In one month, voters in two states will decide, among other things, what kind of marijuana policies they want for their communities.
New Jersey and Virginia are the only two states holding gubernatorial elections this year, and the major party nominees in both races have all called for some measure of marijuana law reform.
Here’s a look at where the candidates stand…
IN BRIEF: Democratic nominee Phil Murphy, a former U.S. ambassador to Germany, wants to make the Garden State the next to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana. Republican nominee, current Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno, opposes legalization but supports decriminalizing possession and expanding the state’s current medical cannabis law.
PHIL MURPHY – Democrat
Murphy included a call for legalization during his primary election victory speech in June.
“The criminalization of marijuana has only served to clog our courts and cloud people’s futures, so we will legalize marijuana,” he said. “And while there are financial benefits, this is overwhelmingly about doing what is right and just.” He also pledged in the speech to end mass incarceration and “eliminate prisons for profit.”
On his campaign website, Murphy pledges to “legalize marijuana so police can focus resources on violent crimes.”
In a gubernatorial candidates’ forum he said that while legalization will generate tax revenue, his primary reason for supporting the policy is “a social justice reason.” He also alleged that the administration of current Gov. Chris Christie (R) has “gummed up” the state’s medical cannabis program.
In a general election debate, he said that legalizing cannabis should be part of “comprehensive criminal justice reform” and described ending prohibition as a “social justice” issue, citing his role as a national NAACP board member.
In another general election debate, Murphy said decriminalization isn’t enough because “the drug industry stays underground, run by the same people and it’s unregulated, so therefore minors in particular are exposed to that. But set aside the fact you don’t earn the tax revenue, which is also a reality, the fact is it remains the wild west.”
Murphy made his support for legalization clear during his primary election campaign, and often tweeted about the issue.
NJ's marijuana laws cost $143M/yr & come w a 3:1 racial disparity in arrests. As gov, Phil will legalize/tax marijuana & break this cycle. https://t.co/DIm4nRV6JH
— Phil Murphy (@PhilMurphyNJ) June 16, 2017
"I will seek to legalize marijuana & eliminate the more than 24k low-level drug arrests that bog down the courts and hurt future prospects."
— Phil Murphy (@PhilMurphyNJ) February 27, 2017
— Phil Murphy (@PhilMurphyNJ) April 27, 2017
“I was never ‘hell no,’ but I’ve spent a lot of time on it. And I have, without question, come to a place where I wasn’t three and a half years ago,” Murphy said in a New York Times interview about his evolution on marijuana. “You can’t have that many young people of color doing time on stupid drug crimes.”
KIM GUADAGNO – Republican
During a primary debate this year, Guadagno made it clear that she opposes legalization but does support some cannabis reforms.
“I have personal experience about what exactly happens to somebody who drives while they’re high, which is why I would oppose legalization of marijuana,” she said, noting that her son went to college in Colorado. “Having said that, however, I completely agree that we should decriminalize it. Because no one should suffer because of the color of their skin or because of their social background or because they were picked up with a small quantity. What that quantity is is up for argument.”
On medical cannabis, Guadagno said the state should “streamline” access and “make it easier for people that have doctors’ notes to get it and we need to provide it to children that need it the most.”
But she said that full marijuana legalization would put the state at risk of federal interference.
In a gubernatorial candidates’ forum she said legalizing marijuana would “put a whole generation of children at risk” and that ending prohibition would give her 17-year-old son an “opportunity” to use cannabis.
During a general election debate, Guadagno said she is “wholly opposed” to ending prohibition, which she described as “legalizing drug dealers.” But she said decriminalization “would solve the social justice issue.” And she would “expand the medical marijuana program,” adding: “It’s onerous, it’s hard to work with, it’s not available to those it should be made available to.”
In another general election debate, she said she won’t legalize marijuana because she’s concerned about intoxicated driving and access to kids. “I don’t want our children, I don’t want our people to walk down the street and buy a pack of cigarettes and be drug dealers,” she said.
