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Marijuana In The Governor’s Mansion: Record Number Of Candidates Say Legalize It

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As polls continue to show that a growing majority of voters support legalizing marijuana, more and more politicians are beginning to embrace the issue, and this year’s midterm elections provide the latest datapoint in the ongoing evolution of cannabis into a mainstream political issue.

At least 21 major party gubernatorial nominees on U.S. ballots this year support legalizing cannabis, a new Marijuana Moment analysis finds. That’s far more than have embraced marijuana law reform than in any previous election cycle.

Some of the candidates listed below support legalization more forcefully than others. While some have made cannabis reform a centerpiece of their campaigns, others seemed to embrace ending prohibition only reluctantly or when pressed on the issue.

Beyond those would-be governors who are calling for a complete end to marijuana prohibition, a large number of additional contenders support reforms like decriminalization or medical marijuana, and others say they are open to legalization at some point.

While the two sitting governors listed below who have actually signed marijuana legalization bills into law are Republicans, this review found that Democratic contenders are much more likely to support cannabis reform than are GOP candidates, perhaps a reflection of the fact that while a bare majority of Republican voters now support ending prohibition, registered Democrats have been more strongly in favor for a longer period of time, according to polls.

This analysis focuses on major party candidates who have made their positions on marijuana clear over the course of their primary and general election campaigns, and doesn’t include a comprehensive look at the records of every single contender in each of the 39 gubernatorial races in states and U.S. territories this year.

Gubernatorial Candidates Who Support Legalizing Marijuana

California – Gavin Newsom (D)

As the state’s lieutenant governor, Newsom became one of the first prominent mainstream Democrats to endorse legalization when he told the New York Times in 2012 that “these laws just don’t make sense anymore” and “it’s time for politicians to come out of the closet on this.”

He later empaneled a blue ribbon commission on cannabis whose report informed the drafting of the state’s successful 2016 legalization ballot measure, for which Newsom actively campaigned.

He has since taken a forceful stance in response to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s rescission of Obama-era protections for state marijuana laws, signaling that he would vigorously fight any federal move to interfere with California’s legalization policies.


Colorado – Jared Polis (D)

As a congressman since 2009, Polis has consistently been one of the most active cannabis reform supporters on Capitol Hill, sponsoring or cosponsoring dozens of marijuana-related bills and amendments concerning issues like banking access, fair taxation, hemp and military veterans’ access to medical cannabis.

While he did not publicly campaign for the state’s marijuana legalization measure prior to its passage in 2012, he has since embraced it wholeheartedly.

During the course of his gubernatorial campaign, he has toured several marijuana and hemp businesses.


Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands – Ralph Torres (R)

Torres, the incumbent governor, signed a marijuana legalization bill into law in September.

“Today, our people made history,” he said at the time. “We took a stand to legalize marijuana in the CNMI for recreational, medical, and commercial use.”


Connecticut – Ned Lamont (D)

A businessman and previous U.S. Senate candidate, Lamont says legalizing marijuana is “an idea whose time has come.”

He also said that cannabis is “not a gateway drug compared to opioids” and that he’d use tax revenue from legal sales to fund drug treatment programs.


Florida – Andrew Gillum (D)

The Tallahassee mayor said during his successful primary campaign that he was “proud to be the first candidate in this race to support legalizing marijuana.”

Gillum sent a blast to his email list proposing to fund teacher salary raises with legal marijuana tax revenue.

“We could raise anywhere from $900 million to $1 billion in new annual revenue — and that doesn’t include new economic activity from people no longer incarcerated for simple possession crimes, or low-level marijuana offenses,” he wrote in a separate blog post.

One of his campaign ads flashed the words “legalize marijuana” on screen along with other policy proposals.


Georgia – Stacey Abrams (D)

The former minority leader of the state House of Representatives confirmed in a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session that she’s a “yes” on legalizing marijuana, adding that “this includes building a statewide network of mental health and substance abuse treatment centers.”

Abrams also backs decriminalizing marijuana possession.

And she wants to expand the state’s limited medical cannabis program.


Idaho – Paulette Jordan (D)

While Jordan, a former state legislator and tribal council member, has focused more on decriminalization and medical cannabis during her campaign, she does support full marijuana legalization.

During a Democratic primary debate, she said there’s “nothing wrong” with legalization

Addressing legalization in a Facebook Live interview with the Idaho Statesman (roughly 10 minutes into the video below), she said, “the numbers that have been very beneficial to other states when it comes down to resources for education.”


