In this year’s U.S. Senate race in Indiana, marijuana policy has largely been a sidelined issue, with neither candidate having embraced a strong cannabis reform platform. But the Hoosier State contest is one of a small handful this year in which the Republican candidate seems at least a little more open to cannabis law reform than does the Democrat.
Incumbent Senator Joe Donnelly is among the most conservative Democrats on drug policy, while his Republican opponent, businessman and former state legislator Mike Braun, has managed to mostly dodge the issue outside of responding to pointed questions about it during debates.
As a House member prior to serving in the Senate, Donnelly voted against a 2007 amendment to shield state medical cannabis laws from federal interference. He was one of six House members to be absent from a vote on a similar measure in 2012.
Until this year, Donnelly had never added his name as a cosponsor of marijuana reform legislation in either chamber. But in June, the senator announced his support for the bipartisan VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act, which would encourage the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to carry out scientific and medical research exploring marijuana’s safety and efficacy in treating veterans.
In a letter to to constituents about his cosponsorship of the bill, Donnelly wrote: “In the midst of the opioid crisis, I have heard from many Hoosiers and veterans that marijuana has the potential to help treat conditions such as chronic pain and PTSD, and I believe that we have a responsibility to look closely at safe, alternative treatments.”
Joe announced he supports the bipartisan VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act, which would authorize the VA to conduct scientific and medical research regarding the safety and effectiveness of cannabis in treating veterans. pic.twitter.com/Lkrm8JDNhD
— Senator Joe Donnelly (@SenDonnelly) June 21, 2018
Donnelly’s support for legislation pegged to veterans’ wellbeing is a fairly modest entrypoint into supporting cannabis law reform, but fellow Indiana Democrats are hopeful the senator will continue to reform his viewpoint on marijuana issues.
“Studies show again and again that legalization of medical cannabis has positive results, and it is time for Indiana and the rest of the U.S. to push our legislators to realize this,” said Mathew Bumbalough, secretary of the Indiana Democratic Veterans Caucus and chair of the its 9th Congressional district division. “I believe Senator Donnelly has the capacity to evolve on this issue, especially after announcing his support of the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act.”
Meanwhile, in his attempt to appeal to Indiana conservatives, Donnelly seems to have quietly backed himself into lukewarm prohibitionist waters. In another constituent letter, dated January 11, 2018, the senator spent a great deal of time skirting around the issue, listing various cannabis-related bills that have been filed, coming to the simple conclusion that he “does not believe it to be prudent to decriminalize marijuana at this time.”
“I will, however, continue to research the developments regarding its medical benefits,” he wrote.
Donnelly’s conservative distance from the marijuana issue and his failure to support broader federal legislation to reform cannabis policy have earned him a D grade from NORML.
Like incumbent Donnelly, GOP challenger Mike Braun has also been fairly moderate in his statements about cannabis law reform. But in a debate earlier this year, the former state representative voiced soft support for medical marijuana, saying that the issue should be seen in terms of “free markets and freedom of choice” for patients.
In a subsequent debate, Braun underscored his support for states’ rights on the medical cannabis issue, asserting that “states are a great laboratory” and “if a state wants to go to medical marijuana, it ought to be their prerogative.”
But Braun said he was still personally “out on the issue” of medical cannabis. While his responses to marijuana questions during the debate were been tepid, he nonetheless averted any mention of the debunked “gateway theory,” unlike his Republican primary opponents, both of whom consistently voted against marijuana measures in Congress.
While Donnelly is now cosponsoring a fairly modest cannabis research bill, his past vote against protecting state medical marijuana laws from the federal government gives some advocates pause about his newfound legislative efforts. Meanwhile, Braun’s stated support for respecting local cannabis policies indicates he might be more likely than the incumbent to back broader marijuana legislation.
That said, it is also true that the winner of the Indiana race could help determine which party ends up controlling the Senate next year. Democratic leaders have mostly indicated they are more open to advancing cannabis reform than current GOP committee chairs and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have been. That being said, while neither Donnelly nor Braun has thus far treated marijuana as a key issue, Indiana constituents who value cannabis law reform have a lot to consider—the candidates’ individual positions as well as broader party dynamics—before heading to the polls in November.
