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Kamala Harris Dodges Question About Marijuana Criticism From Tulsi Gabbard

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Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) dismissed criticism of her record as a prosecutor who jailed marijuana offenders and later joked about her own cannabis consumption on Wednesday, refusing to respond to an attack that Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) laid during the Democratic presidential debate.

During a post-debate interview on CNN, host Anderson Cooper played a clip of Gabbard saying she’s “deeply concerned about this record,” referring to Harris’s time as California’s attorney general.

“There are too many examples to cite, but she put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations and then laughed about it when she was asked if she ever smoked marijuana,” Gabbard said, drawing applause.

(PolitiFact said it couldn’t immediately verify the number of cannabis cases tried while Harris was attorney general but noted that she would not have been the one to personally prosecute those individuals, with lower-level state attorneys instead handling the cases.)

Rather than directly address the criticism, Harris said after the debate that she wasn’t surprised by the attack and that she doesn’t take her opponent’s opinion seriously for unrelated reasons.

“This is going to sound immodest, but I’m obviously a top tier candidate and so I did expect that I would be on the stage and take hits tonight because there are a lot of people that are trying to make the stage for the next debate,” Harris said. “Especially when people are at zero or one percent or whatever she might be at. I did expect that I might take hits tonight.”

Then she said that Gabbard is an “apologist for [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad], who has murdered the people of his country like cockroaches.”

“She who has embraced him, been an apologist for him in a way that she refuses to call him a war criminal. I can only take what she says and her opinion so seriously,” the California senator said.

“And so I’m prepared to move on,” she said, without adding a single word of substantive response to the congresswoman’s criticism of her cannabis record.

Ian Sams, national press secretary for Harris’s campaign, previewed his boss’s take with a tweet during the debate, writing, simply, “Yo, you love Assad!”

But while Gabbard’s views on Assad have been a source of controversy, the concerns she raised about Harris’s record aren’t unique to her. Drug reform advocates have similarly questioned Harris, who has only recently embraced comprehensive cannabis legalization after actively opposing efforts to legalize marijuana in her state.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), another Democratic candidate, has also raised a similar point about the lighthearted manner in which Harris discussed her past marijuana use.

“We have presidential candidates and congresspeople and senators that now talk about their marijuana use almost as if it’s funny,” Booker said in March shortly after Harris talked about smoking cannabis in college in an interview. “But meanwhile, in 2017, we had more arrests for marijuana possession in this country than all the violent crime arrests combined.”

Several Republican party operatives rallied behind Gabbard’s criticism, signaling that they believe a longtime anti-marijuana record is a liability for Harris should she become her party’s nominee.

In her own post-debate interview, Gabbard said that Harris “never addressed the issues that I brought up.”

“These are examples that have been widely reported and documented,” the congresswoman said. “I think the people deserve answers. She said tonight, a few times, how proud she is of her record, yet there are too many people in California who have directly suffered, families who’ve been torn apart, people who have individually been harmed because of the decisions that she made as attorney general.”

“People like Kamala Harris need to be held accountable for their record—not for something she said or did 50 years ago, this is something that she did in her last job before she was elected as a U.S. senator,” she said.

Asked about Harris’s spin room response to the exchange and the senator’s criticism of Gabbard as it related to Assad, the congresswoman said “I think it’s unfortunate and a disservice to voters in this country that she resorts to cheap smears rather than actually addressing her record—the issues that I’ve raised and the fact that she said she’s proud of this record.”

“If that’s the case, then voters deserve to hear about why she’s so proud of the lives that she has negatively impacted, the families that she’s torn apart in California,” she said.

Democratic Presidential Candidates Clash On Marijuana At Debate

Photo courtesy of YouTube/CNN.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

Politics

Andrew Yang Peddles Marijuana-Themed Presidential Campaign Merchandise

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2020 candidate Andrew Yang announced on Saturday that his campaign for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination is rolling out a line of marijuana-themed merch.

