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NY Dem Chair Warns Against Passing Voter-Supported Marijuana Legalization Bill

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The head of New York’s Democratic Party said on Thursday that if the state Senate votes on a marijuana legalization bill, his party’s lawmakers run the risk of alienating voters and losing reelection next year.

Jay Jacobs, the state party chairman, claimed that several “far progressive” measures, including cannabis legalization, lack popularity in certain areas across the state such as Long Island and upstate New York. He cautioned lawmakers against putting the issue to a vote, arguing that voters would “throw us out of office.”

“It could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” he told Newsday.

Polling doesn’t support that conclusion, though. According to a March 2019 survey from Quinnipiac, 65 percent of New Yorkers are in favor of allowing adults to legally possess cannabis for personal use. That includes 63 percent of respondents in upstate New York and 65 percent of those living in the suburbs. Sixty-six percent of independents statewide also back ending marijuana prohibition.

Via Quinnipiac.

Additionally, 59 percent of voters said they support letting marijuana businesses sell marijuana in their own communities. Sixty percent of upstate residents and 54 percent of suburbanites said the same.

That puts support for a legal cannabis system higher than the approval ratings in the very same survey for elected Democrats such as Gov. Andrew Cuomo, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, the speaker of the state Assembly and the state Senate majority leader.

Jacobs’s comments come at a time when advocates are struggling to advance a legalization bill that is just two votes shy of being passable in the Senate, according to an analysis by The Democrat & Chronicle.

Despite Cuomo including legalization in his budget proposal and pressuring lawmakers to get the legislation to his desk this session, the governor said earlier this week that the bill will not pass “because the Senate doesn’t have the votes.”

He doubled down on blaming the chamber for the stalled legislation in an interview with WAMC on Friday, saying that even if he “kept the Senate there for the next ten years, they couldn’t pass marijuana.”

That said, it’s possible that the legislation will be inserted into an omnibus spending bill in the closing hours of the session.

There’s also a chance that Senate Democrats will agree to a plan to bring the bill up for a full floor vote after they meet to discuss legalization during a caucus conference next week.

Cuomo’s statements about the vote deficit that legalization faces in the Senate, and his reluctance to more forcefully press lawmakers from his party on the issue have frustrated its backers in the legislature. Sen. Liz Krueger (D) said on Thursday that if “we don’t get the support of the governor, I will not be able to convince my colleagues—some of whom are on the fence—that this is a good vote for them because this is a controversial issue.”

“If they believe this is something the governor will follow through on and commit to and back us up on, I believe we can bring it across the finish line,” she said.

While the state Democratic chair might not hold the same sway as Cuomo, his statements dismissing legalization legislation are likely to draw similar criticism, especially considering that the party adopted a resolution in support of regulating cannabis last year.

Interestingly, while the Democratic official warned against moving forward on legalization in a state where the issue enjoys majority support, the incoming chair of New York’s Republican Party said last week that he’s open-minded about marijuana reform.

“I don’t have the same hostility toward the legalization of marijuana as maybe my predecessors did,” Nick Langworthy said. However, he added that Republicans “should not be trying to lead the pack in the field of legalization of marijuana.”

With fewer than 10 working days left in the current legislative session, pressure to pass the reform bill is reaching a boiling point.

Frustration over the legislature’s inability to rally support for the legislation has escalated in the days since lawmakers in Illinois sent a legalization bill to the governor’s desk. A Delaware House committee also approved legalization on Wednesday.

Neighboring New Jersey, meanwhile, has thrown in the towel on legalizing cannabis this year. Instead, leading lawmakers said the issue will be decided by voters in the form of a referendum on the 2020 ballot.

Delaware Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Legalization Bill

Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

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

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

Politics

Andrew Yang Peddles Marijuana-Themed Presidential Campaign Merchandise

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

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

Please visit Forbes to read the rest of this piece.

(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Gage Skidmore.

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White House Drug Officials Say Legal Marijuana Is Up To States

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Federally Funded Journal Exposes How Marijuana Prohibition Puts Consumers At Risk

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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