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Two New Congressional Reports Address Marijuana, Hemp And CBD

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A key congressional committee released two reports on Monday that discuss policies surrounding marijuana, hemp and cannabidiol (CBD).

The documents published by the House Appropriations Committee are attached to annual spending bills that fund certain parts of the federal government, and some of their sections outline concerns about marijuana-impaired driving and the marketing of cannabis-derived products. One of the reports also lays out directives on funds to be used for the implementation of hemp regulations for the 2020 fiscal year.

The first report, which corresponds with legislation on Agriculture, Rural Development, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and related agencies, includes two cannabis sections.

One passage details concerns about CBD products that are currently being “marketed in violation” of federal law. At the same time, though, the committee is directing FDA to follow through with pledges to identify “lawful federal regulatory pathways for CBD foods and dietary supplements if such pathways are consistent with protection of the public health,” given that hemp-derived CBD was legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill.

“Cannabidiol Regulatory Pathway—The Committee is concerned about the proliferation of foods and dietary supplements marketed in violation of the Federal Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act (FFDCA), including products containing cannabis and cannabis-derived ingredients. Non-FFDCA-compliant products pose potential health and safety risks to consumers through unsubstantiated and misleading claims such as treating a wide-range of life-threatening diseases and conditions; excessive cannabidiol (CBD) concentrations that can result in harmful drug-drug interactions, somnolence, and elevated transaminases or liver toxicity; and the presence of significant levels of intoxicating compounds such as tetrahydrocannabinols (THC). The 2018 farm bill expressly preserves FDA’s public health authority to take appropriate actions regarding cannabis, including hemp and its derivatives. The Committee recognizes the FDA is considering a public regulatory process to evaluate the appropriateness, and possible parameters, of a regulatory pathway that would permit CBD in certain foods and dietary supplements. The Committee expects the FDA to assert its commitment to identifying lawful federal regulatory pathways for CBD foods and dietary supplements if such pathways are consistent with protection of the public health. Such pathways may include necessary public health and safety parameters that will protect the public health, such as labeling requirements and limits on CBD or other cannibis-derived ingredients in products, based upon anticipated total exposure levels. The Committee also expects the FDA to preserve the integrity of its drug development and approval processes, which ensures that products marketed for drug uses have undergone a rigorous scientific validation process demonstrating quality, safety and efficacy. It is also imperative that any FDA regulation of foods and dietary supplements containing CBD or other cannibis-derived ingredients preserve incentives to invest in robust clinical study of cannabis, so its therapeutic value can be more fully understood.”

Industry stakeholders got the chance to weigh in on the rulemaking process during a public hearing the FDA held last week.

Elsewhere in the same report, the House panel said that it was providing the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) with roughly $16.5 million to facilitate the implementation of regulations for hemp and hemp-derived products “as soon as possible.”

“Hemp Production Program—The Committee understands that USDA is working on implementing the Hemp Production Program as authorized by the 2018 Farm Bill and encourages the Department to use existing resources to issue regulations as soon as possible. The bill includes $16,496,000 for implementation costs in fiscal year 2020. The Department is directed to provide the Committee with frequent status updates on the progress of implementation.”

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has pledged to release those guidelines in time for the 2020 planting season.

In a separate report on an appropriations for the Departments of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and related agencies, the committee said that drug-impaired driving “remains a growing concern due to the increase in States legalizing marijuana use and the persistence of the opioid crisis.”

The panel urged the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to develop “a reliable standard for all types of impaired driving” but acknowledged that “developing a standard measurement of marijuana impairment, similar to blood alcohol concentration, remains unlikely in the near term.” As such, it is directing the agency to prioritize research into the creation of a standardized field sobriety test for cannabis.

The report sets aside $250,000 for NHTSA to support impaired driving detection programs for law enforcement.

