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Bernie Sanders Launches Marijuana Petition

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U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is asking his supporters to pressure Congress to legalize marijuana and end the broader “war on drugs.”

In an email sent to the former (and possibly future) presidential candidate’s campaign e-mail list on Wednesday night, the senator wrote that the federal government’s anti-cannabis approach is “an issue of grave consequence.”

Citing racial disparities in enforcement, Sanders said that “marijuana prohibition is part of a larger failed war on drugs that has led to the great national crisis of mass incarceration.”

He’s asking supporters to sign an online petition calling on federal lawmakers to treat drugs as a health issue instead of a crime and “invest in programs that focus on treatment and prevention.”

Calling the rescheduling of cannabis a “a first step,” he said that marijuana’s current classification in a more restrictive category than cocaine “doesn’t make any sense.”

“Let’s have states decide the issue of marijuana for themselves like they do with alcohol,” he wrote. “More and more states are moving in the direction of decriminalization. Let them make those decisions without federal interference.”

In late 2015, amidst his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sanders filed the first-ever marijuana descheduling bill to be introduced in the U.S. Senate.

The legislation ended up going nowhere after earning zero co-sponsors.

Sanders hasn’t introduced any new marijuana bills during the current 115th Congress, which began  more than a year ago, but he has signed on as a co-sponsor of cannabis banking legislation filed by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR).

The Vermont senator hasn’t yet co-sponsored a bill Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) filed that would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, similar to Sanders’s 114th Congress proposal. The Booker legislation goes even further by withholding funding from states with racially discriminatory cannabis enforcement.

In addition to Sanders, other potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidates Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) are signed on to the banking bill. Warren and potential presidential contender Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) are also co-sponsors of a separate comprehensive medical cannabis bill that Booker, himself a rumored 2020 candidate, introduced.

Read the full text of Sanders’s marijuana e-mail below:

I am writing you about an issue of grave consequence that affects the lives of millions of Americans and greatly impacts our democracy – namely the continued federal prohibition on marijuana and the need for reform of our criminal justice system.

As you know, a number of states (including my state of Vermont) have decriminalized or legalized the possession, use and sale of marijuana in recent years. Under the Obama Administration, the Justice Department took no action against these states or the people in those states. However, the Trump Administration has taken a very different stance with Attorney General Jeff Sessions threatening to prosecute. That would be a huge mistake and move us in exactly the wrong direction.

Here’s why:

Millions of Americans have had their lives impacted by the federal prohibition on marijuana – arrests, convictions and even jail time. Even when people don’t go to jail, the criminal record they receive makes it harder for them to find a job, get housing or go to college. Is this a widespread problem? It sure is. In 2016 alone, over half a million people were arrested for marijuana possession.

These harmful impacts are felt far more acutely in communities of color and poor communities because enforcement of marijuana laws is much stricter there than in more affluent, white communities. Incredibly, African Americans are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana even though marijuana usage rates are basically the same across racial lines.

Of course, marijuana prohibition is part of a larger failed war on drugs that has led to the great national crisis of mass incarceration. Some 1.5 million people were arrested for a drug related offense in 2016 – over 80 percent of which were for possession alone. We need to stop criminalizing addiction. We need to stop criminalizing recreational marijuana use.

The criminal justice system is not the answer to drug abuse. Addiction is a health problem and we should start treating it that way. While communities all across the country lack adequate resources for treatment or prevention, we are spending approximately $50 billion a year on the war on drugs. That’s absurd. We need to get our priorities right.

And that starts with making our voices heard:

Sign my petition if you agree it is long past time for the government to end its failed war on drugs and instead invest in programs that focus on treatment and prevention of drug abuse. This is an important issue that impacts almost everyone and we should all make our voices heard.

This so-called war on drugs has led us to have over 2 million people in prison – disproportionately poor and from communities of color. Our incarceration rate is the highest in the world – higher even than authoritarian countries like China, Saudi Arabia, and Russia.

Further, what is not often discussed is how the war on drugs and mass incarceration is impacting the essence of our democracy. People with felony convictions cannot vote in many states. Today, for that reason alone, over 6 million Americans are denied access to the ballot.

Uneven enforcement and the fact that people of color receive longer sentences for the same offenses than white defendants means more felony convictions in those communities. And that means – surprise, surprise – fewer voters.

