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A Top Senate Democrat Raises Concerns About Legalizing Marijuana In Break With Party

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Illinois seems poised to legalize marijuana in 2019, but a top Democrat who represents the state in the U.S. Senate is urging lawmakers to pump the brakes.

Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), the second top ranking Democrat in the chamber, said last week that criminalizing cannabis and subjecting people to punitive treatment for consuming marijuana is “extreme.” But he followed up by saying “now we’ve got to take care that we don’t go to the other extreme” by fully legalizing, a prospect he claimed can lead to an “increase in traffic accidents.”

The top Democrat also asserted that “certain mental health conditions seem to be more prevalent in those states” that have legalized cannabis.

The comments put the senator at odds with Illinois Gov. J. B. Pritzker (D), who made legalization a centerpiece of his gubernatorial campaign and pledged to move toward enacting the policy “right away.” Moreover, Durbin is out of step with the vast majority of voters in his party, 75 percent of whom now back legalization.

In fact, his position stands in contrast to another long-standing top congressional Democrat, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). Whereas Durbin has maintained his opposition to broad reform, Schumer has evolved on the issue over time and even introduced legislation to remove cannabis from the list of federally banned substance last year.

In an interview with The State Journal-Register published on Saturday, Durbin recommended reading a New Yorker article by Malcolm Gladwell, which was based on a widely refuted book that attempts to link cannabis legalization to mental illness and violence. He said the article raises “legitimate clinical questions that should be asked and tested.”

He also expressed concerns about how to prevent impaired driving. There were “possible good answers when it came to alcohol,” he said, “but when it comes to marijuana, I think we’re in new territory.”

“Senator Durbin is usually wiser than to allow a cherry-picked opinion piece inform his policy views,” Michael Liszewski, principal with The Enact Group, a cannabis-focused lobbying and consulting firm, told Marijuana Moment.

“If he took a comprehensive look at the data, he’d realize that crime and teen use typically fall with legalization,” Liszewski said. “Reports of increases of marijuana being associated with traffic accidents have more to do with data collection around marijuana post-legalization, as evidenced by highway fatalities generally holding steady. These are things Senator Durbin would know if he took a harder look at the facts.”

Durbin has voiced support for medical cannabis laws, and has generally voted in favor of marijuana-related amendments in the Senate Appropriations Committee. But he’s declined to proactively co-sponsor any marijuana legislation with the exception of a limited CBD research bill. And in 2016, he opposed an amendment designed to protect medical cannabis patients and doctors that recommend it.

He’s consistently drawn the line at adult-use legalization.

In 2013, Durbin told The Chicago Tribune in a since-deleted article that “we are evolving toward a situation where there are less punitive responses to the use of marijuana,” but cautioned against fully legalizing. He said he worried about marijuana being a “gateway” to more dangerous drugs and that he personally knew families whose children became addicted.

“Given Senator Durbin’s long record of support for comprehensive criminal justice reform and other evidence-driven policies, it is disheartening to hear him take this slow position in the face of so much data coming out of the legal markets,” Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “With over 29,000 peer-reviewed studies hosted on the [National Institute of Health] website, and eight functioning adult-use regulatory bodies around the country, it is no longer acceptable to say that legalization is ‘extreme.'”

Indeed, all of Durbin’s Senate Democratic colleagues who have announced bids for the party’s 2020 presidential nomination support legalizing marijuana.

Where Presidential Candidate Cory Booker Stands On Marijuana

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

Trump Says Marijuana Makes People “Lose IQ Points” In Secret Recording

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President Trump could be heard saying that using marijuana makes people “lose IQ points” in a secretly recorded conversation released on Saturday.

“In Colorado they have more accidents,” the president said in the clip captured by Lev Parnas, an associate of Trump attorney Rudolph Giuliani, who is at the center of the Ukraine scandal that led to the president’s impeachment. “It does cause an IQ problem.”

Please visit Forbes to read the rest of this piece.

(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)

Photo courtesy of YouTube/White House.

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Austin Police Chief Says Marijuana Arrests Will Continue Despite City Council Vote

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Chief Brian Manley said he would continue to enforce marijuana laws the day after the city council unanimously approved stopping arrests and tickets for low-level cases.

By , The Texas Tribune

The day after the Austin City Council approved a resolution to stop arresting or ticketing people for most low-level marijuana possession offenses, the police chief made clear he had no plans to do so.

