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.
Andrew Yang Wants To Legalize Psychedelic Mushrooms For Military Veterans
Andrew Yang says he wants to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for military veterans to help them combat mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
During a town hall event at an Iowa college on Thursday, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate was asked whether he would take initiative and allow veterans to access medical marijuana if elected. Yang replied he “will be so excited to be that commander-in-chief” that he would not only end federal cannabis prohibition but would go one step further by legalizing the psychedelic fungus for veterans as well.
“We need to get marijuana off of the Controlled Substances Act and legalize it at the federal level, make it freely available,” he said. “I say this because I’ve talked to hundreds of veterans and other Americans who benefit from marijuana as a pain relief treatment, and it’s much less deadly than the opiates that many, many people are using for the same conditions.”
“I’ve talked to veterans who’ve also benefited from psilocybin mushrooms,” he added. “They said it was the only thing that actually has helped combat their PTSD. I’m for legalizing psilocybin mushrooms for veterans as well. Pretty much if it’s going to help a veteran, we should make it easier, not harder, for them to get access to it.”
Yang’s drug policy reform platform is unique in that respect. While the majority of Democratic candidates support marijuana legalization, he’s pushed unique proposals such as decriminalizing possession of opioids and making psilocybin mushrooms “more freely available” for therapeutic purposes. The candidate also wants to invest federal funds in safe injection facilities where individuals can use prohibited drugs in a medically supervised environment and receive help getting into treatment.
He hasn’t gone so far as embracing the decriminalization of all drugs, as former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg has, however.
That said, Yang did signal that he’s open to legalizing and regulating “certain drugs” beyond cannabis, which he argued would disrupt international drug cartels. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) recently said she backs “legalizing and regulating” currently illegal controlled substances to protect public safety and combat the illicit market.
At the Iowa town hall, Yang went on to say that he’s particularly interested in legalizing marijuana, and he again pledged to “pardon everyone who’s in jail for a non-violent marijuana-related offense because they shouldn’t be in jail for something that’s frankly legal in other parts of the country.”
“And I would pardon them all on April 20, 2021, high-five them on the way out of jail and be like, ‘things got a lot better in the last year,'” he said, referencing the unofficial cannabis holiday 4/20.
Photo element courtesy of Gage Skidmore.
Tom Steyer Calls For Marijuana Legalization And Opioid Decriminalization
Billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer is calling for the legalization of marijuana and decriminalization of opioid possession.
In a criminal justice reform plan released on Thursday, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate laid out a vision for ending the drug war, which he said has contributed to mass incarceration and is enforced in a racially disproportionate manner.
“Tom believes we must end the failed War on Drugs. Based on the flawed idea that incarceration is the answer to addiction, federal and state elected officials passed severe sentencing laws that encouraged incarceration for low-level drug offenses,” the plan states. “Unfortunately, communities of color were and continue to be disproportionately affected and targeted by these laws, even when other ethnicities were committing the same drug crimes at the same rates.”
Today @TomSteyer announced a new criminal justice plan to:
– Reform the juvenile system
– Improve prison conditions
– Redirect funds to education
– Eliminate cash bail
– Release more rehabilitated people
– End the war on drugs
And much more! 👉 https://t.co/3VYRw7ioXB
— TeamTom 🌎 (@TomHQ) January 24, 2020
There are six proposals in the drug war section, including legalizing cannabis and expunging prior marijuana convictions, ending mandatory minimum sentences and empowering judges to use more discretion in non-violent drug cases, diverting people convicted of drug offenses to treatment or drug court, ending the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, sealing the records of certain drug convictions and decriminalizing opioids while investing $75 billion in treatment programs and holding pharmaceutical companies accountable.
Steyer specifically endorsed House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler’s (D-NY) Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which would deschedule cannabis, expunge prior convictions and set aside tax revenue to support communities most impacted by the drug war.
“Policing marijuana use has led to too many unfair incarcerations and predominantly impacted communities of color,” the plan says. It also criticizes then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s 2018 move on “repealing leniency given to states for marijuana laws.”
Today, I'm meeting with formerly incarcerated individuals to talk about transforming the criminal justice system through police accountability, ending cash bail, providing adequate funding to re-entry programs, and so much more. pic.twitter.com/m9lDEKWwwU
— Tom Steyer (@TomSteyer) January 23, 2020
“A Steyer Administration will also open equitable pathways to banking for marijuana businesses,” it continues. “The federal government—including the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation—should not be a barrier to marijuana businesses receiving support from their local banks.”
