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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.

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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American Medical Association Asks Mississippi Voters To Reject Medical Marijuana Ballot Initiative

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A medical marijuana legalization initiative that will appear on Mississippi’s November ballot is being targeted by two medical associations that are pushing voters to reject the policy change.

With weeks left until the vote, the Mississippi State Medical Association (MSMA) and American Medical Association (AMA) are circulating a sample ballot that instructs voters on how to reject the activist-led measure. For supporters and opponents alike, the way the ballot is structured can be confusing—a product of the legislature approving an alternative that appears alongside Initiative 65.

“The purpose is to defeat Initiative 65. Initiative 65A will allow the legislature to enact changes to the law, which would not be possible with Initiative 65,” the opposition campaign document states. “MSMA is asking for you to join us in educating and encouraging our population to vote against Initiative 65.”

Via MSMA.

This marks the latest obstacle that reform advocates are facing as they work to inform the electorate about how to fill out the ballot to pass their proposal. Despite polls that show support for medical cannabis legalization at 81 percent in Mississippi, opponents aren’t acquiescing to public opinion.

MSMA President Mark Horne told WLBT-TV last week that the organization was asked to review the initiative and that “it was immediately clear that this is an effort focused on generating profits for an industry that has no ties to the medical or health care community in Mississippi.”

But according to Jamie Grantham, communications director for Mississippians for Compassionate Care (MCC), that talking point has only recently been aired and the campaign didn’t receive that feedback until MSMA mounted this opposition push. She told Marijuana Moment on Monday that the group’s steering committee is composed of several physicians who also had a hand in drafting the measure’s language—and that includes doctors who are part of MSMA.

“Ultimately, it boils down to patients being able to have access to this through their physician. They need to be able to have that conversation with them,” she said. “If certain physicians don’t see a benefit to that, that’s fine. But lots of other physicians do, and that’s evidenced undeniably in the 34 other states with medical marijuana programs where patients are receiving relief.”

AMA President Susan Bailey argued that “amending a state constitution to legalize an unproven drug is the wrong approach,” adding that there are concerns about youth exposure and impaired driving.

That said, a scientific journal published by AMA has printed research showing the advantages of broad marijuana legalization, however, with one recent study showing that people in states where recreational cannabis is legal were significantly less likely to experience vaping-related lung injuries than those in states where it is prohibited.

The organization has long maintained an opposition to legalization but has called for a review of marijuana’s restrictive federal Schedule I status.

Marijuana Moment reached out to AMA for comment, but a representative did not respond by the time of publication.

If the Mississippi campaign’s measure passes, it would allow patients with debilitating medical issues to legally obtain marijuana after getting a doctor’s recommendation. The proposal includes 22 qualifying conditions such as cancer, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder, and patients would be allowed to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana per 14-day period.

In June, lawmakers introduced yet another medical cannabis alternative resolution that would’ve posed an additional threat to the activist-driven reform initiative. But, to advocates’ relief, the legislation didn’t advance before lawmakers went home for the summer.

Nebraska Activists Unveil New Medical Marijuana Initiative For 2022 Following Supreme Court Defeat

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Nebraska Activists Unveil New Medical Marijuana Initiative For 2022 Following Supreme Court Defeat

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Nebraska activists on Monday announced they are filing a new medical marijuana ballot initiative after an earlier version got shot down by the state Supreme Court this month.

The previous proposal had already collected enough signatures from voters and qualified for this November’s ballot, but a local sheriff filed a challenge, arguing that it violated the state’s single-subject rule that prohibits measures that deal with multiple issues. The secretary of state’s office rejected that claim, but the case went to court and a majority of justices ultimately ruled that the proposal would be removed from the ballot.

While advocates are disappointed that the state won’t have the opportunity to enact the policy change this year, Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana didn’t waste any time putting together a new initiative that they feel will pass the single-subject test and appear on the 2022 ballot.

Language of the new proposal simply states: “Persons in the State of Nebraska shall have the right to cannabis in all its forms for medical purposes.”

Of course, that simplified text might satisfy the ballot policy, but it leaves an open questions about what—if any—regulated market would provide people with access to cannabis. It also doesn’t define eligibility, so that right to marijuana would appear to be unrestricted as long as person purports to use it for therapeutic reasons.

Those questions, if they remain unanswered by the campaign, could prove to be a sticking point for voters who would otherwise support regulated access to medical cannabis but might be uncomfortable with what could be a “free-for-all” situation that opponents have locked activists into with the single-subject challenge.

That said, the advocacy group says it plans to follow up the new simple constitutional amendment with “trailing statutory initiatives to set up a safe and secure medical cannabis system in Nebraska” if lawmakers fail to pass any medical marijuana  legislation over the next year. That’s similar to how casino gaming supporters are pursuing their issue with companion constitutional and statutory ballot measures.

Under this year’s blocked initiative, physicians would have been able to recommend cannabis to patients suffering from debilitating medical conditions, and those patients would then have been allowed to possess, purchase and “discreetly” cultivate marijuana for personal use.

Sens. Anna Wishart (D) and Adam Morfeld (D), cochairs of Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana, have tried for years to pass medical cannabis bills in the legislature only to be blocked by opposition from leadership.

Now, between the Supreme Court defeat and legislative inaction, they’re charting a new path.

