Mark Sanford, a former congressman who also served as governor of South Carolina, announced on September 8, 2019 that he is mounting a primary challenge against President Donald Trump.
The third candidate to enter the GOP race aside from the incumbent, Sanford’s voting record and comments on marijuana policy indicate that as president he’d be supportive of efforts to at least protect states that have legalized cannabis from federal intervention. Here’s a look at Sanford’s stance on marijuana.
Legislation And Policy Actions
During his time in the House of Representatives, Sanford cosponsored five pieces of cannabis legislation—including bills to shield medical cannabis states from enforcement actions under the Controlled Substances Act.
Sanford consistently voted in favor of House floor amendments concerning cannabis reform, with a couple of exceptions. Besides his two votes in support of protecting medical cannabis states (and one for CBD-only states) from federal interference, he was also one of 45 Republicans to back a measure that would extend that protection to adult-use states as well.
Sanford also voted for a 2014 measure to provide marijuana businesses with access to banking services.
On four occasions, the congressman voted in favor of hemp measures, though he voted against one hemp measure in 2015 for reasons that aren’t clear. There were two similar proposals on the day of the vote, with one amendment coming from a Republican that he supported and another from a Democratic that he voted against.
In another standout vote that doesn’t comport with his more recent record, Sanford voted for a resolution in 1998 that was meant to express “the sense of Congress that marijuana is a dangerous and addictive drug and should not be legalized for medicinal use.”
As governor in 2010, Sanford signed sentencing reform legislation that was meant to “reverse the trend toward incarcerating non-violent criminals who pose little or no risk to the public, discourage recidivism by providing inmates with a more closely supervised transition to society once their sentences have been served, and at the same time save taxpayers more than $400 million over the next five years.”
Previous Quotes And Social Media Posts
Though the former congressman hasn’t spent as much time and energy discussing his views on cannabis as most of the Democratic presidential candidates in the race, he has made clear that his position on the issue is informed by a federalist perspective that places emphasis on the importance of upholding states’ rights.
After then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded Obama-era guidance outlining federal marijuana enforcement priorities in 2018, Sanford took to the House floor to make a point about how the move was an infringement upon the principles of federalism.
“This is yet another example of how democracy can be hard. I guess it might be easier if a king just decided everything for us. But that’s not the American way,” he said. “We are an independent lot based on the traditions that were given to us by our Founding Fathers. Each one of us had a voice. We have a say.”
“Washington shouldn’t dictate how our coastline develops, or determine which businesses are illegal in a state like Colorado.”
In a Facebook post from 2017 about his support for legislation that would give cannabis businesses access to federal tax credits and deductions, Sanford said the “principle here is simple, if a state makes something legal…it ought to be treated on par and equally with other legal businesses in the state.”
Thirty states currently have legalized marijuana in some capacity, but because it’s classified as a Schedule I substance, small businesses in the states that sell marijuana legally are not allowed to deduct business expenses like payroll, rent, utilities, etc…
— Mark Sanford (Archived) (@RepSanfordSC) April 20, 2018
The Small Business Tax Equity Act enshrines the principle of federalism. If a state makes something legal, it ought to be treated on par and equally with other businesses in the state. https://t.co/PuGcAh5t20
— Mark Sanford (Archived) (@RepSanfordSC) April 20, 2018
The concept of federalism “very specifically applies to marijuana policy, wherein many states have legalized its medical use, and yet federal policy still works against what the states have decided,” he wrote.
“Whether you’re for or against the medical use of marijuana matters less than whether we really subscribe and adhere to the founders’ belief in federalism…because it was one of the key balancing tools to offsetting an overgrown and controlling federal government. In short, even with ideas we may not like, it’s important to adhere to federalism if you believe in limiting the size of our federal government.”
“Yeah, I voted accordingly,” Sanford said in 2017 after being asked whether he supports states’ right to legalize marijuana.
Sanford is asked if he supports states' right to legalize cannabis.
"Yeah, I voted accordingly." Says he supports federalism.
— Alexis Levinson (@alexis_levinson) February 18, 2017
In 2015, Sanford complained about federal barriers preventing South Carolina hemp farmers from fully capitalizing on the crop after the state legalized industrial hemp.
“Industrial hemp is not a drug – it’s used as a material in paper products, textiles, and plastics,” he said. “In fact, the U.S. imports more industrial hemp than any other country in the world, but a current federal ban means that state industries are having a hard time getting off the ground.”
“I don’t believe that the federal government should be in the business of penalizing someone for following state law, and in that vein, I hope this bill becomes law,” he added, referencing federal hemp legalization legislation he cosponsored.
