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Democrats Forming Consensus On Marijuana Legalization

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Support for marijuana legalization is quickly becoming a mainstream consensus position in the Democratic Party.

Two of the party’s leading potential 2020 presidential candidates joined together this week in support of far-reaching legislation that would end the federal prohibition of cannabis and encourage states to legalize the drug.

“Legalizing marijuana isn’t a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) said about the legislation, the Marijuana Justice Act, which he introduced last August.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who signed onto the bill as a cosponsor on Wednesday and did a Facebook Live chat with Booker about it, called cannabis legalization “a social justice issue and a moral issue that Congress needs to address.”

The vocal pro-legalization support from the two senators, who are widely considered to be weighing campaigns for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, signals that a shift toward marijuana reform advocacy that has been underway in the party for some time is elevating to a near consensus.

And polling shows that Democratic voters are in support of the move.

Gallup found last year that 72 percent of Democrats back marijuana legalization, and a Quinnipiac University survey last month showed that 95 percent of the party’s voters support medical cannabis.

The latter poll also showed that just 12 percent of Democrats want the federal government to interfere with the implementation state marijuana laws.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with Democrats, also supports legalization. The senator, who introduced legislation to deschedule marijuana during his nearly successful campaign for the party’s 2016 presidential nomination, is reportedly considering another run in 2020.

Last week, Sanders’s campaign organization launched an online petition calling for an end to marijuana prohibition and the broader “war on drugs.”

Democrats’ march toward legalization seems to have been accelerated by the Trump administration’s anti-cannabis moves.

While Trump pledged during the campaign that he would respect local marijuana laws if elected, Attorney General Jeff Sessions last month to tore up Obama-era guidance that has generally allowed states to implement their own laws without federal interference.

A large number of members of Congress from both parties, but Democrats in particular, immediately criticized the Justice Department reversal.

“The Attorney General’s decision to rescind the Cole memo was a very bad one & I oppose it,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (NY) tweeted. “I believe that the States should continue to be the labs of democracy when it comes to recreational & medical marijuana. Jeff, this is one place where states’ rights works. Let each state decide.”

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi also slammed the move, tweeting, “Attorney General Sessions, your unjust war against Americans who legally use #marijuana is shameful & insults the democratic processes that played out in states across the country.”

But while most Democratic lawmakers tend to vote in support of marijuana proposals in Congress, the party is by no means unanimous on the issue.

Longtime Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), for example, is one of Congress’s most ardent opponents of marijuana law reform, and has voted against amendments to protect her state’s medical cannabis law from Justice Department intervention. She also vigorously campaigned against marijuana reforms at the state level.

And some Democrats were upset that congressional leaders chose Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-MA), who opposes legalization, to deliver the party’s response to President Trump’s first State of the Union address last month.

As a member of Congress, Kennedy has not only opposed his state’s move to legalize marijuana, but has voted against amendments to shield state medical marijuana laws from federal interference, allow military veterans to access medical cannabis and protect children who use non-psychoactive cannabidiol extracts to treat severe seizure disorders.

Kennedy knows that his views on cannabis are out of step with the party.

“I come at it a little bit differently, obviously, than the vast majority of my colleagues,” he said in an interview. “I think the party is clearly moving in that legalization direction. It might already be there.”

But legalization isn’t strictly a Democratic issue.

Several Republican lawmakers have taken leadership roles in efforts to end federal cannabis prohibition.

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), for example, has gone so far as to actively block Justice Department nominees from being confirmed in protest of Sesssion’s move. In a speech this week, Sessions called the dispute “frustrating” and implied that Gardner is prioritizing marijuana over national security.

While support for marijuana law reform is growing across party lines — Gallup’s recent poll found for the first time that a bare majority of Republicans now back ending prohibition — Democratic voters and elected officials are so far more likely to favor legalization.

But although the party’s platform adopted in 2016 included a plank calling for “a reasoned pathway for future legalization,” that year’s Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, only went as far as voicing vague support for respecting state laws and slightly downgrading cannabis’s federal status.

And not all rumored 2020 contenders have embraced legalization like Booker, Gillibrand and Sanders have. At least not yet.

While another potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), like Sanders, also recently launched an online petition about marijuana, she hasn’t yet added her name onto any bills to change cannabis’s status under federal law.

Her position does seem to be evolving, though.

In 2014, as state attorney general, Harris simply laughed in a reporter’s face when asked about her position on legalization. But now she is signing letters calling on the federal government to respect state laws and cosponsoring legislation to allow banks to serve state-legal cannabis businesses.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) — another potential 2020 contender — is also cosponsoring the banking bill and has signed onto broader legislation to allow states to implement medical marijuana policies.

A lot can happen before the 2020 Democratic National Convention, but it’s a safe bet that the party’s next presidential nominee will at least have a more far-reaching marijuana reform position than that of their 2016 candidate.

This piece was first published by Forbes.

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.

Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 20-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (Organization citations are for identification only and do not constitute an endorsement or partnership.)

Politics

DEA Seeks Contractor Capable Of Burning Four Tons of Marijuana Per Day

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The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recently reached out for help burning “at least” 1,000 pounds of marijuana per hour for eight hours straight.

Every year, DEA seizes millions of marijuana plants and literal tons of raw cannabis, which eventually end up being destroyed. The successful contractor in Arizona would be responsible for burning marijuana and other controlled substances seized as evidence in drug cases “to a point where there are no detectable levels, as measured by standard analytical methods, of byproduct from the destruction process.”

“DEA shall inspect the incinerator to ensure no drug residue remains,” the agency said.

DEA posted the work description earlier this month in what’s called a “sources sought notice,” an initial step before a formal request for proposals is sent.

“This is not a request for proposals and does not obligate the Government to award a contract,” the post says. “The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is conducting market research, and is encouraging all businesses, including small businesses, to respond to this notice.”

An accompanying statement of work gives a behind-the-scenes look at the DEA’s process of destroying seized drugs. Typical boxes weigh between 40 and 60 pounds, for example, but can weigh up to 200 pounds. Contraband might come in on “semi-trucks, tractor trailers, cargo vans, fork lifts, etc.,” the work description says.

“The drugs are usually tightly compressed ‘bricks’ or ‘bales,’” it continues, and are packaged in all sorts of materials: cardboard, wrapping paper, plastic wrap, aluminum foil, packing tape, “duct tape and derivatives,” plastic evidence bags, “grease/oil” and others. Contractors will be expected to burn that stuff, too.

To avoid potential contact highs, there must be ”proper ventilation” and “no smoke buildup” will be allowed. Other mandates include closed-circuit cameras that capture the entire process, which DEA reserves the right to access, as well as background checks and regular drug tests of all personnel.

Armed DEA agents and contractors will be present during scheduled burns.

The work is also very hush-hush, so whoever gets the job shouldn’t expect to regale friends with stories of the latest large-scale federal weed burning sesh.

“The contractor and its personnel shall hold all information obtained under the DEA contract in the strictest confidence,” the work description says. “All information obtained shall be used only for performing this contract and shall not be divulged nor made known in any manner except as necessary to perform this contract.”

The work would start January 1 of next year and the contract would expire in 2026 unless terminated sooner. The deadline to send information for would-be contractors was Friday.

DEA Seized More Marijuana Plants In 2019, But Arrests Fell

Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images

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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.

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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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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