If elected president, Andrew Yang said he would issue mass pardons for non-violent drug offenders on the unofficial marijuana holiday, 4/20, and give each of them a high five as they leave prison.
Yang made that pledge during a speech at the National Action Network convention on Wednesday, where he was asked about his criminal justice reform agenda. It’s the latest in a series of bold drug reform proposals the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate has backed.
“I would legalize marijuana and I would pardon everyone who’s in jail for a non-violent, drug-related offense,” Yang said. “I would pardon them all on April 20, 2021 and I would high five them on their way out of jail.”
Additionally, he said he’d eliminate private prisons, use federal funds to buy every police officer a body camera and fight for a universal basic income.
Watch Yang’s comments below:
.@AndrewYang at #NANconv2019: "I would legalize marijuana and then I would pardon everyone who's in jail for a nonviolent drug-related offense. I would pardon them on April 20, 2021 and I would high-five them on the way out of jail." pic.twitter.com/wqELzL9TwO
— The Hill (@thehill) April 3, 2019
While presidents only have the power to pardon and commute sentences for people convicted of federal crimes—and most people who are incarcerated on drug offenses were sentenced under state laws—any mass clemency measure launched by the next occupant of the Oval Office would directly impact tens of thousands of people and would send a strong message to states.
As the entrepreneur-turned-politican’s campaign has evolved, Yang has put forward ideas for drug reform that go further than those endorsed by many of his competitors for the Democratic nomination. His campaign site says that he’d identify “non-violent drug offenders for probation and potential early release,” but apparently Yang plans to do more than that by pardoning (and high-fiving) them.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), another 2020 Democratic candidate, said last week that he’d consider issuing mass pardons and commutations if elected president—but he only talked about doing so for people with marijuana convictions.
Yang also recently rolled out a proposal to decriminalize the possession and use of opioids.
We will be announcing a new policy proposal every day for the next month. The first – decriminalizing opioid use and possession. The War on Drugs has not worked. We should refer addicts to treatment not a prison cell. https://t.co/Mey34hGtWU
— Andrew Yang (@AndrewYang) March 27, 2019
“While those who brought this plague on our citizens must face serious consequences, we need to make sure that those who are afflicted by the illness of addiction are treated and not criminalized,” his campaign site states. “The individuals behind pharmaceutical companies who promoted these drugs as non-addictive while knowing better are the ones who belong in jail, not those who fell prey to addiction.”
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) embraced the sentiment of that position during a CNN town hall event last month, arguing that people suffering from addiction would be better served in treatment than prison. But while she didn’t rule out decriminalizing all drugs, she didn’t explicitly endorse the policy either.
“This is about recovery. This is about addiction,” the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate said. “We need to address that reality and help resolve some of the root causes of why people are turning to different substances in the first place.”
Photo courtesy of Stephen McCarthy/Collision via Sportsfile.
Idaho Senator Files Bill To Decriminalize Drug Possession
A new bill filed by an Idaho senator would decriminalize possession of currently illegal drugs in the state, though it also contains a provision that advocates consider troubling, allowing the government to involuntarily commit people convicted of certain offenses to treatment.
Sen. Grant Burgoyne (D) introduced the legislation, which would remove criminal penalties for drug use and possession by “requiring intention to deliver for criminal trafficking.”
Burgoyne told Marijuana Moment the bill has been referred to the Judiciary and Rules Committee, where Chairman Todd Lakey (R) has agreed to hold a hearing on it.
“We have too much of a focus on prosecution and punishment and not enough on treatment,” Burgoyne said in a separate interview with KTVB. “We don’t have a functioning mental health treatment and substance abuse treatment capability for the needs of our people. We need new strategies, how we draw the lines between what is criminal conduct and what is not criminal conduct when it comes to drug possession and usage.”
The bill sets different possession thresholds for different drugs. Having just two grams of heroin could be considered trafficking, while for cocaine and methamphetamine, the amount is set at 28 grams. One pound of marijuana, or 25 plants, could be treated as a trafficking offense.
Any amount of LSD could be considered a trafficking offense, as could any amount of a “simulated controlled substance,” possibly referring to synthetic opioids like fentanyl. Using drugs with friends would also be harshly penalized, as “sharing or providing a controlled substance for use by another person shall constitute intent to deliver.”
“This will reduce arrests, but how much is very hard to predict,” Burgoyne told Marijuana Moment. “Unfortunately, illegal drug use, even in private, is too often accompanied by the commission of other crimes, which my bill does not excuse and which could lead to arrest.”