Following a vote on an amendment to allow banks to service state-legal cannabis businesses, Sanford again tied the issue to federalism.
“Some say that because marijuana is illegal on the federal level, and banks are federally regulated, that the federal government should use its powers under the interstate commerce clause to block banks from doing any business with these companies,” he said. “In my mind though, the genius of what our founding fathers intended, and explicitly laid out in the Constitution, was that most powers were to be left to the states and individuals rather than the federal government.”
“Whatever side of the debate you fall on for having marijuana be illegal, applying the founding principle of federalism leads me to believe that states should not be constrained by the federal government in matters that most concern their own businesses and citizens. The beauty of the great American experiment and the founding fathers wisdom in including federalism is that it allows states to pioneer on ideas. We see whether they work or fail and the ways in which they do so. It is part of what allows our Republic to innovate and change and as these amendments came to the floor last night, I couldn’t help but think we would be wise to work to preserve that concept…whether we agree or disagree with the local perspective of other states affected.”
In 2018, Sanford condemned a House vote in favor of expanding the attorney general’s authority to add drugs to the list of federally controlled substances. An example of the problem with that, he said, is that state-level marijuana legalization movement.
“I don’t know exactly where this goes, but if one believes in the principle of federalism, it’s important that an Attorney General not have sole discretion in stymying states’ efforts on this front,” he said.
He also used federalism to explain his vote in favor of a spending bill amendment granting VA doctors with the ability to recommend medical cannabis, writing that his vote “came down to one question – should the federal government be in the business of usurping all state law?”
“The beauty of the American experiment is that it included ‘federalism,’ which allows states to pioneer ideas,” he said. “Some we may agree with, others not…but the operative question in this instance is whether or not the federal viewpoint should always prevail over the view of the state.”
He made the same point in a post after voting for a similar measure in 2015.
Sanford was critical of the federal drug scheduling system in a 2016 Facebook post where he noted that cannabis oil is listed in a more restrictive category that cocaine and prescription opioids.
“This is strange given that opioid painkillers are currently causing an epidemic that kills about 50,000 Americans a year and is at such a crisis level that Congress recently passed a bill dealing with it,” he said, adding that a Schedule I classification inhibits research into the substances.
“This is a problem. A lot of people at home have contacted me about cannabis oil being part of the treatment for epilepsy and, in other cases, things like the nausea that comes with chemotherapy. Whether these things are true or not could be debated, but why would you put this drug on a list that would prevent research so that we might end the debate? Either it will help people or it won’t, but it just seems to me to be burying one’s head in the sand to say we won’t allow any research going forward to determine these things.”
Personal Experience With Marijuana
Sanford has repeatedly said that he’s “never used any drug” and doesn’t want his children to use them either.
Marijuana Under A Sanford Presidency
If there’s one thing consistent about Sanford, it’s that he holds the principles of federalism in high esteem and has linked numerous votes in favor of marijuana reform to states’ rights. Though there’s not much in his record to indicate that he would necessarily embrace comprehensive legalization legislation at the federal level, it seems likely that he would oppose any federal crackdown on state-legal cannabis businesses if elected to the White House.
Bipartisan Lawmakers Circulate Letter Urging FDA To Back Off CBD Companies
A bipartisan pair of lawmakers are circulating a sign-on letter asking colleagues to join them in urging the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to back off companies that are selling CBD products in a responsible manner.
The “Dear Colleague” letter, which is being led by Reps. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) and James Comer (R-KY), emphasizes that hemp and CBD were federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill and argues that the lack of regulations for such products is creating industry uncertainty that’s inhibiting economic opportunities.
The letter was first reported by the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, which is asking its supporters to encourage their representatives to sign on.
FDA has said it is in the process of developing rules for the non-intoxicating compound, including a potential alternative regulatory pathway allowing for CBD to be added to the food supply and as dietary supplements. That could take years, however, as former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has noted.
In the meantime, the agency is being selective about enforcement action against companies that make unsanctioned claims about their products while also maintaining that all businesses selling CBD food items are violating the law.
The lawmakers aren’t satisfied. They described FDA’s regulatory timeframe as “untenable,” particularly because the U.S. Department of Agriculture is expected to release its rules for hemp “any day now,” and an official revealed this month that its draft regulations are currently undergoing final White House and Department of Justice review.
The members of Congress added that FDA’s current approach to CBD has “created significant regulatory and legal uncertainty for participants in this quickly evolving industry.”
