Joe Walsh, a former Republican congressman, announced a primary challenge against President Donald Trump on August 25, 2019, and he suspended his campaign on February 7, 2020.
Walsh, who represented Illinois in the U.S. House from 2011 to 2013, has repeatedly condemned cannabis prohibition. His social media feeds contain multiple comments supporting reform, signaling that the issue could be prominently featured in his campaign. Here’s a comprehensive look at where Walsh stands on marijuana.
This piece was last updated on February 7, 2020 to include the candidate’s statements and policy actions on marijuana since joining the race.
Legislation And Policy Actions
While Walsh didn’t proactively sponsor or cosponsor cannabis legislation during his one term in Congress, he did vote in favor of a 2012 floor amendment to protect states with medical cannabis programs from federal intervention. He was one of just 28 Republicans to support the measure.
Quotes And Social Media Posts
There are two platforms through which Walsh has made abundantly clear that he supports marijuana reform: social media and his radio show.
On Twitter and Facebook, the candidate has repeatedly called for legalization and criticized prohibition enforcement, often taking a civil liberties perspective and comparing laws governing alcohol and cannabis.
“It’s time. Legalize marijuana,” he wrote in October 2018. “If a 21yr old can drink whiskey, he should be able to smoke a joint.”
It's time. Legalize marijuana. If a 21yr old can drink whiskey, he should be able to smoke a joint. https://t.co/iMATqs2m4H
— Joe Walsh (@WalshFreedom) October 8, 2018
“Marijuana should be legalized in every state,” he said. “If you can drink a beer at 21, you should be able to smoke weed at 21.”
Marijuana should be legalized in every state. If you can drink a beer at 21, you should be able to smoke weed at 21.https://t.co/Ix8ZyqFTu6
— Joe Walsh (@WalshFreedom) April 26, 2018
In other posts, he’s described his position more frankly.
“It’s time, legalize marijuana,” he said simply in a Facebook post in October 2018.
“Good God. Just legalize Marijuana now,” he wrote in June 2017. “For any adult. For any reason.”
Good God. Just legalize Marijuana now. For any adult. For any reason.https://t.co/X9S1z12wwd
— Joe Walsh (@WalshFreedom) June 6, 2017
Walsh has also routinely weighed in on specific cannabis legislation and policy decisions, including when his home state of Illinois legalized marijuana for adult use in June 2019.
“Yes, Illinois is a bankrupt disaster, but they did one thing right yesterday: Illinois became the 11th state to legalize marijuana,” he wrote. “Good. If you can legally have a shot of whiskey at 21, you should be able to legally smoke a joint at 21.”
Yes, Illinois is a bankrupt disaster, but they did one thing right yesterday: Illinois became the 11th state to legalize marijuana.
— Joe Walsh (@WalshFreedom) June 1, 2019
He made similar marks after the legalization legislation advanced out of the state House.
“The Illinois House votes to legalize marijuana. The Governor will sign it into law,” he said. “Good. Damn good. If you can legally drink whiskey at 21, you should be able to legally smoke a joint at 21.”
The Illinois House votes to legalize marijuana. The Governor will sign it into law.
Good. Damn good. If you can legally drink whiskey at 21, you should be able to legally smoke a joint at 21. https://t.co/6lohQC2L0X
— Joe Walsh (@WalshFreedom) May 31, 2019
However, he cast doubts on Illinois’s ability to generate revenue from legal marijuana sales during a radio show in June 2019.
Tonight's Podcast: The crisis at the border is perpetuated by both Democrats & Republicans refusing to secure it! Then, IL legalizes marijuana for those 21 & older. Plus, our country continues to fail our men & women in the military. #TCOT https://t.co/2nPP0KvNfv
— Joe Walsh (@WalshFreedom) June 26, 2019
“Marijuana. Legalization. I think it’s a good thing, but I think it’s all about the money and I don’t trust Illinois at all when it comes to the money,” he said. “And if you think this is going to generate great revenues for the state of Illinois, let me tell you, like the lottery and everything else, Illinois will figure out a way to screw this up as well.”
The candidate tweeted about Maine’s successful legalization initiative in November 2016, writing “Maine becomes the 4th state to legalize recreational Marijuana. Good. Keep this movement growing.”
Maine becomes the 4th state to legalize recreational Marijuana.
