When Texas voters hit the polls in November, they’ll face a choice between two U.S. Senate candidates who have significantly divergent views on marijuana and are facing off in one of the nation’s most-watched races, the result of which could determine whether Democrats or Republicans end up controlling Congress’s upper chamber.
Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) is taking on incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who is running for a second term. Polling reveals a surprisingly tight race—with O’Rourke behind by about four points on average—and while marijuana isn’t exactly center stage for either campaign, it’s clear how the candidates differ on the issue.
O’Rourke wants to end the federal prohibition of cannabis and create a legal, regulated system to deter youth consumption while stripping criminal enterprises of profits. He also supports expunging the criminal records of people who’ve been convicted of non-violent marijuana offenses.
When it comes to underage use, O’Rourke has voiced concerns about marijuana’s potential impact on cognitive development. In a road trip campaign video from last year, he said that all of the solutions to that problem were “bad,” but the “least bad” solution was legalization and regulation.
The congressman has also supported various pieces of marijuana-related legislation during his time in the House, including measures that would expand cannabis research, prevent federal interference in legal states and increase access to medical marijuana for veterans. He is also the lead sponsor of a bill that would repeal a law that reduces highway funding for states that don’t automatically suspend drivers licenses for people convicted of drug offenses.
Taken together, it’s no surprise that O’Rourke would receive an endorsement for his Senate run from NORML’s political action committee. In a press release, NORML PAC executive director Erik Altieri said the Democratic nominee “has been a true champion for abolishing our disastrous prohibition on marijuana since the very beginning of his political career as a city council member in El Paso.”
“As Senator, O’Rourke will be an outspoken and indispensable ally in reforming our federal laws relating to marijuana and fight to finally end our failed prohibitionist policies that are currently tearing apart families, oppressing communities of color, squandering countless tax dollars, and filling the coffers of criminal cartels.”
The organization gave O’Rourke a B+ grade in its congressional scorecard.
O’Rourke has been a vocal supporter of marijuana policy reform since years before he entered Congress, for example speaking at the 2009 International Drug Policy Reform Conference.
On a lighter note, O’Rourke made headlines this summer when he performed the marijuana-themed song “Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die” on stage with fellow Texan Willie Nelson.
O’Rourke has also found a friend in Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), another pro-legalization lawmaker who supports the congressman’s bid to de-seat Cruz.
My friend & colleague @BetoORourke understands what's at stake with dangerous & unfair marijuana policies. A message I've carried around the country, but nothing beats hearing it from a high profile candidate like Beto as he takes on Ted Cruz.https://t.co/oQPFyz2QZa
— Earl Blumenauer (@repblumenauer) August 30, 2018
Speaking of Cruz, the incumbent senator has taken a decidedly federalist approach to marijuana, saying that while he personally wouldn’t vote for any state referendum to legalize cannabis, he believes that it’s the “prerogative” of voters to decide on the issue at the state level without federal interference.
“The people of Colorado have made a different decision. I respect that decision.“
“It is an opportunity for the rest of the country to see what happens here in Colorado, what happens in Washington state, see the states implement the policies,” Cruz said in April 2016 in the midst of his ultimately unsuccessful campaign for the Republican presidential nomination that year. “If it works well, other states may choose to follow. If it doesn’t work well, other states may choose not to follow.”
And while Cruz has received a “C” grade from NORML for his hands-off position on state marijuana legalization efforts, he hasn’t signed his name onto a single piece of cannabis reform legislation during his time in the Senate.
He’s also attempted to undermine his opponent throughout the campaign by criticizing O’Rourke’s drug policy reform platform.
Specifically, the senator has taken comments O’Rourke made during his time as a member of the El Paso City Council out of context and leveraged those comments to suggest that his opponent supports legalizing all drugs, including heroin.
With opioids ravaging so many American communities, Congressman Beto O’Rourke's radical resolution to legalize all narcotics—including heroin and other deadly opioids—is looking worse and worse all the time: https://t.co/VdwaYMccMn #TXSen
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) May 1, 2018
The “radical resolution” Cruz referenced wasn’t actually a resolution in favor of legalization itself; rather, O’Rourke floated the idea of simply considering ending prohibition as an amendment to a 2009 City Council measure focused on curbing violence near the U.S.-Mexico border. PolitiFact rated Cruz’s tweet as “false.”