“Drug-impaired driving—As drugged driving remains a growing concern due to the increase in States legalizing marijuana use and the persistence of the opioid crisis, the Committee supports the recommendations of the National Transportation Safety Board that DOT work with the Department of Health and Human Services to develop an impairment standard for drugs. The Committee urges NHTSA to coordinate research efforts with the States and other partners aimed at developing a reliable standard for all types of impaired driving, including marijuana impairment. The Committee directs NHTSA to continue its research efforts aimed at identifying and documenting drug-impaired drivers.

The Committee recognizes that developing a standard measurement of marijuana impairment, similar to blood alcohol concentration, remains unlikely in the near term and that resources are well spent on increasing law enforcement officers’ ability to detect driver impairment for multiple substances. The Committee directs NHTSA to continue to robustly support police training programs, particularly Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) and Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) training, and to prioritize the study and development of a standardized field sobriety test (SFST) to detect marijuana impairment. These programs support law enforcement identification of people who may be impaired due to marijuana or other drugs. Of the amounts provided under the description Impaired and Drug Impaired Driving as part of NHTSA’s Highway Safety Programs, the Committee provides an additional $250,000 under this heading to support DRE and ARIDE.”

The current text of the related respective bills themselves do not include any cannabis-specific language, but amendments could be added during the full House Appropriations Committee markup that is scheduled for Tuesday, or when the bills come to the full House floor. Senate-side action on marijuana riders is also possible.

One piece of appropriations legislation that does include marijuana provisions was released on Sunday. The spending proposal from the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government stipulated that funds could not be spent to penalize banks for servicing cannabis businesses that are operating in compliance with state law.

That legislation also eliminates a longstanding rider that has prohibited Washington D.C. from spending its own tax dollars to legalize and regulate marijuana sales.

Three separate spending reports that reference cannabis policy were released last month. The House Appropriations Committee said it was interested in “lowering regulatory and other barriers to conducting” research into Schedule I drugs such as cannabis. It also called for studies into the potential use of CBD and kratom as alternatives to opioid-based painkillers.

On a similar note, the panel said in a manager’s amendment to a report tied to the appropriations bill covering the Justice Department that the Drug Enforcement Administration should “expeditiously process any pending applications for authorization to produce marijuana exclusively for use in medical research.”

The committee also included language in a report attached to legislation funding the Department of Veterans Affairs expressing concern about a policy that denies home loans to military veterans who work in the marijuana industry.

Lawmakers Work New Angles To Pass Marijuana Banking Legislation

Photo courtesy of Nicholas C. Morton.

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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New Mexico Governor’s Working Group Releases Marijuana Legalization Proposal

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A governor-appointed working group in New Mexico released its recommendations for a legal marijuana market on Wednesday.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) formed the group in June, urging the panel of experts to develop a legalization plan ahead of the next legislative session, which begins in January 2020 and last just 30 days. That means New Mexico could be the next state in the U.S. to legalize early next year.

The group’s report includes recommendations touching on everything from packaging requirements to promoting social equity in the industry to the allocation of tax revenue from cannabis sales.

“Through more than 30 hours of public meetings across the state, and with the help of more than 200 pages of public comment, the members explored every aspect of legalization, both good and bad,” Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis, chair of the working group, said in a press release. “As our report makes clear, New Mexico can and should learn from missteps in other states and we have both the ingenuity, talent, and healthy level of skepticism required to get it right.”

An independent economist estimated that the state would gain 11,000 jobs and sales would reach $620 million by the fifth year of legalization’s implementation. The combined estimated tax revenue from medical and recreational cannabis sales would be $100 million annually.

Via Marijuana Working Group.

Among the recommendations are policies for automatic expungements of marijuana possession convictions, putting patients first by exempting medical cannabis from taxes, setting product requirements and funding a low-income patient subsidy program to lower the cost of marijuana.

Citing law enforcement concerns, the group also suggested prohibiting home cultivation or requiring licensing for those who wish to grow their own. Medical cannabis patients would still be allowed to cultivate their plants as under current law, and that activity by other people would at least be decriminalized for up to six plants “to remove felony criminal implications for low-level personal production.”