Photo courtesy of Carlos Gracia.
Senators Cite Marijuana Arrests Of U.S. Citizens In Border Patrol Oversight Request
Three senators requested a review of Border Patrol immigration checkpoint actions on Tuesday, citing a past report that found a significant number of searches and seizures were executed against U.S. citizens for low-level marijuana possession.
The request to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) outlines a number of data points concerning checkpoint enforcement that the senators say are necessary to collect in order to assess compliance with the Fourth Amendment. That includes information on rationale for checkpoint stops, data collection and protocol for searches.
“In 2017, the GAO published a report that looked at, among other things, the Border Patrol strategy of placing and utilizing immigration checkpoints generally between 25 and 100 miles from the border,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) wrote in a letter to Comptroller General Gene Dodaro. “As a result of this review, the GAO found that 40 percent of checkpoint seizures were from U.S. citizens for one ounce or less of marijuana.”
Though the letter—which was also signed by Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Gary Peters (D-MI)—didn’t specifically request information on marijuana seizures, it did inquire about the number of U.S. citizens apprehended and the reason for their arrests. It also asks, “How frequently does the agency analyze trends in drug seizures and apprehensions to evaluate its priorities at each checkpoint?”
“Comprehensive data on who receives additional screening at checkpoints, and the reasonable suspicion that undergirds these encounters, searches, and seizures, is fundamental to understanding if and how Border Patrol abides by constitutional limits,” the letter states.
Leahy and Murray also called for the collection of data on “the quantities of drugs detected” during canine checkpoint searches in legislation the pair reintroduced last month.
“Unless a government agent has a legitimate reason to stop and search you—a reasonable suspicion or probable cause—Americans should not be subject to questioning and detention for merely going about their daily lives,” Leahy said in a press release. “The Trump administration cannot be trusted to use its finite resources in a way that protects our civil liberties and reflects our values.”
It’s not clear if cannabis seizures for U.S. citizens remain prominent at immigration checkpoints since the 2017 report was released, but one thing that the Customs and Border Protection has made clear is that it doesn’t matter if a stop takes place in a state that’s legalized marijuana—it enforces federal law.
That applies to instances of illicit drug trafficking across the border, too. But as more states like California have legalized cannabis, border agents have seized less and less marijuana.
Congressman Tells Joe Rogan He Backs States’ Marijuana Rights But Actually Voted Against Them
Joe Rogan debated the merits of marijuana legalization on Tuesday with a Republican congressman who ultimately conceded that medical cannabis should be federally legal and states should be empowered to set their own legalization policies.
But neither Rogan nor Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) mentioned the fact that he recently voted against a House amendment to shield state marijuana laws from federal interference and has not added his name as a cosponsor of several pending medical cannabis bills.
The congressman, a former Navy SEAL, didn’t rule out the possibility of coming around to endorsing adult-use legalization but voiced several concerns about the prospect, including underage usage, the lack of technology to detect impaired driving and reduced productivity.
“I can be convinced, but I’m not there yet,” he said on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast. “I’m definitely more open to just the federal legalization of medical marijuana and all the benefits that come with that. On the recreational side, I’m happy to leave that up to the states.”
“My issue with recreational marijuana still—and this is not a strong opinion I have, this is not a hill I’m dying on by any means—but if we’re going to change it, I want to understand what the point is, what the benefits are of it recreationally,” he said. “I understand the benefits medically very well, but I want to understand the recreational benefits and I want to see how this data plays out in places like California and Colorado.”
Rogan emphasized that alcohol is federally legal despite risks to young people, but Crenshaw, an avowed scotch fan, said his “counter is simply this: the alcohol issue is out of the bag” and that we’re “never going to put that back in.”
“My point is this: there’s a normalization that occurs when you legalize something,” the congressman said. “What you’ve done though is you normalized it for teenagers. There’s a lot of people who can just live their lives extremely productively and smoke pot a lot. And there’s a lot of people who can’t and there’s a lot of people who don’t.”
“Those people are lazy bitches,” Rogan said.
