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1980s Drug Czar Calls Pete Buttigieg’s Drug Decriminalization Plan ‘Nuts’

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A former White House drug czar is arguing that South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s proposal to decriminalize possession of all drugs will “encourage” more substance misuse.

In an interview with Fox News on Friday, Bill Bennett reacted to a roundtable discussion Buttigieg had with the Des Moines Register earlier this week, where the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate discussed how his perspective on drug policy has shifted in recent years.

The mayor said that he’s come to the conclusion that incarceration is an inappropriate response to simple possession and does more harm than drugs themselves.

But Bennett, who served as drug czar under President George H. W. Bush, strongly disagrees.

“This is crazy. This is a bright guy. I don’t agree with him, but obviously he’s a guy of some subtlety and intellect,” he said. “No subtlety here. He acknowledges the harm that these drugs do—goodness gracious, it’s incredible the harm these drugs do.”

“We have a terrible problem going on in this country,” he said in the appearance, in which he also argued that marijuana is a gateway drug. “We do not need to encourage more of it.”

During Buttigieg’s roundtable with the Register’s editorial board, he said he supports legalizing marijuana but emphasized that his drug reform plan—which pledges to remove incarceration as a punishment for simple drug possession in his first term as president—is not about encouraging drug use. Instead, he argued that locking people up people for possessing controlled substances for personal use compounds the problem, splitting apart families without addressing the public health aspects of addiction.

“I would not have said even five years ago what I believe now, which is that incarceration should not even be a response to drug possession,” he said. “What I’ve seen is that while there continue to be all kinds of harms associated with drug possession and use, it’s also the case that we have created—in an effort to deal with what amounts to a public health problem—we have created an even bigger problem. A justice problem and its form of a health problem.”

“I’ve always been skeptical of mass incarceration, but now I believe more than ever that we need to take really significant steps like ending incarceration as a response to simple possession,” he added.

One member of the editorial board asked him to clarify if that means removing the threat of incarceration for drugs like meth and cocaine, to which the mayor said “that’s right” but went on to say that “doesn’t mean legalization of everything.”

“The idea that you can criminalize addiction or the idea that incarceration is the right way to handle possession I think has been disproven by the American experience over the course of my lifetime,” Buttigieg said.

However, he caveated that while he does “believe in legalization of marijuana,” his proposal isn’t a “blanket decriminalization of a lot of other harmful substances.” Rather, he feels “that our enforcement efforts should be targeted at those who are willfully and sometimes violently profiting off of it—not at those who get caught up at the level of having a substance abuse problem.”

Buttigieg’s distinction on the word “decriminalization” is notable. The term is ambiguous, but leading advocacy groups have used it to describe policies that remove the threat of incarceration for possession—at least on first offense—particularly when characterizing the marijuana decriminalization laws that have been enacted in a growing number of states since the 1970s, even though some of those technically continue to treat cannabis as a criminal offense. The Buttigieg plan for currently illicit drugs is in line with that definition.

In any case, none of this sat well with the former drug czar, who at one point seemed to agree with a host’s suggestion that decriminalization could bolster drug cartels and then shifted into a tirade about what he characterized as the unfulfilled promises of marijuana legalization advocates.

“The legalization movement, one of the hypotheses there was that it would end the black market of drugs. With legal marijuana, the black market would disappear,” Bennett said. “The black market has grown because it undercuts the legal market by selling cheaper, of course it’s easier to hide the black market when you have legalization going on.”

“But again, why would one want to encourage more of this? Ninety-five percent of the people who would get into trouble with heroin, with cocaine, with meth, started with marijuana,” he said. “The marijuana that’s out there now is four or five times stronger than the marijuana in the 60s or 70s.”

He also claimed that cannabis “leads to mental problems, serious mental impairment, lack of focus—not good for students obviously—anxiety, and then later in life, it can lead to psychosis, and often does.”

“Sorry to be worked up on this, but this is just nuts what we’re doing here,” he said.

Elizabeth Warren’s Campaign Denies Claim It Rejected Job Applicant Over Marijuana Offense

Photo courtesy of Fox News.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

Politics

After New Mexico Lawmakers Fail To Pass Marijuana Legalization, Governor Says Voters Could Decide

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Marijuana legalization failed to happen legislatively in New Mexico this year, but now Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) says she’s open to letting voters decide on the policy change.