“It was an artless, and even inaccurate amendment to the larger resolution (I only learned later that marijuana is not a narcotic, even though it was precisely that drug that I felt people would be most open to debating), but it got the point across,” O’Rourke wrote in his 2011 book, Dealing Death and Drugs. He continued:
“I knew we were addressing a taboo topic, one that conventional wisdom dictated that only potheads, hard-core libertarians and political suicides ever brought up. But I also knew that Juarez had gone beyond the pale and it was time to place all options on the table, even those that had been unthinkable, for me as well as others, just a year ago.”
Even so, Cruz’s team put out a political ad that seems meant to look like O’Rourke personally endorses the legalization of all narcotics.
.@TedCruz also has a new TV ad contrasting his work on unemployment drug testing with @BetoORourke's 2009 comments about the war on drugs (Background: https://t.co/cLxvNdigIs). #txsen pic.twitter.com/leVOnazXaN
— Patrick Svitek (@PatrickSvitek) August 3, 2018
The ad also notes Cruz’s support for legislation mandating drug testing for individuals seeking federal unemployment benefits.
It’s not the first time O’Rourke’s push to debate legalization has been used by political opponents. But when former U.S. Rep. Sylvestre Reyes (D-TX) tried to convince voters that O’Rourke’s resolution amendment meant he was for legalizing all drugs during their 2009 Democratic primary race, it seemed to backfire.
Reyes had personally lobbied the El Paso City Council to defeat O’Rourke’s proposal, a move that angered the councilman so much that three years later he ran against the congressman in a Democratic primary.
Voters chose the challenger over the incumbent for the nomination, clearing the path for O’Rourke’s rise to Congress. Of course, a congressional primary election in a Democratic-leaning district in 2009 doesn’t exactly provide a clean parallel to a 2018 statewide Senate race in Texas, and Cruz seems to be betting that similar anti-drug messaging will serve him better in November than it did Reyes.
It’s not clear to what extent each candidate’s marijuana stance will influence how Texans vote in the midterm election, but there are a couple of things to keep in mind going into November. Sixty-one percent of Texas voters favor ending federal cannabis prohibition, compared to just 34 percent who oppose it, according to a 2018 Quinnipiac University survey.
Even the Texas Republican Party endorsed marijuana decriminalization and expansion of the state’s current limited medical cannabis law during their June conference.
And while Cruz’s federalist perspective on the issue distinguishes him from other hardline prohibitionists in Congress, it seems increasingly clear that even in red states like Texas, where no Democrat has been elected to statewide office in decades, marijuana has become a political mainstay.
Photo courtesy of Jurassic Blueberries.
Indiana GOP Lawmaker Plans Medical Marijuana Bill As Democrats Push Full Recreational Legalization
“It polls higher than any other issue. We’ve seen 38 other states step up and do the right thing for their citizens. We know it saves lives. We know it offers a better quality of life.”
By Margaret Menge, The Center Square
Democrats in Indiana have launched a campaign to legalize marijuana in the state and appealed to business-friendly Republicans to join to help the state’s economy.
There is some support from Republicans.
“I have a medical cannabis bill ready to go,” Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, said.
He said the bill will be similar to the one he introduced in the last session of the Indiana General Assembly, which would permit the use of medical marijuana by people with “serious medical conditions” as determined by a doctor, and would permit the “cultivation, testing, processing, transportation and dispensing” of medical marijuana by people who hold a valid permit issued by the state.
It also would put the Indiana Department of Health in charge of implementing and enforcing the medical marijuana program.
Indiana is one of just a handful of states that has not legalized medical marijuana.
“It polls higher than any other issue,” Lucas said. “We’ve seen 38 other states step up and do the right thing for their citizens. We know it saves lives. We know it offers a better quality of life.”
