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.
California Governor Signs Marijuana Tax Fairness Bill But Vetoes Cannabis In Hospitals
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announced on Saturday that he signed several marijuana-related bills into law—including one that will let legal businesses take advantage of more tax deductions—but also vetoed another measure that would have allowed some patients to use medical cannabis in health care facilities.
Under a section of current federal law known as 280E, marijuana growers, processors and sellers are unable to deduct expenses from their taxes that businesses in any other sector would be able to write off. Until now, California policy simply mirrored the federal approach.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo courtesy of Carlos Gracia.
Former FDA Head Floats Federal Marijuana Regulation ‘Compromise’ To Address Vaping Issue
Former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb seems to propose changing the scheduling status of marijuana under federal law as a “compromise” to provide limited regulations and promote research.
In an op-ed published in The Wall Street Journal on Friday, Gottlieb said the recent spike in vaping-related lung injuries involving contaminated THC cartridges demonstrates the need for federal regulations.
While he expressed frustration over the “federal government’s decade-long refusal to challenge state laws legalizing pot,” he also recognized that enforcing prohibition in legal states isn’t politically practical and floated a “feasible compromise” that would “require Congress to take marijuana out of the existing paradigm for drug scheduling, especially if Congress wants to allow carefully regulated access for uses that fall outside FDA-approved drug indications.”
That language leaves room for interpretation, but he goes on to say that the “ship has probably sailed on legalization for recreational use” and that “regulation of the potency of THC compounds, the forms they take, how they’re manufactured, and who can make purchases ought to be possible.”
Gottlieb stopped short of explicitly backing descheduling, which would represent a formal end to federal prohibition. Still, his recommendation that the government control aspects of legal marijuana markets like THC potency is a more concrete position than he’s taken in recent weeks, where he’s repeatedly bemoaned the lack of regulations and the gap between state and federal cannabis laws as contributing to vaping issues without endorsing a specific policy to correct it.
It’s clear in the editorial that the former commissioner feels Congress has missed its opportunity to prevent the proliferation of state-legal cannabis programs. And he criticized the Obama administration for issuing guidance that offered states some assurances that the Justice Department wouldn’t interfere in their markets, as well as congressional riders barring the department from using its funds to enforce prohibition against medical cannabis patients and providers following state laws.
My Op Ed in today’s @WSJopinion – The tragic vape injuries involving THC demand that we consider a federal reckoning when it comes to the dangerous conflict between state and federal pot laws that leave federal regulators on sidelines https://t.co/HGptTfx8Db
— Scott Gottlieb, MD (@ScottGottliebMD) October 11, 2019
“The result is an impasse,” he wrote. “Federal agencies exert little oversight, and regulation is left to a patchwork of inadequate state agencies. The weak state bodies sanction the adoption of unsafe practices such as vaping concentrates, while allowing an illegal market in cannabis to flourish.”
One area where FDA might be able to exercise its regulatory authority in this grey space would involve oversight of vaping hardware. Because the agency is able to regulate the “components and parts” of vapes for tobacco use—and because companies generally market those products as being intended for the use of vaporizing herbs and concentrates generally—it could be argued that FDA has jurisdiction over regulating the devices. However, that would still prove challenging “without clear laws and firm political support,” Gottlieb said.
My Op Ed in @WSJopinion – The conflict between federal and state law when it comes to marijuana has created a dangerous gap in oversight. It's about time we consider a new federal paradigm when it comes to regulation of cannabis and its active ingredients https://t.co/QifVa5Dbfq
— Scott Gottlieb, MD (@ScottGottliebMD) October 13, 2019
“THC is currently illegal under federal law,” he said. “Right now there’s no middle ground allowing federal agencies to scrutinize these compounds for their manufacturing, marketing and safety.”
Again, it’s not exactly clear what kind of federal regulation Gottlieb is proposing to Congress. He spends part of his op-ed noting the difficulties scientists face in obtaining high quality cannabis for research purposes—an issue that policymakers have indicated rescheduling could resolve—but he also said the government should ensure that any reform move is “backed up with oversight and vigorous enforcement to keep a black market from continuing to flourish and causing these lung injuries.”
That’s led some to assume he’s talking about descheduling and providing for broad regulations, as regulating the market is largely viewed as a primary means of disrupting the illicit market and enforcing safety standards for marijuana products. But the continued ambiguity of his position raises questions about whether he’s actually proposing Congress should go that far.
“The protracted hand-wringing over federal cannabis policy must stop,” he said. “The tragic spate of fatalities related to vaping of pot concentrates means the time has come for Congress and the White House to stop blowing smoke and clear the air.”
Mexican Senate Committees Will Introduce Marijuana Legalization Bill Next Week
Mexican Senate committees will introduce an updated proposal to legalize marijuana for adult use within days.
During a meeting on Thursday, members of the Health, Justice, Public Security and Legislative Studies Committees announced that they would remain in permanent session as they go through various legalization bills that lawmakers have already filed and present a comprehensive new piece of legislation on Thursday.
Sen. Miguel Ángel Navarro Quintero of the ruling MORENA party, who is a cosponsor of one existing reform bill, said the development “is a positive step to regulate—it is definitely a positive step,” according to TV Aztecha.
The primary focus of the committees will be on legislation introduced by Interior Secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero last year, senators said. However, there are about a dozen other legalization bills on the table, including one to have the federal government control the marijuana market, and they said provisions of each proposal would be taken into consideration.
The panels will also look at public input and expert testimony—including a panel led by a former White House drug czar—that were gathered as part of a weeks-long series of cannabis events that the Senate organized.
“It is a backbone that we are taking into account,” Sen. Julio Menchaca of the MORENA party said of Sánchez Cordero’s bill, which the cabinet member filed while previously serving as a senator, adding that “each of the initiatives that different senators have presented are also very important.”
Quintero said “if we are committing an open parliament, all opinions must be taken into account, because if not, we would be simulating a process.”
If the committees are successful in advancing the legislation, that would put the chamber one key step closer to meeting a deadline imposed by the Supreme Court last year. After ruling that the country’s ban on possession and cultivation of cannabis by adults is unconstitutional, it gave lawmakers until the end of October to change federal drug policy.
The leader of the MORENA party in the Senate, Sen. Ricardo Monreal, said earlier this month that the chamber was on track to vote on a legalization bill ahead of that deadline.
Separately, the chairman of the Senate’s Agriculture Committee, Sen. José Narro Céspedes, said on Thursday that legalization will be an economic boon for farmers and must be implemented in a way that disrupts the illicit market.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.