Illinois – J.B. Pritzker (D)

A billionaire venture capitalist, Pritzker made supporting marijuana legalization a centerpiece of his gubernatorial primary campaign and has since continued to focus on the issue amidst his general election battle with incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner (R).

“We can begin by immediately removing one area of racial injustice in our criminal justice system,” he said during his primary night victory speech. “Let’s legalize, tax and regulate marijuana.”

Earlier this year he held a press conference outside of a medical cannabis dispensary to push back on anti-marijuana signals coming from the Trump administration.

“I also support legalizing and taxing recreational use of marijuana, which is estimated to generate as much as $700 million a year for the state,” he wrote in a candidate questionnaire. “No more studies are needed to show it’s time for Illinois to safely move forward and legalize marijuana. As governor, I will modernize drug laws and move Illinois towards a criminal justice system that gives all Illinoisans a chance to reach their full potential.”

Pritzker has also highlighted racial disparities in cannabis enforcement.

“Criminalizing marijuana hasn’t made our communities safer, but has disproportionately impacted black and brown communities,” he said. “The criminalization of cannabis never has been and never will be enforced fairly, and it’s time to bring that to an end. To right past wrongs, we also have to commute sentences of people in prison who are there for marijuana offenses.”


Maine – Janet Mills (D)

Currently the state attorney general, Mills said that “properly implemented, marijuana legalization has the potential to create thousands of jobs, grow the Maine economy, and end an outdated war on drugs.”

In light of the fact that Maine voters already approved legal cannabis in 2016, she has joined officials from other states in “calling on Congress to allow banks and credit unions to serve state-licensed marijuana businesses without penalty, ending the cash-based shadow economy that still haunts states who have legalized marijuana,” she said.


Maryland – Ben Jealous (D)

The former NAACP president and CEO says comedian Dave Chappelle, a childhood friend, first convinced him to support ending marijuana prohibition.

If elected, Jealous plans to use legal cannabis tax revenue to fund universal pre-kindergarten.

“It’s a great win-win,” he said in an interview with Marijuana Moment. “And it’s rare in politics, but it’s also urgently needed. We know that we have to end mass incarceration—and yet go further. We have to really get back to opening up the gates of opportunity for all of our children. And by legalizing cannabis, we get to make progress on both fronts.”


Massachusetts – Jay Gonzalez (D)

The former state secretary of administration and finance says that the “people have spoken and we have an obligation as a state to implement the [legal marijuana] law as passed by the voters,” adding that it should be done “quickly” but in a way that keeps “public safety at the forefront.”

Calling federal interference with state marijuana policies “a problem,” he said that “our governor should be standing up vociferously and advocating against” any intervention with the commonwealth’s cannabis laws.

He also supports requiring insurance programs to cover medical cannabis.


Michigan – Gretchen Whitmer (D)

The former state lawmaker says she will vote “yes” on the marijuana legalization measure on Michigan’s November ballot.

Whitmer says that she also supported the state’s medical cannabis ballot measure in 2008 and that it can be used an an “exit drug” away from opioids.


Minnesota – Tim Walz (D)

The sitting congressman wants to “replace the current failed policy with one that creates tax revenue, grows jobs, builds opportunities for Minnesotans, protects Minnesota kids, and trusts adults to make personal decisions based on their personal freedoms.”

He even tweeted his support for legalization on April 20, the unofficial cannabis holiday.

A Walz proposal to encourage the Department of Veterans Affairs to study the benefits of medical cannabis for  military veterans became the first-ever standalone marijuana bill to be approved by a congressional committee earlier this year.

He has also pushed back against potential federal intervention in state marijuana laws.


Nevada – Steve Sisolak (D)

The Clark County commissioner has pledged to continue implementing the state’s voter-approved legal marijuana law, with a special emphasis on steering tax revenues toward education.

“It’s done a lot for our economy, both in terms of jobs and in tax revenue,” he said in a podcast appearance.

“The reality is, this is the future,” he said in another interview. “Let’s not be ashamed of it.”

Sisolak has also spoken at a number of cannabis events and even appeared at the grand opening of a marijuana dispensary.


New Hampshire – Molly Kelly (D)

“It’s also time for New Hampshire to join other New England states in legalizing, regulating and generating revenue from marijuana,” the former state senator says on her campaign website.

During a debate with incumbent Gov. Chris Sununu (R), who signed marijuana decriminalization into law but opposes broader legalization, Kelly argued that cannabis is not a gateway drug.

