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Where Presidential Candidate Michael Bennet Stands On Marijuana

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Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) announced on May 2, 2019 that he is seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

The second Coloradan to enter the race, Bennet opposed his state’s 2012 marijuana legalization initiative but has since supported several wide-ranging cannabis bills in the Senate following voters’ approval of the measure. NORML gives the senator an “A” grade.

This piece was last updated on July 1, 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

The only piece of cannabis-related legislation Bennet has been the chief sponsor for is a 2017 bill to ensure that industrial hemp farmers are able to access federally controlled water.

“This bipartisan legislation provided needed clarity for farmers in Colorado who want to grow industrial hemp legally,” Bennet said in a press release. “This is a necessary measure to fix conflicting federal policies that are slowing the implementation of the Farm Bill pilot program and stifling new business opportunities in rural Colorado.”

He has also signed on to over a dozen marijuana bills as a cosponsor, including the Marijuana Justice Act, which would federally deschedule cannabis, penalize states that continue to enforce marijuana laws in a discriminatory way and reinvest funds into communities disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.

Bennet also cosponsored the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act during the 115th and 116th Congresses. That legislation would amend the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) to protect states that have legalized cannabis from federal enforcement action.

A bill from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) that would deschedule marijuana also received Bennet’s cosponsorship. And he attached himself to legislation that would protect medical marijuana states from federal intervention during the 114th Congress.

On three occasions, Bennet cosponsored bipartisan legislation meant to shield banks that service state-legal cannabis businesses. The House version of the Secure And Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act was approved by the House Financial Services Committee in March. The senator also joined other lawmakers in offering a 2016 amendment to an addiction recovery bill that was also meant to safeguard marijuana banking access.

He offered a separate amendment that year for the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, which would have called for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to approve at least three additional marijuana manufacturers for research purposes.

“Scientists in Colorado are eager to study marijuana to help advance its medicinal use and to promote a broader understanding of it,” Bennet said in a press release. “Unfortunately, the status quo doesn’t meet the needs of researchers across the country. Our amendment would help advance legitimate research, while also protecting against abuse.”

He’s also been an original cosponsor of legislation that would amend Internal Revenue Service (IRS) code to make it so marijuana businesses are able to make deductions and access tax credits that are available to other legitimate businesses. He supported that bill during the 114th, 115th and 116th Congress.

Bennet cosponsored legislation to remove hemp from the definition of marijuana under the CSA twice and also supported legislation to exempt CBD from the list of federally controlled substances.

He said in a press release that lifting restrictions on hemp and its derivatives like CBD, which “can significantly reduce the number of seizures for kids with epilepsy.”

The senator has put his name on a slew of letters calling for cannabis reform.

In 2014, he cosigned a letter asking the Obama administration to provide clarity and guidance on federal marijuana policy so that states like Colorado could continue to operate their cannabis programs unencumbered.

“We believe it is appropriate for the White House to assume a central and coordinating role for this government-wide approach,” Bennet and three other senators wrote. “We therefore believe it is incumbent upon the Administration to work with all federal departments and agencies setting forth a clear, consistent and uniform interpretation and application of the CSA and other federal laws that could affect the industry.”

Bennet sent a letter to the head of the IRS that same year urging the department to stop imposing a 10 percent tax on marijuana businesses just because they pay employee withholding taxes in cash, which is due to their lack of access to traditional banking services.

He was also one of four senators who sent a letter to the country’s top federal financial regulators in 2016, requesting guidance for banks interested in taking on cannabis business accounts. Clearer directives would mean that “financial institutions will be more likely to serve these legal businesses and allow them to access our banking system without fearing repercussion,” they wrote.

After then-White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer made remarks indicating that the federal government could crack down on legal cannabis states, Bennet and 10 other senators sent a letter to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions expressing concerns about the comments and imploring the Justice Department not to use its resources to go after cannabis businesses.

He wrote to Sessions again in 2017 to request his assurance that industrial hemp manufacturers may access federally authorized financial institutions.

Bennet also rebuked Sessions for rescinding Obama era guidance that laid out federal priorities for marijuana enforcement. In a letter to the attorney general, the senator said his decision to revoke the so-called Cole memorandum “completely disregards the steps the state of Colorado has taken to regulate legal marijuana dispensaries and retail stores.”

In another letter, he asked the Senate Appropriations Committee to include language acknowledging the rights of states to legalize and regulate cannabis in light of the Cole memo rescission.

The annulment of the memo also prompted him to send a letter to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, asking the agency to maintain its 2014 guidance on banking access for the cannabis industry.

Following a report from BuzzFeed News that the Trump administration had established a task force meant to shore up negative data on marijuana, Bennet sent a letter to the head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) expressing strong concern about the “intentional effort to mislead the American people.”

