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Presidential Candidate Gillibrand Unveils Wide-Ranging Marijuana Legalization Plan

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Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) unveiled a comprehensive marijuana reform plan on Wednesday that involves legalizing the drug nationwide, expunging non-violent convictions and requiring that private and federal health insurers to cover medical cannabis.

The 2020 Democratic presidential candidate also said she would immediately deschedule marijuana, allow cannabis businesses to access financial services and impose an excise tax on legal sales that would fund programs designed to help communities that have been disproportionately impacted by prohibition.

In a Medium post, the senator walked through the details of her proposal, emphasizing the importance of social equity and creating a regulatory system that protects patients, boosts the economy and normalizes the industry. She said ending federal marijuana prohibition “will be a top priority of my presidency.”

“As president, I will immediately deschedule marijuana as a controlled substance, and start working to not only heal the damage done by racist drug laws, but tap into the medical and economic opportunity that legal marijuana offers,” Gillibrand wrote.

One of the more novel elements of her proposal concerns health coverage for medical cannabis. Gillibrand has repeatedly stated that marijuana can serve as an alternative to addictive opioid painkillers, and she said mandating coverage for all private insurers as well as the federal programs Medicare and Medicaid will help suffering patients.

Another prominent feature of the plan centers on social equity for communities ravaged by the war on drugs. Besides providing for the expungement of non-violent marijuana convictions, Gillibrand is also proposing using tax revenue from cannabis sales to fund programs such as job training and education for disadvantaged communities.

She also wants to give small businesses—particularly those owned by women and minorities—access to capital and “technical assistance” so that they can more easily participate in the legal industry.

Gillibrand’s plan earned early praise from Wanda James, the first black woman to own a dispensary in Colorado who penned an editorial in Blavity on Wednesday.

James said that the senator’s plan “goes far and beyond any proposal I’ve seen from a presidential candidate” and that her “agenda was built with economic equity in mind.”

“[L]et’s get really real: Kirsten Gillibrand is a white woman who hasn’t experienced the same type of discrimination as my brother or me,” James wrote. “But she’s doing everything she can to understand and to try to make up for the generations of injustice — and she’s a fighter who’s brave enough to lead on the issues where others won’t.”

Gillibrand made a similar point in her Medium post.

“Nothing proposed today can ever undo the devastating harm done to generations of communities and families of color by the War on Drugs,” she wrote. “But it’s long past time to start making this right. With this plan, we can begin to dismantle the institutional racism in our criminal justice system, open up important new medical and economic horizons, and lift up communities who need and deserve a fair shot at opportunity.”

Gillibrand said that the country should end prohibition for some of the same reasons that it ended alcohol prohibition:

“Fundamentally, whether adults use marijuana is a matter of privacy, and we should treat marijuana as a major economic opportunity and revenue source.”

Via Team Gillibrand.

She further argued that while state-level legalization efforts have had “positive benefits,” establishing a federal regulatory framework is necessary because “a state-by-state patchwork is not enough to tackle the deeply rooted racial, social, and economic injustices within our marijuana laws, or to fully unleash the economic equity and opportunity of marijuana legalization.”

It’s not clear whether Gillibrand plans to introduce legislation containing any of these proposals during the current Congress or if she’s just outlining her cannabis agenda if elected president. The plan’s reveal comes weeks after the senator met with advocates and discussed how marijuana reform fits within her campaign.

What is clear is that the wide-ranging proposal is yet another sign that Democratic presidential candidates are taking the issue of marijuana reform seriously. For many voters, it’s no longer enough for politicians to simply voice support for reform; candidates are now essentially competing to produce the most forward-thinking cannabis plans to stand out in an overwhelmingly pro-legalization crowd.

“It’s 2019. It’s time to legalize marijuana nationwide,” Gillibrand wrote. “As president, I’ll get it done.”

Presidential Candidate Touts Marijuana Legalization Measure He Opposed To Raise Money On Instagram

Photo element courtesy of Gillibrand 2010. 

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

New York And Connecticut Governors Talk Marijuana Legalization On Fishing Trip

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The governors of New York and Connecticut went fishing and talked about marijuana legalization on Tuesday.

The conversation comes after lawmakers in both states were unable to pass legalization legislation before their respective sessions’ ends this year, despite having the support of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D).

“We talked about policy issues like the marijuana issue, which is obviously also relevant to contiguous states,” Cuomo said at a press conference following the fishing trip. “What Connecticut does on marijuana is relevant to New York, what New York does is relevant to Connecticut so we talked about that and a lot of issues. So we had fun.”

Watch Cuomo’s marijuana comments at about 5:00 into the video below:

Cuomo had described legalization as a top legislative priority for 2019 and included it in his state budget proposal. But after months of negotiations with lawmakers, the plan fell through, due in part to disagreements about how to allocate tax revenue and whether to allow individual jurisdictions to opt out of allowing cannabis businesses.

The governor did sign legislation in July that expands the state’s marijuana decriminalization policy and provides a pathway for expungements of past marijuana convictions.

Over in Connecticut, Lamont campaigned on legalization during his election bid last year and described it as one of his administration’s “priorities” after he took office. But as with neighboring New York, the legislature failed to advance a legalization bill beside multiple successful committee votes and hearings throughout the year.

The specifics of what the governors talked about during their fishing expedition on Lake Ontario aren’t clear, but both are presumably gearing up for another round of legislative efforts marijuana over the coming year and could take lessons from each other as reform talks continue.

Another East Coast state, New Jersey, has also struggled to move legalization legislation forward, with lawmakers saying that the issue should be taken up by voters in 2020 rather than pushed through the legislature, though there has been discussion lately about another try at moving a bill before year’s end. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) did sign a decriminalization and expungements bill in May, however.