“I do support legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana,” she said. “It is not a gateway to other drugs. In fact, I believe that legalizing and regulating marijuana will bring it out of the dark and away from drug dealers.”


New Mexico – Michelle Lujan Grisham (D)

The current congresswoman has spoken in support of legalization during debates and elsewhere on the campaign trial, arguing that cannabis is “not a gateway drug.”

Arguing during one debate that legalization would bring “hundreds of millions of dollars to New Mexico’s economy,” Lujan Grisham said she would be “inclined to sign” a bill as long as it effectively regulates edibles, fosters workplace safety, limits underage consumption and protects the current medical cannabis program.

“The states that have gone to recreational marijuana have been very clear that it’s an economic boost for their states,” she said.

She has also focused on medical cannabis as an alternative to opioids.

In Congress, Lujan Grisham voted several times for amendments to shield state medical marijuana programs from federal interference, as well as a broader proposal to protect recreational laws.

And she proudly touted an endorsement from the pro-legalization Drug Policy Alliance.


New York – Andrew Cuomo (D)

The incumbent governor, who was calling marijuana a “gateway drug” as recently as last year, changed his mind about legalization in a big way over the course of 2018.

Facing a vigorous primary election challenge from the pro-legalization actor Cynthia Nixon, Cuomo revised his approach—whether as a result of political necessity or genuine personal evolution on the topic.

Early in the year, noting that neighboring states are moving to end prohibition, the governor directed the New York Health Department to undergo a study of legalization, the result of which was a report that concluded the “positive effects” of ending cannabis prohibition “outweigh the potential negative impacts.”

More recently, Cuomo’s administration held a series of listening sessions on marijuana throughout the state to receive feedback from the public. And more consequentially, the governor appointed a working group to draft cannabis legalization legislation for lawmakers to consider in 2019

It’s true that Cuomo hasn’t yet explicitly stated, “I support legalizing marijuana,” but his evolution on the issue is clear, and his moves as governor this year—in particular his directive for a panel to actually write a legalization bill to be voted in the next legislative session—have carved a path for the state to be among the next to end prohibition.


Ohio – Richard Cordray (D)

While the former state attorney general and head of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has been reluctant to embrace marijuana reform for most of the campaign, he did finally say he’d personally vote for a legalization measure when pressed during a debate.

“When it goes to the ballot, I will cast my vote yes to legalize it,” he said.

Cordray previously had spoken about improving implementation of the state’s medical cannabis law and said that he would implement the will of voters if they approved legalization on the ballot. But he also distanced himself from a failed 2015 measure that was opposed even by many legalization advocates who were concerned with its provisions granting control of cultivation to the same investors who paid to put it on the ballot.

“As Governor, Rich Cordray will fix the botched implementation of Ohio’s medical marijuana program to ensure that patients have access to the medicine they need in a safe and affordable manner,” a campaign spokesperson told Marijuana Moment in an interview earlier this year. “He also thinks that the last marijuana ballot referendum failed partly because it was a flawed proposal. He supports voters’ right to propose a new referendum and will follow the will of the voters if it comes to a vote.”

Cordray has also talked about medical cannabis as an alternative to opioids.


Oregon – Kate Brown (D)

The incumbent governor has pushed back against federal threats to interfere with the legalization law that her state’s voters approved in 2014, saying that it has created a “thriving economy.”

“We are implementing the will of the voters here in a way that is successful for the economy,” she said in a press conference earlier this year. “The priority of the policy is to keep our children safe and to make sure that we keep marijuana off the black markets. It’s been successful here. We want to continue that path.”

“This is a job creator for Oregon,” she added.


Vermont – Christine Hallquist (D)

The former CEO of the Vermont Electric Cooperative wants to expand the state’s existing noncommercial legalization of marijuana to allow for regulated and taxed sales.

“We don’t know where our marijuana is coming from, what it’s been grown with, or what it’s been sprayed with,” she said during a debate with incumbent Gov. Phil Scott (R), who signed the limited legalization bill into law but is wary of adding commercial cannabis sales. “Worse yet, you could see situations like New York, where it’s cut with other things of addictive and dangerous properties.”

In an interview with Heady Vermont, Hallquist pledged to “work with the legislature to ensure that a tax and regulate system was passed into law in my first term.”

Hallquist said she wants to use legal cannabis tax revenue to pay for water quality programs.


