Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) joined the ranks of 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls on April 8 and later suspended his bid on July 8.
The congressman, a former prosecutor who sits on the House Judiciary Committee, endorsed California’s adult-use legalization measure prior to its passage in 2016 and has cosponsored numerous pieces of cannabis legislation on Capitol Hill, including bills to end federal marijuana prohibition. His record on the issue earned him an “A+” grade from NORML.
This piece was last updated on July 8, 2019 to include the candidate’s statements and policy actions on marijuana since joining the race.
Legislation And Policy Actions
While Swalwell has not been the lead sponsor of any cannabis bills, he’s put his name on several wide-ranging proposals as a cosponsor since joining Congress in 2013.
On several occasions, he signed on to legislation that would federally deschedule marijuana or otherwise shield state legalization laws from federal interference. He also cosponsored a more far-reaching bill to deschedule cannabis while also setting aside funding for expungements and to support women- and minority-owned marijuana businesses.
On a more incremental level, he supported legislative efforts to protect states that have legalized medical cannabis from federal intervention. He also signed on to a bill to let defendants in federal court cases introduce evidence of their state-legal medical cannabis activity as a defense.
Swalwell cosponsored bills to secure banking access for state-legal marijuana businesses, to allow the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to study medical cannabis for veterans, to impose an excise tax on marijuana sales, to exempt real property from civil asset forfeitures for medical cannabis activity in compliance with state law and to increase the number of federally authorized marijuana manufacturers for research purposes.
Besides his bill cosponsorships, Swalwell has also voted in favor of floor amendments to shield medical cannabis from federal enforcement in 2014 and 2015. He voted for similar amendments to extend that protection to adult-use and CBD-only states in 2015.
Other amendments he’s supported include ones that would allow doctors at the VA to recommend medical cannabis, others to prevent the Justice Department from using its resources to interfere with state-legal hemp markets and one to provide banking access to legitimate marijuana businesses.
The congressman was absent for 2019 floor votes on measures to protect all state marijuana laws from federal interference and remove roadblocks to research on Schedule I substances such as cannabis and psychedelic drugs.
In 2014, Swalwell signed a bipartisan letter to President Barack Obama imploring him to direct the attorney general to remove marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. He made the same request, along with 13 other members of Congress, in a spearate 2016 letter to Obama. He also asked Obama to lift barriers to marijuana research in a 2016 letter and, in 2018, requested that the president select a DEA head who is willing to “set drug enforcement priorities that make sense within the evolving landscape of state marijuana laws.”
— Rep. Eric Swalwell (@RepSwalwell) May 2, 2015
The congressman joined colleagues in a separate letter in 2015, urging House and Appropriations Committee leadership to support an amendment that would shift money from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) marijuana eradication fund to three unrelated accounts.
He was also part of large coalitions that sent a letters to House leaders in 2017 and 2018 asking them to maintain protections from federal intervention for states that have legalized medical cannabis.
— Rep. Eric Swalwell (@RepSwalwell) January 16, 2018
After then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded Obama-era guidance on marijuana enforcement priorities for U.S. attorneys, Swalwell and 11 other House members sent a letter requesting a hearing on the cannabis policy change.
“We fear that the elimination of the Obama Administration’s marijuana enforcement guidance will promote an inefficient use of limited taxpayer resources and subvert the will of voters who have clearly indicated a preference for legalized marijuana in their states,” the lawmakers wrote.
Finally, in October 2018, Swalwell and others sent a letter to Sessions and the then-acting administrator of the DEA, questioning how the Trump administration can pursue a “buy American” agenda while blocking the domestic production of marijuana for research purposes.
Why are we importing #cannabis from Canada for research while the @DEAHQ isn’t acting on more than two dozen U.S. cannabis manufacturer applications? @RepMattGaetz and I are leading a bipartisan effort to find out. #BuyAmerican pic.twitter.com/lvR2LYyigY
— Rep. Eric Swalwell (@RepSwalwell) October 1, 2018
On The Campaign Trail
Swalwell praised Nevada’s marijuana legalization law during a campaign visit in May, saying the state is “doing a great job.”
“I want to have a country where it is legalized everywhere and patients can benefit as they are suffering from different diseases,” he said.
