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Where Presidential Candidate Joe Walsh Stands On Marijuana

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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.”

“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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

However, he cast doubts on Illinois’s ability to generate revenue from legal marijuana sales during a radio show in June 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.”

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.”

“The focus of the federal government on attacking marijuana and marijuana users is ridiculous,” he said. “It’s time to legalize it.”

“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.

“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.”

“Come on Jeff Sessions. Leave marijuana alone. Leave it up to the states,” he also said. “If booze is legal, weed should be legal.”

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.”

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,” 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?”

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.)

Personal Experience With Marijuana

In April 2014, Walsh said that he smoked marijuana “a long, long, long time ago.”

“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.

 

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.

Where Presidential Candidate Andrew Yang Stands On Marijuana

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

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

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Top IRS Official Says Marijuana Banking Reform Would Help Feds ‘Get Paid’

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The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) would like to get paid—and it’d help if the marijuana industry had access to banks like companies in other legal markets, an official with the federal department said. She also talked about unique issues related to federal tax deductions for cannabis businesses.

At an event hosted by UCLA’s Annual Tax Controversy Institute on Thursday, IRS’s Cassidy Collins talked about the “special type of collection challenge” that the agency faces when it comes to working with cannabis businesses while the product remains federally illegal.

While IRS isn’t taking a stand on federal marijuana policy, Collins said that the status quo leaves many cannabis businesses operating on a cash-only basis, creating complications for the agency, in part by making it harder for banks to “pay us.”

“The reason why [the marijuana industry is] cash intensive is twofold,” she said. “Number one, a lot of customers don’t want a paper trail showing that they’re buying marijuana, and number two, the hesitancy of banks to allow marijuana businesses to even bank with them.”

Of course, the reason why many financial institutions remain hesitant to take on cannabis companies as clients is because the plant is a strictly controlled substance under federal law.

“There’s been a number of legislative bills that have been introduced—and I am definitely not expressing any opinion personally or on behalf of the IRS about any pending or proposed legislation,” Collins, who is a senior counsel in the IRS Office of Chief Counsel, said. “But it is interesting to note that, if the law changed so that the marijuana businesses could have banks, that would make the IRS’s job to collect [taxes] a lot easier. As part of collection, we want the money. That’s our end goal there.”

A major part of what makes cannabis businesses unique is that they don’t qualify for traditional tax credits under an IRS code known as 280E. That policy “prohibits them from claiming deductions for business expenses because they’re technically being involved in drug trafficking,” Collins explained at the event, from which small excerpts of her comments were reported by Bloomberg.

There are some options available to lessen the burden on marijuana firms, however. At the end of the day, “IRS will work with marijuana companies because, again, we want to get paid,” Collins said.

One of the ways the agency works with marijuana business operators is to have them visit designated IRS “tax assistance centers” that accept cash payments in excess of $50,000. But the official warned businesses to “be prepared to be there for a little while” as the center checks—and double checks—the amount of cash being submitted.

“Revenue officers will assist the marijuana companies in paying us,” she said.

IRS officials could also help cannabis firms by having officials accompany them “to the bank in order to try to help the taxpayer secure a cashier’s payment to pay the IRS, as well as using money orders,” she said, adding that “our revenue officers are are wanting to work with the marijuana companies to help assist them to pay us.”

“When the revenue officers are there in person with the taxpayer, that could potentially help increase the likelihood that the bank will cooperate and help the taxpayer transition into a cashier’s check,” she continued. “And that has been a trend since this first became legal [at the state level], that more and more banks are allowing cannabis companies to bank with them.”

In a report published earlier this year, congressional researchers examined tax policies and restrictions for the marijuana industry—and how those could change if any number of federal reform bills are enacted.

IRS, for its part, said last month that it expects the cannabis market to continue to grow, and it offered some tips to businesses on staying compliant with taxes while the plant remains federally prohibited.

As it stands, banks and credit unions are operating under 2014 guidance from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) that lays out reporting requirements for those that choose to service the marijuana industry.

