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.
Cory Booker Urges New Jersey Voters To Legalize Marijuana As Data Shows Supporters Outraising Opponents
Another one of the most prominent elected officials in New Jersey is urging the state’s voters to approve a marijuana legalization referendum that’s on their ballots next week. Meanwhile, new campaign finance data released by the state shows that supporters of the cannabis reform measure are outraising opponents by more than a 200-to-1 ratio.
“This is an important question,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) said in a new video published by the NJ CAN 2020 campaign on Wednesday. “I hope as you fill out the front of your ballot, you will look at the back and see that question, ballot question number one, and that you will vote to legalize marijuana in New Jersey for adult use. We can do this as a state so much more responsibly, and instead of destroying lives we can get more resources to help to empower the well-being of all New Jerseyans.”
Booker, who has been a leading champion for federal cannabis reform in Congress, said that “we have seen how the drug war has not been a war on drugs, but a war on people.”
“Veterans, for example, are more likely to be arrested for drug use or possession of marijuana. Instead of getting help. They’re often hurt by a system that piles upon them criminal charges for doing things that two of the last three presidents admitted to doing,” he said, adding that African Americans, Latinos and low-income people are also disproportionately targeted by enforcement.
Meanwhile, a report released on Thursday by the state Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) shows that committees supporting the referendum have raised $2,074,030 in campaign contributions. That’s compared to just $9,913 brought in by opponents.
“Assuming all available funds are spent, the marijuana ballot question already ranks eighth among the top ten most expensive public referenda in the Garden State,” ELEC Executive Director Jeff Brindle said. “Keep in mind that marijuana interests already have spent $4.1 million on lobbying between 2017 and 2019. So the industry’s overall political investment in New Jersey already has topped $6 million.”
The new numbers reflect data filed through October 20, and additional post-election spending data will be released on December 1.
Earlier numbers released two weeks ago pegged the fundraising disparity at a ratio of nearly 130 to 1.
If voters approve the referendum, legal recreational marijuana sales could potentially begin within mere weeks through the state’s existing medical cannabis dispensaries under a plan laid out this week by the New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee chairman.
A hearing to get a head start on planning legal cannabis implementation was scheduled for last week, but that was canceled when the senator went into quarantine after being exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19.
Booker, for his part, is framing legalization as a matter of criminal justice reform.
“It will help us to join with other states who are seeing through legalizing you could better regulate its usage, you can have more and more tax dollars that can be applied to state priorities, from education to treatment,” Booker said in his new video. “And, we see how we begin to end what has been a very dark and unfair chapter in criminal justice in America.”
In any case, if polling is any indication, it appears that voters are poised to pass the cannabis referendum on their ballots next week.
A survey released last week found that that 65 percent of New Jersey voters are in favor of the marijuana referendum. Just 29 percent are opposed to the policy change and six percent remain undecided.
The results are statistically consistent with three prior polls from the same firm, as well as one from Fairleigh Dickinson University, which similarly found roughly two to one support for the measure. A separate survey released this month by Stockton University showed three-to-one support for legalizing cannabis among New Jersey voters.
Gov. Phil Murphy (D) has also been actively campaigning in favor of the referendum, participating in fundraisers and ads to encourage voters to approve it.
For example, the governor recorded a video that was released by NJ CAN 2020 earlier this month, outlining why he’s embraced the policy change. Murphy said that the ongoing criminalization of cannabis in New Jersey wastes taxpayer dollars, and he emphasized that prohibition is enforced in a racially disproportionate manner.
The governor similarly said in a recent interview that the marijuana reform proposal prioritizes social justice.
“I wish we could have gotten it done through a legislative process,” he said at the time, referencing lawmakers’ inability to advance a legalization bill last session. “We just couldn’t find the last few votes, so it’s on the referendum. I’m strongly supporting it—first and foremost for social justice reasons.”
Murphy also recently called on voters to support the proposal in an email blast that was circulated by the New Jersey Democratic State Committee.
He said in July that legalizing cannabis is “an incredibly smart thing to do” both from an economic and social justice perspective.
The governor isn’t alone in his attempts to get out the vote for cannabis reform. Filmmaker Kevin Smith earlier this month urged his Twitter followers to “VOTE YES when you see State Public Question Number 1: Constitutional Amendment to Legalize Marijuana.”
NJ CAN 2020 released a series of English- and Spanish-language video ads this month, after having published one prior ad.
In June, the state Assembly passed a cannabis decriminalization bill that would make possession of up to two ounces a civil penalty without the threat of jail time, though it hasn’t advance in the Senate.
Arizona Marijuana Opponents Release Five Misleading Attack Ads Ahead Of Legalization Vote Next Week
A campaign opposing a marijuana legalization initiative in Arizona recently released a series of ads imploring voters to reject the proposal.
The digital spots—which range from 16 to 42 seconds in length—argue that cannabis reform would negatively impact young people, increase impaired driving and create workplace risks. In doing so, they make misleading claims about what the proposed Arizona law would allow and what has occurred in other states that have already enacted legalization.
Here’s each ad and script, along with some broader context on the accuracy of the claims:
“When Washington State legalized marijuana, I wasn’t too concerned. What began happening with students, however, was alarming. Marijuana possession increased. We maintained a zero drug policy in our district, and parents and students became confused when students were disciplined for possession of marijuana. Suspensions increased and students lost valuable classroom time. If I could give one piece of advice from this Democrat, school principal from Washington to my new Arizona neighbors vote ‘no’ on 207. It won’t provide the support needed to deal with the problems this law will create. Vote ‘no’ on Prop. 207.”
