In the race for Maine’s U.S. Senate seat, Republican State Sen. Eric Brakey has made marijuana a front-and-center issue, positioning himself as more pro-reform than his Democratic-caucusing opponent, independent incumbent U.S. Sen. Angus King.
Brakey has been particularly vocal about cannabis law reform on Twitter, where he’s articulated a clear pro-legalization stance. “I supported cannabis legalization and I have supported implementation of sales,” Brakey tweeted in one response to a constituent. “I would love to see those proceeds used to support healthcare services for our most vulnerable: our seniors and intellectually disabled.”
Brandon, I supported cannabis legalization and I have supported implementation of sales. I would love to see those proceeds used to support healthcare services for our most vulnerable: our seniors and intellectually disabled.
— Sen. Eric Brakey (@SenatorBrakey) November 8, 2017
The state senator’s support for cannabis law reform seems to stem from his loyalty to states’ rights, specifically in reference to the 10th Amendment, which details that power not delegated by the Constitution to the federal government is reserved for the states or to the people.
“In a free society, we don’t throw people in cages for life choices we disagree with,” Brakey tweeted. “Washington DC has no constitutional authority on cannabis policy and needs to leave us all alone.”
“The federal government should not be interfering when states’ economic growth comes from a substance that is only legal for adults, and poses very little danger to one’s health compared to other legal substances like alcohol,” he wrote.
Yes. The Constitution never gave Washington DC the authority to set cannabis policy in the first place. #10thAmendment means the states should decide those policies.
— Sen. Eric Brakey (@SenatorBrakey) June 4, 2018
— Sen. Eric Brakey (@SenatorBrakey) June 2, 2018
Brakey’s support for cannabis law reform goes beyond his penchant for states’ rights, and stems also from his concerns surrounding criminal justice reform. “I’ve sponsored #CriminalJusticeReform legislation in Maine to allow expungement of low-level, non-violent convictions after 5 years out with no re-offense. And I do believe we should pardon and expunge non-violent cannabis convictions,” he tweeted in June, hinting as well at the gross racial disparities inherent in the War on Drugs.
“White and blacks both use cannabis at similar rates, yet black Americans are convicted for these offenses at far higher rates. We need to rethink this whole system of throwing people in jail for victimless crimes,” he added.
You are right that we still have work to do in securing our liberties. Washington DC has no constitutional authority on cannabis policy and needs to leave us all alone.
— Sen. Eric Brakey (@SenatorBrakey) January 31, 2018
And in light of the looming election season, Brakey took a recent jab at King, as well, noting his opponent’s belated support for expanded cannabis research, two decades after the state voted to legalize the drug’s medical use.
After nearly 20 years since Maine people passed the medical marijuana law, I’m glad to hear that Angus King FINALLY supports medical marijuana research. What else is Angus King 20 years late on? #MEPolitics pic.twitter.com/kdrHRFHuxT
— Sen. Eric Brakey (@SenatorBrakey) August 20, 2018
At home in Maine, where voters legalized marijuana at the ballot box in 2016, Brakey has displayed support for cannabis legislation, such as when he co-chaired the committee that drafted a medical marijuana reform bill, which headed to the governor’s desk this past spring.
On the other hand, King, an independent who caucuses with Senate Democrats, has been less of a trailblazer when it comes to marijuana.
King has never tweeted about cannabis but he has cosponsored a handful of Senate bills related to the issue.
Among the pieces of legislation he has supported are the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act of 2015, which would provide protections for state medical cannabis laws and make other reforms. He signed onto the current Congress’s version of the bill in June.
In July, he cosponsored the VA Medical cannabis Research Act of 2018, aimed at furthering research into the safety and efficacy of medical marijuana for veterans with PTSD and chronic pain.
“We owe it to our veterans who need medical assistance to do everything we can to help them face their challenges in healthy, productive ways, including research into alternative treatments that may help ease their pain,” King said in a statement about the legislation. “Maine’s veterans have earned nothing less than our complete support, and we must explore every possible avenue to help them.”
In 2016, he joined a bipartisan group of senators by signing onto a letter asking the U.S. Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network to clarify guidance for banks that deal with cannabis businesses. “Forcing all these direct and indirect businesses to operate in cash not only creates a huge target for criminals, but also complicates the collection of state and federal taxes,” the cohort wrote. “[New guidance to banks] will not only bolster the safety of our communities, but it will also help to spur economic growth across the country.”
Also, along with nearly a third of the Senate, he cosponsored a bill to legalize industrial hemp this year.
Nonetheless, King has earned a C grade from NORML.
In 2014 a King spokesman said the senator was still holding out on supporting federal legalization, which “must be thought through carefully and comprehensively,” and that “he is interested to see the effects of legalization in places like Colorado and Washington, as data emerges that will better inform the decision-making process on this issue.”
Last year, his spokesman said that King “believes the federal government should not interfere with state laws on this issue, and instead give states the ability to make and implement policy based on the wishes of their citizens.” He added that “a growing body of evidence suggesting that cannabinoids can be effective in treating a number of conditions, such as epilepsy and cancer, and he is troubled by the administration’s recent statements indicating a desire to crack down on states where medical marijuana has been legalized.”
