The governor of one of the first states to legalize marijuana announced that he was seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination on March 1, 2019 and ended his campaign on August 21.
Although he was not on board with ending cannabis prohibition prior to voters having their say, Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee (D) has become a champion of his state’s legal marijuana market and came to its defense after the federal government seemed to be considering a crackdown. For that, he has earned top marks—an “A” grade—from NORML.
— Jay Inslee (@JayInslee) January 16, 2019
Shortly after announcing his 2020 bid, Inslee said Washington state legalized cannabis “and it’s about time we do it nationwide.”
This piece was last updated on August 22, 2019 to include the candidate’s statements and policy actions on marijuana since joining the race.
Legislation And Policy Actions
While Inslee initially opposed the state’s push to legalize marijuana when he was running for governor in 2012, he has a solid track record of supporting some cannabis reforms and has since become a vocal proponent of legalization.
During his stint in the U.S. House, Inslee voted in favor of floor amendments to shield states that legalized medical cannabis from federal intervention on multiple occasions—in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007.
He didn’t introduce any cannabis legislation, but he did sign on as a cosponsor of a bill that would have directed the Justice Department to reschedule marijuana and shield state-legal medical cannabis programs from federal enforcement.
Inslee has signed various pieces of cannabis legislation into law as governor, including a bill that allows medical cannabis patients to purchase immature plants and seeds, one that amends state law to exempt hemp from the list of controlled substances and another that allows for the cultivation of industrial hemp. Another bill that he signed in 2018 changed labeling requirements for marijuana products.
He declined to include funding for the state’s hemp program in his 2018 budget, however.
Most recently, the governor launched a program designed to expedite the expungements of misdemeanor marijuana possession convictions going back to 1998.
Friday we launched our Marijuana Justice Initiative, and today I signed the first set of pardons. This effort will help relieve the burden of misdemeanors for marijuana possession and allow people to move on with their lives. #marijuanajustice https://t.co/5eRNbUm1X3 pic.twitter.com/ksgENCnmqX
— Governor Jay Inslee (@GovInslee) January 10, 2019
“It is time to end marijuana injustice in the state of Washington,” Inslee said. “It is the right thing to do because a simple possession conviction 20 years ago should not be a life sentence for a Washingtonian.”
Inslee applauded legislation providing for marijuana expungements in the Washington Senate.
The marijuana bill that passed the Senate this evening is the next big step to bring fairness and justice to those with marijuana convictions on their records. Thank you to Sen. Nguyen and Rep. @JoeFitzgibbon for helping lead this important effort. #waleghttps://t.co/KLgA2Ddc1D
— Governor Jay Inslee (@GovInslee) March 12, 2019
He signed that bill in May 2019, describing it as “a matter of fairness and justice” and stating that we “should not be punishing people for something that is no longer illegal in this state.”
Inslee was one of 20 governors to sign a letter in June 2019 urging Congress to pass bipartisan legislation that would provide state-legal marijuana businesses with access to banking services.
In April 2019, he signed legislation that allows children who are medical cannabis patients to take their medicine to school.
Children can now take medical marijuana at school, thanks to new law just signed by @GovInslee. The man in the green behind the Gov., John Barclay, fought for law bc of his daughter, River. She was too ill to attend the bill signing. #waleg pic.twitter.com/vgz1RrXt68
— Drew Mikkelsen (@drewmikkelsenk5) April 30, 2019
On The Campaign Trail
Inslee said he was open to decriminalizing psychedelics during an interview with CBS News Radio.
“I would consider it,” he said. “I do believe that our war on drugs has had all kinds of untoward effects and it’s one of the reasons that, for instance, not only have we legalized marijuana in Washington but I’ve offered pardons—I’m the first governor to offer pardons to several thousands of people who have misdemeanor convictions on their records.”
The governor participated in a Netroots Nation panel where he and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) discussed cannabis issues.
He also told CNN that his state’s decision to legalize marijuana has been an “unalloyed success.”