Leaders in both chambers of Congress are working on legalization bills to end federal marijuana prohibition. But stakeholders are hopeful that, in the interim, legislators will enact modest marijuana banking reform. Legislation to protect financial institutions from being penalized for working with cannabis businesses passed the House for the fifth time last month.

Rodney Hood, a board member of the National Credit Union Administration, wrote in a Marijuana Moment op-ed this month that legalization is an inevitability—and it makes the most sense for government agencies to get ahead of the policy change to resolve banking complications.

IRS separately hosted a forum in August dedicated to tax policy for marijuana businesses and cryptocurrency.

Earlier this year, IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig told Congress that the agency would “prefer” for state-legal marijuana businesses to be able to pay taxes electronically, as the current largely cash-based system under federal cannabis prohibition is onerous and presents risks to workers.

Former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in 2019 that he’d like to see Congress approve legislation resolving the cannabis banking issue and he pointed to the fact that IRS has had to build “cash rooms” to deposit taxes from those businesses as an example of the problem.

IRS released updated guidance on tax policy for the marijuana industry last year, including instructions on how cannabis businesses that don’t have access to bank accounts can pay their tax bills using large amounts of cash.

The update appears to be responsive to a Treasury Department internal watchdog report that was released earlier in the year. The department’s inspector general for tax administration had criticized IRS for failing to adequately advise taxpayers in the marijuana industry about compliance with federal tax laws. And it directed the agency to “develop and publicize guidance specific to the marijuana industry.”

Luxembourg Set To Become First European Country To Legalize Marijuana Following Government Recommendation

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Luxembourg Set To Become First European Country To Legalize Marijuana Following Government Recommendation

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Luxembourg is poised to become the first European country to legalize marijuana, with key government agencies putting forward a plan to allow the possession and cultivation of cannabis for personal use.

The ministers of justice and homeland security on Friday unveiled the proposal, which will still require a vote in the Parliament but is expected to pass. It’s part of a broader package of reform measures the agencies are recommending.

Under the marijuana measure, adults 18 and older could grow up to four plants. However, under the non-commercial model that is being proposed, possessing more than three grams in public would still be a civil offense, carrying a fine of €25-500 ($29-581). Currently, the maximum fine for possession is €2,500 ($2,908).

In terms of access, adults would be able to buy and trade cannabis seeds for their home garden.

Justice Minister Sam Tamson said the government felt it “had to act” and characterized the home cultivation policy change as a first step, The Guardian reported.

“The idea is that a consumer is not in an illegal situation if he consumes cannabis and that we don’t support the whole illegal chain from production to transportation to selling where there is a lot of misery attached,” he said. “We want to do everything we can to get more and more away from the illegal black market.”

While limited in scope, the reform would make Luxembourg the first country in Europe to legalize the production and possession of marijuana for recreational use. Cannabis has been widely decriminalized in certain countries in the continent, but it has remained criminalized by statute.

Government sources in Luxembourg told The Guardian that plans are in the works to develop a program where the state regulates the production and distribution of marijuana. Tamson said they are working to resolve “international constraints” before taking that step, however, referring to United Nations treaty obligations that multiple U.S. states and other countries like Canada and Uruguay have openly flouted.

For now, the country is focusing on legalization within a home setting. Parliament is expected to vote on the proposal in early 2022, and the ruling parties are friendly to the reform.

This has been a long time coming, as a coalition of major parties of Luxembourg agreed in 2018 to enact legislation allowing “the exemption from punishment or even legalization” of cannabis.

Meanwhile in the U.S., congressional lawmakers are working to advance legalization legislation. A key House committee recently approved a bill to end marijuana prohibition, and Senate leadership is finalizing a separate reform proposal.

In Mexico, a top Senator said this week that lawmakers could advance legislation to regulate marijuana in the coming weeks. The Supreme Court has already ruled that adults cannot be criminalized over possession or cultivation, but there’s currently no program in place to provide access.

