Julián Castro, a former U.S. Housing and Urban Development secretary and San Antonio mayor, announced on January 12, 2019 that he was running for president. On January 2, 2020, he ended his campaign.
Castro has a relatively thin record on marijuana, but there are a few clues about how he would handle cannabis policy if elected to the White House.
This piece was last updated on January 2, 2020 to include the candidate’s statements and policy actions on marijuana since joining the race.
Legislation And Policy Actions
Unlike his identical twin brother Joaquín, Julián Castro has never served in Congress and, as such, hasn’t had the opportunity to vote on federal cannabis amendments or to sponsor marijuana legislation.
But in his role as a member of President Barack Obama’s cabinet, he did oversee one federal marijuana policy action.
Under his leadership, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) published a 2014 memo clarifying that owners of federally assisted housing facilities are required to deny entry to people who use marijuana, even for medical purposes in accordance with state law. The guidance did say, however, that it is up to owners’ discretion whether people who already live in public housing must be evicted if cannabis use is later discovered.
The document was an update to a similar 2011 memo issued under prior Obama administration HUD Sec. Shaun Donovan.
On The Campaign Trail
In a criminal justice reform plan Castro released in October, he called for legalizing marijuana, expunging prior cannabis convictions and reinvesting in communities most impacted by the drug war.
My #FirstChance Plan:
✔️Justice for Communities of Color
✔️End Police Violence
✔️Legalize Marijuana, Expunge Records
✔️Abolish the Death Penalty
✔️Fair Trials for All
✔️Heal The Wounds of Mass Incarceration https://t.co/dvXzJekckt
— Julián Castro (@JulianCastro) October 23, 2019
“As president, I will bring our misguided War on Drugs to an end,” he said. “We will regulate the market and place a tax on all recreational sales, investing billions in revenue generated in the communities disproportionately harmed by the War on Drugs.”
“We need to ensure that we build on [sentencing reform legislation] and reform our criminal justice system,” Castro said in a speech to the National Action Network in April 2019. “That we do things like legalize marijuana. That we encourage communities to go back and expunge the records of too many who have been caught up in this criminal justice system and locked behind bars for small-level offenses.”
Castro said in November that he’s open to decriminalizing drugs beyond marijuana and voiced support for allowing local jurisdictions to implement safe consumption sites where people can use illicit substances in a medically supervised environment.
He reiterated his support for legalization during an interview on The Breakfast Club radio show.
“I think that we have good examples in places like Colorado of how you can [legalize cannabis],” he said. “Obviously it’s going to be regulated and the regulation of it needs to be thoughtful.”
He went on to say that he hopes communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the drug war are able to benefit from a legal cannabis market and said legalization should be coupled with expungements for prior marijuana convictions.
“I’m a fan of some of these jurisdictions that have gone backward to try and expunge records because there have been so many people, especially in communities of color, that have ended up incarcerated and serving time in jail for relatively minor offenses and for marijuana that in some states is already legal,” Castro said. “We need to do that, we need to build on that First Step Act that was just passed. We need to continue to reform our criminal justice system.”
His point about the need for expungement also came up during a CNN town hall event.
“On top of [legalization] we need to go back and expunge the records of people who were imprisoned because of using marijuana. And this is important. This part is important, in part, because there are a lot of people, and folks in this audience probably know some of them who have served jail time, right, and disproportionately it’s impacted communities of color and poor neighborhoods of people who have been imprisoned because of marijuana use. So it’s not enough just to say we want to legalize it. We actually want to go back and expunge these records.”
“Legalize it. Then expunge the records of folks who are in prison for marijuana use,” he tweeted.
Legalize it. Then expunge the records of folks who are in prison for marijuana use. #CastroTownHall
— Julián Castro (@JulianCastro) April 12, 2019
He posted an almost identical tweet in November.
— Julián Castro (@JulianCastro) November 21, 2019
Castro also emphasized his support for legalization in a speech at the music and arts festival South By Southwest.
More Castro speed round: Free four-year college, reparations for slavery (determined by commission), don't add new Supreme Court seats, pilot-program for universal basic income, legalize marijuana.
— Anthony Zurcher (@awzurcher) March 10, 2019
“We need sentencing reform, we need to invest in public defenders, we need to do cash bail reform and also do things like legalize marijuana and invest in diversion programs so that people don’t get caught up in this system in the first place,” the candidate said during a campaign stop in Iowa.
On the 86th anniversary of the end of alcohol prohibition in December, the candidate said that the country should follow suit by legalizing cannabis.
It’s #repealday, the day the United States ended the prohibition of alcohol.
86 years later, it’s time we end the federal prohibition of Cannabis once and for all.