The ONDCP in turn pledged to “be completely objective and dispassionate” in its research gathering process.

The senator sent a letter to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in 2019 requesting that the department update its policies to ensure that hemp farmers are able to access federally controlled water.

In June, Bennet sent a letter to federal financial regulators, urging them to issue updated guidance on access to banking services for hemp businesses.

“Hemp cultivation and processing is already working to support rural communities across the country,” he wrote. “It is my hope that your agencies can work expeditiously and in a coordinated manner to issue guidance describing how financial institutions can offer financial products and services to hemp farmers and processors. Access to the banking system will provide certainty and much needed clarity for our nation’s hemp farmers and related businesses.”

On The Campaign Trail

On the day that he announced he was running for the Democratic nomination, Bennet told CBS News that he supported legalizing cannabis nationwide and also said “we need to change” the fact the people remain incarcerated for marijuana offenses that are subsequently made legal.

On a less serious note, he joked that he didn’t bring any cannabis with him to the interview.

“I think we’ve had a good opportunity for states to experiment with things—to make it better, to learn from each other,” Bennet said. “We’ve got to have our banking laws catch up to that. We’ve got to have our criminal justice laws catch up to that.”

He said Colorado’s experience legalizing and regulating marijuana sales demonstrated the importance of deterring underage use, and he highlighted the need to improve access to banking services for cannabis services.

“There’s not a lot of evidence that we’ve had more emergency room visits or more traffic accidents or more crime,” he added.

The senator appeared on Late Night with Seth Meyers in May and was asked to weigh in on a voter-approved measure in Denver to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms. He joked that residents must have been under the impression that the city was “out of marijuana all of a sudden.

“And by the way, we’re not out of marijuana in Colorado,” he said.

Previous Quotes And Social Media Posts

While Bennet has supported a fair share of marijuana bills, he hasn’t frequently talked about the issue—at least not compared to some of his Democratic presidential opponents. His Twitter and Facebook feeds mostly promote the many letters he’s signed regarding cannabis policy.

For example, it’s not clear why Bennet—who also served as the superintendent of Denver Public Schools as well as chief of staff to then-Denver Mayor (and now-presidential candidate) John Hickenlooper (D)—opposed Amendment 64, Colorado’s legalization initiative. Some media reports noted his opposition but not his reasoning. His name is listed on the archived homepage of the opposition campaign, and the senator appeared at a debate where the issue was being discussed ahead of the 2012 vote.

What the senator does like talking about, however, is hemp.

He pledged to fight for hemp legalization while touring a cultivation facility in March 2018.

In June 2018, he spoke on the Senate floor about the hemp legalization provision of the Farm Bill, emphasizing that “hemp was widely grown in the United States throughout the mid-1800s” and the crop was used “in fabrics, wine and paper” until it was listed as a controlled substance.

“In Colorado, as is true across the country—I have talked to a lot of colleagues about this—we see hemp as a great opportunity to diversity our farms and manufacture high-margin products for the American people,” he said. “This could help drive incomes in rural parts of my state like Montrose Country, Colorado.”

After the agriculture legislation was signed into law, Bennet penned an editorial for The Colorado Sun discussing what it means for the state.

“Now that we’ve passed the Farm Bill and the president has signed it into law, hemp cultivation is fully legal for the first time in 50 years,” he wrote. “That means less uncertainty and more opportunity for our hemp farmers, small businesses, and manufacturers.”

Learning more about hemp has “given me the opportunity to see more of our state’s boundless creativity, determination, and entrepreneurship,” he said.

Bennet also discussed the Senate passage of the legislation in a December 2018 floor speech.

“We see hemp as an opportunity to diversify our farms and manufacture high-margin products for the American people,” he said. “Now Coloradans will be able to grow and manufacture hemp without a cloud of uncertainty hanging over them.”

During a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing in February, Bennet told the head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that he looked forward to working with him on the development and implementation of hemp regulations.

Personal Experience With Marijuana

It does not appear that Bennet has publicly commented about any personal experience related to marijuana.

Marijuana Under A Bennet Presidency

Bennet, like many of his fellow contenders, has evolved significantly on the issue of marijuana over recent years. While he was opposed to legalization in 2012, he’s at this point cosponsored some of the most far-reaching cannabis reform bills in Congress, and he’s had a consistent focus on issues like banking access for marijuana businesses and hemp development.

Passing federal marijuana legalization might not be a top priority under a Bennet administration, but his record indicates that legal cannabis states would likely be safe from interference while members of Congress move ahead with considering broader reform efforts.

