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.
.@LeaderHoyer, in the year 2019, continues to push the myth that marijuana should remain illegal because it is a "gateway drug."
✔️Expunge the records.
✔️Invest in communities that the War on Drugs has destroyed. https://t.co/iYQHgqa86n
— Mckayla Wilkes for Congress (@MeetMckayla) August 27, 2019
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.
I'm not a typical candidate. I was really nervous to talk about my criminal record, especially so early in the campaign. But I want to be honest about who I am and use my experiences to fight for an end to the criminalization of poverty nationwide. #Mckayla2020 #AVoteForUs pic.twitter.com/onP9W9eqjF
— Mckayla Wilkes for Congress (@MeetMckayla) May 3, 2019
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.
Have I been arrested for marijuana possession? Yes.
Am I ashamed of that? No.
I am tired of privileged politicians admitting they smoked & faced no consequences, then turning around and explaining why they think it should still be illegal.
END THE PROHIBITION.#PERIODT
— Mckayla Wilkes for Congress (@MeetMckayla) August 28, 2019
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.
GOP Congressman Says Marijuana Shops Near Churches Is Evidence Of ‘Spiritual War’
A U.S. congressman said on Saturday that marijuana dispensaries operating on the same streets as churches is “evidence” of the “spiritual war our nation is entrenched in.”
Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) made the comment in a video statement that was presented at an “In God We Trust Rally” organized by the non-profit Truth & Liberty Coalition.
After giving a brief history lesson on the origin of the official U.S. motto and decrying socialism, Lamborn said it was necessary to acknowledge religious strife in the country.
“We need to look no further than our own streets to see evidence of this conflict,” the congressman said. “Marijuana dispensaries are on the same streets as thriving churches.”
Despite representing one of the first states to legalize cannabis, Lamborn has actively worked against the will of Colorado voters who approved the measure in 2012.
For example, he applauded then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions last year after he rescinded Obama-era guidance on federal marijuana enforcement priorities, stating that “legalizing marijuana has been bad for the state of Colorado” and Sessions was “upholding the law and recognizing the serious and proven harms associated with marijuana.”
Every other member of Congress from Colorado signed a bipartisan letter opposing the move.
More recently, Lamborn voted against a spending bill amendment that would prohibit the Justice Department from using funds to enforce prohibition in legal states.
The most that the congressman has said he’s willing to do in terms of cannabis reform is rescheduling the plant to facilitate research into its therapeutic potential. “I’m not sure I could support going beyond that,” he said.
During his video address over the weekend, which was highlighted by Right Wing Watch, Lamborn said evidence of a religious war also includes “abortion clinics” near “pregnancy centers” and legislators attempting to “impose radical gender theory on young students while parents in godly homes teach their children the virtue of marriage.”
“It is easy to despair in the face of ignorance and evil, but today we gather to declare where our trust lies. Our trust lies in god,” he said. “Colorado needs the grace of god more than ever.”
Photo courtesy of YouTube/Truth & Liberty Coalition.
Former White House Drug Czar Offers Marijuana Legalization Advice To Mexico
A former top White House drug official told Mexican officials last week that they will need “robust regulations” in place when the country implements a legal marijuana system.
Gil Kerlikowske, who served as the director of the the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President Barack Obama, made the comments during a panel hosted by the Mexican Senate as part of a series of cannabis conversations lawmakers are holding as the country prepares to enact legalization.
He also acknowledged that state-level legalization in the U.S. has reduced the “appetite” for drugs that are trafficked illegally across the border.
The official’s participation is particularly noteworthy given that he previously said that the word “legalization” was not even in his vocabulary, nor in Obama’s. But according to translated reports of his speech, Kerlikowske, who also served as commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, now seems decidedly familiar with the concept and offered detailed advice for Mexican lawmakers as they prepare to legalize.
“Tax collection is important because income is used for health and to enforce the law,” he said. “In other words, the marijuana consumer is paying the regulation in taxes, so this is a dynamic and emerging market.”
“I think that frankly, although the taxation can be prohibitive for some people and for some producers, I would say that you still have to have a very robust regulation,” the former drug czar added.
A punto de comenzar la última conferencia del ciclo ‘Rumbo a la regulación del cannabis’, organizado por las comisiones de Justicia, Salud, Estudios Legislativos, Segunda, y Seguridad Pública del @senadomexicano. 🌱 pic.twitter.com/RJxmkieurN
— Cáñamo México (@canamo_mexico) September 13, 2019
Kerlikowske stressed that measures must be taken to ensure that young people don’t have access to marijuana and that policymakers should “do everything possible to eliminate the black market.”
“I believe that governments want to do things slowly—particularly because there is still research being carried out about marijuana and use and the problems it causes in brain formation or decision-making,” he said, adding that alcohol and cannabis shouldn’t be viewed as “benign” products.
He also said that regulating marijuana should involve enforcing labeling and packaging standards so that consumers are fully informed and that steps should be taken to prevent smoking in public.
Sobre permitir fumar cannabis en lugares públicos, Gil Kerlikowske dice que es un tema que se necesita resolver en EU, ya que en lugares como en Seattle el olor es particularmente fuerte. ❔💨❔
— Cáñamo México (@canamo_mexico) September 13, 2019
The event was the last in a five-part “Heading for the Regulation of Cannabis” series that the Senate put together as the chamber’s ruling MORENA party readies legislation to legalize marijuana.
After deeming the prohibition of cannabis possession and cultivation for personal use unconstitutional last year, Mexico’s Supreme Court set a deadline of October 2019 for lawmakers to codify marijuana legalization policy.
Earlier this month, Sen. Julio Menchaca Salazar of the MORENA party filed a bill that would provide for a legal cannabis market for adults by amending federal drug laws.
