Former U.S. Rep. John Delaney (D-MD) might not have the same level of name recognition as other Democrats running for their party’s 2020 presidential nomination, but what he does share with most other candidates is support for reforming federal marijuana laws.
That said, the Maryland politician—who announced that he was running on July 28, 2017—hasn’t vocally embraced full cannabis legalization. But he received a “B” grade from NORML in 2016 for his consistent votes in favor of marijuana reform amendments in the House.
This piece was last updated on September 4, 2019 to include the candidate’s statements and policy actions on marijuana since joining the race.
Legislation And Policy Actions
Delaney co-sponsored seven cannabis-related bills during his time in Congress. That includes legislation that would remove cannabidiol (CBD) from the Controlled Substances Act (signing onto versions of this specific bill three times), another that would protect individuals participating in state-legal marijuana activities from federal interference, one that focuses on protecting patients in medical cannabis states and two versions of a bill to shield banks working with marijuana businesses from federal penalties.
He didn’t introduce any cannabis bills himself, however.
When it came to House floor votes for amendments aimed at scaling back federal marijuana enforcement, Delaney was a consistent “aye” in support of reform. He voted for proposals to protect medical cannabis states from federal intervention in 2014 and 2015. He supported another measure covering CBD-only states in 2015 and that year also voted for a broader amendment to shield all legal cannabis states from Justice Department intervention.
Delaney backed an amendment to allow U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend medical cannabis for veterans during in 2014, 2015 and 2016. He also voted “aye” on four separate amendments meant to lift federal restrictions on industrial hemp.
Finally, the former congressman supported an amendment that would block the federal government from punishing banks that work with marijuana businesses acting in compliance with state law.
On The Campaign Trail
While Delaney has a solid record of pro-reform votes, his public comments and social media posts on marijuana are far and few between. A search of his Twitter and Facebook accounts, where several Democratic candidates have been particularly vocal about their support for reform, turns up no hits for key search terms related to cannabis.
He did discuss marijuana policy twice in March 2019. In an interview with Cheddar, he said that the federal government should be “getting out of the way” of states that opt to legalize or decriminalize cannabis.
“It’s contributed to the injustice in our criminal justice system, particularly the racial injustice.”
— Cheddar (@cheddar) March 7, 2019
“The states are clearly moving in a very clear direction,” he said. “They either legalized it for medical purposes, which I obviously support, or they’re decriminalizing it because it’s really contributed to the injustice in our criminal justice system—particularly the racial injustice in our criminal justice system. And then some states are moving toward legalization.”
“I think what the federal government should do in many ways is get out of the way, let the states make their own decisions,” he added. “To the extent that they do decide to legalize it, make sure that there’s a framework in place for how you label it, how it’s distributed, et cetera. I kind of think of this as a states’ rights issue, which gets the federal government out of the way, which a lot of people say means legalization but really it’s up the states but the federal government isn’t prohibiting it.”
The former congressman also suggested during a CNN town hall event that legalization can curb illicit drug markets.
He said “having these things being sold in the shadows” contributes to trafficking and that’s why “in many ways, there’s such a movement at the state level to legalize marijuana, to decriminalize it, and at a minimum to allow it to be legal for medical purposes.”
“I think the federal government should get out of the way and let that movement continue because right now the federal government is blocking it by keeping marijuana as a scheduled substance,” he said.
“I think that’s preventing the states from doing really what they want to do. So I’m in favor of that, which would basically get marijuana out of the shadows, and get it into a market where it could be regulated, where we can make sure it’s labeled and distributed appropriately, where we can tax it.”
When then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded Obama-era guidance on federal marijuana policy, Delaney spoke out in a statement to The Washington Post.
“The Cole Memo provided clear guidance to an otherwise conflicting situation,” he said. “Revoking the Cole Memo will restore that confusion and undermines the will of the voters in several states.”
Delaney told the Boston Globe that current marijuana policy “has contributed to a criminal justice system where people of color are disproportionately harmed.” A spokesman told the newspaper that the candidate “supports removing marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, allowing states to set their own policy on legalization, and implementing sweeping federal regulatory policies and taxation on its use.”
Asked by a C-SPAN caller what he thought about medical cannabis in a February 2019 appearance, Delaney said, “I clearly am supportive of medical marijuana. I think everyone should have it available to them as prescribed by their doctor. So to me that’s a fairly straightforward issue.”
During an earlier C-SPAN interview about a book he’d written, former interim Democratic National Committee chair Donna Brazile mentioned that he hadn’t dedicated pages to issues like criminal justice reform and marijuana legalization. Delaney expressed his support for criminal justice reform broadly but didn’t clarify where he stands on legal cannabis.
Previous Quotes And Social Media Posts
In 2013, a Daily Kos contributor reportedly reached out to Delaney’s office to inquire about his position and part of the response they received noted that “while federal, state, and local laws pertaining to marijuana do lead to criminal justice costs, there is also a risk that decriminalization or legalization might further exacerbate these costs.”