“It has been an unalloyed success in the state of Washington and it is my belief it is time for the United States to decriminalize and legalize marijuana," Jay Inslee says, noting his home state of Washington previously legalized marijuana. #InsleeTownHall https://t.co/D7sd64Ohb9 pic.twitter.com/nRKNhRP0Nb
— CNN (@CNN) April 11, 2019
Inslee defended a member of the state’s Liquor and Cannabis (LCB) Board who faced criticism over allegations that he contributed to a “toxic culture” within the panel. He wrote a letter to state lawmakers that the member “provides a valuable perspective.”
Previous Quotes And Social Media Posts
Over the years, Inslee has become increasingly vocal about his support for marijuana reform, sharing his views in speeches, interviews and on social media.
Of course, it wasn’t always that way. When Washington’s cannabis legalization initiative made it on the state ballot in 2012 alongside his own bid for governor, he said “I’m in favor of making sure people have access to medical marijuana,” but “I’m not comfortable with voting for that initiative.” He expressed concerns that legalizing would send the wrong message to children.
“All of us want to see our kids make smart decisions and not allow any drug to become injurious in our life,” he told The New York Times.
In fact, he’s repeatedly bragged on the national stage that Washington state has “the best weed in the United States of America” and “the best regulated legal medical marijuana market in the United States.”
Inslee now touts that his state has "the best regulated legal medical marijuana market in the United States." This is not a line I've heard in past stump speeches
— Ben Jacobs (@Bencjacobs) June 24, 2018
When the Drug Enforcement Administration announced in 2016 that it wouldn’t be rescheduling cannabis under federal law in response to a petition from his predecessor as Washington’s governor, Inslee said in a press release that he was “disappointed that we don’t have a national standard for at least medical marijuana.”
“As states continue to legalize medical and recreational marijuana, there is more that the federal government must to do to provide states with legal certainty and empower the operation of safe systems across the country,” he said.
After Washington voters approved marijuana legalization, Inslee implemented new rules designed to raise public awareness about cannabis and curb youth consumption.
“This is an all-hands-on-deck effort to make sure we keep kids safe,” Inslee said. “We want every retailer to know that kids are off limits and every parent to know how to talk to kids about why marijuana isn’t safe.”
In 2017, Inslee and the governors of three other states with legal cannabis submitted several letters to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, requesting a meeting to discuss federal marijuana enforcement policy and urging him to keep the Obama-era Cole memo, which outlined federal enforcement priorities, in place.
“We understand you and others in the administration have some concerns regarding marijuana. We sympathize, as many of us expressed apprehensions before our states adopted current laws,” the governors wrote. “As governors, we have committed to implementing the will of our citizens and have worked cooperatively with our legislatures to establish robust regulatory structures that prioritize public health and public safety, reduce inequitable incarceration and expand our economies.”
After Sessions responded in a letter that challenged the notion that Washington state’s marijuana program was being effectively regulated, Inslee followed up and said the attorney general was basing his argument on “incomplete and unreliable data that does not provide the most accurate snapshot of our efforts since the marketplace opened in 2014.”
Make no mistake: As we have told the Department of Justice ever since I-502 was passed in 2012, we will vigorously defend our state’s laws against undue federal infringement. https://t.co/R3jJrncN9X pic.twitter.com/uM48hVH26q
— Governor Jay Inslee (@GovInslee) January 4, 2018
“We are learning important lessons as we go and continually looking for ways to improve our work on all fronts,” he wrote. “It is important for our state to know the Trump Administration is willing to work with us to ensure our success on these efforts, rather than undermining our efforts and diminishing our ability to work constructively with growers and distributors.”
Inslee also complained about Sessions’s unwillingness to directly engage with his office on marijuana policy.
“It’s a shame that he has a closed mind, and he’s much more attentive to his old ideology than to the new facts,” he told Rolling Stone. “The fears that he might have had 30 years ago have not been realized, and we wish he would just open his eyes to the reality of the situation. If he did, I think he would no longer try to fight an old battle that the community and the nation is moving very rapidly forward on.”
When Sessions did eventually rescind the Cole memo in 2018, raising concerns about a potential federal crackdown on state-legal cannabis operations, the Inslee said the state would not be making any changes to its program.