Good. Keep this movement growing. https://t.co/qGjfR5aihi
— Joe Walsh (@WalshFreedom) November 10, 2016
On the federal level, Walsh voiced support for a bipartisan bill that would allow states to set their own cannabis policies without federal interference, writing that there are “bigger issues for our federal government to focus on than marijuana” and following up to clarify that the bill “this is a good move.”
There are bigger issues for our federal government to focus on than marijuana. https://t.co/ApTpWZFT3y
— Joe Walsh (@WalshFreedom) June 7, 2018
Maybe my last tweet wasn't clear, but this is a good move. The focus of the federal government on attacking marijuana and marijuana users is ridiculous. It's time to legalize it. https://t.co/ApTpWZFT3y
— Joe Walsh (@WalshFreedom) June 7, 2018
“The focus of the federal government on attacking marijuana and marijuana users is ridiculous,” he said. “It’s time to legalize it.”
No. If it were up to me, I'd legalize Marijuana tomorrow. https://t.co/u3ISxrEyZ4
— Joe Walsh (@WalshFreedom) June 7, 2018
“If it were up to me, I’d legalize Marijuana tomorrow,” he added.
Walsh also endorsed a tweet from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), a Democratic presidential candidate, which applauded Seattle’s decision to vacate past marijuana convictions.
— Joe Walsh (@WalshFreedom) May 1, 2018
“I never thought I’d have something positive to say about a @BernieSanders tweet, but this is a good thing,” he said. “It’s way past time to legalize marijuana.”
While many Democratic presidential candidates have centered their arguments in favor of legalization with a racial justice focus, Walsh doesn’t appear to have discussed the racial disparities in enforcement as a reason for his support for ending prohibition. He has also acknowledged saying “racist things” about people of color.
The former congressman has not shied away from criticizing fellow Republicans about their opposition to cannabis reform.
When former Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded Obama-era guidance that laid out marijuana enforcement priorities for federal prosecutors, Walsh was quick to condemn the move.
“Hey Jeff Sessions, leave weed alone,” he wrote. “Marijuana should be legalized. Let it happen.”
Hey Jeff Sessions, leave weed alone.
Marijuana should be legalized. Let it happen. https://t.co/Cm8vlSGxVc
— Joe Walsh (@WalshFreedom) December 16, 2017
“Come on Jeff Sessions. Leave marijuana alone. Leave it up to the states,” he also said. “If booze is legal, weed should be legal.”
Come on Jeff Sessions. Leave marijuana alone. Leave it up to the states. If booze is legal, weed should be legal. https://t.co/1MObJY5dxB
— Joe Walsh (@WalshFreedom) January 4, 2018
In a lengthier tweet, he wrote: “Dear Jeff Sessions: There are greater issues facing America than marijuana. If the states have decided to legalize it for medical or recreational use, that’s their right. Instead, focus on the illegals committing crimes & killing Americans in sanctuary cities & sanctuary states.”
Dear Jeff Sessions:
There are greater issues facing America than marijuana. If the states have decided to legalize it for medical or recreational use, that's their right.
Instead, focus on the illegals committing crimes & killing Americans in sanctuary cities & sanctuary states
— Joe Walsh (@WalshFreedom) January 4, 2018
Walsh called out Trump’s White House after then-Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended Sessions’s decision to rescind the so-called Cole memo.
During the campaign, @realDonaldTrump said "you should leave it up to the states," with regard to marijuana.
Today, the WH said he supports Jeff Sessions' decision to roll back an Obama-era policy to not challenge state laws that allow people to use pot. https://t.co/BWDI5ELPVa
— Joe Walsh (@WalshFreedom) January 4, 2018
“During the campaign, @realDonaldTrump said ‘you should leave it up to the states,’ with regard to marijuana,” he wrote. “Today, the [White House] said he supports Jeff Sessions’ decision to roll back an Obama-era policy to not challenge state laws that allow people to use pot.”
On at least two occasions, Walsh has used marijuana puns, joking that anti-legalization Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) prefers the “use of the term Grass-ley” and playing off a USA Today headline that talked about a “marijuana tidal wave” by commenting, “High tide?”
— Joe Walsh (@WalshFreedom) January 16, 2014
— Joe Walsh (@WalshFreedom) February 18, 2014
Walsh also gave a hat tip to Canada for legalizing marijuana, writing “Canada and the UK have now both legalized marijuana” and that it “should be legal here.” (Certain cannabis preparations are legal only for certain medical purposes in the UK and marijuana is legal for adult recreational use in Canada.)
