In Utah, the fight for voters’ hearts and minds on the issue of medical marijuana has heated up, as opposition Political Issues Committees (PICs) are ramping up their fundraising to exceed those of groups that support a legalization measure on the state’s ballot next month, according to new campaign finance reports.
Despite only fundraising for the last few months, the groups campaigning against the cannabis proposition have a substantial edge in terms of dollars raised, with a $263,347 advantage over supporters. But according to Marijuana Moment analysis, the proponents have many more individual contributors, which may signal stronger support.
Proposition 2 would provide for individuals with qualifying conditions to receive a medical marijuana card in accordance with a physician’s recommendation. Smoking cannabis would remain prohibited. During any 14-day period, an individual would be allowed to buy either two ounces of unprocessed marijuana or an amount of marijuana product with no more than 10 grams of THC or CBD. The measure would also allow, starting in January 2021, individuals with medical cards who live further than 100 miles from a dispensary to grow six marijuana plants at home.
A Committee known as Utah Patients Coalition (a.k.a. Utah Patients First) has been organizing and spending money since 2017, and succeeded in gathering the required 145,000 signatures to get the proposition on the ballot.
In 2017, the Coalition raised $355,221 and spent $309,359. So far this year they’ve raised a total of $458,698, of which $155,527 has come in the last five months since the measure’s ballot qualification.
The largest donor for the Utah Patients Coalition is the national organization Marijuana Policy Project, which has contributed $198,173 in cash and $12,468 worth of in-kind staff time. Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, which makes hemp-infused products, donated $50,000 in January, and the non-profit patient group Our Story has contributed $49,000. Individual liberty organizations Libertas Institute in Salt Lake City and the DKT Liberty Project in Washington, D.C. have each contributed $35,000 this year.
Only six individuals made donations of $1,000 or more, and only two of those gave more than $1,100. One is Patrick Byrne, the CEO of Overstock.com, who contributed $46,000. More than 300 other donors have contributed from $5 to $500. The average donation, including the big donors, is $1,465.
The two opposition PICs did not start operations until the proposal appeared on the ballot. Contributions to both PICs are driven by one man: Walter Plumb, a lawyer and businessman. Plumb is the President of the PIC called Drug Safe Utah, AKA Neighbors for Informed Decision-Making and AKA Coalition for a Safe and Healthy Utah. He has invested $115,000 in cash and $46,680 in-kind into the PIC.
A corporation for which he is the registered agent, Colony Partners LLC (listed in the contributions report as “Coloney Partners”) has also contributed $100,000. The owner of a company that shares the same office with Plumb in Salt Lake City, Kem Gardner, has also contributed $100,000. Plumb’s individual contributions and those of Colony and Gardner make up 48 percent of the PICs total 2018 contributions of $656,195.
The other notable donors to Drug Safe Utah include the faith-based Miller Family Philanthropy (backed by Utah Jazz owner Gail Miller), Keller Investments and real estate developer Roger Boyer with $100,000 each. The Utah Medical Association has donated just $500 in cash but $35,000 worth of in-kind staff time.
Only nine other donors make up the rest of the donations, plus $150 reported as “aggregated small donations.” The average donation is $43,746.
The other anti-proposition PIC, Truth About Proposition 2, is funded almost exclusively by Plumb and cross-donations from the Drug Safe Utah PIC. The PIC reported contributions of $65,850.00. $50,000 of that came from the Coalition for a Safe and Healthy Utah, which is a DBA of Drug Safe Utah. Plumb contributed another $15,750 of his own cash. A single donation of $100 from an individual is the only other cash contribution.
Drug Safe Utah has also donated $47,108 in radio ads as an in-kind donation to Truth About Proposition 2. The two groups together have spent $506,372 through September 30.
Patient group TRUCE Utah (Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education), which has actively been campaigning to legalize medical marijuana, had not to this point registered as a PIC but has recently indicated their intention to do so.
In a March survey, 77 percent of Utah’s voters said they support medical marijuana, but the state’s governor, Gary Herbert (R) has pledged to “actively oppose” the initiative. Opposition from the influential Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and other popular politicians such as U.S. Senate candidate Mitt Romney may also be a factor when voters go to the polls on November 6.