Burgoyne’s bill would also allow people using drugs to be “placed in protective custody” or “admitted for community-assisted behavioral health treatment.” This would apply to people under the influence and in various circumstances, such as being pregnant, posing a risk to themselves or others or in withdrawal.
But existing research on mandatory drug treatment suggests it is not helpful for people with substance use disorder. A 2016 study published in the British Medical Journal, for example, found that when people are ordered to undergo drug treatment without their informed consent, the practice does more harm than good and does not reduce their drug use. The researchers explained that harm reduction efforts like syringe exchanges and drug education were more effective.
“Although there is some theoretical danger of adverse consequences to mandated drug treatment, we already mandate it for prisoners with drug issues,” Burgoyne said. “I’d like to shift treatment out of our jails and prisons to a more appropriate place. Furthermore, a civil commitment is not an easy thing to obtain, and I think our courts will be conservative in how they handle them.”
If the senator’s legislation passes, it remains to be seen what effect it would have on drug arrest rates in Idaho. According to the FBI, in 2017 Idaho had 8,432 arrests for “drug abuse violations,” which is a little over 16 percent of all arrests that year.
Burgoyne’s reform proposal comes amid a growing national debate about the value of decriminalizing drug use over more arrests. Last year in May, Denver became the first city in the U.S. to decriminalize personal use and possession of psilocybin mushrooms. Oakland’s City Council followed the next month by decriminalizing a wide range of psychedelics.
Advocates are also raising the issue on the national stage. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) proposed decriminalizing drug consumption in November. Former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, has proposed decriminalizing drug possession and reducing sentences. His primary opponent, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), recently called for legalizing and regulating drugs in order to treat substance misuse as a public health issue.
Photo coutersy of Markus Spiske.
U.S. Virgin Islands Governor Pushes For Marijuana Legalization In Annual Speech
The governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) repeated his call for marijuana legalization in his annual State of the Territory address.
Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. (D), who called the legislature into a special session last month to begin taking up cannabis reform legislation, stressed that establishing a commercial marijuana market would bring in needed tax revenue to support a variety of government programs.
The proposed amendment to the territory’s existing medical cannabis law, which Bryan signed last year, would allow adults 21 and older to obtain a license from the government in order to purchase and cultivate marijuana. It would also promote participation in the industry by small farmers and local businesses, as well as providing for automatic expungements of prior cannabis convictions.
“Most importantly, it creates a taxing regime for the local industry that will generate higher revenues than the current law allows,” he said in the speech last Monday, noting that tax revenue will be distributed between the Government Employees Retirement System (GERS) fund (75 percent), implementation of regulations (20 percent) and services for senior citizens (5 percent).
“The revenues generated from this industry can benefit the system as a direct contribution,” the governor said. “However, the goal is to create a funding stream that is reliable enough to ultimately support a revenue bond that can provide a needed cash infusion to the system.”
Watch Bryan’s marijuana comments, first reported by Vibe High, about 36:24 into the video below:
“This is by no means the panacea or final solution for the GERS crisis, but a small part of a larger solution,” he continued. “It begins the process of generating the new revenues required to stave off the insolvency of the System. It takes existing policy, approved by this body, and leverages it to support this critical area of need.”
“We must acknowledge the opportunities that regulated expansion of this industry can bring to the territory and the potential benefits to the GERS,” he said. “I urge this body to take the necessary action to approve the amending legislation we have proposed.”
Bryan’s proposal calls for a 30 percent tax on marijuana sales, with revenue expected to be upwards of $20 million annually. His administration is also expecting the policy change to stimulate tourism, and visitors interested in participating in the market would be charged a $10 per day fee to access legal cannabis.
This year has seen several governors voice support for marijuana reform during their high-profile annual addresses and in legislative agendas. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) reaffirmed his commitment to legalization in his State of the State speech and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) pledged to pursue decriminalization, for example.
In New Mexico, the governor included legalization in her 2020 agenda, and lawmakers followed suit by filing a cannabis reform bill on Thursday. Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) proposed legalizing marijuana through a state-run model in a budget proposal released on Thursday.
Photo courtesy of Nicholas C. Morton.
Tulsi Gabbard Endorses Legalizing Drugs
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) is calling for the U.S. to legalize currently illicit drugs.
“If we take that step to legalize and regulate, then we’re no longer treating people who are struggling with substance addiction and abuse as criminals and instead getting them the help that they need,” the 2020 presidential candidate said at a campaign stop in Merrimack, New Hampshire on Friday.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo element courtesy of Lorie Shaull.