Vermont – Phil Scott (R)

The incumbent governor isn’t exactly a marijuana policy reform enthusiast, but he did sign a bill into law earlier this year that allows Vermonters to legally grow, possess and use small amounts of cannabis.

For now, Scott opposes going further by adding legal sales, and seemed to only reluctantly sign the noncommercial legalization bill after previously vetoing an earlier version.

Still, he gets pro-legalization credit for being the first governor in the nation’s history to put his name on a bill to end cannabis prohibition; all other states that have legalized so far have done so via ballot measures that didn’t require gubernatorial action.


Other Candidates Who Don’t Support Full Legalization Still Back Some Cannabis Reforms

A number of other major-party nominees who aren’t ready to endorse legalization have said that they have an open mind on the issue or are already in support of simple marijuana decriminalization or allowing medical cannabis.

In Alabama, Democrat Walt Maddox is in favor of medical cannabis and wants to study the effects of marijuana legalization in other states. “There’s going to be a lot of data over the next years that’s going to be collected so that if and we can potentially move forward with this, we do so in a thoughtful, strategic way,” he said.

Maddox also backs decriminalizing marijuana.

Georgia Republican candidate Brian Kemp opposes legalization but is “open and supportive” of expanding the state’s limited medical cannabis program.

In Kansas, Democrat Laura Kelly supports medical cannabis.

Nebraska Democratic candidate Bob Krist said that legalizing medical cannabis is “is right on top of my list.”

Drew Edmondson, the Democratic candidate in Oklahoma, says he voted for the state’s successful medical cannabis ballot measure but that he doesn’t believe the state is ready for full legalization.

In Pennsylvania, incumbent Gov. Tom Wolf (D) says the state isn’t quite ready to legalize, but he signed medical cannabis into law and supports decriminalizing marijuana possession.

In Rhode Island, incumbent Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) and Republican challenger Allan Fung say they are both open to legalization, even if they don’t currently endorse it. Fung said he would put the question on the ballot for voters to decide.

South Carolina Democratic contender James Smith supports legalizing medical cannabis and has sponsored legislation to do so as a state representative.

Karl Dean, the Democratic candidate in Tennessee, said he would sign medical marijuana into law.

In Texas, incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott (R) expressed support for some form of marijuana decriminalization during a recent debate with Democratic challenger Lupe Valdez, who backs medical cannabis expansion as well as putting a referendum on full marijuana legalization before voters.

Wisconsin Democratic nominee Tony Evers says he’s “not opposed to” legalization. “I’d support it,” he said, “but I do believe there has to be a more thoughtful, rigorous conversation around it as a state. So I would love to have a statewide referendum on this.”

During a debate with incumbent Gov. Scott Walker (R), who opposes cannabis reform, Evers noted the fact that nearly half the state’s residents will vote on nonbinding marijuana advisory questions this year and said he is “willing to take a look at that, the results of those referenda and possibly support legalization.” In the meantime, he supports decriminalization and his website says he “would support and sign medical marijuana legalization legislation.”

Wyoming Democratic candidate Mary Throne voted for marijuana decriminalization as a state lawmaker and also supports medical cannabis.


What Does It Mean? Marijuana Is Mainstream

It is a near certainty that America will have more pro-legalization governors when new state legislative sessions convene next year. That means that legislators will be more likely to invest time into drafting, hearing and voting on marijuana bills to send to governors’ desks.

While a growing number of Republican voters—and as a consequence, GOP politicians—are beginning to embrace cannabis reform, it is now clear that supporting full marijuana legalization is a mainstream consensus position in the Democratic Party. And that will have implications as the 2020 presidential race heats up in earnest immediately following the midterms.

In the meantime, several states will consider far-reaching cannabis ballot measures on Election Day, the political effects of which are likely to spill over into neighboring states and embolden once-skittish lawmakers to tackle marijuana legislation.

This piece was first published by Forbes.

Photo courtesy of Nicholas C. Morton.

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.

Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 20-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (Organization citations are for identification only and do not constitute an endorsement or partnership.)

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Congressman Files New Marijuana Banking Reform Amendment To Large-Scale House Bill

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The House sponsor of a bill to protect banks that work with state-legal marijuana businesses announced on Friday that he is seeking to attach an amendment containing the reform to a broader bill dealing with research and innovation in the tech and manufacturing sectors.

Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), sponsor of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, has expressed interest in finding another vehicle to pursue his proposal after it was stripped from a separate defense bill late last year. The congressman’s legislation has cleared the House in five forms at this point, only to stall in the Senate.