“Don’t you have to drink way more scotch to get even close to the basic cognitive incoherence that you’d be with just one bite of a brownie?” Crenshaw asked.
“You would, but not me,” Rogan said. “I smoke pot all the time. I could have smoked pot before this podcast and had the exact same podcast. I could have had several hits. If I gave you several hits, you’d be obliterated.”
“On a personal level, I’m just not opposed to what you’re saying at all,” Crenshaw said. “From a policy level though I just look at things different.”
That stance is reflected in the freshman congressman’s record. Despite voicing support for medical cannabis and leaving recreational legalization up to the states, he’s declined to cosponsor any legislation on the former issue and proactively voted against an amendment to protect states that legalize marijuana for adult use from federal intervention.
(On another drug policy issue near and dear to Rogan that didn’t arise during the interview, Crenshaw also voted against an amendment from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) that would have removed barriers to research on the benefits like psilocybin and MDMA.)
Crenshaw said his perspective wasn’t formed out of naivety and that he tried marijuana and didn’t like it. He also argued that cannabis “does reduce productivity I think more than alcohol does.”
“As a policymaker, I have to look at the whole situations. I see people like you and you’re like you’d be fine, why not?” he said. “But I do have to take into account the entirety of the situation and ask myself, ‘well, what is the benefit to society doing this?'”
Rogan said that marijuana facilitates community bonding and makes people happier—to which Crenshaw responded “I don’t know, I think alcohol is much more of a social lubricant—it definitely makes you meaner too—but I mean as far as getting along with people and interacting with human beings.”
“I’m not dying on this hill. I have questions, and those questions are unanswered,” he said, adding that the “bottom line is that’s a state decision” to legalize recreationally.
“As far as the battles that we should fight at the federal level, we’ve got to start with the medical side. I think the science is clear there,” he said.
“Another reason I’m a Republican is because I believe in somewhat slower policymaking too. These conversations have to play out in society and we don’t always need to solve the problem right away. I think the medical conversation is the one we should be fighting for. I think the recreational side is a few steps beyond that. We’ll get to know and we’ll know more.”
Later in the podcast, Crenshaw defended the broader war on drugs and argued that “you might feel like you’re losing all the time, but you’re mitigating” drug use through prohibition enforcement.
Photo courtesy of YouTube/Joe Rogan Experience.
New York And Connecticut Governors Talk Marijuana Legalization On Fishing Trip
The governors of New York and Connecticut went fishing and talked about marijuana legalization on Tuesday.
The conversation comes after lawmakers in both states were unable to pass legalization legislation before their respective sessions’ ends this year, despite having the support of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D).
“We talked about policy issues like the marijuana issue, which is obviously also relevant to contiguous states,” Cuomo said at a press conference following the fishing trip. “What Connecticut does on marijuana is relevant to New York, what New York does is relevant to Connecticut so we talked about that and a lot of issues. So we had fun.”
Watch Cuomo’s marijuana comments at about 5:00 into the video below:
Cuomo had described legalization as a top legislative priority for 2019 and included it in his state budget proposal. But after months of negotiations with lawmakers, the plan fell through, due in part to disagreements about how to allocate tax revenue and whether to allow individual jurisdictions to opt out of allowing cannabis businesses.
The governor did sign legislation in July that expands the state’s marijuana decriminalization policy and provides a pathway for expungements of past marijuana convictions.
Over in Connecticut, Lamont campaigned on legalization during his election bid last year and described it as one of his administration’s “priorities” after he took office. But as with neighboring New York, the legislature failed to advance a legalization bill beside multiple successful committee votes and hearings throughout the year.
The specifics of what the governors talked about during their fishing expedition on Lake Ontario aren’t clear, but both are presumably gearing up for another round of legislative efforts marijuana over the coming year and could take lessons from each other as reform talks continue.
Another East Coast state, New Jersey, has also struggled to move legalization legislation forward, with lawmakers saying that the issue should be taken up by voters in 2020 rather than pushed through the legislature, though there has been discussion lately about another try at moving a bill before year’s end. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) did sign a decriminalization and expungements bill in May, however.
Photo courtesy of CBS 6.