Here’s a summary of some of the 23-member group’s other recommendations: 

—Ensure that cannabis products are clearly labeled to reflect accurate dosing and maintain strong testing standards.

—Prohibit marijuana advertisements that feature children, cartoons or anything that would entice youth.

—Deter illicit markets by prohibiting jurisdictions from opting out of allowing cannabis businesses, but allow them to impose certain regulations such as hours of operation and zoning restrictions.

—Use tax revenue to fund law enforcement training to identify drug-impaired driving.

—Set aside funds to help provide access to capital for communities and small businesses to launch cannabis companies.

—Use revenue to to “support housing, job training and education programs statewide.”

—Set low fees for “micro business” licenses so that small family farms and entrepreneurs can enter the market.

—Study the demographics of the industry to ensure equity.

— Set aside funds for local jurisdictions to use revenue in the manner they see fit.

—Impose a tax rate that’s no more than 20 percent, with the goal being a total 17 percent tax rate.

—Impose penalties for selling cannabis to minors, consuming in a vehicle and any other unlicensed sales.

“Together, we believe the framework we are submitting is right for New Mexico,” Davis said in a letter to to the governor. “It is clear that we have both the necessary apprehension that goes with this venture, as well as the talent and capital to make this happen the right way.”

“Done well, we will create more than 11,000 new jobs—more than education and mining combined—in communities statewide,” he said. “And by giving local leaders the ability to regulate the time, place and manner of retail, we preserve important local control options so that Albuquerque and Roswell can develop with this industry on their own terms.”

The working group’s report comes months after the House passed a legalization bill that would provide for legal sales to be conducted mostly through state-run stores. That legislation advanced in a Senate committee but later stalled. In September, the group said it opposed the idea of having the government control the marijuana market.

Around the time that lawmakers were working on a legalization measure, the legislature passed a more limited bill to decriminalize cannabis possession, which the governor signed in April. The law officially took effect on July 1.

While it’s yet to be seen what policy recommendations make it into next year’s legislation, New Mexico is one of several states competing to have the most comprehensive and thoughtful legalization models in the country. Illinois lawmakers touted their cannabis law as the new gold standard when the governor signed a legalization bill into law in June, and a pair of Pennsylvania senators similarly argued that legislation they introduced on Tuesday would be superior to existing regulatory schemes.

Read the New Mexico working group’s marijuana report below: 

New Mexico Marijuana Workin… by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

Pennsylvania Senators File Comprehensive Marijuana Legalization Bill

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Where Canada’s Political Parties Stand On Marijuana And Drugs Ahead Of The Election

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Canadian voters will decide on Monday whether Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party will retain control of the federal government, or if one of several competing parties will get a chance to take over.

The result of the election could have a variety of implications for marijuana policy about one year after the country legalized cannabis—a reform move that Trudeau campaigned on in 2015.

But it’s not just marijuana positions that separate the parties, as broader drug policy issues have also exposed differences in the direction Canada may take depending on which party controls the House of Commons.

Here’s a breakdown of where each party and their respective leaders stand on drug policy.

Liberal Party: Justin Trudeau

During his first campaign for prime minister, Trudeau pledged to legalize cannabis nationwide if elected—and while it didn’t materialize as quickly as he’d anticipated, marijuana prohibition was officially ended for adults in October 2018.

But while the prime minister scored points with advocates for making good on his promise, he’s disappointed others with the specifics of its implementation and for repeatedly declining to give his support to broader drug decriminalization efforts.

Trudeau was asked in February 2018 whether his administration would consider lifting criminal penalties for opioid possession as a means to combat the drug crisis. He responded that the policy is “not a step that Canada is looking at taking at this point.”

“It’s not part of the plan,” Trudeau, who admitted to using cannabis while serving in the House of Commons, said. “There are many steps we can and have taken.”

