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Pro-Legalization Primary Challenger Slams Top Democrat’s Marijuana Opposition

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Mckayla Wilkes is running a primary challenge to unseat the second highest ranking Democrat in the U.S. House, and part of her strategy involves contrasting her bold drug policy reform platform with that of Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), who said recently he believes that consuming marijuana “leads to the use of harder, very harmful drugs.”

The candidate spoke to Marijuana Moment in a phone interview about how she has experienced the harms of drug criminalization firsthand, having been arrested for cannabis possession during her time in college. It cost her jobs and contributed to why her agenda goes beyond legalizing cannabis and also includes expunging past convictions.

She’s also calling for decriminalizing possession of all drugs to ensure that addiction is treated as a public health, rather than criminal justice, issue.

Compare that to Hoyer, who just last week told a constituent that he opposes marijuana legalization based on the widely disputed gateway drug theory. While the incumbent congressman supports medical cannabis, he remains out of step with the majority of voters in his party at a time when almost all Democratic presidential candidates are backing broad legalization.

The following interview with Wilkes has been lightly edited for clarity. Meanwhile, Hoyer’s office hasn’t responded to Marijuana Moment’s request for an interview.

Marijuana Moment: Can you tell me generally about your drug reform platform?

Mckayla Wilkes: I absolutely think that marijuana should be federally legal. I also think that we should have the right to grow our own plants. I also support expunging the records of those who are incarcerated for marijuana and those who have marijuana-related charges on their records, as well as investing in communities that the war on drugs has destroyed.

I also support the decriminalization of possession of all drugs in addition to marijuana—psychedelics as well.

MM: You’ve stressed the need to couple legalization with expungements. Why do you feel it’s important?

MW: I think that expungement is important, especially if we’re going to talk about federally legalizing marijuana. Because if it is in fact legal, there should be no reason for it to stay on your record. A lot of the time, it also hinders job acquirement. I also think that jobs should not be able to require drug tests for marijuana. I just think that would be completely absurd, and that has to go hand-in-hand with legalizing it on the federal level.

I chose to incorporate expungement into my policy not only because of my experiences with marijuana but also I believe marijuana is safer than opioids, especially in my district where the opioid crisis is very much real. Maryland has the seventh highest rate of mortality due to drug overdose, according to the CDC.

MM: Do you see cannabis as part of the solution to the opioid crisis as an offramp from drugs like heroin?

MW: Of course, most definitely. That’s something that I’ve thought about. It’s something I believe to be true as well.

MM: You’ve been candid about your experience facing a marijuana possession arrest. Can you walk me through what happened?

MW: I think I was about 21 or 22 years old. I was coming from a family member’s house. We had finished smoking. I drove in my car to go home from my cousin’s house a little bit later and I was pulled over by the police. One of my headlights were out or something like that. The officer pulled me over and claimed that he smelled an odor and he asked me if I had anything in the car.

Of course I was honest. I told him that I did in fact have marijuana in the car. He assured me that I wouldn’t be in trouble as long as I was honest, as long as I showed him where it was. I showed where it was and gave it to him and I explained that I had class the next morning because I was a college student. He told me to get out of the car, he searched me, he asked if that’s all I had. I was honest with him like he asked me to be and he arrested me, put in my handcuffs and told me I was being detained for possession of marijuana.

MM: How did that make you feel?

MW: I made me feel like I was a criminal and that was one of the first instances that I had with a police officer that made me not trust the police because here I am, clearly I’m not a bad person, I’m telling him I have class tomorrow and even showed him my books.

He didn’t care about any of that and I ended up being detained for about 12 to 13 hours in a cell with about 12 to 15 other women. Some of us were on the floor. There was one toilet inside of the cell, where if you had to use the bathroom, you had to use the bathroom in front of everyone else. That’s pretty much what they did to me. I went to court for it. They didn’t convict me of it. They put the case on what’s called a Stet docket on the condition that I completed a drug rehabilitation program for people who did drugs.

I felt completely out of place because to me it’s not a drug, it’s natural.

