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.
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.
Trump Says Marijuana Makes People “Lose IQ Points” In Secret Recording
President Trump could be heard saying that using marijuana makes people “lose IQ points” in a secretly recorded conversation released on Saturday.
“In Colorado they have more accidents,” the president said in the clip captured by Lev Parnas, an associate of Trump attorney Rudolph Giuliani, who is at the center of the Ukraine scandal that led to the president’s impeachment. “It does cause an IQ problem.”
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo courtesy of YouTube/White House.
Austin Police Chief Says Marijuana Arrests Will Continue Despite City Council Vote
Chief Brian Manley said he would continue to enforce marijuana laws the day after the city council unanimously approved stopping arrests and tickets for low-level cases.
The day after the Austin City Council approved a resolution to stop arresting or ticketing people for most low-level marijuana possession offenses, the police chief made clear he had no plans to do so.
“[Marijuana] is still illegal, and we will still enforce marijuana law if we come across people smoking in the community,” Chief Brian Manley said during a news conference Friday afternoon.
Though cracking down on those in possession of small amounts of marijuana has never been a priority for the department, he said, police will continue to either issue tickets under the city’s “cite-and-release” policy or arrest people if officers “come across it.”
The difference, according to City Council member and resolution sponsor Greg Casar, is that the council’s move now guarantees those actions will come with no penalty. Tickets will be meaningless pieces of paper and any arrests will result in a quick release with no charges accepted from prosecutors, he told The Texas Tribune after the news conference.
“What has changed since yesterday is that enforcement, almost in virtually all cases, is now handing someone a piece of paper with no penalty or no court date,” Casar said.
The move by the City Council came as a direct result from Texas’ new hemp law which complicated marijuana prosecution across the state. Last summer, when lawmakers legalized hemp, they also changed the definition of marijuana from cannabis to cannabis that contains more than 0.3% THC, the psychoactive ingredient in the plant.
Many prosecutors, including those in Austin’s Travis County, now won’t accept pot cases based on look and smell alone, requiring lab testing to determine THC levels before accepting a case. Such testing is not yet available in public crime labs, though some counties and cities have spent money to obtain test results from private labs.
The council’s resolution prohibited using city funds or personnel to conduct such testing in non-felony marijuana cases. It also directed the elimination, to the furthest extent possible, of arrests or citations for cannabis possession. As Manley also noted, the resolution clarifies it can’t technically decriminalize marijuana, since that is state law.
The resolution gave the city manager until May 1 to report back to the council on how police were trained in this new resolution, and Casar said he hopes Manley reviews his policies before then.
Manley said in the news conference that he would continue to review the resolution, as well as police policies.
But, he assured, “a City Council does not have the authority to tell a police department not to enforce a state law.”
The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
Andrew Yang Wants To Legalize Psychedelic Mushrooms For Military Veterans
Andrew Yang says he wants to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for military veterans to help them combat mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
During a town hall event at an Iowa college on Thursday, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate was asked whether he would take initiative and allow veterans to access medical marijuana if elected. Yang replied he “will be so excited to be that commander-in-chief” that he would not only end federal cannabis prohibition but would go one step further by legalizing the psychedelic fungus for veterans as well.
“We need to get marijuana off of the Controlled Substances Act and legalize it at the federal level, make it freely available,” he said. “I say this because I’ve talked to hundreds of veterans and other Americans who benefit from marijuana as a pain relief treatment, and it’s much less deadly than the opiates that many, many people are using for the same conditions.”
“I’ve talked to veterans who’ve also benefited from psilocybin mushrooms,” he added. “They said it was the only thing that actually has helped combat their PTSD. I’m for legalizing psilocybin mushrooms for veterans as well. Pretty much if it’s going to help a veteran, we should make it easier, not harder, for them to get access to it.”
Yang’s drug policy reform platform is unique in that respect. While the majority of Democratic candidates support marijuana legalization, he’s pushed unique proposals such as decriminalizing possession of opioids and making psilocybin mushrooms “more freely available” for therapeutic purposes. The candidate also wants to invest federal funds in safe injection facilities where individuals can use prohibited drugs in a medically supervised environment and receive help getting into treatment.
He hasn’t gone so far as embracing the decriminalization of all drugs, as former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg has, however.
That said, Yang did signal that he’s open to legalizing and regulating “certain drugs” beyond cannabis, which he argued would disrupt international drug cartels. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) recently said she backs “legalizing and regulating” currently illegal controlled substances to protect public safety and combat the illicit market.
At the Iowa town hall, Yang went on to say that he’s particularly interested in legalizing marijuana, and he again pledged to “pardon everyone who’s in jail for a non-violent marijuana-related offense because they shouldn’t be in jail for something that’s frankly legal in other parts of the country.”
“And I would pardon them all on April 20, 2021, high-five them on the way out of jail and be like, ‘things got a lot better in the last year,'” he said, referencing the unofficial cannabis holiday 4/20.
Photo element courtesy of Gage Skidmore.