Where Presidential Candidate Joe Biden Stands On Marijuana

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Politics

Kentucky GOP Congressman Touts ‘High Hemp IQ’ Of His Constituents

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Rep. James Comer (R-KY) says that he proved his political advisors wrong when he decided to champion hemp legalization.

When he served as Kentucky’s Agriculture Commissioner before joining Congress and first contemplated “making hemp a reality,” he was told that people would conflate the crop with marijuana and he’d face a backlash, Comer said during an interview that aired this week.

“They said the people of Kentucky will never know the difference. They’ll think you’re talking about marijuana and you’re done,” he said during the Kentucky Educational Television appearance. “You can’t be a Republican and do this.”

“But people in Kentucky are smarter than some people give us credit for, and the people in Kentucky knew the history of hemp,” he said, noting that his own grandparents cultivated the crop.

“We have a high hemp IQ in Kentucky, and people across America are now learning the difference between hemp and marijuana.”

One of the areas that Comer said he hopes to see expanded is the use of hemp fibers to create products such as furniture and car parts. He mentioned one example of a Kentucky company that’s creating hardwood flooring out of hemp, and House Agriculture Committee Chair Collin Peterson (D-MN) is going to tour that facility with him soon.

Shortly before becoming the panel’s chair, Peterson said he was considering growing hemp on his own farm.

Most of the existing hemp facilities in Kentucky are producing CBD oil, which Comer said he also takes to treat minor pain.

While hemp and its derivatives were federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill, businesses are still awaiting guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). And that regulatory uncertainty has led some financial institutions to deny credit lines to hemp companies.

To that end, Comer said he and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are working closely to resolve the problem. That includes pushing for the Secure And Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which would protect banks that service state-legal cannabis businesses from being penalized by federal financial regulators.

“We teamed up with the marijuana people in the states,” Comer said.

Watch Comer’s hemp comments, starting around 5:30 into the video below:

“They’ve legalized marijuana. They’re selling marijuana. They’re not allowed to deposit the cash. They’re not allowed to take credit card transactions at those marijuana stores,” he said. “We have worked with them to try to create a system where you can have financial transparency, and that bill is making its way through Congress now.”

The SAFE Banking Act was approved by the House Financial Services Committee in March. And on Tuesday, the Senate Banking Committee took advocates by surprise after it announced that it would hold a hearing on marijuana banking issues next week, with just days left before the August recess.

Separately, the Senate Agriculture Committee will meet to discuss hemp production two days later.

McConnell has been an especially vocal advocate for hemp and CBD. For example, he led the head of USDA on a tour of a Kentucky hemp facility that produces CBD oil earlier this month.

Comer also claimed in the new interview that large pharmaceutical companies feel threatened by hemp-derived CBD as more consumers gravitate toward it as a “natural supplement” that could be a substitute for prescription painkillers.

“Now what you are having up here in Washington as we speak, the big drug companies are like, ‘Wow, people are buying this CBD oil and not buying our drug,'” the congressman said. “So they’re demanding that the FDA regulate it.”

He and McConnell are working to “keep the FDA off the backs of people,” Comer said.

While former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb stressed that creating a regulatory pathway that allows for the lawful marketing of CBD as a food item or dietary supplement would take years without congressional action, the agency recently said that it is speeding up the rulemaking process and will issue a progress report by early fall.

USDA similarly recognized the intense interest from lawmakers and stakeholders in developing regulations for the crop, and it plans to issue an interim final rule for the crop in August.

Senate Schedules Second Cannabis Hearing For Next Week

Photo courtesy of KET.

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Psychedelics Decriminalization Moves Forward In Cities Around The U.S.

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Activists in Berkeley, California and Port Townsend, Washington took steps this week to get psilocybin mushrooms and other psychedelics decriminalized, following in the footsteps of successful similar efforts in Denver and Oakland.

In Berkeley, a decriminalization resolution advanced in a City Council committee on Wednesday, and organizers in Port Townsend spoke about their proposal at a county public health board meeting on Thursday, with plans to formally present it to the City and County Council.

The Berkeley measure would prohibit city departments and law enforcement from using any funds to enforce laws against possession, propagation and consumption of psychedelics by individuals 21 or older. Members of the City Council Public Safety committee unanimously voted to send the resolution to the body’s Public Health Committee for further consideration.

If that panel approves the measure, the full Council will schedule a hearing and vote on final passage. Decriminalize Nature, the group behind this resolution as well as the successful passage of neighboring Oakland’s psychedelics decriminalization effort last month, said they hope the Council will act on the measure by early November.

Separately, activists in Port Townsend announced that they delivered a speech about their psychedelics decriminalization proposal during a meeting of the Jefferson County Board of Health.