Personal Experience With Marijuana
Delaney has not spoken publicly about any personal experience with cannabis.
Marijuana Under A Delaney Presidency
Based on his consistent embrace of legislation designed to protect legalized states from federal marijuana enforcement, it’s reasonable to assume that the cannabis industry would continue to be able to operate and evolve under a Delaney presidency without federal interference. That said, the former congressman’s personal position on legalization remains somewhat vague, and so it’s not certain that he’d pursue a wide-ranging reform agenda as a priority if elected.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
Bipartisan Lawmakers Tell DEA To Let Researchers Study Marijuana From Dispensaries
A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers from the House and Senate sent a letter to the Justice Department on Friday, requesting a policy change allowing researchers to access marijuana from state-legal dispensaries to improve studies on the plant’s benefits and risks.
The letter, led by Rep. Harley Rouda (D-CA) and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), cites feedback from federal health agencies, which have said that existing restrictions on cannabis have inhibited research. One problem in particular is that there’s only one federally authorized manufacturer of research-grade marijuana.
While the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said that it is in the process of approving additional manufacturers, it’s been more than three years since they first announced that applications for more growers would be accepted and, more recently, the agency said it would have to develop alternative rules to approve proposals that have been submitted.
“At the same time, the status quo does not address a barrier to research raised by both [the National Institutes of Health] and [the Food and Drug Administration],” the lawmakers wrote in the new letter. That barrier is a ban on researchers being able to obtain marijuana from dispensaries.
“Both agencies recommended that researchers should be able to obtain cannabis from state-legal sources,” the letter states.
Today, @SenBrianSchatz and I sent a bipartisan letter to AG Barr, urging the DEA to amend current policies to improve research on cannabis.
It’s time to bring our drug research policies into the 21st century.https://t.co/bfpPUhUvQf
— Rep. Harley Rouda (@RepHarley) December 6, 2019
Further, the lawmakers said that there are “problems in industry development of licensed drugs with data from products obtained from third-parties, such as the University of Mississippi.”
“In many states, cannabis law and regulations already provide for licensing of industrial manufacturing activities, and products are available for medical use in those states, but not for research leading to FDA licensure,” they wrote.
“There is a need for a greater diversity of cannabis products so that research on benefits and risks reflects the realities of what consumers and patients are using. NIH and FDA have strongly recommended streamlining the process for conducting research and product development activities with cannabis and other Schedule I substances, and that the DEA take action to assure that interpretations of processes and policies are universally applied in local DEA jurisdictions.”
The lack of chemical diversity in the federal government’s cannabis supply has been repeatedly pointed out. One study found that the research-grade cannabis is more similar to hemp than marijuana in commercial markets.
To resolve the research issues, the coalition made two recommendations: 1) to amend internal policy “so as to allow researchers with Schedule I licenses to obtain cannabis-derived products from state authorized dispensaries for research purposes” and 2) issue guidance clarifying that hemp researchers do not need a DEA license to obtain and study hemp because it was federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill.
The letter requests a response from DEA by December 20.
A total of 21 members of Congress signed the letter, including Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Cory Gardner (R-CO), along with Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Barbara Lee (D-CA) Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Joe Kennedy (D-MA).
“Our nation’s cannabis research laws are archaic,” Rouda said in a press release. “Forty-seven states have legalized some form of cannabis consumption—we must ensure our federal agencies and other licensed institutions can comprehensively study the benefits and risks of cannabis products.”
“I thank Senator Schatz, and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, for joining me to make this common-sense request,” he said. “It’s time to bring our drug research policies into the 21st century.”
Attorney General William Barr received a similar letter from lawmakers about the need to expand the number of federally authorized marijuana cultivators in April.
Read the lawmakers’ full letter on expanding marijuana research below:
Oregon Activists Begin Signature Gathering For 2020 Drug Decriminalization Initiative
Oregon activists have begun collecting signatures for a statewide initiative to decriminalize possession of all drugs.
Three months after petitioners quietly submitted the proposed ballot measure—titled the “Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act” (DATRA)—the signature gathering process has started, with organizers deployed to Portland to raise support.
A long road lies before the activists, who need to collect 112,020 valid signatures from voters in order to qualify for the 2020 ballot. Funding and polling will decide whether they mount a full push for the decriminalization measure in the months to come.
To that end, their efforts are being helped by David Bronner, CEO of the soap company Dr. Bronner’s, who told Marijuana Moment on Thursday that he will be investing $250,000 in the decriminalization campaign. An additional $500,000 will go to a separate Oregon initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes.
The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which backed Oregon’s successful marijuana legalization initiative in 2014, is also supporting this new effort to make low-level drug possession an infraction punishable by a $100 fine with no jail time, rather than a misdemeanor. It remains to be seen how involved in the campaign DPA will be, however.