Upending our legal, voter-approved marijuana market doesn't promote stability. And there's nothing genius about turning our shores into oil fields.
— Jay Inslee (@JayInslee) January 6, 2018
He even suggested that Washington might pursue legal action against the Justice Department over the policy change, saying “we’re considering all our options.”
“Make no mistake: As we have told the Department of Justice ever since I-502 was passed in 2012, we will vigorously defend our state’s laws against undue federal infringement,” he said in a press release.
“The current attorney general has had this in his bonnet for decades and he can’t get it out of his bonnet. The fears of Jeff Sessions have not been realized.”
The next month, Inslee talked about the possibility of vacating the criminal records of individuals with prior marijuana convictions in an interview with The Stranger. He said it was important to keep in mind “what’s in the realm of possible,” but said his office was “taking a look at if there is a way to have some kind of expedited pardon capability.”
“[I]f it’s simple—a person has a recreational marijuana conviction ten years ago, then I don’t see a reason to maintain those. But, as I’ve said, we need to have some process to figure out how to do it. We haven’t figured out the right approach to this yet. That’s the bottom line.”
But he did eventually figure out a way to help people with prior marijuana records. Last month, he announced that his office would be expediting expungements for misdemeanor cannabis possession convictions through a program that an estimated 3,500 Washington residents could qualify for.
“Although our voters legalized the use privately of marijuana, we still have an injustice today that thousands of people have on their records a criminal conviction for something that is legal today,” he said at a press conference. “This is impairing their ability to reach their dreams and live their lives and raise their children.”
Our #MarijuanaJustice Initiative aims to pardon those who have a single conviction for adult misdemeanor marijuana possession. While there are over 200K marijuana convictions in WA, this effort allows us to take the first steps to address some of those now. Let’s keep going.
— Governor Jay Inslee (@GovInslee) January 5, 2019
“We are going to write an even brighter chapter of our Washington story,” Insee said of the initiative during his State of the State address last month.
The process has been slow-moving, however, with just 13 people being pardoned as of February 10, 2019.
Throughout his career, Inslee has advocated for federal marijuana reform. He joined the governors of 11 other states in a letter expressing support for a bill that would exempt states that have legalized cannabis from enforcement under the Controlled Substance Act, for example.
Thank you @elizabethforma. Our federal marijuana laws are broken — and we need to ensure this Justice department does not interfere with Washington state's thriving, well-regulated marijuana market https://t.co/o10fxqbxJ8
— Jay Inslee (@JayInslee) June 8, 2018
“Our states have acted with deliberation and care to implement programs through thoughtful and comprehensive legislation and regulations,” they wrote. “Our citizens have spoken, we are responding. We ask that Congress recognize and respect our states’ efforts by supporting and passing the STATES Act.”
Last week on @MeetThePress, I called on Congress to legalize marijuana. With an administration too focused on ideology, and not the facts on the ground, like that legalization is working in states like Washington and Colorado, we need Congress to act. https://t.co/5xPUnZCutK
— Jay Inslee (@JayInslee) January 8, 2018
Inslee said that the Washington’s marijuana law has “largely has been a success” and the “fears of those who were not supportive of our efforts really have not been realized.”
Washington State @GovInslee: “The decriminalization of marijuana, by all ways of judging it, I believe largely has been a success. The fears of those who were not supportive of our efforts really have not been realized.”
Washington State legalized recreational cannabis in 2012. pic.twitter.com/IrI4wkmAPX
— Andrea Woo | 鄔瑞楓 (@AndreaWoo) October 10, 2018
He’s also called for federal banking reform to allow financial institutions to work with cannabis businesses without facing penalties. Inslee and then-Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) sent a letter about the issue to Congress in 2013.
“Access to the banking system by these state-licensed businesses is a necessary component in ensuring a highly regulated marijuana system that will accurately track funds, prevent criminal involvement, and promote public safety,” the governors wrote. “In order to achieve the mutual federal and state goal of establishing tightly-controlled marijuana regulatory systems, we urge you to issue inter-agency guidance that will allow legal, licensed marijuana businesses access to the banking system.”
