Ten Democratic presidential candidates will face off for the third debate of the year on Thursday, and for voters who care about marijuana policy, it represents another opportunity to hear exactly how each contender plans to tackle the issue if elected.
The last two rounds of debates saw some talk of drug policy—from Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) taking a jab at Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) over her prosecutorial record to former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) slamming the pharmaceutical industry. But despite the prevalent role marijuana reform has played in most campaigns, the issue hasn’t been tackled head-on on the debate stage so far.
That could change during Thursday’s debate, which will feature:
—Former Vice President Joe Biden
—Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont
—Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts
—Sen. Kamala Harris of California
—Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey
—Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota
—South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg
—Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro
—Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke
—Entrepreneur Andrew Yang
Marijuana Moment reached out to representatives of six top cannabis advocacy groups to hear what they’d ask the candidates about the issue if they were in the moderator’s chair. Here’s what they said.
National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML)
“While marijuana being descheduled federally would be an historic step forward, that would still leave the majority of states operating under prohibition laws, what would you do as president to encourage state lawmakers to adopt rational marijuana policies and end the over 600,000 arrests for marijuana possession annually?”
“Beyond ending federal prohibition, what, if any, actions would you take towards restorative justice for all of those who already had their lives ruined and disrupted by our failed war on marijuana?”
—Erik Altieri, NORML executive director
Americans for Safe Access (ASA)
“As you debate the best approach for healthcare (Medicare for all, public option etc), does your proposal include coverage of medical marijuana?”
“Criminal justice reform is a critical component of your campaign. Will you commit to pardon all federal prisoners convicted of non-violent cannabis offenses, and urge states to follow suit?
—David Mangone, ASA’s director of government affairs and counsel.
Cannabis Trade Federation (CTF)
“Thirty-three states have opted out of federal marijuana prohibition, legalizing cannabis for medical or adult use. As a result, there are now more than 200,000 people working in state-regulated cannabis businesses across the U.S. Due to the conflict between state and federal cannabis laws, these workers are under constant threat of federal prosecution, and a lack of access to banking services puts their safety and the safety of others at risk. What would you do as president to protect these workers and resolve the conflict between state and federal cannabis laws as soon as possible?”
—Neal Levine, CEO of CTF.
National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA)
“What will you do to help repair the harms caused by marijuana prohibition?”
“Will you commit to removing the unfair financial burdens placed on the state-legal cannabis industry, which curb its ability to disrupt the illicit market and make it harder for marginalized communities to participate in the legal market?”
—Morgan Fox, media relations director at NCIA.
Drug Policy Alliance (DPA)
I think Biden missed opportunities to fully apologize and own his place in where we are with mass criminalization and mass incarceration. I think his rollout of his marijuana and criminal justice plan falls short and is not imaginative at all. If I was a moderator, I’d ask him:
“What would you do differently as Biden in the 90s?”
It’s hard to really think of questions to get him to grapple with the extensive harm that he’s created that will follow him and his legacy.
—Queen Adesuyi, policy coordinator at DPA.
Marijuana Policy Project (MPP)
“What role are you playing in the marijuana policy reform debate in your state and/or federal level, and how has your position evolved over time?”
—Don Murphy, MPP’s director of federal policies.
The debate, moderated by ABC News and Univision, will take place at 8 p.m. ET.
Follow Marijuana Moment for coverage of the event and analysis of all things drug policy that come up.
This post was updated to include question suggestions from NORML.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
Trade Associations And Civil Rights Groups Send Mixed Messages On Marijuana Banking To Senate
A coalition of trade associations sent a letter to Senate Banking Committee leadership on Thursday, urging a vote on legislation to protect financial institutions that service state-legal marijuana businesses.
But those senators are also feeling pressure from leading civil rights groups like the ACLU and Human Rights Watch, which sent an earlier letter insisting that they not allow cannabis banking to detract from more comprehensive reform that addresses social equity.
The organizations involved in the latest letter—including the American Bankers Association and Credit Union National Association—said that advancing the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act or similar legislation is pivotal to ensuring that stakeholders receive needed clarity and are shielded from being penalized by federal regulators.
The letter, addressed to Banking Chair Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Ranking Member Sherrod Brown (D-OH), emphasized the bipartisan nature of the House passage of the bill in September and the growing movement at the state level to legalize cannabis for medical or recreational purposes.
“Our organizations support an initial legislative step that allows the legal cannabis industry into the banking system,” the groups, which also include the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers, International Council of Shopping Centers and National Association of REALTORS, wrote. “Ultimately, protecting law-abiding financial institutions and ancillary businesses from their currently untenable position and addressing increasing public safety concerns.”
As more states reform their marijuana laws, however, “distribution, sale, possession, research, transaction, housing, employment, and a broader landscape of cannabis is becoming increasingly problematic” for stakeholders under federal prohibition.
“Ultimately, this creates more legal and security concerns that impact the operations and safety of businesses and consumers,” they said. “Finally, the lack of an available safe harbor for cannabis will continue to challenge the full adoption and deployment of the legal hemp and CBD products market in the U.S. due to the inextricable link between hemp and cannabis.”
