Connect with us

Politics

Formerly Anti-Legalization Massachusetts Lawmakers Vie For Marijuana Vote In Senate Primary Debate

Published

on

Two members of Congress who formerly opposed marijuana legalization each made the case that they are now more supportive of reform than the other during a Massachusetts Democratic U.S. Senate primary debate on Monday.

Incumbent Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-MA) were pressed on what led them to change their positions on cannabis policy, and both defended their records and attempted to make the case that they were quicker out of the gate to embrace ending prohibition than their competitor was.

“I have supported legalization since it passed in Massachusetts,” Markey said, adding that “I voted to support legalization when it was on the ballot.” (Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) similarly stated, years after the fact, that she voted in favor of the 2016 legalization measure without having publicly endorsed it at the time.)

“I made it public after it passed, but it was something that I came out publicly in favor of before Congressman Kennedy did,” he said. “I believe that it is something that also I might add should be done in a way in which racial minorities for the first time should be able to fully participate in the business opportunities that marijuana is going to present in our state, and that we have to create a banking system that ensures that it’s not a cash business, but something that goes through a traditional banking system.”

The moderator turned to Kennedy and noted that marijuana reform advocates have been skeptical about his abrupt evolution on the issue in November 2018, when he went from staunch prohibitionist to endorsing adult-use legalization.

“The status quo doesn’t work,” the congressman said. “I’ve been honest about my reservations with this to come largely from my work with the mental behavioral health and addiction community, and experts there that have a concern, particularly for youth and adolescence and exposure to marijuana. But the status quo has failed, period. And it’s particularly failed for people of color.”

“The criminal justice aspects of this we’ve known for a long time. I supported the MORE Act that expunges criminal records, decriminalizes marijuana and actually makes the investments in communities of color,” he continued. “The difference here is that I’ve been clear about that position. Senator Markey back in 2013 said that he was actually against the decriminalization of marijuana because it would have trouble then quote ‘policing.'”

Kennedy’s criticism is curious considering that he suggested even more recently, in 2018, that cannabis shouldn’t be decriminalized because it would make it more difficult for police to search people’s vehicles.

“If you smelled [marijuana] in a car, you could search a car,” he said at the time. “When it became decriminalized, you couldn’t do that.”

The debate moderator did push back and noted that the congressman was against the policy at the same time as Markey.

“Yes, yes, but I’ve been clear about my position, and just so that we’re clear on this, I came out for the legalization of marijuana over a year ago, long before Senator Markey signed onto those bills,” he said, referencing a series of cannabis legalization bills the incumbent cosponsored just days after Kennedy announced he would be mounting a primary challenge against the senator.

Markey has made efforts to present himself as the more marijuana-reform-friendly candidate.

Beyond his relatively cosponsorships of bills to federal prohibition and address issues of social equity for communities disproportionately harmed by the war on drugs, he also signed onto a letter urging Appropriations Committee leaders to allow cannabis businesses to access federal loan services in an upcoming annual spending bill and another asking for a policy change enabling the industry to access coronavirus relief programs.

Kennedy hasn’t been as vocal about the problems marijuana businesses face with respect to Small Business Administration restrictions, but he did lead a letter asking congressional leaders to fix a “glaring flaw” in a coronavirus relief program that disqualifies people for business loans due to past convictions, including those for simple cannabis possession.

Even so, Monday’s debate made it abundantly clear that the challenger is interested in shedding his former image as a holdout in the reform movement. In 2018, he openly acknowledged that his position in favor of prohibition could cost him votes.

“I’m not a huge fan of litmus tests, just because I think we’ve got a broad series of issues. You might agree with somebody on one thing. That doesn’t necessarily disqualify them on something else,” he said at the time. “That being said, that’s not for me to say. If somebody feels really passionately about an issue that’s for them to decide whether you’re in or you’re out. That’s their decision.”

At a debate over the weekend, Democratic Senate primary candidates in Texas engaged in a similar debate over marijuana, with both embracing legalization. Those candidates, who are competing in a runoff, are aiming to replace incumbent Sen. John Cornyn (D-TX), an adamant opponent to the policy change.

Texas Democratic Candidates Running Against Anti-Marijuana Senator Embrace Legalization

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.

Politics

Connecticut Governor Says He’s Open To Smoking Marijuana After He Signs Legalization Bill

Published

on

The governor of Connecticut said on Friday that he isn’t ruling out smoking marijuana after he formally signs a legalization bill into law next week.

While most top politicians might still demure when asked if they’d partake in cannabis given ongoing stigma and federal prohibition, Gov. Ned Lamont (D) said matter-of-factly that “time will tell” when asked by a reporter if people can “expect to see the governor smoking a joint” after legalization goes into effect in the state.

News 12’s John Craven replied incredulously, “Really? You’re open to it?”

The governor first shrugged, then nodded his head yes.