He made similar comments when he was asked about the same issue the previous year, stating that the country “is not looking at decriminalization or legalization of any other drugs other than what we’re doing with marijuana.”

The reasoning, Trudeau said, is because “there’s a lot of other tools that we are using right now instead.”

“We are going to focus on getting the control and regulation of [the] marijuana regime right, and that’s quite a handful right now,” he said. “We’re not looking at any other steps.”

Trudeau’s views on the issue don’t necessarily align with those of his party, however. Liberal delegates voted in favor of a resolution that sought to remove criminal penalties for drug offenses at a convention last year, hoping to put the policy on the party’s campaign platform for this upcoming election.

“The Government of Canada should treat drug abuse as a health issue, expand treatment and harm reduction services and re-classify low-level drug possession and consumption as administrative violations,” the measure stated.

Following the vote, however, Trudeau said at a press conference that “it’s not part of our plans.”

The party did ultimately adopt a formal platform backing certain harm reduction policies such as safe consumption sites and stipulating that first-time non-violent drug offenders should be diverted to drug treatment court in order to “help drug users get quick access to treatment, and to prevent more serious crimes.”

During a debate with Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer last month, decriminalization came up again. While Trudeau initially said it wasn’t on the party’s agenda “at the moment,” he later clarified in a press scrum that “we will not be further decriminalizing any drugs other than cannabis.”

Bill Blair, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of justice, said in April 2018 that the government had “no plans to legalize or decriminalize any other drugs” besides marijuana.

But despite opposition from the administration, some Liberal lawmakers have been undeterred. MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith introduced a bill in July that would repeal sections of federal drug law that concern possession, effectively decriminalizing the controlled substances.

And the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health, which is controlled by the majority Liberals, issued a report in June recommending the government “work with provinces, territories, municipalities and Indigenous communities and law enforcement agencies to decriminalize the simple possession of small quantities of illicit substances.”

Conservative Party: Andrew Scheer

All but one member of the Conservative Party, including Scheer, voted against legalizing marijuana last year. However, if elected to the majority, Scheer said lawmakers wouldn’t seek to overturn the law.

“We will maintain…the fact that cannabis is legal, we are not going to change that and we do support the idea of people having those records pardoned” for prior cannabis offenses, he said in June.

While he’s pledged to uphold the legal marijuana program, the Conservative leader said during a debate with Trudeau that he’d use funds for cannabis tax revenue to increase enforcement against the illicit market. Scheer also accused the prime minister of promoting a “secret agenda” to decriminalize and legalize “hard drugs.”

The party also pushed advertisements on Facebook that falsely accused the Liberals of seeking to “legalize hard drugs.”

“This is yet another example of Conservatives copying the American right-wing playbook, spreading false information to scare and mislead voters,” Liberal Party spokesperson Joe Pickerill said in response to the ads.

Conservative Senators visited Washington, D.C. to meet with then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions in April 2018. The purpose of the trip, according to a press release, was to investigate the “predictable consequences of legalization for Canadians traveling to the United States” by discussing the matter with the anti-marijuana official.

Though Scheer and other Conservative lawmakers have derided drug policy proposals from the Liberals, their official party platform does stress the need to craft drug laws that treat addiction as a public health issue.

“To help more Canadians recover from addiction, we will revise the federal government’s substance abuse policy framework to make recovery its overarching goal,” the platform states. “We will reorient the Canadian Drugs and Substances Strategy towards ensuring that every addict has the opportunity to recover from their addiction and to lead a drug-free life and that all policies that fall under the Strategy have recovery as their objective.”

Conservatives also voiced support for expanding drug treatment facilities, funding education campaigns that encourage young people to avoid illicit substances and partnering with school districts and other institutions to clean up used needles.

New Democratic Party (NDP): Jagmeet Singh

All NDP lawmakers present for the vote on the cannabis legalization bill supported it. The party has not shied away from broader drug decriminalization, and members have emphasized the need to promote restorative justice in Canada’s marijuana program.