“To resolve this, we urge the Committee to vote on the SAFE Banking Act or similar measures. Such measures are meant to create a safe harbor for depository institutions that provide a financial product or service to businesses in a state permitting the use of cannabis. A safe harbor will enable law enforcement and states to effectively monitor and regulate businesses while simultaneously bringing billions into the regulated banking sector.”
12 groups including ABA just wrote @MikeCrapo @SenSherrodBrown @senatemajldr @SenSchumer urging a vote on the #SAFEBanking Act. It's time to end the legal limbo over banking cannabis in the growing number of states where it's legal. Read the letter: https://t.co/1529vIHawq
— American Bankers Association (@ABABankers) December 12, 2019
The letter, also signed by Americans for Prosperity and R Street, recognizes that creating a federal regulatory scheme for marijuana will take time but says that the SAFE Banking Act represents “a critical first step to ensure that legal cannabis marketplaces are safe, legal, and transparent.”
Crapo has said that he’s interested in holding a vote on resolving the cannabis banking issue in his panel before the year’s end, but so far nothing has been scheduled. The chairman told Marijuana Moment in earlier interviews that there are several changes to the House-passed bill that he’d like to see but that he’s worried impeachment proceedings against the president will interfere with plans to hold a vote.
All that said, pressure from civil rights advocacy groups could complicate congressional efforts to get the banking bill approved. In October, several organizations including the ACLU, Drug Policy Alliance, Human Rights Watch and Center for American Progress sent a letter to Senate leadership, as well as Crapo and Brown, demanding that “marijuana legislation considered in the Senate include provisions that will guarantee equity in the industry.”
The letter, which doesn’t appear to have been previously reported and was obtained by Marijuana Moment, states that while the coalition agrees the SAFE Banking Act “is an incremental step toward rolling back the federal prohibition of marijuana, it fails to help communities that have been historically and disproportionately devastated by United States’ punitive drug laws.”
“As the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs considers similar legislation, we insist that the legislation include provisions that ensure equity in the marijuana industry by creating opportunities for individuals who have been prohibited from this growing business either by legal or financial means,” the letter, which was also signed by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and National Association of Social Workers, states.
“Indeed, this Congress has shown it understands the economic impact of legalization. But while progress on the business side of legalization is promising, it is not sufficient. Federal marijuana legislation must be comprehensive and lead with equity, addressing past and current harms to communities of color and low-income communities who bore the brunt of the failed war on drugs. We demand that any marijuana reform or legalization bill considered by the Senate] include robust provisions addressing equity. More than simply adding equity provisions to bills that address industry concerns, we need comprehensive reform that deschedules marijuana and addresses the inequities and harms continually inflicted by the failed war on drugs.”
In other words, the groups are insisting on broad reform prior to a vote on a bill viewed as largely beneficial to the cannabis industry—similar to a request they made of House members prior to the legislation’s passage in the chamber.
Read the marijuana banking letters from the trade associations and civil rights groups below:
GOP Congressman Knocks His Party For Failing To Pass Marijuana Reform
A Republican congressman says that whichever party is responsible for passing federal marijuana reform will “instantly” shoot up in the polls, while lamenting the fact that the GOP failed to do so when they controlled the House.
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), a vocal advocate for hemp, was asked by Fox Business host Kennedy on Wednesday whether cannabis should be rescheduled under federal law.
“Absolutely,” he said. “The first party that does this—and I don’t understand why either party won’t do it—is going instantly gain 10 points in the general poll on which party versus the other.”
“We should have done it when we were in the majority,” he added. “The liberals should be asking Pelosi why she hasn’t put it on the floor yet.”
The House Judiciary Committee approved legislation last month to end federal marijuana prohibition, but it hasn’t yet been scheduled for floor action.
Massie made similar points during an interview with Marijuana Moment earlier this year, stating that if Republicans had advanced states’ rights-focused marijuana legislation, “I think we might still be in the majority.”
Of course, while Massie has supported legislation to allow states to set their own cannabis policies without federal intervention, as well as other more modest reform measures such as protecting banks that service marijuana businesses, he’s so far declined to cosponsor any bills that seek to deschedule cannabis.
The congressman has also expressed interest in changing federal gun control laws to allow cannabis consumers to purchase firearms.
Though it’s not clear exactly how much of a boost either party would get by passing a marijuana reform bill, a Pew poll released last month does show that there’s majority support for legalization among those who lean Republican (55 percent) as well those who lean Democratic (78 percent).
Photo courtesy of YouTube/Rep. Massie.
State Department Warns Travelers About Flying With Cannabis Oil Internationally
The U.S. State Department is warning international holiday travelers that while hemp-derived CBD might be legal in the U.S., it can land you in trouble if you take it certain places abroad.
“Make sure your gift isn’t a fa la la la la la la la la fail,” the department said in a tweet on Thursday. “Bringing along gifts like drones, CBD oils, and firearms can land you in trouble in foreign countries. Research what is and isn’t allowed before you travel.”
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo courtesy of Flickr/DHS.