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Joe Kennedy Knows His Anti-Marijuana Votes Are Unpopular

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A Democratic elected official who is under fire for his consistent anti-marijuana voting record says he understands that he is out of step with his party.

“That’s a tough issue for me. I come at it a little bit differently, obviously, than the vast majority of my colleagues,” Congressman Joe Kennedy III of Massachusetts said in a new interview. “I hear their position. I really do. I’m in a state that voted for [legalization].”

Cannabis law reform supporters were upset last month when Kennedy was chosen to deliver the official Democratic response to President Trump’s first State of the Union address.

Dems Pick Anti-Marijuana Kennedy For Trump State Of The Union Response

The young scion of the country’s most famous political family not only opposes broadly ending prohibition but has also voted against limited measures to shield state medical marijuana laws from federal interference, allow military veterans to access medical cannabis and protect children who use non-psychoactive cannabidiol extracts to treat severe seizure disorders.

Kennedy is one of just a small handful of Democrats to oppose those amendments on the House floor in recent years.

“I think the party is clearly moving in that legalization direction. It might already be there,” Kennedy acknowledged in the interview with Politico’s Off Message podcast, published on Tuesday.

Gallup found last year that 72 percent of Democrats back marijuana legalization, and a Quinnipiac University survey last month showed that 95 percent of the party’s voters support medical cannabis.

The latter poll also showed that just 12 percent of Democrats want the federal government to interfere with state marijuana laws, in line with Kennedy’s voting record.

“I’ve got some reservations because of some of the details,” he explained in the interview. “I think process matters. Consumer protections on this matter, and it’s a little bit more complicated.”

Although Kennedy’s marijuana views are out of step with his House colleagues and their party’s voters, he respects the right of people to disagree with him about the issue.

“This is an important issue for folks, and they should have every right and should be passionate about it and organized on it and do what they need to do to advance their position,” he said. “And I totally respect that and I encourage it.”

Nonetheless, he’s sticking to his anti-marijuana point of view, at least for now.

“As a politician, somebody that gets a whole bunch of issues thrown at them every day, I try to do my best to do the homework and learn up on those issues as best I can,” he said. “I’ll take a position on ones that I think is right and defensible. People disagree with it? Fine. That’s the nature of the beast.

And Kennedy, who some observers see as a potential presidential candidate, acknowledges that his position on cannabis could cost him votes in future elections.

“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. “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.”

Coincidentally, this week is the 50th anniversary of televised remarks the congressman’s grandfather, former U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy, made about the hypocrisy underling marijuana criminalization.

Bobby Kennedy Questioned Marijuana Criminalization 50 Years Ago

Photo courtesy of Congressman Joe Kennedy III.

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Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 15-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (Organization citations are for identification only and do not constitute an endorsement or partnership.)

Politics

Marijuana Policy Project Welcomes New Executive Director

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The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), the nation’s best-funded cannabis advocacy group, has named long-time social justice reform advocate Steve Hawkins as its next executive director.

Hawkins, who previously served as the executive director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP) and executive vice president of the NAACP, will assume responsibility for MPP’s national legalization advocacy efforts just months before a number of states vote to enact their own legal systems.

The decision was made after a “months-long candidate search that included several exceptionally qualified candidates,” MPP said in a press release.

“We are still battling the effects of decades of anti-marijuana legislation and propaganda in this country,” Hawkins told Marijuana Moment. “Huge strides have been made when it comes to setting the record straight, but our work is far from over and there is still a lot of misinformation out there that needs to be addressed.”

“Fundraising and maintaining momentum is also a core challenge for the movement, which is in some ways a victim of its own success. Thanks to the major gains it has made in recent years, many people think legalization is inevitable and that their donations are no longer needed or that they don’t need to take the time to write their elected officials. These laws are not going to change themselves and there is more need than ever for resources and engagement to support federal and state-level reform efforts.”

