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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.

Politics

New York Legal Marijuana Push ‘Effectively Over’ For 2020, Governor Says

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) conceded on Saturday that it’s unlikely marijuana will be legalized in the state this year.

“Marijuana and the gig economy were two of the more complicated initiatives that we wanted to work through that we didn’t get a chance to do,” he said in response to a question about which policy issues he would’ve liked to tackle in the annual budget bill that passed this week.

“Is the session effectively over? It’s up to the legislature, but I think it’s fair to say it’s effectively over,” he added, noting that several state lawmakers have been infected with coronavirus.

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.)

Photo elements courtesy of Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Carlos Gracia.

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Congresswoman Wants Ban On DC Marijuana Sales Lifted Through Coronavirus Legislation

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A congresswoman is calling on the government to end a policy prohibiting Washington, D.C. from legal marijuana sales, arguing that the jurisdiction is in particular need of tax revenue from cannabis commerce due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) has repeatedly condemned the congressional rider barring the District of Columbia from allowing retail sales that has been extended each year since 2014, shortly after local voters approved a ballot measure to legalize low-level possession and home cultivation. But given the need for resources to combat the pandemic, she said a reversal of the provision should be included in the next COVID-related relief bill.

“At this moment of unparalleled need, D.C. should be able to collect tax revenue from all available sources, like every other jurisdiction, including from recreational marijuana, which is believed to be widely used in the District,” the congresswoman said in a press release on Friday, adding that D.C. was shorted in the last stimulus because Congress treated it as a territory rather than a state.

“While I am working for a retroactive fix in the next coronavirus bill, it is imperative that Congress also repeal the D.C. recreational marijuana commercialization rider in the next bill to help D.C. shore up its finances,” she said. “It is beyond unreasonable that congressional interference keeps only the District from commercializing recreational marijuana, while all other jurisdictions are free to do so.”

“Bringing the District in line with other jurisdictions would create a critical source of tax revenue in our time of need.”

Last year, the House approved an appropriations bill that excluded the D.C. rider, but it was included in the Senate version and ultimately made its way into the final package that the president signed. The cannabis commerce ban was also included in President Trump’s budget proposal earlier this year.

“True to form, Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton continues to be one of the best allies to the cannabis reform movement,” Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “During this unprecedented COVID-19 outbreak, it is critical that lawmakers analyze and reform any and every aspect of public policy to mitigate the health crisis and build a foundation for a strong recovery.”

“As the majority of states that regulate cannabis have deemed the industry essential to the continued functioning of their jurisdictions, the continued congressional prohibition of the District of Columbia enacting it’s own adult-use program becomes even more ridiculous,” he added.

Norton, in an interview about her push, said that the congressionally mandated prohibition on sales doesn’t prevent people from accessing cannabis but does block the city from collecting tax revenue.

“You can buy two ounces but, by the way you’ve got to do that on the black market,” she told WUSA-TV. “But there’s nobody to tax it. And I’m simply trying to get the taxes the District is due for merchandise, in this case marijuana that’s being consumed readily in the District of Columbia.”

Legislative priorities for Congress have shifted significantly as lawmakers attempt to address the outbreak, and that’s meant putting some reform efforts on hold. However, the issue isn’t being ignored entirely, and it’s possible that other members may look to attach modest marijuana proposals to additional coronavirus legislation.

For example, Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) said this week that U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs policy preventing its doctors from recommending medical cannabis in legal states puts service members at risk in Massachusetts because the state is shuttering recreational shops (but not medical dispensaries) and some veterans fear registering as patients out of concern that they could lose federal benefits.

Eleven senators wrote a letter to Appropriations Committee leadership asking that they allow small cannabis businesses to access federal loans and disaster relief programs. While the lawmakers said it should be enacted through an annual spending bill, advocates have argued that the policy change should be pursued through coronavirus legislation since these businesses are facing challenges just like those experienced by many other companies during the pandemic.

Eleven Senators Push To Let Marijuana Businesses Access Federal Loan Programs

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North Dakota Activists Say Marijuana Legalization Initiative Unlikely In 2020 Due To Coronavirus

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North Dakota activists announced on Thursday that they are suspending their campaign put marijuana legalization on the November ballot due to the coronavirus outbreak.

In a Facebook post, Legalize ND said “we are going to have to face a few hard realities going forward” as businesses are shuttering, public events are being cancelled and individuals are encouraged to shelter in place. The pandemic means in-person signature gathering can’t take place, and the state does not allow for alternative signing options such as by mail or online.

“Due to the virus all of our major avenues for signature collection have been cancelled or indefinitely postponed, and going door to door is not safe for both those knocking and those getting knocked,” the group said. “Businesses will continue to collect, but we don’t want to create another vector for the coronavirus. As a result, at this time if something major doesn’t change we will not be able to make the 2020 ballot.”

Legalize ND said there’s no way for state policies related to signature gathering to be changed ahead of the November election. They needed to collect 13,452 valid signatures from voters before July 6 in order to qualify. In all likelihood, the campaign said it would have to shift its focus to the July 2022 primary election.

“This isn’t the solution we want, but given the situation it is what will have to happen,” the post states. “Stay safe, and hopefully we can make a major push when the quarantine ends.”

The proposed initiative would allow individuals to purchase and possess up to two ounces of cannabis. Unlike a much more far-reaching measure the same group pushed in 2018 that included no possession or cultivation limits, which voters rejected, this version would prohibit home growing, impose a 10 percent excise tax and establish a regulatory body to approve licenses for marijuana businesses.

North Dakota voters approved a medical cannabis initiative in 2016.

The coronavirus outbreak has dealt several blows to drug policy reform efforts in recent weeks.

California activists for campaigns to amend the state’s legal cannabis program and legalize psilocybin mushrooms are asking for a digital signature option.

Likewise in Washington, D.C., advocates for a measure to decriminalize psychedelics asked the mayor and local lawmakers to accept online signatures for their ballot petition.

An effort to legalize medical cannabis in Nebraska is facing similar signature gathering challenges. A campaign to legalize cannabis in Missouri is also in jeopardy.

In Oregon, advocates for a measure to decriminalize drug possession and a separate initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes have suspended in-person campaign events amid the pandemic.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) recently conceded that legalization was “not likely” going to happen through the budget, as he hoped. Coronavirus shifted legislative priorities, and comprehensive cannabis reform seems to have proved too complicated an issue in the short-term.

Idaho activists announced on Thursday that they are suspending their campaign, though they are still “focusing on distributing petitions through online download at IdahoCann.co and encouraging every volunteer who has downloaded a petition to get them turned in to their county clerk’s office by mail, regardless of how many signatures they have collected.”

Finally, in Arizona, a legalization campaign is petitioning the state Supreme Court to instruct the secretary of state to allow individuals to sign ballot petitions digitally using an existing electronic system that is reserved for individual individual candidates seeking public office.

Virginia Groups Push Governor To Amend Marijuana Decriminalization Bill On His Desk

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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