Entrepreneur Andrew Yang entered the race to become the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee way back on November 6, 2017.
While marijuana hasn’t played a central role in Yang’s campaign, he supports legalization and has proposed several drug policy reforms since announcing his candidacy. That includes plans to decriminalize opioid possession and provide waivers for military veterans to access medical cannabis.
This piece was last updated on August 15, 2019 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
Yang has never before held public office, so he doesn’t have a record of policy accomplishments to review. Instead, in addition to being an entrepreneur, he’s worked in the nonprofit sector and as a philanthropist who has earned accolades for his efforts to create job opportunities for disadvantaged communities.
On The Campaign Trail
Since launching his campaign, Yang has advocated for ending marijuana prohibition, stating that “it’s already legal” in a growing number of states and that “criminalizing it does more harm than good.” He’s also pledged to “pardon those in prison for non-violent marijuana-related offenses.”
It’s time to legalize marijuana https://t.co/0Uhl17MW98 it’s already legal in 9 states and criminalizing it does more harm than good. I’d pardon those in prison for non-violent marijuana-related offenses.
— Andrew Yang (@AndrewYang) July 2, 2019
Marijuana is already legal in most states for medical use and in many for recreation. It's time to end the ambiguity and legalize it at the federal level. This would improve safety, social equity, and generate billions of dollars in new revenue based on legal cannabis businesses. pic.twitter.com/NQkhcEZd1L
— Andrew Yang (@AndrewYang) July 22, 2019
He also tweeted that “[i]nstead of pardoning billionaires I’d pardon non-violent marijuana and opiate offenders.”
Instead of pardoning billionaires I’d pardon non-violent marijuana and opiate offenders.
— Andrew Yang (@AndrewYang) May 16, 2019
The candidate said that the “criminalization of marijuana is stupid and racist, particularly now that it’s legal in some states.”
“We should proceed with full legalization and pardon of those in jail for non-violent marijuana-related offenses,” he said.
Our criminalization of marijuana is stupid and racist, particularly now that it's legal in some states. We should proceed with full legalization and pardon of those in jail for non-violent marijuana-related offenses. pic.twitter.com/sjrYq3P6cW
— Andrew Yang (@AndrewYang) December 3, 2018
“I’m for the legalization of marijuana, remove it from the controlled substance list in part because our administration of the criminal laws are deeply racist. It’s very obvious to everyone,” Yang said during an appearance on The Breakfast Club in March 2019. “On April 20, 2021, I’m going to pardon everyone who’s in prison for a non-violent drug offense because it makes no sense to have people in jail for stuff that’s legal in some parts of the country.”
He also made that point during an interview on the Joe Rogan Experience in February.
In October, Yang said that Canada legalized cannabis and that the U.S. “should follow suit and remove it from the federal controlled substance list and then regulate.”
Canada just legalized marijuana https://t.co/3CdpjmSDxa we should follow suit and remove it from the federal controlled substance list and then regulate.
— Andrew Yang (@AndrewYang) October 20, 2018
Yang drew attention in April when he said he’d pardon all non-violent drug offenders on the unofficial marijuana holiday 4/20.
“I would legalize marijuana and I would pardon everyone who’s in jail for a non-violent, drug-related offense,” he said. “I would pardon them all on April 20, 2021 and I would high five them on their way out of jail.”
I’m for full legalization of marijuana. I would go a step further and on 4/20, 2021, exactly 2 years from today, I would pardon everyone who’s in jail for a low-level, non-violent marijuana offense and I would high five them on their way out of jail. 👍 pic.twitter.com/Q8txZNa2I1
— Andrew Yang (@AndrewYang) April 20, 2019
.@AndrewYang at #NANconv2019: "I would legalize marijuana and then I would pardon everyone who's in jail for a nonviolent drug-related offense. I would pardon them on April 20, 2021 and I would high-five them on the way out of jail." pic.twitter.com/wqELzL9TwO
— The Hill (@thehill) April 3, 2019
But shortly after making that pronouncement, Yang walked back his proposal, saying that only those convicted of non-violent marijuana offenses would be eligible under his mass clemency plan.
His campaign website does state that the candidate would institute a policy of identifying non-violent drug offenders “for probation and potential early release.”
That site also includes a bold proposal to decriminalize possession and use of opioids as a means of mitigating the drug crisis.