During an appearance on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, the governor said “wouldn’t it be wonderful if the first time Donald Trump said something that was actually true, if he said he’d leave us alone on our marijuana decriminalization?”
When Canada legalized cannabis nationwide last year, Inslee wrote a congratulatory tweet and said it’s “time for Congress to acknowledge that marijuana legalization is working in states like Washington, Colorado, and others and legalize marijuana as well.”
Welcome @Canada to marijuana legalization. It's time for Congress to acknowledge that marijuana legalization is working in states like Washington, Colorado, and others and legalize marijuana as well. https://t.co/p1sKJ50BFu
— Jay Inslee (@JayInslee) October 17, 2018
He also predicted that there would soon come a day when marijuana could be transported across the border from Canada to Washington.
“I believe this problem will get resolved over time,” he said. “I would anticipate there are going to be significant changes in federal policy in this realm, relatively rapidly, and when that happens, this issue ought to be able to be resolved in one way or another.”
Before he announced his candidacy for the 2020 presidential election, he also predicted that marijuana would be legal in all states in the near future.
The issue has reached a “tipping point,” he said during a speech at a Washington college in January.
Personal Experience With Marijuana
Inslee said that on “two occasions in the 1970s” he consumed marijuana that was “reasonably good.”
Does Washington state really have America's best marijuana? @JayInslee has thoughts
— Pod Save America (@PodSaveAmerica) April 16, 2019
Inslee denied that he currently smokes cannabis, but in an interview with BuzzFeed, he said “but I do grow it legally and we’ve got the best weed in America from the state of Washington.” Home cultivation is prohibited in Washington, so Marijuana Moment reached out for clarification and a spokesperson for the governor denied that he actually grows cannabis.
Marijuana Under An Inslee Presidency
Inslee has predicted that federal marijuana legalization in inevitable, and if he’s elected, he’d be in a position to help fulfill that prophecy. Given both his track record on implementing reform and statements calling for legalization on the day of his campaign announcement, it seems likely that Inslee would strongly advocate for an end to federal prohibition as president.
Wyoming Judge Dismisses Marijuana Charges Against Hemp Farmers
The state treasurer, House majority floor leader and House Judiciary Committee chairman testified in support of the farmers.
By Andrew Graham, WyoFile.com
CHEYENNE—A Laramie County judge threw out drug trafficking charges against hemp advocates and farmers Debra Palm-Egle and Joshua Egle Thursday, finding prosecutors lacked probable cause that the mother-and-son duo intended to grow and distribute marijuana.
At the conclusion of the preliminary hearing, Laramie County Circuit Court Judge Antoinette Williams also dismissed charges against a contractor and his wife, Brock and Shannon Dyke, who worked for the farmers and were on the property when the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation raided it in November 2019.
Prosecutors sought to charge all four with conspiracy to manufacture, deliver or possess marijuana; possession with intent to deliver marijuana; possession of marijuana and planting or cultivating marijuana. All but the last are felonies. The judge dismissed all charges, including a misdemeanor marijuana charge, a court clerk said Friday.
Lawyers for the defendant argued, and the judge ultimately ruled, that the farmers had intended to produce hemp, not marijuana. The day of the raid, Brock Dykes showed DCI agents the results of tests conducted on the crop that indicated it contained less than 0.3% THC.
Under Wyoming’s hemp statutes, the crop has to have a THC-concentration limit below 0.3%. Marijuana and hemp are derived from the same plant. Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the chemical in marijuana that gets users high. Its low presence in hemp keeps the crop from being categorized a drug.
Acting on a tip, DCI ultimately seized 700 pounds of hemp from the Egles’ farm. When agents ran it through a series of their own tests, most test results came back with THC concentrations higher than 0.3%. The highest result was 0.6%.
Laramie County Assistant District Attorney David Singleton, who prosecuted the case, argued that any plant testing over 0.3% is marijuana, not hemp. The judge, however, said it was clear the farmers intended to grow hemp, citing as evidence Dyke’s presentation of earlier test results to DCI and the Egles’ long history as hemp farmers.
Reached by phone Friday, Laramie County District Attorney Leigh Anne Manlove declined to comment on the case.
