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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.

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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 Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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Border Patrol Union Head Admits Legalizing Marijuana Forces Cartels Out Of The Market

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The head of the labor union that represents U.S. Border Patrol agents acknowledged on Friday that states that legalize marijuana are disrupting cartel activity.

While National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd was attempting to downplay the impact of legalization, he seemed to inadvertently make a case for the regulation all illicit drugs by arguing that cartels move away from smuggling cannabis and on to other substances when states legalize.

Judd made the remarks during an appearance on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, where a caller said that “the states that have legalized marijuana have done more damage to the cartels than the [Drug Enforcement Administration] could ever think about doing.”

“As far as drugs go, all we do is we enforce the laws. We don’t determine what those laws are,” Judd, who is scheduled to meet with President Trump on Friday, replied. “If Congress determines that marijuana is going to be legal, then we’re not going to seize marijuana.”

“But what I will tell you is when he points out that certain states have legalized marijuana, all the cartels do is they just transition to another drug that creates more profit,” he said. “Even if you legalize marijuana, it doesn’t mean that drugs are going to stop. They’re just going to go and start smuggling the opioids, the fentanyl.”

One potential solution that Judd didn’t raise would be to legalize those other drugs to continue to remove the profit motive for cartels. Former presidential candidate Andrew Yang made a similar argument in December.

Federal data on Border Patrol drug seizures seems to substantiate the idea that cannabis legalization at the state level has reduced demand for the product from the illicit market. According to a 2018 report from the Cato Institute, these substantial declines are attributable to state-level cannabis reform efforts, which “has significantly undercut marijuana smuggling.”

Additionally, legalization seems to be helping to reduce federal marijuana trafficking prosecutions, with reports showing decreases of such cases year over year since states regulated markets have come online.

In his annual report last year, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts also noted reduced federal marijuana prosecutions—another indication that the market for illegally sourced marijuana is drying up as more adults consumers are able to buy the product in legal stores.

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Mike Bloomberg Attacks Marijuana Legalization In Controversial Resurfaced Recording

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Before Mike Bloomberg launched his 2020 Democratic presidential bid, he really wasn’t shy about his disdain for marijuana legalization.

The former New York City mayor has been widely criticized this week after a recording surfaced of him defending controversial stop-and-frisk practices and racially disparate marijuana arrests during a 2015 Aspen Institute speech. But while that short clip went viral on social media, the full audio recording from the event also features Bloomberg condemning cannabis legalization efforts at length.

Asked by an audience member about his thoughts on Colorado’s decision to end marijuana prohibition, Bloomberg said, “I think it is just a terrible, terrible idea.”

Some of the remarks from the talk were previously reported by The Aspen Times, such as when Bloomberg asserted that marijuana use is associated with reduced IQ among young people—something President Trump also said in a recently revealed secret recording.

“What are we going to say in 10 years when we see all these kids whose IQs are 5 and 10 points lower than they would have been?” Bloomberg told the Aspen audience. “Kids’ brains are being formed while they are teenagers.

But much of his anti-cannabis commentary from the talk has not been reported until now.

“If you’re my age, of course you smoked a joint in the 60s—but it was very different and just because we did doesn’t make it right,” the former mayor, who has previously acknowledged his own past marijuana consumption, said. “It was not easily accessible compared to today. Today it’s much stronger and potentially much more damaging.”

Listen to Bloomberg’s anti-marijuana remarks below: 

“We are making progress in reducing smoking. We are making progress in reducing obesity and diabetes. We are making progress in reducing automobile deaths and a variety of other things,” he said. But cannabis reform is going in “exactly in the other direction.”

Bloomberg also disparaged the idea that a regulated market can prevent youth from accessing cannabis, stating that “even if you have a law that says we’re not going to sell it to them, let’s get serious: if there’s more of it around, they’re going to get it.”

“I just can’t imagine why society is doing this,” he said. “I couldn’t feel more strongly about it, and my girlfriend says it’s no different than alcohol. It is different than alcohol. This is one of the stupider things that’s happening across our country.”

