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Where Presidential Candidate Bill de Blasio Stands On Marijuana

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New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) announced on May 16, 2019 that he was running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. He ended his campaign on September 20.

While the mayor was initially opposed to legalization, he made several attempts to reduce cannabis-related arrests in the city, but the policy changes never ended up achieving a key desired outcome of reducing racial disparities in marijuana enforcement. De Blasio finally came out in support of legalization in 2018, just days after Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) reversed his own longtime opposition.

This piece was last updated on October 9, 2019 to include the candidate’s statements and policy actions on marijuana since joining the race.

Here’s a detailed look at where de Blasio stands on marijuana.

Legislation And Policy Actions

One of the first actions de Blasio took to change the city’s marijuana policies was to instruct the New York Police Department (NYPD) to issue summons for individuals caught possessing 25 grams or less of cannabis in lieu of making arrests, with certain exceptions. That policy took effect in November 2014.

He campaigned on the reform promise, stating that marijuana convictions “have disastrous consequences,” particularly on minority communities.

“When people are stopped by the police and they empty their pockets and suddenly they get arrested for a small amount of possession, we need to end that practice,” he said. “People don’t need an arrest record for that kind of small thing.”

Police could still arrest people for public consumption or if they determined the individual’s intent was to sell cannabis or if the possession occurred in certain areas such as school zones. And apparently NYPD took advantage of that discretion, as a 2017 report from the Drug Policy Alliance showed that cannabis possession arrests during the de Blasio administration were higher from 2014 to 2016 than they were under then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani from 1994 to 1996.

What’s more, racial disparities remained strong despite de Blasio’s promises. Black and Hispanic New Yorkers represented 85 percent of the arrests, despite similar rates of consumption among white people.

De Blasio repeatedly pushed back against the report and disputed its findings.

“The report ignores how this administration’s approach to enforcement has resulted in both a safer city and fairer enforcement of state criminal law, which continues to prohibit recreational marijuana use,” his office wrote in a blog post. “It also ignores the fact that New Yorkers makes tens of thousands of calls to 911 each year to complain about marijuana.”

Discussing racial inequities in enforcement, de Blasio told Politico that “anyone who says we want to make sure that the arrests are handled the same in communities of all different backgrounds, they are absolutely right.”

“That is the vision of this department and this administration. And we are going to keep driving that vision,” he said.

He also falsely claimed that his administration had ended arrests for low-level marijuana possession, saying that the administration has “been very consistent about moving away from arrest for low-level possession versus the other charges, which are entirely different.”

In 2018, de Blasio acknowledged that “there’s much more to be done” about disparities in policing and announced that NYPD would “overhaul and reform its policies related to marijuana enforcement.”

The resulting policy change was that NYPD would no longer arrest people for smoking cannabis in public. Instead, it would issue summonses. Additionally, de Blasio announced that a working group would begin laying the groundwork for legalization.

He had hinted at giving his support for legalization in April 2018 even though he’d been previously opposed.

“The question keeps coming up and I think it’s fair that we need to do a deeper analysis and come up with an updated response, I want to do that,” he said at the time.

Two days after Cuomo announced that he was in favor of legalizing cannabis in New York, de Blasio said he also had a change of heart and that he too backs replacing prohibition with a regulated market.

“The legalization of marijuana in New York State is likely inevitable,” he said in May 2018. “Our city has to get rules in place before this happens and be prepared for the public safety, public health and financial impact.”

He also predicted that legalization would happen “as early as” 2019.

When his office finally released its report on what a legal system would look like in the city, de Blasio said the focus should be on creating opportunities for communities that have been disproportionately impacted by prohibition.

“We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to get a historic issue right for future New Yorkers. Legal cannabis is coming to New York State,” he wrote in a cover letter to the report from his task force on cannabis. “When it does, we must do all we can to make sure that happens in a way that is safe, takes the health of New York City residents into account, and above all, provides opportunity while righting historic wrongs.”

But while his proposed plan includes several provisions aimed at social equity—such as expunging the records of individuals with prior marijuana convictions—it also generated some controversy among reform advocates after he suggested using tax revenue from legal cannabis sales to improve the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

“There’s no way we can fix our subways and improve service without a new source of revenue,” he wrote. “Congestion pricing, an internet sales tax and a tax on legalized marijuana are part of our plan to get trains running again—because New Yorkers have places to go.”

Also in 2018, de Blasio said the city would move toward allowing safe consumption sites for illegal drugs to mitigate overdose deaths.

“After a rigorous review of similar efforts across the world, and after careful consideration of public health and safety expert views, we believe overdose prevention centers will save lives and get more New Yorkers into the treatment they need to beat this deadly addiction,” he said in a statement.

More recently, the mayor said he supported city council initiatives to ban pre-employment drug testing for certain jobs in the city and also prohibit the Department of Probation from conducting drug tests for cannabis. Despite his stated support and a pledge to sign the legislation into law, however, the proposals were enacted without his signature.