While legalization is imminent in Mexico, however, Kerlikowske said that he does not believe that the U.S. will legalize within the next two years, stating that the “problem is that medicinal cannabis products have not passed all the tests of the [Food and Drug Administration].”
No creo que en los próximos dos años el Congreso de EU legalice a nivel federal el uso de la marihuana medicinal🌱🔬🧪. El problema es que los productos cannábicos medicinales no han pasados todas las pruebas de la @US_FDA como los demás medicamentos: Gil Kerlikowske 🇺🇸
— Cáñamo México (@canamo_mexico) September 13, 2019
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
Three Federal Agencies Take Public Comments On Cannabis Topics
Three federal agencies—the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)—are now accepting comments from the public on cannabis-related topics such as hemp pesticides and the legal classification of marijuana globally.
In a notice published in the Federal Register last month, FDA said that it is seeking input on potential changes to the status of marijuana under international treaties.
EPA invited comments on applications for pesticides to be used on hemp, which comes months after the crop was federally legalized.
Meanwhile, people have the chance to share their perspective on a proposal DEA released last week that calls for the cultivation of more than three million grams of cannabis for research purposes next year. That 3.2 million gram quota would be 30 percent higher than this year’s. At the same time, DEA said its quota for prescription painkillers such as fentanyl and oxycodone would be decreased next year by more than 50 percent.
The comment period opened last week, and 25 people have weighed in at this point. Submissions received so far are primarily focused on DEA’s proposed reduction opioid production, with several chronic pain patients arguing that they will be negatively impacted. People can send comments on the cannabis and other drug quotas through October 15.
FDA initially made its request for input on cannabis’s global treaty status in March, but it was closed because an expected United Nations (UN) vote on a proposal to remove marijuana from the most strictly regulated category was postponed.
Last month, FDA said it was reopening the comment period until September 30, in anticipation that the UN will make a decision on the possible changes in the coming months. So far, a total of about 3,000 comments have been received, including those posted since August 29. The vast majority voice support for legalization, with many sharing personal anecdotes about the plant’s therapeutic benefits.
“Please lift the ban and prohibition of marijuana. Marijuana isn’t ruining the lives of countless Americans… America’s drug laws are doing that all by themselves via mass incarceration,” Zach Fowler wrote.
“I am 30 years old and suffer from a progressive neurologically condition that leaves me in constant debilitating pain along with a host of other symptoms. Without cannabis, I could not function enough to work for even care for my children,” Amanda Wood-Devore said. “Cannabis calms my pain, eases corresponding anxiety, and helps my constant nausea and vomiting.”
Alex Rol said that the “current marijuana laws are more destructive than protective.”
“We have seen extensive reports that cannabis can be used for medical purposes and many find its effects increase the ease of life,” he said. “While I understand the concern of those less familiar with cannabis on its legalization it simply isn’t right to incarcerate people for possession of a generally harmless substance.”
“I agree with the [World Health Organization] that cannabis should be removed from the Schedule 1 classification,” Michael Ochipa wrote, referring to a recommendation WHO released in February urging the rescheduling of marijuana and descheduling of CBD.
“Most of the research to date indicates that cannabis has a very positive risk/reward profile,” he wrote. “Side effects are lower, and medicinal benefits are greater than many over the counter drugs. It can also be grown easily at home making it more economical.”
Though it’s not clear how much stock FDA will put into personal stories of individuals who’ve benefited from marijuana in shaping the Trump administration’s position on scheduling changes, the volume of comments and consistency of support for legalization is significant. While there has been a focus on the medical potential of cannabis, several others emphasized the consequences of prohibition, particularly for communities of color.
If the United Nations does decide to adopt WHO’s recommendations, it wouldn’t mean that member nations would be free to legalize marijuana without technically violating the treaties. However, even under its current strict status, Canada and Uruguay have moved forward with legalization models, with Mexico expected to follow suit as early as next month.
Over at EPA, there hasn’t been quite as much interest from the public in submitting comments on pesticides applications for hemp. The agency announced last month that it was accepting input on 10 existing applications and said it hoped “this transparent and public process will bring hemp farmers and researchers increased regulatory clarity in time for next growing season.”
EPA said it’s not required to take public comment on the applications but is doing so “because of the potential significant interest from the public in these initial applications and in furtherance of being completely transparent about these applications.”
There may be significant interest from the public on hemp legalization generally, particularly among stakeholders who are eagerly awaiting federal regulations to unlock the crop’s potential, but that isn’t being reflected on the Federal Register notice page yet when it comes to pesticides. Only five people have commented on the proposal.
One person noted that the 10 pesticides under review contain almost the same ingredients and said “it really limits the ability of producers to manage pests and diseases.”
“I highly recommend expanding the list of compounds available to producers to increase the ability to suppress pests and diseases,” the anonymous commenter wrote. “There are many more bio-pesticides on the market that are safe for humans that specifically target agricultural pests.”
Another individual who said he and his partner are making a transition from growing cannabis in California to hemp in North Carolina wrote in support of the proposed pesticides.
“We have used the products under discussion with great effectiveness, especially the biological controls,” the person said. “Because hemp can be so susceptible to mold, fungus, and pests, it is imperative to have these tools to ensure a healthy and plentiful product.”
Finally, there was one comment in opposition to allowing any pesticides on hemp because, they wrote, “IT WILL JUST TURN IT IN TO POISON.”
EPA’s public comment closes on September 23. The agency did not say when decisions would be made about the applications, but it did state that it planned to give hemp farmers approval to use the tools before the 2020 planting season.
The fact that three separate federal agencies are now accepting comments on separate cannabis issues is another sign that the public has more opportunity than ever before to influence the government’s position on marijuana policy.
Photo courtesy of Nicholas C. Morton.