During a CNN town hall event in June, Swalwell spoke about his support for decriminalizing and rescheduling cannabis and expunging the records “of anyone who had a marijuana conviction in the past.”
He included his support for legalizing marijuana in a tweet criticizing the 1994 Crime Bill and calling for additional criminal justice reforms.
I was 13 when the 1994 Crime Bill was passed. Millions others affected by it weren’t even born. How about we stop living in the past and do something NOW about its effects?
✅ Legalize marijuana
✅ End private prisons
✅ Send fewer people to prison
✅ Restore rights https://t.co/q6m28zTdRX
— Eric Swalwell (@ericswalwell) May 29, 2019
Quotes And Social Media Posts
The congressman hasn’t taken to social media to make his views on marijuana reform heard quite as often as other Democratic candidates have. But what he has said—which is mostly confined to letters covered above—has made his stance on cannabis clear.
When he voted in favor of an amendment to protect medical marijuana states from federal intervention, Swalwell wrote on Facebook that, as a former prosecutor, “I did not take this vote on medical marijuana lightly.”
“But as someone who has seen first-hand how it has helped family members struggling with chronic illness and disease, I can’t allow them or any patient to live in uncertainty,” he wrote. “I voted to stop the DEA from enforcing federal marijuana laws against states that have passed medicinal marijuana laws.”
He also spoke about his relationship to family members who use medical cannabis when he was asked about his support for California’s adult-use legalization measure in 2016.
“I’m probably the most unlikely person to support it. I was a prosecutor for seven years,” he said. “For me, I just look at where we put our resources—and I have family members who use medicinal marijuana for a medical issue they have and it certainly helps. When I look at where we put our resources, the fact that we haven’t studied it enough to know if can help more people, why not decriminalize it? Why not better control it and pass Proposition 64?”
“Scientists and health care professionals believe that keeping marijuana illegal is unjustified,” he told The Sacramento Bee. “Prosecution of marijuana violations clog our already overburdened courts and cost hundreds of millions of dollars annually to enforce.”
During a congressional hearing in 2018, Swalwell pressed the head of the DEA about what’s being done to combat youth substance misuse, which led the official to say that he doesn’t believe that cannabis is a gateway drug.
The congressman also told Politico in 2017 that he “was disappointed that the [Obama] administration didn’t seize the opportunity to end” federal marijuana prohibition.
— POLITICO Live (@POLITICOLive) May 11, 2017
Speaking about a piece of marijuana legislation that he cosponsored, Swalwell said the bill “gives states more autonomy—and gets federal authorities off the back of states like California which already have made a choice to legalize—while giving landlords and federally-insured banks much-needed clarity that they’re not violating the law by getting involved with cannabis businesses.”
“It’s time that we sort this out once and for all,” he said.
Personal Experience With Marijuana
Swalwell said in 2016 that he’s “never tried the stuff,” which “probably makes me less qualified” to endorse California’s legalization measure.
“I was such a nerd in high school,” he said, “and playing college sports you get tested all the time.”
That said, he has seen marijuana’s therapeutic benefits up close. In a video he posted on Twitter, Swalwell said he is “a family member to someone who uses cannabis for their medical condition.”
Where do I stand on the legalization of marijuana?
— Eric Swalwell (@ericswalwell) June 1, 2019
Marijuana Under A Swalwell Presidency
While marijuana reform might not be at the top of Swalwell’s agenda if he’s elected as compared to other candidates who have focused more intensely on the issue, he’s repeatedly indicated that he supports efforts to broadly end prohibition and allow states to set their own cannabis policies.
Additionally, his support for moves to increase research into medical cannabis, restrict the Justice Department from enforcing prohibition and lifting barriers to financial institutions for cannabis businesses means his platform is aligned with ongoing congressional efforts to change federal marijuana laws.
Most Kansas City Government Workers Will No Longer Face Pre-Employment Marijuana Tests Following City Council Vote
Most government workers in Kansas City, Missouri will no longer face pre-employment drug tests for marijuana under an ordinance that the City Council approved on Thursday.
The measure, which was introduced by Mayor Quinton Lucas (D) in July, was passed by local lawmakers in an 11-2 vote.