On The Campaign Trail

In May, de Blasio expressed concerns about how the New York State plans to implement legalization, stressing that it “it cannot lead to a new corporate reality.”

“It has to be done in a way that really empowers community-based businesses, particularly in communities of color that suffered for so long because of draconian laws that sent people to prison for low-level drug offenses,” he said.

He added that he doesn’t want to create “a new tobacco industry or a new opioid industry, done the wrong way.”

The mayor reiterated his concerns 11 days prior to the close of the legislative session in June. While he said he was advocating for lawmakers to pass legalization before the session ended, he went on to say he wants “to see it done in a way that doesn’t create a new monster corporate class.”

Later that month, de Blasio announced that police will limit arrests of students for low-level offenses such as marijuana possession.

“This is a moment of change, this is a moment where students are going to get the support they need to be their best selves,” he said of the policy change. “It’s going to help us build a stronger and fairer city.”

In October, the mayor told The Las Vegas Sun that he supports passing legislation allowing banks to service cannabis businesses while Congress continues to work toward ending federal marijuana prohibition.

“I think we need a method of legalization at the federal level that, in fact, uses the power of the law to disincentivize corporations and to support small businesses and community-based businesses, including in a lot of the communities that have suffered the brunt of draconian criminal justice legislation,” he said. “I see this as an opportunity to right a lot of wrongs, but to do that we’ve got to get the banking piece right.”

“If you don’t legalize banking for this industry here and now, you’re keeping it a cash industry, which is a boon to organized crime, it’s a boon to folks who want to not pay their taxes,” he added. “It’s absolutely backward. So while we’re sorting out the bigger issue, let’s legalize the banking for the states that have it on the way to legalizing it federally with a fair banking system and with those safeguards we need for everyone else.”

Previous Quotes And Social Media Posts

While de Blasio is striving to project an image of a reform-minded cannabis legalization advocate today, just a few years ago he was not quite so friendly to the idea of ending marijuana prohibition.

In August 2017, he said that he’s “not there yet” when it comes to legalization.

“There’s a major experiment happening in some states and some major American cities that’s going to tell us a lot,” he said. “But if you talk about the pros and cons, there are obviously some good arguments for legalization, but there’s also a lot of unanswered questions both about what it would mean for young people to have access to that drug and also what it would mean in terms of public safety.”

“I’m not convinced that that’s the right direction to go in yet, but it’s something I’m willing to keep considering as we get more information from the places that have gone through it,” he said.

The next month, he said at a Democratic mayoral debate, de Blasio said he opposed legalization and that “the laws we have now are the right laws.”

After being confronted by a Staten Island resident about the scent of cannabis that he claimed could be smelled across the city, the mayor responded “the question is, how do you fix the quality of life for me, the guy who’s always followed the rules against the guy who’s not following the rules and is bombarding me with this marijuana smoke every house, everywhere I go throughout the city?”

“What we changed about marijuana is we focused on making fewer arrests,” he said. “But there are summonses and there still is intense quality-of-life enforcement.”

De Blasio said he was “skeptical” about broad marijuana reform in January 2018. And he described the arrest rate for possession in New York City as “a normal level in the sense of what we were trying to achieve.”

You can listen to those remarks starting around 19:45 into the audio below:

Even as late as April 2018, the mayor continued to maintain that he’s “not there yet” on legalization, even as his wife voiced support for regulating cannabis.

He also expressed concerns that allowing legal cannabis sales would lead to corporations trying to “hook” young people on the product similar to the actions of the tobacco industry.

“I think it raises questions when any child dabbles with” drugs such as alcohol and marijuana, de Blasio said. “Those things go without saying as a parent.”

By the end of the year, however, de Blasio changed his tune. He said he’s become “convinced that we can establish a regulatory framework that keeps our streets safe, rights the wrongs of the past and gives economic opportunity to communities hit hardest by the war on drugs.”

“Legal cannabis is coming to New York State,” he said. “When it does, we must do all we can to make sure that happens in a way that is safe, takes the health of New York City residents into account, and above all, provides opportunity while righting historic wrongs.”

He detailed some of the nuances of his policy position in an interview with WNYC in December 2018. On home cultivation, the mayor said he believes “people should have the right to it,” but that “there needs to be limits.”

“My goal is that we avoid the corporatization of the marijuana industry,” he said during a speech in January 2019.

He expanded on that point during an appearance on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher the next month.

“For years and years, broken laws sent a huge number of Americans to jail, most of them were young people of color, and we’ve got an industry that now is just licking it’s chops, waiting to come in and corporatize marijuana—to do exactly what the tobacco industry did with cigarettes, to do exactly what the pharmaceutical industry did with things like Oxycontin,” he said. “What we need is legalize marijuana without corporatized marijuana.”