CONTEXT: Legislative leaders in New Jersey have indicated they are prepared to enact legalization as soon as a supportive governor is seated. Currently Gov. Chris Christie (R), who is term-limited and cannot run again, is one of the nation’s most prominent opponents of ending cannabis prohibition.
IN BRIEF: Democratic nominee, current Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam, supports decriminalizing marijuana and expanding medical cannabis access. Republican nominee Ed Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chairman, doesn’t support those outright changes but has said he supports policies that would reduce marijuana arrests as well as enacting a more limited expansion of the state’s current low-THC medical cannabis law.
RALPH NORTHAM – Democrat
Northam has made marijuana law reform a centerpiece of his campaign, often describing the issue in racial justice terms.
“We need to change sentencing laws that disproportionately hurt people of color. One of the best ways to do this is to decriminalize marijuana,” he wrote in a blog post early this year. “African Americans are 2.8 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession in Virginia. The Commonwealth spends more than $67 million on marijuana enforcement — money that could be better spent on rehabilitation.”
As a physician, Northam is “increasingly convinced by the data showing potential health benefits of marijuana, such as pain relief, drug-resistant epilepsy, and treatment for PTSD,” his campaign website says. “By decriminalizing it, our researchers can better study the plant so doctors can more effectively prescribe drugs made from it.”
The lieutenant governor also sent a letter to the Virginia State Crime Commission, which is currently conducting a review of the effects of potential marijuana decriminalization. “Virginia spends $67 million on marijuana enforcement – enough to open up another 13,000 pre-K spots for children,” Northam wrote. “African Americans are nearly 3 times as likely to get arrested for simple possession of marijuana and sentencing guidelines that include jail time can all too often begin a dangerous cycle of recidivism.”
During a debate, Notham mentioned that his father is a judge while making a point about the cost of enforcing marijuana laws.
Northam has tweeted about cannabis reform a number of times.
Decriminalizing marijuana would be a good step toward helping to correct systematic racism in our justice system. https://t.co/5R7YxBJi10
— Ralph Northam (@RalphNortham) July 27, 2017
African Americans are 2.8x more likely to be arrested for marijuana than white people. Marijuana decriminalization is a racial justice issue pic.twitter.com/kmKiWul1pE
— Ralph Northam (@RalphNortham) April 5, 2017
Current marijuana laws are costly and hurt communities of color. That’s why I believe in decriminalizing it. https://t.co/tVYs3hpwX0
— Ralph Northam (@RalphNortham) August 9, 2017
As Haley's doctor, Ralph knew that access to medical marijuana was one of her best chances at a better life. pic.twitter.com/03WaKSYWLc
— Ralph Northam (@RalphNortham) April 19, 2017
Additionally, Northam supports federal cannabis rescheduling. “What would happen after that is marijuana would be reclassified and then we can look at medicinal uses,” he told HuffPost. “And the point I like to make to people is there are probably around 100 or more medicines we use routinely that come from plants. And so there are many potential uses for marijuana.”
He also backs allowing hemp cultivation. “A Northam administration will support new efforts to bring Virginia products to market, including industrial hemp processing,” his campaign website says. “Several of our key public institutions, including Virginia State University, Virginia Tech, University of Virginia and James Madison University, are conducting field research on industrial hemp [and] Virginia could explore workarounds to increase access to hemp for private growers. Additionally, at the federal level, Ralph supports the removal of industrial hemp from the Controlled Substances Act of 1970… As part of Ralph’s economic development plan, he will continue efforts to recruit an industrial hemp processor for when then federal law changes.”
ED GILLESPIE – Republican
At the start of the campaign Gillespie wasn’t on record in favor of any changes to marijuana laws. But Northam’s reform advocacy, and the response it has generated, has apparently influenced the Republican to look more seriously at the issue.
