Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) blasted former Vice President Joe Biden at the Democratic debate on Wednesday over his recent comments opposing the legalization of marijuana, arguing that the policy stance demonstrates how Biden is out of touch with communities of color.
“This week I hear [Biden] literally say that I don’t think we should legalize marijuana,” Booker said.
The pro-legalization senator, however, went on to peddle a stereotype about cannabis consumers, quipping, “I thought you might’ve been high when you said it.”
RT if you know that marijuana is *already legal* for people who are privileged.
Add your name if you believe it should be for everyone. https://t.co/3dxgr3JFVI
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) November 21, 2019
“Marijuana in our country is already legal for privileged people, and the war on drugs has been a war on black and brown people,” the senator said. “There are people in Congress right now that admit to smoking marijuana while there are people—our kids—are in jail right now for those drug crimes.”
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) November 21, 2019
The cannabis policy attack comes less than a week after Biden sparked controversy after stating that he’s not in support of legalizing marijuana because “there’s not nearly been enough evidence that has been acquired as to whether or not it is a gateway drug.”
“It’s a debate, and I want a lot more before I legalize it nationally,” Biden said at the time. “I want to make sure we know a lot more about the science behind it.”
In response to Booker’s criticism at the debate, the former vice president—who played a key role in enacting harsh drug policies during his time as a senator—said that “I think that we should decriminalize marijuana, period, and I think anyone who has a record should be let out of jail, their records expunged, can be zeroed out.”
“But I do think it makes sense, based on data, that we should study what the long-term effects are for use of marijuana,” he said. “That’s all it is.”
Biden also offered a defense on Twitter, outlining his policy positions, which include a modest reclassification of the drug under federal law.
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) November 21, 2019
Following Biden’s earlier gateway drug comments on Saturday, other presidential candidates such as Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) seemed to offer contrasting cannabis reform visions. High-profile lawmakers such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) also weighed in, with the congresswoman telling Marijuana Moment this week that former vice president was employing “Reagan-era talking points.”
Yang, for his part, did not address Biden’s “gateway drug” comments at the debate, but he told CNN in an interview that he expected the former vice president to eventually come around on marijuana reform.
Drug policy reform also came up earlier in the MSNBC and Washington Post debate. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) said it’s “important that we set the record straight and correct the racial injustices that exist in a very institutional way in our country, beginning with things that have to do with our criminal justice system—predominantly, the failed war on drugs that has been continuing to be waged in this country, has disproportionately impacted people of color and people in poverty.”
We must correct the institutional racial injustices in our country that disproportionately impact people of color & people in poverty. As president I will end the failed war on drugs & end the money bail system to correct injustices of the past – TULSI2020 #TulsiGabbard pic.twitter.com/Etbvbrnhpw
— Tulsi Gabbard (@TulsiGabbard) November 21, 2019
She added that the country must “[o]verhaul our criminal justice system, working in a bipartisan way to do things like end the failed war on drugs, end the money bail system.”
The congresswoman, who knocked Harris in a previous debate over her role in prosecuting people over cannabis, also argued later in the event that South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg demonstrated his “inexperience in national security and foreign policy” when he recently indicated he was open to deploying U.S. troops to combat drug cartel violence in Mexico.
Tulsi fact checks Mayor Pete on careless statements about our military: "You were asked directly whether you would send our troops to Mexico to fight cartels and your answer was yes. The fact checkers can check this out." – TULSI2020 #TulsiGabbard pic.twitter.com/8v0GtXSJIc
— Tulsi Gabbard (@TulsiGabbard) November 21, 2019
The mayor pushed back, contending that Gabbard took his “remarks out of context” in an “outlandish” way and that he was simply stating that he would be willing to continue national security cooperation between the countries.
Photo courtesy of MSNBC.
Idaho Senator Files Bill To Decriminalize Drug Possession
A new bill filed by an Idaho senator would decriminalize possession of currently illegal drugs in the state, though it also contains a provision that advocates consider troubling, allowing the government to involuntarily commit people convicted of certain offenses to treatment.
Sen. Grant Burgoyne (D) introduced the legislation, which would remove criminal penalties for drug use and possession by “requiring intention to deliver for criminal trafficking.”
Burgoyne told Marijuana Moment the bill has been referred to the Judiciary and Rules Committee, where Chairman Todd Lakey (R) has agreed to hold a hearing on it.
“We have too much of a focus on prosecution and punishment and not enough on treatment,” Burgoyne said in a separate interview with KTVB. “We don’t have a functioning mental health treatment and substance abuse treatment capability for the needs of our people. We need new strategies, how we draw the lines between what is criminal conduct and what is not criminal conduct when it comes to drug possession and usage.”
The bill sets different possession thresholds for different drugs. Having just two grams of heroin could be considered trafficking, while for cocaine and methamphetamine, the amount is set at 28 grams. One pound of marijuana, or 25 plants, could be treated as a trafficking offense.
