Many marijuana legalization supporters were upset last month when Democrats chose Congressman Joe Kennedy III of Massachusetts to deliver the party’s official response to President Trump’s first State of the Union address.
The young scion of the country’s most famous political family not only opposes broadly ending prohibition but has also voted against limited measures to shield state medical marijuana laws from federal interference, allow military veterans to access medical cannabis and protect children who use non-psychoactive cannabidiol extracts to treat severe seizure disorders. He was one of just a small handful of Democrats to oppose these amendments.
But Kennedy’s position on marijuana is not only out of step with his colleagues and their party’s voters (Democrats overwhelmingly support legalizing marijuana altogether), but it seems to contrast sharply with views that his grandfather, former U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy, expressed a half century ago.
Fifty years ago this week, Kennedy appeared on NBC’s “Tonight Show” and, in the span of just a few seconds, completely eviscerated the hypocrisy underlying U.S. anti-marijuana laws.
“On the whole question of…drugs, we permit…cigarettes which kill far more people every year than marijuana, for instance,” he said. “But there is tremendous economic power behind those people [tobacco companies] so that we don’t pass laws to deal with that, even though our Department of Health has said that they’re so dangerous. They kill, what, 350,000 people a year.”
Kennedy, who would launch a presidential campaign just weeks later, used the marijuana and tobacco example to make a broader point about inconsistencies in government policies.
“If we weren’t sanctimonious about it, we weren’t hypocritical about it and we didn’t perhaps tell untruths about ourselves and faced up to reality then I think our country would be much better off and our people would have much more confidence in those of us who are public officials and in our government as a whole,” he said, as noted by Sanho Tree of the Institute for Policy Studies.
Bobby Kennedy was far ahead of his time — especially with regard to the “narcotics problem” as it was known then. This remains one of my favorite drug policy quotes of all time. Imagine if Congress had taken his advice in 1965. https://t.co/emWwjtlGxm pic.twitter.com/vXrehe7zPc
— Sanho Tree (@SanhoTree) February 6, 2018
Grandson Joe isn’t the only member of the Kennedy clan to have views that appear to clash with the former attorney general on marijuana policy. Nephew Patrick Kennedy, a former congressman, is also an ardent legalization opponent and founded the prohibitionist group Smart Approaches to Marijuana.
The elder Kennedy would likely be devastated to learn that the self-interested economic forces he warned about on the “Tonight Show” 50 years ago are still at play.
Opioid manufacturers and distributors that many believe would stand to lose out if medical marijuana were made more legally available have donated thousands of dollars to his grandson’s congressional campaigns.
And one pharmaceutical company got federal approval to develop a synthetic version of a key cannabis constituent just months after donating half a million dollars to help defeat a marijuana legalization measure in Arizona.
Opposition Group’s Marijuana Poll Shows Strong Support for Legalization
A new survey of Michigan voters, funded by an organization opposed to the state’s marijuana legalization initiative, showed large support for reform and weaning support for prohibition.
The survey of 800 Michigan residents, which was conducted from May 1 to May 6, was orchestrated by Healthy and Productive Michigan.
Before being prompted with arguments for and against the initiative—which surpassed the required signatures to qualify for the state’s November ballot last month—respondents favored full cannabis legalization 48 percent to 42 percent, with 11 percent remaining undecided, according to the survey.
Arguments in favor of the proposed initiative, including increased tax revenue for public programs such as education funding and infrastructure, caused opposition to the initiative to drop to 36 percent. Support remained at 48 percent.
And then, even after the polling firm Victory Phones provided arguments opposing the initiative, support for legalization grew by one percent to 49 percent. Opposition ended up at 38 percent.
“Previous polls showing majority support didn’t pass the smell test. When polling, it is always important to review how the questions are asked and what size of audience responds,” Healthy and Productive Michigan’s President Scott Greenlee said in a press release. “Our poll pointed out arguments on both sides of the issue in a consistent and unbiased manner, and the fieldwork was conducted by the highly respected Victory Phones, who have a nearly 10 year track record of accurately measuring election results in Michigan.”
But the truth is that the prohibitionist organization’s poll showed that support for the legalization measure outweighs opposition, and that’s even more true after voters hear prohibitionist’s best arguments.
The share of voters who said they planned to vote against the measure dropped seven percentage points after they were read Healthy and Productive Michigan’s reasons for wanting to defeat it. Support rose one percentage point.
The proposed Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act would permit adults 21 and older to legally possess, grow and consume small amounts of marijuana. Specifically, adults would be allowed to grow up to 12 total cannabis plants in a single residence, and possess 2.5 ounces outside their homes and store 10 ounces at home.
Healthy and Productive Michigan did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.
See the full poll below:
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.
Marijuana Isn’t Addictive, Former A.G. Eric Holder Says
The nation’s former top law enforcement officer is not worried that the legalization of marijuana will lead to addiction.
“I’ve never seen any scientific evidence that points you to concerns about addiction through the use of marijuana,” former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in an interview published on Friday by NY1.
The comments by the former A.G. call into question cannabis’s current status as a Schedule I drug. That category is supposed to be reserved only for substances with no medical value and a high potential for abuse. In fact, it would mean that marijuana should be moved to at least Schedule III, where drugs with “moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence” are categorized.
Although Holder did not move to reclassify cannabis when he had the power to do so as attorney general, he did specifically endorse such a change just months after leaving office.
“I certainly think it ought to be rescheduled,” he said in a 2015 interview with PBS.
And he still feels the same way.
“We need to move marijuana from Schedule I, so research can be done,” Holder said in the new NY1 interview. “It is classified now on the same level as heroin is, and clearly that is inappropriate.”
While he did nothing to officially recategorize marijuana as attorney general — and continually passed the buck to Congress when asked about the issue — Holder’s Justice Department did issue guidance, known as the Cole Memo, which generally allowed states to implement their own cannabis laws without federal interference.
Current Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded that memo earlier this year.
In the new interview, Holder said he thinks the federal government should continue letting states implement their own legalization laws.
“Let those be laboratories to see where we want to be,” he said. “I think if you allow the states to experiment we’ll ultimately come to a national consensus about what it is we ought to do with regard to marijuana.”
He also spoke about unfair enforcement of cannabis criminalization.
“One of the things that I am concerned about, though, is the racial disparity you see in the enforcement of marijuana laws,” he said. “You see African Americans, Latinos using marijuana at just about the same rates as whites, and yet seeing rates of arrest four, five times as great as it is for whites. That is something that I think is extremely troubling.”
Photo courtesy of US Embassy New Zealand.
Congressional Committee Protects Medical Marijuana From Jeff Sessions
A powerful congressional panel voted on Thursday to continue shielding medical marijuana patients and providers who comply with state laws from prosecution by the federal government.
While the provision has been federal law since 2014, when it was first attached to legislation that funds the U.S. Department of Justice, its continuance has been in question because of recent efforts by Republican leadership to prevent votes on cannabis amendments. But in a stunning bipartisan move, the House Appropriations Committee voted to add the provision as a rider to legislation funding U.S. Attorney General Jeff Session’s department for Fiscal Year 2019.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)