Last month Gillespie rolled out a criminal justice reform plan that includes a “Three Strikes and You’re In” policy that would allow people arrested for marijuana possession to avoid criminal charges until their third police encounter.
“This policy will reduce the number of Virginians who enter the criminal justice system and help to get treatment to more people,” Gillespie’s plan says. “Data show significant racial disparities in marijuana charges, this policy will help address them by providing opportunities to avoid entry into the criminal justice system and encouraging people to get help and reconsider their choices.”
Under the policy, cannabis would not be formally decriminalized.
Gillespie’s plan also calls for modest expansion’s to the state’s limited low-THC medical cannabis law.
“Research proves that Virginians can benefit from certain uses of marijuana to help the treatment, pain management, and healing of certain severe conditions. We owe our fellow Virginians every chance of treating and managing certain significant conditions such as cancer and epilepsy,” it says. “Ed supports appropriate, limited, tightly regulated use of marijuana for medicinal purposes based in science and on medical trials.”
State Sen. Jill Vogel, Gillespie’s lieutenant governor running mate, previously introduced legislation to add new qualifying medical conditions under the law. “Expanding safe, legal access to CBD oil and medical marijuana for seriously ill patients gives doctors another option and ensures patients aren’t forced to choose between receiving treatment and following the law,” Vogel said. “I’m proud to have taken the lead in introducing legislation in Virginia’s Senate helping expand safe, legal access for patients in need and look forward to working with my party as an advocate for this much-needed policy reform.”
In an earlier Facebook Live chat, Gillespie said, “I think there has been a growing case for tightly regulated, strictly regulated medicinal marijuana.”
Gillespie also supports allowing hemp cultivation. “Industrial hemp is a cash crop and can be found in a variety of products such as paper construction materials, food, personal care items, rope, canvas and nutritional supplements,” his campaign website says. “Ed will work with the federal government, General Assembly and licensing boards to explore industrial hemp production as an option for Virginians.”
As a Republican, Gillespie argues he is best positioned to push the federal government to modernize its approach to hemp. “Given the science and the data that we have at this point, I would be one who would be able to work with the Trump administration to be able to make the case for Virginia being one of the areas where we should be able to establish some practices and procedures for us to be able to have commercial development for industrial hemp,” he said.
CONTEXT: Virginia lawmakers considered but did not act on decriminalization legislation during the 2017 session. However, with the State Crime Commission conducting its study of the issue by the request of the Senate majority leader, its possible recommendation of removing marijuana’s criminal penalties would likely provide a significant boost to efforts to pass a bill.
Election day in both New Jersey and Virginia is Tuesday, November 7.
Photo courtesy of Democracy Chronicles.
Bipartisan Lawmakers Tell DEA To Let Researchers Study Marijuana From Dispensaries
A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers from the House and Senate sent a letter to the Justice Department on Friday, requesting a policy change allowing researchers to access marijuana from state-legal dispensaries to improve studies on the plant’s benefits and risks.
The letter, led by Rep. Harley Rouda (D-CA) and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), cites feedback from federal health agencies, which have said that existing restrictions on cannabis have inhibited research. One problem in particular is that there’s only one federally authorized manufacturer of research-grade marijuana.
While the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said that it is in the process of approving additional manufacturers, it’s been more than three years since they first announced that applications for more growers would be accepted and, more recently, the agency said it would have to develop alternative rules to approve proposals that have been submitted.
“At the same time, the status quo does not address a barrier to research raised by both [the National Institutes of Health] and [the Food and Drug Administration],” the lawmakers wrote in the new letter. That barrier is a ban on researchers being able to obtain marijuana from dispensaries.
“Both agencies recommended that researchers should be able to obtain cannabis from state-legal sources,” the letter states.
Today, @SenBrianSchatz and I sent a bipartisan letter to AG Barr, urging the DEA to amend current policies to improve research on cannabis.