Federal Data Shows Youth Marijuana Use Isn’t Increasing Under Legalization

Photo courtesy of CBS 6.

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GOP Congressman Will Meet Attorney General To Discuss Expanding Marijuana Research

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Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) said on Monday that he will soon be speaking with the U.S. attorney general about expanding marijuana research.

The congressman, a close ally of President Trump, is a vocal proponent of medical cannabis and has argued that the federal drug scheduling system is hampering research into the plant’s therapeutic potential.

“I will be meeting with Attorney General Bill Barr in the coming weeks to discuss the Department of Justice’s approach to unlocking more research grants so that we can have American innovation applied to our health care in a way that can get people off of some of these devastating opioids and painkillers, and on to a more natural product,” he said following a radio town hall event.

Even under the framework of prohibition, the Justice Department is able to promote research by, for example, approving additional marijuana manufacturers—something the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said it would do three years ago.

Barr has voiced support for expanding the number of federally authorized cannabis manufacturers.

“I think we’re going to move forward on it,” the attorney general said in April. “I think it’s very important to get those additional suppliers.”

Earlier this year, Gaetz joined congressional colleagues in leading a letter addressed to Barr and the head of DEA expressing frustration that the Justice Department has declined to take action despite its pledges. The lawmakers implored DEA to “do whatever you can to speed up and improve the research application process.

Gaetz also introduced legislation that would force DEA to approve additional facilities to produce research-grade cannabis. A version filed last year cleared the Judiciary Committee in a voice vote, and he reintroduced the bill in January but it has not yet been acted upon.

Listen to Gaetz’s new cannabis comments, about 1:20 into the audio below:

DEA is facing two lawsuits regarding its approach to marijuana, including one that concerns the lack of diversity of research-grade cannabis since only one manufacture is currently authorized. The agency was ordered to respond to the suit by August 28.

Separately, a group of patients and advocates sued DEA over marijuana’s Schedule I status under the Controlled Substances Act, with a federal court directing the agency to “promptly” consider reclassifying cannabis.

Gaetz also spoke about the need to more broadly reform cannabis laws during the Monday remarks.

“The federal government listing marijuana as a Schedule I drug impairs financial transactions, it impairs research and it stops us from being able to unlock cures for some of America’s most vulnerable people,” the congressman said, adding that he’s a cosponsor of legislation that would deschedule marijuana that was introduced by Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY).

Gaetz, who is also a member of the Judiciary Committee, said he is requesting that the panel hold a hearing on cannabis legislation. That’d mark the second such meeting after a Judiciary subcommittee convened last month to discuss paths to ending federal prohibition.

The congressman’s staff wasn’t able to provide Marijuana Moment with additional details regarding the meeting with Barr.

Congressman Says Marijuana Could Be Legal Sooner If Trump Stops Tweeting

Photo courtesy of Meredith Geddings.

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

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Legalizing marijuana, granting clemency to people convicted of drug offenses and investing in harm reduction programs such as safe injection sites are part of a criminal justice reform plan that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) released on Tuesday.

The 2020 Democratic presidential candidate stressed that the war on drugs has been carried out in a racially discriminatory manner, writing that it’s unfair that “a kid with an ounce of pot can get thrown in jail, while a bank executive who launders money for a drug cartel can get a bonus. It’s long past time for us to reform our system.”

“This failure [of the drug war] has been particularly harmful for communities of color, and we need a new approach,” she said. “It starts with legalizing marijuana and erasing past convictions, and then eliminating the remaining disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentencing.”

What’s more, the drug war “has criminalized addiction, ripped apart families—and largely failed to curb drug use” when a more effective system would treat addiction as a public health issue.

That includes diverting people who’ve been convicted of non-violent drug offenses to treatment programs and providing evidence-based resources for people suffering from addiction. For example, Warren’s plan calls for safe injection sites where people can use illicit drugs under the supervision of medical professionals who can help prevent fatal overdoses and get people into treatment. She also said needle exchange programs and expanding access to buprenorphine would reduce the opioid crisis.

“Instead of locking up people for nonviolent marijuana crimes, I’ve proposed putting pharmaceutical executives on the hook to report suspicious orders for controlled substances that damage the lives of millions.”

She also called for the abolition of certain mandatory minimum sentences and said that “people who struggle with addiction should not be incarcerated because of their disease.”

“Mass incarceration has not reduced addiction rates or overdose deaths, because substance abuse disorder is a public health problem — and it’s long past time to treat it that way,” the plan says. “We know that diversion programs are both more humane and a better investment than incarceration — for every dollar we invest in treatment programs, we can save $12 in future crime and health care costs.”

“And rather than incarcerating individuals with substance abuse disorders, we should expand options that divert them into programs that provide real treatment.”

Like Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Warren’s criminal justice reform proposal also mentions executive actions she could unilaterally take.

Specifically, she wrote that the Justice Department should not hold authority to make clemency recommendations and it should instead be left up to an independent clemency board so that those eligible for a pardons and commutations are more quickly identified.

“I’ll direct the board to identify broad classes of potentially-deserving individuals for review, including those who would have benefited from retroactivity under the First Step Act, individuals who are jailed under outdated or discriminatory drug laws, or those serving mandatory minimums that should be abolished,” she said.

The plan’s unveiling comes two days after Sanders released his criminal justice reform proposal, which also called for marijuana legalization and the implementation of harm reduction policies such as safe consumption facilities.

Buttigieg’s plan stands out from his fellow Democratic candidates in at least one regard: the mayor said drug possession should broadly be decriminalized.

Warren also released a separate plan for Indian tribes last week that involves protecting tribal cannabis programs from federal intervention.

Bernie Sanders Calls For Legalization Of Marijuana And Safe Injection Sites

Photo courtesy of Edward Kimmel.

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.
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