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Top Congressional Chairman Campaigns On Marijuana Legalization

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The chair of the powerful House Judiciary Committee is campaigning on marijuana two days after he introduced a comprehensive legalization bill.

The reelection campaign for Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) sent out an email on Thursday touting his legislation and inviting people to sign a petition supporting the sentiment that the U.S. has a “moral responsibility” to end marijuana prohibition and to “directly challenge the structural racism at the heart of the drug war’s enforcement.”

The email starts by referencing Nadler’s questioning of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who appeared before the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday to discuss his office’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and President Donald Trump’s conduct.

Nadler said recipients “may have seen me on TV yesterday” at the hearing, “but I wanted to make sure you know about the other important work happening that isn’t breaking through on cable news.”

“This week, I introduced a marijuana legalization bill that directly challenges the structural racism so damaging to our country—becoming the first Judiciary Committee Chair in history to take this critical step,” the email continues.

Nadler and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, filed companion legalization bills on Tuesday. The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act would federally deschedule marijuana, allow cannabis businesses to access financial services, provide for resentencing and use tax revenue from marijuana sales to reinvest in communities that are disproportionately impacted by prohibition.

“My bill, the MORE Act, is the most comprehensive marijuana reform bill ever introduced, and it’s backed by a broad coalition of civil rights, criminal justice, drug policy, and immigration groups,” Nadler said. “The hysteria around marijuana is starting to lift as states across the country lead the way in reforming their marijuana laws. It is time that the US federal government follow suit.”

“Marijuana is a public health and personal freedom issue, not a criminal one. We can no longer afford the moral or financial costs of the War on Drugs. That is why the introduction of The MORE Act is a critical step toward creating just laws around marijuana.”

In his capacity as Judiciary chairman, which oversees drug and crime policy, Nadler is uniquely positioned to advance cannabis reform legislation in the House.

His panel held a historic hearing earlier this month to discuss the best path forward to end marijuana prohibition. Though the congressman’s bill hadn’t been introduced at that point, witnesses and several committee members emphasized that any plan to legalize cannabis at the federal level should include provisions that promote social equity in the industry and restorative justice for communities most harmed by the drug war.

“After marijuana policy has been lost in the wilderness of the Judiciary Committee led by Republican Bob Goodlatte, we now have a cannabis champion at the helm in Chairman Nadler,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal told Marijuana Moment. “We look forward to working with the chairman to swiftly move The MORE Act forward after the August recess.”

Numerous legalization proposals have been introduced this Congress, most of which would federally deschedule marijuana. However, there’s debate among advocates about whether to pursue bolder options that include social justice-centered provisions or first aim to advance a more modest bipartisan bill that would simply allow states to set their own marijuana policies without running the risk of federal intervention and may stand a better chance of passing in the Republican-controlled Senate.

A newly formed coalition of drug reform and civil rights organizations, including the ACLU, released a list of legislative priorities for marijuana legislation this month that emphasizes the need for restorative justice.

Nadler’s email links to a petition to “support the MORE Act and critical reforms to marijuana laws.” Using online petitions has become a common tactic for politicians to build large email lists that they can then later fundraise from.

Read the full text of the Nadler’s campaign email on marijuana below:

Subject: You and I are going to challenge systemic racism and legalize marijuana

You may have seen me on TV yesterday questioning Robert Mueller and reminding the world that President Trump has been lying to us and the Special Counsel — but I wanted to make sure you know about the other important work happening that isn’t breaking through on cable news.

This week, I introduced a marijuana legalization bill that directly challenges the structural racism so damaging to our country — becoming the first Judiciary Committee Chair in history to take this critical step.

But we need your voice to make it clear that Americans stand with this legislation! Help us get 10,000 grassroots signatures in the next 24 hours to prove that it’s time for action.

America has a moral responsibility to pass my legislation to end the prohibition of marijuana and directly challenge the structural racism at the heart of the drug war’s enforcement.

My bill, the MORE Act, is the most comprehensive marijuana reform bill ever introduced, and it’s backed by a broad coalition of civil rights, criminal justice, drug policy, and immigration groups.

Here’s what it does:

1. Provide much-needed relief to the communities that have been ravaged by the racist enforcement of marijuana prohibition
2. Remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, which decriminalizes it at the federal level and thereby enables states to set their own policies. This also will pave the way for more medical research.
3. The existing state-legal marijuana industry will no longer be barred from accessing financial services or standard tax treatment available to all legal businesses.
4. Veterans will have better access to medical marijuana because Veterans Administration doctors will no longer be in danger of facing federal prosecution for filling out state-legal medical recommendations.

In 1977, I cast my first vote as a freshman member of the State Assembly to decriminalize marijuana in my home state of New York. Since then, I have been committed to ending the criminalization of marijuana. Simply put, the criminalization of marijuana is a mistake and caused grave harm, disproportionately to those who are poor or people of color, and we must take action.

The hysteria around marijuana is starting to lift as states across the country lead the way in reforming their marijuana laws. It is time that the US federal government follow suit.

Marijuana is a public health and personal freedom issue, not a criminal one. We can no longer afford the moral or financial costs of the War on Drugs. That is why the introduction of The MORE Act is a critical step toward creating just laws around marijuana.

TAKE ACTION: Support the MORE Act and critical reforms to marijuana laws!

Yours in Reform,

Chairman Jerry Nadler

Federal Officials Give Hemp Legalization Update At Senate Hearing

 

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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Andrew Yang Wants To Legalize Psychedelic Mushrooms For Military Veterans

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Andrew Yang says he wants to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for military veterans to help them combat mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

During a town hall event at an Iowa college on Thursday, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate was asked whether he would take initiative and allow veterans to access medical marijuana if elected. Yang replied he “will be so excited to be that commander-in-chief” that he would not only end federal cannabis prohibition but would go one step further by legalizing the psychedelic fungus for veterans as well.

“We need to get marijuana off of the Controlled Substances Act and legalize it at the federal level, make it freely available,” he said. “I say this because I’ve talked to hundreds of veterans and other Americans who benefit from marijuana as a pain relief treatment, and it’s much less deadly than the opiates that many, many people are using for the same conditions.”

“I’ve talked to veterans who’ve also benefited from psilocybin mushrooms,” he added. “They said it was the only thing that actually has helped combat their PTSD. I’m for legalizing psilocybin mushrooms for veterans as well. Pretty much if it’s going to help a veteran, we should make it easier, not harder, for them to get access to it.”

Yang’s drug policy reform platform is unique in that respect. While the majority of Democratic candidates support marijuana legalization, he’s pushed unique proposals such as decriminalizing possession of opioids and making psilocybin mushrooms “more freely available” for therapeutic purposes. The candidate also wants to invest federal funds in safe injection facilities where individuals can use prohibited drugs in a medically supervised environment and receive help getting into treatment.

He hasn’t gone so far as embracing the decriminalization of all drugs, as former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg has, however.

That said, Yang did signal that he’s open to legalizing and regulating “certain drugs” beyond cannabis, which he argued would disrupt international drug cartels. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) recently said she backs “legalizing and regulating” currently illegal controlled substances to protect public safety and combat the illicit market.

At the Iowa town hall, Yang went on to say that he’s particularly interested in legalizing marijuana, and he again pledged to “pardon everyone who’s in jail for a non-violent marijuana-related offense because they shouldn’t be in jail for something that’s frankly legal in other parts of the country.”

“And I would pardon them all on April 20, 2021, high-five them on the way out of jail and be like, ‘things got a lot better in the last year,'” he said, referencing the unofficial cannabis holiday 4/20.

Tom Steyer Calls For Marijuana Legalization And Opioid Decriminalization

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Tom Steyer Calls For Marijuana Legalization And Opioid Decriminalization

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Billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer is calling for the legalization of marijuana and decriminalization of opioid possession.

In a criminal justice reform plan released on Thursday, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate laid out a vision for ending the drug war, which he said has contributed to mass incarceration and is enforced in a racially disproportionate manner.

“Tom believes we must end the failed War on Drugs. Based on the flawed idea that incarceration is the answer to addiction, federal and state elected officials passed severe sentencing laws that encouraged incarceration for low-level drug offenses,” the plan states. “Unfortunately, communities of color were and continue to be disproportionately affected and targeted by these laws, even when other ethnicities were committing the same drug crimes at the same rates.”

There are six proposals in the drug war section, including legalizing cannabis and expunging prior marijuana convictions, ending mandatory minimum sentences and empowering judges to use more discretion in non-violent drug cases, diverting people convicted of drug offenses to treatment or drug court, ending the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, sealing the records of certain drug convictions and decriminalizing opioids while investing $75 billion in treatment programs and holding pharmaceutical companies accountable.

Steyer specifically endorsed House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler’s (D-NY) Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which would deschedule cannabis, expunge prior convictions and set aside tax revenue to support communities most impacted by the drug war.

“Policing marijuana use has led to too many unfair incarcerations and predominantly impacted communities of color,” the plan says. It also criticizes then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s 2018 move on “repealing leniency given to states for marijuana laws.”

“A Steyer Administration will also open equitable pathways to banking for marijuana businesses,” it continues. “The federal government—including the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation—should not be a barrier to marijuana businesses receiving support from their local banks.”

“Incarceration is not the answer to addiction, and low-level drug offenses should not carry a severe sentence. Tom will legalize marijuana, let states pass their own policies, expunge past records, and direct the federal government to open banking services to the marijuana industry. Tom’s administration will end the disparity between crack and cocaine sentences, decriminalize opioid possession, and invest $75 billion to address the opioid crisis.”

The opioid decriminalization proposal is similar to that of entrepreneur Andrew Yang, another 2020 candidate who said removing criminal penalties for possessing the substance is necessary in order to help get people into treatment and curb the opioid crisis. Former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) have gone further, calling for the decriminalization of all drug possession and, in Gabbard’s case, also the legalization and regulation of illicit drugs.

“Tom supports decriminalizing small amounts of opioid possession for personal use at the federal level,” the plan states. “He will address the opioid crisis through $75 billion in new funding over ten years to resource state and local treatment programs, hold big pharmaceutical corporations and their executives accountable, and strongly enforce laws that end the illicit distribution and sale of opioids.”

This is a notable development for Steyer, who hasn’t discussed drug policy reform as much as many other candidates in the race and whose views on decriminalization of substances beyond marijuana were previously unknown.

Last year, Steyer said he supported creating a national referendum process so that Americans can made decisions about a wide range of policy issues, including cannabis legalization.

He also previously discussed his support for ending marijuana prohibition and providing the industry with access to banking, saying that he and his wife wanted to provide financial services to minority- and women-owned cannabis firms through their community bank, but federal prohibition means the business would be put at risk if they did that.

Steyer’s new plan also calls for juvenile justice reform, ending cash bail, banning facial recognition technology in policing, demilitarizing law enforcement, improving prison conditions and eliminating the death penalty, among other reforms.

Wisconsin Governor Blasts Lawmakers For Not Legalizing Medical Marijuana Despite Public Support

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Austin City Council Approves Measure To End Most Marijuana Arrests

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The decision to back away from pursuing criminal charges against people with small amounts of pot comes after state lawmakers last year legalized hemp in a way that threw marijuana prosecution into chaos.

By , The Texas Tribune

The Austin City Council approved a resolution Thursday that will largely end arrests and fines for low-level marijuana possession. This comes after Texas’ legalization of hemp last June threw marijuana prosecution into chaos since the plants look and smell identical.

The resolution directing Austin police not to spend city resources on newly necessary lab tests to distinguish marijuana from now-legal hemp passed unanimously with nine votes. Council member Jimmy Flannigan and Mayor Steve Adler were absent. Debate on the measure lasted just under an hour and a half. Of about 20 people who spoke on the resolution, only Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday was against it.

The council’s resolution states that it stems directly from Texas’ new law legalizing hemp. Last summer, following a federal hemp bill, state lawmakers approved a measure to create an agricultural industry for the crop in Texas. But the law also complicated marijuana prosecutions by narrowing the legal definition of the drug from cannabis to cannabis that contains more than 0.3% THC, the psychoactive ingredient in the plant.

All of a sudden, some district attorneys were dropping hundreds of low-level pot possession cases and not accepting new ones, arguing they couldn’t tell without lab testing if something was marijuana anymore. New misdemeanor marijuana cases filed by Texas prosecutors have dropped by more than half. And numerous Texas prosecutors, including those in Austin’s Travis County, require police to submit lab reports on a substance’s THC concentration before they will pursue misdemeanor marijuana charges. They argue circumstantial evidence like smell can no longer be used to authoritatively say something is marijuana.

Part of what prompted the Austin resolution — which prohibits spending city funds on such testing except in felony cases — is that public state labs are still working on establishing a way to test for that THC concentration. Right now they can only tell if something is cannabis. For some counties and cities, that has meant putting more money into shipping seized cannabis to private labs that can tell if it’s hemp or marijuana.

Even in places where police don’t have or aren’t spending funds on such testing and new cases aren’t being accepted by prosecutors, people are still being cited or arrested. They are sometimes taken to jail but then released with no charges being pursued. Austin police said this month that they still arrest or cite people who are suspected of possessing marijuana.

This resolution changes that, directing the city to get as close as possible to eliminating enforcement action for low-level cannabis possession.

The measure prohibits spending city funds on testing in low-level possession cases, and it directs police not to arrest or cite people in such cases — unless there is a safety concern — if they know the district attorney will automatically reject the charges or testing won’t be approved. It clarifies that lab testing can be used for suspected felonies or when the cannabis is not for personal use, like trafficking cases. A revised version also specifies that the measure will not affect toxicology testing.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Texas Marijuana Prosecutions Have Dropped By More Than Half Following Hemp’s Legalization

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