Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), a chief advocate for marijuana reform in Congress, told Marijuana Moment in a new interview that sees the finish line to get a comprehensive legalization bill through the House coming up in the near future.
And in the meantime, he’s secured another victory in the House after his spending bill amendment to protect all state, territory and tribal cannabis programs from federal intervention cleared the chamber in a notably bipartisan vote this month.
While the congressman is focused on advancing federal marijuana policy change, he’s also paying close attention to broader drug policy reform movements that have materialized in his home state of Oregon, where voters will be deciding on historic ballot measures to decriminalize all illicit drug possession and legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic purposes this November.
Blumenauer is supportive of all these efforts, he said. Congress might be generally preoccupied with coronavirus relief and policing reform legislation, but he’s working behind the scenes to see through his step-by-step blueprint to end federal marijuana prohibition—while maintaining a focus on racial equity for communities targeted by the war on drugs.
In a phone interview, the Cannabis Caucus co-chair discussed his work on marijuana policy, his thoughts on presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s ongoing opposition to legalization, drug reform beyond cannabis and more.
Marijuana Moment’s Patreon supporters can listen to the audio recording of our conversation with Blumenauer. In addition to the topics covered in this publicly available writeup of the interview, the congressman also talks about reports that the House could vote on a standalone bill to deschedule cannabis next month and how that could procedurally happen.
The exclusive audio clip is available for supporters who help make our cannabis journalism possible with monthly pledges of $10 or more.
The following interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Marijuana Moment: To start things off, I wanted to hear about next steps since the House passage of your amendment to protect state marijuana laws from federal interference.
Earl Blumenauer: We were quite pleased with the vote… The next steps as far as I’m concerned, first and foremost, we’ve been working so that the racial justice package should include legalization of cannabis. The latest year’s statistics were available, over 700,000 people were arrested or cited for something that now more than two-thirds of the American public thinks should be fully legal. That point of intersection has a whole host of negative consequences for black lives. And I’ve been pretty relentless arguing that this needs to be in the justice package. Now, this was the result, as you know, of black leadership and I respect them. I have quietly lobbied that this be included.
I’ve taken it to the caucus, saying, ‘remember this.’ It is probably the single most profound thing we could do to protect black lives. I mean, there are repeated examples of where a point of contact with police for cannabis goes bad with tragic consequences. Even if it doesn’t result in some sort of violent altercation, getting primarily black young men involved with the criminal justice system is not a healthy circumstance, particularly when there’s no reason for it to happen.
We’re arguing that it’s time. We also have, as you know, seen the passage of the MORE Act through the Judiciary Committee. It’s actually ready to come to the floor. And so I’m lobbying to not go through the other subsequent referrals of other committees. But let’s just bite the bullet and pass this. I think this is something that is supported. I know it’s supported by the chair of the Judiciary Committee, and we have areas of support for the legislation from Commerce and Ways and Means, arguing we just cut to the chase and get this passed.
We’ve got the SAFE Banking Act that House leadership was kind enough to make part of our last COVID package and sent to the Senate in the HEROES Act—a relatively small step and it is strongly supported by a number of Republicans in the Senate. This is something that will make a big difference to allow the industry to be able to function normally. It’s of particular interest to the smaller operators—people who are literally the mom and pop, many minority license holders. It’s really tough for them to go through the rigmarole. We’re working, taking care of the banking, supporting our amendment in the appropriations process and arguing that this ought to be included in the package for racial justice.
MM: Have you been talking to any Senate offices about introducing identical language to your protect-states amendment in their chamber’s version of the Justice Department spending bill?
EB: I have not yet, but I’m planning on it.
MM: I think you might agree with me that one of the more surprising vote flips this year compared to last came from Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), the former Democratic National Committee chair. We observed you have a fairly animated conversation with the congresswoman on the House floor just prior to her vote—is there anything you can share about the arguments you made that might’ve convinced her to vote favorably?
EB: You know, I don’t feel that it’s useful to talk about conversations with colleagues. This has been an area that Debbie and I have talked about over the years, just in terms of substance, but I don’t really have any comment.
Marijuana Moment asked Blumenauer about our recent report about congressional leaders’ plans to advance a cannabis descheduling bill to the House floor in September.
The congressman’s answers to that question, and the full audio of our interview, are available exclusively for Marijuana Moment supporters pledging at least $10/month on Patreon.
MM: Advocates were disappointed last month when the Democratic National Committee’s platform committee rejected an amendment to add legalization as a 2020 party plank. What’s your reaction to that vote?