A bill to legalize cannabis in the state advanced through one Senate committee last month, but it was rejected by another with just days left in the legislative session, which ended on Thursday. When lawmakers reconvene in 2021, the governor said it’s possible the legislature will pursue the reform move through a constitutional amendment that would be referred to voters at the ballot box.

Lawmakers would still have to vote in favor of advancing such a proposal to get it on the ballot, but it may be more palatable to some to let voters make the ultimate decision on whether to legalize marijuana in the state.

“We could,” Grisham said on Thursday in response to a question about whether the state could pursue a constitutional amendment to legalize. “I mean, I’m open to any number of pathways.”

She added that brining advocates and experts to the table while crafting a “regulatory design” for a cannabis market is an “incredibly transparent” process, but it also means “you get a lot of questions about how it works.”

“Overwhelmingly in every county, New Mexicans believe that that’s a productive economic path forward,” the governor said. “My job is to keep with them, making the case and trying to the best of our ability to answer any question, deal with any conflicts and to make sure that when we do anything, our expectation is that New Mexico does it the best and that we set aside and move aside by addressing them, any unintended consequences or potential risks.”

Listen to the governor’s remarks on a potential marijuana legalization constitutional amendment below: 

“I’ll probably do a little of both, and I have no doubt that the legislators will do that as well,” she said.

A constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana was approved by a Senate committee in 2015, but it did not advance further. It was reintroduced the next year, but it didn’t get a committee vote.

Grisham, who was elected in 2018, has made clear that cannabis reform is a legislative priority, including legalization in her 2020 agenda. She also discussed the need to establish a well-regulated and equitable marijuana market during her State of the State address last month.

The House of Representatives passed a bill in 2019 to legalize marijuana and let state-run stores control most sales. The proposal later advanced through one Senate committee but did not receive a floor vote. Lujan Grisham did sign a more limited bill to simply decriminalize marijuana possession that lawmakers approved during that session, however.

After legalization failed to advance last year, the governor established a working group to study the issue and make recommendations.

Following a series of hearings, the panel released a report in October that said any legalization bill should include automatic expungements of past records and provisions to ensure equity in the industry for communities most impacted by the war on drugs. It also said that home cultivation of marijuana by consumers should either be prohibited or licensed by the state.

In December, the governor’s working group released a poll showing overwhelming public support for cannabis legalization.

Kentucky House Approves Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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House Candidate Gives Marijuana To Voters At ‘First-Ever Congressional Weed Party’

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“Get your blunt!” Illinois Democratic congressional candidate Anthony Clark tells a voter in a newly released campaign video. “We’re having a pretty dope day party.”

Ahead of the state’s March 21 primary election, Clark, an Air Force veteran and special education teacher in Chicago, has made marijuana a key campaign priority. On Thursday, he released a video shot at what he’s calling the “first ever congressional weed party in Chicago.”

“We just wanted to do something different,” Clark explains in the video. “I feel like we’re all out here in the struggle, we’re all out here living, we’re all out here grinding on a daily fucking basis.”

Clark has said that he first experimented with marijuana in high school but rediscovered it as an adult after being injured in a Seattle shooting. “Weed has literally saved my life. I’m a veteran with PTSD,” Clark says in the video. “It’s time we changed this narrative that exists, eliminate the stigma.”

Adult-use cannabis sales have been legal in Illinois since January 1.

“We’re gonna celebrate that, but there’s still a ways to go,” Clark tells party attendees, a blunt in one hand and a shot glass in the other. In Illinois, he adds, public funds are still be spent on “jailing street dealers…who are predominantly black and brown in the poor communities.”

Clark’s candor around his own cannabis use appears to have helped his campaign against incumbent Rep. Danny Davis (D), who’s held the seat for the predominantly black district since 1997. Earlier this month, the Chicago Sun-Times endorsed Clark over Davis, saying the district “deserves a representative who is impatient to change the world, which might be Clark’s best trait.”

In a separate campaign video released in November, Clark smoked marijuana on camera and said he’s transparent about his cannabis consumption because “if we really want to make change and we have a platform, you just have to be courageous with your platform.”