In 2016, the national American Legion, which is based in Indianapolis, called on Congress to remove marijuana from Schedule I of the federal Controlled Substances Act and reclassify it to “recognize cannabis as a drug with potential medical value.”
The Legion has also pushed for more research to be done on marijuana related to its potential in treating post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury among veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in particular.
The Indiana American Legion, however, has not taken a position on the issue, and did not discuss the bill Lucas introduced in the last session, spokesperson Josh Marshall said.
He said the issue would have to be reviewed by the organization’s executive committee before any action were taken on the issue in the upcoming session of the legislature, which begins January 3.
Meanwhile, Indiana Democrats are pushing to get the issue on the table.
Rep. Sue Errington, D-Muncie, is set to lead a “community talking circle” at a pizza place in Muncie today to hear from the public about legalizing medical marijuana.
“The reality is that medical cannabis is becoming an accepted and preferred method of treatment throughout the country,” Errington said in a statement from the Indiana House Democratic Caucus on November 29. “Medical cannabis is a safe, non-addictive alternative to opioids that could benefit Hoosiers who live with chronic pain and anxiety disorders, including our brave veterans who struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder. Those who have sacrificed so much for our state deserve an effective treatment for their pain, rather than a potential criminal record.”
Republicans hold a supermajority in both houses of the legislature and hold every statewide office. But legislative leaders—some of them—have appeared more open on the issue in recent years.
In 2018, the Republican floor leader in the Indiana House of Representatives, Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, authored a resolution calling for an interim study committee to research medical marijuana.
“Hoosiers rightfully want to know what direction Indiana will take,” he said at the time. “I believe it is wise of policymakers to carefully gather public and professional input.”
Lehman told Fox59 last month that he thinks there’s “always room for discussion” about medical marijuana, but that he thought the federal government would have to act first, before Indiana takes action.
DEA Backs White House Plan To Streamline Research On Marijuana, Psychedelics And Other Schedule I Drugs
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and National Institute On Drug Abuse (NIDA) say they are in favor of a White House proposal to streamline the process of researching Schedule I drugs like marijuana and certain psychedelics.
The agencies testified at a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on Thursday, expressing support for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) research plan. While the focus of the meeting was mostly on a controversial move to strictly classify fentanyl-related substances, the Biden administration proposal’s research components would also help address concerns within the scientific community about the difficulty of studying other Schedule I drugs.
DEA said in written testimony that “expanding access to Schedule I research is a critical part of DEA’s mission to protect public safety and health.”
“It is critical that the scientific and medical community study Schedule I substances, as some may turn out to have therapeutic value,” DEA Principal Deputy Administrator Louis Milione said. “DEA supports the administration’s legislative proposal’s expansion of access to Schedule I research. DEA looks forward to continuing to work with the research community and our interagency partners to facilitate Schedule I research.”
In general, what the administration is proposing is to align the research requirements for Schedule I drugs with those of less-restricted Schedule II drugs. Scientists and lawmakers have consistently pointed out that the existing rules for studying Schedule I controlled substances are excessively burdensome, limiting vital research.
Rather than having each scientist involved in a Schedule I drug study obtain DEA registration, ONDCP wants to make it so multiple researchers at a given institution would be allowed to participate under a single registration. The administration also proposed a policy change where a research institute with studies taking place over multiple locations would only require one overall registration instead of needing to have a specific one for each site.
Another change would allow certain researchers to move ahead with conducting their studies after submitting a notification to the Department of Justice instead of waiting for officials to affirmatively sign off on their proposals. ONDCP’s plan would also waive the requirement for additional inspections at research sites in some circumstances and allow researchers to manufacture small amounts of drugs without obtaining separate registrations. The latter component would not allow cultivation of marijuana, however.
“Even experienced researchers have reported that obtaining a new Schedule I registration, adding new substances to an existing registration, or getting approval for research protocol changes is time consuming,” NIDA Director Nora Volkow said in her testimony. “Unlike for Schedule II through V substances, new and amended Schedule I applications are referred by the DEA to the HHS for a review of the protocol and a determination of the qualifications and competency of the investigator.”