“[Marijuana] is still illegal, and we will still enforce marijuana law if we come across people smoking in the community,” Chief Brian Manley said during a news conference Friday afternoon.

Though cracking down on those in possession of small amounts of marijuana has never been a priority for the department, he said, police will continue to either issue tickets under the city’s “cite-and-release” policy or arrest people if officers “come across it.”

The difference, according to City Council member and resolution sponsor Greg Casar, is that the council’s move now guarantees those actions will come with no penalty. Tickets will be meaningless pieces of paper and any arrests will result in a quick release with no charges accepted from prosecutors, he told The Texas Tribune after the news conference.

“What has changed since yesterday is that enforcement, almost in virtually all cases, is now handing someone a piece of paper with no penalty or no court date,” Casar said.

The move by the City Council came as a direct result from Texas’ new hemp law which complicated marijuana prosecution across the state. Last summer, when lawmakers legalized hemp, they also changed the definition of marijuana from cannabis to cannabis that contains more than 0.3% THC, the psychoactive ingredient in the plant.

Many prosecutors, including those in Austin’s Travis County, now won’t accept pot cases based on look and smell alone, requiring lab testing to determine THC levels before accepting a case. Such testing is not yet available in public crime labs, though some counties and cities have spent money to obtain test results from private labs.

The council’s resolution prohibited using city funds or personnel to conduct such testing in non-felony marijuana cases. It also directed the elimination, to the furthest extent possible, of arrests or citations for cannabis possession. As Manley also noted, the resolution clarifies it can’t technically decriminalize marijuana, since that is state law.

The resolution gave the city manager until May 1 to report back to the council on how police were trained in this new resolution, and Casar said he hopes Manley reviews his policies before then.

Manley said in the news conference that he would continue to review the resolution, as well as police policies.

But, he assured, “a City Council does not have the authority to tell a police department not to enforce a state law.”

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Austin City Council Approves Measure To End Most Marijuana Arrests

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Andrew Yang Wants To Legalize Psychedelic Mushrooms For Military Veterans

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Andrew Yang says he wants to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for military veterans to help them combat mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

During a town hall event at an Iowa college on Thursday, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate was asked whether he would take initiative and allow veterans to access medical marijuana if elected. Yang replied he “will be so excited to be that commander-in-chief” that he would not only end federal cannabis prohibition but would go one step further by legalizing the psychedelic fungus for veterans as well.

“We need to get marijuana off of the Controlled Substances Act and legalize it at the federal level, make it freely available,” he said. “I say this because I’ve talked to hundreds of veterans and other Americans who benefit from marijuana as a pain relief treatment, and it’s much less deadly than the opiates that many, many people are using for the same conditions.”

“I’ve talked to veterans who’ve also benefited from psilocybin mushrooms,” he added. “They said it was the only thing that actually has helped combat their PTSD. I’m for legalizing psilocybin mushrooms for veterans as well. Pretty much if it’s going to help a veteran, we should make it easier, not harder, for them to get access to it.”

Yang’s drug policy reform platform is unique in that respect. While the majority of Democratic candidates support marijuana legalization, he’s pushed unique proposals such as decriminalizing possession of opioids and making psilocybin mushrooms “more freely available” for therapeutic purposes. The candidate also wants to invest federal funds in safe injection facilities where individuals can use prohibited drugs in a medically supervised environment and receive help getting into treatment.

He hasn’t gone so far as embracing the decriminalization of all drugs, as former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg has, however.

That said, Yang did signal that he’s open to legalizing and regulating “certain drugs” beyond cannabis, which he argued would disrupt international drug cartels. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) recently said she backs “legalizing and regulating” currently illegal controlled substances to protect public safety and combat the illicit market.

At the Iowa town hall, Yang went on to say that he’s particularly interested in legalizing marijuana, and he again pledged to “pardon everyone who’s in jail for a non-violent marijuana-related offense because they shouldn’t be in jail for something that’s frankly legal in other parts of the country.”

“And I would pardon them all on April 20, 2021, high-five them on the way out of jail and be like, ‘things got a lot better in the last year,'” he said, referencing the unofficial cannabis holiday 4/20.

Tom Steyer Calls For Marijuana Legalization And Opioid Decriminalization

Photo element courtesy of Gage Skidmore.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Andrew_Yang_(48571382196).jpg

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