been the subject of research “have shown that it has saved a significant [percentage of] patients from overdosing.”

The comments represent one of the strongest positions in favor of safe consumption sites to come from a federal official, and they’re all the more notable given the federal government’s position in the lawsuit that’s so far blocked Safehouse from providing the service.

That said, Rahul Gupta, the White House drug czar, recently said that the Biden administration is reviewing broader drug policy harm reduction proposals, including the authorization of supervised consumption sites—and he went so far as to suggest possible decriminalization.

A study published by the American Medical Association (AMA) in July found that the recently opened New York City facilities have decreased overdose risk, steered people away from using in public and provided other ancillary health services to people who use currently illicit substances.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) put out a pair of requests for applications (RFAs) in December 2021 for an effort that will provide funding for efforts to investigate how that and other harm reduction policies could help address the drug crisis.

Gupta, the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), previously said that it’s critical to explore “any and every option” to reduce overdose deaths, and that could include allowing safe consumption sites for illegal substances if the evidence supports their efficacy.

The secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Xavier Becerra, has also signaled that the Biden administration would not move to block the establishment safe injection sites, stressing that “we are literally trying to give users a lifeline.”

But a department spokesperson later walked those remarks back, stating that “HHS does not have a position on supervised consumption sites” and the “issue is a matter of ongoing litigation.” In any case, it would be up to DOJ to decide whether to pursue operators of the facilities under the Controlled Substances Act.

In 2021, Rhode Island’s governor signed a bill establishing a pilot program to allow safe consumption sites to operate in the state.

A New York Assembly committee advanced a bill in May to establish a statewide safe consumption site program, allowing regulators to authorize facilities where people could use currently illicit drugs in a medically supervised environment.

In a pair of setbacks for advocates, however, Vermont’s governor vetoed a bill in June that would have simply created a working group tasked with crafting a plan to open safe consumption sites and the governor of California vetoed a bill in August to permit a pilot program for the harm reduction centers.

Read DOJ’s latest filings in the safe consumption site case below: 

Fate Of Marijuana Banking Reform Uncertain As Lawmakers Delay Defense Bill Consideration Amid Disagreements

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NDAA and cannabis provisions delayed (Newsletter: December 6, 2022)

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Biden HHS sec. tweets Marijuana Moment at 4:20; New top House Dem: Cannabis an “opportunity for common ground”; NJ banking bill; PA pardons problems

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/ TOP THINGS TO KNOW

The House Rules Committee was scheduled to take up the National Defense Authorization Act on Monday—along with possible marijuana banking and expungements provisions— but the text is not yet ready amid disagreements over a number of issues.

  • Meanwhile, the offices of several Senate Republicans met with the Department of Justice to discuss outstanding concerns about the cannabis legislation. Also, the “SAFE Plus” package will reportedly include measures on gun rights for marijuana consumers when it is formally unveiled.

Health and Human Services Sec. Xavier Becerra tweeted a Marijuana Moment article about the federal scheduling review he’s leading—at precisely 4:20PM. It’s the second time he’s shared cannabis news at the very symbolic hour of the day.

Incoming House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) said marijuana is an “opportunity for common ground” and bipartisanship in the new divided Congress next year.

The New Jersey Assembly Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee approved a bill to give state-level protections to banks and insurers that work with marijuana businesses.

The Pennsylvania Board of Pardons has approved only 231 of the more than 3,500 clemency applications it received under the governor’s Marijuana Pardon Project.

The Virginia Task Force to Analyze and Make Recommendations Regarding Whether Any Statutory or Regulatory Modifications are Necessary to Ensure the Safe and Responsible Manufacture and Sale of Industrial Hemp Extracts and Other Substances Containing Tetrahydrocannabinol that are Intended for Human Consumption in the Commonwealth issued a report recommending stricter rules for businesses that sell hemp-based delta-8 THC products.

/ FEDERAL

A federal court is being asked to overturn a Maine man’s marijuana conviction on constitutional grounds.

Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) is scheduled to speak at a Michigan Association of Certified Public Accountants cannabis summit on Thursday.

Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) tweeted, “The momentum for #cannabis is real. The historic research bill signed by my friend @POTUS and @SenatorHick’s intro of #PrepareAct shows there is growing bipartisan support for a federal framework.”

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) tweeted, “Glad to see @POTUS sign this important bill into law. I helped pass it out of @EnergyCommerce and on the House floor so we can fill the gap in research on the health effects of marijuana and cannabis products.”

/ STATES

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly (D) and the state attorney general are asking a federal judge to dismiss remaining claims in a lawsuit that is challenging the state’s ban on sales of certain hemp products.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said he supports decriminalizing fentanyl testing strips.

Florida’s agriculture commissioner tweeted, “As a champion for ending cannabis prohibition, I’m encouraged by the negotiations in Congress. More needs to be done as we move towards equitable legalization, but financial services access, expungement programs, & protecting our constitutional rights, are a great place to start.”

New Jersey’s Senate president spoke about ongoing efforts to ensure fairness and equity in the legal marijuana industry.

Nevada’s Assembly speaker-elect cheered the issuance of marijuana consumption lounge licenses under a bill he authored.

The Ohio House Finance Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on a marijuana legalization bill on Tuesday.

A Colorado representative tweeted photos of a tour she and another lawmaker took of a marijuana cultivation facility.

A New York assemblymember criticized nonprofits that offer substance misuse treatment for applying for and receiving licenses to sell legal marijuana.

A Michigan judge upheld regulators’ decision to suspend a marijuana business’s license over allegedly unacceptable levels of banned pesticides, heavy metals, mold and bacteria.

The Minnesota Board of Pharmacy filed a lawsuit alleging that businesses have been manufacturing and selling THC edibles with illegal potency levels and in shapes that could appeal to children.

Rhode Island’s top marijuana regulator spoke about the rollout of legal recreational sales, saying he doesn’t expect that cannabis use in the state will “increase noticeably.”

California regulators filed changes to rules on marijuana cultivation licenses.

Oregon regulators are considering changes to rules on marijuana plant tagging requirements.

A draft Washington State regulators’ report on marijuana potency was leaked. Separately, the Hemp Commission Task Force sent a report to lawmakers

The Virginia State Crime Commission discussed marijuana-impaired driving and other issues.

Vermont regulators will review recommendations for marijuana license approvals and social equity status on Wednesday.

The New Jersey Division on Civil Rights is hosting an event on cannabis policies on Wednesday.

New Hampshire’s Therapeutic Cannabis Medical Oversight Board will meet on Wednesday.


Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,500 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

/ LOCAL

New York City officials posted tips about safer cannabis use.

/ INTERNATIONAL

Former Colombian President Iván Duque said he wishes he was more vocal about pushing for a demand-side solution to the war on drugs while in office.

Cayman Islands lawmakers are expected to consider advancing a marijuana decriminalization referendum this week.

The Uruguayan government is moving to allow pharmacies to sell marijuana with greater THC potency levels.

Guyana’s health minister said that a new law diverting people possessing small amounts of marijuana from incarceration to mandatory counseling has created a need to train more counselors.

/ SCIENCE & HEALTH

A study found that “regular cannabis use appears to suppress the impact of HIV on spontaneous and oscillatory alpha deficits in the left inferior frontal cortex and [dorsolateral prefrontal cortices].”

A review concluded that “the endocannabinoid system is a prominent target for the treatment of inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, rheumatoid diseases, viral infections, neurological and psychological pathologies, and cancer.”

/ ADVOCACY, OPINION & ANALYSIS

The Indiana Democratic Party tweeted, “What’s there to discuss? 80% of Hoosiers want to legalize cannabis in some form. It’s past time for discussion – cannabis legalization is a win-win economic opportunity that will create a brighter future for the Hoosier State.”

The Independent Community Bankers of America tweeted, “With the debate over ICBA-advocated cannabis banking legislation picking up as some policymakers express concerns and others confidence in the bill’s passage, ICBA urges #communitybankers to continue speaking out.”

The Washington Examiner editorial board is urging Congress not to legalize marijuana.