It’s time to bring our drug research policies into the 21st century.https://t.co/bfpPUhUvQf
— Rep. Harley Rouda (@RepHarley) December 6, 2019
Further, the lawmakers said that there are “problems in industry development of licensed drugs with data from products obtained from third-parties, such as the University of Mississippi.”
“In many states, cannabis law and regulations already provide for licensing of industrial manufacturing activities, and products are available for medical use in those states, but not for research leading to FDA licensure,” they wrote.
“There is a need for a greater diversity of cannabis products so that research on benefits and risks reflects the realities of what consumers and patients are using. NIH and FDA have strongly recommended streamlining the process for conducting research and product development activities with cannabis and other Schedule I substances, and that the DEA take action to assure that interpretations of processes and policies are universally applied in local DEA jurisdictions.”
The lack of chemical diversity in the federal government’s cannabis supply has been repeatedly pointed out. One study found that the research-grade cannabis is more similar to hemp than marijuana in commercial markets.
To resolve the research issues, the coalition made two recommendations: 1) to amend internal policy “so as to allow researchers with Schedule I licenses to obtain cannabis-derived products from state authorized dispensaries for research purposes” and 2) issue guidance clarifying that hemp researchers do not need a DEA license to obtain and study hemp because it was federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill.
The letter requests a response from DEA by December 20.
A total of 21 members of Congress signed the letter, including Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Cory Gardner (R-CO), along with Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Barbara Lee (D-CA) Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Joe Kennedy (D-MA).
“Our nation’s cannabis research laws are archaic,” Rouda said in a press release. “Forty-seven states have legalized some form of cannabis consumption—we must ensure our federal agencies and other licensed institutions can comprehensively study the benefits and risks of cannabis products.”
“I thank Senator Schatz, and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, for joining me to make this common-sense request,” he said. “It’s time to bring our drug research policies into the 21st century.”
Attorney General William Barr received a similar letter from lawmakers about the need to expand the number of federally authorized marijuana cultivators in April.
Read the lawmakers’ full letter on expanding marijuana research below:
Oregon Activists Begin Signature Gathering For 2020 Drug Decriminalization Initiative
Oregon activists have begun collecting signatures for a statewide initiative to decriminalize possession of all drugs.
Three months after petitioners quietly submitted the proposed ballot measure—titled the “Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act” (DATRA)—the signature gathering process has started, with organizers deployed to Portland to raise support.
A long road lies before the activists, who need to collect 112,020 valid signatures from voters in order to qualify for the 2020 ballot. Funding and polling will decide whether they mount a full push for the decriminalization measure in the months to come.
To that end, their efforts are being helped by David Bronner, CEO of the soap company Dr. Bronner’s, who told Marijuana Moment on Thursday that he will be investing $250,000 in the decriminalization campaign. An additional $500,000 will go to a separate Oregon initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes.
The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which backed Oregon’s successful marijuana legalization initiative in 2014, is also supporting this new effort to make low-level drug possession an infraction punishable by a $100 fine with no jail time, rather than a misdemeanor. It remains to be seen how involved in the campaign DPA will be, however.
Peter Zuckerman, a chief petitioner for the decriminalization initiative, told OregonLive on Thursday that it’s not guaranteed that the campaign will proceed and that much rides on how much money the group can raise, whether there’s public support for the reform move and how staff recruitment comes together.
He said the main thrust of the measure is to take a “health-based approach to drug addiction rather than a criminal justice-based approach.”
The proposal caught the attention of Oregon’s teachers’ union, which said that it supports decriminalizing drug possession but wrote in a comment submitted to the secretary of state in October that it was not taking an official position because it’s concerned about another provision that would shift cannabis tax revenue away from schools.
DATRA would make it so most of that revenue would be used to fund addiction treatment programs.
At the same time that activists are collecting signatures and weighing whether to move ahead with the broad decriminalization initiative, another advocacy group is pushing for a measure to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic use, allowing individuals to receive treatment with the psychedelic fungus at licensed health facilities. The group launched its signature drive in September.
