Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) announced on February 10, 2019 that she was running for the Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential nomination and dropped out on March 2, 2020.
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.
This piece was last updated on March 2, 2020 to include the candidate’s statements and policy actions on marijuana since joining the race. It will continue to be updated on a rolling basis.
Legislation And Policy Actions
Klobuchar hasn’t introduced any cannabis bills herself, but she has signed onto a handful of pieces of marijuana legislation that her colleagues have filed.
In the 116th Congress, she cosponsored legislation to protect banks that service state-legal cannabis businesses from being penalized by federal regulators and a bill to expand research into marijuana and its constituents.
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.
On The Campaign Trail
Klobuchar was asked at a presidential debate in February whether she felt a plan by rival candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to immediately legalize marijuana and expunge prior convictions was realistic.
“It is realistic to want to legalize marijuana. I want to do that too,” she said. “I also think you need to look back at people’s records. You maybe can’t do that on day one, as he said. I think you want a process that you go through because there are too many people that have things on their records that stopped them from getting jobs.”
At an earlier debate, she was pressed on her record as a prosecutor as it concerns drug-related offenses. The senator said she oversaw “one of the most successful drug courts in the country.”
During a town hall event in February, the senator was asked by a voter about racial disparities in marijuana arrests and whether she would pardon people convicted of cannabis charges or move to expunge their records.
“Yes I would,” she said, before pivoting to rather awkwardly discuss Nevada’s current cannabis laws.
“By the way I’m well aware of what this state has done, in Nevada, where you legalized marijuana and where you actually put in place, I think, medical marijuana,” she said. “And you did that when you made some changes to the legislature and the new governor and the like, and so I think it’s really important to look at it as a way of making changes to our drug policy and doing the right thing. And I think that there’s other things we should be doing as well.”
CNN’s Anderson Cooper followed up to press Klobuchar on racial disparities that persisted in the criminal justice system during her time as a prosecutor.
“Anyone who’s worked in the criminal justice system knows there’s institutional racism,” she said, arguing that overall incarceration of African Americans went down 12 percent during her tenure.
“I have supported legalization federally,” Klobuchar said at a town hall event in New Hampshire in November 2019. “Yes, I’ve made that clear.”
Previous 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
— Jacqueline 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
In January 2020, Klobuchar was asked by VICE News when was the last time she smoked marijuana.
“You have to go back to college days,” she said.
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.
Oregon Officials Explain How Decriminalized Drugs And Legal Psilocybin Therapy Would Impact The State
Oregon officials finalized a series of analyses this week on separate ballot measures to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic use and decriminalize drugs while investing in substance misuse treatment.
The Oregon Criminal Justice Commission determined that the decriminalization initiative would reduce felony and misdemeanor convictions for drug possession by 91 percent, and that reduction would be “substantial for all racial groups, ranging from 82.9% for Asian Oregonians to approximately 94% for Native American and Black Oregonians.”
Overall, the policy change would result in a 95 percent drop in racial disparities for possession arrests, the panel projects.
“The CJC estimates that IP 44 will likely lead to significant reductions in racial/ethnic disparities in both convictions and arrests.”
The conviction estimate was included in the panel’s draft analysis first released last month, but the final version was expanded to include the arrest data as well. The new document also notes that “disparities can exist at different stages of the criminal justice process, including inequities in police stops, jail bookings, bail, pretrial detention, prosecutorial decisions, and others”—a point that activists hoped the panel would include.
That said, the commission noted it “lacks sufficient or appropriate data in each of these areas and therefore cannot provide estimates for these other stages.”
The new report, published on Wednesday, cites research indicating that the resulting “drop in convictions will result in fewer collateral consequences stemming from criminal justice system involvement, which include difficulties in finding employment, loss of access to student loans for education, difficulties in obtaining housing, restrictions on professional licensing, and others.”
The decriminalization proposal was the first ballot initiative in the state’s history to receive a report on the racial justice implications of its provisions under a little-utilized procedure where lawmakers can request such an analysis.
This information will be included in a voter pamphlet as a factual statement from the secretary of state’s office.
“Our current drug laws can ruin lives based on a single mistake, sticking you with a lifelong criminal record that prevents you from getting jobs, housing and more,” Bobby Byrd, an organizer with the More Treatment, A Better Oregon campaign, said in a press release.
Both the psilocybin therapy and drug decriminalization measures also received final explanatory statements and fiscal impact statements this week.
