Former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) is asking his supporters to join him in calling for marijuana legalization just as many political observers expect he may be about to launch a bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
The former congressman, who galvanized Democrats in the conservative stronghold of Texas during his failed 2018 Senate race against Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), sent out an email blast to his supporters on Monday with the subject line, “End the prohibition on marijuana.”
The message outlines how drug policy fits within a broader criminal justice reform agenda, which also involves ending cash bail and eliminating private prisons.
The email includes a link to a petition that lists five “ideas for reforming our justice system.” The first item on the list reads, “End the federal prohibition on marijuana and expunge the records of those who are locked away for possessing it.”
It seems O’Rourke has identified the value of embracing cannabis reform—which polls show that voters, especially Democratic ones, increasingly support. If he does decide to toss his hat into the presidential ring, he will be able to leverage the email addresses of those who sign his new petition for fundraising in support of his candidacy.
“I am more convinced than ever that we can and must build a criminal justice system that is more fair and that urgently puts our country closer to the words written above the highest court in our land: equal justice under law,” O’Rourke said in the email.
“First, we need to end the failed war on drugs that has long been a war on people, waged on some people over other people. Who is going to be the last man—more likely than not a black man—to languish behind bars for possessing or using marijuana when it is legal in some form in more than half of the states in this country? We should end the federal prohibition on marijuana and expunge the records of those who were locked away for possessing it, ensuring that they can get work, finish their education, contribute to the greatness of this country.”
While cannabis legalization didn’t play a central role during O’Rourke’s Senate campaign, he has been a vocal supporter of marijuana reform since his days as an El Paso city councilman in 2009.
That year, he proposed an amendment saying that the federal government should consider ending the prohibition of all drugs, for example. Later, in Congress, he introduced and cosponsored several cannabis reform bills.
Whether or not O’Rourke runs in 2020, it’s increasingly clear that marijuana will be front-and-center as candidates compete for the 2020 Democratic nomination.
Some candidates like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) even incorporated ending the drug war into their announcements.
And last week, five competing Democratic presidential candidates teamed up to cosponsor legislation to end federal marijuana prohibition and punish states that have discriminatory cannabis enforcement rates.
Read O’Rourke’s full email blast below:
———- Forwarded message ———
From: Beto O’Rourke <[email protected]>
Date: Mon, Mar 4, 2019 at 3:44 PM
Subject: End the prohibition on marijuana
It’s unacceptable that our country has the world’s largest prison population, disproportionately comprised of people of color. One-third of that prison population is there for nonviolent drug crimes, and though we know that people of all races use illegal drugs at roughly the same rate, some are being locked away for it more than others.
Many have called this part of the New Jim Crow, and for good reason.
One in four black children have had a parent in the criminal justice system, compared to just four percent of white children. That rate is nearly two times what it was in the 1980s. And it begins with a school-to-prison pipeline that starts as early as kindergarten, where a black child is four to five times as likely to be suspended or expelled as a white child.
I am more convinced than ever that we can and must build a criminal justice system that is more fair and that urgently puts our country closer to the words written above the highest court in our land: equal justice under law.
This is how I propose we do it.
First, we need to end the failed war on drugs that has long been a war on people, waged on some people over other people. Who is going to be the last man — more likely than not a black man — to languish behind bars for possessing or using marijuana when it is legal in some form in more than half of the states in this country? We should end the federal prohibition on marijuana and expunge the records of those who were locked away for possessing it, ensuring that they can get work, finish their education, contribute to the greatness of this country.
Second, we end the broken system of cash bail that punishes people for being poor. This is a tactic that wastes resources on incarcerating those who are not a threat to anyone, not a flight risk, not likely to be repeat offenders. In the Harris County Jail alone, it’s estimated that 500 to 600 of the inmates at any given time fit this description. And that’s not an outlier — 75% of people in Texas jails have not been convicted of any crime but many can’t afford bail.
Third, we should eliminate private, for-profit prisons from our justice system to ensure we’re always putting people before profits. Locking someone up is a power that should be reserved for our government — the people, not outsourced to corporations that have the perverse incentive of getting more men and women behind bars so that there are more profits for their shareholders.
Fourth, we must stop using mandatory minimum sentencing for non-violent drug offenses — a practice that costs taxpayers dearly and destroys lives in the process by locking up people who could safely re-enter society. And we replace this practice with policies that begin treating addiction like the public health concern it is.