“It shall be unlawful for the City of Kansas City to require a prospective employee to submit to testing for the presence of marijuana in the prospective employee’s system as a condition of employment,” the text of the ordinance states.
Lucas, who last year filed a since-enacted measure to remove all local criminal penalties for cannabis possession, celebrated the latest development.
Opportunities should not be foreclosed unnecessarily.
Glad to see passage of our law eliminating pre-employment screening for marijuana at Kansas City government for most positions.
One step of many in becoming a fairer city.
— Mayor Q (@QuintonLucasKC) September 23, 2021
“Opportunities should not be foreclosed unnecessarily. Glad to see passage of our law eliminating pre-employment screening for marijuana at Kansas City government for most positions,” he said. “One step of many in becoming a fairer city.”
There are some exceptions to the policy change. Law enforcement, workers who require a commercial driver’s license and those who are involved in the supervision of “children, medical patients, disabled or other vulnerable individuals” can still be screened for cannabis.
Last year, the mayor announced a pardon program for those with previous convictions for possession of marijuana or paraphernalia.
Drug testing for cannabis has become a hot topic of late since the Olympics suspension of U.S. runner Sha’Carri Richardson, with more people arguing that use of the plant shouldn’t lead to punishments, especially given the ongoing rise of the legalization movement. The World Anti-Doping Agency recent announced that it would review its marijuana policy for athletes next year.
The Biden administration has come under fire this year for terminating or otherwise punishing staffers who were honest about their past cannabis use as part of the background check process.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has said that nobody in the White House was fired for “marijuana usage from years ago,” nor has anyone been terminated “due to casual or infrequent use during the prior 12 months.” However, she’s consistently declined to speak to the extent to which staff have been suspended or placed in a remote work program because they were honest about their history with marijuana on a federal form that’s part of the background check process.
In June, a powerful congressional committee released a report that urges federal agencies to reconsider policies that result in the firing of employees who use marijuana legally in accordance with state law.
Separate standalone legislation has been previously introduced by Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL) to provide protections for federal workers who consume cannabis in compliance with state law, but it never received a hearing or a vote and has not been refiled so far this Congress.
As of last year, New York City employers are no longer able to require pre-employment drug testing for marijuana as a part of the hiring process—though there are a series of exemptions to the policy. The City Council approved the ban in 2019, and it was enacted without Mayor Bill de Blasio’s (D) signature.
Statewide in Missouri, voters may see multiple marijuana initiatives on the state’s 2022 ballot, with a group filing an adult-use legalization proposal last month that could compete with separate reform measures that are already in the works.
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.
Full-Page Washington Post Ad Calls For Marijuana Prisoner’s Freedom While Celebs Make Money In Industry
Supporters of a 26-year-old man who is currently incarcerated while awaiting sentencing for a federal marijuana charge took out a full-page ad in The Washington Post on Thursday, blasting the hypocrisy of his imprisonment while celebrities like Beyonce, Jay Z, Seth Rogen and Willie Nelson stand to profit off the legal cannabis industry.
Jonathan Wall faces up to 15 years in prison on charges that he and other conspired to traffic marijuana from California to Maryland over two years. His family says this is a flagrant miscarriage of justice that highlights the need for relief for Wall and for broader federal marijuana reform.
The ad has the headline, “Who will be the last person incarcerated for marijuana in the United States?”
“Cannabis corporations are in Maryland and 26 other states making billions in revenue growing, manufacturing and distributing pot,” it says. “Cannabis conglomerates wonderfully engaged in branding, licensing , product innovation, research and development.”
It notes that, just miles away from where Wall is being held, consumers can buy marijuana from major marijuana businesses like Curaleaf or Acreage Holdings, which counts former GOP House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) among its board members.
“But then you—along with the likes of Jay Z, Seth Rogen, and Willie Nelson—would be in violation of U.S. federal law and subject to incarceration,” the ad says. “26-year-old Jonathan Wall faces life in prison while Beyonce says that she’s starting a cannabis farm. This is not the way the law is supposed to work.”