For the therapeutic psilocybin legalization initiative, the Financial Estimate Committee said that it projects the measure will have an impact of $5.4 million from the general fund during the two-year development period. After the program is established, it will cost $3.1 million annually, “which will be covered by the fees and tax funds for the administration and enforcement of the Act.”
The explanatory statement says the measure “directs the Oregon Health Authority to regulate the manufacture, delivery, purchase, and consumption of psilocybin, a psychoactive component found in certain mushrooms, at licensed psilocybin service centers” and that a “person would be allowed to purchase, possess, consume, and experience the effects of psilocybin only at a licensed psilocybin service center during a psilocybin administration session with a licensed psilocybin service facilitator.”
It also describes an initial two-year development period during which officials will research and make recommendations on “the safety and efficacy of using psilocybin to treat mental health conditions,” after which time the new law will allow “a client who is at least 21 years of age to purchase, possess, consume, and experience the effects of psilocybin at a licensed psilocybin service center during a psilocybin administration session with a licensed psilocybin service facilitator.”
Sam Chapman, campaign manager for the psilocybin initiative, told Marijuana Moment that the group is “satisfied with the explanatory statement and believe it captures the thoughtful approach we took that led to psilocybin therapy being on the ballot this November.”
“Specifically, we were happy to see the regulations and safeguards that are built into the measure highlighted in the explanatory statement,” he said. “We also believe that the fiscal committee saw and respected our approach to keep the psilocybin therapy program revenue neutral once up and running.”
The drug possession decriminalization measure is expected to cost $57 million annually, according to state officials, but it will be covered by marijuana tax revenue, which is “estimated at $61.1 million in 2019-21 and $182.4 million in 2021-23” and would therefore be “sufficient to meet this requirement.” Cannabis revenue to cities and counties would be reduced under the measure.
The reform would also save money through reduced drug enforcement. “These savings are estimated at $0.3 million in 2019-21 and $24.5 million in 2021-23,” the analysis says. “This will reduce revenue transferred from the Department of Corrections for local government community corrections by $0.3 million in 2019-21 and $24.5 million in 2021-23. The savings are expected to increase beyond the 2021-23 biennium.”
The initiative “mandates the establishment of at least one addiction recovery center in each existing coordinated care organization service area in the state,” the separate explanatory statement says, and describes how they would be funded with marijuana tax revenue.
“The measure eliminates criminal penalties for possession of specified quantities of controlled substances by adults and juveniles,” it says. “Instead, possession of these specified quantities of controlled substances becomes a non-criminal Class E violation for which the maximum punishment is a $100 fine or completion of a health assessment with an addiction treatment professional.”
Here’s a status update on other 2020 drug policy reform campaigns across the country:
A measure to effectively decriminalize a wide range of psychedelics has officially qualified for the November ballot in Washington, D.C.
Montana activists said last month that county officials have already certified that they collected enough signatures to place two marijuana legalization measure on the state ballot, though the secretary of state’s office has yet to make that official.
In Arizona, the organizers of a legalization effort turned in 420,000 signatures to qualify for the ballot last month.
Organizers in Nebraska last month submitted 182,000 signatures in an attempt to put a medical marijuana measure on November’s ballot.
Idaho activists behind a medical marijuana legalization initiative were hoping to get a second wind after a federal judge said recently that the state must make accommodations for a separate ballot campaign due to signature gathering complications caused by the coronavirus pandemic. But following a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling against the other group, hopes are dashed.
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak and stay-at-home mandates, separate measures to legalize marijuana for medical and recreational purposes qualified for South Dakota’s November ballot.
The New Jersey legislature approved putting a cannabis legalization referendum before voters as well.
And in Mississippi, activists gathered enough signatures to qualify a medical cannabis legalization initiative for the ballot—though lawmakers also approved a competing (and from advocates’ standpoint, less desirable) medical marijuana proposal that will appear alongside the campaign-backed initiative.
A campaign to legalize cannabis in Missouri officially gave up its effort for 2020 due to signature collection being virtually impossible in the face of social distancing measures.
North Dakota marijuana legalization activists are shifting focus and will seek qualification for the 2022 ballot.
Washington State activists had planned to pursue a drug decriminalization and treatment measure through the ballot, but citing concerns about the COVID-19 outbreak, they announced last month that they will be targeting the legislature instead.
Read the full state analysis of the Oregon drug decriminalization and psilocybin therapy measures below:
Top White House Official Blasts Marijuana Banking Provisions In Democrats’ Coronavirus Bill
Vice President Mike Pence’s top staffer on Thursday joined the chorus of Republicans criticizing House Democrats for including marijuana banking provisions to the chamber’s latest coronavirus relief bill.
Marc Short, who is Pence’s chief of staff and previously served as director of legislative affairs for the White House, discussed the COVID-19 legislation during an interview with Fox Business, and he described the Democratic proposal as a “liberal wish list” with “all sorts of things totally unrelated to coronavirus.”
“In one instance they have provided guarantees for banking access for marijuana growers,” Short said. “That has absolutely nothing to do with coronavirus.”
He’s referring to language that was inserted from the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act to protect financial institutions that service state-legal cannabis businesses from being penalized by federal regulators.
Numerous Republicans—including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)—have been critical of the provision, arguing that it is not germane to the issue at hand.
Democrats, for their part, have made the case that granting cannabis businesses with access to the banking system would mitigate the spread of the virus by allowing customers to use electronic payments rather than exchange cash. They also say it could provide an infusion of dollars into the financial system that’s especially needed amid the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) told Marijuana Moment in an interview this week that she agrees with her colleagues that the marijuana banking provision is relevant to COVID-19 bill.
“By continuing to disallow anyone associated with these industries that states have deemed legal is further perpetuating serious problems and uncertainty during a time when, frankly, we need as much certainty as we can get,” she said.
While the Senate did not include the banking language as part of their COVID-19 bill, there’s still House-passed standalone legislation that could be acted upon.
The SAFE Banking Act has been sitting in the Senate Banking Committee for months as lawmakers negotiate over the finer points of the proposal.
Last month, a bipartisan coalition of state treasurers sent a letter to congressional leaders, asking that they include marijuana banking protections in the next piece of coronavirus relief legislation.
In May, a bipartisan coalition of 34 state attorneys general similarly wrote to Congress to urge the passage of COVD-19 legislation containing cannabis banking provisions.
USDA Approves Hemp Plan For Maryland And One More Indian Tribe
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved hemp regulatory plans for Maryland and the Lower Sioux Indian Community on Thursday.
With this latest development, the total number of approved plans across states, territories and tribes is 55.
“USDA continues to receive and review hemp production plans from states and Indian tribes,” the agency said in a notice.
While the agency released an interim final rule for a domestic hemp production program last year, industry stakeholders and lawmakers have expressed concerns about certain policies it views as excessively restrictive.
USDA announced in February that it will temporarily lift two provisions that the industry viewed as problematic. Those policies primarily concern testing and disposal requirements. The department declined to revise the THC limit, however, arguing that it’s a statutory matter that can’t be dealt with administratively.
Last week, two senators representing Oregon sent a letter to the head of USDA, expressing concern that testing requirements that were temporarily lifted will be reinstated in the agency’s final rule. They made a series of requests for policy changes.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has said on several occasions that the Drug Enforcement Administration influenced certain rules, adding that the narcotics agency wasn’t pleased with the overall legalization of hemp.
State agriculture departments and a hemp industry association also wrote to Congress and USDA this week, seeking an extension of the 2014 Farm Bill pilot program for hemp to give states more time to develop regulatory plans to submit to the agency.
Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is still in the process of developing regulations for CBD. It sent an update on its progress to Congress in March, explaining that the agency is actively exploring pathways to allow for the marketing of the cannabis compound as a dietary supplement and is developing enforcement discretion guidance.
An FDA public comment period was reopened indefinitely for individuals to submit feedback on CBD regulations.
Last month, the White House finalized a review of FDA CBD and cannabis research protocols, but it’s unclear when or if the document will be released to the public.
Also last month, FDA submitted a report to Congress on the state of the CBD marketplace, and the document outlines studies the agency has performed on the contents and quality of cannabis-derived products that it has tested over the past six years.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, hemp industry associations pushed for farmers to be able to access to certain COVID-19 relief loans—a request that Congress granted in the most recent round of coronavirus legislation.
However, USDA has previously said that hemp farmers are specifically ineligible for its Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. While the department initially said it would not reevaluate the crop’s eligibility based on new evidence, it removed that language shortly after Marijuana Moment reported on the exclusion.
Two members of Congress representing New York also wrote a letter to Perdue in June, asking that the agency extend access to that program to hemp farmers.
Hemp farmers approved to produce the crop do stand to benefit from other federal loan programs, however. The department recently released guidelines for processing loans for the industry.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.