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“There are still a lot of myths and outdated information and stigma that are being used as excuses to not push forward these very impactful policy changes,” Gabbard said.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

Kentucky GOP Congressman Touts ‘High Hemp IQ’ Of His Constituents

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Rep. James Comer (R-KY) says that he proved his political advisors wrong when he decided to champion hemp legalization.

When he served as Kentucky’s Agriculture Commissioner before joining Congress and first contemplated “making hemp a reality,” he was told that people would conflate the crop with marijuana and he’d face a backlash, Comer said during an interview that aired this week.

“They said the people of Kentucky will never know the difference. They’ll think you’re talking about marijuana and you’re done,” he said during the Kentucky Educational Television appearance. “You can’t be a Republican and do this.”

“But people in Kentucky are smarter than some people give us credit for, and the people in Kentucky knew the history of hemp,” he said, noting that his own grandparents cultivated the crop.

“We have a high hemp IQ in Kentucky, and people across America are now learning the difference between hemp and marijuana.”

One of the areas that Comer said he hopes to see expanded is the use of hemp fibers to create products such as furniture and car parts. He mentioned one example of a Kentucky company that’s creating hardwood flooring out of hemp, and House Agriculture Committee Chair Collin Peterson (D-MN) is going to tour that facility with him soon.

Shortly before becoming the panel’s chair, Peterson said he was considering growing hemp on his own farm.

Most of the existing hemp facilities in Kentucky are producing CBD oil, which Comer said he also takes to treat minor pain.

While hemp and its derivatives were federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill, businesses are still awaiting guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). And that regulatory uncertainty has led some financial institutions to deny credit lines to hemp companies.

To that end, Comer said he and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are working closely to resolve the problem. That includes pushing for the Secure And Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which would protect banks that service state-legal cannabis businesses from being penalized by federal financial regulators.

“We teamed up with the marijuana people in the states,” Comer said.

Watch Comer’s hemp comments, starting around 5:30 into the video below:

“They’ve legalized marijuana. They’re selling marijuana. They’re not allowed to deposit the cash. They’re not allowed to take credit card transactions at those marijuana stores,” he said. “We have worked with them to try to create a system where you can have financial transparency, and that bill is making its way through Congress now.”

The SAFE Banking Act was approved by the House Financial Services Committee in March. And on Tuesday, the Senate Banking Committee took advocates by surprise after it announced that it would hold a hearing on marijuana banking issues next week, with just days left before the August recess.

Separately, the Senate Agriculture Committee will meet to discuss hemp production two days later.

McConnell has been an especially vocal advocate for hemp and CBD. For example, he led the head of USDA on a tour of a Kentucky hemp facility that produces CBD oil earlier this month.

Comer also claimed in the new interview that large pharmaceutical companies feel threatened by hemp-derived CBD as more consumers gravitate toward it as a “natural supplement” that could be a substitute for prescription painkillers.

“Now what you are having up here in Washington as we speak, the big drug companies are like, ‘Wow, people are buying this CBD oil and not buying our drug,'” the congressman said. “So they’re demanding that the FDA regulate it.”

He and McConnell are working to “keep the FDA off the backs of people,” Comer said.

While former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb stressed that creating a regulatory pathway that allows for the lawful marketing of CBD as a food item or dietary supplement would take years without congressional action, the agency recently said that it is speeding up the rulemaking process and will issue a progress report by early fall.

USDA similarly recognized the intense interest from lawmakers and stakeholders in developing regulations for the crop, and it plans to issue an interim final rule for the crop in August.

Senate Schedules Second Cannabis Hearing For Next Week

Photo courtesy of KET.

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Psychedelics Decriminalization Moves Forward In Cities Around The U.S.

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Activists in Berkeley, California and Port Townsend, Washington took steps this week to get psilocybin mushrooms and other psychedelics decriminalized, following in the footsteps of successful similar efforts in Denver and Oakland.

In Berkeley, a decriminalization resolution advanced in a City Council committee on Wednesday, and organizers in Port Townsend spoke about their proposal at a county public health board meeting on Thursday, with plans to formally present it to the City and County Council.

The Berkeley measure would prohibit city departments and law enforcement from using any funds to enforce laws against possession, propagation and consumption of psychedelics by individuals 21 or older. Members of the City Council Public Safety committee unanimously voted to send the resolution to the body’s Public Health Committee for further consideration.

If that panel approves the measure, the full Council will schedule a hearing and vote on final passage. Decriminalize Nature, the group behind this resolution as well as the successful passage of neighboring Oakland’s psychedelics decriminalization effort last month, said they hope the Council will act on the measure by early November.

Separately, activists in Port Townsend announced that they delivered a speech about their psychedelics decriminalization proposal during a meeting of the Jefferson County Board of Health.

