Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) tossed her hat in the 2020 presidential ring on January 16, 2019 and ended her campaign on August 28.
The senator, who has an A grade from NORML, has become one of the most vocal advocates for federal marijuana reform in Congress, co-sponsoring multiple pieces of legislation and frequently talking about the issue in speeches and on social media. However, she did not start off her political career supporting cannabis reform.
This piece was last updated on August 28, 2019 to include the candidate’s statements and policy actions on marijuana since joining the race. It will continue to be updated on a rolling basis.
Legislation And Policy Actions
Gillibrand did not co-sponsor any cannabis-related bills during her time in the House from 2007 to 2009, although colleagues filed several. Also during that period she voted against a floor amendment to protect state medical marijuana laws from federal interference.
However, she has evolved considerably on the issue in recent years and has signed her name onto several notable Senate cannabis bills. That includes the Marijuana Justice Act, which would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and punish states that enforce marijuana laws disproportionately against people of color.
She also co-sponsored legislation designed to protect medical marijuana states from federal interference, make it easier to conduct research on cannabis and legalize industrial hemp. Another research-related bill she co-sponsored would encourage the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to study how marijuana can treat specific conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder.
During testimony at a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing in 2016, Gillibrand said that “I know some people are saying that we should wait until there’s more research before changing the laws, but the one thing blocking the research is the law.”
In April 2018, Gillibrand sent a letter to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, requesting that he attend a meeting with some of her constituents who’ve been arrested for non-violent marijuana offenses.
“It is an American principle that, no matter the law, it should be applied equally to all people, regardless of their race or background,” she wrote. “Sadly, as you will hear from my constituents, for decades, the so-called ‘War on Drugs’ has not been pursued with equality.”
She also joined a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers who sent a letter to Sessions, imploring him to update them on the status of applications to cultivate cannabis for federal research purposes.
Since announcing her candidacy, the senator signed on as a cosponsor of several pieces of cannabis-related legislation.
That includes a bill to deschedule marijuana and withhold certain federal funding from states with discriminatory enforcement, another to require VA research into the potential benefits of cannabis for military veterans, one that would provide for the federal taxation of marijuana sales, one that would protect banks that service the cannabis industry from being penalized by federal regulations and legislation that would deschedule marijuana and provide funding to expunge past records. She also cosponsored a bill that would protect students with drug convictions from losing their federal financial aid.
On The Campaign Trail
“I’m for decriminalization of marijuana, I want to make it retroactive,” Gillibrand said during a campaign stop in New Hampshire in March 2019. “I think a lot of our drug laws are horrible.”
She reiterated that position, emphasizing racial disparities in U.S. drug laws, at a separate event.
To help end institutionalized racism, “let’s decriminalize marijuana,” says @SenGillibrand. Also endorses early childhood education, ending cash bail, Medicare for All, national paid leave, and equal pay for equal work. pic.twitter.com/XekI5sUgLj
— Michigan Radio (@MichiganRadio) March 18, 2019
“We need to dismantle institutional racism,” Gillibrand wrote in a tweet. “We need solutions both targeted and broad—like higher standards for maternity care, a national commitment to full employment, postal banking, ending cash bail and legalizing marijuana.”
We need to dismantle institutional racism.
We need solutions both targeted and broad—like higher standards for maternity care, a national commitment to full employment, postal banking, ending cash bail and legalizing marijuana.#BraveWins
— Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand) March 24, 2019
She expanded on those positions at a rally in New York.
.@SenGillibrand lists higher maternity care standards, full employment, postal banking, ending cash bail, and legalizing marijuana as some of her campaign goals at her 2020 campaign kickoff event in front of Trump International Hotel #tictocnews pic.twitter.com/736cgI73IN
— Bloomberg TicToc (@tictoc) March 24, 2019
“If your son is 15 years old and smokes pot—he smokes pot just as much as the black boy in his neighborhood and the Latino boy in his neighborhood,” Gillibrand said during an event in Ohio. “But that black and brown boy is four times more likely to get arrested.”
