Missouri is proving to be one of the most consequential battlegrounds in Democrats’ fight to regain control of the U.S. Senate, with polls showing Democratic incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill and Republican state Attorney General Josh Hawley in a dead heat.
But when voters hit the polls in November, they won’t just be selecting a candidate. Three separate competing medical marijuana initiatives will also appear on the ballot, which begs the question: where do McCaskill and Hawley stand on the issue?
Neither candidate has made cannabis reform a central campaign platform, and neither has voiced support for adult-use legalization. Still, there are some key differences in how each candidate has approached marijuana.
For most of her career, McCaskill has opposed cannabis reform. As recently as 2015, the senator said she felt “torn” about the prospect of legalization, but that she was “looking into it.”
“I’m an old prosecutor, and the marijuana that’s out there today is a lot stronger than the marijuana that was running around when I was in college in the 70s,” she said. “We’ve got to learn how we do this and whether we can protect children.”
“I think we’re headed that direction, but there’s something in me that wants this to be very very cautious.”
This August, McCaskill said that medical cannabis should be approved in Missouri, though she declined to endorse a specific initiative. She told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that she was “a little uncomfortable” with the language of one of the ballot measures, however.
She’s also talked about the potential therapeutic benefits of cannabis for seniors.
“I don’t think there are enough seniors that realize that there are some therapeutic benefits to medical marijuana, marijuana that you consume opposed to smoke when you’re young and in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt.”
But generally speaking, the senator has distanced herself from cannabis on the campaign trail. And that’s extended to legislation, too. McCaskill has a “C” grade from NORML, as she hasn’t signed her name onto a single piece of cannabis-related legislation as a cosponsor during her nearly 12 years as a U.S. senator.
But in an interview with Politico, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) predicted that McCaskill would become more vocal about cannabis as Election Day approached, noting that she stands to get a boost from the inclusion of marijuana initiatives on her state’s November ballot. Medical cannabis “just might be the margin of victory for Claire McCaskill,” he said.
“She will benefit from it being on the ballot. That just drives particularly young people to vote. But as we move closer to Election Day, I make a prediction that Claire becomes more and more comfortable and probably outspoken—especially when it comes to medical marijuana and veterans.”
So far, McCaskill hasn’t seriously seized on that opportunity.
Even less is known about Hawley’s views on marijuana. The state attorney general said last month that he was “inclined” to support one of the three medical cannabis legalization initiatives on the ballot, but he wanted to ensure that certain “guardrails” were in place to ensure that the program exclusively serves patients.
“I want to look closely at how the ballot language is structured,” he said.
That essentially sums up what’s publicly known about Hawley’s individual position on cannabis reform. However, during his time as Missouri attorney general, his office argued that a constitutional amendment that protects the rights of farmers to grow crops did not cover marijuana, as some individuals convicted on cultivation charges claimed.
“The plain language of the Amendment does not support [the] argument that voters passed the Amendment with the intent to repeal Missouri’s controlled-substances law and permit the unregulated cultivation, possession, and sale of marijuana,” Hawley’s office wrote.
Marijuana Moment reached out to the candidate’s campaign for more information about the candidate’s position on the issue, but a representative did not respond by the time of publication.
If either candidate wants to widen the polling gap between them, it might serve their interests to take a stronger position in favor of cannabis reform. Fifty-four percent of Missouri voters believe that state constitution should be amended to “allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes, and create regulations and licensing procedures for marijuana and marijuana facilities,” according to a poll released last month.
Only 35 percent of voters said they opposed that notion.
Photo courtesy of Democracy Chronicles.
California Governor Signs Marijuana Tax Fairness Bill But Vetoes Cannabis In Hospitals
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announced on Saturday that he signed several marijuana-related bills into law—including one that will let legal businesses take advantage of more tax deductions—but also vetoed another measure that would have allowed some patients to use medical cannabis in health care facilities.
Under a section of current federal law known as 280E, marijuana growers, processors and sellers are unable to deduct expenses from their taxes that businesses in any other sector would be able to write off. Until now, California policy simply mirrored the federal approach.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo courtesy of Carlos Gracia.
Former FDA Head Floats Federal Marijuana Regulation ‘Compromise’ To Address Vaping Issue
Former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb seems to propose changing the scheduling status of marijuana under federal law as a “compromise” to provide limited regulations and promote research.
In an op-ed published in The Wall Street Journal on Friday, Gottlieb said the recent spike in vaping-related lung injuries involving contaminated THC cartridges demonstrates the need for federal regulations.
While he expressed frustration over the “federal government’s decade-long refusal to challenge state laws legalizing pot,” he also recognized that enforcing prohibition in legal states isn’t politically practical and floated a “feasible compromise” that would “require Congress to take marijuana out of the existing paradigm for drug scheduling, especially if Congress wants to allow carefully regulated access for uses that fall outside FDA-approved drug indications.”
That language leaves room for interpretation, but he goes on to say that the “ship has probably sailed on legalization for recreational use” and that “regulation of the potency of THC compounds, the forms they take, how they’re manufactured, and who can make purchases ought to be possible.”