“I think I have to be just as open about my cannabis use because lying to individuals, I think, plays a direct role in enabling status quo, in enabling the oppressors, the top one percent, to remain,” he added.

Some supporters say it was Clark’s bold stance on cannabis that first got them involved in the campaign. “I first heard about Anthony Clark on Facebook,” one supporter, identified as Miriam, says in the new video, “and I seen him and a group of three people smoking a blunt.”

“It’s ending the stigma,” she says. “It’s ending the harsh stigma.”

Clark ran for the same congressional seat two years ago. He earned 26% of the primary vote but lost to incumbent Davis, who has generally supported cannabis amendments in Congress but hasn’t made the issue a key focus for his office. This year observers expect the challenger to do even better on primary day.

Much has changed in the state since 2018, after all, especially around cannabis. Last year Illinois became the first U.S. state to legalize adult-use sales through its legislature, and state officials so far have been broadly supportive. A day before marijuana became legal, Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D), who made legalization a part of his own election campaign, pardoned more than 11,000 people with low-level cannabis convictions. When stores opened, Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton (D) was one of the first in line to buy edibles.

At his State of the State address last month, the governor said legalization “gives us a chance to collect tax revenue from the residents of Wisconsin, Missouri, Iowa and Indiana” and provides “a second chance to hundreds of thousands of people who had a low level cannabis conviction or arrest on their record.”

Licensed marijuana stores in Illinois sold $40 million worth of recreational marijuana products during the first month of legal sales. State officials say $8.6 million of that came from out-of-state cannabis tourists.

Congressional Candidate Smokes Marijuana And Talks Legalization In Campaign Video

Photo courtesy of Facebook/Anthony Clark

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Federal Reserve Sends Reminder That Hemp Businesses Can Get Bank Accounts

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A Federal Reserve Bank district is making clear that financial institutions no longer have to automatically treat hemp businesses as suspicious under reporting rules.

In a post on the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank website, the institution clarified that since hemp was federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill, banks no longer have to file suspicious activity reports just because a business transaction involves the crop.

“Properly licensed industrial hemp producers can now be treated the same as other bank commercial customers for anti-money-laundering regulatory purposes,” the notice published this month states.

However, it reiterated that marijuana transactions will continue to be flagged, as the intoxicating variety of the cannabis plant remains federally prohibited.

“Unlike marijuana, hemp contains very low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical that causes an altered state when ingested or smoked. Hemp that contains less than 0.3 percent THC is considered legal,” Carl White, the senior vice president of the Supervision, Credit, Community Development and Learning Innovation Division at the Fed district, wrote. “The legal marijuana business is not affected by the change in status for hemp production, because marijuana is still considered a controlled substance under federal law.”

But as others have recognized, the central bank district said that despite “the change in the legal treatment of hemp, many bankers have been reluctant to work with the industry because of regulatory concerns.”

To that end, the the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued guidance last year clarifying that “banks are not required to file a Suspicious Activity Report (SAR) on customers solely because they are engaged in the growth or cultivation of hemp in accordance with applicable laws and regulations.”

Even so, it is apparent that some financial institutions remain reluctant to bank hemp businesses, and so the Fed is seeking to put them at ease with the new explanatory post.

“The main takeaway from the regulators’ statement is that banks no longer need to automatically fill out Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) when working with a hemp producer customer because hemp production has been legalized,” the St. Louis-based bank said in the new post. “They can follow standard procedure and file a SAR if suspicious activity warrants.”

“Bankers with questions about the 2018 farm bill and hemp can contact the USDA, state agriculture departments or tribal governments. Because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration retains some regulatory authority over hemp products, banks can contact that agency with questions about hemp-related food, drugs or cosmetics.”

The post notes that “banks should be looking out for additional guidance” on federal hemp rules from financial regulators. It’s not clear when that will be issued, however.

While marijuana policies remain complicated given federal prohibition, there is significant interest among Federal Reserve Bank districts in ensuring that those rules are clarified as well. The presidents of three such institutions called for guidance on marijuana banking last year.

The Federal Reserve Bank Of Kansas City also recently issued a report on Colorado’s cannabis market and determined that it would continue to grow as support for legalization rises, though it may not grow as fast as it initially did immediately following legalization.

Twelve GOP Lawmakers Thank Senate Chairman For Delaying Marijuana Banking Bill

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

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