“That’s institutional racism. Your son will likely not have to deal with that because he is white. So when someone says white privilege, that is all they are talking about. That his whiteness will mean that a police officer might give him a second chance. It might mean that he doesn’t get incarcerated because he had just smoked a joint with his girlfriend.”
A poignant moment at @SenGillibrand's Youngstown, OH roundtable occurred when a white woman holding her baby asked her about how Dems talk about white privilege while she is still struggling. Gillibrand took a beat, and then answered the woman’s question.
Full exchange below: pic.twitter.com/jzNXSSzABN
— Amanda Golden (@amandawgolden) July 11, 2019
“If I am president, I would use the Small Business Administration to help women and minority-owned businesses get the financial help they need in order to compete with the wealthier, established players,” Gillibrand said during a meeting with marijuana industry stakeholders in May.
In June 2019, the candidate released a comprehensive marijuana legalization plan that included a proposal to “require coverage for medical marijuana in all health insurance plans, including Medicare, Medicaid, and the VA.”
Her campaign also pushed a survey to supporters that asked about their views on cannabis legalization.
“Our current drug policies are rooted in institutional racism and result in the mass incarceration of people of color,” the poll stated. “Do you believe it’s time to legalize marijuana and right the wrongs of our country’s failed war on drugs?”
Previous Quotes And Social Media Posts
For the last five years, Gillibrand has made Twitter a central platform for her marijuana reform advocacy.
Cannabis can treat a variety of illnesses, incl MS, cancer, epilepsy & seizures. Wrong for patients & doctors to fear prosecution.#CARERSAct
— Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand) March 10, 2015
But while she initially focused on medical cannabis, her views on the issue evolved and so did the tweets on her feed.
DOJ should investigate how pharma helped create the opioid crisis, not institute policies that take marijuana based medicines from patients and needlessly target non-violent minority youths.
— Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand) January 4, 2018
Gillibrand has routinely railed against the pharmaceutical industry, which she criticized for opposing cannabis legalization.
Big pharma keeps pushing back against legalizing medical marijuana because, in many cases, they want to continue to sell addictive drugs and dominate the market for drugs that address chronic pain. That's wrong.
It is time to rework our cannabis laws. https://t.co/g23trjnJcT
— Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand) February 28, 2018
“To them, it’s competition for chronic pain, and that’s outrageous because we don’t have the crisis in people who take marijuana for chronic pain having overdose issues,” the senator said. “It’s not the same thing. It’s not as highly addictive as opioids are.”
She also criticized Sessions for rescinding Obama-era guidance that directed prosecutors to generally not interfere with state marijuana laws.
Attorney General Sessions' decision to restrict states’ ability to legalize and decriminalize marijuana is either willfully ignorant of the medical science or an act of greed on behalf of the pharmaceutical industry. In either case, it's an attack on patients, and it's wrong. pic.twitter.com/Kiw8nOmPb7
— Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand) January 4, 2018
Black and Latino New Yorkers are almost 10 times more likely to be arrested for the possession of marijuana than their white neighbors – though usage rates are about the same.
— Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand) April 22, 2018
“Millions of Americans’ lives have been devastated because of our broken marijuana policies, especially in communities of color and low-income communities,” Gillibrand said in a press release. “Just one minor possession conviction could take away a lifetime of opportunities for jobs, education, and housing, tear families apart, and make people more vulnerable to serving time in jail or prison down the road.”
“The reality that my 14-year-old son would likely be treated very differently from one of his Black or Latino peers if he was caught with marijuana is shameful. Legalizing marijuana is a social justice issue and a moral issue that Congress needs to address to help fix decades of injustice caused by our nation’s failed drug policies.”