Erik Altieri, executive director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment that the newly revealed remarks show just how much work Bloomberg has ahead of him if he intends to reform his image as a tough-on-crime, anti-cannabis candidate.

“Bloomberg and his wealthy friends may be able to sit around and joke about how he was able to smoke a joint in the 60’s and be just fine, but that is cold comfort to the over 440,000 Americans who were put in handcuffs for marijuana possession in New York City during his tenure as mayor,” Altieri said. “He is painfully ignorant and out of touch with sound public policy and basic scientific facts.”

“If he expects voters to treat him as anything other than an awful relic of a bygone drug war era he needs to correct himself on marijuana law reform issues immediately and somehow attempt to make amends for the countless lives he had a role in ruining,” he said. “Unfortunately, given the number of other candidates vying for the presidency who are leaps and bounds ahead of him on this, that still might be too little too late for his self-funded presidential aspirations.”

Bloomberg has been sharply rebuked this week over a different clip from the same 2015 recording where he defended the use of stop-and-frisk policing that disproportionately impacted communities of color.

An “unintended consequence” of targeting policing in those communities, he said, is that “people say, ‘oh my god, you are arresting kids for marijuana that are all minorities.’”

“Yes, that’s true. Why? Because we put all the cops in minority neighborhoods,” he said. “Yes, that’s true. Why do we do it? Because that’s where all the crime is.”

Bloomberg has taken steps since launching his campaign to pivot away from his reputation as anti-reform, voicing support for decriminalizing cannabis possession and allowing states to set their own policies.

But he continues to oppose cannabis legalization, and his past comments haven’t been forgotten. A Denver-based reporter brought up the candidate’s 2019 statement that legalization is  “perhaps the stupidest thing anybody has ever done” and asked whether that meant he felt Colorado voters were stupid for approving the policy change.

“Colorado has a right to do what they want to do,” he replied. “I would advise going slowly to any other state because it’s not clear, doctors aren’t sure whether or not it’s doing damage. But if a state wants to do it, and Colorado and Washington were the first two that did it, that’s up to the state.”

“But what I really object to is putting people in jail for marijuana,” he added. “That’s really dumb.”

Bloomberg and former Vice President Joe Biden are the only two Democratic candidates in the 2020 race who oppose federally legalizing cannabis.

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Bipartisan Lawmakers Ask Colleagues To Cosponsor Medical Marijuana Research Bill For Veterans

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A bipartisan duo of lawmakers sent a letter to fellow members of the House this week, asking for additional cosponsors on a bill to promote research into the therapeutic potential of marijuana for veterans.

Reps. Lou Correa (D-CA) and Clay Higgins (R-LA) cited a survey from the advocacy group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) that showed 83 percent of its members support medical cannabis legalization and 90 percent are in favor of researching medical marijuana.

“Therefore, medical research into the safety and efficacy of cannabis usage for medical purposes is timely, necessary, and widely supported by the veteran community,” the lawmakers, who are the sponsors of the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act, wrote in the Wednesday letter.

That legislation currently has 102 cosponsors—representing nearly one-forth of the House’s membership. It would require the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to conduct double-blind clinical trials on the safety and effectiveness of various forms of marijuana in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain.

“Congress made great progress in reforming our cannabis laws in 2019, proving that Americans are ready for change. Veterans deserve to be a part of this change and have their medical needs taken seriously by the Department of Veterans Affairs,” Correa told Marijuana Moment. “My bill puts veterans’ health front and center. With over 100 bipartisan co-sponsors, it’s time to move the Medicinal Cannabis Research Act and take care of our vets.”

After the bill’s introduction last year, the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee On Health and the full panel held hearings on the issue, but it has not received a vote yet. During the subcommittee meeting, VA officials voiced opposition to the proposal, arguing that the scope of its research requirements is too large.

“As many veterans are currently using cannabis for medicinal purposes, it is important that clinicians be able to fully advise veterans on the potential impacts, harms, and benefits of cannabis use on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and chronic pain,” the letter from Correa and Higgins states.

The bill would also “authorize a long-term observation study of participating veterans,” require the VA to “preserve all data collected or used and require the department to submit reports on the implementation of the legislation annually for five years.

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