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For Tulsi Gabbard, Marijuana Sits At Nexus Of Good Policy And Smart Politics

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Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) says that ending the federal prohibition of marijuana is smart policy and, on Thursday, she is introducing legislation in Congress to do just that.

The 2020 presidential candidate also appears to know that endorsing cannabis legalization is smart politics.

“The fact that marijuana’s still a Schedule I drug is unacceptable in the harm that it is causing to the people of our country and to taxpayers as well,” Gabbard said in a phone interview this week.

Gabbard and Rep. Don Young (R-AK) are teaming up to file two new cannabis bills. One would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act—a process known as descheduling—so that states can set their own laws without interference.

“The impact this has on individuals, potentially leading to criminal records that impact them, their families, their ability to get a job, housing, financial aid for college—the impacts of this are great,” she said of the hundreds of thousands of arrests for cannabis offenses that take place every year in the U.S. “That’s not to speak of the impact on states, small businesses and banks in those states that have legalized some level of marijuana.”

The other new House proposal from the bipartisan duo would require the federal government to study the impact of state marijuana legalization policies.

“There are still a lot of myths and outdated information and stigma that are being used as excuses to not push forward these very impactful policy changes,” Gabbard said.

The legislation, under which several federal agencies would be tasked with compiling information on the economic, health, criminal justice and employment effects of state cannabis laws, would generate “one central study providing facts on what the impacts have already proven to be in states that have legalized marijuana at one level or another,” the congresswoman said.

Gabbard, who during her presidential campaign launch speech last month criticized a system that “puts people in prison for smoking marijuana while allowing corporations like Purdue Pharma, who are responsible for the opioid-related deaths of thousands of people, to walk away scot-free with their coffers full,” shared her thoughts on the likelihood that someone who doesn’t support legalization could with the Democratic nomination.

“I think it would be very difficult, but obviously this is something that voters will have to contend with and a question I’m sure they’ll be asking in states across the country of those who are seeking that office,” she said.

“Regardless of who it is, this is a major issue I’m putting at the forefront of my campaign and continuing the work that I’ve been doing in Congress to bring about this change,” Gabbard said. “It’s something I’ve continued to bring up in bigger cities as well as small towns in New Hampshire and Iowa and other states, and it’s an issue that is very exciting to voters who believe, as I do, that we’ve got to make this happen.”

She said that “freedom of choice” is a key reason she has focused so much on cannabis during her time on Capitol Hill.

“I don’t smoke marijuana. I never have,” she said. “But I believe firmly in every person’s freedom to make their own choices, and that people should not be thrown in jail and incarcerated or made into criminals for choosing to smoke marijuana whether it be for medicinal and non-medicinal purposes.”

In the interview, the congresswoman also addressed her views on the broader war on drugs, saying that many of the arguments reform advocates make about marijuana can be applied to other substances as well.

“I think that there’s no question that this overall war on drugs has not only been a failure, it has created and exacerbated a number of other problems that continue to afflict people in this country,” she said, adding a teaser that “this is something that I’m working on on my presidential campaign that we will be rolling out a detailed policy position statement on.”

When it comes to marijuana, Gabbard believes that Congress is well-positioned to advance far-reaching reform bills this year, at least through one chamber.

“We are hopeful that there will be a great opportunity to pass pieces of legislation in the House of Representatives given that we have the majority,” she said, referring to Democrats. “We will have some more work to do to get these bill through the Senate. But if members of Congress, and leaders in Washington listen to the voices of the vast majority of Americans in this country, they will hear the calls for action that go beyond partisanship. We are long past time to bring about this kind of change.”

And she believes her home state of Hawaii—where a bill to legalize marijuana was approved by a legislative committee last month—is on track to end cannabis prohibition sooner rather than later.

“Momentum is moving in the right direction,” she said, but added that she’s “disappointed” the bill wasn’t approved by a second committee in time to advance further in the process this year.

“I think that we’re only going to continue to see more progress being made,” she said.