In other words, the war on drugs is robbing those minority and lower income communities of their political power. In Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee over 20 percent of voting age African Americans are disenfranchised because of felony convictions. It’s not too hard to figure out what’s going on here. The communities most impacted by these policies are systematically stripped of their ability in our democratic system to politically fight back.

Why hasn’t something been done to fix this problem? You know the reason. The sad truth is that some politicians benefit from people not being able to vote. All too often these are the same politicians who are trying to disenfranchise voters in other ways, such as restrictive voter ID laws or extreme gerrymandering.

This has got to change.

We need the highest voter turnout in the world, not the highest incarceration rate. We need to provide treatment for people with substance abuse problems, not lock them up.

As a first step, we need to remove marijuana from Category 1 of the federal Controlled Substances Act where it is currently ranked alongside drugs like heroin. In fact, marijuana is classified more harshly than cocaine. That doesn’t make any sense.

Let’s have states decide the issue of marijuana for themselves like they do with alcohol. More and more states are moving in the direction of decriminalization. Let them make those decisions without federal interference.

Let’s invest in the prevention and treatment of substance abuse.

Let’s reform our criminal laws and take other steps to dismantle mass incarceration. Among other steps forward we need to ban private prisons and create new federal policing standards.

Let’s restore the voting rights of all Americans.

If you share my goal of making these important reforms please sign this petition:

Sign my petition if you agree it is long past time for the government to end its failed war on drugs and instead invest in programs that focus on treatment and prevention of drug abuse. This is an important issue that impacts almost everyone and we should all make our voices heard.

In Solidarity,

Bernie Sanders

Photo courtesy of Phil Roeder.

If you value staying updated on cannabis news, please start a monthly Patreon pledge to support Marijuana Moment!

Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 15-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (Organization citations are for identification only and do not constitute an endorsement or partnership.)

Politics

Mexican Government Officials Visit Canada To Learn About Marijuana Legalization

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The office of Mexican President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced on Friday that key members of his incoming cabinet will discuss marijuana legalization with Canadian government officials on a visit to the country next week.

As part of the trip by seven secretaries-designate, officials from the two nations will meet about issues such as human rights, inclusive governance and “regulation of cannabis use,” a press release from LĂłpez Obrador’s transition team said.

Among those taking the trip north will be Olga Sánchez Cordero, the likely next interior secretary of Mexico, who has previously said she would encourage the new president to legalize marijuana and pursue broader drug policy reforms.

Canada’s marijuana legalization law went into effect this week.

LĂłpez Obrador will be sworn in as president on December 1.

Where Mexico’s Next President Stands On Marijuana

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Canadian Lawmaker Vapes Marijuana And Doesn’t Care What Anyone Thinks

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A Canadian member of Parliament openly consumes marijuana, something he says will be completely normal and not at all noteworthy soon in light of the country’s new legalization law that went into effect this week.

“Just as someone might have a glass of wine or a scotch on a Friday night, I would turn to my vaporizer,” MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith said in an interview with CBC news.

But it’s not all about getting high for fun and relaxation for the member of Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s party. He also consumes cannabis medicinally.

“I have Crohn’s, so sometimes I turn to it for that reason as well,” he said.

Within a matter of years, though, no one will care whether lawmakers toke up, Erskine-Smith believes.

“Five years from now, no one will be interested in this question because we’ll all recognize we’re responsible adults, and this is far less harmful than alcohol, far less harmful than tobacco,” he said. “And we should use it responsibly, yes, because there are potential harms.”

“Certainly Canadians are capable of doing this because we’ve been doing it for decades.”

On that point, Erskine-Smith acknowledged that he too has been consuming cannabis before prohibition officially lifted on Wednesday.

“It would be sort of silly for me to stop now, wouldn’t it?” he asked.

Trudeau himself previously admitted that he illegally smoked marijuana while serving in Parliament, but said this week that he has no intention of consuming cannabis now that it is legal.

Canada’s Liquor Stores Will Heavily Outnumber Marijuana Stores On Legalization’s Launch

Photo courtesy of Cannabis Culture.