Finally, we should provide meaningful reentry to help people who have been incarcerated resume their lives and contribute to their full potential. That starts with strong rehabilitation services, counseling and access to preventative health care. It continues by banning the box on job applications so those formerly incarcerated can work and pay taxes, returning drivers licenses so they can get to that place of employment, allowing them to apply for loans that can unlock skills trainings, and ensuring their constitutional right to participate in civic life by voting is protected.
As a congressman, I worked with colleagues across the aisle to introduce legislation that aims to do these things, to achieve real reforms. I know we can get this done but only if we all work towards these goals together.
At the end of the day, this is about ensuring that every single one of us can live to our full potential and contribute to our maximum capacity. Giving low-level offenders a second chance no matter the color of their skin or the economic status they hold can create opportunity for all of us.
It will help build a future that is more just, more fair, and more prosperous for every single person in this state and this country.
We imprison more of our own people than any other country on the planet, disproportionately African Americans and Latinos. Let’s build a criminal justice system Americans can trust and that puts our country closer to the words written above the highest court in our land: equal justice under law.
1. End the federal prohibition on marijuana and expunge the records of those who were locked away for possessing it.
2. End the current system of cash bail that punishes people for being poor.
3. Eliminate private, for-profit prisons from our justice system.
4. End the use of mandatory minimum sentencing for non-violent drug offenses.
5. Provide meaningful reentry to help people who have been incarcerated resume their lives and contribute to their full potential.
After you’re done signing your name, make sure to share this email with friends and family so we can get more people on board with this forward thinking, equitable vision for reforming our country’s justice system.
Photo courtesy of YouTube/Beto O’Rourke.
Hemp Farmers Guaranteed Federal Crop Insurance Through Disaster Bill Amendment
The Senate approved a bill on Thursday that is mostly focused on providing relief aid to areas impacted by natural disasters—but it also includes a provision ensuring that hemp farmers qualify for federal crop insurance.
The hemp section was inserted into the legislation at the behest of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Though similar language already exists in the 2018 Farm Bill, which federally legalized hemp and its derivatives, the senator took an added measure to provide clarity to farmers who want access to the insurance option ahead of the 2020 planting season.
“Beginning not later than the 2020 reinsurance year, the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation shall offer coverage under the wholefarm revenue protection insurance policy (or a successor policy or plan of insurance) for hemp (as defined in section 297A of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 (7 U.S.C. 1639o)),” text of the provision states.
“Provided, That such amount is designated by the Congress as being for an emergency requirement pursuant to section 251(b)(2)(A)(i) of the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985,” it continues.
The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 85 to 8. The House is expected to approve the disaster legislation by unanimous consent by the end of the week, and President Donald Trump has offered assurances that he will sign it into law.
The legalization of hemp has sparked strong interest among farmers in states from Colorado to Kentucky, but it will still be some time until the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) develops and implements its federal regulatory guidelines.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said that while his department would not rush its rulemaking process, it still intends to implement the regulations before the 2020 planting season. After that point, USDA would be able to approve regulatory plans submitted by individual states.
McConnell, who championed the hemp legalization provision, has urged the quick and effective implementation of such regulations, and he’s suggested that he’d introduce standalone legislation to resolve any “glitches” in its rollout.
While not a standalone bill, the hemp-focused provision of the disaster legislation seems to indicate he plans to make good on that promise.
The senator has made much of his pro-hemp agenda, arguing last month that his role in reforming hemp laws is at “the top of the list” of reasons why voters should reelect him in 2020. He also cited hemp as an agricultural alternative to tobacco when he introduced a bill this week to raise the minimum age requirement to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21.
Congressional Report Urges DEA Action On Marijuana Cultivation Applications
A congressional committee report attached a large-scale spending bill containing marijuana-related protections has been amended to include a call for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to finally act on long-pending applications for federal licenses to grow cannabis for research purposes.
The legislation itself, which was released by a House subcommittee last week, could still be further amended as it goes through the legislative process. But as approved by the full House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, the bill stipulates that none of the Fiscal Year 2020 funds it allocates may be used by the Justice Department to interfere in state-legal medical marijuana programs.
The provision has been federal law since 2014, but its inclusion in the initial subcommittee proposal as introduced is the earliest it has ever surfaced in the legislative process for the annual spending bill. While advocates hoped broader protections for adult-use cannabis states would also be included in the base legislation, that rider isn’t in the bill—at least not yet.
There was also a technical problem with the legislation that wasn’t resolved by the committee manager’s amendment, the text of which has not been posted but was obtained by Marijuana Moment. The medical cannabis provision lists the states and territories its protections apply to—but it left out the U.S. Virgin Islands, which legalized medical marijuana in January.