That said, the opposition can’t necessarily count on more money and institutional opposition to translate to a victory against marijuana reform. In June, for example, Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly approved a medical cannabis ballot initiative despite the fact that supporters had far fewer monetary resources than did opponents, who also had elected officials, medical groups and law enforcement on their side against the measure.
Where Presidential Candidate Joe Sestak Stands On Marijuana
Joe Sestak, a former congressman from Pennsylvania and three-star vice admiral in the Navy, announced on Sunday that he is launching a relatively late run for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
Though his record in Congress doesn’t offer many insights into where Sestak stands on marijuana policy, he took one vote in support of shielding state medical cannabis laws from federal interference, and his current campaign site proposes reforming federal laws to facilitate research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics.
Legislation And Policy Actions
Sestak served in Congress from 2007 to 2011. In that time, he did not proactively sponsor or cosponsor any cannabis-related legislation.
The congressman was present for a vote on just one marijuana amendment attached to a spending bill—one to protect states that have legalized medical cannabis from Justice Department intervention—and he voted in favor of the proposal, even though his state had not yet enacted its own medical marijuana law.
Quotes And Social Media Posts
It’s difficult to assess exactly where the candidate stands on marijuana in part because a scan for relevant terms on his social media posts turns up nil.
Adding to the confusion is the apparent lack of public comments about cannabis policy from Sestak—at least any comments that have been reported by media.
The Philadelphia Inquirer did publish an article in 2016 that described Sestak, a former U.S. Navy admiral, as a “longtime supporter of medical access [to marijuana]—especially for vets” but it did not quote the congressman directly. That piece also noted that his position on cannabis decriminalization is unclear.
Statements on his campaign site do provide a small window into his views on the drug war more broadly.
Sestak argued that President Donald Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border would be ineffective because “most illicit trafficking of drugs, humans, and weapons, actually happens right under the noses of our border security agents” at legal ports of entry.
He also partially blamed “misguided US policies and the high demand for illegal drugs in the United States” for creating crises that leave many to flee their home countries to seek asylum in the U.S.
“Our country, which sends hundreds of millions in foreign aid to these countries, must do a better job of holding Central American officials accountable for seeing that our funds are spent effectively—and that they do not become fuel for the fires of corruption and instability,” he said.
One of the most revealing positions on drug policy that Sestak has offered also comes from his campaign site: he said that he supports efforts to combat mental health conditions and addiction, and one part of that plan involves changing “federal law to allow doctors and scientists to expand research into the potential of certain psychedelic drugs to complement traditional substance abuse and other mental health treatment.”
“Anti-drug laws should never be an impediment to sound scientific research, but especially not during a public health crisis such as this one,” he said.
Discussing veterans issues, Sestak said that the country “must learn from innovative approaches taken to reduce chronic veteran homelessness like Phoenix’s ‘housing first’ strategy in which homeless veterans are given housing before being required to prove sobriety or pass a drug test,” which also seems to indicate an openness to alternative approaches to drug policy.
Personal Experience With Marijuana
It does not appear that Sestak has publicly commented on any personal experience he’s had with marijuana.
Marijuana Under A Sestak Presidency
Though some reports indicate that Sestak supports medical cannabis reform, and he took one step to protect states that have implemented such programs during his time in Congress, there are more questions than answers when it comes to the candidate’s position on marijuana.
At the very least, his willingness to vote in favor of medical cannabis protections ahead of his state enacting a medical marijuana law should give patients in legal states some sense of comfort, although his limited record on the issue raises questions about whether he’d be willing to extend those protections to adult-use states—and whether cannabis reform would be a priority of his administration at all.
That said, the fact that he included a position on psychedelics reform on his campaign website signals that he’s cognizant of the issue and that his views on broader drug policy reform may have simply flown under the radar.
Hawaii Marijuana Decriminalization Will Take Effect, Governor Says
Hawaii Gov. David Ige (D), who has at times expressed serious concerns about marijuana policy reform, announced that he will allow a legislature-passed bill to decriminalize small amounts of cannabis to go into effect.
Ige didn’t include the decrim proposal in a list of legislation he intends to veto by Monday’s deadline.
Lawmakers sent the bill, which punishes possession of three grams of marijuana with a $130 fine instead of jail time, to the governor’s desk in April. As originally introduced, it covered greater amounts of marijuana in line with decriminalization policies in other states, but was watered down as it advanced through the legislative process.