Advocates in Portland are also hoping to advance a local measure to decriminalize psilocybin and other psychedelics such as ayahuasca and ibogaine.
Bronner wrote in a blog post that the decriminalization and therapeutic psilocybin legalization campaigns are “already coordinating closely and conserving resources on the statewide signature drive.”
He told Marijuana Moment that “we see this as the perfect one two punch in Oregon, legalizing psilocybin therapy that has so much promise for treating drug addiction, at the same time Oregon shifts to a treatment not jail approach.”
“And 100 percent confident it’s coming together,” he said.
All of this comes amid a national movement to decriminalize psychedelics, with activists in almost 100 cities across the U.S. considering pushing for reduced penalties for substances such as psilocybin and ayahuasca. Decriminalize Nature, which is aiding in and tracking these efforts, is also receiving donations from Bronner, he said.
Decriminalization is also gaining traction on the national stage, with two presidential candidates—South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI)—voicing support for the policy change. Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, another candidate, recently said that he’s open to broad decriminalization, while entrepreneur Andrew Yang backs decriminalizing opioids.
North Dakota Activists Submit Measure To Legalize Marijuana In 2020
North Dakota activists submitted a measure to legalize marijuana for adult use to state officials on Thursday, an organizer confirmed to Marijuana Moment.
Legalize ND, the group behind the proposed statutory initiative, delivered the measure to the secretary of state’s office. It’s expected to be validated within days, after which point petitions will be distributed to collect signatures in support of qualifying for the 2020 ballot.
It’s been about a year since organizers began working on the measure, which would allow adults 21 and older to possess and purchase cannabis for personal use. The proposal is more narrowly tailored than a legalization initiative from the same organization that voters rejected in 2018, however.
The previous version didn’t include any restrictions on cultivation or possession, and it didn’t involve a licensing scheme. By contrast, the new measure would prohibit home cultivation, limit possession to two ounces, impose a 10 percent excise tax and establish a regulatory body to approve licenses for marijuana businesses.
“One of the largest complaints from last time was the mantra of ‘poorly written,'” Legalize ND’s David Owen told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview. “They targeted the lack of legal experience from our team and they targeted a lack of ‘qualified lawyers’ to be drafting language that would go into the state’s statutory law.”
But he said he’s confident the campaign will be successful this time around, in part because they spent months drafting the language with the North Dakota Legislative Council.
Asked what he’d say to voters still on the fence about legalization, Owen replied that it would depend on what their initial concerns were:
“If it’s a concern over home grow, well it’s simple, we don’t have that anymore. If it’s a concern of people having too much, we have a reasonable possession limit now—in their eyes, I still think possession limits are fundamentally arbitrary, but they wanted a possession limit so we have that now. If people go, ‘well what about the quality of the language?’ I can point to how it’s literally written by Legislative Council, so either every attorney who works for the state of North Dakota is incompetent or this is well written.”
In order to qualify for next year’s ballot, the group must collect 13,452 valid signatures from voters before July 6, 2020.
“I think the most important thing isn’t what it would do, but what it would stop from happening,” Owen told local radio station KFGO on Wednesday. “We currently have a system where people are unable to find a job because of a criminal record, we have a system where people are continuing to get marijuana charges and lose their housing, we have families being separated because of parents losing custody over their children for marijuana charges. That all stops when this is legalized.”
Listen to Owen’s radio interview about the new marijuana ballot measure below:
Internal polling that received outside funding, which Owen said cannot be publicly released because of the wishes of the donor, shows the initiative is “slightly ahead” among voters.
In an earlier interview with Marijuana Moment in February, Owen said that it’s “very probable that we can do it” this time around, but much of that depended on the extent to which opposition campaigns are involved and how much funding outside groups are able to offer.
Currently, North Dakota has a medical cannabis program, and the governor signed legislation in May decriminalizing low-level marijuana possession.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.