But the senator himself, when asked about marijuana policy by Rolling Stone last year, brushed off the question. “That was a state issue – they made the decision up there, so I’m not going to comment,” he said.
To be sure, King’s support for modest marijuana reforms has remained relatively tepid, and he hasn’t sponsored legislation to protect his state’s broader recreational legalization law from federal inferences, indicating that the issue is not among his priorities.
For Democrats who rank marijuana reform as a top issue, this election may be a tough call, with cannabis-concerned voters forced to choose between a very pro-legalization Republican and a lukewarm Democrat-caucusing independent.
It is worth noting that also running is Zak Ringelstein, a Democrat who supports decriminalizing drugs and federally legalizing marijuana, according to his campaign website and social media posts. He is, however, polling in single digits, according to public surveys—far behind King and Brakey—and doesn’t appear to enjoy strong support from national party organs like the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Bipartisan Lawmakers Tell DEA To Let Researchers Study Marijuana From Dispensaries
A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers from the House and Senate sent a letter to the Justice Department on Friday, requesting a policy change allowing researchers to access marijuana from state-legal dispensaries to improve studies on the plant’s benefits and risks.
The letter, led by Rep. Harley Rouda (D-CA) and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), cites feedback from federal health agencies, which have said that existing restrictions on cannabis have inhibited research. One problem in particular is that there’s only one federally authorized manufacturer of research-grade marijuana.
While the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said that it is in the process of approving additional manufacturers, it’s been more than three years since they first announced that applications for more growers would be accepted and, more recently, the agency said it would have to develop alternative rules to approve proposals that have been submitted.
“At the same time, the status quo does not address a barrier to research raised by both [the National Institutes of Health] and [the Food and Drug Administration],” the lawmakers wrote in the new letter. That barrier is a ban on researchers being able to obtain marijuana from dispensaries.
“Both agencies recommended that researchers should be able to obtain cannabis from state-legal sources,” the letter states.
Today, @SenBrianSchatz and I sent a bipartisan letter to AG Barr, urging the DEA to amend current policies to improve research on cannabis.
It’s time to bring our drug research policies into the 21st century.https://t.co/bfpPUhUvQf
— Rep. Harley Rouda (@RepHarley) December 6, 2019
Further, the lawmakers said that there are “problems in industry development of licensed drugs with data from products obtained from third-parties, such as the University of Mississippi.”
“In many states, cannabis law and regulations already provide for licensing of industrial manufacturing activities, and products are available for medical use in those states, but not for research leading to FDA licensure,” they wrote.
“There is a need for a greater diversity of cannabis products so that research on benefits and risks reflects the realities of what consumers and patients are using. NIH and FDA have strongly recommended streamlining the process for conducting research and product development activities with cannabis and other Schedule I substances, and that the DEA take action to assure that interpretations of processes and policies are universally applied in local DEA jurisdictions.”
The lack of chemical diversity in the federal government’s cannabis supply has been repeatedly pointed out. One study found that the research-grade cannabis is more similar to hemp than marijuana in commercial markets.
To resolve the research issues, the coalition made two recommendations: 1) to amend internal policy “so as to allow researchers with Schedule I licenses to obtain cannabis-derived products from state authorized dispensaries for research purposes” and 2) issue guidance clarifying that hemp researchers do not need a DEA license to obtain and study hemp because it was federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill.
The letter requests a response from DEA by December 20.
A total of 21 members of Congress signed the letter, including Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Cory Gardner (R-CO), along with Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Barbara Lee (D-CA) Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Joe Kennedy (D-MA).
“Our nation’s cannabis research laws are archaic,” Rouda said in a press release. “Forty-seven states have legalized some form of cannabis consumption—we must ensure our federal agencies and other licensed institutions can comprehensively study the benefits and risks of cannabis products.”
“I thank Senator Schatz, and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, for joining me to make this common-sense request,” he said. “It’s time to bring our drug research policies into the 21st century.”
Attorney General William Barr received a similar letter from lawmakers about the need to expand the number of federally authorized marijuana cultivators in April.
Read the lawmakers’ full letter on expanding marijuana research below:
Oregon Activists Begin Signature Gathering For 2020 Drug Decriminalization Initiative
Oregon activists have begun collecting signatures for a statewide initiative to decriminalize possession of all drugs.
Three months after petitioners quietly submitted the proposed ballot measure—titled the “Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act” (DATRA)—the signature gathering process has started, with organizers deployed to Portland to raise support.
A long road lies before the activists, who need to collect 112,020 valid signatures from voters in order to qualify for the 2020 ballot. Funding and polling will decide whether they mount a full push for the decriminalization measure in the months to come.
To that end, their efforts are being helped by David Bronner, CEO of the soap company Dr. Bronner’s, who told Marijuana Moment on Thursday that he will be investing $250,000 in the decriminalization campaign. An additional $500,000 will go to a separate Oregon initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes.
