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Democratic Congressman Calls Marijuana A ‘Gateway Drug’

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The notion that marijuana is a “gateway drug” that leads to use of other substances has been soundly debunked—but one Democratic congressman still appears to subscribe to the theory.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) took a caller’s question during an appearance on C-SPAN last week as part of a segment on the opioid epidemic. While most of his answer focused on disparities in marijuana enforcement around the United States, something that legalization advocates have long focused on, Cummings made one curious aside:

“We know that marijuana has been known to be a gateway drug.”

The congressman’s position isn’t especially common these days, with more and more lawmakers recognizing that responsible cannabis use doesn’t necessarily put individuals at risk of seeking out drugs like heroin.

In fact, some lawmakers like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) have cited research showing the opposite—that legal access to marijuana is associated with a decrease in opioid prescriptions and hospitalizations—in their calls for reform.

To be sure, Cummings has voted in favor of a number of marijuana reform amendments in recent years, including one that would prohibit the use of federal funds to interfere in state legalization efforts and another that would shield financial institutions from being punished for serving cannabis businesses.

Cummings previously voted no on amendments to protect state medical cannabis laws from federal intervention six times on the House floor before switching his position in 2014.

His new “gateway drug” comment stands out as a potential signal that he still holds an internal anti-marijuana bias.

A representative for Cummings did not respond to a request for clarification by the time of publication.

Following the “gateway drug” remark, Cummings addressed the importance of criminal justice reform, noting that in states like Colorado, adults are free to purchase and consume cannabis while in others, “people are being arrested for it.”

“We had started doing some significant criminal justice reform before the Trump administration came along—and basically, a lot of that then got either slowed down or almost brought to a halt,” he said. “We have to go back and begin to look at the situation for what it is.”

His outdated view of marijuana itself aside, the congressman’s stance on policy and enforcement reform is similar to the platform of the Congressional Black Caucus, which Cummings formerly chaired. On Friday, the caucus included ending federal marijuana prohibition in a list of “must-do policies” in order to resolve issues that affect communities of color.

Black Lawmakers: Marijuana Decrim Is ‘Must-Do’ In First 100 Days of Democratic Congress

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

Politics

Santa Cruz Will Consider Decriminalizing Psychedelics This Week

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Santa Cruz, California could be the latest in a wave of cities to decriminalize psychedelics, with a City Council hearing on the proposal scheduled for Tuesday.

The city vice mayor, Justin Cummings, recently introduced the resolution, which would make possession, use and cultivation of entheogenic substances such as psilocybin mushrooms and ayahuasca the city’s lowest law enforcement priority.

“Plants and fungi with psychedelic properties have been used for thousands of years by indigenous communities for spiritual and medical practices and many are considered illegal in our country,” Cummings told Marijuana Moment in an email. “As we begin to better understand the health benefits of these plants and fungi, we need to not treat the people who use and research these plants and fungi as criminals, and lower barriers for research, clinical treatment, and personal.”

“Santa Cruz has a number of organizations that conduct research on use of psychedelics to improve mental health and we as a community want to support these efforts,” he added.

The full City Council will hear a presentation from the advocacy group Decriminalize Santa Cruz and discuss the resolution on Tuesday. After that point, the measure will be referred to the Public Safety Commission for further consideration.

Text of the resolution emphasizes the medical potential of psychedelics and the ritualistic consumption of the substances throughout history.

If approved, that would mean the City Council “supports the possession, use, and/or cultivation of entheogenic psychoactive plants and fungi for personal adult use and clinical research and psychoactive practices, and declares that the investigation and arrest of individuals involved with the adult possession, use, or cultivation of entheogenic psychoactive plants and fungi listed on the federal schedule one list for personal use be among the lowest priorities for the city of Santa Cruz.”

The measure recommends that the use of psychedelics for medical or spiritual purposes “be done in consultation with, and under the supervision of trained/medical professionals.”

Additionally, it calls on the city manager to order Santa Cruz’s state and federal lobbyists to “work in support of decriminalizing all entheogenic psychoactive plants, and plant and fungi-based compounds listed in the Federal Controlled Substances Act.”

Psychedelics reform is moving ahead in jurisdictions throughout the U.S., with Denver becoming the first city to decriminalize so-called magic mushrooms in May. Oakland’s City Council followed suit, unanimously approving a resolution that expanding the decriminalization to a wide range of entheogenic substances.

Advocates are also working to advance decriminalization in Portland, Chicago, Berkeley and Dallas.

Meanwhile, California activists are pushing two separate statewide psychedelics initiatives: one that would decriminalize psilocybin across the board and another more recently filed measure that calls for broad legalization and commercial sales. Oregon activists are collecting signatures for a 2020 proposal that would legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes.