EB: I’m not particularly concerned. The way that we’re going to be able to end the failed prohibition of cannabis is with legislation. Party platforms, I’m sorry, I’ve been to a number of national conventions. I’ve never read a platform all the way through. I’ve never seen a platform drive legislative achievement. Occasionally, there are things that are in the platform that are targets for weird ads. But platforms? No, I’m sorry, I’m not going to waste any time and energy on the platform.
The majority of people on that platform committee actually support what we’re trying to do. I think you’re going to see, in the course of the next couple months, it’s going to be clear that the Democratic Party supports ending the failed policy of prohibition. I’m quite confident of that and I’m not worried at all about that hiccup. I spent no time on it and don’t think it’s worth it. I think the things we’re working on in terms of moving legislation for research, for banking, for ending prohibition, those are the things that matter, and we can actually get them enacted this Congress.
MM: There are some who suspect delegates on the panel felt pressured to vote against it because former Vice President Biden remains opposed to the policy change. What message would you send him on the need to embrace legalization, especially given supermajority support among Democrats?
EB: I have had conversations with team Biden, talking about the overwhelming support for ending the failed prohibition of marijuana. I’ve talked about the political support. I’ve talked about the criminal justice implications. And I’ve had some encouraging conversations. I think at the end of the day, I don’t think the vice president is going to be opposed to full legalization.
I think when we get to the point where there’s a Biden administration, which I desperately hope for, I don’t think there’s going to be any interference with what we’re doing on the federal level and the state level. I have absolute confidence in that.
Let me just say, the vice president has a long and detailed policy history on hundreds and thousands of issues, and we’ve watched the vice president really be engaged this last year. I’ve been impressed with his genuine effort to understand issues. I’ve seen overwhelming evidence that he and his team are getting behind looking at a variety of things. I’ve witnessed a degree of flexibility and willingness to take in new information and new circumstances. You’re seeing it on an ongoing basis.
I have no doubt that when all is said and done, the Biden administration and a Biden Department of Justice will be a constructive player.
MM: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has been criticizing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) over her defense of including cannabis banking language in the chamber’s latest coronavirus relief legislation. What do you make of that?
EB: Well, he can check with some of his own endangered Republicans and ask whether or not it’s “germane.” I mean, cannabis was deemed, in state after state, an essential service. We’re talking about $10 billion or more in terms of economic activity. We’ve already talked about the challenges in terms of the safe banking implications. It is real life medicine for millions of people. And the notion that somehow this is just arts and crafts, this is a tangential issue—this is from the guy who stuffed in to the first COVID relief package completely unrelated, $140 billion tax break for people who made a minimum of a half-million dollars, with no showing of impact from the COVID-19 crisis, and he’s going to talk about germaneness? I think there’s a little bit of chutzpah there.
Being able to help this industry stabilize and thrive, reducing a serious public safety threat by having people conduct transactions with duffel bags full of $20 bills, which is an invitation for money laundering, theft, tax evasion. It’s insane and everybody agrees. I was pleased that our leadership took a bill that passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. It wasn’t just that every Democrat but one voted for it. It was 40 percent of the Republicans. There aren’t very many items that would actually help people that have that measure of support.
Finally, I would just note that there are lots of things that Leader McConnell has said. He didn’t want to give any help to state and local governments. Let the states go bankrupt, I believe was his prescription. I think what you’ve seen is that the Senate understands that Democrats are united and that we have a stronger position in terms of doing things that will make a difference for the economy and the health of citizens. He’s got a pretty weak hand. And I don’t take that talk seriously. I mean, it’s not gonna be easy and he has not been helpful except for his Kentucky hemp growers. So you take your help where you get it.
MM: There are two non-marijuana drug policy reform initiatives that qualified for the ballot in your state of Oregon: drug decriminalization and psilocybin legalization for therapeutic use. What can tell me about any plans you have, if any, to help build support for the measures ahead of November?
EB: I think they both have strong merit. I’m going to be making my position clear. I will probably put a voters pamphlet page in, do a little social media, maybe some advertising. I think that the notion of decriminalizing drug use as distinct from legalizing—but dealing with decriminalization, dealing with psilocybin in terms of the research and therapeutic aspects, I think the more attention people pay, the better off we are. And I think it’s important to allow voters to be heard, and I’m certainly going to share my strong feeling that this is a step forward.
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Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
Retired South Dakota Police Officer Endorses Marijuana Legalization Initiative In New TV Ad
The campaign to legalize marijuana in South Dakota recently released an ad featuring a retired police officer speaking about why he endorses two reform initiatives that appear on the state’s November ballot.
