All the cool presidential candidates are doing it. Calling for marijuana legalization, that is.
“Something else it’s past time we get done is dismantling the failed war on drugs—starting with legalizing marijuana,” Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), who is weighing a 2020 presidential campaign, writes in her new book released on Tuesday.
Over the course of the past several years, supporting the legalization of cannabis has become a mainstream consensus position for Democrats, particularly among the party’s likely presidential contenders.
Harris, who as recently as a few years ago laughed off questions about marijuana, is no exception.
“We need to legalize marijuana and regulate it,” Harris writes, pointing to racial disparities in cannabis enforcement. “And we need to expunge nonviolent marijuana-related offenses from the records of millions of people who have been arrested and incarcerated so they can get on with their lives.”
But the former California state attorney general also says in the new book, “The Truths We Hold: An American Journey,” that ending prohibition needs to be done “with eyes wide open, understanding that there is unfinished business when it comes to legalization.”
Harris says that due to the drug’s restrictive Schedule I status, not enough research has been done on its effects and that officials need to “invest in a solution” to impaired driving issues, as there is no currently available reliable breathalyzer-like device for cannabis.
When it comes to other drugs, the senator says “we also need to stop treating drug addiction like a public safety crisis instead of what it is: a public health crisis.”
“When someone is suffering from addiction, their situation is made worse, not better, by involvement in the criminal justice system,” she writes.
It is unclear is Harris is suggesting decriminalizing drugs beyond marijuana, but that does seem to be one potential implication of the suggestion that involving the criminal justice system is harmful when it comes to substance misuse.
All told, the passages mark a significant evolution on cannabis and drug policy for the former prosecutor.
In a 2014 television interview, Harris simply laughed in the face of a journalist who asked about her Republican attorney general opponent’s support for legalizing marijuana.
And she declined to support California’s cannabis legalization ballot measure that voters went on to approve two years later.
Over the course of 2018, however, the senator came to embrace marijuana policy reform at a time its popularity had soared with Democratic voters and as likely rivals for the party’s presidential nomination got on board.
Other potential 2020 Democratic candidates who now support legalization include Sens. Cory Booker, (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).
In May, Harris signed on as a cosponsor of a Booker-led bill to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and withhold federal funding from states with discriminatory cannabis enforcement.
“Right now in this country people are being arrested, being prosecuted, and end up spending time in jail or prison all because of their use of a drug that otherwise should be considered legal,” she said at the time.
Last week, Warren formally launched a presidential exploratory committee.
Photo courtesy of aSILVA.
GOP Senator Shares Photo Of His Dad Harvesting Hemp Decades Ago
A U.S. senator appears to be taking a hit at the governor of his home state over a disagreement on hemp legalization, and he’s using a decades-old picture of his own father growing the crop to do it.
Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) shared a photo on Facebook last month showing his dad harvesting the crop in South Dakota about 80 years ago. While it might seem benign, some political observers believe the post was a subtle dig at Gov. Kristi Noem (R), who vetoed legislation earlier this year to re-legalize industrial hemp in the state.
The senator referenced the picture during a telephone town hall event, where he was asked about the potential of hemp in the textile industry. Rounds said the plant was used to make ropes for the Navy during World War II.
“It’s of my dad (Grandpa Don, left) as a young boy working in a South Dakota hemp field,” he wrote of the photo. “We believe it was taken sometime in the late 1930s/early 1940s.”
The implication seems to be that the crop has a long history in South Dakota and that generations have relied on it prior for its federal prohibition. But even after hemp and its derivatives were federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill, Noem has maintained that it should remain criminalized under state law.
The Argus Leader first connected the Facebook post with Noem’s hemp opposition.
Marijuana Moment reached out to Rounds’s office for comment, but a representative was not immediately available.
In March, the governor rejected legislation that arrived on her desk to legalize industrial hemp, arguing that the reform move would pave the path toward legalization of adult-use marijuana. The Senate didn’t have enough support to override the veto.
Lawmakers have said they plan to introduce similar legislation next year, but Noem pledged in September to veto it again.
As far as Rounds is concerned, South Dakota should be allowed to experiment with industrial hemp. He told the Sioux City Journal last month that “I personally don’t see a problem with at least trying it” and he voted in favor of the Farm Bill last year.
Despite Noem’s opposition to the non-intoxicating form of cannabis, activists in the state are moving ahead with efforts to more broadly legalize marijuana for medical and recreational purposes. Signatures on two reform initiatives were submitted to the secretary of state last month and, once verified, the issues are expected to be decided by voters during next year’s election.
Both measures are being backed by national advocacy groups, and the adult-use legalization proposal is being sponsored by a former federal prosecutor.
Killer Mike Credits Bernie Sanders For Inspiring Marijuana Legalization Movement
Rapper Killer Mike says that the national push to reform marijuana laws in recent years can be largely attributed to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
Sanders, who became the first major presidential candidate to call for cannabis legalization during his 2016 run, has continued to raise the issue as he campaigns for the 2020 Democratic nomination. In the years since he first proposed the policy change, numerous states have pursued reform and pro-legalization stances are increasingly commonplace, especially among Democratic lawmakers.
