U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) is facing his first major congressional reelection challenge in over a decade, and his opponent, Democratic candidate Colin Allred, is hot on his trail, according to recent polling.
For marijuana reform advocates, it’s a race to follow.
Sessions, as chairman of the House Rules Committee, has systematically blocked votes on cannabis-related legislation by his colleagues on Capitol Hill. Measures on everything from expanding access to medical marijuana for veterans to protecting legal cannabis states from federal interference have been dead upon arrival. Even hemp is a no-go with Sessions at the helm of the powerful committee.
Not a single cannabis-related vote has been allowed on the House floor during the current Congress, thanks to Sessions.
The closest the GOP congressman has come to compromise on the issue in recent months seems to be his pledge to continue talks with a medical marijuana advocacy group. Members of the organization told Marijuana Moment earlier this month that the congressman was “very receptive” to their mission when they met—but Sessions has yet to commit to backing any specific legislation.
But in November, voters in Texas’s 32nd Congressional District will have an opportunity to elect a representative with starkly different attitude toward drug policy: Allred, a civil rights attorney and former NFL player, supports medical cannabis and decriminalizing simple possession of marijuana.
A new poll from The New York Times poll shows a surprisingly tight race.
The Times called more than 43,000 voters across District 32 over the past week to get a sense of voter sentiment heading into November, talking to 500 of them. The results of those calls showed 48 percent of respondents supporting Sessions to Allred’s 47 percent.
Of course, 500 isn’t an especially large sample size and the margin of error is about five percentage points.
But another recent survey conducted by Public Policy Polling for a healthcare advocacy group showed Allred ahead of the anti-cannabis incumbent by five points (47-42 percent).
.@ppppolls for @ProtectOurCare, Sept. 17-18:
– #TX07 (562 RVs, MOE +/-4.1%): @Lizzie4Congress 47%, @johnculberson 45% (Trump net approval: -3)
– #TX32 (555 RVs, MOE +/-4.2%): @ColinAllredTX 47%, @PeteSessions 42% (Trump net approval: -10)
— Patrick Svitek (@PatrickSvitek) September 24, 2018
Accordingly, the race has been graded as a “toss-up” by the Cook Political Report.
The apparent closeness of the contest is noteworthy. Fewer voters seem to have formed strong opinions about Allred, with almost 50 percent of respondents telling the Times they couldn’t say whether they had a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the candidate. Sessions, a known quantity as a sitting elected official, had a higher favorable rating (42 percent) than Allred, but also a significantly higher unfavorable rating (44 percent).
Respondents in the Times survey were also asked to weigh in on the U.S. Senate race between Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX). Forty-nine percent of voters in Sessions’s district said they’d vote O’Rourke if the election was “being held today,” while 47 percent said they’d vote Cruz.
It’s hard to say how much each candidate’s position on cannabis will tilt the scales in November, but what is known is that a bipartisan majority of Texans side with Allred when it comes to marijuana reform. A 2017 survey found “83 percent of Texans support legalizing marijuana for some use,” for example.
More on Allred’s stance on marijuana policy.
Asked about his plans for veterans transitioning back to civilian life, who might be struggling with mental health issues, Allred said “[p]art of that care should be the legalization of medical marijuana and cannabis as a non-addictive alternative to opioids and to treat PTSD and other battlefield injuries.”
It is unfortunate that Pete Sessions refuses to acknowledge that medical marijuana can help our veterans coming back from war who are struggling with PTSD and chronic pain. https://t.co/NxpfE55Xzr
— Colin Allred (@ColinAllredTX) June 7, 2018
The candidate has also criticized Sessions for holding up cannabis legislation, writing it’s “unfortunate that Pete Sessions refuses to acknowledge that medical marijuana can help our veterans coming back from war who are struggling with PTSD and chronic pain.”
Senate Schedules Hearing On Marijuana Business Banking Access
In one of the clearest signs of marijuana reform’s growing momentum on Capitol Hill, a Republican-controlled Senate committee has scheduled a hearing for next week that will examine cannabis businesses’ lack of access to banking services.
The formal discussion in the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs on Tuesday comes as legislation aimed at resolving the marijuana industry’s financial services problems is gaining momentum. A House cannabis banking bill that cleared that chamber’s Financial Services Committee with a bipartisan vote in March now has 206 cosponsors—nearly half the body—while companion Senate legislation has 32 out of 100 senators signed on.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Congressman Files Marijuana Bill After Leaving Republican Party
In one of his first legislative acts since leaving the Republican Party earlier this month amid a feud with the president, Rep. Justin Amash (I-MI) filed a bill on Monday that would let states set their own marijuana policies without federal interference.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because bipartisan legislation that would accomplish the same goal has already been filed this Congress.