“Researchers have reported that sometimes these challenges impact Schedule I research and deter or prevent scientists from pursuing this critical work,” she said.
In an interview last week, Vokow said that even she—the top federal official overseeing drug research—is personally reluctant to conduct studies on Schedule I substances like marijuana because of the “cumbersome” rules that scientists face when investigating them.
When ONDCP first announced its proposed Schedule I policy changes in September, some experts tempered expectations about the practical effects of aligning Schedule I and Schedule II applications. The difference is largely a matter of extra paperwork for the more restrictive category, they contend.
Regardless, several lawmakers who attended Thursday’s subcommittee hearing expressed enthusiasm about the prospects of these policy changes.
“I’m particularly interested in eroding existing barriers of federal law that limit researchers at academic medical centers from studying Schedule I substances,” Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA) said. “So I’m grateful that our research agencies are working to find effective solutions.”
Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-CA) also weighed in, saying that “we all agree that the current scheduling classification system has made it very difficult for scientists to research the effects of scheduled compounds, which may have medicinal properties.”
“For example, we know that compounds in marijuana have legitimate and beneficial medical uses, despite it being Schedule I,” he said. “So I’m encouraged to see that efforts are being made to allow researchers to study the effects of various compounds. In this proposal.”
ONDCP’s intent to streamline research into Schedule I drugs has been notable and seems to be part of a theme that developed within the administration.
For example, DEA has repeatedly proposed significant increases in the production of marijuana, psilocybin and other psychedelics for research purposes, with the intent of aiding in the development of new federally approved therapeutic medications.
NIDA’s Volkow told Marijuana Moment in a recent interview that she was encouraged by DEA’s prior proposed increase in drug production quota. She also said that studies demonstrating the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics could be leading more people to experiment with substances like psilocybin.
But while the production developments are promising, advocates are still frustrated that these plants and fungi remain in the strictest drug category in the first place, especially considering the existing research that shows their medical value for certain conditions.
There has been at least one recent development in the fight to modernize marijuana research. President Joe Biden signed a massive infrastructure bill last month that includes provisions aimed at allowing researchers to study the actual cannabis that consumers are purchasing from state-legal dispensaries instead of having to use only government-grown cannabis.
But that’s just one of numerous research barriers that scientists have identified. A report that NIDA recently submitted to Congress stressed that the Schedule I status of controlled substances like marijuana is preventing or discouraging research into their potential risks and benefits.
A federal appeals court recently dismissed a petition to require the DEA to reevaluate cannabis’s scheduling under the Controlled Substances Act. However, one judge did say in a concurring opinion that the agency may soon be forced to consider a policy change anyway based on a misinterpretation of the therapeutic value of marijuana.
Meanwhile, DEA has given hemp businesses that sell delta-8 THC products a boost, with representatives making comments recently signaling that, at the federal level at least, it’s not a controlled substance at this time.
Separately, the Washington State attorney general’s office and lawyers representing cancer patients recently urged a federal appeals panel to push for a DEA policy change to allow people in end-of-life care to access psilocybin under state and federal right-to-try laws.
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.
Ohio GOP Lawmakers File New Marijuana Legalization Bill
A pair of Ohio Republican lawmakers on Thursday filed a bill to legalize marijuana in the state. The move comes as activists are nearing completion of the first phase of their signature drive for a cannabis legalization initiative.
Reps. Jamie Callender (R) and Ron Ferguson (R) first announced their plan to push the legislative reform proposal in October and circulated a co-sponsorship memo to build support for the measure. Now they’re moving ahead with formal introduction of the “Ohio Adult Use Act.”
The bill would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to 50 grams of cannabis. They could also grow up to six plants, only three of which could be mature, for personal use.
Gifting up to 25 grams of marijuana between adult consumers without remuneration would also be permitted.
Adult-use cannabis products would be taxed at 10 percent. After covering administrative costs, tax revenue would be distributed as follows: 50 percent to the state general fund, 25 percent to combat illicit drug trafficking and 25 percent for substance misuse treatment programs.