Hawkins’s experience running successful criminal justice reform campaigns—including a bipartisan effort to end capital punishment for juveniles during his time at the NCADP—made him an apt candidate to spearhead the fight to end prohibition, Troy Dayton, chair of MPP’s board of directors, said in a statement.

“Steve has a strong track record in the field of criminal justice reform, and he knows how to build a movement toward meaningful social change,” Dayton said. “We were not only impressed by his expertise and experience, but also his strong convictions regarding the injustice of marijuana prohibition.”

“The country is moving in the right direction on marijuana policy, but there is still a lot of work to be done.”

Hawkins also previously held leadership positions at Amnesty International and the Coalition for Public Safety.

He told Marijuana Moment that his three decades of experience “defending civil and human rights” has informed his belief that we should “bring an end to marijuana prohibition, which has had a hugely detrimental impact, especially to communities of color,” and that we should “replace it with a more sensible system of regulation.”

“I also believe it is critical we ensure those populations that were so negatively impacted by prohibition are able to participate in and experience the positive impacts of such a regulated system.”

At MPP, Hawkins will succeed Rob Kampia, who late last year left the organization he founded in 1995 to start a for-profit cannabis policy consulting firm called the Marijuana Leadership Campaign. Kampia’s departure was announced shortly after sexual misconduct allegations against him resurfaced amid the #MeToo movement.

Kampia offered some words of advice for the next person to occupy his former seat in a phone interview with Marijuana Moment:

“View yourself as a fundraiser who has to engage in transactional fundraising with the marijuana industry in part, and view yourself as needing to come up with a smart, strategic plan for lobbying in state legislatures rather than doing ballot initiatives where no one else is going to touch it. Do not view yourself as a spokesperson.”

Or in other words, less of a focus on talk, and more on action.

MPP named Matthew Schweich as the interim executive director while the group scouted for a replacement. Scweich will now serve as MPP’s deputy director overseeing marijuana reform initiatives in Michigan and Utah.

In a statement, MPP board member Joby Pritzker said Schweich “provided critical leadership during a challenging transition period for MPP.”

“He maintained the effectiveness of our advocacy operations, managed our fundraising efforts, and oversaw ballot initiative campaigns in multiple states, while at the same time leading our staff and assisting the board with the executive director search.”

The past few years have seen a number of leadership changeups at national pro-legalization groups.

NORML brought on Erik Altieri as executive director in 2016 after Allen St. Pierre left the organization following 11 years of service. And last year, the Drug Policy Alliance announced that it had hired Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, who worked on international and domestic drug policies issues for 13 years at the Human Rights Watch, as the new executive director to replace retiring founder Ethan Nadelmann.

While the objective at all of these groups—promoting equitable drug policy reform in the United States—has remained the same, the nature of the movement has evolved. A majority of states have now legalized cannabis for medical or recreational purposes, and though state-level reform efforts continue, calls for change at the federal level are increasingly resonant.

That is to say, these new executive directors will face a different set of challenges than their predecessors did.

Rob Kampia Leaves Marijuana Policy Project

Photo courtesy of Beloit College.

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UN Launches First-Ever Full Review Of Marijuana’s Status Under International Law

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For the first time ever, the United Nations (UN) is launching an in-depth review of whether marijuana is properly classified under international drug treaties.

In a related development, the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) has announced that cannabidiol (CBD), a compound in marijuana that is increasingly used for medical purposes, does not warrant being controlled under the global agreements.

“The Committee recommended that preparations considered to be pure CBD should not be scheduled within the International Drug Control Conventions,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus wrote in a letter announcing the moves. “The Committee concluded that there is sufficient evidence to proceed to a Critical Review” of marijuana, hashish, cannabis extracts and THC.

That broader review is set for November, and follows the results of an initial pre-review conducted by WHO’s Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) in June.