Legalize it. Regulate it. Expunge the records of the victims of the war on drugs.
— Julián Castro (@JulianCastro) December 5, 2019
During a campaign event in New Hampshire in September, Castro said the country needs “to reimagine our criminal justice system—investing in public defenders, in sentencing reform, cash bail reform, legalizing marijuana and investing in diversion programs so that instead of ending up in jail, more young people are able to reach their dreams.”
Days later, he reiterated that point in a tweet.
We need to invest in diversion programs and legalize marijuana, so that our kids can achieve their dreams instead of getting caught up in the criminal justice system.
— Julián Castro (@JulianCastro) September 10, 2019
“We need to invest in diversion programs and legalize marijuana, so that our kids can achieve their dreams instead of getting caught up in the criminal justice system,” he said.
We need to legalize cannabis nationwide and properly regulate products in order to keep folks safe.https://t.co/Txw3w0k8fu
— Julián Castro (@JulianCastro) September 11, 2019
In response to incidents of vaping-related lung injuries, the candidate said, “We need to legalize cannabis nationwide and properly regulate products in order to keep folks safe.”
In October, Castro answered a Twitter question about how his plan for legalization would address racial inequities in the cannabis industry.
Addressing the injustice of the failed war on drugs means that we must legalize and regulate marijuana, and ensure victims of these policies — a majority of whom were Black and Brown—have their records expunged and are given access to economic development opportunities. https://t.co/GugW2Xi3v5
— Julián Castro (@JulianCastro) October 10, 2019
“Addressing the injustice of the failed war on drugs means that we must legalize and regulate marijuana, and ensure victims of these policies—a majority of whom were Black and Brown—have their records expunged and are given access to economic development opportunities,” he replied.
Previous Quotes And Social Media Posts
Castro has been critical of Trump administration signals about potentially interfering with state marijuana laws.
A mistake. Colorado and other states have shown we can sensibly legalize marijuana with reasonable controls. https://t.co/MknXhJ0cnr
— Julián Castro (@JulianCastro) February 26, 2017
As reported in a local TV segment from early 2014, when he was San Antonio mayor, Castro was asked about cannabis during an appearance at a local high school and responded that he hadn’t yet made up his mind about legalization.
— Marvin Hurst (@MHurstKENS5) February 19, 2014
“What I think you see across the country is a consideration about the science and what states should do, whether for instance, they should look at medical marijuana or fully legalizing it,” he said, according to a Wayback Machine archive of the now-deleted KENS-TV page. “I haven’t looked at the science yet about addiction and what it means, but it’s certainly something that I think deserves more scrutiny and more analysis.”
More recently, Castro retweeted a Twitter post from Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) that highlighted local efforts to expunge prior cannabis convictions, which said, “Legalizing marijuana must include a push for restorative justice.”
Personal Experience With Marijuana
Castro said at an event in Nevada that he’s “never done marijuana,” but that there’s “plenty of evidence that you can regulate this, so that you can do it in an orderly, safe way.”
"I have never done marijuana. I don't even drink alcohol. At the same time, we have plenty of evidence … that you can regulate this, so that you can do it in an orderly, safe way" pic.twitter.com/lRILX6Louq
— Alexander Tin (out of office) (@ThisAlexTin) November 22, 2019
He also wrote in a book that he hung out in college with a “Jeff Spicoli” type, a reference to a stoner character from the film Fast Times at Ridgemont High. That said, Castro wrote that his friend “wasn’t smoking weed at the beach,” so it’s not exactly clear if he ran with the cannabis crowd as a student.
Marijuana Under A Castro Presidency
Outside of a few social media posts and statements, Castro has been relatively silent about his views on marijuana policy. But his sparse comments to date indicate that he would likely respect the right of states to implement their own cannabis laws without federal interference if elected.
Photo element courtesy of Gage Skidmore.
Vice President Pence Slams Marijuana Banking Provisions In Democrats’ COVID Bill
Vice President Mike Pence on Monday criticized the inclusion of marijuana banking language in the latest House-passed coronavirus relief bill.
During an interview with Fox Business’s “Lou Dobbs Tonight,” the vice president discussed GOP priorities for future COVID-19 legislation and said they were at odds with those of Democrats.
“In the House of Representatives, I heard the other day that the bill that they passed actually mentions marijuana more than it mentions jobs,” Pence, who consistently voted against cannabis amendments when he served in Congress, said. “The American people don’t want some pork barrel bill coming out of the Congress when we’ve got real needs from working families.”
This is one of the more high-profile examples of Republicans condemning the cannabis provisions, but it’s far from the only one. Just last week, Pence’s chief of staff, who previously served as director of legislative affairs for the White House, made similar remarks.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has been one of the most vocal critics, though he’s largely focused on specific industry diversity reporting requirements of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act that were included in the COVID legislation along with the basic financial services provisions of the bill.