Speaking about his proposal to use tax revenue from cannabis sales to fund the MTA, de Blasio attempted a joke playing on stereotypes about marijuana consumers.

“Anyone who thinks our existing transit system can handle all that [population growth] is somebody who thinks marijuana has already been legalized in New York state, and is smoking some,” he said. “The fact is it’s impossible to do what we have to do in the city if we don’t expand mass transit options.”

Even before de Blasio got around to endorsing marijuana legalization, he was speaking out against the U.S. Justice Department’s drug policy moves under then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“Jeff Sessions’ sentencing policies will enrich private prison executives—and they‘ll make our communities less safe,” he wrote on Twitter in 2017. “The first ‘War on Drugs’ didn’t work. Sessions’ version won’t either. It’s immoral and discriminatory. We should fight any effort to go back.”

He characterized Sessions’s hostility to marijuana reform as a “vendetta” and said that it “is an attack on minority communities.” The comments came after Sessions rescinded Obama era guidance to federal prosecutors on priorities for cannabis enforcement in early 2018.

“We know what the war on drugs does to communities of color,” he said. “This is a step backward.”

De Blasio also said that he spoke with President Donald Trump personally and urged him not to deport immigrants for low-level offenses, including marijuana possession.

The mayor said that he “emphasized that what we wanted to guard against was individuals who had done exceedingly low level crimes—and I’ll give you examples, someone has a small amount of marijuana, some who committed a traffic offense that did not cause any harm to anyone else.”

Personal Experience With Marijuana

De Blasio admitted to using marijuana “once or twice” while he was a student at New York University. But he’s denied rumors that he and his wife have smoked cannabis in the mayor’s office.

“I haven’t smoked marijuana since I was at NYU,” he said in 2015. “I think this job is truly 24/7, and you have to be alert at all times.” He jokingly said in 2017 that “some days I wish I did” still smoke cannabis.

Rumors about the mayor’s alleged marijuana use were bolstered after it was reported that de Blasio is a fan of reggae-style music from artists such as Bob Marley.

De Blasio’s daughter has struggled with alcohol and marijuana misuse, she said.

Marijuana Under A De Blasio Presidency

The mayor has undergone a significant evolution in his stance on marijuana policy over time. His support for legalization in New York indicates he would now be supportive of, or at least not vocally opposed to, broad federal reform if he were to assume the office of the presidency. However, speculation abounds as to whether his relatively recent anti-prohibition evolution was earnest or politically motivated in light of its following shifts by other politicians, which raises questions about how intensively he would prioritize drug policy reform from the Oval Office.

Where Presidential Candidate Steve Bullock Stands On Marijuana

Photo elements courtesy of Kevin Case and Pixabay.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

Politics

House Democrats Keep Marijuana Banking Protections In Revised COVID Bill After Delaying Legalization Vote

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A slimmed-down coronavirus relief bill that House Democrats released on Monday again includes marijuana banking protections.

Despite pushback from GOP lawmakers who challenged the germaneness of including the cannabis language in a prior version that the House approved in May, the text of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act was again inserted into the new legislation. It could get a floor vote as early as this week—and that would mark the third time the chamber has taken up the banking measure in some form in the past year.

The SAFE Banking Act would protect financial institutions that service state-legal marijuana businesses from being penalized by federal regulators, and on its own has significant bipartisan support. But its inclusion in the COVID-19 relief legislation was widely criticized by Republicans who insisted that it was part of an expansive Democratic wishlist of items not related to the health crisis.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has been particularly critical of the House proposal, specifically taking issue with industry diversity reporting provisions of the SAFE Banking Act, for example. Other vocal opponents include Vice President Mike Pence and Sens. James Lankford (R-OK) and John Kennedy (R-LA).

The Senate did not add cannabis banking language to its own version of COVID relief legislation filed in July.

“We appreciate that Democratic leadership is standing firmly behind the bipartisan SAFE Banking Act, despite some Republicans in Congress preferring to treat this public safety issue like some kind of comic relief,” Steve Fox, president of VS Strategies, told Marijuana Moment. “Far from being non-germane, the pandemic has only underscored the importance of this legislation.”

“At a time when businesses all across the country are relying on electronic transactions to protect public health, cannabis businesses are being forced to exchange currency. This bill is timely and necessary,” he said.

A summary of the banking provision prepared by House leaders states that it would “allow cannabis-related legitimate businesses, that in many states have remained open during the COVID-19 pandemic as essential services, along with their service providers, to access banking services and products, as well as insurance.”

Notably, the document highlights the diversity reporting language that some Republicans have slammed, signaling that Democrats are not shying away from those components despite the criticism. It explains that the legislation “requires reports to Congress on access to financial services and barriers to marketplace entry for potential and existing minority-owned cannabis-related legitimate businesses.”