Gabbard also referenced incremental cannabis reform moves in the state, such as a bill that lawmakers approved last year to add opioid addiction as a medical marijuana qualifying condition. The measure was ultimately vetoed by Gov. David Ige (D), which she said left her and other supporters “not only disappointed but pretty pissed off.”

That setback is another reason to push her new congressional bill requiring the federal government to compile information on the impact of cannabis policies, she argued.

“Even in a state like Hawaii, if you look back to the governor’s statements about why he vetoed that bill, there are still a lot of myths and outdated information and stigma that are being used as excuses to not push forward these very impactful policy changes,” the congresswoman said. “So that is one of the main reasons that is spurring my bill, to be able to provide this from the National Academy of Sciences as an undisputed collection of data and studies saying you can’t dispute this. You can’t just pick and choose anecdotes that you want to talk about”.

Gabbard and Young, her Republican cosponsor for the two new cannabis bills, are actively seeking support from other lawmakers for the proposals.

“The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2019 is our opportunity to remove marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances list and to allow our states the freedom to regulate marijuana as they choose, without federal inference,” they wrote in a letter asking colleagues to cosponsor the descheduling legislation.

“The purpose of this legislation is to collect and synthesize relevant data and to generate a federally recognized, neutral report regarding the impact of statewide marijuana legalization schemes,” they wrote in a separate letter about the second bill, which is called the Marijuana Data Collection Act. “Such a report will assure that federal discussions and policies specific to this issue are based upon the best and most reliable evidence available at this time.”

Prior versions of both bills filed during the last Congress did not receive hearings or votes.

But Gabbard said now is the time for action.

“We can’t afford to kick this can down the road given the devastating negative impact it is having on the people of this country,” she said, referring to marijuana prohibition.

Meanwhile, several senators who are also seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination joined together last week to file far-reaching legislation that would deschedule marijuana. That bill also contains provisions aimed at expungements and investment in communities previously harmed by the war on drugs.

A national poll released on Wednesday found that 60 percent of voters support legalizing marijuana.

This piece was first published by Forbes.

Photo element courtesy of Lorie Shaull.

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 15-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

Cory Booker Endorses Bill To Legalize Marijuana In New Jersey

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Efforts to legalize marijuana in New Jersey received a high-profile endorsement on Friday, with U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) voicing support for the bill in a statement.

The senator, who is a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate and also sponsored congressional legislation to end federal cannabis prohibition, is the latest in a growing list of political leaders who’ve advocated for the bill, which was approved by state Senate and Assembly committees earlier this week and is expected to receive floor votes in both chambers on Monday.

“New Jersey is the first state in the country to couple decriminalizing marijuana with strong criminal justice reform measures to redress the decades of immense harm inflicted by an unfair system,” Booker said. “All too often, communities of color and low-income individuals are unjustly impacted by our broken drug policies, but by including measures to expunge records and reinvest in the communities most impacted, our state has the opportunity to lead in prioritizing social justice.”

The bill’s focus on social equity provisions has been critical in shoring up support as the legislature gets closer to a vote. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) has been putting out calls to advocates and lawmakers to get the legislation advanced, which would fulfill a campaign promise of his.

“With this bill, New Jersey legislators can send a strong message to the country that marijuana legalization and social justice must be inextricably linked,” Booker said. “I’m hopeful our state will succeed in setting this example.”

It’s been a complicated process to form a coalition united around passing legalization in New Jersey. Disagreements between the governor and lawmakers about certain aspects of the bill such as tax rates and regulatory structures were finally resolved earlier this month when a compromise was reached. And amendments to expand expungement provisions gave the mayors of the state’s two largest cities proper assurance to back the legislation.

That said, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka (D) and Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop (D) continue to push for automatic expungements, as opposed to virtual expungements. Murphy said that automatic expungements is not a feasible policy.

“Now more than ever, we must work together,” the mayors said in a statement on Friday. “Again, we stand in unison in support of this legislation that could potentially become New Jersey’s law. We should aim to become a model state from which other states can clearly follow. We should address these issues in a manner that protects our communities and the people that live here.”

On Thursday, the governor’s office also released a list of quotes from lawmakers, activists and spiritual leaders voicing support for the legalization legislation.