Gottlieb stopped short of explicitly backing descheduling, which would represent a formal end to federal prohibition. Still, his recommendation that the government control aspects of legal marijuana markets like THC potency is a more concrete position than he’s taken in recent weeks, where he’s repeatedly bemoaned the lack of regulations and the gap between state and federal cannabis laws as contributing to vaping issues without endorsing a specific policy to correct it.
It’s clear in the editorial that the former commissioner feels Congress has missed its opportunity to prevent the proliferation of state-legal cannabis programs. And he criticized the Obama administration for issuing guidance that offered states some assurances that the Justice Department wouldn’t interfere in their markets, as well as congressional riders barring the department from using its funds to enforce prohibition against medical cannabis patients and providers following state laws.
My Op Ed in today’s @WSJopinion – The tragic vape injuries involving THC demand that we consider a federal reckoning when it comes to the dangerous conflict between state and federal pot laws that leave federal regulators on sidelines https://t.co/HGptTfx8Db
— Scott Gottlieb, MD (@ScottGottliebMD) October 11, 2019
“The result is an impasse,” he wrote. “Federal agencies exert little oversight, and regulation is left to a patchwork of inadequate state agencies. The weak state bodies sanction the adoption of unsafe practices such as vaping concentrates, while allowing an illegal market in cannabis to flourish.”
One area where FDA might be able to exercise its regulatory authority in this grey space would involve oversight of vaping hardware. Because the agency is able to regulate the “components and parts” of vapes for tobacco use—and because companies generally market those products as being intended for the use of vaporizing herbs and concentrates generally—it could be argued that FDA has jurisdiction over regulating the devices. However, that would still prove challenging “without clear laws and firm political support,” Gottlieb said.
My Op Ed in @WSJopinion – The conflict between federal and state law when it comes to marijuana has created a dangerous gap in oversight. It's about time we consider a new federal paradigm when it comes to regulation of cannabis and its active ingredients https://t.co/QifVa5Dbfq
— Scott Gottlieb, MD (@ScottGottliebMD) October 13, 2019
“THC is currently illegal under federal law,” he said. “Right now there’s no middle ground allowing federal agencies to scrutinize these compounds for their manufacturing, marketing and safety.”
Again, it’s not exactly clear what kind of federal regulation Gottlieb is proposing to Congress. He spends part of his op-ed noting the difficulties scientists face in obtaining high quality cannabis for research purposes—an issue that policymakers have indicated rescheduling could resolve—but he also said the government should ensure that any reform move is “backed up with oversight and vigorous enforcement to keep a black market from continuing to flourish and causing these lung injuries.”
That’s led some to assume he’s talking about descheduling and providing for broad regulations, as regulating the market is largely viewed as a primary means of disrupting the illicit market and enforcing safety standards for marijuana products. But the continued ambiguity of his position raises questions about whether he’s actually proposing Congress should go that far.
“The protracted hand-wringing over federal cannabis policy must stop,” he said. “The tragic spate of fatalities related to vaping of pot concentrates means the time has come for Congress and the White House to stop blowing smoke and clear the air.”
Mexican Senate Committees Will Introduce Marijuana Legalization Bill Next Week
Mexican Senate committees will introduce an updated proposal to legalize marijuana for adult use within days.
During a meeting on Thursday, members of the Health, Justice, Public Security and Legislative Studies Committees announced that they would remain in permanent session as they go through various legalization bills that lawmakers have already filed and present a comprehensive new piece of legislation on Thursday.
Sen. Miguel Ángel Navarro Quintero of the ruling MORENA party, who is a cosponsor of one existing reform bill, said the development “is a positive step to regulate—it is definitely a positive step,” according to TV Aztecha.
The primary focus of the committees will be on legislation introduced by Interior Secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero last year, senators said. However, there are about a dozen other legalization bills on the table, including one to have the federal government control the marijuana market, and they said provisions of each proposal would be taken into consideration.
The panels will also look at public input and expert testimony—including a panel led by a former White House drug czar—that were gathered as part of a weeks-long series of cannabis events that the Senate organized.
“It is a backbone that we are taking into account,” Sen. Julio Menchaca of the MORENA party said of Sánchez Cordero’s bill, which the cabinet member filed while previously serving as a senator, adding that “each of the initiatives that different senators have presented are also very important.”
Quintero said “if we are committing an open parliament, all opinions must be taken into account, because if not, we would be simulating a process.”
If the committees are successful in advancing the legislation, that would put the chamber one key step closer to meeting a deadline imposed by the Supreme Court last year. After ruling that the country’s ban on possession and cultivation of cannabis by adults is unconstitutional, it gave lawmakers until the end of October to change federal drug policy.
The leader of the MORENA party in the Senate, Sen. Ricardo Monreal, said earlier this month that the chamber was on track to vote on a legalization bill ahead of that deadline.
Separately, the chairman of the Senate’s Agriculture Committee, Sen. José Narro Céspedes, said on Thursday that legalization will be an economic boon for farmers and must be implemented in a way that disrupts the illicit market.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.