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.
Trade Associations And Civil Rights Groups Send Mixed Messages On Marijuana Banking To Senate
A coalition of trade associations sent a letter to Senate Banking Committee leadership on Thursday, urging a vote on legislation to protect financial institutions that service state-legal marijuana businesses.
But those senators are also feeling pressure from leading civil rights groups like the ACLU and Human Rights Watch, which sent an earlier letter insisting that they not allow cannabis banking to detract from more comprehensive reform that addresses social equity.
The organizations involved in the latest letter—including the American Bankers Association and Credit Union National Association—said that advancing the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act or similar legislation is pivotal to ensuring that stakeholders receive needed clarity and are shielded from being penalized by federal regulators.
The letter, addressed to Banking Chair Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Ranking Member Sherrod Brown (D-OH), emphasized the bipartisan nature of the House passage of the bill in September and the growing movement at the state level to legalize cannabis for medical or recreational purposes.
“Our organizations support an initial legislative step that allows the legal cannabis industry into the banking system,” the groups, which also include the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers, International Council of Shopping Centers and National Association of REALTORS, wrote. “Ultimately, protecting law-abiding financial institutions and ancillary businesses from their currently untenable position and addressing increasing public safety concerns.”
As more states reform their marijuana laws, however, “distribution, sale, possession, research, transaction, housing, employment, and a broader landscape of cannabis is becoming increasingly problematic” for stakeholders under federal prohibition.
“Ultimately, this creates more legal and security concerns that impact the operations and safety of businesses and consumers,” they said. “Finally, the lack of an available safe harbor for cannabis will continue to challenge the full adoption and deployment of the legal hemp and CBD products market in the U.S. due to the inextricable link between hemp and cannabis.”
“To resolve this, we urge the Committee to vote on the SAFE Banking Act or similar measures. Such measures are meant to create a safe harbor for depository institutions that provide a financial product or service to businesses in a state permitting the use of cannabis. A safe harbor will enable law enforcement and states to effectively monitor and regulate businesses while simultaneously bringing billions into the regulated banking sector.”
12 groups including ABA just wrote @MikeCrapo @SenSherrodBrown @senatemajldr @SenSchumer urging a vote on the #SAFEBanking Act. It's time to end the legal limbo over banking cannabis in the growing number of states where it's legal. Read the letter: https://t.co/1529vIHawq
— American Bankers Association (@ABABankers) December 12, 2019
The letter, also signed by Americans for Prosperity and R Street, recognizes that creating a federal regulatory scheme for marijuana will take time but says that the SAFE Banking Act represents “a critical first step to ensure that legal cannabis marketplaces are safe, legal, and transparent.”
Crapo has said that he’s interested in holding a vote on resolving the cannabis banking issue in his panel before the year’s end, but so far nothing has been scheduled. The chairman told Marijuana Moment in earlier interviews that there are several changes to the House-passed bill that he’d like to see but that he’s worried impeachment proceedings against the president will interfere with plans to hold a vote.
All that said, pressure from civil rights advocacy groups could complicate congressional efforts to get the banking bill approved. In October, several organizations including the ACLU, Drug Policy Alliance, Human Rights Watch and Center for American Progress sent a letter to Senate leadership, as well as Crapo and Brown, demanding that “marijuana legislation considered in the Senate include provisions that will guarantee equity in the industry.”
The letter, which doesn’t appear to have been previously reported and was obtained by Marijuana Moment, states that while the coalition agrees the SAFE Banking Act “is an incremental step toward rolling back the federal prohibition of marijuana, it fails to help communities that have been historically and disproportionately devastated by United States’ punitive drug laws.”
“As the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs considers similar legislation, we insist that the legislation include provisions that ensure equity in the marijuana industry by creating opportunities for individuals who have been prohibited from this growing business either by legal or financial means,” the letter, which was also signed by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and National Association of Social Workers, states.
“Indeed, this Congress has shown it understands the economic impact of legalization. But while progress on the business side of legalization is promising, it is not sufficient. Federal marijuana legislation must be comprehensive and lead with equity, addressing past and current harms to communities of color and low-income communities who bore the brunt of the failed war on drugs. We demand that any marijuana reform or legalization bill considered by the Senate] include robust provisions addressing equity. More than simply adding equity provisions to bills that address industry concerns, we need comprehensive reform that deschedules marijuana and addresses the inequities and harms continually inflicted by the failed war on drugs.”
In other words, the groups are insisting on broad reform prior to a vote on a bill viewed as largely beneficial to the cannabis industry—similar to a request they made of House members prior to the legislation’s passage in the chamber.
Read the marijuana banking letters from the trade associations and civil rights groups below:
GOP Congressman Knocks His Party For Failing To Pass Marijuana Reform
A Republican congressman says that whichever party is responsible for passing federal marijuana reform will “instantly” shoot up in the polls, while lamenting the fact that the GOP failed to do so when they controlled the House.
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), a vocal advocate for hemp, was asked by Fox Business host Kennedy on Wednesday whether cannabis should be rescheduled under federal law.
“Absolutely,” he said. “The first party that does this—and I don’t understand why either party won’t do it—is going instantly gain 10 points in the general poll on which party versus the other.”
“We should have done it when we were in the majority,” he added. “The liberals should be asking Pelosi why she hasn’t put it on the floor yet.”
The House Judiciary Committee approved legislation last month to end federal marijuana prohibition, but it hasn’t yet been scheduled for floor action.
Massie made similar points during an interview with Marijuana Moment earlier this year, stating that if Republicans had advanced states’ rights-focused marijuana legislation, “I think we might still be in the majority.”
Of course, while Massie has supported legislation to allow states to set their own cannabis policies without federal intervention, as well as other more modest reform measures such as protecting banks that service marijuana businesses, he’s so far declined to cosponsor any bills that seek to deschedule cannabis.
The congressman has also expressed interest in changing federal gun control laws to allow cannabis consumers to purchase firearms.
Though it’s not clear exactly how much of a boost either party would get by passing a marijuana reform bill, a Pew poll released last month does show that there’s majority support for legalization among those who lean Republican (55 percent) as well those who lean Democratic (78 percent).
Photo courtesy of YouTube/Rep. Massie.
State Department Warns Travelers About Flying With Cannabis Oil Internationally
The U.S. State Department is warning international holiday travelers that while hemp-derived CBD might be legal in the U.S., it can land you in trouble if you take it certain places abroad.
“Make sure your gift isn’t a fa la la la la la la la la fail,” the department said in a tweet on Thursday. “Bringing along gifts like drones, CBD oils, and firearms can land you in trouble in foreign countries. Research what is and isn’t allowed before you travel.”
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo courtesy of Flickr/DHS.