Under current law, possessing cannabis is a petty misdemeanor that carries up to a $1,000 fine.
In a press conference to discuss his veto list, Ige called the marijuana legislation “a very tough call” and said went “go back and forth” on the issue before deciding to let the bill take effect.
The governor said he would have preferred if the decriminalization proposal included provisions aimed at “young people who we would want to get into substance abuse or other kinds of programs to help them deal with drug use.”
In the end, he said, he decided “it would be best not to veto that.”
Watch Ige discuss his decision not to veto marijuana decriminalization, about 23:35 into the video below:
Some legislative leaders have expressed interest in considering legislation to legalize and regulate marijuana.
Asked by a reporter about the possibility of broader cannabis reforms in Hawaii, Ige said that the state “can benefit from not being at the head of the table.”
“We continue to learn from other states about the problems that they see with recreational marijuana,” he said, echoing concerns he has about legalization and noting that he’s been discussing the possible reform with governors from some western states that have already enacted it. “We would be smart to engage and recognize what’s happening in other states, acknowledge the challenges and problems it has raised.”
Nikos Leverenz, board president for the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, told Marijuana Moment that Ige should be “commended” for not vetoing the bill.
“It’s also encouraging that he’s having ongoing conversations with other governors from states that have legalized adult-use cannabis,” he said. “Hawai’i can indeed learn a great deal from other states, including the enactment of social equity measures to ensure broad local participation by women, underrepresented minorities, and those harmed by the drug war.”
Also on Monday, Ige announced that he intends to veto a bill allowing medical cannabis patients to transport their medicine between islands.
“Marijuana, including medical cannabis, remains illegal under federal law. Both the airspace and certain areas of water fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal government,” he wrote. “This bill may lead travelers, acting in reliance on this provision, to erroneously believe they are immune from federal prosecution.”
Another proposal on the governor’s veto list would establish a hemp licensing program.
“There are concerns that this bill creates a licensing structure that cannot be enforced, will not meet USDA requirements for an approved industrial hemp program, and creates practical problems in the enforcement of existing medical cannabis,” he reasoned.
Finally, Ige plans to veto a bill to scale back the use of asset forfeiture, which is often used against people accused of drug crimes, with the governor calling the practice “an effective and critical law enforcement tool that prevents the economic benefits of committing a crime from outweighing consequential criminal penalties and punishment.”
USDA Sets Target Deadline To Release Hemp Regulations
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) offered new insights into its rulemaking process for hemp regulations in a notice published in the Federal Register on Monday.
Of particular note is the deadline by which USDA is aiming to release its interim final rule for the newly legal crop: August. Previously, the department simply said it would have the rules in place in time for the 2020 planting season.
“This action will initiate a new part 990 establishing rules and regulations for the domestic production of hemp,” the new notice states. “This action is required to implement provisions of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (Farm Bill).”
The hemp update update is part of a larger regulatory agenda for various agencies that’s being released by the Trump administration.
“It is great to see that USDA is on track to complete federal hemp farming regulations this year,” Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp, told Marijuana Moment.
A USDA spokesperson told Marijuana Moment in an email that the August projection is the department’s “best estimate” for when the regulations will be released. It remains USDA’s intention “to have the regulations in place by this fall to allow for a 2020 planting season.”
“However, the clearance process will dictate the actual timing of the publication,” the spokesperson said.
While USDA officials have said the department didn’t plan to expedite the regulatory process despite strong interest among stakeholders, it seems to be making steady progress so far. The department said in March that it has “begun the process to gather information for rulemaking.”
USDA has also outlined the basic elements that will be required when states or tribes are eventually able to submit regulatory plans for federal approval. Those proposals will have to include information about the land that will be used to cultivate hemp, testing standards, disposal procedures, law enforcement compliance, annual inspections and certification for products and personnel.
The new update comes about six months after hemp and its derivatives were federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill. But until USDA releases its guidelines, hemp farmers must adhere to the earlier rules established under a narrower research-focused provision of the 2014 version of the agriculture legislation.
While the rules are yet to be published and there are therefore some restrictions on what hemp farmers can lawfully do, USDA has clarified several policies that have already gone into effect in recent months.
The department is accepting intellectual property applications for hemp products, for example. It also explained that hemp seeds can be lawfully imported from other countries and that the crop can be transported across state lines since it’s been federally descheduled.