“New Democrats believe that there is much more we can do to save lives and support those struggling with opioids,” the party’s platform reads. “In government, we will declare a public health emergency and commit to working with all levels of government, experts and Canadians to end the criminalization and stigma of drug addiction, so that people struggling with addiction can get the help they need without fear of arrest, while getting tough on the real criminals—those who traffic in and profit from illegal drugs.”

The platform voiced support for expanding overdose prevention facilities and investigating the role of pharmaceutical companies in the opioid crisis and ensuring that the public is compensated if the industry is found culpable.

“We will also proactively expunge criminal records for Canadians convicted of minor cannabis possession,” NDP said. “With cannabis now legal in Canada, too many people are still burdened with criminal records for simple possession—records that mean real hardships that affect their employment opportunities and their ability to travel. These records for minor cannabis possession will be completely erased, allowing people to get on with building their lives.”

Singh has repeatedly proposed decriminalization as a solution to the country’s drug problems.

“I can tell you from personal experience, but I can also show you—and I’m sure you all know that there’s a preponderance of evidence when we look at those folks that are being charged with personal possession of a controlled substance people that are being arrested and incarcerated, these are folks that are struggling with issues of mental health of addiction and poverty,” Singh said in November 2017. “To me poverty, mental health and addictions don’t sound like criminal justice problems. They sound to me like a social justice problem that should be dealt with like a social justice problem.”

“That’s why I’m calling for the decriminalization of all personal possession offenses when it comes to drugs, to make a difference in the lives of people and actually bring real change,” he said.

During a debate as Singh was competing to become leader of NDP, he emphasized his decriminalization proposal.

“I would call for the immediate decriminalization of all personal possession offenses when it comes to drugs. Period,” he said.

NDP has also been critical of the rollout of Canada’s legal marijuana law, with the party writing in September that “Justin Trudeau’s Liberals had plenty of time to get this right” and it’s “not enough,” referring to the limited number of pardons for cannabis convictions that the government had issued.

“The NDP is going to keep fighting for criminal records for Canadians convicted of minor cannabis possession to be expunged,” they said.

NDP MP Don Davies unsuccessfully tried to get unanimous consent for a measure to “immediately provide pardons for those burdened by criminal records for cannabis offenses that will soon be legal” shortly after the legalization bill passed.

“For some people in Canada, and in some places, pot has been effectively legal for years,” Singh said in October 2018. “But depending on who you are, the color of your skin, and where you live, there’s a different set of rules.”

A private member bill introduced by NDP MP Murray Rankin to expunge criminal records for cannabis possession was rejected by Liberal lawmakers in May despite agreement that minority communities have been disproportionately impacted by federal drug laws.

In May, NDP urged their Liberal colleagues to answer questions about the impact of medical cannabis taxes on patients.

“The Liberal tax on medical cannabis is unfair and damaging to the health of patients. It shows that the Liberal government is out of touch with the reality of people,” NDP Deputy Leader Alexandre Boulerice said. “So far, my questions to the Minister have gone unanswered. But this time, I hope that he will finally justify the stance taken by the Liberals.”

“Medical cannabis must be treated just like other prescription drugs. Its price must be reviewed and untaxed in order to allow patients to treat themselves properly,” Boulerice said. “Some patients are forced to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars each month to get their medication. This is wrong!”

Green Party: Elizabeth May

May voted for the cannabis legalization bill, and the Green Party platform backs decriminalizing all drugs, pledging to “address the opioid crisis as a health-care issue, not a criminal issue, by declaring a national health emergency.”

“Drug possession should be decriminalized, ensuring people have access to a screened supply and the medical support they need to combat their addictions,” it says.

The platform includes several provisions aimed at reforming the current legal marijuana regime.