The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which backed Oregon’s successful marijuana legalization initiative in 2014, is also supporting this new effort to make low-level drug possession an infraction punishable by a $100 fine with no jail time, rather than a misdemeanor. It remains to be seen how involved in the campaign DPA will be, however.
Peter Zuckerman, a chief petitioner for the decriminalization initiative, told OregonLive on Thursday that it’s not guaranteed that the campaign will proceed and that much rides on how much money the group can raise, whether there’s public support for the reform move and how staff recruitment comes together.
He said the main thrust of the measure is to take a “health-based approach to drug addiction rather than a criminal justice-based approach.”
The proposal caught the attention of Oregon’s teachers’ union, which said that it supports decriminalizing drug possession but wrote in a comment submitted to the secretary of state in October that it was not taking an official position because it’s concerned about another provision that would shift cannabis tax revenue away from schools.
DATRA would make it so most of that revenue would be used to fund addiction treatment programs.
At the same time that activists are collecting signatures and weighing whether to move ahead with the broad decriminalization initiative, another advocacy group is pushing for a measure to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic use, allowing individuals to receive treatment with the psychedelic fungus at licensed health facilities. The group launched its signature drive in September.
Advocates in Portland are also hoping to advance a local measure to decriminalize psilocybin and other psychedelics such as ayahuasca and ibogaine.
Bronner wrote in a blog post that the decriminalization and therapeutic psilocybin legalization campaigns are “already coordinating closely and conserving resources on the statewide signature drive.”
He told Marijuana Moment that “we see this as the perfect one two punch in Oregon, legalizing psilocybin therapy that has so much promise for treating drug addiction, at the same time Oregon shifts to a treatment not jail approach.”
“And 100 percent confident it’s coming together,” he said.
All of this comes amid a national movement to decriminalize psychedelics, with activists in almost 100 cities across the U.S. considering pushing for reduced penalties for substances such as psilocybin and ayahuasca. Decriminalize Nature, which is aiding in and tracking these efforts, is also receiving donations from Bronner, he said.
Decriminalization is also gaining traction on the national stage, with two presidential candidates—South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI)—voicing support for the policy change. Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, another candidate, recently said that he’s open to broad decriminalization, while entrepreneur Andrew Yang backs decriminalizing opioids.
North Dakota Activists Submit Measure To Legalize Marijuana In 2020
North Dakota activists submitted a measure to legalize marijuana for adult use to state officials on Thursday, an organizer confirmed to Marijuana Moment.
Legalize ND, the group behind the proposed statutory initiative, delivered the measure to the secretary of state’s office. It’s expected to be validated within days, after which point petitions will be distributed to collect signatures in support of qualifying for the 2020 ballot.
It’s been about a year since organizers began working on the measure, which would allow adults 21 and older to possess and purchase cannabis for personal use. The proposal is more narrowly tailored than a legalization initiative from the same organization that voters rejected in 2018, however.
The previous version didn’t include any restrictions on cultivation or possession, and it didn’t involve a licensing scheme. By contrast, the new measure would prohibit home cultivation, limit possession to two ounces, impose a 10 percent excise tax and establish a regulatory body to approve licenses for marijuana businesses.
“One of the largest complaints from last time was the mantra of ‘poorly written,'” Legalize ND’s David Owen told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview. “They targeted the lack of legal experience from our team and they targeted a lack of ‘qualified lawyers’ to be drafting language that would go into the state’s statutory law.”
But he said he’s confident the campaign will be successful this time around, in part because they spent months drafting the language with the North Dakota Legislative Council.
Asked what he’d say to voters still on the fence about legalization, Owen replied that it would depend on what their initial concerns were:
“If it’s a concern over home grow, well it’s simple, we don’t have that anymore. If it’s a concern of people having too much, we have a reasonable possession limit now—in their eyes, I still think possession limits are fundamentally arbitrary, but they wanted a possession limit so we have that now. If people go, ‘well what about the quality of the language?’ I can point to how it’s literally written by Legislative Council, so either every attorney who works for the state of North Dakota is incompetent or this is well written.”
In order to qualify for next year’s ballot, the group must collect 13,452 valid signatures from voters before July 6, 2020.
“I think the most important thing isn’t what it would do, but what it would stop from happening,” Owen told local radio station KFGO on Wednesday. “We currently have a system where people are unable to find a job because of a criminal record, we have a system where people are continuing to get marijuana charges and lose their housing, we have families being separated because of parents losing custody over their children for marijuana charges. That all stops when this is legalized.”
Listen to Owen’s radio interview about the new marijuana ballot measure below:
Internal polling that received outside funding, which Owen said cannot be publicly released because of the wishes of the donor, shows the initiative is “slightly ahead” among voters.
In an earlier interview with Marijuana Moment in February, Owen said that it’s “very probable that we can do it” this time around, but much of that depended on the extent to which opposition campaigns are involved and how much funding outside groups are able to offer.
Currently, North Dakota has a medical cannabis program, and the governor signed legislation in May decriminalizing low-level marijuana possession.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.