I didn't always believe that decriminalizing opioids was a good way to tackle the opioid crisis in our country. Then I dug into the data, and realized it is the single best way to facilitate recovery by prescribing treatment, not jail, to struggling users. pic.twitter.com/7LOhJzMvcN
— Andrew Yang (@AndrewYang) July 19, 2019
“While those who brought this plague on our citizens must face serious consequences, we need to make sure that those who are afflicted by the illness of addiction are treated and not criminalized,” the site states. “The individuals behind pharmaceutical companies who promoted these drugs as non-addictive while knowing better are the ones who belong in jail, not those who fell prey to addiction.”
“It is possible that criminalizing opiates decreases access and use. But for a public health crisis of this magnitude, the criminal justice system seems to be a terrible first resort. It pushes a lot of the activity underground and makes addicts more likely to hide their addiction. Addiction is a disease—you shouldn’t criminalize people that you are trying to help. Especially when it may be partially your fault that they got addicted in the first place.”
During a CNN town hall event in April, Yang pointed to countries such as Portugal that have decriminalized personal consumption of drugs, arguing that those engaged in drug trafficking should be held accountable in the criminal justice system but that those caught possessing small amounts of illicit substances should be referred to treatment.
“We need to decriminalize opiates for personal use,” Democratic presidential hopeful Andrew Yang says. “I’m also for the legalization of cannabis” https://t.co/bW5PJhIGsH #YangTownHall pic.twitter.com/Z6jJQbfGKD
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) April 15, 2019
However, he said his proposal would apply to opioids and specifically not cocaine because, he said, “the addiction has very different features.”
Yang also released a plan that would provide military veterans with waivers so that they can access medical cannabis, even in states where it’s not legal.
“The scientific evidence that certain controlled substances—particularly marijuana—are particularly effective at treating certain ailments common to veterans (e.g., PTSD) and for pain management,” he said.
Asked if he felt any particular substances beside marijuana hold promise in the treatment of such conditions, Yang told Marijuana Moment through a Twitter direct message that MDMA represents one example of a drug that should be considered.
In August 2018, Yang wrote that while he’s for legalization, “many users do find it addictive and we should have intelligent safeguards in place like limiting advertising and THC levels. We should learn from our past.”
I’m for legalizing marijuana. But many users do find it addictive and we should have intelligent safeguards in place like limiting advertising and THC levels. We should learn from our past. https://t.co/96EsC1Dr8V
— Andrew Yang (@AndrewYang) August 21, 2018
During a campaign stop in Portland, Yang signed a bong.
Previous Quotes And Social Media Posts
It does not appear that Yang discussed marijuana publicly or on social media prior to filing his presidential campaign with the Federal Election Commission in November 2017.
Personal Experience With Marijuana
Asked whether his plan to grant mass pardons to people with nonviolent marijuana convictions on 4/20 signaled that he used cannabis himself, Yang said it simply meant that he knows people who smoke it but that he hasn’t personally indulged.
“I was a pretty geeky Asian dude and, you know, my parents did a pretty good job of keeping me steering clear of certain things,” he told HOT 97 in April 2019. “I have many friends who partake.”
“I have a lot of friends who are using marijuana for medicinal and pain relief purposes,” he said. “It’s much less lethal than let’s say opiates that are killing eight Americans every hour.”
Jokingly asked whether he had a favorite blunt wrap brand, the candidate said he “cannot speak to what my preference would be.”
Marijuana Under A Yang Presidency
Though Yang is best known for his economic plans—namely providing each American with a universal basic income—he’s laid out several bold drug policy reform proposals throughout his campaign. While he hasn’t endorsed any particular piece of marijuana legislation, his support for legalization, and broader plans to eliminate criminal records for those with non-violent cannabis convictions, indicate he would be an ally in the marijuana reform movement if elected president.
Feds Send Warning Letter To Another CBD Company Over Medical Claims
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sent a warning letter to a Florida-based CBD company on Tuesday, alleging that the business made several unsanctioned claims about the therapeutic benefits of their products.
The federal agencies accused Rooted Apothecary of unlawfully asserting that their cannabidiol products could treat symptoms of conditions such as ADHD, Parkinson’s disease, ear aches, ADHD and autism. Those claims appeared on the company’s website and social media accounts, they said.
Certain products appeared to be marketed as dietary supplements, which FDA currently prohibits as it works to develop an alternative regulatory scheme for CBD.
“Cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds are subject to the same laws and requirements as FDA-regulated products that contain any other substance,” Acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless said in a press release. “We are working to protect Americans from companies marketing products with unsubstantiated claims that they prevent, diagnose, treat, or cure a number of diseases or conditions.”
FDA and FTC have issued a joint warning letter to a company marketing unapproved cannabidiol products with unsubstantiated claims to treat teething and ear pain in infants, autism, ADHD, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, among other conditions/diseases. https://t.co/tsn4SBiGzH pic.twitter.com/sG3wyURMDS
— Dr. Ned Sharpless (@FDACommissioner) October 22, 2019
We’ve sent numerous warning letters that focus on matters of significant public health concern to CBD companies, and these actions should send a message to the broader market about complying with FDA requirements.
— Dr. Ned Sharpless (@FDACommissioner) October 22, 2019
“We’ve sent numerous warning letters that focus on matters of significant public health concern to CBD companies, and these actions should send a message to the broader market about complying with FDA requirements,” he said. “As we examine potential regulatory pathways for the lawful marketing of cannabis products, protecting and promoting public health through sound, science-based decision-making remains our top priority.”
FTC’s complaint with the company is that it violated a law that requires businesses that advertise medical claims about their products to have “competent and reliable scientific evidence” to back them up, which could include human clinical trials. Making or exaggerating such claims through “a product name, website name, metatags, or other means” without proper evidence is also prohibited.
FTC and @US_FDA warn Florida company marketing CBD products about claims related to treating autism, ADHD, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and other medical conditions: https://t.co/cAbxPPcxk8 pic.twitter.com/GdlttyBgxv
— FTC (@FTC) October 22, 2019
Rooted Apothecary must respond to the agencies within 15 working days to explain what steps it’s taking to resolve the issues. If the company fails to do so, it is subject to legal action, including the possible seizure of its products or an injunction. It may also have to compensate customers.
FDA emphasized that CBD products—other than the prescription medication Epidiolex, for the treatment of intractable epilepsy—are not currently allowed. But it also reiterated that the agency is in the process of developing rules that could allow for the lawful marketing of the compound.
In April, FDA sent warning letters to three other CBD companies that it said was making unauthorized claims about the medical benefits of their products. FTC also submitted warning letters to three separate CBD companies for allegedly advertising misleading statements about their products last month.
These letters are examples of the agency’s use of enforcement discretion. Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who recently suggested that the federal government should be involved in regulating state marijuana programs, clarified in March that the agency is only going after companies that make especially misleading claims about their products.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who championed a provision of the 2018 Farm Bill federally legalizing hemp and its derivatives, has urged FDA to clear a path for the lawful marketing of CBD products by using enforcement discretion while it develops an interim final rule. A bipartisan group of lawmakers made a similar request in a letter sent to the agency last month.
“The FDA is working quickly to further clarify our regulatory approach for products containing cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds like CBD while using all available resources to monitor the marketplace and protect public health by taking action as needed against companies,” FDA Principal Deputy Commissioner Amy Abernethy said.
FDA’s working quickly to further clarify our regulatory approach for products with cannabis/cannabis-derivatives like CBD while using all available resources to monitor the marketplace & protect public health by taking action as needed against companies. https://t.co/HB9IhG2qud
— Dr. Amy Abernethy (@DrAbernethyFDA) October 22, 2019
We are committed to advancing our regulation of these products through an approach that, in line with our mission, prioritizes public health, fosters innovation and promotes consumer confidence. We plan to provide an update on our progress in this area in the near future.
— Dr. Amy Abernethy (@DrAbernethyFDA) October 22, 2019
“We recognize that there is significant public interest in cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds; however, we must work together to fill in the knowledge gaps about the science, safety and quality of many of these products,” she said. “We are committed to advancing our regulation of these products through an approach that, in line with our mission, prioritizes public health, fosters innovation and promotes consumer confidence.”
Photo courtesy of Kimzy Nanney.
GOP Senator Links Medical Marijuana Claims To Tobacco Industry Advertisements
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) said on Tuesday that claims about the therapeutic potential of marijuana remind him of decades-old tobacco industry advertisements asserting that the product had medical benefits.
In a speech on the Senate floor, Cornyn discussed a hearing that the International Narcotics Control Caucus, which he co-chairs, will hold on Wednesday to explore the public health impacts of cannabis. He said it was especially important to hear from experts about the subject as more states legalize marijuana and members of Congress, as well as Democratic presidential candidates, push to end federal prohibition.
Senate Hearing To Focus On Marijuana And Health This Week – https://t.co/aPZczm3X75
— Senator John Cornyn (@JohnCornyn) October 21, 2019
The senator made clear he’s skeptical about marijuana’s health benefits.
“There’s no shortage of people who claim that marijuana has endless health benefits and can help patients struggling from everything from epilepsy to anxiety to cancer treatments,” he said. “This reminds me of some of the advertising we saw from the tobacco industry years ago where they actually claimed public health benefits from smoking tobacco, which we know as a matter of fact were false and that tobacco contains nicotine, an addictive drug, and is implicated with cancers of different kinds.”
“We’re hearing a lot of the same happy talk with regard to marijuana and none of the facts that we need to understand about the public health impact of marijuana use,” he said.
While Cornyn recognized there’s significant support for cannabis reform, he said that ” for the number of voices in support of legalization, there are even more unanswered questions about both the short- and long-term public health effects.”
He expressed concern about increased levels of THC concentration in cannabis products and stated that it’s “true that for some people that marijuana can indeed be addictive.”
“There’s simply a lack of scientific evidence to determine the link between marijuana and various health risks, and that’s something I would think Congress and the American people would want to know before we proceed further down this path,” Cornyn said. “We don’t know enough about how this could impair cognitive function or capacity or increase the risk of mental illness or perhaps serve as a gateway for other drugs that are even more damaging to the health of a young person.”
The senator made similar remarks during a conversation with a former White House drug czar in August. He said it was important to address the public health impacts of cannabis before moving forward with legislation that would protect banks that service marijuana businesses from being penalized by federal regulators.
“With increasing use and a growing number of states giving the green light for marijuana use, we need better answers,” he said.
The surgeon general and the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, along with several academics, are scheduled to testify at Wednesday’s hearing.
Photo courtesy of C-SPAN.
Michael J. Fox Parkinson’s Foundation Urges Congress To Pass Three Marijuana Research Bills
A leading advocacy group that’s dedicated to finding treatment options for Parkinson’s disease is backing three pieces of marijuana research legislation in Congress.
The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF)—named after the actor, who has Parkinson’s and established the nonprofit—said last week that lifting barriers to cannabis research, including rescheduling the plant under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), is necessary to promote studies verifying marijuana’s potential therapeutic benefit for conditions such as Parkinson’s patients.
“The MJFF supports increased access to cannabis for medical research. Congress has begun to recognize this need, and there are several bills in the U.S. House and Senate designed to remove barriers that impede safe and legal access to cannabis by medical researchers,” the foundation said on its website. “The MJFF public policy team is tracking these bills and working to educate members of Congress and their staff on their importance to the Parkinson’s community.”
MJFF said it’s in favor of three marijuana bills, which would accomplish the following:
—Require the Justice Department to approve additional manufacturers for research-grade cannabis.
—Protect research institutions that conduct studies on marijuana.
—Authorize the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to inform patients about opportunities to participate in federally authorized cannabis studies.
—Require VA to conduct studies into the therapeutic potential of marijuana in the treatment of various conditions that commonly afflict veterans such as chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder.
—Reschedule marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III under the CSA.
—Free up universities to conduct studies on cannabis by removing certain regulatory requirements.
In a letter to the Senate sponsor of that last piece of legislation, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), in June, the foundation stated that marijuana’s current classification under federal law and the inadequate quality of cannabis grown at the only federally authorized manufacturing facility has meant that “researchers do not have the proper materials to conduct the necessary research.”
The foundation noted that it has submitted comments to the Food and Drug Administration arguing in favor of rescheduling in 2018 and 2019. It also applauded the Drug Enforcement Administration for announcing that it would take steps to approve additional federal cannabis farms for research.
“Current policies hinder comprehensive medical research on cannabis, making it difficult to generate the evidence needed for clear recommendations,” Andrew Koemeter-Cox, MJFF’s associate director of research programs, said. “This is especially problematic when some products may be unsafe for human use and have the potential for adverse interactions with other medications.”
Ted Thompson, the nonprofit’s senior vice president of public policy, said that removing barriers to research “is one way in which Congress can help scientific researchers determine what the benefits of medical cannabis might be for Parkinson’s disease.”
“Our role on the public policy team is to work with Congress and the administration to ensure there is access and funding for research and care initiatives that can benefit people living with Parkinson’s and, right now, that includes access to medical cannabis for research,” he said.
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.