The dismissal of the case at such an early stage in criminal procedures — during a preliminary hearing — is unusual. Tom Jubin, a lawyer for the Egles, said that during his decades-long career this was only the third of his cases to end at that early stage.
“It’s pretty rare but it’s also pretty rare that a prosecutor would take a case like this and push it,” Jubin told WyoFile after the judge’s verdict.
“Please, have the courage to get these people home,” Jubin asked the judge during his closing remarks. In June, a different judge restricted Deborah Palm-Egle to Laramie County, though her home is in Colorado, her son told WyoFile.
Judge Williams’ own comments before her verdict were brief.
She understood why prosecutors had chosen to bring the case, she said, but did not believe they had probable cause. She also reprimanded the Egles, who had begun growing their hemp crop without a license while state and federal authorities were still developing rules for the newly legalized crop.
The Egles were prominent activists in front of the Legislature who helped push Wyoming’s hemp bill through. House Majority Floor Leader Eric Barlow (R-Gillette), who took the witness stand Thursday, testified that he knew the Egles and understood them to be hemp farmers with no intention of growing marijuana. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Dan Kirkbride (R-Chugwater) and Wyoming State Treasurer Curt Meier submitted statements with similar testimony in support of the Egles.
As such, the Egles “knew the law as well as anyone,” Williams said, and should have been licensed.
Under Wyoming statute, the Egles could face a $750 fine for growing hemp without a license. Such a penalty is a far cry from the decades of prison time they could have gotten if convicted on prosecutors’ charges.
After the judge’s ruling, Shannon Dykes rushed to tearfully embrace Palm-Egle, who is in a wheelchair. “Thank God it’s over,” Palm-Egle said.
Joshua Egle began growing what he described as a test crop of hemp for research purposes before he got his license, he told WyoFile after the hearing. Working in unfamiliar soil, it would take time for farmers to understand how to harvest the plants at the right time to keep THC concentrations legal, he said.
At the time, he was betting officials would soon work out the new industry regulation kinks and allow him to license the crop, he said. In the meantime, “we had to get going,” he said.
The Egles, and other hemp proponents, have pitched the crop as a new outlet for Wyoming’s farmers, and a viable path for economic diversification for a state struggling with its dependence on the energy industry. Egle will continue to pursue hemp farming in Wyoming, he said.
On Nov. 4, the Dykes were at the Egles’ property in Albin, a farming village in eastern Laramie County near the Nebraska line. The Egles, who live principally in Colorado, were not home. Brock Dykes was taking advantage of fresh snow to burn some waste wood, he told WyoFile in an interview after the judge’s verdict Thursday.
Dykes and his wife were standing outside and saw a line of unmarked cars, and one Wyoming Highway Patrol car, coming toward the property, he said. Their first thought was someone had called in concern about the smoke, he said. His two sons, then 11 and 12 years old, were inside the farmhouse.
Law enforcement officers, who ultimately turned out to be DCI agents, came out of the cars in tactical gear and with rifles pointed at the couple, the Dykes said, yelling at them to “put their fucking hands up.” Brock Dykes saw “five or six officers with a battering ram” approaching the door of the house where his sons were, he said. He yelled that it was unlocked and they didn’t use the ram.
Officers trained guns on the two boys as well, the Dykes said. It was 45 minutes to an hour before Shannon Dykes was able to see her sons, she said.
The investigation had begun when a “reliable source of information” called DCI concerned that the Egles were growing marijuana, according to the charging documents. DCI agents visited the farm several times and spotted what they believed to be marijuana plants drying in an open barn.
DCI agents never contacted the Egles, either before the raid or during the five months between the raid and pressing felony charges, according to the DCI investigator’s testimony during the trial.
“You sought charges against these farmers for crimes that carry decades of prison time without ever talking to them?” Jubin asked DCI Special Agent John Briggs, who led the investigation, during the hearings.
“I did not interview them, no sir,” the investigator answered.
The Dykes were never handcuffed during the raid, they said. Testimony during the preliminary hearing, which took place over two afternoons in July and August, established that Brock Dykes tried to explain the Egles were growing hemp. He showed officers the THC testing results Joshua Egle had sent him, which were on his cellphone.