Any amount of LSD could be considered a trafficking offense, as could any amount of a “simulated controlled substance,” possibly referring to synthetic opioids like fentanyl. Using drugs with friends would also be harshly penalized, as “sharing or providing a controlled substance for use by another person shall constitute intent to deliver.”
“This will reduce arrests, but how much is very hard to predict,” Burgoyne told Marijuana Moment. “Unfortunately, illegal drug use, even in private, is too often accompanied by the commission of other crimes, which my bill does not excuse and which could lead to arrest.”
Burgoyne’s bill would also allow people using drugs to be “placed in protective custody” or “admitted for community-assisted behavioral health treatment.” This would apply to people under the influence and in various circumstances, such as being pregnant, posing a risk to themselves or others or in withdrawal.
But existing research on mandatory drug treatment suggests it is not helpful for people with substance use disorder. A 2016 study published in the British Medical Journal, for example, found that when people are ordered to undergo drug treatment without their informed consent, the practice does more harm than good and does not reduce their drug use. The researchers explained that harm reduction efforts like syringe exchanges and drug education were more effective.
“Although there is some theoretical danger of adverse consequences to mandated drug treatment, we already mandate it for prisoners with drug issues,” Burgoyne said. “I’d like to shift treatment out of our jails and prisons to a more appropriate place. Furthermore, a civil commitment is not an easy thing to obtain, and I think our courts will be conservative in how they handle them.”
If the senator’s legislation passes, it remains to be seen what effect it would have on drug arrest rates in Idaho. According to the FBI, in 2017 Idaho had 8,432 arrests for “drug abuse violations,” which is a little over 16 percent of all arrests that year.
Burgoyne’s reform proposal comes amid a growing national debate about the value of decriminalizing drug use over more arrests. Last year in May, Denver became the first city in the U.S. to decriminalize personal use and possession of psilocybin mushrooms. Oakland’s City Council followed the next month by decriminalizing a wide range of psychedelics.
Advocates are also raising the issue on the national stage. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) proposed decriminalizing drug consumption in November. Former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, has proposed decriminalizing drug possession and reducing sentences. His primary opponent, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), recently called for legalizing and regulating drugs in order to treat substance misuse as a public health issue.
Photo coutersy of Markus Spiske.
U.S. Virgin Islands Governor Pushes For Marijuana Legalization In Annual Speech
The governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) repeated his call for marijuana legalization in his annual State of the Territory address.
Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. (D), who called the legislature into a special session last month to begin taking up cannabis reform legislation, stressed that establishing a commercial marijuana market would bring in needed tax revenue to support a variety of government programs.
The proposed amendment to the territory’s existing medical cannabis law, which Bryan signed last year, would allow adults 21 and older to obtain a license from the government in order to purchase and cultivate marijuana. It would also promote participation in the industry by small farmers and local businesses, as well as providing for automatic expungements of prior cannabis convictions.
“Most importantly, it creates a taxing regime for the local industry that will generate higher revenues than the current law allows,” he said in the speech last Monday, noting that tax revenue will be distributed between the Government Employees Retirement System (GERS) fund (75 percent), implementation of regulations (20 percent) and services for senior citizens (5 percent).
“The revenues generated from this industry can benefit the system as a direct contribution,” the governor said. “However, the goal is to create a funding stream that is reliable enough to ultimately support a revenue bond that can provide a needed cash infusion to the system.”
Watch Bryan’s marijuana comments, first reported by Vibe High, about 36:24 into the video below:
“This is by no means the panacea or final solution for the GERS crisis, but a small part of a larger solution,” he continued. “It begins the process of generating the new revenues required to stave off the insolvency of the System. It takes existing policy, approved by this body, and leverages it to support this critical area of need.”
“We must acknowledge the opportunities that regulated expansion of this industry can bring to the territory and the potential benefits to the GERS,” he said. “I urge this body to take the necessary action to approve the amending legislation we have proposed.”
Bryan’s proposal calls for a 30 percent tax on marijuana sales, with revenue expected to be upwards of $20 million annually. His administration is also expecting the policy change to stimulate tourism, and visitors interested in participating in the market would be charged a $10 per day fee to access legal cannabis.
This year has seen several governors voice support for marijuana reform during their high-profile annual addresses and in legislative agendas. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) reaffirmed his commitment to legalization in his State of the State speech and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) pledged to pursue decriminalization, for example.
In New Mexico, the governor included legalization in her 2020 agenda, and lawmakers followed suit by filing a cannabis reform bill on Thursday. Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) proposed legalizing marijuana through a state-run model in a budget proposal released on Thursday.
Photo courtesy of Nicholas C. Morton.
Tulsi Gabbard Endorses Legalizing Drugs
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) is calling for the U.S. to legalize currently illicit drugs.
“If we take that step to legalize and regulate, then we’re no longer treating people who are struggling with substance addiction and abuse as criminals and instead getting them the help that they need,” the 2020 presidential candidate said at a campaign stop in Merrimack, New Hampshire on Friday.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo element courtesy of Lorie Shaull.