A former Republican congressman announced on August 25, 2019 that he’s mounting a primary challenge against President Donald Trump, and he’s fully on board with legalizing marijuana.
Joe 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.
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.
Bipartisan Lawmakers Circulate Letter Urging FDA To Back Off CBD Companies
A bipartisan pair of lawmakers are circulating a sign-on letter asking colleagues to join them in urging the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to back off companies that are selling CBD products in a responsible manner.
The “Dear Colleague” letter, which is being led by Reps. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) and James Comer (R-KY), emphasizes that hemp and CBD were federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill and argues that the lack of regulations for such products is creating industry uncertainty that’s inhibiting economic opportunities.
The letter was first reported by the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, which is asking its supporters to encourage their representatives to sign on.
FDA has said it is in the process of developing rules for the non-intoxicating compound, including a potential alternative regulatory pathway allowing for CBD to be added to the food supply and as dietary supplements. That could take years, however, as former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has noted.
In the meantime, the agency is being selective about enforcement action against companies that make unsanctioned claims about their products while also maintaining that all businesses selling CBD food items are violating the law.
The lawmakers aren’t satisfied. They described FDA’s regulatory timeframe as “untenable,” particularly because the U.S. Department of Agriculture is expected to release its rules for hemp “any day now,” and an official revealed this month that its draft regulations are currently undergoing final White House and Department of Justice review.
The members of Congress added that FDA’s current approach to CBD has “created significant regulatory and legal uncertainty for participants in this quickly evolving industry.”
“Given the widespread availability of CBD products, growing consumer demand, and the expected surge in the hemp farming in the near future, it’s critical that FDA act quickly to provide legal and regulatory clarity to support this new economic opportunity,” they wrote.
“Please join us in signing this bipartisan letter to Acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless urging the agency to adopt a risk-based policy of enforcement discretion that targets bad actors while eliminating uncertainty for responsible industry stakeholders and consumers. Additionally, we are requesting that FDA to issue an interim final rule to regulate CBD as a dietary supplement and food additive.”
In the letter to Sharpless that Pingree and Comer are asking fellow lawmakers to sign, they laid out two requests for FDA.
First, the agency should “promptly issue guidance announcing a policy of enforcement discretion that maintains FDA’s current risk-based enforcement approach towards hemp-derived CBD products.” And second, it should “consider issuing an interim final rule, pending issuance of a permanent final rule, to establish a clear regulatory framework for CBD as a dietary supplement and food additive.”
The lawmakers added that they appreciate that FDA has pursued “enforcement actions against the worst offenders,” but that “it can do so while eliminating regulatory uncertainty for farmers, retailers, and consumers.”
“Without a formal enforcement discretion policy, anyone participating in the growing marketplace for legal hemp-derived products will continue to face significant legal and regulatory uncertainty,” they wrote.
Though issuing guidance on a “policy of enforcement discretion” wouldn’t be a codified law allowing companies to market CBD in the food supply, it would demonstrate to the industry that some protections are in place while FDA continues to navigate the rulemaking process.
Lawmakers have until Tuesday to sign the letter to FDA.
Read the Dear Colleague invitation and CBD letter to FDA below:
Photo by Kimzy Nanney.
Marijuana Banking Bill Will Get A Full House Floor Vote This Month
A bipartisan bill to protect banks that service marijuana businesses will get a House floor vote by the end of the month, the office of Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) confirmed to Marijuana Moment on Friday.
House leadership announced the decision to Democratic lawmakers at a closed-door meeting on Thursday.
“Mr. Hoyer said at the Whip meeting yesterday that he intends to move it this month,” a Hoyer staffer said in an email. “We’re discussing it with Members, but it hasn’t been scheduled just yet.”
Prior to confirmation from Hoyer’s office, four sources initially described the development to Marijuana Moment, with some saying the vote would be made under suspension of the rules—a procedure that is generally reserved for non-controversial legislation.
Voting on suspension would require two-thirds of the chamber (290 members) to vote in favor of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act in order for it to pass. The bill, which cleared the House Financial Services Committee in March, currently has 206 cosponsors, including 26 Republicans.
No amendments would be allowed to be added on the floor under the suspension process.
Problems could arise if lawmakers aren’t able to rally additional votes from conservative members or if there’s pushback over the strategy from progressive lawmakers, though it is unlikely Democratic leadership would advance the bill if they didn’t believe they have the votes for passage.
While interest in resolving the banking issue is generally bipartisan, it’s within reason to assume that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle might have wanted the opportunity to offer provisions such as extending protections to hemp businesses or adding language promoting social equity policies. That said, it is possible that leadership could file an entirely new piece of legislation that is similar to the SAFE Banking Act but contains modified provisions negotiated with key members and use that as the vehicle for floor action.
Many expected cannabis banking legislation to receive a floor vote before the August recess, but that did not come to fruition.
In any case, the development comes as the Senate Banking Committee is also preparing to hold a vote on marijuana banking legislation, with Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) announcing on Thursday that his panel is “working to try to get a bill ready.” He didn’t offer a timeline, however, other than saying he hoped to advance the legislation by the end of the year.
While sources told Marijuana Moment that Hoyer made his decision to allow cannabis banking vote following an earlier Wednesday meeting on the issue, it is likely that building momentum in the GOP-controlled Senate added to pressure on the House to act so that Democrats wouldn’t be seen as lagging behind Republicans on cannabis reform, an issue the party has sought to take political ownership of.