“Not right now, but we’ll see” Lamont said.

Other governors in legal states have been playful about cannabis culture and their own relationship to the plant. But while a growing number of lawmakers are comfortable discussing their past marijuana use, this is a fairly remarkable exchange for the sitting top executive officer of a state.

It’s also a sign of the times, as congressional lawmakers step up the push to end federal prohibition and legalization bills move through numerous state legislatures.

Connecticut lawmakers sent Lamont an adult-use legalization bill on Thursday, and he’s confirmed his intent to sign it into law. It would make the state the 19th to have enacted the policy change and the fourth this year alone.

And while the governor has consistently emphasized the important of social equity in legalization legislation—at one point threatening to veto the bill because of a provision he felt could undermine its intent to effectively stand up disparately impacted communities—he also seems to see the personal benefits of the reform.

Similar to Lamont’s new comments, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) raised some eyebrows in 2018 when he said in an interview that he grows cannabis himself. But then a spokesperson for his office denied that he actually personally cultivates marijuana.

Minnesota Marijuana Reform Could ‘Move Forward’ In Special Session That Just Launched, Top Lawmaker 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.
Continue Reading

Politics

Minnesota Marijuana Reform Could ‘Move Forward’ In Special Session That Just Launched, Top Lawmaker Says

Published

on

Even though a Minnesota House-passed marijuana legalization bill died in the Senate without action by the end of this year’s regular session, a top lawmaker says there’s still a “possibility to move forward” on cannabis reform as part of a special session that began this week.

“Nobody really expected the medical program to be so successfully changed this year,” House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D) said at a rally with cannabis reform advocates on Wednesday, referencing a separate measure Gov. Tim Walz (D) signed last month that will allow patients to access smokable cannabis products.

According to The Star Tribune, Winkler added that “surprising things can happen” during a special session. “When you see Republican support and Democratic support in the House and Senate, there is a possibility to move forward.”

Advocates with Minnesota NORML are pushing for several specific policies to be incorporated into legislation that is set to be taken up by the legislature during the special session. The first is to expand the state’s decriminalization policy, and the second is to have the state petition for a federal exemption for Minnesota’s medical cannabis program.

Part of the motivation behind that latter proposal is to ensure that registered patients are able to lawfully purchase and possess firearms in spite of federal restrictions.

At the rally, which was organized by NORML, Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP) and other groups, Winkler and several other lawmakers spoke in favor of modest policy changes such as decriminalizing cannabis.

“Decriminalizing small amounts is important,” Rep. Jeremy Munson (R), one of only a handful of Republicans who voted for Winkler’s broad adult-use legalization bill, said at the rally. “If someone in Minnesota gets caught with two gummy bears, it’s a felony and they’ll lose their gun rights forever.”

The coalition proposed several key reforms that they say should be integrated into public safety and health legislation that’s currently moving through committee during the special session:

-Further reduce penalties for simple possession of marijuana.

-Allow people convicted of possession up to eight grams of cannabis to petition the courts for expungement.

-Require the Minnesota health commissioner to petition the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for an exemption for its medical marijuana program.

”Reducing or eliminating the criminal penalties we’re seeing around marijuana is where we have consensus,” Thomas Gallagher of RAMP said in a press release. “Let’s focus on the people who have small quantities. There is injustice in a trivial amount of marijuana resulting in life-changing punishments like imprisonment, criminal records, and lost jobs and kids.”

Similar to the Minnesota activists’ call, Iowa officials have requested that federal agencies guarantee some level of protection for people participating in the state’s medical marijuana program.

The Hawaii legislature adopted a resolution in April seeking an exemption from DEA stipulating that the state is permitted to run its medical cannabis program without federal interference.

Back in Minnesota, the House approved a bill last month to legalize marijuana for recreational use following 12 committee assignments. That legislation stalled in the GOP-controlled Senate, however.

Advocates are hopeful about the possibility that further cannabis reforms could be accomplished in the special session, but they see an obstacle in Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R), who has been relatively silent on the issue since the end of the regular session.

He did previously say, however, that “we’re always said we were open to lowering the criminal penalties [for marijuana].”

The decriminalization legislation that advocates are rallying behind would make possession of up to eight grams of cannabis a petty misdemeanor. It would also make people with prior convictions for that level of possession eligible for expungements.

Under the separate medical cannabis expansion bill that the governor has signed, adults 21 and older will be able to access smokable marijuana products. That policy must take effect by March 1, 2022, or earlier if rules are developed and the state’s cannabis commissioner authorizes it.

Dispensaries could also provide a curbside pickup option for patients under the new law. It further removes restrictions for designated caregivers and allows them to tend to six registered patients at once, rather than just one.

Walz, who hadn’t been especially vocal about legalization as the broader legislation advanced during the regulator session, said, “I’ve thought for a long time about that,” adding that “we know that adults can make their own decisions on things, we know that criminalization and prohibition has not worked.”