His latest attempt to get the reform enacted is by filing an amendment with the SAFE Banking language to the America COMPETES Act, which does not deal specifically with cannabis issues as drafted but was introduced in the House this week.

“Cannabis-related businesses—big and small—and their employees are in desperate need of access to the banking system and access to capital in order to operate in an efficient, safe manner and compete in the growing global cannabis marketplace,” Perlmutter, who is retiring from Congress after this session and committed to passing his bill first, said in a press release.

“The SAFE Banking Act is the best opportunity to enact some type of federal cannabis reform this year and will serve as the first of many steps to help ensure cannabis businesses are treated the same as any other legal, legitimate business,” he said. “I will continue to pursue every possible avenue to get SAFE Banking over the finish line and signed into law.”

It remains to be seen whether the America COMPETES Act will serve as a more effective vehicle for the cannabis banking bill than the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), where the language was successfully attached on the House side but later removed amid bicameral negotiations. Perlmutter said at the time that Senate leadership, which is working on comprehensive legalization legislation, was to blame for the decision to remove his amendment from the proposal.

The new SAFE Banking Act amendment will still need to be made in order by the House Rules Committee in order to be formally be considered on the House floor when the body takes up the research and innovation package. The deadline to file amendments was Friday, and the panel is set to take them up starting on Tuesday.

Even some Republicans are scratching their heads about how Democrats have so far failed to pass the modest banking reform with majorities in both chambers and control of the White House. For example, Rep. Rand Paul (R-KY) criticized his Democratic colleagues over the issue last month.

In the interim, federal financial regulator Rodney Hood—a board member and former chairman of the federal National Credit Union Administration (NCUA)—recently said that marijuana legalization is not a question of “if” but “when,” and he’s again offering advice on how to navigate the federal-state conflict that has left many banks reluctant to work with cannabis businesses.

Ohio Lawmakers Will Be Forced To Consider Marijuana Legalization As State Validates Activist Signatures

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Ohio Lawmakers Will Be Forced To Consider Marijuana Legalization As State Validates Activist Signatures

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Ohio activists have collected enough signatures to force the legislature to take up the issue of marijuana legalization, the secretary of state’s office confirmed on Friday.

This comes about two weeks after the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CTRMLA) submitted a final round of signatures for the measure. The petitions’ formal validation triggers the legislative review of legalization, but it does not require lawmakers to enact the reform.

The legislature now has four months to consider the campaign’s cannabis reform proposal. Lawmakers can adopt the measure, reject it or pass an amended version. If they do not pass the measure, organizers can then collect an additional 132,887 valid signatures from registered voters to place the issue on the ballot in November.

CTRMLA previously submitted petitions for the initiative but the state said they were short some 13,000 signatures, requiring activists to go back and make up the difference.

“We are ready and eager to work with Ohio legislators over the next four months to legalize the adult use of marijuana in Ohio,” CTRMLA spokesman Tom Haren said in a press release. “We are also fully prepared to collect additional signatures and take this issue directly to voters on November 8, 2022, if legislators fail to act.”

The measure that lawmakers will 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.

A 10 percent sales tax would be imposed on cannabis sales, with revenue being divided up to support social equity and jobs programs (36 percent), localities that allow adult-use marijuana enterprises to operate in their area (36 percent), education and substance misuse programs (25 percent) and administrative costs of implementing the system (three percent).

A Division of Cannabis Control would be established under the state Department of Commerce. It would have authority to “license, regulate, investigate, and penalize adult use cannabis operators, adult use testing laboratories, and individuals required to be licensed.”

The measure gives current medical cannabis businesses a head start in the recreational market. Regulators would need to begin issuing adult-use licenses to qualified applicants who operate existing medical operations within nine months of enactment.

The division would also be required to issue 40 recreational cultivator licenses and 50 adult-use retailer licenses “with a preference to applications who are participants under the cannabis social equity and jobs program.” And it would authorize regulators to issue additional licenses for the recreational market two years after the first operator is approved.

Individual municipalities would be able to opt out of allowing new recreational cannabis companies from opening in their area, but they could not block existing medical marijuana firms even if they want to add co-located adult-use operations. Employers could also maintain policies prohibiting workers from consuming cannabis for adult use.

Further, regulators would be required to “enter into an agreement with the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services” to provide “cannabis addiction services,” which would involve “education and treatment for individuals with addiction issues related to cannabis or other controlled substances including opioids.”