A Responsibility.org staffer authored an op-ed about the dangers of marijuana-impaired driving.

/ BUSINESS

NCR Corp. and other providers are reportedly moving to shut down cashless ATMs at marijuana dispensaries.

Aurora Cannabis Inc. repurchased approximately C$102.5 million worth of its convertible senior notes.

A former CannTrust Holdings Inc. director of quality and compliance said the growth of cannabis in unlicensed rooms was “very openly discussed” at the company.

Filament Health says it created medical grade ayahuasca.

Missouri dispensaries sold a record $35.56 million worth of medical cannabis products in November.

Make sure to subscribe to get Marijuana Moment’s daily dispatch in your inbox.

Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.



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Biden’s Health Secretary Shares Marijuana Scheduling News At 4:20—Again

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The Biden administration’s top health official on Monday tweeted a link to a Marijuana Moment article that discusses the president’s recent administrative cannabis scheduling directive.

U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra posted the link at precisely 4:20pm ET—the second time during his tenure that he shared marijuana policy news at that symbolic time.

Federal officials have tweeted plenty of cannabis policy news in the past, and they typically wouldn’t warrant individualized coverage. But in this case, the official heads up a top department that plays a critical role in an active marijuana scheduling review—and the 4:20 timing of the post did not go unnoticed.

As most readers will likely understand, 4:20, 4/20 and 420 are nods to cannabis culture. And while the timing of this post could perhaps be chalked up to coincidence, it’s not the first time that Becerra’s official government Twitter account has shared marijuana news at exactly that time.

On the day the President Joe Biden first announced his scheduling review, the secretary’s account posted a tweet noting the action at 4:20pm ET, saying that he looks forward to working with the U.S. attorney general to fulfill the administrative mandate.

Of course, officials don’t usually tweet their own content from these government accounts, so one might reasonably infer that it could be a cheeky staffer scheduling the posts.

Marijuana Moment reached out to HHS for comment, but a representative was not immediately available.

“At the direction of @POTUS, we’re continuing to examine how marijuana is scheduled,” Becerra said in the new tweet accompanying the article link. “We’re looking at what the evidence tells us—and that will guide what we do.”

That’s the gist of what he’s said repeatedly since the president issued the scheduling review directive in early October. Biden also granted a mass marijuana pardon for Americans who’ve committed federal possession offenses and encouraged governors to follow suit at the state level.

“We’re going to take a look at what science tells us and what the evidence tells us,” Becerra, who has a considerable record supporting cannabis reform as a congressman and as California’s attorney general, said at the recent overdose prevention event. “That will guide what we do—and we hope that will guide what the federal government does.”

Following the president’s cannabis pardons and scheduling announcement, the secretary said that the department would “work as quickly as we can” to carry out the scientific review. And he’s already discussed the issue with the head of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to that end.

Separately, the White House drug czar said recently that that the president’s action was “historic,” adding that there are “clearly” medical benefits of cannabis.

Like HHS, DOJ has similarly committed to quickly carrying out the separate scheduling review the president directed, which could result in a recommendation to place cannabis in a lower schedule or remove it altogether, effectively legalizing the plant under federal law.

Separately, Biden recently cheered a move by Oregon’s governor to grant tens of thousands of marijuana pardons this week, which followed his own federal clemency action. And he says other states should “follow Oregon’s example.”

The president also officially signed a marijuana research bill into law last week, making history by enacting the first piece of standalone federal cannabis reform legislation in U.S. history.

A series of polls have shown that Americans strongly support the president’s pardon action, and they also don’t think that marijuana should be federally classified as a Schedule I drug.

Meanwhile, House lawmakers on Monday delayed committee consideration of a large-scale defense bill—which advocates had hoped to see advance with marijuana reform provisions attached—amid disagreements over several key issues that have not been resolved. And the offices of several Republican senators met with the Department of Justice to discuss their concerns with pending cannabis banking reforms.

Fate Of Marijuana Banking Reform Uncertain As Lawmakers Delay Defense Bill Consideration Amid Disagreements



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