“Marijuana decriminalization was something I never thought I’d see in my lifetime,” Killer Mike said in an interview on MSNBC on Sunday. “Yet within four years, I’ve seen a nationwide push for it, in big part to his campaign.”
Watch Killer Mike’s marijuana comments, starting around 1:25 into the video below:
“How does that affect me as the father of a 17-year-old boy? If my son gets caught with marijuana, it could ruin his life for the rest of his life,” he said. “Now we have an environment where he literally will get scolded as a child and get a chance to be a fruitful adult without a felony on his record. I think that that resonates in our community.”
The rapper, who serves as a surrogate on Sanders’s campaign, also talked about the economic potential of legalization and the importance of social equity policies during a town hall event with the candidate in North Carolina in September.
“We have an opportunity this time to take the people that are exiting jail, have expunged records and creating a pathway as wide as this aisle directly to legal marijuana and creating economic sustainability in the same communities that were robbed of that opportunity,” he said at the time.
It’s not just Sanders who deserves credit for contributing to the cannabis reform movement, Killer Mike said at a panel on free speech in June. Rap artists have also played a key role, featuring the plant in music stretching back decades.
“We know that with national decriminalization of marijuana now, a lot of people are going to get credit for it—a lot of activists, a lot of workers,” he said. “But I can show you a line that leads straight back to Cyprus Hill, that leads straight back to Snoop Dogg, that leads straight back to people like Rick James.”
Some of the most impactful work that rappers have produced are songs inspired by social issues like the drug war, he and several other artists argued in a brief submitted to the Supreme Court earlier this year in defense of a rapper who was convicted for threatening Pittsburgh police officers in a song.
Photo courtesy of MSNBC.
Vermont Should Legalize Marijuana Sales, Top Health Department Official Says
A top Vermont health official is endorsing the legalization of recreational marijuana sales.
During a radio interview on Monday, Cynthia Seivwright, director of the state Department of Health’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Programs, said that regulating cannabis commerce in the state would better protect public health than current policy does.
Monday’s discussion on WDEV’s Dave Gram Show included the relationship between marijuana-related health consequences and the state’s failure to regulate cannabis after lawmakers there became the nation’s first to legalize marijuana by an act of legislators in January 2018. Gov. Phil Scott (R) signed the bill, which allows low-level possession and home cultivation but continues to prohibit sales, later that month.
“Without the regulation, we don’t know what’s in it,” Seivwright said when asked whether a regulatory model that is similar to that for alcohol makes sense for cannabis. “We can’t control the potency of it. We can’t control the access, and we definitely don’t want children and adolescents to have access to it.”
“Even regulating how it’s tested,” she said, “should be done by an independent lab. Even the packaging. How do we regulate the packaging so that it isn’t desirable for children, to look like candy if it’s going to be edible? We at the Health Department support a regulated system.”
Listen to Seivwright’s marijuana legalization comments at about 1:07:00 into the audio below:
The Department of Health’s support—a first for the state agency—was welcomed by Dave Silberman, an attorney and pro bono drug policy reform advocate from Middlebury.
“Vermonters of all political stripes are eager to enact a strong regulatory system that puts consumer safety at the forefront, and generates significant revenues for the Department’s broader addiction prevention and treatment efforts,” he told Marijuana Moment. “Rather than burying their heads in the sand and wishing for a drug-free America, the Department seems to finally be taking a facts-based approach to cannabis, rooted in harm reduction instead of stigma. That is a very good thing.”
Seivwright’s support also comes on the heels of renewed attention to the question of regulating marijuana commerce among Vermont legislators. In January, the state Senate approved a cannabis sales legalization bill. But as the legislative session came to a close in the spring, it became clear that the legislation would not reach the House floor for a vote despite having advanced at the committee level.
Although other Democratic leaders have insisted that a marijuana marketplace legalization bill will advance in 2020, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D) said there is no guarantee, VT Digger reports.
In particular, Johnson noted that if the bill is to see a floor consideration in the new year, it will need the 76 votes required for passage in the House—indicating that she doesn’t intend to put any muscle into rounding up the support needed to pass it. Concerns such as roadside safety, youth usage and the marijuana production’s impact on the environment must also be addressed, she said.
The speaker’s stance is in contrast to the Vermont Democratic Party, which adopted support for a legal marijuana marketplace as part of its platform last year.
And last year, when the legal marijuana marketplace bill failed to reach the House floor for a vote, Majority Leader Jill Krowinski (D) reaffirmed her party’s commitment to the legislation’s eventual passage, promising that lawmakers would “finish it early” in 2020.
Over the weekend, Krowinski doubled down on her prediction that the House will vote on the legislation in the upcoming session.
“A version of that will get to the floor,” Krowinski said, according to VT Digger.
Photo courtesy of Carlos Gracia.