The limited edition products blend Yang’s love of mathematics with his support for cannabis reform. A t-shirt being offered for $30 simply says, “Math. Money. Marijuana.” And a now-sold-out baseball cap says “Math” on the front and displays a cannabis leaf on back. There’s also a bumper sticker that says, “Legalize Marijuana.”

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.)

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Buttigieg Pledges To Decriminalize Possession Of All Drugs In First Term As President

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South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg released a comprehensive plan on Friday that calls for “decriminalizing all drug possession” in his first presidential term as a means to combat the opioid epidemic and treat addiction as a public health, rather than criminal justice, issue.

Decriminalization is just one action the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate said he’d pursue in order to reform the country’s mental health care system and bolster substance abuse treatment. His plan also includes proposals to reduce sentences for drug offenses other than possession, increase access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone and make it easier to implement syringe exchange programs.

Buttigieg’s “Healing and Belonging in America” plan emphasizes the need to divert people suffering from addiction away from prisons and into treatment. He said he’d accomplish that by expanding diversionary programs and evidence-based training “for drug courts, mental health courts, and other alternatives to incarceration for justice-involved persons.”

The goal of decriminalization and diversion is to reduce “the number of people incarcerated due to mental illness or substance use by 75 percent in the first term.”

Under his plan, sentencing reform for drug offenses other than possession would be applied retroactively and coupled with expungements for past convictions. Buttigieg pointed to research demonstrating that “incarceration for drug offenses has no effect on drug misuse, drug arrests, or overdose deaths” and instead “actually increases the rate of overdose deaths.”

“We cannot incarcerate ourselves out of this public health problem.”

“To ensure that people with a mental illness or substance use disorder can heal, we will decriminalize these conditions,” the proposal states. “When someone is undergoing a crisis or is caught using a drug, they should be treated by a health professional rather than punished in a jail cell.”

“All presidential candidates should join Pete Buttigieg in recognizing that the criminalization of people for their drug use is wrong and simply bad policy,” Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Action, said in a press release. “Possession of drugs for personal use is the single most arrested offense in the United States, eclipsing arrest rates for any other offense. With overdose numbers skyrocketing and entire communities, disproportionately black or brown, suffering from criminalization, it’s time for policymakers to shift gears. Taking an evidence-based, health-centered approach to address this crisis is not only true leadership – it’s common sense.”

The mayor also made harm reduction policies a key component of his strategy. He said take-home naloxone programs would be expanded to all 50 states by 2024 and that harm reduction services would be expanded “to reduce overdose deaths and the spread of infectious diseases related to needle sharing.”

The plan would make naloxone “broadly available in order to reverse overdoses” and remove “legislative and regulatory restrictions on the use of federal funds for syringe service programs.”

Buttigieg said the federal government should provide funding for state and local health departments to purchase the medication, make sure that it’s “available in public spaces and workplaces” similar to first aid kids and encourage “co-prescribing of naloxone with opioids, either by individual physicians or direct dispensing by pharmacists.”

Existing federal law makes it difficult to establish syringe exchange programs, in part because federal funds can’t be used to buy needles. The restrictions “hamper state and local responses, both because they limit resources and because they convey a negative message about the value of these programs, despite overwhelming scientific evidence that they can prevent transmission of HIV and hepatitis.”

In addition to lifting those barriers, the candidate said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “would also work with states to remove any criminal liability for those participating in” syringe exchange programs.

“Harm reduction programs are a critical part of any effective response to the opioid and injection drug use crisis. They minimize the negative impact of drug use without encouraging it, while reducing other side effects of drug use. In particular, this means access to syringe service programs for people who inject drugs, that link them to treatment, and provides access to sterile syringes. These programs help prevent transmission of HIV, viral hepatitis, and other infectious diseases associated with needle sharing, and reduce overdoses by deploying medication such as naloxone that help reverse the effects of opioids.”