The Marijuana Justice Act takes steps to fix stark inequalities in our criminal justice system and protects patients who need medication. It’s a commonsense bill – and I’m proud to join @CoryBooker as a cosponsor. Americans have spoken and demanded change. It’s time to act. pic.twitter.com/1VfFbEipYJ
— Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand) March 3, 2018
Gillibrand’s 2018 Senate reelection campaign used a marijuana petition as a list-building technique.
“Discriminatory drug policies are robbing people and families of job opportunities, time with their loved ones and their futures. In New York, black and Latino people are almost 10 times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana than their white neighbors – though usage rates are the same,” the sign-up page said. “We have to act now to fix this horrible injustice. It’s time to decriminalize and legalize marijuana so we can begin repairing the harm caused by the failed War on Drugs. Add your name right now to tell Congress: Decriminalize marijuana!”
Gillibrand wrote a letter in 2015 that praised a Scientology-related organization for its efforts to promote a “drug-free world.”
Beyond Capitol Hill, the senator has worked to build support for legislation to legalize marijuana in her home state of New York. Her office has issued numerous press releases about cannabis policy in recent years.
During a presidential campaign stop in Iowa, she answered a question about how she would help military veterans by saying it is important to “make sure they have access to medicines like medical marijuana.”
Gillibrand’s campaign website also discusses her support for reform, under the headline, “We need to fix our broken criminal justice system.”
“When low-income people and people of color face huge disparities in arrests, sentencing and incarceration compared to wealthy and white people for the same or lesser charges, it’s a clear and urgent sign that we need to rectify the injustices in our criminal justice system,” it says. “We have a mass incarceration crisis, and institutional racism pervades the way we enforce laws. To rectify this, we should legalize marijuana at the federal level and expunge past records; reform our sentencing laws so that judges can have more flexibility when dealing with low-level, nonviolent drug offenses; change federal rules for our prisons; end cash bail; and invest resources in communities harmed by the racist war on drugs.”
Personal Experience With Marijuana
Gillibrand doesn’t appear to have publicly discussed whether she has ever consumed marijuana, but she has repeatedly cited conversations with families and patients who’ve benefited from medical cannabis as a motivating factor behind her reform advocacy.
Marijuana Under A Gillibrand Presidency
It stands to reason that the senator would prioritize federal marijuana reform as president, especially in light of her co-sponsorship of the Marijuana Justice Act and the extent to which she has focused on the issue in public statements. It seems likely that she would continue that record if elected to the Oval Office.
Photo element courtesy of Gillibrand 2010.
California Governor Says Marijuana Legalization Is A ‘Civil Rights’ Matter Amid Mass Protests Over Racial Injustice
The governor of California discussed systemic racism and injustice that is inspiring mass protests across the country in a Friday speech, and he touted the state’s legalization of marijuana as an example of how it has addressed racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said at a press conference that he’s “very proud of this state” for going beyond issues such as implicit bias in policing and the “deadly use of force.” California’s leadership helped advance “a conversation about broader criminal justice reform to address the issues of the war on drugs” and “race-based sentencing,” he said.
“That’s why the state was one of the early adopters of a new approach as it relates to cannabis reform. Legalization around adult-use of marijuana,” he said. “It was a civil rights call from our perspective.”
“I was proud to be out in front in those efforts,” he added. “It was about addressing the disparities. It was about addressing incarceration. It was about addressing the ills of this war on drugs.”
Newsom also discussed the racially discriminatory sentencing of crack versus powder cocaine and other mandatory minimum sentencing policies. While the federal disparity was reduced over time since Congress passed the sentencing provision—a policy presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden helped enacted during his time in the Senate and later sought to undo—California eliminated the distinction in terms of state sentencing in 2014.
Even so, the governor recognized that the reforms the state has enacted to date are “not enough” and more work needs to be done. He’s also not alone in drawing a connection between drug policy reform and racial justice.
