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Democratic Senator Pulled Out As Marijuana Bill Cosponsor, Sources Say

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Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) was expected to be an original cosponsor of newly filed bipartisan legislation to shield legal marijuana states from federal intervention. But when it was unveiled on Thursday, the senator’s name was nowhere to be found—even though she signed on to a nearly identical bill last year.

Two lobbyists who work on cannabis issues on Capitol Hill told Marijuana Moment that Feinstein’s staff added her name to the bill, but that in the days leading up to its introduction the senator removed herself at the last minute—for reasons that aren’t entirely clear.

The lobbyists did not wish to be named in this story so that they could talk freely about the development, and Feinstein’s office did not respond to several requests for comment on the reasoning behind her decision or whether the senator plans to cosponsor the legislation at a later date.

When Feinstein was announced as a cosponsor of a previous version of the legislation last year, it was a big deal. She has a track record of opposing drug policy reform—including California’s 2016 cannabis legalization measure as well as congressional measures to shield state cannabis laws from federal interference—but she’d suddenly reversed that position. And as the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, her newfound support could have been critical in advancing the legislation.

Advocates are both disappointed and suspicious, questioning whether politics, rather than an earnest conviction about the need to change the country’s drug laws, motivated her past cosponsorship of the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act.

At the time that her cosponsorship of the earlier bill was announced, the senator was facing a reelection challenge from a progressive contender, California State Sen. Kevin de Leon (D).

“By refusing to get on this year’s version of the STATES Act, it shows how obvious Senator Feinstein’s flirtation with putting an end to federal marijuana was just an effort protect her seat,” Michael Liszewski, principal of The Enact Group, a lobbying and consulting firm that focuses on cannabis issues, argued. “It’s remarkable that Feinstein will back marijuana reform to save her job but then refuse to do when it comes to protecting her constituents from federal prosecution.”

Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, put it this way: “It’s remarkable when you expect nothing and are still disappointed.”

Feinstein’s reversal on the STATES Act stands in contrast to that of Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), who sent a letter to the chair of the House Judiciary Committee endorsing the legislation this week. Collins has also opposed various marijuana reform measures during his tenure in Congress but is now calling on the House Democratic majority to advance the new cannabis bill.

Aside from Feinstein, all of the other cosponsors of the last version of the STATES Act who are still in the Senate remained on board for the new version—with the exception of Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), who is sponsoring separate, more far-reaching legislation called the Marijuana Justice Act, which contains provisions addressing the harms of past cannabis enforcement. (Feinstein has not signed onto Booker’s bill or any other cannabis legislation filed in the 116th Congress.)

Two additional senators—Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Kevin Cramer (R-ND)—joined as new original cosponsors of this year’s STATES Act.

“It’s disappointing to see Senator Feinstein flip flop on this issue,” Michael Collins, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, told Marijuana Moment. “We thought she had turned the corner, but it appears not to be the case.”

Marijuana Moment reached out to the offices of Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), chief sponsors of the Senate’s STATES Act, for details about Feinstein declining to be a cosponsor this time around. Representatives were not immediately available to comment.

While the senator hasn’t said she opposes the STATES Act and could still add her name to the list of cosponsors at a later time, being an original cosponsor would have signaled that Feinstein was making cannabis reform a priority for the 116th Congress. And her position as the ranking member on a committee that will play a central role in the legislation’s fate would have made that all the more important.

“While it’s disappointing that Sen. Feinstein is not an original cosponsor of the STATES Act in the 116th Congress, it is our understanding that is not a signal that she opposes the legislation. Just that it’s not a priority,” Neal Levine, CEO of the Cannabis Trade Federation, said. “We are excited about the additions of Sen. Wyden and Sen. Cramer, and expect Sen. Feinstein to ultimately protect the burgeoning legal cannabis industry in California by voting in favor of the STATES Act.”

Even if Feinstein does ultimately lend her support, getting the bill passed in the Senate will be a challenge. The chair of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said this week that he’s “not very excited about” about the legislation.

“It’s time Senator Feinstein accepts the inevitability of cannabis legalization and cosponsors the STATES Act,” Michael Correia, director of government relations for the National Cannabis Industry Association, told Marijuana Moment. “This balanced approach and common sense solution helps address the federal/state conflict on cannabis laws, while providing protection for a multi-billion dollar industry.”