“If we have learned anything at all, it is that the status quo has been disproportionately unfair to minority communities,” Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D) said. “This bill is a step in the right direction to correct that inequality.”

Senate President Steve Sweeney (D) agreed, saying the legalization bill will “advance social justice, legal justice and economic justice in meaningful ways.”

“This is an opportunity for continued progress as we strive for a society that respects the rights of everyone,” he said.

Whether the legislation will be approved is yet to be seen. NJ.com is keeping track of where lawmakers currently stand on the bill, and as of Friday afternoon their online whip count shows that a majority in the Senate plan to vote against it, while votes allocated so far in the Assembly are roughly even.

New Jersey Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Legalization Bill

Photo courtesy of Jamelle Bouie.

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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Connecticut Lawmakers Hold Two Simultaneous Hearings On Marijuana Legalization Bills

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Two Connecticut committees held hearings on bills to legalize marijuana and expand the state’s medical cannabis program on Friday.

The proposed legislation would permit adults 21 and older to possess, purchase and consume certain amounts of marijuana for personal use. The House bill also includes a number of social equity provisions that are meant to encourage people from communities that were disproportionately impacted by prohibition to participate in the legal industry.

While reform advocates generally support the bills, they’ve also made a series of recommendation to increase the focus on restorative justice and to include policies such as allowing home cultivation.

In the legislature’s General Law Committee, witnesses including a commissioner for the state’s medical cannabis program and social equity advocates testified about HB 7371. That bill would establish a governor-appointed commission to regulate the industry, give licensing priority to individuals from communities most impacted by the drug war and require the commission to conduct a study on permitting a home grow option and microbusinesses.

“The time has come to move this forward. We think this is a fantastic start [and] there is definitely some amazing language in here,” Jason Ortiz, president of Connecticut United for Reform and Equity (CURE), said at the hearing. “There’s just some other pieces that we think undermine the really good parts that we can strike out and maybe amend and move the basic ideas forward.”

Advocates want to change the legislation so that home cultivation and microbusinesses are allowed from the outset, for example.

“Marijuana prohibition was borne of misinformation and racism and it continues to be enforced unequally to this day,” Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies at the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), testified.

Over in the Judiciary Committee, experts dedicated significant time to testimony about the public health and safety impacts of cannabis legalization. Lawmakers pressed the witnesses on issues such as labeling requirements, what kinds of edibles should be allowed, impaired driving and the mental health affects of consuming high-THC marijuana varieties.

The bill before that panel, SB 1085, would also legalize cannabis for adult use. But the legislation has a focus on expungements for individuals with prior marijuana convictions for possession of 1.5 ounces or less.

As with the House bill, advocates are supportive of the spirit of the legislation but feel certain provisions fall short. For example, MPP said that expungements should apply to convictions for any kind of cannabis conviction. The organization also called for a home grow option, which is not included in either legalization bill under consideration.

Two other pieces of cannabis legislation were discussed at the Judiciary committee hearing. One would create a misdemeanor penalty for driving while consuming marijuana and provide $500,000 in funding for law enforcement to train officers as drug recognition experts. The other bill specifies that employers don’t have to provide special accommodations for employees who use cannabis while working.

As one of the states considered most likely to legalize cannabis in 2019, the hearings offer another example of how the conversation around reform has shifted from “should it be legal” to “how should it be legal,” with the hearings largely concentrated on defining and promoting social equity provisions.

If either bill makes it through the legislature, Gov. Ned Lamont (D) is expected to sign.

He’s called the issue one of his “priorities” for the current legislative session and spoke about the issue during a budget speech last month.

Committee votes are expected on Monday.

Military Veterans Organizations Press Congress On Medical Marijuana Research

Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

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 Lawmakers Want Marijuana Banking Vote Delayed In Congress

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A key congressional committee is scheduled to vote on far-reaching legislation that would expand marijuana businesses’ ability to store their profits in banks on Tuesday.

But key Republican lawmakers on the panel are now asking Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) to delay the vote.

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.)

Read the full letter seeking a delay in the marijuana banking vote below:

GOP seeks delay on marijuan… by on Scribd

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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