Earlier this week, the governor of Virginia said that the passage of marijuana decriminalization legislation this year represents an example of how his state has addressed racial inequities that are inspiring mass protests over recent police killings of black Americans such as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) also recently said racial disparities in marijuana criminalization is an example of a systemic injustice that underlies the frustration of minority communities.
Last week, 12 House members introduced a resolution condemning police brutality and specifically noting the racial injustices of the war on drugs. It now has 160 cosponsors.
The measure came one week after 44 members of the House sent a letter to the Justice Department, calling for an independent investigation into a fatal police shooting of Taylor in a botched drug raid.
In New York, there’s a renewed push to pass a package of criminal justice reform legislation that includes a bill to legalize marijuana. Sen. Julia Salazar (D) told Marijuana Moment that “in this particular moment, I think what’s the important factor here is that [criminalization] disproportionately impacts black and brown New Yorkers.”
“Because of the criminalization of the use of marijuana, more black and brown New Yorkers have interactions with police than they need to,” she said. “More people end up in the criminal justice system in the first place than is necessary at all.”
Image element courtesy of Gage Skidmore.
American Bar Association Says Firms Working ‘Indirectly’ With Marijuana Industry Should Get COVID Relief
The American Bar Association (ABA) sent a letter to the heads of the Treasury Department and Small Business Administration (SBA) on Friday, urging them to end a current policy preventing law firms that service state-legal marijuana businesses from receiving federal coronavirus relief.
SBA has made clear that cannabis companies are ineligible for its Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans—but its policy also bars those that work with marijuana businesses indirectly from getting the aid. ABA, which has nearly 200,000 dues-paying members, said it wants clarification or a formal policy change to make it so indirect businesses are not impacted.
“The ABA supports amending federal law to ensure that lawyers do not face the threat of criminal charges when they represent clients in states that have legalized marijuana,” the organization said. “Even before those changes are made to federal law, lawyers should also not be penalized for providing legal services to cannabis-related businesses that comply with state laws.”
ABA also argued that the policy is excessively broad in that it stipulates that companies that derive any revenue from servicing a cannabis business cannot receive relief during the pandemic. “Thus, a law firm where a single lawyer provided advice to a single marijuana business client on legal issues for a nominal fee would arguably be ineligible under this language for the SBA PPP loan program,” the organization wrote.
ABA’s letter further notes that 78 percent of firms are located in states where marijuana is legal in some form.
“We urge SBA to provide further guidance that it will not treat otherwise eligible businesses, including law firms, as disqualified from the PPP program based solely on having provided legal, financial/accounting, policy, or regulatory advice to a Direct Marijuana Business,” Judy Perry Martinez, ABA’s president, wrote.
Steve Fox, strategic advisor at the Cannabis Trade Federation, told Marijuana Moment that it’s “wonderful to see an organization with the reputation and stature of the ABA engage on this issue.”
“As they note, the SBA guidance is overly broad and unjustly punishes companies and firms all across the country. In fact, in some states, the cannabis industry is so ingrained in the economy, you have many hundreds of companies providing goods or services to cannabis businesses,” he said. “According to the plain language of the SBA guidance, they are all, with very minor exceptions, ineligible for PPP loans.”
“We stand with the ABA in urging the Treasury and Small Business Administration to issue further guidance, clarifying that ‘indirect marijuana businesses’ are eligible for PPP loans. If they fail to do so, Congress should remedy this situation at the earliest possible opportunity,” he added.
In February, ABA’s House of Delegates voted in favor of proposals endorsing pending federal legislation to protect banks that service cannabis businesses and calling for a clarification of rules to ensure that lawyers will not be penalized for representing clients in cases concerning state-legal marijuana activity.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced a bill last month that would fix the COVID-19 relief access problem, calling for SBA eligibility for cannabis businesses and ancillary companies. That came after he led a letter with 34 bipartisan members of the House urging leadership to include the policy change in future coronavirus-related bills.
Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) made a similar request to Senate leaders in a separate letter.