“Families with loved ones suffering from conditions like epilepsy, PTSD, Parkinson’s, and cancer have fought for years to make medical cannabis safely accessible in our state as it is in 33 other states,” Wishart said in a press release. “This year over 190,000 Nebraskans successfully petitioned our government during a pandemic for that right, and despite receiving qualification from the Secretary of State, our initiative was removed from the ballot by a 5-2 vote from Nebraska’s Supreme Court. We will not give up and intend to bring this fight to the legislature in January with a bill that I will introduce and to the ballot in 2022.”

Morfeld added that the “new petition language indisputably presents a single subject and makes medical cannabis a constitutional right.”

“Then following with several statutory initiatives, we will establish a safe and regulated medical cannabis system,” he said. “Nebraskans have a constitutional right to petition their government, and we will not stop until they can exercise their right and have their voices heard on medical cannabis.”

While the timing isn’t ideal as far as advocates are concerned, given that presidential election years are typically targeted by cannabis reform supporters because of relatively larger turnout by supporters as compared to midterm cycles, 2022 is the next option they’re left with. That said, it’s possible that the continuing momentum for reform via the ballot could spur legislators to take up the issue in the meantime.

For what it’s worth, Nebraska’s attorney general said in an opinion last year that efforts to legalize medical marijuana in the state would be preempted by federal law and “would be, therefore, unconstitutional.”

New Jersey Marijuana Campaign Launches First Ad As Poll Shows Support For Legalization Referendum

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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Top Illinois And Michigan Officials Give Marijuana Legalization Advice To Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor

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The lieutenant governors of Illinois and Michigan recently gave their counterpart in Pennsylvania some advice on how to approach marijuana legalization in his state.

At a virtual forum on Thursday, Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) put several questions to Illinois Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton (D) and Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist (D), asking for tips on how to navigate the policy change as legislators in his state consider his push to enact a legal cannabis system.

“What I hope that Pennsylvania can learn from Michigan is that you can do it right. You do not have to piecemeal this together,” Gilchrist said.

“When you do it in the right way, it sets you up to create the systems and infrastructure to truly support people as this comes online, to create opportunities for those who have been oppressed and cut out of opportunity because they’ve been incarcerated or criminalized in the system to be able to participate in the potential prosperity that adult-use cannabis can create for communities in a full and robust and inclusive way,” he said.

Fetterman said that, from his perspective, Illinois is “the gold standard of legalizing recreational cannabis” because of how it intentionally approached restorative justice and social equity through reform legislation.

Because Pennsylvania doesn’t have a process through which citizens can put initiatives on the ballot, he said he was especially interested in how Illinois crafted an effective cannabis system legislatively.


“We had looked at other states and what was happening in other states, when we did our homework, we realized that really none of the other states had really kind of approached this legislation or their efforts—I think we were the first to do it by legislation—with an intentional lens of equity,” Stratton, who purchased cannabis gummies at a dispensary on the state’s first day of legal sales, said. “As all of us know, if you’re not intentional about equity, it just doesn’t happen because of the systems and the systemic racism that we’ve talked about. It does not happen that you just end up with equity.”

“We are working towards making sure that those individuals that were from many of the communities most harmed by the war on drugs could have real opportunity. We’re working towards that,” she said. “We are repairing the harm of what generations of bad policy—including, again, the war on drugs—has done to these communities that are disproportionately black and brown.”

Stratton also emphasized that, under her state’s marijuana model, 25 percent of cannabis tax revenue goes toward restorative justice grants for disadvantaged communities. She also noted that Illinois has been consistently “breaking records with sales,” even during the coronavirus pandemic. That said, there have been some snags in implementing an equitable model of cannabis business licensing in the state, with several lawsuits filed over the results of a recent application scoring round.

Gilchrist jumped in to offer Fetterman another tip as Pennsylvania navigates through legalization legislation.

“There’s another element that I want to discuss that that perhaps is something that you should think about in Pennsylvania, and that is that kind of—I won’t call it consensus building per se—but that kind of real and robust and muscular set of community conversations and involvement in the design of implementation is really important,” he said.

He said it’s important to ensure that there’s “accessibility” to enter the industry and remove barriers that keep people from participating.

“You don’t want people to be designed out of these opportunities,” he said. “And sometimes that can happen, both unintentionally and intentionally.”

Fetterman ended the event by reflecting on the increasing bipartisan support around legalization, and both of his guests agreed that their experiences demonstrated as much.

He and Gov. Tom Wolf (D) have been regularly talking about the policy change in recent weeks. At a marijuana reform rally earlier this month, for example, both officials discussed their support for legalization and the need to stand up Pennsylvania’s market as more surrounding states pursue legal cannabis models.

Also this month, Wolf took a shot at the GOP-controlled legislature for failing to get the job done. He also floated the idea of passing a bill that would allow the state itself to sell the cannabis to consumers.

While Wolf initially opposed adult-use legalization, he came out in support of the policy change last year after Fetterman led a statewide listening tour last year to solicit public input on the issue.

Shortly after the governor announced that he was embracing the reform, a lawmaker filed a bill to legalize marijuana through a state-run model.

A majority of Senate Democrats sent Wolf a letter in July arguing that legislators should pursue the policy change in order to generate revenue to make up for losses resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Marijuana Election Has Already Started: Here’s What You Need To Know About Early Voting And Registration Deadlines

Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

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