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Democratic Presidential Candidates Talk Drug War In First 2020 Debate

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During the first 2020 Democratic presidential debate on Wednesday, candidates were asked to weigh in on a wide range of issues, including the pharmaceutical industry and immigration policy—and two contenders proactively brought up the criminalization of marijuana and other drugs without being specifically prompted.

The debate in Miami featured ten candidates: Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN); Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and Tim Ryan (D-OH); former Reps. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) and John Delaney (D-MD); Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D); New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro.

Asked whether pharmaceutical companies should be held liable for their role in the opioid crisis, Booker said they “should absolutely be held criminally liable because they are liable and responsible.”

O’Rourke agreed and expanded on that point, saying that the U.S. has “2.3 million of our fellow Americans behind bars.”

“It’s the largest prison population on the face of the planet,” he said. “Many are there for non-violent drug crimes, including possession of marijuana at a time that half of the states have legalized it or decriminalized it.”

“And yet despite what Purdue Pharma [maker of Oxycontin] has done—their connection to the opioid crisis and the overdose deaths that we’re seeing throughout this country—they’ve been able to act with complete impunity and pay no consequences, not a single night in jail,” O’Rourke said. “Unless there’s accountability and justice, this crisis will continue.”

On a different note, the former congressman later said in response to a question about immigration that he would ensure that people caught trafficking drugs will be “deported and criminally prosecuted.”

That’s a perspective shared by Ryan, who said there are “provisions in the law that will allow you to prosecute people for coming over here if they’re dealing in drugs and other things.”

Later in the debate, Booker was asked about what he would do in his first 100 days in office to address immigration, and he noted the role of private prisons in the criminalization of drug addiction in his response.

“We have the power to better deal with this problem through the civil process than the criminal process,” the senator said. “I have been to some of the largest private prisons, which are repugnant to me that people are profiting off of incarceration and their immigration lockups.”

“Our country has made so many mistakes by criminalizing things—whether it’s immigration, whether it’s mental illness, whether it’s addiction,” he said. “We know that this is not the way to deal with problems. There is a humane way that affirms human rights and human dignity and actually solves this problem.”

Booker also defended his ability to pass legislation under Republican leadership in the Senate by touting his role in getting a bipartisan criminal justice reform across the finish line to President Trump’s desk last year.

“When I got to the Senate, people told me we could not get a comprehensive criminal justice reform bill done,” he said. “Today we’ve passed the First Step Act,” which provides for federal sentencing and prison reform.

“It’s not as far as I want to go, but thousands of people will be liberated,” he said, noting the racial disparities in the criminal justice system. There are “more African Americans under criminal supervision than all the slaves in 1850,” he said.

Klobuchar also took credit for the passage of the First Step Act and said she hoped to take criminal justice reform further with a so-called “Second Step Act,” though she declined to provide specifics.

A second Democratic debate is scheduled for Thursday with ten other candidates. Top contenders Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and former Vice President Joe Biden will be among those on the stage.

Historic Marijuana Measures Clear First Major Congressional Hurdles As Opposition Wanes

Photo courtesy of YouTube/NBC News.

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.

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AOC Calls For Decriminalizing The Use Of All Drugs

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Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) voiced support for decriminalizing the use of all drugs on Sunday.

The freshman congresswoman tweeted that drug decriminalization, as well as marijuana legalization, are “matters of public health.”

This marks a development in Ocasio-Cortez’s drug policy platform. Previously, she called for decriminalizing the use and research of psychedelics, emphasizing the therapeutic potential of the substances.

To that end, she introduced an amendment to a spending bill in June that would remove a rider that advocates argue has inhibited research into the potential therapeutic benefits of Schedule I drugs such as psilocybin and LSD. The House rejected that measure in a floor vote, however.

There’s a growing push to decriminalize the personal possession of drugs beyond cannabis. South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), both Democratic presidential candidates, are in favor of the policy. Entrepreneur Andrew Yang supports decriminalizing opioids as a means to combat the drug overdose crisis.

Ocasio-Cortez recently gave her endorsement to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). But while the senator was the first major presidential candidate to back marijuana legalization during his 2016 run, he said this year he’s “not there yet” on broader drug decriminalization. It’s not clear if the congresswoman’s role as a surrogate on his campaign will ultimately influence him to adopt the policy.