“She was elected to defend her state,” Correia said. “This bill does that.”

Top GOP Congressman Presses Democratic Majority To Pass Marijuana Bill

Photo courtesy of Neon Tommy.

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

Harris Will Give Biden ‘Honest’ Input On Legalizing Marijuana And Other Issues As Part Of ‘Deal’

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Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris says she has a “deal” with Joe Biden to candidly share her perspective on a range of progressive policies he currently opposes, including legalizing marijuana. Separately, she also recently discussed cannabis reform in a private meeting with rapper Killer Mike.

During an interview on 60 Minutes that aired on Sunday, the senator was pressed on marijuana and numerous other issues where she and Biden disagree. In response, while she didn’t specifically commit to proactively advocating for comprehensive cannabis reform, she pledged in general that she would always share her views with the would-be president if the pair are elected next week.

“What I will do—and I promise you this and this is what Joe wants me to do, this was part of our deal—I will always share with him my lived experience as it relates to any issue that we confront,” she said after the interviewer listed cannabis legalization among a handful of issues on which she and Biden depart. “I promised Joe that I will give him that perspective and always be honest with him.”

Asked whether that perspective will be “socialist” and “progressive,” Harris laughed and said “no.”

“It is the perspective of a woman who grew up a black child in America, who was also a prosecutor, who also has a mother who arrived here at the age of 19 from India, who also, you know, likes hip hop,” she said.

The senator’s taste in music also came up during her own 2020 presidential bid, when she said in an interview that she listened to Snoop Dogg and Tupac while smoking marijuana during college despite graduating before those artists released their debut albums.

Music culture has played a key role in this election cycle, and one of the strongest voices for criminal justice reform in the industry is Killer Mike, who worked as a surrogate for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) when he was running for the Democratic presidential nomination. The artist said he met with Harris on Friday and the two discussed cannabis business opportunities for communities of color.

As she’s done repeatedly since joining Biden’s campaign, Harris also reiterated at a rally in Pontiac, Michigan on Sunday that the administration would pursue marijuana decriminalization and expunging prior cannabis convictions.

She made similar comments during a campaign event in Atlanta last week, stating that the “war on drugs was, by every measure, a failure, and black men were hit the hardest.” That said, while the senator has come to embrace broad cannabis reform, she’s faced criticism over her past opposition to legalization and role in prosecuting people for marijuana offenses as a California prosecutor.

In another interview released last week, Harris said she and Biden “have a commitment to decriminalizing marijuana and expunging the records of people who have been convicted of marijuana offenses.”

“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,” she said.

There’s been some frustration among cannabis reform advocates 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 but has in recent weeks focused her comments on the more modest reforms of decriminalization and expungement.

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.

Musician John Legend Endorses Drug Decriminalization Ballot Measure In Oregon

Photo element courtesy of California Attorney General’s Office.

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GOP Tennessee Senator Calls For Medical Marijuana Legalization In New Campaign Ad

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A Tennessee senator touted his support for legalizing medical marijuana in a campaign ad released on Friday.

In the 30-second spot, which has notably high production value for this kind of local race, state Sen. Steve Dickerson (R) talks about both the therapeutic benefits of cannabis and the consequences of broader marijuana criminalization.

“As your state senator, I’ve led the fight to legalize medical marijuana so our veterans and sickest Tennesseans can deal with chronic pain,” he said. “But this same life-saving plant has led to mass incarceration, with nonviolent marijuana possession resulting in lengthy prison sentences.”

“I think that’s wrong. That’s why I’ve been pushing for criminal justice reform,” the senator added.

Dickerson, who sponsored a medical cannabis legalization bill that cleared a Senate committee in March, said in a Q&A published earlier this month that the policy change would be among his top three legislative priorities if he’s reelected.

His Democratic opponent, former Oak Hill Mayor Heidi Campbell, is in favor of “fully legalizing marijuana,” with her campaign site stating that cannabis crimes “disproportionately impact people of color and it’s time to end marijuana prohibition.”

But while Dickerson has earned a reputation as a moderate Republican given his positions on issues like cannabis reform, he’s faced backlash after declining to denounce an independent ad taken out on his behalf that some, including the LGBTQ rights organization Tennessee Equality Project (TEP), called racist.