It was just absurd to me, and it’s something I still have to answer for to this day. I’m a government contractor so if I go to a new job and I have a security clearance to make, they always ask me about this. It’s another reason I support the expungement of records because of instances like that. I’ve been turned down for jobs for this reason, which shouldn’t be the case.

MM: When you talk to voters about your drug policy proposals, what kind of reaction do you get?

MW: I get a lot of positive feedback, even from people who have never smoked marijuana a day in their life. People are agreeing, like why is this illegal?

I haven’t met one person who doesn’t support legalizing marijuana—besides Steny Hoyer. To me, it’s no surprise. I mean he takes a lot of money from Big Pharma and you think about the impact that the legalization of marijuana will have on the opiate industry and the pharmaceutical industry, of course he’s not going to support that.

If you look at all of the things that marijuana does, it’s extraordinary. There’s evidence of it treating nausea, anxiety, depression—so many other things. I myself suffer from insomnia and can’t really sleep and I would much rather smoke a joint to go to sleep than to take any kind of medication. I have a lot of friends that have died from prescription drug abuse. It’s something that needs to be taken seriously. It shouldn’t be taken lightly.

And quite frankly, I’m disappointed in the majority leader for calling it a gateway drug, which is an absolute lie.

MM: How much do you think Hoyer’s opposition to legalization will impact his campaign?

MW: I think it’s going to impact his campaign quite negatively. I was actually surprised that he was bold enough to actually say that, but that just goes to show how safe he feels. He’s bold in the fact that he feels secure that his seat is safe, that he won’t be in jeopardy of losing it, that he won’t be in jeopardy of being primaried.

[Legalization is] something that even people who support Hoyer would see and look at him differently. There’s so many people who agree with the federal legalization of marijuana. If you look at the war on drugs and you look at how many people are incarcerated for this—people are still incarcerated for the possession of marijuana while it’s being spoken about being legalized. That is a huge issue. Why are we still on the wrong history when it comes to this?

MM: Any thoughts on former Vice President Joe Biden and the role his opposition to broad reform will play out in the Democratic presidential primary?

MW: Oh, Joe. I don’t know if Joe Biden is purposefully trying to throw out the race or he actually believes in the crap that he says. Sometimes I have to think to myself, “wow did he really say that? Did he mean that?”

That’s pretty much my stance on Joe Biden. It’s Joe being Joe. I don’t support him, I’m Bernie all the way.

MM: Speaking of Sanders, what do you make of him recently stating that he’s not yet willing to embrace decriminalizing possession of all drugs, as you’re advocating for?

MW: I’m not really sure where Bernie Sanders is coming from with that. I will say that’s one thing that’s disappointing, but I’m hoping he will lean more left on that issue.

I think it’s important to decriminalize possession of all drugs because we have to look at substance abuse aside from marijuana. When you see people come into the criminal justice system and you see that they have multiple offenses of drug possession, whether it be heroin or prescription drugs or crack cocaine or PCP, prison is not going to rehabilitate them. These are instances where people need help. You can lock someone up who is addicted to cocaine, you can put him in jail for five years, but if they don’t get the treatment they need, they’re going to go get high again.

A lot of time that causes overdose as well because you spent this whole time not doing what you usually do and you get out and just want to chase that high. It goes to the fact that we need rehabilitation versus exploiting these people who have these issues, and that’s why the decriminalization of all drugs has to come into legislation and needs to be enacted because it’s going to help our communities and help people. We have to tackle that as well.

Fingers crossed that Bernie will see the light on that issue.

MM: You mentioned psychedelics earlier. Is that another issue you’re exploring?

MW: It’s something I’m interested in. I’m still doing a little bit of research. I have talked to a few people about how it’s proven to help people who suffer from PTSD and it’s something that I think we should invest in researching. I think that administered under the right care with the right dosage could be helpful versus just shoving prescription pills down our throats every chance they get.

Top House Democrat Peddles Gateway Theory To Justify Marijuana Legalization Opposition

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.

