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.
Congressman Files New Marijuana Banking Reform Amendment To Large-Scale House Bill
The House sponsor of a bill to protect banks that work with state-legal marijuana businesses announced on Friday that he is seeking to attach an amendment containing the reform to a broader bill dealing with research and innovation in the tech and manufacturing sectors.
Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), sponsor of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, has expressed interest in finding another vehicle to pursue his proposal after it was stripped from a separate defense bill late last year. The congressman’s legislation has cleared the House in five forms at this point, only to stall in the Senate.
His latest attempt to get the reform enacted is by filing an amendment with the SAFE Banking language to the America COMPETES Act, which does not deal specifically with cannabis issues as drafted but was introduced in the House this week.
“Cannabis-related businesses—big and small—and their employees are in desperate need of access to the banking system and access to capital in order to operate in an efficient, safe manner and compete in the growing global cannabis marketplace,” Perlmutter, who is retiring from Congress after this session and committed to passing his bill first, said in a press release.
I have filed #SAFEBanking as an amendment to #AmericaCOMPETES b/c cannabis-related businesses – big and small – are in desperate need of access to capital & the banking system in order to operate in an efficient, safe manner & compete in the growing global cannabis marketplace.
— Rep. Ed Perlmutter (@RepPerlmutter) January 28, 2022
“The SAFE Banking Act is the best opportunity to enact some type of federal cannabis reform this year and will serve as the first of many steps to help ensure cannabis businesses are treated the same as any other legal, legitimate business,” he said. “I will continue to pursue every possible avenue to get SAFE Banking over the finish line and signed into law.”
It remains to be seen whether the America COMPETES Act will serve as a more effective vehicle for the cannabis banking bill than the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), where the language was successfully attached on the House side but later removed amid bicameral negotiations. Perlmutter said at the time that Senate leadership, which is working on comprehensive legalization legislation, was to blame for the decision to remove his amendment from the proposal.
The new SAFE Banking Act amendment will still need to be made in order by the House Rules Committee in order to be formally be considered on the House floor when the body takes up the research and innovation package. The deadline to file amendments was Friday, and the panel is set to take them up starting on Tuesday.
Even some Republicans are scratching their heads about how Democrats have so far failed to pass the modest banking reform with majorities in both chambers and control of the White House. For example, Rep. Rand Paul (R-KY) criticized his Democratic colleagues over the issue last month.
In the interim, federal financial regulator Rodney Hood—a board member and former chairman of the federal National Credit Union Administration (NCUA)—recently said that marijuana legalization is not a question of “if” but “when,” and he’s again offering advice on how to navigate the federal-state conflict that has left many banks reluctant to work with cannabis businesses.
Ohio Lawmakers Will Be Forced To Consider Marijuana Legalization As State Validates Activist Signatures
Ohio activists have collected enough signatures to force the legislature to take up the issue of marijuana legalization, the secretary of state’s office confirmed on Friday.
This comes about two weeks after the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CTRMLA) submitted a final round of signatures for the measure. The petitions’ formal validation triggers the legislative review of legalization, but it does not require lawmakers to enact the reform.
The legislature now has four months to consider the campaign’s cannabis reform proposal. Lawmakers can adopt the measure, reject it or pass an amended version. If they do not pass the measure, organizers can then collect an additional 132,887 valid signatures from registered voters to place the issue on the ballot in November.
CTRMLA previously submitted petitions for the initiative but the state said they were short some 13,000 signatures, requiring activists to go back and make up the difference.
“We are ready and eager to work with Ohio legislators over the next four months to legalize the adult use of marijuana in Ohio,” CTRMLA spokesman Tom Haren said in a press release. “We are also fully prepared to collect additional signatures and take this issue directly to voters on November 8, 2022, if legislators fail to act.”
The measure that lawmakers will be required to consider would legalize possession of up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis for adults 21 and older, and they could also have up to 15 grams of marijuana concentrates. Individuals could grow up to six plants for personal use, with a maximum 12 plants per household.
A 10 percent sales tax would be imposed on cannabis sales, with revenue being divided up to support social equity and jobs programs (36 percent), localities that allow adult-use marijuana enterprises to operate in their area (36 percent), education and substance misuse programs (25 percent) and administrative costs of implementing the system (three percent).
A Division of Cannabis Control would be established under the state Department of Commerce. It would have authority to “license, regulate, investigate, and penalize adult use cannabis operators, adult use testing laboratories, and individuals required to be licensed.”
The measure gives current medical cannabis businesses a head start in the recreational market. Regulators would need to begin issuing adult-use licenses to qualified applicants who operate existing medical operations within nine months of enactment.
The division would also be required to issue 40 recreational cultivator licenses and 50 adult-use retailer licenses “with a preference to applications who are participants under the cannabis social equity and jobs program.” And it would authorize regulators to issue additional licenses for the recreational market two years after the first operator is approved.
Individual municipalities would be able to opt out of allowing new recreational cannabis companies from opening in their area, but they could not block existing medical marijuana firms even if they want to add co-located adult-use operations. Employers could also maintain policies prohibiting workers from consuming cannabis for adult use.