“I’ve always thought that it makes sense to control how you’re doing this and to make sure that adults know what they’re getting into, and use it wisely,” he said. “I also think there’s a lot of inequity about how folks have spent time in jail or been arrested around this, especially in communities of color.”

The majority leader’s legalization legislation as introduced was identical to a proposal he filed last year, with some minor technical changes. Winkler, who led a statewide listening to gather public input ahead of the measure’s introduction, called it the “best legalization bill in the country” at the time. It did not advance in that session, however.

Under the measure, social equity would be prioritized, in part by ensuring diverse licensing and preventing the market from being monopolized by corporate players. Prior marijuana records would also be automatically expunged.

Walz in January he called on lawmakers to pursue the reform as a means to boost the economy and promote racial justice. He did not include a request to legalize through his budget proposal, however.

The governor did say in 2019 that he was directing state agencies to prepare to implement reform in anticipation of legalization passing.

Winkler, meanwhile, said in December that if Senate Republicans don’t go along with the policy change legislatively, he said he hopes they will at least let voters decide on cannabis as a 2022 ballot measure.

Heading into the 2020 election, Democrats believed they had a shot of taking control of the Senate, but that didn’t happen. The result appears to be partly due to the fact that candidates from marijuana-focused parties in the state earned a sizable share of votes that may have otherwise gone to Democrats, perhaps inadvertently hurting the chances of reform passing.

In December, the Minnesota House Select Committee On Racial Justice adopted a report that broadly details race-based disparities in criminal enforcement and recommends a series of policy changes, including marijuana decriminalization and expungements.

California Senator Previews Next Steps For Psychedelics Bill And Says It’s A Step Toward Decriminalizing All Drugs

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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.
Continue Reading

Politics

Maine Lawmakers Approve Bill To Decriminalize All Drugs On 50th Anniversary Of Nixon’s ‘War On Drugs’

Published

on

The Maine House of Representatives on Thursday approved a bill to decriminalize possession of all currently illicit drugs, delivering a victory to reform advocates on the 50th anniversary of President Richard Nixon’s declaration of the war on drugs.

The Senate also began consideration of the legislation on Thursday, but has not yet taken a vote.

The proposal, LD 967, was approved in 77-62 vote in the House. It would make possession of controlled substances for personal use punishable by a $100 fine, without the threat of incarceration. That fine could also be waived if a person completes a substance misuse assessment within 45 days of being cited.

“We are continually trying to criminalize a symptom of a disease. It hasn’t worked. It won’t work,” Rep. Charlotte Warren (D), who serves as the House chair of the legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, said before the vote. “We have tried criminalizing this disease for decades, and 11 Mainers a week are dying.”

Rep. Anne Perry (D), sponsor of the bill, said that incarcerating people who are suffering from addiction “only proves to them that they are as bad as they think they are” and perpetuates the cycle of substance misuse. “Law enforcement is not the gateway to treatment and recovery. It’s a gateway to isolation and suicide.”

The measure’s passage flies in the face of Gov. Janet Mills (D), whose administration opposes the reform, as does the state attorney general. Coupled with opposition from Republican legislators, the bill faces an uphill battle to final passage.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,100 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

The Senate also began consideration of the legislation on Thursday night, adopting a different committee report than the House approved, but setting it aside as unfinished business before taking a final vote on the bill. The version moving forward in that chamber would similarly impose a $100 fine for possession, but only for the first two offenses. Subsequent offenses would be considered Class E crimes that could carry jail time.

These actions come one month after a joint House and Senate committee advanced the decriminalization bill with several conflicting recommendations, as well as another measure to reform the state’s drug trafficking laws.

Supporters of the legislation include the American Academy of Pediatrics’s Maine Chapter, Maine Medical Association, Alliance for Addiction and Mental Health Services in Maine and Maine Council of Churches.

Thursday’s decriminalization vote represents a continuation of a national conversation about the need to reform laws criminalizing people over drugs and treat substance misuse as a public health issue, rather than a criminal justice matter.

For the first time ever, a congressional bill to federally decriminalize possession of controlled substances—and incentivize states to do the same—was formally introduced on Thursday.

Last year, Oregon voters elected to end criminalization of low-level drug possession at the ballot.

Vermont lawmakers also introduced a bill in March that would end criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of drugs in the state.

Also that month, a Rhode Island Senate committee held a hearing on decriminalization legislation to replace criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of drugs with a $100 fine.

Back in Maine, a bill was recently introduced that would legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic purposes.

Senators Publicly Pressure Key Chairman For Vote On Marijuana Banking Bill

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.
Continue Reading
Advertisement

Marijuana News In Your Inbox

Support Marijuana Moment

Marijuana News In Your Inbox

Marijuana Moment