“President Biden recently gave a speech about how 20 years in Afghanistan was too long and that our continued involvement there was a mistake. Well, what about more than 50 years of proven failure, 50 years of gross economic waste, 50 years of caging our own citizens, 50 years of asset forfeiture abuse, 50 years of enforcement disparity and evisceration of the constitutional rights of people of color. In a country where you can guy an assault rifle and fifth of whiskey, federal prohibition of cannabis has never been about more than fear, bias, race, stigmatization and control.”
This isn’t the first time that the Biden administration has faced demands to provide relief for people criminalized over marijuana.
Congressional lawmakers have also recently pushed President Joe Biden to grant clemency to nearly 20,000 people in the federal prison system—including those with drug convictions.
A group of more than 150 celebrities, athletes, politicians, law enforcement professionals and academics separately signed a letter that was delivered to Biden, asking him to issue a “full, complete and unconditional pardon” to all people with non-violent federal marijuana convictions.
While advocates are looking for more, the Biden administration is asking a fraction of people with drug convictions who were placed on home confinement amid the coronavirus pandemic to apply for the relief.
“It is time for our government to admit that it has made a mistake,” the new ad says.
House Officially Passes Defense Bill With Marijuana Banking Protections, But Key Senators May Block Path Ahead
The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday approved a large-scale defense spending bill that includes an amendment to shield banks that works with state-legal marijuana businesses from being penalized by federal regulators. Now advocates and industry stakeholders are left wondering: what’s the fate of the reform in the Senate? And can it make it to the president’s desk?
New comments from Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ)—who’s helping lead the charge to advance comprehensive marijuana legalization and who has been severely critical of efforts to enact banking reform first—signal that the path to pass the incremental policy change through the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) could be in jeopardy in the Senate. Other key senators have also expressed skepticism about the reform’s prospects through this process.
For supporters, things may have been more simple if the Senate had moved to include cannabis banking reform in its own version, but the text of NDAA released by Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday does not contain that language. That means the matter will need to be settled in a bicameral conference committee after the full Senate formally passes its bill. At that point, negotiators from both chambers will work to resolve differences between their separate proposals.
Already, there’s pushback from key senators to including the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act in the NDAA that’s ultimately sent to President Joe Biden. That’s not especially surprising considering that leadership, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), has insisted on passing comprehensive justice-focused marijuana legalization first rather than advance an incremental reform on banking. But recent statements do raise questions about the prospects of enacting the reform through the defense bill.
It’s not that the SAFE Banking Act is partisan or especially controversial on its face; it’s a matter of legislative priorities for certain senators and a question of germaneness in NDAA. As of Tuesday, when the reform amendment was officially attached to the House version of the bill, it has now passed five times in the chamber, usually along largely bipartisan lines.
Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), chief sponsor of the SAFE Banking Act, spoke with Marijuana Moment about the process moving forward in a phone interview on Wednesday. He was optimistic about the measure’s prospects with NDAA as the vehicle, though he conceded that he hadn’t spoken with Schumer or other key senators who are actively finalizing legalization legislation that they hope to see move first.
“I think the fifth time is the charm,” he said. “I mean, obviously, we still have to do some work to make sure that it remains part of the NDAA as the House and the Senate go to conference. So we still have work to do with the Senate to make sure that it remains part of it. But I think that it will.”
“I mean, the fact that it deals with cartels and national security, on top of the need for the public safety piece of this thing, I think that we’ll be able to convince the conference committee and the conferees generally to keep it in,” he said. “But we still have work to do.”
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Some advocates have expressed support for enacting the achievable banking policy change while working to build support for more comprehensive reform.
“Enactment of the SAFE Banking Act would improve public safety and business efficiency in the 36 states that currently permit some form of retail marijuana sales,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said. “The Senate should ensure this provision remains in the final version of this funding package and enact it swiftly.”
“The SAFE Banking Act is only the first step toward making sure that state-legal marijuana markets operate safely and efficiently,” he said. “The sad reality is that those who own or patronize these currently unbanked businesses would still be recognized as criminals in the eyes of the federal government and by federal law. This situation can only be rectified by removing marijuana from the list of controlled substances.”
Schumer and certain other senators, meanwhile, have insisted the banking issue should be tackled by holistically ending marijuana prohibition. They argue that it is inappropriate to pass what is seen as an industry-focused reform that helps businesses and investors while leaving unaddressed the harms of decades of racially disparate prohibition enforcement that should be addressed with equity-focused legalization.