The ad, which was paid for by Lt. Gov. Randy McNally’s (R) political action committee MCPAC, hits Campbell over her support for a nonprofit organization that is designed to keep young people out of prison, and it frames the group as “radical” and “extremist.” TEP rescinded their endorsement of Dickerson over his refusal to condemn the ad.

In the Tennessee legislature, marijuana reform has yet to pass—but there’s growing recognition that voters are in favor of the policy change. For example, former House Speaker Glen Casada (R) released the results of a constituent survey last year that showed 73 percent of those in his district back medical cannabis legalization.

Another former GOP House speaker, Beth Harwell, highlighted her support for the reform proposal during her unsuccessful bid for governor in 2018, and she referenced President Trump’s stated support for medical marijuana on the campaign trail.

In other Tennessee drug policy politics, a lawmaker in June blocked a resolution to honor murdered teen Ashanti Posey because she was allegedly involved in a low-level cannabis sale the day she was killed.

New York Will Legalize Marijuana ‘Soon’ To Aid Economic Recovery From COVID, Governor Cuomo Says

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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South Dakota Voters Back Marijuana Legalization And Medical Cannabis Ballot Measures, Poll Finds

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Voters in South Dakota are poised to approve two separate ballot measures next month that would legalize marijuana and allow patients to access medical cannabis.

The initiative to allow adults to possess, grow and purchase marijuana leads among likely voters by a margin of 51 percent to 44 percent, with five percent undecided, according to the survey released over the weekend by Argus Leader Media and KELO-TV.

The medical cannabis item got 74 percent support in the poll, with 23 percent in opposition and 3 percent undecided.

When it comes to recreational legalization, voters are divided on the issue across demographic lines. Fifty-seven percent of those under age 50 back the ballot measure, while it is narrowly opposed by older voters. Seventy-three percent of Democrats and 58 percent of independents support the reform, but Republicans are against it, 61 percent to 34 percent. Men are on board, 56 percent to 40 percent, but women are divided with 47 percent in support and 47 percent opposed.

Via KELO-TV.

The separate medical cannabis ballot measure, on the other hand, enjoys supermajority backing among every surveyed group. In fact, it had a greater margin of support than any other item or entity in the entire poll, which also asked voters about the presidential election, other races on the ballot and approval of officials including the governor and U.S. vice president.

Via KELO-TV.

The poll, which was conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling Strategy from October 19 to 21, involved 625 voters and has a margin of error of +/- 4 percentage points.

A separate survey released last month by marijuana opponents found that about 60 percent of South Dakota voters support the broader recreational legalization proposal and more than 70 percent back the narrower medical cannabis initiative.

Under the adult-use constitutional amendment, people 21 and older could possess and distribute up to one ounce of marijuana, and they would also be allowed to cultivate up to three cannabis plants.

The separate medical cannabis legalization measure that voters will decide on would make a statutory change to allow patients suffering from debilitating medical conditions to possess and purchase up to three ounces of marijuana from a licensed dispensary.

Gov. Kristi Noem (R), who previously vetoed a hemp bill, appeared in a new ad this month urging voters to reject the cannabis legalization ballot measure, saying, “I’ve never met someone who got smarter from smoking pot.”

Meanwhile, the pro-legalization campaign released its own spot featuring a retired police officer who says “our harsh marijuana laws aren’t working.”

“In 2018, 4,000 people were arrested for marijuana possession in South Dakota. That’s one in 10 arrests,” the former officer said in the TV advertisement, referencing a report that South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws published last month. “Each arrest costs $4,000. It doesn’t make us any safer. We’re wasting law enforcement time and resources that should be fighting serious crimes. So I’m voting ‘yes’ on A and 26.”

The data from that report also shows that—as is the case across the country—marijuana enforcement has had a disparate impact on people of color, despite comparable rates of consumption among white people.

Meanwhile, other recent polls in Arizona, Mississippi, Montana and New Jersey also show voters poised to approve cannabis ballot measures next month.

New York Will Legalize Marijuana ‘Soon’ To Aid Economic Recovery From COVID, Governor Cuomo Says

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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