“A pre-review is the first step of the ECDD’s assessment process, where it is determined whether there is enough robust scientific information to proceed to the next step, called a critical review,” an explanatory document accompanying the new letter reads. “This initial evaluation is also an opportunity to identify gaps in the available scientific data. A critical review is carried out when there is sufficient scientific evidence to allow the ECDD to make informed an recommendation that the substance be placed under international control, or if its level of control should be changed.”

The reviews include analyses of the chemistry, pharmacology, toxicology, epidemiology and therapeutic use of the substances.

If the UN ultimately decides to change marijuana’s status under international law, it would trigger a review on U.S. scheduling, according to provisions of the Controlled Substances Act.

“Thankfully the World Health Organization has accepted the challenge of evaluating the placement of cannabis in the 1962 Single Convention treaty,” Michael Krawitz of Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access told Marijuana Moment. “Cannabis placement in the treaty was done in the absence of scientific evaluation and has provided the basis for a moral campaign against drugs by the USA for many decades. Since our work on medical access to cannabis has been based upon scientific inquiry we know that any rational assessment of the evidence leads the observer to understand cannabis indeed has proven medicinal value and, compared to other medicines, has profoundly fewer negative side effects.”

Here’s what the UN experts have determined so far:

“There are no case reports of abuse or dependence relating to the use of pure CBD. No public health problems have been associated with CBD use,” an annex attached to Ghebreyesus’s letter reads, noting that research has shown it to be effective in treating epilepsy. “CBD has been found to be generally well tolerated with a good safety profile.”

“Cannabidiol (CBD) is not specifically listed in the schedules of the 1961, 1971 or 1988 United Nations International Drug Control Conventions… There is no evidence that CBD as a substance is liable to similar abuse and similar ill-effects as substances in the 1961 or 1971 Conventions such as cannabis or THC, respectively. The Committee recommended that preparations considered to be pure CBD should not be scheduled.”

When it comes to whole-plant marijuana and resin, ECDD’s pre-review found that while “adverse effects” are possible and that cannabis can cause physical dependence, its current categorization in international treaties “may not appear to be consistent with the criteria.”

“Several countries permit the use of cannabis for the treatment of medical conditions such as back pain, sleep disorders, depression, post-injury pain, and multiple sclerosis,” the document says. “The evidence presented to the Committee did not indicate that cannabis plant and cannabis resin were liable to produce ill-effects similar to these other substances that are in Schedule IV of the 1961 Convention on Narcotic Drugs. The inclusion of cannabis and cannabis resin in Schedule IV may not appear to be consistent with the criteria for Schedule IV.”

“The Committee concluded that there is sufficient evidence to proceed to critical review of cannabis plant and cannabis resin at a future ECDD meeting and explore further the appropriateness of their current scheduling within the 1961 Convention.”

With respect to extracts and tinctures of cannabis, the committee similarly identified health issues associated with consumption, but said “there is limited evidence of a withdrawal syndrome upon abrupt cessation.”

The committee also looked at THC itself and isomers of THC, and recommended that both be subject to critical reviews in November.

Ghebreyesus’s letter is addressed to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who will be the ultimate recipient of WHO’s recommendations on cannabis and related extracts and compounds following the review.

Guterres was prime minister of Portugal when that nation decriminalized all drugs, a move he touted last year in an address to the UN’s Commission on Narcotic Drugs. After the critical reviews are in, that body will vote on whether to alter cannabis’s status under the international treaties.

Marijuana Moment Patreon supporters can see the full text of the new WHO letter on cannabis below:

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North Dakota Marijuana Legalization Measure Qualifies For November Ballot

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North Dakotans voted to approve medical cannabis two years ago, and now they will get the chance to decide on full marijuana legalization this November.

Activists collected a sufficient number of signatures to qualify a ballot measure that would allow adults over 21 to use and grow marijuana, the secretary of state’s office determined on Monday.

Please visit Forbes to read the rest of this piece.

(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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