“A year into the legalization of cannabis, the flaws in the regulatory framework for cannabis production and sale are evident and a reform agenda is emerging,” the party said, adding that the government’s regulatory approach “treats the production of cannabis as uniquely dangerous” and that’s contributed to the ongoing presence of an illicit market.

To combat the issue, Green Party said it would lower the federally set price of marijuana to be more competitive with illicit sellers, eliminate “excess plastic packaging” requirements, remove excise duties and sales tax on medical cannabis products, allow outdoor cultivation, impose organic production standards and allow CBD to be marketed as a natural health supplement.

“Security requirements mean growers must use more energy and water and deal with diseases and pests that thrive in greenhouses, increasing costs and hobbling their ability to meet production expectations,” the platform says.

Other policies the party supports include expanding funding of community-based organizations that test drugs for safety and increase the availability of the overdose reversal medication naloxone.

“We must stop treating drug addiction as a criminal issue and start treating is as a health-care issue,” May said in a press release last month announcing her party’s support for decriminalization. “This is a national health emergency.”

“The opioid crisis is a national tragedy that is devastating communities and families across Canada,” she said. “We have to abandon old notions of the ‘war on drugs’ and join the battle that really matters—the fight to save Canadian lives.”

“It’s hard to stand up as a national party leader and say it’s time to decriminalize all illicit drugs,” May said during a press conference. “It’s what we have to do.”

“We have to take emergency steps in an emergency situation, and it’s far too dangerous to allow people, whether they’re living on the streets or living at home with their parents…to have illicit drugs that are not thoroughly screened for fentanyl contamination,” she said.

Bloc Québécois: Yves-François Blanchet

Members of the Bloc Québécois, which is primarily focused on advocating for Quebec sovereignty, voted against the marijuana legalization bill.

The party’s leader, Blanchet, doesn’t appear to have extensively discussed cannabis or drug policy issues.

Former Bloc Québécois Party Leader Martine Ouellet was more outspoken about the need for reform and said in 2017 that the country should nationalize a legal cannabis market.

“With the legalization…it creates a brand new market and [it] is a market that is currently occupied by criminal organizations,” she said. “The choice we have, do we want it to go from criminal organizations to private firms, big corporations, or if we want these profits to go from criminal organizations to all citizens?”

Ensuring that individuals provinces have the jurisdiction to allow or ban home cultivation for personal use was reportedly a key policy the party supported.

People’s Party of Canada (PPC): Maxime Bernier

Bernier, voted against the cannabis legalization bill as a Conservative lawmaker but said that he would not reverse it if elected. However, he pledged to remain watchful of the industry.

“In the longer term, my main worry is to make sure that we see the illegal market significantly reduced and ideally disappear,” he said through a spokesperson. “That was one of the key justifications for cannabis legalization.”

“If [the illicit market] stays large, we would look at regulatory and tax changes to ensure the legal market is better served,” he said. “We do not have any specific proposal for now. Same thing for edibles.”

According to Burnaby Now, Bernier has said that he’s in favor of marijuana legalization in principle and that the country should review the impact of safe consumption sites.

When running as for the leadership of the Conservative Party in 2016, Bernier welcomed an endorsement from Marc Emery, the so-called “Prince of Pot” who has since faced allegations of sexual misconduct. Emery said at the time, “I don’t even know what his position on marijuana is and I don’t care because for me Maxime Bernier represents a long-term future on all the issues” during a radio interview.

Days before Bernier formally launched the PPC last year, Emery told The Toronto Star that he “totally” endorses the candidate’s policies.

“I’ve never seen anything I disagree with,” Emery said.

Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson, a PPC candidate, said earlier this year that the party does not have an official stance on cannabis policy but expressed personal opposition to legalization.

What To Expect

Analysts expect voter turnout to be down for the Liberals, as enthusiasm for Trudeau continues to suffer amid controversy over revelations that he wore blackface and brownface. That’s presented an opportunity that some of the lesser parties such as the Greens intend to take advantage of, with May urging voters to elect enough of her party members to the House of Commons to prevent the Liberals from winning an outright majority.