New Bipartisan Marijuana Research Bill In Congress Would Let Scientists Study Dispensary Products

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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New Bipartisan Marijuana Research Bill In Congress Would Let Scientists Study Dispensary Products

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A bipartisan group of federal lawmakers introduced a bill on Thursday to remove barriers to conducting research on marijuana, including by allowing scientists to access cannabis from state-legal dispensaries.

The Medical Marijuana Research Act, filed by the unlikely duo of pro-legalization Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and prohibitionist Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), would streamline the process for researchers to apply and get approved to study cannabis and set clear deadlines on federal agencies to act on their applications.

“Congress is hopelessly behind the American people on cannabis, and the quality of our research shows why that is an urgent problem,” Blumenauer told Marijuana Moment. “Despite the fact that 99 percent of Americans live in a state that has legalized some form of cannabis, federal law is still hamstringing researchers’ ability to study the full range of health benefits offered by cannabis, and to learn more about the products readily available to consumers.”

“It’s outrageous that we are outsourcing leadership in that research to Israel, the United Kingdom, Canada, and others. It’s time to change the system,” he said.

Late last year, the House approved an identical version of the cannabis science legislation. Days later, the Senate passed a similar bill but nothing ended up getting to the president’s desk by the end of the last Congress. Earlier this year, a bipartisan group of senators refiled their marijuana research measure for the current 117th Congress.

Meanwhile, lawmakers are also advancing a separate strategy to open up dispensary cannabis to researchers. Large-scale infrastructure legislation that has passed both chambers in differing forms and which is pending final action contains provisions aimed at allowing researchers to study the actual marijuana that consumers are purchasing from state-legal businesses instead of having to use only government-grown cannabis.

The new bill filed this week by Blumenauer and Harris, along with six other original cosponsors, would also make it easier for scientists to modify their research protocols without having to seek federal approval.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

It would additionally mandate that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) license more growers and make it so there would be no limit on the number of additional entities that can be registered to cultivate marijuana for research purposes. It would also require the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to submit a report to Congress within five years after enactment to overview the results of federal cannabis studies and recommend whether they warrant marijuana’s rescheduling under federal law.

“The cannabis laws in this country are broken, including our laws that govern cannabis research,” Blumenauer said in remarks in the Congressional Record. “Because cannabis is a Schedule I substance, researchers must jump through hoops and comply with onerous requirements just to do basic research on the medical potential of the plant.”

The new legislation will “both streamline the often-duplicative licensure process for researchers seeking to conduct cannabis research and facilitate access to an increased supply of higher quality medical grade cannabis for research purposes,” he said, adding that expanded studies will help make sure “Americans have adequate access to potentially transformative medicines and treatments.”

For half a century, researchers have only been able to study marijuana grown at a single federally approved facility at the University of Mississippi, but they have complained that it is difficult to obtain the product and that it is of low quality. Indeed, one study showed that the government cannabis is more similar to hemp than to the marijuana that consumers actually use in the real world.

There’s been bipartisan agreement that DEA has inhibited cannabis research by being slow to follow through on approving additional marijuana manufacturers beyond the Mississippi operation, despite earlier pledges to do so.

In May, the agency finally said it was ready to begin licensing new cannabis cultivators. Last week, DEA proposed a large increase in the amount of marijuana—and psychedelics such as psilocybin, LSD, MDMA and mescaline—that it wants produced in the U.S. for research purposes next year.

Under the new House bill, the agency would be forced to start approving additional cultivation applications for study purposes within one year of the legislation’s enactment.

HHS and the attorney general would be required under the bill to create a process for marijuana manufacturers and distributors to supply researchers with cannabis from dispensaries. They would have one year after enactment to develop that procedure, and would have to start meeting to work on it within 60 days of the bill’s passage.

In general, the legislation would also establish a simplified registration process for researchers interested in studying cannabis, in part by reducing approval wait times, minimizing costly security requirements and eliminating additional layers of protocol review.

Read the full text of the new marijuana research bill below:

Click to access medical-marijuana-research-act-hr-5657-text.pdf

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