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Missouri Campaign Finance Records Show Medical Marijuana Ballot Battle Heating Up

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New quarterly campaign finance documents from Missouri medical marijuana ballot committees, covering activity from July 1 to September 30, show some coalescing of support for one of three measures on the ballot, while a recently created committee that opposes all of the medical cannabis options has yet to report any financial support.

Here’s what the fundraising and expenditures for the key committees behind each of the three proposed measures look like:

(Note: only those committees with major activity in Q3 are displayed)

Missouri has one of the most confusing sets of marijuana ballot options to ever go before voters in any state, with two proposed constitutional amendments and one proposed statutory measure to choose from. Each option was sponsored by a separate committee that actively attacked the others in the months leading up to qualifying this summer to get on the ballot, with hostile campaign tactics continuing since then—including lawsuits and opposition research into the personal finances of advocates.

In the last few months, two additional organizations entered the fray. One is the only ballot committee that opposes both of the amendments and the proposition. Citizens for SAFE Medicine registered on September 20, and did not report any financial contributions or expenditures on its October 15 report. Judy Brooks, listed as Treasurer of the organization, is also a founder of Jefferson City’s Council For Drug Free Youth.

The other is “Patients Against Bradshaw Amendment Formally Known As Find The Cures Political Action Committee.” The committee, which registered August 27, opposes Amendment 3 and supports Amendment 2. It raised $1,441 cash from five donors, and has spent $447 of that on campaigning.

Its verbose name is a reference to Dr. Brad Bradshaw, the main financial contributor to Find the Cures, a committee that registered in September 2015 to support the measure now designated as Amendment 3. Between October 2017 and June 2018, he provided loans to Find the Cures to the tune of $1.2 million. The committee spent over $800,000 of that to hire a signature collection firm to get on the ballot.

Bradshaw’s measure would, among other things, create a research center that many suspect he intends to run himself. It had already come under fire from Missouri NORML, which backs New Approach Missouri and its preferred proposal, Amendment 2. Find the Cures had already raised $1,556,705 in the first half of 2018 (much of that in the loans from Bradshaw), but started the most recent quarter with just $79 in the bank. From July through September, the committee took in another $209,111, with $186,121 of that in the form of additional loans from Bradshaw. It spent $164,739 on advertising and campaign staff, leaving $44,451 cash on hand for the remaining weeks before the election.

Under Amendment 2, doctors would be allowed to recommend medical cannabis for any condition they feel it is needed. Registered patients and caregivers would be permitted to grow up to six marijuana plants and purchase up to four ounces from dispensaries per month. Medical cannabis sales at dispensaries would be taxed at four percent. As previously reported by Marijuana Moment, the St. Louis chapter of the NAACP, Freedom Incorporated and the St. Louis American newspaper support Amendment 2. It also recently garnered an endorsement from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

New Approach Missouri was the most active committee in terms of continuing to raise and spend funds in quarter three of 2018. The group, which had already raised $1,057,263 for the election, took in another $256,924 cash and $15,368 worth of in-kind contributions. They spent $229,122 in the quarter, for events, legal fees, database management, media creation and public affairs in support of Amendment 2. One employee has been paid a total of $116,180 over the course of the campaign. They had $39,878 in the bank at the end of September.

Long-time political action committee Show-Me Cannabis Regulation, which has been around for seven years, had little activity last quarter, bringing in $350 and spending $72, leaving $2,250 on hand. It has however seemingly thrown its support behind New Approach Missouri, providing $5,000 in in-kind support to the committee.

Here’s a chart using a logarithmic scale that includes more of the committees, even those with relatively paltry finances:

(Note: scale is logarithmic in order to depict smaller committees)

Missourians for Patient Care, which supports Proposition C, had little money activity in the most recent reporting period, suggesting that it is perhaps stepping back from active campaigning at this point. The group had raised a whopping $1,393,360 in 2018, but had only $31,077 left on hand at the beginning of July. In the last three months, it brought in $115 and reported no expenses.

One additional committee that formed, “Missouri Medical Marijuana,” that supported “medical marijuana measure,” has terminated its operations.

On Election Day, we will see whether the millions of dollars spent result in Missouri voters enacting one of more of the cannabis ballot proposals.

North Dakota’s Marijuana Legalization Supporters Outraised By Opponents, Filings Show

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