That situation would mean that “the Greens and other smaller parties would hold the balance of power, possibly even including the Bloc Québécois,” The New York Times reported.

But regardless of the outcome, what appears certain is that Canada’s legal marijuana law will survive no matter which party holds power, though the specifics of how the program will continue to roll out could depend on the electoral results.

A bigger question is whether the country will build on the momentum of cannabis legalization and pursue broader drug policy reforms such as decriminalization or if that movement will stall under unsupportive leadership.

Presidential Candidate Wants To Let Americans Legalize Marijuana Through National Referendum

Photo courtesy of Christopher Policarpio.

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Two Presidential Candidates Voice Support For Drug Decriminalization At Democratic Debate

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Two Democratic presidential candidates said they support decriminalizing opioids in order to combat the country’s drug epidemic on Tuesday, marking the first time the issue of removing criminal penalties for possession of illicit substances beyond marijuana has been seriously discussed on a presidential debate stage.

During the 2020 primary debate in Westerville, Ohio, entrepreneur Andrew Yang was asked about his previously expressed support for decriminalizing opioids such as heroin.

“We need to decriminalize opioids for personal use. We need to let this country know this is not a personal failing, this was a systemic government failing,” he said. “Then we need to open up safe consumption and safe injection sites around the country because they save lives.”

He also said that “we have to recognize [addiction] is a disease of capitalism run amok.”

“There was a point where there were more opioid prescriptions in the state of Ohio than human beings in the state of Ohio, and for some reason the federal government thought that was appropriate,” Yang said, noting that Ohio sued OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma for its role in the crisis.

The suit called on the company to pay a “two percent fine [compared to their profits] and they killed tens of millions of Americans—eight an hour,” the candidate said.

“If the government turned a blind eye to this company, spreading a plague among its people, then the least we can do is put a resource into work in our communities so that people have a fighting chance to get well, even though this is not a money problem. We all know this is a human problem. Part of helping people get the treatment that they need is to let them know that they’re not going to be referred to a prison cell, they will be referred to treatment and counseling.”

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) was also asked to weigh in on whether decriminalization is a part of the solution to addiction and overdose issues.

“Yes it is,” O’Rourke said. “For many of the reasons that Mr. Yang just described.”

The former congressman cited stories he’s heard from voters during his campaign, saying that the experiences of veterans who purchased heroin after being prescribed opioids by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) highlighted the need for drug policy reform.

“Now imagine if that veteran, instead of being prescribed an opioid, had been prescribed marijuana because we made that legal in America, ensured the VA could prescribe it, expunge the arrest records for those who’d been arrested for possession and made sure that he was not prescribed something to which he would become addicted,” O’Rourke said.

His comments about cannabis earned praise from Yang, who could be heard saying, “Yes, preach Beto” while the O’Rourke made his case.

O’Rourke, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro agreed during the debate that pharmaceutical companies should be held accountable for their role in the opioid crisis.

In a follow up question about candidates’ health, a moderator directed her inquiry at Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who recently experienced a health episode. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) interjected to jokingly note that “Sanders is in favor of medical marijuana, I want to make sure that’s clear as well.”

“I do,” Sanders aid. “I’m not on it tonight.”

South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) have stood out among the Democratic pack as being vocally in favor of drug decriminalization that extends further that marijuana.

But while Sanders made history by becoming the first major presidential candidate to back cannabis legalization in 2015, he’s resisted supporting broader decriminalization, stating that he’s “not there yet.”

That said, Sanders—as well as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)—have backed other harm reduction policies such as legalizing safe injection sites where those suffering from addiction can consume illicit substances under medical supervision.

Tulsi Gabbard Says Country Should Move To Decriminalize Drugs Like Cocaine And Heroin

Photo courtesy of The New York Times.

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