The SAFE Banking Act, which previously passed the House as a standalone bill, is primarily meant to protect financial institutions that service state-legal marijuana businesses from being penalized by federal regulators.
The prospects of getting the House version to the president’s desk seem dim, as negotiations between Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have stalled.
President Trump, meanwhile, has decided he’s not waiting for lawmakers to reach a deal and issued an executive order over the weekend that calls for new unemployment benefits, student loan payment deferrals and more.
Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) said on Sunday that Democrats are “ready to meet the White House and Republicans halfway.” What remains to be seen, however, is whether “halfway” would involve cannabis banking protections.
Democrats have made the case that granting cannabis businesses access to the banking system would mitigate the spread of the virus by allowing customers to use electronic payments rather than exchange cash. They also say it could provide an infusion of dollars into the financial system that’s especially needed amid the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) told Marijuana Moment in an interview last week that she agrees with her colleagues that the marijuana banking provision is relevant to COVID-19 bill.
“By continuing to disallow anyone associated with these industries that states have deemed legal is further perpetuating serious problems and uncertainty during a time when, frankly, we need as much certainty as we can get,” she said.
While the Senate did not include the banking language as part of their COVID-19 bill, there’s still the House-passed standalone legislation that could be acted upon.
The SAFE Banking Act has been sitting in the Senate Banking Committee for months as lawmakers negotiate over the finer points of the proposal.
Last month, a bipartisan coalition of state treasurers sent a letter to congressional leaders, asking that they include marijuana banking protections in the next piece of coronavirus relief legislation.
In May, a bipartisan coalition of 34 state attorneys general similarly wrote to Congress to urge the passage of COVD-19 legislation containing cannabis banking provisions.
Photo courtesy of Flickr/Gage Skidmore.
Arizona Marijuana Legalization Initiative Officially Qualifies For November Ballot
A measure to legalize marijuana in Arizona officially qualified for the November ballot on Monday.
The secretary of state announced that activists turned in enough valid petitions to make the cut one month after about 420,000 raw signatures were submitted.
Under the measure, adults could possess up to an ounce of marijuana at a time and cultivate up to six plants for personal use.
The initiative also contains several restorative justice provisions such as allowing individuals with prior marijuana 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.
Secretary of State Katie Hobbs said that her office verified petitions submitted by the Smart and Safe Arizona campaign and determined that they turned in approximately 255,080 valid signatures. At least 237,645 were needed to qualify.
The measure will be designated on the ballot as Prop. 207.
The Secretary of State's Office has certified the signatures submitted by the Smart and Safe Arizona initiative. After review, the petition exceeded the minimum requirement with approximately 255,080 valid signatures and will be placed on the General Election ballot as Prop. 207. pic.twitter.com/E6nM4vkLgf
— Secretary Katie Hobbs (@SecretaryHobbs) August 11, 2020
It’s been a long road to the ballot for activists, who at one point asked the state Supreme Court to allow them to collect signatures electronically amid the coronavirus pandemic. That request was ultimately rejected.
Prohibitionists attempted to keep the measure off the ballot by filing a suit in state court, arguing that the official summary of the initiative was misleading because it omitted certain provisions. The court disagreed and rejected the suit last week, though it’s still possible the legalization opponents will appeal.
Arizona voters narrowly rejected a marijuana legalization initiative in 2016. But in a survey of likely voters released last month, more than six-in-ten (62 percent) said they now support legalizing cannabis, while 32 percent are opposed.
Opponents of the proposal, including Gov. Doug Ducey (R), recently released official voter guide arguments against the initiative. Supporters filed arguments as well, and all will be circulated to voters in a pamphlet printed by the state.
The governor, in his submission, argued that legalization is “a bad idea based on false promises.”
Meanwhile, pro-legalization activists are asking supporters to share personal stories about why they support the cannabis ballot measure.
Share your personal story or reason for supporting Smart and Safe AZ, for the chance to be featured on our social media platforms! Submit your story on our website: https://t.co/Kbxa003kXK #SmartandSafeAZ #legalizemarijuana pic.twitter.com/EhO7jeFuPG
— Smart & Safe AZ (@SmartandSafeAZ) August 10, 2020
Here’s a status update on other 2020 drug policy reform campaigns across the country:
The Washington, D.C. Board of Elections certified last week that activists submitted enough valid signatures to place a measure to decriminalize plant- and fungi-based psychedelics in the nation’s capital.
Oregon’s secretary of state confirmed last month that separate measures to legalize psilocybin therapy and decriminalize possession of all drugs while expanding treatment services will appear on the November ballot.
