Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) announced on February 10, 2019 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.
This piece was last updated on January 30, 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
“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.
GOP Senator Presses Treasury Secretary On Tax Credits For Marijuana Businesses
A Republican senator recently pressed the head of the Treasury Department on whether marijuana businesses qualify for a federal tax benefit.
During a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was asked about the “opportunity zone” tax credit, which is meant to encourage investments in “distressed,” low-income communities through benefits such as deferrals on capital gains taxes.
Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), whose state’s voters approved a medical marijuana ballot measure in 2018, told Mnuchin that businesses that derive more than five percent of their profits from things like alcohol sales are ineligible for the tax credit, but there’s “not a definition dealing with cannabis businesses.”
“Are they within that five percent amount or are they not at all because there’s a federal prohibition on cannabis sales?” the senator asked.
“I’m going to have to get back to you on the specifics,” Mnuchin replied.
“That’d be helpful to get clarity because there are cannabis businesses across the country that, if they fall in opportunity zones, they’ll need clarification on that,” Lankford said. “When you and I have spoken about it before—it’s difficult to give a federal tax benefit to something that’s against federal law.”
Lankford, who opposes legalization and appeared in a TV ad against his state’s medical cannabis ballot measure, has raised this issue with the Treasury secretary during at least two prior hearings. When he questioned whether cannabis businesses qualify for the program last year, he clarified that he personally does not believe they should.
While Mnuchin’s department has yet to issue guidance on the issue, he said in response to the earlier questioning that his understanding is that “it is not the intent of the opportunity zones that if there is this conflict [between state and federal marijuana laws] that has not been cleared that, for now, we should not have those businesses in the opportunity zones.”
Mnuchin has also been vocal about the need for Congress to address the lack of financial resources available to state-legal marijuana businesses. Because so many of these companies are forced to operate on a largely cash-only basis, he said the Internal Revenue Service has had to build “cash rooms” to store their tax deposits.
“There is not a Treasury solution to this. There is not a regulator solution to this,” he said during one hearing. “If this is something that Congress wants to look at on a bipartisan basis, I’d encourage you to do this. This is something where there is a conflict between federal and state law that we and the regulators have no way of dealing with.”
Last week’s Finance Committee hearing was centered around President Trump’s Fiscal Year 2021 budget request, which separately includes a provision calling for the elimination of an appropriations rider that prohibits the Justice Department from using its fund to interfere in the implementation of medical cannabis laws as well as a continued block on Washington, D.C. spending its own local tax dollars to legalize marijuana sales.
Photo courtesy of C-SPAN.
American Bar Association Wants Protections For Marijuana Banking And Lawyers Working With Cannabis Clients
The American Bar Association (ABA) approved two marijuana-related resolutions during its midyear meeting on Monday.
The group’s House of Delegates voted in favor of proposals endorsing pending federal legislation to protect banks that service cannabis businesses and calling for a clarification of rules to ensure that lawyers will not be penalized for representing clients in cases concerning state-legal marijuana activity.
Under the banking resolution, ABA “urges Congress to enact legislation to clarify and ensure that it shall not constitute a federal crime for banking and financial institutions to provide services to businesses and individuals, including attorneys, who receive compensation from the sale of state-legalized cannabis or who provide services to cannabis-related legitimate business acting in accordance with state, territorial, and tribal laws.”
HOD Res 103D: Adopted. Urges enactment of laws to ensure that it shall not constitute a federal crime for banks and financial institutions to provide cannabis-related services. #ABAMidyear
— American Bar Association (@ABAesq) February 17, 2020
ABA added that “such legislation should clarify that the proceeds from a transaction involving activities of a legitimate cannabis-related business or service provider shall not be considered proceeds from an unlawful activity solely because the transaction involves proceeds from a legitimate cannabis-related business or service provider, or because the transaction involves proceeds from legitimate cannabis-related activities.”
A bill that would accomplish this goal was approved by the House of Representatives last year, but it’s currently stalled in the Senate, where it awaits action in the Banking Committee. That panel’s chair, Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID) is under pressure from industry stakeholders to advance the legislation, but he’s also heard from anti-legalization lawmakers who’ve thanked him for delaying the bill.
“Passage of the [Secure and Fair Enforcement] Banking Act or similar legislation will provide security for lawyers and firms acting to advise companies in the industry against having their accounts closed or deposits seized,” a report attached to the ABA resolution states. “This will also foster the rule of law by ensuring that those working in the state-legalized legitimate cannabis industry can seek counsel and help prevent money laundering and other crimes associated with off-the-books cash transactions.”