But unlike the nearly identical Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, Amash’s new bill excludes one provision that would require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study the effects of cannabis legalization on road safety and issue a report on its findings within a year of the law’s enactment.
That language states that the GAO must study “traffic crashes, fatalities, and injuries” in legal cannabis states, actions taken by those states to “address marihuana-impaired driving,” testing standards being used to detect impaired driving and federal initiatives “aiming to assist States that have legalized marihuana with traffic safety.”
Given Amash’s libertarian leanings, it stands to reason that he opposes spending government dollars to conduct the research and simply supports the broader states’ rights intent of the original legislation.
That would also put him at odds with social justice advocates who feel that the STATES Act itself doesn’t go far enough and are pushing for more comprehensive legislation that includes additional provisions addressing social equity and restorative justice for people harmed by drug law enforcement.
Members of the House Judiciary Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee heard that debate play out during a historic hearing on ending federal marijuana prohibition last week.
A newly formed coalition of civil rights and drug reform organizations, including the ACLU, is also insisting on passing wide-ranging legislation to deschedule cannabis entirely that also invests in communities that have been disproportionately impacted by prohibition.
Amash is a long-standing critic of the war on drugs and earlier this year signed on as a cosponsor of a separate bill that would federally deschedule marijuana. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, filed that legislation, which is also silent on social equity provisions.
— Justin Amash (@justinamash) March 8, 2019
Gabbard also introduced a separate bill that would require the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and other federal agencies to study the impacts of legalization. True to form, Amash declined to add his name to that measure as well.
Read the text of Amash’s new cannabis bill below:
Photo courtesy of Kyle Jaeger.
Berkeley City Council Considers Decriminalizing Psychedelics This Week
A resolution to decriminalize psilocybin and other psychedelics will go before a Berkeley, California City Council committee on Wednesday.
Decriminalize Nature, the group behind the measure, also led the charge to successfully get a measure decriminalizing entheogenic plants and fungi approved by the City Council in neighboring Oakland last month.
In Berkeley, the Public Safety Committee will discuss the proposal and can either decide to hold it for a future meeting or advance it to the full Council. The public is able to attend Wednesday’s special meeting and share their perspective on the resolution, but Decriminalize Nature stressed in a tweet that this “is a small meeting, so you do NOT need to attend.”
Is it time for #DecriminalizeNature #Berkeley? Agenda 4 at the public safety meeting this Wed. July 17, with the Decriminalize Nature team! This is a small meeting, so you do NOT need to attend. But if you live in Berkeley, write your City Council! https://t.co/gMSDkegMPU
— Decriminalize Nature (@DecrimNature) July 15, 2019
However, city residents are being encouraged to write to their Council members and urge them to vote in favor of the measure, which would codify that “no department, agency, board, commission, officer or employee of the city, including without limitation, Berkeley Police Department personnel, shall use any city funds or resources to assist in the enforcement of laws imposing criminal penalties for the use and possession of Entheogenic Plants by adults of at least 21 years of age.”
The resolution defines the covered substances as “plants and natural sources such as mushrooms, cacti, iboga containing plants and/or extracted combinations of plants similar to ayahuasca; and limited to those containing the following types of compounds: indoleamines, tryptamines, phenethylamines.”
Councilmembers Rigel Robinson and Cheryl Davila are sponsoring the resolution, which does not allow for commercial sales or manufacturing.
The lawmakers provided background information on the measure in a report to their colleagues and the mayor, describing the medical potential of various psychedelics as well as the success of decriminalization measures in Denver and Oakland.
“It is intended that this resolution empowers Berkeley residents to be able to grow their own entheogens, share them with their community, and choose the appropriate setting for their intentions instead of having to rely exclusively on the medical establishment, which is slow to adapt and difficult to navigate for many,” they wrote.
While efforts to eliminate criminal penalties associated with psilocybin and other psychedelics have so far centered in jurisdictions that have historically embraced marijuana legalization and broader drug reform, the conversation around decriminalizing psychedelics is spreading nationally.
Shortly after Oakland approved its measure, Decriminalize Nature received inquiries from activities in cities from across the country. The group has kept track of each city where organizers are pursuing decriminalization.
Nature lovers are organizing coast to coast (and Hawaii)! Is your city on the map? Connect to join with your local community, or if you have the motivation to propose a similar initiative in your city/town/county, let’s start growing! contact [email protected] #DNUSA pic.twitter.com/38UxLKK9RN
— Decriminalize Nature (@DecrimNature) July 2, 2019
On Monday, a conversation around changing laws governing psychedelics reared during a City Council meeting in Columbia, Missouri. One resident implored the body to take up a resolution to decriminalize the natural substances, pointing to their therapeutic benefits.
Councilmember Mike Trapp said that the student’s proposal should be considered and that a government advisory board on public health should provide input on the medical potential of psychedelics, describing it as “very promising.”