South Dakota is one of five states that will be voting on cannabis measures next month. But it’s the only state where both medical and recreational legalization will be on the ballot. Bill Stocker, a former Sioux Falls police officer, said he’s backing both.
“I can tell you, our harsh marijuana laws aren’t working,” he said in the ad, which was published on social media last week and is airing on television.
“In 2018, 4,000 people were arrested for marijuana possession in South Dakota. That’s one in 10 arrests,” Stocker said, referencing a report that South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws published last month. “Each arrest costs $4,000. It doesn’t make us any safer. We’re wasting law enforcement time and resources that should be fighting serious crimes. So I’m voting ‘yes’ on A and 26.”
The data from that report also shows that—as is the case across the country—marijuana enforcement has had a disparate impact on people of color, despite comparable rates of consumption among white people.
On average, black residents and Native Americans in South Dakota have been more than five times as likely to be arrested for cannabis compared to white people over the 10-year period the report examines.
The new ad comes just weeks before South Dakota voters will get to decide on separate ballot measures to legalize cannabis for adult use and for medical use. And according to a poll recently released last month by opponents of the policy change, about 60 percent of voters support the broader reform proposal and more than 70 percent back the narrower medical-focused initiative.
Under the adult-use constitutional amendment, people 21 and older could possess and distribute up to one ounce, and they would also be allowed to cultivate up to three cannabis plants.
The separate medical cannabis legalization measure that voters will decide on would make a statutory change to allow patients suffering from debilitating medical conditions to possess and purchase up to three ounces of marijuana from a licensed dispensary.
With less than two weeks to go until Election Day, a variety of drug policy reform campaigns in states across the U.S. are airing ads on TV and online.
A campaign working to pass a marijuana legalization referendum in New Jersey released a series of English- and Spanish-language ads touting the measure last week.
Also this month, an Oregon campaign behind a ballot initiative to decriminalize drug possession and expanding funding for substance misuse treatment rolled out a series of TV and online ads promoting the measure.
The campaign behind a separate initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes in Oregon is reaching voters through a TV ad that was released earlier this month that features a state lawmaker who is also a medical doctor. Activists are also using billboards to highlight the medical potential of the psychedelic. A nonprofit veterans group recently released a separate TV ad touting the benefits of psilocybin therapy. It doesn’t explicitly mention the psychedelic reform measure, but it could help further inform how voters approach that question nonetheless.
Trump Campaign Orders Mississippi Medical Marijuana Activists To Cease Using President’s Name
President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign has issued a cease and desist order against a Mississippi medical marijuana legalization campaign, claiming “unauthorized and misleading representation” of the president’s position on the reform initiative in one of its mailers—even though he has on multiple occasions spoken favorably on camera about medical cannabis.
Michael Glassner, chief operating officer of Donald J. Trump for President Inc., sent a letter to Mississippians for Compassionate Care (MCC), demanding that they stop distributing campaign materials touting the president’s past remarks.
While the mailer and the envelope it’s being sent in don’t at any point state that Trump has specifically endorsed Initiative 65, they encourage voters to “join President Trump and 3 out of 4 Mississippi Republicans who support medical marijuana” and point out that he’s voiced “complete support for medical marijuana.”
It is indeed the case that the president has, on several occasions, stated that he’s in favor of medical cannabis reform.
For example, while he said in 2015 that Colorado has “a lot of problems going on right now” with its recreational marijuana program, medical cannabis “is another thing.”
“I think medical marijuana, 100 percent,” he said.
Beyond stating his personal support for medical cannabis, Trump has said multiple times that he personally knows people who have benefited from using it.
“I think medical should happen, right? Don’t we agree? I mean I think so,” he said at a 2015 rally in Nevada. “I know people that are very, very sick and for whatever reason, the marijuana really helps them.”
“I know people that have serious problems and they did that and it really does help them,” he said In a 2016 interview on Fox News.
But the president’s reelection campaign evidently takes issue with the state cannabis effort using his on-camera quotes.
“President Trump has never expressed support for Initiative 65, and his campaign demands that you immediately cease and desist all activities using the President’s name, image or likeness in support of the legalization of medical marijuana in Mississippi,” Glassner wrote in the October 12 letter, which was first reported by Y’all Politics.
“The President’s campaign strongly believes in and encourages your organization’s fundamental right to engage in speech on issues of public importance, but this is not about that,” he said. “You are misleadingly using the President’s name in support of your own agenda without authorization or justification.”