With respect to social equity, some advocate are concerned about the lack of specific language on automatic expungements to clear the records of people with convictions for offenses that would be made legal under the legislation. That said, it does include a provision requiring regulators to “study and fund” criminal justice reform initiatives including expungements.

Ohio voters rejected a 2015 legalization initiative that faced criticism from many reform advocates because of an oligopolistic model that would’ve granted exclusive control over cannabis production to the very funders who paid to put the measure on the ballot.

Activists suspended a campaign to place another measure on the 2020 ballot due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Aside from the new voter initiative, state lawmakers from both parties are separately working to advance marijuana reform.

A legalization bill that was the first of its kind to be introduced in the Ohio legislature last year would legalize the possession, sale and cultivation of cannabis by adults. It’s being championed by Reps. Casey Weinstein (D) and Terrence Upchurch (D).

A pair of Ohio Republican lawmakers similarly filed a bill to legalize marijuana in the state in December. 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.

There are also additional local reform efforts underway in Ohio for 2022.

After voters in seven cities approved ballot measures to decriminalize marijuana possession during last November’s election—which builds on a slew of previous local reforms in the state—campaigns are now looking to enact decriminalization in Marietta, Rushville, Rutland, Shawnee, McArthur and Laurelville.

Ohio marijuana activists already 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. That measure is now expected to go before voters this November.

Top Federal Drug Official Says Marijuana Use ‘Stable’ Among Youth At Prohibitionist-Hosted Panel Sponsored By D.A.R.E.

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Top Federal Drug Official Says Marijuana Use ‘Stable’ Among Youth At Prohibitionist-Hosted Panel Sponsored By D.A.R.E.

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A top federal drug official participated in a panel hosted by a prohibitionist group and sponsored by D.A.R.E.—and she again reiterated that data shows youth marijuana use has remained stable “despite the legalization in many states.”

While National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow expressed concerns about certain cannabis trends related to potency, commercialization and use by pregnant women, she affirmed that surveys funded by her own federal agency have demonstrated that adolescent marijuana use is “stable,” despite repeated arguments from prohibitionists that legalization would lead more young people to experiment with cannabis.

The event was hosted by Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), an anti-legalization group. SAM President Kevin Sabet and the organization’s co-founder former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) led the discussion.

Sabet said that data on youth use has showed varying results in states that have legalized cannabis and asked Volkow to weigh in on the issue. She replied that federal data “have not been able to see large differences in terms of prevalence” of cannabis consumption among young people in legal and non-legal states.

The official made similar comments in an interview with Marijuana Moment late last year.

That said, Volkow said that they have seen some differences when it comes to consumption rates among adolescents for edible cannabis products.

“But the effects are not large, and one of the things that also certainly surprised me [is] the rate overall, the prevalence rates of marijuana use among teenagers, have been stable despite the legalization in many states,” she said, adding that there are some concerns about increased frequency of use and limitations in data collection with respect to dosages being taken.

Volkow also commented on a recent federally funded survey that found illicit drug use by young people has taken a significant plunge in the last year, though she largely attributed that to the reduced social interaction resulting from COVID-19 policies across the country.

“Interestingly what we’ve observed during the COVID pandemic is, across schools in the United States, the prevalence of drug use has gone down,” she said, “which likely very much reflects the fact that kids don’t have the opportunity to interact with others, and drug taking at that stage is a peer pressure behavior.”

The official also briefly addressed the fact that she feels criminalizing people over drugs in the first place is the wrong policy approach—a point she’s made repeatedly in interviews and blog posts.

She said that “criminalization has created a system for that allows a structural racism to be implemented, you can control people, and that’s a horrible policy. This criminalization actually opens up our eyes that well, yes, we need to change that.”

However, she said that “liberalizing and making the drugs widely available, with no counter messaging,” is not the alternative she would recommend.

While the SAM-hosted event did not touch specifically on psychedelics policy, Volkow has also recently discussed that issues, especially as data has shown an increase in use of the substances among adults.

She said people are going to keep using substances such as psilocybin—especially as the reform movement expands and there’s increased attention being drawn to the potential therapeutic benefits—and so researchers and regulators will need to keep up.

Volkow also mentioned that NIDA is “pleased” the Drug Enforcement Administration recently announced plans to significantly increase the quota of certain psychedelic drugs to be produced for use in research.

USDA Teams Up With Cornell University For Hemp Education Webinar Series

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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