Beyond prohibiting the use of government funds to criminalize adults for using and possessing the substances, the local Washington resolution also calls on the city administrator to “instruct the City’s state and federal lobbyists to work in support of decriminalizing all Entheogenic Plants and plant-based compounds that are listed on the Federal Controlled Substances Schedule 1.”

“We are overwhelmed by the support of our community. Our group of supporters filled up half the audience,” the Port Townsend Psychedelic Society said in an Instagram post. “We are currently making plans to speak with the county health officer to talk about next steps in presenting in front of city and county council.”

Alex Williams, who is leading the decriminalization effort in Berkeley, told Marijuana Moment that Wednesday’s Council committee meeting there “went better than I had anticipated” and that he feels “there is an excellent chance of the resolution passing.”

Watch the Berkeley Public Safety Committee discuss psychedelics, starting at about 42:00:

While Williams said two members of the committee seemed to be under the impression that the resolution is singularly geared toward recreational use and meant to “capitalize on a new market,” Decriminalize Nature plans to address those misconceptions, emphasizing that the measure would not provide for commercial manufacturing or sales and that “this process is very important to allowing safe, equitable access to marginalized communities.”

“It is essential that entheogenic substances be treats as sacred spiritual practices and healers,” he added.

The resolution defines entheogenic substances as “plants and natural sources such as mushrooms, cacti, iboga containing plants and/or extracted combinations of plants similar to ayahuasca; and limited to those containing the following types of compounds: indoleamines, tryptamines, phenethylamines.”

Two Councilmembers, Rigel Robinson and Cheryl Davila, are sponsoring the measure.

“You can imagine a day where, years from now, doctors working with patients with serious depression or veterans dealing with PTSD could actually offer them a more realistic and comprehensive suite of potential treatments, which may include some of these plants as the research over the last several decades has indicated,” Robinson said at the meeting.

While Berkeley might seem like an obvious target for psychedelics reform given the city’s decades-long close association with counterculture, the movement to remove criminal penalties is gaining steam nationally. Decriminalize Nature is maintaining a map of jurisdictions throughout the country where activists have expressed interest in pursuing a similar model.

Also this week, a resident spoke at a Columbia, Missouri City Council meeting, asking the body to consider a resolution to decriminalize psychedelics. At least one councilmember expressed interest in following through, and he called the therapeutic potential of the natural substances “very promising.”

Individuals from nearly 100 cities have reached out to the organization for assistance advancing their own decriminalization efforts.

Voters in Denver kicked things off by approving the nation’s first-ever ballot measure to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms in May.

Activists are currently pursuing efforts to place psilocybin-focused measures on statewide ballots in California and Oregon for next year.

More Than 100 Marijuana Businesses Urge Congress To Include Social Equity In Legalization

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Mushroom Observer.

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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Top Democratic Party Leader Flops With Attempted Joke About Trump Smoking Hemp

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The chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) apparently thinks that hemp gets you high—and that getting high makes you dumb.

In an attempted dig at President Donald Trump, who said last week that farmers struggling amid a trade war were “over the hump,” DNC Chair Tom Perez said he thought the president “was smoking some hemp when he said they were over the hump.”

“If you smoke some hemp, I guess that would stimulate certain farm economies here,” he added during his remarks at a press conference in Wisconsin.

Watch Perez’s hemp comment at about 6:45 into the video below:

Because hemp contains only trace amounts of THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, it wouldn’t get you high, as Perez implied. But legalization advocates say it’s especially problematic that a party leader is treating marijuana as a laughing matter in the first place.

“I would need to be smoking something a hell of a lot stronger than hemp to find Tom Perez’s weak attempt at a marijuana joke funny,” Erik Altieri, executive director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment.

“At a time when over 600,000 overwhelmingly black and brown Americans are still being arrested every year for simple possession, our failed and racist prohibition is no laughing matter,” he said. “While we have made great progress in winning elected officials nationwide to our cause, Perez illustrated that we have a lot of work left to do when it comes educating them about the issue and still a bit of a road to go down before we can stop dealing with dad jokes and bad weed puns.”

Don Murphy, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, echoed that point.

“We need more leadership and action at the federal level, not more stupid jokes, puns and inaccurate comments about hemp’s ability to get you high,” he told Marijuana Moment. “Luckily that is something that many of his party’s presidential candidates understand,” he said. “Sadly, Mr. Perez does not.”

Perez’s position on cannabis policy isn’t quite clear, as he’s remained largely silent on the issue. In contrast, many 2020 Democratic presidential candidates are campaigning on broad marijuana reform proposals.

The DNC chair made his attempted hemp quip during a press availability in Milwaukee, where he is meeting donors and coordinating preparation for next year’s Democratic National Convention.

Senate Schedules Second Cannabis Hearing For Next Week

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Gage Skidmore.

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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