Similar errors have occurred in past versions of the legislation, when legal medical cannabis states North Dakota and Indiana were not included in an earlier version of the rider, and advocates hope that the language will be amended on the House floor.
But while that fix didn’t make it into the bill at the committee level, the directive to the DEA about cannabis cultivation licenses was added to the committee report attached to the bill via the manager’s amendment.
“The Committee urges the Drug Enforcement Administration to expeditiously process any pending applications for authorization to produce marijuana exclusively for us in medical research,” the revised report states.
The DEA has faced significant pressure from lawmakers, advocates and scientists to approve applications for additional marijuana manufacturers to produce research-grade cannabis. Currently there is only one federally authorized facility, and the quality of its product has long been criticized.
DEA announced a process to license additional cultivators during the final months of the Obama administration in 2016, but the Justice Department under then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions refused to act on more than two dozen pending applications. Current Attorney General William Barr has pledged to look into the matter, and has said he agrees that approving additional manufacturers is necessary.
Advocates hope that the new committee report language could help to finally spur movement at the department.
“The DEA is a disaster on marijuana and they need to stop obstructing research ASAP,” Michael Collins, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, told Marijuana Moment.
“It’s beyond ridiculous that they won’t act on these applications. Even prohibitionists like Project SAM agree,” he added, referring to the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana. “And when the guys who get their drug policy from the 1920s say you’re behind the times, that’s pretty embarrassing.”
Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, said that Sessions “was the only government official opposed to cannabis research, and he is no longer employed.”
“Now is the time for AG Barr to follow through on his commitment and allow researchers pathways to consumer-grade cannabis,” he said.
Another provision included in the appropriations bill would offer protections for states that have implemented industrial hemp pilot programs under the 2014 Farm Bill. The Justice Department wouldn’t be allowed to use its funds to interfere in such programs under the proposal.
Of course, the 2018 version of the agriculture legislation removed hemp and its derivatives from the Controlled Substances Act, shifting regulatory responsibility onto the U.S. Department of Agriculture instead of the Justice Department, so that provision may not be especially relevant going forward.
The bill will next head to the Rules Committee, which will decide the list of amendments—potentially including additional cannabis-related ones—that can be considered on the House floor.
Read the text of the manager’s amendment with the DEA marijuana language below:
Managers Amendment FINAL by on Scribd
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
House Committee Approves Immigration Bill With Marijuana Protections
A congressional committee voted in favor of a wide-ranging immigration bill on Wednesday, and the legislation includes marijuana-related protections for people who were brought to the U.S. as children.
Under the DREAM Act as approved, having low-level cannabis convictions, or engaging in state-legal cannabis-related activities such as working in the regulated marijuana industry, would not be counted against applications for permanent resident status for so-called Dreamers.
The House Judiciary Committee advanced the bill in a 19-10 vote, without specific discussion about the cannabis provisions.
The section concerning eligibility for permanent status stipules that having three or more misdemeanor convictions could be grounds for ineligibility—but the bill creates an exemption for “simple possession of cannabis or cannabis-related paraphernalia” or “any offense involving cannabis or cannabis-related paraphernalia which is no longer prosecutable in the State in which the conviction was entered.”
The text seems to indicate that immigrants who engaged in cannabis-related activities prior to a state reforming its marijuana laws would still be protected even if that activity was not state-legal at the time.
Similar language appears under a separate section about grounds for a provisional denial of an application for adjustment of status. Applicants would be exempted from such a denial if their conviction was for “simple possession of cannabis or cannabis-related paraphernalia” or “any offense involving cannabis or cannabis-related paraphernalia which is no longer prosecutable in the State in which the conviction was entered.”
A previous version of the legislation, filed in March, didn’t include the specific eligibility requirements related to certain criminal activity, nor did it contain any explicit marijuana protections. It’s possible that House Democrats thought up the exemptions during a brainstorming session earlier this month about potential bill revisions aimed at building more support.
The next likely stop for the DREAM Act will be the House Rules Committee before heading to a full floor vote.
There’s been growing interest in reforming marijuana policies as they apply to immigrants and visitors to the U.S.
Earlier this month, four congressional Democrats sent a letter to the head of the Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security to end the practice of rejecting naturalization applications solely because the applicant worked in a state-legal marijuana market. That came after the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) released a memo specifying that such activity could render them morally unfit for citizenship.
And last week, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced legislation aimed at resolving marijuana-related border issues, whereby visitors who admit to using cannabis or working in their country’s legal industry can be denied entrance.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.