The Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) platform committee on Monday rejected an amendment calling on the party to support marijuana legalization as an official 2020 policy plank.
Several delegates testified in favor of the proposal, arguing that legalization and ending the war on drugs will help resolve racial inequities and stimulate the economy. But following discussion of the measure, it was shot down in a 50-106 vote, with three abstentions. The panel opted to keep the language included in a draft platform that was released last week.
That document calls for decriminalizing cannabis possession, automatic expungements of prior marijuana convictions, federal rescheduling through executive action, legalizing medical cannabis and allowing states to set their own laws. Like presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, it stops short of endorsing adult-use legalization.
The language very closely echoes recommendations released earlier this month by criminal justice reform task force that Biden and former primary rival Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) organized.
“We cannot ignore the fact that the current marijuana criminalization policy has in too many cases been used to target people of color,” delegate Dennis Obduskey, who introduced the amendment, said. “They are unfairly and disproportionately six times more likely to be arrested than other citizens.”
Iowa County Supervisor Stacey Walker, who served as a member of the Biden-Sanders criminal justice task force, testified in support of the proposal, stating that black people are “overpoliced and brutalized over the same trace amounts of marijuana that white kids in this country are using without fear of repercussion or consequence.”
“I’m imploring all of you to approach this with an open mind and heart. Do something big here,” he said. “Take one small but meaningful step toward changing the course of history. If my black life matters to you, you will consider this amendment. We want to get in good trouble today, and I urge you to do the right thing and support it.”
Louisiana Sen. Cleo Fields (D) testified that he felt the existing platform proposal already represents “ambitious agenda” and opposed the legalization amendment. He said delegates should “respect the efforts of our unity task force that produced it by retaining its current form.”
Bakari Sellers, an attorney and former South Carolina lawmaker, spoke in favor of the measure.
“I understand that sometimes these efforts we have to stand in headwinds and sometimes we may feel as if we don’t go far enough,” he said. “But I think Democrats should support efforts like the Marijuana Justice Act that remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol and impose the federal excise tax on marijuana.”
“I think that we actually have to do something about the problem to unravel mass incarceration,” he said. “I think that it’s strictly unfair that when I represent a young black kid for trafficking marijuana in South Carolina where his criminal offenses are stacked one after another and there are white boys in Colorado and California making a billion dollars off of it, I just see the inherent unfairness of that.”
“I stand in favor of legalizing marijuana,” he concluded. “I stand in favor of doing what’s right by unraveling mass incarceration and investing those dollars in black and brown communities that were disproportionately affected by the war on drugs.”
While the measure was defeated, it did receive more favorable votes that a proposal for the party to support Medicare For All as part of its 2020 platform.
Here’s part of the draft plan that the platform committee approved:
“Democrats will decriminalize marijuana use and reschedule it through executive action on the federal level. We will support legalization of medical marijuana, and believe states should be able to make their own decisions about recreational use. The Justice Department should not launch federal prosecutions of conduct that is legal at the state level. All past criminal convictions for cannabis use should be automatically expunged.”
“Substance use disorders are diseases, not crimes. Democrats believe no one should be in prison solely because they use drugs,” the draft document states. “And rather than involving the criminal justice system, Democrats support increased use of drug courts, harm reduction interventions, and treatment diversion programs for those struggling with substance use disorders.”
The DNC in 2016 similarly adopted a plank asserting that “states should be laboratories of democracy on the issue of marijuana, and those states that want to decriminalize marijuana should be able to do so.”
But it also seemed more open to broader changes, stating that the party supports “reforming our laws to allow legal marijuana businesses to exist without uncertainty.”
The party explicitly stated in the earlier document that there should be a “a reasoned pathway for future legalization.”
This year’s draft platform doesn’t say anything about taking steps to broader cannabis legalization and makes no mention of the marijuana industry.
Beyond cannabis, the drafting committee included a provision that argues it is “past time to end the failed ‘War on Drugs,’ which has imprisoned millions of Americans— disproportionately people of color—and hasn’t been effective in reducing drug use.”
“Democrats support policies that will reorient our public safety approach toward prevention, and away from over-policing—including by making evidence-based investments in jobs, housing, education, and the arts that will make our nation fairer, freer, and more prosperous,” it says.