Booker, who is helping Schumer alongside Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) to produce a final legalization bill has said he would proactively work to block any senators who attempt to get marijuana banking reform passed before enacting social justice-focused legalization legislation.
And Booker told Politico on Wednesday that cannabis banking is “something that should not be included” in NDAA.
Senate likes to send NDAA amendments to a vote by unanimous consent. If one senator raises an objection to an NDAA Amendment, it can kill or stall it. Booker wouldn’t discuss his plans but said has “a lot of options as an individual senator” should the amendment be proposed.
— Natalie Fertig (@natsfert) September 22, 2021
“It undermines the ability to get comprehensive marijuana reform and the kind of things that are harder to get done like expungement of people’s records,” he said, echoing a point that Schumer made in an interview with Marijuana Moment in April. And a spokesperson for the majority leader affirmed that his position has not changed in light of the House development.
Should a senator propose a floor amendment to the chamber’s version of the defense bill to incorporate SAFE Banking, Booker left open the possibility of standing in its way.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), sponsor of the standalone Senate version of the SAFE Banking Act, also declined to say whether he would push to attach the reform to NDAA and told Politico he’d “love to see if we can even do the more comprehensive [reform]—that’d be even better.”
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed (D-RI), meanwhile, told Roll Call that the issue hasn’t been discussed by members of his panel. And bipartisan supporters of the reform—including Sens. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Rand Paul (R-KY)—told the outlet they weren’t certain that the Senate would pursue marijuana banking through NDAA.
Schatz also said that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) “doesn’t like” the marijuana banking proposal, and so “he’s going to have to consult with the Republicans in his conference who are in favor of this reform, but so far he’s been blocking it.”
Based on these comments, it seems increasingly clear that the effort to enact SAFE Banking through the must-pass defense bill faces a tough road ahead. And despite bipartisan support for the proposal on its own, it’s an open question as to whether the negotiators in committees of jurisdiction will be able to reach a consensus.
At an initial meeting of the House Rules Committee about NDAA on Monday, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-WA), who is managing the bill for the chamber, acknowledged that while some members might consider certain amendments “superfluous” to defense spending matters, the annual legislation has been used as a vehicle to advance non-germane legislation in the past. He added, though, that doing so has historically required the issues at hand to have broad bipartisan support in order to survive the House-Senate conference committee process.
He didn’t specifically cite the cannabis banking proposal, but Perlmutter himself said earlier in the hearing that “whether something is superfluous is always in the eyes of the beholder,” signaling that he feels his measure’s germaneness in this context is up for interpretation.
Smith said that “whatever superfluous items the Rules Committee decides to put in order and get attached to this bill, we go to conference, and in conference, we work in a bipartisan fashion.”
But beyond Smith and Reed, it will also be up to leading members of key committees that handle banking issues to decide whether the measure gets a ride to the president’s desk in NDAA.
“We’re not going to pull one over on anybody here. We’re going to have to work with committees of jurisdiction—not just the chairs, but the ranking members as well—to come to some agreement on those before we go forward,” he said. “So if you see an item that you consider to be superfluous being added to the bill, don’t freak out.”
The chair’s comments about needing support from leaders of committees of jurisdiction raise questions about whether the amendment stands a chance in conference with the Senate following House approval. Not only did House Financial Services Committee Ranking Member Patrick McHenry (R-NC) vote against the standalone SAFE Banking Act this year and in 2019, but on the Senate side, even Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) has been generally unenthusiastic about advancing the reform.
On the flip side, House Finance Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) is a supporter of the banking reform and brought it through her panel last Congress. Senate Banking Committee Ranking Member Pat Toomey (R-PA), for his part, has previously voiced support for advancing the SAFE Banking Act.
Perlmutter has said that he appreciates that Senate leadership is pushing for a more comprehensive end to federal marijuana prohibition—and he agrees with Booker that promoting social equity is an important objective—but he feels the SAFE Banking Act is urgently needed to address public safety issues resulting from the industry’s lack of access to traditional financial institutions.
Some of the strongest proponents for broad reform like Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) voted in favor of the SAFE Banking Act in April despite the body yet having taken up a legalization measure this session.