“Incarceration is not the answer to addiction, and low-level drug offenses should not carry a severe sentence. Tom will legalize marijuana, let states pass their own policies, expunge past records, and direct the federal government to open banking services to the marijuana industry. Tom’s administration will end the disparity between crack and cocaine sentences, decriminalize opioid possession, and invest $75 billion to address the opioid crisis.”
The opioid decriminalization proposal is similar to that of entrepreneur Andrew Yang, another 2020 candidate who said removing criminal penalties for possessing the substance is necessary in order to help get people into treatment and curb the opioid crisis. Former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) have gone further, calling for the decriminalization of all drug possession and, in Gabbard’s case, also the legalization and regulation of illicit drugs.
“Tom supports decriminalizing small amounts of opioid possession for personal use at the federal level,” the plan states. “He will address the opioid crisis through $75 billion in new funding over ten years to resource state and local treatment programs, hold big pharmaceutical corporations and their executives accountable, and strongly enforce laws that end the illicit distribution and sale of opioids.”
This is a notable development for Steyer, who hasn’t discussed drug policy reform as much as many other candidates in the race and whose views on decriminalization of substances beyond marijuana were previously unknown.
Last year, Steyer said he supported creating a national referendum process so that Americans can made decisions about a wide range of policy issues, including cannabis legalization.
He also previously discussed his support for ending marijuana prohibition and providing the industry with access to banking, saying that he and his wife wanted to provide financial services to minority- and women-owned cannabis firms through their community bank, but federal prohibition means the business would be put at risk if they did that.
Steyer’s new plan also calls for juvenile justice reform, ending cash bail, banning facial recognition technology in policing, demilitarizing law enforcement, improving prison conditions and eliminating the death penalty, among other reforms.
Photo courtesy of Flickr/Gage Skidmore.
Austin City Council Approves Measure To End Most Marijuana Arrests
The decision to back away from pursuing criminal charges against people with small amounts of pot comes after state lawmakers last year legalized hemp in a way that threw marijuana prosecution into chaos.
The Austin City Council approved a resolution Thursday that will largely end arrests and fines for low-level marijuana possession. This comes after Texas’ legalization of hemp last June threw marijuana prosecution into chaos since the plants look and smell identical.
The resolution directing Austin police not to spend city resources on newly necessary lab tests to distinguish marijuana from now-legal hemp passed unanimously with nine votes. Council member Jimmy Flannigan and Mayor Steve Adler were absent. Debate on the measure lasted just under an hour and a half. Of about 20 people who spoke on the resolution, only Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday was against it.
The council’s resolution states that it stems directly from Texas’ new law legalizing hemp. Last summer, following a federal hemp bill, state lawmakers approved a measure to create an agricultural industry for the crop in Texas. But the law also complicated marijuana prosecutions by narrowing the legal definition of the drug from cannabis to cannabis that contains more than 0.3% THC, the psychoactive ingredient in the plant.
Joint Effort: #ATXCouncil takes steps to eliminate the use of arrest or other enforcement action for low-level cannabis-related possession offenses + ensure City resources are focused on citizens’ public safety priorities. View the draft resolution: https://t.co/qNJ6L2ZPjJ. pic.twitter.com/rdwiLjx0w8
— City of Austin (@austintexasgov) January 23, 2020
All of a sudden, some district attorneys were dropping hundreds of low-level pot possession cases and not accepting new ones, arguing they couldn’t tell without lab testing if something was marijuana anymore. New misdemeanor marijuana cases filed by Texas prosecutors have dropped by more than half. And numerous Texas prosecutors, including those in Austin’s Travis County, require police to submit lab reports on a substance’s THC concentration before they will pursue misdemeanor marijuana charges. They argue circumstantial evidence like smell can no longer be used to authoritatively say something is marijuana.
Part of what prompted the Austin resolution — which prohibits spending city funds on such testing except in felony cases — is that public state labs are still working on establishing a way to test for that THC concentration. Right now they can only tell if something is cannabis. For some counties and cities, that has meant putting more money into shipping seized cannabis to private labs that can tell if it’s hemp or marijuana.
Even in places where police don’t have or aren’t spending funds on such testing and new cases aren’t being accepted by prosecutors, people are still being cited or arrested. They are sometimes taken to jail but then released with no charges being pursued. Austin police said this month that they still arrest or cite people who are suspected of possessing marijuana.
This resolution changes that, directing the city to get as close as possible to eliminating enforcement action for low-level cannabis possession.
The measure prohibits spending city funds on testing in low-level possession cases, and it directs police not to arrest or cite people in such cases — unless there is a safety concern — if they know the district attorney will automatically reject the charges or testing won’t be approved. It clarifies that lab testing can be used for suspected felonies or when the cannabis is not for personal use, like trafficking cases. A revised version also specifies that the measure will not affect toxicology testing.
The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.