Advocates, stakeholders and lawmakers have argued that providing marijuana banking protections will mitigate the spread of the coronavirus by making it so cannabis businesses don’t have to rely on cash transactions. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said she agrees that the measure is an appropriate component of the bill.

“The inclusion of the SAFE Banking Act in the HEROES 2.0 package is a positive development,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said. “In the majority of states that regulate the marijuana marketplace, cannabis businesses have been deemed essential during this pandemic.”

“Unfortunately, at the federal level, prohibition compounds the problems that this emerging industry faces,” he said. “Small cannabis businesses in particular are facing tough economic times and access to traditional financial tools will help ensure that they can weather this pandemic.”

While the incremental reform measure would help alleviate financial complications in the cannabis market, news that House Democrats opted to stick to their guns on the industry-focused marijuana banking legislation could frustrate advocates who were disappointed when the chamber’s leadership decided to postpone a planned vote on a comprehensive cannabis legalization and social equity bill earlier this month.

The banking provisions are generally considered industry friendly without addressing the systemic problems resulting from the war on drugs. In the past, some activists have made the case that lawmakers should’t approve the SAFE Banking Act until marijuana is descheduled and restorative justice policies are implemented.

The House was expected to hold a floor vote on the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act to federally legalize cannabis last week, but leaders announced they were delaying it after certain centrist Democrats expressed concern about the optics of advancing marijuana reform legislation without first passing additional COVID relief.

All that said, others do view the banking protections as a boon for social equity in that they would help minority-owned cannabis businesses that currently struggle to get access to capital and financial services.

“Without access to much needed capital to maintain throughout the crisis, it is possible that we could see an acceleration of the corporatization of the cannabis industry in a manner that is inconsistent with the values and desires of many within the cannabis space,” Strekal said. “Enactment of the SAFE Banking Act would ensure that small businesses could compete in this emerging marketplace.”

In July, bipartisan treasurers from 15 states and one territory sent a letter to congressional leadership, urging the inclusion of the SAFE Banking Act in any COVID-19 legislation that’s sent to the president’s desk. Following GOP attacks on the House proposal, a group of Democratic state treasurers renewed that call.

The House last year approved the standalone SAFE Banking Act. For months, the legislation has gone without action in the Senate Banking Committee, where negotiations have been ongoing.

Where President Trump Stands On Marijuana

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Where President Trump Stands On Marijuana

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With the 2020 presidential election underway, people interested in legalizing marijuana and ending the war on drugs may find themselves wondering which candidate will do more to advance their causes: Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden or incumbent President Donald Trump.

While Trump has not pursued a full-scale crackdown of state-legal cannabis programs and has voiced tentative support for modest reform legislation, his administration has made a number of hostile anti-marijuana actions—from rescinding Obama-era guidance on cannabis prosecutions to implementing policies making immigrants ineligible for citizenship if they consume marijuana or work in the cannabis industry.

Put simply, the president is a drug policy enigma. His past comments on drug policy, attitude toward state-level legalization efforts and administrative actions as president offer a dizzying portrait of a person who once said all drugs should be legal but who also appointed a vociferous anti-cannabis attorney general as one of his first acts in the White House.

Over the course of his first term in office, reform advocates have struggled to peg the president. On the one hand, he has not launched an all-out offensive on state-legal cannabis businesses and, in fact, said it was his administration’s policy that they could continue to operate unencumbered by the federal government despite prohibition remaining on the books. Trump also signed a bill federally legalizing hemp following decades of its prohibition. On the other hand, he’s declined to use his power to enact changes to legitimize the industry and has appointed several officials who hold hostile views toward reform.

In any case, the Trump reelection campaign has made clear it wants to depict the president as the criminal justice reform candidate, repeatedly attacking Biden over his record as an “architect” of punitive drug laws during his decades in the Senate, for example.

To help sort out where Trump stands on marijuana and drug policy in general, here’s an overview of policy actions his administration has taken and remarks he’s made both before and during his presidency.

Policy Actions And Comments As President

Support for states’ rights.

In 2018, the president gave advocates reason to celebrate. Asked whether he supports a bipartisan bill filed by Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), which would allow states to set their own marijuana policies, Trump said “I really do.”

“I know exactly what he’s doing. We’re looking at it,” he said, referring to Gardner. “But I probably will end up supporting that, yes.”

He reiterated his support for a states’ rights approach to marijuana in August 2019, saying it’s “a very big subject and right now we are allowing states to make that decision. A lot of states are making that decision, but we’re allowing states to make that decision.”

Gardner, who held up Justice Department nominations in protest of then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s move in order to generate a cannabis commitment from the president, told Marijuana Moment in an interview that Trump typically makes “very supportive” comments about cannabis reform when they’ve talked.

“It’s all been positive. And I think we’re seeing that,” he said. “Had they wanted to do something, they’d do what Jeff Sessions did and mess around with that and they haven’t.”