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Border Patrol Union Head Admits Legalizing Marijuana Forces Cartels Out Of The Market

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The head of the labor union that represents U.S. Border Patrol agents acknowledged on Friday that states that legalize marijuana are disrupting cartel activity.

While National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd was attempting to downplay the impact of legalization, he seemed to inadvertently make a case for the regulation all illicit drugs by arguing that cartels move away from smuggling cannabis and on to other substances when states legalize.

Judd made the remarks during an appearance on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, where a caller said that “the states that have legalized marijuana have done more damage to the cartels than the [Drug Enforcement Administration] could ever think about doing.”

“As far as drugs go, all we do is we enforce the laws. We don’t determine what those laws are,” Judd, who is scheduled to meet with President Trump on Friday, replied. “If Congress determines that marijuana is going to be legal, then we’re not going to seize marijuana.”

“But what I will tell you is when he points out that certain states have legalized marijuana, all the cartels do is they just transition to another drug that creates more profit,” he said. “Even if you legalize marijuana, it doesn’t mean that drugs are going to stop. They’re just going to go and start smuggling the opioids, the fentanyl.”

One potential solution that Judd didn’t raise would be to legalize those other drugs to continue to remove the profit motive for cartels. Former presidential candidate Andrew Yang made a similar argument in December.

Federal data on Border Patrol drug seizures seems to substantiate the idea that cannabis legalization at the state level has reduced demand for the product from the illicit market. According to a 2018 report from the Cato Institute, these substantial declines are attributable to state-level cannabis reform efforts, which “has significantly undercut marijuana smuggling.”

Additionally, legalization seems to be helping to reduce federal marijuana trafficking prosecutions, with reports showing decreases of such cases year over year since states regulated markets have come online.

In his annual report last year, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts also noted reduced federal marijuana prosecutions—another indication that the market for illegally sourced marijuana is drying up as more adults consumers are able to buy the product in legal stores.

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Mike Bloomberg Attacks Marijuana Legalization In Controversial Resurfaced Recording

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Before Mike Bloomberg launched his 2020 Democratic presidential bid, he really wasn’t shy about his disdain for marijuana legalization.

The former New York City mayor has been widely criticized this week after a recording surfaced of him defending controversial stop-and-frisk practices and racially disparate marijuana arrests during a 2015 Aspen Institute speech. But while that short clip went viral on social media, the full audio recording from the event also features Bloomberg condemning cannabis legalization efforts at length.

Asked by an audience member about his thoughts on Colorado’s decision to end marijuana prohibition, Bloomberg said, “I think it is just a terrible, terrible idea.”

Some of the remarks from the talk were previously reported by The Aspen Times, such as when Bloomberg asserted that marijuana use is associated with reduced IQ among young people—something President Trump also said in a recently revealed secret recording.

“What are we going to say in 10 years when we see all these kids whose IQs are 5 and 10 points lower than they would have been?” Bloomberg told the Aspen audience. “Kids’ brains are being formed while they are teenagers.

But much of his anti-cannabis commentary from the talk has not been reported until now.

“If you’re my age, of course you smoked a joint in the 60s—but it was very different and just because we did doesn’t make it right,” the former mayor, who has previously acknowledged his own past marijuana consumption, said. “It was not easily accessible compared to today. Today it’s much stronger and potentially much more damaging.”

Listen to Bloomberg’s anti-marijuana remarks below: 

“We are making progress in reducing smoking. We are making progress in reducing obesity and diabetes. We are making progress in reducing automobile deaths and a variety of other things,” he said. But cannabis reform is going in “exactly in the other direction.”

Bloomberg also disparaged the idea that a regulated market can prevent youth from accessing cannabis, stating that “even if you have a law that says we’re not going to sell it to them, let’s get serious: if there’s more of it around, they’re going to get it.”

“I just can’t imagine why society is doing this,” he said. “I couldn’t feel more strongly about it, and my girlfriend says it’s no different than alcohol. It is different than alcohol. This is one of the stupider things that’s happening across our country.”

Erik Altieri, executive director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment that the newly revealed remarks show just how much work Bloomberg has ahead of him if he intends to reform his image as a tough-on-crime, anti-cannabis candidate.