Separately, the ABA-supported Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act was included in a House-passed COVID-19 relief package last month.
A bipartisan coalition of 34 state and territory attorneys general asked Congress to pass the bill with that language, which would protect banks that service marijuana businesses from being penalized by federal regulators.
The head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation said this week that marijuana business banking represents one of the most “challenging issues that I have encountered” at the agency.
Read ABA’s letter to the Treasury and SBA below:
Bermuda Government Releases Marijuana Legalization Bill For Public Feedback
The government of Bermuda released a draft bill on Wednesday to establish a legal marijuana market in the self-governing British overseas territory.
“Surprising for some, public attitudes have evolved apace with global legislative reforms and in recognition that opening up pathways for new economic opportunities and activity is needed,” Attorney General Kathy Simmons said in a video on the proposal.
Under the proposed legislation, adults 21 and older would be able to possess and purchase up to seven grams of cannabis from licensed retailers.
A regulatory body called the Cannabis Advisory Authority would be responsible for issuing licenses and regulating the market. There would be seven types of licenses available: cultivation, retail, research, import, export, transportation and manufacturing.
Individuals with prior marijuana convictions would not be barred from participating in the industry.
Fees for the licenses would be set in a way designed to both stimulate the territory’s economy while also ensuring that they are not prohibitively expensive for “underserved and marginalized communities,” a summary of the bill states.
People with convictions for possessing seven grams or less would be eligible for expungement.
The Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Senator the Hon. Kathy Lynn Simmons, JP has announced new regulations by the Government of #Bermuda to reform Cannabis laws.
— Bermuda Government (@BdaGovernment) June 4, 2020
Last year, Bermudan lawmakers unveiled draft legislation to create a medical cannabis program. Public feedback signaled that people felt the bill imposed excessive regulations and that the territory should more broadly legalize marijuana altogether for adult use.
Now that this new draft legislation has been released, the government is again asking for public input up until July 3. On its site, individuals are prompted with seven specific questions that feedback is being sought on. That includes queries about licensing requirements and penalties.
Premier David Burt, who pledged last year to introduce marijuana legalization legislation, also encouraged individuals to weigh in on the proposed regulations.
We want to hear from you! Share your thoughts by July 3rd.https://t.co/kkGtsuQ1ES
— Premier David Burt (@BermudaPremier) June 5, 2020
“The Government has made a commitment to progressively liberalize cannabis laws in Bermuda and to create economic opportunities for citizens wishing to participate in a regulated cannabis scheme,” the site states. “The Government again wishes to ‘take it to the people’ by commencing a one month public consultation exercise on the proposed scheme.”
The attorney general said in her video that the government plans to “move ahead with a more simplified, regulated cannabis scheme, which builds on the strength of the original medicinal cannabis policy and which embraces the public feedback.”
“The revised proposal with provide for a regulated cannabis program which has been hybridized to meet Bermuda’s requirements while modeling the best available legal provisions in Canada, both provincial and federal, and to a lesser degree, examples from the Caribbean,” she said.
Several Caribbean nations have started exploring marijuana reform in recent years. Importantly, in 2018, the heads of 19 Caribbean nations agreed to “review marijuana’s current status with a view to reclassification,” emphasizing “human and religious rights” issues stemming from criminalization as well as “the economic benefits to be derived” from legalization.
Since then, lawmakers in the dual-island nation of St. Kitts and Nevis said they would be introducing legalization legislation. The government of Trinidad and Tobago brought two cannabis reform bills before Parliament last year—one to decriminalize low-level possession and another to legalize cannabis for medical and religious purposes.
Meanwhile, the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands has been stressing the need to legalize marijuana in order to generate tax revenue for the U.S. territory’s fiscal recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
The Jamaican government also recently announced that it will be allowing medical cannabis patients to make marijuana purchases online for pickup at “herb houses” as a means to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
Read the draft bill to legalize marijuana in Bermuda below: