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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.

Politics

Andrew Yang Peddles Marijuana-Themed Presidential Campaign Merchandise

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2020 candidate Andrew Yang announced on Saturday that his campaign for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination is rolling out a line of marijuana-themed merch.

The limited edition products blend Yang’s love of mathematics with his support for cannabis reform. A t-shirt being offered for $30 simply says, “Math. Money. Marijuana.” And a now-sold-out baseball cap says “Math” on the front and displays a cannabis leaf on back. There’s also a bumper sticker that says, “Legalize Marijuana.”

Please visit Forbes to read the rest of this piece.

(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)

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Buttigieg Pledges To Decriminalize Possession Of All Drugs In First Term As President

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South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg released a comprehensive plan on Friday that calls for “decriminalizing all drug possession” in his first presidential term as a means to combat the opioid epidemic and treat addiction as a public health, rather than criminal justice, issue.

Decriminalization is just one action the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate said he’d pursue in order to reform the country’s mental health care system and bolster substance abuse treatment. His plan also includes proposals to reduce sentences for drug offenses other than possession, increase access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone and make it easier to implement syringe exchange programs.

Buttigieg’s “Healing and Belonging in America” plan emphasizes the need to divert people suffering from addiction away from prisons and into treatment. He said he’d accomplish that by expanding diversionary programs and evidence-based training “for drug courts, mental health courts, and other alternatives to incarceration for justice-involved persons.”

The goal of decriminalization and diversion is to reduce “the number of people incarcerated due to mental illness or substance use by 75 percent in the first term.”

Under his plan, sentencing reform for drug offenses other than possession would be applied retroactively and coupled with expungements for past convictions. Buttigieg pointed to research demonstrating that “incarceration for drug offenses has no effect on drug misuse, drug arrests, or overdose deaths” and instead “actually increases the rate of overdose deaths.”

“We cannot incarcerate ourselves out of this public health problem.”

“To ensure that people with a mental illness or substance use disorder can heal, we will decriminalize these conditions,” the proposal states. “When someone is undergoing a crisis or is caught using a drug, they should be treated by a health professional rather than punished in a jail cell.”

“All presidential candidates should join Pete Buttigieg in recognizing that the criminalization of people for their drug use is wrong and simply bad policy,” Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Action, said in a press release. “Possession of drugs for personal use is the single most arrested offense in the United States, eclipsing arrest rates for any other offense. With overdose numbers skyrocketing and entire communities, disproportionately black or brown, suffering from criminalization, it’s time for policymakers to shift gears. Taking an evidence-based, health-centered approach to address this crisis is not only true leadership – it’s common sense.”

The mayor also made harm reduction policies a key component of his strategy. He said take-home naloxone programs would be expanded to all 50 states by 2024 and that harm reduction services would be expanded “to reduce overdose deaths and the spread of infectious diseases related to needle sharing.”

The plan would make naloxone “broadly available in order to reverse overdoses” and remove “legislative and regulatory restrictions on the use of federal funds for syringe service programs.”

Buttigieg said the federal government should provide funding for state and local health departments to purchase the medication, make sure that it’s “available in public spaces and workplaces” similar to first aid kids and encourage “co-prescribing of naloxone with opioids, either by individual physicians or direct dispensing by pharmacists.”

Existing federal law makes it difficult to establish syringe exchange programs, in part because federal funds can’t be used to buy needles. The restrictions “hamper state and local responses, both because they limit resources and because they convey a negative message about the value of these programs, despite overwhelming scientific evidence that they can prevent transmission of HIV and hepatitis.”

In addition to lifting those barriers, the candidate said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “would also work with states to remove any criminal liability for those participating in” syringe exchange programs.

“Harm reduction programs are a critical part of any effective response to the opioid and injection drug use crisis. They minimize the negative impact of drug use without encouraging it, while reducing other side effects of drug use. In particular, this means access to syringe service programs for people who inject drugs, that link them to treatment, and provides access to sterile syringes. These programs help prevent transmission of HIV, viral hepatitis, and other infectious diseases associated with needle sharing, and reduce overdoses by deploying medication such as naloxone that help reverse the effects of opioids.”