The platform will be formally approved by delegates at the Democratic National Convention next month.
Earlier in the committee meeting, another delegate gave emotional testimony, shaming the body for proposing draft policy planks that she said fall short of the progressive ideals to which they should aspire.
The party should back the BREATHE Act, activist and Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors said, referring to a wide-ranging proposal that includes provisions to decriminalize drugs, expunge prior drug convictions and defund the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), among other reforms.
I’m first paying tribute to @repjohnlewis by speaking the truth and telling our story. Honoring his legacy compells us to change the course of history.
It’s time for the #BREATHEact—an agenda of how Black people in America can not only survive, but thrive.
— patrisse cullors (@OsopePatrisse) July 27, 2020
“My role here today is also to give voice to the BREATHE Act—our century’s unedited Civil Rights Act, penned by leaders from across our nation with a movement for black lives and working tirelessly to defend black lives and to hold our leaders accountable to your promises to enhance the self-determination of black communities,” she said. “The BREATHE Act is a love letter and agenda setting forth how black people in America can not only survive but thrive.”
Please hear my emotional plea. We are asking you to join us.
Join me in being bold and courageous in this time. #BREATHEact
— patrisse cullors (@OsopePatrisse) July 27, 2020
Cullors cited provisions of the proposal, text of which has not yet been released, that call for ending federal grants to provide local police with militarized equipment and abolishing DEA and other law enforcement agencies.
“Until and unless our leaders, become signatory to the BREATHE Act… the Democratic party of today will be remembered as the party of complicity, the party that refused to sacrifice its own comforts and material securities to ensure it walk the walk,” she said. “Before you leave today, I want you to answer this question for yourself: Which side of history is my party actually on? Which side of history am I actually on?”
“If you’re not careful, the Democratic Party will miss its greatest opportunity to lead our country to the true American Revolution,” she said.
Valerie Alexander, another delegate, said in the meeting that the party’s existing platform will “end the failed war on drugs, which has imprisoned millions of Americans and disproportionately people of color and hasn’t been effective in reducing drug use.”
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
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.
Kamala Harris Touts ‘Commitment’ To Marijuana Decriminalization And Expungements Under Biden Administration
Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris (D-CA) again pledged in a new interview that decriminalizing marijuana would be an administrative priority if she and Joe Biden are elected.
Speaking to The Grio on Saturday, the senator discussed the would-be Democratic administration’s criminal justice agenda, contrasting it with that of President Donald Trump. She reiterated the cannabis reform would be among their policy goals.
“We have a commitment to decriminalizing marijuana and expunging the records of people who have been convicted of marijuana offenses,” Harris said. “When you look at the awful war on drugs and the disproportionate impact it had on black men and creating then criminal records that have deprived people of access to jobs and housing and basic benefits.”
Watch Harris discuss criminal justice and marijuana reform, starting around 12:00 into the video below:
While reform advocates have appreciated the senator’s repeated calls for cannabis reform on the campaign trail, they’ve taken issue with her tendency to refer to the drug war in the past tense—as she did here by talking about the impact the policy “had”—as though those prosecutions and enforcement disparities haven’t persisted.
In fact, recently released FBI data shows that there were 1,558,862 drug-related arrests in the U.S. last year, about a third of which were for marijuana. That amounts to a new drug bust every 20 seconds on average.
There’s also some frustration that Harris has scaled back her reform push since joining the Democratic ticket as Biden’s running mate. During her own run for the presidential nomination, she called for comprehensive marijuana legalization—a policy not supported by the former vice president despite its popularity among Democrats.
Harris, who is the lead Senate sponsor of a bill to federally deschedule marijuana, said last month that a Biden administration would not be “half-steppin’” cannabis reform or pursuing “incrementalism,” but that’s exactly how advocates would define simple decriminalization.
In any case, the senator has repeatedly discussed cannabis decriminalization on the trail. She similarly said during a vice presidential debate earlier this month that she and Biden “will decriminalize marijuana and we will expunge the records of those who have been convicted of marijuana.”
In addition to those policies, Biden backs modestly rescheduling the drug under federal law, letting states set their own policies and legalizing medical cannabis.
Photo element courtesy of California Attorney General’s Office.