“Given the widespread availability of CBD products, growing consumer demand, and the expected surge in the hemp farming in the near future, it’s critical that FDA act quickly to provide legal and regulatory clarity to support this new economic opportunity,” they wrote.
“Please join us in signing this bipartisan letter to Acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless urging the agency to adopt a risk-based policy of enforcement discretion that targets bad actors while eliminating uncertainty for responsible industry stakeholders and consumers. Additionally, we are requesting that FDA to issue an interim final rule to regulate CBD as a dietary supplement and food additive.”
In the letter to Sharpless that Pingree and Comer are asking fellow lawmakers to sign, they laid out two requests for FDA.
First, the agency should “promptly issue guidance announcing a policy of enforcement discretion that maintains FDA’s current risk-based enforcement approach towards hemp-derived CBD products.” And second, it should “consider issuing an interim final rule, pending issuance of a permanent final rule, to establish a clear regulatory framework for CBD as a dietary supplement and food additive.”
The lawmakers added that they appreciate that FDA has pursued “enforcement actions against the worst offenders,” but that “it can do so while eliminating regulatory uncertainty for farmers, retailers, and consumers.”
“Without a formal enforcement discretion policy, anyone participating in the growing marketplace for legal hemp-derived products will continue to face significant legal and regulatory uncertainty,” they wrote.
Though issuing guidance on a “policy of enforcement discretion” wouldn’t be a codified law allowing companies to market CBD in the food supply, it would demonstrate to the industry that some protections are in place while FDA continues to navigate the rulemaking process.
Lawmakers have until Tuesday to sign the letter to FDA.
Read the Dear Colleague invitation and CBD letter to FDA below:
Photo by Kimzy Nanney.
Marijuana Banking Bill Will Get A Full House Floor Vote This Month
A bipartisan bill to protect banks that service marijuana businesses will get a House floor vote by the end of the month, the office of Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) confirmed to Marijuana Moment on Friday.
House leadership announced the decision to Democratic lawmakers at a closed-door meeting on Thursday.
“Mr. Hoyer said at the Whip meeting yesterday that he intends to move it this month,” a Hoyer staffer said in an email. “We’re discussing it with Members, but it hasn’t been scheduled just yet.”
Prior to confirmation from Hoyer’s office, four sources initially described the development to Marijuana Moment, with some saying the vote would be made under suspension of the rules—a procedure that is generally reserved for non-controversial legislation.
Voting on suspension would require two-thirds of the chamber (290 members) to vote in favor of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act in order for it to pass. The bill, which cleared the House Financial Services Committee in March, currently has 206 cosponsors, including 26 Republicans.
No amendments would be allowed to be added on the floor under the suspension process.
Problems could arise if lawmakers aren’t able to rally additional votes from conservative members or if there’s pushback over the strategy from progressive lawmakers, though it is unlikely Democratic leadership would advance the bill if they didn’t believe they have the votes for passage.
While interest in resolving the banking issue is generally bipartisan, it’s within reason to assume that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle might have wanted the opportunity to offer provisions such as extending protections to hemp businesses or adding language promoting social equity policies. That said, it is possible that leadership could file an entirely new piece of legislation that is similar to the SAFE Banking Act but contains modified provisions negotiated with key members and use that as the vehicle for floor action.
Many expected cannabis banking legislation to receive a floor vote before the August recess, but that did not come to fruition.
In any case, the development comes as the Senate Banking Committee is also preparing to hold a vote on marijuana banking legislation, with Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) announcing on Thursday that his panel is “working to try to get a bill ready.” He didn’t offer a timeline, however, other than saying he hoped to advance the legislation by the end of the year.
While sources told Marijuana Moment that Hoyer made his decision to allow cannabis banking vote following an earlier Wednesday meeting on the issue, it is likely that building momentum in the GOP-controlled Senate added to pressure on the House to act so that Democrats wouldn’t be seen as lagging behind Republicans on cannabis reform, an issue the party has sought to take political ownership of.
Following Crapo’s statement on advancing the banking legislation, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), chief sponsor of the SAFE Banking Act, told Marijuana Moment that he welcomes the senator’s “commitment to resolve the banking conflicts that have been created by the misalignment in state and federal law on the issue of cannabis.”
“I remain focused on passing the SAFE Banking Act out of the House and look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate as they take up the SAFE Banking Act or work to develop and pass similar legislation,” he said.
Banking access is largely seen as one of the most achievable pieces of cannabis legislation that stands to pass this Congress. Advocates and reform-minded lawmakers view it as one of the first steps on the path toward ending federal marijuana prohibition.