Briggs was not interested in those results at the time of the raid, Dykes told WyoFile. Briggs told Dykes “I’m not going to argue with you about the technical difference between hemp and marijuana,” Dykes said.
The Dykes’ attorney, Michael Bennett, asked the judge to consider what kind of criminal would “show [testing] proof to agents, as if it were some elaborate ruse to grow the worst marijuana in the entire universe.”
DCI agents confiscated 722 pounds of plants, according to the affidavit. During the court hearings, Briggs testified that then-agency director Steve Woodson, and then assistant-director Forrest Williams drove a vehicle to the farm to collect the crop. Woodson retired in early 2020, and Williams is today the agency’s interim director.
Though relieved at the judge’s action Thursday, the Dykes remain angry at the DCI agents and prosecutors who brought such heavy charges against them. The young couple and small business owners have had to pay for weekly drug tests since early June, and spent considerable money on a lawyer, they said.
“This is all very, very surreal,” Dykes said.
The hemp industry has now progressed in Wyoming, and a number of people around him are growing the crop, he said. “How many more people are growing right now whose neighbor is going to call the police?” he said.
WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.
New Jersey Now Allows Medical Marijuana Recommendations Via Telehealth Amid Coronavirus
The attorney general of New Jersey announced on Tuesday that the state will immediately begin allowing patients to obtain medical marijuana recommendations remotely via telehealth services amid the coronavirus pandemic.
This comes months before voters in the state are set to decide on a referendum to legalize cannabis for adult use.
“Today, we are making it easier for patients to choose telehealth services for any reason, including to avoid an in-person visit due to the continuing risk of COVID-19,” Attorney General Gurbir Grewal (D) said in a press release.
In-person healthcare services are being offered again in NJ, but telehealth remains a vital option. We’re making it easier for patients – including those with chronic pain & those qualifying for medical marijuana – to choose telehealth during #COVID19: https://t.co/VroRidnqIc
— AG Gurbir Grewal (@NewJerseyOAG) August 11, 2020
“New Jersey health care practices are again offering in-person services, but telehealth remains an important option for patients and providers,” he said. “Doctors who use telemedicine to prescribe CDS or authorize medical marijuana will be held to the same professional standards as for in-person visits and must comply with all of the important safeguards we have adopted to prevent diversion and misuse.”
The new administrative order on telehealth also applies to the prescription of controlled substances for chronic pain and it is set to last until the end of New Jersey’s coronavirus state of emergency or the end of a federal telemedicine allowance, whichever comes first.
New Jersey’s Department of Health also took a step to mitigate the spread of the virus in June by allowing medical cannabis dispensaries to deliver products to patients.
Gov. Phil Murphy (D) is supportive of more broadly legalizing marijuana and said last month that the policy change could simultaneously help the state recover economically from the COVID-19 outbreak while also promoting racial justice.
Voters in the state appear ready to make the change too, with nearly seven-in-10 residents voicing support for the referendum in a recent poll.
Separately, the Assembly approved a bill in June to decriminalize possession of up to two ounces of marijuana, though the Senate hasn’t acted on the proposal.
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.
Biden Will Be A ‘Constructive Player’ On Marijuana Reform, Congressman Predicts
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), a chief advocate for marijuana reform in Congress, told Marijuana Moment in a new interview that sees the finish line to get a comprehensive legalization bill through the House coming up in the near future.
And in the meantime, he’s secured another victory in the House after his spending bill amendment to protect all state, territory and tribal cannabis programs from federal intervention cleared the chamber in a notably bipartisan vote this month.
While the congressman is focused on advancing federal marijuana policy change, he’s also paying close attention to broader drug policy reform movements that have materialized in his home state of Oregon, where voters will be deciding on historic ballot measures to decriminalize all illicit drug possession and legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic purposes this November.
Blumenauer is supportive of all these efforts, he said. Congress might be generally preoccupied with coronavirus relief and policing reform legislation, but he’s working behind the scenes to see through his step-by-step blueprint to end federal marijuana prohibition—while maintaining a focus on racial equity for communities targeted by the war on drugs.