The state Department of Commerce would be responsible for regulating the new adult-use marijuana and existing medical cannabis program and issuing business licenses through a new Division of Marijuana Control.
Regulators would be limited to approving one retail cannabis dispensary license per 60,000 residents in the state up until January 1, 2027. After that point, the department would would be required to review the program on “at least a biennial basis” to see if more licensees are needed.
The legislation does not contain specific provisions to promote social equity by expunging prior cannabis convictions or prioritizing licensing for communities most impacted under prohibition. That’s despite Callender saying in October that there would be a pathway for expungements “for folks that have prior convictions that would be not illegal after the passage of this bill.”
A spokesperson in the lawmaker’s office told Marijuana Moment that while those components weren’t included in this introduced version, “it is still the plan to add any needed language on the subject once we get it to committee.”
“Conversations on modifications are continuing but with Thanksgiving here and the end of the year approaching, we wanted to get the ball rolling with introduction,” he said.
Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.
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There is at least one equity-related provision to require regulators to conduct a study prior to issuing adult-use licenses “to determine whether there has been prior discrimination in the issuance of marijuana-related licenses in this state, including whether the effects of marijuana prohibition have contributed to a lack of participation by racial or ethnic minorities in the medical marijuana industry in this state.”
If the study does find evidence of discrimination, the department “shall take necessary and appropriate actions to address and remedy any identified discrimination when issuing licenses.”
Under the bill, employers would still be able to enforce anti-drug policies without accommodating workers who use cannabis in compliance with the state law.
The measure would also expand the amount of acreage that licensed cultivators could use to grow cannabis from what is allowed now under the medical marijuana program.
Further, the legislation includes a section that would have the state formally endorse a congressional bill to deschedule marijuana that’s sponsored by Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH).
A separate state legalization bill that was the first of its kind to be introduced in the Ohio legislature earlier this year would similarly legalize the possession, sale and cultivation of cannabis by adults. It’s being championed by Reps. Casey Weinstein (D) and Terrence Upchurch (D), and it does include expungement provisions.
A recent legislative survey found that Republican lawmakers in the state are more supportive of legalizing marijuana than their Democratic colleagues are.
But leadership in the legislature, as well as Gov. Mike DeWine (R), will likely present obstacles for any recreational legalization bill that advances.
House Speaker Robert Cupp (R) laughed when he was asked about Callender’s legislation after its initial announcement, though he added, “Let’s just see where it goes. I haven’t read it yet.”
Callender said that although Republican legislative leaders and the governor are not yet on board, “there is more bipartisan support than most people would think.”
Meanwhile, Ohio activists recently said that they would have enough signatures to force the legislature to consider legalizing marijuana by the end of November. And Weinstein said he feels the citizen-led effort could help build momentum for a legislative approach to ending prohibition.
While it’s only been a few months since Ohio officials cleared the campaign to collect signatures for its measure, Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol spokesperson Tom Haren said that the initial wave of signature gathering “will be completed probably about the end of November.” There’s yet to be an announcement as to whether they succeeded in that timeline.
The measure that legislators would then be required to consider would legalize possession of up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis for adults 21 and older, and they could also have up to 15 grams of marijuana concentrates. Individuals could grow up to six plants for personal use, with a maximum 12 plants per household.
Activists must collect 132,887 valid signatures from registered voters for the statutory initiative during this first phase of the effort. If they succeed, the legislature will then have four months to adopt the measure, reject it or adopt an amended version. If lawmakers do not pass the proposal, organizers will then need to collect an additional 132,887 signatures to place the proposal before voters on the ballot in November 2022.
Further demonstrating the appetite for reform in Ohio, voters in seven cities approved ballot measures to decriminalize marijuana possession during last month’s election.
Ohio marijuana activists have also successfully proved that they turned in enough valid signatures to put a local decriminalization initiative before Kent voters after having missed the 2021 ballot due to a verification error on the part of county officials.
Separately, Ohio senators recently filed a bill to expand the state’s medical cannabis program, in party by allowing physicians to recommend marijuana if they “reasonably” believe it could benefit the patient.
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.