Current Attorney General William Barr has said that he’s not interested in upsetting “settled expectations” as it concerns policies in place while the Cole memo was still effective.

“However, I think the current situation is untenable and really has to be addressed. It’s almost like a backdoor nullification of federal law,” he said during a hearing last year, later adding that he would prefer that Congress pass legislation codifying protections for states that have legalized cannabis rather than maintain the status quo of conflicting state and federal policies.

To date, no large-scale marijuana raids against licensed businesses in legal states have taken place under the Trump administration.

Trump’s personal opinion on cannabis consumption and drug policy reform is a mixed bag.

Despite his pledged support for states’ rights to legalize, Trump evidently holds some negative views toward cannabis consumption, as evidenced in a recording from 2018 that was leaked two years later. In that recording, the president said that using marijuana makes people “lose IQ points.”

In August 2020, Trump weighed in on Sen. Kamala Harris’s (D-CA) prior comments on marijuana shortly after she was announced as Joe Biden’s vice presidential running mate. While the president declined to explicitly discuss the senator’s cannabis policy positions, he said “she lied” and “said things that were untrue” when presented with details about an interview she gave last year in which she discussed smoking marijuana in college.

He also urged Republicans not to place marijuana legalization initiatives on state ballots out of concern that it could increase Democratic turnout in elections. A Republican strategist told The Daily Beast that, as far as Trump is concerned, the “pot issue is one of many that he thinks could be a danger.”

“He once told me it would be very ‘smart’ for the Democrat[ic] Party to get as many of these on the ballot as they could,” the source said.

In February 2020, the president applauded countries that impose the death penalty for people who sell drugs—a point he has repeatedly made. “I don’t know that our country is ready for that,” Trump said in the more recent comment, “but if you look throughout the world, the countries with a powerful death penalty—death penalty—with a fair but quick trial, they have very little if any drug problem.”

That said, the president in 2019 seemed to acknowledge the failure of policies prohibiting drugs during a meeting on vaping, stating that banned products are “going to come here illegally” even if they’re prohibited.

Curiously, Trump proposed mandating that he and Biden take drug tests prior to participating in general election debates.

The president signed “right to try” legislation in 2018 that allows terminal patients to access drugs that haven’t been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) but have cleared a phase one trial—a move that some advocates say could let a limited number of people use marijuana, psilocybin and MDMA for therapeutic reasons.

Administrative marijuana and drug policy actions.

One of the administration’s most widely publicized actions—and one that caused acute panic among marijuana advocates and stakeholders—happened in January 2018, when Sessions rescinded the Obama-era Cole memo. Under that policy, federal prosecutors were advised to generally not pursue action against individuals for state-legal cannabis-related activity, except under a limited set of circumstances.

Its revocation worried many that a federal crackdown was looming, especially with longtime prohibitionist Sessions at the helm of the Justice Department. However, that fear was not realized—and according to Gardner, Trump personally opposed the move and said “we need undo this.”

“This sounds like something my grandpa said in the 1950s,” Trump reportedly said, referencing Sessions’s rhetoric when rescinding the policy.

The Justice Department recently asked a federal court to force California marijuana regulators to disclose documents about certain licensed cannabis businesses, and a federal court ruled that they must comply.

Another controversial administrative action concerns immigrants and marijuana. In April 2019, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services issued a memo stating that using marijuana or engaging in cannabis-related “activities” such as working for a dispensary—even in states where it’s legal—makes immigrants ineligible for citizenship because it means they don’t have “good moral character.”

In December 2019, the Justice Department issued a notice that it was seeking to make certain marijuana offenses, including misdemeanor possession, grounds to deny asylum to migrants.

That month, officials with Trump’s U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs also testified against several pieces of legislation that would increase access to medical cannabis for service members and also require the department to conduct clinical research into the therapeutic benefits of marijuana for conditions that commonly afflict veterans.

Using funds provided by a salary donation from Trump, the Surgeon General issued and publicized a warning in August 2019, cautioning against marijuana use by adolescents and pregnant women. The notice also suggested that the state-level cannabis legalization movement was enticing young people to consume marijuana by normalizing the plant.

BuzzFeed News reported in 2018 that the Trump administration created a secret committee that requested agencies across the federal government submit memos on how to combat public support for cannabis reform.

Trump’s Justice Department in 2019 sided with a Mississippi student who filed a lawsuit against his school after he was allegedly prevented from talking about the issue earlier this year, arguing that the First Amendment protects students who discuss legalization and that restrictive policies prohibiting such free expression at public schools are unconstitutional.

FDA under Trump has on several occasions solicited public comments to help inform the country’s position on the potential global reclassification of marijuana.

The Internal Revenue Service in September 2020 released updated guidance on tax policy for the marijuana industry, including instructions on how cannabis businesses that don’t have access to bank accounts can pay their tax bills using large amounts of cash.