In a phone interview, the Cannabis Caucus co-chair discussed his work on marijuana policy, his thoughts on presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s ongoing opposition to legalization, drug reform beyond cannabis and more.
Marijuana Moment’s Patreon supporters can listen to the audio recording of our conversation with Blumenauer. In addition to the topics covered in this publicly available writeup of the interview, the congressman also talks about reports that the House could vote on a standalone bill to deschedule cannabis next month and how that could procedurally happen.
The exclusive audio clip is available for supporters who help make our cannabis journalism possible with monthly pledges of $10 or more.
The following interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Marijuana Moment: To start things off, I wanted to hear about next steps since the House passage of your amendment to protect state marijuana laws from federal interference.
Earl Blumenauer: We were quite pleased with the vote… The next steps as far as I’m concerned, first and foremost, we’ve been working so that the racial justice package should include legalization of cannabis. The latest year’s statistics were available, over 700,000 people were arrested or cited for something that now more than two-thirds of the American public thinks should be fully legal. That point of intersection has a whole host of negative consequences for black lives. And I’ve been pretty relentless arguing that this needs to be in the justice package. Now, this was the result, as you know, of black leadership and I respect them. I have quietly lobbied that this be included.
I’ve taken it to the caucus, saying, ‘remember this.’ It is probably the single most profound thing we could do to protect black lives. I mean, there are repeated examples of where a point of contact with police for cannabis goes bad with tragic consequences. Even if it doesn’t result in some sort of violent altercation, getting primarily black young men involved with the criminal justice system is not a healthy circumstance, particularly when there’s no reason for it to happen.
We’re arguing that it’s time. We also have, as you know, seen the passage of the MORE Act through the Judiciary Committee. It’s actually ready to come to the floor. And so I’m lobbying to not go through the other subsequent referrals of other committees. But let’s just bite the bullet and pass this. I think this is something that is supported. I know it’s supported by the chair of the Judiciary Committee, and we have areas of support for the legislation from Commerce and Ways and Means, arguing we just cut to the chase and get this passed.
We’ve got the SAFE Banking Act that House leadership was kind enough to make part of our last COVID package and sent to the Senate in the HEROES Act—a relatively small step and it is strongly supported by a number of Republicans in the Senate. This is something that will make a big difference to allow the industry to be able to function normally. It’s of particular interest to the smaller operators—people who are literally the mom and pop, many minority license holders. It’s really tough for them to go through the rigmarole. We’re working, taking care of the banking, supporting our amendment in the appropriations process and arguing that this ought to be included in the package for racial justice.
MM: Have you been talking to any Senate offices about introducing identical language to your protect-states amendment in their chamber’s version of the Justice Department spending bill?
EB: I have not yet, but I’m planning on it.
MM: I think you might agree with me that one of the more surprising vote flips this year compared to last came from Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), the former Democratic National Committee chair. We observed you have a fairly animated conversation with the congresswoman on the House floor just prior to her vote—is there anything you can share about the arguments you made that might’ve convinced her to vote favorably?
EB: You know, I don’t feel that it’s useful to talk about conversations with colleagues. This has been an area that Debbie and I have talked about over the years, just in terms of substance, but I don’t really have any comment.
Marijuana Moment asked Blumenauer about our recent report about congressional leaders’ plans to advance a cannabis descheduling bill to the House floor in September.
The congressman’s answers to that question, and the full audio of our interview, are available exclusively for Marijuana Moment supporters pledging at least $10/month on Patreon.
MM: Advocates were disappointed last month when the Democratic National Committee’s platform committee rejected an amendment to add legalization as a 2020 party plank. What’s your reaction to that vote?
EB: I’m not particularly concerned. The way that we’re going to be able to end the failed prohibition of cannabis is with legislation. Party platforms, I’m sorry, I’ve been to a number of national conventions. I’ve never read a platform all the way through. I’ve never seen a platform drive legislative achievement. Occasionally, there are things that are in the platform that are targets for weird ads. But platforms? No, I’m sorry, I’m not going to waste any time and energy on the platform.
