For the second time in as many days, U.S. Sen. Al Franken just added his name to a marijuana bill.
On Tuesday, the Democratic lawmaker from Minnesota became the fifth cosponsor of legislation to allow cannabis cultivators and sellers operating in accordance with state laws to be taxed just like any other business.
The day before, he signed onto a bill that would allow those businesses to access financial services from banks.
Earlier this month, the former “Saturday Night Live” star was one of six senators to introduce a broad bipartisan bill that would amend federal laws so states can enact and implement their own medical cannabis laws without federal interference.
The leadership on marijuana issues is a far cry from when Franken said on a BuzzFeed podcast last year (in response to a question I submitted) that he was “not the guy to ask” about cannabis policy.
In his answer then, he did acknowledge that he should probably study up on the issue because the state he represents is one of more than two dozen that allows medical marijuana. “I should know more,” the senator said, jokingly adding, “or it’s not important or somewhere in between.”
A month later, Franken added his name to an earlier, now-expired version of the comprehensive medical marijuana bill that he is an original cosponsor of in the new 115th Congress. But he never did add his name to the 114th Congress’s versions of the cannabis taxation and banking legislation.
Now, the senator is on a bit of a marijuana bill cosponsorship spree, and some observers think it’s good politics — in addition to good policy — at a time when Franken’s name is being floated as a possible 2020 presidential candidate.
“With clear public support in favor of outright legalization, presidential aspirants now recognize that marijuana reform is something that can no longer be ignored,” Justin Strekal of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) said in an interview.
A Quinnipiac University poll released in April found that 60% of U.S. voters — and 72% of Democrats — support legalizing marijuana.
When it comes to medical cannabis, 94% of all voters and 96% of Democrats are on board. Just 13% of Democrats and 21% of voters overall want the federal government to interfere with state marijuana laws.
Other potential Democratic presidential candidates such as fellow Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts have increasingly taken on leadership roles in the fight for marijuana law reform.
Franken, who discussed his past marijuana, cocaine and LSD use in a book he published earlier this year, also joined four other senators in writing a July letter asking U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to go after state-legal industrial hemp growers.
But Strekal, of NORML, wants Franken to do even more, saying, until he “puts his name on a bill that outright deschedules cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, I remain uninspired.”
In July, Booker filed legislation to do just that, and more. And in the last Congress, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a 2016 presidential candidate, filed cannabis descheduling legislation.
People With Marijuana Convictions Should Know About National Expungement Week
Marijuana legalization is a solid first step, but there’s still a lot of work to be done to resolve socioeconomic and racial inequities brought about by the war on drugs.
Hence, we now have National Expungement Week. The first-of-its-kind campaign, supported by a coalition of cannabis and social justice organizations called the Equity First Alliance, is taking place from October 20-27.
The organizations will offer “expungement and other forms of legal relief to some of the 77 million Americans with convictions on their records,” according to the campaign website. “These convictions can restrict access to housing, employment, education, public assistance, and voting rights long after sentences have been served.”
In an open letter, the alliance also said it was “largely unsupported by the cannabis industry and by the traditional funders of equity work.” While a main argument in support of legalization is that it would help to repair drug war damages, which have disproportionately affected communities of color, the laws and markets created by the successful movement haven’t necessarily lived up to its name, the alliance wrote.
To that end, the campaign has organized events across the country—from Los Angeles to Boston—to provide legal services to those whose criminal records are able to be reduced or expunged. You can check out the full list of events here.
The alliance’s agenda touches on numerous reform policies, including using marijuana tax revenue to fund communities that have been impacted by prohibition, implementing social equity programs, ensuring corporate responsibility for businesses that profit off cannabis and providing affordable medical cannabis for low-income patients, among other policies.
“We believe that we have a short but vital window of opportunity to change the course of the cannabis industry—and by doing so, we can prevent further harms to the most impacted communities and create a model of reparative economic and criminal justice.”
Adam Vine, co-founder of Cafe-Free Cannabis and an organizer with the campaign, told Marijuana Moment that the campaign is necessary “because millions of Americans have been harmed by the war on drugs and continue to face collateral consequences for convictions that may have happened years ago.”
“These consequences restrict people’s access to employment, housing, education, and social services, so our coalition decided to do something about it,” he said. “We are coordinating these events to provide free legal relief and to say that as states move towards cannabis legalization, expungement needs to be the first priority.”
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.
Chris Christie Finally Recognizes Marijuana Legalization As States’ Rights Issue
Famously anti-marijuana former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) isn’t jumping on the pro-legalization train any time soon—but new comments suggest he might be softening his opposition a smidge, recognizing marijuana reform as a states’ rights issue.
Speaking at Politicon on Saturday, Christie took a question about his cannabis stance from YouTuber Kyle Kulinski, who asked him to weigh in on studies showing that states with legal marijuana programs experience lower rates of opioid addiction and overdoses compared to non-legal states. He was quick to dismiss the research, contending that other studies show the “exact opposite.”
“I just don’t believe when we’re in the midst of a drug addiction crisis that we need to legalize another drug,” Christie said, echoing comments he’s made as chair of President Donald Trump’s opioids committee.
Then he pivoted, acknowledging that some will push back on his anti-legalization position by pointing out that alcohol is legal. “I get that,” he said, “but I wasn’t here when we legalized alcohol.”
Kulinski seized on that point and asked the former governor if he’d vote to ban alcohol.
“No, I wouldn’t ban it. You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube, and that’s a big, important argument about marijuana because once you legalize this, that toothpaste never goes back in the tube.”
Christie stood out among other Republican and Democratic contenders during his 2016 presidential run by maintaining that in addition to personally opposing legalization, he’d crack down on legal cannabis states and enforce federal laws nationwide if elected.
“If you’re getting high in Colorado today, enjoy it,” Christie said in 2015. “As of January 2017, I will enforce the federal laws.”
So it came as something of a surprise when the former governor went on to say in the Politicon appearance that “states have the right to do what they want to do on this,” signaling a modest shift in his anti-marijuana rhetoric. States should have that right even though, as Christie put it, “broad legalization of marijuana won’t, in my view, alleviate or even minimize the opioid crisis.”
It’s unclear what’s behind the apparent shift from hardline prohibitionist to wary federalist, but who knows… maybe Christie experienced an epiphany at a Melissa Etheridge concert he attended earlier this month.
Etheridge, who recently spoke with Marijuana Moment about her cannabis advocacy and use of the drug for medicinal purposes, reacted to a tweet showing Christie at one of her recent performances, where he reportedly knew every word of her songs and sang along.
— Melissa Etheridge (@metheridge) October 6, 2018
Christie, for his part, replied that he “enjoyed every minute of a great performance and a truly wonderful group of fans.”
And enjoyed every minute of a great performance and a truly wonderful group of fans https://t.co/TQdJ8fzkTM
— Governor Christie (@GovChristie) October 6, 2018
Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.
Marijuana Support Grows: Two Out Of Three Americans Back Legalization, Gallup Says
Two-thirds of Americans now support legalizing marijuana, the highest percentage ever in Gallup’s ongoing decades-long series of national polls on the topic.
The new survey released on Monday shows that U.S. adults back ending cannabis prohibition by a supermajority margin of 66 percent to 32 percent. That’s more than a two-to-one ratio.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo courtesy of Jurassic Blueberries.