One harm reduction policy that didn’t make the cut in Buttigieg’s plan is safe injection sites, where people could use illicit drugs under the supervision of medical professionals who could reverse overdoses and recommend treatment options. Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who are also running for the Democratic nomination, both proposed legalizing such facilities as part of criminal justice reform plans they released this month.

“Decades of failed mental health and addiction policy, coupled with mass incarceration that criminalized mental illness and drug use, have left us with a mental health and addiction care system so broken that today there are more people with serious mental illness in prisons than in treatment facilities,” Buttigieg said.

The candidate also made ending incarceration for drug possession—as well as legalizing marijuana—central principles of his previously released criminal justice reform plan, which he released last month.

But while the prior plan did not explicitly describe the move as “decriminalizing” drugs, even though advocates commonly use that word to refer to policies that remove the threat of being imprisoned for possession, the new document does use that terminology—signaling a shift in clarity as Buttigieg continues to develop his campaign messaging.

In other instances, he borrowed language from his criminal justice reform plan, specifically as it concerns how criminalizing drug use can increase rates of overdose, for his mental health proposal.

“Despite equal rates of use, Black Americans are nearly four times as likely to be arrested for using marijuana,” the criminal justice plan states. “Research shows that incarceration for drug offenses has no effect on drug misuse, drug arrests, or overdose deaths. In fact, some studies show that incarceration actually increases the rate of overdose deaths.”

Buttigieg mentioned that, as with drug offenses, black people are also more likely to die from overdoses. And that’s due to “the current broken system that criminalizes mental illness and addiction” that was “built during the crack epidemic of the 1980s.”

Elizabeth Warren’s Criminal Justice Plan Involves Legalizing Marijuana And Safe Injection Sites

This story was updated to include comment from the Drug Policy Action.

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Gage Skidmore.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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White House Drug Officials Say Legal Marijuana Is Up To States

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Two top federal drug officials, including the White House drug czar, recently said that marijuana legalization should be left up to states.

The comments stand out coming from the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), which has historically played a central role in defending blanket federal prohibition.

Jim Carroll, the Trump-appointed drug czar who directs the administration’s drug policies, told Fox 59 reporter Kayla Sullivan that he considers legalization a states’ right issue. He added that he’d like to see targeted education campaigns concerning cannabis use during pregnancy and underage usage as well as research into impaired driving.

It’s a particularly notable position given that federal law stipulates that the drug czar is required to “take such actions as necessary to oppose any attempt to legalize the use of a substance” listed as Schedule I under the Controlled Substances Act, including marijuana.

Even if Carroll’s remarks arguably don’t directly violate that statute, they are significant in that he doesn’t seem to have taken the opportunity to proactively oppose state legalization efforts when asked by a reporter.

Anne Hazlett, senior advisor at ONDCP, also weighed in on cannabis legalization on Wednesday, telling CentralIllinoisProud.com that marijuana legalization is “a state decision.”

“Marijuana is an ongoing challenge that is being addressed in many of our states,” she said. “This is a state decision, and we would like to see additional research done so that these decisions being made at a state level are being made in a manor that is fully informed.”

Though the comments from Carroll and Hazlett seem to reflect an evolving understanding of the federal government’s role in imposing prohibition on the states, the ONDCP director has previously made clear he’s not enthusiastic about the burgeoning legal market.

During a House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing in May, Carroll raised concerns about THC potency in marijuana products, saying “the marijuana we have today is nothing like what it was when I was a kid, when I was in high school.”

“Back then the THC, the ingredient in marijuana that makes you high, was in the teens in terms of the percentage,” he said. “Now what we’re seeing is twice that, three times that, in the plant.”

He also said that more research is needed and that the Drug Enforcement Administration as well as the Department of Health and Human Services are “working hard to make sure that we understand the impact of legalization of marijuana on the body.”

Federally Funded Journal Exposes How Marijuana Prohibition Puts Consumers At Risk

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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