Administration’s hemp regulatory actions following Trump signing legalization into law.

One of the most significant cannabis developments to occur under the Trump administration was the federal legalization of hemp that was accomplished when he signed the 2018 Farm Bill—unleashing a massive market for a crop that had been prohibited for more than 80 years as a federally controlled substance. The move elicited bipartisan praise, and Trump’s U.S. Department of Agriculture has put significant resources into implementing the reform.

That said, advocates, lawmakers and industry stakeholders have raised several concerns about proposed rules for hemp such as requiring that the crop be tested for THC contents by only Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)-certified labs.

DEA also released proposed rules for hemp and CBD in August 2020 to put the federal agency officially in compliance with the 2018 Farm Bill. However, some industry players suspect that the agency is really setting the stage to crack down on the newly legal market.

In September 2020, USDA announced that hemp farmers could qualify for coronavirus relief loans, reversing an earlier decision to exclude the crop based on price decline data amid the pandemic.

Also in 2020, the department made hemp farmers eligible for relief programs if they’ve experienced damage or losses due to a natural disaster.

White House officials met with several hemp industry groups in the summer of 2020 to discuss pending FDA guidance on enforcement policies for CBD products.

Speaking of FDA, the agency has similarly been in the process of developing regulations for CBD to be marketed as a food item or dietary supplement. In the meantime, it has used enforcement discretion to keep the market in check.

The agency has continued to issue warnings to cannabis businesses in certain cases—such as instances in which companies claimed CBD could treat or cure coronavirus—and provide public notices about recalls.

FDA also recently closed a comment period on separate draft guidance on developing cannabis-derived medications.

Cannabis and the Trump budget.

While Trump has spoken out in favor of medical cannabis legalization, on several occasions he has released signing statements on spending legislation stipulating that he reserves the right to ignore a long-standing rider that prohibits the Justice Department from using its funds to interfere with state-legal medical marijuana programs.

He also proposed deleting the rider altogether in multiple annual budget proposals to Congress, though Obama did the same thing when he was in office.

In 2019, the White House released a budget request that proposed slightly scaling back restrictive language that has prevented Washington, D.C. from spending its own tax dollars to legalize and regulate the sale of recreational marijuana.

Under several budget proposals, the administration has called for significant cuts to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, a central agency when it comes to setting federal drug policy and upholding prohibition.

Trump administration personnel and cannabis.

A top spokesperson for Trump’s reelection campaign raised eyebrows in February 2020 when he said that the administration’s policy is that currently illicit drugs, including cannabis, “need to be kept illegal.”

During a press briefing in July 2018, then-Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked about the newly elected Mexican president’s suggestion that legalizing and regulating drugs could curtail cartels. She said the administration didn’t have any policy announcements to that end; however, “I can say that we would not support the legalization of all drugs anywhere and certainly wouldn’t want to do anything that would allow more drugs to come into this country.”

The president also named then-Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), as his chief of staff in March 2020. As a member of Congress, Meadows consistently voted against marijuana reform amendments and was one of only a handful of lawmakers who cheered Sessions’s move to rescind the Obama-era cannabis guidance.

Trump’s stance on cannabis legalization became the jumping off point for a spat between a top White House aide, Republican operatives and a reporter in June after Meadows laughed off a question about the prospects of broad marijuana reform advancing before the election in November.

In April 2020, Trump hired a new press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, who has a long record of speaking out against legalization.

Barr, the current attorney general, allegedly directed the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division to carry out investigations into 10 marijuana mergers out of personal animus for the industry. A whistleblower who testified before a key House committee claimed the investigations were unnecessary and wasted departmental resources. But the assistant attorney general for the Antitrust Division later argued that the investigations were actually “consistent with protecting consumers’ access to cannabis products, not with animosity toward the industry.”

During a speech at the 2020 Republican National Convention at which Trump was renominated for a second term, the granddaughter of Evangelical preacher Billy Graham took issue with Democratic governors who designated cannabis dispensaries as essential services amid the coronavirus pandemic while imposing restrictions on churches. In a separate convention speech, an advisory board member for Trump’s reelection campaign claimed that Democrats’ push for universal health care is really about ensuring a right to cannabis access.

Meanwhile, the head of the Republican National Committee (RNC), who was recommended for the position by Trump, dodged a question about where the party stands on medical marijuana and stressed that the issue should be addressed at the state level.

After House leadership announced in August 2020 that the chamber would be voting on a bill to federally legalize marijuana, the director of press communications for the president’s reelection campaign tweeted, “House Dems—more worried about pot dealers than providing relief for the American people.” (That vote was ultimately postponed.)

Pre-Presidency Comments

It might come as a surprise, but 30 years ago, Trump argued in favor of legalizing all drugs.