Following Crapo’s statement on advancing the banking legislation, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), chief sponsor of the SAFE Banking Act, told Marijuana Moment that he welcomes the senator’s “commitment to resolve the banking conflicts that have been created by the misalignment in state and federal law on the issue of cannabis.”
“I remain focused on passing the SAFE Banking Act out of the House and look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate as they take up the SAFE Banking Act or work to develop and pass similar legislation,” he said.
Banking access is largely seen as one of the most achievable pieces of cannabis legislation that stands to pass this Congress. Advocates and reform-minded lawmakers view it as one of the first steps on the path toward ending federal marijuana prohibition.
“We are seeing the blueprint in action and moving forward on critical legislation to protect state legal cannabis banking,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) told Marijuana Moment, referring to a memo he sent to House leadership last year outlining a committee-by-committee process for passing incremental cannabis bills leading up to major legislation to end federal prohibition. “Earlier this summer, the House passed protections for state and tribal cannabis laws. In the most cannabis friendly Congress in history, we need to keep up this momentum. There is still much to be done.”
There has been some disagreement within advocacy circles about whether it’s prudent to pass legislation viewed as primarily favorable to the industry before advancing comprehensive legislation that deschedules cannabis and takes steps to repair the harms of prohibition enforcement.
“It is our hope that after the successful passage of the SAFE Banking Act in the House, we will be able to advance legislation that ends the federal criminalization of cannabis once and for all,” Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “Now is our time to demonstrate that marijuana law reform is both good policy and good politics.”
“We will not stop until otherwise law-abiding Americans are no longer discriminated against or criminalized due to the past or future choice to consume cannabis,” he said.
Neal Levine, CEO of the Cannabis Trade Federation, told Marijuana Moment that the group is “delighted that the U.S. House of Representatives is on the brink of passing a landmark piece of cannabis policy legislation that modernizes our antiquated banking laws to reflect the will of the people.”
“This is welcomed and long overdue news for the over 200,000 employees that work in the industry, cannabis businesses, and for public safety in the communities in which we operate,” he said. “Once the SAFE Banking Act passes the U.S. House, we call on the U.S. Senate to move quickly to protect our businesses and our workers.”
Pressure has been building all year from stakeholders and policymakers alike to get the legislation passed. Endorsements aren’t just coming from reform groups, either; 50 state banking associations, the National Association of State Treasurers, the top financial regulators of 25 states, a majority of state attorneys general and bipartisan governors of 20 states have also voiced support for the SAFE Banking Act.
Earlier this month, the head of the American Bankers Association predicted that the bill would be passed in the House “as early as September.”
This story was updated to add comment from Perlmutter and Hoyer’s office.
New ‘Marijuana 1-to-3 Act’ Would Reclassify Cannabis Under Federal Law
Another bill to reschedule marijuana was filed in Congress on Thursday.
Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL) introduced the legislation, which is titled the “Marijuana 1-to-3 Act.” True to its name, the bill would simply require the attorney general to move cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III under the Controlled Substances Act, with the aim of increasing research on the drug’s effects.
“As marijuana is legalized for medical and recreational use across the United States, it is important that we study the effects of the substance and the potential impacts it can have on various populations,” Steube said in a press release. “By rescheduling marijuana from a schedule I controlled substance to a schedule III controlled substance, the opportunities for research and study are drastically expanded.
Today, I introduced a bill to reschedule marijuana from a schedule I to a schedule III controlled substance. The Marijuana 1-to-3 Act will allow additional research to be done on the benefits of marijuana by removing bureaucratic red tape. https://t.co/w45WAKHBr9
— Congressman Greg Steube (@RepGregSteube) September 12, 2019
“With this rescheduling, researchers can now access federal funds to research this substance and determine its medical value,” he said.
The press release came hours after a bipartisan pair of lawmakers introduced separate legislation to reschedule marijuana, also to Schedule III.
That bill contained additional provisions that would require federal agencies to develop research agendas for marijuana within one year of its enactment and also establish a system whereby universities could be designated as “Centers of Excellence in Cannabis Research” if they conducted comprehensive studies on issues related to marijuana.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), who is a sponsor of the broader research bill, is also cosponsoring Steube’s more focused rescheduling proposal.
It’s not clear why Steube chose to file his own reclassification bill or whether the other legislation’s additional provisions were a factor.
The congressman’s two-page bill states that “the Attorney General of the United States shall, by order not later than 60 days after the date of enactment of this section, transfer marijuana…from schedule I of such Act to schedule III of such Act.”
“We hear every day about the positive health benefits of marijuana,” Steube said. “Whether it’s young children with seizure disorders, or veterans suffering from chronic pain, it is clear that there are medical benefits to marijuana and I think it’s time we remove the bureaucratic red tape that prevents us from thoroughly studying this substance.”
While he emphasized that the intent of his legislation is to encourage research into marijuana, placing cannabis in Schedule III would also have implications for marijuana businesses, who are currently ineligible for federal tax deductions under an Internal Revenue Code section that applies to anyone “trafficking in controlled substances” in Schedule I or II.
Read the full text of the bill below:
Photo by Ndispensable.