Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) announced on Sunday that she’s running for the Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential nomination.
The former prosecutor has not been especially outspoken about marijuana, but her support for certain reform legislation has earned her a “B” grade from NORML. Here’s more on where she stands on the issue:
Legislation And Policy Actions
Klobuchar hasn’t introduced any cannabis bills herself, but she has signed onto four pieces of marijuana legislation that her colleagues have filed.
She’s a cosponsor of the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, which would amend the Controlled Substance Act to exempt states that have legalized cannabis from federal intervention. That bill was sponsored by presidential rival Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).
The former prosecutor also put her name on measures designed to expand research into marijuana by increasing the number of facilities permitted to cultivate cannabis for research purposes and require relevant federal agencies to reassess whether cannabidiol (CBD) should remain a controlled substance. Another proposal she cosponsored would remove CBD and “CBD-rich plants” from the definition of marijuana under federal law.
Unlike most of her Senate colleagues who are running for president in 2020, however, Klobuchar has not signed onto the far-reaching Marijuana Justice Act that Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) filed to deschedule cannabis and withhold funding from states with discriminatory enforcement.
But she is one of eight senators who signed a letter addressed to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, demanding answers about the status of applications to become federally authorized marijuana manufacturers for research purposes.
Quotes And Social Media Posts
Unlike many of her Democratic colleagues who are entering the 2020 race, Klobuchar rarely talks about cannabis in public. And a search of her Twitter and Facebook accounts turns up zero posts containing “marijuana,” though she did tweet approvingly about the Farm Bill’s inclusion of hemp legalization.
At the ag committee for the farm bill markup! Good safety net for farmers, nutrition and conservation programs…and hemp is in! Mitch McConnell joined markup today and said the bill will go to the floor before 4th of July…(When the corn is knee high)
— Amy Klobuchar (@amyklobuchar) June 13, 2018
Her Senate website contains just one mention of marijuana policy:
“Finally, I have opposed efforts to roll back the Obama Administration policy that the federal government would not interfere with state laws legalizing marijuana, and I cosponsored the STATES Act, bipartisan legislation introduced by Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Gardner to protect the ability of states to regulate marijuana,” she said. “I have also cosponsored legislation to make it easier for researchers to study the medical effectiveness and safety of marijuana and cannabidiol, which is used to treat conditions such as epilepsy.”
According to the Internet Archive, an earlier version of that page included a statement expressing support for her home state of Minnesota’s medical cannabis program.
“I support Minnesota’s medical marijuana law for people with cancer, multiple sclerosis, and other approved conditions,” the now-deleted section read just days before she launched her presidential campaign.
“I support the legalization of marijuana and believe that states should have the right to determine the best approach to marijuana within their borders,” Klobuchar told the Washington Post in a statement.
UPDATE from @amyklobuchar: “I support the legalization of marijuana and believe that states should have the right to determine the best approach to marijuana within their borders.” https://t.co/MxAi9XOUwz
— Jackie Alemany (@JaxAlemany) February 22, 2019
The support for ending prohibition is a shift from when, in a 1998 debate for Hennepin County attorney, she said, “I am opposed to the legalization of marijuana. I believe when you look at across the world what’s been happening people have realized that legalizing drugs is not the answer.”
As a senator in 2016, Klobuchar questioned a panel of researchers about marijuana, asking whether any particular legal states should serve as a model for others to follow and how to facilitate research into cannabis.
Klobuchar has dedicated several statements to “synthetic marijuana,” which advocates generally regard as a misnomer that conflates natural cannabis with dangerous synthetic chemicals.
Personal Experience With Marijuana
The senator has not publicly commented on whether she’s ever consumed cannabis. But as a former prosecutor and the daughter of a man who struggled with alcoholism, she’s regularly talked about how she’s seen up close the consequences of broader substance misuse.
Marijuana Under A Klobuchar Presidency
Klobuchar hasn’t signaled strong support for marijuana legalization and her relative silence on the issue indicates that reform would not be an administrative priority if she were elected. However, she hasn’t expressed any support for federal intervention in local marijuana laws and has signed onto legislation to protect the right of states to regulate cannabis. For all intents and purposes, state-legal cannabis would likely be safe under Klobuchar, though she would probably put less political capital into pushing for a formal end to prohibition than other candidates might.
Andrew Yang Peddles Marijuana-Themed Presidential Campaign Merchandise
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.”
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Buttigieg Pledges To Decriminalize Possession Of All Drugs In First Term As President
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.
America’s addiction and mental health care crisis has been building for decades—due to decades of neglect by political leaders in Washington. Today, I’m proposing a new approach that tackles this crisis with the urgency and care it deserves. pic.twitter.com/U8F9DXJPC2
— Pete Buttigieg (@PeteButtigieg) August 23, 2019
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.”
Our country is in the midst of a mental health and addiction crisis, worsened by decades of stigma and political neglect. I’ll bring a new approach, rooted in commitment and community, to tackle this crisis with the urgency it deserves. https://t.co/spBoh5KH4X
— Pete Buttigieg (@PeteButtigieg) August 23, 2019
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.”
This story was updated to include comment from the Drug Policy Action.
Photo courtesy of Flickr/Gage Skidmore.
White House Drug Officials Say Legal Marijuana Is Up To States
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.
Got the answer: He believes it should be left up to the state. However, he does want to educate people on the effect marijuana has on young brain development, pregnant women and wants to come up with better guidance & testing for marijuana while driving. https://t.co/eifryNJB1j
— Kayla Sullivan (@KaylaReporting) August 14, 2019
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.”
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.