Canada and the UK have now both legalized marijuana. It should be legal here. If you can drink a beer at 21, you should be able to smoke weed at 21. https://t.co/vHqbJhuKpP
— Joe Walsh (@WalshFreedom) November 1, 2018
Personal Experience With Marijuana
In April 2014, Walsh said that he smoked marijuana “a long, long, long time ago.”
— Joe Walsh (@WalshFreedom) May 15, 2014
“I’ve had marijuana in my system and sometimes rap music plays on B96. So it doesn’t matter,” he wrote months later, offering no context on the link between his cannabis consumption and the genre of music that occasionally plays on the Chicago radio station.
I've had marijuana in my system and sometimes rap music plays on B96. So it doesn't matter.
— Joe Walsh (@WalshFreedom) August 18, 2014
Marijuana Under A Walsh Presidency
Walsh said it plainly in June 2018: if he were in a position to make the decision, he’d immediately legalize marijuana. He’s condemned efforts to maintain the status quo of prohibition and celebrated cannabis legislation and pro-reform statements from Democratic lawmakers. He’s also criticized federal efforts to interfere with state laws. In other words, there’s ample reason to believe that the former congressman would be an advocate for legalization if elected president, though he hasn’t weighed in specifically on what post-prohibition policy should look like and whether it should include provisions to encourage communities harmed by past drug war enforcement to participate in the legal industry.
Top Trump Campaign Spokesman: Marijuana Must Be ‘Kept Illegal’
Asked in a new interview about President Trump’s position on changing federal marijuana laws, a top reelection campaign aide said the administration’s policy is that cannabis and other currently illegal drugs should remain illegal.
“I think what the president is looking at is looking at this from a standpoint of a parent of a young person to make sure that we keep our kids away from drugs,” Marc Lotter, director of strategic communications for the Trump 2020 effort, said in an interview with Las Vegas CBS affiliate KLAS-TV.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.
Virginia Marijuana Decriminalization Gets Closer To Governor’s Desk With New Amendments
One week after bills to decriminalize marijuana in Virginia were passed by both the House and Senate, they advanced again on Wednesday in committee votes, where they were revised in an effort to ease the path to the governor’s desk.
The goal was to make the language of the bills identical, with lawmakers hoping to streamline the process by avoiding sending differing pieces of decriminalization legislation to a bicameral conference committee to resolve differences.
The House of Delegates and Senate were under pressure to approve their respective versions of decriminalization ahead of a crossover deadline last week. After clearing floor votes in their respective chambers, the Senate-passed bill was sent to the House Court of Justice Committee, while the House’s legislation was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Those panels amended the bills and advanced them on Wednesday, with senators voting 10-4 to advance the revised legislation and delegates voting 8-5. However, the Senate panel also struck a part of the text of a compromise substitute version concerning a record clearing provision while the House committee accepted the substitute as offered.
That means it will be up to the Finance Committees to resolve the remaining differences if lawmakers hope to skip the conference step prior to full floor votes in both chambers.
Regardless of the unexpected complication, advocates said the new committee actions represent a positive development.
“Fortunately, the patrons were able to reach a consensus and move the bills forward,” Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “Virginians have waited long enough for this important step, one that will dramatically reduce both marijuana arrests and the collateral consequences that follow such charges.”
The legislation as amended would make possession of up to one ounce a civil penalty punishable by a $25 fine without the threat of jail time. Currently, simple possession is punishable by a maximum $500 fine and up to 30 days in jail.
A provision that would have allowed courts to sentence individuals to up to five hours of community service in lieu of the civil penalty was removed with the latest revisions. The bill also stipulates that juveniles found in possession of cannabis will be treated as delinquent, rather than go through a less punitive process for a “child in need of service.”
Language providing a means to seal prior records for marijuana convictions was successfully reinserted into the House Courts of Justice Committee-passed bill after it was previously removed and placed in a separate expungement bill. That latter legislation is stalled, so lawmakers put it back into the decriminalization measure via the substitute to ensure its enactment.
The Senate Judiciary moved to delete that section, however, creating complications for avoiding a conference committee.
Meanwhile, the House Rules Committee voted in favor of a separate Senate-passed resolution on Wednesday that calls for the establishment of a joint commission to “study and make recommendations for how Virginia should go about legalizing and regulating the growth, sale, and possession of marijuana by July 1, 2022, and address the impacts of marijuana prohibition.” That vote was 12-5.