One harm reduction policy that didn’t make the cut in Buttigieg’s plan is safe injection sites, where people could use illicit drugs under the supervision of medical professionals who could reverse overdoses and recommend treatment options. Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who are also running for the Democratic nomination, both proposed legalizing such facilities as part of criminal justice reform plans they released this month.

“Decades of failed mental health and addiction policy, coupled with mass incarceration that criminalized mental illness and drug use, have left us with a mental health and addiction care system so broken that today there are more people with serious mental illness in prisons than in treatment facilities,” Buttigieg said.

The candidate also made ending incarceration for drug possession—as well as legalizing marijuana—central principles of his previously released criminal justice reform plan, which he released last month.

But while the prior plan did not explicitly describe the move as “decriminalizing” drugs, even though advocates commonly use that word to refer to policies that remove the threat of being imprisoned for possession, the new document does use that terminology—signaling a shift in clarity as Buttigieg continues to develop his campaign messaging.

In other instances, he borrowed language from his criminal justice reform plan, specifically as it concerns how criminalizing drug use can increase rates of overdose, for his mental health proposal.

“Despite equal rates of use, Black Americans are nearly four times as likely to be arrested for using marijuana,” the criminal justice plan states. “Research shows that incarceration for drug offenses has no effect on drug misuse, drug arrests, or overdose deaths. In fact, some studies show that incarceration actually increases the rate of overdose deaths.”

Buttigieg mentioned that, as with drug offenses, black people are also more likely to die from overdoses. And that’s due to “the current broken system that criminalizes mental illness and addiction” that was “built during the crack epidemic of the 1980s.”

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

This story was updated to include comment from the Drug Policy Action.

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Gage Skidmore.

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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White House Drug Officials Say Legal Marijuana Is Up To States

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Two top federal drug officials, including the White House drug czar, recently said that marijuana legalization should be left up to states.

The comments stand out coming from the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), which has historically played a central role in defending blanket federal prohibition.

Jim Carroll, the Trump-appointed drug czar who directs the administration’s drug policies, told Fox 59 reporter Kayla Sullivan that he considers legalization a states’ right issue. He added that he’d like to see targeted education campaigns concerning cannabis use during pregnancy and underage usage as well as research into impaired driving.

It’s a particularly notable position given that federal law stipulates that the drug czar is required to “take such actions as necessary to oppose any attempt to legalize the use of a substance” listed as Schedule I under the Controlled Substances Act, including marijuana.

Even if Carroll’s remarks arguably don’t directly violate that statute, they are significant in that he doesn’t seem to have taken the opportunity to proactively oppose state legalization efforts when asked by a reporter.

Anne Hazlett, senior advisor at ONDCP, also weighed in on cannabis legalization on Wednesday, telling CentralIllinoisProud.com that marijuana legalization is “a state decision.”

“Marijuana is an ongoing challenge that is being addressed in many of our states,” she said. “This is a state decision, and we would like to see additional research done so that these decisions being made at a state level are being made in a manor that is fully informed.”

Though the comments from Carroll and Hazlett seem to reflect an evolving understanding of the federal government’s role in imposing prohibition on the states, the ONDCP director has previously made clear he’s not enthusiastic about the burgeoning legal market.

During a House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing in May, Carroll raised concerns about THC potency in marijuana products, saying “the marijuana we have today is nothing like what it was when I was a kid, when I was in high school.”

“Back then the THC, the ingredient in marijuana that makes you high, was in the teens in terms of the percentage,” he said. “Now what we’re seeing is twice that, three times that, in the plant.”

He also said that more research is needed and that the Drug Enforcement Administration as well as the Department of Health and Human Services are “working hard to make sure that we understand the impact of legalization of marijuana on the body.”

Federally Funded Journal Exposes How Marijuana Prohibition Puts Consumers At Risk

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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