But MCC is defending the mailers, which also feature endorsements from multiple Republican legislators in the state.
“President Trump has clearly stated on multiple occasions that he supports medical marijuana. That is all that we’ve shared—the truth,” MCC Communications Director Jamie Grantham said in a press release. “The politicians and bureaucrats behind Mississippi Horizon clearly orchestrated this letter from the Trump campaign. It’s just the latest example of the lengths to which they will go to prevent any form of medical marijuana in Mississippi.”
“President Trump himself has said he supports medical marijuana and is letting the states decide,” she said. “Initiative 65 is the only plan on the ballot that will create an actual medical marijuana program in Mississippi.”
While Trump has made his views on medical cannabis clear—and he’s expressed support for a states’ right approach to marijuana policy—he’s also on several occasions released signing statements on spending legislation stipulating that he reserves the right to ignore a long-standing rider that prohibits the Justice Department from using its funds to interfere with state-legal medical marijuana programs.
He also proposed deleting the rider altogether in multiple annual budget proposals to Congress, though President Obama did the same thing when he was in office.
The Mississippi mailer neglected to acknowledge those nuances, however.
“For the last two years, he has signed legislation offered by Republican Senators to prevent his Department of Justice from prosecuting medical marijuana businesses in states that have legalized its use,” it states.
“The Trump campaign’s decision in this matter is a further indication that this administration is unwilling to either embrace or act upon marijuana policy reform,’ Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “For four years, this administration has been silent at best and hostile at worst when it comes to marijuana policy, and there is no indication that they would change going forward if given the opportunity.”
“At the end of the day, this is just bad politics,” he said.
A Quinnipiac poll found last year that 93 percent of Americans support medical marijuana, including 86 percent of Republicans, 96 percent of Democrats and 96 percent of independents—raising questions about why the president’s reelection campaign chose to take the proactive step of distancing their candidate from such an overwhelmingly popular issue that enjoys supermajority backing across partisan lines.
Meanwhile, the Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden, favors legalizing medical marijuana, decriminalizing cannabis possession more broadly, expunging prior convictions, modestly rescheduling the drug under federal law and letting states set their own policies. That said, he helped craft some of the nation’s most infamously punitive anti-drug laws during his time in the Senate—a record that the Trump campaign has seized on.
“More than 81 percent of Mississippians agree with President Trump in supporting medical marijuana for people who are suffering,” Grantham said, referencing a poll released last month. “Voters see through the actions of politicians who failed to act on this issue and who are now trying to block this initiative. 65A lets politicians decide. More than 228,000 Mississippians signed petitions for Initiative 65 which lets doctors and patients decide.”
The medical cannabis reform campaign has faced a series of obstacles before and after qualifying for the state’s November ballot.
The primary complication for advocates is the fact that two competing initiatives will appear alongside each other on the ballot. After MCC qualified their measure, the legislature approved an alternative that is viewed as more restrictive. The result is a muddled ballot that requires voters to answer a two-step series of questions—and that potential confusion threatens to jeopardize the activist-led proposal.
More recently, the Mississippi State Medical Association and American Medical Association have also contributed to the opposition, circulating a sample ballot that instructs voters on how to reject Initiative 65.
Last week, Gov. Tate Reeves (R) signed legislation that amends state law to allow people to obtain marijuana-derived medications that are approved by the Food and Drug Administration. He also reiterated his opposition to broader medical cannabis reform, stating that he’s “against efforts to make marijuana mainstream.”
If the campaign’s measure passes, it would allow patients with debilitating medical issues to legally obtain marijuana after getting a doctor’s recommendation. The proposal includes 22 qualifying conditions such as cancer, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder, and patients would be allowed to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana per 14-day period.
In June, lawmakers introduced yet another medical cannabis alternative resolution that would’ve similarly posed a threat to the activist-driven reform initiative. But, to advocates’ relief, the legislation didn’t advance before lawmakers went home for the summer.
Read the Trump campaign’s cease and desist letter below:
New Jersey Voters Strongly Back Marijuana Legalization And Cannabis Pardons, New Poll Finds
Support for a referendum to legalize marijuana in New Jersey remains strong, according to a new poll released on Tuesday. And what’s more, voters want Gov. Phil Murphy (D) to go a step further by pardoning people with low-level cannabis convictions.
The survey, which is the fourth and final from the law firm Brach Eichler LLC this election cycle, shows that 65 percent of New Jersey voters are in favor of the reform proposal that will appear on the state’s November ballot. Just 29 percent are opposed to the policy change and six percent remain undecided.