“Currently, the threat of criminal prosecution prevents most depository institutions from banking clients, including lawyers, who are in the stream of commerce of state-legalized marijuana. This Resolution is necessary to clarify that such provision of legal and other services in compliance with state law should not constitute unlawful activity pursuant to federal law.”
The second marijuana-related resolution ABA adopted on Monday asks Congress to allow attorneys to serve clients in cannabis cases without facing federal punishment.
Text of the measure states that the association “urges Congress to enact legislation to clarify and explicitly ensure that it does not constitute a violation of federal law for lawyers, acting in accord with state, territorial, and tribal ethical rules on lawyers’ professional conduct, to provide legal advice and services to clients regarding matters involving marijuana-related activities that are in compliance with state, territorial, and tribal law.”
HOD Res 103B: Adopted as revised. Urges enactment of laws to ensure lawyers can provide legal advice and services for clients' legal marijuana-related activities. #ABAMidyear
— American Bar Association (@ABAesq) February 17, 2020
Such a change would provide needed clarity for lawyers as more states legalize cannabis for adult use. ABA’s own rules of conduct have been a source of conflict for attorneys, as it stipulates that they “shall not counsel a client to engage, or assist a client, in conduct that the lawyer knows is criminal or fraudulent.” Federal law continues to regard marijuana as an illegal, strictly controlled substance.
An ABA report released last year made the case that there’s flexibility within that rule, however, as “it is unreasonable to prohibit a lawyer from providing advice and counsel to clients and to assist clients regarding activities permitted by relevant state or local law, including laws that allow the production, distribution, sale, and use of marijuana for medical or recreational purposes so long as the lawyer also advises the client that some such activities may violate existing federal law.”
A new report attached to the resolution states that “statutory guidance is needed that explicitly ensures that attorneys who adhere to their state ethics rules do not risk federal criminal prosecution simply for providing legal counsel to clients operating marijuana businesses in compliance with their state law.”
“This Resolution accomplishes this elegantly by harmonizing federal criminal liability with States’ ethical rules regarding the provision of advice and legal services relating to marijuana business. If a state has legalized some form of marijuana activity and explicitly permitted lawyers to provide advice and legal services relating to such state-authorized marijuana activity, such provision of advice and legal services shall not be unlawful under the Controlled Substances Act or any other federal law.”
Last year, ABA adopted another cannabis resolution—arguing that states should be allowed to set their own marijuana policies.
Border Patrol Union Head Admits Legalizing Marijuana Forces Cartels Out Of The Market
The head of the labor union that represents U.S. Border Patrol agents acknowledged on Friday that states that legalize marijuana are disrupting cartel activity.
While National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd was attempting to downplay the impact of legalization, he seemed to inadvertently make a case for the regulation all illicit drugs by arguing that cartels move away from smuggling cannabis and on to other substances when states legalize.
Judd made the remarks during an appearance on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, where a caller said that “the states that have legalized marijuana have done more damage to the cartels than the [Drug Enforcement Administration] could ever think about doing.”
“As far as drugs go, all we do is we enforce the laws. We don’t determine what those laws are,” Judd, who is scheduled to meet with President Trump on Friday, replied. “If Congress determines that marijuana is going to be legal, then we’re not going to seize marijuana.”
“But what I will tell you is when he points out that certain states have legalized marijuana, all the cartels do is they just transition to another drug that creates more profit,” he said. “Even if you legalize marijuana, it doesn’t mean that drugs are going to stop. They’re just going to go and start smuggling the opioids, the fentanyl.”
One potential solution that Judd didn’t raise would be to legalize those other drugs to continue to remove the profit motive for cartels. Former presidential candidate Andrew Yang made a similar argument in December.
Federal data on Border Patrol drug seizures seems to substantiate the idea that cannabis legalization at the state level has reduced demand for the product from the illicit market. According to a 2018 report from the Cato Institute, these substantial declines are attributable to state-level cannabis reform efforts, which “has significantly undercut marijuana smuggling.”
Additionally, legalization seems to be helping to reduce federal marijuana trafficking prosecutions, with reports showing decreases of such cases year over year since states regulated markets have come online.
In his annual report last year, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts also noted reduced federal marijuana prosecutions—another indication that the market for illegally sourced marijuana is drying up as more adults consumers are able to buy the product in legal stores.