Further, regulators would be required to “enter into an agreement with the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services” to provide “cannabis addiction services,” which would involve “education and treatment for individuals with addiction issues related to cannabis or other controlled substances including opioids.”
With respect to social equity, some advocate are concerned about the lack of specific language on automatic expungements to clear the records of people with convictions for offenses that would be made legal under the legislation. That said, it does include a provision requiring regulators to “study and fund” criminal justice reform initiatives including expungements.
Ohio voters rejected a 2015 legalization initiative that faced criticism from many reform advocates because of an oligopolistic model that would’ve granted exclusive control over cannabis production to the very funders who paid to put the measure on the ballot.
Activists suspended a campaign to place another measure on the 2020 ballot due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Aside from the new voter initiative, state lawmakers from both parties are separately working to advance marijuana reform.
A legalization bill that was the first of its kind to be introduced in the Ohio legislature last year would legalize the possession, sale and cultivation of cannabis by adults. It’s being championed by Reps. Casey Weinstein (D) and Terrence Upchurch (D).
A pair of Ohio Republican lawmakers similarly filed a bill to legalize marijuana in the state in December. Reps. Jamie Callender (R) and Ron Ferguson (R) first announced their plan to push the legislative reform proposal in October and circulated a co-sponsorship memo to build support for the measure.
There are also additional local reform efforts underway in Ohio for 2022.
After voters in seven cities approved ballot measures to decriminalize marijuana possession during last November’s election—which builds on a slew of previous local reforms in the state—campaigns are now looking to enact decriminalization in Marietta, Rushville, Rutland, Shawnee, McArthur and Laurelville.
Ohio marijuana activists already successfully proved that they turned in enough valid signatures to put a local decriminalization initiative before Kent voters after having missed the 2021 ballot due to a verification error on the part of county officials. That measure is now expected to go before voters this November.
Top Federal Drug Official Says Marijuana Use ‘Stable’ Among Youth At Prohibitionist-Hosted Panel Sponsored By D.A.R.E.
A top federal drug official participated in a panel hosted by a prohibitionist group and sponsored by D.A.R.E.—and she again reiterated that data shows youth marijuana use has remained stable “despite the legalization in many states.”
While National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow expressed concerns about certain cannabis trends related to potency, commercialization and use by pregnant women, she affirmed that surveys funded by her own federal agency have demonstrated that adolescent marijuana use is “stable,” despite repeated arguments from prohibitionists that legalization would lead more young people to experiment with cannabis.
The event was hosted by Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), an anti-legalization group. SAM President Kevin Sabet and the organization’s co-founder former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) led the discussion.
“The higher the content of THC, the greater the likelihood that you will become addicted to the drug… The content of THC has gone up at least 4-fold.”
– Dr. Nora Volkow, M.D., Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
— SAM (@learnaboutsam) January 28, 2022
Sabet said that data on youth use has showed varying results in states that have legalized cannabis and asked Volkow to weigh in on the issue. She replied that federal data “have not been able to see large differences in terms of prevalence” of cannabis consumption among young people in legal and non-legal states.
The official made similar comments in an interview with Marijuana Moment late last year.
That said, Volkow said that they have seen some differences when it comes to consumption rates among adolescents for edible cannabis products.
“But the effects are not large, and one of the things that also certainly surprised me [is] the rate overall, the prevalence rates of marijuana use among teenagers, have been stable despite the legalization in many states,” she said, adding that there are some concerns about increased frequency of use and limitations in data collection with respect to dosages being taken.
Volkow also commented on a recent federally funded survey that found illicit drug use by young people has taken a significant plunge in the last year, though she largely attributed that to the reduced social interaction resulting from COVID-19 policies across the country.
“Interestingly what we’ve observed during the COVID pandemic is, across schools in the United States, the prevalence of drug use has gone down,” she said, “which likely very much reflects the fact that kids don’t have the opportunity to interact with others, and drug taking at that stage is a peer pressure behavior.”
The official also briefly addressed the fact that she feels criminalizing people over drugs in the first place is the wrong policy approach—a point she’s made repeatedly in interviews and blog posts.
She said that “criminalization has created a system for that allows a structural racism to be implemented, you can control people, and that’s a horrible policy. This criminalization actually opens up our eyes that well, yes, we need to change that.”
However, she said that “liberalizing and making the drugs widely available, with no counter messaging,” is not the alternative she would recommend.
“We need to provide them [addicts] with treatment, so just to say ok we are going to liberalize everything… and not support treatment for those people under those conditions, I actually think it is quite irresponsible.”
– Dr. Nora Volkow, M.D., Director of NIDA
— SAM (@learnaboutsam) January 28, 2022
While the SAM-hosted event did not touch specifically on psychedelics policy, Volkow has also recently discussed that issues, especially as data has shown an increase in use of the substances among adults.
She said people are going to keep using substances such as psilocybin—especially as the reform movement expands and there’s increased attention being drawn to the potential therapeutic benefits—and so researchers and regulators will need to keep up.
Volkow also mentioned that NIDA is “pleased” the Drug Enforcement Administration recently announced plans to significantly increase the quota of certain psychedelic drugs to be produced for use in research.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.