Peter Zuckerman, a chief petitioner for the decriminalization initiative, told OregonLive on Thursday that it’s not guaranteed that the campaign will proceed and that much rides on how much money the group can raise, whether there’s public support for the reform move and how staff recruitment comes together.
He said the main thrust of the measure is to take a “health-based approach to drug addiction rather than a criminal justice-based approach.”
The proposal caught the attention of Oregon’s teachers’ union, which said that it supports decriminalizing drug possession but wrote in a comment submitted to the secretary of state in October that it was not taking an official position because it’s concerned about another provision that would shift cannabis tax revenue away from schools.
DATRA would make it so most of that revenue would be used to fund addiction treatment programs.
At the same time that activists are collecting signatures and weighing whether to move ahead with the broad decriminalization initiative, another advocacy group is pushing for a measure to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic use, allowing individuals to receive treatment with the psychedelic fungus at licensed health facilities. The group launched its signature drive in September.
Advocates in Portland are also hoping to advance a local measure to decriminalize psilocybin and other psychedelics such as ayahuasca and ibogaine.
Bronner wrote in a blog post that the decriminalization and therapeutic psilocybin legalization campaigns are “already coordinating closely and conserving resources on the statewide signature drive.”
He told Marijuana Moment that “we see this as the perfect one two punch in Oregon, legalizing psilocybin therapy that has so much promise for treating drug addiction, at the same time Oregon shifts to a treatment not jail approach.”
“And 100 percent confident it’s coming together,” he said.
All of this comes amid a national movement to decriminalize psychedelics, with activists in almost 100 cities across the U.S. considering pushing for reduced penalties for substances such as psilocybin and ayahuasca. Decriminalize Nature, which is aiding in and tracking these efforts, is also receiving donations from Bronner, he said.
Decriminalization is also gaining traction on the national stage, with two presidential candidates—South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI)—voicing support for the policy change. Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, another candidate, recently said that he’s open to broad decriminalization, while entrepreneur Andrew Yang backs decriminalizing opioids.
North Dakota Activists Submit Measure To Legalize Marijuana In 2020
North Dakota activists submitted a measure to legalize marijuana for adult use to state officials on Thursday, an organizer confirmed to Marijuana Moment.
Legalize ND, the group behind the proposed statutory initiative, delivered the measure to the secretary of state’s office. It’s expected to be validated within days, after which point petitions will be distributed to collect signatures in support of qualifying for the 2020 ballot.
It’s been about a year since organizers began working on the measure, which would allow adults 21 and older to possess and purchase cannabis for personal use. The proposal is more narrowly tailored than a legalization initiative from the same organization that voters rejected in 2018, however.
The previous version didn’t include any restrictions on cultivation or possession, and it didn’t involve a licensing scheme. By contrast, the new measure would prohibit home cultivation, limit possession to two ounces, impose a 10 percent excise tax and establish a regulatory body to approve licenses for marijuana businesses.
“One of the largest complaints from last time was the mantra of ‘poorly written,'” Legalize ND’s David Owen told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview. “They targeted the lack of legal experience from our team and they targeted a lack of ‘qualified lawyers’ to be drafting language that would go into the state’s statutory law.”
But he said he’s confident the campaign will be successful this time around, in part because they spent months drafting the language with the North Dakota Legislative Council.
Asked what he’d say to voters still on the fence about legalization, Owen replied that it would depend on what their initial concerns were:
“If it’s a concern over home grow, well it’s simple, we don’t have that anymore. If it’s a concern of people having too much, we have a reasonable possession limit now—in their eyes, I still think possession limits are fundamentally arbitrary, but they wanted a possession limit so we have that now. If people go, ‘well what about the quality of the language?’ I can point to how it’s literally written by Legislative Council, so either every attorney who works for the state of North Dakota is incompetent or this is well written.”
In order to qualify for next year’s ballot, the group must collect 13,452 valid signatures from voters before July 6, 2020.
“I think the most important thing isn’t what it would do, but what it would stop from happening,” Owen told local radio station KFGO on Wednesday. “We currently have a system where people are unable to find a job because of a criminal record, we have a system where people are continuing to get marijuana charges and lose their housing, we have families being separated because of parents losing custody over their children for marijuana charges. That all stops when this is legalized.”
Listen to Owen’s radio interview about the new marijuana ballot measure below:
Internal polling that received outside funding, which Owen said cannot be publicly released because of the wishes of the donor, shows the initiative is “slightly ahead” among voters.
In an earlier interview with Marijuana Moment in February, Owen said that it’s “very probable that we can do it” this time around, but much of that depended on the extent to which opposition campaigns are involved and how much funding outside groups are able to offer.
Currently, North Dakota has a medical cannabis program, and the governor signed legislation in May decriminalizing low-level marijuana possession.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.