The majority of people on that platform committee actually support what we’re trying to do. I think you’re going to see, in the course of the next couple months, it’s going to be clear that the Democratic Party supports ending the failed policy of prohibition. I’m quite confident of that and I’m not worried at all about that hiccup. I spent no time on it and don’t think it’s worth it. I think the things we’re working on in terms of moving legislation for research, for banking, for ending prohibition, those are the things that matter, and we can actually get them enacted this Congress.
MM: There are some who suspect delegates on the panel felt pressured to vote against it because former Vice President Biden remains opposed to the policy change. What message would you send him on the need to embrace legalization, especially given supermajority support among Democrats?
EB: I have had conversations with team Biden, talking about the overwhelming support for ending the failed prohibition of marijuana. I’ve talked about the political support. I’ve talked about the criminal justice implications. And I’ve had some encouraging conversations. I think at the end of the day, I don’t think the vice president is going to be opposed to full legalization.
I think when we get to the point where there’s a Biden administration, which I desperately hope for, I don’t think there’s going to be any interference with what we’re doing on the federal level and the state level. I have absolute confidence in that.
Let me just say, the vice president has a long and detailed policy history on hundreds and thousands of issues, and we’ve watched the vice president really be engaged this last year. I’ve been impressed with his genuine effort to understand issues. I’ve seen overwhelming evidence that he and his team are getting behind looking at a variety of things. I’ve witnessed a degree of flexibility and willingness to take in new information and new circumstances. You’re seeing it on an ongoing basis.
I have no doubt that when all is said and done, the Biden administration and a Biden Department of Justice will be a constructive player.
MM: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has been criticizing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) over her defense of including cannabis banking language in the chamber’s latest coronavirus relief legislation. What do you make of that?
EB: Well, he can check with some of his own endangered Republicans and ask whether or not it’s “germane.” I mean, cannabis was deemed, in state after state, an essential service. We’re talking about $10 billion or more in terms of economic activity. We’ve already talked about the challenges in terms of the safe banking implications. It is real life medicine for millions of people. And the notion that somehow this is just arts and crafts, this is a tangential issue—this is from the guy who stuffed in to the first COVID relief package completely unrelated, $140 billion tax break for people who made a minimum of a half-million dollars, with no showing of impact from the COVID-19 crisis, and he’s going to talk about germaneness? I think there’s a little bit of chutzpah there.
Being able to help this industry stabilize and thrive, reducing a serious public safety threat by having people conduct transactions with duffel bags full of $20 bills, which is an invitation for money laundering, theft, tax evasion. It’s insane and everybody agrees. I was pleased that our leadership took a bill that passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. It wasn’t just that every Democrat but one voted for it. It was 40 percent of the Republicans. There aren’t very many items that would actually help people that have that measure of support.
Finally, I would just note that there are lots of things that Leader McConnell has said. He didn’t want to give any help to state and local governments. Let the states go bankrupt, I believe was his prescription. I think what you’ve seen is that the Senate understands that Democrats are united and that we have a stronger position in terms of doing things that will make a difference for the economy and the health of citizens. He’s got a pretty weak hand. And I don’t take that talk seriously. I mean, it’s not gonna be easy and he has not been helpful except for his Kentucky hemp growers. So you take your help where you get it.
MM: There are two non-marijuana drug policy reform initiatives that qualified for the ballot in your state of Oregon: drug decriminalization and psilocybin legalization for therapeutic use. What can tell me about any plans you have, if any, to help build support for the measures ahead of November?
EB: I think they both have strong merit. I’m going to be making my position clear. I will probably put a voters pamphlet page in, do a little social media, maybe some advertising. I think that the notion of decriminalizing drug use as distinct from legalizing—but dealing with decriminalization, dealing with psilocybin in terms of the research and therapeutic aspects, I think the more attention people pay, the better off we are. And I think it’s important to allow voters to be heard, and I’m certainly going to share my strong feeling that this is a step forward.
Become a Marijuana Moment supporter on Patreon with a monthly pledge of $10 or more to hear our conversation with Blumenauer and to support our ongoing cannabis journalism that helps to keep you informed about key developments.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.