“We’re losing badly the war on drugs. You have to legalize drugs to win that war. You have to take the profit away from these drug czars,” he said. “What I’d like to do maybe by bringing it up is cause enough controversy that you get into a dialogue on the issue of drugs so people will start to realize that this is the only answer; there is no other answer.”

Then, 25 years later, he was at the Conservative Political Action Conference stating that he thinks marijuana legalization is “bad” and that he feels “strongly about that.”

“They’ve got a lot of problems going on right now in Colorado, some big problems,” he said.

But the candidate clarified that he supports states’ rights to set their own marijuana laws, saying, “If they vote for it, they vote for it.”

“Medical marijuana is another thing,” he added. “I think medical marijuana, 100 percent.”

“Medical I agree with. Medical I like,” he said similarly in 2016. “Medical is OK.”

“I think medical should happen, right? Don’t we agree? I mean I think so,” he said at a 2015 rally in Nevada. “I know people that are very, very sick and for whatever reason, the marijuana really helps them.”

He went on to say that “I really believe you should leave it up to the states” when it comes to recreational legalization. “It should be a state situation… In terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state by state.”

Trump reiterated in a radio interview in 2016 that adult-use legalization has “got to be a state decision.”

“Colorado did it as you know and I guess it’s very mixed right now, they haven’t really made a final determination,” he said. “There seems to be certain health problems with it and that would be certainly bothersome.”

“I do like it, you know, from a medical standpoint — it does do pretty good things,” he added “But from the other standpoint, I think that should be up to the states. Certainly, from a medical standpoint, a lot of people are liking it.”

Legalization of drugs is “something that should be studied and maybe should continue to be studied,” Trump told ABC’s This Week in 2015.

“But it’s not something I’d be willing to do right now,” he added. “I think it’s something that I’ve always said maybe it has to be looked at because we do such a poor job of policing. We don’t want to build walls. We don’t want to do anything. And if you’re not going to want to do the policing, you’re going to have to start thinking about other alternatives. But it’s not something that I would want to do. But it’s something that certainly has been looked at and I looked at it. If we police properly, we shouldn’t do that.”

In a 2016 radio interview with Hugh Hewitt, Trump seemed more skeptical about cannabis legalization, saying that “there are a lot of bad things happening in Colorado with people’s health. And if you look at the results, you know, they’re getting some pretty bad results.”

“Plus, it’s being taken all over the place. I mean, I would have to look at it very seriously,” he said. “Now I think if you talk about medical, you’re talking about a different ball of wax. But there are a lot of bad results happening in Colorado, and people are talking about it. I’m reading about it. So I would be looking at a couple of different things, but I really would want to study it further, because they’re doing a lot of studies. But you know, some bad medical reports and some bad, bad things are happening with what’s going on in Colorado.”

Discussing legalization during a Fox News interview, Trump said that “in Colorado, the book isn’t written on it yet.”

“There’s a lot of difficulty in terms of illness and what’s going on with the brain and the mind and what it’s doing,” he said. “In some ways I think it’s good and in other ways it’s bad.”

But he reiterated that he supports medical cannabis, saying that “I know people that have serious problems and they did that and it really does help them.”

“By the way, medical marijuana—medical—I am in favor of it 100 percent,” he said.

At a Wisconsin campaign rally in 2016, Trump said he is “watching Colorado very carefully, see what’s happening out there. I’m getting some very negative reports, I’m getting some OK reports, but I’m getting some very negative reports coming out of Colorado as to what’s happening, so we’ll see what happens.”

“There’s a lasting negative impact [from marijuana use]. You do too much of it… There’s a loss of something, so that book has not been written yet but it’s gonna be written pretty soon and I’m not hearing very positive things,” he said, adding that on medical cannabis, “I think I am basically for that. I’ve heard some wonderful things in terms of medical.”

Trump told MSNBC in 2015 that “I don’t really think” people should go to jail for marijuana. However, he added that “I think that maybe the dealers have to be looked at very strongly.”

“You have states all of a sudden legalizing it. So it’s sort of hard to say that you’re in one side of the border and you go to jail and you’re on the other side and can you go into a store and buy it,” he said. “So there is going to be changes made there, Joe, and there has to be… That is a very tough subject nowadays, especially since it’s been legalized and will continue to be legalized.”

In another interview with Fox News, he drew a contrast between recreational and medical marijuana consumption.

The former is “a big problem” that has “tremendously damaging effects to the mind, to the brain, to everything,” he said. But he also said he’s “all for medical marijuana and its help.”

In July 2016, Trump was asked whether he would allow former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) crack down on legal marijuana states if he were to become attorney general.

“I wouldn’t do that, no,” Trump said. “I think it’s up to the states. I’m a states person. I think it should be up to the states, absolutely.”

Personal Experience With Marijuana

Trump said in a radio interview in 2016 that “I never have smoked it.”