These results are statistically consistent with the prior three polls from the firm as well as one from Fairleigh Dickinson University, which similarly found roughly two to one support for the measure. A separate survey released last week by Stockton University showed three to one support for legalizing cannabis among New Jersey voters.
As has historically been the case, Democrats are most likely to back legalization (70 percent), followed by independents (62 percent) and Republicans (52 percent).
But beyond legalizing cannabis for adult use, New Jersey voters are also strongly in favor of having the governor use his clemency powers for those previously convicted over low-level marijuana offenses. Sixty-eight percent of respondents said Murphy should grant those individuals pardons, compared to 21 percent who are against it and 11 percent who are unsure.
For the first time since the firm starting polling on cannabis issues this year, a majority of voters (51 percent) also said that prior marijuana records of all levels of convictions, rather than just simple possession, should be expunged.
“The Brach Eichler Cannabis Poll, which has consistently reported overwhelming support for legalizing cannabis, today again confirms that New Jersey voters support this long overdue change by a significant margin,” Charles Gormally, co-chair of the firm’s cannabis practice, said in a press release. “After election day it is imperative that our legislature move to create the most efficient, safe and regulated marketplace to capture the tri-state cannabis business.”
The survey, which involved interviews with 500 registered voters from October 5-13 and has a margin of error of +/- 4.4 percentage points, also asked about the policy of local control for the marijuana market. Forty-seven percent said that individual jurisdictions should be allowed to ban cannabis businesses from operating in their area, compared to 39 percent who are opposed to the proposal and 14 percent who are undecided.
“It is clear that home rule is a topic that needs to be more fully addressed,” Gormally said. “Cannabis businesses are going to need an immediate understanding of local politics and community issues before embarking on plans for certain parts of New Jersey.”
Five states have recreational or medical marijuana legalization on the ballot this election, and polling broadly indicates that the measures will be successful.
Two recent surveys of Arizona voters show growing majority support for an initiative to legalize adult-use cannabis.
Montana voters seem poised to approve a pair of marijuana legalization initiatives next month, according to a poll released last week.
In South Dakota, polling signals that voters will approve separate initiatives to allow both medical and recreational cannabis.
A survey of Mississippi voters that was released in September found that an activist-led measure to legalize medical marijuana “stands a strong chance of passage.”
Meanwhile, in New Jersey, putting legalization to voters as a referendum question was the result of the legislature’s failure to pass reform legislation last session.
Murphy, the governor, has been a vocal advocate for approving the measure.
He said during a virtual fundraiser with the pro-legalization NJ CAN 2020 earlier this month that the state “can’t fail” at enacting the policy change this round. A top lawmaker also spoke at the event and said an enabling and regulatory bill was being prepared in anticipation of a favorable vote, and that it could be voted on by the legislature as soon as the first week of November.
The governor also recently recorded a video ad that was released by the reform group, outlining why he’s embraced the policy change. Murphy said that the ongoing criminalization of cannabis in New Jersey wastes taxpayer dollars, and he emphasized that prohibition is enforced in a racially disproportionate manner.
Murphy similarly said in a recent interview that the marijuana reform proposal prioritizes social justice.
“I wish we could have gotten it done through a legislative process,” he said at the time, referencing lawmakers’ inability to advance a legalization bill last session. “We just couldn’t find the last few votes, so it’s on the referendum. I’m strongly supporting it—first and foremost for social justice reasons.”
Last month, Murphy also called on voters to support the proposal in an email blast that was circulated by the New Jersey Democratic State Committee.
“Legalization would right those wrongs while also spurring massive economic development opportunities, job creation, and new tax revenue,” the governor wrote. “Now, we have the opportunity to get this done and finally legalize adult-use marijuana here in the Garden State, and I need your help to make it happen.”
He said in July that legalizing cannabis is “an incredibly smart thing to do” both from an economic and social justice perspective.
The governor isn’t alone in his attempts to get out the vote for cannabis reform. Filmmaker Kevin Smith earlier this month urged his Twitter followers to “VOTE YES when you see State Public Question Number 1: Constitutional Amendment to Legalize Marijuana.”
NJ CAN 2020, one of two campaign committees working to pass the cannabis referendum, released a series of English- and Spanish-language video ads last week, after having published one prior ad. Meanwhile, campaign finance records compiled show that legal marijuana supporters are out-raising opponents by a ratio of nearly 130:1.
In June, the state Assembly passed a cannabis decriminalization bill that would make possession of up to two ounces a civil penalty without the threat of jail time, though it hasn’t advance in the Senate.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.