Beyond prohibiting the use of government funds to criminalize adults for using and possessing the substances, the local Washington resolution also calls on the city administrator to “instruct the City’s state and federal lobbyists to work in support of decriminalizing all Entheogenic Plants and plant-based compounds that are listed on the Federal Controlled Substances Schedule 1.”

“We are overwhelmed by the support of our community. Our group of supporters filled up half the audience,” the Port Townsend Psychedelic Society said in an Instagram post. “We are currently making plans to speak with the county health officer to talk about next steps in presenting in front of city and county council.”

Alex Williams, who is leading the decriminalization effort in Berkeley, told Marijuana Moment that Wednesday’s Council committee meeting there “went better than I had anticipated” and that he feels “there is an excellent chance of the resolution passing.”

Watch the Berkeley Public Safety Committee discuss psychedelics, starting at about 42:00:

While Williams said two members of the committee seemed to be under the impression that the resolution is singularly geared toward recreational use and meant to “capitalize on a new market,” Decriminalize Nature plans to address those misconceptions, emphasizing that the measure would not provide for commercial manufacturing or sales and that “this process is very important to allowing safe, equitable access to marginalized communities.”

“It is essential that entheogenic substances be treats as sacred spiritual practices and healers,” he added.

The resolution defines entheogenic substances as “plants and natural sources such as mushrooms, cacti, iboga containing plants and/or extracted combinations of plants similar to ayahuasca; and limited to those containing the following types of compounds: indoleamines, tryptamines, phenethylamines.”

Two Councilmembers, Rigel Robinson and Cheryl Davila, are sponsoring the measure.

“You can imagine a day where, years from now, doctors working with patients with serious depression or veterans dealing with PTSD could actually offer them a more realistic and comprehensive suite of potential treatments, which may include some of these plants as the research over the last several decades has indicated,” Robinson said at the meeting.

While Berkeley might seem like an obvious target for psychedelics reform given the city’s decades-long close association with counterculture, the movement to remove criminal penalties is gaining steam nationally. Decriminalize Nature is maintaining a map of jurisdictions throughout the country where activists have expressed interest in pursuing a similar model.

Also this week, a resident spoke at a Columbia, Missouri City Council meeting, asking the body to consider a resolution to decriminalize psychedelics. At least one councilmember expressed interest in following through, and he called the therapeutic potential of the natural substances “very promising.”

Individuals from nearly 100 cities have reached out to the organization for assistance advancing their own decriminalization efforts.

Voters in Denver kicked things off by approving the nation’s first-ever ballot measure to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms in May.

Activists are currently pursuing efforts to place psilocybin-focused measures on statewide ballots in California and Oregon for next year.

More Than 100 Marijuana Businesses Urge Congress To Include Social Equity In Legalization

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Mushroom Observer.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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Top Democratic Party Leader Flops With Attempted Joke About Trump Smoking Hemp

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The chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) apparently thinks that hemp gets you high—and that getting high makes you dumb.

In an attempted dig at President Donald Trump, who said last week that farmers struggling amid a trade war were “over the hump,” DNC Chair Tom Perez said he thought the president “was smoking some hemp when he said they were over the hump.”

“If you smoke some hemp, I guess that would stimulate certain farm economies here,” he added during his remarks at a press conference in Wisconsin.

Watch Perez’s hemp comment at about 6:45 into the video below:

Because hemp contains only trace amounts of THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, it wouldn’t get you high, as Perez implied. But legalization advocates say it’s especially problematic that a party leader is treating marijuana as a laughing matter in the first place.

“I would need to be smoking something a hell of a lot stronger than hemp to find Tom Perez’s weak attempt at a marijuana joke funny,” Erik Altieri, executive director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment.

“At a time when over 600,000 overwhelmingly black and brown Americans are still being arrested every year for simple possession, our failed and racist prohibition is no laughing matter,” he said. “While we have made great progress in winning elected officials nationwide to our cause, Perez illustrated that we have a lot of work left to do when it comes educating them about the issue and still a bit of a road to go down before we can stop dealing with dad jokes and bad weed puns.”

Don Murphy, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, echoed that point.

“We need more leadership and action at the federal level, not more stupid jokes, puns and inaccurate comments about hemp’s ability to get you high,” he told Marijuana Moment. “Luckily that is something that many of his party’s presidential candidates understand,” he said. “Sadly, Mr. Perez does not.”

Perez’s position on cannabis policy isn’t quite clear, as he’s remained largely silent on the issue. In contrast, many 2020 Democratic presidential candidates are campaigning on broad marijuana reform proposals.

The DNC chair made his attempted hemp quip during a press availability in Milwaukee, where he is meeting donors and coordinating preparation for next year’s Democratic National Convention.

Senate Schedules Second Cannabis Hearing For Next Week

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Gage Skidmore.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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