On the federal level, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) voiced support for decriminalizing psychedelics and promoting research into the substances in a video statement delivered at a Drug Policy Alliance conference last week.

Read text of the Santa Cruz psychedelic resolution below: 

Santa Cruz Decriminalize Dr… by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Voices Support For Decriminalizing Psychedelics

Photo elements courtesy of carlosemmaskype and Apollo.

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Sanders, Warren And Buttigieg Include Medical Marijuana In Veterans Day Plans

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To commemorate Veterans Day, a number of presidential candidates are releasing plans focused on helping those who served the country in the military—and at least three major contenders are including marijuana-specific planks in their proposals.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), for example, wants to ensure that doctors at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) “have the option of appropriately prescribing medical marijuana to their patients.”

Please visit Forbes to read the rest of this piece.

(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)

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Barbara Lee Honors Veterans Day With Call To Action On Marijuana Reform

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Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) marked Veterans Day by promoting a bill she introduced that would effectively legalize medical marijuana for military veterans.

In a press release and email blast for the national advocacy group NORML, the congresswoman discussed the need to expand access to cannabis for those who’ve served, stating that studies demonstrate the plant can treat symptoms of conditions that commonly afflict veterans such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Lee said that as the daughter of a veteran, the issue is particularly important for her.

“Congress must do more to ensure every veteran has a roof over their head, to ensure our veterans come home to a job that pays them a living wage, and to ensure our veterans have access to the health care services they deserve,” she said in the press release. “That includes improving veterans’ access to medical marijuana.”

“That’s why I introduced H.R. 1151, the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act, to empower veterans and their doctors to make informed decisions about the use of medical marijuana without political interference,” she said. “The current federal prohibition on cannabis is harmful and counterproductive. Politicians should never stand between our veterans and their health care.”

The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act was introduced in February, and the House version currently has three cosponsors, including Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL). The Senate companion version was filed by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and has two cosponsors, Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who signed on last week.

In her email for NORML on Monday, Lee said that cannabis prohibition has disproportionately impacted communities of color, but the policy also “falls hard upon is our nation’s veterans.”

The congresswoman noted that medical cannabis is widely used by veterans, yet doctors at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) aren’t allowed to fill out recommendations, even in states where it’s legal. That would change under her legislation, she said.

“This year, we can and must succeed in passing this essential legislation and protecting the rights of veterans to access medical treatment and serving those who served us,” she wrote, linking to a page where people can send a letter in support of her bill to their own representatives.

“Prohibiting VA doctors from recommending cannabis to qualifying patients, while continuing to rely on pharmaceuticals drugs like opioids as a treatment, is both a dangerous and illogical policy,” she said. “We know medical marijuana can be an effective and safe treatment for veterans and it is time to stop making them seek private, out-of-network physicians to access it.”

“I sponsored the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act because I know it will create an immediate positive impact on the lives of our veterans. Once enacted, veterans will be able to access medical marijuana treatment without the added challenge of accessing a private, non-VA physician. Together, we can gather enough support to pass this legislation, but it will only happen if enough Americans stand up and demand it. Please tell your member of Congress to support the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act.”

VA under the Trump administration has resisted marijuana reform legislation, with officials from the department testifying in a committee hearing in April that it opposed several proposals, including one that would require VA to conduct research into the medical benefits of cannabis for veterans.

Former VA Secretary David Shulkin, whose department also declined to take action on veterans cannabis issues, recently said that he’s in favor of increasing research into the plant’s therapeutic potential and blamed staff for misinforming him about what VA was capable of doing to that end while he was in office.

Lee, who serves as co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, also discussed cannabis reform in a video statement that was broadcast at a Drug Policy Alliance conference in St. Louis on Saturday. She didn’t address veterans issues specifically but rather spoke about broader reform efforts to federally legalize marijuana.

“We all know that the federal prohibition on marijuana has led to the overcriminalization and mass incarceration, especially in black and brown communities,” she told activists in the taped message. “That is why we need to ensure that as the cannabis movement marches forward, it does so hand-in-hand with efforts to address these racial inequities head on.”

“I think we’re at a pivotal moment for the cannabis movement. There is so much excitement for the progress we’ve made and for where we are pushing to go,” the congresswoman said. “If we do this right—by ensuring that we address the legacy of the failed war on drugs and center our work in restorative justice—there is no stopping us.

“I wish you success for your conference and the work ahead,” she said. “Stay woke.”

Bernie Sanders Wants To Legalize Medical Marijuana For Military Veterans

Photo courtesy of Rep. Barbara Lee.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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