Actually, a study published last year by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that youth marijuana use declined in Washington State’s largest metropolitan county after legalization. Other research has reached similar conclusions.
“Marijuana use damages the developing brain of teenagers. Unfortunately, where marijuana is legal for adults, more teens get it and use it. Under Prop. 207, marijuana-laced candies, cookies and vape pens—all very appealing to teens—are not only legal but marijuana marketers can advertise them on TV, radio and social media, a teen favorite. Vote ‘no’ on Prop. 207.”
The Arizona initiative states that any advertising “involving direct, individualized communication or dialogue shall use a method of age affirmation is twenty-one years of age or older before engaging in that communication or dialogue.”
“Police pull over the driver next to you for swerving, but there’s no standard of impairment. It’s 2021, and using marijuana is legal right under Prop. 207. There’s no roadside test to gauge marijuana impairment, so they let it go. Nearly 70 percent of marijuana users in Colorado admit to driving stoned. Their traffic deaths doubled after legalization. Keep stoned drivers off Arizona roads. Vote ‘no’ on Prop. 207.”
The Arizona initiative explicitly states that it “does not allow driving, flying or boating while impaired by marijuana to even the slightest degree.”
“When you drop your child off at daycare, you expect the caregiver to be sober. Under Prop. 207, employers can only prohibit using marijuana at work. There’s nothing stopping employees from using and then heading to the daycare or elderly care facility or the worksite. Prop 207. ties the hands of employers who want to keep a drug-free workplace. Vote ‘no’ on Prop. 207.”
The Arizona initiative says it “does not restrict the rights of employers to maintain a drug- and alcohol-free workplace or affect the ability of employers to have workplace policies restricting the use of marijuana by employees or prospective employees.” It also “does not restrict the rights of employers, schools, day care centers, adult day care facilities, health care facilities or corrections facilities to prohibit or regulate conduct otherwise allowed by this chapter when such conduct occurs on or in their properties.”
Despite the questionable ad splurge from Arizonans for Health and Public Safety, convincing enough people to vote against the legalization proposal will be a steep task days out from the election, recent polling suggests.
A firm that’s been consistently tracking where residents stand on candidates and ballot questions found that 55 percent of likely voters favor Proposition 207 in a survey released earlier this month. A separate, recent survey showed 56 percent support among registered voters.
Both of those results are largely consistent with an internal poll Smart and Safe Arizona, the campaign behind the initiative, shared with Marijuana Moment last month.
These survey results represent promising signals to reform advocates that Arizona is ready to enact legalization, unlike in 2016 when voters rejected a similar proposal.
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Mark Kelly also indicated this month that he is inclined to back the legal cannabis measure.
If the Arizona measure is approved by voters, adults could possess up to an ounce of marijuana at a time and cultivate up to six plants for personal use.
The measure also contains several restorative justice provisions such as allowing individuals with prior cannabis convictions to petition the courts for expungements and establishing a social equity ownership program
Cannabis sales would be taxed at 16 percent. Tax revenue would cover implementation costs and then would be divided among funds for community colleges, infrastructure, a justice reinvestment and public services such as police and firefighters.
The Department of Health Services would be responsible for regulating the program and issuing cannabis business licenses. It would also be tasked with deciding on whether to expand the program to allow for delivery services.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
Montana Marijuana Legalization Ballot Measure Has Solid Lead In New Poll
Montana voters appear poised to approve a proposal to legalize marijuana next week, according to a new poll released on Wednesday.
The survey, conducted by Montana State University (MSU) Billings, found that 54 percent of likely voters plan to support legal cannabis on the ballot, while 38 percent are opposed. Seven percent remain undecided.
There is a stark partisan divide on the measure, with 77 percent of Democrats in favor, and only 31 percent of Republicans agreeing. Sixty-three percent of independents back the reform.
Ending marijuana prohibition has majority support among both men and women in the state, and from voter groups under the age of 65. Those older than that are narrowly divided on legalizing cannabis.
A separate survey released earlier this month showed the measure leading, but without outright majority support. That poll, conducted by a separate team at MSU, found that Montana voters support marijuana legalization, 49 percent to 39 percent.
The new numbers showing continued voter backing for marijuana legalization comes a week after the state Supreme Court rejected a request to block the initiative. The case was filed by opponents who argued that the measure violates the state Constitution by appropriating funds to specific programs.
Under the proposal, half of the public revenue generated from marijuana sales would go toward environmental conservation programs—a provision that earned the campaign key endorsements last month.
In addition to the cannabis revenue earmarked for land, water and wildlife conservation programs, the proposal aims to send funds toward veteran services, substance misuse treatment, health care and local governments, with the rest being pegged to the general fund.
The state Supreme Court didn’t rule on the merits of the challenge but said that opponents needed to take up the issue in lower courts first, which they said they plan to do.
Also this month, a Montana-based federal prosecutor appointed by President Trump sent a press release highlighting his concerns that legalizing cannabis in the state could cause public health and safety harms.
Montana voters will actually see two cannabis questions on their ballots. A statutory measure to legalize marijuana for adult use would allow adults to possess up to an ounce of cannabis and cultivate up to four plants and four seedlings at home, while a separate constitutional amendment stipulates that only those 21 and older could access the market.
Photo courtesy of Max Pixel.