“Bloomberg and his wealthy friends may be able to sit around and joke about how he was able to smoke a joint in the 60’s and be just fine, but that is cold comfort to the over 440,000 Americans who were put in handcuffs for marijuana possession in New York City during his tenure as mayor,” Altieri said. “He is painfully ignorant and out of touch with sound public policy and basic scientific facts.”

“If he expects voters to treat him as anything other than an awful relic of a bygone drug war era he needs to correct himself on marijuana law reform issues immediately and somehow attempt to make amends for the countless lives he had a role in ruining,” he said. “Unfortunately, given the number of other candidates vying for the presidency who are leaps and bounds ahead of him on this, that still might be too little too late for his self-funded presidential aspirations.”

Bloomberg has been sharply rebuked this week over a different clip from the same 2015 recording where he defended the use of stop-and-frisk policing that disproportionately impacted communities of color.

An “unintended consequence” of targeting policing in those communities, he said, is that “people say, ‘oh my god, you are arresting kids for marijuana that are all minorities.’”

“Yes, that’s true. Why? Because we put all the cops in minority neighborhoods,” he said. “Yes, that’s true. Why do we do it? Because that’s where all the crime is.”

Bloomberg has taken steps since launching his campaign to pivot away from his reputation as anti-reform, voicing support for decriminalizing cannabis possession and allowing states to set their own policies.

But he continues to oppose cannabis legalization, and his past comments haven’t been forgotten. A Denver-based reporter brought up the candidate’s 2019 statement that legalization is  “perhaps the stupidest thing anybody has ever done” and asked whether that meant he felt Colorado voters were stupid for approving the policy change.

“Colorado has a right to do what they want to do,” he replied. “I would advise going slowly to any other state because it’s not clear, doctors aren’t sure whether or not it’s doing damage. But if a state wants to do it, and Colorado and Washington were the first two that did it, that’s up to the state.”

“But what I really object to is putting people in jail for marijuana,” he added. “That’s really dumb.”

Bloomberg and former Vice President Joe Biden are the only two Democratic candidates in the 2020 race who oppose federally legalizing cannabis.

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Bipartisan Lawmakers Ask Colleagues To Cosponsor Medical Marijuana Research Bill For Veterans

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A bipartisan duo of lawmakers sent a letter to fellow members of the House this week, asking for additional cosponsors on a bill to promote research into the therapeutic potential of marijuana for veterans.

Reps. Lou Correa (D-CA) and Clay Higgins (R-LA) cited a survey from the advocacy group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) that showed 83 percent of its members support medical cannabis legalization and 90 percent are in favor of researching medical marijuana.

“Therefore, medical research into the safety and efficacy of cannabis usage for medical purposes is timely, necessary, and widely supported by the veteran community,” the lawmakers, who are the sponsors of the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act, wrote in the Wednesday letter.

That legislation currently has 102 cosponsors—representing nearly one-forth of the House’s membership. It would require the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to conduct double-blind clinical trials on the safety and effectiveness of various forms of marijuana in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain.

“Congress made great progress in reforming our cannabis laws in 2019, proving that Americans are ready for change. Veterans deserve to be a part of this change and have their medical needs taken seriously by the Department of Veterans Affairs,” Correa told Marijuana Moment. “My bill puts veterans’ health front and center. With over 100 bipartisan co-sponsors, it’s time to move the Medicinal Cannabis Research Act and take care of our vets.”

After the bill’s introduction last year, the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee On Health and the full panel held hearings on the issue, but it has not received a vote yet. During the subcommittee meeting, VA officials voiced opposition to the proposal, arguing that the scope of its research requirements is too large.

“As many veterans are currently using cannabis for medicinal purposes, it is important that clinicians be able to fully advise veterans on the potential impacts, harms, and benefits of cannabis use on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and chronic pain,” the letter from Correa and Higgins states.

The bill would also “authorize a long-term observation study of participating veterans,” require the VA to “preserve all data collected or used and require the department to submit reports on the implementation of the legislation annually for five years.

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