That’s a significant step, as the legislature is generally reluctant to enact bold reform without first conducting a study on the issue.
While Gov. Ralph Northam (D) is in favor of decriminalization, including a call for the policy change in his State of the Commonwealth address last month, he’s yet to embrace adult-use legalization. That said, Attorney General Mark Herring (D), who is running to replace the term-limited governor in 2021, said he’s optimistic that Northam will come around on the issue.
Herring organized a cannabis summit late last year to hear from officials representing states that have already legalized marijuana. That’s one tool he said the governor could use as he considers broader reform.
Also on Wednesday, the House Courts of Justice Criminal Subcommittee advanced another Senate-passed bill to formally legalize possession of CBD and THC-A medial cannabis preparations that are recommended by a doctor, an expansion of the current policy simply offers patients arrested with it an affirmative defense in court.
For now, Virginia seems to be on the path to become the 27th state to decriminalize marijuana, and the first to do so in 2020. Last year, three states—New Mexico, Hawaii and North Dakota—also approved the policy change.
Alabama Lawmakers Approve Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill
An Alabama Senate committee approved a bill on Wednesday that would legalize medical marijuana in the state.
The legislation would allow patients with qualifying conditions to purchase cannabis products from licensed dispensaries. It would be a limited system, however, prohibiting patients from smoking or vaping marijuana.
The Senate Judiciary Committee cleared the bill in a 8-1 vote, with one abstention. The next stop for the legislation will be the Senate floor.
The proposal would establish the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission, which would be responsible for overseeing a patient registry database, issuing medical cannabis cards and approving licenses for marijuana dispensaries, cultivators, transporters and testing facilities.
This vote comes two months after a panel created by the legislature, the Medical Cannabis Study Commission, issued a recommendation that Alabama implement a medical cannabis program.
The full Senate approved a medical cannabis legalization bill last year, but it was diluted in the House to only provide for the establishment of the study commission. Sen. Tim Melson (R) sponsored both versions of the legislation and served as chairman of the review panel.
The current bill has been revised from the earlier version. For example, this one does not require patients to exhaust traditional treatment options before they can access medical cannabis.
The committee also approved a series of amendments by voice vote, including several technical changes to the bill. Another one would shield physicians from liability for recommending medical cannabis. One would clarify that employees are ineligible for workers’ compensation for accidents caused by being intoxicated by medical cannabis, which is the same standard as other drugs.
Watch the Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee debate and vote on medical cannabis below:
Members also agreed to an amendment creating a restriction on who can be on the cannabis commission.
While it’s not clear how the House would approach the bill if it advances to the chamber this year, the speaker said this week that he’s “in a wait and see mode” and commended Melson for his work on the measure. The state’s attorney general, meanwhile, sent a letter to lawmakers expressing opposition to the reform move.
Under the measure, patients suffering from 15 conditions would qualify for the program. Those include anxiety, cancer, epilepsy and post-traumatic stress disorder. Patients would be able to purchase up to a 70-day supply at a time, and there would be a cap of 32 dispensaries allowed in the state.
Prior to the vote, committee heard from a series of proponents and opponents, including parents who shared anecdotes about the therapeutic benefits of cannabis for their children. Interest in the reform move was so strong that an overflow crowd has to be moved to a separate hearing room.
“Sometimes people are not able to empathize with others who have gone through something. I guarantee you if one of relatives, members of the legislature, went through something like the testimonies that we’ve heard today, they would want it,” Sen. Vivian Figures (D) said. “But they would probably have the means to fly somewhere and get it.”
One thing we're watching on Goat Hill today is the medical marijuana bill. Alabama is one of only 17 states where medical cannabis remains illegal. https://t.co/V8CK8nm6mm
— Alabama Democrats (@aldemocrats) February 19, 2020
There would be a number of restrictions under the bill when it comes to advertising. It would also require seed-to-sale tracking for marijuana products, set packaging and labeling requirements and impose criminal background checks for licensed facility employees.
A nine percent tax would be levied on “gross proceeds of the sales of medical cannabis” sold at a retail medical cannabis dispensary. Part of those funds would go toward creating a new Consortium for Medical Cannabis Research, which would provide grants to study the plant.
Last year, the Senate Judiciary Committee also approved a bill to decriminalize marijuana.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.