But as more candidates debate the best way forward on various drug reform proposals, with cannabis legalization being a given for almost all contenders, former Vice President Joe Biden remains several paces behind. He opposes adult-use legalization and said on Saturday that marijuana may be a gateway to other, more dangerous substances.

Biden Says Marijuana Might Be A Gateway Drug

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Key Congressional Committee Officially Schedules Vote On Marijuana Legalization Bill

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A key House committee has officially announced that a vote on a comprehensive marijuana legalization bill is scheduled for this week.

The House Judiciary Committee said on Monday that the panel will mark up legislation introduced by Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), which would federally deschedule cannabis and address social equity, on Wednesday at 10:00 AM ET. The announcement confirms what sources familiar with the planned development told Marijuana Moment last week.

Nadler’s Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act has been lauded by advocates for its emphasis on restorative justice for communities most impacted by the drug war.

It calls for a five percent federal tax on marijuana sales, and that revenue would be used to fund programs such as job training, legal aid for those affected by prohibition and small business loans for individuals who are socially and economically disadvantaged. The bill also seeks to lift barriers to licensing and employment in the industry.

Additionally, the legislation would expunge the records of those with prior cannabis convictions, provide for resentencing, block federal agencies from denying public benefits or security clearances as a result of marijuana use and protect immigrants from being denied citizenship over cannabis.

“A supermajority of Americans, including majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and independents, support regulating the use of marijuana by responsible adults,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said in a press release. “Thanks to the leadership of the House Judiciary chairman, never in history have we been closer to ending the failed policy of marijuana criminalization and providing pathways to opportunity for our brothers and sisters who have suffered under its oppressive reign.”

“The MORE Act is the most comprehensive marijuana policy reform bill ever introduced in Congress and is backed by a broad coalition of civil rights, criminal justice, drug policy, and immigration groups. Those who oppose this legislation moving forward are defenders of a failed status-quo that ruins the lives of otherwise law-abiding adults on a daily basis, overwhelming enforced against the poor and communities of color.”

Text of an amendment in the nature of a substitute from Nadler that Judiciary members will take up was also released on Monday. It includes a new “findings” section that discusses racial disparities in marijuana enforcement, the growing state-level legalization movement and the challenges that individuals from disadvantaged communities face in participating in the market.

“The communities that have been most harmed by cannabis prohibition are benefiting the least from the legal marijuana marketplace,” one provision reads. “A legacy of racial and ethnic injustices, compounded by the disproportionate collateral consequences of 80 years of cannabis prohibition enforcement, now limits participation in the industry.

Much of the language of the new section is borrowed from a resolution that Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, introduced last year.

“The data speaks for itself—low-income communities and communities of color have disproportionately borne the brunt of the devastation brought on by marijuana prohibition,” Queen Adesuyi, policy manager of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a press release. “The MORE Act is the most robust bipartisan legislation so far not only to end federal marijuana prohibition, but also to ensure that the communities that have been hardest hit by prohibition are not left behind.”

“It would be a tragic mistake to have the only marijuana reform bill that passes this Congress be one that solely benefits the industry, despite both the unprecedented support for legalization nationally amongst Americans and all the harm that we know federal prohibition has caused to individuals and communities across this country,” she said. “Fortunately, by ensuring the MORE Act moves forward, several leaders in the House are showing that they understand that this is a matter of fundamental justice that the US Congress needs to address.”

Advocates have been eagerly awaiting a committee vote on the MORE Act, especially since the House overwhelmingly passed a bill to protect banks that service the cannabis industry in September. Some groups, including the ACLU, had implored leadership to delay the banking vote until the chamber passed legislation like the MORE Act that addresses social equity.

Committee members on both sides of the aisle will be able to introduce amendments to the legislation, but it’s generally expected to advance out of the panel and onto the floor. That said, its fate in the Republican-controlled Senate is far from certain.

Read the full text of the new amendment to the MORE Act below: 

MORE Act by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

Biden Says Marijuana Might Be A Gateway Drug

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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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Politics

Biden Says Marijuana Might Be A Gateway Drug

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Former Vice President Joe Biden (D) said on Saturday that he’s not sure if marijuana is a gateway drug that leads to the use of other, more dangerous substances.

“The truth of the matter is, there’s not nearly been enough evidence that has been acquired as to whether or not it is a gateway drug,” the 2020 presidential candidate claimed at a town hall meeting in Las Vegas. “It’s a debate, and I want a lot more before I legalize it nationally. I want to make sure we know a lot more about the science behind it.”

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.)

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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