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What Tuesday’s Election Results Mean For Marijuana

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From Oregon to Pennsylvania, voters around the country participated in another round of primary elections on Tuesday.

What could the results mean for marijuana reform? Here’s a glance at where winning gubernatorial nominees, plus victors in a handful of non-governor races, stand on cannabis.

Pennsylvania Gubernatorial Primary

Democratic winner: Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf

The incumbent backed and signed a bill to legalize medical cannabis into law in 2016.

Wolf has also voiced support for decriminalizing marijuana possession. But when it comes to full legalization, the governor has been declined to lend his support. In a statement to a Philadelphia CBS affiliate in January, a spokesperson said Wolf remained “focused on implementing Pennsylvania medical marijuana program.” 

The governor regularly personally announces details about the implementation of medical marijuana, for example listing dispensaries that started to sell legal cannabis to qualified patients in February.

Wolf has also pushed back against potential federal intervention in the state’s cannabis law, for example when U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded Obama-era protections. He said he wouldn’t “stand for backwards attacks on the progress made in Pennsylvania to provide medicine to those in need,” the York Daily Record reported. He’s also called on Congress to act to protect states where marijuana is legal from federal intervention.

Republican winner: Pennsylvania Sen. Scott Wagner

All three of the Republican primary candidates for governor, including Wagner, said they support the state’s medical marijuana legalization program. Wagner is on the record saying he’s “not a fan” of recreational cannabis legalization.

Nebraska Gubernatorial Primary

Democratic winner: Nebraska Sen. Bob Krist

Krist made a series of strategic moves to become a viable contender against incumbent Gov. Pete Ricketts (R), shifting his party affiliation from Republican to Independent and, finally, to Democrat in February. Krist voted in favor of a measure to legalize medical marijuana in the state.

Republican winner: Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts

The incumbent governor is decidedly anti-legalization, writing in a blog post that he opposed an effort in the state legislature to legalize medical cannabis for a number of reasons, calling marijuana a “dangerous drug.” Ricketts claimed he spoke to Colorado officials who warned him that legalization caused an uptick in criminal activity. He also expressed concerns about the lack of FDA approval and said cannabis use impairs cognitive function.

Though her chances were never considered particularly strong, it’s worth mentioning that Ricketts’s Republican primary challenger Krystal Gabel, who pulled in about 20 percent of the Nebraska GOP vote on Tuesday, campaigned on a promise to support cannabis reform.

Idaho Gubernatorial Primary

Democratic winner: former Idaho Rep. Paulette Jordan

Jordan is friendly to cannabis reform, supporting legislation to decriminalize marijuana during her time in the state House. During a televised debate last month, she said that wanted to see marijuana legalized for the health benefits and because it would bring in “millions” in tax revenue to the state.

“This is a natural medicine that grew here for thousands of years,” she said, according to the Associated Press. “Unfortunately, we’re seeing it being replaced by the opioid drugs through the opioid industry, which are far more impactful, hurtful, harmful to rural communities in Idaho, and they are destroying our communities. And opioids are the gateway drug to heroin and methamphetamines.”

If elected, Jordan will become Idaho’s first female governor and the nation’s first Native American governor.

Republican winner: Idaho Lt Gov. Brad Little

Little said that he supported an executive order that set up a system to provide access to CBD oils for children suffering from epilepsy, but that’s about as far as he’s willing to go, MagicValley.com reported. He opposes any further legalization.

Oregon Gubernatorial Primary

Democratic winner: Oregon Gov. Kate Brown

The incumbent governor is pro-legalization and vowed to protect Oregon’s legal marijuana program from federal intervention after Sessions rescinded the Cole memo. In a statement from January, Brown wrote: “Over 19,000 jobs have been created by the market Oregon worked carefully to build in good faith and in accordance with the Cole Memorandum. The federal government must keep its promise to states that relied on its guidance.”

“States are the laboratories of democracy, where progressive policies are developed and implemented for the benefit of their people,” she continued. “Voters in Oregon were clear when they chose for Oregon to legalize the sale of marijuana and the federal government should not stand in the way of the will of Oregonians.”

Republican winner: Oregon Rep. Knute Buehler

Unlike most GOP gubernatorial candidates in Tuesday’s primary elections, Buehler, who is also an orthopedic surgeon, has fully embraced the state’s decision to legalize marijuana. He also condemned statements from the White House and Justice Department insinuating a crackdown on legal cannabis states, and he said he believes marijuana can help patients suffering from a variety of medical conditions.

“I just think we’ve had very successful implementation of marijuana access in Oregon and I think it’s important to educate and explain to the new administration and the Attorney General that this issue is being handled quite well in Oregon,” he told The Bulletin. “This is a model for states that choose to go this route.”

Two other races of note… 

Pennsylvania Democratic Lieutenant Governor Primary

Winner: Braddock, Pennsylvania Mayor John Fetterman

In a significant upset, Mayor John Fetterman beat out three Democratic opponents, including incumbent Lt. Gov Mike Stack. Fetterman was endorsed by NORML PAC and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), in part because he’s strongly pushed to fully legalize marijuana in Pennsylvania’s marijuana laws.

“Mr. Fetterman has been an unrelenting champion for reversing Pennsylvania’s failed and draconic policies when it comes to marijuana,” NORML PAC executive director Altieri said in a statement. “He understands the absolute devastation prohibition has wrought on families across the state, most acutely in already marginalized communities.”

Following the NORML PAC endorsement, Fetterman said that he would “never shy away from the doing the right thing, and fully legalizing marijuana is the right thing for Pennsylvania.”

“We should go full-on Colorado,” he said. “It’s a simple solution to the devastation I have seen first-hand of the Opioid Crisis, and the disproportionate impact of mass incarceration on communities of color. As Lt. Governor I will be the leading voice on this issue in Harrisburg.”

Pennsylvania Senate GOP Primary

Winner: U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA)

The congressman received a C- rating from NORML based on his voting record on marijuana amendments. In 2016 he did support the Veterans Equal Access Amendment, which would have expanded access to medical cannabis for military veterans. But he voted against amendments to protect state medical cannabis programs and broader marijuana legalization laws from federal intervention.

Marijuana Moment also compiled the cannabis records of winners in last week’s primary elections in other states.

What Tuesday’s Primary Elections Mean for Marijuana

Photo courtesy of Democracy Chronicles.

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.

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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