“We are seeing the blueprint in action and moving forward on critical legislation to protect state legal cannabis banking,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) told Marijuana Moment, referring to a memo he sent to House leadership last year outlining a committee-by-committee process for passing incremental cannabis bills leading up to major legislation to end federal prohibition. “Earlier this summer, the House passed protections for state and tribal cannabis laws. In the most cannabis friendly Congress in history, we need to keep up this momentum. There is still much to be done.”
There has been some disagreement within advocacy circles about whether it’s prudent to pass legislation viewed as primarily favorable to the industry before advancing comprehensive legislation that deschedules cannabis and takes steps to repair the harms of prohibition enforcement.
“It is our hope that after the successful passage of the SAFE Banking Act in the House, we will be able to advance legislation that ends the federal criminalization of cannabis once and for all,” Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “Now is our time to demonstrate that marijuana law reform is both good policy and good politics.”
“We will not stop until otherwise law-abiding Americans are no longer discriminated against or criminalized due to the past or future choice to consume cannabis,” he said.
Neal Levine, CEO of the Cannabis Trade Federation, told Marijuana Moment that the group is “delighted that the U.S. House of Representatives is on the brink of passing a landmark piece of cannabis policy legislation that modernizes our antiquated banking laws to reflect the will of the people.”
“This is welcomed and long overdue news for the over 200,000 employees that work in the industry, cannabis businesses, and for public safety in the communities in which we operate,” he said. “Once the SAFE Banking Act passes the U.S. House, we call on the U.S. Senate to move quickly to protect our businesses and our workers.”
Pressure has been building all year from stakeholders and policymakers alike to get the legislation passed. Endorsements aren’t just coming from reform groups, either; 50 state banking associations, the National Association of State Treasurers, the top financial regulators of 25 states, a majority of state attorneys general and bipartisan governors of 20 states have also voiced support for the SAFE Banking Act.
Earlier this month, the head of the American Bankers Association predicted that the bill would be passed in the House “as early as September.”
This story was updated to add comment from Perlmutter and Hoyer’s office.
New ‘Marijuana 1-to-3 Act’ Would Reclassify Cannabis Under Federal Law
Another bill to reschedule marijuana was filed in Congress on Thursday.
Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL) introduced the legislation, which is titled the “Marijuana 1-to-3 Act.” True to its name, the bill would simply require the attorney general to move cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III under the Controlled Substances Act, with the aim of increasing research on the drug’s effects.
“As marijuana is legalized for medical and recreational use across the United States, it is important that we study the effects of the substance and the potential impacts it can have on various populations,” Steube said in a press release. “By rescheduling marijuana from a schedule I controlled substance to a schedule III controlled substance, the opportunities for research and study are drastically expanded.
Today, I introduced a bill to reschedule marijuana from a schedule I to a schedule III controlled substance. The Marijuana 1-to-3 Act will allow additional research to be done on the benefits of marijuana by removing bureaucratic red tape. https://t.co/w45WAKHBr9
— Congressman Greg Steube (@RepGregSteube) September 12, 2019
“With this rescheduling, researchers can now access federal funds to research this substance and determine its medical value,” he said.
The press release came hours after a bipartisan pair of lawmakers introduced separate legislation to reschedule marijuana, also to Schedule III.
That bill contained additional provisions that would require federal agencies to develop research agendas for marijuana within one year of its enactment and also establish a system whereby universities could be designated as “Centers of Excellence in Cannabis Research” if they conducted comprehensive studies on issues related to marijuana.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), who is a sponsor of the broader research bill, is also cosponsoring Steube’s more focused rescheduling proposal.
It’s not clear why Steube chose to file his own reclassification bill or whether the other legislation’s additional provisions were a factor.
The congressman’s two-page bill states that “the Attorney General of the United States shall, by order not later than 60 days after the date of enactment of this section, transfer marijuana…from schedule I of such Act to schedule III of such Act.”
“We hear every day about the positive health benefits of marijuana,” Steube said. “Whether it’s young children with seizure disorders, or veterans suffering from chronic pain, it is clear that there are medical benefits to marijuana and I think it’s time we remove the bureaucratic red tape that prevents us from thoroughly studying this substance.”
While he emphasized that the intent of his legislation is to encourage research into marijuana, placing cannabis in Schedule III would also have implications for marijuana businesses, who are currently ineligible for federal tax deductions under an Internal Revenue Code section that applies to anyone “trafficking in controlled substances” in Schedule I or II.
Read the full text of the bill below:
Photo by Ndispensable.