He also wrote in one of his books, “The America We Deserve,” that’s he’s never used cannabis or any other drug. “I’ve never taken drugs of any kind, never had a glass of alcohol. Never had a cigarette, never had a cup of coffee,” he said.

In an interview with Fox News in 2016, Trump said, “No I have not [smoked marijuana]. I would tell you 100 percent because everyone else seems to admit it nowadays… I’ve never smoked a cigarette either.”

Part of his aversion to drug use seems to be linked to his brother’s death from alcoholism. “He had a profound impact on my life, because you never know where you’re going to end up,” Trump said.

That said, the president said on several occasions during his first election bid that he personally knows people who have benefitted from using medical cannabis.

Marijuana Under A Second Trump Term

It’s hard to say how Trump will approach marijuana policy if elected to a second term. The past four years have given good reason to assume that a federal crackdown is unlikely, but at the same time, the president hasn’t signaled at any point that he’d be proactive at pursuing reform. From an administrative standpoint, it seems possible that the status quo would be maintained.

What the second term’s impact on cannabis may largely come down to is the makeup of Congress. If Democrats hold the House and retake control of the Senate, there’s broad expectations that they will advance some form of marijuana reform legislation to the president’s desk—whether it be occupied by Trump or Biden. It’s not clear whether Trump would sign or veto a far-reaching bill that House Democrats have signaled they want to advance which would deschedule cannabis and fund social equity efforts to repair some of the harms of the war on drugs. If Republicans maintain their Senate majority, a more limited bipartisan bill to simply exempt state-legal marijuana activity could get a shot—and the incumbent president has already indicated he would support it.

Then again, this president has been inconsistent in his views on marijuana and drug policy over the years, so it’s hard to predict where he might come down on the issue if given another four years in the White House.

Where Presidential Candidate Joe Biden Stands On Marijuana

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Politics

American Medical Association Asks Mississippi Voters To Reject Medical Marijuana Ballot Initiative

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A medical marijuana legalization initiative that will appear on Mississippi’s November ballot is being targeted by two medical associations that are pushing voters to reject the policy change.

With weeks left until the vote, the Mississippi State Medical Association (MSMA) and American Medical Association (AMA) are circulating a sample ballot that instructs voters on how to reject the activist-led measure. For supporters and opponents alike, the way the ballot is structured can be confusing—a product of the legislature approving an alternative that appears alongside Initiative 65.

“The purpose is to defeat Initiative 65. Initiative 65A will allow the legislature to enact changes to the law, which would not be possible with Initiative 65,” the opposition campaign document states. “MSMA is asking for you to join us in educating and encouraging our population to vote against Initiative 65.”

Via MSMA.

This marks the latest obstacle that reform advocates are facing as they work to inform the electorate about how to fill out the ballot to pass their proposal. Despite polls that show support for medical cannabis legalization at 81 percent in Mississippi, opponents aren’t acquiescing to public opinion.

MSMA President Mark Horne told WLBT-TV last week that the organization was asked to review the initiative and that “it was immediately clear that this is an effort focused on generating profits for an industry that has no ties to the medical or health care community in Mississippi.”

But according to Jamie Grantham, communications director for Mississippians for Compassionate Care (MCC), that talking point has only recently been aired and the campaign didn’t receive that feedback until MSMA mounted this opposition push. She told Marijuana Moment on Monday that the group’s steering committee is composed of several physicians who also had a hand in drafting the measure’s language—and that includes doctors who are part of MSMA.

“Ultimately, it boils down to patients being able to have access to this through their physician. They need to be able to have that conversation with them,” she said. “If certain physicians don’t see a benefit to that, that’s fine. But lots of other physicians do, and that’s evidenced undeniably in the 34 other states with medical marijuana programs where patients are receiving relief.”

AMA President Susan Bailey argued that “amending a state constitution to legalize an unproven drug is the wrong approach,” adding that there are concerns about youth exposure and impaired driving.

That said, a scientific journal published by AMA has printed research showing the advantages of broad marijuana legalization, however, with one recent study showing that people in states where recreational cannabis is legal were significantly less likely to experience vaping-related lung injuries than those in states where it is prohibited.

The organization has long maintained an opposition to legalization but has called for a review of marijuana’s restrictive federal Schedule I status.

Marijuana Moment reached out to AMA for comment, but a representative did not respond by the time of publication.

If the Mississippi campaign’s measure passes, it would allow patients with debilitating medical issues to legally obtain marijuana after getting a doctor’s recommendation. The proposal includes 22 qualifying conditions such as cancer, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder, and patients would be allowed to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana per 14-day period.

In June, lawmakers introduced yet another medical cannabis alternative resolution that would’ve posed an additional threat to the activist-driven reform initiative. But, to advocates’ relief, the legislation didn’t advance before lawmakers went home for the summer.

Nebraska Activists Unveil New Medical Marijuana Initiative For 2022 Following Supreme Court Defeat

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