Montana activists said last month that county officials have already certified that they collected enough signatures to place two marijuana legalization measure on the state ballot, though the secretary of state’s office has yet to make that official.
Organizers in Nebraska last month submitted 182,000 signatures in an attempt to put a medical marijuana measure on November’s ballot.
Idaho activists behind a medical marijuana legalization initiative were hoping to get a second wind after a federal judge said recently that the state must make accommodations for a separate ballot campaign due to signature gathering complications caused by the coronavirus pandemic. But following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling against the other group last week, hopes are dashed.
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak and stay-at-home mandates, separate measures to legalize marijuana for medical and recreational purposes qualified for South Dakota’s November ballot.
The New Jersey legislature approved putting a cannabis legalization referendum before voters as well.
And in Mississippi, activists gathered enough signatures to qualify a medical cannabis legalization initiative for the ballot—though lawmakers also approved a competing (and from advocates’ standpoint, less desirable) medical marijuana proposal that will appear alongside the campaign-backed initiative.
A campaign to legalize cannabis in Missouri officially gave up its effort for 2020 due to signature collection being virtually impossible in the face of social distancing measures.
North Dakota marijuana legalization activists are shifting focus and will seek qualification for the 2022 ballot.
Washington State activists had planned to pursue a drug decriminalization and treatment measure through the ballot, but citing concerns about the COVID-19 outbreak, they announced last month that they will be targeting the legislature instead.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
Federal Drug Decriminalization Model Unveiled By Top Reform Group
A leading drug policy reform group recently unveiled a framework to federally decriminalize all illicit drugs that they hope will be embraced by Congress.
The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) said ending the drug war will help address racial disparities in the criminal justice system and promote public health. The proposal is being rolled out ahead of the 50th anniversary of the enactment of the Controlled Substances Act, the legislative basis of today’s federal drug criminalization.
Full bill text of the proposed “Drug Policy Reform Act” isn’t available yet, but according to a summary, it will contain provisions to end strict sentencing constructs such as mandatory minimums for drug conspiracy offenses, provide for expungements and end collateral consequences for drug convictions like the denial of public benefits and educational loans. It would also defund federal drug agencies such as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
“There are many elected officials—on and off the Hill—that speak to the sentiments of drug decriminalization, continually touting drug use should be treated as a public health issue instead of a criminal issue—most notably when it comes to marijuana,” Queen Adesuyi, policy manager at DPA’s Office of National Affairs, told Marijuana Moment.
“However, tides are shifting and this transformational political moment calls for this roadmap we have provided legislators to begin repairing the extensive devastation the failed drug war has created beyond marijuana and beyond talking points,” she said. “There are congressional offices and allies who are, in fact, ready to see the end of criminalizing people for drug use actualized; we’re looking forward to working with them to lay the groundwork for this much needed reform in Congress.”
Criminal penalties for simple possession would be removed on the federal level. While Congress can’t change state laws under which a majority of people punished for drug offenses are prosecuted, the proposal states that federal dollars would no longer go to states for drug enforcement purposes. Also, military equipment would not be allowed to be transferred to local or state law enforcement departments for drug enforcement, no-knock warrants and surveillance technologies for drug offenses would be prohibited and employment discrimination based on criminal conviction disclosures would also be banned.
Under the proposed legislation, drug scheduling classification responsibilities would be shifted from DEA to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
NIH would also led a rulemaking task force to create a definition for “personal use quantities” and establish a process for “facilitating voluntary access to services for those seeking addiction treatment,” according to the summary.
The legislation would also promote investments in harm reduction programs to treat substance misuse.
“Removing criminal penalties for drugs is a first step in repairing the harms of the drug war,” Theshia Naidoo, managing director of criminal justice law and policy at DPA, said in a press release.
“In 2018 alone, over 1.6 million people were arrested on drug charges, over 86 percent of which were just for possession. These arrests can have impacts that last for a lifetime, often preventing access to employment, housing, financial aid for college, and even jeopardizing parental rights or immigration status,” she said. “And as we all know too well, these laws are far from equal. They are disproportionately enforced on Black, Latinx & Indigenous people, resulting in generational trauma, vilification and economic hardship on entire communities.”
At the state level, voters in Oregon could make the state the first in the nation to decriminalize possession of all drugs after an initiative to enact that policy change officially qualified for the ballot last month.
Insiders at the Vermont Democratic Party are also circulating a draft platform that proposes adding an end criminalization for drugs as a 2020 plank.
While neither President Trump or presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has backed broad drug decriminalization, presidential nominees for the Libertarian and Green Parties have both voiced support for the policy change.
Read DPA’s summary of its proposed drug decriminalization legislation below: